Ultreïa et sus eia. Onward and Upward

I stand atop of a hill full of burdens, the wind gently grazing across my cheek and the whole world silent. The rocks that surround my feet symbolize many things. They stand for freedom, peace, bravery, new beginnings, a loved one who sits in the heart of the person who’s placed it there. Traditionally, the stones that are set upon Cruce de Ferro are ones which a pilgrim has carried from the very beginning of their journey. They’re being carried for those who aren’t able to be there themselves and when placed on the hill they are told to send alms to those that you care about. They send the energy of a healthy well being. Others are used to let go of a burden and clear the mind. I clutched onto both of my stones with the utmost care. One of them was absolutely covered in letters. I spent a great deal of time thinking about the people in my life who are extra special to me and those who have shaped who I am today. I carefully wrote the first letter of their name on the stone and thankfulness swept over me as I realized that it was now covered from front to back. I couldn’t have felt more loved. Image

I looked around me and studied how each stone was different and unique. Some were hand painted while others sat bare but still full of thoughts and memories. The iron cross stood proudly in the middle and was covered in notes, letters and photographs from top to bottom. One was an envelope titled Please drop this letter closest to God. Some were titled simply Mom. I suddenly became a lot more emotional than I anticipated but knowing myself, I guess it was expected. What brought the tears rolling down my cheeks was the fact that through everything that goes on in this world, through all the chaos and disaster, things like this exist. Places like this that are dedicated to so much beauty, love and release stand in the middle of nowhere and never move.
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It felt like hours had passed as I held my stone tightly between my fingers. When I finally felt like I was able to let it go, I placed it carefully amongst the others and released a breath as I walked down to meet my friends. I felt that feeling of freedom again. It traveled through my entire body in waves. Kate and I decided to take one more trip to the top and let out a howl to celebrate. The moment was everything I imagined it to be and more. 
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The last of the Meseta trickled off gradually last week and the gang and I found ourselves in a small little town just before our halfway point. When we walked into the albergue, a glowing woman welcomed us with a sense of calmness very similar to Mau from the Hospital for the Soul. She told us to head to the back, take off our shoes and relax. She knew first hand what it felt like walking this stretch because she had traveled the Camino three times! As soon as she told us she offered foot massages for donation, I knew we had found heaven. Her name is Judit and what I was surprised to discover was she seemed to know a great deal about joints and muscles. She was able to tell me exactly what I should be changing about my walking habits in order to fix my problems. Not only was she knowledgable in the health of the body but she was also incredibly in touch with the mind. Everything that came out of her mouth was spoken with peace, grace and wisdom. I relaxed just being around her as she told me what she did back home in Germany. I knew she reminded me of Mau for a reason. Judit runs a space from her home where she provides help to others in all different forms. She provides psychological advice, physiotherapy for injured pilgrims walking through the country, a place to sleep and cook and a shoulder to cry on. During the summer months, she works here in this village giving back to the path that shaped her life. Without having said a word she told me, “you must stop worrying about keeping the pace of others. I know you want to stay with the people you love but go your own speed and you’ll find them again. The Camino will bring them back to you.” A moment or two passed by before she added, “I know that you’re meant to do something that allows you to be creative. You aren’t meant to live a 9-5 life. This life is too short to do anything that doesn’t make you happy.” I’ve known this for quite some time but the fact that she was able to read that after we’d hardly spoken blew me away.  That was the moment I told her about my photography and asked if I could capture her. It’s funny because even the calmest people seem to become flustered at the though of being photographed. Her essence was difficult to get across but she relaxed after I engaged her in conversation. She performed some wildly effective reiki energy on my ankle before we parted and I got the feeling that she held a gift of truly seeing people that not a lot of us have. I felt very lucky to have met her. I know now that if I ever need a place to stay in Germany, her door is always open.
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It’s as if Judit knew deep down that I would be faced with a new challenge. Recently, I’ve been separated from the group that I’ve become so close to since the third day walking. I’m not sure what drove me to walk 40km one morning but my legs continued to take me through every little town because none of them seemed to feel right. I was hoping to branch out and meet some new people who I may have been missing out on while walking with others. I wanted to take a bit of a leap outside of my comfort zone and see what it brought me. I would never, ever suggest walking 40km in 32 degree heat to anyone! I was thankful that the scenery was enough to keep me sane because I had hardly seen a soul while walking that day. Nicola had decided to stay in a bigger town called Villafranca and to be honest, the fact that I knew there was a familiar face waiting there helped to keep me going. As I dragged my legs up to the city about 8km from my final destination, I spotted two girls named Tara and Tara-Lynn who I had met close to the beginning of my journey and hadn’t seen since. I couldn’t have been more grateful to see people I knew! I practically fell into their arms the second I walked over to them. They happened to be going to the same place and we agreed to walk together and boost each others spirits. ImageImageImageImageImage
 A lot of this trail took us through a vineyard and as we approached it, something magical happened. We heard music. At first it was faint and low but as we walked up the hill, it became louder and louder and we had no idea where the sound was coming from. I didn’t realize quite how much music lifts a spirit and brightens a mindset. I found my tired self skipping, yes, skipping down the hill to The Cure. We were blessed by a gift and without it, I wouldn’t have made that last 5km. Thank you, thank you to the soul who gave us the vineyard soundtrack. Image
 The vibe of the Camino seemed to change after Nicola and I were just a pair. I was thankful for her company. The time alone was pleasant but lonely. I had spent far too much time focusing on how different things were instead of the beauty that the change brought me. Little moments presented themselves throughout my days. While walking through the middle of absolute nowhere, I came across a cantina that was formed from a run down, old brick building. The walls were covered in writing and quotations from pilgrims who had sat down to rest over the years. I stopped to lounge in an inviting hammock and paused dead in my tracks as I noticed a piece of paper pinned up on the wall. I recognized the names on the torn out page right away. Pages 56 and 57 of Waiting for Godot hung by a pink paper clip. As I read the passage, I noticed how perfectly it fit the spirit of the Camino and how it described the exact situation that had just occurred in my own life. It was a sense of magic and oasis in the desert. I was beginning to think I had a guardian angel on my side. Image
 
