The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

Walking the Walk: Here We Go!

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Last week I started a #tbt Blogger Style series where each Thursday I’m writing about my experience of walking Spain’s Camino de Santiago back in 2013. Check out how it all got started in last week’s post and read on to discover the lessons I learned on my first day on the road.

What sort of adventure would be complete without a few stops along the way? Before we actually arrived at our starting point of Sarria, we made a stop for a picnic lunch in Astorga and visited the Episcopal Palace, one of only three buildings by Gaudi outside of Catalunya. I was surprised at just how different it was in comparison to his architectural masterpieces that I’d drooled over in Barcelona, and I have to admit that I much prefer his more eccentric works like the Sagrada Familia y Parque Guell.

The Episcopal Palace in Astorga designed by Gaudi

 The next stop was Lugo where we left the car for the week and caught the bus. Luck was on our side and we grabbed some of the last remaining seats. Not getting a spot on that bus would have meant a two hour wait at the Lugo bus station, which would have been an unfortunate way to start the journey. Once in Sarria, getting the keys to the rooms turned out to be a bit of a challenge since the bar we’d been directed to was closed. The owner finally made his way downstairs, looking a bit disheveled (or drunk?), and led us down the street to the hostel. Once we got settled in we headed out in search of dinner. The bar we had planned to go to was closed, but thankfully we stumbled across another gem where we enjoyed pulpo (octopus), lacon, queso al gallego (cheese) and 5 euro wine–which meant two bottles were in order! If there was anything I had learned by reading Paulo Coelho’s record of his own journey on the camino in “The Pilgrimage,” it was that wine is an essential part of the way to Santiago. And dinner also showed us that sometimes when things don’t go according to plan, something even better is in store. 

Sunday morning came all too soon when I woke up at 6:30am with my mind racing about how the day would unfold. What if I wasn´t cut out for it? Rather than laying there and continuing to stress about this possibility, I crept out of bed to do some pre-hike yoga and stretching. There was no turning back now from the adventure that awaited us. When faced with something you’re afraid of, it’s better to just approach it head on than sit around hypothesizing about the unknown. After a quick breakfast, we slathered our feet in vaseline (supposedly a trick to prevent blisters), laced up our hiking shoes and for the first time got a real sense of how much weight we would be carrying on our backs for the next five days. It was time to hit the road!

We dropped off the key to the pension and headed off in the direction of the camino, up the winding streets to the edge of the village of Sarria. We found plenty of photo opps along the way and realized that we would need to resist our temptation to take pictures all day if we wanted to reach our destination of Portomarin before sunset. The telltale yellow arrows soon came into view and we knew we were on the right track finally. There were many hikers already on the road, since our 8am starting time was later than the time that most pilgrims tended to start their day. This was another luxury afforded to us by having stayed at pensiones.

Realizing that I was now on the path to completing one of my important life dreams, I found myself moved to tears. I was really doing this! When we start off on the path towards our dreams, we’re propelled by our emotions and the excitement of following our hearts. However, there wasn´t much time to reflect or meditate on the significance of the journey because it soon started POURING!! We had to stop to search for our ponchos, and then once again a few minutes later to take off some layers since the ponchos were causing us to overheat. How would I survive six hours straight of this? Luckily the landscapes that we were encountering were absolutely breathtaking and refreshing in comparison to Madrid. The air even smelled different and at times I felt more like I was walking through the Irish countryside rather than the NW corner of Spain.

The first few hours passed by fairly quickly as we all chatted nonstop. But I soon realized that I had lost one of my purple gloves! I was pretty disappointed about this setback since I predicted that my hands would be cold again at some point of the journey and now I would have to choose which one of them to keep warm. However, about an hour down the road, I spotted a purple piece of fabric lying on a stone wall up ahead. Could it be my glove…?? And IT WAS! This unexpected event was later deemed to be one of the many ¨Camino Miracles¨ that we witnessed along the journey. Some things that happen on our journeys just don’t make sense, so all we can do is say “Thanks” (and do whatever we can to help others on their own journey to experience similar magic moments). 

