I’ve been asked to go into this in brief in the Camino talk next week so I think it’s an ideal time to post about it. The majority of people have found out about Santiago and it’s many Ways from the amazing Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez’s film, ‘The Way’. Others may have read about it in travel magazines or books, most notably, The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. However, I found out about it purely by accident.
I have the great organisation, Aware, to thank for in this case. Because if it was not for them, I would not have this addiction and urge to go back to Spain each year. In the middle of 2010, I was handed a hastily put-together leaflet telling me about their plans to “Walk the Camino”. At the time, Aware was my chosen charity and I have fund raised a number of times for them. Anyway, I read through the leaflet but put it to one side once I had finished, not giving it a second thought. It just wasn’t for me but I promised that I would advertise it where I could. A number of weeks later, I saw the leaflet and thought..”well, let’s see what’s involved first?”, and wrote an email to the organisers. Within a few days, I received a information pack giving me a little bit of information about the Camino, the plan, what to bring, costs and what was required to fundraise!
At that stage, my two feet had taken their first steps, so to speak. I had started walking longer distances and had started to fund raise for this great charity. I will never forget the Table Quiz night in a packed pub in Dublin when I raised the vast majority of funds. However, while things were starting to fit into place, little did I know what to expect when I arrived there. I had done very little in preparation for the actual Camino, spending more time on fundraising.
June 3rd 2011 – All 8 of us boarded our flight for Santiago de Compostela. It was my 1st time in Spain with 0% Spanish. We were carrying suitcases, save for one guy with a backpack. On arriving in Santiago, we met our guide, and zipped across to Sarria, some 110km westwards. He got to know us all and gave us details of our next day’s walk. We were of all ages, from all over Ireland, with various abilities. I was pretty sure I could walk 20km the next day, but for 5 or 6 days in a row..time would tell. We checked into our nice hotel on arriving in Sarria and had some dinner. The one thing I remember is desperately wanting to stick with one of my fellow walkers as I had no spanish. I felt totally lost otherwise.
The following day, we left our hotel with nothing but a day-pack, a packed lunch and some water. Within a few kms we were greeted by a whole host of people walking in the same direction..whoa!..”is it normally this crazy?” I thought to myself. I also noticed folks carrying large rucksacks. “Is this normal?”, I thought again. I’m not sure I would be able to do that, and not at the pace they were going at. I met people from the world over, quite a lot were willing to stop and chat and tell you about their first day. I learnt my first few words of Spanish also..”de donde eres?”..”where are you from? You either get a look of bemusement, which means the person in question is not Spanish, or a conversation will begin! That day I was introduced to the Camino, and I was delighted to arrive in Portmarin some 22km later. The following days were tough, I won’t lie. I suffered. But, I enjoyed my times with my walking buddies. I loved the Spanish way of life and culture and when I arrived in Santiago, I celebrated, took it all in and left. I didn’t think I would come back. For me, I had “Walked the Camino”.
It wasn’t until September of 2011, when I started looking over photographs, did I reconsider going back to Spain and walk another section. This time I wanted to walk a different Camino, I wanted to walk my Camino. I emailed Garry, the guide from the previous trip, and he sent me on great information on packing lists, albergues and great information on how to get to Leon, my starting point. At this time, The Way had just been released and there was a great increase in interest. I set off in May 2012 and I guess the rest is history. I connected with the spirit of the Camino this time, no matter how much pain I feel. It’s a great chance to strip away the layers of materials that you have in everyday life, so all you’re left with is happiness. I just wish I could walk a full Camino, but hey! ho!..that’s for another post!! 🙂
In many ways, my Caminos from 2012 to May 2015 have been different to 2011, but I will always be thankful for that hastily put-together leaflet given to me in 2010.
So how did you hear about the Camino de Santiago?
In my case, I became interested in it after a friend of mine did the entire Camino Francés a few years ago and posted updates on her progress on Facebook. It struck me as something I would like to do. Some months later a Twitter contact walked from Sarria to Santiago and she described it as the most difficult thing she had ever done! I was thinking of her tweets about it one day while on a walk in Youghal; I rounded a corner and I came across an old schoolmate of mine whom I had not seen for at least 20 years. After the usual pleasantries he mentioned, out of the blue, that he had done the Camino the previous year! I was flabbergasted and not a little spooked by the coincidence – or what a Jungian would call synchronicity. Then the following week I was at a church in Cork for my niece’s daughter’s First Communion. I was there early and to pass the time I started to read the parish notices. One of them jumped out at me – “A Talk on the Camino here next Thursday in the vestry”. Ah here, I said to myself, someone is trying to tell me something. Anyway, I attended the talk – it was given by a seasoned Camino veteran and was so good that I came away enthused. When I arrived home I booked my flights to and from Santiago. That first year I did Sarria to Santiago; the next, Burgos to Leon, and this year St Jean to Logrono. And needless to say I’ll be back next year.
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Hi John, I know the twitter contact that you speak of, but there are many people who do not enjoy their time on the Camino. It’s ok NOT to enjoy it, in fact. I felt the same when I got home and it wasn’t only until I returned that I thought I would love to go back. I know of people who have heard about it many years ago and have marked it down for when retirement comes. I notice you have a few pieces to walk..will you walk Logrono to Burgos next year? or Leon to Sarria? Leon to Sarria would be more pleasing on the eyes, in my books.