The ABCs of the Camino de Santiago

I can’t believe it has taken me more than two years to write/post this. But it did. Rather than berate myself for taking so long, I choose to think of it as answering two questions I hear frequently: 1) Tell me about that Camino thing you did, and 2) What did you do during COVID restrictions?

Please enjoy.

Abecedarian.  Straightforward, simplified; in literature, a poem or essay arranged in order according to the alphabet, often written about a single topic. This blog post, for example, re: my lessons learned from walking 300 miles of the Camino de Santiago, Burgos to Santiago de Compostela, September 10-October 3, 2019.

Backpacks.  We carried daypacks with our rain gear, first aid kits, snacks, water and a few clothing layers that we figured we might need to don during the day. Each pack weighed maybe eight pounds with the the built-in bladder full of water. The tour operator, www.Caminoways.com, did the heavy lifting when they moved our luggage each day. They allowed 40 pounds each, and we happily complied. However, the transporter leaves the suitcases in the “lobby,” which means we had to heave and hoist our belongs to our room, 90% of which were up a staircase or two, in lodging sans elevators. Note to self:  If there’s a next time, fewer shoes.   

Chant.  A repeated, rhythmic phrase; to recite something in a monotonous, repetitive tone. On the Camino, chanting is to a steep ascent what LaMaze breathing is to childbirth.

Donna started chanting on Day 3. We stopped at what we thought was the top of a steep stretch, only to discover the “optical delusion” that it was a curve. I was panting, and Donna shared that she found it helpful to set a tolerable pace with a silent or whispered God-bless-so-and-so chant.  After I’d covered immediate and extended family at least thrice—and I still wasn’t to the top—I changed my chant. “I can do this, if You help me, I can do this, if You help me. . . .” Can you hear the rhythm of my hiking poles tapping out the pace?

Elevation gain.  We soon learned that how far we were to walk each day was only one piece of information. The critical piece was elevation gain/loss. Uphill is slow and exhausting. Downhill may be faster, but it really boils down to being out of breath, or having sore knees 

FAQ. Let’s do it Jeopardy style. The answer to the most frequently asked question we get is:  Usually, in a roadside bar or behind a bush. Ladies, when you gotta go, you get over pee fright fast. 

Go with someone you love. (Donna wrote that. Ahhhhhh.)

Hello. Used as a greeting or to begin a phone conversation in English-speaking countries. It is rarely, if ever, said or heard on the Camino.  “Buen Camino” is the universal hello, farewell, have-a-nice-day, take care, nice-to-meet-you greeting used on the Camino. I watched the Martin Sheen movie, “The Way” maybe three months after completing the Camino in 2019. When I heard the characters say, “Buen Camino,” I gasped, choked up and almost cried. I remembered it can also be used as a blessing.

In Case of Emergency. Thankfully, we never had to call the 24/7 phone number provided by Camino Ways.

Jesus Calling. One or the other of us read the day’s message aloud before we walked. (It’s a daily devotion book that is written as if Jesus called and left you a voicemail.) I remember getting goosebumps many a morning because the message was perfect for that day’s anticipated adventure. For instance, on the day we walked into Santiago, He left us this message: When the path before you looks easy and straightforward, you may be tempted to go it alone instead of relying on Me. This is when you are in the greatest danger of stumbling. Ask My Spirit to help you as you go each step of the way. Never neglect this glorious Source of strength within you. 

Kilometer.  A metric unit of measurement equal to 1,000 meters. Everything is measured in Ks in Spain, not to mention the rest of the world. So stop thinking in miles. Long before we left, Donna and I switched our FitBits to Ks. We walked at least 10K a day, every day, to train for the Camino and averaged 20 to 25K a day on the Camino. That’s about 12-15 miles a day, for those of you ignored the third sentence.

Lodging. The Camino Ways people booked our reservations ahead of time, so we never had to wonder where we would lay our heads at night. We always had a room with a bathroom to ourselves, and twin beds. Our favorites were the small “gatehouses” which were family-owned and often in old stone buildings or farm houses.

Manana en la manana.    In Spanish, it means “tomorrow morning.” On the Camino, it came to mean, “stay present in this moment, right here, right now.” Someone asked  Donna how far we’d be walking the next day, and she replied, “Don’t know. However far it is, we’ll walk it tomorrow. ” Now that we’re home, when we find ourselves getting a little agitated about something—typically something outside our control—one or the other of us will say, “Manana en la manana.” Stay present.

