Well, I Just Booked a Ticket to Portugal

Camino photo from 2017 after a stupidly hot day.

Eleven years ago, I laid on my back across a bus seat on my way into Santiago de Compostela for the first time. As many of you know, I took a course about the Camino in college and spent three weeks flitting around Spain from the comfort of a coach bus with about 15 of my classmates. I was worn out by this part of the trip — tired of bus travel and shared hotel rooms, tired of guided tours and taking notes, and simply tired of being away from the familiar. I was 21 and not a very good traveler.

Things felt different as we headed toward Santiago. I decided to give in to the trip, to stop griping about my discomfort and exhaustion. I switched on some Simon and Garfunkel and laid upside down across the seat so I could watch the clouds go by. I distinctly remember feeling an unexplainable anticipation about finally seeing the end of the pilgrimage we’d been studying for the past six months, but it wasn’t for the historical sites or even for the people arriving at the end of their journey. I’m still not sure what it was. I had this West Side Story-esque feeling in my bones that I was about to meet someone or something important.

I walked 500 miles from France to Santiago a year later without fully understanding the spell the city had placed on me. Eight years later, I did it again. I still can’t really tell you why, but I do honestly believe that the roads leading up the city have a power to them. After thousands of years and millions of travelers walking to the coast or to the city, how could it not?

I booked my flight for my third Camino today. The airline tickets set it all in stone for some reason, even though I made the real decision months ago. I’m going by myself for the first time. This trip will be both shorter — and cheaper — on purpose.

For full transparency, and for those thinking of doing the same, here’s the rundown of my upcoming Camino Portugues from Porto:

  • I’ll be gone from September 29-October 16. This include 12 walking days — many of which quite short — and several buffer days on either end. The walk can easily be done in 10.
  • Porto to Santiago on the Central Route (the route I’m choosing), is about 240 kilometers. You can start in Lisbon to do the “whole” walk, though many like me start in Porto when they need to shorten the trip.
  • The roundtrip flight to Porto cost $497. When I get to Santiago, I’ll take a (very disorienting) bus ride back down to Porto for about $50
  • I aim to stay simple and frugal on this trip, and am budgeting between 20 and 25 euros a day for food and lodging (pilgrims stay in donation-based or low-cost hostels)
  • I’ll walk anywhere between 12 and 30 kilometers a day. I’ve built in very short days when there are high elevations to climb or descend for the sake of my bad knee.
  • I’m going to take my time more than I did on the first two trips.
  • I’m going to sit too long at second-breakfast and stay out too late with a glass of port.
  • I’m going to pet all the Camino cats and moo at all the Camino cows.

And lastly, the book. I’ve been writing a book about how the Camino worked itself into my life for years now. I’ve never found a groove or a large piece of work that really sums up the experience. I have a new approach, however, one that must be written in the moments leading up the Camino and over this year’s and the one Ben and I have planned next summer. Not gonna talk about the format until I’m ready, but for once, it feels right.

When I get back, Ben and I will throw a party in our new apartment. I will make patatas bravas and paella and make you try orujo gallego. I will hobble over to you and give you a hug and make you look at my uneven sunburn from walking north for 2 weeks.

It’s been a hard week, both in the country and for me personally. The camino always brings me back. Thank you for reading and all the loving enthusiasm for this bizarre hobby of mine.

Much love. Have a great weekend, all.

 

Master of Two Worlds

Muscle memory can sneak up on you. It’s been raining off and on all morning, so I headed out to my usual coffee shop with our big umbrella, tapping it on the ground as I walked. Halfway through my trip, I caught myself hitting the umbrella on the grass beside the sidewalk instead of the concrete.

This is a Camino habit of mine. On my second trip, I walked with a wooden hiking stick that I bought in the town before crossing the Pyrenees. After several weeks of “thwack, thwack, thwack” for six hours a day, I started naturally moving the metal spike at the bottom of the pole to anything other than the hard trail. If I didn’t have that option, I lifted it off the ground behind me.

I love when these little signs of my alternate self pop up at home. I know that my personality and priorities significantly changed after both trips, but seeing these hints of my other persona are somehow just as comforting. I miss that “me.” As much as I tried to bring her back from Spain, there’s only so much you can hold onto when you return to normal life.

There is no question the Camino shaped my writing career. Even without a finished manuscript, attempting to write something developed into the full-time work I now do every day. My Camino self is kept alive through my writing, which is both a blessing and a curse.

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It’s More Fun to Believe in the Magic of Coincidence

 

I’ve decided to make peace with living in emotional technicolor. Hear me out. I know that sounds like a bad hipster band name. But I’ve had a lot of coffee, so I’m rolling with it.