Vladimir: Your boots, what are you doing with your boots?
 
Estragon: I’m leaving them there. Another will come, just as…as me, but with smaller feet, and they’ll make him happy. 
 
Just steps away from there, a man strummed his guitar to a catchy Spanish tune and added in words that worked with each passerby. He sang to me, “the pilgrim is walking to Santiago with her camera!” It was fitting and a much needed giggle! A town away from that, a woman handed Nicola and I a whole bag full of churro’s (deep fried sticks of dough) free of charge because the shop was closing in a few minutes. The cafe was called Sonrisas which means Smiles in Spanish and you better believe we had big grins on our faces after that one! ImageImage
 A week or two into my walk, I met a radiant woman named Michelle. I had heard plenty about her from Nicola who had spent time with her toward the beginning and she was someone I was hoping we’d catch up to. Michelle is from Vancouver so we immediately had something to bond over. That and the Dan Mangan blasting from her iPhone. I knew her as the stunt woman before I truly got a chance to know who she was. She has performed some incredible stunts in films and has been in that industry for years and years of her life. It fascinated me at first, thinking about the thrill of a career like that. I didn’t really get to know Michelle until we met for a third time in Astorga and I asked to take her photo. I learned that from a young age she practiced baton twirling and was up to become the best in the world. The hours she practiced and perfected became the center of her life through her teenage years. The baton lead into dancing which lead her to the circus. There she discovered a natural ability to handle knives which had her thinking about stunt work more and more. The stunts took her body through a turbulence and there was a moment where she decided she didn’t want to put herself through the pain and fear any longer. She knew that her path was meant to head elsewhere and the destination was to be determined. That is how the Camino came into her life and while we deluged deeper into conversation I could hear the direction she had already found. It was in her voice and in her eyes. She’s discovered that she’s a teacher at heart with all the qualities to guide others in the right direction. She wants to be a creator of her own success in the artistic world. Recently her knee has caused her some troubles and Her Camino has involved a few bus rides. A part of her wondered if this would seem like a moment of failure to her friends and family back home. Being an athlete puts that imagine in the mind of others that something like a walking trail would be a piece of cake to complete. What I loved the most was her approach to the obstacles. Yes, she was injured but it taught her that your body is not invincible. It has limits and maybe, just maybe Her Camino was meant to involve a bus or two. Perhaps that’s guiding her to the right place and teaching her again that her path needs to head in a different direction. The fact is, she’s getting to Santiago one way or another and I am inspired by her determination and strength through it all. It’s a gift to be able to take even the most difficult moments and accept that the world wants to show you something far different than you planned. Michelle, I know you’ll find your way because you’re keeping your head held high and moving forward. She has one of the best grips on her experience that I’ve seen so far and it’s only going to lead her to beautiful things. You’ve already taught me lessons I’ll hold on to. ImageImage
 It took one final moment to realize that things had blessed me all the same despite this new Camino feel. There was a fairly steep mountain ahead a few days ago and I prepared myself to walk up the entire thing on foot. Nicola and I passed by signs advertising a way to reach the top by horseback. We didn’t hesitate to call and book two spots for the next morning! I hadn’t ridden a horse since I was a little kid and unfortunately none of the skills came back to me. The good news is, I felt like I really bonded with my beauty Viagita (translating into Old Fashioned) and after a terrifying first trot I adjusted pretty quickly to her ways. She was a slow one and we often trailed behind but she did her best to keep up and together we rode up and through the stunning mountains. The view was incredible. A man yelled out to me, “the Camino sure is different from up here!” He was absolutely right. It was an entirely different experience and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I sat there awestruck by the rolling hills that seemed to stretch forever into the mist and the dinging of sheep bells in the distance. I thought back right then to the morning I left the path alone and was invited to sit at a campfire with two pilgrims and enjoy a tea with the sunrise. I remembered watching the sunset in a grassy patch that night and feeling entirely clear after my day laying down my stone. Moments of magic had shown themselves in my time of need and a man in Villafranca had cleared my worried mind by making me a special bed to sleep in when there was “no room at the inn.” Judit was right, the Camino will bring my friends back to me. We’ll all walk to Santiago hand in hand in the end.  Until then, special moments and acts of kindness appear again and again. I’ve spent so much time missing the vibe from the beginning of my journey when what I should be looking at is how it’s continued to show itself in new and different ways.ImageImage
 
I sit now about 100km from my final destination in a city called Sarria. I have some big days ahead of me but I’m determined to keep open for each and every one of them. After all, I’ve found the mountains again and they continue to surround me every step of the way. There’s always a silver lining and the spirit of the Camino, well, it hasn’t gone anywhere. 
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Miles To Go Before I Sleep

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I  have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep, 

And miles to go before I sleep. 

The three of us walked side by side through the mystical forest. I will never forget the stark purple flowers that guided our way. They were the only thing glowing as the white mist loomed then drifted slowly over the gravel path. There was a familiarity about our surroundings but a complete sense of unknown at the same time. The two emotions mingled in harmony. Many of the hills we climbed lead into a misty cloud, a seemingly nowhere destination. I mentioned the fact that I felt really free. A piece of my mind had been calmed and I was at peace with areas of my life I had been holding onto.
“Let it out,” Jale told me. We had recently experienced the invigorating and cathartic release of screaming at the top of our lungs in the middle of nowhere. It’s an urge we often get in a world where it’s so easy to feel trapped. Jale, our new friend Nicola and I all let out a howl so loud that  I’m sure it could be heard from the next town over. It’s something I plan to come back to time and time again.

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 It’s been said that the Camino consists of three separate stages. The first stage focuses on the physical aspect of the walk. It breaks you down and shows your body that it’s capable of far more than the standards you’ve set for yourself. The next stage is mental and although I beg to differ that it only begins on the 12th day, once your body accepts its fate your mind begins to do the same. While faced with walks alone and the meditative sound of your own footsteps, it runs wild and free and thoughts come out of the woodwork. Growth always follows and the moment you think you’ve already found exactly what you’re looking for, it throws you a curve ball. The last stage is spiritual. Whatever you feel spirituality is for you, it will fill your mind through until your last steps into Santiago and onto Finisterre. Having walked halfway across the country now, I should be into the mental stage of the game but like I said before, it strikes you from the moment you walk through the Pyrenees. Just keep following those yellow arrows.Image

