You Got This

The first day on my Camino – walking out of St. Jean, in southern France at the foot of the Pyrenees, I had no idea what I was in for. I had not really trained. But within an hour it would be abundantly clear to me I was in over my head. I stood at the foot of a very steep climb, the first of 100’s I would make in the next 5 weeks, up and out of the valley towards Honto. 

I remember looking up and I couldn’t see the top and was already winded from the hike out of the village. Others were sitting down on stumps at the side of the road – breathing hard, resting before they started up. I said out loud, to no one in particular ‘You have to be fucking kidding me. I can’t get up that!’ Those who heard me nodded in agreement or just kept going. Then I started to kind of hyper ventilate. But I also knew I couldn’t stay there. I had to start going up too. So I did.

It took me an hour to go no distance at all. I thought about camping out and sleeping there. If only I had known then, by the end of my Camino – 36 day’s later – I would be able to run up this little piece of nothing, backwards, with my fully loaded pack and my weekly grocery shopping,. But on this first day, I was panicking. And I also learned something about myself. Looking up and trying to gauge how far I had to go was unhelpful. It was UP – that’s all I needed to know. And the only way I was going to get to the top, was to put one foot in front of the other.

I also realized it was my feet that were going to get me over the mountain – or the hill. It was my brain that was getting in the way. I just needed to make sure I kept taking a step – not so hard. I also made a deal with myself. When I encountered these obstacles, I would allow my eyes to look up just once from the bottom, letting that panicky feeling wash over me. And then I’d look at my feet and not look up again. Asking ‘how much further’ was a fools errand. It was as far as it was going to be – and I had gone as far as I had, so far.

‘OK. We got this.’ I would say out loud. And then I would take the first step.

I am sitting here remembering this today, because some of the things I’ve had to figure out since, even before we moved to Valencia, have felt like that first climb up to Honto – and then on to Orrison, to collapse and get a bed for the night. Wondering what the hell I was doing. I’ve taken them each, one at a time. Sometimes it’s seemed like what we need to do is so daunting, confusing and never ending – and I’ll never figure it out. And then I remember that day. Being a big believer in talking to myself – out loud if need be – usually my self talk goes ‘You just gotta break it down. One step at a time and start at the beginning.’

I had been putting off getting my driving license. Driving in Spain seemed hard and scary. As an American, I’d heard from so many people it was a huge deal and an epic hassle and it was going to take forever – if I ever got it. I read so many forums and the requirements seemed impossible to fulfill. A medical/psych eval? Where do you get that? And where would I start to figure out how to make the appointment with the scary, unhelpful guard at the Jefatura? And even if I got one – how am I going to communicate? And the documents and forms required and all the copies? The rules are crazy with double negatives, and back flips, and if you don’t stick the dismount…? Yup – I’m mixing my metaphors. But don’t get me started on practical drivers training in Spanish.

Then one day – NOT driving, was getting harder than it seemed these tests would be. And on that day, I sat down – not on FB forums or expat websites where they tell you you’ll never be able to do it – and translated the ministry website. Guess what –  it wasn’t really that big a deal if you break it down. Then I signed up for practice tests online – and that was really helpful. Suddenly, rules that seemed Greek to me a few weeks before, started making sense. Carol sent me the English manual (Thank You!) and it all came together. Just like my Camino – one foot in front of the other.

And I’m happy to say that, while I’m not at my final destination (EU license in hand), I’ve climbed the first hill. Early yesterday morning, I took the taxi out to the trafico office in the middle of rice fields, with my appointment, and my plastic folder, and I took that test. Drum roll please…I passed my theory test! My result was ‘Apto, or Suitable! I’ve never been so happy to be just ‘Suitable’ in my life. Just 2 mistakes. I had one as a buffer for good measure. Now I can sign up for the driving instruction classes, and then take the practical test. Did I hyper ventilate a little before answering those 30 questions out of a possible 3500? Sure. I was less nervous taking the SAT’s. But once I started it wasn’t so bad. Just read and re-read one question at a time.

And I just conducted the official ceremony handing over the ‘English Driving Manual’ to El Jefe. He was happy I passed, but he seemed less than enthusiastic that he’s up to bat now. My fate in this life is to be the guinea pig, the crash test dummy or the canary in the coal mine. Take your pick. He will draft in my wake on this one. But his competitive spirit will kick in any day. I feel sure when he takes it he’ll strive to beat my 2 small mistakes.

There were a lot of lessons on my Camino – Em and I are doing the Portuguese this June, and I’m sure they’ll be many more. But I think the most important was the first one, in the first hour, of the first day. And like most things on the Camino, each subsequent one came at just the right time. At the moment of the lowest ebb, where you think you’re going to break. And then you don’t, and you find out how strong you really are. 

Challenges in life are big and small. Looking back, it’s been more than a year since we started this journey and the lessons of the Camino still ring in my head. Giving me small reminders every day ‘You got this’.

It was a dark and stormy night



Well, it was actually a dark and stormy afternoon. And it was the day that I realized the theme of this week should be ‘The Appointment to Make the Appointment’. We hit the ground running this week.




Our first annual medical exams since we’ve been here – actually, we were way past due before we left so it was time to go get a check up and all the commiserate tests. We’re both over 50 now so the tune up and oil change takes a little more work. Blood tests and ultra sounds. It requires multiple doctors and the process here is a little more round-trip intensive.




