The Camino

2019 has been INCREDIBLE. Shane and I just returned from a crazy music festival, BassCoast, and I am so full of happy memories from all of the amazing experiences 2019 has had to offer. I can’t keep up with writing about all of them!

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Every year with this one is crazier than the next, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I remember the day we decided to walk the Camino. Shane and I were spending a rainy weekend in Ucluelet, thinking about our next travel destination. South America was on our radar, but also, I had never been to Europe. Shane wanted to speak Spanish, and we wanted some real direction on our next adventure. When Shane suggested the Camino, we both jumped on board right away. Shane had walked the Camino Frances, one of many pilgrimage routes in Spain that spans hundreds of kilometres and ends in Santiago de Compostela. For the entirety of our relationship I had heard about how magical his Camino was, as he had finished it just before we met. We decided to walk the Camino Del Norte, which starts in Irun, in North-East Spain. It is known as the harder Camino, as the weather in Northern Spain is cold and rainy, and there is more elevation than other Caminos. We also decided that instead of finishing on the Camino del Norte, we would cross over to the Camino Primitivo in order to get to Santiago. By the end of the Camino, we would walk/hike 900km in 35 days. Here is our journey!

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Our trip to Europe was three months long. We started in Turkey, and made our way through Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and Northern Italy before arriving in Spain to start the Camino. We flew from Vienna through to Barcelona, spent an uncomfortable night sleeping on the floor in the Barcelona airport, before arriving in Irun at 8am. We hadn’t planned on hiking the first day we got to Spain, but as soon as we got to Irun, we were keen. We packaged up and shipped the extra gear we had with us that we didn’t need on the Camino, and Shane showed me the ropes of “the way”, as they call it. The Camino is a religious pilgrimage marked by yellow arrows. People walking the Camino are called pilgrims, or “peregrinos”, in Spanish. Typically, pilgrims stay in hostels, or “albergues”. Albergues are cheap dorm rooms built for pilgrims.

Writing about the Camino is a struggle, because it was so darn long. We walked for 35 days straight, met hundreds of people, and stayed in a new town/hostel/albergue/hotel every night. Every day was unique, special, and different. I have chosen to write about special days and moments, otherwise this blog post, while already too long, would be exceptionally longer!

I remember feeling so at peace during our first day on the Camino. I had acquired travel fatigue when we were in central Europe. I was tired of getting up and transporting ourselves, and figuring out “what to do” everywhere we went. I had no energy, even though I wasn’t physically strained. For me, the Camino meant a simple life: eat, walk, sleep, repeat. Our first day saw us hike through pastures situated on cliffs looking out onto the ocean. It was quite possibly some of the most picturesque hiking i’d ever done.

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Days 1-8 of the Camino saw us walk through the Basque region of Spain, from Irun to Bilbao. It was my absolute favourite section of the Camino, and featured well known cities such as San Sebastian. The Basque region was also harder hiking with lots of up and down. It was one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever been. I remember thinking that Europe couldn’t possibly be as beautiful as BC, with all of the people and the centuries of development. Man, was I wrong.

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San Sebastian

 

One of my favourite nights of the Camino was our second night. We had hiked 24km that day, and came across an Albergue in a small town called Orio. Shane and I showered, changed, and walked to the supermarket. The light was glowy, we were surrounded by rolling hills, and vinyards. As the sun set, we cooked our tortilla (Spanish Omelette), in a kitchen overlooking the evening sun covered hills, and snacked on fresh bread, hummus, mozarella and tomato for dinner. I was so happy I could cry.

Another magical place in the Basque region was Zumaia, here, we stayed in an old convent, and were able to have a private room (albeit with separate beds). Zumaia was the filming location for Dragonstone in Game of Thrones. I was also very excited by this.

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I had heard that the Camino was tough on the feet, but I figured i’d be fine. I ran a half marathon in November, trekked in the Himalayas in Nepal, and am generally an athlete. However- I encountered my first challenge of the Camino when I got really bad blisters on all of my toes. Turns out my trail runners were a size too small, and when it came to walking 20-30km a day, it was bad news. The thing about pain on the Camino, is that if you’re in pain at home after a workout, you take a day off. On the Camino, you have to keep going. I spent 8 days taping my feet and trying to keep a positive attitude before I broke down. I squatted for a bush pee and just started crying from pain and exhaustion, and that’s when Shane said “we’re buying some new shoes”. When we got to Bilbao, we bought me some hot pink trail runners, and they worked wonders for me. My Camino was saved.

