In Search of Santiago

A personal journey along the Camino de Santiago

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I was mulling over this question as I ducked out of the little bed and breakfast early.

Today was going to be a ‘big’ day and I hadn’t slept well. I needed a strong coffee from the cafe nearby…..

The coffee was just what I needed and I grabbed another one to take with me.  When I got to the room Pat was still asleep. I sat quietly by the bed and took in the scene.

You must have done it too? Watched your partner sleeping….

Her jet black curls and olive skin were a stark contrast with the pristine white sheets and pillow. She seemed deep asleep. Maybe dreaming ?
Don’t worry, it’s not going to be ‘that’ type of story…..

I settled back with my coffee and pondered that question again….. walking alone versus walking with a partner. I’d have time to think it through. She wouldn’t wake for another hour or two.

You see, last year I had the luxury of walking a Camino alone. From St Jean to Santiago. A slow journey of 40 days. And one of the questions I pondered last year was the sense of selfishness that I felt. Taking 40 days out. All for me. Whilst others were left to ‘mind the store’.

But it was a fantastic experience. I loved it. I was totally unplugged from my work and everyday life, other than a brief online call with my wife Pat each day.

Her father was sick you see, and I guess that added to my feelings of guilt a bit. So I tried at least to give moral support on the phone each day. Even though I felt I should be at home, Pat kept insisting that I complete my Camino ‘for both of us’.

And to be honest, I loved the time alone. To reflect and ponder and just enjoy the journey. It was amazing. I won’t go into it all now though. I even made a mini movie to share the experience! (Link Here) http://robscamino.com/robs-journey/

So…..This year I was walking with Pat. ….

A shorter Camino. Just from Sarria. Pat wanted a ‘taste’ of the Camino without committing to 800 kms!

Now Pat, well she’s a city girl. Not used to the outdoors at all. Even the thought of having to pee in the woods was putting her off a bit. But she wanted to give it a try.

We finished two weeks ago. ……

And we were now in Verona in Northern Italy. Part of the ‘deal’ was, that after our Camino we’d travel in Europe for a couple of weeks. And in true Camino spirit we walked as much as we could and only booked a couple of days ahead. We used trains a lot, which proved to be a great way to see the landscapes.

We must have pounded the streets for 15 km or more every day in Paris, Prague, Vienna, Munich, and now we were in Verona. Next we planned to go back through France to London and then fly home to Sydney via Bangkok.

It had been a great trip so far. With our Camino as the highlight of course. And Pat was already open to the idea of walking another one. Maybe longer. And this kept bringing me back to that question!

The ‘elephant in the room’…..

Was it better alone, or walking with Pat? A very selfish question I know. But one worth thinking through….

OK. Both were good, but very different. Very!

In terms of the emotional and spiritual journey, alone won ‘hands down’. Having your partner with you 24 hours a day was not really a full break from Normal life. How could it be? Sure it was lonely at times walking alone, but the solitude brought with it deep reflection and almost total isolation from the ‘normal’ day to day. This really enhanced the emotional and spiritual elements of the journey. For me at least…

But walking with Pat was great too. OK, I felt a bit like a tour guide. I tend to go over the top making sure that she is comfortable. I’d expected it to be a struggle for her and had already made up my mind that this was to be ‘her’ Camino.

So I had planned our stages as a very slow build up. She wasn’t able to train you see, due to suffering from Plantar Faciitis. Though Cortesone injections a week before departure seemed to help a lot. But I was surprised and very proud of the way she handled it. The slow build up worked really well, and we managed the plantar pain with prescribed meds.

Her concerns about the local food, our lodgings and being able to walk the distance all fell away. She actually found 100 kms was too short! As she was just getting into the ‘zone’ in the last day or two.

So whilst from my view the Camino was not really the same as last year from an emotional and spiritual perspective, I still gained and learnt a huge amount.

Such as; the walk from Sarria to Santiago is certainly worth doing in its own right! It’s not just the ‘final straight’ into Santiago…..

That walking with a partner is a very different experience. Everything needs to be much more considered. Discussed. Agreed. Where to stay, where to eat, when to take a break.

And walking with a partner is kind of bringing ‘home’ with you…..

It also tended to isolate us more I think. There wasn’t the same ‘urge’ or ‘need’ to connect with other pilgrims.

But I think our relationship certainly grew stronger….

Though at times it was also tested! Like the time I taped Pat’s shins and removed the tape as I do on my own legs. By ripping it off!

