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My Camino de Santiago journey (Part 2 of 3)

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE? - Alfred Vargas (Philstar.com) - November 26, 2020 - 7:00am

Read Part 1 of this three-part travel chronicle here.

I’d like to continue sharing my El Camino experience in this three-part series of my column. While it was certainly a trip of ultimate highs, I did encounter some scary moments. For one, I did prepare intensively for this trip, but one thing I wasn’t prepared for was getting lost.

It was my eighth day of walking. I was so caught up in singing the songs in my playlist out loud, that I totally missed a waymark and took a wrong turn. It was already getting dark and I was nowhere near Alto do Poio, my destination for the day. I needed to find my way back. But alas, in the middle of the forest, it started to rain, and it rained really hard. Talk about “when it rains, it pours.” I was lost in a deep dark forest of Spain, soaked and scared.

I set up my rain gear then tried to return to my original trail. My first goal was to find someone I can ask help from. I walked for 30 minutes but there was absolutely no one there. I started getting worried. Then the worry turned to panic. I’ve never been in this situation before. At that point, I had been hiking for eight hours already. I was dead tired but had to walk faster. I thought, what if I don’t find my way back? If my water and food rations are depleted? What if I get kidnapped? I mean, the entire experience was supposed to be beautiful, inspiring, and adventurous, but it was turning out to be more of a suspense/horror film.

Thinking that things could not get any worse, I suddenly heard a loud, angry bark from afar. It sounded like a ferocious dog. The bark kept getting louder and louder as the canine approached my direction. It was a big, furry-than-usual, German Shepherd. It kept on barking at me, its sharp fangs glistening and poised to attack, as if it couldn’t wait to have me for dinner. We stared each other in the eye. I prepared myself for the worst.

It stood a couple of meters away from me, giving me little space to get ready and fight back. Man versus the wild, I told myself. I positioned my hiking pole, rapidly reviewing the defensive and offensive strikes I can make. After all, I took basic Arnis lessons in college. I just hoped I’d remember it all and trust my instincts. This is it, I told myself. I was ready to face danger and even death. So cinematic.

And then, the unexpected happened. The German Shepherd suddenly wagged its tail, stretched its head downward, and smelled the ground. Slowly as it was doing this, it took baby steps towards me. Its movement became much different. It was now trying to tell me that we can be friends. I was bewildered. In response to this, I lowered my hiking pole and folded it back. Then, the dog positioned itself in front of me, and offered its head for me to pat. I patted the dog affectionately. At that moment, my misfortunes turned to fortune that day. To my disbelief, the dog gestured me to follow him. For some reason, judging from its body language, I got what he meant. So, I followed him, and noticed it was a different path. And low and behold, this German Shepherd brought me to the right route! I was back on track! It really is a shepherd in every sense of the word. It guided me. It protected me from harm. It saved me that day. In the Camino, I was a Filipino in Spain helped by a German Shepherd. What were the odds of that?

Indeed, the Camino provides. You will be lost at some point but the Camino will always show you, in many incredible and creative ways, the right way back.

My misadventure didn’t end there. When I finally arrived at Alto do Poio in the evening, all the beds in the few albergues (hostels) were already taken. The town had no more space for me. So, I rested for a few minutes, ate paella for dinner, then walked another three kilometers to reach the next town, Fonfria. It welcomed me with open arms. I got myself a comfortable room, relaxed in the bathtub for an hour, and rewarded myself with a small smile, contemplating on what I’ve been through the whole day and the divine providence I was blessed with.

To this day, it remains to be one of the most memorable days of my life.

Okay, so back to logistics. I told you last week that I’ll give you some tips on how to prepare for this pilgrimage and how to deal with some challenges. Here are some frequently asked questions.

How did you prepare yourself physically?

I trained for two months. I underwent muscle building and a fat loss program. To strengthen my cardio, I hit the treadmill in inclined mode with weights that were as heavy as my projected backpack weight. Once I was able to walk for two hours straight, I became confident. Weeks before I left, I hiked Tarak Ridge in Mariveles, Bataan to test my stamina and equipment. Hiking shoes need to be used for at least 100kms first for it to be in good optimal condition to walk the Camino.

How did you prepare yourself mentally? What was your mindset?

No complaints. As long as I was safe and alive, I kept my mind open and just embraced the entire experience, all the good and the bad.

When you felt the need to go to the restroom while walking in the middle of nowhere, where did you go?

On a few occasions, when there were no comfort rooms accessible, I peed Filipino style along the Spanish meadows. Just behind the bushes and trees. I couldn’t help myself. There were a couple of European pilgrims who passed by and saw me. They were shocked. I felt a bit embarrassed. But I had no regrets. The call of nature trumps manners or pride anytime.

Is the Camino safe?

Yes. Although there have been few incidents in the thousands of years of its history that generated some debate over safety on the Camino, this is a very low percentage of such incidents. There will almost always be another pilgrim in sight. So even if you are doing it alone, you are not really “alone.”

Buen Camino!

 

Next week: For part three of this journey, I will be sharing the logistics aspect of this trip like travel logistics, food, daily schedule, packing list, and expense breakdown. Again, in my advocacy to encourage more Filipinos to do the Camino, I am open help anyone who is interested. You may reach me via email deskofalfredvargas@gmail.com for comments, suggestions and questions, or on my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube pages.

Good resources for the camino:

ALFRED VARGAS CAMINO DE SANTIAGO EL CAMINO FRANCE PILGRIMAGE ROMAN CATHOLIC SPAIN
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