The Camino de Santiago was what I was looking forward to most out of all of my adventures this summer. I wanted to wake up every day and hike and learn about myself and drink great wine and meet people from all over the world… most of all I wanted to make it to Santiago. I couldn’t stop thinking about what that would feel like.
On day two I found myself having the same pace as two other guys — Chubba from Hungary & Iñego from Madrid. We made it to the town we all planned to stop at by noon, and collectively decided to walk another five kilometers to the next town because we (mostly me) decided it was too early to stop. Probably a mistake because those completely flat five kilometers took us a grueling two hours. Once we made it to Larrasoña we all had a few too many beers, got to know each other, and made a plan for the morning so we could walk together the next day.
Day three was rough. I don’t know how or when it happened, but I injured my right foot and ended up hobbling through Pamplona in my Teva sandals because my foot was too swollen to wear boots. I never would have made it through that day if it were not for Chubba and Iñego. They walked as slowly as I needed, took as many breaks as I needed, they drank a beer with me at 10:00 a.m. because at the time I thought that that’s what I needed, they bought me lunch, and they cooked me dinner…. though I was in tears most of the day, my heart was happy that I met such selfless and caring humans and that I was not alone.
Fast forward to day six… copious amounts of time icing and elevating my foot in the evenings was proving not to be enough. I didn’t want to walk the Camino if it meant it would be this miserable or if it meant taking several Advil a day to get through it without pain. So, I decided to take a rest day in a town called Logroño. And what I expected to be two or three rest days turned into almost two weeks.
At first I was in a gloomy funk. I was bummed, disappointed, and really sad because I knew the longer I spent in Logroño the more unlikely it would be for me to catch up to Chubba and Iñego. I spent my mornings coming up with plan b’s and c’s and d’s, and once it was a reasonable hour back in California I would call my mom and talk them all through with her. I almost rented an apartment there for an entire month to wait out the injury. Leaving the Camino just wasn’t an option to me.
Then there was this one day. I was sitting in the common room of my albergue eating some yogurt and blueberries when some guy walked in, smiled, and said, “hola!” He asked to sit down with me, we talked, and then he asked if I would like to join him for a beer. One beer turned into many and we ended up spending two days straight together. It was confusing, but all I could think about was how my cheeks hurt from smiling so much and how that has never happened with anyone else before. After two days he made his way on the Camino again. I felt weird. I had this super awesome partner in crime, and then I didn’t (more on him later…).
Suddenly, the thought of spending the month in Logroño started to sound terrible and not make any sense to me at all. The hostel I was staying at was going to be full that upcoming Saturday night, so I decided that that’s when I would start walking the Camino again. I had gone to the hospital and had my foot wrapped in a boot for almost a week, and it was feeling a lot better. It seemed like maybe it was a sign that I needed to go out and test the waters.
I got all my laundry done, repacked my pack, and was the first one out the door on Saturday morning. Things were going well, but after about two hours well turned into hell. I stopped for a café con leche and then continued walking for about two more hours. I cried a lot during those last couple hours. Less because of the pain and more because I knew that this was my last day on the Camino.
I had to call a cab to take me to the next town and from there I took a bus to a city called Burgos. When I got to Burgos there was a bus leaving to Madrid in ten minutes so I got on it. When I got to Madrid there was a cheap overnight bus to Lisbon leaving in a couple hours so I got on it…
I woke up in Lisbon, phone dead, no idea where I was sleeping, and followed a few other backpackers to the metro station. I vaguely remembered the name of the stop that was close to the city center so I figured I’d head that way to find a coffee shop to charge my phone and look for a hostel. I didn’t know it then, but Portugal was about to become my favorite destination of the summer.
In Portugal I surfed, hitchhiked for the first time, met some insanely amazing people, woke up not knowing where I’d be resting my head that night more often than not, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I made all these plans to go to all of the main spots in Portugal and possibly even head to Morocco for a few days, but then I got the names of some less touristy beaches from one of the locals working at my hostel and ended up extending my stay at each of those beaches as long as there were open beds. No plans truly are the best plans
Meanwhile, I stayed in touch with the guy I met in Logroño and we had FaceTime dates almost every single day. Sometimes multiple times a day, sometimes late at night into the early morning. We got to know each other well. It frustrated us to be having all of these conversations over the phone, but neither of us could wait to know one another. Long story short I ended up booking a one-way flight to New York to live with him. CRAZY I know. I am writing the final words of this story cozied up in his apartment. Life is wild.
I never made it to Santiago. I think that it’s okay, though. I think I got from the Camino what I was supposed to get from it for now. If I didn’t injure my foot, I never would have experienced Portugal. I never would have gotten my third tattoo (I had zero before this summer… whoops). And most importantly, I never would have met my current boyfriend/life partner/roommate/whatever silly title you want to give it.
For completely unrelated reasons he didn’t get to finish the Camino this summer either, so we hope to make the walk to Santiago together in the future. Until then I want to wish a “Buen Camino!” to all the pilgrims out there. And to everyone else, don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith or to let yourself love. Our world needs it now more than ever.