I’ve been thinking back on my Camino, and trying to work out what I did right and what I did wrong.
I speak now as a pilgrim, not as a tour leader. It will be for others to determine what I did right and wrong in my capacity as a tour leader.
But as a pilgrim, here’s quick rundown of what I did right:
- I was relaxed. This is probably the biggest thing I did right. I went into the walk relaxed, and I remained relaxed. I believe this is why I didn’t have any real pain this Camino, as compared to the last. On the last one – the Camino Frances – I was tense and anxious. And I believe those negative energies manifested themselves in my body as extreme pain. This time, I knew that I could manage the distance, and so I kept relaxed.
- I gave in to The Way. I started out wearing a GPS watch with a chest strap on to monitor heartbeat, calories expended etc. At the end of the first day I took them off – everything – and I decided to wing it. I had digitised my guide books but I never referred to them. I never knew how far it was to the next town, or what the next town would be. I just walked, and I winged it.
- I got my injuries right. I wore a knee brace with black pantyhose underneath to prevent skin sores from the metal brace. The brace kept the bone-on-bone separated, and I had no pain. I had set out at the start to not use any painkillers – tablets or creams. And I didn’t. I didn’t need to.
- I got my boots right. Those Meindl boots, pure leather, were a joy to walk in each day. I’d broken them in sufficiently – about 600kms or so around Mudgee – and by the time I hit the Camino they had moulded into my feet.
- I got my blisters right. Even with these super duper well fitting German boots, I still got blisters, probably because the first week or so of walking the Camino Portuguese was on cobblestones. They were brutal. And on some sections, the Camino led you along busy roads with a sloping cobblestone shoulder, which acerbated the foot issues. This time though with blisters, and there were only a few small ones, I ignored them until I couldn’t ignore them anymore, then I lanced them with a pin, drained them unceremoniously, and then covered them with Betadine. That’s all. The Betadine dried them out, hardened the skin, and within a couple of days the blisters were gone.
- I did it right. I wore a backpack, I walked every mile, I never offloaded my pack on the van, and I never took a ride. I did the whole Camino as I’d set out to do it. There were a few days there when I was really knackered – like the day I did 37kms because I got lost, adding 6kms to a 31km day. That was tough. But no-one ever said the Camino was easy.
- I had fun. The last Camino had been intense. This Camino was intense at times too, but I also had a lot of fun with a bunch of people whose company I really enjoyed.
What I did wrong:
- Just kidding. I did a lot wrong.
- I got my water totally wrong. I left myself dehydrated too many times. One time, after leaving Arcos, I walked nearly five hours without a drink, because I’d given my water bottle to my wife, who was sick. That was dumb. I should have picked up more water immediately.
- I didn’t do enough yoga in preparation. That was a big mistake. My back wasn’t as strong as it should have been, and my hamstrings were tight every morning. Next time I’ll make sure I include a very solid regime of yoga as part of my preparation for the Camino.
- I should have been more inclusive of other pilgrims. My focus on this Camino was on my group, and my wife, but I should have engaged more with pilgrims outside of the group. I did so with Cathy and Tim, the two lovely Americans from Virginia, but that was about all. You learn so much from talking with others, and you also give out too – equally important. I regret now that I didn’t give myself the time to do that more.
- I should have gone to Mass on Easter Sunday. I didn’t do this, figuring that I wouldn’t have gone to Mass if I’d been in Australia because I’m not a Catholic, why should I in Santiago? That was nonsense talk. I’m a pilgrim, I’ve walked the Camino, I should have gone to that Mass – and I deeply regret that now.
- I shouldn’t drink white port at 11am – three bottles of white port between the four of us – when I have another 15ms or so to walk. I regret that too. And yet we had the best time!
- Lastly, I regret not whupping the Landers Express at least on one occasion. The only time I did, I woke up three hours early and got the jump on them. That’s kind of cheating. I regret not having smashed them fair and square on the hill up to Rubiaes. But fact is, they were always going to leave me standing still…
Apart from my duties and obligations as a tour leader, this Camino for me was a test ground – I wanted to see if I could walk two weeks without pain, and I did. That’s given me enormous confidence now to start to plan something much longer. An epic pilgrimage…
I found myself sitting on the plane on the way back to Melbourne reflecting on our Portuguese Camino.
Immediately after a great holiday when we are still experiencing the highs, it’s difficult to really compare it fairly with other holidays. So a few days later, with little distraction after proper reflection was a more practical time to put thoughts into text.
We all had a very memorable experience. And I really mean memorable in that it’s not just our memories that we will rely on when we look back on the trip. We have photos. Wonderful, professional, personal photos.
This is one thing that truly differentiates your tour from others. We put such a great reliance on photos in helping us feel good about ourselves and our life achievements. Why is it that in the event of a house fire, owners always make a valiant dash to save their photos? Everything else can be replaced. Not photos. Not memories.