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Bilbao was a very cool city! I was absolutely exhausted and in pain by the time we got there, but we had booked ourselves a sick airbnb, be it in a very sketchy neighbourhood. We finally had an evening to rest and recuperate without a bunch of old and smelly pilgrims around (to be fair, we were also smelly). We went out for dinner, where I had the worst veggie burger ever (a slab of raw tofu- Spanish people are very un-vegetarian), but was so hungry I thoroughly enjoyed it. We had arrived in Bilbao during Spanish holy week, Easter. The streets were packed and accommodation was hard to find. Most Spanish people take this week as a holiday. When we walked out of dinner, we stumbled upon a cathedral square where the most haunting and affecting religious parade i’ve ever seen was taking place. It was breathtaking, and I had chills the entire time. By the way, the people with the pointy hats are not the KKK. Their costumes are inspired by the Catholic flagellants, a super pious sect. The next day we attended mass, and it was so beautifully powerful I cried. The Camino was such a combination of physical and mental strength, as well as spirituality. This really dawned on me on day 9, as tears streamed down my face as I stood in the back of the cathedral.

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The day after Bilbao, we left late, and arrived in Portugalete, the following town, around 7pm. It was grey and rainy, and we could not find anywhere to stay. Because it was Easter, all of the Albergues were full. We ended up staying the night in a 70 euro hotel room. To be honest, I was quite happy there. Shane and I had a bath, charged our phones, and stretched. I was still exhausted by blister pain, so was happy to be able to take a rest. That was the first night I had patatas bravas, a Spanish dish of fries, red sauce, and garlic mayo. I also had my first churro EVER! (honestly, a little oily and heavy for my taste).

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The Guggenheim in Bilbao

After Bilbao, we left the Basque region and headed into Cantabria. We started walking along more roads, and people were no longer speaking Euskara. The funny thing about Spain is that it seems as though each region wants independence. In the Basque country, they did not speak Spanish, but Euskara, their own language. I remember the Cantabrian region as being incredible, but different than the Basque region. We had beautiful, sunny weather, but the road walking, as opposed of trail walking, started wearing me down a little. As my feet felt better and my blisters healed, I felt other pains. Some, left over from the imbalances of my injury, and others, completely new to me.

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Shane let me get chocolate cake for breakfast. Love him!

Our most notable night in Cantabria was in the small town of Isla. We arrived, after a long day, at an old convent that had been updated inside. The convent was run by a Dutch woman and her Spanish husband. At this convent we met two of our favourite people on the Camino, Jeremy and David! Jeremy was a fellow history major and Canadian, and David was Slovakian. We spent a night filled with wine, home cooking by the caretakers of the Albergue, and good conversation. We all slept in the next morning, and felt well rested to continue on in the Camino. We all agreed that we needed that night. Sometimes the Albergues could be busy, and not give you the emotional rest and relaxation you need at the end of a long day.

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The next day saw us walk in the hot sun to Santander. We caught up with our North Carolinian friend, Margaret, who we saw along the way. Margaret was suffering from terrible foot pain, and had to end her Camino the day after we met in Santander. Turns out she had a pinched nerve in her foot. We met so many amazing people on the Camino, and would either walk with them, or separate, and run into them a few days later. Shane always told me that this was the magic of the Camino, and I started to understand that after we had our lovely evenings with Margaret, Jeremy and David.

The day after Santander marked a turning point in the Camino for me. We had a really tough day leaving Santander. It was a 37 kilometre all pavement day. All of the pains I had been accumulating started flaring up with nearly 20 lbs on my back, and too much hard ground. It was a demoralizing day for me and Shane, with grey skies, and lots of walking through industrial areas. The thing about walking across an entire country, is that you can have a week of walking along the coast, in trails and forest, and then another week of roads and urban landscapes. I had been really feeling my sciatic nerve on my left side, as I always have since I lost all of the muscle on the left side of my body during my injury. I was also feeling strange pains on the insides of both of my feet, as well as some pain in my heels (from my sciatic nerve).

