Travel

“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