Home safe as of Thursday, when Shane picked me up after an awful night of travel – delays, flight problems, being searched at security, throwing up next to the highway on the drive home. It is wonderful to be here, though I know I’ll soon be itching to travel again. I’ve spent the last couple of days with Shane and friends, celebrating my return and the departure of others – Kasey leaves this week for Philadelphia, and I hope to visit her soon. We spent almost all of yesterday outside – breakfast at Courier, buying herbs and strawberries at the Farmers Market, wandering around Meadowbrook Park, and picnicing at Allerton with Jason and Sonya, and then grilling out at the end of a long sunny day. My sleep schedule seems to have changed with the season, and I’ve been up impossibly early, and tired early as well. Today holds some gardening, some walking, chai oatmeal, and a lot of quiet time – all good things for vacation.
Last day in London. Last day abroad for a while. I have the travel bug again, as much as I miss everyone, and I can’t wait to get rested and saved up and recharged on friends and family and home before I can set out again. At the first hostel here I met a girl who had been away from home six months, and who wasn’t going home until October. I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough – or have time enough – to do that alone, but that doesn’t mean travel’s out of the question.
I always come back from holiday with all kinds of things I want to change in my life – last time it was wanting to walk more, and eat better – and somehow after a few days or weeks I slip back into old patterns and bad habits. We’ll see what happens this time. On a habitual note, though, I think it’s time to say that I have effectively and thoroughly quit smoking. I had a couple of cigarettes a couple of weeks ago when things were really hard, and each left me feeling really gross and never wanting to smoke again. So, there’s that!
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve been absolutely floored by the amount of love and support that has come pouring into my inbox since I left – especially in the last few days. Thank you all – you’re amazing. My friends are amazing.
Time to go look at Egyptian things, and then catch a plane home!
As mentioned before, many of my friends graduated on Sunday. I just looked at a number of pictures (link coming later, when I have more time) on Flickr, and it made me so, so sad that I wasn’t there to celebrate with everyone.
Quick notes while I wait for the dryer to finish so that I can have clean socks for walking around:
When I was getting ready to leave for London – fall of 1999 – a former Regents College student warned us that after you’ve been in London for a little while, you might notice that your snot is grey or black. I think it has something to do with the pollution here – the student said it was something to do with all the coal that has been burned here over the centuries. Either way, THAT’s something you won’t get from a guidebook.
Foot update: still pretty bad, though they hurt less today. I’m trying alternate bandaging methods. I guess I’m just lucky my heels are OK? When I get home, I’m investing in good hiking/walking boots stat.
I noticed today that almost every toilet I’ve used here has had a different flushing mechanism. Strange but true!
Tonight’s (and tomorrow night’s) hostel is MUCH nicer than the last one, and not in the middle of nowhere. I guess that double negative means it is in the middle of somewhere, which it is – about two blocks from Kings Cross station, and within walking distance of lots of fun things. Like the train station.
Today I got in an awful lot of museum-ing, with more to come in the next two days. I managed to cover about five galleries of the British Museum in two hours, so I’m going to have to be more efficient if I want to see everything.
Time to go check on the socks. If anyone knows of fun things going on in the next week and change, let me know! I’m going to be off work and up to no good.
Much love –
so…..i’m coming home on thursday.
to be more precise, i’m flying out of london wednesday night, with an overnight layover in toronto, putting me back in chicago at 745 thursday morning. nuts.
right now i’m in a hostel in northern london – zone 4, for those in the know – which, if you’re not, is pretty effing far out. i’m staying here one night, then tomorrow i’m moving to a place near king’s cross, where i’ll stay for two nights. edinburgh and parts beyond are out – which is ok for my checkbook’s sake. i’m going to spend the next couple of days doing all the touristy things i didn’t do when i lived here, and then i’m coming home.
this adventure has been a lot of disappointments punctuated with some extreme joy. i am sure there will be more of the same in the time i have left here. right now, though, i’m off to shoe shop. my toes are taped at the moment to avoid further blisters, and i’d really like to be out of these boots. see you all soon!
oh yes, and congrats to everyone who is graduating – mark, karin, angie, erin, kasey, richard, and, oh yeah, ME. not that it makes much of a difference since i’ll be sticking around, but still – while i’m sleeping in my hostel in london, my friends will be walking across the stage at smith hall, and i am so proud!
two days into the pilgrimage, i quit.
i quit because my feet were covered in blisters, and because i was scared, and because i was all alone, and because i couldn’t communicate with anyone, and because i really didn’t think i could walk another day, much less ten more.
in the town square in vilarinho, i sat and sobbed as i bandaged my blisters. i called my mom and told her i wanted to come home. she said that i shouldn’t come home – that i should make the most of this time that i had – but that no one was making me do the camino except me, and that if i was ready to quit, i could quit. she and i prayed for god’s help in figuring things out, and in getting safely to my destination.
i asked for directions and was pointed back towards the camino. i shook my head, no, i want to go home, my feet etc. i was told that i could catch a bus back to porto from the square. i sat down to wait, and five minutes later a small portuguese man came over and asked why i was crying. he told me how to get to the metro, and waited with me for 45 minutes, making small talk about the camino, pilgrims, my boyfriend, etc. this was not the first time i had prayed for help and immediately received it – nor has it been the last.
so now, a day later, two days after starting the camino – i am in santiago. i took the metro to porto to what i thought was a train station, another metro to the actual train station, and then the train to vigo, a coastal city in spain. i spent an awful night in vigo, then took the train this morning along the coast – so beautiful – to santiago. i arrived to a cathedral full of pilgrims bearing the compostela, which i would not receive because i didn’t walk far enough.