Now and then we questioned our sanity. Who’s idea was this, anyway? Why in the world would anyone do this more than once? Specifically, these whines were muttered the day after O’Cebreiro. 

O’Cebreiro. From the Latin meaning “oh, so steep, you think you are going to die.” It was a long day to begin with (31K), with the last 6K essentially being straight up a rocky, craggy forest “trail.” Elevation gain, 3000 feet in just 6K. From my blog post that day: 

When we got to the very last hamlet before the top, a hamlet called Laguna, my brain was boiling and I was stumbling and dizzy and doing all I could not to burst into tears. Donna steered me into a cafe/bar and I sat down in a chair and began taking off my clothes. I was that hot and sweaty. I stopped at the base layer of a tank top and my pants. I fanned myself with the menu. I blew cool air into my tank top. I don’t know where I threw my hat, but my hair was dripping sweat and I distributed it with my fingers through my chemo curls thinking it will just perk them up. Donna bought a Kas Limon (like sparkling lemonade) and I downed it, along with a banana. I think I scared the hostess/bartender. She brought bread (which I couldn’t eat because of the whole gluten thing) topped with salami. I told her no thank you, I can’t in Spanish, and Donna commanded in English, “Eat the salami!”

I did. Eventually I calmed. Donna stopped staring at me with worried eyes. We walked into town shortly before dark. Exhausted.

Pilgrim’s meal. Three course meal offered as “el menu del dia” in restaurants, bars and lodging. You get a starter, main and dessert. Sometimes you get a choice in each category, sometimes not. Good thing I like chicken. We ate almost every dinner at our lodging, and our Pilgrim’s Meal included either a bottle of water or bottle of wine. We chose the latter. Duh.

Quiet. Did we ever run out of things to talk about? No. Although we did choose to be silent more often toward the end of our journey.  

Rain in Spain fell mainly on whatever plain we happened to be hiking on. We always carried our rain jackets and pants with us in our day packs, and our hiking shoes were waterproof, so we were never caught by surprise. Well, except that time we decided to put on our jackets. Only our jackets. Not our rain pants. After all, it was kinda warm, and our Lululemon leggings were quick drying. Biggest mistake of the trip. The rain fell hard, soaked our pants, then trickled down our legs and into our boots. Waterproof on the outside, not on the inside. New rule:  when you don the jacket, you drag on the rain pants. No matter what.

Stress. A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Yes, there were days with adverse conditions. Almost every day required we walk a demanding distance. We handled the physical stress with “legs up the wall” yoga pose the minute we got to our room, Salon pas and perhaps ibuprofen on occasion. Otherwise, for me, the biggest surprise on the Camino was how little emotional stress there was. We had one thing and one thing only to do every day: Walk. OK, we also had to make sure we got our Compostela stamped at least twice. Easy peasy.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” [See “W” below.]

United. Joinedtogether for a common purpose, or by common feelings. It didn’t matter why you were walking the Camino, your age, gender, pronouns, political party, race or religion. It didn’t matter whether you had reservations or carried your life on your back. You sense the unity in your soul, your heart, your head and your gut. When we arrived in Santiago, there was an energy I’d never experienced, let alone shared with so many strangers before. It was elation and exhaustion and a bit of unexplained somberness all rolled into laughing, crying, hugging and happy dancing. Donna and I both voiced the opinion that perhaps world leaders should all walk the Camino. 

Vaseline saved our feet from blisters. We slathered it on every morning and then put on our dual layer Wright socks. (That’s the brand, aptly named!) The theory is that the two layers of the sock rub against each other, instead of rubbing your skin raw. Worked perfectly, except for that soggy day of slogging into Sahagun. [See “R” above.]

Walk your own Camino. That’s not a recommendation to book your own trip. It’s my revelation from the trip I took. “Walk your own Camino” means stop comparing yourself, Terri. 

So what if Donna is older than you, doesn’t play tennis or do High Intensity Interval Training and seems to be casually strolling up the Oh-So-Steep cascade of rocks, pointing out flora, fauna and a stupid white horse in a pasture while you can barely breathe, let alone speak, turn your head or do anything other put one foot in front of the other? Walk your own Camino!

