It’s not the trip I had envisioned for myself this year, but sometimes fate intervenes. I was looking through my options for an African safari but the variety of itineraries and available dates did not meet my needs, especially because I am specifically interested in including Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia where the local herd of elephants are known to hang around and even walk through the lobby…but primarily in November when the nearby mango trees bear fruit. Apparently they’re very fond of those mangoes. Of course, one can never guarantee a particular experience when wildlife is involved, but I’d like to maximize my chances of witnessing these magnificent, intelligent and emotional creatures quietly filing through the lobby. I’d also like to combine the safari with a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, but I’m not quite in shape for a hike up 19,000+ feet of mountainous terrain. I’m in good shape, yes, but I still need to prepare more for such a feat, and so I’m putting those plans off until next year.
With plans up in the air, and me casting about for a particular destination on my extremely long list of must-see places to jump up and shout “pick me” I was surprised when a good friend, and fellow writer, Xina Marie Uhl, announced that she was going to do Camino de Santiago, an ancient 500-mile pilgrimage route across Northern Spain favored by both religious adherents and hiking enthusiasts. When she asked if I would like to accompany her, I said yes without hesitation. (There were the twin caveats of securing time off from work and arranging pet sitting, but as they say, “where this is a will, there is a way.”)
Xina is doing it for reasons of faith and I admire her for her belief that “the spirit has called” her to do this pilgrimage at this particular time. Although not religious myself, I support my friends who are and enjoy attending their children’s baptisms or confirmations. So I’ve told Xina I’ll be her emotional support, butt-kicker (when needed) and plucky comic relief.
Why am I doing it? For the challenge, to prove to myself that I am as strong as I believe I am. (And, yes, as training for Mount Kilimanjaro.) And you might say I’m doing it for my spirit. As you know, I’ve been dealing with migraines, and while I’m doing much better, I still don’t feel back to my old self. I miss myself. I miss my creativity, the ability to turn scraps of paper with scribbled ideas on them into short stories in a matter of days. Seeking to re-awaken my brain by going to graduate school is helping, but it’s not enough. My spirit needs more. It needs the open road, my own two feet, a small camera, a notebook. It needs freedom.