Reflections on the Camino

I was honored when Laurie, of The Camino Provides, asked me to write about what “the Camino provides” meant to me.

In all honesty, I put this task off for a long time. I didn’t believe that I could actually put pen to paper and articulate how much the Camino provided me. But, when I sat down to think about it, and reflected on my life in the half year since the Camino, I knew that I finally had the answer.

It has been exactly six months since I started my Camino. Notice, I anchor to my start date, because I don’t believe that my Camino has ever really stopped.

I began on June 1st, 2015. My Camino took me from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela in 18 days. In those 18 days, I walked and I talked, I laughed and I sobbed.

I sweated through the Meseta, and shivered in the rain in Galicia. I drank too much red wine, and ate too many Spanish tortillas.

I got lots of blisters, and I made lots of friends. 

I cried too many times to count. I also smiled too many times to count.

I pushed myself to my limits, both mentally and physically, and all along the way, the Camino provided me with all of the tools I needed to keep going.

The Camino provided me with open hearts to connect with every day, and open minds to share stories with.

The Camino provided me with the comfort of community, and a sense of purpose, in knowing that I was never alone along The Way. It gave me peace, in the form of the nature and beautiful landscapes that surrounded me, especially in the mountains of Galicia.

It provided me with shoulders to lean on when I limped, and the hands of complete strangers to bandage my blistered feet.

It provided me friendships with incredible people from all over the world. The Camino gifted me Peter, Nadja, Mundo and Austin, among many others, who all now hold a very special place in my heart.

But, the Camino doesn’t stop providing when a peregrino reaches Santiago. Instead, during the months after your journey, it slowly molds you until you realize that you, at your core, have somehow become a better version of yourself.

Since my Camino, I have become more patient, I love more openly than ever before, and I have developed an incredible amount of faith in myself and my capabilities, as well as in the kindness of others.

Most importantly, the Camino provided me with the conviction that I am the creator of my own path, my own happiness. By pushing me to my physical and mental limits, the Camino taught me that my state of mind is not merely a product of my environment, but rather, can be whatever I choose for it to be. We cannot be defeated, we simply choose to feel defeated. Likewise, we can choose to be happy.

And just like that, these last six months of my life have been the happiest I have ever been. I know the Camino played a part in that.

To everyone who has already completed their Camino, and is now on the Camino of life, I hope my words brought back beautiful memories.

And to those peregrinos, like Laurie, who are looking forward to their journey, my heart warms at the thought of all the things the Camino will provide you.

Buen Camino,

Pauline

Camino

Santiago de Compostela with my Camino family

Onward

After a week long trip with my brother and his girlfriend to Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada, I’m finally back in Barcelona. 

Today is my last day in this vibrant city I call home, and it feels rather strange to be leaving. However, life only moves in one direction, and that’s forward. It’s certainly time to move on, but there’s a certain uncertainty that always comes along with change. 

While most people who have studied abroad have already made their return flights to the States, I have another month of traveling Europe ahead of me. But now there is one big difference: there’s no place to call home. 

Barcelona has been home since January. Although I was traveling often, coming back to my apartment and feeling the coolness of the vintage green tiles beneath my feet, and lying down on my own bed to stare out my balcony, at the church across the street, always brought me comfort and peace. 

And now there is no home base, just a collection of unfamiliar pillows and tiles to discover. I have no dresser or drawer to open, just a suitcase to unzip and a backpack to unhook. No wide-eyed, half-naked Argentinian artist/roommate will roam the hallways, telling me to slow my roll. No waitress in the bistro next door knowing my order before I ask, “Un cortado y un yogur.” My safety net is gone, and all at once things have gotten a little more daunting and a lot more exciting.

The next stop is Warsaw, and then Kraków for one of my best girlfriend’s fabulous wedding. Essentially, an entire week of joy and celebrations.

After that, I’ll be with family in a little Polish village. And then for my last two weeks, who knows? Maybe Mozart in Vienna, or maybe exploring Iceland. Maybe learning how to meditate with monks, or maybe working on my tan in Zakinthos. 

