Lorna Mitchell was the one who had the vision, the idea of raising funds for the MS Society, through long walks abroad. It started in 1989, I myself was fortunate to be involved from the beginning, and the 2nd walk was the first Camino de Santiago in 1990 by the MS walking group. Little did I know, that this simple long walk, came to be life changing.
Today, 18 years later, a special lady sponsored me to join the walk one more time, having been away from it from 9 years. It was an enormous act of kindness by her and it was a privilege for me, to enjoy the experience and bring some humour on the way. I was optimistic too as the Camino used to be a challenge for me in a personal way, however I felt more positive that my old demons were lost on the road over the years.
I was prepared for some hot days, now that the walk is set in June, however I asked for a cooler trip and the angels gave me my wish. It was 6 degrees at one point, thus the heat was never an issue and blisters were not common. The best part about this is, the people got to know each other easily without the threat of possible 30+ degrees.
When one loses direction in life, on the Camion, there are yellow arrows to put you back on track!
Jean and John lead the way, 2 very experienced walkers whose own lives were changed by these paths in the 1990's. They worked hard to avoid pressure, allowing people to pace themselves their own way and it worked to a treat. Cathryn has the thankless job of handling all the walkers problems, hotel arrangements, dinners, meetings, functions etc. Moya was in charge in the medical department, like a mum of 38 adults. Ruth another experienced walker took the role with the lunches and other hidden jobs that many are not aware of, with the help of a professional coach driver, Gostavos who joined in helping in anyway that he could. At the end is was a professional performance by all involved and one of the smoothest journey I can remember.
The walkers themselves are of course the most important ones. Those who raised a considerable amount of money which does unseen wonders for the suffers of MS. I remember the first walk in 1989 raised about 60,000 pounds, where today, the now 1,500 walkers have raised 10 million Euro over the years. When you look at the big picture, one person cannot achieve this, but each individual has a vital role, by just doing your own bit, thus each step is one cent that adds up to millions.
This special 38, were a joy to get to know. All very different, many from the country side, some from Dublin, with one lady from Canada. I was blessed to have a conversation with everyone at sometime on the way and if I had more time I would have got to know them even more I am sure. I was sharing with Austin, the talented musician / singer / song writer, who I walked with before in 1997. His cheerful presence and positive attitude raises the happiness level many times on the walk, even though it puts pressure on him to perform at time to time. By bringing his guitar, Austin's talent brought out the best out of many people, Roisin a multi talented girl who has a musical ear and sings like an angel. Thomas the cool clarinet player, then there was Mick, Eileen, Ruth, Ann & Roisin, Mary, Maria, John .... the talent was coming out from all angels. These people made their own fun, and shared that happiness to others in hostels, hotels and on the path itself. One small incident I remember, the German couple a little down in the dumps on the path and after a few hours with us, they were left with a glow in their hearts and the polite German lady could not control her emotions when we sang goodbye.
The hostel in Rabanal, a great musical day, and I slept like a baby ;-)
On the walk itself, is more a personal time. I felt their was many personal thoughts floating in the pilgrims minds and hearts. I am always aware of the one who walks alone, I just add some positive thoughts of my own in the hope it may help some how whatever is deep in their own thoughts. One never really knows each others second names, nor peoples careers, that's not really important on the Camion. It is more about you. Why are you here? What have you coped with in life? What do you hope for? The Camino is a great place to say goodbye to problems and bring on a brighter future. As Jean said once "Everything stays on the Camion."
I cannot comment about other peoples experiences, I can only speak from my own. To me this walk is a journey of self discovery. When I started in 1989, each year I started looking for answers, right till 1999. I was only 24 on my first journey on the Camino and I had a lot of personal issues. My Father died of MND, close linked to MS and I allowed hate to grow in my heart. My best friend Jim Blewitt an inspirational person himself, did the same walk each year, but died suddenly in 1995. Each problem I had, raised its head on the Camino. The walks came to be my own education, and coming back 19 years later I was not sure how I will feel after this journey.
(Tom) - "Is it a sub-dominant Austin?", (Austin) - "Err no, I always walk this way!" - Tony smoking his pipe in a reflective state.... if you pardon the visual pun
At the end, I had a glowing feeling of happiness in my heard. A little like I passed my test. I walked the Camino with no hate, no complaints with life. I have learned from these walks that each problem that comes to me, it is up to me to handle. Anything that bothers me, ''is" my own problem, spreading it to others is not going to find a solution. My own answers are inside. Finding happiness in my heart was the greatest discovery in my life and this to me is the true path to peace. - "There is 'no' path to happiness..... happiness 'is' the path" - Buddist Monk
I was honoured to be able to discuss my own views on faith with Phil and Tony. I spend a lot of time observing people, how they move, express themselves, speak, listen and think. I felt and saw the depth and wisdom of these two people who have an ora of peace with them. I felt very comfortable speaking and walking with them even though we have different views on religion, which means I could learn more from their point of view. It was my own highlight of the journey. I am sure everyone has their own moments of bliss on the Camino, from the pile of stones to the steps to the Cathedral to a good warm bath!
Robert and Sheila smiling to the last few steps with the group.
Looking back, I couldn't think of a better Camino. The quiet walkers, deep in thought, leave space for others, a joy to watch. Louise taking care of everyone 'army style' showing the biggest heart I know. Moya a professional physio but to me is a true healer who puts love into her work. Then the boisterous fun bunch (and there were many), who came to enjoy themselves, brought good energy, making us all feel a little younger and I believe there was space for joy for everyone.
Thank you all for a magical journey and I look forward to meet you again on the road.