Skip to content

Day 1: Sarria to Portomarin. 15 miles.

Our first day on the Camino began like an Edgar Allan Poe poem, or something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. A chill permeated the morning air and dense and heavy fog, like wet cotton, obscured the morning light. We set out alone; one backpack between us, the damp settling onto our shoulders as we hiked down the murky path.

And then, she appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, dark hair, pale face, a young woman alone on the trail.

“Hey, are you from Milwaukee?” she said, falling in beside us. Damn, I thought. Is our Midwestern accent giving us away again?

It wasn’t our “bubbler talk” that clued her in to where we were from. It was Kent’s Milwaukee Bucks t-shirt. Payton, our new hiking buddy, hailed from a small city in Northern Illinois, about an hour and a half from where we live. She was sports savvy and knew the NBA world championship Bucks team well. She told us she was finishing up a semester studying abroad in Santiago (our daughter studied in Seville) and also played soccer (ditto our daughter). Small world, right?

Kent and I play the same game every time we travel abroad. The question we pose to each other is this: how many people will be meet that we know? And no matter where in the world we’ve traveled, we’ve always met at least one person whom we know, or who, like Payton, hails from our tiny part of the globe.

That’s one reason why I love travel so much. Not only does it open us up to different cultures, ideas, foods and experiences (helping to reduce fear of “the other,” which I believe to be at the core of most human conflict and division), it also proves to me that our big world is much smaller than we believe it to be. As such, it’s easier for me to imagine getting my arms around it. I think people have more in common than many of us might realize (or admit), no matter if they live around the corner from us, or a half a world away. We’re all just people, trying most days to do our best, to find the right paths for ourselves. The upcoming generation faces so much unchartered territory, with many of them moving forward without any maps to guide them, diving headfirst into a world that is rapidly and continuously changing. Many of them do so with a spirit of adventure that isn’t beholden to what may have worked in the past, or what society expects of them in the future.

We walked with Payton for about a half hour. As the fog began to lift, we chatted about her experiences studying abroad and her possibilities for what might lie ahead. During an especially challenging uphill stretch, we told her that we were old and that she shouldn’t feel constrained by continuing to walk with us, or be conflicted about leaving us behind. As the fog began to lift and the sun wrestled its way from behind the clouds, Payton smiled, told us she was sure we’d meet again in the coming days, and bid us “Buen Camino.” She was out of sight before we’d made it even half way up the hill.

Exactly as it should be.


  1. So enjoying following your journey!

  2. Aha! WE have been together on many travels together and have experienced running into people all over the country and yes, France! All these coincidences only occur when you open up and speak to people. I often wonder how many of these opportunities are missed by people being closed up, shy, or preoccupied with their phones , etc. Buen Camino and Buen MKE!

    • Si! I’m having a blast rediscovering Spanish, even though it occasionally embarrasses the hell out of Kent when I attempt to engage people. To be fair, he’s now saying Buen Camino to nearly everyone. And today, we met a couple from Costa Rica who were just delightful, and who let me practice/butcher their language while we all had a good laugh. I’m being reminded once again, sometimes hourly, just how wonderful people can be. I’d like to bottle it up and bring it back to the U.S.–or maybe just carry it with me in my heart. I hope I can get through security…

  3. Yep, those hills can definitely slow you down! Know what you mean about unexpectedly meeting up with someone you know or lives nearby during your travels. That always happens to us, too!

    • Per your scouting report, we knew there would be hills, but until we experienced them for ourselves–ouch! Reminded us of “tramping” (hiking) in New Zealand a few years ago. We asked a local guide for some hiking suggestions. She looked us over, and then said: “For beginners?” Sheepishly, we said yes. The hike she recommended nearly killed us. The only thing that kept us going was knowing there was a local pub waiting for us at the end of the “tramp.” Those New Zealanders are made of heartier stuff than we are. Or, they have a wicked sense of humor!

  4. Well, you are off to a perfect start – but then, all days are perfect on your particular journey. I love that you are bringing back many wonderful memories of my own pilgrimage. What an honor to follow along with you both.

  5. Nice picture of Kent and the countryside.

  6. 15 mikes? I’m tired just reading that! Can’t wait to hear all about your adventure when we see you in July!

    • I’ll have lots of photos and videos for you!

  7. As one of those lovely travel show fellas says: Travel is the best antidote for prejudice, ignorance and narrow-mindless (or something like that)~

    Walk well and stray!


    • That travel show fella was absolutely correct! We’re trying to walk well, and we definitely strayed today–about 4 miles outside of the Camino. It was an adventure I hope to be writing about soon. Stay tuned, and thanks for commenting Christy!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *