#BeautifulLife Interview: Walking the Camino

Welcome to my first #BeautifulLife interview!

This blog post is {hopefully!} the first of many blog posts featuring conversations with fascinating people. People who are out there, doing and experiencing things that I totally want to do one day. After all, interviewing people who are living a beautiful life inspires ME to keep working on my own ever-growing-and-ever-changing life lists! When I started this project, I kept calling these interviews my #bucketlist interviews, but then {after a conversation with my sister, of course} I realized I can’t STAND the name “bucket list.” I’m not some old humbug who has realized I need to do things before I kick the bucket, after all. My life is {in my humble opinion} a smashingly terrific and beautiful life. Yes, I have long lists with dozens of possible adventures scrawled all over them. But I think the key difference between my lists and a traditional bucket list is how absolute a bucket list sounds – “I HAVE to do this before I die, or else my life will have been worthless.” My life is already awesome. So my lists are less about doing something by a certain timeline and more about constantly being out there, experiencing things, and always staying open to change and growth.

Without further ado, let me introduce a girl I’ve gotten to know and love over the past year, my dear friend, Theresa, who walked the Camino this summer. Not sure what the Camino is? Keep reading!

Walking the Camino

buy viagra soft online Me: Hi Theresa! Tell us a little bit about yourself:

Theresa: I’m passionate and intense! I was a rugby player in college, if that gives you any insight into my personality type. My friends always describe me as being very intense, although at first glance you might not notice it. I put my whole self into everything I do, though: my faith, my teaching (I’m a third grade, Catholic school teacher), my relationship with friends…and being out of the country for 49 days straight. I grew up in a family with four brothers and one sister and we’re all born within eight and a half years…which you could say is also a little intense! I’m the third born and I absolutely love my family and my birth order. During one point of our trip, we discussed birth order for two days, leaving everyone convinced that their own position is the best, with everyone else’s subpar. Funny enough, I just realized I was the oldest person on this trip. I definitely didn’t take on a huge amount of responsibility, though!

Me: What is the Camino? generic Deltasone uk

Theresa: The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage in Spain to the shrine of the apostle, St James the Great, in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is in the Northwestern part of Spain. During the Middle Ages, this was known as one of the most important Christian pilgrimages in Europe (with Rome and Jerusalem being the other top two favorites). Traditionally, you start in St. Jean, France and the first day includes hiking across France into Spain. So this is how we did it.

Me: How did you hear about the Camino?

Theresa: A few years ago I was in ACE, which is the Alliance for Catholic Education. It’s like Teach For America, except Catholic. I was placed in Brownsville, Texas (which is the very tip of Texas) and a number of my housemates had ended up going on the Camino, so I kept hearing about it through them. The first time I heard about it, I thought it sounded really cool, but it didn’t hit me as something that I’d do. Then I kept hearing more about it and realized so many people did it or planned to do it. It wasn’t until I moved to Chicago, however, and joined an ACE advocate team, that someone else in my group mentioned it. For the first time I realized that this summer was the first summer of my life that was totally mine. In college, you have the pressure to work internships or do something for your major or to further your career, you know? The first two summers after I graduated I was taking courses for my Master’s degree and my third summer was spent working for ACE again. So this was the first summer in my life that I could choose what I wanted to do – no pressure. I decided I was going to do this.

Me: Who were your traveling companions?

Theresa: I was going to go on my own, but then my brother, Mike, decided to go, too. He had just graduated with his Masters in Accounting and since his job was only starting in late October, traveling in the summer seemed too perfect of an opportunity to give up. After Mike decided to come, my other brother Daniel (who had also just graduated with an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering, with a job starting at the end of August) realized he wanted to go. Then my other brother, Patrick, (who had just started his first year of college) decided he wanted to come, too! It escalated quickly from there: Glenna, a cousin who is the same age as me, had her first summer off from med school and her last official summer off; her sister, Megan, who had just graduated with a degree in fashion design; my best friend from college, Rosie, who had just completed two years in Mexico and Guatemala and had the summer off before Yale for nursing and theology; her sister, Anne, joined us from Ireland, where she works in a homeless shelter; and the final addition to our crowd was Joe, a university student. We ran into him at the beginning of our trip and he joined us for thirty-two days.