Several months after my second Camino, I started having these wildly vivid dreams. The dreams themselves are pretty trippy. They usually involve me walking down a weird road and meeting Dr. Seuss-like creatures. I once called Ben on a bird that turned into a phone. In another reoccurring dream, I reach the top of a hill and sit in a circle with a group of “old friends” that ask me how I’m doing and tell me to come visit more often. All these dreams are incredibly vibrant. They’re in a color that I’ve never seen in real life. Everything kind of glows. Whenever I have them, I feel peaceful for the rest of the day.

It turns out I’m not alone in having these post-Camino dreams. Someone posted a question on my Camino Facebook forum several months ago asking if anyone else had experienced this. Is it something that comes along with extreme exercise? (I really think a psychologist needs to jump on this study.)

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A Quick Rant About Socks and Toxic Masculinity

I stopped off at a gift shop on my way home this afternoon to look at something small for Ben. We don’t really make a huge deal out of Valentine’s Day, but I thought I’d grab a card or something else silly.

There’s a company that makes these comedic socks — something Ben often wears with fancy suits. The women’s sized socks all said things like “I’m a girl, what’s your super power?” and “Busy making a F***ing Difference” (the one I wanted for Ben). Yay female empowerment and comedy! All good there.

The MEN’S sized socks, however, all said stuff like “Adult in training” and “Selective Hearing Specialist” and “Olympic Sleeper.”

I literally do not have one close male friend or family member that falls into the stereotype of “lazy man who doesn’t care about anything but cooking meat and playing video games.” Of course I know those people exist. But why again are we encouraging this? Can we add “expecting nothing but the bare minimum from the male race” to the list of toxic BS?

Yes, they’re just socks and I need to pick my battles, but hear me out.

About a year ago, Ben and I were sitting at a small local distillery when we started chatting with a very corporate-looking dude at a bachelor party. We somehow got on the topic of travel and the guy said, “I’ve always want to go there, but my wife doesn’t let me do anything.”

…..I cannot stand this mindset. Not only does it say, “I’m incapable of making an educated decision by myself because it would require effort,” but also, “I haven’t taken the time to think about why my wife might be making that request.” Most importantly, it is lazy and resentful toward your partner. Regardless of gender, no one should be light-heartedly declaring that they are overly controlled by their partner to strangers.

So much to his surprise, I took him seriously. “Why not?” I said with a worried face. “Like anything? Does she know you’re here?” He was a deer in the headlights. Conversing with his wife about the subject hadn’t crossed his mind. Complaining about his wife controlling him was all he saw as an answer.

I hear this stuff constantly and the fact that it’s everywhere, even silly socks, is lazy. Stop it.

 

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Why I Walk

Pilgrim X is a nickname Claire and I gave a muscle-bound, chain-smoking hiker that we met on our Camino in 2009. She walked quickly, rarely stopped for lunch, and trekked ahead of the group with an angry, fevered gait of someone being chased.

The last time we crossed her path, our current Camino family had gathered around an outdoor patio, walking back and forth throughout the night to the local bodega for refills on homemade wine.

Stories fueled by the beauty of the night came pouring out, the impending “gates-lock-at-10pm” hour still a few hours away. In a small town like Azofra, there isn’t much to do after 6 hours of hiking but eat, drink and exchange stories. Continue reading

My First Full Year of Freelancing

This is more of a practical post for a change. I’ve had a few people reach out to see how freelance writing was going, so I’ve written a a rundown of my experience in the first full year.

Also, if you’re one of the many people who found this blog over the holiday season by Googling “Barbie Dream House” because of my old post from 2017, welcome! I hope you found the gift you were looking for.

Whenever I head into the holiday party season, I try to think of a succinct way to sum up the past 12 months of my life. This way, I can quickly answer the “so, how you’ve been?” small-talk question that often makes me freeze up, forget my name, and make the other person wonder what they possibly said to deserve the look I’m giving them. I had a particularly hard time figuring out what to say this year. The past 12 months have been a strange blur. We moved apartments, we saved our sick cat, I broke my toe. I dealt with one of my longest and darkest dips of depression I’ve dealt with in a while–hence the lack of blog posts. Honestly, it was a really weird, hard year, and I’m incredibly relieved to head into a new calendar with new exciting projects ahead.

Despite all the garbage, one reason the year was such a hot mess is that I was finding my footing in a freelancing life. And you know? I think I may have temporarily found it. I’ve had a few people contact me about how to become a freelance writer, and up until now, I’ve really just wanted to yell, “RUN! DON’T DO IT! IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK!” But I can chat with a clear head now. So I’ve been meaning to put everything I’ve learned in a post, just in case it helps anyone move in the same direction.

