My name is Marjorie (Marj) Sinal and I live in the western part of Canada. I am 92 years old now and this is how I came to walk 240 miles on the Camino Trail and was able to complete my quest when I was only 91.
The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes extending across Europe and merging at the tomb of St. James in northwest Spain. In the middle ages, people walked out of their houses and headed for Santiago, which was how the network grew. These days, hundreds of thousands of people walk the Camino de Santiago annually—often for spiritual reasons. It’s an arduous trek—even though many paths are on fairly flat land, it’s a long haul for people not used to walking for weeks on end.
I learned about the Camino Trail only a few months before I decided to go. I attended a video presentation at my church put on by a woman named Ariana who takes people in the Spring and Fall to walk the Camino and arranges the fights, nightly stop-overs, and other details. I thought the presentation was very interesting but I certainly had no intention of going.
During the next two weeks thoughts about the trail kept coming up again and again and each time I would say “No, that’s not for me!” Relentlessly, thoughts about the trip occurred. And always my internal reaction was the same until one day I finally threw up my arms and said to myself and anyone in my vicinity who could hear, “OK, OK, I’ll go! There must be a reason for me to go but at this time I have no idea of what that is.”
After I decided to go, no worries or concerns arose to sway my commitment. However, it raised a few eyebrows within my family, all of whom naturally were surprised and concerned—but certainly nobody tried to dissuade me. Under the guidance of Ariana, I started to shop for items like shoes, a backpack, rain gear, and walking sticks. I also began a serious walking schedule five mornings a week to prepare for the trek – to improve my stamina, lung capacity and leg strength. I had been accustomed to walking most days for several years (but only occasionally within the last five years). I had also previously kept my strength up by doing yoga and regular exercise, including 50 knee push-ups each day. Aside from that I have generally maintained a healthy diet and life style and a positive attitude—an important factor!
I had learned Transcendental Meditation in 1974. I certainly think TM was a big factor in preparing me and helping me throughout the journey—not just my daily meditation during the Camino walk, but the practice of TM that I had done for the many years before. It’s an effective and portable tool. It relieves stress and tiredness and improves resilience and renews you twice daily. You can do it wherever you are, starting each morning with it and then taking a short break for it in the afternoon or evening, anywhere you can sit down for twenty minutes.
So I was on my way. My friend Ariana not only was the person who arranged these trips, but she also walked with us. The other person in our small group was a younger woman from Ireland; we roomed together and became fast friends. She was 70 years old. We ate at the restaurants in villages along the way; you can even find the option of the “pilgrims” menu. Ariana had arranged for us to sleep in a variety of nice places rather than spend the night in dormitories. A very good choice!!
We walked anywhere from 8 to 15 miles each day depending on the terrain which changed from day to day. Some areas were flat but there were just as many hills with some difficult rocky areas. I actually hiked over the Pyrenees mountains starting from Lourdes France in gale force winds…not a piece of cake! My positive attitude kept me going however, and during this adventure I never considered turning back or quitting. However, I fell twice—the worst fall was on a long, downhill path on very rocky terrain. My knees were feeling weak and then I slipped on a flat rock and hit my head, but it wasn’t a serious injury. I rested just a few minutes and carried on a few last miles to our very welcome beds.
I met wonderful people on the Camino Trail–mostly young people (probably just out of college) who were very anxious to ask how I was able to do this trek at my age. During these discussions, I told them they would probably be even better at my age than I am, since the whole mind set regarding age has changed so much. Even now, many 90-year-olds are doing much more than was the norm 25 years ago.
It seemed somehow the word had spread down the way of my walking the trail. Several younger people came up to me and asked, “May I take your picture?” An inn keeper gave me a gift of a necklace with a symbolic Camino shell. I once made the remark that maybe I would walk the other half of the Camino (240 miles) for my hundredth birthday. One young man immediately put out his hand and excitedly said “I’ll walk with you!”
We only hiked 240 miles and then took the train to see Santiago and then flew back home. My Camino walk lasted for 19 wonderful days: from May 10th to May 29th, 2017. There are far too many incidents and stories to tell in this small space so they will have to wait for another time.
My advice to other seniors contemplating walking the Camino de Santiago is to get guidance on buying good shoes, socks, rain gear, backpacks and so on. Also, to train well for good stamina. And, of course, learn Transcendental Meditation!
Marjorie Sinal lives in western Canada.