going for a walk
The idea of culture shock is not alien to me. I have arrived in so many new countries in my life, and experienced culture shock personally over and over again. I have also observed other newcomers suffering, and for a while I even conducted a culture shock workshop for new colleagues, because recognising the symptoms is half the remedy for culture shock. 'Reverse culture shock' is what happens when, after a few years, sometimes many years, you return to your country of origin, and have to get used again to a regular life, without all the fun and dance and interesting cultural experiences. Many people struggle to settle in again, miss the 'expat' lifestyle a lot, and find it hard to re-connect with old friends, whose lives are so vastly different.
But knowing about something does not mean you can totally avoid getting it. I haven't been away for years, my Camino was only about 6 weeks, but there you are. Was it me who said I couldn't understand people who did the same Camino twice? That for me it was ticking the box and I would never do it again? Now I can understand those who return again and again or even decide to live on the Camino. I miss it every day very sorely, and am longing to be back on the Camino, or a Camino de Santiago! I am in love with my old hiking boots, and wore them today on a 24 km walk and felt so happy in them, even though they have holes in them now.
I miss the simplicity of life. Don't mistake this for an easy life. But the daily Camino routines opened up time and headspace to connect with others. I wish I could hold on to that! Get up at 6.30am, wash my face and brush teeth, no make-up, just some sunscreen and who cares what my hair looks like. Roll up the sleeping bag liner, pack towel. The ease of not having to choose what I am going to wear! I am already wearing the t-shirt for the day, and the choice of trousers is the clean pair. Fill the water bottle. Boots waiting on a rack by the door, I step outside, breathe in crisp, clean air, rucksack snugly wrapped around me: Buen Camino! Enjoying sunrise after sunrise, every morning a few minutes later, always amazing, as the stars fade and the sky turns every shade of pink and red, in the East and the West, before the sun turns it that typical deep blue of Southern Europe. Looking for that most essential thing on the camino, a bar. I never thought I'd be longing for a dry croissant or tortilla sandwich to go with my café americano in the morning. (After trying to live like a vegetarian for 3 days on the Camino I had to let go of that, as I was overdosing on eggs.) And then walk again, follow the yellow arrows. Make sure feet are ok. Enjoy the sunshine and the beautiful land. So simple. I made friends quickly, sometimes within minutes, sharing our deepest thoughts about ourselves and life. With hours every day to talk, laugh, joke, and cry, one step at a time, just keep walking. Arriving, find a bed (and a socket for the phone charger!), spread my sleeping bag liner, and have that well earned hot shower. Then wash clothes, write diary (I sometimes had trouble remembering where I had started my walk that morning, let alone where I had been yesterday!), meet more people over a glass of vino tinto, or a cerveza con limon, enjoy a communal meal at the albergue, or tapas and another glass of wine, and then lights out at 10pm, sleep. The last night I spent in a pilgrims' albergue, I woke up in the middle of the night, and sat up in my bunkbed (I always slept in the top bed), listening to the other pilgrims around me breathing, feeling their warmth, and I knew already then I would miss this, the togetherness, day and night.
All this makes me a bit melancholy, back in Luxembourg.... which results in sometimes slightly odd behaviour. I drink only Spanish wine now, use Spanish olive oil, eat pan con tomate for breakfast, while breaking records on my Duolingo Learn Spanish app, and I am totally on top of all the news on the Catalunya independence issue. There are worse things than craving Spanish food and knowing about current affairs, but what about the fact that I am spending hours and hours on my online Camino photo album? That Messenger is mostly used to talk to Camino friends, who are all posting Camino pictures on Facebook, that we then all LIKE or even LOVE. That I find it hard to talk to others about the Camino, because I don't know where to start when asked how it was. How can I explain the power, the magic, the connection? I need to work on my reverse culture shock, also known as Post Camino Blues.
