Buen Camino - A Pilgrim's Journey


Insights and images from 
my 500 mile walk across Spain in the fall of 2011.







(I did not keep a blog, online journal or Facebook page while I walked across Spain, only a handwritten journal.  The thoughts I share here come from this journal and subsequent journals I wrote in once I returned home.)












Though not a religious pilgrimage for me, it was very much a spiritual one.  The spirit of the land, of pilgrims before me, of those who tilled the fields and worked the soil, who built the cathedrals and the roads - Spirit was abundant all along The Way.







Over a year later, lessons continue to reveal themselves, lessons I learned on and off the trail.  One of the magical things about the Camino is its ability to continue to resonate deep within your soul, even when you physically step off the path.  In fact, for me, some of the larger lessons became the most clear once I returned home.



 December 2012 - Musings on a Post-Camino Year

Wow, I've accomplished so many of my goals for this year.  I left part-time jobs that were no longer satisfying me, I moved out of my beloved cabin in the woods that was home for ten years and moved in with my boyfriend, I pushed past my fear of water and learned to snorkel and to dive, I fulfilled a long-time dream by moving to New York City, I created a blog that showcases my writing, photography and adventure travels, I created and presented five community slideshow presentations on my Camino experience, I inspired others to set out on their own pilgrimages, I've nurtured creativity and play in to my daily life, and I've set myself out on a path of freelance writing and photography.  Whew!  

Walking the Camino de Santiago changed my life in so many unexpected ways.  By removing the confines and structure of everyday life, I was able to free myself to really envision the life I want to recreate as I delve in to my 40's...

People ask what I got out of my Camino and if I recommend that they do one.  What I got out of my Camino was the gift of a fabulous external adventure that nudged me ever so slowly on an even richer internal journey.  And I tell them, "do not walk the Camino de Santiago unless you are willing to make significant changes in your life"! 
 

October 2012 - One Year Ago 


A year ago I was walking the Camino.  What did I ultimately take away from this experience?  Am I applying these things to my life or just writing about them, as if I'm an outsider?  Am I ready to do the hard work of taking my life in the directions I seek to?



August 2012 - Lessons, Questions, Insights Everywhere

My Camino experience reawakened a lust for life!  Even though it's been six months since I walked, personal insights continue to reveal themselves on an ongoing basis.  Here are just a few of my personal revelations, as well as questions that continue to knock at the door to my heart:

1. I am much more creative than I allow myself to believe.

2. I worry how I will be able to make a living as an artist.
3. I fear rejection: from family, friends, partners, coworkers, publishers, editors, strangers.  The fear doesn't debilitate me, but it does hold me back.
4. I would like to rewrite some of the stories of my childhood.
5. I often make decisions from a place of fear.
6. I have made great strides in accepting my strengths along with my weaknesses.
7. I hate to be disappointed by others.
8. I hate to disappoint others.
9. I isolate myself when I feel badly.  I would like to reach out more often.
10. Others often view me as being less vulnerable than I see myself to be.
11. I know what I need to do to take care of myself, yet I don't make these things a regular part of my life.  I would like to explore why this is.
12. It is very freeing to let go of control.
13. While I enjoy my part-time jobs, I want to let go of them in order to make more room for creativity and finding income with my art.   
14. It is time to forgive myself for some of my failings.
15. Do I want to live with this aspect of our relationship for the rest of my life? 



May 2012 - The Hard Questions

1. Why do I engage in self-destructive behaviors when I know how harmful they are to me and to my primary relationships?
2. Do I really want to be happy or am I content with this internal unrest because it is more familiar?



March 2012 - Art Exhibit 

My exhibit opens at Fireweed Gallery this month.  While I'm eager and excited to share my experience, I also find I'm feeling a sense of holding back, that certain aspects of my pilgrimage were extremely personal, and I'm not ready to share those just yet.




 February 2012 - Looking Back

I love that I did this pilgrim solo and I was blessed to become friends with several other pilgrims.  I do wish that I had allowed myself to be less rigid on being on my own and invested some time and energy in to spending more time with others.  I think that by insisting on doing it my way, I missed out on deepening some fabulous friendships.




December 2011 - Reflections


I walked this path alone and was transformed and inspired beyond measure.  Nearly four months have passed since this journey, but my moments of self-reflection, introspection and contemplation continue to reveal lessons.   This month, I realized that I am much more creative than I allow myself to be and that I yearn to bring more playfulness in to my daily life.





November, 2011 - Returning Home

My Camino was so much more than I expected.  Stepping out in to the adventure of walking across country, through cities and rural communities, interacting with other pilgrims, all with just a pack on my back, freed me to look at ways that I hold myself back, ways that I seek out inspiration, and ways that I can bring more peace and joy in to my life, to name just a few of the things I really saw for the first time, with a mind and heart wide open.



