Camino Reunion – it’s almost here!

Hello to all of you still subscribed to my blog after all this time with not a whisper from me!  It has been almost three years since I walked the Camino, and a recent personal fund-raising campaign by myself has seen some new traffic directed to my blog.  So, I thought I would come back to write once again, to update those of you who have followed me for all of this time on the upcoming reunion.

The three years since the Camino have not been the easiest for me. I’ve faced a few challenges, mainly with my health. I spent some time homeless and couch surfing at a friends’ flat. I’ve lost a couple of jobs due to my poor health. But, despite these things, I have tried to remain positive. I’ve had some dark periods, for sure (I’m human, right?), but, on the whole I have tried to keep smiling. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Camino, and wishing that I could return to do it all again!  Two things are stopping me – my health, and my financial situation.  If I can get the first one sorted, I’ll be able to return to work to address the second!

Although I am not fit enough at the moment to walk the Camino, I have been looking forward to returning to meet once again with the people I got to know all that time ago!  I have kept in touch with my Camino family, and we all promised to meet again, back on the Camino, in a few years.  Well, it has now been a few years, and the reunion is planned for this summer at the end of July. I’ve been looking forward to it for so long, and have been getting more excited the closer it gets.  I never thought that my health would have remained so poor for so long.  I thought that I would be back up and running, working and earning, and able to just book time off work and book flights. However, the closer July gets, the more I have slowly come to realise that is simply not going to happen.  I am under the care of several specialists in different fields and am not likely to be fit to return to work for some time yet. I started to get upset at the thought of not being able to go, to see these wonderful people once again and to actually be back on the camino. I can’t miss out on this, surely? Will I have to wait another three years, or perhaps longer, for the next opportunity?

Then, a week or so ago, someone told me about a website called GoFundMe, and suggested that I try a self funding campaign of my own.  I was hesitant to do this, as it’s not really something I want to do – ask others for money. I haven’t done it before and am not comfortable with it.  However, the more I thought about it, and looked at other people’s GoFundMe campaigns, the more I thought it might be worth a shot.  I really want to see these people again, and I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  So, I reluctantly sat and typed my plea into their website.   It wasn’t easy to write about my problems, and to explain in writing that I am not working and can’t afford to go, knowing that I was about to share it for all of my friends to see.  I was worried about the response that I might receive – but how I was wrong!  I thought that the campaign would just sit at zero, without a single donation, or that perhaps I would get a few donations over the next few months, but that it would be nowhere near enough to enable me to go on this trip. I also thought that, given the response I have already received from some people about my mental health struggles, some of my friends may feel negatively towards me after reading this.

The opposite has been true.  In just a few days I have received so so many messages of support from both friends, and strangers.  Not only that, but my GoFundMe campaign not only reached my target in two days, but has since passed the target!  I cannot put into words how all of this love and support has made me feel!  It’s refreshing to know that there are so many good people out there, and at the same time I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders now that I have admitted to my friends about my struggles.  I now know that I have plenty of people to turn to, and that I am loved.  I am now able to buy my plane tickets, and will be at the reunion this summer in Spain!  I can’t wait!  I want to scream with excitement! I am so so grateful, and words just don’t seem enough – but to all of you, from the bottom of my heart – I THANK YOU!  I am so touched by your kindness, and will be forever grateful.

My personal fundraising page can be viewed here.

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Don’t stop walking….

I can’t believe it has been two years to the day since I left St Jean Pied de Port in the South of France, to cross the Pyrenees on ‘El Camino de Santiago’, or in English, ‘The Way of St James’.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had little idea of what to really expect, and if I’d have known what it was really like I probably wouldn’t have gone – but I’m glad that I did.  I don’t say that because it is a terrible experience, or the people are rude, or anything like that.  It’s just that I suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and agoraphobia and therefore the Camino for me presented a few unique challenges.

So had somebody said to me, “You will be staying in very busy dormitories with lots of other people, sharing communal meals with strangers, and walking through bustling Cities during the busiest times of the day,” I would not have even considered it.

I had seen the film ‘The Way’ and had heard my dad talk of the Camino,  but I didn’t really know what to expect.  I saw myself walking through deserted hills and fields alone, or with only a handful of others mad enough to attempt the same.  Oh how wrong I was.

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Biarritz, France, there were already a few others with backpacks, and I started to notice that they too had the Scallop shell of the Camino hanging from their packs.  We all boarded a bus which took us to Bayonne train station.  On the platform there were more people with backpacks and those shells hanging from them… I was really getting nervous now and was thankful that I had travelled with my Cousin, Matt.

