I met Grant and his son James at the 2023 ‘Australian Friends of the Camino Conference‘ in Melbourne. It was the same day I met James and Leo. The four of them had walked together on their 2022, and it was clear strong bonds were formed between the foursome.
I love this interview with Grant. It shows how different pilgrims are. What they walk in. What they appreciate most while on the Camino. But it’s interesting how most pilgrims learn the same thing about themselves after walking the Camino de Santiago – that walking the Camino somehow brings a sense of calm to our souls. And it’s never when we reach the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, but once we return home.
I hope you enjoy Grant’s interview!
- When did you walk the Camino and which route did you walk?
April/May 2022 – Camino Francés. Walked from Santiago to Muxia in June 2023.
- Did you walk solo or with someone else? Were they a friend or a relation?
With my (then) fifteen-year-old son James (on the Camino Francés). Solo, on the Muxia walk.
- When you initially started, what did you imagine the walk to be like?
Sounds terrible, but I thought our walk was going to be a lot harder. Basically we had almost no rain on the entire walk, so we got off pretty easily compared to other pilgrims. We did have to walk the Valcarlos route out of St Jean Pied de Port (SJPDP) due to the heavy snow on the Pyrenees.
As for the experience, we had no idea how far we’d get, or whether we’d even finish. We tried to live day by day as much as possible.
- Halfway through, what was your primary feeling about your walk?
James and I had spent quite a bit of time walking with some Danish brothers – Mikal & Mads – and we were having a great time. The thing we missed was a home-cooked meal. They had been craving pasta carbonara, so in Sahagun I went out and got all the ingredients to make one from scratch. We stayed in the albergue that is above the old church there (Iglesia De La Trinidad) and had a great meal together. We didn’t want our Camino to end, but we were also tired from the constant walking (we hadn’t had any days off – and didn’t until Leon).
I’d say, achievement with a tinge of melancholy as we knew we had less time on the Camino as each day passed.
- If you came across another Pilgrim what were the first two questions, you would ask them?
Their name and where they were from. I rarely came across the cliché of – “why are you walking a Camino?” – early in any conversation, though it did often get asked eventually. I think that’s because it’s a more personal question and the person asking has to be prepared to answer first. Also, a lot of people don’t know why whilst they’re walking. Even if they do, that reason may be a red herring, the real reason only revealing itself later.
- Did you do any training beforehand? If so, what did you do?
We were meant to do Camino in 2020 and I did a lot of leg weights and core training. Then, during lockdown, I did a lot of cabernet and Netflix. I didn’t train too much for our 2022 walk because, until we were actually in Saint Jean Pied de Port, I didn’t really believe it was happening. I was sure something was going to happen and the whole journey would have to be cancelled again.
- What was the one thing you packed that you were glad to have with you?
Crocs. It was great to have some super comfortable and light shoes to wear around the albergue or even going out for dinner.
- What was the one thing you packed that you could have left behind?
We took two pair of long pants and three shirts. Needed only one pair and two shirts. Oh, and I packed a Moleskin journal. That lasted about three days. I was blogging daily on my phone, so it was superfluous.
- Would you walk a Camino again? If yes which route, would you walk and why? If no, why not?
Yes, would love to walk the Frances, but from further up in France, maybe Vezelay. Would also consider the Via de La Plata. I’m also really keen to try something like the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in America, a pilgrimage of a different sort.
- Which was your favourite albergue and why?
Hornillos Meeting Point. It is new and run by a sister and brother who made us all feel really welcome. There was a tiny old store across the road that sold cold beer and other supplies. We sat and played guitar, and chatted to other pilgrims in the lovely little courtyard. They made us paella and we had a communal dinner with about seven other pilgrims who we just met, and became part of our Camino family from then on.
11. If you’re open to sharing, what did you learn about yourself?
Gratitude for my family, my friends and my life. Someone commented when we were walking that the Camino is almost exclusively for the affluent given the costs and sacrifices involved. Whilst my initial reaction was, “no way!”, when I thought about it, I think they were right. That made me feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to take my son and spend six weeks in Spain. I was thankful that my partner and family looked after things at home. In some ways a Camino is a very selfish thing to do. But it becomes an incredibly unselfish thing once you are on pilgrimage, and when you return, you have so much more to give to everyone in your life.
- When you began you walk, what was your motivation to walk the Camino? Physical, spiritual, religious, or other? (This is a question that is asked when getting your Compostela in Santiago.) What about at the end of your walk?
At the start, for family. I wanted to have an adventure with James before he was too committed to his last years at school, and before he was old enough to not want to spend six weeks in Spain with his dad. He did have a choice; I let him decide if the Camino was something he wanted to do or not.
At the end, I think it was a very personal journey. I’m an atheist, which probably begs the question – why go on a Christian pilgrimage? But I see the history of the Iberian peninsula as much longer than the Christian era, being a whole mix of different influences. The route of the Camino, which has been rerouted endless times for new roads, buildings and the like, roughly follows a pagan route and before that, who knows? Perhaps it was a migration route of some sort. It was also strategic in securing northern Spain. Actually, maybe I did it for historical reasons as well.
