Camino de Santiago

This was popularized among Americans by the 2010 movie, ‘The Way’, directed, produced and written by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen. We heard of it years ago, but it first came onto our radar when my best friend, Sim, mentioned he walked it in 2016. But the trigger for us to consider it, was when our friends, Meg and Shawn, invited us to visit Fatima in October 2017 with their church group, for Fatima’s 100th anniversary. So the seed for a pilgrimage was planted and germinated.

As we started considering Fatima in our travel plans, the brain worked mysteriously and associated the Camino de Santiago. I came across a wonderful Camino UK blog, and the many postings by hikers and pilgrims shaped and solidified our thoughts and plans in this area. We decided to make the Camino de Santiago the focal point of our pilgrimage, with a pre-Camino visit to Fatima.

There are as many reasons to walk the Camino as there are hikers/pilgrims (277.7K in 2016). For us, it’s part of our ‘journey within’, seeking to elevate our spiritual self, and strengthening our bonds. I personally expect that I will learn to listen more, learn to see beyond the surface, and to fine tune some of my deepest convictions and values as they are challenged on the trail.

For those wishing to prepare spiritually, Sandy Brown had three inspiring posts at this blog page.

Our Camino walk will be in May 2018. But the preparation has started and will continue before we board our flights.


Making the Camino Decision

There are as many decision triggers for walking the Camino, as there are hikers, cyclists and pilgrims that have undertaken this journey. One trigger that’s common, is the 2010 movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emillio Estevez.

We knew our good friend, Sim had walked it in 2016. As Catholics, we had come across this before but I had never seriously looked into it. Then, in the summer of 2017, our friends Meg and Shawn, who lived in Barcelona but were back for the summer, asked whether we would be interested in joining their parish group visiting Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. We declined due to our travel schedules to Asia.

Like all good ideas, it percolated and bubbled. Then one day, I decided to start reading about it on the Net. And the more I read, especially the posts and sharing on a Camino UK blog, the more it drew me in. Eventually, we discussed doing this Camino and Fatima as a pilgrimage in 2018, and we both enthusiastically embraced it. We subsequently borrowed the DVD, The Way. In addition, we read several books, and everything solidified the decision.

Our reading list includes:

  • In movement, there is peace – Elaine & Joseph Foster
  • Field of Stars – Kevin A Codd (author is a Catholic priest in Spokane WA)
  • I’m off then – Hape Kerkeling (just started on this book)

To sum it up, we decided to walk the Camino:

  • To nourish and enrich our spiritual life.
  • To seek God in the people and events that will unfold.
  • To strengthen the bonds between us.
  • To experience a pilgrimage with our feet.

IMHO, any reason or motivation is a good one, as many have testified that the Camino experience has changed their outlook, their approach to life. The pilgrims/peregrine say, the “Camino provides”.

Buen Camino.



For me, going to walk the Camino seems to be like going on a grand adventure! When the idea first percolated, I obviously had no idea what I was signing up for… sure, traveling to Portugal and Spain fits me perfectly. I do love to see different countries, experience different ways of life and all that, but walking hundreds of kilometers with my own backpack no less, kinda brought me back to reality a little. But, what is life if one doesn’t challenge oneself and do things one might never have a chance to do again? Still, I must admit I do have reservations…

Firstly, I don’t really enjoy hiking all that much. Uphill treks are the worst, I do NOT like climbing hills and with a backpack, I will be complaining all the way. Seriously, our ‘pristine’ 33 year marriage might be ending on the Camino. Sigh. Anyway, I am willing to give it a try with as much grace as I can. I suppose I could limit myself to whining only once a day.

Secondly, I am such a worrier and I will imagine all sorts of scenarios that can happen (and probably will) … getting lost, getting sick, getting injured. Surrendering to the will of God is probably the wisest thing to do in these circumstances and that’s what I’ll have to learn to do.

