Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

August 23, 2013

Couple completes 500-mile pilgrimage

Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — John and Dot Garrett shared their experiences of walking the El Camino de Santiago, a European pilgrimage trail to the tomb of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in Spain, with Batesville Area Historical Society members and guests Aug. 20.

One of Dot’s nephews had walked part of the trail twice, so the couple were familiar with it. However, after seeing Martin Sheen’s movie “The Way,” they decided to embark on the 500-mile trek themselves.

“By the time we finished El Camino, I would be 78 years old and Dot would be 77,” John Garrett revealed. Beforehand, they felt, “We were in good health, but not in good enough condition to walk 500 miles.

“In July last year, we began training, walking a mile or so at first, then by fall we were hiking seven to nine miles at a time two or three times a week. By November, we added backpacks, but it didn’t take us long to realize we couldn’t carry very much.

“Like most other pilgrims, we carried all our personal things on our backs. It wasn’t a wilderness trail, so there were plenty of restaurants and cafes along the way, so we didn’t have to carry food or camping equipment. When we began, my backpack weighed 14 pounds, and Dot’s was half that,” the Batesville resident reported.

“There are many roads leading to Santiago de Compostela, but the most common one begins on the French side of the Pyrenees in St. John Pier de Port. We left there May 3. The night before, we attended Mass and received the special pilgrims’ blessing at the Church of St. John.”

The couple also received credentials to be stamped in each town along the way. “It is your ‘passport’ that allows you to take advantage of low-priced albergues along the trail. Albergues are like hostels, except they are almost all dormitories. Only pilgrims, or in Spanish, peregrinos, are allowed to stay there. No tourists.”

Dot emphasized, “El Camino is marked from beginning to end with yellow arrows. If you pay attention, you cannot get lost .... On our first day, we had to hike across the Pyrenees Mountains. This was by far our longest hike, 17 miles, and our most grueling, but unlike most people, we had very little problems with blisters.”

That evening, the duo stayed in a 10-bed room at an albergue. “This was the most crowded we were on the entire trip,” she pointed out. “We planned on walking around 10 miles a day, six days a week. On Sundays, we tried not to do any hiking. We’d just go to Mass, rest and play the tourist. Then we liked to get a private room so we would have a place all day long. The albergues close from about 8 a.m. to early afternoon.

“Hotels were fine once in a while, but they are expensive .... Hotels run $85 and up, but albergues averaged less than $10 a night and often included breakfast. They are also much friendlier. We always had someone to talk to.”

Her husband added, “Very often in the late afternoon, albergues get full. If there is no other place nearby for the overflow, they will let you sleep on the floor.” The Garretts didn’t have any problems with finding a bed because they usually stopped around noon to 2 p.m. each day.

“We almost always had a breakfast of coffee and toast or pastry early in the morning around 6:30. Then after walking a couple hours, we would get a second breakfast with bacon, ham and eggs, something that would sustain us. Whenever the weather allowed, we liked to have our breakfasts outside. Our lunches, too, were mostly outside,” he announced.

One day, “Dot tripped over a rock and fell flat on her face, giving her a bloody nose, two black eyes and a swollen finger. When she fell, her hiking stick took up much of the shock and bent into a 45-degree angle. She would have been much more seriously injured without it ... Early the next morning, she was back on the trail. She took a lickin’ and kept right on tickin’.”

During the Garretts’ 57 days on the trail, they saw many sights. “The first major city we passed through was Pamplona, famous for the feast of San Fermin and their annual running of the bulls and for being a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway.” They recognized the tombs of the Spanish knight El Cid and his wife, and saw the oldest church along the trail, Santa Maria in O Cebreiro. They also enjoyed nature’s beauty from the wildflowers to the fields of grain and hills they climbed up and down.

“We got to Santiago de Compostela June 29 ... We made it!” John reported. “It is a real letdown when you finally reach Santiago. The friends you made along the way, the albergues, second breakfasts, peregrino dinners, the challenge of rocky trails are all gone.”

However, the Hoosiers have their memories, photos and a blog (www.villamilan.com) documenting their journey across the European countryside.

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.