A Finnish Birthday

For those that don’t already know, Finland is one of my favorite countries. I’ve only been there twice now, but both times I had a wonderful trip!! So, when Micah and I were planning out the backpacking portion of our trip, I was very excited to see that I would be spending it in Finland and with some good friends. Nichole and Antti are two wonderful hosts and they gave us a great Finnish experience.

We flew into Helsinki and Nichole picked us up from the airport and we made our way to Turku. Because we got in so late, we went straight to bed and got to sleep in the next morning- which was glorious! We putzed around for most of the morning, and then went on a tour of the Turku castle. Antti had to work during the days, so it was girl time all day long, but we are all huge history/museum nerds, so the castle tour was right up our alley. We also got to try on some costumes, which was one of my favorite parts! After the castle tour, we got some lunch and went shopping. I needed some more clothes and other little things we ran out of- I finally was able to get some conditioner for my hair which made me very happy! After shopping, we stopped for waffles with ice cream, and then walked around town and saw the Cathedral. It was formally a Catholic Cathedral, but one of the kings or lords or something got greedy and reformed Finland to Protestant, which is how it remains today.

We were tired of walking around after the Cathedral, so we headed back to the apartment for a rest and then headed to their summer cabin that’s right on the Baltic Sea! We got there a bit late, but because it’s summer you can’t really tell the time because the sun barely sets. We did a sauna and swimming in the sea and then had a late dinner (at midnight!) but it didn’t feel late because it was still so bright out. Last time I was in Finland, it was January so I had the opposite problem of it being dark most of the time.

The next day, we lied around all day. It was so wonderful! As much as I wanted to go swimming and kayaking, the weather was spotty (raining off and on) which gave me the perfect excuse to lay inside all day and rest and relax. It was exactly what I needed after walking for so long. That night after Antti got back from work we did another sauna and swimming and then we had my birthday dinner and cake. I requested Mexican food and to make my guacamole with cake for dessert; and boy, did Nichole deliver! We had enchiladas, the guac was great, and I had the most beautiful cake ever!

On day three of our Finnish adventure, we headed back to Turku in the early morning, which of course gave me a reason to nap later in the morning! ☺️ We explored around town, there was the Tall Ships Race going on while we were there, so we got to try some great food and look at some really cool ships! Naturally, we had to take a nap later in the afternoon and watch a movie! We also had a typical Finnish summer meal of sausages- which were like a combination of hotdogs and brats- it’s a bit hard to describe but they tasted great! We also had a lot of strawberries, there are so many strawberry stands, we couldn’t resist buying and eating all we could! We even got some to go when we left on Friday.

Friday was another good day of relaxing and checking out the Tall Ships festivities. There was a parade of sailors, music, and all sorts of activities going on. The really awesome part is that Antti and Nichole live right where it was all happening so we felt like VIPs all week! Friday evening we left for Stockholm via cruiseship. It was my first cruise, so that was a fun experience with many beautiful sights, but I think I’d like to try it somewhere warm next time!

Once again, I want to thank Antti and Nichole for being so generous and opening their home to us and being the “hosts with the mosts”! We had a wonderful time and I know I can’t wait to come back again someday!

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Day 33 + Finnisterre

Day 33

I know this is more than a week later, but I really needed some processing time after the Camino. Walking into Santiago de Compostela was so very exciting for many reasons. I was excited to be done walking constantly, I was ready to not be tired and just feeling overwhelmingly exhausted all the time, I was excited to see the Cathedral and experience the pilgrim’s mass with the incense, and I was just happy to have accomplished this crazy goal.

As excited as I was, actually walking into the city was not as exhilarating as I thought it would be. We walked through the city for at least an hour before arriving to the main area where we would be for the weekend- close the Cathedral. I found myself annoyed with other pilgrims who clearly didn’t walk as far as I did, and I just wanted to be done. Then, as we got to the Cathedral, the entire front of it was covered because they are restoring it. It is an extremely old building and deteriorating quite a bit, so I understand the necessity for preserving it, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t see the front or walk through the main front area. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let all those things ruin what I had worked so hard for, so I tried my best to set them aside.