Thirdly, the accommodations along the way will be ‘rustic’ I gather, and what is worrisome (ah, that word again!) is that we probably need to have good rest and sleep nightly in order to successfully complete the daily journey. And I already know I don’t really sleep well in unfamiliar surroundings, unlike my dear other half who can drop off to sleep in a wink of an eye (yes, even sitting upright!). Me, I have to toss and turn, mind racing all the time, willing myself to sleep while being totally  envious on  hearing the sonorous deep breaths of my beloved. I look forward to being so very tired after a day of walking that I won’t care if my bed is just a thin mattress.  See, I am already becoming a more positive person!

So yes, I have my reservations but ultimately, I am positive that what we achieve out of this experience will be a deeper, fuller understanding of self, our relationship with each other and most importantly, with God. I have always pondered the question,  ‘Why am I on this Earth?’  I may never find my answer, but I would sure like to try to find out. Doing the Camino is my one step in that direction.

Buen Camino.


Preparing for Camino – Part 1

As with any significant undertaking, planning and preparation helps increase the odds of a desirable outcome. Planning and preparing for a Camino has basic commonalities with other travel adventures, but it does involve its own unique dimensions (if so chosen).

Our Camino planning and preparation can be considered in several categories.

  1. Awareness and understanding of the Camino journey and experience.
  2. Equipping oneself with the right gear for such a hike.
  3. Physical preparation of one’s own bodily endurance, stamina and strength.
  4. Mental preparation, including picking up Spanish.
  5. Planning the travel, transportation, accommodation options.

There’s so much resources and content on the Net, that spending a few hours and several days/weeks, will richly arm one with information of the Camino. Here I would share the two Net resources that proved most invaluable to me. First is a UK blog-forum that has literally hundreds and thousands of postings from hikers and pilgrims over the years, organized by trails and other subject areas.  I learned so much from the selfless sharing, about items to pack, about the optimal weight to carry (10% of body weight), about the trade offs between hiking boots, hiking shoes, trail shoes, etc. The various ways to prevent and address blisters. The alberques to avoid. Learnings, mistakes, tips from seasoned Camino peregrines who have walked several times on various trails. There’s no better resource for someone who wants to understand how to plan and prepare for the Camino.

The second online resource is the various blogs written by the various hikers/pilgrims. Each blogger has their own distinctive style and perspective. All have pictures along the trail, and thus, one does get a good picture of the Camino journey. I was struck by one blogger who took pictures of rain drops on flowers/plants. What beauty that can only be seen when one slows down, and seeks such around us. Several of the previously mentioned UK blog-forum posters have indicated their own personal blogs in their signature line, and the blog-forum administrator, Leslie had compiled a short list of blogs in 2015 –

We intend to blog about our Camino, but will likely have a different take/slant to most. Thus, this blog itself is the first step to familiarize ourselves with this media, and more importantly, to help us build our own individual ‘voice’.

For me, the FUN & ENJOYABLE part of reading all this Camino content, is the beginning visualization of what the Camino is about. Building the anticipation. How I will enjoy the scenery, the slow pace of walking and being in the moment. Being un-plugged from all the distractions and electronic devices that’s part of modern life. Being dis-engaged from the need to know the latest real time news. Just being alone with my thoughts, having deep conversations with my partner Joon, and engaging with other fellow hikers/pilgrims that cross our paths. Of course, I am sure there will be moments (hours?) of discomfort and pain as we trudged on. But mentally, attitude-wise, I view it as just being in touch with my body. Understanding what my body is capable of, and having the certainty of a good rest/sleep at the end of the day.

Stephen Covey’s second habit of highly effective people is ‘Begin with the End in Mind’. That every physical creation, every manifestation starts first in the mind before it comes into being. In that way, part of our preparation will happen on the trail itself, not at home. When we dialog about our intent for that day, prior to starting off. Perhaps a relationship aspect that needs to be deepened/strengthened. Perhaps creating a new shared dream or goal. Perhaps reflecting and being thankful for our shared journey to date. What a wonderful thought, that the day’s walk can lead to a burst of re-creation, of positivism charging through and energizing our full selves – bodies, soul and spirit. Truly a ‘journey within’ to live life as fully as possible.

Buen Camino.


