All posts by Nilanj

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Another Camino? Why Yes.

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In finibus massa eu ante suscipit elementum. Quisque vitae accumsan orci. Phasellus blandit convallis metus non tincidunt. Nam luctus lorem in sem sollicitudin, nec convallis ante sodales. Pellentesque pharetra commodo tincidunt. Aenean nec fermentum nulla. Mauris vitae facilisis velit. Nunc vel volutpat urna. Suspendisse eget risus at ante sollicitudin tristique. Donec vulputate libero ullamcorper, finibus leo non, pellentesque erat. Vestibulum eleifend sem at dolor sodales posuere.

Santiago de Compostela

Katharine Elliott, “The Walking Woman,” USA

“In 2014, I walked the Camino Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I walked after knowing for over two years that I would walk. When people asked why, all I could say was, ‘I am supposed to.’ Their puzzled faces were nothing compared to the confusion in my own mind. Yet I knew deep in my being that this Camino, this 500-mile walk across northern Spain following in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims before me, was mine to walk. It was a deep ‘soul knowing’ which made no logical sense based on my current life commitments or finances. It just was.

This knowing took place in the fall of 2011. It had been a year during which I had spent several months with my mom as she battled the decisions, and inevitably the surgery, she would face in learning she had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. It was also the year I realized the inevitable: my marriage was crumbling and would not survive without a new outlook. I needed a new perspective.

In the summer of 2011, I started reading. Our small outdoor garden in Rovinj, Croatia became my sanctuary. Dr. Wayne Dyer, Anita Moorjani, and Gregg Braden became daily companions. My paperback version of The Power of Intention was frayed after three readings, and my poor Sony E-book was locked onto Dying to Be Me and Deep Truths.

What happened was an awakening. In a short time, I understood that there is no then and now, here or there… everything is happening at once and time is not a linear continuum. And I came to believe there are no coincidences. I now understood the saying ‘the teacher appears when the student is ready.’ Often in the most fascinating of ways!

Late in the summer of 2011, my copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, his tale of walking El Camino, appeared. That I happened upon it hidden in the back of a dusty bookshelf intrigued me. Reading his words a second time, this ancient trek called to me.

That summer, I opened my thoughts to the possibilities that life as we see it is simply a fraction of what is taking place in our Universe. I came to understand that messages are sent in many ways if we but watch and listen. Synchronicities such as Coelho’s book no longer surprised me. What also no longer surprised me was the validation and guidance we can receive from our angels.

I had believed since my mother-in-law’s passing, a woman I dearly loved as family and friend, that the energy of our souls continues to cross boundaries after death. Difficult to comprehend, this communication can come to us in a variety of ways. She taught me that Angels exist!

By early 2012, I committed that I would indeed walk the Camino. By that time, my sister Jeannie who had passed away of pancreatic cancer in December of 2007 and my Aunt Mary Jo who died in February of 2012, had made their way to me. Angels surrounded me! And my belief in their abilities to guide, as well as my new-found belief that we can co-conspire with the Universe, were my operating status quo.

And so it was set. Fall of 2014 was the timeframe for my walk. In April of that same year, the faltering, maybe healing, marriage tumbled. Without the specifics which are not important here, my husband and I both knew it was over. How interesting the timing of the Universe! I would be walking the Camino as my marriage was ending… when I likely needed solitude the most!

In September of 2014, I followed my heart – followed my soul’s call – and began the Camino Frances from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. The experience of my trek was completely and utterly joyful. It reaffirmed my belief, an unquestioning understanding that the Universe will conspire on my behalf if I just flow with it… if I simply let it. Everything in my life was happening in undeniable precision… nothing in my life was out of order. And my angels were with me, teaching and guiding.

Beyond all else, these last remarkable four years of my life have taught me to listen. Listen to the energies of the Universe. Listen to the knowledge my soul cradles deep within. Listen to the love and guidance of my guardian angels…believe that all I need to know, all I need to understand, is available to me if I simply remain open to the forces of the Universe and listen.

As I write this, well over a year since that magnificent Camino experience, my soul’s knowledge that I am to continue to walk far away trails has taken me to the southern reaches of Patagonian Chile and Argentina. I have traveled to remote reaches of the Scottish Highlands. In the fall of 2015, I walked a 200-mile portion of the famed Via Francigena in Italy, the ancient pilgrimage walk from Canterbury to Rome. And coming up next, the Camino Portuguese in fall 2016!

