Amigas on the Camino

30 adventurous Smile Network donors walked 80 miles from the tip of Portugal through Spain on the famed Camino in September.  The group raised $95,000 that will  provide free life-changing surgeries to impoverished children in developing countries.   Thank you to all our donors, and their friends and families who raised both awareness and dollars for Smile Network.

Change the world.Change the future. Change a life.

Guest post from trekker Anita Muldoon

Mi Amigas,

I awoke this morning with a pit from the silence that surrounded us; no familiar faces, no laughter. I missed you all.
We made our way by foot to the bus station in the pouring rain. As we rode to the airport, I imagined us all along the way and I was grateful for the glorious days we had to walk our miles. I saw many trekkers forging through the storm; I knew the drill- they were almost there!

I thought of you all, and imagined your laughter, when Said and I took an hour to work our way out of the Avis Rental place. First, the digital programming of the  Audi is all in Spanish and then our ticket didn’t work to get our of the parking lot. We spent our first 10km driving in circles!!
We made our way to Fisterra; to the end of the earth. It was beautiful, even in the rain, but not enough to hold us. We ended up driving back from whence we came, spending the night just outside of Ponteverda. Missing Kim’s expertise, we found a one star (1*) hotel and, with trepidation, lugged our suitcases up the stairs to find a wonderful, quaint little room, and a delicious meal, including garlic soup!! Fear not, we shared the jus de garlic!!
Anyway, I just want to say that I hope you all made it home safely and with the warmth of heart that I have come to feel for all of you. I will remember each step we shared, with a smile, and especially because of the smiles we earned together, on the little faces yet unknown.
Love to you all, and with much gratitude-
Nita

 

trek 2

Stepping Forward on the El Camino de Santiago

By Guest Blogger Caryn Sullivan- Author of Bitter or Better and Columnist for the Pioneer Press

September 6, 2015

On August 30 I joined a group of mostly strangers to walk the Portuguese route of the El Camino de Santiago. Unlike several of my fellow trekkers, I was not particularly well-versed on the history of the El Camino so it was not the history that drew me in. I’d signed on because I needed a physical challenge to reclaim my body and reboot my spirit after an emotionally draining and  sedentary winter, during which I completed and published my memoir, Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page. Walking 80 miles for Smiles in a country I’d yet to visit sounded like a good way to do so. And, as I discovered, six days of walking afforded a lot of opportunity for reflection and writing.

*****

September 2, 2015 

Our group of 16 has been together for days now, taking one step after another, though it feels as if we’ve been together much longer. We’ve traversed asphalt roadways and vine-draped countrysides, revealing vulnerabilities that transform strangers into confidants. We’ve spoken of loved ones we’ve lost, from infants to adult children to spouses and parents, sharing stories of life with and without them. As we’ve walked through forests, resplendent with lush verdant ferns, we’ve spoken of adventures we’ve taken and dream of taking, never knowing if at the next turn we’ll encounter a spray of purple bougainvilleas cascading down a wall or roosters huddling between cornstalks.

It might be serendipitous that so many of us have experienced great challenges in our lives. Or perhaps it is not an accident, for the El Camino is renowned for attracting soul-searching “peregrinos” – trekkers who walk dozens to hundreds of miles to reach the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims are searching for many things. Some may not even realize they are doing so. Others are on a definite mission.

We walk in pairs and groups up and down steep inclines, some of us using poles to propel us forward, others only sheer determination. Occasionally, we drop back and walk without a partner. I imagine others are indulging memories and thoughts about the future, as I do in my solitary moments. Many of us leave prayers and rocks at churches and makeshift monuments, some with forethought and others, like me, more spontaneously.

Though tears have been spilled along the way, we’ve shared many lighthearted moments, too, as over meals and wine we’ve exposed the lighter sides of ourselves. I’ve delighted in discovering that many of my fellow adventurers are perceptive students of life, mindful of a choice: we can be bitter – or we can be better. Many of us have made the choice to not only be better ourselves, but also to step forward to bring more children and families into the Smile Network fold. For in addition to our personal motives, we’re raising awareness about children (and occasionally adults) who are born with cleft lips and palates but without the means to pay for the corrective surgeries to repair them. Together, we 16, strangers no longer, are walking 80 miles to pay for new smiles. When we leave Spain we will do so with new blisters, friends, and memories, and the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of others.

Group