3/22/18 update. For American pilgrims, there’s an association web site with lots of materials and resources –    This same association hosts a very active Facebook group among American Camino walkers/pilgrims at 


Preparing for Camino – Part 2

A travel experience can be undertaken in good or not-so-good health. The choice is ours. However, when the travel adventure requires a level of physical exertion and effort, I will need to ‘up’ my usual exercise regime. Our Camino Portugues will be approximately 274 km/164 miles of back packing. Our longest walk will be 34km/20.4miles on Day 1 (when we are fresh, ‘naïve’ and bursting with energy). This Camino will take us 11 days/10 nights on the trail. Our target back packing weight is about 10% of our body weight. So, the target for the physical conditioning has been established. As of late Jan 2018, we will have about 3.5 months before our Camino walk.

Unbeknown to us at that time (of the impact of this on our Camino), we had switched to a mainly pescatarian diet about 3 months prior to deciding to walk the Camino. That nutritional change came about for health reasons, Joon wanting to manage her blood pressure, while I was seeking to manage my cholesterol levels. A couple of documentaries recommended by our son, Matt, was the trigger. This may be a future post. By also eliminating dairy and going gluten free, we both found that we were able to lose about 12 pounds each! Our BMI has always been in the normal range. This dietary change is going to give us a leg up over our old selves.

The primary focus was on building our cardio vascular endurance. We have different approaches, so, I will share mine. I picked the rowing machine, as I know a CEO who took that up. Rowing is reputed to be a complete exercise, similar to swimming. Rowing exercises the arms, legs and the core. Being a Virgoan-analytical, I found a YouTube video that showed the proper and improper ways to row. That visualization became a challenge to me, to see if I can emulate and execute the perfect set of movements in a fluid fashion. During rowing, I can close my eyes, focus on various body parts and movements, and get my breathing into a rhythm. I can adjust the intensity and speed of my rows. Sometimes, I push for longer rowing sessions, but after losing all the pounds, the ‘natural cushion’ on my buttocks starts to wear thin after an hour’s rowing.  😊

There’s also a need to switch one’s routine to avoid boredom, and keep the interest commitment in going to the Y three times a week. The elliptical machine is one of my favorites as it mimics the walking motions without the impact on the knees. I love how I can vary the incline as well as the resistance. The last machine that I use occasionally, is the stair master. This is probably the hardest as it works the glutes and calves. On rare occasions, I carry my back pack as I use the stair master. If we ever walk the Camino Frances, which requires crossing the Pyrenes mountains, this will be a must-do machine.

Most adults achieve their peak muscle mass during their late 30s to early 40s. After middle age, adults lose 3% of their muscle strength every year, on average. So, we consulted a trainer to help show/demo the machines to build/maintain our muscles, and we now fit that routine in during our visits to the Y. Interestingly, I heard from a friend, who swears that one has to pick increasing weighted dumb bells so that one can only do 6 reps. If one can do more than 6 reps, the bar bells are not heavy enough. The belief is that the 6th attempt will result in some micro-tears in muscle tissue, thereby encouraging more tissue build up. I couldn’t find anything to substantiate this on the Net.

Some other routines that our trainer got us doing were planks, lunges, squats. The movements and routines are easy, but doing three sets of 10 reps, is not a walk in the park.

We have started taking hour-long walks in the hiking shoes that we intend to use on the Camino. And that’s when the hip discomfort struck me during one of these walks. It had happened many months ago, during a trail walk and on a golf course. Clearly, there was some mis-alignment and stiffening joints. This prompted us to sign up for a Yoga class at the Y. It was my first Yoga class and it was like, my first ice cream! Or so I imagined. How my joints really relished the treat of being stretched. Straightening the ‘bends’ that had slowly crept into my knees over time. Feeling the ligaments, the muscles getting pulled, like stretching one’s back after hunching over a laptop. A release of accumulated knots hiding in the joints. During Yoga, the breathing, the relaxing and freeing of the mind is the icing on the cake. Flexibility, balance and mental calmness are just as important as the hard regimen of cardio vascular and muscular maintenance.


2/3/18 update. Our Yoga teacher, Alisa, recommended David Procyshyn’s videos on Youtube. Seems he has one for runners/walkers. Here’s a link.


Preparing for Camino – Part 3

In this post, I will address our preparations in learning Spanish, and a change in how we are approaching our accommodation plans on the Camino.

