Waddling across Portugal

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The night before I walked 123 miles through Portugal, I sprained my ankle on the way home from drinking overpriced, horrifically salty margaritas. I have notoriously weak ankles and people often refer to me as the “girl that walks like a duck.”

This may seem like a really valid reason not to walk 123 miles across Portugal, and I agree with that. But I’m stubborn as hell, so I walked 123 miles across Portugal anyway.

If we’re getting into specifics, I didn’t really walk across Portugal. I walked from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, on the Camino de Santiago — a pilgrimage to a cathedral dating back to the 12th century. A real life queen made the same trek I did 700 years ago.  

My ankle stayed swollen for a few days, I got huge blisters and my shoulders peeled from sun burn. Twice. Also, it turns out that walking in one direction for a really long time is pretty boring. Who would have guessed.

But because I was surrounded by funny, weird and interesting people, I almost forgot how much it sucks to carry a third of your weight for 15 miles everyday. All in all, the trip was the worst fun I’ve ever had — the kind of fun that seems dreadful, painful and altogether completely un-fun but that I will remember with laughter forever.

I made pasta in a microwave — it was hard and flavorless. I ate more fried fish than I probably had in my entire life. I drank a lot of beer to forget about my sprained ankle.

A way-too-fit 65-year-old Dutch woman gave me chocolate when I ran into her on the road. I lied to an elderly Portuguese couple, telling them that I was married so I could stay in the same room with my then-boyfriend, Sean. I managed not to laugh when an elderly German man farted in his sleep in the bed next to mine.

I walked through villages so small that they’re not even on maps. I hiked muddy mountains and I trekked through countless wheat and grain fields. I saw millions of wildflowers and forced Sean to take pictures of me standing in front of them.

I talked to Sean about Joe Biden, movies, old SNL skits, memories from high school and people we missed from our colleges. We found peanut butter at a grocery store and I think I actually squealed with glee. I helped him drain blisters larger than the toes they were on. We took a dorky picture with one of us in Spain and the other in Portugal. We somehow never got sick of each other.  

When we finished our trek, we expected to see a magnificent cathedral but instead met a wall of scaffolding — the church was under construction, ruining my Instagram pic (which was the whole point of the trip to begin with). I got there and I didn’t even want to go inside. I could have seen the tomb of St. James, but I’m not Catholic so I don’t really even know who that is. My pilgrimage had never been about the church — it had been about the pictures. And the memories and friendship, I guess.

I didn’t do it to have some enlightening experience. “Enlightenment” felt like some weird concept NPR-loving wine moms go on yoga retreats searching for — not something I could achieve while eating pizza and french fries every night. I was just trying to have a good time and see some pretty views.

But maybe it kind of was enlightening. Not in the way that I connected with God or learned some grand truth about myself or reconnected with nature. But there’s something magical about the way my memory can separate the badness from an experience that I want to remember as good.

When I remember those 10 days, I remember the food, using Spanish as a lingua franca with a Portuguese couple, getting driven to a couple’s family restaurant — the only restaurant in a town of 500 people — watching “South Park” and eating onion rings when it was over and, of course, the pretty views. The pain in my feet, the exhaustion, the blisters on parts of my body that had never before seen blisters — all of these miserable things that felt so central at the time, have somehow become less significant everytime I tell the story.

Going into this trip, I knew it wouldn’t be easy-going fun — I would have to be a masochist to think that — but I also knew that it could be fun if I remembered to laugh at my constant stench and the two-inch tan that marked the exposed skin between my socks and yoga pants. I had a good time because I reminded myself that having fun doesn’t have to mean having an easy-breezy, beautiful time.

Fun can be pulling all nighters in Main Stacks, unpacking and decorating my messy room at midnight and running really far for no real reason. It’s all about framing, so I’ll remember to bring the fun wherever I go.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.

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