Success is a journey, not a destination; half the fun is getting there - Gita Bellin

It has been said that the Camino de Santiago starts at the front door of every person on this planet. Whilst I admire the sentiment, I can't agree with it entirely. For me, the journey started with a phone call.

It was late-October 2006, and I was preparing for bed after another uneventful day in Sydney. The lateness of the call from my mother alerted me to the possibility of bad news, but what unfolded in a couple of sentences rocked my comfortable world. Dad had fallen from a ladder and was critically injured. There was no guarantee that he would make it through. A few short days later, he was no longer with us. With the clarity of hindsight, my first Camino steps started that fateful night at my home in Sydney, before detouring via the hospital in Melbourne and eventually touching Spanish soil about five months later.

Armed only with my Confraternity of Saint James guidebook to the Camino Francés, a very old backpack, and the knowledge that Paulo Coelho and Shirley MacLaine had successfully gone before me, I headed into the Spanish unknown. Thirty-seven days (and a million and one experiences) later, I entered the city of Santiago. In nearly every way possible, I was not the same person that started the journey 774 kilometres earlier. There's just something about walking long distances that makes one more accepting of how things are. And speaking for myself, (though I imagine it is true for everyone) with acceptance, life becomes a lot more peaceful. Don't get me wrong, the Camino is chock-a-block full of challenges; I didn't last five minutes (literally!) before receiving my first test.

Here's a little excerpt from my book with the day-1 details.

For three and a half wonderful minutes, I enjoy the sweet taste of victory. By the end of the road through town, and at the first possible place of choosing which way to go, my warm feelings are tested. I realise sheepishly that I did not take careful note of the directions given, and have absolutely no idea of what to do or where to go. What am I going to do? There are no pilgrims in sight, no people in sight, and a slightly crazy French lady back at the albergue if I so choose to return. It is hardly a triumphant beginning.

Here I stand feeling alone, lost, stressed, confused and more than a little embarrassed. It starts to rain. Perfect! Just perfect! I open my backpack and my poncho gets caught in the zip, tearing a substantial hole in the top of the shoulder. Oh, rats! At this point I realise that I am woefully unprepared for the wet weather, with not even a rain cover for my backpack, and now of course, a cheap, ripped poncho. I move a couple of metres to receive some shelter from the raindrops, but otherwise feel quite immobilized and unable to choose any option before me. This is somewhat of a theme in my life.

But there is a certain practicality in choosing a physical response, and this brings simplicity. If I choose not to take a step in any direction today, I can guarantee that I will not get lost, but I can also guarantee that I'll be in this same spot at the end of the day, having never started. I have to take a step. I choose to.

If life is a wonderful teacher (and I believe it is), then the Camino must be the Cambridge or Oxford (or even Hale or Harvard for that matter) where the richness of learning can be experienced firsthand. And the richness of living! For me, the two go together hand in hand. From the very first lesson to the heartbreak and struggle of the finishing line, the Camino trail has been both the pinnacle and the pivotal point in my life. As one of the many fascinating people that I met along the way mentioned to me (and I will never forget), 'you don't do the Camino, the Camino does you.'