Saint Roch and the Art of the Camino (#CaminoTuesday)

I’m going to keep it short this week, because we’re diving into holiday planning, and there’s not much time or attention this week for anything that’s not a gift or a baked good.

But here it is, #CaminoTuesday again, and the assigned theme is “Favorite Camino Art.”

Which, I confess, threw me into a bit of an anxiety attack. That word–favorite–does it every time. How do I know if something is a favorite? Do I like the modern statues in the plaza of Burgos more than I like the stained glass in the chapel of Saint-Côme-d’Olt? Are the roadside crosses more meaningful than the stylized scallop shells?

Asking me for a favorite piece of art is like asking a mother about her favorite child, or me about my favorite book.

Or, you know, maybe I’m just overthinking it.

So I stopped and flipped back through my pictures from all three trips on the Camino. And I noticed something:

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The image I photographed more than any other—the art that drew me—was Saint Roch (often spelled Saint Roque in Spanish).

I’ve written about Roch before, on what has unexpectedly become my most popular blog post of all time. (A surprising number of people search for “patron saint of knees” every day, it turns out. I wrote about him in Walking to the End of the World, as well. He’s got a story with so many layers…the idealistic mission, the terrible illness, the dog, and then the tragic ending. Plus, he’s easy to spot: while lots of saints all look alike to this non-art-trained American, Roch’s flashy leg and loyal dog made him easy to find.

So if I measure “favorite” by what I seek, and what I react to, then Roch is my favorite. I love the loyalty of the dog who follows him, and the way he doesn’t hide his wounds. Roch makes me smile and inspires me, all at once.

And after all, isn’t that what good art does?

 

 

What is our favorite art from the Camino de Santiago? Add your story, with the hashtag #CaminoTuesday, on your blog, or on Instagram/Twitter. (And while you’re there, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

The 12 Camino Books of Christmas

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them, and it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” —Neil Gaiman

Friends, I don’t want to scare you, but there are just 12 days left before Christmas. (And if you celebrate Hanukkah, you don’t even have that many.) Are you ready?

I was chatting with one of my officemates yesterday about which holiday traditions we love, and which we try to avoid. She’s a decorator—loves filling her home with holiday cheer. Me? Unless I’m hosting a big party, I hang a fresh wreath on the wall and call it good. (We live in a small space with a curious cat. A tree would take up room we don’t have and invite all kinds of trouble.)

But I love to choose presents for people. I love to think about my loved ones—what they enjoy, what makes them unique—and then match them with something unexpected and personal. More often than not, given my day job and personal hobbies, it’s a book.

If you’re a book giver, too, the holidays are a chance to share your love of all things Camino…or to drop a not-so-subtle hint to a special person you think should consider a pilgrimage of their own in the future (and take you along). But there are about 13,000 books available online about the Camino de Santiago. How do you even start to choose the right ones?

Well, here’s my stab at a gift guide for you: my 12 favorite books about walking the classic pilgrimage routes of Europe. (Spoiler: not all of them are in Spain.) I’m not saying that these are the BEST Camino books out there, because I haven’t read everything out there. But these are books I’ve read and enjoyed, from poetry to novels to guidebooks to memoirs, and each would make a delightful holiday gift for someone (including yourself).

(No, I’m not recommending my own book, because that just seems tacky. If you’ve found this website, you probably already know about it, anyway. But if you wanted to buy a gift copy or two, I can still mail you a signed bookplate to put inside…)

Right. On to the 12 Camino Books of Christmas:

 

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  1. The bestseller: A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan

I know I said I’d read every book on this list, but what I meant was that I’ve read every book except this one. I picked up a copy a couple of weeks ago at a local book signing, and it’s currently waiting its turn on my coffee table at home. But since every review I’ve seen is glowing, and every bookseller seems to love it, I feel confident saying that this book by an already bestselling author will be thoughtful and well-written. Egan brings the practice of pilgrimage to the mainstream, and is a great choice for those people on your list who want “that book I heard about on TV.”

