IN THIS BLOG–I REMINISCE ABOUT MY WALK ON THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO A YEAR AGO
A year ago tonight, I was flying over the Atlantic on my way to Madrid. I boarded the American Airlines Flight # 524 at 11:55 a.m. from San Antonio; according to the boarding pass (yes, I kept it!) I left at 12:25 from SAT to Dallas/Ft. Worth, and the plane to Madrid departed at 5:50 p.m. At the airport in San Antonio, I was saddened to see so many soldiers; it is not unusual given the number of military bases in our city. I always marvel at how young they look! The flight to Dallas was short and sweet and I slept for most of it; dozing off soon after take-off. I had a long lay-over at DFW, so I ate lunch– can’t recall exactly what, probably a cup of soup at Chili’s in the International Terminal. Then I walked around the terminal stopping to buy a book at the bookstore–I believe it was a Borders’–wonder what has happened now that the chain is no more–I bought some chewing gum, and two packets of kleenex because I realized I’d left the ones I bought for the trip at home. In lieu of a purse, I had a small laptop case, a bag that I borrowed from Rusty to carry my passport, credit/debit cards, and such while I walked on the Camino. But, going by a shop that had tote bags for $10, I stopped and bought a black one, large enough to accommodate the small bag, the book I’d just bought, and the newspapers I had brought from home to read on the plane. For most of the long layover at DFW, I mostly walked around trying to stay awake and patiently waiting for my flight. I remember using my IPhone to say goodbye to friends and family; I called my Mom in Laredo and texted siblings and updated, my Facebook status while I waited at the DFW airport. I had tried to clean out the mailboxes in my various email addresses but had not quite completed the task; I hoped to do that while in Toledo before taking off on the Camino.
Once settled in the plane I began to read the novel I brought with me for in-flight reading: The Lacuna: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a pretty long novel, and I didn’t finish it because I ended up falling asleep right after the lights went down on the plane. Remember, I had barely slept the night before –I must’ve snoozed for about 2 hours total! But, once in Toledo it became my nighttime reading, and I read it up until the 16th when I actually took the train to Pamplona; I left the novel with Lisa for two reasons: it was too heavy to carry with me on the Camino, and I had vowed to myself that I would not be reading any fiction or anything for that matter while I was walking; it was to be a test to see how I would do depriving myself of one of the few habits (vices?) I have. Plus, I wanted to be alone on the Camino, not distracted by reading or writing; remember, I had not even wanted to bring a camera with me so that I would be forced to experience the Camino in my body and with my soul and mind, but not too much in my head; I wanted to have a physical, spiritual and emotional engagement with the Camino, not an intellectual one. A difficult task for someone whose life has been books and the intellectual pursuit.
My traveling companion, Becky Vela would not be joining me until the 16th, but because I was traveling on a ticket bought with frequent flyer miles, I was bound to the earlier date of December 9th. I was actually glad that I would be in Spain a few days before we began walking, for it allowed me a few days in Toledo to visit friends and to see the city in the winter–my second visit to Toledo had been in January back in 1985–but that had been the only time I’d been there in winter since my research on the Corpus Christi celebration and the class I teach there all happen in summer. I planned to arrive in Madrid and take the fast train to Toledo where I would stay with Lisa Anaya, a former student, who was living there teaching English at the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha where I teach my summer course. Besides, arriving early would allow me to get over any jet lag. I am pretty good about it and rarely do I suffer from jet lag either going or coming back, but one never knows so I was glad my travel dates were as they were.
Flying overseas always reminds me of the first time I made the cross-Atlantic flight in the fall of 1979 on my first Fulbright, to do research for my dissertation. So, as I settled into my seat, and the passengers kept coming in struggling with carry-on luggage, I couldn’t help but notice how different flying is in the 21st century, especially after 9/11 with the heightened security and the cost-cutting changes imposed by the airlines. I yearned for the friendlier skies of the last century–the hot meals, the roomier seats, the overall less stressful and less hurried pace of those days when no one would’ve dreamed of paying to check a bag. My first flight had been to California in the summer of 1968; I went to visit a cousin, Alicia Cantú (now Sauceda) who was living in LA. I took that very first flight from the old airport in Laredo, Texas, that was off of Mines Road. It was a propeller plane that flew to San Antonio where I boarded the cross-country flight to the West Coast. Subsequently I had flown to and from Lincoln, Nebraska, since 1975 when I moved there to pursue graduate studies. In those days, airlines like Frontier Airlines, the now defunct Trans Texas Airlines, and Trans World Airlines offered hot meals–including steak and baked potatoes–on domestic flights! Also, in those days, folks could smoke in the plane. I’ve never been a smoker so it bothered me to no end to be seated next to someone who smoked–invariably it would be a man who smoked Camels–or so it seemed to me. Then there was a time when the smokers were relegated to the rear of the aircraft, and then smoking was banned on flights that were shorter than two hours, and finally it was banned altogether. How things change! Paying to check bags is perhaps the one that irks me the most. Luckily international flights are exempt and I didn’t have to pay to check my duffel bag; I was also glad that it was under the weight limit– a pleasant surprise given that I had stuffed into the duffel bag my fully packed Gregory backpack, some personal items–like make-up and shampoo–that I would leave in Toledo, and some gifts I was taking for friends there. The topic of smoking will come back in the post for January 2. And at some point so will the subject of the bags, especially my duffel bag!
So, off I went, flying on American Airlines Flight #36 from DFW to Madrid’s Barajas Airport. My Camino adventure had begun!