Camino de Santiago, 10-9-17: The 21 lesssons


All this started three weeks ago with, to borrow from Lao Tzu, a single step. The great philosopher referred to a thousand mile journey and while the Camino isn’t that far, to untold thousands of hobbled peregrinos it just feels that way. 

So, what have I learned to this point? More than I could have ever imagined and plenty enough to fill a small book. But as I sit in the lobby of the incredible Leo Albergue in Villafranca savoring spicy chiorza and cold cerveza, I’ve whittled the sum total to one learning/eye opener per day. These are in absolutely no order (but the first one must signal some deep-seated learning disorder). 

  1. My Spanish stinks. Several years of language teachers must still rue the day I showed up in their class. Sure, English is the international language but I’m uneasy that we force Spaniards to speak Ingles in their own nation. 
  2. The Camino is test/challenge in many ways. Being fit is one thing, being able to cope with the emotions and mental demands of the everyday walker (finding a decent room, unfamiliar food, language challenges, staying halfway clean) is another. 
  3. You can buy all sorts of bandages and balms and knee braces in farmacias but simple compression wraps for ankles are nowhere to be found. Damn. 
  4. Spaniards know way, way, way more about our country (politics, Trump, health care, Las Vegas) than we know about theirs. Are you aware they’re having a secession crisis in Catalan? It’s a great big deal to Spaniards. 
  5. Not that the spiritual side of the Camino was lost on me but us heathens are a hard lot to convince. Yet there’s not a day on the trail that some new story surfaces that is testament to the staying power and higher purpose to this walk. It amazes me how deeply people care for what the Camino symbolizes. 
  6. MVP (Most Valuable Purchase): Without question, the three ounce umbrella from Gossamer Gear. It’s been pressed (opened?) into use every day under the unrelenting sun as portable shade. How valuable is it? A Japanese man huddled under sparse shade along the sun-baked Meseta offered me 50€. I kept walking. 
  7. The people here, especially women, are so chic-chic stylish; hair, clothes, shoes. Top to bottom. Very cool. 
  8. Spain needs rain. Torrents of steady rain. Plants are withering. Streams are low. Local papers report of severe drought. There was a smattering of moisture for all of 20 minutes on day three. Otherwise only scattered clouds since then. (Note: what appears a major fire to the east had smoke billowing into the air – and it appears to be smack in the Camino zone. Let’s hope peregrinos are safe.)
  9. Imagine, if you will, people tramping between your and your neighbor’ house along a narrow walkway. Almost every day of the year. That is the Camino. I’ve been close to people in their living rooms and heard their TVs and got a glimpse (not a peeping Tom view) of a woman primping in her bathroom. The path also goes around and through businesses, industrial zones and parking lots. Just today I watched a guy weld something and was feet away from another guy changing oil in a truck. 
  10. Spaniards aren’t overweight by U.S. standards. I’ve not seen many people carry extra poundage (other than in pilgrim packs).
  11. On the flip side, many people smoke, including lots of teens. 
  12. The seasons have changed in my time here. And it’s staying darker longer in the mornings. My trusty headlamp was switched off at 7:30 a few weeks ago but now it stays lit until after 8:00. 
  13. The Camino as a modern enterprise – decent signage, cheap albergues, etc. – is a relatively recent development. Seems there was a priest from the mountaintop town of O Cebreiro (best views of the valleys below) who devised the yellow arrows and – according to lore – replicas of scallop shells that guide pilgrims through towns. He also had a hand in the formation of albergues as pilgrim lodging. 
  14. That said, the guidebooks seem to annoint official start/stop points for a given day. Peregrinos adhere to such advice and measure their progress by it but it shortchanges towns in between. Some of my best and most enriching experiences have been in the small locales. 
  15. Lost or not sure if you’re on the Camino? Not to worry. Look for tissues and TP strewn about the entire length of the route. In fact, pilgrims are kind of a messy bunch. 
  16. As you know, there was plenty of self doubt about being alone for weeks. Those groundless fears dissolved amid new friendships and on-trail ‘time to think.’
  17. Spanish food is … a delight. Yeah, you have to table your American inhibitions and ditch the westernized ‘Peregrino menus’ but holy cow, is it worth it. Blood sausage, chiorzo, beef tongue, tripe (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it), and pulpo (octopus) could be – hey, it already is – a daily staple for me. 
  18. MVP 2: Darn Tough socks. Best. Socks. Ever. A close third: my faultless Osprey Stratos 36 pack. If you have to worry about your pack, you have the wrong pack. 
  19. The oldest hominids – antecessors – were discovered in caves along the Camino. Say ‘hi’ to your one million or more year old forebears. 
  20. If you heard a rooster crow at the corner of Trade and Tryon in Charlotte you’d think the town had gone hayseed. But I heard that very thing in the center of Leon. They must love their pollo here. 
  21. Parts of the walk have resembled western Nebraska (the barren stretches of the Meseta) and I could’ve swore I was in North Carolina as we trudged up the long trail to Valcarce. Uncanny resemblance. 
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1 Comment

Filed under Writing to adult children

One response to “ Camino de Santiago, 10-9-17: The 21 lesssons

  1. Was aware of Catalan issue but found the same while walking through England. Citizens in small hamlets and villages are paying attention to what’s going on in the U.S. and concerned about North Korea and Trump.

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