Guiding messages from my angels, along with the belief and understanding that the Universe truly conspires with us when we allow ourselves to surrender, all led me to the above, which is an excerpt from my book, A Camino of the Soul: Learning to Listen When the Universe Whispers. I hope you’ll also take a look at my blog, where I cover many more of my other travels, and my Facebook pages. And that you never forget to listen. Always listen.”

-Katharine Elliott, “The Walking Woman,” USA


Dermot Dolan, Ireland

“By March 2010, I had become heavy, something I only fully realised by chance. My Nephew and his Girlfriend came to visit me. I took photographs of them, and they took photographs of me. A few days after they left, I put the memory card into the computer. They looked great, but then I saw a fat man with my face looking at me from the computer screen. Something needed to be done and rapidly. Certainly, I would be more careful with my food but I needed more exercise. I was now in my early fifties. When I was a young man I worked at photography for a few years but packed it and went on to other things. In 2009 a bought an entry level professional camera, a Nikon d80, so that I could take reasonable quality photographs for pleasure. Now I had the perfect opportunity lose weight by walking and take photographs at the same time. Perfect! and so my Camino-going began.

I walked my first Camino in April – May 2011, it was the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. Since then I have walked about eleven Caminos, repeating some. I have also walked the Pyrenees coast to coast on the French side – it is called the GR 10 – as well as some of the Alps and other routes. I’ve walked a total of about 11,000 km in five years. I take photographs as I go and run a website and a blog But this story is about my most recent trip the Via de la Plata. I have actually been on the Via de la Plata now a total of four times. One of those was the Camino Mozarabic which joins up with the Via de la Plata in Merida. I normally let my photographs do the talking, but I wanted to give a brief description of what the trip was like.

This trip started leaving my house in the West of Ireland very early on the first of February 2016. I flew from Dublin to Malaga and then got a train from Malaga to Seville. In Seville I normally stay in the lovely Hostel Triana but unfortunately it was closed, so I stayed in the comfortable and lively La Banda rooftop Hostel. My flight out of Dublin was delayed by a few hours because of very strong winds so it was 5.30 pm before I got to my hostel. I did a bit of sightseeing around the Cathedral, went back to the Hostel for dinner, and then, against my better judgment went ‘out on the town’ with the gang from the hostel that were a fraction of my age! But nevertheless I was still ready to leave the hostel the following morning at 9 pm, and yet another Camino began.

February and March is a nice time to do the Via de la Plata. OK, you are taking a chance with the weather, but there will be few on the route. April this year turned out to be very busy and May is always a peak time. The summer months will be too hot for most people as temperatures will be in 30s Celsius and often climbing into the 40s, with many parts of the route not having any shade.

After day one, I met two very nice guys, one Spanish and one Norwegian. Over the next ten days, I walked with them at some stage of every day. I would still walk most of the day alone as this is what I like, especially as I take a lot of photographs. but we would arrange in the mornings where we would stop for the night, and we would all meet up in the albergue and usually have dinner together.

After Merida I was alone for a few days. Eventually I met a Spanish man and two French ladies and spent a little time with them, but I also did some long days and lost them. In the famous albergue run by Padre Don Blas in Fuenterroble de Salvaterria I met the Spanish man again and walked with him until Granja de Morreula, where the route splits. He then was taking the Sanabres route and I was going north to Astorga. This was to be my finishing point for this trip, but the Camino convinced me to change my mind. I booked another flight for later and decided I would go all the way to Santiago.

On the last section of the Via de la Plata after where it splits from the Sanabres and on to Astorga, I was alone. Not the most stunning part to look at, but I enjoyed it and the people were very friendly. I arrived in Astorga on Sunday February 28th. This was now the Camino Frances and there was about 25 people staying in the municipal albergue, a small number for the Frances but a huge number for me. So I went onward and stopped for the night in beautiful Foncebadon, which had snow. For me snow was great as I always wanted to photograph Camino snow. I walked the following day in snow, but that evening in Ponferrada it was 18 degrees Celsius . Unfortunately, from then on all the way to Santiago it was mainly cold rain. I arrived in Santiago on Wednesday 9th March, 37 days after leaving Seville. No blisters, no foot or leg problems, but definitely a sore throat and some sneezing – but it was winter after all.