Before going to the Cathedral for mass, we ran into a woman we had seen for the last few weeks and she told us to get our “Compostela”- our certificate that shows our completion of the Camino. She said the lines were hours long the day before and since we got into town late morning there was only a 15 minute wait, so we went and got those first. After getting those, I really felt like my Camino was complete. I felt accomplished, and it felt good!

We decided to head over to Cathedral for pictures before mass, and ran into more pilgrims from earlier in the journey- which was exciting because we didn’t think we were going to see anyone else we knew. They gave us advice to fight for a seat at mass and to go early, and that was some good advice! We had to check our bags because of the sheer number of people, there is no room for backpacks or luggage of any kind inside the Cathedral. We got there around 45 minutes before mass started and you would have thought we were late! It felt like we were attending church on Easter or Christmas! We ended up finding some steps to sit on, but I couldn’t believe the number of people they squeezed into the church!

Mass was longer than normal because they had a few pilgrims come up and talk briefly about their journey which I thought was pretty cool. Also, the procession alone had to have taken 10 minutes because I counted at least 50 priests! (The only other time I have experienced mass with that many priests was at NCYC!) There were priests from all over the world. One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is that it is so universal- Mass is the same no matter where you are in the world- and I can respond in my language and I know (for the most part) what is going on at any point during the service.

Of course, the reason it was so packed was because everyone wanted to see the incense swing. Fun fact from Micah: the reason for the incense and its large size is because they used to use it to mask the smell of pilgrims who stayed in the upstairs of the church! Before the dismissal, they did the incense. It is definitely one of the coolest things to watch and if you have a chance to go to Spain, I would highly recommend going to the pilgrim mass and experiencing it- totally worth it! It was pretty comical to see the sea of phones, cameras, iPads, etc. go up to record it- even some of the priests on the altar had their phones out to record it!! 😂 

Once mass was over, we explored the Cathedral a bit and made our way over to our hotel. We had been waiting for the hotel for weeks and were so excited to be “pampered” with our own (dark) room, fresh towels, our own bathroom, and not being bothered by snoring or lights at 4am or any other typical Camino albergue issues. After we got cleaned up and napped, we went out shopping! We needed some more clothes for variety and because laundry will be more limited in the next couple weeks. I can’t explain to you how nice it is to have a new piece of clothing after wearing basically the same things for a month!

 

Finnisterre

We had an extra day until our flight to Finland, so we went to Finnisterre on Sunday. We decided to go with a tour, so we got to go to a few different places which I thought was pretty interesting. We went to Muxia, Finnisterre, a waterfall, and another town that has the 2nd largest grain holder. Muxia and Finnisterre were my favorite parts of the day. Muxia was just beautiful, right on the sea and had some interesting history. In 2013 there was a crazy thunderstorm where the waves were (probably) a couple hundred feet high and destroyed the church that was on the coast. Some pilgrims who were there at the time stuck around to help rebuild and they built a monument for them. Finnisterre was my other favorite part of the day, and it used to be called “the end of the world” before the Americas were discovered. It has the “official” end of the Camino, where the 0 kilometer mark is located. Most people just go to Santiago de Compostela, but some do walk on to Finnisterre for a little extra journey. The waterfall was cool to look at, but I really just wanted to swim at the bottom of it, and I could have gone without seeing the grain holder…but overall the day was good!

Lessons

The days leading up to my last day and while walking into Santiago, I reflected on my journey over the last month. I truly learned a lot about myself in terms of listening to my body. I built a lot of self-confidence. I relearned to push myself when I didn’t want to because I wanted to take the easy way out. I relearned how much God is right there next to me all the time, not just when I choose to see him.

To be honest though, I thought I was going to do a lot of self-discovery during the walk. That didn’t really happen. It’s not that I don’t know who I am, but I’ve done a lot of learning who I am over the last several years. It was more of an affirming who I am. I didn’t learn a lot of new things about myself, but I became more comfortable with myself. I became more confident. And I realized it about half way through. Which I think contributed to my feeling of being “let down” walking into Santiago. When I first set out on this journey, I was convinced it was going to be a one-time thing. A great experience I will have and be able to tell stories about for years to come. But after finishing, and even now a week later, I think I would really like to do it again. I don’t know when, or who I will go with, or even which route I will do- I just know that I want to go back. I guess I’ll leave you with one of our mottos- I guess we will find out!

