Friday, October 16, 2015


It has been a very long time since I've posted anything here so as I lay wide awake at 7am on a Saturday morning I figured this was as good a time as any to get back to it.

Honestly, when I started this blog I think it was an attempt to make myself feel better about who I am and what I did. I needed some validation that my life wasn't just stuck in neutral. I graduated college and I had the job, the apartment, the car - all the things you are supposed to have as an adult. From one perspective, I had everything figured out but from another, there was something missing - something big.

I got into this funk where I had no idea where my life was going. This can't be IT, right? This can't be what life is all about. So when I decided to go back to school for my MBA, I added my trip along the Camino de Santiago before picking up and moving 6000 miles from California to England. And that just happened to be the best decision I have ever made in my life.

I learned so much about myself along the Camino and trying to live out those values in everyday life has moulded me into the person I will be for the rest of my life. Don't get me wrong, I will still be growing and learning and experiencing new things but I am and will continue to be more confident and strong about myself and my actions and beliefs.

My boyfriend said something that really stayed with me. He said that he hasn't had much self-confidence and as much encouragement and support that I give him, he never really believed me until he went away on holiday on his own with a friend and his friend's family. He's learned things about himself that you can't really learn from someone else. It really takes an act of self-acceptance in order to start seeing the good that others see in you.

Now, I am not saying that I am this self-actualized, superior person who has their entire life figured out. It's not like one day you suddenly decide, "Yep, I love myself now and I will have high self-esteem for the rest of my life!" That's just stupid. I have found, like so many things in life, that self confidence, self acceptance, self love, is a journey - like a great hiking trail. You can't have those magnificent peaks without the low valleys and those switchback trails in between.

But you know what? Valleys can be just as beautiful as peaks and you're really looking at the same landscape anyway. It's just a matter of perspective.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Camino Day 17 - SANTIAGO!!!

Santiago de Compostela - 8 September, 2014

I made it to Santiago. I can't believe I just walked 200 miles across a foreign country. The blisters on my feet, the pain in my muscles and the fatigue in my heart do nothing but deepen the gratitude I feel for being able to take this pilgrimage.

Ramon, Don and I arrived in Santiago together yesterday. As we approached the medieval city center, I was overcome by emotion. Reaching Santiago with my new friends and celebrating such an amazing feat with them was one of the best feelings I've ever had in life.

We arrived just in time for midday mass at the cathedral and the swinging of the botafumeiro. We were scrunched into the aisles during the service, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other peregrinos. Honestly, it wasn't quite the cathartic, spiritual experience I expected - it was more of a tourist attraction than anything else. So I attended an English-language mass this morning to really contemplate the end of my pilgrimage.

During this mass, I found out that the 8th of September is the date that Christians celebrate the birthday of Saint Mary which was simply amazing to me. When I left home, I decided at the last minute to bring along this small, glow-in-the-dark plastic statue of Saint Mary. I can't even remember who gave it to me, but for as long as I can remember she's been in my bedroom and I've felt comforted by her watching over me. I never knew why I decided to bring her along but every day of the Camino, I carried her in my right front pants pocket. Walking on those dark mornings and those times I felt so lonely, I clutched her in my fist and felt better. And it turns out, I finished my pilgrimage on her birthday. During mass, the priest said that Mary was God's favorite daughter and the relationship between a father and daughter is so very special. He said that people pray to Saint Mary because it helps to have a daughter champion a prayer to her father. That I arrived in Santiago on Saint Mary's birthday not fully knowing why I kept a statue of her with me for the past two and a half weeks is far beyond a coincidence. I don't really know the significance of this, but I know in my heart that there is great meaning behind it.

So often on this trip, I got to choose if I wanted to be alone to write about what I was going through or go out with other people and participate in this extraordinary experience. I think that may be what I am most proud of on my Camino: the number of times I chose to participate rather than observe.

