“I have dealt with a lot of changes in my life over the past 15 years. I moved out of Sydney years ago, but after my marriage ended, I moved back home. That was a tough transition. I felt stressed, and I really felt like I needed something to help me relax and find myself. So I began thinking about an overseas trip. My cousin Daniela asked if I might be interested in the Camino. At the time, I knew nothing about it. So, she suggested a few books to read, but what hooked me was the Martin Sheen movie, ‘The Way.’ I was sold and ready to go. I needed more of a challenge in my life and I really felt the Camino would provide that for me. With me on board, Daniela, I and two other cousins, Manuela and Barb left for St. Jean Pied de Port, off on our Camino experience.
As it was with anyone who’s started the Camino without much experience, the beginning of the trip was difficult. I had to get used to walking those long distances every day, dealing with the changing terrain, and coping with the snoring (and the lack of sleep as a result). It was hard to get into a groove for a while. Things did change though, in an unexpected way. One of my cousins was unfortunately only able to join for 2 weeks of the journey – it was sad to see her leave midway through the Camino as she really talked me through the tough times at the start. But, in the end, her departure was a good thing. I found my feet without my confidante.
The turnaround in my Camino came from our time at the donativo albergue in Grañon. Housed inside a church, It took in pilgrims on a donations basis. There’s no fee to stay, there’s a big communal meal included, and pilgrims make a donation if they can. My cousin Manuela suggested this place as it would be a different experience from the normal albergues we had stayed at thus far. It was a turning point for me because one of the hospitaleros – the volunteers working at albergues – there said something very significant to me. I hadn’t had a chance to speak to him at all upon our arrival and through much of our evening there, but he must have observed the dynamics of our group during our stay. During our time of reflection in the church after dinner, out of the blue the hospitaliero came over to talk to me, and said, ‘You need to make this Camino your own. It will help you be more strong and affirmative. Just by observing the group, you seemed to be struggling a bit, and if you want to make the most of it, you need to make the move to do so.’
After thinking about this advice, on many days I started to walk ahead of or behind people just to find my own time and space to myself. If that hospitalero didn’t say anything I would have just kept going the same way I’ve gone in the past, and my Camino would’ve been completely different. Around this time, I met Alberto, a Spanish pilgrim who spent 4-5 days with me and my cousins, and was a great help and a godsend at times. In one example, he suggested that we catch a bus into Burgos, both to avoid the more industrial path that led into Burgos, and to give our bodies a little rest. As we arrived into San Juan de Ora the bells are ringing our welcome. Here we are told of a bus you can catch into Burgos, though it was another 5km or so down the road, which we did not want to walk. As we are discussing the next plan of action miraculously a taxi pulls up behind us. Alberto starts to negotiate with the driver to take us into Burgos yeah! What a relief.
The food at shared meals was always great, but more importantly, it really brought us peregrinos together as a community. It’s the way life should be. And over time you meet more and more people, and recognize more and more faces during the weeks-long walk. We reached Santiago in about 5 weeks, and I was so grateful there to run into so many of those people I met along the way that I didn’t expect to see again. I try to remain in contact today with a lot of those great people I met. Talking to my Camino friends is something that brings me back to the experience. I really enjoyed the trip once I found my feet. My only major issue was weight of my bag. I honestly couldn’t tell you how much it weighed, but boy was it heavy. I may have packed a bit too much. Often, people would see that my bag was heavy and would offer to help me by carrying it for a bit… but the bag was my burden to carry.
After Santiago, we wanted to see Finisterre, but sadly, time was not on our side to walk there. We took a cab there so we could see the coast and the ‘end of the world.’ Our driver was a very nice man who took the time to show us around one of the villages before Finisterre. He asked me if I would come back next year and do the Camino with him, and at that point I said ‘No way! I’m done and that’s it.’ After 5 weeks, I was done walking! We enjoyed Finisterre and on leaving Santiago, Manuela and Barb went off to Switzerland and I still had another 6 weeks of travel through Europe. But, after being at home for a week, one day I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing here? I’d rather be walking!’ And now, I’m constantly thinking of when my next walk will be.”
– Maria, Australia