Stories that take you on a journey

Ways to Santiago de Compostela – Part 1…

Mists hanging over Pryennes


“Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most.” – Fyodor Dostoyevski.

I’ve been reluctant to return to that moment in September 2016 when a Spanish doctor said “Camino Santiago finito.” The words were still reverberating around the room as he walked off down the corridor. Those three words had all the effects of an earthquake on both myself and my cousin Chrissy’s world. A heated debate down the hallway returned us to the here and now. Even though we lacked any skills in Spanish, and I was in a state of shock, we somehow knew that despite this being a designated Pilgrim hospital, we were not welcome. We heard footsteps, another Doctor came to tell us we had to go to one of the hospitals in Vigo. We quickly intuited that neither a hospital recommendation nor a diagnosis was on going to be forthcoming. Sensing the focus of the argument was how to get these Kiwi pilgrims to Vigo,  Chrissy asked if they could call us a taxi.

The journey took around an hour. Fortunately, Chrissy’s man-repealing rash incident had given us some insider hospital knowledge. Hence we knew to direct the taxi to the private one. Once there, we faced further challenges, including more x-rays, procuring crutches, and then another long taxi drive to our nights accommodation. Chrissy smartphone in hand, Google Translate open navigated us through this tough day.

It is not one I would want to repeat, nor one I wish on other pilgrims. The Camino pathways challenge in unexpected ways. Undertaking a pilgrimage any year is massive. It is almost impossible to quantify the number of pilgrims who start at Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port (SJPP) and never make the finish line. Anecdotally, it is the young guys who race out of the starting block who seem to drop out around Burgos. I don’t think it really matters who is in the statistics. What matters is that we all should leave SJPP with a Plan B. This year 2020, where the pandemic Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc around the globe, we should also be asking ourselves if our pilgrimage is feasible?

The Way today…

“hallow men believe in luck; wise and strong men in the cause and effect.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In this unprecedented era when France, Portugal, and Spain closed their borders in mid-March 2020. With France and Spain only opening their borders on 21 June 2020 to each other.  Spain later then reopened its border to Portugal on Wednesday 1 July 2020. In this wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, many pilgrims who live outside of the European Union or the United Kingdom have seen their dreams of walking the Camino Santiago pathways at best postponed at worst cancelled.

Historic Day no arrivals Santiago de Compostela 8 June 2020

Official Pilgrims Office Website header – 8th June 2020

With second and third wave Coronavirus outbreaks still occurring around the globe, there are other considerations to take on board before embarking on your Camino de Santiago quest. The media statement from the Parochial Albergue in Grañon, one of the must stays, is an example of how the Camino Hospitelarias view these new challenges.

The Parochial Albergue, Grañon message – translated into English.

We are aware that there is a great thirst and desire to make a pilgrimage, but we want to encourage pilgrims to think before they start walking this summer, not only about the risk they are running, but about the risk and danger that they themselves can put to the older people in the towns, we ask you to think about whether it is worthwhile to make the pilgrimage in these conditions, when the Camino will always be there. If you decide to walk, take all possible precautions.
We are also aware that there are private albergues and casas rurales in Grañon who have made a strong investment and who need to accommodate pilgrims to pay mortgages and cover expenses. We don’t want to be their competition and these businesses are the ones that must survive right now.

Sense and sensibility on the Way …

Sense (senseid)  – are any of the manners by which living beings perceive the physical world: for humans sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste while sensibility is the ability to sense, feel or understand; especially to be sensitive to the feelings of another.

I have been called not once but three times to the pathways of the Compostela de Santiago. If you have read my other blogs, you will know that I have been challenged physically, emotionally, and mentally. I have walked alongside other pilgrims who like me have taken deep-dives into the Camino and watched all the YouTube videos, the movies and read the books out there. Camino Forums, Facebook pages and blogs dissect what should and should not go into our backpacks. Most pilgrims spend hours considering what to take but sometimes out there on those pathways, we, myself included lose our sense and sensibility.

