Expectations Revisited

Last night, someone asked me to post a blog about my expectations I had before leaving. What came true? What didn’t?

I’ll tell you.

I’ll get tired. I’ll get blisters. I’ll wish I never packed this laptop (but I’m going to and there’s no convincing me otherwise).

I did get tired, but the exhaustion was worst when I stopped going. As the days wore on, my body ached to move. Whenever I took a short day or stopped in a city too long, I got sluggish.

And I did get blisters, but the worst ones came on the first day, when we hiked down the Pyrenees and my shoes weren’t tied tight enough. My second toes turned into little bubbles for a while. I also woke up with a bad blister on my thumb the morning after staying in the donativo in Estella, because I had played guitar for a long time the night before and strummed too hard. But I don’t have any graphic photos of holes in my feet or bloody needles and thread to show off.

I am glad I packed this laptop, and I was always grateful for it.

I’ll meet annoying people and fascinating people.

Oh, I did. Did I ever.

Despite my extensive research, I’ll have made packing mistakes.

I didn’t. I packed just the right things. Now, I left them all over the place, all the Lush dry shampoo and Patagonia clothing and trusty Buff and travel towel. Those were mistakes.

I’ll get bored but flourish in it.

A lot of people complained that there’s more walking on the (month-long) camino than Martin Sheen’s performance suggests in the (90-minute) film The Way. This is most certainly true. Go do the camino and see the churches and the history and all that, but do remember that you’re going to spend your time walking. Your day is going to be all foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot, foot… ad apparent infinitum.

Especially on the days I walked alone, there was a lot of blank space. It was void of company, void of inspiration, of scenery… sometimes I couldn’t take the monotony and memorized poetry or listened to podcasts. If I was alone on the road, I sang loudly. Or talked. Or sighed.

But the blank space added depth and texture to the trip. It made it fatter.

I’ll get sick of all the Catholic spirituality.

I was befuddled at the ubiquity of the Virgin, with all her chintzy depictions. And I had some beef with some things, some bones to pick. But I wouldn’t say I was sick of it. Spirituality was harder to come by than I expected, anyway: we had to search out masses, and say no to hanging out with each other to go to churches or pray. Most people didn’t “really identify as religious or very spiritual.”

I’ll be freshly enamored of all the Catholic spirituality.

I was. I saw beauty in places I haven’t before. For one, the spirituality was stirred in with the architecture. Sometimes in small towns, I sat alone in dark musty sanctuaries, feeling what there was to feel in the air. I looked at candy-colored rose windows and worn stone steps and sagging smooth wood pews and gold altarpieces (that gave me complicated feelings) and speakers mounted on ancient Romanesque columns. More than the Protestant churches I usually frequent, the old Catholic churches are, to use Hopkins’s line, “charged with the grandeur of God.”

I’ll get bed bugs.

I did.

It will be beautiful but maybe not as beautiful as Bigfoot Country.

It wasn’t.

I’ll spend too much money.

I didn’t.

I’ll get homesick and miss my family and pray for their safety.

I missed my family, but I have never been less homesick on a trip.

I’ll be fit enough to do the trek but my hips and shoulders will hurt.

Every morning when I buckled the waist belt on my pack, my hips and shoulders groaned. I think all of pilgrims did this, as we dressed and strapped everything on in the dark early morning. But we started walking, and the pain that was in our bodies disappeared and waited till the afternoon when we were relaxing for the day.

That’s when the pilgrim walk kicked in. Unencumbered by gear, we limped through the towns to the bars or supermarkets, stiff and aching, while the many slight traumas we ignored and added each day made themselves known. Walking the camino was one thing, but there was a special contempt we had for the cobblestones we navigated at the end of the days when our feet couldn’t take anymore.

I won’t lose weight.

I didn’t.

I’ll have deep and transformative (meaning uncomfortable) experiences with God.

I did. But even if they were uncomfortable, they were first and foremost comforting.

I’ll ford a river.

I did for fun but I needn’t have. The infrastructure was comprehensive.

I’ll get a lot better at Spanish.

I did!

As soon as I set foot on the trail, I will become fixated on the question of what will will happen when I come home, and I’ll have to tell myself to stay present a lot.

I did, but it wasn’t as big a mental battle as I expected.

I’ll get a crush on someone.

I didn’t. If only I had met Earnest from Austria…

I’ll laugh a lot.

Of course, I did.

At some point I’ll get cold and wear my sleeping bag liner like a scarf.

This happened on the first day but never again.

I won’t know what to do with the spare time I’ve built into the end of the trip.

I didn’t have enough spare time. I expected to have a week or two, but I took so much time walking, I only had time to see Seville!

Despite thorough waymarking, I’ll get lost.

I almost got lost a lot, especially heading out of cities, when the yellow arrows are hidden with street signs and billboards and advertisements. But each time I headed down the wrong road, a local would point me in the right direction, or I’d see another pilgrim going in a different direction.

There was one afternoon, however, in Pamplona, when Ted, Magdalena, and I were trying to get back to our albergue for the night, and couldn’t navigate the city. We kept getting confused and ending up at the same plaza with the same statue and church dedicated to St. Francis. And so despite our shared love of the hippie animal-loving saint, we harbored a slight irritation toward him for the rest of the trip.

I’ll eat way more meat than I usually do.

My appetite was mythic. I ate more meat, yes, and more bread, and wine, and cheese, and junk food, and Coke. I ate like a starving male college freshman.

The humble, portable, cost-effective baguette was the common denominator in almost every meal, and the reason I have not lost weight. Here are the things I put on my baguettes (I kept a list): craisins, sardines, tuna, cheese, chorizo, ham, apples, pears, butter, marmalade, sugar, oil, salt, other baguettes, chocolate bars, cookies, a whole carrot, coffee, vinegar, pasta, tomato, leafy greens, a croissant, fries, Cheetos, peppers, garbanzo beans, blackberries, and wild grapes.

I’ll write nice things but take lame pictures.

That’s probably true, but I did do my best with the pictures.

I’ll immediately ditch the few issues of National Geographic I’m bringing along for reading material.

Oh, yeah. They were gone in a minute.

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