So what if throngs of people start their Camino in Sarria and walk “only” the last 100K? Of course they’re energized, perky and can pass you in no time wearing 40-pound backpacks. You’re having your luggage shuttled each day, remember? Walk your own Camino!

Her hiking boots are, indeed, very cute. Size 7, maybe? You’re the only one who thinks yours look like clown shoes. Walk your own camino!

Why? Because “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt. 

is the symbol for the unknown in algebra. Donna and I learned to look for and leave room for some of it every day. The unknown. Not algebra. 

Yes, I want to do it again.

In fact I leave August 12, 2022. This time, the whole 500 miles (800K) from St. Jean Pie de Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela. With Donna, of course.

Zenith.  The time at which something is most powerful or successful. For me, our arrival in Cathedral square. Which is where Ken and Rose from Canada—a couple we met night No. 1 and encountered off and on along the way—stayed an extra day in Santiago just to greet us when Donna and I walked in. We burst into tears because we thought we’d never see any of the friends we’d made along the way again. Joy, praise, laughs and love made the journey a powerful success.

Welcome to BlahBlahBlah.us (aka TerriLanghans.com)

You may know Terri Langhans the speaker, writer, avid tennis player, average golfer. Wife, mom, BFF, sister, aunt, Grandma. You may have known me by my maiden name: Terri Stoner. Stop laughing. I am all those Terris. And more.

Why this Blahg?

I named my speaking business Blah Blah Blah because I was all about helping people make their message stand out, get results and not be boring. And because Langhans is too difficult to remember or pronounce. (Hint:  It rhymes with “bang pans.”)

Note the use of the past tense “was” in the above paragraph. That’s right. Brace yourselves.

I. Am. Retired.

I still have BlahBlahBlah.us, my url, but it now points you here, to TerriLanghans.com, my Blahg.

Continue reading “Welcome to BlahBlahBlah.us (aka TerriLanghans.com)”

Day 24: Armenal to Santiago de Compostela. We Arrive Oct. 3, 2019

The host of the gatehouse drove us back to the place at which we had ended our walk the day before. It sports the best name of an alberque/bar for its location: Kilometer 15. (See the sign above Donna’s head.)

We left early, in low clouds and mist, just as the sun was peaking over the trees. Dew and moisture clung to the fields and foliage, as if each drop represented a Pilgrim’s excitement and anticipation of the day’s destination 15K away: Santiago de Compostela.

Note the other Pilgrims on the trail taking pictures of nature’s lacey webs and veils.
Continue reading “Day 24: Armenal to Santiago de Compostela. We Arrive Oct. 3, 2019”

Day 23: Arzua to Armenal (Sooo close, with one more sleep to go)

After that grueling, record-setting trek into Arzua, we looked forward to a “normal” day of about 20K. We were hyperaware that we were just one sleep away from Santiago, and I think that’s why our photos from the day were such a variety of scenery, terrain and people. We wanted to make sure we got a little bit of everything along the way.

One of our favorite pictures from our Portuguese Coastal Route Camino was taken by another pilgrim as we walked down the trail. We tried to re-create it on this next-to-last day, recruiting Alex and his mom “Hey, Hey” Mickie.

Alex convinced us to upgrade to video.

Continue reading “Day 23: Arzua to Armenal (Sooo close, with one more sleep to go)”

Day 22: Palas de Rei to Arzua (28K?)

The Long Day That Got Longer and Longer

We left the rectory relatively early (again, early for us) knowing we had 28K (17 miles) to go, according to the walking notes. Our walking notes had always measured the distance from our lodging to the next destination. Or so we thought. Maybe it was from town/village/city limit sign to the next edge of town. Or maybe it was center of town to center of town. For three full weeks it was always close enough for Camino work.

We knew we were 6K away from Palas de Rei when stepped out the door. We assumed our 28K estimate was based on our lodging to our next lodging, or thereabouts in Arzua. In other words, the 28K included the 6K to get to Palas de Rei.

Our morning selfie on the way to Palas de Rei. The owner of the albergue/bar in the background went all out with the scallop shell icon.
Continue reading “Day 22: Palas de Rei to Arzua (28K?)”

Day 21: Portomarin to Palais de Rei (Sept. 30)

A 24K Day with a Pleasant Surprise

Here’s how our mental math worked. Anything under 20K (12.5 miles) was a short day. A short day meant we might arrive by 3 pm, which meant more time for the hand washed laundry to dry. And writing time for me. And sangria for both of us.