 Our days following consisted of gorgeous landscapes just the same and sleepy little towns that hardly seemed real. My body has reached that point where it’s accepted that this is how it’s going to be until October hits. It’s finally seemed to surrender. Apart from the fact that I’ve rolled over my ankle about seven times and the arches of my feet are close to collapsing, I feel thankful. I am lucky that this is the extent of my injured body. Not a blister in sight and my knees are still in working condition! It could be heaps worse. It’s funny because our days have become longer and longer and the distances that seemed daunting are now considered easy. They’re baby days. After two days back to back of 36km each, 20km is a piece of cake to any of us. Doesn’t that seem hard to believe? Our sleep in mornings consist of a 6:45am wake up and 20km is a short and simple morning stroll. Who knew I would ever catch myself saying that! It’s true though. Like a lovely friend wrote to me the other day, I guess we can get used to anything. Image
 When I’m not surrounded by the beauty of nature that can’t be ignored, it comes to me in the form of The Meseta. This particular section of the trail stretches for one hundred kilometres and consists of a completely open space with a dirt path running all the way through. I’ve heard that the olden day pilgrims used to make a point of walking this section alone because it has a way of breaking you down. When you’re surrounded by emptiness and the hot sun is beating down on your forehead, your mind can do nothing but think and your legs can do nothing but walk. It sounds tedious, yes. And if I were to express my desire for everyone to have the opportunity to walk it, you would look at me like I’m a complete nutcase. It’s been a highlight in many ways and I think it’s become even more impactful as the physical stage wears off slowly. On this particular day I was taken aback by the formation of the clouds and the open space. The sky covers you like a blanket. There’s nothing to distract you from its enormity and it seems bigger than ever before. It’s really wonderful to zoom in on the secret treasures of the world while walking along.
ImageWhile heading through a town called Viana, we had no choice but to leave our friend Gustavo behind. I knew we would eventually begin to walk at different paces and the moment would come. A common phrase we like to use as encouragement during the low moments is: “the camino will provide.” It always does. Somehow the Camino has a way of giving us and showing us everything we need. It proved itself once again only a short day after we left Gustavo behind. Nicola became a huge presence very quickly and her wisdom and light has followed us all the days since. I became enthralled by her love for meditation and have vowed since to make it a huge part of my day to day life. The more we walk together, the more I seemed to learn about myself. Her experience and advice act as my guide toward a new perspective and has been the driving force toward happy and exhilarating breakthroughs. I am blessed that she sauntered up to Jale and I that afternoon only last week…
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The people that you meet on a journey such as this become family very quickly. Somebody once told me that every day on the Camino you earn one year of wisdom and every day of friendship should be considered at least a week. They couldn’t have been more right about it. Not only do I feel like I’ve reached heights so high above the person I was when I began, but these people have impacted me on a level that I cherish as deeply as the relationships I’ve spent years building upon. It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that time doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to a life changing friendship.
Every day we get up and walk. It’s the only goal we have in mind. Our time is measured in kilometres, towns and the nearest bar. At this point, it’s a pleasant surprise when we run into a group that has been behind or ahead for a few days. We’ve all discovered what our legs are capable of and walk only what we can handle. The nights finish with drinking and a three course meal. You would think that we would tire from the routine but as much as every day is the same, it’s also drastically different. The actions are all similar but the way we experience each home stretch or meal always changes. They’re filled with different thoughts and sources of laughter each time. If we’re lucky, some of the albergues have a kitchen and we’re able to cook which is a slice of heaven when it seems like ages since I’ve created something out of food! A friend Matt and I deemed ourselves chefs and made a gorgeous meal for the lot of us one night. It doesn’t take much to make us happy, really. A home cooked meal and good company is the definition of content. Running barefoot through the streets of Spain in the pouring rain will stay in my memory forever. Those moments where I’m lying with friends writing in my journal, drinking wine from the bottle and giggling on my back as the sun goes down…they are the simple things that keep becoming more and more satisfying each day. For once, you’re only focused on what you truly need for your body, your health and most importantly for your well being. There’s no excuse letting either of those go unnoticed. ImageNew friends. Beautiful peopleImageImageImage
ImageI’ve found the sunflowers again. Fields and fields of them every day. I think the Universe has decided to apologize for making me walk so far to find them in Florence.