I started these Camino posts with poems I came across and would like to close with a Santiago Pilgrims' Blessing:

Father God we ask your blessing on us,
pilgrims who have come to venerate
the tomb of your Apostle Santiago.
As you kept us safe on our Camino way,
may you keep us safe on our journey home.
And, inspired by our experience here,
may we live out the values of the Gospel
as our pilgrimage through life continues.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Camino Day 13

4 September, 2014 - Palas de Rei

Another day on the Camino and the second in a row walking in no sun. That kind of tricks my body into thinking it can go longer than it should. Luckily my head comes into play and shuts that down pretty quickly.

I haven't mentioned the father and daughter pair I've met from New Zealand - Bruce and Lydia. They are both great! I met them in Triacastela along with the others and we'll probably be in the same towns until Santiago. I met them through Ramon. It is interesting meeting different people in such a different environment from their norm but still see their roles coming through. Like Bruce, for example, acts quite fatherly toward me which is actually very comforting. He keeps to himself but when I offered something up like that I am doing laundry or looking for a store for a camera battery charger (mine fried back in Ponferrada and this is my second attempt at finding a proper replacement) he offered to add my clothes to their load and told me about electronics stores I might try around town. That feeling of comfort I got reminds me of a scene in this TV show called Girls. The main character talks about how when we are little and we drop and break a glass, how our dad keeps us away and out of harm until he cleans up all the glass - but how when we are older, there isn't anyone that does that for us anymore.

There is something very liberating about striking out on your own. You learn to do things you never thought you would do. You learn things about yourself that you never thought you would know. But there is also something very freeing about depending on others. Asking for help allows us to be vulnerable and being taken care of shows us the best of humanity.

I'm writing this as I sit in a restaurant having just ordered dessert, by the way - ice cream cake or "torta helada" and wine (duh). The first white wine - vino blanco - I've had here in Spain and of course it is amazing.

So this morning I left in the dark again but this time I was by myself. Yesterday, I walked with Ji Wuk and Aldo in the dark. But it's quite difficult to wait for the light because sunrise isn't until 8am which means I wont get to my next stop until about 3pm. Now that I am getting closer to Santiago, there are many more pilgrims on the Way and far fewer beds available so I've been trying to get into town by 2pm or earlier.

Anyway, I made sure to put my flashlight in my pocket for easy access and I'm glad I did. I brought it out as I was climbing the hills through a dense, forested area in the dark. There was a good 20 minutes when I couldn't see or hear other pilgrims either in front of or behind me and I started to get nervous. I started hearing rustling just off the trail and my mind started cutting to all the worst possible scenarios - pretty bleak stuff. I wasn't sure if I should continue on or sit by myself and wait for who knows how long for another pilgrim or group to come up from behind me.

But then, I squeezed my flashlight and remembered that it was the one I got from family day at my brother Mike's work. So I kept going and imagined that Mike was walking along right beside me - just like the time in Yosemite. We were hiking down from Half Dome and I was sick, dehydrated and had massive blisters on both feet. He just talked to me the whole way down to distract me from the pain. So I imagined him doing the exact same thing this morning. It was like he was right there with me - asking me questions about my Camino so far and how excited I was for Liverpool. Imagining him walking along beside me helped keep me from panicking, kept me walking forward and kept me from thinking that some huge thing was going to jump out from the darkness and attack me.

So I texted Mike when I was clear from the trees to thank him for the flashlight. I don't know if he ever got the text and I don't know if he will ever know how important that flashlight will be to me from now on but I hope he knows how important he is to me.

Dear God, please bless Mike, Erin and smart, beautiful, fun Kate. Keep them all healthy and happy and always let them know how much they are loved. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Camino Day 12

3 September, 2014 - Portomarin

Okay, so it's been a few days. Let's see...I left off last in O'Cebreiro so Triacastela was next. The downhill between O'Cebreiro and Triacastela was pretty tough - I generally go pretty quick downhill but it also hurts my joints a ton more than uphill. Also, to add a fun little wrinkle, I only had a 5 euro note for two days because there wasn't a cash machine up at the top of the hill.

