I have officially slept in my own bed for two nights.
And I woke up in the middle of the night, on my first night, absolutely fucking terrified.
Not because I heard someone in my room or in my house.
Because I didn’t hear anyone.
I didn’t hear four different people snoring at decibels that human beings shouldn’t rightly be able to reach.
There was no rustling of plastic bags as people readied themselves to start their walk for the day at an hour reasonable only to be up if you’re still out from the night before.
No hacking coughs of others succumbing to the ‘Camino Plague’, also known as the common cold, but I think mine sounds better.
I wasn’t in an unfamiliar bed that had a rubber mattress and was about as soft as cement.
I wasn’t worrying there was an earthquake when my bunkmate decided to turn over in their sleep and damn near topple over the rickety structure I was sleeping on.
Muscle spasms ricocheting through my battered calves didn’t jerk me awake.
I wasn’t freezing cold underneath the sleeping liner that someone on the internet (someone who is a fucking liar) assured me was the ‘perfect’ sleeping bag for Spain this time of year.
None of that.
There was silence.
I was toasty warm in my own sheets.
Comfortable on my memory foam mattress.
My muscles, beginning to heal, were no longer screaming at me for making them walk 30 km in a day.
No longer making them climb mountains with nothing in my belly but coffee and pain au chocolat.
Here I am, back in the comforts of my life and it’s a strange feeling.
A terrifying feeling.
Because I’m back to the loud, fast life that I loved but left behind for a quiet, simple, transitory existence.
In the last week of my walk, I would not shut up about how excited I was to get home. To consume a diet that consisted of more than simple carbohydrates and vino tinto. To put my aching feet back where they belonged—in a pair of heels.
To have a bath, put on a face mask and binge watch Netflix.
So maybe you get the picture that if I was thinking this all in my last week of my spiritual journey, I didn’t have a revelation about selling all my possessions and meditating in an ashram in India for the next six months.
I still want the same things as I did when I left.
I still have the same personality.
I’m still the same person.
Which is kinda the point.
I’m going to be clear here, this crazy, amazing, life altering, brutal, scary, hard and fulfilling experience did not fix me.
It did not give me tools to fix myself.
It made me realise that I don’t need to be fixed. It gave me the opportunity to feel comfortable in my skin. In my discomfort. Amongst all of my beautiful imperfections.
If you read my last blog post, you’ll know I wasn’t in the best place when I left. And that’s solely on me. For pushing myself way too fucking hard. For expecting too much from myself. For speaking to myself with words I would never fling at my worst enemy.
I wrote that I was at breaking point.
I just didn’t realize how thin of a thread was holding me together until I was walking through Spain on weary bones and in shoes held together with duct tape.
And I’m very happy to inform you that that thread is a heck of a lot thicker now. And that I’m not gonna push myself to a point where I think walking 800 km is the only way to fix myself.
Mainly because I’m totally and utterly okay with being a teeny bit broken. Hemingway said that’s how the light gets in, and damn if I don’t agree with him.
But I’m not ruling out doing it again.
Yep, you heard me.
This experience was so fucking great and the people I met became so precious to me that I would have to be mad not to want to repeat the experience.
I think we established in my previous post that I am just the teeniest bit mad, but I’m also sane enough to know that an experience like this one is far too amazing to just do once.
I need to say it’s not going to be for everybody.
There were points where I would’ve told you—with complete fucking certainty—that it definitely wasn’t for me either.
Because it wasn’t all great, amazing, life changing and wonderful.
No way, no how.
It was hard.
I can’t explain the levels of hard. It goes beyond physical—and the physical stuff was intense, y’all. I remember with brutal clarity, three straight hours of walking where I was in so much pain that I was almost certain it was going to make me vomit on the trail. Three hours where the only thing keeping me going was pure stubbornness. Well, and there was no place to stop since we were in the middle of nowhere in Spain.
There were days were I had to physically force myself to take every step. Every. Single. One.
Everyone says that you overcome different stages of yourself in different stages of the Camino.