Last year crossing the Pyrenees on the Napoleon route, Rosemary, an American lady I had dinner with the night before, sat down beside me at the only food truck on this section. It had been a rough climb, the gale force winds had whipped off my headband, I was saved more than once from been blown over by my walking poles. She arrived in a daze, without food. Our day had started at Albergue Orisson, 435m further down the mountain. We had both walked around 7.5kms and had another 17.5kms to go. I offered to buy Rosemary some food, she declined as she wasn’t hungry. We talked about walking in the mountains unprepared, and I silently prayed that it would not rain as she was walking sans backpack, a light raincoat her only protection against the elements. We walked together to Roncesvalles. My Fitbit dashboard at the end of the day, flashed 34,638 steps, 307 floors and 3,190 calories. I thought our paths might cross the next day, they never did. I was left wondering if she fulfilled her dream of walking to Compostela de Santiago.

Camino Frances Route

Twenty-seven days later I was walking with new friends Pam and Den (Australian) from Carrión de Los Condes to Ledigos. The first part of the day includes a 17km pathway with only one roadside cafe and the odd picnic table for breaks. We rose early, the temperature barely 9 degrees (celsius). We stopped at the only cafe on this stretch. We each had freshly squeezed orange juice. Pam and Den then had chorizo bocadillos, the chorizo from the BBQ to the bun. I had coffee and a chocolate croissant.

Camino Frances_Carrión de Los Condes to Ledigos

By the time we got to the only purpose-built shelter of the day, the temperature was well in the 20s. An elderly man, maybe mid-late 70s asked if we thought the roadside cafe sold water and if so how far back would it be. Nobody on the Camino likes to retrace their steps. I dug a little deeper and found out he had no water. The guide-books had warnings about this stretch. Stressed the need to carry water. Once again, I offered to help, once again, the offer was declined. After some wrangling, Den managed to get him to accept some of our collective water supply. Thankfully we walked past this man the next day; carrying water!

Camino Frances_Carrión de Los Condes to Ledigos

We’re not superhuman. By the time we get to SJPP, excitement is mixed with trepidation and fatigue sets in. I felt that these incidents were messages, reminding me that walking the Camino is the same as going sailing. Here in New Zealand, a sunny day can be doused by a rouge storm. We always had wet weather gear, regularly checked the horizon, ready to change sails and head for a sheltered bay.  We always had plenty of food and water.

The Way 2020 – additional challenges & preparation…

Camino forums and Facebook pages are full of posts from excited peregrines with a desire to walk. Their excitement leaps off my computer screen. As does the disappointment of those who have cancelled their pilgrimages this year.

We go prepared for blisters, rain, searing sunshine, now The Way asks us to consider how we might navigate another wave of Coronavirus and the possibility of contracting the disease.

COVID 19 calls for us to isolate, stay away from people. In acknowledging the Parochial Albergue communication, I ask every Peregrino heading off on pilgrimage pre-Coronavirus vaccine, to have a plan that can swing into action if you are unfortunate enough to develop Coronavirus symptoms.

Having had to evacuate from Spain not once but twice I urge you to have an isolation and evacuation plan and budget, should you fall sick.  Please keep up to date with your Travel Insurer’s position on 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“Covid-19”) medical cover. Lastly read their policy General Exclusion clauses for epidemics/pandemics and government intervention. Oh, make sure having a smartphone is part of that plan; it’s crucial!

Kia kaha, kia whakairo, kia atawhai. (Maori).

Be strong, be considerate, be kind.

Part 2 – talks about physical injuries on the Way; recovery…

2 Responses to “Ways to Santiago de Compostela – Part 1…”

  1. Suzanne

    I like your honesty. Some of our best coffees and food have been from a small village cafe as we drove from one housesit to another through various countries. As I have previously shared, I would love to one day walk a Camino when that is in one, is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, I gather more information and personal stories from people who have experienced it and share them honestly.



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