In 2011 Holly and Jeff found ‘The Way’ through Netflix. At that time, Jeff had heard something about the Camino, but Holly did not know anything. After seeing the film, they both knew that they wanted to go to Spain to walk the Camino, and immediately began to gather information.
While they were learning and preparing, they shared their dream with a friend from California who was so inspired she walked the entire Camino Frances to Santiago with her daughter. Holly and Jeff longingly followed their friend’s blog – hoping that would be happening for them soon. They began to meet more people who were planning their Camino experience, which made them even more motivated and excited. But, it always seemed impossible to find an entire month of vacation time to walk the Camino. At one point during these years, they actually planned to go, but then their trip was postponed unexpectedly. They became more and more involved in Camino groups online through blogs and Facebook. In 2015 they associated with The American Pilgrims on The Camino organization – and together with other local pilgrims past and present, created a new “chapter” in their state.
The Way was always on their mind. In fact, they came to understand that the Way is truly in the mind first and foremost, not the body – and to successfully complete a Camino, the power is in your mind.
Holly and Jeff kept learning and planning. The Camino became an obsession with them, but they never had enough free time in order to make it happen. Finally this year, Holly decided that she did not want to wait any longer. Somehow, they must make walking their Camino happen. A friend of hers was dying, and she found herself thinking: “This life is very short. We are all going to die. We never know how much time we have, or what might happen that could prevent us from doing what we have always dreamed of doing. Jeff and I cannot continue postponing our Camino dream!” Once they were determined to make their Camino happen, the possibility opened: through news shared on the American Pilgrims’ Facebook, Holly learned about the existence of the English Way (Camino Ingles), which is a complete yet shorter route that could be traveled in just 5 or 6 days, and still qualified them for a Compostela! Once they set aside the idea of doing the Frances, and embraced the Ingles, everything began to fall into place! This was just the first of many “miracles of the Camino” for them.
From that moment on, everything seemed miraculous. Despite having decided to go a new Way with very little time, they always found what they were looking for: a group that could help them organize their trip, dates, airports, lodging, gear, and affordable prices … Everything was being made possible! Of course, their group in America also helped them a lot because they knew how much Holly and Jeff both wanted to do the Camino and all of the complications they had faced. This group loaned gear, gave tips, and even held a special Shell Ceremony before Holly and Jeff departed.
On October 8, 2019 they arrived early to the airport, happily awaiting departure. About 30 minutes later, Jeff received a shocking voice message on his phone. A computerized voice told him that one of their flight connections had been inexplicably cancelled and they had been rescheduled for the next day! This was a disaster. There were multiple flight connections on other airlines, and hotel reservations that could not be changed! Rushing to the nearest airline desk begging for help, they were given the last two seats on a flight that was departing in 10 minutes. That flight would take them to a city with a connecting flight that could get them to Spain in time! It was a Camino miracle!
All of their experiences were very positive in Spain, beginning with their first encounter with a taxi driver who took them from their airport to their hotel. As they walked from Ferrol to Santiago they did not meet very many pilgrims, but the few they found were delightful, and from many different backgrounds. A young couple from Italy, a family from Spain with young children, a group of men from the Canary Islands celebrating retirement, a family from Colorado, and two women from Israel. It was a wonderful Way. They lived each moment as an experience of peace and enjoyment of being together.
Despite the many yellow markers, they remember getting lost more than once! Sometimes they missed a signpost, and the scarcity of other pilgrims made it more complicated. But still, it was not a major problem because they always found help – often from local people. On their first day they wandered until after dark and could not locate the hotel where they had a reservation. They had decided originally to walk without the use of electronics, but on this evening they realized they needed to turn on the smartphone and use Google! Once they found a phone number and called the hotel, the staff immediately sent someone by car to find and rescue them, and bring them safely to their lodging! Although it wasn’t the hotel’s fault, the staff felt so badly their guests had gotten lost that they brought out plates of food and chocolates, and moved them to the most expensive room in the house without charging them any extra!