Walking the Camino

Me: Okay, so we’ve got four siblings, two cousins, two friends, and a random stranger that became a friend! Tell me about this crowd as a whole.

Theresa: We liked to joke around a lot and compare ourselves to the Fellowship of Ring, since there were nine of us and we all fit perfectly into the different personalities of the original fellowship.

Me: WAIT! So were you Frodo?!!!

Theresa: (laughing) Yes. We decided that since I had the guide book, that was like having the one ring to rule them all. My brother, Michael, was Gandalf, since the trip started and ended with us. People joined us and left us throughout the trip, but we started and finished together. He also had a staff and a cape and a hat that he wore. And he was the one who would crack the whip!

Me:  He wore a cape??

Theresa: It was one of those capes that was meant for hiking. Like a raincoat, you know? It has extra material in the back that covers your backpack. He looked a little like a hunchback. Joe, who was studying the modern practices of Catholicism at his university, was the perfect Gimli. He was a short. He was a redhead. And he ate a ton! While we liked to compare ourselves to the Fellowship, people on the trail actually referred to us as the Crazy American Team- but in a good way!

Me: Why’s that?

Theresa: Because my brother, Patrick, decided to run the Camino. The Camino is versatile in that way: you can walk it, run it, bike it, or even ride a horse! Patrick was trying to get on his university’s cross country team, though, so to train for that, every day he would run a 20k and then come back to where we were and walk the rest of the day with us. Our routine was to wake up every morning and do a morning prayer together, rotating with who was leading. Then we’d walk a few minutes in silence so that everyone could meditate on their prayers and then after that Pat would start his run. He would run to the destination, then turn around and come back to us. People thought was was crazy! He was known as the little scout. He would relay messages between people who were traveling, he would tell us what was coming. If we were assigning Lord of the Rings characters, Patrick was Legolas. We only met one other runner during our trip, from Germany, and Pat was way better than her. She would pay someone to take her luggage while she ran, but Pat would run and then come back and carry his luggage. We did a family Hunger Games elimination – you know, joking about who would get eliminated every day? I fell out when I got food poisoning and couldn’t eat for three days! Of course, Patrick ended up winning.

Me: So this was your core group? But did you ever hike with anyone else?

Theresa: As we went along, we ended up picking up more people. They’d travel with us for a couple days at a time. Two Irish girls kept in touch with us during the entire trip and when we all finished, they took us to Ireland and showed us around. We also met a family from France: a mom, dad, and two daughters who were nine and twelve. The parents had taken a five month break from their jobs to do the Camino by donkey. Their two donkeys would carry their luggage, that is. The mom was absolutely fascinating! She and I talk a lot about education and her plans for her childrens’ education. One girl we met was taking a break from training to be a shoe maker. Another group included construction workers, artists, and teachers. We met this really nice, old, German man who was seventy-one years old and couldn’t speak a word of English, but would pantomime and draw things in the dirt. I was so impressed by his age and the fact that he had walked all the way from Germany! A pair of Swiss boys we met had walked the whole way as well, starting months ago.

Me: What type of people walk the Camino?

Theresa: I’m amazed at how many people we met from South Africa! But people really come from everywhere. Europeans, for the most part, seem to walk the Camino for the purpose of adventure. Americans, on the other hand, seem to do it exclusively for religious reasons. Of course for Europeans, it’s right in their backyard, so it’s like a rite of passage for them. They do it on their own during university breaks, knowing they’ll meet interesting people the entire way and form loose groups. Americans, however, have more of a vested interest, seeing as they have to spend at least $1400 to travel to Europe in order to walk it.

Walking the Camino

Me: What did you originally think you would get out of this trip?