First, there’s the physical stage, where your body is like: “Hey, why the fuck are you doing this to me, I thought we were like, amigas?”
Then there’s the mental, you know the part where I had to keep walking even though the pain was enough to make me physically ill? Yeah, that’s part of it.
There’s also the part where you sleep in a dorm room with 20 of your closest strangers. Where you (and this was just me) checked your bed meticulously for bed bugs.
Yeah, bed bugs.
“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” is NOT just an expression, you guys.
I’ve seen what happens when bed bugs bite. It’s not pretty. And the fuckers are everywhere on the Camino.
I made it my mission to make sure I would not have red, itchy and unattractive welts covering my body (as well as having to wash everything I owned so I didn’t have to carry them around with me) in addition to aching muscles, broken shoes, and a healing soul.
The strain of hyping myself up to think about bugs crawling over me in my sleep, and not sleeping soundly because of that (and the snoring) was part of the mental struggle.
There were other mental struggles too, which I’ll get into in another post (that’s if you’re not sick of me by the end of this).
And there were incidents with men.
This is something I feel I need to speak about.
I discovered that the Camino is a very condensed version of life. You get all the highs, the beautiful experiences, amazing people, breathtaking sunrises. The knowledge that your body is much stronger than you give it credit for.
And then the lows.
Like bed bugs, snorers, illness, the language barrier and days where your body threatens to abandon you because you’ve been pushing it too hard.
And the fact that there are misogynist, dangerous men who did not got the memo that feminism happened and that feel entitled to stare at your body with intensity that made you need a shower.
And in my case, one particular man thought he was entitled to touch me.
I was getting a popsicle for the long walk through the desert ahead of me (let it be known I survived mostly on sugar, carbs and wine) when it happened. It was just after lunch. It was in a restaurant where families were eating. The sun was shining. Birds were chirping. My feet only hurt when I put weight on them. It was a good day.
A man came up to me, tried to speak to me in Spanish, I attempted in my limited knowledge of the language—I excel at asking for beer, coffee, wine and croissants, the rest is a shitshow—and then apologised, telling him that I couldn’t understand him.
Backpack on, I turned to walk out the door, excited about my popsicle, not so much about the walk through the desert in thirty-degree heat.
And then the man reached under my backpack to grope me.
I want to say I reacted immediately. That I turned around, kicked him in the balls, like he deserved.
But, like the popsicle in my hands, I was totally frozen.
Luckily, my Camino soul sister came to my rescue.
Yeah, ladies, it was not a knight in shining armour.
It was a sister.
Women can be the saviours, just to let you know.
She screamed at the man, getting in his face, then our Spanish speaking male friend got in the mix. Afterwards, he said his exact words were: “You’re lucky I don’t punch you in the face. You’re lucky she didn’t punch you in the face.”
And trust me, if this happens again, I’m punching the motherfucker in the face.
I froze because I was not expecting this. In a perfect world, we should never expect a strange man to grope us without our permission.
But while parts of this world are beautiful and amazing, there’s far too much pain, ugliness and inequality to make it perfect.
So me, along with countless other women, expect to get groped in bars. Now, let me clarify this. It’s not okay. We do not like it. It should never happen. But it does. And when you’re in a bar in the late hours of the night, the early hours of the morning, you’re in the right state of mind to expect the groping, and respond to it in turn.
Responding being: swearing, use of hand gestures, death stares, stomping on the feet of said groper, or a swift kick in the privates.
But I wasn’t expecting anything. It was daylight. I was doing something as innocent as getting a fricking popsicle.
I was on a spiritual journey, for fuck’s sake.
This man didn’t give a shit about that.
Turns out there were a lot of men who didn’t give a shit about that or women’s rights in general.
This incident wasn’t isolated. Other stuff happened to my friends. Nothing physical (thank GOD). But it didn’t have to be physical to leave a mark. To taint a journey that should’ve been about finding ourselves instead of worrying what disgusting thing some asshole was going to do when we were just looking for a popsicle.
