Category Archives: Camino Stories

Real stories from Camino de Santiago peregrinos. Camino Stories from people around the world sharing their pilgrim experiences on the Way of St. James.

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pilgrimage

Clare Batty, USA

“I was stunned to find my mom and brother both vomiting and fainting with weakness on the bathroom floor. It was day three of our pilgrimage on the Camino, and we had just arrived at an albergue in Frómista after walking 25 km that day from Castrojeriz–the most distance in a day we had attempted so far.

We really thought we could push ourselves, but muscular overexertion had led to lactic acidosis and acute illness for my mom and brother. Not surprisingly, some sympathetic peregrinos stepped up to assist us by providing cold water and hot tea. As the only one still able-bodied in our party, I took responsibility to find a private room in this unfamiliar Spanish town, temporarily leaving my family to be safely cared for at the albergue. With tired muscles, I gingerly walked along the quiet streets to find a nearby casa rural. Luckily, using my advanced Spanish skills, the hospitalera warmed to me (I’m sure she could sense my anxiety) and offered me a good room where I was able to help my family recover. I enlisted some fellow American peregrinos to help transfer our gear and support the invalids across the little town to the serene hostel. One peregrino named Mike even shared a little prayer of healing over my family. It was a small moment of compassion that still moved and consoled us. We never saw Mike or his family again after that encounter, but I will always be grateful for their kindness.

Despite my own exhaustion and anxiety for my family, I embraced my unanticipated role as caretaker. Lying on the floor between the single beds, I was up all night repositioning my mom and brother. In their incredibly weak state, I would hold up their heads to sip cups of tea and even had to transfer them onto the toilet when needed. Seeing them in this incredibly weak state greatly concerned me. I asked myself, ‘Will they recover? Should we continue on this arduous journey? Where do we go from here?’

Ultimately, after two days of rest, we decided to continue on our pilgrimage, and try to persevere. My family and I had to reconsider our strengths and limitations as we continued our journey on the Camino. Even after this difficult speed bump, we remained steadfast with our goal to walk to Santiago.

With lighter packs and shorter distances per day, we were able to continue hiking, and finally reached Santiago de Compostela many days later. As I reflect on that trip, I see that it was both a geographic and an internal journey allowing us to find our own strengths and weaknesses within ourselves and as a family unit. It took teamwork and leadership. The pilgrimage tested our physical strength and mental endurance, and without the support from one another and other pilgrims, it would have been nearly impossible. In a foreign environment, we found it crucial to connect with new people in a respectful and understanding way. I am truly grateful for these encounters I made along ‘the Way’ that continue to inspire me on my personal life journey.”

– Clare Batty, USA

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

Compostella

Angela Lucas, England

“The Camino de Santiago de Compostella, or the Way of St. James, is an ancient pilgrimage route in the Galician mountains of northern Spain. It is many things to different people. Physically, emotionally and spiritually it is an amazing adventure that tests endurance and faith.

Beginning in the French Pyrenees the route stretches across the mountains to the city of Santiago de Compostella in north western Spain. The total journey can take between 5-7 weeks. My daughter, Sharon, and I chose to do the last 100 kms of the route and originally estimated it would take 13 days. However we completed in 9 days at an average of 10 miles a day.

Our Camino had taken two years of on and off planning. Initially meant as a celebration of my eightieth birthday, family bereavements meant we waited for two years. This gave us, and me in particular, time to research and choose equipment carefully. Having type 2 diabetes taking care of my feet was the priority. It took time, and mistakes, to find suitable walking shoes and, having bought them, for three months I wore them almost continuously, even in the house, until the shoes and I were well adjusted to each other!. Following advice I used the Vaseline and two pairs of socks method. First smothering my feet well with a thick layer of Vaseline I wore a pair of hiking socks liners then traditional marino wool hiking socks. This worked well and I had no blisters

There is a well-developed system of hostels, albergues, catering for the thousands of pilgrims. We walked from Sarria to Santiago and in this stretch albergues were about ten miles apart. They vary in size but commonly are large rooms equipped with bunks. Washing facilities may be very basic and most have showers. We stayed in one small albergue accommodating just eight people. Another had fifty bunks but only one toilet and communal showers. On some days, tired after a long day walking and not managing to find an albergue nearby my daughter and I stayed in a Pension with our own room – and toilet!

To my surprise the average pilgrim was between fifty to seventy years old. Many we met were at a reflective time in life dealing with personal issues. There were people grieving after a death. One man whose wife had recently died, carried a red candle which he would light at each overnight stop. Some pilgrims were dealing with serious illness but did not want that to define them.

