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Janine Sawyer is from just north of Sydney, Australia

I am motivated to walk firstly as it is something that I can do, anywhere anytime and there is something to be said about  slowing down ones thoughts to walking pace, it is very powerful and rejuvenating and I just really enjoy walking. I love waking up early and starting in the dark and walking into the daylight it is a special time of the day. I love the community that you meet when you walk.

Last year when our Camino was postponed due to the COVID I saw a lot of Virtual walks online and initially resisted signing up as I had a plan for “My Camino” and didn’t want to virtually walk it and ruin the experience. That sounds a bit strange, however over time as I realised that the pandemic was going to last a whole lot longer than what I had first imagined (crazily I thought it would be ‘sorted’ in 6 months, despite gentle conversations with our grown up children that it would be a lot longer). I heard about the Camino for Good on Facebook and thought that sounded like what I would enjoy doing and I really liked the idea of the helping out the Albergue owners, I was worried about how they were managing with no pilgrims and Spain in lockdown.

In December 2020 I made contact with a couple from Canada who didn’t know me but I had followed them on their Camino back in 2019 and their Camino was the basis for my 2020 Camino. I had contacted them via their daughter Tania from the “My Mestea” blog as I had her email as I wanted to see if they were doing ok and how they where travelling with the COVID. Tania read my email to her mum Judy and we have been in contact since. Judy mentioned in an email she was doing Camino for Good and I had actually signed up that day here in Sydney, we were meant to meet I believe. We ’talk’ daily and it has been wonderful to make friends on the Camino again.

I walk at least 5 days a week, sometimes 7 days, as it just depends what I have on the weekends, sometimes I might swim instead. I am a paediatric nurse consultant in Liver and Liver Transplant at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in NSW Australia and I work full-time Monday to Friday. I wake at 4.30am and drive to work so that I can walk for 2 hours before arriving back in the office to shower and start work around 7.45am, I usually walk 10-11km in that time, just locally around the streets and there is a big park that I walk around as well. What I enjoy most about this is that my work is in a completely different area to where I live but thanks to walking I am very familiar with many of the locals that I wouldn’t be if I wasn’t out walking.

When I was in training for my 2020 Camino I had my backpack packed and I would walk every day with it and my pole and people would stop me and ask what was I training for and so my story would be told and in turn I would learn about them, I feel like I have a Camino family.

Some days I don’t see them but the next day I do, I know if I am a bit slower than usual as we will meet in a different place, I give them encouragement and they give me encouragement, some days I worry as I haven’t seen them for a week or so and then I see them coming over the hill waving at me :). One couple in their 70’s who once they saw that I was longer walking with my pack realised my Camino would be off for some time were ever so kind buoying my spirits when I was “ in the depths of despair”; they too had been counting down the days to my Camino. One day early this year the lady in the couple (I call them Mr and Mrs Potter) said to me “we feel hope when we see you” – this made my day. The park is also a local training area for cyclists and a couple of us would chat about the Camino and they were very interested in hearing you could do a Camino on cycle. It is a lovely community and for the time being they form part of my Camino family with now my new Camino for Good family.

We live about 25km north of Sydney in NSW Australia, our climate is lovely, mild winters, warm summer often wetter in summer months than winter, we live about 30 minutes from the beach and often walk along the coastal tracks and swim as often as we can in the ocean. We are also very fortunate as we have many water ways close by in the National Parks that surrounds us and we like to pop our kayaks in for a paddle.  If I walk on the weekends I walk between 10-18km and in the autumn, winter and spring months here in Sydney we do lots of bush walks (in the Northern Hemisphere it would be called a forest) in our National Parks which surround us.