September 15, 2011 - My Pilgrimage Awaits

I have wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago for over twenty years, after reading about it in a travel magazine

This ancient pilgrimage trail, in use for over 1000 years is a network of trails that crisscross Europe, beginning in various countries.  Wherever the starting point, all roads lead to Santiago, Spain, to the cathedral housing the tomb of Saint James.

I'll be walking the Camino Frances (French) route, starting in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small city in the French Pyrenees, and ending in Santiago.  This 500 mile ancient route meanders through villages, small towns and the countryside, and through some cities, large and small, and along highways.

I'm eager to explore the countryside and to interact with local villages. From what I've researched, pilgrims on this well traveled path have an easy time getting to know the locals because the walkers are such a common sight.  People who live in the area understand and appreciate the appeal of the trail and many of them have completed the pilgrimage themselves.  I look forward to the sense of community.

My walk is not motivated by religion, but rather, is a continuation of my lifelong love of travel and exploration of different peoples and cultures.  The more I travel, the more I realize how this experience of being human is what connects us all to one another and to the planet. 

I prefer to travel in the off season and to places not frequented by most visitors, those off the beaten path places.  The choice to walk such a popular path came from the fact that I love the idea that I'm walking the same path that millions of other people have walked for over a thousand years, and each for reasons as individual as they are.  This feels very sacred to me.

Over 94,000 people completed the Santiago trail in 2005, up from 2,500 in 1985, and these numbers keep growing.

I'll be carrying just a backpack with one change of clothes, toiletries, a small journal, a camera with extra battery, charger and memory card and a seashell, the Camino pilgrim's trademark. 

My goal is to walk 15-20 miles each day, staying in hostels (they're called Alburges in Spain) and pensions, homestays (casa rurals), and occasional hotels in the villages, towns and cities scattered along the way. 

Though I do have a return ticket booked, I don't have a specific timetable for my walk.  I want this journey to be organic and to unfold naturally, to give myself time to explore and to meet people and venture to places I'm drawn to.  I'm giving myself five weeks to walk the 500 miles and then a week to relax, write, rest and explore Santiago, if I have the energy.

I'm approaching this walk as a physical journey inward.  I hope that by creating a physical distance from my daily life I'll gain a deeper perspective of my current path and paths I'm considering.  This isn't a midlife crisis, but a midlife re-evaluation.  My life is rich and full and I'm blessed with many dear friends, a wonderful family, a fantastic partner, great opportunities, and more.  

Still, I've been feeling out of balance for the past few years, like I'm not reaching my full potential, like I'm missing "something".  And so, I'm choosing quiet, alone time to delve deeper in to my spirit to reconnect with my center. 

To walk the pilgrimage, I'm taking time from my jobs and I'm grateful to my employers for their understanding and enthusiastic support.

Also a freelance writer and photographer, I'm excited to experience how this pilgrimage inspires me creatively.  I've met so many people who have heard of the Camino de Santiago and who have either walked it themselves, wanted to walk it themselves, or know someone who has or who wants to.  I haven't even left yet and I'm already eager to share my experiences and to inspire others to venture out on their own pilgrimage.

I look forward to an amazing journey.

And so, here I go... 



The paper asked me to write an article before I left. 

Here it is:

Christina Whiting left Homer this past Saturday for Spain.  She'll explore the Basque region for two weeks and then begin a solo, five week, 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a portion of a network of trails that lace Europe, known as the Way of Saint James. This ancient trail, in use for over 1000 years, is based on a discovery of the tomb of Saint James the apostle, one of Jesus' disciples, in Galicia early in the ninth century. Saint James is now interred in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.  

Christina will walk the Camino Frances (French) route, starting in St. Jean Pied de Port, a small town in the French Pyrenees, and ending in Santiago, the burial place of Saint James. This ancient route meanders through villages, small towns and the countryside as well as through some cities and along highways.  "I'm eager to explore the countryside and to interact with local villagers," she said. "From what I've researched, pilgrims on this well traveled path have an easy time getting to know the locals because the walkers are such a common sight.  People who live in the area understand and appreciate the trails appeal and many of them have completed the walk themselves. I look forward to the sense of community," she said.  
 
Even though it's called a “pilgrimage,” Whiting said her walk is not motivated by religion, but rather it's a continuation of her lifelong love of traveling, exploration and meeting people from different cultures.  This insatiable desire to be on the move was instilled during her childhood by her mother. “My mom is responsible for my wanderlust,” Whiting said. “There were six of us kids, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years, and mom would pack us all up in the car with just basic supplies, and we'd spontaneously hit the road with no maps, no plan, just a wonderful sense of adventure and eagerness to explore.  Sometimes we ended up at campgrounds, sometimes at hotels and sometimes at the homes of friends or family members,” she said.  Carrying on with that spontaneous sense of adventure, Whiting locally indulges her inner gypsy in her 1986 Volkswagen camper van (the brown one covered in bumper stickers that you see around town), exploring the roads and coastal communities of Alaska as well as the Alcan Highway.  One future goal is to drive from Alaska to Mexico and back, collecting stories and images of other travellers. 

