Camino Lessons: Sometimes we need to be reminded of the simple things. During my 500-mile walk on the Camino de Santiago, I received powerful lessons. Things that I’ve known forever–but seem to have tossed aside. They got lost in the shuffle of the daily world.
Like many people, I’m always wishing I could drop a few pounds. My diet is pretty sensible, but not perfect. I could certainly move around more–and more often. Do the boring stuff that becomes important as we get older: strength training, stretching. Yet it was so easy to let it all slide…until tomorrow.
Then, at some point, I decided that it would be swell to walk the Camino in my 65th year. I’m certainly not young, but neither am I decrepit. Maybe the first few days would be rough–all the guidebooks agree on this–but after that, how tough could it be? With a minimum of information, a certain level of denial, and a memory of a friend telling about it ten years prior, I proceeded to plan.
Skip ahead a year, and I was a full-fledged pilgrim. Trekking along, day after day. After 12 or more miles a day, hauling almost twenty pounds, you’d think I’d be starving. But I wasn’t. After a couple of weeks, a few things dawned on me:
1. Water tastes good. We all know that water is good for us, but how often do we take a gulp and say, “Ahhhhhh!” Most days, our water comes in disguises: coffee, tea, sodas, etc. Even plain water needs to be fancied up: little packets of flavoring, fruity tastes or crazy enhancers. It’s as if we can’t bear to drink anything simple. I understand that tap water may have unpleasant minerals or whatever, but that’s not what I’m talking about; there are remedies for that. I’m referring to the taste of ordinary water with nothing added.
Without the option of jazzing up the water that came straight from the public fountains in Spain, I started to taste the water. It was so…tasteless! (Maybe taste-free is a better description.) Thirst-quenching! Refreshing! I looked forward to drinking it, thirsty or not. One day, a man from Australia said, “I didn’t know how much I liked water!” Well said, Mate.
This isn’t to say that water can’t have a slice of lemon or lime. But does it really need to have a powdery mix in order to be swallowed?
2. Eat when you’re hungry. Yes, I know. Another brilliant insight. Except that if I had actually been doing that before–instead of eating according to the time of day–I wouldn’t be clicking on the latest weight loss stories that crop up on my computer screen.
Most days I walked a couple of hours before stopping for some kind of breakfast. As I passed the bar in a village, I’d ask myself if I was hungry yet. No? Keep going. Yes? Stop. The food in Spain is delicious, and it’s not hard to find. So scarcity isn’t an issue. After a few days on the Camino, I would decide just how much I really felt like eating. Tostada, which was a lovely big piece of toasted bread, served with butter and jam? Maybe fried eggs, always fresh, with bright orange yolks? A banana? Or just a cafe con leche for the moment? Every day was different.
More fresh fruit than I usually eat, picked up at the little markets along the way. When I took time to enjoy a peach while I walked, it was fully satisfying. I didn’t feel like scrounging around for something “more.” At the same time, on days when I needed energy, I bought what seems to be Spain’s favorite candy, a Kit-Kat bar.
For dinner? A Pilgrim’s Menu, which includes three smallish courses. Or a big salad, sort of like a chef’s salad, if I happened to be craving greens. Maybe a pizza, although they were always disappointing, and each time I swore I would never have another one. Some wine. More water. That’s it.
I know my activity schedule and daily calorie-burn were not comparable to the “real” world, but I did stop to evaluate how hungry I was, and listened to my body. That, I can do anywhere.
3. Portion control, People! Sure, almost everything came with fries. But not a lot of fries. The three courses of the Menu del Dia (Pilgrim’s Menu) provided a substantial meal. First course: Choice of salad, soup, pasta, or a local specialty. Second course: meat, fish, or stew, with a vegetable on the side. Third course: cake, ice cream, pudding, cheese, fruit, or coffee. Bread always included.
Courses were served in dishes smaller than what Americans use; the second course was on what we could call a large salad plate. Likewise, the portions were smaller. What was interesting was that even the big, hefty pilgrims got full. We all ate what we were given and then we were done. No thought of seconds. It was enough.
As I said, this is all ridiculously obvious. Over the course of 38 days, the lessons were eventually assimilated. Now comes the challenge of maintaining them in my world of abundance and clock-driven activity.
I totally agree with what you’re certainly thinking: How absurd to travel so far to re-learn what I already knew. But it was a lesson that I needed to become reacquainted with.
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