Holly and Jeff experienced many such kindnesses. On the first day, Holly remembers experiencing some knee pain and had stopped to rest on a bridge. A woman driving across the bridge noticed, turned her car around, and came all the way back to see what was wrong and if she could offer help. They reassured the Good Samaritan that they would be alright and marveled all day as they walked about the kindness of that stranger. Later that same day, they stopped in the tourism office of a small city, and there was the same woman who had been in the car on the bridge! She happened to work in that little office! What a happy circumstance! The woman felt blessed to know that they were alright, and Holly and Jeff felt blessed they could thank her for her kindness. On another occasion, Jeff accidentally left his water bottle at a bar where they had stopped at for lunch. He did not notice until it was too late to go back, and he was feeling very thirsty. He needed water soon, and there were no services nearby! Suddenly, they discovered on the trail in front of them that some kind soul had arranged a cooler filled with ice and water bottles. A sign in Spanish read “donation bar”.
Holly and Jeff believe that what they found in their Camino experience was exactly what they were looking for, and much more. The Way was incredibly beautiful, and everyone they met was very kind! Every day whether they got lost or asked for something, people always helped and made themselves available for them. Whether they attempted to speak Spanish, or used their own language, they always received a kind response! The relationship with the people was really incredible. For example, if they came to a town and asked for a hotel or a grocery store or bar, people would explain directions to them, search their cell phones to find directions, or even take the time to walk with them to the location.
Holly and Jeff believe that they have lived through an important experience that will forever be life changing. Walking a short Camino had its positive side. The relationship with the people of the Camino was very special, probably as it was on the French Way many years ago. They felt so good and so grateful that they made certain to stop in all places possible to contribute in some way to those people. Whenever they could, they would take or buy something.
The only negative memory is the presence of garbage on the Camino, carelessly tossed by some of the pilgrims: water bottles, beer and soda cans, plastic bags, candy wrappers, socks and other items of discarded clothing. This was very upsetting to both of them since they feel that the Camino is a sacred pilgrimage and treasured place that should be taken care of. So, on the second day, Holly took a large bag and dedicated herself to picking up the trash she found along the way. Jeff joined her in the effort, and they spent a lot of extra time during each day cleaning the Camino as they walked. They thought about what a difference it would make if every pilgrim would wait to find a trash bin to place any of their garbage. They hope that other pilgrims will pick up any trash they see, in order to keep the Camino a clean and beautiful place for everyone coming behind.
As for the rest of their journey, the little problems like getting lost on the Camino were positive, providing them with a unique adventure, fun memories, and lessons in trust. They always found solutions and experienced both large and small miracles.
On their third day, Holly and Jeff left their hotel very early while it was still dark. They enjoyed watching a beautiful sunrise. Following their guidebook, they made a mistake and took wrong turn somehow that sent them walking in a large circle. Without knowing where they were, they found some locals who pointed back to the way they had already come. Just as they were going to try another path (which would have taken them farther away from the Camino) they found some other pilgrims they could walk the correct direct with – enjoying some wonderful conversation and camaraderie throughout the morning!
On their final day when they left Sigüeiro to reach Santiago, a wrong turn happened again! This time, they were on an old Camino route which led them into a forest that no longer contained any Way markers. This is how they discovered that their guide book was not up-to-date! However, by that time they had already walked over one hour, so they decided instead of backtracking they would keep walking, hoping to find an old marker. After walking another two hours in a rain storm, up a steep and desolate path, they reached a fork in the road. The book did not say anything about this junction, so they wondered what they should do. Having wandered for so long, and feeling very tired, they did not want to make another mistake! During all of the house they spent walking that day without seeing even one person. So, the only one they could turn to was God. Jeff offered a prayer, asking that they would know which way to turn. Just moments after saying “Amen” a jeep appeared on the road, coming from the middle of nowhere! They hailed it, and the driver indicated how to continue to reach Santiago. For them, this was the most incredible miracle on their Camino – a direct and immediate answer from God. The man in the jeep was like seeing a true Angel on the Camino! They have many memories like this, inexplicable things that happened, teaching that you should not worry in life, just believe that God is with you, and something positive will always happen.
When they finally arrived at the Cathedral in Santiago, Holly and Jeff were both very moved. Despite not being Catholic, Holly was surprised to find herself weeping, and Jeff also felt tremendous emotion, excitement and joy. Their experience was just that: very emotional. By the grace of God, their long-time dream had come true. On the Cathedral plaza they met up with other pilgrims they had seen along their journey, they took photos together and went to receive their Compostela. Holly and Jeff both agree that walking the Way felt like “coming home”. Without any hesitation, they are planning to return.