Yosmar’s Story: Tastes of the Camino

Yosmar is a pilgrim of life. Like me, she was in the middle of seeking something better when she decided to walk the Camino de Santiago. Afterward, she sought a way to bring this meaningful experience to the world.

How do we live a more inspired, more Camino-like life every day? As a fellow writer and seeker, I’m delighted to share her story. Yosmar’s story shows how she ultimately chose to bring delight and deliciousness to the world.

Tastes of the Camino… The Camino’s gift to me

Yosmar Martinez

Like many who embark on the Camino, I was in a very dark phase of my life prior to experiencing the Camino. For almost ten years, I had been very unhappy in my career, which led me to being unhappy in my life. At times, I thought my unhappiness was job-specific…. If I could get a job where I was paid more, I would be happier… If I didn’t have a neurotic or spineless boss, I would enjoy what I was doing…  If I didn’t have to commute an hour each way, I wouldn’t be so exhausted at the end of the week and my quality of life would be so much better… You name it…

If there was an “if,” it was something I had pondered on and believed would make me happier.  So as many do, I switched jobs a few times to try to address some of those “if’s.” Each time, the initial ecstasy of the new opportunity would fade within months and I would be back to the same place.  

I also took sometime to go to culinary school and deep down I knew I had to do something with food. But I wasn’t sure what.  I started a specialty food business but I was not meeting my financials goals within the timeframe I had allotted. I taught cooking classes on a part time basis. I loved teaching as it really allowed me to share my passion about food with others. But I had a hard time making ends meet just teaching.  So I always kept my corporate career. It was my safety net and yet, it was also a huge factor in my unhappiness.

The two years right before that first Camino in 2011 were particular tough. During the great recession, my position was eliminated and the job market shrunk.  \So I decided to get into real estate. I was truly excited about this new career path but it was tough being that the market was in the dumpster.

The constant struggling in a down market and the ongoing unhappiness really wore me down. And that is when I decided to walk the Camino, despite having all sorts of reservations… Could I physically walk 500 miles? Was the Camino for me, being the non-religious, non-spiritual person that I was? Would I even enjoy myself?

After returning from my first Camino, like many, I was able to see the positive impact that the Camino had on me. It wasn’t a sudden or dramatic change. But for one, I reacted to problems a bit more calmly… I also didn’t need material things as much. It also seemed to give me the courage to at least start writing a cookbook, something I had always wanted to do but was afraid of.

You see… during those 10 years of ongoing dissatisfaction and unhappiness, I had lost my self-confidence and the ability to belief in my ideas. But somehow, after arriving in Santiago, I was compelled to write a book about the foods of the Camino. So I started working on my Camino cookbook… developing recipes and writing. I knew I would enjoy the recipe development because after all I love everything about food! But I didn’t consider myself a writer so I was somewhat fearful of that part of the book.  

To my surprise, I found the writing portion extremely therapeutic.  It was almost as the world around me didn’t exist while I was writing and therefore, nothing could bring me down. While I was enjoying myself, deep down, I still was unsure if this book would ever see the light of day. Because of my work and travel commitments, it took about three years to complete the manuscript.  

It was only when the manuscript was done that I started to believe that there would actually be a real book. I decided to self-publish and had to learn a “boatload of new”… food photography, food styling, book design, indexing, printing, website development, how to open an LLC, sales tax, etc. But somehow overcoming this “boatload of new” gave me back my self-confidence… In essence, the Camino and this cookbook, Tastes of the Camino, put me on a positive path that I had been searching for a very long time.  And when I became more positive, things just started falling into place.

What this positive path will bring me is yet to be known. It might be more books … It might be something else food related… It might be something totally unrelated that I can’t even fathom! Right now, I am not too concerned because I am enjoying this gift the Camino has given me. I put emphasis on the word “enjoying” because I feel that society puts too much emphasis on being happy rather than enjoying happiness. And sometimes we are so desperately in search of this ultimate state of mind/state of mind called happiness that we don’t see it in our day to day and thus, we forget to enjoy it. Without having walked the Camino and written Tastes of the Camino, I am unsure I would have ever come to this realization.

For more information on Tastes of the Camino, please visit www.whiskandspatula.com/books.

A Finisterre finale

Arriving at the end and making a new friend

For all my elation at arriving in Finisterre, I woke up exhausted and grouchy. The echoing marble hallway outside my room amplified the conversations and activities of every guest entering into the wee hours of morning. At six, chipper early birds woke me, and I jumped out of bed, irritated and scowling.

Here’s what I know, though. If sleep deprivation makes me more reactive, it also makes me more open, more sensitive, and more attuned to the world around me. Not getting enough sleep breaks me down in an ultimately good way.

I still have no idea how walking backwards is going to work. I’m nervous about it. But I’m not going anywhere today. I’m staying in Finisterre to visit the old haunts.

