All posts by Nilanj

Santiago

“Chef” John Diminic, Australia

“I hiked the Camino Francés in both 2006 and 2008. However, in 2008, I decided to go ‘all-in’, and take on, in one shot, in excess of 1,600 kilometres from Le Puy to Santiago. I found the sections in France and Spain to be wildly different, in terms of landscape, weather, company, peacefulness, and crowdedness, and my own willingness to be, as they say, ‘hard-core.’

After leaving the magnificent Le Puy, my first day’s 24-kilometre walk rather felt like thirty. Ever the genius, I packed a 12-kilogram backpack – not recommended. As the days wore on, I wound up walking quite a few 30+ and 40+ kilometre days, always carrying that anvil of a backpack. And, then, there was the rain! My photos from nearly each day I walked in France featured cloudy skies. On some mornings, there was no sign of rain, at least after a brief morning shower. Unfortunate phrase. I would have my morning shower, breakfast, and go off, on my way. And, the heavens would open – more showers. You’d think that that was it for the day, but, then, I also had a shower in the evenings — heck! This is confusing; hang in there. Most of the time, it rained enough to create rivulets out of the trails; puddles coalesced into mini lakes; rivers became swollen. But, spring was gathering strength: naked trees became clothed in opulent, leafy mid-thigh gowns, and bare earth draped in sylvan themes. And, eventually, yes – sometimes the skies managed to lose the clouds and become cerulean blue, replete with birds tweeting (those darn smart phones). However, the rain kept coming, and that nascent spring was just one big tease.

Then, at some point, my heels and feet were feeling the burn. I had given up counting kilometres by then. Anti-inflammatories became the order of the day: not great for the tummy. Luckily, in rural France, there was all this food: all you can eat, and not put weight on because you’re walking all day long. When I say eat – there are solid foods, and there are liquid foods. Let’s see… I was amused when I passed a town named ‘Condom’ – just an ordinary town: snigger, snigger. The French word is préservatif (had to look it up!), so it was a lot more amusing to us Anglophones. It turns out the town’s name was from the Gaulish: ‘market at the confluence (of rivers).’

I did have some good walking friends, during my time in France, whom I called my “three musketeers.” After some time walking, and getting to enjoy each other’s company, we split up. Luckily, at the refuge in Navarrenx, I caught up with them, and we joined in a celebratory dinner in a nearby restaurant. Happy days are here again! I felt almost nostalgic, knowing the scenery in Spain would be dramatically different, and that made me snap-happy: a green field. Snap. A horny cow in a paddock. Snap. A playful cloud … Snap, snap, snap. I’d have to remember that place!

The night before I arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, at a guest house and pub in Ostabat, run by Daniel, I reveled in being alive. Sadness would hit in St Jean, however, as the musketeers would have to go their separate ways. We had another celebratory dinner, and toasted our friendship. I realized, halfway through my journey, that this is what the Camino engenders – lasting appreciation of fellow humans. We are all passengers on this mother-ship Earth. We should look after our ship, and our shipmates; we should be joyful. Life is too short for sadness.

The very next day, I also realized my journey was going to change drastically. Around 150 pilgrims – some in groups accompanied by guides – left St-Jean for Roncesvalles. This did not bode well for the lodgings further along the Camino. The Spanish refuges or hostels (albergues) are very reasonably priced. They vary, in both cost and quality. More often, they are austere dormitories. Why do pilgrims mob them? Possibly the economy, camaraderie, but also they are sometimes the only accommodation for miles. What bugged me is that in the race to get cheap lodging, the camino becomes a quasi-competition for some. A too-frequent phenomenon I noticed was pilgrims leaving at or before dawn to arrive and reserve space at the next cheap albergue. For example, at Larrasoaña, the 6€ albergue opened at 3 o’clock, and I arrived just after midday. Good timing, right? Nope – there was already a goodly group of pilgrims, who had raced there before me, patiently waiting for the doors to open. Many later arrivals missed out. It was a pattern for much of the trip. Not at all like my Camino in 2006. Eventually, I became wary of the multitudes, and sought to stagger my daily stages, staying at less popular places.

Wherever you find yourself, it is important to smell the proverbial roses. I cooked up quite the meal for my group in Pamplona: the menu was pasta Bolognese with mushrooms, green salad with Italian dressing, black grapes, and red wine. Intended for a group of four, but well in excess. We noticed an elderly French pilgrim eating a large watermelon. That was going to be his dinner. I offered the Frenchman a plate of pasta, and a plate of salad. In return he shared his watermelon. I could not find a corkscrew for the wine; he had one. We shared the bottle: long live the United Nations of pilgrims! He thanked me profusely, and I thanked him. Respect, and the desire to share, makes the world go round. Those were the sort of personal experiences that I cherished.

However, not all pilgrims are created equal. Let me tell you of what I called the ‘Swilgrims.’

I was in Puente la Reina, at the same hostel where I enjoyed a stay in 2006. They still served a half-litre glass of wine for dinner. Delightful practice, even if the wine was not so delightful. I was called to interpret for a ten-strong group of anxious, Swedish elderly female pilgrims. I did so, splendidly. Nevertheless, they were barely thankful. And, none of them even bothered to reply to my polite ‘good morning’ the next day. I continued to have nice experiences with other pilgrims, but, every now and then, I would run into those Swilgrims, to my growing displeasure. In Los Arcos, we ended up in the same hostel again. The Swedish oldies got up far too early, and annoyed us with their loud chatter, and grumbling, and excessively LONG showers. They used up all the hot water. Memo to those Swedes: stay in a hotel next time, tourist-pilgrims! Similar uncourteous, selfish, and rude behaviour followed in their wake for the next several days, and I’m sure few on the Camino appreciated them.

Through the race for beds, intermittent pilgrim rudeness, and the shooting pains in my heels and feet, I always tried to find things to appreciate, like music. At one hostel, no pills I’ve taken could prevent me from occupying the front seat of an incredible performance: the snorer section of the Pilgrimous Orchestra was winding up their nocturne, such sonorous efforts not deflated by the mighty wind section. As it was all building to a crescendo finale, unable to sleep, I escaped that place at first daylight.

I had a rest day in Grañon, the same hostel where I stayed two years beforehand, which allowed me to escape the Swilgrims. My big mouth let slip to the hospitaleros, Lilly and Andreas, that my wife and I had cooked, two days running, for the multitudes in 2006. Given my request to have a rest day there, I was immediately roped into cooking, again, two days in a row. Both days, the main meal consisted of vegetable soup, with chorizo sausages added to bulk it up, bread and wine, green salad with vinaigrette dressing, and yoghurt for dessert. The soup was cooked in monstrously big cauldrons. One feeble burner suffered from lack of gas, so I had to switch the ‘pots’ mid-cooking. Not enough room in the kitchen for helpers, so I acquired a dodgy back for a week from all that lifting! The next morning, some pilgrimettes asked whether my profession was a chef, or a cook. Having learnt that I happened to be a specialist dentist in Australia, their ‘interest’ was piqued. I rescued myself using the magic incantation: ‘Ladies, I am happily married.’ End of interest. The soup, however, received enduring interest: I was asked for the recipe. None of the 65 pilgrims the first night, and the 54 on the second, died, or were ill from the food cooked by yours truly. I count that as a success.

