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.