Last Minute Prep For My Camino Taster

The Camino has called me for the past seventeen years, and I am finally saying yes to the quest.  I was 25 years old when I first heard of the Camino de Santiago.  I was on my first solo backpack trip across Europe, and had just left San Fermin in Pamplona.  This event is also otherwise known as the Running of the Bulls (this will be saved for another post). Exhausted and excited, I was headed to Barcelona via train and found myself talking with fellow travellers.  They were an American mother and 20something son, who shared their recent summer holiday  walking the Camino Frances route of the Camino de Santiago.  They wanted to spend time bonding together after the son had graduated from college.  It intrigued me.  Why would anyone walk 500 miles?  My family never went on hikes.  I never had the urge to do a marathon or anything to overly physically exert my body.  I was already having a difficult time navigating Europe with a backpack and large luggage, while using public transportation.  But walk?  I understood this was a pilgrimage, but had never had met anyone in person that accomplished such a feat.  I also was the first of my family and friends to backpack Europe, and I realized jet setting in this capacity exposed me to a world of people I was unfamiliar with.  These people were true wanderlusters who embarked on journeys for the sake and story of adventure.  They were not the bourgeouise, who only stayed in five starred hotels and popped from city to city on a one week vacation.  They were not tourists but travellers.

         Over the years, the Camino seemed to pop back into my life.  One modality was the film The Way starring Martin Sheen, which was a beautiful story that shared several characters journeys of why they took this endeavor.  The characters were all of different ages and life experiences, but walked with intention.  Camino de Santiago has theoretically been a pilgrimage on and off for over 2,000 years.  Traditionally it was taken by Catholics, to walk towards the location where the apostle St. James’ remains were buried.  In addition, reportedly, it was a way to spend less time in purgatory.  But more recently people not only choose to do this for religious reasons, but to mark transitional moments in their life, to prove one’s physical and emotional strength, for health reasons, for the adventure, and even to walk towards an answer.  The path takes on average four to six week to complete, and there are multiple starting points depending on the path (Frances, Portuguese, del Norte, Primitivo, Ingles).  To receive a certificate of completion, one must complete at least 100 kilometers walking or 200 kilometers bicycling.  

         On another trip, I was in Malaga Spain, alone for Christmas.  I chose to stay in a hostel and met loads of fellow travellers.  One individual was a female social worker from a Nordic country.  She shared her stories of walking the Camino de Santiago. She used to work in an adolescent correctional facility.  One amazing thing the country offered to these individuals was the potential opportunity to transform via this pilgrimage.  One dozen adolescents were hand selected each year, after having written an essay as to why this journey would be beneficial for them.  One staff member would accompany this individual on this walk.  They would walk together for the six weeks.  This seemed surreal to me.  The national government offering a pilgrimage opportunity in lieu of time served?  The program had gone on for decades with numerous stories of success and emotional development. She also shared that she was assisting in gathering data for an upcoming book about this practice.  For this she interviewed one of the first participants who took the journey 30-40 years prior.  After she spoke with him on the phone, he automatically left to do the journey once again.  He was reminded of what a monumental life changing moment this was and vowed to repeat it.  

         I was hungry for this transformation, but thought a journey like this was totally out of the question for me.  As an American, I received only three weeks off per year, which is inclusive of sick days.  When would I have this amount of time available just to walk? Then I met a previous American Camino voyager in the Shakespeare Bookstore in Paris who felt the same way.  She nudged me I can still do this and offered what she had done.  Each year, she took a different part of the journey, and collectively made one long Camino.  She reminded me I don’t have to do the journey one particular way, there are multiple paths to get there.  Some take longer than others.  This still counts.  

Interest in the Camino is growing in 2019, over 350,000 pilgrims received a certificate of completion. In 1985, there were only 1200 people who completed this. Even in 2020 with the pandemic, over 53,000 people completed it.  Once many of us here of this journey repeatedly, it’s as if the Camino is calling us.  

         I thought of this for years, and finally during the pandemic I decided to take her advice.  I began to search for organized walking tours that I could sign up for.  I paid a deposit with one organization, who postponed their remaining trips for the year.  Disappointment loomed, maybe now was not the time.  But I was able to locate another tour group who were doing one last tour in the month of October.  I signed up, and now am ready to begin. 

         Why am I doing this journey now?  I’m in a transitional period in my life.  I am leaving my full time job as a clinical psychologist in the UK and jumping into the world of being a creativity coach and author. The past six weeks have already been busy with travel, both in the United States and the United Kingdom.  I have not had much time to process this pilgrimage which has been brewing in me for years. And therefore for the past twenty four hours I have been trying to absorb as much as I can about this path, which includes listening to podcast episodes of fellow travellers sharing their tales. One individual shared that the Camino does not give you what you want, it gives you what you need.  