We had decided that after about 4 hours on the road we deserved a break, so we ducked into a bar along the way for a refreshing beverage and a toast to having completed the first few hours of our journey. I also took advantage of the opportunity to pick up a shell to attach to my backpacks–the traditional pilgrim´s symbol.Now, only two hours stood between us and the day’s destination.  I had been warned that the last couple hours of each day would be the most difficult, that they would drag on and it would seem like we never were going to reach our destination. When we’re getting closer to the end of our journey, accomplishing our dreams and achieving success, suddenly each step seems more difficult than ever before and you’ll feel tempted to give up. 

This turned out to be exactly the case during the last 8km lying between us and Portomarin. I felt like I couldn´t continue on, my legs felt like they were made of lead. And that´s when I realized the secret of making it along the camino: you can never doubt that you won´t be capable of making it. There really isn´t any reason to do so anyways since you know you have to make it one way or another. And that´s exactly what happened, one way or another the Miño River soon rose into sight in the distance and after walking 22.5 km (14 miles) we were arriving!

I didn´t expect that the small towns we stopped at would be so charming and have so much history to learn about, and although it wasn´t the case for every stop, it was definitely the case for Portomarin. It’s often better to embark on a journey without any specific expectations in mind. After enjoying the most delicious and well deserved ¨menu del dia¨ ever, we took a shower and headed out to see the village. By this time, the rain had let up, the sun had come out a little and we had the perfect backdrop for snapping some pictures–the Miño river with a rainbow arching overhead. 


After taking in the beautiful scenery for awhile, t was time to head indoors. We had great luck stumbling across a local bar with an owner who was very knowledgeable about the history of the town and was more than eager to tell us all about it. It turns out that Portomarin had a very interesting history because it used to be an entirely different city, but in the 1960’s the river was dammed and the original village was soon under water. Most of the historical buildings, including the church, were moved brick by brick to higher ground, where the new city would be created. However, in the process of moving, the church´s golden altar disappeared and was never to be seen again. And the city lost much of its industry when it moved from fertile valley land to the hillside that was 60m higher up. Talking to this barman showed us that everyone you meet along your journey will have something to teach you. 

While the history lesson was very interesting, an unavoidable yawn slipped from my mouth when the conversation turned towards the more political side of things. Thankfully everyone agreed that it was time to head out to find some dinner and we found ourselves at a hole in the wall pizzeria that only had one table indoors and a pizza master who only spoke Italian. I was overjoyed that the bar served Super Bock beer, which brought back plenty of fun memories of my visit to Portugal in December 2010. Our first night on the camino came to an end with us eating authentic Italian pizza made by a man who only spoke Italian, while enjoying Portugese beer. We couldn’t help but ask ourselves, “were we really still in Spain?”

Our first day on the road was more than memorable. What would the other days have in store? How much more would I learn about myself and about life in general during this trip? Before falling into a dreamless sleep that night, I decided that my motto for the rest of the week would be to “Enjoy the journey.” In fact, this is generally a good model at any point in life, especially when it takes an unexpected turn. Truth be told, we never know what to expect, but sometimes it takes an experience which pulls you out of your comfort zone, like the Camino de Santiago, to really make you aware of this truth and remind you that regardless of what awaits us, we have a choice about whether we’re going to resist the unexpected or embrace it and see what it can teach us. 

Check back next Thursday to see what awaited me on day two of the Camino on the way towards Palas de Rei. Check out this clip from Forrest Gump for a sneak peak at what was in store. 

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Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

5 thoughts on “Walking the Walk: Here We Go!

  1. Ah, brings back memories of the Camino del Norte. Looking frantically for places to sleep, wondering about the weather, the HURT! We only had one day of rain on the Norte, and luckily, on a very short walking day! Looking forward to reading more.

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    • Thanks for sharing Cat! Reminiscing about my walk on the camino is definitely making me want to do a part of another route! Did you do the entire Camino del Norte? I feel like 5 days was the perfect amount of time for me! Although maybe on my next trip I´ll challenge myself by doing more!

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  2. Pingback: Walking the Walk: When the Going Gets Tough… | The Intentional Expat

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