Despite blisters and tears, being haunted and showers with no doors in mixed dormitories, Marianne Maslin, of Alexandra, felt a huge sense of achievement when she walked 500km of the 800km Camino de Santiago trail by herself recently.
Ms Maslin took about 30 days to make the trip in May and June, just carrying 7kg of basics in her backpack.
She said it was one of the most satisfying experiences she has ever had, even though she ended each day exhausted.
“It was my big adventure,” Ms Maslin said.
“I wanted to experience something completely different on my own.
“I had not been in Europe before and I wanted to be in a country that had a different culture and different language.”
Her husband Mark Grimward encouraged her to tick off the trek from her wishlist.
She took a month’s leave from her job as a Melric International representative to join the thousands of people who have tramped along the network of routes between France or Portugal to Spain over the years.
Many wanted to prove something to themselves, or were perhaps looking for a spiritual experience.
“One of the biggest things is the Camino is a great leveller,” she said.
“Everyone has sore feet, everyone is tired and grubby.
“I preferred to walk on my own, but I did talk to a lot of people and made so many good friends.”
She started in Burgos, Spain, for the last two thirds of the Camino Frances trail, and averaged 25km to 30km daily, finishing her journey at Santiago.
From there she spent a few days at Muxia, a quiet coastal village.
“It took a week for my body to get used to walking every day,” she said.
“On day three I sat down and cried, and I have never been a cryer.
“I had a terrible migraine for the first few days.
“I was feeling sorry for myself and then I said to myself, ‘Pull yourself together, just start walking and get to the next village’.”
She stayedin mixed hostel dormitories, some, which were lovely, some which had only mattresses and bedbugs, and some with doors on the shower cubicles and some without.
She paid on average about four or five Euros a night (about NZ$8 to $10) and after checking into a hostel she would go out to dinner to meet people over a glass of wine and a tortilla.
“There were no green veges, only eggs and potato omelettes, and I used to fantasise about broccoli.
“The fresh orange juice was the best thing about the trip.
“Wine was dirt cheap, and I drank a beer every day, telling myself it was important to keep hydrated.”
The scenery was stunning and once near Triacastella at Berce do Camino the wild flowers were a mass of blooms.
“It was glorious but all those flowers bought on a breathing allergy and I ended up in hospital on a nebuliser.
“The doctor said I had to stay on the medication and do no more walking.
“I left the next day because I had come to Spain and did not want to sit in a cafe for three weeks, so I took medication and walked through the pain.”
As she got used to the tramping, she said she started “being in my head a lot more”.
“I was bringing things up in my head that I had not thought about for years.
“I cried aloud, and laughed, and it was really cathartic.”
One misty morning she was walking through a forest.
“I kept feeling someone was behind me and it gave me the willies.
“I found out later it had been the site of a massacre where thousands of people had been killed many years ago.”
She had plenty of opportunity to practise her Spanish, with a phone app to learn the basics.
“I got by all right and only one person laughed at me.”
She said she had some rough days, but was grateful for the experience.
“There is something wonderful about everything being stripped back.
“You celebrate being in your body.
“I realised I am so fortunate that I have a great life.
“Life is too short.
“Before I left a friend hugged me and told me to enjoy myself as you never know what is around the corner.
“She died of a brain aneurism the following week.”
When Ms Maslin arrived at Santiago, she was given a certificate for completing the trail with her name written in old Latin, which she said was “so special”.
She said the accommodation and food and transport cost about $2800 while the flights were about $1750.