Now as I have no aspirations of winning the Pulitzer Prize, it is time for me to stop writing and let the photographs take over. The photo above is sunrise over Guillena, at the start of my second day on this trek. Below are some of my favorites:

To see the full collection from this trip, I hope you’ll have a look at this section of my blog. Photos of the section I did on the Camino Frances are available here.  I have also made a short seven minute YouTube video of the Via de la Plata which I hope you enjoy. Thanks to you all.”

Dermot Dolan, Ireland


Nerida Quinn, Australia

“I live in far western New South Wales, Australia, in a town called Broken Hill. Our town has a population of approximately 18,500 and is quite isolated with the closest capital city, Adelaide, being a 5 hour drive away. I had never heard of the Camino until one day I was listening to the radio and the compere was interviewing a woman about a book she was releasing. She was discussing her pilgrimage across Spain, describing her walk in detail. She used words I had never even heard before, but it sounded amazing. I made mental notes, and then turned on the computer and started to research. At that time I wasn’t even sure how ‘Camino’ was spelt! It took some time but eventually I started to find information.

And for some unexplained reason, I became obsessed with the pilgrimage. I don’t know why! I had never traveled out of Australia, but I felt like it was calling me. Truly, a seed had been planted. I don’t think my husband took me seriously when I talked about making real preparations to go. I didn’t even bother to share the idea with most others, as it was my dream and until I was ready to go, I didn’t want to have to explain it. I also felt it was too personal. It was going to be my journey and I felt very protective of it.

When I did let some close family and friends know that I was going, this was met with disbelief. Most of them thought I had lost the plot and couldn’t understand why I wanted to walk nearly 800 kilometres when I could drive, take a bus, fly, whatever has wheels and a motor! My brother, out of concern for my safety, even asked my husband to talk me out of it!

In the end, one of my friends that I shared my idea with not only didn’t laugh at me, but after a while said she would also like to come. So on Anzac Day last year, April 25, 2015, we flew to Paris, and then caught a train south, and then a bus to St. Jean Pied de Port to commence walking on the 29th.

I have always enjoyed walking. We did our best to train for the trip beforehand, but the countryside around Broken Hill could not prepare us for the struggles of the Camino. I developed tendinitis in my left ankle, which hurt to the extent that I thought I had broken it. I had many people offering reasons for this and my other struggles – insufficient water, insufficient bananas (for potassium), how my boots were laced, and so on. I really disagreed with a lot of this analysis: I was fully hydrated, ate plenty of bananas, had laced the Camino knots nicely, put vasoline on my feet to prevent blistering, and so forth. It didn’t matter, as my Camino became a grueling pilgrimage anyway!

I really think the difficulty has a lot to do with the fact that you are not used to walking long distances day after day. Add to that the changing terrain, long climbs, and the weight you carry, and it’s just a lot of new things our bodies are trying to get used to. For me, as I changed my walking stride to try and protect my hurting ankle, I began to develop massive blisters on my feet, almost all the way through to Santiago. I remember walking with a fellow pilgrim from Belgium one day who also had blisters all over. She said ‘we are pilgrims and we are meant to suffer.’ We sure did, but we also loved our Camino.

But the pain was a minor thing compared to the wonderful aspects of the Camino. I have never experienced anything like the friendship and compassion I saw on the Camino. All nationalities walk as friends, and no one bothers about what you do in your “other” life. People are interested in the real you! I met some wonderful people, many who I count even today as my ‘Camino family.’ And there were so many ‘Camino Angels!’ People who seemed to pop up just at the right time and have exactly that thing you needed for whatever problem you were going through. It was amazing. I said at the end that if all world leaders walked the Camino at least once, I’m sure the world would be a far better and more peaceful place.

After thinking about it, and why i felt such a deep call to do the Camino, I’d describe it as a spiritual call: I was raised Catholic, but have not practised for many years due to the view and comments of one priest following my divorce from my first husband. This hurt me and turned me off for quite some time. But at the Cathedral in Santiago, amazingly, I felt so comfortable, albeit very emotional, to attend mass and eventually even to receive communion. That’s something I never imagined I would do again.

It really was a great experience. I was in so much pain when I finished, and I know I said to others ‘We did it! But I would NOT do it again!’ But here I am, looking at the Portugese Way!

-Nerida Quinn, Australia

Jimmy "James" Hart

James “Jimmy” Hart, USA

“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn…”

“‘Mad to live.’ Those words by poet Jack Kerouac embodied James’s view on life and were eventually tattooed on his arm. They resonated deeply with James and helped push him towards the life he dreamed of living.