that is ok.
i have learned and grown so much in the last couple of days. putting my life, my safety, and my possessions entirely in god’s hands will do that. i feel closer to him than i perhaps ever have – which probably has a lot to do with the fact that i’ve been able to talk to no one else during the long lonely hours on the train, on the camino, in the hostels by myself. my mom and shane have been amazing – but they can only be there a part of the time, while god was with me crossing the busy highway, in the doorway of the shaded cemetery where i sat down and cried, on the streets of vigo while i frantically looked for a place to stay. he is with me now, in this internet cafe, and will be with me when i make my way to the albergue, and tomorrow on to london.
i don’t know if i understand entirely why this was what i was meant to do – start this road, and then leave it so quickly – but if i retain half of what i’ve learned in the last three days, it will be worth it.
on less spiritual notes, because of the change of plans, i’ll probably be back in the states sooner than originally planned. walking and sleeping and eating in rural spain and portual is much much cheaper than doing the same in london. i hope to connect with an old friend who is currently studying in edinburgh – but if that doesn’t happen, my plans are wide open, reliant only on my ability to speak the language (i’ve learned my lesson) and on my direct deposit from the university.
i love you all. i’m tremendously lonely. i’m having incredible adventures. and my feet hurt.
Yesterday I woke up in my warm bed with my lover sleeping next to me.
Today I woke up curled into a cramped ball on two airline seats with the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean.
In the last 36 hours, I have been in five airports in four countries. I have spent 10+ hours on planes, and 4+ hours waiting for planes. I have spent 2+ hours on trains. I have spent 2+ hours in cars. I have slept approximately 3 hours since I left my apartment at 9am on Tuesday.
I am exhausted.
Tonight I watched the sun set over the Atlantic from my airplane window, and then I had dinner in Porto with the woman I’m staying with. She is asleep, and I’m online talking to Shane and not wanting to go to sleep because I can talk to him for free, even though I very badly need the sleep. Part of me wants to stay and have a look around Porto tomorrow and spend more time with Gabriela – but most of me just wants to get on the road. I feel like I’m just going to sit around here being moony and sad if I don’t get started right away.
So, yeah. I’m here. I’m exhausted. I’m lonely. But I’m here.
I’m leaving in the morning. I’m ready. Am I ready?
They say the Camino begins when you commit to it, and that you walk the Road from that time forward until you actually arrive in Santiago. If this is true, then this Road began for me seven years ago – March 1999, spring break of my sophomore year of high school. I had a day off, so I drove up to Madison and sat on the steps of the Capitol building reading The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. I read the book in two sittings – beginning on the steps in the sunshine of early spring, and finishing at Noodles over a bowl of mushroom stroganoff. The book was magical, and in the back of my head was born the idea of walking the Strange Road to Santiago. Since then I’ve reread the book a number of times, including in the last week, finishing it today at the laundromat while I washed the clothes I will take with me on the Road.
It was just a dream, however, until September 2004, when a friend excitedly told me that he was going to Spain, and that he had read this book – at which point I interrupted him and said, oh my god, you’re doing the pilgrimage! Neil’s Camino made it real for me – it became something that real people do, not just a thing in a book. His stories gave me goosebumps, and pasted into the journal I will carry is a picture he took for me – a garden gnome in Galicia.
About this time last year, following a conversation with a very old friend, I began – underwent – something – a spiritual transformation – a rebirth – a discovery of a faith long dormant. I wish I could point precisely to what changed in me or about me or for me, but I can’t. I just realized that I had been fighting so hard against something that was so simple and fundamental. Accepting it was like falling in love, and falling in love became another step towards this Road.
My plans have changed a number of times since then – plans for my life, and plans for the Camino. But tomorrow, thanks to the tremendous emotional and financial support of many friends and family, I will catch a flight out of O’Hare. I’m not sure how much Internet access I will have while I’m away, but I will write when I can, and write more when I can’t. My love to you all.
Over the last week I’ve spent about $130 $160 on things for the camino – socks, rain gear, first aid stuff, ANOTHER camp towel (worth the extra $$). I have inserts for my boots, a bar of soap that I can use in my hair as well as on my body, and a small borrowed pack that is going to work fabulously. And I’m starting to get anxious. Shane had a taste of this today – we were at Champaign Surplus and I started feeling frazzled a la “is there anything I’m forgetting?!”.
One of my professors mentioned my camino to some visiting Spanish researchers, who replied that if I needed an emergency contact, I was welcome to look them up – so I have a business card in my pack for the Universidad de Valladolid.
The woman I’m staying with in Porto emailed me this week to say she could pick me up at the airport on Wednesday, and that she’d love to join me for a day or two.
No luck lining up a couch in London yet, but I’m still looking.
Last night a friend told me that I’m an inspiration to her – being bold enough to go do something like this, even if it is scary and I feel unprepared.
My parents keep giving me stern talks about not going to bars with strangers.
I’m going to miss waking up with Shane and Basil, and the mornings that we (not Basil) go to breakfast and stare dazedly at each other over the first cup of coffee. Shane’s applying for a dream job in New York, and I’m trying not to think about what that might mean for us. I haven’t talked about this relationship much here – and that is deliberate – but the last 10 days have been really good, and I am going to miss him.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
© Mary Oliver, retrieved from Modern American Poetry