Catherine had been following this blog for a while before she decided to join my Challenge last summer. She was preparing for the Camino Portugués later in the year. As you may already know, I live on the Camino Portugués, so we thought we might actually meet in person when she passed through my town. Unfortunately, that was not possible in the end, but we still managed to have this conversation online, so you can now read the story of her Caminos.
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I live outside Portland, Oregon in the US. I moved here two and a half years ago from Seattle after taking an early retirement and now I have plenty of time to travel! This part of the US, the Pacific Northwest, is beautiful and I love living here. Seventy miles west of us is the Pacific Ocean and 70 miles east of us is Mount Hood. We now live in a planned community where I can walk to almost everything I need. I feel very fortunate.
When did you first hear about the Camino? When/why did you decide to do it?
Both my father and my brother recommended the movie “The Way” to me several years ago but I didn’t know anything about it and it was probably about a year later that I finally watched it. Like so many others, I became captivated with the idea of doing the Camino. A year or so later, “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” was screened near me and after that I was fully obsessed with the idea of doing the Camino.
After I retired my husband told me to stop talking about it and just go! I started out on my own from Saint Jean Pied de Port on September 20, 2017 and finished in Santiago de Compostela on November 4, 2017, the day after my 60th birthday. Even well into my journey I didn’t know why I was there – I just felt “called” to be there. Eventually I knew that my own soul had called me there. I loved everything about the journey and wished that I could have kept walking and walking.
Did you prepare either physically or mentally? How?
I was totally obsessed with preparing for my first Camino, although it would have been good to put as much energy into training as I put into gear testing! I spent hours and hours reading books and following Facebook groups. I thoroughly enjoyed the planning. The CAMIGAS Facebook group was especially helpful to me. The discussions there gave me the confidence to walk the Camino alone.
That was not your only Camino. Tell us about your other Camino.
Last September I was fortunate to walk the Camino Portugués with a friend from Porto to Santiago de Compostela. We started on the Coastal Route and then cut over to Valença along the Minho River. There were certainly some stunning places along the Camino Francés but I found the Camino Portugués to be more consistently pretty and I loved that nearly all the churches in Portugal were open. The people, in Portugal especially, were very friendly and helpful and of course the Portuguese pastries are worth the trip! Fortunately my traveling companion agreed to learn some Portuguese because I found the language very difficult. I took over once we were in Spain.
How do both experiences compare?
I still think of the Francés in 2017 as “My Camino” because, for me, walking 12 days on the Camino Portugués didn’t match the transformational experience of walking for 46 days on the Francés. I’m grateful for having had the time, health and resources to make that journey. On both the Camino Francés and the Camino Portugués I felt like I was surrounded by kindness and I have tried to bring that into my daily life at home. There is (generally) no reason not to be kind. And I now smile and say hello to everyone I pass on the sidewalk. Well, not on the busy city sidewalks!
Did you learn any Spanish prior to the Camino? Do you think this had any impact on your Camino?
Before my first Camino I learned some basic Spanish vocabulary recommended for peregrinos, but I discovered as soon as I got to Spain that it was pretty inadequate. I might have been able to read a little but I certainly didn’t understand what people were saying. It’s true that you don’t need to know Spanish to do a Camino but I wished I had been able to communicate better. I would have liked to have connected more with the Spanish people along the way.
Any difference between your first and second Camino?
So before I went back last year I made more of an effort to learn more Spanish vocabulary. Doing the Challenge with you taught me the pronunciation rules and that gave me a lot more confidence learning new words. I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to go back to Spain but I haven’t given up learning Spanish. In a couple of weeks I’ll be starting my second session of Spanish Through the Arts, a class offered at my community center where we practice Spanish through songs and dances and coloring and doing little plays. It’s great fun!
I usually ask my guests to pick a few Spanish words or phrases: the ones they think every pilgrim should know before their Camino, the ones they knew, the ones they learnt… Catherine chose
- one she learned along the Way: Una cama baja, very useful if you prefer the lower bunk in the albergues.
- Her personal favourite: un café con leche grande, por favor. Does this need further explanations?
- And finally, two more she wished she knew for her first Camino: a la derecha (to the right) and a la izquierda (to the left). I know a la izquierda is not the easiest to pronounce and I also know it was also a bit of a challenge for Catherine, so I really appreciate her mustering the courage to record herself and allowing me to post it here. But I must say she did an excellent job. Her pronunciation is impeccable. Well done, Catherine!
Una cama baja, por favor
Café con leche grande, por favor
A la derecha
A la izquierda
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