The most beautiful thing about the Camino was how me and Shane’s lives before we met came together as we walked the Camino. We met nearly three years ago, as I was coming out of rehab, and he had finished his first Camino. We met at spin class at Yyoga. I remember him introducing himself to me, and telling me about the Camino. I replied that I thought the Camino sounded interesting, and that I just finished my history thesis on Visigothic Spain. We hit it off immediately, and I was so intrigued by this world traveller, that when he asked for my number, I decided to give it to him. Going into the Camino, I thought that I would have no problems with my body. I thought I was over the trauma of my knee injury. I was wrong! After my blisters healed, I started feeling other pains and becoming anxious that I would be sidelined by them. We had come across many pilgrims who were injured and had to stop walking. Seeing them triggered in me the same anxiety I had years ago about pain. It was the biggest battle I overcame on the Camino, and Shane had the opportunity to see, firsthand, the pain and anxiety I experienced years ago. Instead of feeling anxious about pain, keeping it inside, and lashing out, I was vulnerable. Shane saw this and embraced and helped me with my mental struggle. It was extremely gratifying to have someone so close to me acknowledge and understand what I went through, as i’ve found few people with the ability to empathize with the PTSD associated with chronic pain. Not only did I experience the life changing magic of the Camino, an experience that was so fundamental in Shane’s life, but he saw what I went through in the years before I met him, and finally understood a big part of my life experience. This fact brought me to tears many times. I couldn’t imagine having a better partner than Shane on this journey. It was magic.

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This morning brought me to tears

The spiritual journey continued when we stopped at a small Albergue with only 6 beds in the cider producing region of Asturias. We were welcomed in by Marina, a free spirited French/Swiss woman, and her German protege, Michael. We also met Nathan at this Albergue, a fellow Vancouverite! We had hardly met any Canadians in months, and now we were three Vancouverites! Marina’s Albergue was like a home. We had a whole food vegan meal around the dinner table that Marina and Michael so gracefully cooked for us, and had true, meaningful conversations about what the Camino meant for each of us. When Shane and I set off the next morning, we saw the sun rising above the water, and I cried again, telling Shane how much I wanted to make it to Santiago, because after the night at Marina’s, the purpose for my Camino became clear to me. I wanted to get to Santiago to rid myself completely of the PTSD I had with my injury. Getting to Santiago would prove my physical and mental strength, and would finally put to rest the emotion associated with those three tough years. I remember that day so clearly. It was just me and Shane, and we chatted all day, about life, about feelings. The magic of doing the Camino as a couple is that you have the time to talk, to share, and to connect. Being truly vulnerable with each other was one of the greatest gifts we received on this journey.

We were most likely on day 20 of the Camino Del Norte when the time came to switch routes. The Camino Del Norte can take one all the way to Santiago, but another option is to cross on to the Camino Primitivo. Apparently this is the original Camino walked by the King of Spain in year 700, or something crazy like that. The talk on the Camino was that the Primitivo was very hard, with lots of up and down. Our last day on the Camino Del Norte was hot and sunny, and we stayed at a lovely Albergue where we ate a vegetarian, family cooked meal. I was always grateful to get vegetarian dinners, as Spain is not a very vegetarian friendly country. When we ate at restaurants, I was relegated to french fries and fried eggs, which I soon grew weary of. I survived mostly by grocery shopping. I would buy cheese, bread, fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate to feed myself throughout the day. I enjoyed what I ate, but I did not leave Spain with a true taste for the deliciousness of Spanish food. Sometimes you miss out when you’re vegetarian, but that’s life!

The night before we crossed onto the Camino Primitivo, we met our good friend Joe Savage, a musician from Texas. We would spend the next four or five days walking and having deep chats with Joe. You should look him up on Spotify, he’s a lovely human and a talented musician! I have a fond memory of when we first met Joe. He was singing Cat Stevens as we all soaked our feet in the stream in the last beams of sunshine at the end of the day. Some moments on the Camino were so idyllic, it felt as though I were in heaven.

The place to be for the Camino Del Norte is Oviedo. The night before we got to Oviedo, I got run down by the heat, and got sick. Shane, being the best partner, and always taking care of me, booked us a lovely hotel in Oviedo where we relaxed in the afternoon, and got burgers in the evening. It was lovely. The next day, me, Shane, and Joe all headed onto our next Camino.

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One of the most memorable cats I met on the Camino hitched a ride on my backpack

The vibe on the Primitivo was different than the Norte. The towns were smaller, with fewer resources in-between sleeps (grocery stores, cafes, etc.). The Primitivo also saw us leave Asturias and enter Galicia. Galicia is known for its rainy climate. The pilgrims were also a lot older, and very few of them had been walking for as long as me, Shane and Joe, who had all started in Irun. I found myself tired at the beginning of the Primitivo. I had been promised that the Primitivo was challenging and beautiful, but I wasn’t getting the emotional highs I was getting on the Norte. I was also getting a little run down at this point. I was tired of the lack of vegetarian food, and honestly, tired of walking! Shane reassured me that he felt this way on his last Camino as well, and to let it pass.