James seemed to have it all – in every measure of conventional success. He was in his late twenties, drove a nice SUV, worked at Apple, and had an up-scale apartment in Philadelphia. Many people would have traded places with him in an instant, but he felt something was lacking. James did not feel alive. When he looked around he saw his friends getting married, buying homes, having kids, and following the traditional dotted line. With a great sense of awareness, like many free spirits before him, he realized that he wanted to live a different life – a life that was inspiring to him. He was about to transform into a nomadic world traveler. Early in 2013, James’ disillusionment reached his limit and the urge to travel became too much. At the age of 28, James decided to quit his job and sell everything he had, including his Apple stock. He announced to his family and friends his desire to travel the world. His first trip was the most eye opening and profound experience that James had on his travels – The Camino de Santiago.

On his way to Iceland before the Camino he met a couple that had just recently been married. James impressed them so much with his positive energy and spirit that it inspired them to travel long after they met. This wasn’t just a one-time thing – James had a knack for inspiring those around him to aspire to their dreams. It’s a theme that would follow him everywhere. After a short trip to Iceland and France, James began his Camino alone from St. Jean de Pied Port.

For James, the experience was invigorating from the start. The simplistic lifestyle on the Camino was everything he hoped it would be, and more. His boyish curiosity stood in awe of the ancient Spanish architecture and the history that he was walking through. He phoned home often, giddy with stories from the day. Whether it was a story of walking in front of a shorter lady to protect her from driving rain, or getting into a town whose albergues were all full and being allowed to sleep in the back of a bar, James embraced each day with open arms.

James was right at home on the Camino. I joked that James walked the Camino specifically because it is the historical Way of Saint James, but in reality he did it as a spiritual journey – one that allowed him to get away from the rat race which he didn’t find fulfilling, and rather to connect to a different way of living. One that exposed him to the best things that humanity and the world have to offer.

Early on, James met Mark from England – a guy that James called his English doppelganger. They spent the majority of the walk together. There was an unspoken bond and understanding between them. James formed a core group of five friends, including Mark, during his time on the Camino, that spent a lot of intimate moments together and built some very strong bonds. James cherished these connections, and his energetic spirit rubbed off on everyone along the way. The camaraderie, generosity, and unconditional support that James witnessed daily touched him deeply. He found that everyone had a story and a reason for walking the Camino, but that the sameness of their path brought them all together.

He wrote, ‘Within days of starting our pilgrimages, we met people of all ages from many different countries. We also found: some had prepared, some hadn’t; some carried huge rucksacks, some had almost nothing on their backs; some were shy, some outgoing; some believed in God, some didn’t; some were happy, some sad; some had changed their lives, others liked life as it was. We met people who had lost partners, and couples walking with their children; some who had experienced broken hearts, and many who were falling in love with life. We all walked the same road and when we got to Santiago Cathedral there was a place for each of us. Every one.’

After the Camino James’s travels took him to Madrid, Barcelona, France, and Italy where he worked on a farm in Tuscany. He would later visit Rome before he returned home. He had caught the travel bug and was ready for more. Southeast Asia drew his allure through it’s far-off location and affordability. James prepared himself for his trip to Southeast Asia as well as you could getting vaccinated and schooled in where he was going. His excitement for this trip can be seen through his blog. Taking his vivacious spirit to Thailand, he set off on another adventure that included buying a motorbike and riding up the length of the Vietnamese coast… he’d never ridden one before! Unfortunately, this trip did not go as planned. While in a remote part of Cambodia, James became ill with flu-like symptoms, but this was no ordinary flu. On the following day, James collapsed while walking down the street and tragically never recovered. The doctors there were unable to save his life and his cause of death was never identified.

James passed living the life that he wanted to live. He stood for living in the present, embracing those around with love, and not settling for a life without deeper meaning. James may be gone, but his spirit and zest for life will never be forgotten. His funeral was attended by many people from across the world that he impacted over his travels – including his ‘Camino Five’ and even the married couple he met on the way to Iceland, when he had truly first set off on the road.

James Hart appreciated how short life really is and wanted to make the most of it. He would not be content living a life that he was not fulfilled by. He leaves behind thousands of inspired people that are now Mad to Live.”

