Finding my Way on the Camino de Santiago

I don’t remember when I first learned about the Camino de Santiago, but I assume that the first thing I thought upon learning about it was “I have to do that someday.” It feels as if I have always knows about it and always been driven to complete it. I feel that I must have known about it for a long time, even though my first multi day hike was not until I moved to New Zealand in 2010. Although it must be noted that those multi day hikes are a completely different beast, involving wilderness and tents and carrying all your food and in some cases water as well. What I didn’t know though, is that there are multiple Camino routes. It wasn’t until I was planning a 6 week long Europe trip, one which featured a spare two weeks at the end, that I discovered the variety of Camino route in all different lengths and difficulties.

We had a spare two weeks, but also had two kids, one of which was in a pram. But when my husband mentioned, “why don’t we do one of those longer hikes that you want to do”, that it all fell into place. So after a bit of research, I settled on the Portuguese route from Porto, one which is regularly done by families pushing prams and which is very much doable in a two week time frame. I immediately went into full planning mode. I mapped out the route. Scheduled in the rest days. Booked the accommodation. It was happening. But it seemed like the more that I planned, the more excited that I got, and the more concrete and real the plan seemed to be, that it caused my husband to become more and more negative about the entire process. Despite him suggesting it in the first place, he became the biggest detractor to the entire undertaking.

Stopping along a forest path for a little break

Despite having completed multiple multi day wilderness hikes, he was adamant that I did not have the capability to walk from village to village and sleep in hotels. Despite my 6 year old having also regularly hiked up to 10km’s a day (when he was 4 none the less), he was adamant that he would not be able to complete even one day on the Camino. Despite Spain being a safe country and despite the fact that we had recently spent 6 months backpacking in South America with both kids, he became adamant that attempting the Camino was a death wish. Despite historic forecasts showing relatively mild weather along the Portuguese route at the time we were planning to hike, he became adamant that we would all die of heat exhaustion. Basically, he was the only one with any hope of completing this fools errand, and the rest of us were nothing more than dead weight.

Well.

The Camino was not the only thing that my husband was incredibly negative about. Negativity is more or less his general outlook on life. So it was probably no surprise to the casual outsider (although for some reason it totally blindsided me) when our relationship came to a dramatic, and violent end. Despite the domestic violence, for which there is no excuse, I was still devastated with the end of the relationship, which also happened exactly 24 hours into our European holiday. He fled the scene and returned to Australia, while the kids and I stayed in Europe and picked up the pieces. “Enjoy your F*ing Camino”, he messaged me. Ok, I will.

I have overcome a lot in my life. And if I put my mind to something, and have planned it out accordingly, then in most cases I will achieve it. In fact, I wasn’t concerned at all about doing the Camino solo with my two kids. In fact I was in a way, relieved. I have always felt responsible for his enjoyment in anything and everything which I have planned. And since he took no part in planning a single thing, I always ended up feeling responsible for his happiness in everything. And given that he was always angry and depressed – well it ended up causing me a lot of anxiety. Without him in the picture, I would now be able to enjoy being in the moment with my kids. The other relief was that I wouldn’t have to quit the Camino early (or battle about not wanting to quit the Camino early) when he inevitably became bored of it when it was “too hard” or “not exciting enough”. Carrying someone’s negativity is a crushingly heavy burden, and I was suddenly free of his.

However, his departure did throw some of my best-laid plans out of the window. I had to adjust my return date to Australia and as a consequence of that, had to shave some time off my Camino. Instead of walking from Porto, we instead took a bus to Valenca, just across the Spanish border, and walked from there instead. I was disappointed to miss that first week, but it was the Spanish week which was the most important to me, and I needed that extra time in Australia to organize our new living arrangements, so it was worth it for the peace of mind.

