One of the most interesting gift when traveling is, in my opinion, meeting amazing individuals. I would like to share a story of how a donkey started some amazing friendships. In 2010 I was still working in the corporate environment and decided that I need to plan my departure from that intense, crazy and rewarding world.
Less than one month after my leaving the corporate world, I stood, with my feet on the ground, my knees shaking, and my rational mind asking me just what was I doing with a backpack on my back, and the guidebook for the Camino de Santiago. I started my unbelievable adventure, my first ever Camino journey. Midway through the walk, I chanced upon an albergue (a place to sleep, and often eat) and was drawn by the backyard that had an abundance of grass. Later that afternoon, I washed my clothes by hand and headed out to the backyard. Much to my surprise, there was a donkey! I had seen this donkey and a group of people walking behind me. The owner approached me and handed me a piece of bread, as he pointed to the donkey. I fed the donkey, and we both walked back into the albergue. Volunteer pilgrims pitch in and help with any tasks, from setting the table, help cook or clean up after the meal. I joined in and met one of those who would become amazing friends. The conversation divided into smaller pilgrim groups, and I discovered that my new friends came from France. We were, historically, very distant cousins!
The next morning, I met the owners of the donkey and their group who were headed to the next stop. I asked if I could walk with them, having found the previous evening a great source of joy. Those of you who are reading this and have not had the opportunity or want to do a journey like the Camino (with multiple roads and options, but all of the roads leading to Santiago de Compostela) may find the next paragraph challenging to believe. I would have thought likewise before I undertook the Camino adventure.
For the next 3 weeks, we walked together, as a united group, as sub-groups, as one-to-one, and of course, with Nestor the donkey. The Camino de Santiago has existed for centuries. It served both as a personal pilgrimage and personal penitence. Millions of pilgrims walked the known roads leading to what is believed to be the remains of St James the Greater, one of the disciples of Jesus. Pilgrims undertake this personal journey for a variety of reasons. Mine was and still is, difficult to describe. The journey was a spiritual one but also one of a renewed focus on understanding how I now could serve.
During the last 3 weeks, Team Nestor (with Nestor at the helm). We bonded in ways that under standard circumstances would take years to accomplish. On the Camino, ones is more apt to share personal experiences with others. We are all on the same level – pilgrims who are headed in the direction of Santiago.
Part of a definition of friendship states “enjoyment of each other’s company; trust; and the ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgment from the friend.” I can assure you that the bonds we formed during those brief weeks has been growing ever since the beginning. After more than 6 years as friends, I have traveled to France twice and spent time with ALL of Team Nestor (including Nestor). All Team Nestor friends have visited me in my home in Ottawa, Canada. I’ve been proud and happy to share my city and surroundings with my Camino friends.
I understand Nestor doesn’t like to fly, so I plan my summer travels to include visits to my friends and Nestor. The last set of friends arrived this past October and we spent 22 days together, exploring the wonders of Ontario and Quebec, enjoying the various events around the nation’s capital, reminiscing and planning our next Team Nestor trip.
All this to say, when you are traveling, keep your heart and your mind open to others. One never knows who we may meet, and one of the great gifts that travel offers is the meeting of minds, of smiles, of interests and the development of amazing friendships.
And to think, my wonderful relationship with all the members of Team Nestor… started, with a donkey!