Morning on the way to Triacastela - I get to walk down into these valleys
So I got to Triacastela, found an albergue then went in search of a cash machine so I could pay for a bed for the night! It turns out that albergue was the best on my entire Camino because I met some of the coolest pilgrims - almost all of whom I am sure I will keep in contact with.

First, I set off to hang my laundry on the line where I met Ramon. Ramon is from Venezuela originally, lived in Madrid for about 10 years and now lives in London. I started talking to him in Spainsh, "Hola, como estas? Da donde?" To which he promptly replied, "Don't worry, we can speak in English if you like." Ha! At first I was a bit annoyed that he wouldn't let me practice my Spanish, but I was so happy when we kept talking.

Ramon had to go call his girlfriend back in London so I was sitting in the common area waiting for my laundry to dry when I met Brendan from Singapore. Brendan is a huge Liverpool Football Club supporter! I was telling him about studying in Liverpool after the Camino and we instantly bonded. It turns out he and his wife went to England for their honeymoon and they got to go to a match at Anfield!

After chatting with Brendan, I went up to my room where I met three of my new roommates - Don, Peter and Jose. Don is from Dallas and is looks to be in his late-50s or early-60s. Pete is from Glasgow but lives and works in London. It turns out that Pete works in the same neighborhood where Ramon lives! Small world. Jose is from Alicante, a beach city here in Spain. I don't know what Jose does, but he seems to be a bit punk rock-ish. He showed us a picture of himself with shoulder-length hair wearing a kilt at a hard rock music festival.

These guys were so fun to hang out with! We all went to dinner together and chatted about our routes and proposed towns that we will be staying in. We talked about why we are doing the Camino and what we hope to get out of it and drank lots of vino tinto.

It turns out I ran into Ramon in Sarria yesterday and today in Portomarin along with Don and Pete. Don and Pete walked from St. Jean. They both go about 30 kilometers a day but want to arrive in Santiago on Don's birthday on September 8th. I really like hanging out with these guys so I'm going to try to push myself to keep pace with them.

Yesterday at the albergue in Sarria, I met two more new friends! Aldo is an Italian who is walking the Camino for the FIFTH time!! And Ji Wuk is in her early-20s from South Korea but is studying in Germany for a term. I walked with Aldo and Ji Wuk this morning in the pitch dark out of Sarria. Aldo speaks Italian and a bit of Spanish, Ji Wuk speaks a bit of Spanish and English and I speak English and a bit of Italian. So between the three of us we were able to communicate fairly well.

I've met so many new friends in the past three days that I just didn't feel like writing. I'm trying to participate rather than observe and while that means less frequent journal entries, it also means more meaningful relationships with my new friends.

Walking from Sarria to Portomarin yesterday was very pleasant. Even though we started walking in the dark, there were a ton of people walking together so it wasn't too scary. Sarria is the city which is 100 kilometers from Santiago - it's the closest city where people can start their Camino and still get their compostela - certificate for completing the Camino. So there are a ton more people in general plus a lot more of a commercialized feel to everything. But it is still part of the Camino and there is definitely still something to learn from this stretch of the Way.

Cold walk from Sarria to Portomarin
The walk was really foggy and quite chilly. So while my feet hurt the appropriate amount for having walked over 20 kilometers, my body felt like it could keep going. But the next town was another 8 kilometers of walking. So I'm staying here in Portomarin as I had planned.

After about a week on the Camino, I finally settled into a good walking routine. I leave by 7:30am, stop for tea and a croissant after about 6-8 kilometers. I then walk for another 8 kilometers or so before I should stop for a break. That is usually about an hour or so before I get into the town I stay in that night. I'm planning to get into town and reserve a bed by 1 or 2 pm each day now. I don't want to risk not getting a bed with so many more people walking the Camino now.

Well, I've just run into Don, Pete and Ramon. Don and Pete are moving on but Ramon is staying here in Portomarin. I'm meeting him for dinner later so I'm off to take a shower.