Here’s my list:

  1. Get wine and snacks for sunset
  2. Visit the pilgrim office to get my stamp
  3. Send an email home to say I arrived safely
  4. Find a new compass
  5. Walk around the isthmus and visit the beach
  6. Watch the sun set and have a cup of wine

*   *   *

Yes, I’ve come all this way and somehow forgotten my compass. It was just a tiny plastic one with a dial floating in alcohol, but it reassured me that I could get back on track if I got lost. Well, it wasn’t in my pack this morning. I can’t believe I forgot it.

As I walk through the village, I notice a Chinese market. Other pilgrims have told me these eclectic stores are worth a visit.

The tightly-packed shop is full of randomly-organized imports like children’s pajamas, women’s swimsuits, oversize pool towels, pots and pans, assorted packaged food, cheap earrings, gardening supplies, mops, and toys. Squeezing my way to the back, I spy a display with hanging air fresheners, oven thermometers, and—lo and behold—a compass! I pick it up for closer inspection, and discover that instead of north-south-east-west, its directional points are Chinese characters. Dozens of them. What the..? There’s no way I can use this. Even if the arrow technically points north, this would not help me in a freaked-out moment of disorientation.

Carrying it to the lady at the counter, I ask hopefully, “Tienes otros?

She shakes her head.

Returning the gadget to its hook, I exit the tienda compass-less—with no direction—which is coincidentally how I felt at the end of my last Camino. Despite my disappointment and anxiety, I feel a gentle resignation—or is it trust?—that this is how it’s supposed to be. I’ll find my way. Just a different way. Whatever I need will be provided.

*   *   *

The right people just show up. They always do.

After eating my first filling slice of Spanish tortilla and savoring a café Americano, and after receiving a stamp in my credencial at the pilgrim office, the right people just show up.

I get a warm embrace and kiss on both cheeks from the woman running my pensión (for giving her a bar of chocolate from Oregon), and she lets me use her computer to email a message to Mary.

I see the two American girls I met on the bus ride yesterday, and they give me a friendly hello.

I run into the restaurant owner where I ate this morning. When I mention I want to buy wine, he tells me to avoid the supermarket.

Quieres un vino barato or caro?” he asks, rubbing his fingers together in midair, making the universal symbol for money.

El medio,” I reply with a grin.

Vale. Ven conmigo,” he instructs and waves me uphill. I follow him back to his now-closed-for-siesta restaurant and buy a nice bottle from his stock. Thoughtfully, he hands me a few plastic cups and even pops the cork, since I have no opener. Yes, he’s probably charged me twice what locals pay, and I really don’t care. The Camino provides.

Despite feeling a little ridiculous walking around with a open bottle of wine sticking out of my pack, I am now prepared to toast the sunset and share wine with whoever shows up.

Finally, I meet Ruby.

*   *   *

The sand couldn’t be whiter. I squint myself teary descending toward the watercolor surf of aqua, turquoise, and cobalt. The sun overhead is warm, but counterbalanced by a cool breeze from the ocean. The last time I was here, Meg was with me. When we walked the beach that time, I struggled to breathe as pneumonia set in and struggled to prevent my emotions from overflowing. Here I sang the song I had been planning for two years, reduced to tears by confusion and fear.

Let me dive into the water, leave behind all that I’ve worked for—except what I remember and believe.

And when I stand at the farthest shore, I will have all I need.

And now I’m singing it again as tears roll down my face. I knew this moment would come, but I’m still surprised by the intensity. Long-withheld sobs escape my will to contain them. Meg. Thank you for showing me how to live. I had all I needed inside of me all along. 

I know have to let her go. She was so important to me then, but I have to let her go. It’s not healthy to make someone into an idol. I’m not ready yet, but realizing the time is nearing fills me with sadness and a kind of relief.

Minutes pass as I allow the waves to soak my legs, washing over me, cleansing, healing. Everything I need is already inside of me.

Sitting in the soft, hot sand, I lose track of time. I still can’t believe I’m back. Sifting through the glittering grains, I see myriad tiny shells that have washed up with each wave. I hear heavy breathing and look up to see two huge dogs racing toward me, barking and snarling. I leap from the ground and yell at them NO! Their owners, a distance off, call to them. One runs back, but the other holds his ground, hackles up and growling. NO!! I yell again. NO!! The owners whistle, and the dog leaves, glaring back at me as he goes.

My legs feel like rubber. I sit down on the sand again, shaking. Jesus! I usually like dogs and get along with them. Why did I seem so threatening to that one? Minutes pass before I feel settled again.

My only plan now is to watch the sunset, but I’m really hoping for emotional closure before I start walking tomorrow. There are hours before I head over to the lighthouse.

As I look absently at the beach, I notice a tiny orange scallop no bigger than my thumbnail. Then a second one. Symbols of baptism and rebirth. I gather up some sand and put them in a plastic baggie for safekeeping. I’m going to carry these home with me as evidence, just like ancient pilgrims once did, that I walked to the end of the earth and survived the return journey.