I’m not saying all men were assholes. We met some of the coolest guys I have the honour to call friends. Most of them old enough to be my grandparents, we called them our “Camino Dads”. They were the men that gave me hope. And that made me realise that this condensed version of life was going to show me parts I was yearning to see, and parts I never wanted to know existed.
And it sucked. I will say that. It shocked me. A lot.
And it did leave a teeny tiny mark that I’m lucky enough to feel fading every day.
Gave me the knowledge that a lot of men need to be educated about consent, about respecting women and about being better fucking human beings.
But it didn’t stop me.
Didn’t stop me from smiling. From having the time of my life. From planning on doing a trip like this again.
Because there’s always going to be people (man or woman) in life that do ugly things because they have ugly souls, but there’s also people in life that show you beautiful things and beautiful souls.
And that was a lot of the mental.
I want to assure my beautiful readers that I’m okay after this. That it was a shitty thing for someone to do to me but I had so many people surrounding me to make me feel safe that I was okay afterwards.
I am chilled with the knowledge that worse things happen to my fellow sisters, things to make them so not okay (at least for a long time) and I want to scream out at the top of my lungs that no fault lies with the women. Every ounce of this blame lies at the feet of a man that thinks consent is optional and that they have some kind of right to stare, to touch, to hurt.
I want to speak a heck of a lot more on this subject, and I will.
But I’ll continue on with my journey for now.
I overcome that, along with my yearning for fancy moisturisers, a bed of my own, clothes that I didn’t have to hand wash in a sink outside with fifty other pilgrims.
Life was simple, in the bad ways like I just explained—men (and human beings in general) can be assholes.
But in good ways too—men (and human beings in general) can be nurturing and amazing.
I appreciated the simple things, getting my laundry done, having a hot shower—again, a shitshow—eating a good meal, a comfortable mattress, stimulating conversation.
So, after going through all that, I thought I’d gotten past the mental and was ready for the spiritual about three weeks into the trip.
I was feeling frustrated.
Because I’d gone through the physical pain, the mental rigors, where in the fuck was my spiritual breakthrough?
I found it in my breakdown.
We were at the bottom of a mountain.
We’d already walked 10km. It was about zero degrees.
We’d walked 34 km the day before. Most of it uphill.
I had the worst period pains of my life.
In short, I was sore, cranky and in need of chocolate and a trashy movie.
Instead, I stood at the base of a mountain.
A fucking mountain my cranky, tired, and sore body was supposed to climb.
I stared at it and promptly burst into tears.
Like proper tears.
Because I was convinced I couldn’t do it.
No matter I traversed the Pyrenees in the rain on my very first day.
No matter I’d climbed over mountain ranges in the weeks before.
Nope, none of that computed.
There was only the desperate certainty that I couldn’t do this.
And I told myself that as I wiped away my tears.
As I moved my feet with the help of my Camino sisters, who always had my back.
I outwardly began to climb this mountain.
But in my head I was chanting, “I can’t do this.”
Not very spiritually empowering, right?
We were about 5 km in when we stopped for water. Still, I was convinced I couldn’t do it. And then I had a breakthrough.
“You don’t have to climb this mountain, girlfriend,” I said to myself. “The only thing I need you to do is to take a step. Then after that, take another one.”
It seems simple, almost certainly cliché, but it’s what got me to the top of that fucking mountain.
I wasn’t thinking about climbing it. All I thought about was the next step. In my mind that day, I couldn’t climb a mountain, but I could put one foot in front of the other. And by concentrating on single steps, I climbed that mountain.
This Camino was where I learned to speak to myself the way I would my most treasured friend. To treat myself with love and kindness and to forgive myself for mistakes I made in the past. Because all the decisions we make, right or wrong, are us doing the best we can with what we’ve got. This hit me on another day when I was cold, sore and tired.
“You can do this,” I whispered out loud, since there was no one around to hear me. “You can do this,” I repeated. “And I’m proud of you.”
