CDHi President’s Blog – Walking on the Camino Ingles for CDH – April 2, 2024

April 2, 2024 – Ferrol to Xubia-Naron, Spain

Day two of CDH Awareness Month. The first day of actually walking on the Camino Inglés. I woke up to maritime warnings of high wind and rain. I made all of my gear as rainproof as possible, grabbed some breakfast, and made my way down to the first point of the Camino Inglés from Ferrol, Spain.

I got the first stamp in my Camino passport, and a “Buen Camino” from the Pilgrim office, and I was on my way!

The first hour was cloudy but dry. I walked the first half-mile and realized that I didn’t take any photos at the beginning mark, so I turned around and walked back. I took photos of me and photos of the wings at the mark and then I set off again.

About an hour and a half in, the drizzle turned into steady rain and the wind really picked up. So windy that it was impossible to use an umbrella so I covered up under my raincoat as much as possible and I walked through the town of Ferrol, then along the beach, then through a forest, through another town, through lots of mud, over bridges, under overpasses.

At this point, I haven’t seen another soul on the Camino. No other pilgrims. Just me. Apparently, most people are not idiotic enough to start Camino walks in the middle of a monsoon. However, I am on a timeline and it’s CDH awareness month, so I don’t have the luxury of waiting for nicer weather.

When it really started to pour, I walked under a tunnel and decided to try to wait it out for a little while. As I was sitting under the tunnel, another pilgrim came walking through. He said “Buenos días,” and he mentioned it was raining hard in Spanish. I tried to respond, but after four years of studying Spanish in public high school, I had no idea what he was saying, and he had no patience for my bad Spanish. We both said “Buen Camino,” and he walked on into the rain.

This was the first fellow Camino pilgrim that I have ever met and I did not want to look incredibly wimpy. So, I sucked it up and started walking as well. He walked much faster than me, so he was out of sight pretty quickly, and I decided that it wasn’t my smartest move to leave the tunnel when the rain was pouring.

Regardless, I kept walking. Two hours later, I’m walking through mud puddles as big as cars in the woods with my raincoat hood on and my hoodie hood on. I’m looking down trying not to fall and behind me, I hear “Hi!”. I shreaked pretty loud because he scared the heck out of me. I was in the woods alone; don’t scare a woman in the woods alone! I turned around and it was the pilgrim. I guess he must’ve stopped for lunch and was just catching up with me. He apologized for scaring me and then he walked on. When he got to the end of the road and all the mud puddles, I saw him turn around and look at me. He stopped and watched to make sure that I made it through okay. Or he was waiting to murder me out here in the woods completely alone in the pouring rain. I wasn’t quite sure which.

When I caught up to him, he started talking in fast Spanish and I shook my head, not understanding a word because he was talking so fast. He slowed down and said it was dangerous with the rain; he would walk with me.

I figured since my family is tracking my every move on my iPhone, at least people would know where to find my body. And the entire team at the charity knows that if something happens to me, no matter what it is, they had better find a way to make it about CDH and raise some awareness and some money for the kids. I have drilled this into them for years. That sounds like a joke, but they know that I really mean it. I don’t care if I get run over by a runaway horse in Malaysia or break my neck falling in my own house, they had better somehow make it about CDH and milk it for all it’s worth. So, in my warped mind that is obsessed with work, my first thought was, “Well, if I die on the Camino fundraiser, that’s going to raise a lot of awareness for the kids.”

Then I realize that I need to get a better sense of humor or a life.

We walked quietly together, stepping over more mud puddles, or me walking behind him around the mud puddles into the grass.

After about 30 minutes of silence and rain, we tried to talk again. I introduced myself as Alba, which is a translation for Dawn and what I usually use when I’m in Latin countries because it’s much easier for people to understand Alba than it is for them to understand Dawn. Most of my friends in Italy, Spain, and other Latin-speaking countries forget that my real name is actually Dawn. The only time I am not Alba is when I am at a medical conference. It’s much easier that way, so people aren’t calling me “Down” instead of Dawn.

He introduced himself as Ricardo, and he’s from Southern Spain. This is his fifth Camino. He’s walked the French Camino, the Portuguese Camino, and two others that I didn’t recognize.

I told him I was from America and it was my first Camino.

If you’re expecting a bunch of paragraphs about a really interesting conversation that I had with this complete stranger I met on the Camino, you will be disappointed. That’s pretty much all we understood that each other saying.