Whiting, born in Alaska and raised in Northern Canada, left home at 17 and has been traveling regularly ever since. Her departure for this walk coincides with her September 27th birthday when she'll turn 42. She started planning the trip two years ago as her rite of passage to a new decade. Whiting loves to travel and typically takes four to five trips annually.  "I like to travel very simply, with just the basic supplies and an open heart", she said.  When Whiting was turning 30, she decided she would celebrate all of her birthdays from then on by alternating international travel with national and local travel around her birthday month.  She rang in her 30th birthday on a ferry crossing between Ireland and Scotland, and since then has spent her birthdays in places including Mexico, Hawaii, Canada, New England, New York, Kodiak, Cordova, on the Alaska Highway, hiking the Resurrection Trail, Hatcher's Pass and Crow Pass, and now will add Spain to that list this year and Africa next year.  "Again, it was my mom who created a very special day for each of us on our birthdays.  Ceremonies, traditions and rituals are very important to me and I thought that spending my birthday doing something that I love so much, traveling and exploring, seeing new places and meeting new people, would continue to honor this," she said.  "It's one of the best gifts I could have ever given to myself, this gift of travel.  I've grown so much as a person and have met amazing, wonderful people all along the way," she said.  "The more I travel, the more I realize how this experience of being human is what connects us all to one another and to the planet," she said.  “I encourage everyone of every age to just go.  Step off your front porch and wander.  You never know who you'll meet around the corner.  I have been fortunate to have several life-changing experiences and have made friends for life with folks I've met in unusual and unexpected places,” she said.

Christina prefers to travel in the off season and to places not frequented by most visitors. "What I love to experience during my travels is the heart and soul of an area and its people: local music, art and culture.  I've found that the easiest way to do this is in quieter times and off the beaten path," she said.  While the Camino Frances is the most commonly traveled of the Spanish pilgrimage routes, and so an unusual choice for her, Christina was specifically drawn to this route for that very reason.  "I love the idea that I'm walking the same path that millions of other people have walked for over a thousand years, and each for reasons as individual as they are.  That feels very sacred to me." Over 94,000 people completed the Santiago trail in 2005, up from 2,500 in 1985, and those numbers keep growing.  
Christina will be carrying just a backpack with one change of clothes, toiletries, a small journal, her camera and the Camino pilgrims trademark, a seashell, which she collected at Diamond Creek beach.  She plans to walk 15-20 miles a day, staying in hostels and pensions in the villages and towns scattered along the route.  Though she does have a return ticket booked, Whiting has no timetable for the walk. “I want this journey to be organic and to unfold naturally, to give myself time to explore and meet people and places as I am drawn to.  I'm giving myself five weeks to walk the 500 miles and then a week to explore further or to rest, whatever I feel I need to do," she said.  "I'm approaching this walk as a physical journey inward.  I hope that by creating a physical distance from my daily life, I'll gain a deeper perspective of my current path and paths I'm considering.  This isn't a midlife crisis, but a midlife re-evaluation.  My life is great and full and I'm very blessed with wonderful people and opportunities, but I have been feeling out of balance for the past few years, and like I'm not meeting my full potential. And so I am choosing some quiet, alone time to delve deeper in to my spirit to reconnect with my center.  Quite a small goal, isn't it?" she said.
Whiting's boyfriend Taz Tally, a photographer and adventurer as well, secured a job in San Sebastian, teaching a one day photography workshop, and will accompany Christina for the first two weeks in Spain. Christina and Taz will explore the Basque region of Spain together before he returns home and she begins her walk. To do the pilgrimage, Christina is taking a hiatus from her jobs at the Fireweed Gallery, as Shorebird Festival coordinator, as a freelance writer and as grant facilitator for the energy program that she and Tally manage.  Also a professional photographer who shows her work year round at Fireweed Gallery, Whiting plans to exhibit images she takes during this pilgrimage at the gallery in March 2012.  "I've met so many local people who have heard of this pilgrimage, who have wanted to do it themselves, and who are excited for me. I will be eager to share my experiences and perhaps inspire others to venture out on their own pilgrimage.  My images will be a visual story of what I hope will be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime journey, both inward and outward," she said. 

1 comment:

barbaraherrnsdorf said...

That is amazing, inspiring and wonderful! Bravo!