         I am dipping my foot into the Camino world with walking 100 kilometers in a span of 7 days with an organied group.  The Type A in me is already comparing myself to others who have been able to do the whole thing.  Yet, I remind myself that this is a possibility for the future.  What I am offering to myself is a gift of the Camino Taster.  The best part is I still am eligible for the Pilgrimage passport and certificate.  As they say on the path, Buen Camino.

Cog In The Wheel

         Several weeks ago, I was at a dinner with friends of friends celebrating a birthday dinner.  It was one of those times where you knew few people, and did the pleasantries of finding out about each other’s careers, current stance in life, and goals.  The topic drifted to the realm of entrepreneurship.  My brother is a successful entrepreneur and was at the table with me, but was not part of this particular conversation.  The person sitting next to me shared his previous life in the theater world, and I believe became a little disenfranchised.  He wanted a simple life of stability.  “I want to just be a cog in the wheel.”  

         For some reason this statement activated me.  Why would anyone want to be a “cog in the wheel?”  Although I personally do not view myself as an entrepreneur, I do value autonomy, creativity, passion, and excitement.  A life where I simply complied to what others expected or solely supporting businesses in their dreams, seems infuriating.  I chose to keep my thoughts to myself as these individuals were basically strangers.  I was only meeting them for the evening and had no plans to see them again.  His words ruminated in my mind: “a cog in the wheel.”  I mentioned this to my mentor the following week, and he nodded noting my dismay.  He later said, “that person played his role well in your life that night.”  

         I am aware that not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur or free thinker.  How would our world run if this was the case?  Me and this man had a completely different set of values: his primary being stability and mine being authenticity.  We all do not have the same primary values, but it is quite interesting to have a conversation with someone whose values completely conflict with yours.  When was the most recent conversation where this took place for you? 

One Full Summer

As I sat on top of the Glastonbury Tor this morning, I thought I have had a full summer in 6 weeks.  I’ve explored more terrain and landscapes in this period, than people may have in lifetimes.  The art district of Philadelphia, the busy-ness of New York, the hipster footpaths of London, the refreshing waters of Miami beach, the wonders of the Colorado mountains, the small market town of Bury St. Edmunds, and now the mystical legends of Glastonbury.  And all were not solo journeys, but some were in depth travels and conversations with friends, family, and new acquaintances.  Surprisingly, this was inclusive with some days at the office, and in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.  

         Although there has been constant movement, I recognize the importance in being able to slow down, take it in.  There’s a Native American lesson that when we travel to other lands, we need some time for our souls to catch up with our bodies.  I’m allowing this to unfold.  There’s necessity to ground, for how can one integrate lessons learned if you solely just continue to have new experiences? 

And this is what I am allowing myself to do now, as I sit in my Glastonbury Bed and Breakfast, hearing the rainfall, observing the fall foliage emerging.  A new season is upon us.  The summer sun is creeping back, and making space for autumn to arise.  I treat myself by adding whipped cream to my instant coffee provided.  This is the perfect temperature for the luxury of hygge comfort and reflection. 

24 Hour Manifestation

Seven days and nights in Miami has been restorative for my inner 8 year old, who is squeezing in the last summer moments of sun, laps in the outdoor pool, and dips into the ocean.  It has taken several days for my body and mind to drop into a pure relaxed state, remove the busy-ness of work and responsibilities.  My nighttime dreams begin to deepen, and I can recall and interpret them.   

Midway through my trip, as I was swimming in the ocean, completing a lap, I saw there was a commotion among my fellow travellers.  I had to pause to explore what it was about.  “It’s a dolphin!” one of them yelled.  “See the fin.”  I searched and grabbed a peak of the dolphin in a distance.  These two sisters began talking to me, telling their story.  “You see it’s my birthday today, and I asked God for a sign.  Show me a dolphin for my birthday, and here it is.  God is real.  God is here.”  They went on to discuss that they were only in Miami for 24 hours.  It was the one sister’s birthday, who flew in from Michigan.  The other sister flew from NYC, and went on to share “you have to do these things for people you love.  Even though it’s only 24 hours, these things matter.”  These sisters exclaimed, “We have been manifesting everything on this trip.”  They shared that if you are a good person, you will attract good people and experiences.  They were talking my language.  This is how I always live my life, and I was happy to witness this experience with them.  It was a momentary spiritual experience that was shared among strangers, and I appreciated this.   