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This was a typical meal. I lived on French Fries. Spanish people aren’t huge into vegetarian cuisine…or vegetables.

The biggest day on the Camino Primitivo was Hospitales day. The day was around 26km in the mountains with no services, food, or water. It was the most “remote” day of the Camino. The night before we stayed at a lovely Albergue called Samblismo, and had a group vegetarian dinner with three Texans who became our “Camino parents” and an absolutely hilarious group of old Spaniards who told me I had beautiful eyes: “muy guapa!”. The Hospitales route did not disappoint. We saw wild horses! It was cold and windy though, and Shane was gracious enough to hold my poles for me and shelter me from the wind as I stuck my hands in my armpits. As we reached the top of the route, a man drove up and ran to us. He spoke only Spanish, but said to Shane that he was once a pilgrim, and was opening an Albergue. He then poured us hot coffee and gave us cookies. The Camino fosters kind acts and community. This man’s kind act in the middle of our hard day worked wonders for morale.

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Hospitales stood out for many reasons, one of the biggest being that we reunited with our favourite French Canadian, Jeremy! He also brought with him a fellow Canadian named Jordan! They arrived in town a little later than us, but grabbed bunks in the terrible Albergue we had chosen. This Albergue was municipally run, and the walls were covered in mould. Nonetheless, we were on such a high from our day, and so happy to be reunited, that the four of us, and an American, Eli, had a raucous night. We cooked vegetarian pasta, ate a ton of chips, and polished off 8 bottles of wine. I laughed so hard that night I fell off my chair.

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One of the best parts about travelling with Jeremy and Jordan was that they were also Game of Thrones fans, so every Monday we would gather around our phone screens and completely nerd out, as we called for Shane to pour us wine and make us dinner.

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Biggest cutie

We ended up separating from the boys for a few days, although we would reunite and finish the Camino together. Jordan took a few days off because he had a foot problem, and Jeremy took off as a lone wolf. Shane and I thought the hardest part of the Camino was over, but we can all agree that the days following the Hospitales route were no less of a physical challenge, and also, we got wind and rain.

I remember one day in particular where we were walking along this pass, and the wind and the rain came on so quick that Shane and I had no time to put on our rain gear, and were soaked through right away. Shane started running down the mountain, and I couldn’t catch him. We met at a cafe at the bottom and drank coffee and ate almond cake, revelling in being warm and dry. One thing about the Camino is that it’s always civilized. It’s like an indoor/outdoor adventure. No matter how wet and cold and tired you are, there’s always a cafe con leche, hot shower, and bed waiting for you at the end of the day. That day wasn’t easy though, because as we left the cafe, the wind and rain and elevation picked right up again. I remember Shane getting so hungry that day that he threw his backpack down, and we sat on the side of the trail, in the rain, and scarfed down cheese, nuts, and bread. We had the option that day of walking 8km further than our final destination to make the next day shorter, and when we got to the next town, I yelled “I AM DONE WITH TODAY”, and we didn’t go on. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wind, and it was extremely windy that day.

At the end of our windy, rainy mountain day, on our way to Lugo, I felt a strange pain in my foot. When we woke up the next morning, it was worse. We were only 100km away from Santiago, and in Camino terms, that’s nothing. The day to Lugo was rough for me. It was around 30 kilometres. Shane knew I was tired, so we had booked ourselves a hotel in Lugo for some privacy and R and R. I had such a hard time on the way to Lugo! My foot was hurting a lot, and I was very anxious about it. Plus it was raining. Not a good combo. I hardly ate all day because of my anxiety about pain, and Shane had to give me a cuddle, make me eat, and reassure me that everything would be fine. It’s moments like these where I was so grateful for Shane’s support, and his understanding of my injury trauma. He was my rock.

After Lugo passed, the weather was great, and my foot pain went away! We met up with Jeremy and Jordan, and also met some French Canadians girls, Steph and and Jess. I was so grateful to be around women again, we hardly met any on the Camino! The boys had started calling me mom. Actually, it was “mom”, or “QP”, the nickname Shane had given me, meaning “quarter pounder”. My small stature and vegetarian diet made the ironic nature of this nickname really stick.

We were getting really close to Santiago, and had decided to book an AirBNB when we got there, instead of staying in the massive Albergue for pilgrims. At this point on the Camino, we had crossed on to the Camino Frances, the most popular Camino. We all felt quite a different vibe. The Camino Frances had bigger Albergues, was a lot more busy, and was a lot more commercial with all of its camino merchandise. Gone were the days of no cafes or services, now, we were surrounded by pilgrims all the time. I didn’t love it. I hate crowds, and preferred the more low-key vibes of the Camino Del Norte and Camino Primitivo.

