Failing On the Camino de Santiago

Boots cairn peton Camino Santiago Spain

I had a few weeks’ time to fill in May, so I decided that I would hike the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. My husband Chris had done it two years ago, and he said it was great, I’d love it, after our Nepal hike it would be a breeze. So I flew to Madrid and took a bus to Burgos and got started.

A dawn start from Burgos with my new friend Araceli

The Camino can be started at almost any point in Europe- some paths start from Germany, France, or even Rome- although generally peregrinos start it in St Jean Pied de Port, at the border of France and Spain. From there it is 800 kilometers to Santiago de Campostela, and it takes around 5 weeks. This year approximately 22,000 pilgrims are estimated to hike the trail.

Heading west

I only had three weeks to spend hiking, so I decided to start in Burgos and hike 500 km to Santiago. I was issued my credencial, a passport-like booklet, and told to get at least one stamp a day, and two stamps a day in the last 100 km. The only requirement to get a certificate at the end is that you walk the last 100 km, so the Camino can get quite busy with people doing that final stretch.

It’s fun watching the credencial fill up

The first few days went pretty well. I made some friends along the way, I listened to the birds chirp in the mornings, and the weather was nice- crisp in the mornings, warm in the afternoons. I had Spanish ham at almost every stop, wine or beer in the evenings, and creamy cafe leches every morning. Since we stay in alburgues with restaurants each night, there’s no need to pack a tent or cook your own food. And since we’re hiking four to seven hours a day, we can pretty much eat whatever we want and still burn those calories. It’s a win-win situation!

Just slice off some of that ham and hand it over
A frosty Cerveza- at ten am- is not uncommon, even with a backpack still on

On the third day I developed a blister on each foot, and a sore knee. Blisters are the most common peregrino problem, so I wasn’t too worried. I bought some blister care, and a knee brace at a pilgrim store (they have everything a hiker needs, and there’s one in every so-many towns). Life was good again. Then a couple of days later, I developed a second set of blisters, and ankle pain. When I stopped after a particularly long day (29 km), my ankle was super swollen.

Rows of hiker shoes and boots line an alburgue entryway

I made it to Leon- I had hiked 170 km in a week- and took a rest day. I saw a physiotherapist, who massaged it, taped it, and recommended that I take it easy for a few days.

Getting my ankle looked at- but still smiling

I wanted to finish in the three week time frame I had given myself, and I wanted to try to mostly stay with a group of friends I had made that would all be finishing around June 5 as well. Finally, with a heavy heart, I bought a bus ticket that would speed me 40 km up the road. From there, I’d hike a few half days, and then hopefully be strong enough to get back on schedule and finish.

The bus becomes part of my Camino

I felt like such a failure taking the bus that day. I had set out to walk 500 km on the Camino, and after only 170 km I was facing the choice of dropping out completely, or having to skip sections in order to finish.

The Camino provides me a timely reminder

After the bus dropped me off in Astorga, I walked just 10 km to Santa Catalina de Somoza. I walked slowly, mindfully. No music, no podcasts. I thought about the Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St James. After Jesus’ death, his disciple James came to Spain, and preached the Gospel in the province of Galicia. He died and was buried here, and in the 9th century, a shepherd had a dream and discovered the bones of James. A cathedral was built, and pilgrims came from across Europe to receive a blessing, pay penitence for a sin, or to show their righteousness. The thing is, it is said that in the time James preached in northern Spain, he only converted eight people. Which made me wonder, did James consider his endeavor a failure, or did he call it a success for getting it started in the first place?

The seashell, it’s shape like an open hand, is a sign of the pilgrim

In fact, many of the people I knew on the Camino felt like we “failed” in our own way, by having to take a bus, having to fly home for a family emergency, or getting ill and having to radically change plans. I choose to think that James, with his eight converts, and all of us with our grand plans and less-grand results, are a success. It is better than not trying at all. I may not have been able to do the whole Camino, but I was able to do My Camino. And that’s all any of us can do.

Arriving in Santiago… 409 km hiked in 20 days

Ultreia. Beyond.