While we will be starting our Camino in Porto, Portugal, we decided to learn Spanish as we figured we can continue to use it in other countries that we may later visit. We will learn and memorize some Portuguese phrases to get by.

How are we learning Spanish? We looked into two modalities – books and software language programs. We did not consider classes at local colleges/language institutes. We initially tried the books, but it was too difficult as we did not have any audio. In addition, the organization of the books required them to go into the full details for any specific topic. Which is more than a beginner can typically handle.

Searching online, I found a list of the top 10 Spanish language software programs. I read the reviews, pros/cons and as usual, there was a wide variety of approaches and adherents. I then decided to ping friends who had moved to Barcelona in 2016, Meg & Shawn, who recommended Fluenz (this was typically in the top 3 of the various lists). When we made the Fluenz purchase, it was during the holiday season, and we were able to get some discounts.

Fluenz Spanish was promoted as designed for English speakers. Interestingly, because of our Bahasa Malaysia language heritage, some of the sentence structures were similar, and thus, parts of it was easier for us to understand and align. Example, in English, the adjective comes before the noun. But in Bahasa Malaysia and Spanish, the adjective is after the noun.

  • The big car (English)
  • El coche grande (Spanish)
  • Kereta besar (Bahasa Malaysia)
  • Car = coche = kereta
  • Big = grande = besar

I find the Fluenz lessons structured in a way to ease one’s learning and comprehension. Their lessons are structured around various scenarios, e.g. in a café. They have a video of two persons having a conversation, with captions in Spanish/English and English. And finally, the same conversation without captions. They also have various exercises to match the Spanish phrases to English phrases. They have an exercise where someone speaks in Spanish, and you then have to write out in Spanish (I found this difficult but effective as it really trains one’s ears). They have an instructor that decomposes and goes through the scenario dialog. They have an exercise where one can listen to the 2 speakers, and subsequently, one can record one’s voice, standing in for one of the 2 speakers. One could ‘turn off’ the Spanish phrases if one has truly memorized the dialog (which is still a stretch for me). Net, plenty of learning stimulation.

Fluenz has the ability to support multiple devices. So, I have this on my Windows laptop, Joon has it on her iPad, and we intend to also have it on our Android smartphones (space permitting).

Learning Spanish is a delightful experience. We make every effort to put in an hour each weekday, though we have missed some weekdays. It does take some effort and concentration, especially to memorize the spellings, the grammatical structure, the masculinity vs femininity. Joon has a better ear and intonation than me, so, this is something that I have to work a bit harder at. And put in more hours!

This might seem to be a digression, but bear with me. When Joon was expecting, and we were walking around, we seem to be aware and noticing other pregnant ladies walking around. Likewise, as we are learning Spanish, all of a sudden, we are spotting Spanish signs and trying to decipher the new words. Funny how the brain/mind works!

We know that the brain decreases in size as we age. And I guess we accept it as part of the aging process. Well, I found out that learning a new language actually increases the size of the brain! Imagine that! Here’s the ARTICLE.

One of my bucket list items is to live several months in another country. Per article, it looks like having an immersive learning experience in a Spanish-speaking country may just align with that bucket item! As Col. John “Hannibal” Smith of the A-Team says, ‘I love how the plan comes together’.

What I would like to share next is how my thoughts and plans about accommodation on the Camino has evolved. My initial instincts on accommodation were two-fold; these go against my natural travel planning but I initially wanted it as part and parcel of the Camino experience.

  1. Other than the start/end of the Camino, I wanted to let each day on the trail un-fold as it will, and let God/fate decide where we will put up for the night. To surrender, to not be in total control.
  2. I wanted to have the communal experience of lodging and dining with fellow pilgrims at (municipal) albergues de peregrinos (latter do not accept reservations but are on a first come, first serve basis). This lodging comprises many bunk beds in dormitories, and thus, ear plugs are highly recommended!