-Donna Hart, in loving memory of James “Jimmy” Hart, USA


“The Travel Whisperer,” Australia

“Spain is in my blood, and traveling is my love – as is walking. When I first heard about the Camino de Santiago, I fell in love with the idea of going on a long walk in Spain for several days, even a couple weeks. The solitude at times, the company of fellow walkers at other times, new friendships, amazing food, wine, I was looking forward to just letting the experience flow. I just wanted to go and be in the moment. I’ve always been a bit of an organizer so I started a ladies’ travel club and inspired 12 other ladies to join me. We arrived in Spain in September 2014, and planned to have a month-long trip, including walking the Camino from León to Santiago de Compostela.

I was so excited and I can vividly recall my excitement when we arrived in León, knowing we would step off on ‘The Way.’ I was so confident that we’d reach our goal and fulfill this ambition that I had for so long. I had butterflies in my tummy. I have heard and read stories about beautiful camaraderie, companionship, and sharing on the Camino and I was looking forward to experiencing that – sisterhood, generosity, and kindness are beautiful things that we don’t always experience in daily life, but I was hoping to feel them on the Camino every day, maybe even every moment. Unfortunately my journey was not to take this path.

We had a group of 13 ladies, we all knew each other, some better than others, but we had spent almost a year planning this trip. We had spent enough time together to know each other. That’s why I was so unprepared for the conflicts that arose especially during the walk itself. Yes, I was the organizer of the trip. But, even though I understood I was the travel agent of the group, I too wanted to have a special holiday. I knew that if an issue arose that I might have to put my travel agent hat on, but I thought that I’d be dealing with logistical issues, not people’s tantrums.

An example of a simple logistical snafu that I had to put on my best travel agent hat for was when we took the train from Barcelona to León, where we planned to begin our Camino. Someone ‘cyber-stole’ a large number of our tickets by somehow getting our ticket numbers online, bringing them to the train ticket office, and refunding them for cash. I still don’t understand how this happened, since we bought the tickets in Australia, but it was manageable: much negotiation had to occur and in the end we managed to get new tickets and get on the train. Manageable! Travel agent mission accomplished!

But once we got to León and stayed in the most divine hotel for 2 nights prior to beginning our walk – the San Marcos Parador – that’s when the conflicts began that were beyond me. Mainly involving snoring and who was sharing with who and who caught taxi’s and who didn’t. I was often accused of intentions that I simply didn’t have, and actions that I simply didn’t do. At least once or twice, one of the ladies leveled some particularly nasty and hurtful comments at me, which would just make me stop in my tracks in the middle of the walk, sit down, and cry. It hurt my heart that after all the effort I put into organizing this trip, that they thought I had ulterior motives for planning things the way I did. It was all so silly.

Luckily, some of the lovely ladies in our group were truly enjoying the walk, and they were truly sympathetic to my situation. They did a great deal to lift my spirits, like often walking along with me so I didn’t feel as alone and isolated as I would feel sometimes. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I wish this story could be about the trials of climbing over O Cebreiro, or the things going through my head at the Cruz de Ferro, or the beautiful castle at Ponferrada, but it’s not. I wish my Santiago story could be one of watching the Botafumeiro, or waiting at the Cathedral triumphantly greeting all the people that I saw along the way, and celebrating with them, but it’s not. But I’ve come to realize that my story also isn’t about a group of petulant ladies. It’s about persevering through a challenging situation. It’s about inner strength.

For a while, I thought that the difficulties I faced during the walk broke me down, and that I regained some of my inner strength and confidence only after arriving in Santiago. But after thinking back on it, I really met all the Camino’s challenges – the climbs, the wilds, all of it – in addition to the squabbles among our group. I didn’t regain it when I set foot in Santiago, I had it all along. That’s why for me, this Camino was about the endless human struggle to march on in spite of all the snow, wind, obstacles – and insults – facing you. And I’m truly proud of it. I will admit that I have much more sympathy for every parent who plans a family trip, every teacher who plans a school field trip – basically anyone who organizes anything for other people. It’s hard to keep multiple people happy. That said, I have to go back again. I still want to have the beautiful and peaceful Camino I’ve dreamed of. Despite all that happened, it still didn’t stop my dreaming and scheming about walks and Caminos and Spain and all related things!

I actually think my first Camino in Spain would make a fantastic sitcom. The further in the past it goes, the more I am able to laugh about it. But you know what? It taught me a lot, and I still love the Camino. I know I’ll be back one day in Santiago, triumphant, at the end of MY Camino – the one I’ve dreamt about.”