13. Did you continue walking to Finisterre or Muxia?
No, though I recently returned from walking from Santiago to Muxia. We walked with James and Leo Sage and the two fifteen-year-old’s told us in no uncertain terms that Santiago was it for walking. In their words, “walking is overrated.”
The Santiago to Muxia leg was beautiful and I highly recommend it if you have the time. Even though Santiago was very busy, this route was relatively quiet. The albergue experience was lovely too. They were small and relatively quiet. We were given pilgrim dinners at each of the albergues that I stayed at which added to a sense of community. When I reached Muxia, I stood on the rocks with two other pilgrims facing the Atlantic Ocean, just yelling at the top of our lungs with joy. One of them turned to me and said they couldn’t remember feeling this happy. It was a great experience.
- If you gave one piece of advice to someone thinking of walking the Camino, what would that be?
If you are thinking of it, then you’ll do it, so why not lock in some dates and tell family & friends — or maybe even book a flight right now.
As for practical advice:
Walk in the season that suits you. We walked in Spring and loved the cool. I don’t think I could walk in summer due to the heat and the number of pilgrims.
Get your pack weight down by leaving stuff behind that you don’t need. If you do find you need something, you’ll be able to buy it in Spain.
Wear trail runners. Bushwalking boots are made for carrying heavy loads, not the nimble pack you will have on the Camino.
Do a couple of twenty-five kilometre walks before you go with your gear you’ll walk with, sometimes called a shakedown hike. This is to iron out any potential issues you may have with your gear, but also to help with strength and fitness.
Work out a system for your feet. Some like toe socks (Injinji is the most available brand), some like to put powder of their feet or hiker’s wool, others put Vaseline on their feet. I used toe socks and put Vaseline on my heels and never had any trouble across Spain. James and I walked in Hoka trail runners. He did the laces up once for the whole trip :-} and wore Macpac wool socks. He never had any blisters.
- Do you feel the Camino changed you?
Yes. On our return James was far more independent. I joked that he would leave Australia a boy and return a man and to some extent that came true.
For me, I was a lot calmer and accepting of life. A week after our return my mother was rushed to hospital. She ended up spending about 10 weeks there and eventually passed away in September. I was lucky to be there when she did pass away. My mum was such an open and generous person. I think reading our daily blog from the Camino kept her going and out of hospital until our return. My father (who has pancreatic cancer) and my sister relied on me to organise everything after mum passed and they live about five hours from my home. I felt that I could deal with all of that stress with some equanimity.
Not long after my mum passed away, my twenty-year-old daughter was rushed to hospital and was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Again, I believe that the Camino has made me resilient and calm to provide the best possible support for her.
Then just before Christmas, my eldest daughter, who was living and studying in Paris, was drugged and assaulted. Again, I was able to stay calm for her, the last thing she needed was a hysterical parent on the other side of the world. The generosity of spirit of the Camino stays with you. We were able to offer her support and get her home safe.
We’re all pilgrims and all have some burden to carry. A true pilgrim offers a helping hand to another in need, and I saw that many times on the Camino.
- How do you feel you brought the Camino home with you?
I think about it every day. I think it does give me a sense of equanimity. I rarely feel rushed and if I do I stop and ask whether I’m rushing for me or for someone else. In either case I try to slow down. I also feel a real sense of community with fellow pilgrims and a sense that I have another home in Spain that’s waiting patiently for my return someday soon.
- Do you feel your Camino was a pilgrimage, or was it was more of a long-distance walk?
Hmm, tough question. If pilgrimage is about finding out who you are and thinking deeply about your life, then I would say it was a pilgrimage for me.
I could easily see how it could be a five-hundred mile party, though as I witnessed some people doing that very thing.
- Do you feel the Camino is for everyone? Why or why not?
It’s open to anyone who is open to it. I’ve talked to people about it and they are honest that it’s not something they have any desire to do. Then there are others who get that little twinkle in their eye when they talk to you about it, and you know they would love it. Let’s face it, some people hate the idea of pain and adversity being part of their annual holidays. For me, pain and adversity are opportunities to learn and to grow. I also think it’s important for your kids to see you struggle with things and watch how you deal with it.
- What would you like to see more, or less (other than less toilet paper) of, on the Camino?
More fresh Spanish food instead of the frozen, pre-packaged pizzas, calamari and paella that gets served too regularly.
- What was your favourite city on your Camino route, and why?
Pamplona. It has an energy about it that I loved. It’s an easy city to walk around and the little street with the pinchos bars is a great place to meet pilgrims, eat great food and drink great wine. When I walk the Frances again, I’ll stay in Pamplona for two nights. It’s hard though, because if you start in Saint Jean Pied de Port, it’s so early in your Camino and you want to keep moving.
- If someone didn’t know what the Camino was or about, what would you tell them (in three sentences or less)?
Pilgrimage across Spain. Disconnect from your computer, devices, work and life. Have an adventure, embrace gratitude and to love yourself and the world.