By the time I reached Burgos, the pain in my feet caused me to realize that ‘pain’ dominates Spain (four-fifths, the one fifth being just the ‘S’). To bus, or to abandon the trek, that became the question (sorry, Old Will – please, don’t roll in your grave again). I bussed, around 200km in a day – a feat worthy of a super-Swilgrim. Ashamed, as I ever will remain, but it was the only way. For just over 4€, I sold my sole to the Swilgrim Badass. Ten minutes into my bus journey, I knew why the fare was so low. The bus had a mechanical breakdown, right behind the municipal albergue. Several hours after I had left that same albergue, via the transit centre, I arrived to a stop just a kebab’s throw from it. Oh, how we laughed. Not. It took an hour before a replacement vehicle was rustled up, and we were on our way, once again. The Meseta, resembling a vast paella dish, appeared as an uncharacteristic, vivacious green expanse, having been soaked for days. The low clouds, and intermittent downpours, only allowed glimpses of the distant rim of mountains.

Arriving in León, my mission was to find the inner soles that would allow my feet to finish this Camino. At the orthopaedic shop, some four hundred metres away from the YMCA I stayed in, for 25€, I held two softest silicone shapes in my trembling hands: salvation from sore feet was mine. ‘I will finish the Camino!’ I exclaimed. ‘I will sip cider in Santiago!’ I shouted. ‘I will no longer succumb to swilgrimage!’ I cried. Promises, promises. Thus expiated, becalmed I became, but no less determined.

The closer to Santiago I came, the more crowded the trail, and the lodgings became. On one occasion, my deep sleep was interrupted at 5:30am. The early-bird pilgrims started to shuffle the ubiquitous plastic bags. Waterproof plastic is the currency of waterlogged Galicia, and pilgrims in general. Plastic bags not only keep things dry, but also compartmentalised. We were at the gates of Galicia (just days from the climb of O Cebreiro), but the precipitous rain blessed the walkers, everywhere. The more plastic, the better. Maybe not for my ears, or sleep. But you stay dry, pilgrims, you stay dry. This is not to say I didn’t have delightful encounters with many of those people – I had a great time meeting dozens of them. But the interesting and congenial pilgrim at midday could very well be your worst enemy at 5:30 in the morning.

As I waited to enter an albergue in Ponferrada, I was touched by the accommodation plight of an Italian girl, who had started her pilgrimage from Lourdes. Almost immediately, as she started on her way, a stray dog trailed her. After a couple of days, she made enquiries about her new companion, found there was no registered owner, and proceeded to care for the pooch. The animal was in a crisis. A visit to the vet, and adoption papers later, Frieda, the Camino pup, and her new owner, became inseparable. Despite this, she couldn’t stay there. I found it a shame that many albergues admit boisterous and, at times, obnoxious pilgrims – swilgrims even! – yet, a gentle animal like Frieda had to miss out. Them is the rules, the old Scottish hospitalero insisted. In case you thought him hard-hearted, when he signed me in, he got up to shake my hand, having seen that I started my pilgrimage all the way back in Le Puy. The moment was lost on the bickering plebs behind me, who shoved me out of the way as they fought to obtain their precious 5€ beds. Nights in packed quarters like that, sleeping with fifty, sixty, or even more pilgrims, did not go altogether well. Those large dormitories often had their windows shut, doors closed, and smells trapped.

Ultimately, I made my way to Santiago. I must say the journey, the daily sights, smells, sounds, celebrity chef-ing, the daily adventures, did more for me than the destination. I went onward to Finisterre, but rather than revelling in the rained-out pagan rituals at ‘the end of the world’, I returned to spend my time in contemplation, in the dry atmosphere of the Santiago Cathedral. Despite the hordes of tourists, a few devoted locals, and an army of pilgrims, that church provides many a quiet nook for prayer. Everyone in that chapel has implicit trust in the Divine Being; far less trust was placed in the blokes that installed the chandelier – no one wanted to sit right underneath it (see photo).

And that, my friends, is a wrap on my 2008 Camino. I have so many remarkable memories from that two-month journey that I had to commit it to ‘electronic’ paper. I wanted to write volumes about my trip, but, so far, managed only a hundred pages. It seems that everyone is doing the same, these days. Nevertheless, I look forward to publishing it someday … However, for now, these musings will do nicely, methinks.”

-“Chef” John Diminic, Australia

Camino

Pete “Pedro” Mahon, Australia

“I walked the Camino because I was 18 and in search of adventure. I really just wanted to do something big, something that would make my parents think I was crazy. Also, I liked being outside, and the Camino would let me hang out under the sun all day. After I finished high school, I spent some time traveling all throughout Europe, and I thought the idea of walking from France to Spain sounded great.

One of the first and greatest things about my Camino were my friends that walked the entire journey with me. I loved my travel year but I was only in some places for a short time, so I was more or less traveling alone. Anyway, after a short trip to Ireland I flew to a town in France called La Rochelle. I was excited to get to St. Jean to start the Camino, but all the buses out of town were booked for the next 2 days. So I had a really nice time there and eventually got onto a bus to Bayonne. When I got off, I saw a guy who had all the gear on and totally looked like he was ready to go hiking. I looked at him and said ‘Camino?’ and this guy – with a completely shaved head, from Poland, and whose name was Pavlo – said, ‘yes Camino!’ I thought I should have a name like Pavlo’s, so he started calling me ‘Pedro,’ and the legend of Pavlo and Pedro was born. So we got on a train to St. Jean together, and almost immediately started walking on the uphill out of town. In a little while, we came across an Austrian guy who offered us some bananas, which we gladly accepted, and then began walking together with him. His name was Johannes, but I just called him “Austria” for the rest of the trip! We eventually got up to Orisson, and met two German girls, Kadda and Janey, after they advised us about the best sandwiches to get that day. We bonded that night in Roncesvalles – we stayed up so late, talking like schoolchildren, and definitely got a stern talking-to from the hospitalero running our albergue. I found it so liberating talking to these people after traveling alone for a while. We five were a team for the next 33 days. Of course we walked alone some days and we all had some alone time, but these people were my core group. There were a few days on the Camino where I would feel exhausted, or upset for any given reason and I remember just sitting on a stairwell with my friends drinking cheap sangria and all of my frustrations would seem to disappear. I will treasure the memories I shared with them forever.

