What does a dream coming true look, feel and taste like?

When I was younger I was so in love with the idea of Spain.  I wanted to learn the language, travel to the country, immerse myself in the culture – even since my teenage years.  I wasn’t sure why, not then or as I got older, but I was strongly drawn to the country.  I must admit at the time I really didn’t know too much about Spain, only that I wanted to be a part of it.  In fact, when I was a very late teen, I was so desperately in love with Spain (or the idea of Spain) that I went ahead and got engaged to a Spaniard whose name was Antonio.  Such was my desire for Spain….

Needless to say, that didn’t work out (possibly becoming engaged to someone because you love the country they were born in could work out, but for me, well, no).  But what did work out, after many years, was my desire to travel to Spain.  After years of keeping that dream alive, I left on a jet plane to spend the best part of three months in the country I’d dreamt of since I can remember.

I travelled first to France to start walking the Camino de Santiago Frances Route from St Jean Pied de Port all the way across the country to Santiago de Compostella.  That’s a trek of about 800km.  After that I extended the hiking on to an extended route out to the ocean, the Camino Muxia and Camino Finisterre.

I spent my first 40 days and 40 nights in Spain as a pilgrim, with all of my possessions in my backpack.

 

hay field
Resting wherever I could…

Of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who arrive in Santiago each year on the various Caminos, only about 5% walk on to the coastline with most of these going from Santiago to Finisterre (a 90km extension).  Finisterre was known as the end of the world and for me, it was more important a destination, or completion point, than Santiago was.  However I also wanted to walk to Muxia, a town further north on the Atlantic coastline, and even less than 5%  walk here first, and then on toFinisterre, a 120km extension from Santiago.

Following the Camino my travels took me to Ourense, Salamanca, Madrid, a week long stint in Portugal, Seville and the Andalucían area, and to end the trip, some time in Barcelona.

So did my dream to travel in Spain, walk the Camino and experience the culture and language of this country come true?

Sure.  You can see it did by the previous paragraphs.

But what did it look like, what did it feel like and what did it taste like?  Was it all I dreamt it would be?

What did this dream coming true look like?

It looked like fear sometimes.  It looked like love sometimes.  It looked like Groundhog Day sometimes.

It looked like me with my backpack on, walking 30km a day in the searing heat. Swearing a lot, sometimes.  Other times, just walking and taking every step as it came.

It looked like beauty.  It looked like poverty and despair.

It looked simple, and significant at the same time.

It looked like my comfort zone, and then it didn’t, and then it did again.

Heaven and Hell.  Wonder.

It looked like I thought it might.

It didn’t look anything like I thought it might.

 

jumping
It looked like this sometimes

What did this dream coming true feel like?

It felt like love.

Sometimes it felt like fear.

It felt like loneliness and then it felt like connection and belonging.

It felt frustrating, and it felt freeing.  It felt right, and sometimes it felt wrong.

It felt painful.  A lot of the time.  Blisters, muscle soreness.

It felt joyous.

I felt grateful.  Emotional.  Emotional a lot of the time.

I felt shattered, and also full of energy.

I felt at home, when I wasn’t feeling homesick.

I felt strong, except when I was feeling weak.

Torn. I felt torn.

I felt done – physically, mentally and emotionally.  Then I’d have a beer and a chat to new friends, a meal and a sleep.  And I didn’t feel done anymore.

It felt so right.  Walking day in day out.  Only a few decisions to make each day – where will I sleep, what will I eat?

It felt easy.  It felt hard.

Sometimes I would feel like quitting.

Sometimes I would feel like I could walk forever.

I felt disgust – when watching a bull fight.

I felt overwhelmed. In awe.

I felt brave and full of fear. Sometimes at the same time.

I felt guided.

I felt that the universe was consipiring  to provide me with what I needed. Not necessarily what I wanted.

 

heart
It felt like discovery

What did this dream coming true taste like?

For me, it tasted like Tarte de Santiago.

 

tarte
The taste of dreams coming true

In keeping my dream alive to walk the camino, for many years I’ve been making Tarte de Santiago for my family and friends. A traditional cake based on almond meal originally fed to pilgrims walking. The first time on the Camino that I had a slice of Tarte de Santiago was …well a little surreal for me.  I was alone and in a small village as I took my first taste.  It was at that moment that I understood what a dream that comes true tastes like.

