by Debra Dolan
After six years of dating we tested our emotional and physical strength when we embarked on an adventure in Northern Spain, walking from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. We covered all 800 kilometres by foot, including hiking five mountain passes, carrying backpacks which held necessary items. Over 36 days the excursion would take us between six to nine hours daily dependent on the terrain, weather, the previous night’s sleep, and allowing time to explore quaint villages with magnificent churches along the way. After finding a bed for the night in one of the multitude of alberques (dormitories), and washing our clothes, we would nurse our tired and aching bodies by enjoying the fabulous Menu Del Dias. Any pilgrim on this roman road will tell you that those all-inclusive meals (bottle of wine, soup or salad, main course, desert) sustained you from one day to the next. The late afternoons and early evenings found you in the quiet solitude of your thoughts or journal writing, communicating by letter to friends back home, or in conversation with others from throughout the world. What we all shared during the siesta was utter exhaustion and sheer pain of middle-aged bodies undertaking such a journey. Lights out at 8 pm with anywhere from six to 140 people sleeping closely, dependent on the facility, where the symphony of coughing, snoring, farting, and stumbling about in the dark to find the toilets would commence.
Anyone who says the Camino is easy is either deceiving themselves or delusional. It is one tough pilgrimage and best described as “joyful misery”; each-and-every day there was something glorious (interacting with fellow travellers, the remarkable landscape, warm and gracious people, architectural splendors, tracing the steps of history) and each-and-every day there was something miserable that provided reason to give up (bed bugs, cold showers, missing route signs, blisters, heat exhaustion, inflamed tendons). Luckily Mike and I were never experiencing the challenging difficult times at the same moment so that we could support one another. We also learned very quickly to forgive one another for what was said in pain and kiss goodnight.
Debra Dolan lives on the west coast of Canada, is a long time (45+ years) private journal writer, and an avid reader of women’s memoir. She has been a member of Story Circle Network since 2009.