Another thing I had with me for almost the entire trip was a walking stick. Halfway through the Camino, like day 15, I bought one that I liked from a lady who was selling them along the path. I came to really like the feeling of walking with it every day. I realized it was getting a tiny bit shorter every day, but eventually I got a rubber stopper to place at the tip, which I had sharpened. One night I borrowed a knife and started carving patterns all over the stick, just endlessly until I’d carved over the entire stick. I loved the finished product. Also, I noticed that over time the oils from my hand seemed to naturally varnish the stick, and I liked the way that looked. I wanted to varnish the rest of my stick, to preserve all those carvings. In one village I remember seeing a man painting a sign on top of his shop, and I saw a can of varnish next to him. after he finished, was nice enough to let me use his leftover varnish for my stick. I finished the job and tried to dry the stick overnight, but I guess it was humid in my albergue because the stick was very, very sticky. For nearly 3 days grass and dirt was sticking to the bottom, while my hand was sticking to the top! But eventually, the stick dried up and I just loved the way it looked. It was my companion for the rest of the Camino, and even afterwards when I continued onto Portugal. We were inseparable. But when I got to the airport in Lisbon to fly out, airport security told me i couldn’t bring the stick on board because it was too long. I almost panicked, but I looked at my watch and realized I had a bit of time. I went back through security, and to a cafe. I told the story to the Englishman running the cafe, who let me borrow one of his knives so that I could cut the stick into 3 pieces short enough to bring on board the plane. After some truly horrible carpentry on my end, I was able to get the job done, and get on the plane! Soon, I’ll re-assemble it and mount it on my wall – it’s one of my most prized possessions, and it represents so many daily struggles and memories from the Camino

Another thing that kept me grounded through the entire trip was my diary. I had resolved in 2014 to make a diary entry every single day. Some were very brief. One day when I was still back home on Australia, I was on the coast and only managed to write ‘today was hot.’ On other days I wrote quite a lot. But, my diary entries did a lot for me on my Camino and the larger year-long trip because in high school, everything was very scheduled. Almost every day. But during this time, I wasn’t in school or university, and I had to manage my own days. Focusing on the diary kept me grounded on all these unscheduled days and I never felt like I ‘lost’ a day. It was so satisfying to get home after my yearlong trip, and place my diary on my desk safely. By the end, it meant so much to me – I’d almost rather have given up my passport than the diary! I remember calling my dad the day before walking into Santiago. I was in a cafe and the wifi was horrible so we had a bad connection, but I remember telling my dad that I would finish the hike the next day and he just paused. Then he told me that he was incredibly proud of me. He told me that what I had done was something big. I think we both sort of understood that I was there, walking the camino, as some sort of weird ‘shaping process,’ and it was incredible that he could be a part of that. It was a really special phone call. It’s moments like this that make me so glad I was careful about my diary. Otherwise I might forget in the years to come. I keep a blog site and added my Camino diary to it, but the physical diary is easily most treasured book on my shelf.

I learned a lot during my travel year, and the Camino definitely helped change me. I found a way to solve little problems, to do things differently, and to not do the easiest thing in front of me. I changed, and maybe I can’t explain exactly how. But I didn’t show up thinking about how I needed or wanted to change. That’s why for anyone thinking about the Camino, I’d say you don’t need to be a devout Christian, or have tragedy, or have been fired from work, or just gone through a breakup. You can do this as a source of adventure. You can find meaning while you’re there. Amazing discoveries can come out of just taking a leap into the unknown.”

-Pete “Pedro” Mahon, Australia

 

“The Pug and Cat Pilgrims,” UK/Norway

“Hi, we’re the Pug and Cat Pilgrims! We had been living in Barcelona for some time and realized we really needed a change – of activity, of scenery, of everything. Everything… except our little family, which includes a dog – a pug – named Bandito, and a Scottish Fold cat named Luigi. We were not letting go of those little guys! So when we decided to go on a Camino to jump-start this change in our lives, we also insisted that we become the first pilgrims ever on the Camino de Santiago to bring a pug and cat along for the journey! We got a DoggyRide trolley and pushed ourselves and them from Pamplona to Santiago over 6 weeks. And wow, it was a cool idea but we had a lot of challenges to deal with.

We didn’t have the same experience as most pilgrims. Different people come for all kinds of reasons, but in the end they meet each other while walking together and staying in albergues. And during these times, they talk about their reasons and their experiences, they learn about each other, and in a way they learn about themselves. Our trip wasn’t like that. It was more of an adventure and a logistical challenge. We couldn’t stay in the albergues like everyone else because most of them don’t accept pets, so we camped every single night. Having to camp meant that in addition to the trolley, we were carrying a lot more equipment, so that slowed us down. And also, it’s a little heard to ‘learn about yourself’ when you’re busy finding the next 8kg package of cat litter. Our cat is very particular. No litter, no bathroom. And you can’t buy a small package, because what if you run out? So obviously the shops we had to go to were way different from anything that other pilgrims went to! Luigi turned 6 months old right around the time we got to Burgos, so we had to find a veterinarian to have him neutered too. The weather was also an issue. We started in September, when we thought it would be nice and cool outside, but there were days when it was boiling hot. It was sunny and hot most of the time, but we definitely had our share of days with absolutely pouring rain. And when we reached some of the higher points on the trail, we encountered snow! We had to stay under the church near the Cruz de Ferro in case we got snowed in. It’s like we hit every season of the year on our 6-week journey.

It was a lot to deal with, but, Bandito and Luigi totally loved the experience. Every minute of it! You could see how excited and interested they were with all the beautiful places we visited. Once we set up our campsites, Luigi always wanted to look around and have a look at things, and he never once ran off. Almost every evening, he would go out for a look or a prowl or a hunt. Sometimes he’d just want to have a seat outside for the fresh air. Of course there were some places where we learned that there were wild dogs that may attack cats, so on those evenings Luigi was always kept in sight. Bandito had a blast as well, often meeting some of the other pilgrims and enjoying all the attention he got along the way.

The only thing we didn’t like about all the attention Bandito and Luigi got was that some pilgrims – really more tourist than pilgrim – just tried to take so many photos of them. There was one American woman who asked if she could put her camera in the trolley to take a photo, and we told her no, as we didn’t want her startling our boys. But, as if she thought we were joking, she rudely put her camera right in their faces and took the photo anyway. This is the one thing we don’t love about the Camino today. One of us, Sebastian, did the Camino eight years ago and since then, it has definitely become more popular. People have always gone on the Camino with some mission. Maybe a religious purpose, to get away from things like we wanted to, or to learn about themselves. Now there are a lot of people who are focusing more on where to position their selfie sticks, and getting their daily best photo for their social media. It’s like they forgot the reason the Camino existed. That’s one reason we stayed more antisocial. We did speak to others, but we didn’t walk together with anyone for more than 20 minutes. We hope that with all the changes and improvements, the Camino doesn’t change for the worse. Back then Sebastian got lost a few times, but now it’s so popular that there are signs and arrows everywhere. You can’t get physically lost. If you’re on the Camino, it’s okay to take pictures, it’s okay to enjoy yourself, it’s okay to write blogs or books about your experience, and it’s okay to socialize – but there’s more to this than just your daily photo on Facebook. We just hope that the people on the Camino don’t get spiritually lost.”

-Sebastian Smetham and Finn Paus, the Pug and Cat Pilgrims, UK/Norway

Shanti Burton, New Zealand

“Eighteen months on from the Camino, I still think about the Camino on an almost daily basis. To be completely honest, at the time I didn’t think the camino taught me anything drastically new. During my trek, I spent a month waiting for a flash of insight, an intense realisation, or one of those important moments of self discovery that everyone else seemed to be experiencing.

Don’t get me wrong – reaching the Cruz de Ferro and spotting the Cathedral de Santiago for the first time were numinous, reflective moments that felt bloody amazing. But for me, the Camino was rather slow burn of comprehension that if I can walk across a country on my own two feet carrying everything I needed, I can do anything I want.