There are some things that make me feel better. I was shocked on coming home about the amount of 'stuff' in my house. I have already thrown away bin liners of clothes and shoes and other stuff. This feels good. It creates space, in my wardrobe and cupboards, and in my head. I am also eternally grateful to my Camino soulmates (yes you two, you know who you are) for sharing their own feelings post-Camino, and being there for me, when I am deep down, or too much up! Without them my culture shock would have been a lot lonelier. Seeing other Camino friends on Facebook made me realise we are all going through this same process and that helps me too. I go for walks. I walked in the north of Luxembourg today. It was not the Camino, but the autumn colours were beautiful, and I noticed I had got out of practice, my legs were hurting and tired after 24 km, and that would have been a normal day on the Camino! Walking brings back the peace and calm of the Camino inside me, and helps to think clearly and positively about where I want to go now. I have given myself until the end of this year to have fun! In the next few months I am planning to hang out with lots of friends in Europe. I call it my Ryanair Camino! :) After that I have promised myself to move on, be present, make this place a better world, make other people happy. And of course there are serious plans to walk another Camino and even to go live and work on the Camino. I think it is important to dream, and who knows, sometimes dreams can be realised. The time to do things is NOW.
(with thanks to Nadine from nadinewalks.com)
So that blog did not really work! As soon as I started walking and settled in to life on the Camino, I realised writing a blog from my phone was definitely going in the too-hard-basket. Instead I decided to use Facebook to post the occasional picture and insight about all the amazing things that the Camino Frances is. When I have organised all my photos I may post an album.
I walked for 33 days, including two rest days, and covered 800 kilometres. That's the physical challenge. It went well. The Camino gives you what you need, not what you want, is what people say. I got my personal challenges, and learnt a lot about myself, about humility, about connecting with unexpected people, and about love and friendship. Being outside, in nature almost all day, every day, and life stripped down to the essentials of walking, one step at a time, finding a place to sleep, eating and washing clothes, I was able to tap into an awareness that is always there, but gets overwhelmed and hides in the busy-ness, complications and noise of modern life. I connected to nature and the whole world around me in a way I had only read about in yoga literature like the Upanishads. Especially the walk across the giant plateau, La Meseta, was wonderful. And there was magic everywhere! The Camino has an energy, that perhaps has built up through millions of footsteps that have gone before, for thousands of years. I developed profound friendships with other pilgrims within days, and we are still in touch now. I hope we will stay friends forever, cherishing our shared experience. And we had so much fun! There is time to talk, to joke, to be crazy, and to have a wonderful glass of Spanish wine with tapas! The Spanish know how to live, and have been so kind to me during the whole journey! I don't know how often I have heard "Buen Camino!", and every time it sends a little positive energy into the world.
For now, I am happy to be back, and slowly readjusting to life outside the Camino. The challenge that the Camino teaches is to take the lessons learnt about connecting with people, opening your heart to others, exercising mutual respect and universal love, away from the Camino into life. So far, so good.
Last week I posted the above sentence without thinking too much, not realising it was more true than I realised at the time... When I was in Holland last week I bought a beautiful pair of hiking boots, sturdy, waterproof, they just needed some practice and a walk through the Dutch polders would do the job. I thought. 16 kilometres later I was limping through the Dutch meadows, cursing endless lanes with no chance of shortcuts unless you jump over 2 metres of water, with two huge blisters on my right foot! Couldn't use the boots for at least 3 days and got stuck with a lingering blister injury between my toes. Don't ask me how you get a blister there, no idea. But the Summer activities went on relentlessly, so off to a family gathering in Yorkshire, UK. Woke up in the middle of the first night there with a roaring toothache! The unhappy crown that had been niggling for about two years, decided to play up a week and a half before the Camino start! The kind dentist who was able to schedule me for an emergency visit, had good and bad news... a small cavity was filled quickly and expertly, but the real problem was a dying and infected tooth --> root canal treatment needed! But when? And where?! I had two days in the UK left, after that 5 days in Holland and then 3 days in Luxembourg until departure. In a panic I called my dentist in Luxembourg and was told he is going on holiday one day after I get back to Luxembourg next week. I have an appointment scheduled, and we shall see if I have to delay the start of the walk. In the meantime the antibiotics that the Yorkshire dentist gave me have kicked in like a dream. No more worries about toothache. Apparently you really don't need nerves in your teeth, what a bad joke in design that was then! And the medicines may fix the blisters as well, who knows? And so tomorrow all my ex-colleagues are going back to work, and what am I doing? Horse riding with my daughter, and the Dutch weather forecast predicts glorious summer weather! Counting my blessings and while the nerves are building up for all that's coming to me in the next months, let alone the dentist's verdict on Wednesday, this journey is an adventure so far, and dealing with it! Inshallah!