Dear God, please bless all of my new friends. Thank you for bringing them into my life. Please help us keep in contact throughout and after the Camino and please keep them safe, healthy and happy. Amen.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Camino Day 9

31 August, 2014 - O'Cebreiro

Today was the big climb out of the valley of Valcarce up into Galicia. Though it was a relatively short distance to hike (8.1 kilometers or 5 miles), it took about three and a half hours from when I stepped out of the hotel to when I made it to the church. The climb was tough - straight uphill for pretty much the entire time - but it wasn't awful. I can feel my body getting stronger every day out here.

It is pretty amazing to notice how my body is changing. I can sense how high my metabolism is and I can feel the muscles in my back every time I take a step on the trail. I notice the muscles in my legs every time I hoist my pack on and, although they are really sore every single day, I can tell the muscles in my feet are getting stronger too.

The hike up to O'Cebreiro was wonderfully challenging. It started winding through roads in tiny sleepy villages around dawn then broke into the wilderness. Covered by luscious trees, the trail went from asphalt to dirt quickly after the start. It is at this stage of the Camino where pilgrims cross into Galicia with the cooler weather and the ever-increasing number of pilgrims making their way to Santiago.

My first negative experience on the Camino happened today. I was on a particularly steep and barren stretch of trail that wound through grazing fields for a local farmer's livestock. I hadn't come upon another pilgrim on the trail for quite some time so when I heard hooves walking up behind me, I turned around. I saw a tanned, good-looking, burly man probably in his fifties sitting atop this beautiful horse. As he came up, I smiled and greeted him as I had every other soul on the Camino with a simple, "Hola, buenos dias."

He greeted me kindly enough with the usual, "Hola, peregrina. Buenos dias." Now, by this point on the Camino I had learned to understand a bit of Spanish simply through immersion. I would listen to people speak and be able to pick out enough words and context to understand what they would say. So while I could grasp what the man was saying, I didn't fully understand until the whole situation was over. He told me all in Spanish, there is a fork up ahead in the trail with a very small waymarker. Most pilgrims miss it and go the wrong way. I'll go with you to show you.

I said no thank you but he insisted and started walking alongside me. He then started asking questions like: how old are you, are you married, are you alone, where are you stopping today, would you like to come to my house, can I kiss you, just let me kiss you.

We came upon a slight bend in the trail and the man brought his horse quite close and forced me into the bend, blocking me off from the trail with the massive flank of his horse. As there was a wire fence behind me keeping me on the trail and off the grazing fields, I was well pinned in.

My answers were getting more and more terse and I was getting more and more anxious as he started to dismount. I decided to shove past his horse out of the bend in the trail and I started walking pretty fast. He stayed on his horse and began pursuing me with more questions and invitations. Finally, I stopped in my tracks, turned around and shouted, "Por favor, basta!" Please, enough!

I learned that phrase in Italian and prayed it held the same sentiment in Spanish. To my surprise, the man simply smiled, winked at me, turned his horse around, and went back down the trail. I stood there until he was out of sight then I turned and ran.

I reached the next village and stopped at the very populated cafe where I waited until a group of pilgrims left so I could tag along with them. I was doubly thankful when I arrived at O'Cebreiro around noon just before the midday church service started. I emerged from the trail among the parishioners, sweaty, dirty and on edge so I just walked straight into the full church and sat down in a pew in the last row.

I didn't even really pay attention to the priest. I just prayed: Dear God, thank you for keeping me safe today. Please don't let me let this experience taint the rest of the Camino. Help keep me vigilant and help me keep my heart and mind open to Your teachings. Please also bless and keep safe all of my fellow pilgrims. Amen.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Camino Day 8

30 August, 2014 - Herrerias

Today I climbed a mountain. But the view was better on the way up than it was from the summit.

For some reason today, I didn't want to stop and rest at all. I think it was partly because I wanted to get my hands on my bag that never made it to Villafranca. Oh yeah, that happened...

