Estoy Peregrina

I got my first tattoo about a month ago.

I waited a long time for it. I’ve considered other tattoos over the years, but each time decided to wait a year to make sure I still wanted whatever it was that I was considering. I’ve been waiting five years, and while what I got isn’t precisely what I’ve been imagining for those five years, it’s precisely what I wanted.

Five and half years ago, I walked a portion of the Camino Portugués, the Portuguese branch of the Camino de Santiago. I dreamt of the Camino for seven years before I set foot on the Road. I’ve dreamt of it for the five and a half years since I turned back in Vilarinho, since I sat in the plaza outside the Catedral, swearing I would return.

Catedral del Apostol

Everyone who walks the Road carries or wears a scallop shell to mark themselves as a pilgrim. For years I’ve liked the idea of having a tattoo based on the scallop shell, a permanent and tangible reminder that I am – or want to be – constantly seeking, moving forward, deeply connected to the world around me.

Day 2: Mosteiro

The Road is marked with wayfinding devices – some permanent, erected with official placards, and others spray-painted on curbs. For years, I thought about having a rough arrow on the inside of my wrist – an approximation of the yellow arrows I saw on stone walls and the backs of signs. I liked the idea of a wayfinding device as a reminder that I am seeking direction, and that help will always be provided when it is needed most.

And so I settled on both: the stylized scallop shell used as a wayfinding device. I nearly cried when the tattoo artist brought out the sketch and applied the temporary to my arm. The pain was intense in a purgatory way, just as the physical and emotional pain of the Road were so long ago. I left euphoric.

I’m so happy with it, with what it means to me, with the intentions formalized by the inscription on my body.  Estoy peregrina.  Voy a viajar a Santiago.

Shiver in the light

“It would be an almost perfect love affair, wouldn’t it? that between the pilgrim and the road.  No mistake, it is a beautiful thing, the camino.  It stretches away from you.  It leads to real gold: Look at the way it shines.  And it asks only one thing.  Which happens to be the one thing you long to give.  You step forward.  You shiver in the light.  Nothing is left in you but desire for that perfect economy of action, using up the whole heart, no residue, no mistake: camino.” — Anne Carson, Plainwater

I’m a stranger here myself

The weather has been perfect here for the last few days, which has made extended wandering all the more appealing. It was in the mid-60’s when I left for the gym this morning at 7:15, cool enough to necessitate a light pullover. This is absolutely my favorite time of year, and my favorite time for being in the Midwest, which makes the coming departure all the more bittersweet.

I spent all day Sunday – bookended by meals with friends – wandering around town, taking in favorite places for the last time for a while. The peace and silence of walking has made me long for the Camino again. I don’t think the Camino was originally on my list of things to do before my 30th birthday, but I think it should be. It seems very close to me these days.

I knew this would happen. Even on that second very hard day on the Camino, I knew it would. I knew that despite the physical pain and the wrenching loneliness, despite the isolation and fear, despite the language barrier and being half a world away from everyone I knew and loved – a day would come when I would miss the Camino and ache to be back there.

SB asked me why I thought this was the case, and I told him that the Camino for me was an experience absolutely as far removed from every day life as I could imagine – entirely removed from things like work and classes and independent studies and bills and Moodles and houses to be sold. I miss it now like I miss old relationships – not that I actually want to be there right now, walking on untrained feet, spending money I don’t have on foods I can only barely recognize – but every so often there’s a twinge of remembrance. Unlike old relationships, however, the Camino is a thing I can have again – that I hope to have again, so that twinge of remembrance is undercut with deep longing, the same longing that drew me there to begin with.

A few months before I left, Neil told me that he thought I would go back. He walked the Camino Frances in 2005, and returned to do part of the Via de la Plata within six months. I’m not as driven by it as he is, but I will be back, and as soon as I can.

…and after

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.

Photos from my trip are finally posted, by the way: Camino and after

travel update

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!

peregrina no more

i quit.

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.