First things first. I am not now, and probably never will be, a tour bus kind of traveler. I’m way too independent and not really a very good group participant. I am not one of those lucky people who meets up with a bunch of strangers and leaves a few hours later with five new BFF’s. I’m more of a go-it-aloner. And I’m really good with that.
I am pretty sure, however, that if I had not stumbled on the website for Marly Tours last year, there’s a 99% chance that my boots would not have gathered all that dust walking the Camino de Santiago.
So, why the change of heart? In my opinion, Marly provided just the level of support to give us the confidence we needed to step a tiny bit beyond our comfort zone. And, for the most part, we weren’t part of the “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” mentality of a larger tour. We had a lot of freedom and a little more piece of mind. We were able to dip our toes into the water of adventure travel without fear of falling off the bank.
If you are newly-minted adventurers like hubs and I, a first-time-single traveler, or even well-seasoned world travelers who are ready to take it a little easier, the Marly approach might be just what you are looking for. As the designated family travel agent and tour guide, I can honestly say that once I had the basics in place – air reservations, hotels in Madrid, post-Camino itinerary, I didn’t have to worry about anything. I actually got to relax and enjoy the entire trip. Since this was the first two week vacation I have taken in 20 years, it was a gift to sit back, settle in, and enjoy the journey. Marly had my back.
There are a variety of ways people choose to experience the Camino. Some load up their backpacks and head out from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, hike over the Pyrenees and walk across Spain stopping at a variety of albergues that are set up just for Pilgrims to eat, sleep, shower and sometimes do laundry. Albergues come in all sizes and with varying levels of comfort. All require the ability to exist in close quarters with strangers and most require the ability to sleep nose to nose with people you’ve never met, many of whom snore. Not my cup of tea! So, while I had the Camino on my bucket list, if that was the only way to walk The Way, it probably wasn’t going to happen. A lot of folks go the Albergue route and love it. I am in awe of those folks and still believe that they get a much richer experience and the true understanding of the spirit of the Camino.
Some people do the Camino as vacation allows. Walking a few weeks each year. A few even choose to do the Camino on horseback. This can make for very interesting walking along some of the narrow dirt paths. Between the cows and the horses, we called it poop camino on more than one occasion. Some people bike the Camino. This is becoming more popular and almost dangerous at times as flocks of bright yellow spandex sneek up from behind and whizz by on narrow roads and paths causing walkers to jump back into the unknown of the tall grass and bushes. Some walkers choose to make their own route, stay in either small B&B’s or Albergues and have their backpacks/bags transported from place to place.
By deciding to go with Marly Tours for our first long walking experience, here’s what we chose:
1. A small group of no more than fourteen. Usually with a mix of ages and nationalities, Ours was all over 45 and from North America. Side note: There was a lovely Canadian couple, Ange and Laura, in our group. When we introduced ourselves, Laura and I found out that we had gone to the same elementary school (Ionview) and high school (Winston Churchill) at the same time. It is a very small world.
2. A small but comfortable support van with a driver and a tour guide/spiritual guide/cheerleader/medic who were there when we needed them but gave us plenty of space if we didn’t.
3. Lots of first hand and interesting information about the Camino, the history of the churches and buildings we passed each day and points of interest along the route. Much of this information we would probably not have learned if we were on our own, weighed down by packs, worrying about where we were going to sleep that night.
4. The knowledge that if we needed them, Victor and Jose Luis were only a phone call away and it was OK to ride in the bus if you had to. We didn’t. But it was good to know that if one of us fell or fell ill, we didn’t have to limp for miles and miles to get to civilization.
We passed many people with problems, but one young woman truly touched my heart. Hubs and I were in the last half of a very long, very hot, uphill walk to Monte de Gozo and I spotted her up ahead. She was shuffling so slowly, using her walking stick, bent over from the weight of her pack, that she was barely moving. When we came alongside, I could see the pain on her face and in her eyes. I stopped to ask if I could help her in any way. She was French but spoke some English. Tendonitis she said. She asked how far to the next stop and we talked a bit. She thanked me for stopping and said she didn’t need help. I wanted to call Victor to come and give her a short ride on the bus, but it was her Camino, not mine, and she had to walk it – every painful, shuffling step.
5. We had charming private rooms in absolutely stunning old homes (with lots of history of their own) that have been converted into posadas. Warm showers, free flowing wine, tasty traditional food, a good night’s sleep and breakfast were waiting for us at every stop. The evening ritual included getting to know our fellow Pilgrims, swapping tales of the road and Jose Luis tenderly taking care of blisters. Our bags were waiting for us when we arrived. A couple of us enjoyed a massage. Two of our posadas had pools and one even did our laundry. Washed and line dried. Looking back, I’m glad we went this route. I know we’ll do it again.
I also know that I’m already looking for our next walking adventure and while we still can do it physically, I think we’ll push ourselves a little bit more next time. I’m thinking maybe we’ll try the pre-planned but unsupported route. Where? Who knows, but the options are endless…
It truly is about the journey. And for us, this one was just about perfect.
See you on the road.