The Ups and Downs of the Camino, with my brother

This is a guest blog written by Lucas McCallum Suarez


The Camino is a 118km walk from Sarria to Santiago. In July this year I began my second Camino. This time was different from the last as I was doing it with my brother, Nicky, who has Down’s syndrome.

I had mixed feelings about doing the Camino with my brother. On the one hand, I didn’t want to change the most profound experience that the Camino had given me last time, where I had been walking entirely at my own pace. However, my love for my brother exceeds my own selfish desires and I couldn’t have passed up on an opportunity to spend time alone with him. He is the most caring, charming and joyful person I know. His pure heart shines and illuminates the very essence of my being and I truly believe that without him, my world would be a much darker place. He finds joy in the smallest of things. I can now say that my walk with him on the Camino has given me many treasured memories and that, throughout our journey, I laughed more times than I can count.

Our first day

At the beginning I was worried about his stamina and if he could cope with all the walking, as normally he likes to spend his time sat on the sofa watching episodes of ‘Friends’. I planned to take it slowly, walking around 10km a day, to keep the pace. However my plan went out of the window on the first day when the albergue we had planned to stay in was closed. It meant we had to walk a total of 20km that day in order to reach the next albergue.

Up until this point on the first day everything had seemed to go pretty smoothly. We met some very nice people who were very impressed with Nicky, exclaiming how brave he was. One gentleman even bought us a drink at our first stop. All in all, I was very impressed with Nicky’s performance. I was expecting to hear complaints and exclamations of being tired and wanting to stop, but Nicky calmly and steadily soldiered on.

It had been a really great start to the Camino and all the doubts I’d had seemed like nonsense and worry. We were sharing a dorm with about six other people, and they were all asleep by the time we arrived at the albergue. I was ready to sleep well and have a fresh start in the morning. As we entered the dorm I remembered that Nicky is afraid of the dark. All the other people were softly sleeping and behind me I hear a loud groan “IT’S TOO DARRRK”. I quickly turned around and hushed him, whispering that “People are trying to sleep”.

“I don’t like it, IT’S TOO DARRK” Nicky repeated, even louder. I could hear that the people in the dorm are stirring so I took him out the room and calmly tried to explain that the people in the dorm are trying to sleep and that he has to be respectful and not start yelling and waking up the whole albergue. Nicky cracks a laugh at this but then we both manage to get into our beds.

Once he was in bed Nicky felt safe and stopped his groaning. I wished him a goodnight and tucked myself into the bed next to his. As I prepared to fall asleep I could hear Nicky talking loudly to me. “I had a great time with you today.” “Me too” I said, “but you must go to sleep now and stop making noise as people are trying to sleep”. He whispered “Okay”. I could hear his breathing get softer and longer as he started to fall asleep. I was nearly asleep myself when out of the darkness I heard snoring, getting louder and louder. It was someone from across the other side of the room. I put my pillow over my ears to try and drown it out but then I heared Nicky yell “BE QUIET…PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP”. I couldn’t help but laugh. Thankfully someone else started laughing too which then made Nicky laugh as well, very loudly. I calmed him down again and eventually we fell asleep.

Meeting new friends

Over the next few days we walked at a steady pace, taking breaks when we got tired. While I read my book, Nicky would sketched with his coloured crayons. I made sure we ate well and occasionally spoil Nicky with his favourite snack, a KitKat. We passed through quaint villages and quiet towns, and beautiful green forests of pine and oak. Most of the time we walked alone but occasionally we met friendly people. Nicky is always ready to charm new acquaintances, especially the ladies.

One day in an albergue in the middle of nowhere, we met a girl who studies in the same city as I do which was a pleasant surprise. Meeting all these people helped me to realise how much of an impact seeing Nicky and I doing the Camino together was having. Our new acquaintances were very touched by seeing us together. I don’t always know what to say in these situations. For me, Nicky has no disability…he just likes to take his time to do things and though he may move slower than other people, he enjoys much more of the little subtleties in life. His resolve and spirit is the strongest that I have seen, and that to me is no disability at all.

There were plenty of times when, during a long day of walking or at the top of a big hill, I would begin to feel faint with the heat and would need to take a break and have a drink of water. Nicky would be just a few paces behind me and would trot on happily, turning to me to say “Come on slowpoke”. It is times like these when I am completely bewildered by his strength and stamina.

Challenges

Nicky does have a stubborn side. When it takes a hold on him there’s no point confronting him as it will be a losing battle. On our sixth day we found ourselves walking at slightly different rates. Every now and then I would stop and wait for him to catch up. Gradually Nicky began to get more and more annoyed at me waiting for him. He wanted me to keep going. I tried to explain that I did not want to get too far ahead in case we lost each other but when Nicky has made up his mind to be stubborn, he will fight valiantly for his cause.

Every time I stopped, looked back and waited for him he would also stop and would refuse to walk again until I had carried on walking. I decided to test his resolve and see how long we could stay in a standstill. I stopped again and looked back. Nicky was walking steadily a few hundred yards behind me, eyes looking left and right (which is what he does when he talks with himself). As he got closer his gaze met up mine and his eyes widened as he saw me standing still. A look of disgust flashed over his face and I could tell he was about to give me an earful. Instead he composed himself, walked to the side of the road and stood with arms crossed and pursed lips. “Nicky come on” I said vainly. “I’m not moving until you have” he replied.

It is hard to explain things to Nicky when he’s in this state. I decided to show him what might happen if we carried on this way. I got up, put on my backpack and walked ahead of him at a brisk pace. When I was out of sight of Nicky I turned a corner and hid among the bushes and waited. After he’d passed by I slowly and quietly followed him from behind. I followed him for about 1km. I could see him start to get worried that he had lost me as he would look around for me. He got excited when he saw a group of people, hoping I was among them. I carefully walked up behind him as we were crossing a bridge and I stepped on a stick. He turned around and saw me and was so happy that I was there. All trace of his stubbornness had disappeared. He gave me a hug and said he was scared that he’d lost me. I explained that that was the reason why I waited for him. Nicky told me he understood and that he won’t do it again. We got some food and a cold drink and had a long break before we walked on again.

Our arrival in Santiago

After 8 days walking we arrived in Santiago. I have never been more proud of my brother. I was also quite sad on our last day as I did not want our journey to end. It had been incredible to spend all this quality time with Nicky. It was an adventure that I will carry in my heart for the rest of my days. We met up with our parents in front of the cathedral and my mother was crying with joy when she saw us. It brings me great happiness to know that our journey has touched the hearts of many and, above all, my parents.

There is so much more that I could tell you that would illustrate the incredible nature of my brother, but it is difficult to put into words. My Camino experience with Nicky has renewed my admiration for him and strengthened our bond as brothers. I must also acknowledge the incredible job my parents have done to raise us both, particularly Nicky. He has such an incomprehensible joy and light which has blessed us as a family and everyone around him.

I could not wish for a more amazing person to call my brother, and I look forward to sharing more adventures with him.


Many thanks to Lucas for writing this piece, it sounds like a fantastic adventure for you both.

We look forward to hearing about it from Nicky’s perspective in the next issue of Down2Earth magazine.