Lilian Tsi Stielstra - Re-living the Camino- 7 Sunny days in Belorado
A stroke gave Lilian Tsi Stielstra the wake-up call she needed to change her diet, exercise regularly and reduce stress. She encourages women to understand their family history and health factors and make lifestyle changes to reduce their risks. She is a volunteer with the Go Red for Women movement and 2017 Real Woman. You can read her blog and follow her adventures here.
It was unfortunate that it took my husband’s outbreak of Shingles to remind me once again, that good health is not to be taken for granted.
It’s now raining and cold in our hometown. I’m still thinking about our great adventure in warm sunny Shometownhe Camino de Santiago last Fall.
Camino Frances segment
Our grand plan was to walk the 490 mile Camino the Santiago, the French Way. We gave ourselves 42 days when the popular guidebook said it would take 33 days, walking an average of 15 miles a day. We said that we would take time to stop in places for extra days if it turns out to be more interesting.
The first few days of the Camino turned into a “race” for me. There are a limited number of beds in every village or town. After the first two stops where we nearly didn’t get beds to sleep on after long exhausting walks…my competitiveness and anxieties set in. I forgot all the blogs I had read about taking deep breaths, and slowing down. I saw people who stopped for the day well before the 15 mile mark sitting in cafes drinking beer at noon…”wimps” I thought. That would not be me, I’m not a quitter. I had reverted to my pre-stroke competitive, stressed out self.
I was always competitive. At work, I was frequently the top salesperson, and the reward was invariably a nice weekend trip somewhere for the winner and their spouse/partner. Even after a stroke…in trying to learn to exercise, it was the competitive spirit within me, which pushed me to go further, and workout longer and harder. From walking 30 minutes a day, I set goals to run 5km races, and then the Bay to Breakers race, and then cycling 25 miles CycleNation 2017 to raise funds for the American Heart Association|American Stroke Association In my mind, walking 500 miles, carrying a 10kg or 20 pound backpack would be my next physical challenge.
By day 3, I was stressed out on the Camino because I was not walking fast enough, I was worried about not getting a bed for the night, I decided to eat lunch while walking so as to not waste time. My husband who loves me dearly got stressed out, because I was stressed out. I forgot that I had a stroke because I didn’t take care of my body. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and didn’t think about it more. I just carried on with my high-stress life of working full time, while caring for 2 teenage children, and putting everything else first before my own well-being.
My husband was so stressed out he broke out in Shingles by day 10. Truly, a physical manifestation of a psychological state. The kind Dr. Francisco in Najera said “No Camino, 7 days”. Shingles occur when the dormant chickenpox virus in your body is triggered by extreme stress. Literally, your nerves are worn out. Walking 15 miles a day with a crazy wife who is determined to not lose a made up race in her mind…is pretty stressful, especially for someone who is normally calm, cool, and totally zen about life.
We had to find a place to stay for 7 days. I picked Belorado randomly.
Belorado is a small town with a population of 2000 people. There’s two traffic lights, three supermarkets, a nunnery, a small community theatre and of course, a church. We stayed in the place we booked for a couple of days, and when my husband was feeling better, we walked about the village and found another place where the hot water supply for showers was much better. We decided to move there. The first couple of days, we sat in the morning sun, swatting flies, in the garden next to where the albergue keeps their chickens for the fresh eggs we had for breakfast. In the afternoons, we sat on the plaza sipping coffee. Later in the week, we took short walks, smelt fresh bread baking, visited the old church, and the nunnery in search of the hand-made chocolates the nuns sell. We found the chocolates for sale in the market on main street. We took buses to neighboring towns. We watched parents drop off their children at childcare, and then pick them up in the evening. We finally learned how to order coffee the way we liked it. Him Café Cotardo, me, doble espresso poco leche.
On one of our short walks, near a senior center, just past the nunnery, an elderly gentleman had fallen, and was having difficulties standing up. The ladies around him were too frail to help him up. My husband helped him up, using his paramedic skills. It was good to see my husband able and strong.
My husband had always been the more health conscious of the two of us. He’s a retired firefighter/paramedic. It was difficult for me to see him in pain, and unable to do much. It was unfortunate that it took my husband’s outbreak of Shingles to remind me once again, that good health is not to be taken for granted.
Most people would not think much of Belorado, other than a place to stop for the night. The church there is run down and not spectacular, the nunnery is quiet, and not commercialized, the eateries there are simple, not stylish. In fact, most people just walk through. For me, it was the perfect quiet Spanish small town where I learned to be still.