Walking 1,000 km is not for the faint hearted, but local ladies Trish Davis and Maureen McGovern have done just that – completing their very own Pilgrimage as they traversed the Camino de Santiago. This was a holiday like no other … an unforgettable physical, emotional and spiritual experience …
Hi Trish and Maureen. How long have you both called the Greater Port Macquarie area home, and how do you both know each other?
Trish: I moved here with my husband and three girls in July 1983. My son was born the next month. I commenced work in Community Health in 1987.
Maureen: I moved here in May 1993 to work in Palliative Care. My sister lived in the area, and I visited often and decided to move to the area.
We are both registered nurses and became instant friends when we became work colleagues.
You’ve both recently returned from an epic trip, travelling the Camino de Santiago. What can you tell us about the historical significance of this particular trek?
Trish and Maureen: Both of us had a Catholic upbringing, and this had a lot to do with it. We loved the story of St James (an Apostle of Jesus), and the idea of Pilgrims starting a walk from wherever they lived to go to the Cathedral in Santiago, Spain, to be freed from their sins.
How did you come up with the idea of completing this journey, and what preparation did you do beforehand?
Trish: I’d wanted to walk the Camino for around 16 years after a work colleague told me about it. I read everything I could and then the movie The Way stimulated my interest again. The years went by, and I just decided that 2016 would be the year.
I didn’t really do too much preparation, other than what I normally do to keep fit – parkrun every Saturday, training for the City2Surf. I had two really long walks with Maureen; she did a lot more preparation than I did. The hardest one was walking up North Brother carrying our backpacks. It was important to test out our boots and particularly for me, my socks.
Maureen: I wanted to do this walk for a number of years and had discussed with friends. Initially there were eight of us who planned to do the trip. In the end it was only Trish and I who made the commitment and booked our flights. I did a lot of long walks for about six months, including my normal daily walks and parkrun every Saturday.
How far did you have to travel on foot, roughly how much ground did you cover each day – and how long did it take you in total?
Trish and Maureen: We walked 800 km from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in the west of Spain. When you total up all the kilometres we did, it was over 1000!
Once we were in the towns, we still had to walk to find our Albergue, and discover what the town had on offer. We averaged 27 km a day. The longest walk was 43 km.
What were some of the biggest highlights of the trek for both of you?
Trish and Maureen: So many! We attended a number of Pilgrim Masses, the most memorable at Carrion, when the nuns sang and the Priest and nuns blessed every Pilgrim individually. The nuns had made us all a paper star, and that has become such a precious possession. Such a simple gift, but so meaningful. We then all sang the Pilgrim Hymn together. It was such a spiritual and emotional experience for both of us.
Another highlight was standing in the Pilgrim Office in Santiago and having our Compostela handed to us, knowing we had completed this amazing pilgrimage. It’s hard to describe the feelings and emotions.
Favourite place you visited (and why)?
Trish: I loved the smaller towns. Going into the larger cities, I just wanted to leave and get back on the road.
Maureen: My favourite was the Cathedral in Burgos.
Trish and Maureen: Both of us had a favourite town, and it was Los Arcos. The beautiful square, surrounded by the Cathedral, cafés, bars, with many Pilgrims.
The Albergue off the square that we stayed in had been a family home for over 400 years; it remains in the family. All the Albergues had fabulous Managers, but this one went above and beyond and created such a memorable stay.
What’s something you ate/drank while you were away that you’d never tried before?
Trish: I had a fantastic steak that melted in my mouth in a town called Puente la Reina; however, Maureen is convinced it was horse! I still ate it. She didn’t eat hers.
Maureen: Stingray, and it was a bit tasteless and the texture was horrible.
What was the biggest challenge/difficulty you faced along the way?
Trish: I didn’t have any physical problems; my challenge was snoring men (and women). Probably 20 of the 30 nights in Albergues I had loud snorers. I worked on my patience!
With hindsight, would you do the trek again if you had the chance? Why/why not?
Trish: Definitely, and plan to in four years’ time.
Maureen: Definitely considering it, but not for a few more years.
Final say …
Trish: I absolutely loved the rhythm and simplicity of the day, having hours walking and deciding if I wanted to talk to people or walk alone. I had nothing to think about except where I would sleep that night. Everything I needed was on my back. I made lifelong friends. It was so much more than a walk.
Maureen: I loved the walking and the solitude when I chose to have it. The people you met and the friendships formed – all of us were on the same journey; we had what was in our back-packs and it didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, or what walk of life you were from, we were all Pilgrims.
Trish and Maureen: We’d read a lot about what happens along the Camino, and one thing that resonated was that “the Camino will provide what is needed”, and that is so true. For example, one day when Maureen needed to buy a poncho, another Pilgrim heard the conversation and gave her one. Those things happened regularly. We became providers of all things medical, so were able to reciprocate.
One of our funny experiences was climbing out a window of an Albergue. We’d organised to meet a fellow Pilgrim at 6:15am; however, when we went to leave our accommodation, the door was locked. So quickly thinking, we found a window and did the climb. Another two Aussies were in the same predicament, so we talked them into doing the climb out as well. We didn’t get a photo, and that is our big regret. It was hilarious.
Interview by Jo Robinson.