Camino de Santiago

Patient on his way to the Camino de Santiago route
The Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage

"At first, I wasn't sure about it, as it would mean having dialysis in centres that I didn’t know. I was worried about the needles, whether I would tolerate the dialysis, what would happen if I became ill. I was also worried about problems with vascular access, or not being able to find centres on the route. But in the end I decided to go ahead with it and I planned a route."

The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James, has drawn pilgrims from all over Europe ever since the eighth century. Juan Antonio Rangel, a Spanish dialysis patient, tells us about his pilgrimage experience on the long walk:

I started dialysis when I was 33 years old, in 2008, at the Osuna Dialysis Centre, about 90 kilometres from Sevilla. I have always been a farm worker in my hometown of Aguadulce, and in my spare time I enjoy going out with my friends or hiking. In 2010, a close friend of mine suggested that we make the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, as he had done it before and had found it to be an unforgettable spiritual experience.

On the road

On the first day, at six in the evening, I got the bus to Ourense, a city about 50 kilometres from the northern Portuguese border. On that same day I’d had dialysis in the morning and received confirmation from the last of the dialysis centres that I would visit during the pilgrimage. Getting off the bus at six in the morning the following day, I met a Spanish couple who were also going to Santiago. We decided to start the journey together and after we have arrived at Ourense Cathedral, we received the first stamp on our “pilgrim’s passport”.

The first leg was 22 kilometres long – it was hard, but it was worth it. We met lots of people along the way and the group got bigger. That day a lady invited us to eat dinner at her house. We had the best beef I have ever eaten.

That night, in the hostel, everyone was planning the next leg of the route, but I had to start saying goodbye, as I would be heading for a hostel just 12 kilometres away, from where I could go to the closest hospital for dialysis. What a surprise I got when I returned from the hospital and found that the group was waiting for me! They had decided not to continue without me, even though some of them would arrive in Santiago later than they’d planned.

That’s the way we did it from then on. Everyone helped each other, everyone respected those who had taken vows of silence, and those who were ahead of the rest would buy and prepare food for everyone else. On the days that I had dialysis, we took a shorter route so that I could be in the hostel by midday. In the evening we all had dinner together and we’d chat and laugh with other pilgrims.

A shared experience

What made the experience so special was sharing it with people of all ages: the young 17-year-old lad who went with his parents, couples, older people, men and women. It didn’t matter where anyone was from, their race was not important, nor their religion. It was an invaluable moral and spiritual experience.

As well as the great memories, I now have new friends – friends that I am still in contact with. We were all left with a feeling of happiness and the hope of living the experience again. I think that illness should not always be used as an excuse. We can all try to go on our own personal pilgrimage. For me, it was a challenge to my illness, and after having overcome it, I realised that dialysis is not always an obstacle hindering me from doing what I like; it’s just something that I have to bear in mind.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me on this pilgrimage: friends, family, the staff at the Osuna clinic, my fellow pilgrims and the people of Galicia for their kindness and hospitality.