The day we walked to Santiago was hot and sunny, and getting to the cathedral felt great. It was funny, we had been walking for nearly 30 days, and all I wanted in those 30 days was to make it to Santiago. When we got there, it kind of felt as though it was just a regular camino day, not the end of the Camino! We were interviewed by a group of American tourists who were fascinated by our journey. They asked us where we stayed, and I jokingly told them that we stayed in Albergues, but would have a night in a hotel at least once a week for some privacy and rest, when I got cranky. I couldn’t believe it, but the French guy leading the tour then started grilling Shane about how “tough” it must have been to have such a “cranky” girlfriend the entire Camino. He asked him like 3 questions about it! Well, then I got really cranky, and grabbed the microphone and said “hey! we just walked 800km, can you stop concentrating on how “cranky” I was, and how “tough” that was for Shane?”. Shane thoroughly enjoyed this moment, and the French guy told me “sorry, i’m french, that’s how we act”, and I said muttered under my breath about misogyny.

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Me and Shane at Santiago de Compostela!
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Mom and the boys

We had a big party night in Santiago. We made Sangria, pizza, and had a riot. There were celebrations for pilgrims throughout the town, and we ended up running into so many people we met along the way. I remember running into our Italian friend Giorgio, who was injured when we left him. The happiness I felt when I embraced him in Santiago was unparalleled. I was so happy he made it. We had so much fun in our AirBnB, and felt so much love for each other, that me, Shane, Jeremy and Jordan decided we would continue our Camino and walk the extra 100km to Finisterre, known as the “end of the world”.

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We climbed onto the top of our Airbnb and watched the silhouette of the cathedral at sunset

The walk to Finisterre was short, only taking two days. We booked ourselves another AirBnB in Finisterre, and it was beautiful. We all got our own rooms, with me and Shane sharing the master bedroom. It was a real treat, and we decided to extend our stay to two nights. Let’s just say, me, Shane, Jeremy and Jordan decompressed, shared some intense spiritual experiences, and celebrated the Camino in good taste. On our final night, we walked up to the lighthouse, and all watched the sunset over the rocks together. It was magic come to life. Sharing such a beautiful experience with such beautiful people is what life is all about. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

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Celebrating!
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View from our AirBNB in Finisterre
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The boys swimming on our way to Finisterre
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Swimming again as we reached Finisterre!

When it came to say goodbye to Jeremy and Jordan, who decided to travel to Porto together, it was hard. I remember getting teary the first night without them. Shane and I travelled back to Santiago de Compostella, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel room. For our entire Europe trip, we used hotels.com, where after your 9th stay, you get a hotel credit. Shane chose the most beautiful boutique hotel with a jacuzzi, and we watched netflix and chilled, after buying Camino gifts for Jake and Albi, the two most important babies in our lives. The next day, we travelled to A Coruna, where we flew to the UK to begin our week in the English countryside with our lovely friends Ducky and Lily- but that’s another post!

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One of the most magical nights!
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At the 00KM mark of the Camino

The Camino was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. When I write an exceptionally important blog post, I like to sum up all of the things I learnt at the end:

The Spanish lifestyle is incredible. Apparently Spaniards have some of the longest lifespans in the world. This is mostly attributed to their sense of community, connection and fun. Even though they siesta, drink, and smoke like chimneys, this adds to their happiness and quality of life, rather than taking it away! I think us in North America can learn something from them.

I learnt that religion doesn’t equal spirituality. You find meaning where you make it, whether that’s through the church, or through connection with people and your environment.

I learnt that my PTSD from my injury is something I will struggle with for years to come, but I have learned to love myself and embrace my struggles, instead of regretting what i’ve been through. Everything you experience teaches you something, and allows you to grow.

I learnt that being truly vulnerable is hard, but that it leads to connection. Rather than lashing out when we feel emotion, or struggling to express it, being truly honest with our loved ones allows for connection on such a deep level.

I learnt that I am obsessed with Palmera, a Spanish puff pastry covered in chocolate.

I learnt to appreciate my partner in new ways. Shane and I grew together as a couple, and I saw sides of him that I don’t see in day to day life. Walking together every day allows for the freedom to talk about anything, connect, and love each other in new ways.

I learnt that directed travel is my new way of travelling. Having a goal, or a project when you’re travelling lessens travel fatigue.

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Thanks so much for reading! If you have any questions about the Camino, feel free to contact either me or Shane! I HIGHLY Recommend it!

 

 

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