My brother Bob is 18 months younger than me. He’s a vet, and he lives in Brisbane, about 1000kms north of Sydney. I have an older sister, a younger sister, and there’s Bobby. I’m the only one in the family that moved away from Brisbane –
Late last year Bob and his son Rupert walked the Camino Frances. I was worried about them before they headed off, because they’d done very little training. But they walked the whole way without stopping for one rest day. Remarkable.
Bob and I have always been very close – from childhood on – and even though our lives have taken us in different directions, that bond between us is still as strong as ever.
Here now is his guest blog –
My brother has asked me to make a guest blog about the Camino.
I predicate this by saying I am no writer. Bill is the writer of the family – a position he holds with great capability. When he was walking the Camino, we, his siblings would wake early to read his posts. Sometimes we would cringe, other times laugh out loud. But every time we were in awe of what he accomplished.
And then he wrote his book, The Way, My Way. Well, what could you say. A more honest depiction of the emotional roller-coaster that is the Camino could not be found.
Bill and I are very close, so it was natural that I would follow his travails closely. We talked a lot. Bill is great at giving advice. I am great at doing the opposite. But for me to walk 780km was out of the question. I have a busy veterinary hospital to run. I’m unfit. It would cost too much. I’m inherently lazy. (I will keep driving around the block till I find the closest car park to where I need to shop). I actually don’t walk. It’s boring. I can get there so much faster by car.
But my son who was 21 and in a gap year said one day, “I want to walk the Camino. Do you want to come?” Of course I said ‘Yes’. Rupert (my son) now refutes that he said that, but that is my memory of it, and so began the planning, the purchasing of gear, and the training for the Camino.
My son had suffered a major foot injury when he was 16 – a boat propeller had sliced his foot, requiring multiple surgeries. Despite this, he is remarkably fit, running 7km a day. Regardless, the relentlessness of the Camino would test him.
I, on the other hand, was in reasonable health despite suffering a stroke 4 years ago. I didn’t think the walking would be an issue – I work 12 hour days, mostly on my feet. But cardio-vascular fitness would be a major issue. (I had a nightmare one night and woke up saying, I can’t do it. I can’t do it.) I was pretty sure that the climbing would kill me.
So with that, Rupert and I went about doing some training. We did three walks together, one with our packs. None of them more than 15km.
We were set!
I was still worried about the climbs. Even the little hills around my home were huge obstacles. So I started doing squats to strengthen my legs. Every day. I started to feel a bit more confident, and although I still wasn’t fit, I figured the cardio-vascular fitness would come in time, which it did. Or cardiac arrest. Which didn’t. We truly were set.
The Camino cliche is ‘Everyone walks their own Camino’ and it is true. Rupert and I walked for different reasons. I wouldn’t begin to say why he walked. But I walked to be with my son. I walked for the challenge of testing myself. I walked to see magnificent scenery. I walked to take photographs. I walked to follow thousands of years of history and tradition. I walked to see if I could.
And so we set out on a great father son adventure.
I am blessed to have walked with Rupert. It is something I will cherish to my dying day. That is not to say it was always pleasant. We had days when we didn’t talk. We had other days when we shouldn’t have talked. But I challenge anyone to endure 31 days of physical and emotional hardship and always be good humoured. (Well except me.)
But I saw a side of my 21 year old son that made me so proud. He learnt enough Spanish to have a swage of Senoritas hoping to become the next Señora Bennett all across the Meseta. He organised us and set the pace. (I did say 31 days!) I look back at the photos now and realise that there were days when he was really struggling with pain. The legacy of his boating accident showed in his face. But he soldiered on. He is a remarkable young man.
I expected to see magnificent scenery on the Camino. I am, like Bill, a photographer and if I were told I couldn’t take a camera, I probably wouldn’t have gone.
We stayed in Orrison the first night, a third of the way up the Pyrenees, and crossed to Ronscavalles in 2 days – that was my concession: to start slowly to garner fitness. As we approached the Col de Leoparder, the wind must have been 50-60 knots. A lovely rather stout fellow who stayed with us at Orrison was blown off his feet, quite literally, 3 times. Clouds were skudding by at eye level. Sleet stung our eyes. This was Nature at her most beautiful in a way the camera can’t capture. I wasn’t prepared for that.