 As I write about my experiences it becomes more and more difficult each time to truly express the feelings they bring me. I’ve talked to many fellow pilgrims and they’ve expressed the exact same concern. When we speak to our families, it’s easy to tell them that “today I walked 30km, ate a ham sandwich and fell asleep.” But what our hearts are dying to say is that we’ve all been altered that day! We’ve all felt community and love and compassion for one another. While walking through a small town the other day, I stumbled across a place that may help explain the unique nature of a pilgrim in the best way possible.
A sign outside the door read The Hospital for the Soul. Beside it, a small plaque said:
This is not an albergue, just a place for pilgrims to relax and feel comfortable. Please, use our kitchen. Don’t be afraid to plant in the garden, visit our library or take a rest in the beds. Feel free to view our photo collection titled “Chasing our Shadows”. 
Nicola and I wandered in and were immediately overcome with a sense of peace. Soft music played throughout the house and each nook and cranny was so thoughtfully decorated. I carefully studied each photo on the wall. They all held a quotation below that fit the spirit of the Camino so perfectly! I read that the man who owned this place had walked the Camino himself many times. He and a woman he met on the journey started this house together and the two of them wanted to create a place where pilgrims could rest and feel at ease. As I wandered around in awe, I discovered a table with painted rocks, postcards and beautiful hand-made journals. A wooden donation box sat beside the gifts and tears filled my eyes from the trust they had in the people walking through. Not a soul was in sight throughout the whole house and anyone could have wandered in and taken advantage of its gorgeous contents. Being pilgrims themselves, they must have understood the nature of the people passing through these towns. It tugged at my heartstrings when I thought about how rare it would be to find something like this back at home. Nonetheless, I enjoyed every bit of it right there and then. I wished harder than ever before that I could bottle up this exact energy and take it home with me.
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A moment of Camino magic showed itself in the form of a book in the upstairs library. Nicola had been thinking about the book The Pilgrim’s Progress which is read by the sisters in the novel Little Women. For a few days she had been longing to read again and this particular book had been on her mind as something she thought would be interesting to enjoy on a pilgrimage herself. As we studied the shelves and the books displayed that were all written in Spanish, only one English book sat quietly on the highest shelf. It was The Pilgrim’s Progress. It was as if it had been placed there just for her. As she grabbed it quickly, I could feel her excitement from this little miracle. An address written on paper was placed on the lid of a chest in the same room. Anyone walking through was able to take books they felt drawn to and post them back or send their favourites to add to the collection. Ask and the Camino shall provide.
Suddenly, a man with a long beard and an angelic step appeared in the stairway. Nicola explained about the book and he smiled telling us “of course you can post it back. People do that all the time.” We followed him downstairs and boiled water for green tea. The two of us sat there drinking and breathing, still shocked from the way this place seemed to alert every single one of our senses. It was a sense of serenity that I’ve never felt before. It heightened as the man walked by with burning frankincense. I felt the closest to peace I think I’ve ever been.
While I sat back in my chair enjoying small squares of chocolate, a cat sauntered in and was shooed away by the man who had immediately seemed so calm. I was confused at first but let it pass as he told us, “he pees everywhere.” Gotchya. I knew then that I needed to photograph him. He held an incredible presence and aside from that, I wanted to learn more about this place and thank him for what it brought me.
When I peeked my head outside, I saw that this man was now playing happily with the same cat he had chased away. His smile was big and bright as the kitten lounged in his arms and crawled around his neck. A stark contrast from their previous interaction. In broken Spanish I asked him if I was able to take his photo and thankfully, he responded enthusiastically in English. As I snapped away, I found out his name was Mau. The lady running this with him is named Nia and is also the photographer behind the series of photos around the house. He asked me where I was from and a bit about my photography before he looked me in the eyes and put his hand on my shoulder. With total confidence he said to me, “You’re going to make millions of dollars from this photo of me and when you do, I want you to do only good things with it. I want you to build hospitals and use it to help other people. Can you promise me that?” I nodded my head yes. “You have my word”, I told him. He lead me to a little cave in the garden that had been dug deep into the rocky wall. “This is where I do most of my working”, he told me. He held up a cross that he had hand painted with a smiley face on the front and began working on it instinctively, adding to the detail and colour, smiling all the while. I asked him what his absolute favourite thing was about what he did.
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 “I just want to keep my door open.”
I couldn’t stop thanking him for providing this space. I know in my heart that it’s affected people in the exact way it affected me and the world certainly needs more people like Mau and Nia. Image
Before I walked away, he reminded me again what I was to do with my millions of dollars. I assured him he wouldn’t feel let down. With a full heart, I walked away and emptied out the last of my change into the donation box. Mau told me I was able to take a post card with an address written on the back so I could send him the photos. I was drawn right away to a photo of somebody’s expressive hands lit up by the sun in a dark church. I re-read the biography on Mau and realized that they were his hands in this photo. He was the subject in all the photos from the Chasing Our Shadows collection they had created together.
As we left the house feeling full of grace and new light, Mau called out to us and said,
“Keep open.” 
We walked up the next hill with confidence and new perspective.
In the spirit of giving and open spaces, I was recently touched to read about a new project happening in the arts community back home. Rachel Behling who is now starting up the Kaufman Arts Initiative has begun a campaign titled “Project Pilgrim.” The goal is to get our tri-city community, and beyond, walking and appreciating the beauty found right in their own backyard! Rachel is right, the Camino can be found anywhere. We’re all in need of a time to feel disconnected from the living world and take part in a meditative experience. There is so much beauty in this universe and most of us walk by it without taking the time to stop and reflect. Share your stories, mark your own way and dare to inspire! Our arts community will be sparked with passion and continue to grow the more we walk, explore and learn from each other! Take a minute or two to look at the website and read more about this amazing new step! I hope it ignites something in you.
Off I go from the geographical centre of the Camino and onto the end of the known world.