It’s been one incredible adventure, and it’s crazy to think there is only a month left. Let’s do this. 

Looking towards the future, how very deep.

Guest Post: The Pauline Travel Experience by Jessica C.

I am currently showing my brother and his girlfriend, Jessica, around Spain, and Jess, being the talented writer that she is, wrote a guest blog post about what it’s like to travel with me. I’m very flattered by post and grateful to Jessica for putting up with my tempo and travel dictatorship, I didn’t even need to make any edits! I’ll let her take it from here:

As you must know by now, Pauline is quite the established traveler. Her wanderlust leads her to all corners of the world, inspiring her to see over 50 cities and towns in six months and walking 250 miles on the Camino de Santiago.

She invited Alex (her brother) and I (his girlfriend) to visit her in Barcelona with only a few days to rest in between. Pauline met us at the airport, her tanned face and blindingly bright smile hard to miss in the crowd. Alex and I considered for a moment that we would meet a new, calm and mellow Pauline after all of her recent soul searching. However, after a tight hug and Pauline giggles, she pulls out an itinerary she drafted on the plane and starts talking business.

She’s an energetic, ambitious superhuman and I’m here to tell you about the Pauline Travel Experience.

Sleeping in is never a part of the itinerary. At 6:30am on our first day, Pauline barged into our hotel room after finishing a run around the city and said, “I thought it’d be more lively in here.” She waited for us in the dark to wake up, all the while explaining the details of her plan for the day.

Bring your walking shoes…and mental strength. Pauline walks everywhere at a rigorous speed and measures distance by her new unit of Camino kilometers. Whatever distance you think you’re going, just double it. She would tell us that our next destination was only ten blocks away, no problem. And her Camino stamina didn’t understand how we could possibly be tired of walking, ever.

Trust in the system. Armed with her inner compass/travel guide, Pauline always finds the best places to go, orders the best food and knows where she is going. You have to trust her and let caution go to the wind. When you do, you stumble upon bullfighting stadiums and secret, underground Flamenco shows.

Learn to laugh with her. When Pauline says, “Guys, want to hear a funny story?” It means you’re lost and you’ll be walking in circles for another ten Camino kilometers. Just laugh it off because she’ll eventually get you home.

The Pauline Travel Experience is all about you. You don’t make the decisions, but know that they’ve all been made for your best interest. Even when the situation is dire, when you’ve realized you’ve lost Pauline on her organized bike tour because she never really looked back to see you fell behind, she patiently waits for you to figure it out because she has full confidence in your ability. Find some wi-fi and pull yourself together. That’s your chance to make her proud.

Not to mention, she announces Fun Facts along the way so that you don’t miss out on learning about Dali’s sexual fetishes and Picasso’s five wives.

The gang is in Granada!

Sevilla and Bull

Here I am in Seville, marveling at the Moor influenced architecture, hopping from one tapas bar to the next and touring the city by horse drawn carriage, with a glass of white wine in my hand.

My adventure seems to be never ending, which is a good thing, of course, because the idea of leaving Spain is quite daunting. I’m at the point where I prefer speaking Spanish over English, eating dinner any time before 10 p.m. seems odd and “vale,” the Spanish equivalent of “okay,” has become an integrated part of my vocabulary. I’m making the most of the time I have left in the land of red wine and siestas and exploring the rest of this spectacular country.

Sevilla is a special kind of city; it beats with passion, and breathes fire.

The former because it pulses with the sensual movements of flamenco, the strum of a Spanish guitar and the valor of a bullfighter. The latter, because it’s hot.

Real hot.

Today was about 106 degrees. That’s 41 degrees for any of my friends who don’t live in the five countries in this world that use Fahrenheit.

Regardless, my companions and I visited Plaza de Toro today, the oldest bullfighting ring in the world, where I discovered  the fascinating world of bullfighting.

Although controversial, bullfighting is an art form, as well as a magnificent display of Spanish culture.

Hemingway, my main man, once said, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

You see, a bullfighter enters the ring fully knowing that they may die that day. They put their lives in the hand of fate and say a quick prayer, which I assume goes a little like, “Dear God, please just not a major artery today.”