There’s something beautiful about the simplistic complexity of the Camino. Waking up each day with the single aim of walking is in so many ways difficult yet at the same time uncomplicated.”

-Shanti Burton, New Zealand | Travel and hiking blogger at “A Wanderphile.”

Camino

Brien Crothers, USA

“On a day hotter than the already almost ridiculously hot days of July, I met one of my Camino guides. Since I was walking the Camino unguided with no support or sag wagon, I mean to say my spiritual Camino guide. The day was bloody hot and I was finishing an incredibly long, drearily hot stretch between villages. By now, late in the day, I was tired and could think of nothing more than wanting to sit my lanky, haggard frame somewhere, anywhere, even just for a minute. Not far on there was a water source indicated on my map—an indicator of which one really never knew what to expect—and I was watching closely, not wanting to miss this supposed fountain.

During my time on the Camino, up to this point anyway, water sources shown in the guidebook in my hands proved to be of almost any variety: A pipe dribbling from a hillside spring; an old style hand pump by the road; ornate fountains with multiple spigots at village centers; and, now a cistern with a rather unique water delivery system.

Approaching the village of Boadilla, a somewhat Wild West feel to this berg on the meseta (the high plateau of northern Spain), the pathway was suddenly shaded by large trees lining the roadway into town and irrigation canals adjacent. Still quite weary, I almost literally stumbled upon this newfound water source. The fountain indicated on the map was actually a Roman built cistern with a very large hand wheel that needed cranking to earn your water. I gave this giant wheel, a steel made creation resembling a ship’s rudder control, a short spin. No water appeared. I was so knackered, tired from the day’s long walk and oppressive heat, that I decided to sit a minute, catch my breath and try again in a minute or two.

This is when my guide appeared: I heard a voice from a nearby hostel saying, ‘More energy.’ I turned to see a youngish, lean Spaniard in cargo shorts and flip-flops, no shirt, his shorts hanging low over his hips, underwear in view. He repeated, ‘more energy.’ I gave the wheel a hefty spin with what little ‘more energy’ I had. Still no water. I sat down and thought to myself, ‘whatever.’ The young man made the short walk over to my location near the cistern and said, ‘What is the second thing the pilgrim needs?’ I sat silently, having no idea, so he said, ‘Patience. You must have patience.’ Then he spun the wheel a bit more and voila, water appeared, flowing from a pipe near the large wheel.

I only needed patience. He quickly told me, with great pleasure, about the fountain being two thousand years old, and then returned to his doorway where he sat on the threshold of the old, dusty and worn building with a beer in one hand, a stogie in the other.

After resting a bit, sitting on a bench beside the cistern and refilling my water bottles, I thanked my newfound Camino guide and hit the trail. He had said no more; needed say nothing more. By the time I had made it to the other end of this dirty little town, I was wondering if I had dreamt it all.

Patience, that’s what I need. Says my guide of the Camino.”

This was an excerpt from my book, “Su Camino,” which you can find on Amazon. I hope you’ll also look at my blog, “Grandpa’s Gone Again?” with travel notes from all over.

-Brien Crothers, USA

Annie O’Neil, USA

“I learned so many life lessons from the Camino that I continue to carry today. When I walked the Camino, I noticed that sometimes the hardest walking of the day was when the village I was walking to was in sight. The hours of walking through fields or vineyards, heading up a mountain or down the other side, they were were nothing compared to when the end was in sight. I would see the village and my heart would soar knowing that the end was in sight! At those moments I would mentally calculate how long it would take me to walk into that village. Then however long that was – 45 minutes? an hour? – would come and go and I wouldn’t be at my destination. Then I’d get frustrated, because I stopped focusing on the journey and got too caught up in the destination. I came to realize that when we do that, we risk losing the journey altogether, and then we start wonder why we are even walking in the first place! Like so much of the rest of life, we must keep the balance. But part of this is a trick of the ego, that part of your brain that is resistant to change. Along the Camino de Santiago a pilgrim can shed more than items from their backpack or pounds from their body: you can shed old ways of thinking, and habits that have kept you stuck! 

The urge to keep the journey going brings me back to a particularly difficult moment on my Camino. It had been a long, hard day and I was flat out exhausted. I finally reached the village where I thought I would be staying, but felt an inexplicable urge – a little voice if you will – telling me to keep walking. To keep the journey going. But then I thought to myself, ‘keep walking?!?!?’ I was beat! I had been on the trail long enough by then to know to follow my intuition, and I did indeed keep walking, now at a slow yet steady pace. I didn’t exactly feel joy, but I felt like I was doing the right thing. At the late (for a Camino pilgrim!) hour of 3pm, I started climbing one of the steepest parts of the Camino, a mountain leading up to the village of O Cebreiro. Most pilgrims start this section early in the morning and have lunch at the top. I was walking with a German pilgrim for a while, until he could no longer walk as slowly as me and sped up. I quickly lost sight of him. I continued climbing, but started feeling sour about the difficult day I had had, and how crazy it was to be climbing to O Cebreiro so late in the day. I couldn’t shake this grumpiness until finally I decided to turn around and see the view. And what a view it was! It was like the world unrolled at my feet! I saw a beautiful fertile valley below me with fields and meadows, streams flowing, and a brilliant blue sky topping the whole scene off. It really took my breath away! I was reminded that while it’s important to focus on the journey, that it can be tough at times. And that behind every tough challenge is a reward like that valley – a place where joy, ease, love, wisdom, peace, tranquility, compassion, light, and laughter are untouched, whole, complete, and there for us if we will but reach out. 

I learned another important lesson on my last full day of walking, I was so close to the finish line but I was overcome with doubts. It was the first day I had a real rainy day on my entire pilgrimage, and I was exhausted by midday, and struggling to simply put one foot in front of the other. I finally sat down on a rock in the middle of nowhere, and just listened to the rain as it hit the ground, my gear, my hat. After a little while, a French woman and her walking companion came up and asked if I was okay. They helped me up, offered me an orange. I was impressed, because oranges are heavy. I ate them every day, but usually early in the morning, so I didn’t have to carry the weight any longer than necessary. This was in the afternoon, so she had made a serious commitment to that orange, that weight! And after carrying that weight so far, she offered it freely to a pilgrim who looked like she needed it. We walked together for a bit, these two pilgrims and I, and the man told me their story: they were part of a group of 9 pilgrims who had met and bonded early on. Two of them were gourmet chefs, so they always stayed in albuerges with kitchens, dining on delicious meals together every night. When we parted a few kilometers on, I was again alone with my thoughts and almost fell into despair. I was telling myself that I had done the Camino all wrong! Where was my group of 9? Where were my gourmet meals? It really took over my thinking for a minute or two before I burst out laughing. Who could do the Camino ‘wrong?’ There is no such thing! I walked the exact right Camino for me, for my soul!

