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Camino Santiago, 2019...The Beginning

Updated: May 23, 2023

In April 2019, my sister Mary-Lou and I, undertook a pilgrimage called the Camino Santiago to Compostela Del Santiago in Galicia, Spain.

Two backpacks, two sets of trekking poles, 2 boot clad feet in front of a yellow arrow shaped sign with the words 'Camino Santiago'

For her it was a deeply religious pilgrimage. For me it was spiritual. I had read about this pilgrimage many would have too, if you have read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

I had first read about it in a wonderful book called 'The Way of the Storyteller' by Ruth Sawyer. In which she talks about the bards lining the pilgrimage popular was this pilgrimage, across the ages.

Both, Mary- Lou and I had documented our journey in a series of Facebook posts. I wanted to save them here on my blog as many people ask us to share our experience.


his first post is by my sister...written at the beginning of our pilgrimage.

Written by Mary- Lou Navaratnam 28 April, 2019

Two women wearing bucket hats posing againt a field of green. There is a low stone wall behind them and  vivid blue skies

And so the day finally arrives. I’m officially a peregrino! I’m on the Camino!

We will start tomorrow.

Been wanting to do this for such a long time but carrying a heavy back pack put me off. It was only when dear Clare told me about the baggage transfer, that I thought this is it.

I’ve got to do it!

I thought about who would be an ideal companion and I called my sister Buddu and asked if she would do it with me. She hadn’t heard of the Camino but being a professional story teller she wanted to go to Santiago de Compostela to the tomb of St James the apostle the patron saint of storytellers. We spoke for a few months and investigated it and Buddu found a company that booked Camino trips and we booked and paid a deposit. It was not actually that easy as getting dates that we could both do was harder than doing the training. We paid deposits and there was no turning back.

After spending Christmas together with our parents we promised each other we would start training in January in earnest. Our sweet mama was excited about us doing something ‘very Catholic’ but her excitement faded a little when she didn’t get the expected response from her rosary group ladies. Some had not heard of the Camino and visits to the Holy Land, Lourdes, Fatima etc seem to carry a lot more weight and recognition. Mama then mentioned the Camino to everyone she met in the hope of getting a little respect for her daughters endeavours. Cousin Savio visited from Houston and knew all about the Camino and gave her the much needed boost that it was indeed something holy and that thousands of pilgrims did it every year. She felt a bit better after that.

Now I’ve not spent time alone with my sister since she was 12 and I, 20. She’s younger and fitter and does a lot of yoga. She always wakes early and sleeps early whereas I sleep very late but am a fairly early riser. We both love our food, enjoy adventure and cooking and baking. I mentioned that I would like to start the day with breakfast and then start the trek each day. But no, she wants to start before sunrise and have b’fast enroute. I want to get from place to place conscious about getting to our hotel each night. She wants to explore each town and village enroute. Have I chosen the right travel companion? Well, starting in January, I’ve been walking. I got my boots but was nervous about wearing them and they stayed in their box a month before I tried them on. When I did, I loved them. I was lucky to get most of the equipment - day pack, socks etc from Anila as she had it all from her many travels. But it was fun shopping for fleece, walking trousers etc.

Now both Buddi (my sister Jo-Anne has always been known by this nickname) and I feel like frauds. We’ve booked the Camino trip through an agent. We are not staying in the traditional hostels and we are not carrying backpacks but getting our cases transported from hotel to hotel en route. We will be carrying just day packs with essentials. And yes we’ve booked decent hotels with ensuites. A bit guiltily I admit to having the following items in my suitcase- a travel hairdryer, straighteners, travel electric kettle, stash of medicines and should I say it...oh well, a ‘nice’ handbag. And for those of you who know me well you know I cannot function without a decent hand bag. When I asked about the hotels having hairdryers etc the travel agent politely but sternly told me "Madam you are booking a pilgrimage not a holiday!"

Any way the training continued through the winter months and I was beginning to enjoy it. I could not get the hang of the pedometer app that I downloaded to my phone and so bought a pedometer one that does not require to be linked to phone etc. I found that I was able to do just over 4kms in an hour. Preparations continued and excitement was mounting. In the last few weeks we have had a very busy schedule. Lots happening and I did not get a chance to train much.

Buddi on the other hand, due to some issues had stopped training and having arrived in Spain well ahead of me, in the last 10 days has been exploring walking great distances in fabulous towns and cities. This morning as I got ready I went to put in my ‘bum bag’’ - one with a zillion pockets which contained all my travel docs etc - not sure whether it’s the excess of Easter eating but the strap snapped! On a panic I had to wake Anila and ask for hers and so now I’m sporting a very trendy bum bag.

Gatwick at 4.30am is unbelievable! Travellers enjoying pints of beer and Guinness and some even enjoying stronger stuff! Plenty of full English breakfasts being consumed!

Got to the departure gate to find the flight was full and at least half the passengers were travelling to do the Camino. There were a group of three who after the flight I bumped into no less than eight times in one day. They were travelling with backpacks the size of my day bag and it contained all the stuff they needed for the whole week including sleeping bags.

Took two buses to get to Sarria the starting point and also more importantly where I was to meet Buddi. The buses were packed with peregrinos all with backpacks and I was the only person with a case!

The most amazing thing about the Camino is the fellow peregrinos of which there are plenty. The age either very young or older in the mid seventies to eighties. Mostly American but a lot of English and Japanese too and Spanish and Portuguese teenagers in large groups and school groups. Can imagine the latter racing ahead at the start tomorrow. We did a bit of sightseeing in Sarria had dinner and went to bed fairly early. Perhaps I was scrutinising the menu too much and my glasses broke!

Then today the big day. We woke early got ready and after a good b’fast set off on the dot of 8am. A quick prayer and we were off. It was amazing. The fellow pilgrims all so lovely and determined to walk. A great spirit of camaraderie and togetherness. We were amongst some of the slowest. There were plenty of groups of teenagers. Think doing the Camino for Spanish high school kids is akin to the retreats we had in our convent school. Needless to say the kids are racing on ahead. All peregrinos wish each other "Buen Camino", as they pass each other. We saw fellow peregrinos from from several countries though most are from Spain, the USA, Japan and the UK and Ireland. Each peregrino wears the shell of St James. It’s lovely being in an international group of people age from 10 - 80 plus doing the same thing. The morning was cool and misty and a large section was uphill.

We stopped at a lovely donativo for lunch. There was lots of very tasty Spanish food on offer, soft drinks etc and you could eat as much as you want and drop off a donation.

A table with a brightly coloured table cloth laden with and assortment of food and drinks.

We continued our walk. The sun came out and was very hot. We passed absolutely beautiful country side and very quaint villages. The highlight today was seeing some dogs on the Camino. They are walking with their owners.

A backpack leaning against a beige stone wall with a dog leashed to one of it's straps. A small black puppy sits behind the dog  on the leashon a

Before we knew it we reached Portomarrin which is our first stop. We are staying at an amazing hotel - our room is a log cabin with a lovely balcony overlooking a lake. Very restful and relaxing. Feel like we are on a holiday instead of a pilgrimage. Wish us luck!

A assortment of street signs indicating the route of the Camino Santiago and the town of Portomarin

A cement Camino marker with a yellow arrow and a stylised yellow scallop shell painted on a blue square. A pair of worn out leather boots lies next to this.

Read our next post about the Camino Santiago here....

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