All jokes aside, fear is a fascinating topic. Are these bullfighters fearless, or are they fully afraid? 

To be fully afraid and to go in the direction of your fear is a very brave thing to do. I believe that being fearless is easy; when we acknowledge our fears and charge towards them like a matador against a bull, that’s the moment we discover our true courage.

Maybe we should all be a little more like bullfighters.  

Colors of Sevilla, beautifully reflected in the ring

 

Not Ours to Keep

I’ve made a lot of close friends on the Camino, which called for some hard goodbyes. It all seemed rather unfair, to be blessed with wonderful new friends, yet have to part with them after only a few weeks, fulling knowing some of us may never see each other again. But, truth is, that’s life and there is a lesson in that.

People will pass through our lives. Some linger for a moment like a neighbor dropping in for tea, some weave in and out like race cars through traffic, and some are always there quietly in the background like music in a cafe. The form their presence takes does not matter. The important thing is that they are in our lives in the precise moment they are suppose to be.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of the Camino being an adopted daughter to a retired Swiss man, who never had a child of his own, and confiding in a new big sister, an Australian yogi who sold all her things to travel the world. These were just two, among the many incredible people, who touched my life during the Camino, and for whom I will forever be grateful for.

There are certain things that simply aren’t ours to decide. Our mothers and fathers will pass on one day, our brothers and sisters may move away and our friends may become distant, engrossed in the direction of their own lives.

The people we love are here in this moment; they are not ours to keep. With that said, the best we can do is love the shit out of them right now.

Barcelona, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and USA!

Conversations with Strangers: Anna from Holland 

About Her: Anna is 60 years old and a total badass. She walked 2,432 kilometers to get to Santiago de Compostela. That’s 1,511.1 miles. She started in Holland and it only took about four months. Oh, and she didn’t get any blisters. 

I asked why she did the Camino, and her answer was refreshingly simple. She said that spent her whole life being a working mother, and for once she wanted to just be Anna. Not a wife. Not a mom. Not anyone else. Just Anna. 

How We Met: Anna was having breakfast in a plaza in Santiago and had two empty seats at her table. I think of empty seats as an invitation, so I sat down and joined her. Also she gave me some pretty sound advice. She said, “When I was 21, I was married. Don’t do it. Then you won’t have to walk for four months when you’re 60.”

Coolest Experience: Anna’s coolest experience during Camino was simple. One of the albergues at which she stayed at was owned by a woman who had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. Anna was amazed at how patient, loving and kind this woman was, since she was able to run a business and simultaneously give her full attention to her daughter. 

Life Dream: Anna’s big dream is to return to her husband and family, and live life a little differently after finding herself on her long walk. She said it best, “If I like something, I’ll do it.”

She looks great, doesn’t she?

Day 18: The End of the Camino

I walked 250 miles, about 400 kilometers, on the Camino Francés in 17 days. 

The Way of Saint James is something people do for many reasons.

Some people do it to give thanks to God, some people do it for sport. Some people go with broken hearts, grieving the loss of a loved one or healing past wounds. Some go to find themselves, or to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Some walk simply for the glory of having conquered over 700 kilometers by foot.

I went on the Camino because I wanted to become a better version of myself. I wanted to reflect on who I am and who I have become during my time abroad, and to observe, without judgement, what has changed and what has stayed the same. I was curious to discover what parts of my life I grew in, and where there is still room for improvement.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve learned about limits, both physical and emotional. I’ve identified my beliefs, as well as my faults. I’ve opened my heart to complete strangers, and I’ve also learned how to recognize my own ego.

I’m a better listener than ever before, after having listened to people grieve their losses, teach me songs in French, and tell me folktales from their country.

I’ve also learned to admit when I need help, and put my pride aside. It only took me a skinless toe and two infections to figure that one out.

My arrival in Santiago de Compostela, means that my Camino has officially come to an end. That also means it’s time to start reflecting on the experience and asking myself certain questions. But the truth is, I don’t yet know the depth of the impact that the Camino has had on my life. That will take time. 

All I can do for now is keep striving to become a better version of myself. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there.