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.

Keeping dreams alive one dream at a time – my dream to walk the Camino

I’ve had to work hard at keeping my dreams alive. Haven’t we all? 

One of those dreams I’ve had for like, ever.  It was something I’ve wanted to do since my early 20’s but I never knew it was a real thing until many years later.

I was in my late teens when I first came across author Paulo Coelho. I was given a copy of his book “The Pilgrimage” and I devoured it – loving the sense of wonder and adventure of the spiritual journey he took the reader on while he himself walked his own spiritual journey.  Coelho is also the author of the best seller and ancient fable, The Alchemist, my all time favourite book in the entire world – I know, that’s a big call.

As I wandered through the pages of The Pilgrimage, where Coelho took me on a journey through Spain, I thought that putting on a backpack and walking day after day sounded like an amazing dream.  I had no idea at the time of reading that the walk he did was a real walk and that the book was autobiographical.  I’d paid that little attention at the time.

I held this dream for over a decade – dreaming of this imaginary walk and wishing there was a way I could do something like this.  I didn’t even own a backpack and hiking wasn’t in my repertoire of pursuits.

 

Follow the arrows
Follow the yellow arrows

Life happened for the next decade or more and I recall over time hearing about this walk in Spain and it was with amazement one day I put the two together.

I realised the walk Paulo Coelho did in his book “The Pilgrimage” was in fact the Camino de Santiago and it was a real thing!  In fact, the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

The most popular route is the Camino Frances which stretches 780 km (nearly 500 miles) from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port near Biarritz in France to Santiago.

I am going to do this walk.  I am going to put on my backpack and make my dream come true, and I am going to start this next week.

 

Backpack
It’s real and I’m packed

Have you ever held a dream in your heart for so long that when it finally looks like it’s coming to fruition, it’s almost surreal?  That’s where I am at the moment and it caused me to have a think about how I made this dream come true and how I fulfilled an (almost) life long goal.  Because you can imagine, taking off with your backpack for a couple of months to live in hostels and walk everyday takes some planning, some sacrifices and some deep commitment.

  1. Keep the dream alive – read everything you can about it. 

When I understood that the dream I had was a real thing, a real walk, I devoured every piece of information I could on it.  I read guidebooks – my first guidebook was delivered over a decade before I actually booked flights (needless to say I needed to upgrade to the latest version), I watched ‘The Way‘ movie once or twice.  Ok I’ve watched it over a dozen times now.  While I was never in much of a position to put the dream in to reality for all those years, I never lost sight of it.  I even started to learn to speak Spanish over 10 years ago – just in case I ever pulled this off!  It was always there, waiting for me to find the right time, the right place and to have the courage to take the plunge.

 

Dream Catcher - keeping dreams alive
How will you keep your dreams alive?

2. Know that there is a time and place

Up until a few months ago when I booked my flights, I knew I had no hope of doing this trip.  I had a life that prevented me taking the steps to get on over there for two months.  I chose those other things (like family and career) over this dream – all the while keeping it alive (see point 1) because I knew, deep in my soul, that this journey was meant for me and that when the time came, I would be ready.  That’s not to say there were times when I felt I would never turn the dream in to a plan and then subsequently in to a reality – there were.  But each year I would reaffirm my desire and wait until the time came that I could really start planning.

3. Hand it over to the Universe  – but also take action

In saying there is always a time and a place, and espousing my patience around this dream fulfilment, I did have to be proactive.  Keeping myself open to signs, I was also making plans that allowed for the dream to become a reality. Some of these more practical things were: saving up annual leave and long service leave balances; getting my family in on my excitement even if I had no idea when it might all happen; remaining healthy and well so that my body could handle the 800km walk; opening a savings account to quarantine funds especially for this goal.

4. Stop reading everything you can about it

Whatever your dream is, it is your dream and no-one else’s.  I know this contradicts point 1 above where I said to read everything you can about it, but one thing I realised as the dream became a plan and as the time to departure drew closer, was that I was at great risk of heading out on this journey with the expectations and desires and experiences of everyone else except me!  My advice would be to research enough so that you feel confident that you know what you need to know to get by, and leave the rest of the adventure up to the adventure fairies.

 

Long walk
The long walk after the long dream

5. Take a moment to realise you are actually doing this

That moment I clicked the purchase button on my flights to Paris was surreal.  I sat staring at my laptop screen for a while before I gave myself permission to actually celebrate.  A friend said to me “that’s it, the first step toward fulfilling you dream has been made – your flights are booked”.  No, I replied.  The first step was many decades ago, when I promised myself that this dream was for me and I would not, could not, let it go by the wayside because the time and the place wasn’t right.  I was on my way now and I could congratulate myself on getting this far.  The excitement level just went up a notch!

And I’m off.

So while I have less than a fortnight to go before I board my flight, I realise now how important it was for me to keep this dream alive and work toward it’s reality.  It has been a long time coming.  My backpack is ready.  My body is not quite as ready as I’d like.  My soul is champing at the bit.  My mind and spirit is open.  I am at peace with whatever this journey ends up looking like and I am so blessed to have had the foresight to keep the dream alive.

So, as they say, adios amigos and buen camino.

I hope you find a way to keep your dreams alive.

PS:  I love this poem by Spanish author Antonio Machado – it came into my life only 5 years ago.  Here it is in English as well as the original Spanish.

Wayfarer, there is no path (English)

Wayfarer, the only way

Is your footprints and no other.

Wayfarer, there is no way.

Make your way by going farther.

By going farther, make your way

Till looking back at where you’ve wandered,

You look back on that path you may

Not set foot on from now onward.

Wayfarer, there is no way;

Only wake-trails on the waters.

 

Caminante no hay Camino (Spanish)

Caminante, son tus huellas

el camino y nada más;

Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.

Al andar se hace el camino,

y al volver la vista atrás

se ve la senda que nunca

se ha de volver a pisar.

Caminante no hay camino

sino estelas en la mar.

 

“Let your life be your message” Mahatma Gandhi