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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Camino de Santiago

Yesterday I went to a special presentation at the Spanish Centre, www.spanishcentre.com, in Toronto. The "Centro de Habla Hispana" is a combination of a language school, dance school and cultural centre right in the heart of Toronto and I have taken some Spanish lessons there recently to rekindle my love of the Spanish language.

The presentation yesterday was by Sue Kenney, www.suekenney.ca , a former sales professional in the telecommunications industry, who completed the Camino de Santiago, a 780 km pilgrimage on foot, from east of the Pyrenees in France to the town of Santiago de Compostela in the northwestern part of Spain. You can check out her experiences first-hand in her new book My Camino.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Sue is a very interesting and dynamic individual. She told our group about several of her defining life experiences, her sister's death due to cancer, her youngest of 3 daughters moving in with her former husband, her experience of being made "redundant" in her early 40s at a major telecommunications company in Toronto, after 25 years in the industry. She also touched on her experiences as a championship rower who won a gold medal in the FISA World Masters Rowing Championships with a group of women whose average age was 42, an accomplishment that must have required tremendous efforts, determination and discipline. All around a very unusual, impressive personality.

Her layoff from her telecommunications job was a pivotal point in her life, when she looked around and took inventory of all her physical surroundings and material belongings and realized that this wasn't everything for her. There was something more to life and she decided to tackle the Camino de Santiago barely a month after her layoff and began her journey in November of 2001.

Sue hiked the Camino by herself, although occasionally accompanied by other pilgrims, during the winter when very few individuals even attempt this journey. She hiked between 25 and 40 km a day, and stayed in the "refugios" (pilgrim's hostels that are open to registered pilgrims for a suggested donation of about 4 Euros a night). She also mentioned stories of incredible generosity of the locals, who cooked meals for the pilgrims and gave them an honourable welcome along the way. Sue also told a story that was shared with her by another German pilgrim, who said that the stone figures along the way were a collection of stones left behind by other pilgrims, and each stone represented the sorrows of the pilgrim that deposited it.

Sue started to pick up stones, symbolically put her sorrow in the stone and put it down, and later decided that she would do this for other people, putting down a stone for them every time she tought of them and any sorrows that they might have. Sue's journey along the Camino become a journey of self-love and of love for other people. And it changed her life. Today Sue is no longer a telecommunications consultant, today she is a motivational speaker, writer and coach and she tries to live the principles that she discovered on the Camino in her day to day life back in Canada.

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation. The Camino de Santiago is many things to many people, a religious pilgrimage, a spiritual journey, a process of self-discovery and meditation, an extreme physical challenge, and an opportunity to face and confront one's deepest fears. Many people who complete it come out changed human beings. Sue Kenney was certainly one of them and I think she inspired many of the people in the room to think about their own path, their own journey from here on in.

For me last night was an insight that you don't always need to travel thousands of kilometers to learn things about other cultures, about other people or yourself to gain valuable insights. Sometimes your own city has so many things to offer, events that expand our horizons and stretch the envelope. Thanks to Sue Kenney and Javier from the Spanish Centre who made this experience possible.

Other useful and interesting books about the Camino de Santiago:


Related articles:
For practical travel information visit my travel guide to Spain.
Read more about Sue's background in my preview to her interview.
Now you can read Sue's completed interview and get to know her in person.

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