A quick rip is always better than that slow hair pulling agony isn’t it? Pat didn’t think so, as about 2 cm of her skin came off with the tape! Ouch…..

But I saw Pat grow. That was a joy. As she became comfortable with her journey.

And Pat has always been rather a ‘glass half empty’ type of person, whereas I tend to the other way.

Strangely her views and expectations of the world seemed to be relaxing as a consequence of our Camino.

I must have dozed off…..

My head fell forward and I awoke with a start as Giavanna came into the room.
She was the senior nurse on the ward. And like 95% of the hospital staff spoke next to no English. ..

But with the help of Google, we managed.

She told me the surgery had gone well and Pat would be discharged in 3 days and should be clear to fly home in a week.

So our stay in Verona was going to be a bit longer… Without going into the details, Pat had complained of chest pain whilst walking around Verona.

Following a dash to the local emergency department and multiple tests, she was admitted for emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. A bit of a stressful time as you can imagine, plus all the difficulties of language.

Our local doctor in Bangkok was an Angel though, spending a couple of hours on the phone with Pat, putting her mind at ease and answering all her medical questions. This all taking place Late at night while putting her daughter to bed! Camino Angels don’t just exist on the Camino!

OK, so why is this relevant to our Camino?

Well, instead of all the normal stress and ‘why me’ and ‘why here’…..Pat was very Philosophical about it all…..

“We’re really lucky” she remarked.

“This didn’t happen in some remote area of the Camino. It’s happened at the end of our trip. And we’ll still be able to catch our booked flights home”

“It happened in Verona that has a huge modern Hospital”

“And…..because it happened in Italy, that has a reciprocal health agreement with Australia, it didn’t cost us a cent”! (Note. We did have travel insurance).

Wow. That was certainly a mind set change!

Fast forward 10 days.

We were on our way home. We live in Sydney but spend part of the year in Bangkok. Pat’s family live there and I do some guest lecturing at a local university.

So we had planned a week in Bangkok on our way home. This of course would now give Pat time to recover more en route and also to drop in and see our ‘local’ doctor for a post surgery check up.

Our new friend Doctor ‘Kal’ works at a large local hospital near the family home. So we booked to see her to have Pat’s stitches removed and also to get advice on post surgery care and diet. We decided to take Pat’s Father with us.

A few months ago he had heart surgery. In fact whilst I was walking the Camino last year! He was feeling a bit tired and had a bit of chest pain. So we took him along to to see Dr Kal.

Long story short……

He was admitted on the spot!

I’m sitting with Pat and her family now. Dad has just been taken down to surgery to have a pacemaker fitted.

Yep. It’s been one of those trips….. :)

Pat has been great. “Wow isn’t it lucky we took him along for a check”!

(Whilst in ICU his breathing had stopped a few times)

Her family can’t afford the surgery, so we were rearranging our finances to cover the costs. Another dip into the mortgage……

Unfortunately the hospital is private. …and not cheap. So we also discussed having Dad moved to a government hospital.

But they can be a bit hit and miss here.

And It’s Pat’s Dad after all…… And this hospital is close to home….. and the staff know the family well….

The hospital is obliged to handle a certain number of social security patients but sadly their quota was filled years ago. So the family needs to attend a much more distant hospital to access government funded Healthcare. ..

No. We would just have to cover the cost. ….

Then yesterday the surgeon told us the surgery would be covered by government funding! It seems the surgeon, Dr Kal, and two other doctors who know the family put up a case, saying Dad was too ill to be moved to a government hospital. …

Angels had stepped in again……

It’s funny you know. Pat is rather like me. Not deeply religious in a traditional sense. But spiritual. Certainly a believer. And like me, all along the Camino she visited churches and offered up prayers of thanks for being there.

She now wears a beautiful silver crucifix we found in Santiago….

Not bad for someone brought up in a Buddhist culture. ….

A few times in recent days she has remarked. ….”someone up there is looking after us“….

I think you’re right Pat. Someone is.

I also think walking the Camino helps change our view of the world and our circumstances.

 

If you look for good in all things….you find good….

If you look for problems. …..you’ll find plenty.

 

So…….

Walking alone or with a partner?

They’re both good :) !

 

Notes.

We walked this Camino in May 2016.

‘Camino Angels’ is a term that is frequently used by Pilgrims walking the Camino to describe complete strangers who seem to appear at just the right time with just the right help that is required. 

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