Remembering the Camino -the tale of two women

Sharon Weatherall, 06/01/12

Cindy Thomas still can’t believe she walked 800 kilometers in Spain this fall. Would she do it again? Without question -it was the opportunity of the lifetime and a learning experience filled with challenges and precious memories she will never forget.
Thomas and her friend Michelle Pilon gave back to their community by taking a pilgrimage in Spain that has been walked for thousands of years. The North Simcoe women who had their own personal reasons for going, braved the 40 plus day trek one week apart with the support of many behind them. In doing so they raised approximately $5,000 for Huronia Communities Foundation.
The experience of walking the Camino Frances route of the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage in Spain represented a time of transition in life for Thomas which came through a huge physical challenge she had not anticipated. As a yoga teacher and having the good foresight to train for four months prior to the walk, Thomas felt she was prepared and in good shape but she was wrong. Soon after starting out she was plagued by foot problems that caused her great suffering.
“Part of walking the Camino is about having to make changes -everyone’s experience is different that’s why they call it my’ Camino. I went through hell with my feet in pain and blistered. I had to change my shoes, get a new back pack and silicone insoles -no orthodics. What happened was I had to put my ego aside and meet each challenge at a time and by the end I got stronger and more confident. I found I could deal with everything in a different way due to the challenges and pain that I dealt with. I put one foot in front of the other and it taught me,” said Thomas.
“It was strange that Michelle and I both had totally different experiences -where I had a lot of trouble at the beginning she had a great start, no blisters and not a difficult walk. It was at the end f the walk when she ran into problems after her fanny pack was stolen. She faced the challenges of having her wallet, money, credit cards and camera stolen. Then when she came back home her sister passed away. The walk has been difficult for her to look back on but while there she picked up a beautiful heart-shaped stone to meditate on for her sister and brought it home. Since her sister’s sudden death the stone gives her great comfort. After the funeral she had the stone blessed.”
The Camino De Santiago pilgrimage is a route taken by St. James which includes a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe. The most popular route is the Camino Frances, which stretches some 800 km. from France to Spain. There are many reasons why people may take this route including religious or spiritual reasons, the beautiful scenery, to learn about the history and culture of Spain to deal with personal issues, while others consider the experience a spiritual adventure to remove them from the bustle of modern life.
Thomas and Pilon are among tens of thousands Christian Pilgrims and many other travelers who set out each year to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. The Camino Frances is marked in the countryside with big yellow arrows and in the town and cities with the cockle shell signs. The route passes through a few major cities, Pamplona, Burgos, Leon so people can buy anything they have forgotten along the way. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, while a few travel on horseback or by donkey as was done in times of old. Some like Thomas and Pilon do the entire 800 km. while others do a portion at a time coming back each year to pick up where they left off.
On route Thomas said her eyes were opened to all kinds of possibilities and she met people from all walks of life.
“Most of the time there were villages along the way but four or five times there were none to stop at for food and water -you had to prepare the night before and take it with you. During those times we met people who out of the goodness of their heart would set up a stand of fruit and water. The first time it happened was in the Pyrenees and there was a man in a white van that was marked with all the countries of the people that passed by,” said Thomas.
“In the afternoon the heat was so brutal there would be a stands set up so you could sit down and people would give you food and water -with the Camino they are there to help. Back in the early day of pilgrimage people believed if they helped pilgrims they would be closer to God. At the stands we passed people would do it for free or by donations.”
Initially Thomas thought she would be doing the walk alone but she ended up traveling with a group of people she met early on and became friends with. When they set out each morning they made a plan where to meet at the end of the day. There were many pilgrims she came to know as she walked along.
“The range of people I met was incredible and they were all walking for different reasons,” said Thomas.
Walking the Camino can be as reasonable or as expensive an experience as a person wants it to be. For Thomas the cost was about $4000 including $1000 for flights, about $250 for trains and air from Paris France to the start and about $40 per day for accommodations and food. Thomas stayed at hostels most of the time and a few nights in hotel.
“If you had the money you could stay every night in a hotel. In the hostels there were 20 people sleeping per room and the food was good and healthy -lots of pork, ham and good fish,” said Thomas explaining there were several courses to each meal.
Since returning from her 42 day trek Thomas has attended the premiere of the movie The Way’ starring Amelio Estaven and Martin Sheen about a spiritual Camino Walk. It was a very emotional experience for her to see the scenery she had walked by.
“The movie will be playing at the Galaxy Theatre on January 18 at 7 p.m. and tickets are just $10 each and you can get them early at Huronia Museum. For me seeing it was just like being there again,” said Thomas.
Before she went on the walk Thomas’ yoga class gave her a letter to open on the plane that contained lots of encouragement and support. She took with me on the walk a digital recorder with messages from friends and family and never listened to it until she was there walking –
“I felt like there were with me. I also recorded everything into the tape recorder as I walked along instead of writing a journal. It is great because you can hear all the sounds in the background and my feet as I walk,” said Thomas.
“I have always been a seeker’ and this is something I have wanted to do forever. If anyone is thinking about taking the walk and wants information they can contact me because I would be happy to talk to them about my experience.”

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