“I am a firm believer in the Camino being different for each person and each time you do it. ‘It’s your Camino, do it how you want to’ is what I tell people. The start of my Camino was after I completed the Oxfam Trailwalker, where my team and I had to walk 100 km in 28 hours. In the words of Martin Sheen, ‘it was a bloody long walk.’ But, I managed it and wanted more. I wanted to see what this old body could actually do, so I was considering walking the Camino. I had been telling my friends this for a while and everyone thought I was crazy, including my wife Desi. Funny enough, when I got home from the Oxfam Trailwalker, I decided to flip on the TV and lo and behold, ‘The Way’ was on and I took that as my sign to go on the Camino.
I was lucky enough to convince my wife to walk with me. She was reluctant at first, but eventually we were on our way in May 2014. Primarily, we wanted to find out what it was and to see if we could survive the journey. Neither of us felt we were mentally, spiritually, or physically strong so we had many challenges, from just organising ourselves and getting over the fear of what we were doing, to learning to understand and have belief in ourselves.
Our Camino got off to a rough start. I have had issues with cramps for a long time and the Camino wasn’t any exception. I got sick and had cramps the very first day. We had sent a bunch of gear – including our medicine – forward to Roncesvalles since, like so many, we had packed too much. It got so bad that we considered cancelling the trip. Some time after Orrison, when the trail was still going uphill and seemed endless, like a desert mirage, there was a van with cheap hot chocolate, food, and bananas. These people always seemed to come out of nowhere, but always seemed to come at the right time, some of them selling at perfectly good prices, and others just giving food away for any donation you care to offer. One time during the trip I asked one of these perfectly-placed gentleman where this generosity came from and he said, ‘the universe.’ Something like that really makes you wonder about life.
Eventually I managed the aches and pains, not just with medicine, but thanks to some of the amazing things I was experiencing. I remember sitting in a church ruin and wondering how many pilgrims have walked past here before me. On the Camino, you’re in the essence of the old town just for a moment, but there’s so much history behind it. The people who live there, they don’t see the peregrinos as a hindrance or a curse, but more as a blessing. And then there’s the people.
People on the Camino are willing to share everything, whether that’s food, drink or simply knowledge. I had blisters from the get-go and didn’t know how to treat them. But, someone was kind enough to teach me how to treat them and share some supplies to do so. Beyond these acts of kindness, what really helped me get through it all was the interesting people you meet along the way. We’re walking with people with the same goal, and the idea is ‘if they can do it, so can I.’ So many of us were going through the exact same problems, which in a way helped to bring everyone closer. But you never know just who you might meet. One night in Albergue Vedre in Hospital de Órbigo, we attended a medieval festival and then came back to a communal gathering and singalong where all of us strangers acted like a family and shared a wonderful night. We jokingly asked one singing lady if she was published, as she was incredible. When we got back home to Australia, we looked her up and it turned out that she is in fact published and has two platinum records! As much as you think you know these people, you don’t always know them beyond the Camino.
In the end, one thing I found really remarkable about the Camino was how both I and my wife were just so doubtful about being able to finish the entire trip, and in the end, coping through all those challenges to complete it. Because of that, I have spent two years encouraging others to do the Camino. It’s something that sounds crazy at first, but when you’re done, it doesn’t seem that bad. I tell people to enjoy their own journey – a journey that does not end when the walk finishes. There are various reasons for walking the Camino, but these reasons often change as you walk. You start to rethink why. It was life-changing for us. When we got back, we changed our lifestyle to a simpler lifestyle. We still keep in touch with people from the Camino and have had quite a few come visit us.
If anyone tries to tell you what the Camino is, it’s got to be difficult to capture. It’s a personal experience that is bound to be different every time, based on the challenges you rise to, and the people you meet – even if the road is the same. For that reason, we are going back to walk the Camino in May 2016, almost the exact same schedule. We’re doing the same route, the Camino Frances, and starting around the same time. We want to see what the differences are this time and couldn’t be more excited for it!”
– Larry, Australia