A Community Along the Way: A Camino Journey for Reasons I’m Still Discovering

In a fast pace universe amidst the rocks and trees of North Western Spain, I walk in a peaceful and untouched part of the world. I walk with a community that never fails to protect, guide and support me with every step taken. I walk with grace and an extra bounce during those golden hours and broken arches during those moments where it feels almost impossible to continue up that last hill. I hear the words of encouragement behind me,

 “we are strong, we are brave and we are healthy”
 It makes me feel grateful to hear it coming from new friends but most of all, it brings me to a grand realization. As I look out over the vineyards and rolling hills, I think to myself:
There is so much more in this world to appreciate than to complain about. 
 
To go through each and every person that has given me direction and wisdom on this journey would be near impossible. I knew going into this that everyone would have a story. I was sure that I would be walking alone but never really feel alone at all. All of these things proved to be true. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming sense of selflessness from each and every pilgrim I’ve encountered. Their generosity baffles me. There could be an injury or a hungry traveler and seven people would hand out bandaids and granola bars. It’s happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to everyone else too. We all look out for each other. It’s the people you start with that you tend to stick with through each albergue and trail but it always surprises me who seems to come out of the woodwork when you’ve been walking on the same path for days.
Our first day was known to be the worst and as stated in the hundreds of books about the Camino, it was the most strenuous of them all. This 27km day took us up and over the Pyrenees. It felt like 34km if you calculated the steep incline. The funniest part is, this wasn’t my hardest day. In fact, I’ve almost wished to be hiking over the Pyrenees again through a few days recently. I was more than ready to walk on that first day and take on everything it threw at me.
I arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port last Thursday and was exhausted by the time the bus stopped in the parking lot. The clan of us coming from Pamplona, backpacks and all huddled together and shuffled along trying to locate the pilgrim office as best as possible.  This town was absolutely adorable and looked like something pulled straight from a fairy tale. Upon arriving at the office I was greeted by a smiling blonde lady sitting on the other side of a table. The table and the lady looked exactly like what I had imagined I would start with which was comforting. I took a seat and my special pilgrim passport was handed over along with a map and some general rules to follow while walking. I could barely sit still and was already thinking of getting started. Of course, no walking would be done that night but even the words 27km, uphill and no food for miles didn’t discourage me from our start tomorrow. With that same grin, the stamp came down with a thump and marked my clean passport with a beautiful symbol saying I had begun. It was monumental almost. My first stamp of the many I would be collecting over a 500 mile journey to Santiago.
It was the beginning of September and later in the evening which meant most albergues were full with no space to sleep. Every trip to a new city seems to get to me emotionally. It takes over without warning and before I know it, I realize I’ve left behind a place I was just beginning to get comfortable with. Mix that with the start of a spiritual journey where I’m supposed to be finding myself and you’ve got yourself a breakdown. The words “I don’t think I have enough space” after hearing it plenty of times before had finally hit me. Poor Sabine. The tears came out of nowhere and it certainly wasn’t her fault but she seemed to look guilty. Taking me under her wing, this empathetic owner gave me a bed in a room for two after some rearranging.  Bless her heart. My first taste of the people to come. It had been a lot to take in after a long day of travel and just as I was contemplating hitting the hay far earlier than expected, a young girl came walking into my room to take the empty bed beside mine. Sarah was the very first person I met on the Camino. She made me feel safe right away and my tears dried as soon as we started talking. She’s from Denmark and studying medicine. Neither of us had the clearest idea of why we were walking this pilgrimage. We both agreed that the question would be better asked when we reached the end.
The two of us took a long walk through this cute little village to find a super market but learned that things close quite early in a town that size. Lucky for us, we settled in at a restaurant that sold Moules de Frites. After all, we would only be in France until we crossed the boarder the next day so this one French meal was crucial. It was delicious and I couldn’t thank Sarah enough for the honest conversation we shared over the night. It was just what I needed to bring back that excitement for the big day ahead!
