Camino de Santiago Pt. 3: Journal Excerpts

My friends often joke about wanting to be included in the book about my life that may eventually get written. Even though I highly doubt I will ever be of enough interest to have a book published about my life, I suppose this could be an excerpt from one of my many journals that I consider a significant event in my life from my experience on the Camino de Santiago

Disclaimer: This is how my mind creates word flow at 4 am when sleep continues to elude me.

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Date: October 30, 2015

Location: Somewhere outside of Astorga

And I left it there. Hanging on the wooden base of an ancient cross, surrounded by the stones and burdens of 700 years worth of pilgrim’s stories and histories. As I walked away, I mused to myself “the Camino provides”.

We woke to a misty gray morning, dragging our feet and not possessing the willpower to drag our tired bodies from our sleeping bags. Too dang cozy. Why did the municipal albergues always drive us out at 8am? So I tapped on Derricks shoulder and made him wake up. The forecast called for rain. A lot of it. Deciding this was completely necessary, we donned our swimsuits and took a Vitamin D each and packed up our backpack casas.

As we trudged through the streets of Astorga, we just could not shake the feeling of awkwardness. So I walked ahead in silence, thinking that it would be good to clear our heads. And it did. By the time he caught up with me, we were surrounded in a pleasant mist that was reminiscent of the Marin County that reminded me of home. 9 km in, a small town rose out of the mist and we both decided breakfast would do is good. The café, bacon, and shelter from the rain soothed us as we began to spy our friends walking into town. Soon our table was full of plates of breakfast and coffee and familiar faces.

Jonathan spoke of the mist being short for “mystery”. Striking something in my memory as we sat there sipping our cafe con leches. We spoke of a rural housing option for the evening in Manjarín, an old Templar that offered a communal meal and a simple dwelling. However, it was 31.5km away, so we would flip a coin as we got closer.

The day began to reveal itself, I did an impromptu Spanish lesson, and we spoke of relationships, the good, the bad, and the emotionally unavailable. We made crosses in the middle of the forest and added them to the fence. Naturally I used my hair to bind mine. As we arrived in Rabanas we found Steve and walked with him and found medieval founts, joking about taking a casual dip. But upon reaching the second one, we actually did. The time after, walking commando, soaking in the October sunshine amongst the changing colors, I had not felt this at peace in a long time. Jonathon had wisdom to impart. “It always seems that you walk the Camino with the right people at the perfect time” ,” you see glimpses of people from your life, your mother, an old girlfriend, a friend, a distant cousin, but you see the people from your life here, and it’s a beautiful thing”.

We completed 26km. Do we carry on? The water was invigorating, and I felt like I could do another 10km if it was asked of me. So after being tempted with warmth and a movie, Derrick made the coin toss, and debated whether to abide. But I knew in my heart that I wanted to continue. And I was going to go on with Jonathan with or without Derrick. We feared the rain closing in on us as we trekked up a mountain, but we found that we were being taken care of.  A few kilometers out of the town lay the Cruz de Ferros. The cross at which you leave your stone and burdens. Both a mental and physical place of significance. Walking in silence and reverence, we arrived. I panicked, not wanting to be unauthentic, not having carried a stone with me this entire journey. But as those thoughts swam through my head, I heard a small cling of stone against carabiner, and remembered that I have carried something all along. Long before the Camino even entered my mind, on many of my adventures, something I used to distinguish myself from others.

Years ago I purchased a small talisman from some group trying to raise money for a trip at my old University. I never wore it, I simply thought it was beautiful due to the pattern and inscription of “peace” on the back in Japanese. Over the years people would ask me why I had it, and the story behind it. So I made up stories. Always feeling a twinge of guilt, because I was trying to make myself sound cooler than I actually was. This. This was a representation of what I needed to leave.

The burden I carried was guilt. Guilt for being dishonest and embellishing stories slightly, the guilt of having a phenomenal home life, the guilt of wealth and education, the guilt of being a model minority, the guilt of being considered a somewhat attractive human, the guilt of blatantly going against the good intentions of people older and wiser than I.

One week prior to reaching the Cruz de Ferro I had an intriguing interaction with an older woman in a tiny Spanish town. She was a fellow peregrino, but about 40 years my senior. She was an accomplished doctor from the Bay Area who spent her life providing health care for those who could not afford it, volunteering with Doctors Without Borders, and trying to bring as much good as she could to those who did not have the same access to wealth that she had. The more we talked, and the more we drank wine, the more we found that we had in common with each other. We both have the ability to see the good we have had in our lives, the privilege we grew up with, our access to education, and the way in which history set us up to succeed. We both felt the pain of the atrocities that have been and are being committed in the world, and the lack of resources available. Despite any involvement on our side for these atrocities, we felt guilt for it nevertheless and take it upon ourselves to make it right. So we studied what we thought could help others, and tried our best to volunteer and rectify the wrong.

The problem lay with the motivations and intentions of the works. We sat there, sipping on our bottle of wine, questioning our motivations for our actions. Our answer? Guilt. It was not just our good will, but we felt bad for the things we had when others had so little. It was our way of trying to make ourselves feel better about it all, that we couldn’t possibly be seen as the “bad guys” as “part of the problem” if we were actively doing things in the world to help others. It was our guilt that motivated us, and our selfish desire to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. I saw the pain in the woman’s eyes as we talked, and she grasped my hands and told me not despair. “You still have time Stephanie, live your life free of the guilt that I have let mine take. Do not despair about the world, do not let it consume and cloud your mind,just do your best”.

This was the revelation I uncovered in the desert, this is what needed to leave me. This is what was tying me down, and binding my actions to selfish intentions.

So I laid down my pack, took off my sandals, claiming the ground I was kneeling on to be holy ground, and meditated on my intentions and prayers as I continued on this journey. Both completely terrified and completely trusting of what was to come.

And I left it there. Hanging on the wooden base of an ancient cross, surrounded by the stones and burdens of 700 years worth of pilgrim’s stories and histories. As I walked away, I mused to myself “the Camino provides”.

The Camino provides.
The way provides.
The way, the truth and the life.
God provides.
God always provides.

The woman in the desert, the talisman I unknowingly carried, the friends I met along the way, the Camino provided. As we created the next mountaintop, we were  greeted with a splendid burst of sun. Consuming our vision and warming our souls. It was that moment that I felt a peace that was not my own, but transcended all that I had experienced on this trek. We stood in silence and surveyed the landscape bathed in glory, and found our hermitage for the evening. The last of the Knights Templar.

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The Mountaintop Hermitage


Fast forward six months later, and I still find this day to be the one I look back on the most. For me, the Camino de Santiago was a transformational time of searching for yellow arrows and mental clarity. I headed west leaving behind so many of the things I had originally carried.

What were the things I left behind? Some random useless cosmetics, clothes, and a whole lot of mental burdens. What did I acquire? A comfortability with who I am, what I’ve done, what I do, and who I am to be, a large amount of international friends and a Camino family.

I will always reminisce on this trip with a smile on my face and a warm fuzzy feeling in my chest. One of my dearest friends described the Camino best with a quote from Ernest Hemingway.

“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.”

And it was one of the most joyful times of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

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