 

 

One Day More

Wow! I can’t believe we are almost done! It’s crazy for me to think about where I was two weeks ago, let alone 30 days ago! Tomorrow I will be in Santiago de Compostela!!

The last few days have been a whirlwind. We have our routine down, get up, get ready, walk, break, check in to an albergue, shower, eat, relax, repeat. We have been trying to cook more, which is saving us money and makes us feel better. Unfortunately, one bad habit I have picked up in the last 10 days or so is that I have a coke everyday. I find that the sugar gives me a good boost of energy to get me through walking and is a nice, cook refreshment to enjoy after walking. I don’t normally drink a lot of soda, but I figured it was okay because we were definitely going to be burning off the calories later. I’m afraid I’ve gotten so used to it that I am going to be craving it after we are done walking so I am definitely going to need to kick this habit!

Also in the last few days- probably 3 or 4- a large number of new pilgrims have joined us in walking. Technically, to get your certificate for walking the Camino, you only need to walk the last 100K. There are many people who do only that amount. I know it is not my place to judge how much another person walks and what they are capable of, but it doesn’t stop me from being frustrated with the increased amount of traffic on what was a formally a peaceful walk. Where I was once lucky to see another pilgrim in an hour, I can no longer go even 5 minutes without seeing another pilgrim. Also, there are a number of school groups that are walking with us now, so every so often we will see a group of 20ish high school girls and/or boys, and they are just as loud as you think they would be. Overall, the increased number of pilgrims doesn’t bother me too much, it’s just another adjustment I have had to make, but they do bother many other pilgrims because they haven’t learned the “ways of the Camino” yet- being respectful when others are sleeping and napping, some wear full make-up, etc. I find I have had to remind myself more often that everyone does the Camino for their own reasons and everyone is on their own journey.

Back to the walking… the sights have been beautiful lately. We are in the middle of the other set of mountains now. Several days have begun with lots of clouds, mist, or fog, but by the afternoon the sun is always shining. It really hasn’t rained on us since the beginning of the week so I am grateful for that. We walk through many small towns, with populations anywhere from 200 to 60,000. We walk by corn and cows everyday, and the smell comes right with it! I am going to miss the Iowa State Fair this year, but I know where I can go to get part of the experience! 😆 But with the beautiful sights, my allergies are in full gear. I’m not sure where or when it started, but they have come into full swing the last few days and it makes it slightly difficult to enjoy walking outside. It’s okay though, because all of this is worth it.

Oh! And we found a souvenir shop that has my t-shirt- one that has a saying of “no pain, no glory” with a picture of bandaged feet! I was so excited to find another one, and of course I got it!

An Answered Prayer

If you don’t already know, I have been accepted to be a NET team member with NET Ministries in Ireland this coming school year! I will be putting retreats on for high school youth- something that is right up my alley and that I love to do! I applied for this position months ago and was praying for it constantly while walking. I had my interview a couple days ago and it went very well and they accepted me just about right away! If you know me, you know how passionate I am about youth ministry. I am so excited for this opportunity to grow deeper in my faith and to help the youth of Ireland grow deeper in theirs.

All this being said, I am going to put in a shameless plug for help. Technically, to be a part of the NET team, you are a volunteer. So I won’t be getting paid, but my living expenses are paid for- everything from housing to food to medical coverage. Because it takes quite a bit of money to provide for someone to live for a year, I am required to raise at least a portion of that amount. The office calculates that it costs $17,000 to provide for one team member for one year, and I need to raise funds for about a third of that. So my minimum fundraising goal is $6,500 but I can raise up to $17,000. I would like to shamelessly ask you if you would be willing to sponsor me financially, even if it is just a small, one-time donation amount. Every little bit will help. NET Ministries is nonprofit if you are looking for a tax benefit 😉.

If you feel so inclined to help me out financially, please know I am perpetually grateful. To sponsor me, please go to this link: http://www.netministries.ie/donate. Choose the “support a specific missionary” option at the top and put my name (Sarah Sheerin) in the comments.

As always, thoughts and prayers are always welcome if you do not have the financial means to support me. If you have any specific prayer intentions that I can return, please message me and let me know!

