Archive for May, 2014

May 28, 2014

The First Third

by Tabitha Kidwell

As you walk the Camino, you pass pilgrim graffiti – thoughts, advice, and quotes scrawled on walls, bridges, and signs by those who have passed before you. Like this:


I saw one the other day that said “Camino de Santiago: The first third heals your body, the second third heals your heart, the last third heals your soul.”

I don’t know yet about my heart and soul, but I really hope it’s right about the body. The first week was basically non-stop physical suffering, which is not what I had expected at all! I thought I was a pretty fit, healthy person, who could coast through 15-20 miles a day thanks to generally being in shape. And I thought I had read enough blogs and planned carefully for blisters, sunburn, rain, cold, or whatever else might come my way. Probably all of that has helped – who knows how much harder this would be if I didn’t have the gear I do, or if I hadn’t been running marathons and doing triathlons the past few years. But there is really nothing that can prepare you for walking the Camino de Santiago other than… walking the Camino de Santiago.

So… I am in pain. I thought I had experienced every body pain possible from running, but my muscles are sore in a totally different way, and I have chafing in places I didn’t know existed.

What is causing me the most suffering, though, is one deep blister on the back on my left heel. I kept popping it, and it kept returning. My planning and preparation wasn’t as complete as I had thought. Every pilgrim along the route gave me their opinion, and I tried many of them, but nothing seemed to work. I had to hobble along using a stick as a support, and felt like a huge failure. Finally, in a fit of rage, I took a knife to it. A bunch of blister gunk rushed out, the pressure was released, and it started to heal.

The same day, an emotional blister seemed to pop, as well. I found myself inexplicably crying all day long. I had had to rely on others for help, which is really hard for me, so that had me feeling vulnerable. I was simultaneously struggling with loneliness and with the stress of being around so many other people. I was dealing with feelings of failure and inadequacy. There was a lot going on, and I don’t totally understand it all. Maybe this marks the beginning of the second third, and the healing of my heart? For the sake of my chafed, blistered, and sore body, I sure hope so.

May 26, 2014

Camino co-competitors

by Tabitha Kidwell

One of the best things about the Camino is all the other people walking. As you walk, you pass and chat with interesting people from all over the world – a lot of Americans and Spanish, but also British, French, Germans, Dutch, Italians, Japanese, Koreans, and more. It’s a great opportunity to meet and learn from people from all over the world!

One of the worst things about the Camino is… all the other people walking. The Camino Francés seems to have grown in popularity over the past few years, and even though it isn’t yet the highest season (July and August), it is pretty crowded. A couple of times, I’ve arrived in town mid-afternoon and found that the hostels I had hoped to stay at were already full. I’ve been able to find other hostels, and there are also more expensive hotels where I could stay, but it makes for a stressful arrival at the end of a tiring day.

I hoped to find some solitude and quiet along the way, and it can be found, but it takes work to find
it. As you walk, there are people ahead and behind you, and there are people going faster and slower than you. It’s easy to get drawn into looking at it as a race, trying to pass or keep ahead of others, especially at the end of the day when you are imagining that last bed at the hostel being taken by the speedster who just blew by.

I really hate this competitive spirit that makes me see other pilgrims as competition rather than fellow travelers. I hate that I wake with a start at the first rustle of a plastic bag in the bunk rooms and feel like I need to get up and moving so I’m not behind the crowd. I hate sitting in a plaza eating a sandwich and feeling stressed as I see pilgrim after pilgrim power by.

The truth is, it’s not a race whatsoever. There are hostels every 5 kilometers or so, and when you see someone on the camino, you have no way of knowing where they started or what their goal for the day is. You don’t know how heavy their burdens are or what pains they are working through. You don’t really know anything about your “competitors” unless you slow down enough to listen to their story. And by the time you’ve done that, they are no longer competition – they are friends, team members on this journey we’re all taking, together and alone at the same time.

May 22, 2014

Camino de Santiago

by Tabitha Kidwell

I’ve just finished my third day on the Camino de Santiago, and so far, I’m feeling pretty good! Soon, I’ll start posting lots of blogs about the experience, which will probably all boil down to “life is a pilgrimage.” But first, I wanted to explain exactly what this adventure is.

