In my continuing quest to find people who can help me turn my Camino de Santiago dream into reality, I stumbled upon Mark Ho. Mark is currently doing The Walk and is, in fact, on his 33rd day on the road with two companions. I asked him to give me some tips on how to make The Walk easier for an aspiring Camino pilgrim like me. Here are his wise words.
1. Why did you do the Camino? How long did it take you to decide on doing such a challenging trip?
I did it for a variety of reasons. For the most part, I am doing the Camino as part of my vocational discernment to the Religious Life. I am specifically discerning to be a Franciscan friar. This Camino is also part of my 30th birthday gift to myself. I turned 30 this past January.
I first thought of this idea in 2008. So it took me 3 years before I actually did it.
2. How did you prepare for your pilgrimage physically and mentally?
I would walk a total of 10 kms a day: 5 km from home to work and another 5km to go home from work for 8 months prior. Mentally, I didn´t really do much preparation. I read up on it online and from a book on the Camino by John Brierley.
3. Why walk when you can do another pilgrimage in a less stressful and physically challenging way?
The challenge of walking removes one from the comforts of his regular life. It allows you to think and function with limited resources. The challenges are a significant part of the experience and they only make the whole pilgrimage even more special.
4. Now that you’re currently on the road, what’s the most difficult part of your walk so far? (blisters? lack of sleep? fatigue?)
The most difficult part is probably keeping the feet rested and healthy. There is so much walking involved that the feet take a lot of beating especially with a big backpack on your back.
5. Do we need to have a lot of cash in order to do the Camino? PLease give us tips on how to save during the trip.
Absolutely not. If you don´t mind being a budget pilgrim like me, you can get by with just spending 15€ per day. 5 to 8€ on albergues and 7 to 10€ on food. Pilgrims are treated very well by businesses on the Camino. Restaurants offer a special pilgrim price for their menu. Some albergues ask only for a donation for your stay with meals included. If people can´t afford an albergue, some people bring a tent and they sleep outside – it can get pretty cold at night though. I have slept once in a local gymnasium for free in Burgos. This was allowed by the city government.
For food, I go to local food stores to buy bread, and jamón or sausage or sardines as well as fresh fruits and vegetables like oranges, tomatoes and cucumber. Once in a while, I would buy yoghurt and juice to up our nutrients intake.
What is expensive is the flight ticket to get here to Spain as well as equipment which includes a backpack, a solid pair of shoes, sleeping bag, dry fit light clothes. Travel insurance also costs money.
6. Have you met any interesting characters so far?
We meet people from different backgrounds everyday. There really isn´t any interesting character that stands out because everyone is different.
7. What is the essence of your pilgrimage? What prayers or meditations can you suggest?
The essence of my pilgrimage is primarily religious. I am discerning the religious life and so I am using this pilgrimage as a form of prayer and devotion to God. I pray the rosary daily and try to go to mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily as well.
I would suggest to anyone who is hoping to grow spiritually on the Camino to commit to a prayer schedule that is realistic to and desired by the person. There is no standard recipe for everyone.
8. Finally, to whom would you recommend this kind of trip?
I would recommend this trip to those who want to change something big in their life, to those who are at a crossroads in life, and to those who are struggling to accept their vocation.
*All photos courtesy of Mark Ho.