And today, I feel that my Camino never ended. I still walk, in nature as often as possible. I feel this deeply and completely, in fact, it inspired me to write my book Everyday Camino With Annie after I returned from my first Camino, and I am constantly moved by people’s letters who have read it. I like to say I am on my Urban Camino now, finding pockets of dirt trails whenever possible, walking on sidewalk at other times. There is still abundant beauty, beautiful sights, sounds, and smells, to be experienced here in the midst of a city, just as along the Camino de Santiago. Even when you have city views, freeway noise, and sirens all around, you can still see morning mists, hear birdsong and the wind in the trees; you can feel the warmth of the sun, and if you look at your surroundings with the right heart, you can find nature in a city vista, too.

Keeping true to the journey, not focusing only on the destination, remembering that even in hard times there is light beyond, and remembering that we are doing the right things for our souls, those things anchor us but also enrich us. At every moment, we are experiencing the deep and unchanging love of the One who made us. Everything, every imagined betrayal, every seeming disappointment, every apparent heart ache and heart break is another way that God is loving us. There is a bigger picture, one that is infused with love, with compassion, with strength and wisdom and charity. Meditation helps guide us to that picture, that reality, that dimension. Our spiritual practice bolsters the knowledge of what is truly so. Today, and in my book, I encourage others to walk a sacred pilgrimage everyday, no matter where we are.

That brings me right to Phil and his sacred pilgrimage. He’s a veteran, husband, father, outdoorsman, and Catholic. He also has Stage IV cancer. For years, Phil dreamt of walking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago, but this was an unattainable dream due to weekly chemo treatments. That did not stop him from walking. He created a parallel journey in his own backyard, taking 0.88km laps and mentally tracking his progress to Santiago as if he had started his trail in St. Jean Pied de Port. He found  that the rhythm of walking presents healing in a way he had never experienced before. I and others were so moved by this story that we have put our all into making a documentary of Phil’s story (www.philscamino.com), and its premiere is at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2016. I could not be more proud of Phil and I am so happy that the Camino brings so many so much, every single day – before, during, and after the trip itself. It is such a driving force in so many lives, and it has brought so many souls together on a lifelong journey.”

-Annie O’Neil, USA

Carlos Valdes Sauras, Spain

Spanish


“El Camino es muy conocido en mi país, España. Muchos lo han oído y piensan que es una experiencia personal y transformada como un paso en que encontrarse a uno mismo. Al mismo tiempo, oye de los aspectos sociales –encontrarás con mucha gente nueva a causa de la travesía, lo formarás amistades íntimos y quizás para toda la vida. Es comprobable a Erasmo sino concentrado en algunas semanas. Por eso, me interesa mucho.

Hizo el Camino dos veces, el principio como el Pascua del 2013 desde O Cebreiro a Santiago. Quise a desconectar a mi rutina diaria y las presiones familiares y diarias. Más de eso vi una oportunidad para crear nuevas amistades con los otros peregrinos. La empezó instantánea antes del mi primer paso. Fui a Madrid y esperé que quedar con uno de mis amigos que vive ahora en Zaragoza. Viajaba en autobús nocturno a O Cebreiro y vi un hombre que conozco de Madrid que también estaba empezando al mismo tiempo. Decidimos que caminamos juntos. Cuando lleguemos, empezamos a buscar mi amigo zaragozano. Una colombiana nos dirigió. Ella pensó que también caminó sola sino escuchó nuestra conversación en el autobús y nos preguntó si nos quedamos. Por todo el tiempo, caminamos juntos y creamos una amistad íntima. Empezamos juntos y terminamos apenas juntos cada día. A pesar de eso, suponía un cambio refrescante a ver la generosidad a los desconocidos. No se lo ve con los desconocidos en la ciudad, sino en el Camino la gente es amable a todo. Se aceptamos.

Me gusta que tenía un grupo increíble desde el principio. El Camino no estaba muy abarrotado como el Pascua en comparación al verano. A veces, pareció como caminamos solo en el Camino, las únicas personas por kilómetros. Llovió casi cada día que pensé que fue mágico. La lluvia y la solidaridad crearon una atmosfera en que pude concentrar en mí mismo. Fue consciente de cada paso y cada kilómetro. Estaba más difícil a caminar a las rutas mojadas y a vece estaba aislado. Por eso, me pregunté ‘¿porque estoy caminando?’

Piscamente, tenía muchos problemas con los pies. Tuvo botas nuevas y mis pies se ampollaron al primer día. Cuando llegue al albergue, pensó en cómo puedo sobrevivir solo un día más. ‘Mañana’ o ‘el próximo café’ fueron escalones que me dieron la fuerza a continuar. En esa manera, el Camino se motiva aunque es una ruta muy dura y difícil. Caminas por algunos kilómetros, se toma un café. Más tarde comerás un almuerzo muy rico y estarán charlando con los otros peregrinos. Al fin del día, es un buen sensación a llegar al albergue donde dormirás para la noche. Si pensé en los días restantes en vez de los escalones, no llegare a Santiago. Los escalones me dieron la fuerza a continuar. Tanto dolor que tengas, los escalones te hace sentir cómodo y el cuerpo se recupera increíble durante la noche. Al cabo de un rato, los escalones son más fáciles. Y al final el Camino, como los cinco kilómetros finales, toda la gente es entusiasmado y caminan con ánimo. Con cada paso, la atmosfera crece. Cuando llegue a la plaza de la iglesia del Santiago, sentí como Superman y pude hacer cualquier cosa.

El último recuerdo del Santiago: Cada día, tengas comidas con personas diferentes y no te das cuenta que conoces muchos peregrinos que son, al final del camino, amigos. Cuando llegaras a Santiago, todos de los peregrinos son emocionados con sus amigos nuevos y las caras familiares del Camino. Se celebráis juntos, cenáis juntos y desfrutáis los logros. Recuerdo uno de las noches finales en Santiago, un mensaje estaba enviado a 3-4 personas a unir en la plaza del Catedral para celebrar. Algunas personas crecieron a una fiesta y casi 40 personas llegaron.

El segundo camino estaba en el verano del 2015 y fue diferente. Camine con 4 amigos – incluyendo el amigo zaragozano a la ruta Camino Ingles . Empecemos en Farrol (Galicia) y caminamos 130 kilómetros al sus a Santiago. Había menos gente del mi camino a la ruta Francés. Por eso, había menos interacciones con los otros peregrinos. Ya entonces, echaron de menos el aspecto social sino los 4 amigos viejos tenían la oportunidad a desfrutarnos fuera de los placeres y las artificialidades de la vida. Nadie habló de los problemas ni las preocupaciones. Compartimos cuentos y desfrutaron el camino como niños. Cuando planeé este camino, anticipé la misma experiencia del primer camino solo una ruta diferente. Este camino estaba diferente pero todavía tenía un aspecto mágico.

Me encantan mis experiencias del Camino y me voy al Camino otra vez en dos años. Caminare de nuevo, quizás con el mismo grupo de amigos. Pensamos en el Camino Portugués pero no importa cual ruta se camina, la época del año, por algunas días o por todo el Camino ni juntos o solo, te recomiendo. Es una experiencia especial y mágica cada vez.”