As I scoop up sand, a woman wanders along the shoreline and then comes up the beach in my direction. I’m not feeling chatty, but she looks at me with a beautiful smile and says hello in English.

“I saw you sitting there looking for shells, and decided to come talk to you. Shell collectors are my favorite people.”

I smile. “Hi. I’m Jen from Oregon.”

“I’m Ruby from all over. Mind if I sit?”

Instead of the superficial conversation I feared, we dive into topics that really matter to the heart and soul. She is just finishing seven weeks of walking and has had a truly profound experience. Ruby is actually from three different countries—a true citizen of the world—and is healing old wounds in this walk. She shares that she met someone special on the Camino, but it is over now and is wondering what it all means.

“I can relate,” I tell her.

“Oh?”

“I met someone special too.” And take my time telling her the story of my three-years-ago Camino, about meeting Meg and the profound awakening that followed. “My life fell apart afterwards. It was a slow and painful journey, but eventually I learned how to open my heart and live that joy.” As I recount this tale, she remarks how my story parallels her own journey’s insights. She really understands.

“The Camino changed your life,” she says.

I sigh with relief. “It really did. I’m not sure why you showed up, Ruby. But I really needed to share this story, and feel so grateful for your listening.”

Smiling, she says, “I’m so glad I walked up to you. I just had a feeling.”

Instead of parting ways, Ruby proposes we go back into town, get some dinner, and then go to the lighthouse for the sunset. “I also really want to pick up some prosecco to celebrate,” she adds.

I’m torn. On one hand, I really wanted to do this alone—or at least I thought I did. And I tell her so.

“Spend a minute reflecting,” she says encouragingly. “You’ll know what you need.”

In a flash, the realization hits me: I don’t want to be alone. All my life, I’m keeping myself just out of reach of everyone who loves me. Isn’t this what I learned from Meg? If I want connection, I need to live it.

“Let’s do it,” I say. She grins.

On our way up the beach, the dogs leave us alone.

*   *   *

We eat, and laugh, and walk up to the highest peak to look down on the lighthouse. We descend to watch the sunset as we talk about all we’ve learned. We share my wine and her prosecco with the people around us. Hearts from all over the world are here tonight in the fading light to celebrate the end.

And in the silence of the fading day, I realize that’s all it was. That day three years ago was just a day with Meg at the end of a very, very long walk. It was not unique because sunset-watching happens here daily. It wasn’t Meg, or the place, or something ephemeral and out of my control—what was different was me. I chose to let my self-protective shield fall away for the first time in my life. I allowed my receptive, joyful, radiant heart to blossom open in the presence of another person. It was never outside of me. It was always within me. 

Yet we all make choices to dim our light. The threat of alienating my loved ones with my newfound joy and aliveness seemed too risky at the time. With titanic effort, I masked my authentic self for months—with predictable consequences on my marriage, my livelihood, and my sanity. It seemed like a safe trade-off then, but time has made me wiser.

Ruby and I laugh together, enjoy the ocean sounds and stars, and say goodnight to the pilgrims around us. Under a waning moon, we walk back arm in arm to our respective abodes for sleep. I repeat to her how grateful I am, and we agree that we’ve been Camino angels for each other today.

The right people always show up.

I feel whole. I feel grateful for everything. To the very core of my being, I know this joy is mine to carry with me on the path ahead, just like the scallop shells in my pocket.

Reverse Camino Day 4: Finisterre, a poem

Total distance on foot: 8mi / 13km
Towns traveled through: Around Finisterre
This day in 2013: Day 45: Being myself and Day 44: Diving into the Water and Day 44: Sunsets and Dolphins

Finisterre

The place where I sacrificed myself on the altar of the doorway,

where I stumbled across the threshold of who I thought I was

to watch the sun go to die forever

and with it

my limiting sense of self.

Finisterre

the end of the earth, the coast of death

portal to the underworld

testing souls in its dark Atlantic depths

and your whispered promise of rising again

barely audible above the relentless wind.

Finisterre

of rocks and sea, sand and tides

beneath your lighthouse I revisited that sacred ritual

a push-pull strain between my radiant soul

and a conditioned lifetime of unspoken rules

where I cast my granite heart into your healing waves

to become nothing—and everything

dissolved to granular, yet somehow solid enough to stand.

And returning

returning to you as though I’d never left

as if you’d been there all along

not just in my mind, but real real real.

Now I am here, and I remember.

I was never meant to stay.

Your strength is meant to be lived in the world.

Now, I turn eastward, to face the sunrise

returning home on an uncertain path

carrying your light inside of me.

Always

Always I was meant to do this.

Finisterre

on your dark rocks among the brutal gorse and heather

you killed my illusions

you cut away that which buffered me from pain but kept me from truly living

Today, I walk on toward the promise of dawn

Never surer of anything.