It also tasted like pilgrims meals day in and day out.  And then it tasted like tapas and octopus (not something I would try again) and tortilla and red wine.

It tasted like shared meals with friends. New friends from all over the world.

So what now?

So I am settling in to return to work and back to my life in Australia after fulfilling this lifelong dream which in the end, was exactly everything I expected and dreamt it could be, and at the same time, completely different to anything I expected and dreamt it would be.

It also provided me with more personal growth every day than I could have ever imagined.  I was graced with beautiful new friends, some who I know will be in my life for a long time to come and others who were in my life just for the moments they were meant to be.

 

horse
Ultreya – onwards with courage

My belief in the goodness of people was tested and at the same time, confirmed, over and over again.

My belief in myself was tested, and at the same time, reaffirmed time and time again.

Not everyone will understand my journey.  That’s ok because it isn’t their journey to understand.  It’s mine. And even if I don’t fully understand it, that’s ok too.

Buy the ticket, take the ride.  See what happens.

I know my journey gave me so much.  There is a saying on the camino that “the camino provides”.  I agree and I experienced this day after day.  I have a new saying for the camino to add to that one.  “The camino also takes away”, and that is just as important.

Don’t confuse your path, with your destination.  Enjoy your journey.  Thanks for the memories Spain!

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Right of Way – A Pilgrim on the Camino – Episode 3 – Groundhog days

Well I’m done walking – for now. I was on the Camino Frances for a total of 36 days and then extended to the Camino Muxia and Finisterre for a further 4 days – bringing my total to 40 days and 40 nights and around 920km.

I was contemplating my days toward the end of the journey. How each day is the same, and at the same time, completely different, and how the days, or at least the way I think of the days, changed from my first few weeks to the last few weeks.

There are some things that seemingly remain the same, every single day. Even after 40 days of walking.

Like these things:

I’m on the top bunk in a room full of other people all in their own bunks.

5.30am Plastic bag rustling commences.

I know the other pilgrims in the albergue (hostel with bunk beds for pilgrims) are trying to be quiet.

But they are failing at that.

I’m familiar with the sound now but wish they’d all brought dry bags instead of plastic bags. Less noisy.

I push my earplugs in my ear harder and cover my face. I need more sleep.

I get tired of trying to sleep with the noise and get up.

Sleep sack goes in the bag and I stuff my sleeping bag.

Find my toothbrush. Wait in line for one bathroom that services 60 people.

And wait.

Finally.

Get dressed in exactly the same clothes I wore yesterday. And the day before and the day before….

Pack my backpack.

Pyrenees backpackOver the Pyrenees – blessed with stunning weather

Put in on hoping it’s going to miraculously be lighter than yesterday.

It’s not.

Leave the albergue.

Walk.

Mostly it’s dark for a while. Hope I don’t twist an ankle in the dark. Keep walking for about 2 hours.

Think about what it might be like to not have to walk today. Briefly.

Then just walk.

Take a seat at the next cafe.

Cafe con leche grande (big coffee with milk), bocadillo con queso y jamon ( Ham and cheese baguette) and zumo de naranjo (freshly squeezed orange juice).

Then walk.

And walk.

Stop again after another 2-3 hours for another coffee or cold drink. Take my shoes off. Check my feet and blisters.

Talk to friends. Meet new friends.

Then walk.

Arrive at a place where I want to stay. Look for a bed.

Find a bed.

Fingers crossed for a bottom bunk.

Get out my sleeping bag, and my other set of clothes (my ‘going out’ clothes).

Check the line for the shower.

Get in line.

Shower.

Find a sink and hand wash today’s clothes (which of course are tomorrow and every other days clothes). Wring the life out of them and find a line or some other obscure but sunny place to hang them.

Hope I remember to get them in before dark.

Go to the bar.

Drink a large beer. With lemon.

Talk to friends from all over the world.

Eat the pilgrims dinner.

And drink the wine that comes with it.

Go to bed.

Restrain myself from poking the guy snoring with my trekking poles.

Listen curiously to the person sleep talking.

Try hard to ignore the moans and groans.

Feel an itch on my leg.

Spend the night thinking the bed is infested with bed bugs (only once in actuality but the fear remains).

5.30am plastic bags rustling.

So while it seems from the above commentary that each day was the same – it was, and of course, it wasn’t.