We have a local walker who has created a wonderful website called “Wild Walks” and you can click on what National Park you would like to walk in in NSW and what level of walk, distance, days etc and you can then print off a map. His walks are very accurate and it is a lovely way to venture about in the bush and explore our beautiful parks. I  recommend this to everyone who has an interest in walking. One of my favourite walks is in the Brisbane National Park about 40 minutes drive from our house and the wildflowers are wonderful in winter /spring and the views are amazing. The bush runs down to the rivers and out to the ocean and the views stretch for miles. The other really lovely Sydney bushwalking track is from the city of Sydney around the coast line to Manly. It is about 29km and is spectacular. I enjoy walking in all weather, that said we are mild here and occasionally I may start out at 530am and it is 3 degrees Celsius, but that is unusual. I like walking in the rain, cold, and find that I can walk in the heat as long as I start my walk in the cool of the morning and walk into the heat, even if it is 40 degrees Celsius. As long as there is a cold apple cider at the end I am good. We also like to walk in other states and have walked The Great Ocean Road, The Great South West Walk, and the Mornington Peninsular walk all in Victoria and we have walked The Cape to Cape in Western Australia.

Walking is like meditation and I find it very freeing, I like that I can just walk, think, not think, talk or not talk. It opens my mind to possibilities and at the same time can distract me from something that might be pressing me- as I will need to concentrate on where I am walking, how to jump over that rock, climb a mountain or bottom shuffle down a mountain as it looks safer than walking :). In a way I feel walking makes you mentally stronger because you become physically stronger – there is the sense of personal accomplishment, sense of freedom, appreciation of how people used to move around before transport and a real admiration for explorers of the past.

Images from Janine’s local walks

I first heard about the Camino back in 2012 – I was finishing off my Master of Nursing and was given a book by Dee Nolan who had walked the camino and photographed it into a wonderful book. I read it, poured over the pages, baked the recipes, researched and I was hooked!  I found out that she had walked it with Nancy Frey and Jose Placer from “On Foot in Spain”, they run small walking group Camino’s I bought Nancy’s PhD on the Camino and was even more hooked, obsessed, call it what you like but I knew the Camino was calling. I was so keen but needed to finish my degree first before we could travel but reading about the camino was a real distraction and I would find myself at work longing to go and walk. Anyway I finished and we walked with Nancy and Jose and a great bunch of people, who we are still in contact with and regularly catch up with the Australians who were in our group, we did the a 11 days walk with the group and then in Sarria we had made plans to walk the last 100km  by ourselves. Planning this from Sydney it all seemed so simple as I truly didn’t understand the connections one makes on the Camino! It was really hard leaving our group, we missed them but off we walked into Santiago de Compostela. However even back as we were walking up to O’Cebreiro, Craig my husband said to me as we stopped under the shade of a tree half way up “ I can’t wait to walk this all with our children and grandchildren” (of which we hadn’t had any by then). We were both hooked and have been since. Work as it does keeps you busy and it can be hard to get away for the length that we would need to walk again, so instead we did 2 more walks with Nancy and Jose one in Galicia and I did the Portuguese Camino with our youngest daughter Annie in July 2019. I remember flying out of Santiago saying to myself I will be back before I know it. The week after we returned I had booked our tickets back for our Camino in April 2020, I had taken 8 weeks leave from work and I was going to walk 2 weeks with a girlfriend from St Jean Pied de Port to Burgos and then we were going to meet our husbands in San Sebastian and walk to Bilbao and then Craig and I were going to bus it over to Oviedo and walk the Primitivo, meeting our son and partner  2 days before Lugo and we would walk into Santiago together….

Best laid plans- as I keep saying COVID 19 has rerouted our plans but not our dreams, we will return, richer and more grateful and knowing so many more pilgrims, even if it is in the virtual world. I am looking forward to returning as soon as it is safe for everyone, until then I will continue to walk, talk and be a pilgrim.

Thank you all so much for this wonderful experience,
warm hugs, laughs and love

Janine

One Comment

  • Gert says:

    A beautiful and hopeful story about the love for hiking and the camino.
    I am convinced that we can go hiking again this year and that certainly applies to the Europeans, I keep hoping for the friends from outside Europe.

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