Preparing for the Camino de Santiago

 

santiago stoneMonths ago, my dad quizzed me on the expectations I might have for the trek I plan to do. In just over a month, I leave for Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. This is a spiderweb of ancient pilgrim routes through Spain that converge at the city of Santiago de Compostela in its northwest corner. The city is said to be the burial site of the Apostle James.

At the time, I could answer my dad without much thought. “I have none.” No expectations. I just wanted to do the pilgrimage as sort of a spiritual (and physical) exercise. I visualized getting up every day with nothing to do but walk all day toward a holy place. Whether St. James is really buried there or not doesn’t matter. I figure the place has been sanctified by all the hopes and dreams, faith and desires of pilgrims who have been coming there for over a thousand years.

So I had no expectations other than a good walk and some time to reflect.

That was then.

Now, the emotional temperature in my little cabin in the woods is in turmoil. Every day, news seeps in through the ether, and every day my head explodes. I talk to myself in bad language. I become despondent over the latest spate of Twitter smackdowns and bans, orders, appointments, and general, hostile chaos.

Were my dad to ask me that question today, I’d say that I go seeking perspective, balance, understanding, and peace. A sense of how to place the present geopolitical trajectory against an eternal world view. And to increase my own faith and composure. And love. I need to learn about love.

In short, I need help, God.

As I mentioned, there are many roads to Santiago de Compostela, just as there are in life. The traditional route begins in France, crosses the Pyrenees, and winds across Galicia in northern Spain. This is the route the Martin Sheen character in the movie The Way traversed.

It’s not the way I’m going.

I’ve decided to take the longer north-south route called the Via de la Plata through the center of Spain, mostly because it’s less crowded. So many people walk the northern route now that it seems every day is a race for a bed.

The Via de la Plata begins in Seville. I hope to spend Semana Santa in Mérida. (Three years ago, I was in Mérida, Mexico, for Semana Santa, so there’s a satisfying circularity there.) Beyond that, I haven’t planned much—I’m just giving myself time to walk at my own pace and rest when I need it.

The Via de la Plata is the orange line that roughly follows the Portuguese border.

The Via de la Plata is the orange line that roughly follows the Portuguese border.

The way is well-marked by variants of yellow flechas—arrows—which doesn’t mean you don’t get lost, and I’m sure I will. Every day you walk from one village to another. Sometimes the villages are close and sometime they’re farther apart. Each village has designated places, called albergues, where the pilgrims stay in cheap dormitory- or hostel-style lodging. The total length of the Via de la Plata route that I’m doing is 600 miles (968 km).

camino-yellow arrow

I’ve heard stories about monstrous snoring, flammable flatulence, and various annoyances on the part of the pilgrims in the albergues. This is to be expected when you cram a bunch of people together from many countries who have come for many reasons. I’ve told myself I can always take a private room for a break (or a good night’s sleep).

I’ve also read stories about how the camino changes people—usually subtly and mysteriously, sometimes dramatically. Maybe that’s a consequence of attempting something difficult, testing yourself physically and spiritually, and being open and vulnerable to what each day brings.

Each pilgrim carries an official Credencial, like a passport, which is stamped at every place he or she spends the night. At the end of the journey, in Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrim receives the final stamp and an official certificate of having completed the journey–a Compostela.

I can’t imagine what that will be like.

My credencial, which I just received from the American chapter of the Friends of the Camino

My credencial, which I just received from the American chapter of the Friends of the Camino

Personalized!

Personalized!

Pilgrims say, “the Camino provides.” That’s what I want to reclaim: a sense of daily Providence; a sense of letting go and being open to breeze of the Spirit that plays across each day.

I’ve noticed in my last couple of trips—four months in South America and two weeks in Israel—that I’ve become increasingly tight. More worried about getting lost or getting scammed or losing things and less aware of the magic that might be happening right under my nose. I walk around with a furrowed brow and closed spirit.

That tends to be my default, and travel challenges me to open up and lighten up because otherwise, it’s no fun.

So, I am looking forward to beginning my walk–with some trepidation, I admit. It’s a challenging undertaking. I wonder if I can go the distance—or even make the first day’s 14 miles (23 Km).

