First Grade Woes (otherwise known as Camino de Santiago training)

I’ve completed my first fortnight of first grade. It’s been great – shorter days, longer patio breaks, no big surprises from kids I’ve already taught for a year. But, dios santo, am I tired!

Last Friday, while walking home as the Iberian sun was high in the sky, I was carrying two bags full of books, my computer, my purse and a very angry face. September in Sevilla is no stranger to 35º heat in the middle of the afternoon, and at that time, shade is nowhere to be found. Trying not to sweat, my normal 17-minute walk from train to casa stretched to 40 minutes, and I arrived home to my dear Nov laying on the couch in front of the air with a beer in hand.

La madre!” I exclaimed, cursing the heat, my bag and the terribly poor choice of shoes I had slipped on that morning. “I’m practically ready for the Camino with this load!”

My dear guirita Hayley, another one of us Bitten-by-Spain-and-oops-we’re-still-here friends, and I have resolved to do a quick hike around the Spanish block by way of a well-worn trail in a few summers (so get your Masters finished already, woman!). This “hike,” however, is not really just a simple stroll through the woods: it’s a nearly 1000km pilgrimage across Northern Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela, a mere stone’s throw from the camp I work at during summer months. Hayley and I have already braved the elements in raining Galicia this summer, so we should be pros. I do have a leg up on her, though: I teach small humans, and that, amigos, is training enough (famous last words).

Carrying kids = carrying a backpack

My boss, the all-great Doña María, gave me my first wrist-slapping by way of a semi-compliment. “You must have been a great secondary teacher – you’re ignoring all the whining!” Yes, I took no crap from my teenaged olivareños, but a child under the age of six needs to feel loved and secure at school. This was her way of saying I needed to be more affectionate with the kiddos, it seems, so I do the un-American thing of hugging, kissing and complimenting my young students.

My back may never be the same after teaching young learners (that, and all of those years of gymnastics and falls off beams and bars), but I look forward to the outpour of hugs. Sure, this means I have a constant cold, but when you’re ready to tear your hair out, nothing beats it. And when your boyfriend is in Somalia, is keeps your emotions afloat, too! I have kids hanging off of me like monkeys from a tree, and I enjoy (nearly) every second. And carrying all of my belongings across the Pyrenees and wind-swept plains of Spain? Pan comido. I give piggyback rides like it’s my job. Oh, yeah, it is!

All day on my feet = all day walking

Every time Kike complains of my shoe pile, I shoot him a “must be nice to fly a plane and sit down all day” looks. As a teacher, I am up stairs, crouched down to kid-level, running after them and standing tall, exuding confidence. My feet suffer as much as my back. My feet are currently home to a broken pedicure and five blisters, something that will become commonplace on my long walk.

Former pilgrims tell me the right kind of footwear and plenty of thick socks is the best thing you can do while preparing for the Camino. Tell me, the seño, something I don’t know.

It’s not the destination, but the journey

Call me contrite (or someone who is severely and almost detrimentally optimistic), but that age-old mantra that what leads up to the final stretch is really what matters is the daily affirmation a teacher gives herself. I have had moments where I wonder if my family really has a teaching gene, but those are far outnumbered by the times where I would like nothing more than to walk out of the classroom, through the patio and across the street for a beer. The day-to-day in elementary school can be trying. It can be mundane. It can make my head spin. But, at the end of a course, I am floored by what my kids have learned, and what they’ve taught me in return. Humility, patience and that there’s a special, secret world inside of each child.

Whatever happens, Hayley and I have pledged to be prepared pilgrims (I already downloaded a few stories about the journey onto my Kindle), to encourage each other, and to make it through an often grueling hike. I expect the camino to be nothing short of life-changing, though tough, but I have been reassured that the relief of seeing the twin spires of the St. James Cathedral, a site that has left me speechless on four separate occasions, makes the whole trip there really worthwhile. And really, what’s better than a low-cost, month-long trip with a friend (even if it may include blisters, sunburn, bedbugs, camping outdoors, getting lost…)? After all, it’s the journey that counts.

Have you done the Camino? Which Route? What was your reason for doing it, and how was your experience?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. I really want to do the Camino tb!

    Also, have you read anything by Ron Clark? I really like ASPECTS of his teaching style, but he discusses similair things that you did. For discipline things, he has really interesting ideas, which I find applicable to the young ones.

  2. dude, what an awesome and totally in no way embarrassing picture of us! i am SO ready for the caminoooo (in summer 2013). i actually bought some hiking boots at REI this summer, so i can start training. we are going to be so fit it’s ridiculous. can’t wait!

  3. James, you would be a delightful edition, though I will forbid you from bringing chocolate. It may ruin all your clothes. And Hayley, you know that picture is money. James needs to get his culo to Coruna next summer.

  4. It’s not nearly as cheap as you think it will be. I spent two weeks on 300+km of the Ruta de la Costa. It was amazing even though I had to go to clinic with gastritis, broke a pair of boots and had to spend two days in them before i got new ones, and thought more than once I couldn’t go on. Don’t kid yourself, you won’t be prepared and know what to expect until you get going. We all think we do only to be knocked on our ass by something we don’t expect. Take a needle to pop your blisters, wear broken in shoes, pack as light as possible (that photo is a huge bag and will make you miserable), buy toiletries in small quantities on the way, take a hat and a refillable water bottle – not optional. Most of the rest of what you take wont matter much. Oh, safety pins, carabiners, ziploc bags (just a couple) are more useful than you think.

    • Mel, I’m not going on the Camino for a long time, as I know I’m not ready!! This is a summer 2013 thing! And, for the record, the bag is a photo I have from September 12th, 2007, the day I came to Spain! I wouldn’t even take this bag, as it’s way too big for acrrying far, far less. My friend and I had thought about the Camino do Norte, so you know I will be in touch with you!!


  1. […] today… well, I did. Goal #1: dar de si (break in) my new hiking boots. Readers of Cat’s blog might remember that we’re prepping for the Camino de Santiago. These boots were made for […]

  2. […] started again September first, and my change to first grade resulted in more naps, more work and more responsibility. Thankfully, I had my great kiddos back in […]

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