“The Travel Whisperer,” Australia

Beyond the Way

Andrew “Beyond the Way” Suzuki, Australia

“The Camino has continued to shake and affect my world in the two years since I walked into Santiago. This isn’t to say that I had a religious experience, but I have had multiple experiences of faith… following faith. It was my intention when I started in May 2014 to surrender to faith and accept whatever came.

As a solo documentary filmmaker on The Way, I had to rely on faith more than others. I was carrying much more weight, so I had to have faith that my old legs would hold me up, and they did…barely, those innumerable times I ran up the Pyrenees or along highways trying to get my camera in a sweet spot between my subject and myself.

I had to have faith that I would find compelling narratives, and faith that people would have faith that I would do their stories justice. And I had to have faith that this project, which I had devoted a lot of time and money into, would have some measure of success. That the messages were relevant, inspiring and hopefully heart warming…I basically had to have faith that I didn’t completely suck at what I do. And as it turns out, I don’t. Filming ‘Beyond the Way‘ was possibly the hardest endeavour I have undertaken. I had no crew, no backup, and my legs and hips still snap, crackle and pop in response to the daily Camino hustle. But the people that I met and the beautiful coincidences that transpired throughout my journey reinvigorated my faith, at least a little, in the world and its people. But of course, as Dr. Seuss points out in ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’, just as the journey can fill your spirit with joy and wonder, it can also fill you with despair.

A year after I finished the Camino, I had gone through a soul-crushing breakup. I was lost in a sea of depression, guilt and self-loathing. The compass of the direction of my life had lost its bearing. And somehow, I found myself in Nepal in the midst of the relief effort. There is nothing quite like a natural disaster to make you re-evaluate your place on this giant planet. As I dug the cracked earth, negotiated wholesale jackets and blankets, disassembled buildings, was thrown around the back of delivery trucks crawling through landslides, distributed aid to empoverished communities, crashed delivery motorbikes in remote regions, and carried winter supplies up mountains, I rediscovered my gratitude and began to find faith. Or, to rediscover it – it was always there.

Within the pain and within the ardour of that experience, my compass began to point in the direction of my true worth. I began to realize that to prosper, we must first endure. There is a Buddhist saying: ‘No Mud, No Lotus.’ In order for the lotus to grow, bloom and be beautiful, its roots must come from the mud. The frictions and tensions in our lives, the pains of loss and suffering are the mud. Our spirits grow because of life’s hardships. As we grow, shaped by our experiences, we chase faith upwards, towards the sun so we can finally bloom on the surface. All the way back on my Camino 2014, I naturally experienced physical pains and challenges, as did so many of the people I met and whose stories I was able to film. But I endured – I grew, I learned, I became stronger, I followed the yellow arrows, I got those precious shots and videos, and I reached Santiago.

Now, after a different set of challenges that I had to endure,  I am faithfully following life’s signs again, although this time they aren’t as obvious as the Camino’s ubiquitous yellow arrows. So now my work on ‘Beyond the Way’ continues, and also, new exciting projects for the future are being born from the mud of my life. For more information on the film series, I hope you’ll visit my new website, or head to the Beyond the Way Facebook Page, where I hope you’ll like the page and subscribe. More content is always on the way and a new project is in the works.


-Andrew “Beyond the Way” Suzuki, Australia

Steve Cooper, USA

“A 2000-mile walk from the heel of Italy’s boot up through Italy, across the south of France, and the north of Spain was the inspiration for my book, ‘SIX MONTHS WALKING THE WILDS (of Western Europe); the Long Way to Santiago.‘ Walking from one corner of the earth to another – Finibus Terre in Italy to Fisterra on the Northwest coast of Spain – offers a lot of time to think, to wonder, and to listen. While I walked alone for several stretches of this trip, I was able to observe some truly interesting patterns and rhythms during my time in Spain, walking what is known by most as the Camino de Santiago.

There’s a rhythm to the walk, a rhythm that goes beyond the crunch of boots on gravel. A rhythm that is more than the swinging of arms or the steamy puffs of visible breath on the coldest mornings or the pulsing stride of thousands of pilgrims along the road. It’s a rhythm that begins early every morning, with the shuffling of sleepy bodies rising from forty bunks in the bare-bones albergue. It’s the quiet waking-to-walk of a small army of gentle soldiers, all fighting only themselves, their temptation to quit and go home, their exhaustion from unfulfilling work, their spiritual lethargy.