First, we go to the clinic to make the appointment because we can’t do it over the phone – being Spanishly challenged. Then we go to the appointment and meet with the doctor. Whichever doctor it is orders tests. We go to where we are going to have the tests. Then they tell you when you can return to pick up the results – they don’t just send it to the Dr. who ordered the tests. Then you pick up the results and return to the doctor to make an appointment to review your results. Etc. Rinse and Repeat.




Jeff got lucky this time because I went to our English speaking family practitioner first. I happened to mention that Jeff would be making an appointment himself to see him. The Dr. felt he would save him some time and gave me all the blood work orders for Jeff too. So he got to skip two steps right out of the gate. When he complained about going to the Dr. after his tests came back I wanted to punch him.




Today, I had an appointment to take the examination for the driving theory test at the Jefatura de Trafico. I made it the week before we left for Brazil online and I have spent every day since doing nothing but studying the book and taking the online practice tests.  OK, that and watching a Breaking Bad marathon but you can do both at the same time. I know I’m ready because I’m passing nearly every practice test I take. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the test of getting to the test.




I had even attempted a dry run. This week I had to go get my psychological/medical fitness certificate. The clinics are across the street from the Jefatura so I knew where to go. It took 10 minutes, during which time they asked if I was depressed, tested my eyes and made me play a video game where I had to keep the two bars on the screen inside the winding road. Twenty six euros later and I had my certificate.




Since I was right across the street, I thought I’d go check out the Jefatura de Traffico and learn the system and ask for the remaining forms I required. Just so I’d be ready today. The security guard is brutal on the ‘taking-of-the-number’ business. I was not getting past him to ask a small question – without the requisite appointment. So no dry run.




Today – test day – Jeff came with me and we went early. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. I’d gotten my passport photos at the machine in the subway and I had all the copies that Spanish bureaucracy requires. Everything in triplicate. But getting into the equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicle early is not allowed. Seriously, you can’t get there early – just at your appointed predetermined time. While I was in line waiting to learn this little tidbit from the militant security guard, I found my Irish friend, Donna, happened to be in line in front of me. She was swapping her driving license out – because EU citizens just exchange theirs with a form and and fee. Me? I have to act like I’m 15 again.




So after our unceremonious booting out of the Jefatura (the guy actually wagged his finger at me and said ‘No!’), we went across the street with our tails between our legs to have a coffee and to wait until the machine, that gives you a number the security guard checks so very closely, will spit out a ticket that gives you the privilege to sit down and wait. And wait. And wait.




Finally, we decided to leave the safety of the cafe to brave ‘El Securidad’ once more, and success! The ticket has 3 letters and 3 numbers. Then you sit and wait, looking up at screens every time the bell goes ‘Ping!’, checking your ticket against the information on the screen. It’s like playing Keno. When other combinations would come up and it had a common letter or number to mine – Jeff would comment on it. When my number came I almost shouted out ‘BINGO!’ but he was on to me and whispered ‘Don’t do it.’ So I held back.




Up I went to the window with my documents and copies in my plastic folder. Just like everyone else here, you go to no official building without your plastic folder full of everything you have ever documented since the beginning of time – this can include your baptismal certificate. The gentleman who helped me was very nice. He looked at what I had brought and then took my Residencia/NIE card back to have it examined by someone else and they had a long discussion about it. I was having flashbacks to the Spanish Embassy in Los Angeles. If I had to conjure bank statements I was going to scream.




Then, he came back and brought forms with him. He typed alot, glued my photos to a form, and more typing. Then he asked me when I wanted to take my test. 




‘How about now?’ I told him. I’m not sure why he thought I was there.




‘Oh no. Today you pay. You take the examination on December 3.’ He looked at me confused that I didn’t know this was ‘the appointment to make the appointment’. The test will be at a place several miles outside of town in a couple of weeks.




What could I do? Storm off? It’s just how it is. But I was a little disappointed. I was ready. I was psyched up. I memorized the manual on two continents and 24 hours in the air. I had asked Jeff over the last 48 hours one hundred times if he thought I was going to pass. I peaked too soon! But now I have a packet of all the forms and everything I’ll need in a couple of weeks. I am resigned. Jeff was less than happy.




We went home on the subway and when we got to the Benimachlet metro stop it was clear that the storm outside had become something of an issue. The water was pouring  down the stairs like a waterfall. I hid my packet of precious stamped theory test documents – including my new appointment time – under my rain coat and made a run for it. I took a video so you could see how much rain we’re talking about.








I had thought about wearing my Hunter boots today. It was raining after all. But I just wore my little green rubber ankle Boggs. My go-to rain boots for a Seattle rain. Today, they were woefully inadequate. I needed fishing waders – no kidding. By the time we got home with the rain coming down sideways, both of us were soaked to the bone. Like someone had sprayed us with a hose for 5 blocks straight.




‘We have to stop!’ I shouted at him half way home from the Metro station.




‘Why? We can’t get any wetter!’ Jeff wisely shouted back. And of course, he was right. But everyone on the street was laughing. Movie rain is like that. We’re all in the same boat, or swimming in the same ocean, I guess.




When I got home, I saw this lithograph I had bought at an artist gathering in Sao Paolo and it made me smile. Something about it struck me at the time and I stuffed it in my already bulging bag for the trip home – Jeff just shaking his head. So today, it seemed appropriate since my own umbrella was in the exact same position. A premonition of sorts.







I’ll have to remember the lessons of this week when we start our residency renewal in a few months. And allow enough time to make ‘the appointment, to make the appointment’. Hopefully, that day it will be a little less wet.