September 2015: El Camino de Santiago
Having just quit our jobs, gotten rid of all of our possessions besides what fit in two backpacks, we headed off to Europe on one-way plane tickets!
We had decided that the best way to spend the first 35 days of our freedom from all the burdens of daily living would be to walk 500 miles across the top of Spain following an old pilgrimage trail called the Camino de Santiago. Because if you don’t have any hardships in life, why not manufacture a few, eh?
The Background: What Is The Camino?
Formally called El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or The Way of St. James, the Camino is a pilgrimage across Spain. People have walked the Camino for over 1,000 years. It is, for many people, a spiritual journey, though nowadays people of all walks of life walk the Camino. There are many routes you take take to the end point, the city of Santiago, but we decided to take the most popular one, the Camino Frances. The Camino Frances starts in France, and the entire route is about 500 miles (800 km). There is a movie about this walk with Martin Sheen called The Way, if you’d like to learn a bit more about it.
(Written from Ali’s perspective.)
Starting from just north of the France-Spain border, we walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to the city Santiago de Compostela near the west coast of Spain. It was long and very difficult, but we both made it the whole way, carrying everything we needed in one backpack each. At the end of it all, we received a paper from the Catholic church called a compostela, or certificate of completion—written in Latin, just like it’s been for the past thousand years—and came away with an indulgence (basically a “get out of sin free” card from the church), which hopefully nullifies all the cursing we did along the way.
So, we spent over a month walking 500 miles in order to receive a piece of paper from the church of a religion neither of us follow.
Why? That’s a very good question. One that I asked myself many, many times along the way.
Joe had his reasons, including putting himself through a challenge, proving to himself that he had the grit and persistence to do it, and because “It’s fun!”
Me, not so much. It was day after day of walking for hours with a pack on my back. By day 7, I was about done. I was sore and tired of hopping up every morning, throwing my stuff in a bag, and doing the same thing all over again. I was tired of washing my clothes in a sink and taking a shower in a big cold room with occasionally-hot water. I was tired of trying to figure out what to eat when I was exhausted and didn’t want to think anymore. Basically, I was just tired.
Day 7 was the day when it all came crashing down on me. I spent a large part of that day either crying or trying not to cry, and Joe spent most of that day trying to either console me, motivate me, or give me an out. He told me I could do it. He told me I absolutely didn’t have to do it, Oh, did I mention I was pregnant? That’s right, I was in the middle of my second trimester, and nobody would be disappointed if the pregnant woman decided not to walk 500 miles.
I considered quitting, but decided to wait until the next big town to make that kind of a decision. If I wanted to, I could catch a bus from there and go ahead, and meet up with Joe later on.
So we continued on. I got less sore, less tired, and I found little ways to cope with the difficult times. And I couldn’t just hop on a bus and leave Joe to walk all alone while I waited (also all alone) in an AirBnB somewhere.
Day 10 came and went, then Day 15, then so on, and so forth. I listened to audiobooks, enjoyed the views, and spent hours alternately talking to Joe or walking in a companionable silence beside him. We trudged up mountains and through fields. We took pictures and made A LOT of puns (can you think of anything better to do while walking through corn fields for hours than making crop-related puns? We couldn’t). We made up songs about turtling along (really the best term for what we were doing) all the way to Santiago.
And eventually we were just a couple of days away from our goal. And then we were there. Santiago didn’t really matter—we spent hardly any time in the city at all—but managing to accomplish this very difficult task, walking into the city that morning with smiles on our faces, singing our little song, side-by-side, that mattered.
I considered quitting more than once—probably more than a hundred times, if truth be told—but Joe never wavered in his determination to finish what he’d started, and I managed to pull through, too.
So if you ask me why I walked the Camino, the best answer I managed to find is: because Joe was walking the Camino, and I like that guy.
We did the Camino in spring of 2015. I think your pregnancy had something to do with your experience…it would mine! You should try it again when you child is older and can go with you. We saw several families with elementary school-aged kids that walk a week at a time.
My husband and I miss our experience all the time. We met so many interesting people and we have stayed in touch with a few. Plus, we could eat whatever we wanted!! We are afraid to do it again because might not be as great as the first time.
I have read a lot about the Camino (as I plan to do it post-retirement), but this is one of the best things I’ve read. Walking it because Joe was and you like him. What a perfect reason!
You are so cute. LOVING THIS!
Hi Ali and Joe,
Reading your first couple adventure is fun! I couldn’t imagine myself being pregnant and have to walk all day to finish 500 miles. But with the perfect guy by your side, I could say “It doesn’t matter”. haha! What a great couple you are. I bet your baby will be as great as both of you. Continue to share your journey. Be blessed more! 😉
Ali, loved your account of the trail. It IS a shit ton of walking!! I don’t know why I love it so much (perhaps atoning for my many sins is one reason) but it always calls me back. The camino is not for everyone (whether you are pregnant or not, though that certainly doesn’t help) but the goal of getting it done feels good regardless. Way to stick it out!! I have to say, despite my having walked it several times, I ALWAYS question why I am torturing myself. I always want to quit. And I always wind up pushing through (except the first time). It’s natural when you are pushing your comfort zone to it’s limits. I loved Joe’s take “Because if you don’t have any hardships in life, why not manufacture a few, eh?”. Ha!