Failing On the Camino de Santiago

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

Christmas in Barcelona and Andorra

Panorama of the Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Upon realizing I hadn’t left the US for six months (the longest I’ve ever gone without using my passport), I knew we had to decide on Christmas break plans and buy some plane tickets.  We decided on Barcelona, Continue reading “Christmas in Barcelona and Andorra”

Spain and Morocco, July 2010

Spain

Trying to get a vacation as well as a free trip back to work this year, I worked out a dope deal where I pieced together a flight to Spain, and then a flight from Morocco to Sudan, paid for by work, while I would travel in between on my own for a few weeks. Unfortunately I had to also work on a summer school graduate class, which resulted in me having to work on assignments each day and having to constantly look for wifi and electrical outlets, but I was able to have a fabulous vacation, finish my class, and get back to work in time for the school year to begin. Success!

Deah in Madrid
Deah in Madrid
Madrid, Spain
Madrid, Spain

I started my trip in Cordoba, because I only had ten days and I wanted to see Andalucia more than I wanted to see the big cities like Madrid or Barcelona. After living in Sudan for a year, I’m interested in the African influences in Southern Spain. I love the way the winding alleys of the streets offer very little hint as to what is behind a doorway- you open it and suddenly there is a beautiful courtyard, a fountain, blooming flowers, a cool breeze. I went on a walking tour of Cordoba and later enjoyed a night out with a bunch of people from my hostel, including a flamenco show at the Tablao Flamenco Arte y Sabor. I spent half a day at the Mezquita, the mosque-turned-cathedral with the famous red and white arches inside, including the underground flooring dating all the way back to the 780’s. The courtyard is lined with orange trees and smells so good. Nearby is Ferdinand and Isabella’s home, the Alcazar, and the Roman Bridge. I could have stayed in Cordoba for days. And eaten ham and olives for days!

Inside Cordoba's Cathedral
Inside Cordoba’s Cathedral
Inside Cordoba's Cathedral, Spain
Inside Cordoba’s Cathedral, Spain
Ancient Roman floor in Cordoba
Ancient Roman floor in Cordoba
Outside the Cathedral
Outside the Cathedral
Spanish Olives
Spanish Olives
Casa Andalusia, Spain
Casa Andalusia, Spain

But I also wanted to see Morocco! So I hopped on a train and headed south to Tarifa to take the ferry to Africa. As we left Spain behind, I could see Gibraltar in the distance.

Gibraltar
Gibraltar

Arriving in Tangier, I stayed in the Medina area of Tangier, not far from the ferry. The hotel turned out to be really old, but so ornate! I could get lost in the hallways and terraces just looking at the intricate mosaics and fountains. I visited the Kasbah (can’t get that song out of my head) and the Grand Mosque. I took a train down to Rabat, and spent hours in their medina and their kasbah, and visited the mausoleum of Mohamed VI. I also ate a chicken heart sandwich, quite by accident. I bought some leather goods at the medina, including some very cool goatskin and henna lamps.

My amazing hotel in Tangiers, Morocco
My amazing hotel in Tangiers, Morocco
Tangiers, Morocco
Tangiers, Morocco
Rockin' the Casbah, Rabat, Morocco
Rockin’ the Casbah, Rabat, Morocco
the market at Rabat
the market at Rabat
Vegetable Market, Rabat
Vegetable Market, Rabat
King Hassan's Tomb, Rabat, Morocco
King Hassan’s Tomb, Rabat, Morocco
The beach at Rabat, Morocco
The beach at Rabat, Morocco
Casbah, Rabat, Morocco
Casbah, Rabat, Morocco

One last train ride, to Casablanca- didn’t want to miss my chance to see Rick’s Cafe and the Hassan II mosque, as well as the sunbathers on the corniche or the blindingly white L’Eglise du Sacre-Coeur. I was only there for a day, and happily a nice hotel let me store my luggage there for the day, so I was able to walk around the city unencumbered. By evening I was at the airport, on an Air Egypt flight back to work in Khartoum.

Casablanca Cathedral
Casablanca Cathedral
Casablanca Post Office
Casablanca Post Office