For the next hour, we walked together, and then we had an option of taking two different routes on the Camino, but I looked at where I booked my stay for the night and it was on the longer route because it was the only option I could find on Priceline last minute.

He decided to take the same route as me. I started to again consider the possibility that he was a murderer, but he dressed like a pilgrim and he had his pilgrim seashell, so he’s probably somewhat safe. Hopefully.

It started to pour down rain at this point and it’s almost 5 o’clock in the evening. I asked him if he’s going to continue on the Camino and he said yes.

He’s obviously much more experienced at Camino walking than I am. At this point, I am so drenched and tired that I don’t care if he thinks I’m a wimp.

We get to the fork in the road where the Camino goes one way and the road to my hostel goes another way. I told Ricardo that I am turning and I wish him a “Buen Camino,” and he says, “I will walk you.”

He walks me the 2 km off of the Camino to my hostel, in the pouring rain. Now I’ve gone from thinking he was a murderer to thinking he’s a gentleman.

We get to the door, and there is another pilgrim standing outside. She starts talking to Ricardo in Spanish and I could make out that she said they had no more rooms left. He looks at me, I say I have a reservation. He says OK and that he is going to go find another hostel and do I want to meet again in the morning to get back on the Camino. I say yes.

We exchange WhatsApp numbers and plan to start walking again tomorrow.

Now, before anyone starts to think anything romantic, let me just say that I looked like a soaking wet rubber duck in a yellow raincoat and a sweatshirt with the kids’ faces all over it as well as a matching hat. When I handed him my business card that has my professional headshot on it, he looked at me and looked at the picture and looked at me and looked at the picture and shook his head. Because I look a hot drowned mess today and, I am not remotely interested in anything romantic at all, but it would be good to have a walking buddy, especially when it looks like we are the only two pilgrims on this Camino. Plus, if you know me at all, you know that I am as clumsy as it gets. It’s a good safety measure for me to have someone with me, in case I “fall and break a hip,” as my nephew would say. Because I’m old.

I got settled into the hostel. The only room left was a private one and to be honest, I am not disappointed. I am tired and it’s nice not to worry about being surrounded by a bunch of strangers, talking and making noise. I can spread out all of my clothes and hope they dry by morning.

On the Camino, you have to have two stamps in your passport every day minimum. I stopped and got a snack at a restaurant and also got a stamp on my passport and the hostel manager gave me another stamp. So I have three from today and that’s a good start.

Because I am in charge of creating all the trivia postcards for the virtual races, I learn a lot about all the places that we virtually walk or run, so it’s been really fun to see things in person that I’ve already learned about for the virtual race. I saw the monastery and the lookout point that are on our mile marker postcards for the virtual run. They are really beautiful in person.

The worst part about all of this rain and having to wear a raincoat is that no one can see the charity shirts that I’m wearing. I’m not raising awareness out here so far. I am hoping that changes.

CDH International is not a registered charity in Spain. There’s actually a really great charity here and we work together. I wish I had thought to bring along some type of business card for them. Not that I have any stacks of business cards for CDH International. I only packed about five because I’m trying to keep the weight in my bag as low as possible. When I talk about CDH in Spain, I talk about both charities. I hope I get to tell more people about both charities and the fight that all these kids go through.

My feet are throbbing, my knees are aching, I am wet and tired, but the one thing that repeats in my head all day, every day is that no matter how tough things are, it’s nothing compared to what these kids go through.

I’m trying to figure out a way to splice up my son’s videos so that I can share them on social media, but it’s two hours long and I really don’t know how to do a lot of the fancy social media video things. I want to share more of his story.

As I’m walking, the minute I start to complain in my head, “This is really hard,” I just remember Shane laying in the hospital with tubes, on the ventilator, not knowing if he was going to survive the next hour or the next chance to grow up.

I think if we want the world to see something and we want to be someone who helps to change the world, then we have to be willing to do the hard things for it, to suffer for it even. We have to show how important something is because just screaming or sharing photos and posting on social media isn’t loud enough. I’ve been doing this for 29 years and it’s not been loud enough. It may seem silly thinking that somehow walking through mud puddles is going to inspire enough people to help. Make a change by donating or walking with me, but everything is silly if you think about it. I’m willing to walk 118 km in the pouring rain and driving wind if it means that there’s a chance it will inspire people to help make a change for these kids. Maybe if they see me out here doing a lot, they might want to do even a little. Every little bit helps.

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