The day before our Camino, we went to the post office in Porta and sent home in a big box all the things we didn’t need on our walk. We kept only the things that we needed for our Camino and the few days immediately after it. On the morning of our bus ride, we got up nice and early and walked to the cathedral in Porto. It was here that we bought our pilgrims passports before hoping on the bus to Valenca. When we arrived at the random station in Valenca, I took a deep breath. It was time. Here was our start. The Valenca bus station was our Camino km 0. We were not on the official way, so I followed a low-quality offline map into historic Valenca and it was here that we began to start finding those iconic yellow arrows. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. The phrase “Ok, you are doing this. You can do it” was repeated over and over both inside my head and outside my head. My kids probably thought I had lost my mind.

As we left the historic fortress area of the town, and started making our way to the bridge to bring us to Spain, we made our first of many Camino friends. He walked along with us into Tui, helped me with the pram during some particular steep bits, and kept Jacob distracted and chatting away. It only took us about an hour or so to get into Tui, which was the perfect Camino introduction before our first proper day. Tui is a magical little town. After dropping our stuff at the auberge, we bought some ice cream, stocked up on snacks for the next day (a daily ritual), and visited the cathedral. The cathedral in Tui was probably my favourite of all the cathedrals along the way. Perhaps for it’s beauty, but perhaps because this was day 1 (sort of), and I was doing it and I could do it.

The next morning, like every morning, we began our walk at around 6 AM, following the yellow arrows. We were always one of the first to set off (a strategic move given that we were slower moving with the kids), and got to enjoy the early morning light and empty streets. As we walked along we made friends with another man, this time a Spanish grandfather who was in town to visit his daughter who just had a baby. He walked with us for part of the way, holding Zach’s hand and chatting to me in Spanish. We walked through fields, along forest paths, next to country roads, and occasionally through ugly industrial zones. We passed country churches, vineyards, buskers, countless cafes (we made a point to buy coffee and ice cream in each one we passed) and met lots of people along the way. Everyone was sort of following the same stage by stage schedule, and we would end up passing the same groups multiple times. “Buen Camino” they would shout – the standard greeting on the way.

We would generally arrive at our destination around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and took plenty of breaks along the way. It was usually only just starting to get hot when we were close to arriving, but much of our walk was in the shade anyway. Everyone was extra accommodating and friendly to the kids – giving them snacks, high fiving Jacob “el campion” and presenting Zach with shells and toys. After two days walking, we had a pre-planned rest day in Redondela. There wasn’t too much to do there, but there was a playground and lots of ice cream, so the kids were happy.

We never had a shortage of Camino friends. After our rest day in Redondela, the set of faces changed. From there we walked every day until we reached Santiago, and so the set of faces stayed the same. We had met one family, parents with their two teenage children, in Redondela, and they became our main Camino friends. The girl spoke English, and became the designated listener to Jacob’s chatter. We never once looked at a map. Whenever we started to become weary that perhaps we were not on the right track, a yellow arrow or a yellow shell would appear and point us in the right direction. Zach became incredibly adept at finding and locating yellow things as we would often stop to look for the yellow marker pointing us on our way. Navigating through cities was the most difficult as often the yellow marker would be slightly blocked or hiding, but we always found the way and never once went off course.

On the 6th day, we left extra bright and early. Today was our last day, and also the longest stage – 26kms to Santiago de Compostela. It wasn’t until the last 10 km’s of our 120 km walk that my back started to ache a bit and Jacob started to complain a bit. But at that moment, our Camino friends appeared, and Jacob got distracted with chattering away about Pokémon to the English speaker daughter, and remained distracted and happy until we finally reached the cathedral.

We made it. 6 days of walking and 124km’s with two kids and a pram. I did it. Jacob did it. Zach did it.

It was 6 days of calm. It was 6 days of positivity. It was 6 days of being present. And we did it through our own abilities. We enjoyed our F*ing Camino, thank you very much.

2 thoughts on “Finding my Way on the Camino de Santiago

  1. First off, the photos look astoundingly surreal and out of this world! It’s like the sceneries were only captured to be viewed on a movie screen! The beautiful art of nature plus great photography equals these masterpieces! Thank you for sharing this beautiful place with us even though it’s only through virtual but you made us inspired and motivated to work our asses off to even just visit this place!

    Like

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