“No one grows old by living, only by losing interest in living.”
I left this quote along the trail to inspire others this week. Yet as I walked on through the week I realized that this was really the theme of my Camino week 4. I met an American man who was 80 years old who has walked the Camino multiple times through various countries. I walked up the highest peak on the trail to O’cebreiro this week with a man that was 70 years old and one that was 69 years old. In fact, most of the people I see on the trail are older than me – in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s – and it’s these people who surprise me and amaze me for their desire to really ‘live’ and challenge themselves. I will tell you without a doubt – anyone can do this. Living is a choice. You either choose to live life, or you choose to make excuses and never go anywhere. That’s what became very clear to me this week on the Camino.
This week was full of ups and downs – literally. I climbed to the highest point of the trail this week and tackled some steep descents covering a total of 98 miles (157 k). I have now completed 376 miles in 4 weeks and only have 74 miles and 5 days of walking left. With every step now I worry about finishing and what I will do when it’s all done. I feel like a kid on Christmas day realizing that it’s coming to an end and desperately wanting it to go on longer.
Yes – I want to keep going – even with all of the blisters, pain, aches, and exhaustion. I realize that I want it to go longer because this has been absolute bliss for my mind – it is a brain vacation every day as my feet simply walk and my mind is free to roam – something that seldom happens in my normal life. It is what travel should be; a true break for your mind from the day to day routine it has to deal with.
One of the men who I walked with this week said that the first 10 days of the Camino breaks you physically, the next 10 days breaks you mentally, and the last 10 days builds you up. I have to agree that I feel like I’ve gone through this roller coaster and now I’m trying to figure out how to be built back up and most importantly take the lessons I learned with me beyond the Camino.
This week Spring sprung on the trail. All of a sudden the meadows were in bloom, roses were around every corner, the grape vines were sprouting leaves, and cotton wood and pollen filled the air. One day I walked through so much cotton wood that it appeared to be a snow storm! Check out the video of the ‘storm’.
The terrain changed this week to big hills/peaks to climb and rolling hills of wineries. As I neared Sarria we walked through tiny farming villages and followed rivers twisting around the countryside. The big hill climbs up to O’cebreiro and Cruz de Ferro (aprox. 4,800 ft) weren’t nearly as daunting as I had made them out to be. The climbs were gradual and the views were a lovely distraction. The colors were some of the most amazing I’ve seen – browns, greens, pink, purple, yellow, and some of the brightest blue sky I’ve seen. At the top I was greeted with foggy, cool mornings perfect for walking and photography.
The main point of interest this week was the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) , a stop that is practically mandatory where pilgrims place a stone at the base of the cross signifying a prayer. Since I had done no research on the trail prior to starting to walk, this was all news to me. Many people had brought rocks from their home countries or towns and I didn’t really have anything. I could have bought one on the way up, but instead I decided to leave my favorite travel quote in the rubble as I believe it applies perfectly to the Camino and to life.
“Some Stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity” -Gilda Radner
My blisters aren’t getting any worse, but they don’t really get better either. My heels are in quite a lot of pain when I first start walking each day and after about an hour the pain sort of numbs into something I can deal with. My feet and legs are sore from the climbing, but the descent was particularly brutal. In order to try to save my knees, I decided to let gravity pull me down the mountain and actually jogged down instead of going slow and controlled. It seemed to work as I got down much quicker, and my knees weren’t too bad the next day. However – everyone I trotted past thought I was certifiably insane.
One thing I have learned is that you have to force yourself through the initial aches and pains of the Camino as they do get better as you simply start to exercise more and build up your walking muscles. I am so much stronger than when I started – I can feel it and my physical soreness is much less than it was in the beginning weeks.
My mind is clearly getting stronger and I no longer want to turn on my ipod as a distraction because I love the time to just think. One of my favorite things I saw this week was this sign I think it applies far beyond the Camino trail.
I also was reminded this week of the mental lesson of expectations. Each day I look at my mileage I need to cover and ‘dial it in’ to my head and set my expectations. 25k will take 5 hours of walking and about an extra hour and a half of stops. However as I walked into Sarria this week I was fuming as what I thought was supposed to be ‘an easy’ 21k turned into 28k because I had read the map wrong. For the last hour and a half I kept wondering why I wasn’t seeing the town, doubting if I was on the right trail, wondering if I had lost my mind in a time warp. I was exhausted and angry. I should have known the minute I pressed ‘send’ on this tweet – “@ottsworld – 21k today into sarria and a rest day for my feet and mind on Monday! Woohoo – this should be a walk in the park!” – that it wasn’t going to go well. Expectations are so dangerous sometimes and I really wish that I could live my life without them. After a shower and a large hamburger, I had calmed down, re-read the map, and realized it was my own stupid fault.