Day 28

Today was a good day. the last few were tough with the mountains and all the hills. I haven’t taken a rest day since I chickened out in the cold, so I have been feeling it the last couple days just because of exhaustion. My legs are tired, and then with the up and down of the terrain on top of that, my pace slowed down quite a bit. But I am very proud of myself for pushing through and keeping going.
Yesterday was particularly frustrating because we left the last bit of a steep hill for the morning under the impression that the rest of the day would be fairly easy and flat. That was NOT the case, there were many unexpected hills so I was pretty grumpy about it because they slow me down so much. But today was good, we got back to our quicker pace and didn’t need to stop as much. I felt good about today.

Ponferrada (Day 24)

After today’s walk, we are now in the single digits in terms of time left on the Camino. If you asked me at the beginning if I could picture where I would be on this day or how I would feel, I would not be able to tell you. But I can tell you now that I am in a good place. I feel happy, I know I am where I’m supposed to be right now.

We have been making a lot of friends the past few days- most of them from America. It feels like the further along the Camino we get, the fewer people we meet from other countries. We have met many people from other countries, but we have been traveling with them for a long time it seems. There are some people we meet and see for a few days, some we meet once, and some we travel most of the way with. Everyone is on their own timeline and I have learned to truly appreciate the present. Sometimes we don’t know if we will see certain people again and some we know they are taking their time and we probably won’t see them again. It’s sad, but it makes me that much more grateful for what I do have.

Speaking of gratefulness- we FINALLY got Mexican food tonight. We have been craving it for weeks and it worked out that we were hungry and the restaurant was open. When we got there we saw several people we knew so we joined them and had a wonderful time. Before dinner we had the opportunity to tour a medieval castle, which was awesome!!

However, the best part of the day was spending sunrise at Cruz de Ferro. I brought a rock from my home in West Dea Moines to leave there. I also got to spend some time just praying and enjoying and reflecting on this experience. While at Cruz de Ferro we met a new friend James and after talking we got yelled at for the second time today because we were being too loud. The first time we were yelled at today was because we didn’t drink the milk from our cereal bowls at breakfast. So it was a bit of a rough start but the day was beautiful so I was determined to not let those things bother me.

Most of our walk today was down the mountain. I get nervous walking down the mountain because I am very prone to tripping, falling, and twisting ankles, so I took my time and was careful. Thankfully I tripped only a handful of times (without falling!) and I bumped my head on a branch because I was too busy looking down trying not to fall. But I’m alive and that’s more important!

If anyone wants an update on my blisters, they aren’t doing too well. I just keep trying to fix them up and working on them. The important thing for me is to keep ahead of the pain, so I can focus on the scenery while walking. Which is gorgeous by the way. I’ll try to post a couple pictures but if you follow me on Facebook that is the place to go for pictures! I also plan on making a video when I’m done!

That’s all for today. As always, questions, comments, and jokes are more than welcome! And of course prayer requests.

Living on a Prayer

Well, we are in León today, got in early this morning and have been exploring the city. We are over halfway to Santiago de Compostela and in less than two weeks will be done walking the Camino. Time has gone by so slowly and yet so quickly. Like I said in an earlier post, I am really enjoying my time now that I am adjusted and have stopped looking at the Camino as a whole and take each day as it is.

It has been brought to my attention that many people think I am surviving on sugar (chocolate) alone to get me through this. As much as I wish that were true, I am not. The regular meals are not as much fun to talk about and post pictures of! I have been eating a lot of pasta, French fries, chicken, bread, and drinking more water than I ever have in my life.

One of my friends had a bunch of questions for me about the logistics of the Camino. So I’m going to try to answer as many as I can so hopefully everyone can have a better picture of what I’m going through.

Basic logistics:

Everyone comes and goes as they please and when it works for them. Some people will walk part of it, go home, and then come back another time to finish. Some walk just the last part. Some start much earlier- we met a 65 year old lady from Belgium who started in Belgium and is walking all the way to Santiago! Some people have a time schedule to keep to and others don’t. It is highly recommended to walk past Santiago to a town on the coast called Finistair for a little extra Camino. There are routes from all over- southern Spain, Portugal, there is one along the northern coast- but the most popular one is the Camino Frances, the one we are walking, and a majority of people will start in St. Jean Pied de Port where we did. I think the Camino de Santiago has become much more popular because of the movie The Way (starring Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen). However, the movie is very deceiving and makes it look A LOT easier than it actually is. A couple friends we met said to us, “doesn’t it make you want to punch Martin Sheen in the throat?!”

