After a lovely break in Carrion de los Condes and getting treated to a scrumptious steak dinner from a retired doctor from Canada, things could only go downhill from there – and they did. Fast forward to me puking in a albergue toilet to begin week 3 of my Camino de Santiago journey .
I knew something was wrong as I was walking my 26k, I started deteriorating after about 10k. I felt tired and began to yawn while I was walking, and then my shoulders started to get sore, followed by a headache. These were not the normal aches, pains, and exhaustion of the Camino – this was the flu.
Strangely the flu passed through me quickly and this ended up being my strongest week yet which reminded me that just when you think you at your lowest, things turn around. I covered 89 miles over 6 days (144km) which makes a total of 278 miles of my 441 miles overall. A strange feeling hit me this week – you stop thinking/worrying about IF you will make it, and after you hit halfway you start to worry about the fact that you ARE going to make it and this journey will come to an end. The mind can be such a roller coaster at times.
This week I owned the meseta, the high plains of Spain. Everyone warned me about the meseta – they said it was ugly, flat, boring, long, and hot. But I love an underdog and from the moment I had heard all of this bad talk about the meseta I had decided that I would like it – yes, I’m just that stubborn. When I got onto the meseta and started taking it all in, I realized quickly that this was not an ugly or boring place – this was basically just like the Midwest (Illinois) where I grew up. This familiar landscape immediately made me happy, and it sent me in mental directions I never would have imagined.
In addition, I used the long, flat distances between villages to try to work/think on things such as the annual Meet Plan Go! career break presentation and event plans. I also worked on something that has had me frustrated for years – I tried to teach myself how to roll R’s – a sound included in so many languages but sadly not in American English. I looked up some instructions/exercises on the internet and came across these instructions from Benny at Fluent in Three Months – for the next 17k I was doing tongue exercises, repeating words, and trying to say “Erre con erre cigarro. Erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros sobre los rieles del ferrocarril” It was great practice, but I still have a long way to go. My rolled R is sort of in slow motion yet – but hopefully by the time I reach Santiago I will be successful!
The flu was a physical hiccup I wasn’t planning, but it really did pass through my body quickly, so after one really horrible day of discomfort and wobbling into the albergue, puking, sleeping for 14 hours – I was better.
My feet also started to play nice this week. The flat, even surfaces helped a great deal (another reason to love the meseta!). However, my heel blisters were so deep under the tough skin that I was unable to get them drained properly until a lovely couple from Holland gave me my very own sterile scalpel…just what every trekker wants and needs! The scalpel allowed me to actually cut an incision into the thick skin and keep the blisters open and drained while I continued to walk. My other heel blisters seemed to have calmed down and toughen up a bit on the flat – so things are looking up for my feet! Granted, they are still super sore at the end of the day, but yours would be too if you were walking 16 miles a day…every day.
For anyone who doesn’t think that it’s necessary to take time away from your day to day routines to clear your head then I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. This week is when things started to really come unplugged for me in my mind. It became about the freedom to simply think – think about my life, my goals, my decisions, my family, my friends, my culture, my shortcomings, and my satisfaction. It was so powerful at times that I found myself crying in the middle of a field. It wasn’t tears of sadness – it was tears of …well – I don’t really know…freedom of thought I guess. Memories, thoughts, ideas, conclusions all rushed at me on Saturday as I walked along a particularly ugly part of the trail (yes – those exist in great quantity at times).
It was a simple smell that stopped me in my tracks. I was walking alone through some fields and a big tractor was out working in the fields tilling up the soil getting ready for planting season. The wind was blowing just right and I suddenly was breathing in the odor of freshly tilled soil and it hit me like a tidal wave. All of a sudden I was 9 years old again and my father was tilling in our garden and my brother and I were planting peas fighting with each other as normal. I stopped walking and just stood there as memories of childhood summers came back to me. I wondered how in the world 33 years went by. I thought about where I was at this moment – in a field in Spain and how never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself here in this life I have chose for myself – wandering the world. The whole experience made me miss my childhood, my brother and sister as well as my parents and what we all had. And it also made me take stock of how far we had all come. Jobs, marriages, kids, houses, travel…it was a good life inventory to take for that moment. It made me appreciate all of our lives and connections that I had taken for granted. Who says that your senses aren’t powerful…even your sense of smell can transport you to places that you hadn’t thought possible.
I feel like I am starting to really form a direction again for myself – as I had become a bit lost in the last year. I’m reconfirming things and getting back to basics of what I know makes me happy and satisfied. Having time to think is so wonderful. No distractions, it’s just you and the trail. It’s comforting, and I already know I’m going to miss it when I reach Santiago.
