Well aren’t you folks in for a treat today! I have convinced my mother (the famous, award winning author – yeah, that one) to write a guest post for my blog chronicling her Camino experience. What you read below are her words. Enjoy!
In my daughter’s footsteps
by Dora Machado
People often speak of children following in their parent’s footsteps. My account is quite reversed. My daughter and I have just returned from walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. For me, the Camino was a five-day trek covering a little over a hundred kilometers. For Mariana, it was five weeks and over eight hundred kilometers. It was a mother-daughter ratio of one to eight, not really comparable, I know, but I wonder if age somehow ennobles the proportions. Memories are often slippery, so when Mariana asked me to write a guest piece for her blog, I jumped at the chance. “What did you learn?” She wanted to know. “What will you remember the most about your Camino?”
I’ll begin by saying that I’ll always remember the landscape’s challenge, Galicia’s gentle-looking hills, which were by no means kind to my frazzled lungs. For my first day, my guide book predicted a long but mild ascent, a total misnomer, given that the treacherous guide averages the day’s ascents without bothering to explain what so quickly became obvious to my blazing thighs: although we only gained a few hundred meters in altitude, we did so seven times as we crossed the seven rivers standing between us and our destination. An easy day through rolling hills? Ha! On the first day, I realized that guides are worthless and there would be no such thing as an ‘easy day’ on my Camino. I swore I was going to write the guide’s author a nasty, nasty letter. I still might.
I lugged my derriere’s heavy cargo uphill, puffing and shifting like an overloaded Mack truck. I felt as if I should have turned on the hazard lights and beeped in warning as other hikers maneuvered around me. “Mommy, don’t whine,” Mariana said with the same helpful tone I’d used on her when she was three years old. “It’s really not such a hard hill.” She took off, straight to the top without a stop, despite her assorted collection of blisters, bruised toes and a mean case of tendinitis that refused to abate.
I followed her, swearing without words since I had no breath to curse aloud, propelled by a burst of sheer stubbornness refusing my body’s sincere request to die right there and then.
I thought the ascents would be the hardest part, until I saw the descents. Those are not in the guide book at all, steep gradients of loose gravel, cracked stones, or cracking concrete, testing the old joints, straining the knees, sliding beneath my slippery soles long after my wobbly ankles had quit. Puffing on the way up, I had looked forward to going down. On my second day, rattled by the warnings of a rising wind, I discovered the Camino’s ironic equation: For every ascent, there’s an equal or sharper descent, and vice versa. There would be no consolation for my aching muscles while on the road.
On the dark morning of my Camino’s third day, we woke up to howling wind and hail pelting our cabin’s roof. I learned that day that soaked garments don’ t dry in the newly arrived Galician winter. “And why should we dry?” my Columbia quick dry pants would have asked if they could. My gloves, socks, boots and underwear would have concurred. They were just about to get drenched. Again. And together we would all stay drenched for the duration.
By the fourth day, my wet dog’s stench was a fitting match to Galicia’s rural scent, i.e. manure’s hearty stink. That day I learned to yield, to the tawny cows hogging the road, to the crazy drivers barreling around the curves, to the stray that chose to pee on my boot, to the area’s entrenched poverty, and to pain, foot pain, hip pain, back pain, all kinds of pain.
“You go numb eventually,” Mariana said. And I did.
I woke up feeling hopeful on that last day. We were but twenty-three kilometers away from Santiago. It was still raining. We trekked through chestnuts and fragrant eucalyptus forests, crossing the swollen creeks, until the Camino turned from trail to pavement and the lonely road rose before us like a cobra’s sleek back. Temperatures plummeted. The rain got worse. The wind began to howl again, gusting to frightful speeds. Pilgrims crowded the few shelters along the way. The Camino became deserted. I thought perhaps we should take cover somewhere, but Mariana accelerated, marching through the storm like an automated robot. How the heck had she done this for five whole weeks? I chased after her for four hours straight. At some point, I too fell under the walker’s spell. Santiago’s modern walkways turned into cobblestones as we made our way to the old city. Then we were there, the only two people standing under the deluge in the expansive plaza in front of Santiago’s magnificent cathedral.
I enfolded a drenched Mariana into my soggy embrace.
“Is this it?” she said as if awakening from a trance.
“Yes, we’ve made it!”
She looked utterly disappointed. Later she said she wanted to turn around and start walking again. I guess it’s hard to stop when you’ve been walking for so long. Wet, cold and disbelieving, Mariana was close to shock. We walked a little more to our hotel. We took showers and dried off. We discovered by watching the TV that we had walked through the worse borrasca in Galicia in the last ten years. Then we did what every hurting but starving pilgrim must do when they get to Santiago de Compostela. We ordered Chinese.
On the sixth day we woke up and went to the pilgrim’s mass at the Cathedral, where we welcomed other pilgrims who had walked the Camino with us. The Camino is like a friendship forge. Bonds might be brief but lasting. People form powerful attachments. Joy flares in community and accomplishment is all the sweeter when shared. Like Mariana and our friends, I too felt a need to keep walking. We were all going home and yet we had all learned the Camino’s final lesson: Once you start walking it, the Camino is never done. We are all walking. And we are all on the way.
And so you see, I did learn some useful bits. I suspect the Camino has planted quite a few seeds into my mind and heart. Most likely, they are yet to sprout. Meanwhile, I have many great—and some painful—memories from my Camino days. None of those memories will be more precious than those dirty boots trampling the mud ahead of me, the steady cadence of my brave daughter’s determined stride devouring the Camino as I followed in my daughter’s footsteps.