Jul 29, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
Rising senior women’s lacrosse player Molly Shawhan has had quite a summer thus far. The Fulton, Md., native took trips to Spain, Portugal and Ireland during June and is spending July at Yale doing an internship. A finalist for the Yeardley Reynolds Love Unsung Hero Award, Molly’s three blogs will talk about her adventures at home and abroad. Up first: Spain and Portugal.
Picture this. The phone rings. It’s your fake-cousin/god-sister/best friend (are you still with me?) calling to ask if you want to join her on something called “El Camino” in Portugal and Spain, rounding out the trip with some time in Ireland. She mentions something else about a 5K run and some walking. I don’t know about you, but as soon as I heard Portugal, Spain and Ireland I zoned out the rest, and was about ready to hop on the next plane out of the lovely, then single-digit degree South Bend, Indiana (bless its heart) area and head to Europe. So my response was, of course I’ll come … little did I know what exactly I was getting myself into.
“Ok check out the movie The Way with Martin Sheen, and read up about it online. I’ve wanted to do it forever, and it sounds really cool!” were her parting words before we hung up. So I did as she said and checked it out.
“El Camino” is a Catholic pilgrimage with many different routes that all start somewhere in France, Portugal and Spain and finish in Santiago de Compestella, Spain. She later told me we were going to do the Portuguese route, starting in Tui, Portugal and finishing in Santiago, Spain. Hiking. The entire way. Carrying backpacks with all of our belongings. She asked if I’d done long hikes before and I responded sort of … I mean it couldn’t be much worse than the daily walk from Pangborn to Arlotta, right?
On June 4th, we set out on our way. I started day one excited to have an incredible time in two countries I had never been to before, but had little expectations in terms of what I would get out of The Camino (besides, fingers-crossed, Carrie Underwood-esque legs, back in shape for lacrosse training this summer, and a beautiful Spanish bachelor (I suppose those were much more than little expectations)). Some 10 days, over 100 miles, numerous blisters, scattered towns and countless friends later, I realized, having finally made it to Santiago, I had experienced more than I could have ever dreamed of in just over a weeks time.
It’s impossible to verbalize The Camino in terms of the journey you have along the way (sales pitch: get up and go walk The Camino). So I won’t attempt to do that. We actually met a crazy, old, jean-overalls-wearing Irish man who said the same and that if you do try to explain it; you are most likely “full of it.”
I can, however, give you a glimpse into The Camino in terms of the people I met along the way, and what I learned from them.
A Brazilian man named Julio wasn’t sure if he was going to make it all the way to Santiago, but didn’t seem to mind. He showed us that The Camino wasn’t so much about reaching the destination as it was about the journey.
Richard, an Australian who had been walking for 43 days, told us that people who don’t take risks put themselves in jail. His parting words: “No risk, no freedom.”
Francesca and Karen, two best friends from Mallorca and Scotland, showed us that true friendship has no boundaries. They met by chance on a biking trip across India. Friendship, then, can be found when you least expect it.
Pedro from Portugal helped us understand true selflessness and compassion. He was everything from our resident-GPS to our dad by helping us find places to stay, places to eat and methods of transportation. Without knowing any English and also being partially deaf, he went above and beyond to make sure we were okay.
All of these people and others made The Camino more than just an extended walk through the Spanish countryside. They kept me smiling, entertained and sane. They also proved the ultimate distraction from the aches and pains, and are 100% responsible for the fact that I didn’t end up accidentally walking off a cliff or lost somewhere in Spain. Most importantly, they inspired me to keep going and showed me the meaning of life in small increments.
So all in all, though I may not have gotten those toned legs or the eligible bachelor (I’ll be back for you, buddy), I got a lot more than I could have imagined. I witnessed kindness, love and happiness. And I learned how to live more fully.
Moral of the story? Ignore those “minor” details when asked to walk in Spain and Portugal. Or in a more relatable way: don’t focus on anything that would usually warrant complaints, things that would make you want to say no, or everything that seems impossible. No risk, no freedom.
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