From Burnout to Bliss: My 2023 quest in Spain and Portugal

View out of an aerlingus jet with green countryside below, clouds above, and a wing in the upper right corner

A journey of the heart, a fourth Camino adventure

I’m going back.

(Note: I wrote this blog post in April 2023, and will be updating the blog about this trip’s adventurous outcomes soon!)

Yes, by some miracle, I found myself with enough frequent flyer miles to make a trip to Europe a reality. I’m still working out the details, but this May and June, I’ll be in Spain and Portugal that includes a mix of activities from walking a Camino, vacationing, and possibly service to pilgrims. If you want to indulge your travel fantasies, read on!

Why this Camino feels different

Despite having competed three previous Caminos, you’d think I would have had my fill by now. I remember talking to a Canadian pilgrim who had walked 500 miles on the Camino for eight years in a row. When I (rather incredulously) asked why, she told me, “Every time I walk it, I get better.”

That’s how I feel too, but my motivation for this one feels different. For the past year, the growing political tensions in the U.S. have weighed on me—even more heavily than in years past. The reversal of Roe v. Wade last June hit me especially hard. It’s not just that I need time away (although that’s part of it), my soul needs a true sabbatical.

A chance to slow down with big questions

The slower, Iberian way of life calls to me. Long walks and siestas, long conversations and fresh air all soothe my tangled mind. Meeting people who seek to lead a purposeful life are spiritual nourishment to me. In taking a pause from it all, my heart can hear deeper answers. I need space to replenish the deep well within that has run dry.

Especially as I approach my fiftieth birthday next month, I find myself pondering big questions:

  • What does it mean to truly be content?
  • What does it take to create community?
  • What is essential to living a meaningful life?
  • What is home?

While I walk, eat, and connect with heart-full humans this summer, it’s my intention to seek clarity on these questions.

A Camino from Oregon to the Portuguese coast

After looking over the various route options, I’ll be walking 300 miles north along the Portuguese coast and up into my beloved Galicia. While Portugal has two main Caminos to choose from, the coastal route includes a ferry river crossing (exciting!) and seaside villages (adorable!) all the way through Galicia.

When I went to REI last week, it all started to feel real. With the help of a lovely Gen Z salesgal from Alaska, I finally replaced my 10-year-old red Deuter (4.5lbs) and upgraded to a new, lighter 58L Osprey backpack (2.2lbs).

If my past three Caminos have been any indication, I know to expect challenges and discoveries in equal measure, and I’m eager for both (even if I do whine at times). Long hours of walking in all kinds of weather clears my head, makes me grateful for the simplest pleasures, and immerses me in the present moment. Meaningful conversations with fellow seekers restores my faith in humanity.

As I soak in the beauty of coastal Galicia and discover Portugal, I hope that this fourth Camino helps me process some of the last three (plus) years’ distress.

An opportunity to serve

Since my first Camino in 2013, I’ve felt a strong desire to give back to the communities that made it so special for me. After doing some research, I applied for a volunteer position serving pilgrims in a hostel not far from Santiago. If selected, I would be greeting people from all over the world, answering their questions, and hearing about their journeys.

In my Zoom interview, the three-person interview panel asked why wanted to work for free for two weeks. It’s an easy answer. Every person I met on my Caminos taught me something valuable about life, about myself. Collectively, they utterly changed my life. It would bring me so much joy to give back any part of what I received.

If I’m accepted, I’ll be greeting people from across the globe, so I’ve stepped up my Spanish studies and French fluency. I signed up for Babbel (it’s better than Duolingo, IMO) and have been cramming vocab for the last three months. My rolled Spanish R and mi accento are improving.

Old friend in a new locale

Last fall, I learned with surprise that an old girlfriend had moved from Portland to Portugal on the country’s retirement visa. Since we reconnected last fall, she has made a PR-worthy effort to get me to visit, sending photos of gorgeous hikes, panoramic vistas, and videos of rugged shoreline. In our conversations over Zoom, her descriptions of meals featuring fresh seafood in small local restaurants have had their intended effect: a longing to experience it all myself.

I’ve never been to Portugal before, but I’m excited that this newest journey includes reconnecting someone I’ve known well and long. We’re already planning morning coffee on her deck overlooking the Atlantic and at least a week of affordable adventures.

Counting down the days

With this fourth Camino journey ahead, I’m filled with relief knowing I’ll have a chance to slow down and connect with people from all over the world who, like me, are seeking answers to life’s big questions. I’m hopeful I’ll have the opportunity to serve others and anticipating the chance to delve deeper into my own heart and soul.

So here’s to new adventures–inner and outer! Look for updates here on my preparations, the outcome of my volunteer application, and more. Until then, I’ll be counting down the days until I set foot in Europe. ¬°Hasta pronto!

Want to buy me a cup of café con leche? Small donations welcome paypal or venmo.

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