 

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  1. The longest distance traveled: The Crossway by Guy Stagg

Guy Stagg set out one New Years Day from Canterbury, England, and he walked…and walked…and walked…all the way to Jerusalem. This is ultra-pilgrimage, crossing seasons and seas and politically unstable areas in search of answers. Stagg dives deep into both history and his own inner journey, offering a book that’s dense, intimate, and, so far, overlooked in the United States. Great for history lovers and adventure travel readers (the ones who like stories of life-threatening mountain climbs and encounters with armed insurgents).

 

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  1. The classic: To the Field of Stars by Kevin Codd

Ask a bunch of pilgrims what book inspired their journey, and I bet Kevin Codd’s memoir of the Camino Francés will come up most often. An American priest with a gentle spirit and a quick humor, Kevin’s stories of blisters and camaraderie, spiritual moments and all-too-human mistakes, have drawn English readers to Spain for more than a decade. This is the perfect introduction for someone who doesn’t know much about the Camino de Santiago.

 

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  1. The sequel: Beyond Even the Stars by Kevin Codd

These days, it seems every groundbreaking story gets a sequel, and I’m delighted that Father Codd wrote his. Published last year, this is the story of Codd’s second Camino journey, this time starting from his home in Belgium. It’s far more introspective—the questions are bigger, the challenges harder, and the moments of beauty more captivating. Great for those who loved his first book, or those who are looking for a story that stretches beyond the traditional Camino Francés.

 

  1. 5 golden guidebooks: Village to Village Guides

I’ve used Brierley’s guides, and Cicerone guides, and the hilariously named Miam Miam Dodo. But I haven’t found a book yet that captures the practical aspects of Camino trails the way that David Landis and his team at Village to Village Guides do. When I used their Camino del Norte guidebook in 2018, I had people from all over the world peeking over my shoulder to find out what “the good book” recommended. Great gift for those who are seriously planning (or considering) a walk on Camino Francés, Camino del Norte, Camino Primitivo, Camino Ingles, or Camino Portugues.

 

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  1. The Scottish perspective: Travels With a Stick by Richard Frazer

I met Richard Frazer this fall, when we shared a stage at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. He’s a minister of the Church of Scotland, a tradition with a history of dismissing pilgrimage, but he’s taken the lead in trying to resurrect the old traditions. He set out to walk from Le Puy to Santiago, like me, and there are so many familiar places in his book that made me miss the beauty of a pilgrimage in French countryside. His writing traces the thoughts and emotional journey of a man walking in a new place, catching his breath after long years of service. Great for a reader pondering the spiritual connections of the Camino, and for those facing life changes (like retirement).

 

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  1. The all-American experience: Pilgrim Strong by Steve Watkins

Steve Watkins walked the Camino Francés just a few months after I did, but we have often joked that the year written on our Compostelas is where our comparisons end. Steve walked alone, in winter, and documented it all on social media. His memoir about the experience digs deep into what he thought and felt along the way, and how the Camino changed him personally. As I said in my endorsement when the book came out, “Steve invites readers to join his highest highs and his lowest lows, and in the process to reconsider the very meaning and source of human strength.” A great gift for readers looking to explore how a month-long solo journey can affect the heart and soul.

 

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  1. The poetry: Pilgrim by David Whyte

Need a whole different way to think about the Way of Saint James? How about poetry? I’ve been a little obsessed with David Whyte’s book Pilgrim ever since I heard his TEDTalk and read his poem Finisterre, which captured the heart of the bittersweet ending. These are the words to give a reader who revels in language and who loves the art of the journey.

 

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  1. The novel: Rebirth by Kamal Ravikant

I’m actually surprised there aren’t more novels about the Camino. This one, released in 2018, is more a fable, a semi-autobiographical, semi-mystical story of wisdom and reflection in the form of Paulo Coehlo’s classic The Pilgrimage. It’s inspiring, thought-provoking, and will appeal to those searching for the spirit of the Camino.