I automatically told this story to my friend Gretchen, who was travelling with me.  Our days slowly passed by, eventually we arrived at our last day.  Gretchen mentioned to me, while we woke up “We only have 24 hours in Miami, we are going to manifest everything!”  She was not saying this to poke fun at these strangers, but to learn from them.  You can make the most out of everyday.  Instead of looking at your remaining hours with sadness and disappointment, you can reframe it as you have an abundance of one day, in which anything is possible.  All can be manifested!

What will manifest in your life in the next 24 hours? 

Visiting an Old Home

Walking the streets of the cities you used to live and frequent, is a comforting and humbling process.  I’m currently on a several week trip in the United States stopping in numerous cities, but I’ve briefly paused in New York City.  I lived in New York for two years, but never felt it was long enough to be a New Yorker.  Perhaps it’s because the vastness this area holds.  It envelops you, and two years is not long enough to properly know a city like this.  All I feel like I could properly know was a two block radius, which included my favorite Thai takeout shop, Greek restaurant, pizzeria, and local café.  Although I didn’t feel it ever was truly my neighborhood, I can have pride for my time I spent on Grand Street in Williamsburg and my pocket of warmth when I lived in Hell’s Kitchen on 49th between 9th and 10th.  

As I watch young twenty-somethings on the subway, I look at them with curiosity and hope.  I wonder if I gaze long enough if I will spot hints of the old me in them, the one that lived here fourteen years ago.  I watch the locals who navigate the land promptly, smartly, and with determination.  Does that me still exist?  Most of the time their eyes are stuck to their phones, texting, scrolling, or watching shows on their commutes.  In the close quarters of a subway car, with limited personal space, their mental focus zones to the screen in front of them.   Times have changed since I lived here, but perhaps this is why I didn’t fit in.

Part of me yearned to slow down when I walked.  I wanted to spend more time in the parks than in the high rises or gritty hipster streets.  What pulled me to New York when I was younger was the artistic life I longed for, but I had to work double hard to survive and pay rent when I was here. There was minimal time that existed for my creativity.  Who I wanted to be and who I was couldn’t mesh while I existed here.  But each time I come back, I can appreciate how the city twists and molds to the residents that breathe here at this time.  There’s beauty in the malleability, which simultaneously can hold history, maybe even a momentary imprint of me. 

Transatlantic Flight Post Pandemic

In the past I viewed myself as a wanderluster, perhaps I still am.  I was on a plane nearly every month during the 6 ½ years I had been an expat, before the pandemic started.  The pandemic hit, and although it is still ongoing, so must our lives.  Now, I have been an expat for officially 8 years and 1 month, and I am travelling for several weeks back to the USA.  Luckily my work has afforded me a complimentary flight home for a visit.  It’s been 20 months since I have been to the states, or seen any family or friends.  And it’s time for a trip.  Jet setting was such a breeze before.  There was limited anxiety, I slept on a majority of the flights, but now things have changed.  

There is so many essentials to be taken care of before one even takes off.  A negative covid test the day before, upload it, and wearing a mask the entire time from after I park my car until arrival.  I was hoping to use my lounge passes from my credit card, but even the lounges were closed.  When I got through security, I wanted to cry.  This was not out of sadness, but out of relief.  It’s easy to focus on the little things that go wrong, which today included a nearly flat tire which needed air in, one of my dog crying as I drove to the dog minder, and other tiny bouts of frustration that arose.  Yet, little do we focus on the amount of things that go right, that we depend on.  The tire filled with ease and luckily I left the house early enough, I had a negative covid test, no traffic, ease of getting though security and re-adjusting my bags that were slightly over-filled, kind staff throughout the day, free magazines at the airport, and a cappaccino as I waited.  There was a multitide of things that went right, and I wanted to cry as a form of release from the stress of travelling, even though it barely just begun. 

There was a recognition that for weeks, I could not let myself be too excited for this trip.  At any moment it could have been cancelled with either a positive covid test, or the state of the UK, the USA, or the world.  I simply bought a ticket, hoped for the best, and held my breath.  This was the moment of release that was emerging. 

 I finally boarded the plane, and could not fall asleep.  Was it excitement? Anxiety? Stress? Novelty?  I generally was such a good traveller, but what happened? I wasn’t relaxed enough to journal, had no intention to glance at a magazine, or interested in my book to devour it.  I simply sat and watched a film.  Eventually a thirty minute nap arose, which I was grateful for.  But jumping on planes would take some getting used to again.  It’s a necessity and a benefit to being a human at this time of life.  We have taken it for granted before, but now a new normal has arrived.  How will you adjust to finding ease in the skies? 