The train from Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port was small and not too crowded.  The drivers cab was not sealed off like other trains I had been on before, so at first I was distracted with watching the driver.  Soon though I remembered I was surrounded by strangers in a different country and had no way of getting off.  I felt trapped and started to feel annoyed at how slow the train was going.  It must have been around 30mph, it couldn’t have been much faster and if it was it certainly didn’t feel it.  I soon realised why though, as the train weaved its way through hills, rocks, trees and alongside beautiful streams.  I noticed a few small rockslides next to the track and realised the reason the driver was going so slowly was so that he didn’t come around a bend straight into some rocks which may be waiting on the tracks!  At this point I started to relax a little and enjoyed the new scenery just outside the train window.

When I arrived in St Jean, I followed the crowd into the small town and somehow ended up outside the pilgrim’s office.  We queued here to get our pilgrims’ credential and a list of all of the Albergues along the 800km route to Santiago de Compostella.

Just opposite the pilgrim’s office was the Albergue which I was booked into for the night, L’esprit Du Chemin.  I booked in and tried to relax, I was pretty anxious.  That evening I experienced my first communal meal and had serious doubts about whether I would be able to do this.  I wasn’t worried about the physical aspect of walking, but I was more aware of my anxiety levels increasing to new highs!  I was getting very real physical symptoms and had to try very hard to do anything.  I was way out of my comfort zone…

The next morning I woke up, as did all of the other pilgrims, at 6am.  Everyone went downstairs for breakfast.  Everyone but me.  I was far too anxious and couldn’t stop shaking.  The hospitalero noticed and gave me some fruit to take to eat while I was walking.  Finally, it was time to leave.  We headed up into the Pyrenees on what was to be the first day of the greatest adventure of my life!!

The long steep climb out of St Jean Pied de Port was a surprise to me and I struggled!  I made the mistake of trying to keep up with others, something you soon learn is not what the Camino is all about!  As a result I injured my knee on the first day, not a good start.  The Pyrenees were green and damp, with thick fog a lot of the time.  However, on the sections where the fog did clear, the views were breath taking!  Nothing like what I was used to at home!  After what seemed like a life time I arrived in Roncesvalles and checked in at the huge Albergue there where I took a shower and washed my clothes before walking to the restaurant for my first ‘Pilgrims menu’ meal.  I was exhausted and had no trouble getting to sleep at the end of my first day as a Pilgrim.

 

 

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Meet my cousin, Matt

Ok, so this next picture is one that I wanted to post a long time ago but didn’t because I’m not wearing my false teeth!  I’m over that now and feel ready to share it!  It’s a shame I wasn’t wearing my teeth but at the time I didn’t think about it and it turned out to be another favourite of mine.  This picture was taken on the 5th July 2012 which was the day we walked from Roncesvalles.  I particularly like it because it is a ‘selfie’ which just captures the moment perfectly.  We were upbeat and happy just walking along down this long path into the hills ahead.  If you followed my blog from the beginning you will know that without this man next to me, I probably wouldn’t have walked the Camino at all.  He helped me to plan for, travel to, and more importantly, to ENJOY to Camino.

He now runs an Albergue himself, having walked the Camino on several occasions.  I haven’t visited, but look forward to one day strolling in!  If any of you are planning a future Pilgrimage along the Camino Frances I would like to encourage you to visit him and his partner in their Albergue.  Albergue Santa Maria Magdalena, is in  Vega de Valcarce, an ideal location to rest before you begin the climb to O’cebreiro the next day!

 

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Camera turned the other way….

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Some photos…. Looking back.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I may upload some pictures of what I’ve been up to since the camino.  Well, I’ve decided that I will actually re-visit the camino by uploading pictures and writing a little about each one.  I’m not going to go so far as to look back through my book to see the location of each picture – but if anybody has a specific picture they want to know the location of I will try to help!  I may end up posting pictures that you’ve already seen, so I apologise in advance if I do!  This will be done over a period of days, weeks, or whatever… I’m in no rush, especially as the blog has sat redundant for so long – but I will eventually get to Santiago and beyond!

Right, first up is this horrible picture of me arriving in St Jean Pied De Port.

I was tired and my anxiety levels were through the roof!  I had no idea what to expect when we got to the Albergue and was anxious about sleeping/eating with strangers.