And then, we read Hape Kerkeling’s Camino book, ‘I’m off then’. Hape (aka Hans Peter) is a famous German comedian, who backpacked his way on the Camino Frances. He too initially lodged at an albergue, but he found that he wasn’t getting enough sleep/rest. He’s not an early bird, and the need to rush to the next town, was impacting his Camino experience. He aptly put it that if he could afford alternative accommodation, why didn’t he? That rationale, plus the fact that Joon is a light sleeper, swung the deal. I decided to book every night on the trail, alternating between Airbnb, and  I found that in some smaller towns, the Airbnb properties were more centrally located than those on hotel/ Airbnb also provided the ability to interact with the local hosts! We will still have a night’s experience at a newer albergue which took reservations!! The act of booking our accommodation liberated our daily schedule – rising when we wish, the freedom to pace as the day unfolds, visit places/sights between stops, not being concerned when we reach our day’s stop. This will be the approach we undertake Our Camino.


River focus

White River

Preparing for Camino – Part 4

During this morning’s training hike, the thought occurred to Ben that it might be useful to consider and draft a number of ‘principles’ for our Camino walk.

For this article, our definition of principles is a set of guidance for our attitudes and behaviors, leading to a desired state. That desired state is ‘our’ painted canvas.

To some, this approach seems intuitive, just like how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People resonated with them. To others, this may appear to constrain life, to limit its serendipitous nature. For the latter group, we offer this thought – consider principles to be like sextants which sailors of olden days used to navigate by the celestial stars.


Our principles for our Camino:

  1. Slow down ….…. my pace, my actions, my thoughts

Our normal world is hurly burly, ruled by clocks. We multi-task, believing we are being very productive and accomplished. Our brains and minds race at the speed of light, to the point that rarely are we able to be present and smell the roses. As we step onto the Camino, let’s dial down our internal speed dial, way down. Smell the café con leche, swirl and taste the sips. Explore, linger, probe and touch, taste, smell, hear. There are cultures galore around us, the culture of the village, the culture of the marketplace, the culture of foods. ‘Once I stopped rushing through life, I was amazed at how much life I had time for’. Perhaps slowing the actions, the pace, will slow the mind.


  1. Listen intently ……… with my heart

Let me practice daily with my walking partner. Firstly, let me hear every single word spoken. Then, let me hear more than the words. Let me hear the hurts, pains, the happiness, the expectations. And as my ears hear all these, let my heart join in, so I know that words spoken sometimes are wrongly chosen. Listening with the heart motivates me to encourage the hopes and dreams left hanging at the tip of the tongue. Perhaps a simple 5 minutes hearing drill (and test) over breakfast will set the ears on the right path for the day. And no judgements…


  1. Be authentic ……… to and for myself

There’s no one to please, no one to compare, no one to compete against. There is only me. And the Camino. A Camino that slowly un-wraps the onion layers on oneself. Let’s get past the layers dealing with employment, residence, nationality, names, age, ethnicity, marital status. Let’s get to the heart of the onion. Based on actual perceptions, behaviors, decisions and actions in life situations, what do these collectively reveal my deepest values to be? Is there anything that I want to tweak or change? Who we are right now, isn’t who we can become. Perhaps allocating specific journey stages to shape and strengthen certain values, with feedback and encouragement from one’s Camino partner, will help in that maturing authenticity.


  1. Be grateful ….…. and express it

Is my life situation perfect? No. Can I imagine some worse case scenarios for my current life situation? Yes, most definitely yes. So, I have a choice. Burden myself with worry and anxiety over the possibility of these worse case scenarios, or be grateful that I am where I am. It’s like a kindergarten question – there’s no way I can get this choice wrong.

Gratefulness is both an attitude and a heart. One can choose to either see a half glass full or focus on the half glass empty. The reality of the half glass is the same, but the perception cum-attitude is a choice. When that attitude moves to the heart, then, it becomes gratitude as it cannot but express itself outwards, in our words, actions and outlook. Perhaps a simple first step is to approach all these testing life scenarios with a song in our heart. And dance a bit, or sing out loud along the Camino while you are at it!


  1. Practice RAK …….. (Random Acts of Kindness)

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a RAK? Didn’t that moment, change the day for you? If you haven’t, don’t worry, kindness is like a boomerang. Being kind just attracts kindness. It’s like the law of gravity, one cannot escape it.

