In April, the Mountain Democrat featured Camino resident Judi Collins who was planning to walk the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago —an ancient pilgrimage path from southern France over the Pyrenees mountains into Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the remains of the apostle St. James are reportedly buried.
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In June, Collins, 69, returned from her 33-day quest, rejuvenated and elated.
“I did it!,” she enthused from the Apple Blossom Coffee Shop in Camino. The coffee shop kept track of Collins’ progress with a map they displayed of the route and daily emails sent to Collins’ husband, Stephen, and forwarded.
“It was such a great adventure — more than I expected,” said Collins. “I had peaceful solitude and also made friendships with people from all over the world.” Collins said the pilgrimage path was well-marked with yellow arrows and she felt very safe. “Away from all the have-tos, I could really just think and meditate.I resolved a lot of issues.”
Armed with the scallop shell that designates pilgrim status, her credencil, a passbook stamped in each town where a pilgrim stops, and a 25-pound backpack, Collins launched into her adventure.
Lightening her load was one of the lessons she carried away from the experience — both spiritually and physically. “I wore the same clothes for 33 days and rinsed them out at hostel every night. Every day I threw away something — tennis shoes, socks, a plastic mug, first-aid supplies.” She also deposited “sorrow rocks,” in piles along the path. “People bring rocks or pick them up along the way and meditate on their own sorrows or those of someone they care about,” said Collins. “Then, when they have resolved that sorrow, they place the rocks on the piles of sorrow rocks other pilgrims have left.”
Despite her online research Websites dedicated to the Camino and her own practicing, fellow pilgrims showed Collins how to adjust her backpack and introduced her to a cure for the blisters she incurred during the first week.
Her daily walk averaged 15 miles beginning at 6 a.m. after yogurt and bread, hiking three hours, taking a break at one of the coffee bars stationed along the path for hot chocolate and then hiking non-stop to her destination. “I always wanted to get there early so I could pick out my bed for the night at the hostel (the bottom bunk), get a shower before the hot water ran out, rinse out my clothes and hang them on the clothesline while there was still room to do so,”said Collins.
After calling her husband each afternoon and socializing with fellow pilgrims, Collins ate dinners at restaurants near the hostel, most of which served three-course “Pilgrim” meals for a single price.
“There was usually a pasta dish, an entrée, dessert and as much wine as you wanted,” said Collins. The food changed as the Camino went through different regions — lamb chops in Basque country, fresh seafood close to the coast, cheeses in the dairy country, wine, including a fountain that bubbled forth wine in the wine country. “I tried everything, ” said Collins,” and the best was a seafood stew that I didn’t even recognize some of the seafood.”
Cathedrals and churches lie along the Camino, which is steep and hilly in parts. “They don’t do switchbacks there, so it could be quite steep and rocky,” said Collins. The churches often held special pilgrim masses and Collins was thrilled when one of them was in Latin with monks and priests officiating. “One monk sang ‘Ave Maria’ and that was wonderful.”
Stephen Collins, Judi’s husband, didn’t worry about her solo journey. ” She takes care of herself,” said Stephen, “and I have the deepest admiration and respect for her.” The two talked every morning at 8 a.m. which was 5 p.m. in Spain, and Judi emailed a synopsis of photos of what she had seen each day. “The rest of us lived the journey vicariously through her, ” said Stephen.
“This,” said Judi of her IPhone, “was the only technology I needed.” Cell phone service was reliable, with many towers along the way, but Collins saw no television for six weeks and only one newspaper during that time.
Sometimes she walked alone, other times she walked with different people, including a French gentleman.”He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak French, but we didn’t talk much while walking and we could use the IPhone to translate when we did.” Collins met a number of Koreans and Brazilians along the way and a Kurdish girl who was Muslim. “She’d never eaten pork or drunk wine and she tried them both,” said Collins.
Coming into Santiago de Compostela, the end of the journey, Collins was elated. “I posed by the road sign but since it was a half hour walk from the sign to the cathedral, I had to move fast.” She arrived at the cathedral five minutes before the pilgrim mass began. “I got to see the botafumerio swing across the church with the incense, ” said Collins. “The mass and the cathedral were beautiful.” At the cathedral she also met up with many of the other pilgrims she had met along the way.
“The next day I took a bus to Cape Finisterre, which was considered the end of the world in Columbus’ time. I felt that was appropriate,” said Collins.”I enjoyed this journey so much and I would do it again. My scallop shell is very dear to me.”
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.