Survival:

When you walk the Camino you are a pilgrim. You are homeless. You don’t know when you will get water next. You don’t know if you will have a bed to sleep in that night. You don’t know what the next albergue will have to offer, if the bed is comfortable, is there a kitchen to cook in, or is there more than one toilet/shower? If you forget something at a hostel (I left a shirt in Logroño), you must accept that it is gone and move on. I’m not about to walk back and get it, so I had to make do and get another shirt a few days later to live a bit more comfortably. There are a lot of unknowns, and being able to embrace that is its own challenge.

I must carry everything I need to survive. Which means that I make do without a lot of the many luxuries we have in the states. I had to weigh the cost of having to carry something against my desire for it. For example, I really wanted to bring my nice DSLR camera because I knew I am going to see some amazing sights and want to capture them with good quality. But that would mean having to carry it, worrying about keeping it charged, and risking it being stolen. So I settled on just using the camera on my phone. Additionally, bringing a laptop would be extremely heavy, so the only electronic I brought is my phone, which is how I stay connected to everyone back home. I didn’t want to go through the hassle and expense of having an international plan, so I just stay connected through Wi-Fi, and if a hostel doesn’t have it, then we try to find a restaurant that does, and if we can’t then we just go without. It is good an bad. I like to stay connected but sometimes it’s nice to not be.

The best part:

Without a doubt, one of the best parts of this trip is the people we meet along the way. From other pilgrims to locals and everyone in between. Pilgrims are so nice to each other- generous and caring- because we are all on this journey together even if we are strangers or there is a language barrier. The only Spanish language experience I have is my four years in high school. I tried to review before I left but I got caught up in everything else that was going on that I didn’t do much reviewing. You don’t need to know a ton of Spanish because many people here speak both English and Spanish, but immersion is the best way to learn. There are phrases I have learned along the way and words that I am starting to remember that I thought I had forgotten in the 10 years it’s been since I’ve taken Spanish class. I find it most difficult to communicate with French people who know no other languages because I know about 5 French words and they are not very helpful! But people are all sorts of ages- we’ve seen kids to the elderly- and when you are a pilgrim you are there to go on your journey. Some young adults like to take advantage of the bigger cities, but we are always in bed by 8/9 and up by 6/6:30 or earlier.

Like I’ve said before, everyone does this for their own reasons, but I’ve noticed the majority are people who either really enjoy the outdoors and this type of thing, or it is for religious reasons. The Camino is a very personal journey, but I am happy to share it with all of you. 🤗

From Hot to Not (Days 14-18)

It has been quite a ride the last few days. My feet were improving greatly, and I think my blisters are almost gone on my right foot!! The walking has been flat the last 5 days which is something we have been so greatful for because this is the kind of walking we were made to do. I have started to truly enjoy this trip. The first week was hard because my body was getting used to the activity and time change, the second week was hard because I had blisters bothering me, and finally this third week things are really looking up. If you follow me on Facebook, I posted a video of me walking up the only mountain we’ve climbed in days. I felt so good walking up that mountain and so strong. I am so glad to finally have adjusted to the Camino schedule and rigor.

The days have started to blur together. However, yesterday really stands out because it was our first day where we had to walk in the rain. The temperature dropped the last few days, which is great because the part of the Camino we are on is known for not having many towns and no shade as we walk. But mixed in with rain, the drop in temperature has been so cold. I keep saying I feel like I have been walking across North Iowa because it’s flat farmland, you can see windmills in the distance, and it’s as windy as ever!

Unfortunately, I did chicken out today, I couldn’t handle the cold and wind anymore. All I have for warmth is a fleece, and the wind goes right through it. I walked the first 3.5 miles but then I took a cab to the next town. In addition to the cold, my left foot blister is not doing so hot. I seem to consistently find trouble/injury wherever I go; I stepped out of the shower yesterday, slipped and tried to catch myself, but I caught myself on the lip of the shower right on my blister on my left foot. It started bleeding and hurt terribly, so I was back to limping my way around. It felt better later on today, but I’m a bit scared to look at it, so I hope it’s not too bad. Oh well, typical Sarah move.

