How are you getting to Santiago?

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During an interview with Bill Rodgers after he won his fourth Boston Marathon, he was asked what he thought of the people who were still running 3, 4 or 5 hours after he finished.  His response was great, he said, “I couldn’t possibly run that long.”

The Camino de Santiago is something that you walk at a pace that makes sense for you.  Steve and I start each day with dozens of “pilgrims.”  Most of them  pass us sometime during the morning, and by the end of the day, we often feel like we are the last people to arrive at our destination. Some people pass us at breakneck speed, as if this was a race.  I wondered about this and with a little research (not hard to do on the Camino) I discovered that without a reservation, or in the case of Albeurgues, a bed, folks need to rush to their destination or be shut out of a place to sleep, and may have to walk several miles to another town before finding a bed. Wait a minute!!! Aren’t we doing this to reflect on life?  To smell the roses, or the wild rosemary that grows along the way? A friend told us that people are leaving earlier and earlier each morning, some at 5:00 am to get to their destination to line up for a bed for the night.

Truth be told, we are doing this in a very different way.  We had all of our hotels booked in advance, and whether we arrive at 3:00 in the afternoon or 8:00 at night, our room awaits us. Each morning we leave our suitcases and they are magically waiting for us at our next destination.  We carry backpacks filled with raingear, water and snacks.  We have the luxury of enjoying some breakfast in the morning before we leave and stopping as many times and for however long we choose.  We are covering the same ground each day as most pilgrims, but at a pace that is sometimes akin to strolling.  We stop to take pictures, to watch the storks in their enormous nests atop churches, or simply to have a sandwich or a cup of soup at a restaurant or on a bench in a town as we pass through. We are also paying a lot more than 8 or 10 Euros a night for a bed.  That is a trade-off and one, at our age, we think we’ve earned. Some people cover the same distance we do in half the time and when they arrive in a town and secure a bed they can shower and explore the town.  We usually arrive between 3:00-5:00 pm each day and we shower and relax, sometimes exploring a town, having dinner and crawling into bed in our private room with our own bath.  Staying in Albeurgues is not for me, a room with 10-100 beds with people snoring or coughing and sharing a bathroom with loads of strangers.  There was probably a time in my 20’s when this appealed to me, but at 67, it’s the last thing I want after a long day of walking.  There are lots of ways to get to Santiago and people choose the one that works for them.  As we get further along the Camino there are more and more people joining the way, looking for rooms or beds and making it more and more competitive.  I suspect some people welcome the rush and challenge of getting a bed, others find friends to share hotel rooms with.  Whatever way people choose they will get to Santiago and have the same thrill of arriving.  We will likely come strolling in several days after most people we started this journey with and we will have a huge smile on our faces as we make our way to our hotel and the hot shower that awaits us.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha

Crossing the finish line!

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When I started running road races about 30 years ago, I learned quickly that when well intentioned spectators yell from the sidelines “You’re almost there,” it’s best to ignore them.  Unless I can actually see the finish line, I’m not almost there. When I cross the finish line I will be there.

We are on Day 10 of our walk along the Camino de Santiago.  No one could have prepared me for either the physical challenge, or the amazing natural beauty I would experience.  The first day was the hardest and yet the most extraordinary day.  We crossed the Pyrenees from France to Spain.  When we started, the weather was overcast and perfect for walking.  It was straight up for about 8 miles and then once we were on the top of the world we were treated to views beyond belief. I wanted to break into my Julie Andrews rendition of “The Hills Are Alive.” We began the descent, without my song and dance, to reach the first day’s finish line–which ended up being about another 12-13 miles.  We started in Saint Jean Pied de Port, France, and when we reached Roncesvalles, the first town in Spain after the descent, we discovered that we were actually staying in the next town, another 3 miles.  Most “pilgrims”, that’s what we are called, left us in Roncesvalles and we continued on in the rain towards the elusive first day finish line. I had my Garmin GPS watch measuring every mile and when that ran out of power, I switched to Map My Walk on my phone, checking regularly if we were there, by how many miles we had walked.   Of course, by then I had realized that most of the signs with kilometers listed were inaccurate and I stated laughing, a bit crazed and hallucinating by then, about how funny it was that I was measuring the miles.  First of all, it’s 500 miles from Saint Jean to Santiago, so no matter how I walk it, it’s 500 miles.  There are lots of up hills and down hills, some very long and steep, all with amazing natural beauty, so actually, who cares how far it is?  We leave every morning about 8:00 AM and many people pass us in the course of the day. We great each other with “Buen Camino,” have a great walk. We usually arrive at our destination between 4:00 and 6:00 PM.  We walk at a slow pace, take lots of breaks and are grateful for the long days of sunlight.  Once we arrive at the town, we head to our hotel, that’s where that day’s finish line ends. We have a hot shower, relax, and get ready for a great dinner complete with wonderful Spanish wine.  The Spanish eat dinner so late that it really doesn’t matter what time we arrive, restaurants don’t even open until 8:00 PM.

We will walk every day for the next 26 days, with 3 days for resting.  I stopped wearing my watch and when we see a town in the distance, I stopped wondering if that’s the town we’re staying in.  We will get there when we get there and the wonderfully friendly Spanish people will greet us like we are old friends who have finally arrived.  Walking the Camino and finding our way is an experience of a lifetime, each step.  When we arrive in Santiago on June 1st we will be there whether I have measured the miles or not. We will cross the finish line and celebrate this amazing accomplishment.

Buen Camino.

With love and gratitude,

Marsha