Enjoy The Ride Not Just The Destination

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about the destination.”

-Drake

         Last week I drove my two dogs to the beach.  This does not seem like a big ordeal, but driving solo over 80 minutes to a British Norfolk beach solo with two older dogs can be cumbersome.  As we drove with my sunroof down, the dogs were loving every bit of the wind sprayed onto their face.  Regardless of the fact it was gray skies, it didn’t matter.  They were with their owner on an unexpected joy ride, and were ecstatic.  I closed the roof as it sprinkled rain, and automatically I silently cursed myself on not doing this on a more gorgeous day.  But I looked back at my dogs, and remembered I promised at least one trip to the beach this summer.  The ride seemed enough for them, it wouldn’t matter how long they were at the beach for or what the day was like.  

I arrived at the Wells-next-to-the-sea early in the day, or so I thought.  It was 10:30 AM.  Two parking lots were full, and a spill over parking lot was made available.  Intuition warned me of this, I knew the next parking lot was 1 ½ miles away.  I didn’t mind the walk, but my 14 year 2 month old English Bulldgo Puzo may not be able to handle it.  I brought a stroller (or as the Brits call it “pram”).  He got in, and the joyride continued.  We stopped along the way, to let their paws and my feet play in the shallow waters where the boats parked.  The sun began to shine on the newly formed picturesque day.  Puzo smiled as he sat next to his 12 ½ year old sister Bella in his pram.  They listened to the sea breeze and got the attention and grins of fellow beach goers.  We stopped at another shallow area to briefly cool off and take in the scenery, but our journey continued.   Past the scenic walkway, through the woods, towards the dog friendly area.  After the one hour stroll, we finally arrived to the beach.  We took in the scenery of vintage beach houses, happy families and friends, and dogs grateful to be included in the festivities.  The beach was gorgeous and serene, and I was grateful I could take them to appreciate the shore for another year.  I’m reminded our time together is limited, and every ounce of joy I can give them is worth it.  

Our time at the beach was definitely less than the hours of driving and walking to and from it, but it didn’t matter.  The entire journey there and back was appreciated by the dogs.  These animals de compagnie (French for “pets”) remind me to slow down and lavish in each moment. Although we may strive for the end result, we can indulge along the way.  The entire ride is part of the process to be enjoyed, not just the high of the beach.  There are multiple miniature thrills along the way.

If Something Is Too Good To Be True…

         There is an adage that goes, “If something is too good to be true, it probably is.”  I have been the victim of two separate internet scams this summer.  My mom had told me to go onto a website, as they were having a deal on Birkenstocks.  You could buy two pairs of Birkenstocks for the price of one.  It turned out neither was delivered, but simply a girl’s tanktop from China.  Another was a tarot reading and profile summary.  The only reason I know this is a scam is my friend received the exact same profile/reading.   In both of these instances another individual was the one who told me of the deal, and I followed suit.  Everything is easy with Paypal.  We swipe often without thinking, and yet sometimes things are too good to be true.  Before we know it, we are scammed, and cannot get our money back despite complaints and disputes made. 

         This blog post is not to complain but to reframe.  What can be learned?  First, why am I making a purchase?  Is it coming from a place of need or greed?  I think I am going to land the most amazing deal, only to be cheated.  I probably did not need to make the purchase from the start.  Second, I am in the process of decluttering.  As I do this, why am I adding? Third, perhaps I need to learn patience, desire, versus immediate gratification.  Fourth, if I am going to buy anything it’s more beneficial to support in person products from local vendors and services versus internet ads.  

         Maybe you have been victim to an internet scam, if so how did you handle this? What were your lessons learned?  How have you shifted your experience as a customer after this occurrence? 

Balancing Discipline and Restoration During Travel

I’ve been on a sound healing course in rural Wales.  Although the course is from 10:00-5:00 for four days, somehow it does feel as if I am on a retreat.  Perhaps because the center we are staying in has a retreat feel.  The essentials are provided.  There is no luxury, but there is enough.  Cell service is poor, but you are amidst greenery, trees, woods.  No responsibilities can pull at you at the moment.  All is asked is your presence.  Due to a later start in the morning and my only commute time equating with taking several turns down a hallway, my mornings appear luxurious.  There is time and space to maintain my daily discipline. 