We had so many days like that. Leaving Falcebadon in the snow before sunrise. Approaching O Ceberio up those wonderful dark mud streaked deep paths. Crossing into Galacia in the rain, the clouds parting momentarily to see snow on the surrounding mountain tops and occasional glimpses of the deep valleys below. These things I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting the pride of a pharmacist in Vianna, who with very broken English implored us to visit his humble local church, which he said was a Romanesque wonder. And it was.
Neither was I expecting the warmth from those who’s lands we crossed. In an up-market panaderia, the store owner, after I purchased our modest breakfast of croissants and chocolate pane, rung up a Peregrino Prix on her cash register, a discount I neither needed nor expected, but humbly accepted. The constant Buon Camino as we passed people in the street. The help with directions (even if unneeded) whenever we stopped to look around in a town. These also were unexpected. Or at least the extent of their warmth was unexpected.
And also the other Peregrinos. We met some interesting people, all with their stories even if they didn’t think so, and would have met many more but for the barrier of language. People who we saw repeatedly and would nod and smile and try to converse.
And the people we saw only once but left a huge influence on our trip. Like the urbane Spanish man who stopped at a fountain to let a gaggle of young people walk past. “They’re too noisy for me,” he said. Then he asked if I was walking with my son. I said yes. He told me that he had walked the Camino 25 years ago with his father, and he said it was one of the best things he had done. And now he was walking alone.
And the man we met on our last day. We had seen him from afar 3 times that day, and he had stopped, taken a wrong path and so we met up with him again. He said in Germany, where he came from, if you saw a stranger three times in one day it was good luck, and he should buy us a drink. We were at a bus shelter, so we talked instead. He said he had started walking from his home in Germany 15 days after his wife had died. He had good days, he had bad days, but the nights were always bad.
These and more are my memories of the Camino.
Rupert and I arrived in Santiago 31 says after we left St Jean Pied de Port at 5.30pm in the rain. We walked 40 kms on the last day. I had been pretty sick for the previous 4 days with a cold that developed into bronchitis, and I wanted to finish. As if that wasn’t enough, a night lying next to a snoring Canuck who then started talking then screaming in French had left me equally terrified and exhausted.
That pipe dream of showers and sheets was driving me. But strangely, after 2 days in 5 star comfort, I wanted to put my pack on and start walking. I found I missed the discipline of the path. But I didn’t because our plans now lay along a different route, and Rupert and I went off to Ireland, a place neither of us had seen.
It’s only after the walk that one can pause and take stock of one’s accomplishment. We walked 780km (give or take) in 31 days. We had no rest days, and carried our own packs. Did all of this really happen? Some of it was done in a fugue of fatigue and pain. But yes, it happened. I have the photos to prove it. And my blisters haven’t all healed. And I have some lingering and painful plantar fasciculitis in my heal and ball of my foot.
Yes it certainly did happen.
But is it such an achievement? I met two very overweight women in Villafranca de Orca who had decided to walk the Camino 2 weeks before they left. No training, basic gear. They didn’t know they could have stopped in Orrison and walked from St Jean Pied de Port to Ronscavalles in one go. It took them 15 hours, and they came in after 3 meltdowns, in tears at 9.00pm. Now that is an achievement.
Many people walk the Camino, some only do parts, but many like the German man walk thousands of kilometres. And everyone walks their own Camino.
Bill asks, did it change me? Yes, and I have the scars on my feet to show it. My clothes no longer fit me – I have lost 10kg. But as well, I approach problems in a more relaxed way. I don’t let small things bother me, and large things don’t bother me as much, and are dealt with in a more relaxed way.
I try to live in the spirit of the Camino – shun excess, eat modestly and try to be relaxed about my life and those around me. After all, for many days the thought of a hot shower and sheets were, well, a pipe dream. I appreciate what I have and am more concerned for those who have to go without.
I park where I can now, not as close as I can. (That is a huge change for me.) I read in this blog yesterday that one poster said they wear a pin to remind them of how they felt on the Camino, rather, I imagine than as a badge of honour for others to see. I like that idea. I want to keep feeling like this. Time will tell.