My journey to the world heritage city Santiago de Compostela started in Sarria, Spain. A world-famous pilgrims route since the Middle Ages, known as the traditional route and 120 kilometres long. Although, in truth, it started much earlier and some 20,000 kilometres away in New Zealand, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had seen the film ‘ The Way’ based on this walk and decided if I could get fit and strong enough I too would walk the El Camino de Santiago, The way of St James, in Spain. So in June of this year, 5 years after my cancer diagnosis, and countless chemo sessions and operations later, here I am finally making it a reality and walking the El Camino to raise funds for Breast Cancer Research.
As a Toastmaster for over 20 years I have learned to control my fear of speaking in front of others and take on leadership roles, but this time I decided to challenge myself by writing a blog on my story and the adventure. A technical trial for an over 60-year-old to cope with, all on a mobile phone and in Spain with limited internet. Fortunately again Toastmasters came to the rescue, and I was supported throughout by our new Area Director Tina Morrell.
I began my journey at this church, Iglesia Santa Marina de Sarria. I sat in a pew at the back, in the cool of the thick stone walls, hiding from the heat of the day contemplating the road ahead. As I picked up my Pilgrims passport and obtained my first stamp I wondered if I could really achieve 120 kilometres.
The scallop shell is symbolic for Pilgrims. Each line represents a different Pilgrims route and at the end all meeting as one. In medieval times, once they reached their destination, the pilgrims would take a shell from the beach. As a modern pilgrim, I took a handmade pottery scallop shell from New Zealand. I had a premonition I would find the right person to give this to, once I completed the walk. The amazing thing was I met her on the first day. A fellow breast cancer survivor from Liverpool, my mothers home town. I am hoping she will make it to New Zealand in the future to see where her scallop shell was made.
Day 2 at Portomarín, the first 20 kilometres completed and Feeling ready for the next. Unfortunately, by the end of this day, I developed terrible blisters on my feet
The countryside between Portomarín and the next destination Melide. The clouds look ominous and an arctic low is about to hit the Pilgrims.
Walking over the bridge to Melide. My feet, by this time, were a mess. Blisters had developed on top of blisters and they finally burst.
I walked to a local pharmacy and the pharmacist bandaged my feet. She told me to leave the bandages on, never take them off until I returned home. I didn’t know how to explain in Spanish I wouldn’t be home for 3 months but I understood what she was meaning.
Here with Don Quixote, trying to smile with feet in bandages. Would my feet drive me to madness like the errant knight Don Quixote? I am putting on a brave face to the world as I walk alone. Where is my donkey? I need one now.
In the pouring rain sheltering in a small church on the outskirts of town.
Inside beautiful statues, I sit in awe, resting my feet and gaining courage for the way forward
The Pilgrims march on in the pouring rain, their coat colours reflected in the huge ponds of water.
Only 48 kilometres to go. Stopping at Boente Fountain, Fonte de Valeta
Now at O Empalme. I meet up with a group of Irish Pilgrims on route. My feet are forgotten with the fun and laughter. They say ‘ you are our new New Zealand sister.’
I arrive at Amenal and realize with all the banter I have walked too far. I have to say ‘sorry’ to the offer of hitting the bottle with my new Irish friends. Perhaps it’s just as well, I need my strength for the final few days. Its back to Opino, but I don’t mind, the weather is getting better and the countryside lovely. My feet are improving and I now know I can do this.
Only 16 kilometres left for my journey. The end is tinged with sadness, I am happy to have completed my pilgrimage but at the same time I am sad to be leaving the most amazing adventure of my life.
The incredible World Heritage city of Santiago de Compostela .
Would I do it again? Yes in an eye blink.
Read more on the journey on my blog