Every day provided me with new experiences, new friends, deeper friendships, opportunities to stretch my comfort zone, the chance to push myself physically, daily tests of my mental endurance and emotional strength, many opportunities to laugh, differing views and vistas (mostly beautiful, some industrial), new food, the chance to practice my Spanish and of course, the unexpected. Always the unexpected.

What did change over the 40 days was the way I thought about each day.

I recall early on I would check the elevation profiles of the stage for the next day, and dread the hills I knew were coming. I would think constantly about the kilometers I’d walked that day, how many more were to go, how quickly that time might pass. I was forever focused on my blisters, my pain, my sore feet. The twinges in my leg muscles telling me to back off. Constantly focused on the body.

After a few weeks, I measured my day in hours. If someone said something was 10km away, I immediately translated that to 2 hours away. I stopped vigilantly checking the elevation profiles the night before, knowing that there would be hills, or there wouldn’t (unlikely) but that whatever the day held, I’d get through it. I measured the morning as the part before the sun came up (and reasoned to myself that any distances made pre-daylight were a bonus) and the part until I found a cafe for breakfast. The rest of the day just flowed along. Walking. Talking. Contemplating life. Celebrating life. Knowing that at a point in time that day, I would arrive somewhere to sleep.

So as they say, some things stay the same. But even in the sameness that was my walking for 40 days, there was so much to celebrate, so much that was different.

What kind of different can you find in your everyday sameness?

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi.

Right of Way – A Pilgrim on the Camino – Episode 2

“You don’t choose a life, you live a life”.

It’s what Daniel says to his father as he leaves for the Camino de Santiago in Spain in the movie The Way. I love the movie and I’ve seen it about half a dozen times over the years.

I know it’s a movie and I know some of it wasn’t filmed on the Camino, but I also know that the producer nailed it with some of the storylines. I know because I’m here on the Camino and I’m seeing it happen.

The movie revolves around the concept of a Camino family forming from 4 strangers walking. I’d heard of Camino families forming in the first few days of walking the Camino.

I’ve found that each day brings new experiences on the Camino. Each day seems to offer so much that I feel no other day will compare. And then the next day arrives and shows me that there is more the Camino needs to show me, more love I need to feel, more experiences I have the opportunity to absorb, more opportunities for me to know myself more intimately.

I left Australia on this journey not intending for a moment that I would become part of any Camino family. In fact, I was going to try to avoid it. I expected my Camino journey should be about time alone, walking in silence, pondering my life, my strengths and weaknesses and letting myself hear my soul.

And then I found myself, 12 days in to this journey, with 7 other pilgrims from all over the world in an apartment in Logrono.

I had found myself with my Camino family. The one I said I didn’t need, didn’t want. Eight of us – 3 Irish, 2 Americans, 1 Aussie, 1 Dutch and me, aged between 17 and 65 years.

We had been together for the most part of the previous 12 days and were here sharing an apartment for two nights and having a rest day.

Two pilgrims had cooked us all a wonderful meal, we were drinking a lovely Rioja wine, laughing and enjoying the experience.

The evening was a standout for me, and was topped off by the 8 of us, big fans of The Way movie, sitting together, eating popcorn and watching the film on the apartment’s TV.

Tears came readily and surprisingly for me during the movie. It wasn’t the movie so much, more the emotions that snuck up on me while watching it there, in that apartment, with my Camino family, each of us on our own journey along the way.

I cried for the effort it took to get here, for the friendships, for the passing of time, for my loved ones back home. I cried in gratitude that I could make this journey and that I was allowing the journey to provide for me. I cried at the thought of losing my Camino family as the weeks went on. I cried at the thought of the journey not being as I had expected. I cried because I was so damn happy and grateful that there seemed no other way to express my emotion.

10 days ago, these people were complete strangers. Today, they are my Camino family.

The Camino family I never wanted. And the Camino family I will soon walk away from.

And I suppose that’s the point of it all isn’t it.

Sometimes you don’t get what you want, you get what you need.

The Camino provides.