It’s amazing how you can change your day by plotting, like supervillain Gru in Despicable Me, to perform a RAK. It’s like you are planting a smile-seed around you, as you visualize how the recipient’s day will unfold after that RAK moment. You have the power! Use it or lose it!


Pause here. Will these five principles change our Camino? Undoubtedly. Do some of these principles come naturally, and some need a bit of work? Undoubtedly. Will other principles strike us while we are on the Camino?  Most certainly. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get it perfect. Life isn’t.


Create your own principles list to guide you on your Camino. And we aren’t waiting till the Camino to apply these principles.  😊


B & J

Preparation for Camino – Part 5

This piece is all about the spiritual preparation that we are undertaking for the Camino. It’s 20 days before we depart, and 26 days before we step on the Camino.

We are approaching this Camino as a pilgrimage. I wasn’t satisfied with the various dictionaries’ definitions of ‘pilgrimage’. Let me put forward an expansive personal definition, as follows. It’s a journey undertaken for spiritual reasons. A pilgrimage is expressly for one’s soul. People, places and events will play an important role in shaping the pilgrim’s experience, but it is the heart and soul encounters that will shape the pilgrim’s spiritual self.

Our approach is also intentional. Ask and it will be given you; Search and you will find; Knock and the door will open for you.

Given this perspective, I undertook several spiritual preparation steps:

  1. Step up my spiritual & Bible readings
  2. Self-correct my un-Christian attitudes & behaviors
  3. Increase the depth of my prayers
  4. Ponder, contemplate Biblical verses that spoke to me
  5. Prepare for ‘on the Camino’ – spiritual intent, prayers, verses
  6. Install some Christian songs on my smartphone, to place us in a spiritually contemplative state

Just as I am conditioning my body to be in shape for the rigors of the Camino walk, I am conditioning my soul for this pilgrimage. Per the parable of the Sower, I am preparing the soil so that it will bear fruit when God’s words speak to me on the Camino.

I can net it out all the above efforts to this, that I am in a process to “Purify My Soul” so that it will be receptive to what God will reveal to me on the Camino.

“……He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit that dwells in you”.    Romans 8:11

“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes (for you) with sighs too deep for words”.   Romans 8:26

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.    Romans 8:14

Thus, this on-going, unceasing efforts to purify my soul, is to strive to be in a state of grace, a state that encourages the Holy Spirit that dwells in me, to intercede and guide me to be attentive to God’s presence and promptings.

Prior to stepping out on the Camino Portuguese from Porto, we will make a pilgrimage to Fatima. Let me frame Fatima. This is a spiritual event blessing that occurred in the 20th century, in 1917. God continues to reach out to us via Mother Mary, St. Joseph and Jesus.

Jean Wysocki recommended reading “Fatima in Lucia’s own words”. I was touched very deeply by this. It is the most moving read I had in recent times. Mother Mary’s words ‘challenges’ me to the core, the three children’s total acceptance and compliance is a blessing (example) to the rest of us. It awakens in me, the desire to do what Mother Mary has asked. It awakens in me the need to be more consistent with the Rosary. It stirs my soul.

What remains as the clock counts down to our departure are these:

  • Getting the Pilgrim Blessing from our Parish Priest
  • Drafting ‘some’ of the Camino’s intentional focus. To illustrate:
    • Day 1 – Being at Peace, Being Present to Each Other, to Fellow Pilgrims/Neighbors
    • Day 2 – Praise & Thanksgiving for the Blessings, the Pains/Hurts
    • Day 3 – What am I Struggling With?
    • Day x – Start the Weeding (preparation for confession in Santiago)
    • Day x – Sharing Our Dreams
    • Day x – Praying for God’s Intervention
  • ….. and so on. It’s likely the list will change, as it’s not meant to box us in. But having a draft creates the ‘guard rails’ so that we can discuss and achieve our respective Camino intent. And some days may start as a blank canvass for the Good Lord to paint as He Wills.
  • Compiling some prayers for the Camino walk. Not to pass the time or occupy our minds during a long boring stretch, but intentional prayers for our current life situations.

We do want to explicitly share that we do expect God to reach out to us, via our fellow pilgrims and neighbors that we meet on the Camino. We look forward to that fellowship, guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Peace of the Lord be with you.