The road to Oviedo and true empathy

Hello Friends,

Sorry for the delay in writing but it has been an eventful journey to Oviedo and Sunday night, the night before my walk to Santiago begins. I am excited to begin, but wanted to share with you the experience so far.

The flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt was uneventful, except for a conversation with the flight attendant who said walking the Camino is a dream for him. I said it was the same for me, and dreams do come true. It was a great conversation and I think we both left it more inspired than when we began talking.

The flight leaving Frankfurt was a bit late and as a result I arrived in Madrid around 4 pm. I went straight to the hotel and, after a brief workout, went to dinner in the hotel. The meal was lovely, but more important were the conversations with the staff at the front desk and in the dining room – they were heartwarming and inspirational. Marisa told me about how her father had just walked the Camino and cried when he got home; Fernando told me that he and his father walked it together and it was the most special time of his life. Maria and Rodrigo all said they can’t wait to do the Camino, and held their hands over their hearts when they spoke about the people (and the food :)) of Asturias and Galicia. And Jorge said that “the world today is all about me, me, me, but on the Camino it’s all about us, pilgrims and their hosts along the way.” I was so inspired! I also felt grateful that I have this opportunity to walk the Camino – truly blessed.

Dessert in Madrid: Homemade goat cheese, raspberries and quints.

The next day I decided to take the train from Madrid to Oviedo, a 4 1/2 hour train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside. Here is the route:

I am so happy I decided to do this rather than flying! The terrain changed from dry and sparse vegetation to the much more green, mountainous region of Asturias. I tried to take some pictures from the fast-moving train…here are a couple that hopefully will give you a sense of the beauty and majesty of the land:

I can’t believe what I am seeing, and am even more excited about hiking in those mountains! Needless to say, the train ride to Oviedo was a breathtaking surprise.


I arrived at the Oviedo train station at 7 pm Friday night and as I exited the train, I met the first two fellow Pilgrims from Ontario, Canada. I also received my first “Buen Camino,” wonderful words to hear after so many months planning! I walked the 3 kilometers to my hotel near the old town, dropped off my gear, and went for a walk to see the Cathedral of San Salvador and the surrounding area. What a site to see! The old town of Oviedo is beautiful, clean and filled with friendly people. It was a wonderful welcome to the city. Here are a few pics for you to imagine the walk from the hotel to the cathedral:

It was a lovely evening and a warm welcome to the city. After a brief stop to eat a local meal of jamon (ham), cheese and bread, I thought this was an absolutely perfect evening…and that is when the troubles began.

That evening I ended up with the worst (and I think only) migraine of my life. I didn’t sleep at all because of the pain, and the next day I ventured out to the town to try and find a pharmacy to see if they could prescribe something for the pain. Well I found a nice pharmacist in old town, and he prescribed some migraine medicine and suggested I go to the hospital to get checked out. I, of course, chose to just take the medicine, drink a ton of water and “walk it off.” I had planned to stay in Oviedo through at least Sunday so I could see the UNESCO Heritage churches in the area, and I thought the walk would do me good. It ended up being a wonderful afternoon as the pain in my head had significantly lessened and I was fortunate to visit three churches from the 8th century(!): the Church of San Julian, the Church of Santa Maria del Naranco and the Church of San Miguel de Lillo. I felt like I went back in time…here’s a a picture of each for you:

Church of San Julian

Church of Santa Maria del Naranca

Church of San Miguel de Lillo

I actually had the opportunity to sit in on a tour of the Church of San Julian, and the paintings on the wall from 1200 years ago were vivid and extraordinary. However, my personal favorite was San Miguel because of the peace I felt as I sat in its presence for 20 minutes.

At this point I had walked about 3 km from town up the hill and was quite hungry. I decided to stop by at a restaurant on my way down the hillside. What a great decision! The views from table on the covered outdoor area were spectacular, and the locally famous “fabada” — a stew with large white beans and sausage — was delicious. Enjoy!

At this point, all was right with the world and my head was seemingly fine. After dinner I walked the 3 km back to my hotel, took the medicine and went to sleep. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case as the migraine returned in full force. After another night of severe pain and no sleep, I decided to take the pharmacist’s advice and go to the hospital. Oh my goodness, what an ordeal! First of all, I want to thank all of the staff at the HUCA hospital for the care they gave to me, including the doctors, nurses, MRI technicians (brain scan), and administrative staff. Second, I want to thank Google for the ability to search and learn and ultimately say “no” to the medicine they wanted to prescribe to me (look up nolotil: it is outlawed in the US, UK, Ireland and Sweden for deaths resulting from side effects). And third, I would like to thank the kind taxi driver, that upon discovering that the hospital had forgotten to remove the IV implant in my arm, took me to a clinic close to the hotel and went in with me to ensure I was taken care of and then took me to the hotel. God bless him.

So what does this mean for my dream to walk the Camino? Well, as of midnight I am pain free and I am planning to start my walk to Grado first thing in the morning. This is 25 km and depending on how I feel I may not make it that far, so I have a backup plan of Escamplero which is only 13 km away and has an albergue (hostel for Pilgrims) where I can stay. All prayers are welcomed.

Before I close for the night, I’d like to say a few words about the importance of moving from compassion to true empathy. As I went through these couple of days of severe pain from a dehabilitating migraine, I realized very clearly that I hadn’t been empathetic enough when my son went through a few years of painful migraines. While I was compassionate toward him, I was never truly empathetic for his situation and the pain he was in. I never moved from compassion, the ability to feel for another living being, to true empathy, where I put myself completely in his shoes and imagined what he was going through, in essence becoming one with his distress. This thought washed over me like a tidal wave and I had to call him and tell him that I loved him and was deeply sorry for not being as empathetic a father as I should have been when he was suffering. I told him that I loved him. And my wonderful son just thanked me told me he loved me and that it was alright, and more importantly, that he was really glad I was okay. This painful experience in Oviedo, and my wonderful son Jake, taught me that true empathy is needed for humanity to fully understand each other’s pain and find the desire to help and heal.


My first lesson of the Camino.


Peace to you all,


9 thoughts on “The road to Oviedo and true empathy”

  1. Oh, my friend! There’s a lot more to come. Embrace it all! And yes, “listen” to your body. No need to rush. It’s not at all about getting to Santiago. It’s all about the journey. I hope I can meet you soon (no news yet).
    Buen Camino!


  2. I’ll be praying for you, Brian. On the Camino we experience much; some things expected and others, like your migraine, a complete surprise. Be well and Buen Camino!


  3. So sorry to hear about the pain, while it also feels like a divine cleansing like occurrence at the same time…BTW – given its EPL football season you should know the motto of my fav team Liverpool FC, “you’ll never walk alone…” 🙂


  4. Hoping that your first day walking went well. My daughter walked it early last year and still remembers it fondly. Make sure that you take care of any blisters that you get. My daughter recommends “Compede”, pads, which are like “mole skin” only much better.
    Have a good walk, and no more migraines, or any injuries.
    Buen Camino!


  5. Sorry to hear about the pain and glad to hear that you got care and were able to carry on. Good luck on your journey and keep writing so we can follow along and be on the path with you.
    Buen Camino!


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