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The mornings from then on each started around 5:30am. It’s impossible to sleep any later because everyone is raring to go bright and early. I was surprised at my ability to rise out of bed and feel incredibly rested and coherent! Imagine that. Mornings are now my favourite time of day. Who have I become?! It’s the goal of a new destination and determination that drives you to feel right as rain each and every days beginning. The thought of watching the sun rise over the hills always diminishes any unhappy feeling that the morning could bring. The air was cool and the sky dark as I took my very first steps in my trusty Keens. The golden sun rose quickly behind us and I stopped to look out over the scenery. It was even more breathtaking than I dreamed it to be. The rolling hills and farmers fields created a stunning landscape of colour and depth. We walked past fields of sheep, shepherds and majestic horses roaming about in the tall grass and planes. To this day we still pass by stunning views and it never gets tiring. It’s the one thing that can always keep us going without fail. A soft mist was flowing across the path and into the fields. You could see it travel along in a slow and mystical way. Some people were disappointed of the obstructed view because of it. I thought it was magical and different. It added such an amazing atmosphere. One of my stand out memories from this walk will be the sound of the sheep’s bells as they ding with each bite of grass. They echo through the trees and paired with the sound of our footsteps on the rocky path, nothing could be more simple. It’s a meditative sound that I know I’ll try with everything I have to bring back in my memory. Image
ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage We lucked out big time with the weather. There was a perfect early morning breeze blowing through the trees as we walked and it stayed late into the day. At one point I was bundled up in all the warm clothing I had brought because the temperature toward the top of the hill was freezing for an hour or two. Let’s be honest though, those were the things you needed to focus on while climbing up, up, up this steep mountain. I’m talking a solid 80 degree angle at times I’m sure. They didn’t lie about it being difficult but thankfully I had enough new energy to last me the entire day.
Image It became obvious very quickly that I would always be able to find conversation and company. Moments alone are very important on a walk like this but it’s amazing how accessible a new connection can be on the Camino. I ran into couples, solo travellers, someone who grew up in Kitchener, mother and daughter duos and people well beyond my years passing me with big strides. Just because I’m young doesn’t mean the 60 year olds don’t wiz by me from time to time! We all come from very different parts of the world yet we’ve created this diverse and beautiful community as time has gone on. Each passing pilgrim greets you with a hello in their native language and a happy “bon Camino” or “buen Camino” as they bid you farewell. What’s even more beautiful is the buen Camino’s that come from the locals. People who aren’t even walking this trail themselves provide support and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something that is so deeply appreciated and important.
I was worried about getting lost but the trail is clearly marked with the scallop shell and those darn yellow arrows that tend to hide when you need them the most. Some towns even have shells on plaques in the ground or on the fence creating a guide to the next fork in the road. It’s such a supported adventure in these communities because in a way, we are such a huge supporter of them and their local businesses. Image
 Sarah had long gone after about an hour of walking which was something I needed to get used to. The trick to getting as far as I’ve traveled is this: Go at your own pace. Know that this is not a race. Everyone you meet will come back into your Camino experience on their own time, it’s a given. Don’t worry about losing anyone, they’ll find their way to you. She mentioned something I had never thought of before I left. Can your mind even go for that long alone? How much could you possibly think about without human interaction for miles? The answer is a lot. More than you know. It’s been a challenge to turn it off at times and just think of nothing for a few minutes. It opens your mind to a whole bunch of new ideas and thoughts when you walk alone. You become entranced by the sound of your steps and develop such a rhythm that by the time you reach the next town, you think only minutes have past. Time is not a concept we have here. I don’t have any reason to know the date, month or time of day on this trek. It’s a very simple life we all lead and it will take a great amount of getting used to when I enter the big city again. Image
Freshly picked blueberries from my day! Amazing!  
About three days in, an amazing group of five was formed. I met Kate and Michael on the second day and wanted to get to know them right away because of how interesting they both seemed to me. Kate is from New Zealand and Michael is from England. The two of them met in Greece at a dive shop and decided to do this hike together after just barely knowing each other. She is such a character and booming with personality. Michael is calm and happy which makes me feel the same when I’m with him. Gustavo is from Brazil and is such a generous and kind soul. Someone you just feel happy being around. Jale joined us on day four and is a definite soul sister. “Jolly. As in happy”, she told me. She lived up to her name. Jale was told by four different pilgrims that the two of us needed to meet because I was bound to be a perfect version of her younger self. The second we started talking I could already see our similarities. We shared an energy and a zest for life that clicked perfectly on every gruelling hill and long conversation into the hot sun. I’m fascinated by every single one of these people. Each of us brings something vital to the group and together our dynamic is the perfect blend to travel on such a walk. We know when alone time is needed. We respect the fact that sometimes we get separated but will always meet for a beer in the next town. It’s all smiles and laughs because what could we possibly be upset about? Every night we gather around for a pilgrim dinner. Each town offers a special that is normally three courses and no more than 11 Euros at most. The group of us and occasionally other pilgrim friends join and we drink red wine and enjoy a celebration toast for our days accomplishments. It’s become one of my favourite parts of each evening. I love sitting down with my temporary family and feeling completely happy and blessed that we’ve all crossed paths and can continue to travel on them together.Image