            My mornings are filled with meditation, morning pages (journaling), gratitude, setting a morning intention, and yoga.  Somehow, I am mostly sustaining my intermittent fasting.   Since there are no dogs or people pulling for my attention, I have time to craft my mornings to look what I want it to look like.  Having some type of discipline while I travel helps create a light set of boundaries to my day.  I can keep a foundation of my essence, although other aspects may be out of control.  It may be easier to do this on a retreat or workshop, because your schedule is predictable.  Yet this is also possible to sustain if you are crafting your own trip.  Mornings can be sacred as a means to develop and sustain your discipline, whatever that looks like for you.  Yet it’s important to leave space for adventure, serendipity, and spontaneity. 

            Although my days are filled, part of me wishes to squeeze more out of them.  For me, this is more writing, creativity, or productivity.  Yet what I realize after dinner is my body is tired.  In reality, this even occurred during the training.  Our first day ended with an hour long sound bath.  Not only did I fall asleep, I was the first one and was lightly snoring!  This was embarrassing to hear in front of our group, but I couldn’t deny the truth.  My body and mind have been extremely busy.  It’s nudging me to be nurtured.  It is longing for more rest, rejuvenation, recuperation.  Allow your body and mind the time to slow down.  The word vacation comes from the Latin word “vacare” which means to “be unoccupied.”  Leave space for this to occur.  Between the busy-ness, adventure, learning, doing, exploring, and gallavanting allow yourself to be unoccupied.  Perhaps you may let out a sigh, yawn, or even a snore.  Welcome whatever arises.  It needs it!

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.”- Ovid

Trusting Your Travel Intuition

Go with your gut, particularly when it comes to travel.  Although I know this in theory, it’s easy to lose sight of this.  We think others may know better.  They are more familiar with the terrain, have travelled more extensively, and perhaps you have not researched enough.  But what’s important to keep in mind is only you knows what you are looking for.

            This was the case for me yesterday.  I was driving to Wales for a sound healing training.  I chose this one particular Georgian beach town to visit, as it was only 45 minutes away from where I was headed.  It was a four hour drive away.  When I inquired with a colleague familiar with the area, she frowned.   She noted how that town disappointed her, as it was rundown.  She suggested another town that had more vibrancy and I would appreciate it more.  I looked at a virtual map, it was only three hours away.  I thought somehow I would be saving time.   When I landed in the town, I found the center: a shopping mall.  This was fine, it could be my base.  It was across from a tiny river.  I parked my car, found clean toilets, grabbed a latte and then I began to explore.  Although the town had some high street stores, there was no charm to it.  It was pure chain stores.  To me the town felt rundown, deprived of historic culture, and was simply a low income eyesore.  When I sat in a restaurant to look at the driving distance from here to my retreat center, it was nearly another three hour drive!!!

            Not only was the town disappointing, but my total hours in the car was going to be extended by two hours!!!  I was highly frustrated.  It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to be in nature, in a charming town.  I didn’t want to be surrounded by stores that I could see in my own backyard.  I was upset at myself for asking for the opinion of another and wasting an afternoon in an ugly town, when I could have been surrounded by inspiration. 

But I tried to remind myself that this lesson of trusting my gut versus asking the opinion of others was luckily not an expensive one.  It didn’t cost much money, just additional hours of my time.  How often do we pivot our lives to please others?  How often do we take jobs, move to cities, remain in a long term relationship, purchase an expensive piece of property, or cut off ties with people because others say so?  In life, we have to listen to our gut.  What do we really want?  What are we looking for? We can listen to others’ advice, if solicited, but it’s important to remember what your intention is.

            I was not clear with this when inquiring with my colleague.  I was simply asking her opinion.  What I actually longed for was beautiful scenery or perhaps to be surrounded by nature.  I did ruminate about my poor decision and spontaneity during my Welsh countryside drive, which cost me an afternoon.  But as I drove my additional three hours to the center, I stumbled upon this beauty.  

I paused.  Got out of the car, and simply sat to take it in.  This is what I was actually looking for.  A moment like this, when the world stopped.  My heart was reset and inspired again.  Perhaps I would not have been given this opportunity to view this if I had not been re-routed.  

I was reminded that travel doesn’t always go as planned.  We can’t always have wins or beautiful moments.  Like life, there will be disappointments, detours, frustrations, and self-doubt.  Can we let that go and learn?  Can we accepted the flawed with the unexpected beauty?  Can we take in the totality of a moment?  Detours can take us to the unexpected.  All is part of the journey.

“I’m a big believer in winging it. I’m a big believer that you’re never going to find perfect city travel experience or the perfect meal without a constant willingness to experience a bad one. Letting the happy accident happen is what a lot of vacation itineraries miss, I think, and I’m always trying to push people to allow those things to happen rather than stick to some rigid itinerary.”-Anthony Bourdain

Previous Older Entries