I never realized that you had to call to have a pick-up reserved for JacoTrans. The first time I did it in Rabanal, Gene didn't say - or didn't know - that you had to make a reservation. I guess someone else had reserved a pick up so my bag ended up in Ponferrada with no problem. But from Ponferrada to Villafranca, I must have been the only one with a bag to transport because no one came to pick it up!

I had a bit of a meltdown in Villafranca but the hospitalero was so nice and helpful. He called JacoTrans for me to arrange my bag to be sent to Vega de Valcarce for me. He also called to the hostel/bar in Ponferrada to confirm my bag was still there. I cried from the heat and dehydration and frustration at my stupid mistake. Crying usually makes people either feel sorry for me or feel really uncomfortable. The hospitalero seemed more about the former but he was very down-to-business until everything was worked out. He also didn't speak much English so I was trying to speak and understand Spanish which was just aggravating the situation. Finally, he asked another pilgrim to translate and that made things go a bit more smoothly.

So my meltdown, coupled with a sunburn from the walk through the vineyards yesterday, made me very tired and agitated. Also, I was waiting to get my bag before taking a shower so I didn't take a shower until around 6pm once everything had been dealt with - which means my dirty clothes weren't hung out to dry until 6:30pm so they were still quite damp when I brought them in from the dark for the night.

Anyway, I now have my bag but my feet are so tired from not stopping basically all day.

The mountain I climbed this morning was nice and good exercise (like I need additional exercise out here on the Camino!) but I don't know if it was worth it. Over half of today's walk was on pavement along a highway so my hips and joints hurt much more than usual. I don't know - I guess it was cool being so high up and away from everyone, but I was alone again for most of the day.

I don't know why it is so different now than when I first started walking. I just haven't met anyone going my same pace - or even ending up in the same towns. Maybe it will be different after tomorrow. After I get to O'Cebreiro, most days are pretty standard 20-25 kilometers or less per day. Maybe I will meet new friends with whom I can share the Camino.

Although, I did meet Frank and Jerry today. Frank and Jerry are two Irish men probably the same age as Dad who met each other on the Camino about three years ago. They started in St. Jean and walked to Burgos. The next year they walked from Burgos to Ponferrada. This year they are finishing up, walking from Ponferrada to Santiago. They both are really quite lovely and their wives are both here on the Camino as well. The two men walk together and the two women walk together - I only met Frank and Jerry on the Way but I met their wives at the hotel this evening. The four of them took a taxi to mass up the mountain in O'Cebreiro and I am stealthily waiting for them to get back so I might be able to eat dinner with them.

I feel a bit pathetic trying to latch on to them but it is so nice not being alone for a while - and being able to speak English unabashedly, too!

I wonder if this isn't an overarching lesson that God is trying to teach me on this trip...Maybe there is such a thing as being too independent. I mean, we're social creatures aren't we? Maybe God is trying to tell me that I need to give up (I don't know if give up is the right term) being so independent and learn to lean on others.

My whole life, I have been completely loved by my family, but I've never experienced romantic love before. This is most likely due to my being overweight and under-confident for my entire life. I would allow myself to have crushes on boys growing up, but I never would let myself want anything more than that. I always justified it by reasoning that I would be going off to college so why would I want a boyfriend in high school. Or in college I knew that I wouldn't end up in Seattle so why start a relationship that I would just have to move away from. I didn't even let myself fully desire a romantic relationship because I knew deep down that it wasn't dependent on me wanting it - it was dependent on someone else wanting me...and I never thought that would ever happen. So I just became comfortable with being by myself.

Maybe experiencing this time alone along the Way is to prepare me to have an open heart for when someone special comes into my life. Maybe I need to use this time to begin to build confidence in my new body and mind so I can accept that someone just might want me and that I might let myself want someone back.

Dear God, please help me see and accept what you are teaching me here on the Camino. I want to learn and be better so badly. Please help me. Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Camino Day 7

29 August, 2014 - Villafranca del Bierzo

Lots of things happened today so this is going to be a long entry. I'll start off by saying that I felt God's presence three times today.

The first time was through a fellow pilgrim: Jose from Mexico.