-Carlos Valdes Sauras, España

English


“The Camino is pretty well known in my country, Spain. Many of us have heard about it and think of it as a personal, transforming experience – a journey that lets you discover yourself. I was pretty interested in that. On the other hand, you also hear about the social component – you’re going to meet a lot of new people and because of the kind of journey you are on, you’re bound to form close, deep relationships with many of them, and maybe even make some lifelong friends. It’s like an Erasmus exchange program concentrated in just a couple weeks.

I did the Camino twice. The first time was around Easter 2013, and I went from O Cebreiro to Santiago. I wanted to disconnect from my daily working routine, family pressures, and day-to-day problems, but also saw it as an opportunity to build new friendships with people. And that second aspect of it started forming before I even took one step! I went from Madrid and was planning to meet a dear old friend of mine who now lives in Zaragoza. I was on a night bus to O Cebreiro and saw a guy on the bus that I happened to know from around Madrid – he was starting the Camino the same time as me, from the same starting point! We decided to start the trip together. And once the bus stopped and my new friend and I stepped out to look for my friend from Zaragoza, a girl from Colombia approached us. She too thought she’d be hiking alone, but heard us talking on the bus and bravely asked us strangers if she could join us. And for the rest of the way, we 4 became really close. We started each day together, we barely finished each day together, and it was so refreshing to see this sense of openness and generosity to strangers. You don’t do this with strangers in a city, but on the Camino we were so open. We just accepted each other.

I’m glad I had a good group from the start of my Camino. At Easter, it wasn’t as crowded as it seems to get during summertime. Sometimes we felt we really were alone on the Way, the only people for miles. It also seemed like it was raining every day. I thought that was magical – the rain and the solitude created an atmosphere to concentrate only on yourself. I was more aware of every step, every kilometer. But, it was harder to walk on wet paths, and it was definitely lonely sometimes. I often asked myself why I was doing it at all.

Physically, I had a lot of troubles with my feet. I had new boots and had blister problems almost from the first day. When I reached one albergue, my only thoughts were about how to survive for just one more day. ‘Milestones’ like ‘the next day,’ or ‘the next coffee shop’ were what gave me the strength to go on. In this way, the Camino puts you in ‘can-do’ mode, even though it’s so long and difficult. After a few kilometers you know you’ll take a coffeebreak, a few hours later you know you’ll have a nice heavy lunch and talk to some peregrinos, and then at the end of the day it’s such a rewarding feeling to get to the albergue where you’ll sleep for the nightIf I didn’t think to the milestones and instead thought ‘I still have 6 days ahead of me with these feet,’ I wouldn’t have made it. The milestones give you strength to go on. As much pain as you felt during the days, the milestones kept your mind at ease and the body surprisingly recovered really well at night. After a few days, these milestones are easier to hit. The last 5 kilometers before reaching Santiago, everyone around you is excited, and that feeling keeps building up as you go to the Cathedral’s main square. When I reached Santiago, I felt like i was Superman, that i could do anything. It makes you believe in yourself like never before.

A last memory from Santiago: every day, you have all these different meals with so many different people and you don’t realize you’re making SO many friends until the end. When you get to Santiago that’s when everybody gets together. Everyone’s in such a positive mood that all those familiar faces from the journey are now friends. You celebrate together, have meals together, and enjoy the accomplishment. I remember that on one of our nights in Santiago, a message went out to 3 or 4 people to meet by the Cathedral at night to celebrate. It turned into a huge chain, and nearly 40 people showed up! It really is a joint accomplishment.

My second experience in summer 2015 was a little different. I went with 4 friends – including my friend from Zaragoza, and took a different way – the Camino Ingles. We started in Ferrol, in Galicia, and walked 130 kilometers southward to Santiago. It was much less crowded than the Camino Frances, and we had very little interaction with other pilgrims. But even though we missed that social part, we 4 old friends got a chance to really have fun together away from the pressures and artificialness of real life.  Nobody talked about troubles or concerns. We just shared stories and enjoyed the trek – it was like we were kids again. When I planned the trip I was expecting to replicate the first experience but just on a different path. This was different, but it had its own kind of magic.

I loved my Camino experiences so much that in 2 years, I’ll do it again, maybe with the same group of friends. We might try for the Camino Portugues next time. But it doesn’t matter which route you go, what time of year, whether you do 5 days or 35, or whether you go with friends or alone. I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s truly a special, magical experience every time.”

-Carlos Valdes Sauras, Spain

Family Silas, Finland (2015)

Finnish


Perhe Silas, Suomi

Kuljettuamme ranskalaisen reitin keväällä 2014 tiesimme mitä Camino on. Ja tiesimme rakastavamme sitä! Ajatus polulle palaamisesta oli mielessämme jatkuvasti. Kirjoitimme ensimmäisen vaelluksemme kokemuksista kirjan Perheloma El Caminolla. Kirjoittaessamme kaipuu kulkemaan kasvoi kasvamistaan.

Emme kuitenkaan voineet palata Caminolle. Lapset olivat vuoden aikana kasvaneet. He olivat pidempiä eivätkä enää mahtuneet kärryihinsä. Tai niin me luulimme… Tammikuussa 2015 kaivoimme kärrit esille ja sillä sekunnilla kun kuopuksemme näki ne, hän juoksi niiden luo ja kiipesi paikalleen istumaan. Hän halusi lähteä Caminolle! Yllätykseksemme myös tyttäremme mahtui paikalleen, vaikkakin polvet hyvin lähellä suutaan. Sinä iltana päätimme palata Espanjaan.

Vaikeinta oli valita meille sopiva reitti. Emme halunneet kulkea samaa kuin edellisenä vuonna. Reitin varrelta täytyi löytyä riittävän tiheästi majapaikkoja ja muita palveluita. Tärkeää oli myös, ettei reitti ollut fyysisesti yhtä vaativa kuin ranskalainen tie. Lapset eivät olleet pelkästään kasvaneet pituutta, he olivat myös painavampia tällä kertaa. He haluaisivat kävellä enemmän ja sen mahdollistaaksemme meidän täytyi varata kulkemiseen riittävästi aikaa.

Päädyimme taivaltamaan Camino Portuguesea eli Portugalin reittiä. Olimme suunnitelleet kulkevamme huomattavasti lyhyemmän Caminon tällä kertaa. Mutta saatuamme matkaoppaan käsiimme suunnitelmamme muuttuivat kertaheitolla ja päätimmekin aloittaa reitin Lissabonista Porton sijaan.

Toukokuun puolivälissä vuonna 2015 aloitimme toisen Caminomme. Tällä kertaa matkaa kertyi 600 kilometriä ja siihen kului aikaa viisi viikkoa. Saavuimme Santiago de Compostelaan kesäkuun 19. päivä, jolloin oli kulunut tasan vuosi siitä, kun ensimmäisen kerran astuimme Santiagon maaperälle.

Ensimmäiseen Caminoomme verrattuna tämä oli osin helpompi, osin raskaampi. Terveydellisistä syistä johtuen en ollut voinut harjoitella ennen Camino Portugueselle lähtöä. Olimme todella onnekkaita, että reitti oli korkeuserojen ja kulkualustojen puolesta helpompi kuin ranskalainen serkkunsa. Oli myös onni, että meillä oli kokemusta keltaisten nuolien seuraamisesta ja löytämisestä. Kokemus matkaoppaan tulkitsemisesta oli hyödyksi, sillä varsinkin alkumatkalla reitti oli huonosti merkitty.