Theresa: When you start the Camino in the French way – with your first stop being in Roncesvalles – your first night is spent at this massive dorm and you’re given a survey to fill out that asks all sorts of questions, including why you’re walking the Camino. I checked off “religious,” since I was hoping it would be a time of spiritual experience. My brother, Patrick, checked off religious, then scratched that out and wrote “spiritual,” then finally scratched that out and wrote “social/other,” since he was really doing it to spend quality time with all of us siblings. By the end of the trip, however, he had decided he wanted to get a minor in theology, even though he’s studying to be an engineer! I anticipated spiritual growth throughout the trip and while that happened, it didn’t necessarily happen how I thought it would happen. Before walking the Camino, we began our trip in Lourdes. This was particularly special for me, since St. Bernadette is my confirmation saint. We went into the baths and there were separate baths for men and women, but my favorite part was spending hours in the basilica and studying the beautiful mosaics, which depicted the mysteries of the rosaries. Starting our trip in Lourdes put us all into that special meditative state of mind. We didn’t just walk the Camino. We prayed every single day. We had morning prayers. We had noon prayers. Later, we’d pray the rosary and then everyone would sort of scatter along the trail and walk in smaller groups, chitchatting or whatever. But at night, we’d all pray together again and go to mass. There was always mass being said at night. It didn’t matter what language or where it was held – whatever priest we ran into that day (and we were always running into priests!) would say the mass. It was amazing. During the day, we’d often take scenic detours from the main path of the Camino. Because of this, sometimes we wouldn’t see other people all day long. But then we’d get to see all sorts of people at night. During the day we’d often walk past three or four churches in one day and we’d always stop in.

Me: Three or four churches in one day? That many?

Theresa: Spain has SO many tiny towns – especially rural Spain! Each town might not have stores – they might just have bread and meat trucks stopping by. But even if they didn’t have anything else, they’d have a tiny church. It was so nice to be able to stop in the town and pray!

Me: Where did you sleep at nights?

Theresa: Every night we stayed in a different place. Monasteries, upper rooms of churches, convents, albergues (which translates to hostel). The only people who can stay in the albergues are pilgrims walking the Camino.

Walking the Camino

Me: How do you prove you’re a pilgrim?

Theresa: You have a shell hanging from your backpack. Traditionally, pilgrimes would pick up a shell at the end of the Camino, where there’s a beach. Nowadays, though, they just have the shells at all the stops and you get it and attach it to your backpack. You also have a “passport” that you have to get stamped at each stop and they date it. At the end of the Camino, you show your credentials at the last stop and they give you a certificate of completion. There are private and municipal hostels – the municipal ones are the cheapest, but they might have ninty bunks and one hot plate. We were very dirty throughout the trip. One hostel was known for having bedbugs, so in the next town over you weren’t allowed to sleep in the hostel until you opened your sleeping bags and they checked you for bedbugs.

Me: So I assume you passed?

Theresa: They let me and my cousins in, but made my brothers sleep in a field! The hostels usually cost five euros a night. Some of the churches were free, others just asked for a donation. Those were really nice because they’d have a community meal and everyone would pitch in and help make a dish and then you’d pass around food and wine and soup with all the other pilgrims. Later that night, you’d all go to mass together. When there wasn’t a community meal, my family did a great job of splitting up into cooking crews and we’d always ask anyone else at the stop to eat and drink with us. We carried a soccer ball, too, so at one stop it was us and thirty Spanish children. They beat us at soccer. And we were trying!

Me: So what did you end up getting out of this trip?

Theresa: I was very happy to have a lot of time and opportunity for spiritual growth. Going to Lourdes, praying throughout the Camino, and spending a lot of time in prayer and reflection in Fatima was incredible. On another note, I also treasured being able to spend 49 days straight with the people that matter most to me. I’ll never have that again! It was the only summer it could have worked out for all of us. Especially now that Daniel has moved to LA and will start his job. Sleeping next to each other, walking next to each other, doing our laundry in outdoor wash basins together, cooking together…oh, the wonders of a hot plate or a microwave!

Walking the Camino

 

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