I left very early in the morning - like before dawn early - from Ponferrada. It was actually so dark that I seriously considered turning back in to the albergue because I didn't want to walk through the city and suburbs by myself.  But I saw another pilgrim so I decided to follow along behind him. It was quite a ways before we spoke to each other but I truly believe God sent him to ease my fears and keep me safe through the dark city streets. I'd like to think that if I didn't see this pilgrim that I would have gone back to the albergue. But knowing me...I don't know. I guess I'll have to test that boundary another time.

So my guardian angel is named Jose and he is from Mexico. We passed each other several times in the dark. One of us would stop to take a picture or check a waymarker and the other would nod or smile at the other. And finally, as the darkness began to lift and the urban concrete and alleys were left behind, the dawn light was enough for me to actually see his face, and so I asked his name. Jose and I walked together for a few miles. We talked about home, the people we've met along the Way, and our plans after we finish the Camino. We talked about our families, our time in school, and how we hoped the Camino would change us.

As we approached a small town, I decided to stop for some tea and breakfast while Jose decided to keep moving. Before we said goodbye, I thanked him. I told him  that even though we didn't talk earlier, I was happy he was there - because walking alone in the dark is scary and he made it better.

The second time I felt God's presence today was through a woman in Valtuille de Arriba.

My guidebook mentioned that the people in this village have a deep respect for the Camino and its pilgrims. That, coupled with the hundreds of vineyards I walked through (not to mention my aching feet and the scorching sun), made me want to stop for some water and wine.

I stopped at a bar nestled in a bend in the single road that wound through the small village. The only seating was outdoors but the patio was shaded by an ancient-looking wooden trellis covered with grapevines. Colorful wind chimes and ornaments hung from the trellis and you had to negotiate a short but narrow dirt trail with stepping stones in order to reach the wooden benches still shaped like tree trunks.

I unbuckled my backpack and slumped it on the ground as I wearily took a seat and wiped my sweaty forehead. The woman who owns the bar brought me some water and asked if I would like anything else. I asked if I could try some local wine and she beamed this proud, excited smile at me. The red wine (vino tinto) that she brought out was from the vineyard at the top of the hill I had just come down from - her neighbor's family has owned that vineyard for over one hundred years!

Understatement of the year: the wine was spectacular. Now, I don't have the most discerning of palettes but sitting there in the haze of alcohol and what I'm sure was minor heat exhaustion, I swear in this wine I could taste the sun and feel the spirit of the grapes having just walked through the same vineyards where this wine was born.

As I got up to leave, the woman told me to wait for just a moment. She placed on the table a small pebble of red quartz and told me about the tradition of Jacinto de Compostela. The star clusters of the red quartz represents the field of stars the first pilgrim followed to Santiago. Pilgrims now carry the red quartz as a talisman for good luck and good health.

The woman took my hand, closed it around the red quartz pebble and said this to me, "I have this gift for you, peregrina, because I too am peregrina." This really spoke to me. I don't know if she meant that she has literally walked the Camino before (as many locals do) or if she meant figuratively that she is a pilgrim in life. Either way, I felt a bond with her and I hope she is well.

The third time I felt God's presence was on the Way between Valtuille and Villafranca.

I was once again walking along a trail of loose dirt through hundreds of vineyards and I came upon this steep rise. I was dreading the uphill effort as the sun beat down on me but when I reached the top I suddenly started to cry.

The whole valley was laid out before me and I was overcome with gratitude. I found - or rather was given - the shade of a single tree. A small breeze cooled the sweat at my temples and rustled the hair that had sprung loose from my braid. The vines had dropped bunches of grapes in the rich, red soil.

This picture and my words cannot appropriately describe what made this scene so splendid other than the feeling that washed over me the moment it all came into view. It was like I had finally found the me-shaped hole in this world and in this moment, I filled it up.

Dear God, thank you for sending me Jose from Mexico, the woman from the bar in Valtuille and the truly awe-inspiring sites I saw today. Your glory did not go unnoticed. Please bless Jose, the peregrina, and the wine.