The rhythm is a quiet packing of gear, or clinking and clicking of a quick cup of coffee before the first steps on the trail, or of skipping that cup and just walking on into the darkness, hoping to put an early dozen kilometersof the trail behind you before breakfast. It’s the rhythm of that first, sweet stop of the day. It’s walking into the third Spanish village of the morning and finally catching the bar owner making her own rhythm with the broom that announces she’s cleaning her door step and firing up the oven. It’s the huffing of her machine pumping heat through the coffee and into your veins. It’s the irregular beat of pilgrims arriving at that bar and sighing into chairs to enjoy a crust of tostada and their own cup of café con leche.

It’s the reluctant rhythm of pushing back up out of the chair to walk on, but this time with a bit more of a café-warmed smile, perhaps with a new friend to share your trail, or with ‘old’ ones you’ve missed for a few days. The rhythm of this leg of the morning is a loose one, eased by a full belly and a bit of rest, and partly from the miraculously simple pleasure of having no job to do that day other than to walk beneath a Castellano sun and a generous sky, over trails whose guards and ghosts entertain you with visions and imaginings as you find your way along the yellow arrows leading toward the fabled city of Santiago de Compostela. It’s the rhythm of stopping in the heart of each village to breathe for a moment, to give thanks for the unfailing fountain of cool water waiting there for thirsty pereginos, to lean on your pack in the shade of the church or of the lone tree by the water, to greet the other arrivals, to search faces for memories or smiles, and then to stand and walk on, walk on.

The rhythm slows and broadens when arriving at the albergue in the next town, for now you get to drop the pack for the final time of the day, to sleep for a bit, to realize what a luxury a warm shower can be, to rinse clothes and find a sunny stretch of line to hang them on so they’ll be ready for tomorrow. It’s the limping, sweet rhythm of wandering on tired feet down the ancient street to the local bar restaurant for food and drink with other pilgrims, for wine and wondering at the miracles of synchronicity that brought all of you to this perfect moment in this perfect place.

It’s the softening rhythm of aches and pains that finally lead you back to that bare mattress, to spread your blanket and stretch out for a few hours of badly-needed sleep. And then, it’s the rumbling rhythm of those lucky few who can drop off to sleep first, the restless turning of those who can’t, and the giggles of the rest who are held awake by the farce of snores that fill the room. It’s the faint pre-dawn peepings that all too soon begin to drift from watches and clocks under the covers, waking the odd collection of one-night roommates to their task. Then, groggy and sluggish, reluctant at first, the pilgrims rise, slowly, unsteadily finding the rhythm again for the new day, rising to walk on, walk on, walk on, searching for the next miracle that lies along the trail called El Camino de Santiago.

This short story that I call ‘The Rhythm of the Walk’ is just one of many from my book, which I hope you’ll pick up on Amazon. I also hope you’ll also have a look at my website.

-Steve Cooper, USA

Camino de Santiago

Adam Wells, UK

“In May 2010, I found myself people-watching as I sat at a terraced cafe in the northern Spanish city of Burgos. I was in the city simply because I had been asked to plan, organise and deliver a week long tour of northern Spain by a couple of friends who had not seen each other for 20 years. I drove the car and showed them the sights whilst they reconnected and enjoyed the ambience, history and culture of Spain. These friends were exploring Burgos’ magnificent 800 year old Gothic cathedral, while I sat outside. For centuries, the cathedral has been a beacon of encouragement for those walking the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela, a further 315 miles to the west. I had known of the Camino de Santiago for at least 15 years and had managed to build, over this period, a mini library of Camino books. I always knew I would walk the Camino one day. I just didn’t know when.

Well, the people I watched were the pilgrims walking by.  I had never seen a pilgrim before. Beginning in the French Pyrenees, the 176 mile (284km) journey to Burgos would have taken most of them, at least, 12 days to cover. Some pilgrims were hobbling into town, with gritted teeth, as their blister-covered feet fulfilled their daily duty.  The pilgrims displayed an immense sense of camaraderie and an amazing spirit of joy and happiness, despite any travails.  I could only think this came from going on such an adventure and being away from the daily routine for 5 weeks. I received my “Call to the Camino” that day.  As I sat drinking my coffee, looking at the different shapes, sizes, ages, fitness levels of the pilgrims, I knew I too could do this. I decided to resign from my uninspiring corporate world job.  I committed myself to walking the whole length of the Camino in 2011. That’s my story of how I came to the Camino.

