By Lu Sobredo
Lessons from The Camino
|My Husband on Whiteout Conditions on the Camino. Photo © James Sobredo
Guided or Self-Guided Tour: There are several guided Camino walks and a number of travel companies specializing in Camino tours. For those interested to walk the Camino by taking advantage of the conveniences offered by a guided tour that can range from 5-10 days, or perhaps longer, with everything arranged for you—hotel, food, luggage transport, etc. All you would need is a daypack while hiking.
|Altar at the !2th Century Chapel: Capilla de Sancti Spiritus. © James Sobredo
|Our Son Soaking Tired Feet. Photo ©James Sobredo
After their first full day of hiking, they looked almost as refreshed as when we started. Their feet needed some tender loving care, but not much more. Soaking their feet in the refreshingly cold waters of the river Arga in Zubiri under a medieval bridge was perfect remedy for their tired feet. I, on the other hand, only had energy left to hobble from our room to a bathtub at the hotel. My family tried really hard not to make fun of me. They were full of support and encouragement. They agreed to compromise and make the next day’s walk a shorter distance. Unlike the 22 km or about 14 mile hike that took us 8 hours over the Pyrenees, one hour longer than the average hiker would have taken, I settled to walk for 4-5 hours that second day. After all, this was not a race.
|Walking with Pilgrim Friends from Quebec, Canada. ©James Sobredo
This arrangement also enabled our son to venture on his own, especially when he wanted to walk ahead of us or take a longer route to see some unusual relic or landmark. Mostly, he and his dad kept pace with each other, while I made new friends going solo. And we ultimately reached our afternoon or early evening destination close to the same time most of the time. Each of us in the family ended up having so much more fun, blessed with a little independence to enjoy the Camino on our own and on our own terms.
|A Side Trip with Family in Bilbao. ©James Sobredo
Some of our side trips included one night in San Sebastian and three nights in Bilbao in the Basque country. A must-see in Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum, a modern architectural wonder inside and out that houses contemporary works of art. While inside sitting on a round comfortable tufted bench inviting enough for reclining, my teenage son filled with awe as his gaze spanned from floor to ceiling, blurted: “This is like being inside art!”
|A Simple Local Red Phone for Texting. ©Lu Sobredo
One time, we found him waiting for a couple of hours in front of a local college in Trinidad de Arre, reading a book he brought along that summer. He told us, he already had lunch at a local cafe. Although timid at speaking the language, nonetheless years of Spanish language in school came in handy. Most days, he chose to pretty much stay on pace with his dad, while I walked my leisurely pace. So leisurely in fact, that one of those long stretches during my early morning trek ahead of the pack, hardly anyone yet was on the trail, I sang the entire soundtrack of the Sound of Music under a canopy of tall trees. I skipped and danced while doing my best imitation of Julie Andrews when I felt like it. How fun was that? Hilariously fun!
|Hiking Best with Two Sticks. © James Sobredo
I could not overstate how critical it is when walking the Camino to have access to drinking water. Each one of my family’s backpack was equipped with a water bladder. It was hooked up in our backpacks in such a way so the mouthpiece is accessible while walking. We each carried an extra liter of drinking water on the side pocket of our packs especially for those rare times when we might run out before reaching the next water source. We happily found out that the tap water in Galicia was not only refreshingly tasty but clean.
|A Coffee Stop on the Camino While Going Solo. Photo © Lu Sobredo
Most stops along the Camino trail offered pilgrims “menu del dia," a two or three course menu of the day. I was introduced to broiled “pulpo” or octopus for the very first time in the small town of Melide, and I have been hooked ever since. It was love at first bite. The pilgrims were told that it is one of Galicia region’s specialties. My family became intimately familiar with the surprising taste of pulpo. Although some pilgrims indulged on hamburger or sandwiches and French fries, I suggest trying the local dishes. You won’t regret it. Find out more about food in Spain in an essay I posted: Happy Eating on a Budget in Spain.
The municipal albergue or hostel tended to fill up first. The private albergues and pensiones were popular as it sometimes offered private rooms and some with ensuite bathroom.
|Looking for a Night's Accommodation. ©James Sobredo
One of my biggest fears was not about safety, although, we took precaution like any traveler. My fear was about not finding a bed for the night. That fear was obviously averted. For concerns about safety and to ease our minds about potential theft, each of us in the family carried a day bag that contained essential documents, passport, wallet, cash, keys, etc. that we kept by our side always when at the albergue or when going out to dinner, the market or sightseeing.
|His and Hers Backpack with Camino Shells. Photo ©James Sobredo
|Under a Canopy of Trees. ©James Sobredo
Some folks who blogged about the Camino described the experience as a metaphor for life’s journey. It was indeed a metaphor for life’s journey with all the ups and downs of physically demanding trails; the highs and lows of emotions felt; the many moments of kindness when connecting with other pilgrims and town’s people; the resilience which grew out of transcending challenges along the way; and although rare, the cold stare from a stranger who wished to walk alone and not interact with anyone. It was easy enough to respect their wish to be left alone. Oh, yes, there were pilgrims who came with a pessimistic, gloomy and blatantly obnoxious attitude. It was easy to keep my distance from them as they were not the norm on the trail. I suspect they remained sullen throughout. One could only hope that they found some meaning later on from their experience.
|Destination: Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. ©James Sobredo
And I definitely would not trade the family’s spontaneous decision to spend an additional night and a day at a hotel just to soak in the uniqueness of the municipality of Palais De Rei while giving our feet time to heal before resuming our trek. I wouldn’t dream of missing out on speaking in my limited Spanish which improved overtime, or my limited French that translated Spanish menus to help out pilgrims from France who spoke neither Spanish nor English, even though they were the stereotypical French folks with a-stiff-upper-lip. A few of the pilgrims were Americans, but we did luck out when we met some who were school teachers, one principal of college prep school, some university professors, and college students from all around the U.S. I connected the easiest with friendly and engaging folks from various regions of Spain (with some exception): U.S., Canada, Germany, Argentina, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom. Most of the traditional Camino hikers were not fond of day hikers who are bused in to join the Camino armed with only light packs.
|Hector on the Camino With a Homemade Cart. ©James Sobredo
The kindness of strangers and their stories as to why they launched on the Camino are engraved in my mind’s eye and heart. One friendly, middle-aged and slightly rotund gentleman who had knee and back issues hiked in pain and sweated profusely while hauling a cart of his belongings. He hiked the Camino as a promise and tribute to his wife who died of cancer months before.
|Father and Son Bonding on Spanish Beer and Apple Juice. ©James Sobredo
Acts of loving kindness and mindfulness by my husband and our son were awe-inspiring. Both took steps to ensure I was safe, fed, happy and comfortable. The experience might be flawed in parts, yet beautifully memorable. To this day, I treasure all that I encountered.
|Taking a Rest on the Camino. ©James Sobredo
The Camino experience deepened my love for life, life with my family and friends being at the center of it all. Consequently, it has become my personal mission to encourage those who are curious, mildly interested as well as those ready and raring to go on the Camino, and remind all to please do it before life events become an obstacle of no return. Go on and take off on your journey. Remember, most important about the Camino is the journey and the friendships you make along the way. Buen Camino!
Thanks to all who are reading this essay, spreading the word by sharing this post, and giving feedback and comments.