For some reason, me the spaz just can’t seem to wrap my head around the concept of vacation. You picture yourself on a beach somewhere surrounded by an ice blue colored ocean, a lounge chair and some kind of book that your brain doesn’t have to be focused on to comprehend. That sound about right? The fact that I have an attention span as lengthy as a two-year old full of sugar does not correspond with the words “calm” or “relax”. So vacation to ME, may be entirely different. After last year’s 15 day, five-country expedition, I thought maybe this year we can do something a little more leisurely. It is not like we’re on “The Amazing Race” on CBS. When I say “we” I am referring to two of my aunts. One is my Dad’s sister; one is my Mom’s sister, which is a pretty cool dynamic. And they are not rickety old aunts who knit shit and wear housecoats. They’re both pretty bad ass and well traveled. Bonus: we travel really well together.

This year was no different. We had a very brief conversation about going to Italy. At our own pace. I pictured myself on Lake Como waving from a boat to my ex-boyfriend George Clooney (I broke up with him when he got married.) I would stroll through the cobblestone streets of Venice or window shop in Milan while trying to get a spaghetti sauce stain out of my pashmina.

It was a short-lived vision. The nature of the trip took a dramatic spin on its heels and before I knew it, I was off to Spain. Not Madrid or Barcelona where it’s glamorously cosmopolitan, but in the northernmost mountains to hike 100 miles of the Camino de Santiago. I didn’t know what it was either when I agreed to this trip. As the months passed and this vacation was approaching, I thought I should I do a little bit of research. What I read, and what I actually experienced was very different. You cannot put into words what the actual journey was like unless you experience it for yourself. I purchased all the equipment that was suggested, left my makeup, high heels and big fat ego at home and off I went. Hey, I thought, it’s just a hike through some mountains.

For the next 12 days I walked up, down and across terrain I’d never seen in my lifetime. We traversed the Meseta which is known for being hot, lengthy and dry. We had no idea of the time it would take or the distance to the next destination. I walked up 90 degree peaks with slick rocks and paths only 4 feet wide. I felt like a mountain goat. It was like something out of a movie. And you just walk and walk and walk. Even though it sounds redundant, it was anything but.

When you’re walking all day in a group of 20, every day over two weeks, it’s hard not to get to know the others in the group. You think you know by first impressions and surmise what each person is like. As we all know, that’s not accurate. So it was interesting to get to members of my group an hear the reasons why they were doing the Camino. Some had spiritual reasons; others wanted to check it off their bucket list. Personally I just wanted to go to Spain and eat and see hot guys. I’m not that deep; or so I thought. Spain is an incredibly laid-back country. They don’t wake up and get going until well after 9 am. Try walking into any establishment or the hotel lobby looking for coffee anytime before then and they look at you as if your head is on fire. They shut everything down between 2-5pm and dinner isn’t until 10 pm at the earliest. Took some adjusting to force cured meats and goat cheese down my gullet that late and go to bed at midnight.

The women are dressed impeccably. I’m talking blown out hair, beautifully applied makeup and Vogue type fashion. You won’t see Alejandra running errands in yoga pants, a hoodie and some sort of messy bun piled onto her head looking like she just fell off the back of a landscaping truck. Woman of all ages are flawless, day or night. They must have looked at me like I was some sort of lost hobo who took a wrong turn and ascended down from the mountains. The women also walk everywhere linked arm in arm. Moms/daughters, daughters/grandmothers, friends/friends. I’m going to start doing this with my own friends and family. I think if I linked my arm with one of my sisters strolling through the mall, they’d try to commit me. But it’s a really nice thing to see.

Spain is just a happy place. They are loud, celebratory and all about family. They love Americans. They are truly honored especially when people come from all over the world to walk the Camino. It’s incredibly sacred to Spain.

I didn’t come back from walking the famous Camino with a newfound love of God or a deep look into my soul. What I did come back with is an appreciation for how the people of other cultures treat one another. They’re not hostile or angry. They’re not fighting within themselves, their communities or their country for that matter. They are welcoming and helpful and kind. They love to love. They don’t worry about superficial shit like we do. They take care of themselves and each other.

I will go back to Spain some day. Perhaps Madrid where I can wear my high heels and a little makeup and window shop linked arm and arm with my OWN Mom.

Michelle is originally from Malden, Ma. Now resides in Falmouth with her two beloved dogs. She has been a hairstylist for many years and works in a popular spa in downtown Falmouth. She loves Crossfit, her dogs….any dogs for that matter and Oreos.