by Sharon Jackson
KAGAWONG—Having read Shirley MacLaine’s book: ‘Camino: A Journey of the Spirit’ some time ago, watching a television mystery featuring the pilgrimage and reading Ms. MacLaine’s book for a second time, along with other people’s books, all the signs were there for Kagawong resident Anita Lalonde.
“It just kept circling back around,” Ms. Lalonde shared. The Camino de Santiago was very intriguing to her and when the decision was made to walk the 800 km pilgrimage from St Jean Pied-de-Port (port of departure) to Santiago de Compostela, there was no turning back.
When asked why Ms. Lalonde decided to take on the Camino, her response included a daughter turning 30 this year, losing her father at 52 (which is the same age she is now) and her mother’s passing 10 years ago. “I like to travel, and I like people.”
El Camino de Santiago, in English ‘the way of Saint James,’ is the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, where legend has it that the remains of Jesus’ apostle Saint James the Elder lie. The Camino has existed as a Christian pilgrimage for well over 1,000 years and there may be evidence of a pre-Christian route as well.
In 1992 less than 10,000 people walked the 500-mile pilgrimage. Due to its popularity, over 100,000 believers and non-believers alike completed the walk in 2012.
Preparation for the 800 km solo walk included getting comfortable with the essentials required as well as plenty of online research.
Ms. Lalonde started walking a 13 km circuit around Kagawong every other day with her 4 kg pack that “fit me perfectly and worked really well,” boots and walking sticks, which proved to be a “godsend,” using them to pull herself up hills and as a banister when going down to reduce stress on her knees.
Ms. Lalonde’s Camino began the latter part of June when she flew out of Toronto, on to Chicago, Paris and then by supertrain to Bordeaux and Bayonne.
Knowing the 800 km walk would be physically demanding did not deter Ms. Lalonde as she is not afraid to push herself. The Camino is “relatively cheap and one of the safest trips a woman can do on her own,” she added.
The mental component can take a person to a “dark place,” noted Ms. Lalonde. The solitary walk, in 45 to 48°C heat and blisters, are just a few things that can take you there. The main thing, noted Ms. Lalonde, is to come back out.
Ms. Lalonde shared that “my mother would have loved” the Camino. She lit a candle for her at a church in St Jean Pied-de-Port and thought of her a lot throughout the journey.
When asked to share details of her best days, Ms. Lalonde replied that it was when she made it halfway up the first mountain at Orisson and the last day when she reached her destination.
The worst day was in Burgos when the pain of a blistered baby toe was becoming unbearable. Luckily Ms. Lalonde was able to purchase a pair of copper infused socks which provided much appreciated relief as each step taken felt like her toe being stubbed.
At the start of the pilgrimage Ms. Lalonde received a passport-style booklet which was stamped at each town or city along the way. The final 100 km were the most important as proof of completion of this portion of the route is rewarded with a Certificate in Compostela.
What’s next for Ms. Lalonde? Plans are underway for a reunion in the Netherlands with her Camino family, which includes people from Europe and Canada who she texts and keeps in touch with regularly.
Ms. Lalonde is already planning her next Camino: a departure from Portugal which is shorter at three weeks rather than the 34-day route from St Jean Pied-de-Port.
Ms. Lalonde will be a guest speaker at Perivale Gallery in Spring Bay on Saturday, September 10 at 7 pm for a Q & A evening. To hear more about her Camino, please mark this on your calendar.