A Friend on the Camino

a helping hand on the camino frances


When I was in my mid-thirties, my mum asked me to go with her on a walking holiday for a couple of weeks. I knew what the Camino was, because she’d done part of it before and she was inviting me to do the first couple of weeks with her. I love hiking and it sounded like a good vacation, so I agreed to go with her.

It was painful, difficult, hot, dirty, and I loved it! I was especially captivated by the stories of people who did the whole route – it sounded like an amazing and transforming experience. As much of a challenge as doing a couple of weeks was, walking 800km to Santiago seemed like an epic adventure. I vowed to do the entire thing. That’s how my love of the Camino started.

So now I’ve been walking the Camino every year or two since 2012. It is one of the few things in my life that I am passionate about. If you’re not careful I’ll meet you at a party and talk your ear off about it (yes. I know I’m annoying).

Mostly, I’m excited about giving advice, help and encouragement to people who normally wouldn’t think about experiencing something as amazing as the Camino. Maybe they aren’t big travellers, maybe they’re nervous about going out alone, maybe they have a disability or health issues that make the Camino extra challenging. It’s those people I want to reach out to and get them on the amazing journey that is the Camino de Santiago.

Made it to Santiago!
A hike to the pub!

I am not an athlete

The first time I tried walking the whole Camino, my family came out and did the first couple of weeks with me. My parents and sister left me in Burgos with a swollen knee and some serious doubts about whether or not I’d make it to Santiago. I wasn’t at all fit, and I’d done virtually no training (I tested my gear by going on a 4km “hike” to the pub). My career as a web developer/designer didn’t afford much physical movement, let alone strength or endurance training. But with perseverance and taking rest days, I managed to make it to Santiago that first time.

I was overwhelmed with shock. Shock that I’d made it, shock that I could do such a thing, shock that I’d defied all expectations. It was amazing and empowering and really made me feel like I could achieve great things if I set my mind to them and took them one day at a time, building up step-by-step.

When I came back, I’m sure I was insufferable, because I just could not shut up about the Camino. I was an evangelist. The experiences I’d had, the adventures, the people I’d met… I just wanted to share it with everyone I met. I wanted to encourage everyone and anyone to try the Camino so they could share in the awe inspiring experiences I’d had. I went back to walk on the Camino more times – so that now I’ve walked on it 4 times (as of 2017).

I am not a tour guide

Obviously, I like some adventure. I’ve travelled my whole life and I have only once been on a guided tour type holiday (and that was because I was told I might get shot at if I didn’t have an armed guard). But the Camino was the perfect kind of travel for me. It was safe. I could decide where I wanted to stay and when I wanted to stay there. I could carry everything I needed on my back. I had no constraints except for a plane ticket home 6 weeks in the future. It made for a feeling of total freedom. Hiking under the wide blue sky with nowhere in particular to be, but with a destination and goal driving me forward. But not everyone is so comfortable with that kind of travel. The uncertainties make some people nervous. The lack of a specific plan can be stressful. If something falls through, like not finding a bed for the night, some people find that level of insecurity intolerable. Even I sometimes find myself stressing at the beginning of the trip. Each time I’ve walked on the Camino, I’ve found myself helping out other people. Picking up stragglers at the airport, giving advice outside the Pilgrim’s office, sorting through other people’s backpacks to help them determine what to send home. But also helping people find the strength in themselves to continue when the going gets tough. I want everyone to be shocked and amazed that they defied their own expectations and made it to Santiago.

My sister and I started hiking early!

Official bio thingy...

Tara has been a web designer/developer since 1996. She also has a Master’s in Development Management. She works on a community archive and freelances as a web dev/designer (still). Tara also likes to knit and wishes she could have a dog but is allergic.

a friend on the camino

© Tara Cleveland, 2018

The fine print