First Days on the Camino de Santiago


May 17, 2012

I write from Zubiri.  The past three days have been up and down.  The scramble of last minute packing, the excitement of heading to the airport for an adventure, the sadness of wishing Colin goodbye, the fun of reuniting with Aimee to take flight for Spain.  When my meticulously put together pack didn’t make the flight from Barcelona to San Sebastian, I took it as a sign that I was not meant to be carrying the bag.  After three flights, I embraced the four bus rides that awaited us as a chance to enjoy the quiet of the Spanish countryside.  On the hour+ bus journey from Pamplona to Roncevalles, I had a hard time believing that our feet would carry us back this same distance in just two days time.

But here I am in Zubiri – on my way.

Today’s walk was filled with unexpected twists. Being roused from our beds at 6am with a song and bright lights alongside 100+ pilgrims who shared the same room.  Finding decaffeinated coffee at breakfast (score!).  Finding myself limping with joint pain in my right hip flexer.   Feeling rejuvenated while lying on my back in a small village with stray dogs loitering nearby. Aimee, medical student and good friend extraordinaire, was walking me through a deep breathing exercise to help get me back up and running. (Or at least walking!) Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. And let it out.

As I lay there with a tennis ball positioned underneath me to relieve pressure points, I started to notice a theme already shaping my journey. Letting all the air out.  I’d packed (and repacked) with compression sacks.  I squeezed the bubble of air that created unnecessary bulk in my camelback water carrier.  But it wasn’t, I realized, just about objects.  I too was breathing out, exhaling the thoughts and routines that had filled all the free spaces in my mind’s eye.  What comes back in is expansive and full of possibility. It’s a lovely feeling.

 I invite all of you to inhale deeply – and now decompress.


Oh those first days on the Camino. What excitement I felt about finally leaving for Spain, eating tapas in San Sebastian upon landing, and then arriving in Roncevalles to begin our official Camino journey. Many Pilgrims begin the classic Camino Francés route (“the French Way”)  just across the border in the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The path from there to Roncevalles is a famously brutal day through the Pyrenees marked by steep inclines, rough terrain, and unpredictable changes in the weather. Knowing that I would be 6 months pregnant at the time, Aimee and I smartly agreed ahead of time to skip this stage of the journey. Although it was a great decision for us, it meant that many of the people we met that evening had been on the Camino already for a day or more. Not long in the grand scheme of things, but it did mean that we were just getting our jet-lagged bearings and they were already settling in.

I seem so cool, calm and collected in this journal entry about losing my pack. But I can remember finally arriving in Roncevalles and feeling concerned about what we would do if I couldn’t find it. Would we stay another night? If we did we’d have to pay for a hotel because the albergues (Spanish hostels) have a strict 1 night only policy. The idea of not beginning as planned seemed stressful. As did going to bed in the same clothes I’d been wearing since leaving Washington, DC as seeming million years ago. Fortunately, my pack did make it’s way to our small corner of the world late that evening, just ahead of curfew at our albergue. (If you aren’t in by curfew, you will be locked out. No excuses.)

Aimee and I scrambled inside to our beds (there really were like a 100+ bunk beds all in one room) and began pulling stuff out of our packs to find our pajamas and toothbrushes. Which of course were hidden towards the bottom of our packs. When we had emptied about half the contents of our packs onto our respective bunk beds, the lights in this giant room went out and the whole place immediately fell silent. Every move we clumsily made seemed to reverberate throughout the place. A kind pilgrim lent us her flashlight so we could find our own headlamps and then creep as quietly as we could into the basement to take a shower before collapsing into our sleeping bags. After all those flights, bus rides, and general we are doing this! excitement, we were exhausted. The next morning we woke with a shock when a loud CD with some kind of musical chants echoed through the room in the seeming dead of night telling us it was time to get up.

We hadn’t even walked a kilometer of the official Camino, but she was already starting to teach us some good lessons. Like how we could plan as much as we wanted, but that didn’t mean things would follow accordingly. How we needed to let go and let flow.

In a sleep-deprived haze, we slowly got dressed, got my pack dropped off to be transported to our destination, and then hit the road. We walked just a short way to another town where I blissfully drank my decaffeinated coffee and ate a small breakfast. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how beautiful that specific stretch of landscape was. The opening path was a brown dirt road shaded on both sides by towering trees. The earth was lush with Spring and we were on our way.


My Pregnant Pilgrimage is a blog series that I’m sharing in the Spring of 2017 during my present-day maternity leave. The arrival of my third little seemed a fitting time to return to these journal reflections from those last months of my life pre-parenthood. Learn more about this series here.