 

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  1. The YA novel: Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles

Have a teenager in your life who needs a good story? (Or an adult?) Here it is. Gabi is a 17-year-old Army kid who’s suffered a terrible loss, and the grief drives her to do a very un-American teenager thing: she sets out to walk the Camino. I love these characters, and how much the author clearly knows what she’s talking about–the Camino, life as an Army kid, life as a teenager–and yet lets her character’s story roam. Great for fiction readers of all ages.

 

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  1. The book that sent me to France: Pilgrimage to the End of the World by Conrad Rudolf

Here’s the most obscure book on my list, but it’s one I’ve talked about before. This is the book that first introduced me to the Way of Saint James…and defined it as a walk that started in Le Puy. Going back and re-reading it this year, I was struck by how beautiful the language is. It’s more a series of short essays, rather than a whole step-by-step travelogue, and that’s just what some people on your list will want. They want to sample the Camino, not recreate it.

 

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  1. The screen version: I’ll Push You by Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck

Yes, I know. Not everyone wants to read. Some people prefer to see their stories unfold on a screen. No judgment here. If you’re shopping for someone who prefers screens to pages, consider I’ll Push You, the inspiring story of two lifelong friends, one now bound to a wheelchair, who trekked the Camino Frances together—one pushing the other. I’m told the audio book version of this story is fantastic, and the documentary is one of the rare instances where I’ll say the movie is better than the book.

 

Whew, that’s quite a list! But I’m barely touching the surface. What am I missing? What are you giving people this year as a way to share the Camino?

 

 

Yes, the links above are affiliate links to Amazon. If you click through and buy something (anything, actually), I will receive a few cents in return, which helps to cover the costs of ad-free website hosting. I choose Amazon mostly because my visitors here come from around the world, and The Everything Store is the most widely accessible way to shop. But if you have a local bookseller, skip the affiliate links and go order from them.

The Architectural Wonder: the Cathedral of León

The cathedral of Santa María in León has walls that soar almost 100 feet high and are filled with almost 2000 square feet of stained glass, spread over 130 church windows and 3 rose windows. To stand inside and survey what look like walls of glass, supporting a roof of stone, is to understand why this building has the nickname “House of Light.”

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The cathedral of Santa María in León has almost 2000 square feet of stained glass

 

And to understand that it was built between 1205-1301 is to appreciate the incredible complexity of a project like this. So much glass, with so little stone around it, seems like an engineering disaster waiting to happen. The slightest miscalculation would send the whole thing tumbling down. (Actually, in the 17th century part of the central vault of the transept collapsed due to the frailty of the building. It was rebuilt in the 19th century.)

Today’s #CaminoTuesday theme is Architectural Wonders Along the Camino. And if the Gothic cathedral in León isn’t near the top of the list architectural wonders of the Way of Saint James, I don’t know what would be. Built at the heyday of the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago, the cathedral-under-construction would have drawn the prayers (and donations) of up to a quarter million pilgrims per year—roughly the same number as now.

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Saturday tourists and wedding guests converge outside the cathedral of Santa María in León

Today, the cathedral is a destination for tourists—on our 2015 walk on the Camino Frances, Eric and I took a rest day in León that happened to fall on a Saturday, and we paid our fee and meandered slowly through the interior of the building with phone-like audio recorders pressed to our ears, listening to the self-guided tours. Later, we sat at a café across the street and watched expensive cars drop off families in formal wear for private weddings.

It didn’t feel like a sacred or spiritual place, in other words. But as a work of art, and a connection to the early pilgrims? I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The cathedral in Leon made me stop to appreciate the enormous effort that medieval Christians put into their expressions of faith.

Cathedral of Leon

Imagine:

Engineered by master builders without computer design software… or even calculators.

Carved by hand—one generation of stonecutters teaching the skill to the next generation, and then the next, for a project they knew they would never see finished.

Not just a wonder of architecture, then, but also a wonder of human commitment.

