Having completed two installments in the “Camino Through My Eyes” series, I am happy to introduce Terry McHugh to you all. Terry has walked numerous Caminos and has written about his times in Spain. I have read many books about the Camino but his book “Walk with the Sun Til Ur Shadow disappears” stands out as it gives you an eye into his trials to get to Santiago. He suffered greatly during his first attempt and flew home at Castrojeriz. Most would give up at this point, but Terry returned to complete it. More information can be found here. I’d like to thank Terry for taking the time to answer my few questions.
Let’s get started so..
1) How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?
When my son was made redundant in January 2012, he said he would use some of his money to walk the Camino Frances. My reaction was…..”walk the what??”. He tried to explain it to me but to me it sounded like a fools errand. I made him promise to text me every night so I would know he was safe, but as I tracked his course across Spain, I began to wish I had gone with him. By the time he got home at the end of March 2012, my mind was made up that I would do it in 2013.
2) Do you find planning for a Camino as enjoyable as walking?
Yes and No. When I decided to go, there was not much in the way of information to research it. There was just a handful of books and of course, ‘the Brierley Guide’. I read the Hape Kerkeling book “I’m Off Then” and much as it whetted my appetite for the walk, it did not give me much information about the history of or reasons for the Camino. As far as buying equipment was concerned, I did enjoy that so, yes, you could say I enjoyed the planning for my first Camino Frances but then I did not have any experience of the pilgrimage to compare it to. One of the reasons I ended up writing a book when I got home was my desire to find out about the history of this pilgrimage, who was St James and why has it survived and is still expanding after 1000 years. Preparing for my second trip was just something that had to be done. Expectation of crossing the Pyrenees, which I had not done the first time, was a real buzz especially as the time got closer. Maybe the question should be ‘is the expectation as enjoyable as walking?’. Maybe also we need to find another word to replace enjoyable because that’s not a good word for the days when you are exhausted and sore and being battered by wind and rain.
3) What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago?
I can only repeat what many have said before me. “Just do it” and “don’t forget to start”. You will experience emotions and feelings you did not think possible. For many, it will be the most extraordinary thing they will ever do and everyone should have at least one unbelievable feat in their lives.
For practical tips:
- Use Vaseline or the peregrino foot balm sold along the Camino. You would lubricate your car engine moving parts. Your feet are moving parts so lubricate them to cut down on the friction that causes blisters
- Buy walking poles and note I use the plural. Then when you get to Spain either use them or lose them, don’t carry them on your back as I saw many doing. If you are bringing your back pack as carry on luggage on a plane, buy the poles when you get to the Camino.
- Drink lots of water. Don’t drink beer while walking, it helps to dehydrate you and try to avoid ‘cola’ drinks. They can bubble around your stomach, not a nice experience.
- Walk at your own pace, don’t try to keep up with someone faster just because you are in their group. Decide in advance where you are going to that day and where you are staying and agree to meet up later.
4) Did you face any challenges?
Every day was a challenge. The mountains were tough as I don’t do inclines very well. The flat of the Meseta was tough first time because of the deep mud. On my 2nd Camino, I tried to walk from Burgos to Hontonas (30km) in one day and the third time was so cold I wanted to cry. Some days just putting one foot in front of the other was a real challenge. And finally, on my second Camino, trying to sleep at nights was a problem. I found myself waking almost every hour so that getting up at 6 was extremely difficult.
5) I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favorite traditional meals along the route?
- Trout as it was served in Navarra was excellent.
- Paella served in the albergue in Hontonas and again in Vilar de Mazarife was exceptional.
- Seafood out by the coast in a little fishing village just before Finisterre was the best ever.
- And of course the vino. Best wine I have ever had
6) Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?
Where do I start….. Castrojeriz, I suppose because there I had my worst night and my best night. First time it was where I lost the will to go on and turned for home. Second time it was where I met some Irish and Irish descent and had the greatest party ever. It is not a bad little town.
Mercadoiro – Just before you reach Portomarin, you will find this little hamlet with an official population of one. There is a bar/restaurant with large patio/garden with a converted barn serving as an albergue. The madness of Portomarin packed solid with hundreds of pilgrims vying for beds then dinner is happily avoided.
7) One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in the Praza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?
How do I put this into words…. The night before, standing looking down at the city from Monte do Gozo, fills you with pride and you look back at almost 500 miles and think, just for a fleeting moment, ‘that was easy’. As you make your way into the city you wonder what you will do when the walking is over and your new best friends head off home to their own countries/ Friends you may keep in touch with but never see again. A feeling of melancholy envelopes you. As you turn that final corner and see the cathedral before you, this cathedral that has barely been out of your thoughts for up to 6 weeks, the tears start to flow as sadness and joy at the same time overcomes you. As you queue up at the pilgrim office awaiting your Compostela, there is more joy as you recount adventures with friend and stranger alike. As you answer the questions and receive your certificate, there is a tremendous feeling of achievement. When you think of tomorrow and the journey home, you are like a lost child knowing not where to turn next. As you sit on the plane, as you finally leave Spain, you want to be on your own. On the way out, you chatted merrily to your fellow passengers, now you are silent. For you are carefully planning your return.
8) Looking back, were you prepared for your Camino de Santiago?
Not a chance. How can you be prepared for your first day facing Alto de Perdon or “mudslide mountain” as we called it, if like me and not an experienced hiker and have spent 32 years as a desk jockey. How can you be prepared for the most total exhaustion you have ever felt as you collapse on the grass in Uterga just about 50 metres from the albergue? How can you be prepared for the immense kindness of total strangers, an experience you would never get in the so called ‘real world’? How can you be prepared for the daily ups and downs, and may I add, ups that are higher than anything else in life? Nothing can prepare you for your first Camino. It is like nothing else in life. Would I change anything if I could? Probably yes. I would not have given up at Castrojeriz. But then, maybe not, as I would not have met my good friend Mees when I went back some months later. So looking at the whole picture, I would change nothing.