And I am. So fricking proud of myself. At first, I thought it was kind of a narcissistic thing to say. But I’ve realised that it’s the furthest from that. We should be proud of ourselves. Whether it’s for climbing a mountain while our uterus is trying to kill us, or getting out of bed when our mind is trying to keep us prisoner. Be proud of the big stuff, and more importantly, the little stuff. It’s little steps we take that make it possible for us to climb mountains, after all.
Another thing I learned was to have a much healthier relationship with my body. My main reason for this trip was to get my spiritual shit together, sure. But there was also the vain part of me that thought walking every single day for over a month would make me fit into those jeans that would no longer do up.
Not very spiritual, but I’m here to be honest.
And honestly, I didn’t lose a pound. If anything, I gained weight. All we were fed (and all my body craved) was carbs. Bread is the main food group in Spain. And we took it upon ourselves to make beer and wine the other two food groups in our three point pyramid.
Chocolate featured heavily too. I remember gobbling a giant block of it in the pouring rain in order to give myself the energy to walk 28 km soaking wet.
At first, I was frustrated that my leggings were only getting tighter and my willpower to say no to dessert and another glass of wine was non existent.
Then I continued to walk.
Then my body took me up mountains.
Brought me back down again.
Carried me 800 km across the whole of Spain.
And then I realised that my body was made it possible for me to do this. The body I had problems with ever since I can remember. It was exactly how it was meant to be. I wasn’t meant to be just one size smaller, my legs weren’t meant to be just a little slimmer, and my stomach isn’t supposed to be flat. It is exactly how it was designed to be. And I learned I needed to stop talking shit about a body that took me across a country.
I have a lot more from my journey. A lot more stories to tell. Like how I was a backup singer to my friend as she sung ‘Harvest Moon’ in an Irish bar in the middle of a tiny town in the meseta (a never ending, never changing part of the trail that drives you crazy) in Spain. How I talked to a seventy-year-old man who was completing a 20 point bucket list and the Camino was number 19.
Seeing the penguins in New Zealand was 20, for anyone wondering.
And when I asked him what he was going to do when the list was done, he responded: “Well, I’ll start a new one, of course.”
I want to talk about staying in monasteries, about walking in the dark while the stars and moon were still out. About meeting people that have now become lifelong friends.
I have so much more to say. But maybe you’re sick of hearing about it.
I’m sure you’re sick of this blog post, since it’s long as hell.
So I’m gonna stop soon, I pinky swear.
Well, I won’t stop writing, since I want to do something with all the memories clogging up my newly (slightly) zen brain.
I might do some sort of book.
Or series of blog posts.
But I need to hear from you.
Do you want more?
Or are you thinking “we get it, you walked for a long time, did some stuff and it was great, now shut up and write about Unquiet Mind”?
‘Cause let me know and I’ll shut up and write Wyatt’s book.
Okay, I’m gonna write Wyatt’s book no matter what.
I’m also going to write about my experience no matter what.
Because I know I need to.
I just wanna know if you want me to share.
I totally will. Sharing is caring.
And I want to share this knowledge. These experiences. The good and the bad. So maybe I can help you realise you can do this. Well, maybe not this exact thing, but something for yourself. Something that’s scary and maybe won’t be amazing the entire time but will yield an amazing result.
I want to let you know that you’re a badass and you can do badass stuff.
Well, I’m going to tell you that regardless of whether I post more about the Camino. Because if you’re still reading right now, you’re a total fucking badass and I love you.
And I’m gonna stop soon, promise. Just one more thing.
The you reading this.
I did not expect the response from my last post. It blew me away reading the messages and comments after I posted. Literally brought me to tears. It made me so happy that I was somehow brave (or crazy) enough to post some of the stuff I was scared to admit to myself let alone the world was striking some chords with my beautiful readers.
I just want to let you know that those messages and comments and likes meant the world. They made a difference.
You made a difference for me.
Now go and do it for you.
‘Cause you’re a badass.