When I walked my solo Camino in 2018, I was told there was an Australian albergue, almost six hundred kilometres from Saint Jean Pied de Port, and I had to stay there.
When I finally walked in the door at Casa Susi’s, it was like coming home, or staying with an old friend. My stays at Casa Susi are some of my favourite memories from BOTH my Camino wanders – and I’ll be staying there on my next Camino Wander. And the next. And the next. Yes, I’m a fan and if you’ve read CAMINO WANDERING, you may find Casa Susi sounds familiar as there is a whole chapter dedicated to The Lovelies stay at Casa Susi‘s.
But Casa Susi is more than just an albergue -there’s the woman who created the magic that is Casa Susi: Sue Swain. While the dream was hers, Sue now co-runs the albergue with her partner, Fermin (aka pilgrim #30 who walked in the door, right after she opened, and when he returned, he never left).
If you find yourself walking the Camino Francés, PLEASE stay with Sue and Fermin. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
I’m so excited to share this interview with you. I asked Sue if she’d be interested in doing this interview with me and I thought, maybe she’d respond around December, as it’s currently peak season on the Camino. So I’m touched and honoured that Sue found the time to answer these questions for us.
After this interview, if you want to know more about Sue and her story – and you want to, trust me – you’ll just have to visit Sue and Fermin at Casa Susi yourself!
- When did you walk the Camino and which route did you walk?
I walked my first camino May/June 2012, then followed closely by September/October 2012 – both the Camino Francés.
- Did you walk solo or with someone else? Were they a friend or a relation?
- When you initially started, what did you imagine the walk to be like?
I had no idea about the Camino. I read one book which, in all honesty, didn’t paint a great picture of the Camino. The book was called ‘The Year We Seized the Day’. Though, thinking about it now, the naivety was a wonderful way to discover the Camino.
- Halfway through, what was your primary feeling about your walk?
My primary thought was ‘when can I leave’?
- If you came across another Pilgrim what were the first two questions, you would ask them?
I’d ask their name and which country did they come from.
Sue’s favourite Camino photo – on the Norte
- Did you do any training beforehand? If so, what did you do?
One 15 km hike in my local neighbourhood with tins in my backpack 😂
- What was the one thing you packed that you were glad to have with you?
- What was the one thing you packed that you could have left behind?
Actually I was incredibly happy with my packing considering I’d never backpacked before. One thing I did do was remove all the labels from my clothing. It’s surprising how much they weigh!
- Would you walk a Camino again? If yes which route, would you walk and why? If no, why not?
I’ve walked over eleven Camino’s between 2012-2015!
(Tara’s note: Sue now lives on the Camino Francés.)
First arrival in Santiago 2012 with pilgrims I met on day 0 in Saint Jean Pied de Port!
- Which was your favourite albergue and why?
Albergue Verde in Hospital de Orbigo. The atmosphere of the place and communal dinner was fantastic. It’s a great albergue to relax and meet pilgrims. They also offer yoga.
11. If you’re open to sharing, what did you learn about yourself?
I learnt I was a better person on the Camino. I liked the non-judgement of people walking the Camino. I never cared about what they did in the real world. Just who they were that day. Most pilgrims were stripping away the layers.
- 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?
It was definitely a spiritual walk for me, and it became more apparent the further I walked.
13. Did you continue walking to Finisterre or Muxia?
I walked to Muxia then Finisterra.
Walking from Lordes in France 2014 with my friend from our first camino
- If you gave one piece of advice to someone thinking of walking the Camino, what would that be?
Don’t put it off. Stop making excuses and take the first step. The first step is always the hardest.
- Do you feel the Camino changed you?
Yes, it definitely changed me, and I feel the best version of me left the Camino.
Outside Casa Susi with pilgrims (and her neighbour).
- How do you feel you brought the Camino home with you?
Imagine we are all dressed the same so you don’t preconceive what people have or don’t have. Everyone has a story. We sometimes have to take time to hear it.
- Do you feel your Camino was a pilgrimage, or was it was more of a long-distance walk?
I think if was a time of growth and understanding. It was a time to shed layers and to heal. If that is a pilgrimage, then yes, that’s what it was.
- Do you feel the Camino is for everyone? Why or why not?
It depends what you are looking for:
If you want a long hike: Yes, but then you don’t get the same experience than if you were doing a pilgrimage.
If you want to relax with a book on your holiday: I don’t suspect it’s for you. Then again I liked the book, beach, cocktail holiday, but the Camino changed my life.
Never say never.
Tara with two of her favourite pilgrims: Susi and Lindsay Teychenne
- What would you like to see more, or less (other than less toilet paper) of, on the Camino?
More hospitalero’s having walked the camino to offer guidance to new pilgrims!*
- What was your favourite city on your Camino route, and why?
Leon. A city full of charm and Camino history. Easy to walk around and see tourist sites, and be a tourist for a moment before the last stage of your Camino.
- If someone didn’t know what the Camino was or about, what would you tell them (in three sentences or less)?
Make your way to Saint Jean Pied de Port with a backpack and the minimum amount of ‘things’ and start following the yellow arrows.
Open your heart and mind and prepare yourself for the biggest adventure of your life.
Also to go with plenty of time!
Susi and her partner, Fermín – Winter on the Camino
For more information about Casa Susi’s:
Check out their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/alberguecasasusi/
OR check out this website: https://www.wisepilgrim.com/camino-frances/trabadelo/accommodation/casa-susi
If you’d like information on how to become a hospitalero, please see the following links:
United States: https://americanpilgrims.org/hospitalero-training/
United Kingdom: https://www.csj.org.uk/work-in-our-hostels