I also feel anxious and guilty about leaving the ongoing struggle at home and abandoning the resistance at a tender and critical time. My hope is to return with both greater conviction and greater equanimity and a focused sense of purpose. Carry on, friends, while I’m gone. It’s a good and necessary fight.

Meanwhile, I’ll be steeped in the best of Catholicism, which is my birthright. I look forward to attending mass frequently and to living in the spirit of the Camino, which goes like this:

Live in the moment

Welcome each day—its pleasures and its challenges

Make others feel welcome.

Share.

Feel the spirit of those who have gone before you.

Imagine those who will follow you.

Appreciate those who will walk with you today.

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12 Responses to Preparing for the Camino de Santiago

  1. Cheryl Blodgett 3 March, 2017 at 12:52 pm #

    What a marvelous writer you are, Dear Kate. I will be following you and keeping you in my heart and mind. I wish you openness and joy, the capacity to make the thorn in your side an insignificant blur that will be overcome, and Love.

  2. Marcia Davis 12 February, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    Kate, I remember seeing the movie, “The Way,” and I think it is so fitting you are taking this journey. Don’t worry about us at home. You need this respite and pilgrimage. Besides, I know there will be ways that you connect with us and the country from afar. I look forward to your blog posts about this adventure. May you find perspective, peace, and love. Travel safe, my friend. I’ll be thinking of you–and I’ll try to double my activism on your behalf! :-)

    • Kate Convissor 12 February, 2017 at 8:56 pm #

      Aw, Marcia. You’re making me all verklempt. Thank you. I WILL be keeping track of events at home and blogging (I hope) from the road. Please keep up the good activism for all of us. All the good work from so many solid people has been inspiring and energizing.

      Thanks for the good wishes, which I take humbly to heart.

  3. Sharon 12 February, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

    Wow, Kate! That is so exciting. 600 miles is quite the hike!! I’ve always thought that would be such a wonderful experience but don’t know anyone who has done it. Good luck to you. I can’t wait to here about your adventure.
    Sharon

    • Kate Convissor 12 February, 2017 at 8:58 pm #

      And this from a woman who has taken on (and succeeded at) more daunting challenges than anyone I know! I think you’d love to do this walk. It isn’t overwhelming because it’s taken in small bits. (If I can just do the first 14 miles, I tell myself.)

      I can’t wait to get started. I’ll be blogging.

  4. Joanne Kuszaj 12 February, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

    Kate, what an undertaking, we have known 3 friends who have walked the Camino, not sure of their route. However, I know it was a deeply spiritual journey. One was our parish priest. I know he came away with a peace that he sought. Jim & I will remember you in prayer that whatever or however the Lord wants to show you, or the Spirit brings you, you will have that wonder & openness.

    • Kate Convissor 12 February, 2017 at 9:00 pm #

      Please do keep me in your prayers, as I will you. I’m actually walking for several intentions, so there’s that.

      Humble thanks. I’ll be in touch.

  5. Hoz 12 February, 2017 at 2:13 pm #

    Kate, I envy you. Walking around Palenque, I feel my days of long hiking are done. Too many pounds, years and tears, my endurance and left knee is done. I hope you will take care and gain the inspiration you seek.
    As for the other thing, if we are lucky it will be over when you return, but then there’s Pence…

    • Kate Convissor 12 February, 2017 at 9:03 pm #

      Says the man and his wife who are currently clamboring all over one of the best spots in Mexico. After Peru and the Phillippines.

      We all have limitations. I discovered mine in Peru. Altitude, age, and decrepitude. I could barely make it out of Colca Canyon.

      As for the other thing…I’m not even sure what luck looks like now. Keep the faith…

  6. Joe Todd 12 February, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    Wife and I just watched the Martin Sheen movies. Will be looking
    forward to your posts.. Best of luck

    • Kate 8 March, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

      Thanks, Joe. That was a good one. I’m walking another road, but the goal’s the same.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Preparing for the Camino de Santiago, pt. 2 - WanderingNotLost - 8 March, 2017

    […] after two years of anticipation, I’m in the final hours of preparation for my pilgrim walk on the Camino de Santiago. I’m finding this process of preparation quite different from other long trips in three […]

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