So Bill, as a tour operator, you’ve really hit on a formula here in making our camino a holiday we will remember with a flutter in our hearts and a twinkle in our eyes.
The other thing you do so well is the descriptive way you write up the day’s events. You are positive, you are witty, you are self-deprecating, and most of all you are inclusive. Everyone got a buzz when seeing their day’s exploits described and the photos to go with it. Another strong point of difference.
So Julie and I want to thank you for the sincere thought and effort by you in making our trip so enjoyable. It truly was a most memorable experience.
We also want to thank you Jennifer, (who I know will be reading this), for your saintly attention to ensuring everyone was looked after with their special needs. You went way above and beyond the call of duty. On a couple of days I was at hotel reception when you walked in after a day of organising, communicating and monitoring. Not having the experience of other long walks, you just sauntered in as if the day’s effort was a “piece of cake”. It was such a pleasure for us both to see you at the pre-appointed spot on the last day and walk the last kilometre together with you.
Catarina, if you’re reading this, you really took on your role, used your common sense always, backed up Bill to the hilt, and we loved your sense of humour. You’d make a great Aussie.
Julie and I didn’t both get a chance to say adios to Steve, Arlene and Marie.
Steve, thanks for your inspiration in helping us understand that we will never be too old to keep our bodies in good shape and feel good about ourselves. (“We always have a choice”.)
Arlene, you’re a dedicated pilgrim and we’re impressed with your involvement with the American pilgrims. I loved chatting with you about music and will make your Camino music a part of our lives. We look forward to what the future unfolds for you.
I had a nice afternoon with Donna, Greg and Marie on our trip to Finisterre. We didn’t get to say goodbye to you in Santiago but it was a lovely surprise for us (including Angie and Ken) to stumble over Donna and Greg in Singapore.
Marie, the Finisterre experience was nice way to end our time together. Thank you for your wonderful company, obtaining details of our visit to Valle de los Caídos (which I found very interesting along with El Escorial), arranging Finisterre, and using your persistence in recovering my Camino certificate. This was very much appreciated.
We also want to thank our dear friends Angie and Ken for their company on the tour. Ken was inspirational in that he walked every day and no one would know he was struggling with a bad knee. Angie was a joy to be around and took time out to really get to know everyone.
It’s not often on a tour group that we have a 100% hit rate of people we would like to follow up in future. We certainly will in this case and thank you all for your warmth and friendship.
My feelings summed it up when we were on the train to Madrid the day we left Santiago. Julie was sitting next to me going through the photos. I looked across and she had tears rolling down her face. I just said, “’twas good wasn’t it”.
In a broken voice as her eyes welled up again she spluttered, “It was great”.
………the Landers Express………
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Dear Peter. bloody hell mate I have tears in my eyes reading this!!
Thank you so much for these kind kind words.
One of my real regrets is that I didn’t spend enough time with you and Julie. I didn’t realise that my time would end up being so short each day. Also on the track you guys were always way ahead of me!
Whoosh – there goes the Landers Express!
It was fun, hey? More than fun, it was memorable and special.
You and Julie were a joy – and you made our job so much easier through your wonderful humour, and your gentle tolerance of our stuff ups!
(Let’s not talk about the data entry miscalculation shall we?)
Jen and I will have to come down to Melbourne to have a meal with you both – and hey, we can have a slide night!!
In all seriousness, thank you. Thank you both. Yes it WAS great.
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Thanks for the read.
Enjoyed your travels again sounded like fun,my wife and I completed our Camino from SJPP in June last year we had followed your trip.
Enjoyed our journey immensely and tossed up which walk to do this year but ironically we also decided on the Portuguese route,
Leaving from Lisbon in June this year and knowing we can do the distance quietens the nerves.
Hi Greg – you’ll love the Portuguese Camino. And the Portuguese people are so friendly and wonderful. You and your wife will have a lot of fun, I’m sure. Watch the stage up o Rubiaes though – it’s a gnarly one!! Bill
Today’s post reminded me of a post you made when you had just finished the Camino Francès. The post where you first mentioned walking with Jen, written way before you dreamed of the tour. The first Camino opened up wonderous things in your heart and soul and the Camino routes — both walked and unwalked — continue to awaken you to possibility. That you can write about it so that we, too, can share it is a gift. Thank you for the gift. Julie
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Dear Julie – that’s so wonderful of you to say, thank you. I write to make sense of what I’m experiencing, and it’s very personal. I do it for myself really – not for anyone else – and yet I’m chuffed when others see something in what I write, or the photographs that I take, that in some way connect with them on a deeper level. That’s a thrill for me – but it’s not the reason I do it. I do it purely selfishly. Bill