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When we got to the Albergue, L’esprit Du Chemin, This lovely Hospitalero helped me to relax.  Continue reading

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Anybody out there…..?!

The last few days I have had an urge… an urge that I haven’t had in a long time.  To write.  But to write what, what shall I write?  Well, I thought that as I haven’t posted here in so long, yet I still think of the Camino every day, why not come back on here and write a little update about what path my life has taken since returning from that ‘Journey’.  I don’t know if anybody still follows this blog, perhaps not after so long.  But it doesn’t matter really.

The journey never really ended once I returned to the UK.  Not Really.  It just changed direction a few times, and the mode of transport is different!

When I returned to England I had nowhere to live, but I’m lucky enough to have one of the best friends a man can have.  His name is Keith.  I have known him since I was 13 years old, and he has always been very loyal to me.  He gave me somewhere to stay… It was only supposed to be for a short while until I sorted something out, but I ended up staying until last July!  He never wanted anything, and allowed me to come and go as I pleased – I will always be very grateful for both his friendship, and his kindness.  While I was staying at his I got myself a job driving lorries for a short time.  It didn’t last long because once January (2013) came there were less parcels being sent and so I was no longer needed.  I was then out of work for three months during which, I underwent surgery to repair the two hernia’s that you may remember me being concerned about prior to walking the Camino, until my brother helped me to get a job where he works.

It was a good job, not like anything I’d done before.  I was going out to care homes, hospices and peoples houses servicing medical equipment.  I met all kinds of people from all backgrounds, and each with some form of illness or disability.  It was a real eye opener – I had no idea of the true suffering that some people experience each and every day, silently, behind closed doors.  I was on less money than I had earned at previous jobs, but I didn’t mind.  This job was satisfying as I felt like I was actually doing something worth while. It made me grateful for what I have and reminded me to be happy and enjoy each day!

Unfortunately this job was also cut short when, last summer, I was diagnosed with cancer.  Me?  Are you sure?

So began a whole other journey which I really wasn’t expecting!  I had X-rays, scans, blood tests, weird and wonderful tests of all kinds! Eventually ( I say eventually but it was only a matter of about a month) I underwent surgery, got an infection in the wound,  and as soon as I’d recovered I then had a ride on the Chemo train!  Not very pleasant at all!  The effects of Chemotherapy are pretty severe and you have to remind yourself that the alternative would be worse…!

While all that was going on with the Cancer treatment, I moved into a flat of my own.  My Dad, and Brothers got everything in and set up for me while I was in hospital (bed, cooker etc) so that after my operation I could convalesce in the privacy of my own (new!) home.  Various family members offered me financial support while I was recovering for which I am very grateful.  I won’t name them but they know who they are… Thank you if you ever read this.

Following my recovery, I managed to get a driving job locally last November.  All was going well but I have continued to suffer with severe pain since my surgery last Summer and it has now got to the stage where I can not work.  I am gutted.  Life can be cruel sometimes, but I keep thinking back to things I saw and learnt on the camino, and to the people I met while working for the healthcare company.  I remember that there are others far worse off than myself and this helps me to remain strong.  I am trying to stay positive and hope that the surgeons find a long term solution for me soon…. I am back to see the oncology consultant at the end of this month and am also being referred to other surgeons to rule out other possible causes of the pain.  I am hopeful that if it can’t be fixed, then it can be managed more effectively so as to allow me to take a job that I will be able to keep!!  It’s a very frustrating situation to be in….

And just briefly, I will mention my anxiety issues as some of you may remember that I am agoraphobic and be wondering how that is… Well, it started to play me up again not long after returning to England.  I went to see a professional in that field every week for a few months in the Summer and they gave me a new diagnosis.  They said that I do indeed suffer from agoraphobia, but that the root cause of this was the fact that I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which had previously gone undiagnosed and therefore untreated.  they said that by hiding my problems for so long due to being ashamed of myself, that I had in fact made it worse for myself.  So, if you’re reading this and you suffer from something similar – don’t hide it.  There is no shame in suffering from mental health problems.  The sooner you get help the sooner you will be happy!!  I am now getting the support that I need and am learning to enjoy life and be more positive.. I am trying to turn my fears into positive energy, rather than fear something, I am letting myself experience the situation and learn from it.  It’s a long road and hasn’t been easy with all the distractions along the way but I think there is light at the end of the tunnel!!

