Pilgrimage

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