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Camino de Santiago Pilgrim Story #6: Laura, aged 54, from Oregon, USA

Camino de Santiago Pilgrim LauraHow many times have you walked a Camino? And which ones?

One time – the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Ponferrada, and then the Camino de Invierno from Ponferrada to Santiago, then the Finisterre from Santiago to Finisterre.

 

For this post, which Camino are you referring to?

Mostly the Camino de Invierno

 

When did you walk?

Late May-early July, 2015

 

What caused you to decide to walk the Camino?

Camino pilgrim, LauraI thought about it since 2004, but I quit my job in January of this year so it was a good time to get to know myself. I have always been someone’s daughter, or wife, or mother, or employee and I wanted to know who I was apart from all that. I never before had the chance to make decisions that only involved my needs and wants. I figure I have another 30-40 years with myself and I wanted to know who that person is.

 

What were some of the highlights of your Camino

The local people.

On the Invierno I walked for 11 days without seeing another Pilgrim. The locals were so excited to have a “Peregrina” passing through and they were very concerned that I was walking alone.

Three memories stand out:

1. I was passing through a small village early in the morning and an elderly woman came out of her barn. I greeted her and she asked (in dialect) if I was alone. I answered, “Si, solo,” and she launched into an intense reprimand. I didn’t understand the words, but the meaning was clear. Finally I pointed at myself and then folded my hands and said, “I pray.” She smiled and said, “Si!” Then I pointed at her, folded my hands and pointed at myself again saying, “You pray for me?” She glowed, “Si! Si! Si!” Then she patted my arm and sent me on my way.

Camino pilgrim2. I arrived in another small town and walked past the arrow pointing me onward on the Camino. A man rushed towards me pointing and declaring that I had missed the turn. I asked “Donde esta la bar?” He looked puzzled then asked, “Agua?” “Si!” I responded. Then he took me into his home, filled my empty water bottle and stepped into a back room to get a cold orange Fanta soda for me. An hour later when I arrived at my destination he drove by slowly, waving enthusiastically. I believe he had come to check that I’d made it to town.

3. I was passing through a small hamlet and a long driveway was covered with oats. It was raining and at the far end of the driveway a very old man was trying to unroll a mess of black plastic. I determined that he wanted to cover the oats to protect them from the rain. I dropped my pack and poles and went towards him. I lifted the edge of the black plastic and pulled it over the oats asking “Si?” He could not respond. He had no teeth, only one working arm, and he shook like someone who had endured a stroke. I decided to cover the oats. About 30 minutes later the oats were covered. He had held onto the one end while I maneuvered the plastic the length and width of the driveway. I walked over to him, put my arm around his back and leaned in front of him with a wave. He couldn’t speak, but he had tears in his eyes – as did I.

 

What were some of your biggest challenges on the Camino?

Camino de SantiagoLoneliness and dogs.

I was lonely on the Frances. There were many people and I met folks from all over the world that I will stay in touch with, but the socializing was hard for me. I hadn’t left my husband for 6 weeks to socialize with others and I found that those settings were when I was the loneliest and when I missed my husband the most.

The dogs on the Invierno were intimidating. There are many loose farm dogs and they all use their bark as a warning. I walked the gauntlet each time I passed through a hamlet or village. Often it was early in the morning when the owners were not awake and the dogs would rush towards me barking and growling. It very nearly ended my Camino. But I finally reasoned that these dogs were not trained to attack single women. They were there to protect cows, sheep or property and as long as I was not threatening the cows, sheep or property, they would not attack me. So I lost my fear and instead praised each dog for the good job it was doing protecting the cows, sheep or property, and my experience changed completely.

 

How did the Camino change you?

Camino pilgrimI found strength I didn’t know existed. I discovered that I can be brave and bold. There was no option to sit back and let someone else take care of things so my actual survival depended on being confidant and bold. I walked for hours over mountains and through forests without seeing another human being, and I wasn’t afraid.

I didn’t worry but instead told myself I would deal with situations if/when they came up. This is a valuable lesson in my daily life. Most things don’t end up happening and life is much sweeter if I don’t use my energy worrying about the what-ifs.

I learned to accept the kindness of others and I learned to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. When else will I have the chance if I don’t do it now? Missed opportunities become regrets and I want fewer regrets in my life.

 

What is the one thing you wish you had known before the Camino? Advice?

Camino de SantiagoI don’t really have an answer for this. I went well prepared and really have nothing I would change. So many had used the phrase “it is your Camino,” and I believed that. I didn’t try to repeat someone else’s experience. I felt truly blessed that each day was just perfect for me. I went at the best time, packed the correct items, trained the best way…but I know that for someone else it will be completely different.

My only advice would be to hold your goals loosely and let it unfold. There is no prize for only staying in municipal albergues, or walking 30 km each day, or never changing your clothes, or whatever…do what makes it manageable for you. Focus inward and arrange the external to nurture what you find inside.

 

Anything else you would like to add?

This was the most amazing experience of my life. It was hard, but each day I reminded myself that if it wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be doing it. It is a gift to have the time to walk across Spain and each day should be lived – don’t use your energy on regrets or worries. Stop, take photos; sing, eat something new. All you have is now — suck the life out of every minute!

Awesome and inspiring! Thank you Laura for your story! If you’d like to share your Camino story, please do.

One Comment

  1. Sounds wonderful!

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