Sään suhteen emme olleet onnekkaita. Oli todella kuuma. Kun lähtee Suomen keväisestä +10°C lämmöstä kulkemaan +35 asteen helteessä joka päivä, saa osakseen terveysongelmia. Tällä kertaa oli Jannen vuoro kerätä rakkoja – suuria ja mehukkaita. Osa niistä tulehtui. Myös lapsia koeteltiin. 4- ja 5-vuotiaat pikku-peregrinot sairastivat matkan aikana vesirokon! Koska lääkärin mielestä matkanteolle ei ollut estettä, jatkoimme kulkua pienten potilaiden kanssa. Yritimme vain vältellä pieniä lapsia ja raskaana olevia naisia parhaamme mukaan, kuten tohtori oli ohjeistanut.

Tämä Camino oli rutinoidumpi, kivuliaampi ja huomattavasti aurinkoisempi kuin aiempi. Rakastuimme Portugaliin. Sen ihmisiin, ystävällisyyteen, tapoihin ja siihen, kuinka helppoa siellä oli elää opaskoiran kanssa. Emme kohdanneet ihmisiä yhtä paljon kuin viime vuonna, mutta ne jotka tapasimme, opimme tuntemaan paremmin. Tapasimme mahtavia kanssakulkijoita, jotka jakoivat yksinäisen tien kanssamme.

Tämä oli erilainen Camino. Mutta siinä oli myös samaa kuin edellisessä. Jos se on meistä kiinni, palaamme polulle. Perheenä, tietenkin.

Valeriina, Janne, Alina ja Arttu Silas sekä opaskoira Uuno Suomesta

English


“We absolutely loved our first Camino in 2014. The thought of going back was in our minds all the time. We wrote a book of our experiences on Camino Frances and during the writing process, the longing back to the path became greater and greater.

But since our children had grown taller – we thought they couldn’t fit in our 2-seater “Camino buggy” anymore. Or so we thought… In January 2015 we dug up the buggy on a whim and the very second our youngest saw it, he ran up to it and sat in his old seat. He felt the call of the Camino! To our surprise, our daughter fit in her seat as well, just a little tighter. That same night, we decided to return to the Camino.

The biggest issue was to choose a Camino route. We didn’t want to walk the Camino Frances, which we did in 2014. Because of our various needs, the route needed to have good facilities on the way. It was also important, that the route wasn’t as physical as the Camino Frances. Our children had grown and they were heavier than last year, so pushing the buggy would be tough. Also, they wanted to do some walking and we needed to make sure we had time to allow them to do that.

We ended up walking the Camino Portugues. We had planned on doing a significantly shorter trip this time, starting in Porto. But when the guidebook arrived, we quickly changed our plans to start the walk from Lisbon and cover the entire trail of 600 kilometers (370 miles). And so in mid-May 2015 we started our second Camino. The trip took us five weeks and we arrived to Santiago on June 19th, exactly one year after the first time we set foot in Santiago de Compostela.

Compared to the previous Camino, this one was in some ways harder, and in other ways easier. This year, I wasn’t able to train like I had last year because of health issues. But, we were really lucky that the route was easier when it came to hills and surface of the paths. We were also lucky to have experience following and finding the yellow arros and understanding the maps in our guidebook, because the route was poorly marked especially in the beginning.

However, we didn’t have luck with the weather – it was really hot. When one comes from Finland and is used to daily temperatures of 10°C (50°F), and starts walking in 35°C (95°F) every day, one is bound to have problems. This time it was Janne who kept collecting blisters – big and juicy ones. Some of them got infected, too. Health was an issue this time with the children also, 4 and 5 years at the time. They both got the chickenpox during the camino! We spoke to a doctor in a hospital and he didn’t see any problem with continuing, we kept going. We just kept our heads down to beat these issues, and of course we tried to avoid other children and pregnant mothers.

This Camino had more routine, more pain and way more sun than the last one. Along the way, we fell in love to Portugal, its people, friendliness, customs, and we were impressed at how easily a blind person could live there with a guide dog. We didn’t meet as many people as we did the previous year, but the ones we got to know, we really got to know. We met wonderful fellow pilgrims who shared the lonely path with us.

In so many ways, this Camino was different than the one we did before, but it had a lot the same, too. The one thing that doesn’t changes is how deep and memorable an experience it is. One day, if we are able, we will return to the Path. As a family, of course!”

-Valeriina, Janne, Alina and Arttu Silas, and guide dog Uuno, Finland

Kirby McKibben, USA

“I’m a religious person, so I guess that side of the Camino appealed to me. As the days went by on the Way I definitely felt closer to God, but I didn’t set out with that in mind. I wanted to change my entire life.

After I finished high school, I moved onto a college campus. With no parents around, I realized “well, I can do whatever I want.” I was drinking, I was smoking cigarettes, I didn’t have any meaningful relationships, and I didn’t work very hard. With that kind of regular self-destructive behavior, I was critically unhappy. I realized this and tried to make a change by moving back to my hometown to draw myself back in and get back on track at college. Back home, I was doing great at school, without much effort and without much challenge. I passed the time sitting at home drinking and smoking. And I was still deeply unhappy. I didn’t know what to do. Moving off campus didn’t work. Excelling at school didn’t work. I needed to get away. I had heard of the Camino, I had money saved up, and I’m a big outdoors guy. Summer was close, so I just bought a plane ticket and a backpack and I just went.

I started in St. Jean Pied de Port, and ended in Finisterre, via Santiago of course. At albergues, I did speak to others, but mostly I woke up early, walked long, and generally tried to focus on the change I wanted to make in my life. Still, it felt like someone or something was with me the entire way, and there are so many amazing little examples of that. For example, one day, I realized I had run out of cigarettes and since I usually started walking so early, there was nowhere to buy any. I was definitely trying to reduce my smoking, but I still had a cigarette each morning. As I was walking along a small stone wall, I spotted a little white box sitting on it off in the distance. I eventually reached the box and I said “NO WAY” when I realized it was a full, sealed pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes – just when cravings were about to ruin my morning.

Another time, I had almost run out of safety pins to hang up my laundry, and it was high time to wash my clothes. I asked a lady in a small town where I could buy some more, she pointed me to a store, and I bought some – until I looked at them much later and realized they were paper clips. I definitely wasn’t hanging any clothes with those! I remember that day being so foggy I could barely see ten feet in front of me. I eventually reached a hill where I was able to look down to the town where I was staying for that night, just hoping that someone would have safety pins so I could hang my clothes at night. As I started to go downhill I looked at my feet and saw a string of safety pins, all linked together sitting right there. This just made my day.

There are some days on the Camino when you’d be standing on a big hill and see the town you were planning to sleep that night, but it was still hours away. Well, on one of these days, the sun above me was really hot. I knew the heat would be unbearable the rest of the way, and I wanted to walk shirtless to stay cool. The last time I did this, my shoulders got pretty badly sunburnt. I did it anyway and just as I started to worry about burning again, I came around a corner and noticed right at my feet a small bottle of sunscreen. Right there. Little things like this on so many days made me think that the Big Man upstairs was looking out for me during my Camino. It doesn’t have to be miracles. Sometimes, those little things remind you to count your blessings.

