I am Dutch, I am 24 years old and I have just finished my studies. I am blind, and when I was born I had 10 percent vision, but only until I was 6. Now, I can only distinguish the differences between light and dark. I practice sports and I like to walk, so when I heard about the Camino de Santiago I thought this would be perfect for me. Now, having just completed my studies, I thought it was the moment to do it.
First I thought of doing the French Way, but then I decided to do Portuguese Way because I was worried that the French Way would be too crowded. I decided on Central Portuguese Way and not the one on the coast because I thought it would be colder on the coast for me and, above all, for my dog.
Before the Camino I made another trip alone, for example last year I went to the UK to practice trekking, I also traveled alone, but the Camino was something special. Of course, I undertake my travels knowing that although I am alone, without other people, my dog will be with me. I could not do anything without my dog, he is not only my guide, he makes me feel safe and accompanied, he is a friend.
At first, I felt fear, the beginning was difficult, I was scared. Someone went to pick me up at the airport and took me downtown, but I felt very scared. At that moment I wondered if I really wanted to do it or not, and my answer was yes. But the moment to start was difficult, my GPS did not work … No, it was not a good start. The positive thing was that I got help easily, for example, to get my first stamp in the cathedral. After that I sat in a cafe for two hours, wondering if I should continue or not, my answer was always yes, but I couldn’t get started.
Finally I started and along the first kilometers, as later along the entire Way, I found people who helped me. They helped me to begin, to cross the bridge over the river, to advance a little … That first day I only walked 6 kilometers.
The second day I started more lively and everything was better. I felt much more confident. The people, the pilgrims, told me “Good Way” and helped me to move on. That day I traveled 17 km and then I started to walk about 20ks a day, or sometimes more … Whenever I could, I slept in shelters, where I never had problems concerning my dog. True, I slept in shelters almost always and without problems.
Regarding the way of walking, also the first day was the most difficult. At the beginning I felt bad and I wasted a lot time. I came to believe that it would be impossible to get to Santiago like that, but little by little things got better, every day I felt more and more confident, I knew that the pilgrims would let me know what I needed to know, they told me: ‘not there, or it would be better there. Or yes, that’s the right way….. …’
My backpack was very heavy because I had been afraid that my dog might not be accepted in some shelters and I was therefore carrying a tent. In addition, I was also carrying my dog’s food, which I could not always buy in the places through which we were passing… But despite the weight I felt good, only at the end, the last four days, I felt a little pain in my knees, but I think It was more because of the uneven ground than the backpack.
I have made many friends on the Camino. I like to do things on my own, but I found amazing people, a group of Italians, and I started walking with them. I got lost many times, even in the woods, but there were always people who knew me, friends of that group of Italians who called me by my name, recognized me and came or called me when I was resting, or sitting in a café …
They have really been a group of friends, most have already returned to Italy, but there are still some here in Santiago, Vincenzo for example. It has been amazing, because I have walked only a few days with them but I feel as if they had been friends for years. And we walked together for several hours a day talking about important things, so the relationship that was created is very special.
When I started my Way I didn’t think about trying to help or encourage anyone with my experience. I did it for myself, to prove something to myself. But along the way, the people I met told me that I inspired them, that I should recount this experience to help others overcome their fears. I had not thought about that at all, I had even felt a lot of fear at the beginning. But then I realized that it was true, that perhaps it could serve as an example to convince people that, if you have confidence in yourself, everything it’s possible. Yes, I think that if only you trust in yourself and in others, that fact will mean that others will help you.
You don’t have to be afraid or think that negative things will happen. My experience is that, that you can always trust someone. It is really the experience of my life: that I can trust my dog and other people. I have always had positive experiences with people, certainly not everyone is the same or they help you, but there is always someone who does, so I think you can move forward with confidence.
I think my relationship with my dog is important, the current one I have had for 6 years and our relationship is deep, we know each other, I could not undertake an adventure like this with a new or unknown dog, but with him yes, we know each other well.
A new desire has emerged from my Way, to collaborate with institutions or with pilgrim associations to spread my experience and help other pilgrims. When I return home I will contact the association of my country, but also with other sensitive ones such as the English, the American or the Spanish Federation. I want to convey how positive this experience has been and the confidence I have felt.