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.

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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.

camino this ‘n’ that

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.

thursday this ‘n’ that

I just rode my bike to school. It is lovely here – 61 and sunny, with a little bit of a breeze. I’m sitting at my desk with a thermos full of lemon ginger tea – my attempt at staving off the bug that is going around. I can’t get sick now – I just don’t have time.

Speaking of bugs – there are bugs in my apartment, and it’s making my skin crawl. I’m the first to admit that I’m not the neatest housekeeper – but I’ve lived in far worse places, and have never had the kind of problems I’m having now. I have tiny ants in my cupboards – apparently a recurring problem – and ickier bugs elsewhere. As much as I like this apartment, I never would have signed a lease had I known this was a problem. I have traps lining my cupboards and floorboards, and I hope that will take care of things.

Bugs and ickiness notwithstanding, last night I made hummus and tabbouleh in my little kitchen from things I had lying around. Shane came over, and we ate everything out of glass bowls with cucumbers, olive oil, and warmed pita. I have a lot of tabbouleh chilling in my fridge, and I’m looking forward to eating more of it tonight.

This has been an exceptionally difficult week for me for a variety of reasons that I’m not going to go into – here, or anywhere else – so please don’t ask. I have a lot on my mind and heart right now as I wrap up a long semester and prepare for a trip that is going to be exhausting and challenging physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The other day my friend Leslie posted a list of songs she’s calling “Hoppity Hop Songs” – songs that evoke some kind of powerful emotion – happiness, sadness, anger, love, frustration – even if they have no logical association with anything that’s happened in her life. They are called “Hoppity Hop Songs” because of her exhilarating memories of her Hoppity Hop toy which she continued to play with long after she’d outgrown it, and which was cruelly taken from her by her parents. Here is one of mine:

Jem- Falling For You (right/command click, save as)

voy a viajar a santiago

I picked up The Pilgrimage just now while looking for something to read with my morning bagel and NPR. I flipped the book open and read St Jean Pied a Port and was hit with a wave of longing. After all the planning and reading and praying and doubting – it’s real. I still can’t believe it.

soy peregrina. voy a viajar a santiago.
estou peregrina. estou indo a santiago

deja vu

This weekend was awash in deja vu.

Thursday night I drove to Chicago to see Metric at the Metro. I drove home alone through a wicked storm, my ears and heart full of a conversation late at night, driving home from the Nine Inch Nails show a year ago, tired from the end of the semester, from wandering around on Fullerton in clunky boots, from months of wondering what this particular phone call and the conversations to follow would bring. My ears and heart were full of the Camino that night, and of things that I so desperately wanted, and things that would never come to pass. On this night I drove home white-knuckled and quiet.

Because I see and know so many people, I am constantly doing double-takes, making sure the person I see is who I actually think they are. On Saturday I was working at the cafe when my breath caught in my throat at the mis-sight of a customer. She had her back to the counter and was wearing a long skirt, a lace-y, macrame-y sweater, and had her hair clipped up in a messy ponytail. When she turned around, I knew she couldn’t possibly be who I thought she was – she was at least 20 years too old, with graying hair and a darker complexion – but when I waited on her and smelled the familiar sweet and warm vanilla perfume, I found stinging tears in my eyes. “You remind me so much of someone I used to know that it’s freaking me out a little,” I said, lowering my milk pitcher to make the foam for her cappuccino. She just laughed.