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. 

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