In April 2011, I took my first walking step in the French Pyrenean village of St. Jean Pied-de-Port. The Pyrenees mountains and 496 miles (798km) lay ahead. My transformation journey had begun. Well, in fact, it began 3 weeks previously when my back gave way and I collapsed onto the floor in a hotel room.  My last corporate world business trip to Buenos Aires certainly was memorable. As I lay stuck on the floor, I wondered “was my Camino over before it had even begun?” Gazing up at the ceiling, I realised that this was my first Camino lesson and it began with a question: “What will I have to do differently if I am going to walk over the Pyrenees in 3 weeks time?”

After about an hour, I finally got myself crookedly standing up.  For the following week, I walked around Buenos Aires at a snail’s pace and at the same angle as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Whenever I contemplated the thought of the Pyrenees challenge that lay ahead, my inner wisdom always responded – “walk extra, extra, extra slowly over the Pyrenees”. The day arrived to take my first step. For once, I listened to myself (I had no other option as it was still very painful to walk) and the second footstep was an extra slow step. I discovered very quickly that going slowly and walking at my pace offered huge benefits. Firstly, I got the chance to meet everyone overtaking me.  Secondly, I saw that despite us all being the same (we were all humans, walking, carrying rucksacks and going to the same destination) our attitudes were all completely different. My thoughts led me to predicting who was going to suffer because of their speedy pace and the amount of the load on their back. Over the days ahead, my guesses proved to be remarkably accurate.

One of my walking companions explained to me, in religious terms, the three transformational stages of the Camino. The first stage covers the experience of walking over the Pyrenees and the first week of walking.  It represents “purgatory”. The body is suddenly facing new daily challenges; the need to let go of items that are too heavy to carry and the acceptance that new routines, beliefs and attitudes must be adopted if Santiago is going to be reached. Until these lessons are learned, the Camino may remain a very painful experience.

Once the first stage is completed, then the silence of the flat, barren, desert like table top central plateau of Spain called the “Meseta” must be crossed. This is the second stage or “death”.  It is a 10-day journey where the “aloneness” of the landscape can force you to go within to acknowledge and face the things which perhaps, through the rapid pace of life, you never get the chance to consider.   Crossing the “Meseta” can be a time of feeling lost, abandoned and insecure as you step through the vast, open, landscape. In personal transformation terms the second stage is the period of no longer being who you once were and you are not yet who you want to become.

Finally you enter the fertile, green and rich landscape of Galicia region, the capital of which is Santiago de Compostela. This is the third stage or “resurrection”. Here, near journey’s end, new purpose, new ideas and new creativity emerge. You acknowledge your re-discovered strengths and your increased self-belief received from confronting and overcoming the challenges.  With this, plus the positive connection with others and the act of just trusting to the future, far-flung dreams feel they can become real possibilities.

My Camino reminded me of who I really am. I have always loved walking and trekking and the lure of the Spanish culture, language and history has fascinated me ever since I was a kid.  I also enjoyed inspiring people to step out of their comfort zone, to have an adventure and to create the life they want. But this was not the life I was living.

It is said the real Camino begins the moment you finish your Camino journey in Santiago de Compostela. I committed to myself in Santiago to begin my own transformation journey to create and live a life of fulfillment.

I returned from the Camino passionately believing everybody should know about and experience what the Camino has to offer in one form or another. I embarked on study in a life coaching programme (CoachU), a 6 month inspirational speaking programme (public speaking has always been my greatest fear – the fear went on the day I stood up and spoke at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park and coincidentally, it was exactly one year to the day that I had walked into Santiago to finish my Camino) and attended courses run by the University of Santiago de Compostela on the Camino.

Now, as a guide and transformation coach, I combine my knowledge and love of Spain with my first hand understanding of the challenges faced by people who want to take the transformation journey to reinvent themselves or take a completely new path with their life. I show people the steps necessary to leave their comfort zone, to design the future life they wish to live and to change their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours in order to survive and navigate across what may feel, in the beginning, to be a dangerous, frightening and alien environment. Everyone deserves the chance to experience such a wonderful transformation, and I want to help.”

-Adam Wells, UK