Blisters, Bedbugs and Backaches – Finding Clarity on the Camino

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In May 2012, I clicked SEND and put in play a turn of events and a journey that would change my life forever. In my sixth decade and in good health, I knew this was the time. With that SEND I purchased my air ticket to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. While I had heard a little about the Camino over the years, it was a book by Guy Thatcher called ‘A Journey of Days’ that really whet my appetite. I thought “I can do this!” and I promptly began reading and researching everything about the Camino. With each new piece of information, I knew my fate was sealed and I was compelled to go.

fiesta-camino

The Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James is the 800 km path that starts in St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and winds its way westward to Santiago de Compostella.  It follows the ancient pilgrim route first established in 950 when Christians from all over Europe began to travel to Santiago to pay homage to St. James, one of the disciples and the patron saint of Spain.

While some pilgrims walk for religious reasons, my journey was about wanting to test my limits, step out of my comfort zone and seek new experiences and insight. Little did I know that I would do all that and more.

The very first day was a test like no other. Still jet-lagged and culture-shocked, I began the trek over the Pyrenees carrying a 20 lb. backpack and a big bottle of water. The climb was steep with no way stations for the first 10 km. I was pushed to my limits of stamina and fortitude. With the altitude came wind and fog and no shelter so the only avenue was to carry on – one foot in front of the other and one breath at a time.

When I arrived at the hostel in Roncesvalles 7 hours later after the steep climb then even steeper descent, I felt jubilant but exhausted. I already had a big blister on the inside of my left heel. I slept well for my first night in a dormitory room with 30 other people. My bunkmate was a Dutch fellow from Rotterdam.

fiesta-spain

The days rolled on with 6:30 AM starts in the dark and wonderful chats with fellow pilgrims from all over the world. Everyone, it seemed, had specific reasons for doing the Camino and was adventurous, positive and interested in life. You discuss so many things about your life and open up to people who were complete strangers a few minutes before. It feels so uplifting and cathartic especially for an introvert like me. I found my ideal walking pace and began passing others who started out ahead of me. But it’s all about finding your own space and pace and letting your mind soar.

The scenery was beautiful – wheat fields, vineyards, rough steep hills, rock outcrops and views for miles. It’s especially exciting when you can see your next destination ahead. I always walked faster then.

Viana, a small town between Los Arcos and Logrono, proved to be the highlight of the trip. As we walked into town around 11:30 after a short but steep hike from Los Arcos, a festival was going on with bands playing and everyone dressed in white with red scarves and belts.

The streets were packed. We were told that the ‘running of the bulls’ would be taking place at 1PM so we hurriedly checked into our hostel, showered and changed and joined the festivities. At 5 to 1, all the tables and chairs were moved from the street and promptly at 1, amid much shouting, whistling and thundering of hooves on the cobblestones, 5 bulls appeared and raced up the street while bystanders took swipes at them and tried to provoke them into a face-off. After a few good runs with no untoward incidents, the bulls disappeared and the tables and chairs returned.

running-of-bulls

While this was going on, a fellow helping with the event noticed my blister and promptly took me under his wing and marched me to the health clinic to have it examined. I met his wife and family but no one spoke any English and my Spanish is limited so all our communication was by sign language and facial expression. Even with this handicap, we connected immediately and enjoyed a wonderful evening together with music, dancing and camaraderie. At 10 PM, I had to say good-bye to make curfew at the hostel. I had tears in my eyes as I hugged and kissed them goodnight. They had become instant friends and were so kind, helpful and generous. It reminded me of the old adage about the kindness of strangers and the threads that connect people from all over the world.

With each step, each panoramic view and each personal encounter, I learned more about myself and felt all the old baggage fall away. I thought about my mother and how much she would have enjoyed this trip and my ancestors who came to Canada from Scotland on their own difficult pilgrimage in the 1800’s. By the end, in Santiago, I knew I was a different person – more open, confident, invigorated, empowered yet humble. It was the trip of a lifetime.  I wish everyone could experience what I did on the Camino de Santiago.  I never did see any bedbugs.

camino-group

Rosemary is from Elora Ontario and has had a lifelong interest in and compulsion to travel, starting at an early age. She has a Master’s in Geography from McGill University, is currently retired but itching to get away on that next adventure. She completed the Camino in October 2012.

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31 comments on “Blisters, Bedbugs and Backaches – Finding Clarity on the Camino
  1. Dianne says:

    Thank you for posting! I love how people can experience global connections through humanity. We hope and pray to experience many “aha” moments when we start our Camino in May. My husband and I are in fair condition and so this journey will be strictly in the hands of a higher power! Faith and trust. We are working on conditioning but it is difficult on icy winter roads. I love the idea of your of putting one foot in front of the other!

  2. Joseph E Repetto says:

    Leaving om my first Camino May 1st. I have become almost obsessed with this trip! I can hardly wait! Thanks for sharing yet another positive experience!
    Joseph Repetto (Chicago)

    • Shawna says:

      Where are you flying into to begin the journey? I am feeling overwhelmed trying to figure out how to get to St. Jean. I would be flying out of. Los Angeles

      • Leslie says:

        Check out the forum for help – http://www.caminoforums.com

      • Joseph E Repetto says:

        I am flying from Chicago to London (Heathrow) then I am taking a bus to Stamstead (London’s second airport) where I will fly Veuling Airlines to Biarritz, and a cab to St Jean. I will begin my walk on May 3rd.

      • Janice says:

        I am going September 13th from OHare in Chicago it was cheapest to fly into Dublin, Ireland then from there Ryanair to Biarritz, overnight there and off on the train to St. Jean. Prices really good on Ryanair.