Leon Cathedral at Dawn

 

For the truly architecture curious, here’s a bit more from Architecture Revived:

As with all Gothic cathedrals, designers aimed for a maximum height and as much window space as possible, while using stone walls and vaulted ceilings. The technical challenge was even greater at León due to the Roman bath ruins underneath the floor and the quality of limestone available.

To solve this technical challenge, the flying buttresses spread over quite a horizontal distance and parts of the building gain structural independence. They rise above the building, indicating a greater height may have been expected. The front two towers are pushed outwards so that the buttresses are visible from the front. The walls and buttresses become considerably robust as they meet the ground, and they are capped by tall spires to pin them down. The builders placed large boulders in the ground to support this considerable weight.

 

What are your favorite architectural wonders along the Camino de Santiago? Add your story, with the hashtag #CaminoTuesday, on your blog, or on Instagram/Twitter. (And while you’re there, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

Local Life on the Camino (#CaminoTuesday)

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

– Saint Augustine

I was in the small village of Urtega, just past Alto del Perdon, when I met an American pilgrim I’ll call Callie. She’d started her Camino pilgrimage in Pamplona, and so this was her first day on the trail.

“Look at this town,” she gushed, peering out the window. “It all seems so old! Do you think these buildings are real, or did they recreate them for the pilgrims?”

It took me a second to realize she was serious. I looked out at the row of modest houses, made of sunbaked bricks and uneven red tiles. There was a cat climbing across a roof, hunting something.

Yes, I assured her, this was all very real.

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It’s funny to think about now, but I do see where she was coming from. Rarely does an American like us have the chance to step outside the familiar tourist paths and witness the everyday beauty of normal life in an unfamiliar place.

Today’s #CaminoTuesday theme is Local Life on the Camino, and it’s been a great excuse to go back through my pictures and remember the moments when my pilgrimage intersected other people’s everyday normal. The shepherds and the farmers. The locals crowded around a TV to watch football. The communities gathering for church and festivals.

Reminders that my way of life is not the only way, and pilgrimage along the Way of St James takes us not on some set-apart holy route, but through the heart of people’s lives.

 

What are your memories of local life witnessed along the Camino de Santiago? Add your story, with the hashtag #CaminoTuesday, on your blog, or on Instagram/Twitter. (And while you’re there, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

Give the Gift of the Camino AND Shop Small this Saturday

We’re gearing up for Thanksgiving  here in the US (umm, tomorrow already? Guess I’ll be going to the grocery store as soon as this note is written). This year, I have a lot to be thankful for, including another year of this blog and the enthusiasm of all of you who follow it. Hard to believe that Camino Times Two is four years old this month! (Check out the very first post from November 2015: The Itch to Write.)

And Walking to the End of the World is already a year old!

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Celebrating our book birthday with French cookies, of course!

Of course, right after Thanksgiving, the day when we fill ourselves with food and family time, is The First Official Holiday Shopping Weekend.

There’s Black Friday, when big crowds break down the doors of big retailers to buy big televisions and toys. There’s Cyber Monday, when (the theory goes) office workers go back to work after the holiday weekend and do their big online shopping at the big online retailers.

And then, tucked in between, is something small: Shop Small Saturday is a semi-organized event that encourages people to visit the small businesses in their communities—the ones that are owned by your neighbors.

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Meeting my neighbors at last weekend’s Holiday Bookfest, hosted by my local bookstore, Phinney Books, and with proceeds supporting our local neighborhood association

I’m not a fan of the Big Days, but I love any event that encourages people to support their community retail centers… especially (of course) the ones that sell books. One of my absolute favorite things about releasing a book has been the chance to tour some of the best local bookstores and travel stores across the country, from Village Books in Bellingham, WA, to Malaprops in Asheville, NC; and from Powell’s in Portland OR to Sherman’s Books in Portland, ME. I met so many people who dedicate their lives to helping their neighbors find just the right books. And I want to support them.

 

 

So while I have never, ever written a blog specifically suggesting that you buy my book (and I promise not to make it a habit), I’m going to do it once and see what happens.

Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago is my story of walking with my husband Eric from Le Puy, France, to Finisterre, Spain in 2015. I call it a travel guide masquerading as a memoir, because I wrote it not to unravel my own life, but to inspire other people like me—the ones who think they’re “not the type” for a big outdoor adventure—to see themselves in a different way. It’s funny and hopeful, and it makes a great holiday gift for those armchair travelers and hiking enthusiasts alike in your life, including:

  • Retired or soon-to-be-retired family members (almost 20% of Camino pilgrims are over 60)
  • Francophile friends (this is one of the only books that describes walking the Way in France)
  • Book club friends (lots of things to talk about in here, from marriage to risk-taking to FOOD!)
  • Weekend hiking buddies (you know, the kind who aren’t going to hike the PCT, but love to be outside)
  • Friends and coworkers and family who have walked some part of the Camino themselves (we love to re-visit our own experiences and to hear about others)

And because I want to support Shop Small, I’ll sweeten the pot a bit:

I’ve just picked up a new batch of these personalized bookplates, which I designed with a Camino-stamp style image of the scallop shell our very first host in Lyon gave Eric, and one of my favorite quotes from Eugene Fodor: “You don’t have to be rich to travel well.”

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If you purchase a copy of Walking to the End of the World this weekend (preferably from an independently owned store), email me at bethjusino [@] gmail.com to send me your address and the name of your gift recipient, and I’ll mail you (for free) a personalized, autographed bookplate. Because the only thing better than giving a book, is giving an autographed book!

 

No independent bookstore in your community? You can still shop small…presses! If you order Walking to the End of the World from my publisher, Mountaineers Books, you’ll be supporting an independent press AND a nonprofit organization whose mission is encouraging more people to get outdoors.

Use the code GREATGIFTS to receive 25% off (that’s almost as good as what the big Everything Store is offering, and all of your funds go to good people).

 

Okay, now I’m off to the store for Thanksgiving supplies, and I’ll be back next week with #CaminoTuesday thoughts and probably at least one extra post about pilgrimage opportunities around the world, because ever since I got back from the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I’ve been exploring the trails and traditions of the UK. (That’s a hint for what’s coming in 2020, for those who stuck with me and are still reading…)

Thanks for being part of my journey!

Pilgrim or Tourist (#CaminoTuesday)

The first time I came across a church along the Chemin du Puy that charged admission*, I laughed and walked out. I was a pilgrim, not a tourist.

I would swallow those words later, like so many of my early attitudes on the Camino de Santiago, when I started to understand that France’s nationalized churches were always open, and usually empty. Spain’s churches and cathedrals, on the other hand, relied on donations to keep their doors open, and struggled under the pressure of a sagging economy and the logistics of so many more visitors. I started willingly handing over my euros to visit the chapels and monasteries trying to stay afloat.

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One of the stranger “tourist” stops along the Camino Frances was this chapel-museum near Columbrianos

 

The theme of today’s #CaminoTuesday – pilgrim or tourist?—is easy to ask and hard to answer.

What makes a “real” pilgrim?

I hope we can all agree it’s not the distance a person walks.

And that it’s not how you answer that nosy question in the Pilgrim Office of Santiago: “are you walking for religious, cultural, or recreational reasons?” (That made me squirm, because I was pretty sure the Church thought there was a “right” answer, and I didn’t give it.)

It’s not whether you carry your own bag, or sleep only on bunk beds (or outdoors, or in church-run programs), or turn off your cell phone.

After thinking about it (and re-writing these paragraphs more than a few times) today, trying to come up with something profound, I’m left only with this: the line between pilgrim and tourist is blurry, and it’s based on intent.

Tourists see a transaction—I will give you something, and in exchange I will get something.

Pilgrims see…something bigger. A destination. A purpose. A small place in a big story.

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Most of us who have spent more than a few hours on the Way of St James have had moments of both. Perhaps that’s why Eric’s favorite mantra along the Way was “practice acceptance.”

