The Unlikely Pilgrim

I don’t see myself as a religious person, let alone a pilgrim. So when my friend Kevin asked me to do El Camino de Santiago with him, I wasn’t too convinced. Walking 120km in commemoration of St. James wasn’t my idea of a fun week abroad. All I had known of the Camino was the film The Way – which stars Charlie Sheen’s father – a must watch for anyone considering the Camino (as is Two and a Half Men is for anyone considering falling apart in public).

When the deadline for the annual Camino sign-up with Trinity’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) came up, I put my name down on a whim. The preceding months consisted of an array of meet-ups and pub crawls and of frantic fundraising; from bag packing to begging, I managed to raise the funds. All the raised funds went to SVP Zambia, an impressive €23,000.

With our rucksacks packed to the brim, our worries about getting onto the plane with them were put to rest. We jammed our bags into the overhead cabins (and perhaps dominated them), sat next to less than impressed co-travellers and off we were to Madrid.

We stayed in Madrid for one night and got to do a bit of sightseeing and experience its vibrant nightlife – the weather was hot, the food was delicious and the wine was cheap. A great start to an ever greater week.

The next morning we had a long train journey to our starting point, Sarria, not the easiest of feats, but we managed it. The next morning, we began our journey – we woke up in the pitch dark, our headlights leading the way. We were tired and groggy, and quite confused with our surroundings, it hadn’t quite sunk in yet – and we had 40km ahead of us. The scenery was beautiful, but the start was quite uphill. Emma, a girl I had just met the night before, and I quickly fell behind the group and wandered on our own, taking perhaps too many detours. We had finished our biscuits and water, and things were looking bleak with 20km ahead still.  As we had begun to lose hope, we saw outside a small villa what seemed to be an Australian flag, with biscuits and water on a table underneath. With great appreciation, we helped ourselves – and then off we were again with 20km to conquer. We arrived two hours after everyone else. The next days were quite similar. We’re still very good friends.

After four days of much walking, we finally made it to Santiago. The euphoria of reaching a destination you’d been walking to for days is hard to describe, so I can only recommend it. We were given Camino certificates and we had a choice between two: a religious one, and a non-religious one. I asked for the non-religious one, and by God with a giant crucifix waterprint it looked so much more religious than the religious one. Afterwards we had celebratory cigars in the square, a grand dinner in the evening and – without too much time to spare – off we were back to Madrid on a night train that was more of a party than a train.

Despite my initial cynicism, El Camino de Santiago was a great experience and I’d recommend anyone in Trinity to do it with the SVP. I’ve made great friends and memories that I completely owe to the Camino, and I hope to do it again in the following years.



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