I have just returned from a trip of a lifetime. My spouse and I visited a friend in Paris we haven’t seen in a very, very long time. She’s the kind of friend who makes you feel as if you spoke the day before. That’s really special and important. Paris was amazing. We stayed in the 8th Arrondissement or District, which is known as the American Quarter. I speak some French, so that was helpful, although not critical. Except in the taxi – the drivers speak no English. It was fine, they were very patient and kind.
We stayed in an apartment that had 65 stone circular stairs to get to it. This was important because we were leaving Paris to go to Spain. In Spain we would walk El Camino de Santiago from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. That’s listed as 100km, the minimum you can walk to earn your certificate. It’s known as the French Way. That doesn’t include the times you walk off the path to see a stone church, get a sandwich or find “Los Banos”. Or the time that my walking partner, Michael, and I found ourselves on the “Complimentaria”. A slightly longer, slightly more difficult walk.
We left Paris and arrived in Madrid October 3rd. We found a place to sit outside and enjoy a light dinner. We toured parts of Madrid and further out in the country over the next few days. The actual walk began on Tuesday morning.
It was raining. I was not happy about my first day of walking being in the rain, but there it was. I was prepared with a good coat, walking shoes, great socks, technical layers, and a cover for my backpack. And walking sticks. Those sticks are very important!
I was part of a group of about 20 people and we began our journey. My spouse and I quickly realized we had very different paces. He started fast in the morning and deliberately slowed down later. He could be alone or check in with almost everyone in our group this way. I stayed steady at the same pace throughout the day. One smaller group walked really fast and arrived at our next destination first. Another smaller group brought up the rear and had designated themselves as the safety group – they would account for each person.
I found myself in between the two groups by myself. In Northern Spain. Far from home. With no one in sight. El Camino was quiet and there were beautiful landscapes all around me. Farmland, historic stone churches, monasteries, an amazing big sky. There was a monk, who was blind, greeting us from a part of a stone church. I heard the wonderful sound of a man playing a recorder – he was sitting on a stone wall near a stream. Occasionally, I saw a herd of cows, a horse or two, once a herd of sheep.
I was aware that 19 women had been murdered in Madrid by the men who abused them. There were protests.
I was thinking about being a woman, alone, on this path. El Camino de Santiago is safe and we had been reassured and told that it was safe numerous times. I was grateful. I had my iPhone and almost always had service. Nonetheless, I was aware of my aloneness. Being alone was not new to me at all. I have often found myself in a group of 1 for whatever reason. And I have found solace in those moments.
I thought about the women who had died. I thought about fear and violence and grief. And I got scared. I was very aware that I could not stay in a place of being fearful. Doing that would slow me down and take me away from the beauty that surrounded me. I needed to keep walking and plan to meet the rest of the group. I needed to move forward with confidence and trust. I thought a lot about trust. And I said a quick prayer that I would not have to be completely alone again.
Trust is not easily or automatically given. Trust is a well placed belief in the truth of something or someone. Trust is emotional because we are vulnerable when we trust and it is logical because it is based on companionship, friendship, and agreement.
Tuesday ended and the rain had been pretty light. We met back at our bus and headed to our “hotel”. “Hotel” on this trip was more like a rustic bed and breakfast, which was nice. We stayed in a hotel in Madrid and during our last night in Santiago de Compostela.
Wednesday would be another long day of walking. Just to note here, we had been told the terrain was mostly level and easy. And that we’d be walking around 12 miles a day, except for Thursday, which would be 18 miles. There was always a bus or a taxi if we were too tired and sore to walk. There were definitely hills, some steep, and the strain on one’s body really makes it more than the designated miles. There were also places where the ground had old stones embedded in it. I was grateful for good shoes and those good walking sticks! (I ended up walking 70 miles from Tuesday through Saturday. I’m very content with my walk.)
My friend, Michael, began to have trouble with blisters. Michael is very fit, had broken in his shoes, had the “right” socks, etc. But because of his unexpected difficulty, he ended up being my walking partner for the rest of the time. I was never alone again. I’m sorry he had trouble with blisters, and I enjoyed getting to know him and having incredible conversations that I treasure. I’m grateful for our friendship.
I learned a lot about trust and many other emotions and decisions that I and all humans make on a daily basis. It’s not possible to walk El Camino de Santiago on a regular basis, but it is possible to take an hour or two a week to just stop and reflect. If you find it difficult to meditate, go for a walk alone on a safe trail or with someone who is comfortable with silence. Leave behind the to do list, the appointments, the obligations, the phone calls. Just for an hour or two. If it’s difficult to walk, get walking sticks and go slowly and only as far as you are able. Or find a quiet spot and sit for a while. Keep practicing this effort or intention and you might find comfort, solace or clarity. I did. Buen Camino!
I invite you to see my photos from this trip on my Instagram account @peggerns_therapist.