The Camino de Santiago

December 2006 in Managua

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December 2006 in Managua
Well, we had a wonderful time at Corn Island for our Thanksgiving break. We spent 4 days just lying around. We never did get over to Little Corn Island, because the seas were too rough to boat over there, so we just stayed on Big Corn. The first night we stayed at a little hotel on the west side of the island that had no electricity, and it was a cool, windy day, so we just unwound, took walks on the beach, and went to bed early. We were pretty tired because our Thanksgiving Feast had gone on until about midnight, and we had to be up at 4:30 am to catch our 6:30 flight to the Caribbean side of Nicaragua.
We walked from our first hotel into the main town on the island, which was at the north end, and checked out the dive shop and the one restaurant in town. We decided to change hotels, and wound up on the east side of the island, at a hotel called Casa Canada. A fabulous little place, it had it’s own generator (thus, electricity!), a beautiful pool, a/c in the rooms, cable tv, and a great king size bed. The four of us, plus Lucia and Consuela, were quite happy there. We hung there Friday and Saturday, and took little walks down to the south end of the island to check out the sandy beach there, and walks into town. Kathleen and I rented bicycles and pedaled around for a while. We met a man named Dorsey who has a cute little house that he’s going to rent to Kathleen for a month this summer- she wants to come back and just chill on the island for her summer break. We tried snorkeling but the jellyfish got us, and I decided the pool and a chaisse lounge was really all I needed.
There weren’t many restaurants on the island- I think we tried them all- and one night we met up with Kedra, Yakshi, and Kyle (our neighbors from ANS) and had lobster and beers with them at a dock-restaurant called Anastasia’s. Very fun. Great food. There was one dance hall on the island, a reggae place that wound up playing all kinds of music.
Eventually it was time to go back to work, so we did return to Managua. Luckily for me, a week later Chris came to visit, so we did a quick tour of the sights to see around this part of the country. We visited the Laguna de Apoya, hiked around there. We went to Volcano Masaya, walked all the way down. We found a quesillo stand (yummy) and had breakfast with the girls, and went to a couple of nice dinner places in town. All too soon it was time for him to leave and for me to go back to work.
This week we only had a four day work week, as Thursday night was “Purisima“, and we had Friday off (to recover, I guess). There are several theories on Purisima, but the most common is that it celebrates the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary by her mother, Ana. In particular, Purisima is hugely celebrated in Nicaragua in the town of Leon. Stories varied on why it was celebrated there, but one story said that when the volcano near Leon was erupting, the residents prayed to the Virgin Mary, and the lava did not destroy their town. So now Purisima is celebrated there each year (as in other parts of the country). Basically, it’s a combination of Halloween, Fourth of July, and Christmas. Groups of people go from house to house, caroling Christmas songs (in Spanish). They go to houses that are marked with a shrine to the Virgin Mary in front. The people- from young kids to old people- sing songs and then are rewarded with little treats, ranging from galletas (cookies) to little cakes, cacao (a kind of chocolate milk) to other things such as matchbooks or toothbrushes. All the while, fireworks are going off practically all night (as they have been for the past week-fun, but a little annoying, and it’s driving the dogs crazy). The fun part about Leon is some of the people have houses there that were built literally hundreds of years ago, and have been really well kept up, and some of them open up parts of their houses to visitors, so you can see their art works and hand-made furniture and all kinds of turn-of-the-century furnishings. Also, Leon has the largest cathedral in Central America (story goes that the plans for the Lima, Peru church were mixed up with the Leon, Nicaragua church and it was built here instead), as well as several other cathedrals throughout the city. A place with a fascinating history, including the Sandinista period in this century.
The rest of this weekend has been spent relaxing, catching up on work, and gearing up for the last two days of school on Monday and Tuesday. After that our kids are done and we just have 2 1/2 days of staff work, then I’m off to DFW! This week promises to be fun, as we have a “movie on the lawn” at school on Monday night, a middle school dance at a country club on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday, Alecia’s friend Adam is coming to visit, so we’ll get to meet him and go to dinner. All I need to do is pack up and get my grades in!