Overall, the Camino wasn’t easy. There were entire days I was in pain, and by the time I got to León, my ankle was in really rough shape. I was feeling really low because I was managing only a few miles a day, and I took a break to recover. But I survived the trip. Today, I don’t get stressed out anymore. I don’t let things bother me anymore. The background on my phone is the cathedral in León, because while that was one of the low points of my trip, it was also the turning point. For the rest of the trip – and even today – at every setback I would keep telling myself, ‘you’re not in Leon right now.’ I pulled through. I thought back to those little blessings and so many others. They made me more resilient. And in the end, I feel like I re-centered myself, and I was ready to go home and live a better life.”

-Kirby McKibben, USA

Family Silas, Finland (2014)

Finnish


Perhe Silas, Suomi

Vaikka emme tienneet pyhiinvaeltamisesta juuri mitään, jo vuosien ajan olimme haaveilleet Caminosta. Ajatus yksinkertaisesta, kävelyn täyttämästä elämästä tuntui omalta. Saatuamme kaksi lasta hyvin pienellä ikäerolla, Caminosta tuli meille vain haave. Haave, jonka luulimme toteutuvan vasta vuosien päästä.

Helmikuussa 2014 istuin keittiön pöydän ääressä. Aloimme keskustella, olisiko nyt oikea aika Caminolle. Lapset olisivat vielä tarpeeksi pieniä mahtuakseen kärryihinsä ja tarpeeksi suuria selvitäkseen matkan rasituksista. Meillä oli riittävästi aikaa, jotta pystyisimme toteuttamaan unelmamme. Viisitoista minuuttia myöhemmin päätimme tehdä sen!

Matkaan valmistautuminen oli suuri projekti. Alun alkaen meille oli selvää, että tekisimme matkan ilman ulkopuolista apua. Niinpä esimerkiksi mukaan otettavat varusteet piti harkita tarkkaan. Toisin kuin monen muun, meidän piti kahden aikuisen kulkijan tarpeiden lisäksi huomioida myös 3- ja 4-vuotiaiden lapsiemme tarpeet. Sokean mieheni rinnalla matkan taittaisi myös hänen opaskoiransa Uuno, joten myös koiran tarpeet piti ottaa huomioon matkaa suunnitellessa.

Harjoittelimme paljon. Onneksi lapset olivat tottuneet istumaan työntämissäni juoksukärryiksi muunnetuissa polkupyörän peräkärryissä. Meidän aikuisten piti olla huippukunnossa, kun Camino alkaisi. Jokainen harjoituskilometri tuli tarpeeseen Espanjassa.

Aloitimme ranskalaisen reitin Pamplonasta toukokuun 2014 puolivälissä. Keskusteltuamme reitin kulkeneen ystävän kanssa, päätimme aloittaa kulkumme Pyreneiden jälkeen. Emme halunneet riskeerata terveyttämme tai henkeämme. Kävelimme Pamplonasta Santiago de Compostelaan, josta jatkoimme Finisterraan. Yhteensä matkamme oli noin 800 kilometriä. Aikaa kului kuusi viikkoa. Kuusi ikimuistoista viikkoa.

Olimme aika eriskummallinen porukka. Moni oli kuullut meistä etukäteen. Muut pyhiinvaeltajat halusivat jutella kanssamme ja kuulla tarinamme. Oli mahtava tavata niin monia kanssakulkijoita. Osa kertoi saaneensa esimerkistämme voimaa, mutta yhtälailla monen tarina kosketti meitä ja auttoi jaksamaan vaikeissa paikoissa. Saimme useita ystäviä, joiden kanssa olemme yhteydessä yhä Caminon jälkeen.

Kävelyn myötä jalkamme tulivat kipeiksi, saimme rakkoja ja paloimme auringossa. Saimme muistoja, jotka pysyvät matkassamme aina. Kuljimme polkuja ja ylitimme esteitä, joita emme olleet uskoneet kohtaavamme. Ylitimme huippuja, jotka olivat Haltia korkeampia. Olimme onnellisia, väsyneitä ja joskus epävarmoja. Ylitimme kaikki eteemme tulleet esteet. Joskus kiitos siitä kuului Camino-perheellemme. Joskus paikallisten ystävällisyydelle. Usein, kiitos kuului sisulle, jota meillä taisi olla mukana luultua enemmän.

Opimme paljon itsestämme niin yksilöinä kuin perheenä. Camino oli kokemus, jota ei voinut etukäteen ennakoida. Touko-kesäkuussa 2014 kuljimme ensimmäisen Caminomme. Eikä se varmasti ollut viimeinen…

Valeriina, Janne, Alina ja Arttu Silas sekä opaskoira Uuno

English


The Camino was our dream for years. We didn’t actually know anything about Caminos or pilgrimages. But the thought of a simple life, simply walking every day, felt like something meant for us. After we had two children really close together, we thought the Camino would be something we could do after decades.

One day in early 2014 we were sitting in our kitchen and started to talk about doing the Camino the same year. Somehow the time felt right. The kids would grown enough to handle the journey but still small enough to fit in a little buggy which I could push along. We had the free time we needed to accomplish this and the possibility to make our dream come true, and so fifteen minutes later we decided to do it!

It took us lot of preparation. We planned to do the Camino without any guides or other support, so we had to think about gear really carefully. The other difference is that we had to plan for 4 people. We were two adults and two small children – 3 and 4 years at the time – and for my husband’s guide dog. Yes, my husband is blind and therefore walks with his guide dog Uuno. We also had to train plenty. Luckily the children were used to sitting in their buggy, which I pushed around even back home. But we needed to be in good shape. Every kilometer of practice was useful once we started walking in Spain.

We started the Camino Frances in mid-May 2014 from Pamplona. After a lot of thought and discussions with friends who had done the Camino before, we decided to skip walking over the Pyrenees. We didn’t want to risk our health or lives. We walked to Santiago and continued to Finisterre, altogether covering over 800 kilometers (500 miles). It took us almost six weeks. Six unforgettable weeks.

One can imagine how peculiar company we were. Many had heard about us in advance. Some wanted to talk with us, hear our story. It was wonderful to meet so many interesting people. We were an inspiration to some and many we met were inspirations to us. We got lots of friends with whom we have stayed in contact after the camino.

It was not easy all the time. We got blisters, sun burns and sore feet. Sometimes we felt insecure about our abilities or the path. But we did make memories that no one can take away from us. We came across paths we had never dreamed of walking. When we crossed the highest point of the Camino, We were tired but happy. And all the obstacles we encountered, we solved – sometimes thanks to our camino family, sometimes thanks to the kindness of local people. And on some occasions, it was thanks to our stubbornness, which helped us push through some difficult times.

We learned a lot about ourselves and about us as a family. It was an experience that we could never have really understood before we started the journey. Now we are sure that this Camino was our first, but not our last…

-Valeriina, Janne, Alina and Arttu Silas, and guide dog Uuno, Finland