    • Janice says:

      Joseph I am in Alaska going in September and flying out of OHare are you flying into Madrid? I am just starting to look at options.

      • Joseph E Repetto says:

        Try United Airlines, to Heathrow Airport (London) then Stamstead to reach Biarritz (Veuling Airlines).

        • Joseph E Repetto says:

          I need to edit my last post. I am actually flying Ryanair from Stamstead to Biarritz. Hope that helps someone. Bien dia.

    • Janice says:

      I smiled when I read your post I told someone today I am totally obsessed and don’t leave until September so if I were you and a couple of weeks away I don’t know how I will be able to work! Safe travels on this great opportunity!

    • Jennifer Christiansen says:

      Just wanted to know your route from Chicago. I plan on walkin the El Camino starting June 9th from Chicago.

      • Joseph E Repetto says:

        Jennifer, I’m flying to Heathrow (London) then a bus to Stamstead (London’s second airport) then flying Ryanair to Biarritz and a cab to St.Jean. Coming home I am flying from Santiago to Barcelona (Visiting Barcelona for 2 days) then to Newark and home to Chicago. Round trip was like 1200.00! Leaving May 1st!

  3. Rosemary says:

    My best advice would be ” Don’t stress about it. Just go at your own pace and do it your own way. That’s the beauty of the Camino – its your own personal journey…”

    • Lisa says:

      I’m planning on doing the walk in four weeks. I’ve had a scope on my knee one year ago, back surgery 20 years ago, and have not been very active this winter (Kitchener, ON). I’ve been wanting to do this for over a year and found out yesterday that I could go. Should I take a leap of faith and book the trip or wait and get some training in ?

      • Ma says:

        Lisa, Get some training in and then book your trip–or the other way around! Consider going in September/October to give yourself enough preparation time. Walk at your own pace. The Camino is one big leap of faith!

  4. Peter says:

    leaving New Zealand for Spain on 20th April 2014, walking the Camino with my best mate, we are totally looking forward to this, it has been in the planning for quite some time, and now finally come together, both in training prep at moment,ready to ly where the trail takes us. getting ready for a journey of a lifetime, maybe see some of you guys on the journey.

  5. James Melody says:

    I feel the same way Joseph. I am overcome with fear of walking in constant rain. I can’t imagine that being enjoyable or inspirational.
    I too am departing on May 1st for my first camino, starting from Sarria. I hope I won’t have to listen to a great many negative remarks about embarking from that town.
    I am 72 years old, have two new hips and nerve damage in my legs. Most folk look shocked when I tell them what I plan to do.
    In the meantime, I keep hiking around the california desert with a backpack and hope in my soul.
    Maybe we’ll run into each other.

  6. Libby says:

    Leaving for my first Camino at Easter 2014. Scared, excited, unsure….read everything about the blisters, shin splints, ect. Anybody wants to share a taxi from Biaritz to St. Jean Pie de Port on 20. April 2014 in the afternoo(app. 2 pm leaving SJPP) ?

  7. Paul says:

    My wife and I are walking the Camino in mid-May and have been hiking almost every weekend from 6 to 14 miles a day for several months. We have slowed our pace considerably and found that we have fewer problems with our feet and can walk further since we slowed down. Looking forward to May.

  8. Dee carolan says:

    We start our camino on May 5 th, flying from stain stead to Biarittz, scared and excited

    • Joseph E Repetto says:

      Dee, I will be leaving St.Jean on the 3rd, if you walk fast and can catch up to me I will buy you lunch! LOL! Have a safe trip, hope we meet up my friend!
      Joe

  9. audrey isfeld says:

    Starting my walk May 19,2014 from St. Jean. I’m from Calgary. Fly to Paris, then biaritz, taxi to St.Jean. I hope to be to in Fisterra by June 22,2014.

    • Dianne Peterson says:

      Audrey, please introduce yourself as you whip by us! We are starting May 17. Plan to be in Santiago June 22, 2014.

  10. Audrey Isfeld says:

    Wow!! I already made a friend and I haven’t left home yet:)
    Well I hope I’m not to ambitious. I will go and walk and see what happens. Looking forward and also apprehensive. It will all be good once I start walking:)

  11. Meg says:

    keep hearing about this Walk lately. Maybe it is God’s will that I go. He would provide if so.

  12. Mary says:

    Things really do fall into place – it’s amazing already. After years of wanting to do the Camino, I am going to go from St. Jean on July 20 and walk until I end up Somewhere With an Airport so I can get back to Paris for my return flight to Los Angeles on August 16.

  13. Vivian says:

    Hi everyone! leaving for the Camino June 1st form St Jean, two Canadian nurses from Vancouver, BC…excited and nervous seem to be the emotions from almost everyone.Cant wait to meet new people, experience the world without the background noise and see beautiful Spain!

  14. Erik M says:

    Am jealous of all of you. After a lifetime of activity – swimming biking, basketball, baseball, backpacking across Europe and Asia and trekking in Nepal – I find I have COPD. I want to make the camino – but for the first time must assess whether this is physically possible.

    Meanwhile, I will be following your journies, wishing you all a buen camino.

  15. Jennifer Christiansen says:

    Jennifer
    Leaving for the El Camino June 9th (4 days after school is out = I am a teacher) from Chicago. The walks I have been on with my friends to help train for it have been wonderful! Looking forward to what God has in store for me. It’s a calling to go – can’t believe it’s almost here! May we all all be blessed with safety and an open heart.

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