That’s all for now, I don’t know if I will feel the urge to write again… That has cured it for now at least!!  I may return to write again soon, or I may leave it a while again….  I never did post any pictures of my trike did I…. Perhaps I should upload some photos from the last year and a half……..

 

 

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Back to reality – an update.

I’ve been back home for two weeks now. Well, when I say home, I mean back in England. I don’t actually have a place of my own at the moment so am staying at a friends flat while I get back on my feet. It was fantastic to arrive home to see my two daughters, however a big big part of me wishes I was still on the camino. I wear my shell necklace everyday to remind myself of what an adventure I had, and also that there is more to life. I have bought myself a trike, rather than a car and yesterday started a new job driving trucks for a parcel company. I’m hoping to be able to save up to do another camino before finding somewhere to live; priorities and all that..!

I didn’t know what to do with the blog, or how to end it… But then I thought I’d just keep writing it every now and then. Although I have finished the camino, I believe that the real journey has just begun, and as such I will write here with what I am doing. I intend on going to visit people that I met on the camino, and I also intend on walking more! Perhaps some camping trips to Scotland or something…. But keep watching – the camino de Santiago hasn’t seen the last of me!

Pictures of the trike to follow!

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The walk into Santiago

My final day of walking was a long one. We left Arzúa relatively late, at around 8.30am after breakfast in a cafe close to the albergue that we had stayed in. We had planned to walk to Arca o Pino and then to Santiago the next day, however word got round pretty early on that all of the albergues had been booked up in advance (by the dreaded ‘tourist pilgrims’) and there were no beds left! So we then looked at the next place only the map with an albergue which seemed to be only 5kms from Santiago…. So we decided to push for Santiago in one day – 38kms, our longest walk yet!

It was quite a strange day with mixed emotions. We didn’t really talk a lot for the last 10 kms or so and walked apart for some of it. I was excited to be near to my goal, happy with what I have personally achieved, but sad that it will soon be over and I will have to return to normality.

As we approached Santiago the heavens opened! The first real rain since I began my Camino and I soon found out that my ponch wasn’t as waterproof as I’d hoped! So, soaking wet and a little annoyed we walked into Santiago. I didnt really feel anything as we walked through the city, just sadness that it was over…. As we arrived in the main square outside Santiago cathedral though I was smacked in the face with lots of different emotions all in one go! I cried. I didn’t care that people were watching me and some tourists were taking pictures of me. I just stood there I front of the cathedral and cried. Not because I was sad, but because I was so overwhelmed by what I had just achieved. While I was walking the Camino I never really stopped to think about it but when I got to the cathedral it all suddenly hit me. From being so scared that I nearly didn’t get on the plane, to now standing here in a foreign country having made some amazing friends from different parts of the world. I’m not scared to walk down the street anymore, and I don’t mind talking to strangers. I can walk into a shop without anyone to hold my hand and I feel like having walked the Camino, having actually done it… I can do anything!!!

Once I had stopped crying and sorted myself out for a few photos we headed into the cathedral. It’s massive! I was pleased that we had arrived so late (7pm) as it meant that there weren’t many people about.

Pilgrims are no longer allowed to place their hand in the tree of Jesse, the central column of the Door of Glory Portico de Gloria. I stood for a while and looked at it, imagining the thousands upon thousands who had come before me. I then went to the High Altar, up the stairs and hugged the apostle, rested my head against his and had a quiet word in his ear… Finally, I went down the steps to the crypt and the reliquary chapel under the alter. I don’t know why but I just stared at the casket containing the relics of the Great Saint. I don’t even remember now what I was thinking about. I just stood there. Then I climbed the steps to the right and left the cathedral.

In the evening I went out in the city and had some well earned drinks with friends that I had made along the way. I had intended to walk the next day to Muxia and then finisterra but when I woke up I suddenly changed my mind. Instead I took a bus straight to finisterra and have been here since, camping on a beach with a bunch of hippies! I intend on finishing the camino properly though and will not stay here for much longer. Some have been here for a very long time and while it’s a beautiful place to be, I don’t want to get stuck here! That would be too easy!

I don’t know when I will leave or where I will go. Perhaps walk from here to Muxia, or even get a bus back to Santiago and then walk from there to Muxia and back to finisterra…. Or even go somewhere else and return another day to finish it. I really don’t know at the moment what I want to do or where I want to go. I thought that once I finish the Camino I would know exactly what I want, but I am more unsure now than I have ever been. I really don’t want this to end…

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