The Camino Frances
- by John and Ning Wiebmer
We fell in love with Bay St Louis the minute we saw it.
After completing 35 years as corporate gypsies with Caterpillar Inc. and before settling into our pink cottage on Hancock Street (under renovation), we wanted to contemplate our life transition. We decided to trek 45 days across Spain on a thousand-year-old pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
Pilgrims traditionally set off from their home towns. In April 2015, Father Mike O’Connor of Our Lady of the Gulf sent us off with a special pilgrim’s blessing.
We hopped on a transatlantic cruise and made our way to St-Jean-Pied-de-Porte, France, our stepping off point over the Pyrenees Mountains.
We set out each morning in faith – no maps – no plan more complex than following yellow arrows marking the 500-mile path. We averaged 13 miles a day over mountains, through deep woods, and across river valleys and high plains, stopping in tiny villages for simple meals and a bed.
It was powerful to walk the same ancient paths as pilgrims a thousand years before us. The same route. The same churches. And often, the same hardships and joys. We shared warm fellowship and collected new friendships all along the way.
Some fellow pilgrims who inspired us:
- William, a rancher from South Africa who is restoring indigenous breeds of cattle in partnership with tribal villages.
- Chet, recalibrating his life after serving four U.S. military tours in the Mideast.
- Frank, a blue collar retiree who, on his first trip to Europe, walked the entire 500 miles of the Camino and then tacked on another 150-mile trek because he didn’t want to end his feeling of freedom.
- Hugo, a devout Catholic from South Korea who stayed in monasteries along the way.
- Linda and Sheila, childhood friends who used the Camino to celebrate 50th birthdays and consider their paths ahead.
- Joel, former CFO of Bank of America who, on his knees, tended the blisters of many fellow pilgrims.
- Celebrate the moment. We found ourselves walking in quiet meditation, filled with gratitude for the blessings in our lives.
- We’re tougher than we thought. The Camino is a grueling physical challenge. We walked 45 days straight without a blister or strain.
- We need less than we ever thought. Simple meals, spartan sleeping rooms, a few clothes that we washed every few days, a pair of walking shoes – and we were as content as when we had a house bulging with material possessions.
We invite you to look through our blog, “Dancing Down the Camino,” where we maintained our journal of the 500-mile pilgrimage (wiebmer.blogspot.com). If local groups or organizations would be interested in learning more about how this adventure enhanced our lives we’d be happy to share some photos and stories through a presentation.
Our pilgrimage started in Bay St. Louis. Now we’re completing it with the renovation of our house on Hancock Street, which will soon be complete. We’re excited to set down roots and begin weaving ourselves into the fabric of this wonderful community.