Ultreya

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi

Right of Way – A Pilgrim on the Camino – Episode 1

Well I’m officially a pilgrim. I’ve heard that your Camino journey, your pilgrimage starts from your front door. If that’s the case, the first leg of my pilgrimage took over 50 hours either travelling or transiting, finding planes, shuttles, trains, buses and albergues (hostels for pilgrims only). It was an epic start to my pilgrimage, flying from Coffs Harbour, to Sydney, to Singapore, to Paris, then by train to Bordeaux Saint Jean, then another train to Bayonne and a third train, which looked remarkably like a bus (go with the flow Michelle) to Saint Jean Pied de Port.

 

I made a friend on the bus (that was meant to be a train) and his name was (and still is) Jean-Marie and he was born in Mauritius and lives in Canada.  He’s my age and he’s on his gap year!  He and I headed to a bar for a kebab (him) and a red wine (me) while we waited in Bayonne for the train that looked like a bus. I went to the bar to order my wine.  I was tired, and hadn’t learnt any French.  Now I was regretting that decision.  It took the bartender, and four others trying to understand what I was saying (red wine, vino tinto)….until I remembered my new friend Jean-Marie’s first language was French.  Red wine = Vin Rouge.  Finally, with wine in hand, Jean-Marie and I learnt about each other and waited for the train (bus) to my home for three nights – Saint Jean Pied de Port, near the border with Spain.

I met another friend on an online worldwide Camino forum for women, and she happened to live where I live – small world.  She was arriving on the same night as me and so we met up for dinner in Saint Jean Pied de Port (at 9pm – I’ll have to get used to that).  It was nice to see a familiar face – or at least that’s how it felt even though I hadn’t laid eyes on her in person before.  We shared a vin rouge (my third French word after Bonjour and Merci) and chatted to some other pilgrims over dinner.  She was headed off the next morning.

Let me share more about this online forum because it’s important – it’s on Facebook (I know, not for everyone but it serves a purpose).  It’s called Camigas – A buddy system for women on the Camino, and is a combination of the words Camino and Amiga (friend) and was established in honor and memory of a woman by the name of Denise Pikka Theim.  Denise, from the United States, was walking the Camino solo (as I am), in 2015, fulfilling her dream of a lifetime.  Like I am.

Follow the arrows Follow the yellow arrows

Along the Camino pilgrims are guided by yellow arrows, that are painted and plastered everywhere and it is commonly touted that it’s hard to get lost because they help you find the way.  In August 2015, while walking the Camino, Denise was murdered.  She was bashed to death with a stick and both of her hands were cut off.   Spanish man, Miguel Angel Munoz deliberately altered the yellow arrows that mark the pilgrimage route to lure people towards his house which was located close to the route.  After a long investigation and pressure from the US Government, Munoz was eventually charged for Denise’s murder after admitting the crime and leading police to where he had buried her body.  Denise was 41 years old.  May she rest in peace.

The idea of the Camiga’s forum is for women pilgrims to share information, provide support for each other and in some cases, highlight areas and issues along the route that may pose some danger for (in particular) women.  I thank those who created and maintain this site. It is understood that at least one other pilgrim, who was from China, also followed Munoz’s arrow and was hit with a stick by a man fitting his description.  She didn’t report the incident and of course, there was no Camigas forum to post it to to warn others.  Since I have been a member of the Camigas I have seen women post warnings about certain areas where men have been seen masturbating when single women pilgrims walk by, where men have groped women pilgrims and grabbed their breasts as they walk by.  I have seen some women, with the support of the others on the forum, take action, take photos and report the incidents, and in one case I know of, leading to an arrest.  These incidents are overall, rare, but they are there.

It is a shame that as women we need to consider a whole range of extra issues and safety concerns when we walk alone, however, the reality is, we do.


Saint Jean Pied de Port
Saint Jean Pied de Port

So as I head out for the start of the actual walking part of my journey, I do so with the memory of Denise and with an understanding that the world is mostly wonderful, except when it’s not, and that my journey will be spontaneous and free, except when its not.  I will be fearless and brave, except when I’m not.  I will let the arrows lead me, except when I check the guide book.

I will listen to my intuition, that feeling that tells me without any doubt whether I’m on the right track.  I will be brave, even when I am full of fear.  I will walk on, even when I can’t walk another step. I will walk to embrace the journey and all it brings, and I will walk with awareness and strength.

So for now, I’m off to fulfil a life long dream.  I’m a pilgrim with nothing to do but walk. Oh and drink some vin rouge or vino tinto with new friends from all over the world.

‘Let your life be your message’ Mahatma Gandhi