DAY 2: “Ganbatte Kudasai!” The Gift of Optimism
Being optimistic is something I always like doing. I prefer feeling good to bad, being positive, not negative and being constructive rather than destructive. Who doesn’t? However on our first day on the Camino de Santiago del Norte we hiked 33 kilometres through harsh terrain and conditions with extremely heavy backpacks for over 10 hours. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling very optimistic about stepping back out into the world of walking. We had been honoured guests for the last day and a half at a Community house in the quiet and relaxed environment of the forests just outside of the bustling city of San Sebastian. But now it was time to be cast out of the secluded paradise and back into the world.
But to my surprise I wasn’t thrown into a world of sore feet or aching back and neck. Instead, I found myself enjoying the walk immensely. One of the reasons why, was that we had left at least 7 kilos of unnecessary things behind with the kind people of the Community. This made our backpacks much lighter, and we agreed that we would return to pick them up at the end of our walk. Finally, I could open my eyes, no longer squinting from the agony of the weight on my back and simply see the beauty around me. Different shades of soft green grass lined the countryside around us; kind tempered horses whinnied and came up to us from behind their barbed wire fences for a nuzzle; dark and smooth stones lay the path through an exquisite fern brush forest. We enjoyed a small snack lunch of organic spinach and corn empanadas with sparkling rooibos tea that we had procured from our new friends’ whole-foods store ‘Sentido Común’ in San Sebastian. It was the most inviting and warmly energised shop that I have visited. If you are ever in San Sebastian, you should check it out at Nr 6 General Etxague Kalea. Most of all of the vegetables are grown by the community members and all the baked goods are made by them in the very house we stayed in.
As we walked on throughout the day, the temperature was perfect, not too hot, not too cold and a slight breeze called the lavender stalks to dance in rhythm with our lighthearted steps. Yes, it was good to be optimistic.
I managed to keep a happy face until we found out that the last sign had relayed inaccurate information, and we were much much farther away from our destination than we had thought. I could feel the optimism draining away, my smiles turning down and my face transforming from the distinct flushed joy to a pale white, downcast fixture. My backpack slowly began to get heavier, my psyche failing to distinguish real from a simple dream. I was about to fade back into the creator of doom when, coming out to a highway clearing, we came face to face with a well groomed Japanese man and woman. Snapping a few photos of the beautiful views that I had become oblivious to, we struck up a conversation just as we were passing by, and we began to talk about traveling. I began to realise how silly sulking is. Here I was in the magnificent heart of northern Spain, the heart of Basque Country, which could almost be mistaken for Switzerland, and I was wasting my time brooding. The kind Japanese man noticed my sullen face and called out a few motivational words just as we were about to head on, and it really lifted my spirits. “Ganbatte Kudasai!” My mother and father had had the chance to travel to Japan, and so they understood the phrase: Chin up and Keep going! And so we did.
Even when it seems you are in darkest of the dumps, the dead of the night, the lowest you think you can sink, know that you are not! You just need to take that deep breath and look at the situation in a different light. Step back, turn three-quarters round and tilt your head upwards and I guarantee that you will see something different. You may be looking at the same thing, but it will look different nonetheless. Try being positive, even if every fibre of you is pulling you in other directions. Find one good thing about your situation. It always helps to be optimistic. Even now, I see my family around me as I sit in a farmer’s shed, poorly converted to a dingy, run-down half kitchen in a campground site outside of the seaside town of Zarautz. We are trying to make a dinner of lentils and rice with nothing but a dirty gas stove and a rusty pot. But guess what, I know our meal is going to be delicious because we’re making that dinner together as a family, we are going to share it together as a family and then we’re going to clean away together as a family. I am certain it is going to be one of the most memorable experiences that I will treasure not only because we are together, but because of this day, and the optimism and encouragement we received along our journey today!