I was so excited to get to Lisbon to celebrate Pride. After the Orlando shooting, we so wanted to join our peers in solidarity and love, and Lisbon boasted that their Pride festival was the largest in Portugal, so we were stoked. What I didn’t consider was this little piece of advice I’ll now pass on to other pilgrims: When returning from a 30+ day Camino, allow yourself time to get re-acquainted with the noisy real world.
I’m reminded of returning from IntimacyFest last year. After a weekend full of openness, honesty, sharing and brutal transparency, our coaches warned us to be mindful when re-entering our “Default World,” or the reality where life goes on at full speed, where friends and family members didn’t experience what we did, so they wouldn’t be likely able to relate, where we would feel alone in our cold, closed off world. And they were right. I remember clinging to my IntimacyFest compadres, meeting them at family camping weekends, to go on walks, to spend any quality time I could (hell, I even flew to Boston to eat ice cream with Andrew – but I’m so glad I did). Because things had changed for me.
And for me, the Camino was similar. Andrew and I isolated ourselves for 32 days. We eliminated most of our creature comforts (except for the Haribo sour candies - we will always make room for those), limited ourselves to three outfits and a pair of hiking boots, and confined our daily activities to walking, eating, drinking, sleeping, and occasionally baby-making. Our environment, while beautiful, contained a population of at most 10 people at a time, and outside of our natural surroundings, we had very little else to interact with. The hostels and albergues and restaurants all catered to us, and prices were ridiculously cheap to accommodate the pilgrim budget. Every human we met was genuinely interesting and interested. We were part of something bigger.
We then left this isolated community to join the bustling city of Lisbon two days ago. We had to take a 9-hour bus ride, where the bus driver played his soccer match and music selections for the entire bus... the entire time. Then we checked into a fancy hotel, took a shower, and set off for a late dinner and Pride. As we were walking down the street, past hoards of excited soccer fans (Portugal had just won a match against Croatia as we arrived), I felt extremely awkward, sad and lonely.
We found a little street patio and ordered a bottle of wine and some octopus to share, where the waiter was rude and distracted, and the bill was 70 euro. I nearly went postal on him when he asked for a tip and then chased us down the street because he had forgotten to charge us for the soup and wanted us to give him more money. We certainly weren’t on the Camino anymore.
And then, when we joined the Pride festivities in the Arraial Festival stage, it just felt off. Pride in Lisbon is nothing like pride in Cincinnati or San Diego or New York. It isn’t about color and expression and connection. The other attendees seemed closed off and interested only in their own circles. So I came back to the hotel drunk and deflated. How disappointing.
It was only after our beautiful day touring the beach-lined coast of Portugal yesterday, sipping Sangria and sunbathing, then gorging ourselves on a sushi-boat (Dear Lord, how I have missed sushi), that I realized the cause for my temporary depression the day before. I simply hadn’t acclimated myself back to the Default World.
As we were leaving Santiago, we saw several of our pilgrim friends who were continuing on to Finisterre, or going back to Guemes to serve as Hospitaliaros, because they just weren’t ready to leave. Thinking about them, and about the pilgrims we met who have done 2, 3, or 4 Caminos before this one, I get it. I understand how special the little Camino world is now. And I will cherish it.
Oh, and I’ll definitely be back.