The Camino de Santiago is a medieval pilgrimage trail leading to the church in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (northwestern Spain), where the remains of St. James are believed to be. Traditionally, people would begin the camino from their own doorstep, but walking at least the final 100 kilometers was deemed sufficient to absolve you of your sins. People have continued walking The Waysince the middle ages, but it has grown in popularity in recent years thanks to appearences in popular culture, like Paolo Coehlo’s The Pilgrimage, and the filmThe Way, starring Martin Sheen. Now, as you walk, there is almost always another pilgrim within eyesight, usually more like 20. Some people do still start from their own doorsteps, but many more start at the beginning of an established route. The Camino Francés, which I am on, runs from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, in southwest France, continues to Santiago, and takes about a month. I only have 29 days, so I skipped the first few days and started from Pamplona.

In every town along the way, there are albuergues (pilgrim’s hostels) where you can pay 5-15 euros for a bed for the night. Some also serve a communal dinner, but if not, there are restaurants that offer “pilgrim’s menus,” a three-course, carb-heavy meal, for about 10 euros. The camino is well marked with yellow arrows and seashells, the symbol of St. James. The pilgrims also wear seashells to identify themselves, but the hiking boots, backpacks, and walking poles make it pretty clear if you happen to miss the shell. I’ll walk 20-30 kilometers everyday, through forests, over mountains, and along rivers. When I get to Santiago, I’ll go to the pilgrim’s mass at the church and hear my name read along with all the others who finished with me. Then, if I have enough time and energy, I’ll continue my trek three more days to Finesterre, once the end of the known world. Or, since my sins will be absolved and my feet will be tired, I might just take the bus. 700 kilometers might be enough for the month!

May 18, 2014

Bucket list Bucketful

by Tabitha Kidwell

I write a lot of blogs while I’m running – it gives me the time to reflect and put my thoughts together. I often come home from a run and sit down at my computer, still sweating, so I can capture the words while they are fresh. I stopped running at the end of April because I had a twinge of plantar fasciitis that I wanted to let heal before doing the Camino de Santiago in Spain. So that is why I haven’t blogged for awhile.

Or maybe I just got busy.

Or lazy.

In any case, I’ve had an eventful month since my last blog about India. I have been to Kuala Lumpur, the Perhentian Islands (off of the Malaysian coast), Columbus, Chicago, Paris, Dijon, and Taizé. When I talked about my plans, people would always say things like “I’d love to go to India,” “One day I’ll learn to scuba dive,” “I’ve always wanted to go to Spain,” etc. It’s really not fair that I get to do it all at once. I’m like the fat kid at the bucket list buffet. Normal people spend most of their time looking forward to experiences like these (I know this because I have in the past been a normal person myself). I feel really blessed to have the life that I do, a life whose path seems to lead me to incredible experiences without very much effort on my own part.

I’m certainly not going to complain about this, but it has resulted in the strange predicament of looking forward to an exciting and unique experience while I was already in the midst of an experience that was exciting and unique in a completely different way. While I was leading English camps in Indonesia, I was excited to get to India. While in India, I couldn’t wait to get home. Once I got home, I spent all my time planning and shopping for the Camino de Santiago.

I learned a lot from each individual experience, but what I learned from having one after another was to stop putting any effort at all into wishing time would move faster. Time moves fast enough without our willing it forward. There are three parts of every experience: first, looking forward to it in the future; then actually living it; and then looking back on the memory. It’s beautiful when the experience is still ahead of you, when you can imagine how it will be in a million different ways. 999,999 of those possibilities disappear as soon as it happens, and then the happening is far too quick, and the memory far too faint. I hate that this is how time works, that it steals our present and seals it into the past while we are distracted by the possibilities of the future.

So, after a year with a lifetime’s worth of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I have learned to enjoy every moment for what it is, without nostalgia for the past or longing for the future. I’m not just talking about milestones, vacations, or dreams-come-true. Every moment, no matter how banal, is still once-in-a-lifetime. Sunday afternoon at the grocery store, the Tuesday morning commute, Friday evening happy hour – these might happen all the time, but each time is unique, and together, they are the building blocks of our lives. If we spend our time wishing for the next experience, we might end up with no more than a pile of bricks. By treasuring each brick as it comes, we can be sure to build something beautiful.