 

 *in Moissac, and admittedly only to see the cloisters; the cathedral itself was open to all

The Day I Almost Quit the Camino (#CaminoTuesday)

“The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”   – Hellen Keller

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Walking through L’Aubrac was like walking through the legends and stories Eric read as a kid. Five days after leaving Le Puy, we reached the true highlands of the Massif Central, irregular rolling hills of open, treeless country. Eric and I were there in April, too early in the year for the herds of cows and sheep that would fill the pastures in summer, so the barren landscape was broken only by stone fences built from the rocks that dotted the landscape.

Eric took it all in with wide eyes and a permanent grin. The idea that a place like this was real made him happier, perhaps, than I’ve ever seen him. He’s a natural pilgrim, and possibly part mountain goat.

Me? Not so much. Five days into our journey, I was trudging along with my head down and my feet screaming. I resented every rock on the path that poked my tender, swollen arches. These were the Princesses at their worst. They sucked up my time, my attention, and my joy far too often in those early weeks. (A few of my more critical book reviewers would agree with that assessment.)

Looking back, I understand now that what I was feeling was a mixture of tendonitis and plantar fasciitis, springing from my ridiculously ill-considered choice of footwear and my lack of pre-Camino training with a pack (that extra 20 pounds makes an enormous difference on the joints). But I didn’t recognize any of that on the day we walked to Finieyrols.

The theme of today’s #CaminoTuesday is “Camino low points,” and despite the beautiful setting, this was mine.

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We both were tense when we arrived at a cluster of houses too small to be a town, set dramatically in the middle of nowhere. Eric left me slumped on a bench while he got us checked into the gîte’s dortoir. After a few minutes of rest and foot massage, I rallied and plowed through my chores. Then I collapsed again on a boulder outside, soaking the late afternoon sun into my bare feet and letting myself imagine everyone’s reactions when I went home and confessed that I’d quit the Camino.

Because, obviously, I wasn’t up for this.

I sat on that rock and sulked. I wanted to cry. But did I really want to quit

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I’d known, intellectually, that this would be hard, but it had never occurred to me that I would have to stop. That I would want to stop.

That thought jerked me out of my sulk. Did I want to stop?

I dragged myself off the rock and down to the main building, where I bought a local beer appropriately called Antidote, tucked myself behind a picnic table, and finally looked around. It was stunning. The late afternoon sun cast warm light over hills that went as far as I could see in every direction. I watched two kids hanging over the fence at the edge of the property, trying to pet a couple of shaggy horses.

No. I wanted to be right where I was.

Yes, my feet hurt, but that didn’t change the crazy beauty all around me. We were in the middle of a remote area that few French citizens see, let alone two American tourists. I’d walked here, and unless those horses were tamer than they looked, I was going to walk out of here, too.

I was still a pilgrim.*

The antidote to a long day

 

Most Camino pilgrims will recognize the feeling, because at some point along the way, I think we each ask, “Should I just quit and go sit on a beach somewhere?” Is this pain, or homesickness, or cultural discomfort, or whatever we’re facing worth it?

Not everyone says yes. Plenty of people realize that this long walk is not for them. But for those of us who stayed, we never forget the low point, or the lessons and resolve we discovered on the other side.

 

If you want to get in on #CaminoTuesday, you can follow the hashtag and share your own pictures and stories on Instagram or Twitter. (And while you’re there, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

 

*Story excerpted and slightly adapted from the book

A Walk Above the Ocean (#CaminoTuesday)

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Jacques Cousteau

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The climb was called Purgatorio for a reason. It was short—just 300 meters, but with 100 meters of elevation gain, it was less an uphill walk and more a hold-onto-tree-branches-to-pull-yourself-up ascent. But then I emerged from the trees, and there it was.

The ocean, far below us and yet so close.

That was my first day walking the Camino del Norte, the historic and UNESCO-recognized Way of Saint James that begins in Irun, on the French/Spanish border, and hugs Spain’s northern coast as it journeys west toward Santiago. In that 17-day walk, I found myself on cliffs or mountains, high above the ocean, almost every day.