I’m convinced my sickness this week was meant to be since it made me change my daily mileage and landed me in the town of Bercianos de Real Camino where I had an eye opening experience at a public hostel like nothing I’ve had before. This was a public albergue that was donation based. My Rayo iphone guide had said
“the municipal albergue in Bercianos is an experience you won’t soon forget! The old home seems to be falling apart, yet most come out thrilled to have stayed and having experienced something unique.”
When I arrived two lovely men sat me down, gave me biscuits and water, scrutinized my credentials making sure I was a real walking pilgrim, and then gave me the schedule and ‘rules’. People helped make dinner at 6PM, everyone ate at 7PM, small church service at 9:30PM, lights out and in bed at 10PM.
That night at dinner the men announced (via Pilgrim translators) that they are running the albergue during their 2 week vacation since they believe in keeping the Camino spirit and pilgrimage alive. The albergue has volunteers manage the hostel throughout the year. That night at the albergue there were 39 people form 14 different countries. We all introduced ourselves and out country and then after dinner we all had to sing songs from our country as well as a Camino song in Spanish – more chances for me to practice my R’s! Then everyone pitched in and cleaned the dishes, did a little church service and went to bed. It was a night that I thought was going to be corny and all I wanted to do was sleep, but soon I was swept up in the atmosphere these men created and ended up having a fabulous and memorable night. I gave them big hugs upon leaving the next day and thanking them for their commitment.
I swear I have a bottomless appetite. I don’t know how many calories I’m taking in each day, but it’s a lot. Even with all of the calories I’m definitely shrinking. I eat a sweet pastry breakfast in the morning with coffee, then snack on bags of nuts, fruits, tuna, breakfast bars, olives, chocolate, and sometimes potatoe and egg tortilla during the walking day – and then at night I have a 3 course pilgrim meal.
However when I arrived in Leon this week I had a mission – and that mission was a Big Mac. I actually walked an extra 2k to get to the McDonalds in Leon and that night my pilgrim meal was a Diet Coke, super salty fries, a big mac, and a hot fudge sundae – I was in heaven. Sometimes, you just need a familiar taste when you travel, it doesn’t mean that you are a horrible person or traveler, it just means that you are hungry for a burger and some familiarity.
My trail running shoes are doing ok this week – but they are great on the flat – light and flexible. I’m a bit more worried for the coming week which has me climbing over proper mountains and down steep descents – that’s where the trail shoes are really put to the test. I sort of wish I could just duct tape the shoes to my feet so that my feet didn’t move around in the shoes creating blisters!
My favorite travel gear this week is my Trekr travel washcloth it’s perfect for this trip. It dries super fast, is odorless, and never needs to be washed. I’m also loving my smart wool socks as they dry fast too overnight after being washed out in the bathroom sink. My silicon earplugs are an absolute miracle as they actually allow me to sleep amongst 30 other people in the albergues. In fact they are so good that they allow me to sleep through everyone leaving in the morning. I wake up and everyone is gone in my room!
This week I was on my own as Katherine had to slow down due to a knee issue. I really missed her this week – it’s been really solitary lately – but at the same time, I think that’s what I needed for this section. I still see her at night for dinners and I leave her little messages and gummy bears along the trail. I basically walk alone during the day saying hello to people and maybe sharing a few sentences, and then doing all of my socializing at the albergues in the evenings.
This week I met new people from Canada, Germany, South Africa, America, Holland, Japan, England, and Bolivia (a Bolivian family runs the cute San Javier Albergue in Astroga). A special mention goes to my bunkmate from Germany, Ullie, who had to sleep with me throwing up. He was an angel and I’ll never forget him!
This week some of the most important people for me have been my ‘digital cheering section’ – yes…you. The outpouring of support has been amazing and I am thankful that I have so many people concerned about me and sending me good vibes…thank you.
My support team of Rayo Travel has been a lifesaver this week – I forgot my favorite travel scarf (with me for 5 years) at the albergue where I had the flu and they are getting it back for me and I’ll pick it up in Santiago when I finish. This story of lost travel gear has a much better ending than my story of the Dissapearing Traveling Pants! It is so wonderful to have someone in the area ‘on the ground’ supporting you – thanks team Rayo!
Next week brings on mountain climbs that I’m very nervous about. However, having JacoTrans transporting my heaviest luggage allows me to keep my bag lighter to get over the mountains – so thankful for their luggage transport service! I will be climbing to 4,250 feet, but one way or the other I will make it…even if I have to duct tape my shoes on!
As I was walking this week I saw a little quote that I loved that I think really applies for everyone that I will leave you with – “Even if you don’t know where you are going, just go!”
You can follow my journey along in ‘real time’ on my Facebook page – OttsworldTravel
Please leave comments and questions as your support as I walk is greatly appreciated and just knowing people are out there following me keeps me going!