Tag Archives: Camino Frances

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

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

Camino

Justin Groves, Australia

“In early 2015, my girlfriend Nicole and I felt we needed a change, so we decided to leave our homes in Australia. Our plan was pretty simple – move halfway around the world to London, find jobs, earn some money, and settle down. I had no real reason to do the Camino, but we thought it would be nice to spend some time with each other, especially before life got too busy to be able to do such a long trip. We didn’t have any spiritual or deep reason though, we just thought it would be enjoyable. So on May 15, 2014, we set out from St. Jean Pied de Port towards Santiago.

We had a tight budget and so we had a tight plan. We wanted to make it to Santiago in just about 4 weeks, so that we could also do the Camino Finisterre and the Camino Muxía. Most people take 31 days to get from St. Jean to Santiago and about 4-5 more after, but we did it all in about 33, with only one “rest day” the whole time. That took its toll on us in the beginning and middle of the trip. As people often say about the Camino, the first third is a physical challenge, the middle third is a mental test, and the last third is one where some real spiritual discoveries begin. The first time I heard that I thought it was a little cliché, but it really turned out to be true. I wouldn’t say that I’m an experienced hiker but I ended up carrying a pretty heavy backpack – about 15 kilograms – with plenty of stuff I could definitely have done without. During the first week or so, I could feel every one of those 15 kilos on my back and in my feet. Then by the second and third weeks as we crossed the Meseta, we had some really long days, especially since we had to extend the ‘recommended’ days in the guidebooks to reach Santiago in our 4-week goal and on our budget. But eventually we got it together, became stronger, began to cruise, and really had a great time.

One reason we had such a great time is the people we met. In the early going, we ran into Greg and David, who we kept in touch with by text even after we pushed forward ahead of them. We even saw Greg on the last day of our trip, which was nice. And of course, we’ve kept in touch with Señor Vino, who asked me to share my story for this site. We met so many nice and interesting people and had great, lively conversations with them. We also saw a lot of really interesting characters. There was this one guy we saw several times who just LOVED going to the bathroom out in the open. It seemed like every time we passed a perfect photo spot, this guy was standing with his legs spread wide and a huge smile, just peeing away. We never actually met the guy – that might have been a weird conversation to start up! It was a great experience but if I were to do it again, I would take 50 days and go much slower, and really take everything in.

During the ‘spiritual’ part of our Camino, we learned to trust our feet and our instincts. The Camino gave me the – forgive the word – balls to go after my dreams. I’ve always told my teachers and family since I was young that I wanted to be an actor, and I remember often being laughed at. The Camino built a strength in me that allowed me to quit my day job as a barista and really go after my acting goal. In just over a year I’ve been in a few commercials, a few music videos, I’m working on a startup film, and I do a whole lot of voiceover work. We’re going fully unconventional now, even deciding to move out of our flat and putting a deposit down on a canal houseboat!

It’s hard work to keep auditioning and applying for acting jobs, but I love it. I somehow just have no interest in a 9-to-5 office job. This keeps me going though. I’m doing what I need to to do build my career, and the Camino showed me that all you have to do to reach a faraway and tough goal is to keep taking steps toward it.”

Justin Groves, Australia

'The Way'

Elliott Percival, Wales

“I’m going to be honest, I first heard of the Camino watching the movie ‘The Way’. Maybe not the coolest thing to say, but that’s how it was. I watched it some time ago but it managed to stay with me, somewhere deep inside.

By early 2014 I found myself living in London, a city that sapped the life from me, in a job I loathed, on a career path I didn’t want, in a home situation where I felt isolated and in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy – and I had nothing on the horizon but the same existence on drab, monotonous repeat.

That’s when the Camino resurfaced in my mind. So I quit my job, sold everything but the most dear possessions, left my flat, ended my relationship and stepped onto the Way. I went alone, I vowed not to make contact with friends or family, not to use social media and not to take photographs – I was going to experience it just for me, take each day as it comes, and experience ‘isolation.’

But I wasn’t really alone, not at all. I met amazing people, opened myself to their unique stories, and in turn shared mine. I learnt so much about myself, things I couldn’t have without their help. I grew as a person, learned to have faith, and began to listen to my spirit for the first time.

I began the Camino on my own with a goal and idea in my mind, I ended it with the best people and friends I’ve ever known, and the Camino firmly held in my heart.”

Elliott Percival, Wales