There was something surreal about walking the ancient route. Removed from the familiarity of everyday life people sometimes walked alongside others telling their stories and explaining their very personal reasons for doing the pilgrimage.. We heard stories of heartache, loneliness illness and loss.

A group of seventeen year old college students from Ireland were fun to meet. Their neat, tidy looks were soon changed as they had to walk through mud that reached their knees. But they did not moan, not even the girls who had started out with pretty pink trainers that soon got trashed in the mud.

An Australian lady, doing a gap year in Europe, heard about the Camino, thought it was a good idea, bought a pair of boots and the next day started walking. Without sensible preparation it only took four days for her to have palm-sized infected blisters that needed daily antibiotic injections.

We only met two English people, others were from Germany, Ireland, Australia, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Bolivia

Firstly the challenge is physical. Guide books explained the terrain was hilly – it depends on what is meant by hilly! Walking in the mountains meant continually walking steeply uphill. We even walked up the side of a narrow waterfall. Thick black churned up mud took some negotiating. On our first day, trying to hold onto a tree while finding a firm footing I slipped full length in the mud. I broke the straps on my front-pac and redesigned the look of my clothes. The mud soon dried, we bought a new pac and the bruise on my hip is fading.

We heard tales of twisted knees, sprained ankles and infected blisters. Yet people dusted themselves down, bandaged themselves up and just continued.

The journey started long before we left home and at times I was anxious. I am not heroic or athletic and knew that I was taking on something bigger than myself. Just how big that would turn out to be only became obvious when I saw the first steep hill and deep trench of mud. Wanting to keep the backpack weight down my daughter and I had weighed everything on the kitchen scales – even our sox – choosing the options that weighed less.

We were so grateful to have been careful about the weight we would carry. Aiming for four kilos, the actual weight including water was nearer to six kilos. . For three days the temperature reached 80 degrees but we still had to walk carrying our backpacs. I poured water over my head to try and cool down.

We also used small front pacs. It was a convenient way to carry things used all the time. Things like water, paracetamol, tissues, camera and phone.

I could never have done the Camino without the help of my amazing daughter.
I am very independent and don’t like being helped. However I soon learned that to accept a helping hand when the trail was tricky was sensible. It was Sharon, who can speak Spanish, who did the hostel finding and ordered our meals and taught me how to order coffee in the evening cafes. The Camino showed me that I am capable of stretching myself way beyond my own limits. This is a lesson to take into other areas of life.

Would I do this again? I would love to, but won’t. Its an experience that can’t be replicated. However, there is a gentler route starting in Portugal. I would like to meet people who have started their pilgrimage there. It could be a possibility and I have started mentioning the idea to friends.

There were moments that had us helplessly laughing. My daughter was very proud to be taking her ‘old’ mother on the Camino. I would hear her saying to other pilgrims or to Spanish people “Madre mia…” and knew that she was about to say, again, “My mother is eighty two”
Sturdy men, usually American, wanted to have their photograph taken with us. One man, telling his friends he wanted to go home, that it was all too hard, was persuaded to continue when he heard about ‘that lady who is eighty two’.

When we arrived at one coffee stop, two Italian ladies came rushing to meet us. They smothered me with hugs and kisses, saying “We heard you were coming, congratulations, you are very welcome!” Well, Sharon and I laughed so much. I felt like an ancient monument.

The journey’s final steps are taken when walking into the ancient Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. For me this was the culmination of an awesome pilgrimage. It was a sacred time of worship and of sharing in the Pilgrims Mass alongside people who had pushed themselves beyond fear, anxiety, blisters, wounds, and even serious illness and heartache. Nobody is free from pain on the Camino.

In the Christian tradition, a special part of the usual Sunday morning church service is a moment when people greet each other. Usually they will say ‘God bless you’ or ‘The peace of Christ’.

In the amazing Santiago cathedral as the priest announced the moment to share the Peace of Christ, it gave a whole new depth of meaning to the privilege of sharing the meaning of Christ. Pilgrims who were tired, elated and humbled hugged each other and even wept together at the awesome privilege of travelling a unique journey alongside very special people, yet ordinary people, who were true travel companions

Each pilgrim carried a large scallop shell on the back of the rucksac; it represents the changed life experienced on The Way and the realisation that each pilgrim would return home a different person. I came home fitter, slimmer, somehow different and realising that it has been possible to stretch myself beyond anything I thought possible. We did it!”

– Angela Lucas, England

Camino experience

Maria Macri, Australia

“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 Macri, Australia

Camino

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 www.caminogallery.com and a blog www.dermotdolan.blogspot.ie. 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

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

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

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

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.

Ultreia!”

-Andrew “Beyond the Way” Suzuki, Australia