 The life changing moments that are such an outlined part of this experience happen slowly and carefully. You don’t notice them right away. It’s only when I’m writing down my thoughts or thinking back to the days events that I see the change in my mindset. It’s those moments when my brain goes wild walking alone that I can hear myself growing even more. When you walk up a hill titled “The Peak of Forgiveness”, it gives you a lot to think about. More than you expect pours out of you and traveling that length solo was cathartic release at its best. I’ve liked that although I’m traveling with a group of younger people, there are a lot of older adults on this trail that seem to have such a grand sense of wisdom about them. It’s those conversations that start with, “if I could go back and do it all again I would…” that I cherish the most and take to heart with all that I have. It’s amazing how much I’ve been directed with the way I want to approach my future career, my views on love and life and greeting the day. In areas where I didn’t think it was necessary to look, my mind would go and people would help me get there. It’s been refreshing to get all this advice from people who have been where I am and genuinely want to help guide me. Some of them have a very specific reason for walking and others tell me that’s what they’re looking for. I look forward to seeing them all every night. You begin to specify each person by their country and everyone looks out of place and different without a backpack on. Those things become a part of you. I loved photographing just a portion of who I’ve met so far because while clicking away, I got to know them on the level I love most. It was my goal to capture what it was about each person that made them unique to me which is so important when you’re meeting loads upon loads of them per day. Meet my pilgrim family! Image
ImageImageDSC_0080  Someone that stood out very brightly was a lady named Michele, her brother Michael and niece Brittany. Michele is a contemporary artist, photography being a strand of her work. When I saw she was carrying a video camera, I was curious about her project. Brittany is twenty three years old and autistic. She is non-verbal and is traveling this pilgrimage with her father and then later assistant while Michele creates a documentary every step of the way. Faith, Hope and Love, Brittany. This film will be used to raise awareness about Autism, give hope for Autism and focus on faith and breaking barriers. I was touched by this brilliant family and the realness that flooded out of their steps and spirit. They inspired me. Brittany inspired me and I am very excited to be a part of their journey. It has been a joy to get to know them all and I’m praying that our paths will cross for a longer period of time so I can continue to learn about their incredible story. Please follow along and support Brittany at http://www.faithhopelovebrittany.com 
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 See, it’s people like that who you meet. Those who inspire. It’s the little things that you cherish and hope you will never take for granted again. A fellow Canadian made me a walking stick that has become a part of me. I was given half a sandwich by Carol when I didn’t pack enough food. A lady studying Chinese medicine sat me down on the side of the path and worked out the kinks in my back. Taking my shoes off is euphoric. I can’t even begin to describe the sense of love I feel. It surrounds me, engulfs me even and to think this will be reality until the end of the month. I never want to let go. DSC_9903
Standing on top of The Peak of Forgiveness 
Nothing worth doing doesn’t come with a bit of struggle here and there. To make up for the lack of blisters I’ve received, I sprained the same ankle twice yesterday. I could hear the crack as I rolled over it while stepping into a nice pothole in town. We have a priest traveling in our pack. He’s very silent about it and is always smiling more than anyone I’ve seen. I heard he had been doing a few hand healings on injuries lately but I didn’t expect he would approach me. After one of “those days”, hot and endless, he saw me struggling and approached me to introduce himself. With little said he sat me down and placed his hand on my ankle where it hurt the most. I could feel him breathe in deeply and a current rushed through my foot. It was very distinct, I could feel it clearly. It was as if he was sucking the negative energy out and replacing it with what is pure and positive. It was over within seconds and he walked away smiling peacefully. You don’t need to believe me when I say I could move my ankle perfectly afterward. It was as if it had never been sprained in the first place. Call it what you will but all I know is that I walked perfectly today as if nothing had happened. A true Camino moment.
We’ve travelled close to 200km now and still have many more days to go. There are many ups and there have been several downs but with a bit of singing and solid company, each day is exciting and challenging. I wake up wanting to walk every morning.
Santiago de Compostela isn’t technically the end of our route. A lot of us are planning to head to what is known as the end of the world. Finisterre. It’s three more days of walking added onto the original path and takes you to the sea. There, you burn your walking clothes, take a dive into the sea and your journey is complete.It’s all or nothing!
One step at a time we’re all walk to the same place together.