Jan, USA

“I was blessed that each day allowed me to expand spiritually – even in the airports before I began the walk! At other times, I was blessed that while walking alone, I could feel I was walking with God. I am longing to go back.”

“I decided to hike the Camino after watching the movie ‘The Way.’ One lesson in the movie is that anything can happen to anyone, at any time. I realized after watching it that there was no better time than ‘now,’ as I was healthy and could walk. I have always loved to walk and was in good shape, so training for the Camino wasn’t hard. I just had never carried a 17-pound backpack for miles and miles every day! For the next few weeks, I started to train by wearing and walking around town with the backpack. One day, a local sheriff (who I know) drove past and asked me, ‘Are you lost? Where are you going with that thing on?’ After I explained, he was convinced I needed to adjust the straps on my backpack, so he got out of his car and started helping me. Still, I’m sure that people driving by must have thought I was being searched or arrested!

Anyway, I had planned to begin my Camino by hiking over the Pyrenees, leaving St. Jean Pied de Port on May 12, 2014. I had to drive a long way from my home state of Wyoming to the Denver Airport, then fly via Chicago to Spain. Due to a snowstorm in Chicago (in MAY!), my flight to Spain was delayed and in the end, I was 2 days late getting started. This was actually a blessing in disguise – I learned that on May 12 there was a hail and snow storm over the Pyrenees.  Fortunately, two days later when I finally hiked it, the weather was perfect and the hike was beautiful.

I left my home state of Wyoming wearing a blue rosary around my neck. It was given to me by my friends. I had no idea how many blessings I would receive from my blue rosary, and how the story of this and other rosaries would continue to grow throughout my Camino. For example, when I was waiting for a flight in the Denver airport, I sat next to Esma, a Pakistani woman. We talked a little about faith and then she asked if I would join her for lunch with her mom! I learned that they were Muslims, some of their customs, and what they said during their 5-times-a-day prayers. It was beautiful to share ideas about faith and learn about their prayers even before I started the spiritual Camino journey. Esma also gave me a beautiful set of prayer beads and said a beautiful prayer – ‘Bismillah’ – which I wrote down.

My story of rosaries and prayer beads continued on the third day of my Camino when I was at a church in Pamplona. I was surrounded by several hundred people but happened to look at my blue rosary and noticed the chain was split. I quietly said ‘oh my gosh, my rosary is broken,’ and less than a second later, a woman walked up to me from that huge crowd, handed me a brown rosary, and told me “you can have mine, it is from Jerusalem.” And she walked away into the crowd. A few days later in Navarrete, I was waiting for mass to start and I was fumbling with this new brown rosary, which I wear wearing on my neck. Concho, a woman behind me saw me doing this and offered me her rosary as well – this one a white one. I then showed her the still-broken blue rosary all the way from Wyoming and she ushered me to the back altar, where a priest and altar boy helped fix them! And after the mass, the altar boy gave me his prayer bracelet.

The rainbow of rosaries I encountered was lovely, and so were the many people I met on the Camino. On my fifth day, walking from Estella to Torres del Rio, it was very hot. I was walking alone and crying. A fellow came up from behind me, took my scarf which was tied onto my backpack, dipped it in my water bottle, and wiped my tears! He only spoke Italian, but was able to say ‘trust me’ in English to me. We started walking together. As we couldn’t communicate much, I started to say the rosary prayer, and now it was his turn to cry. We had almost no common words, but we had energy together! Later on during the journey, at one of the albergues I stayed in, the people I sat with for dinner mentioned that there was a group of priests slightly ahead of us all. I was excited to think of perhaps meeting them and learning more about their Camino. The following morning I woke up early and walked to find an open cafe for a café con leche. When I found one, I asked the barista if he had seen this group of priests, and the people who had just gotten their morning coffees said ‘we are the priests.’ I was surprised, blessed, and overjoyed to have found them! They welcomed me into their group of six, and I was able to walk with them for two and a half days, having Bible Study each morning, and prayer at night.  It was such a beautiful experience!

I planned on following my guidebook to walk to Santiago in 33 days, but I managed to cover the entire route in only 26! I arrived in Santiago on June 8 (which was also Pentecost Sunday). With an extra week to spare, I began walking to Finisterre the next day and made it all the way from St. Jean to the Atlantic Ocean. I’m beyond my one-year anniversary of setting forth from home. As I write this story, I’ve been able to go back though my own daily Camino journal and revisit each day of it. I was blessed that each day on the journey brought me so many wonderful encounters with so many different people. I was blessed that each day allowed me to expand spiritually – even in the airports before I began the walk! At other times, I was blessed that while walking alone, I could feel I was walking with God. I am longing to go back.”

Jan, USA

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