This week I experienced the luxurious side of the Camino at the Casa de Tepa, a beautiful historic home (Posada) in Astorga. You don’t always have to stay in albergues sleeping inches next to each other and listening to everyone snore. Like everything in life there is a luxurious side to the Camino and in most larger towns you can check yourself into settings like this! I enjoyed a bubble bath, an open bar, and a huge breakfast before begrudgingly leaving my luxurious surroundings.
The rest of the week I was back in bunkbeds in settings like this one at the municipal albergue in O’cebreiro – a little close for comfort, but with earplugs I slept just fine. This week something weird started happening, more people joined the trail. As you get closer to the end, more and more people do the smaller sections close to Santiago. This meant lines at albergues – this was the absolute last thing I wanted to deal with after walking for 6 hours…wait in a line to get my little bunk bed space. But it’s the reality as you get closer to Santiago, plus the space is only 5 to 10 Euro for the night so I can understand why they are in demand.
This week I was introduced to a very important ‘food’ – Lemon beer – I was told that it was like liquid bread and fruit! Strangely it was Michael and David – the 70 year olds – who convinced me that it would be a good idea to drink one before we started our O’cebreiro climb. I think it’s important to listen to your elders…right? So we ended up drinking lemon beer all the way up the mountain and quite frankly it worked! It was sort of like a pub crawl up to O’cebreiro and it made the whole day a lot of fun. I was humbled by hearing their stories and learning about their families.
I also discovered hamburgers this week again. It’s the one thing I totally crave while on the trail. However I learned that in Spain hamburgers are actually made with pork (ham) – different but good. As long as they are served with mustard and ketchup I’m happy. And one thing to know is that in Spain they never eat with their hands. Croissants are served with a fork and knife and yesterday my fries were even served with a little fork!
I had once described the Annapurna circuit as a river of friends and it applies here too. Each person I meet is like a little twig floating in the current of the Camino River. Sometimes they get stuck on a bank or caught in a bunch of other sticks and swirl for a bit, and then they break free and catch another current. That’s when you bump into them again, when the new current sends them into yours again. This week was about meeting old friends again such as Larry and Mumford – as well as making new ones. The new ones were mainly Americans with various stories that I loved to hear. And of course my new special friendships with my climbing buddies David and Michael were a highlight to my week. They inspire me to keep going strong and always challenge your mind and body as it keeps you young.
This week one of my biggest and best experiences was due to my brilliant Camino ‘team’ of Rayo Travel and JacoTrans Luggage Transportation. They surprised me with delivering my green scarf that I lost in week 3 back to me! They worked together on ‘Operation Green Scarf’ and talked to the Albergue hundreds of miles back and found my scarf and then proceeded to transport it via a couple of different JacoTrans drivers to me in Ponferrada 9 days later! That day was a stressful one because when I arrived in Ponferrada on a very hot day I got to the albergue and my transported backpack wasn’t there. I called Jose Luis at JacoTrans to find out where my backpack was and he told me he had to drop it at a different location in the city. I was initially upset that I had to walk further now, but once I had a bit of trail mix and got my blood sugar back down to normal from where it was at ‘raving bitch’ I realized that it was actually good that JacoTrans is not leaving bags in places which aren’t secure. Some albergues don’t open until 3PM – so they won’t leave them in insecure locations. Instead Jose Luis dropped my bag at a very secure spot at a Hostal San Miguel and it turned out to be a great place. Once I got my bag and got checked in, Jose Luis called me and said he was coming by to talk to me. I was a bit surprised and excited as I would finally get to meet one of the JacoTrans drivers which were normally invisible to me. Every day I just leave my bag and they move it like super heros that I never get to see. He pulled up in his van and handed me my green scarf! I was so surprised, I bought him a drink at the bar and we had a great time! A big thanks to Rayo Travel who instigated the whole thing and did all of the conversing in Spanish to get it back for me! I love having a great team of people supporting me!
Five days left, 75 miles…I can do this…and so can you!
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!