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These were my high points (the theme of today’s #CaminoTuesday), both emotionally as well as physically. The trails were often rough, the countryside wild, and the ocean a living companion for the journey—sometimes a brilliant and welcoming blue, sometimes crashing waves of gray. As the saying goes, I could watch it for days.

Oh, wait. I did. Because the Camino de Santiago is about slowing down, lingering, and moving at a pace that allows you to stay in the high points for days.

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If you want to get in on #CaminoTuesday, you can follow the hashtag and share your own pictures and stories on Instagram or Twitter. (And while you’re there, follow me on Instagram and Twitter, too!)

The Worn Stones of a Timeless Camino (#CaminoTuesday)

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It’s always the stone that reminds me. The almost concave steps in the abbey at Conques and the bridge in Cahors. The deep dip in the sill of the doorway of the tiny Eglise de Sensaq. The cobblestones worn to a slippery shine at the edge of the Monasterio de Zenarruza.

I love how millions of fet have worn these stairs round

Stone is supposed to be permanent, impenetrable. So when my feet sink into the hollow places, I start to wonder, how many millions of other feet must have passed exactly this way? How many sandals, leather boots, and bare toes pressed into this same place where my Gore-Tex and Vibram now tread?

This week’s #CaminoTuesday theme is The Timeless Camino, and it reminded me of something I recently heard from another American pilgrim: “Spirit is what separates us [Camino pilgrims] from the hiking clubs.”

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Spirit, yes…and history. The timelessness of the Camino is what makes it more than a cheap vacation or a healthy hike. People have walked toward Compostella for a thousand years. It’s humbling to step into a story that’s hosted both kings and criminals, saints and scoundrels. It’s perspective-shifting to realize how small my part in this pilgrimage is.

And how much of a privilege it is to be part of the story.

Camino Foot Care (#CaminoTuesday)

“It is a monastic life. You wake up, you walk. When you arrive, you take care of your feet, you take care of your basic needs, and you eat. Do it day after day, and it becomes a meditation.”

These were the words of a wise gite host, Sylvain, in Saint-Come-d’Olt, just seven days into our first Camino walk, long before we had enough experience to understand what he meant.

our room in the city walls
Eric cares for his feet in Saint-Come-d’Olt, on the Via Podiensis

You take care of your feet…

Today’s #CaminoTuesday theme is “the mundane and the everyday on the Camino de Santiago,” which I thought was a bold choice. We think more often of the magical moments, the miracles and memorable encounters and stunning sunrises. But the mundane? Well, that’s there, too.

And if you’re a Camino pilgrim, as Sylvain said, taking care of your feet becomes part of your mundane and everyday reality.

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Blister care in Estella, Spain, along the Camino de Santiago

Walk into any gite or albergue along the Camino, and you’ll find pilgrims tending their feet (or, as in this photo, tending to someone else’s feet). Sit around any table of Camino pilgrims, and the conversation will eventually come around to foot care.

The advice for avoiding blisters is endless and contradictory:*

  • Cover your feet in Vaseline
  • Cover your feet in powder
  • Wear shoes that are too big
  • Make sure your shoes are never too loose
  • Change your socks every hour
  • Find the perfect pair of socks and never take them off
  • Ice your feet every night
  • Soak your feet in every stream
  • Wear two pair of socks
  • Don’t wear socks; walk in Chacos
  • Use Compeed
  • Don’t use Compeed; let blisters breathe.
  • Tuck sanitary napkins into your shoes to soak up sweat (no really, I know someone who did this)

Some of it helped. Most of it didn’t. I’m no expert on what works for blisters—I suffered tendonitis and heel spurs rather than blisters, but regardless, I have never paid so much attention to feet—my own or certainly anyone else’s—in my life as I did on the Way of Saint James.

What I learned from this attention?

What works for someone else won’t always work for you.

Pay attention to your body.

Take it slow.

And always appreciate the mundane. Do it day after day, and it becomes a meditation.

 

* This is all actual advice I found when searching “foot care” in the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook group.