There's nothing like a 9-day yoga teacher training with David Swenson, to help you forget about the job you just quit and get rid of all the horror scenarios and anxieties about an impending Camino adventure. David is wise and funny, and studied for years with a very wise and funny man, Sri Pattabhi Jois, who taught Ashtanga yoga for about 70 years. Yoga students of mine may have heard me quote him: "Body not stiff. Mind stiff." David quoted him with: "too much mental". Jois has a totally down-to-earth approach to yoga and life: "Practice, practice, practice, and all will come to you." He didn't say it would all be good what was coming to you, but I was feeling a bit unmoored and needed some anchoring, which the practice provided. It was hard work, and I found 9 days of it a pretty daunting prospect, but by the 5th day my life had narrowed down so much, that I was happily living in Copenhagen, and reporting for duty every morning at 8.30am for another day of practice, teaching and learning. Without a worry about past or future, I was present. At the 7-11 shop where I picked up my morning coffee they knew my face. Did I say 7-11? My first 7-11 corner shop experience was in the tiny village of Pak Chong in Thailand, 1995. It was the only shop in town that vaguely looked western, and we loved going into it, despite knowing it was not western at all. Sticky sweet buns with green bean goo in them, yoghurt cups with durian flavour and other crappy snacks, not to mention the useless toiletries, like 5 different colours and sizes of paper tissues. Back to 2017, the 7-11 in Copenhagen: paleo sandwiches, raw food, smoothies, wonderful coffee, and yes they also had donuts and crisps, but only hand cooked. Copenhagen! Hipster capital! It makes Portland's reputation fade into insignificance. In Copenhagen the hipsters walk the talk! I saw more young men with babies in slings on their belly or their backs, carrying kids on a 'bakfiets', or in a sporty buggy, than women! Add to that Christiania, a tiny hippy free-state; cool design (everything in Denmark is design), and the fabulous cycling options: the Danes cycle exactly as frequently and everywhere as the Dutch. I managed to rent a bike, pay for it, locate the nearest one, find it, unlock it and be off. That's all ok, but... all of these things with just my phone! The Louisiana Museum, half an hour up the road from Copenhagen offered R&R in the sunshine by the sea. Fortunately, they had a retrospective of Marina Abramovic with hands-on experiences. Squeezing yourself past two naked people with about 40cm space between them may not be such a big deal for Danish and Dutch people (I bet the Americans and Brits freaked out about that one), but "The Artist is Present" activity was less popular. I was led to sit opposite someone, a stranger, and we looked into each other's eyes for about 10 minutes. No speaking. It was wonderful and calming, and the magic was that we were communicating, but did not know where we were from, or which language each of us spoke. Still I felt close to her. 'Too much mental', just be present. Look. Walk. One foot in front of the other.
I am not sure if I am in serious denial about undertaking this crazy walk, or whether I am correct, when I calmly tell people that if pilgrims in the Middle Ages could do this walk in sandals and a stick with knapsack over their shoulder, then surely I would not need to spend hundreds of euros on the right rucksack, walking sticks, water bottles, rain gear, merino t-shirts, wicked trousers (no not wicked cool, but wicked to absorb moisture) and glow in the dark laces, right? They didn't book their albergues ahead, did they? There is a nagging little doubt of daunt about this walk, which is perhaps what makes it all the more exciting. The Camino forum adds to the excitement, and not always in a positive way. A woman got flashed by a naked guy in a balaclava. Yikes! People die on the Camino. When I am in the right mood it is a wonderful philosophical idea, to walk The Way and allow life (and death) just to happen along it. When I freak out, I can not imagine ever walking calmly through a forest without looking over my shoulder every 20 metres... In many ways this will be an amazing challenge for me. A challenge to be fearless, but not reckless. A challenge to allow life to happen and take a chance, but not be flippant. Balance. So how am I going to respond when this balaclava guy jumps at me? Run? Laugh in his face? Ignore? Perhaps sit down and start meditating, remove myself from the scene. Or just stop thinking about these things and get on with life. Last four weeks at work, and it is very very easy. Tying up loose ends, preparing the handover, learning some new tech tools, and of course teaching my yoga class. I am already mentally saying farewell to this community, that for 5 years has been a comfortable yet often frustrating place to be, like an old pair of jeans, that wears thin in unacceptable places.... looking forward to a year without structure, but with freedom to be productive and engage in activities that are uplifting and rewarding.