Tomorrow will be a long day (~16 miles) and then we have a short 11 mile day into Leon and we will be out of the meseta!

Barbie Drinks (Day 13)

Today was a great day. Giving myself the last two days off to rest and allow my feet to heal was a great choice. Like in all things I do, whether it’s personal or for work or something else, I get caught up in what I am supposed to be doing and fulfilling my (probably too high) expectations. So to step back and change my expectations the last few days has truly helped me with this experience.

I loved my time in Burgos, there was a huge festival just getting started yesterday and it was so much fun to be there for it, I only wish I could have participated more. But I knew that I needed to continue to care for my feet which helped me to focus on my purpose of being there.

I was able to get up and be out the door on time, which gave us a good start, and then we made fantastic time today. We walked 13 miles in 5 hours today. It helped that the walk was very flat, but we were so surprised with ourselves and proud, which put us in great spirits. We had the opportunity to relax this afternoon, did some laundry and then had a community dinner with other pilgrims who are staying in our hostel.

For dinner we had paella, with chicken and rabbit meat. I think mine was mostly rabbit because it did NOT look or taste like chicken. At our table were four people from Japan, a French man, and a man from Hungary. Conversation was light and fun, and at the end of the meal one of the Japanese men wanted to do shots of whiskey, so the owner of the hostel brought out shot glasses and a bottle of something. Thankfully they had other liquor for us that don’t do whiskey (besides Fireball 😆). So Micah and I had something that was very similar to Bailey’s, and when the Hungarian man went to choose we offered to pour him some of that and he said it was a “Barbie drink”!

It was wonderful to have a chance to meet  new pilgrims who we have never seen before and get to know them in a more personal way. Despite our language barrier, we were able to find common ground and learn from each other. Well, at least Micah and I learned from them!

I feel much more relaxed now than during any other part of this trip. I hope that it continues and I can embrace more of what it means to be a pilgrim in days to come.

Burgos (Days 11 & 12)

I woke up this morning with a gut feeling that I shouldn’t be walking today. I thought my feet were healing over the last few days but it seemed to have back tracked overnight. I’m not sure if I was doing something wrong taking care of them, or when I dipped them into the pool at the hostel last night it did something. Either way, I was in so much pain just walking through town, I knew I had to take a rest day.

Micah and I made a plan to meet up in the next town, San Juan, so I could rest and she could continue at her own pace. I set off to find a hospital to have a doctor look at my feet. Upon arriving at the hospital/”centro de salud”, I discovered it was closed, but as I arrived, two other pilgrims who were in need of help also showed up. Thankfully, they spoke English (and were from Kansas City! Oh how nice it was to talk to a fellow midwesterner!) and we helped each other figure out a plan. So I tagged along with them on a bus to Burgos- the driver wouldn’t stop in San Juan- and we helped each other find the centro de salud in Burgos. The doctor didn’t do anything different than the guys at the hostel in Los Arcos, but sometimes it’s just nice to have a doctor do it and make sure it’s correct and most importantly clean. She told me I shouldn’t walk today and I told her I am taking today and tomorrow off from walking and she said good.

After we got our feet fixed up, my new friend Donna and I went for lunch- her other friend went to their hotel to rest. I got a delicious hamburger with an egg and bacon, and fries. It was so good, and I was actually able to eat most of my food! Something that has surprisingly been a struggle the last few weeks.

It was nice to talk to Donna about our struggles and excitements. We have so much in common even though we didn’t start together and are from different places. This is the beauty of the Camino, finding commonalities with strangers and a sense of understanding right away because we are all going through the same experience together. After lunch, Donna set off to find her hotel and I went to look for a hostel. I had some directions, but they weren’t great. Naturally, I got lost and asked at least 4 different people to help me and by God’s grace I finally found it. It’s located next to the most beautiful and magnificent Cathedral that I hope to explore tomorrow morning.

The remainder of my day today will be used to find a smoothie (which has been accomplished as I’ve been writing this), probably find some ice cream or dinner (I’ll give you one chance to figure out which is going to win that one 🤣), and resting (so sleeping and watching Netflix).

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