Monday, December 31, 2012

I Miss My Wubbie

Over the course of my life I've sat waiting in many airport gates for flights to many states and countries, but this time my arms and hands hang free and that makes me feel awkward. I hadn't realized that carry on luggage is like a purposeful wubbie. It follows behind me, it prevents creepy people from sitting next to me, and it helps to maintain a comfortable distance between me and those who have no personal space.  

Being an attractive single lady traveling alone I'm usually open to a little, or a lot, of flirting with my male counterparts. But I'm having trouble feeling amorous, or for that matter even the least bit feminine. Instead I adopt an I'm-about-some-serious-shit attitude to shield myself when a man looks around, or through me to get a better look at someone else. 

I'm usually dressed to impress when I travel. But fashion weighs too much, so I wear one of the two sets of clothing I'll walk in. I chose men's hiking clothing because they are more practical, which also means they are more comfortable. I did try ladies trekking clothes, but the manufacturers sacrificed practicality for style. The minutes tick by slowly while I'm on display in men's khaki shirt, men's army green utility pants, and men's hightop hiking boots, with a black fanny-pack and canvas organizer around my waist. I look at a waiting passenger, she turns away avoiding eye contact, then whispers something to the man sitting next to her. I can imagine her saying, "She looks as if she's going to redeem a gender-reassignment-surgery and safari special. 

Feeling like a mis-understood traveler, I get up to buy a four dollar cup of designer coffee to show my membership in the club. I return to the gate, locate an electrical outlet on a pillar in a far corner to charge my phone. I lay on the floor with my legs up on a chair, practicing a version of a position my yoga teacher gave me to reduce the swelling in my feet and legs after a long day of walking. I didn't need it now, but I just didn't know what to do with myself.

I'm relieved by the announcement that they would soon begin the boarding process. Now I have something to do--I can get in line. I scan the waiting passengers looking for a member of my tribe. I would know them because they would be dressed like me--but there's no one. I fidget with my clothing, my waist pack, and I remove the guidebook and thumb through it while I wait. Then I come to realize that my boarding group has already been called and they were boarding the next group. I fumbled for my boarding pass and moved through the hovering passengers. I was happy to be moving, it soothed my excitement. 

I found my seat under the watchful eyes of previously seated passengers. My seat-mate, a neatly dressed businessman, looked puzzled probably because I carried nothing on. He managed to give me a half smile. I got belted in and began to make small talk in hopes to ease his mind. I find that people are made comfortable by information. He nods as he connects the dots. Then as the plane revs to take off, he begins to tell me the what, where and whys of his travel. My mind drifts and when it returns he's still talking about something important to him. I'm usually more attentive to people that I share such close quarters with for several hours, but this time I'm distracted, since my own whys remain unanswered. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How I Became a Pilgrim

I've been asked countless times, 'how did you prepare?'

After making the choice to walk 500 miles, I started walking, that's a no brainer.  I bought supplies; some from recommendations and others out of common sense. I watched videos from 'expert' trekkers, I read blogs and posts on popular online groups by those who have walked, some or all of the Camino and those who haven't--all equally opinionated. 

During the Summer I walked 18 kilometers with members of the So Cal chapter of Americans on the Camino. In hindsight the experience was close to a hot day on the Camino, only if you take away the modern roads and crosswalks, add a guide or two, chilled bottled water stations, and a Mexican restaurant at the end. I arrived at the restaurant with blister-free, but sore feet. I didn't have a better idea of what the Camino was like, but the margaritas where good and I made some new friends.

I bought more gear all of which I tested out on a local mountain that pales in size or difficulty to those I'd climb in France or Spain. I had knowledge of this fact, but knowledge isn't the same as personal experience. After breaking in the third pair of boots wearing a full backpack, I was as ready--as I thought--I could be.

Speaking the language of the country you'll visit for more than a month will certainly make the visit easier. "Do you speak Spanish?" I was asked by some, and those who knew I didn't, wanted to know if I was going to learn.  I wasn't--to prepare for a such a unique adventure while maintaining three professional services, volunteer work and learning Spanish might just push me over the edge. Instead, I'll make the excursion that much more interesting.  After all, it's in my nature to take the steepest hill.

Fear was another emotion I'd have to overcome--my own and that of others. My own fears of going abroad never had a chance to foster while jumping back and forth over the great pond with my mother, since I was a small child. My fears associated with traveling alone to exotic foreign lands have all but disappeared since my 2009 trip to Southeast Asia. After six months, I returned in one piece--whole, both physically and mentally.

However, this time it was the potentially contagious fears of others that I had to watch out for. Some masked their fear within cliches like, 'better you than me' and others were more blatant, like one of my sister's friends, who said, 'If you truly love your sister, you wouldn't do this.' She claimed my sister was unable to voice her own fears for me. She drilled me about what I'd do if, in the middle of nowhere, I fell and broke my leg. She was right, I hadn't thought about that. The truth is, that kind of thing just doesn't happened to me. So was I being selfish?

For some, the film The Way, generated fear that they might not have felt before watching a story of a father who walks the Camino in honor of his son who is killed the first day of his pilgrimage. Okay, so that's legitimate fear, but it's also like focusing on the crucifixion and completely missing the beauty and results of the resurrection. 

Today, I'm glad that no one described the difficulties of the Camino or the hardships I would face. If they had, I most likely would have responded, 'Well, that's why it's called a pilgrimage and not a vacation." I'm bored with vacations and being a tourist. I'm ready to be a pilgrim, someone who earns her experiences and where the souvenirs climb into my soul and remain there for a lifetime.