“In August 2013, my husband David and I talked with a couple who we know that had walked the ‘Way of St. James’ a total of three times. We were both puzzled and had to ask why on earth they would walk it so many times! At the time, we couldn’t possibly understand their reason as we had never walked a Camino ourselves.
David and I are from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and have hiked and climbed our way through the Canadian Rockies. We climbed Mount Kenya as practice for the more famous Mount Kilimanjaro, which we accomplished in 2010. Since then, we knew we had the travel bug, so we were definitely interested. As a nurse I have seen many people’s lives cut short due to illness, disease, or tragedy, and my philosophy has become ‘don’t put off ’till tomorrow what you can do today. ” David is of the same mind, and we committed to the journey. Together, we joined the Canadian group of Pilgrims for their annual meeting, watched the movie ‘The Way,’ bought the famous John Brierley Camino guidebooks and maps, then made an appointment with a travel agent. Nine months later we would leave for St. Jean Pied de Port. We were going to find out for ourselves just what so magnetically draws people back to the Camino de Santiago.
With our active hiking past, we thought we had done some good training for this. Soon we learned that nothing can prepare you for the Camino quite like the Camino itself. We started our journey on May 19, 2014. The Way was not easy, we walked through rain, hail, mud and dark skies for the first nine days of our Camino. Our shoes wore down and we had issues with blisters from day two until the end of the walk. We had tendinitis in our legs from sore overused muscles and cold rain, and David developed a stress fracture in his lower left leg after we left San Bol, a delightfully remote refugio (with a reputedly therapeutic spring) about a day’s walk after Burgos. We took a three-day rest break in León where we also lightened our backpack load by shipping a Correos box filled with all the items we packed and didn’t need. And back on the road we went. Our Camino experience was a physical challenge for us both but also a lesson in perseverance. We always checked in with each other and asked, do you want to keep going? We lived and breathed Ultreia – a Latin word meaning ‘onward,’ or more simply, ‘keep going.’
Another remarkable aspect of the Camino was all the other pilgrims we met. These meetings began on the bus ride from Bayonne, France to St. Jean, and continued all the way until we set foot in Finisterre. These people were from all around the world, walking the same walk as us. This common goal made it wasy for some of us to share intimate details about our lives, which helped many of us form deep connections with others, and in come cases find healing – for whatever might have been bothering us. Because of these connections, arriving in Santiago was bittersweet. We saw plenty of familiar faces, we all bore that ‘we did it!’ look of accomplishment and relief, we received our Compostela certificates, and we ate and drank with friends – but then we had to say goodbye. We went off in separate directions, some home, others to mile zero in Finisterre.
David and I loved that every day we would meet new friends from new places, but also that we were sharing this journey together. We walked much of the time in silence, and walked side-by-side every day except one. That entire day, I felt like something was missing, but I always felt David’s presence near. From those sensations we confirmed that we have a special connection with each other.
Our lives back home in Calgary consist of us both working full time jobs, commuting through city traffic, and trying to balance life at the end of the day. Our lives on the Camino were balanced every day because of the simplicity. Each day we would wake up, follow Brierley’s map, find some café con leche, and find a place to sleep for the night. And repeat, and repeat. It blows my mind how simple yet powerful it all was. And with that, now we know why someone would walk the Camino three times. That simple way of life is something we long for every day since we’ve returned to life and work in Calgary. The rich residue of the Camino lingers just under the layers of our skin, ready to come back to memory at a moment’s notice. I love this! It has been woven through the fabric that makes up who we are. David and I will return to walk another Camino, next time the Portuguese Way. We already have the book. Buen Camino!”
Edna and David, Canada