Anything over 20K could be a long day. On long days (15-20 miles), we hoped to arrive by 5 p.m. We knew we would be more physically tired, so we learned not to anticipate doing much more than shower, change clothes and eat dinner. Anything else would be a gift of time. The real key to mental health on a long day was to avoid “horse-to-barn” mode. That is where you put your head down, don’t look around, don’t talk (unless it is to ask rhetorically, “how much farther?”) and your whole being is focused on one thing. Just. Get. There.

Continue reading “Day 21: Portomarin to Palais de Rei (Sept. 30)”

Day 20: Sarria to Portomarin (Sept. 29)

SIG Alert on the Camino Between Sarria and Santiago

Donna and I stayed in a hotel in Sarria, and when we went down to breakfast, it was difficult to find a seat. We saw two banquet-style tables and thought it might be for family style seating, which we have enjoyed as a way of meeting new people.

Nope. They were tables reserved for three different large tour groups of Pilgrims and their guides.

Fine. Donna and I huddled in a corner at a table for two and made a game of guessing which of the people in the buffet lines were veterans who had 110K left to go on their Camino, and who were the people starting their Camino in Sarria with this as Day 1.

“Plebes,” I said, nodding my head in the direction of a dozen bright shiny Pilgrims around the coffee pots.

Donna almost shot her coffee out her nose upon hearing my nickname.

Based on the recommendation of a veteran sitting nearby (she was walking her second solo camino), we decided to hit the trail as soon as possible. She said most of the groups leave around 9 a.m., so we decoded to get a good head start.

We traded photo-taking services with another couple of Pilgrims. Yes, Donna and I are both wearing “Olivia” because it was chilly. Not pictured are the throngs of people coming up the hill to our left, your right.
Continue reading “Day 20: Sarria to Portomarin (Sept. 29)”

Day 19: Triacastela to Sarria (Sept. 28)

The End of the Camino as We Knew It Is the Beginning of the Camino for Thousands

Glory, hallelujah–we woke to warm, dry boots and no rain in the forecast with supporting physical and visual evidence out the window. As I mentioned, part of our routine every morning is to double check the online weather report. We also had what we came to call The Arm or Body Part Test.

To conduct The Arm or Body Part Test, one opens the window (Spain doesn’t believe in screens) or, if we are blessed with a balcony, one opens the door to the outside. Next, stick an arm or other body part out the opening and report to your roommate what you feel and observe. Optional information to share is what the tester herself has decided to wear based on the experience.

For instance, “I’m going to wear my Holy Long Sleeve and pack my Safari Shirt.”

Continue reading “Day 19: Triacastela to Sarria (Sept. 28)”

Day 18: O’Cebriero to Triacastela (Sept. 28)

The DayWe Whined.

We have a system in place. The night before we read the weather and get our hiking clothes out and ready to throw on in the morning. We usually double check the forecast first thing in the morning to make sure we have enough layers on our bodies and then any extras that need to be packed in the most-likely-to-be-needed on the top of the backpack.

(The above is a lesson learned quickly when it starts to get cold, or misty, or you’re hungry and whatever it is you need is at the very bottom of the pack, which means you have unpack all the stuff at the top and set it most likely on dirt or rocks or ledges that have tiny, biting bugs that will decide to take up residence inside your pack and bite you later.)

The forecast for this day basically said cloudy, cold in the morning (no kidding—we were on top of the world in O’Cebriero— and then high 60s later.

When I say “cold in the morning” I mean the temp started with a 4. As in 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Hence our morning selfie was taken indoors whilst inside the lodging.

Bundled up to brave the cold on a new day.
Continue reading “Day 18: O’Cebriero to Triacastela (Sept. 28)”

Day 17: Villafranca to O’Cebriero (Sept. 26) 31K

This was our longest, my hardest day EVER. We were leaving the wine country and heading up a river to the top of the world as we know it. The first 20K (12 or so miles) was mostly flat and followed the river. Gorgeous. The last 10K (6 miles) were essentially straight up rocky forest paths.

We arrived at the 20K town at 3 p.m. This is normally when we like to get to our final destination. Oh, no, not even close!

If you know me, you know how much I love water. This was our view and our audio the first 20K.
Continue reading “Day 17: Villafranca to O’Cebriero (Sept. 26) 31K”