Here are the common questions I get about being a freelance writer:

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A Note on Belonging

I had a pretty difficult time returning from both of my Caminos. The noise of American televisions, the lack of connection with people in your neighborhood as you walk down the street, the speed of everyday life. The biggest shock driving home from the airport was the rigid geometry of the streets in our suburban town. Everything was a square: the yards, the houses, the intersections.

My left brain, which found some sweet rest while hiking across Spain, grumbled out of hibernation as I tried to adapt back to a regular, monotonous town and schedule. The sound of English was jarring–I missed being forced to find the overlaps in our shared languages to interact.

On the other hand, the Camino opened a social doorway for me. On at least five or six occasions, I’ve had the chance to sit down with other Camino pilgrims and long-distance hikers right after they’ve returned from their own trips. No matter what we talk about, I always ask them the same question: how have you been adjusting to coming home?

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The Stories We Don’t Tell

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Photo by Adam Marcucci on Unsplash

When I was a teenager, my mom and I used to sit on the front porch as she’d tell me–usually with a touch of our family’s famous dark sense of humor–about her many brushes with danger. There was the time, while living in late-1970’s NYC, that a man followed her off the subway. When realizing she was alone and in danger, she began singing show tunes at the top of her lungs and acting so insane that she got him to back off. At least that’s the story I remember. I always keep that tactic in my back pocket.

Then there’s the date that went wrong. It all seemed fine until he pulled the car over and asked if she was interested in seeing his Vietnam knife collection that he kept under the seat. She rapidly talked her way out of that one–talked so fast and about so many things that he didn’t know what to do. And then he took her home.

The stories go on an on, each with a shared laugh (an empowering laugh) between she and I, along with a new lesson that I stored in my brain in case I someday find myself in the same position. On top of these, were all the stories of the 1980’s theatre world and grad school culture, directors being so terrifying with women that my parents later discouraged me from applying to certain BFA programs–where those men now worked.

In the 90s, my family went through several years of hell related to sexual assault. As it is not yet my story to tell, I will choose to remain vague. But I remember having a particularly dark thought at the start of it all while watching a NJ Lottery commercial. “Oh I get it, just the way you can win the good lottery, you can also win the bad one.” I was eight. For years, I became overly aware that I could win the shitty lottery at any time if I wasn’t prepared. I decided, wrongfully, that it was all in my hands, that I could handle these situations if I “trusted my gut” or knew how to talk myself out of it. If I didn’t buy a lottery ticket, maybe I couldn’t win.

Society, as luck would have it, backed up this idea. Don’t walk home late at night, always diffuse the situation with a smile, be careful what you wear. It’s in your hands. In 7th grade, they split up the boys and girls for a sex-ed talk. I learned a few self-defense moves while the boys in the next room, a friend told me, learned about contraception. Perhaps he lied. Either way, the message stuck.

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The Light at the End of an Obstacle-Filled, Obnoxiously Long Tunnel

Whenever my stress hangs around for long enough, I start having Plainfield nightmares. Plainfield is the town where I grew up until I was 11. It was less than safe and far from pleasant. Last night I dreamt that that there were people outside the house, people I couldn’t see–I usually can’t–banging on the doors and windows trying to get in. I try to lock the doors, but somehow I know I’ve forgotten one lock at the other side of the house and spend the dream sprinting from place to place, trying to lock them all in time. In last night’s dream, a giant wind whipped through the house, keeping me from closing everything without the wind blowing them back open.

My last blog post was mid-Camino writing. As always, an unforeseen rhythmic change in life derailed my usual patterns of writing and habits of self-care. I took a month-long job in an office with a three-hour round-trip commute, Ben and I moved apartments (which was far from drama-free), and I’ve hit one of the longest freelance dry spells I’ve had since this all started.

Also, I broke my toe on Sunday. There’s nothing like hobbling slowly through Manhattan during rush hour when everything looks like a possible toe-smashing device. A bunch of Amtrak-bound girls donned in bachelorette gear came at me with rolling suitcases last night in Penn Station and I almost balled up into the fetal position.

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Viana to Burgos: 6 days of hiking and a glimpse into my journal

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Been a bit of a crazy week over here, and unfortunately, that means my Camino writing has been swept aside in the busyness of it all. But it’s still on my mind, and I still want to share. The details may just have to wait until I really get things sorted out with what this Camino’s story really is–if it has one. Until then, on we go.

As much as I’d hate to jump over some beautiful stories, I can’t dive too deeply into six days of hiking without writing for the next three hours. So instead, I will give you a glimpse into a portion of my journal where I wrote single words or phrases about each day so I’d remember the gist of what went down for later writing. I’ll explain some things and leave room for your imagination to do the rest…

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