This interview is a part of a series called Adventuring While Pregnant, a celebration of the women who travel and adventure on their own terms.
When Michelle Lara graduated college, she took an English teaching job in southern Spain thinking she’d spend a year or two abroad, but which quickly turned into a career and a life overseas. Walking the the Camino de Santiago, known as Saint James’ Way, wasn’t on her bucket list nor on her radar until she googled “best hikes in Spain.” The Camino is a network of trails beginning in France, Portugal or Spain, depending on which route you take, and ends in the city of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain.
She had some time off work and decided to do part of the French route on her own in September 2012 for 10 days. Three years later, in May of 2015, she decided to do the Northern route which runs along the northern coast of Spain, with her husband and their 11-month-old baby – all while six months pregnant with baby #2. Michelle shares some insight on why she walked the Camino pregnant, what she learned, and tips for parents considering the pilgrimage with small children.
Why did you decide to walk the Camino with what you thought would just be you, your husband and your 11-month-old baby? Did you consider scratching your plan when you learned you were pregnant?
I had walked part of the Camino Francés alone in 2012, and I’d loved the experience. I always wanted to go back, but via a different and less crowded route. So in the Spring of 2015, I went back via the Camino del Norte, this time with a husband and an 11-month old in tow! Also, a few months prior, I’d found out that I was pregnant again, and that I’d be 6-months along by the time we set foot on the Camino. My husband had asked me whether I wanted to cancel or re-arrange our trip (i.e., beach vacation instead of a hiking vacation), but I refused, insisting that it was now or never!
How did walking the Camino solo prepare you for this Camino trip?
I think that having walked the Camino by myself helped in terms of confidence. I had enjoyed traveling alone, sometimes walking alongside other pilgrims, sometimes not, and it had been precious time to just quiet my mind. So going back, even though it would be via a different and unknown route, I felt confident and self-reliant.
What was the experience like?
It was one of the few family vacations that both my husband and I really loved. The Camino del Norte is less crowded, which meant we sometimes had to walk several kilometers before reaching an albergue or hostal (we were averaging about 17-25 kilometers a day). It was very rare for us to find other pilgrims along the way. But the pilgrims and people we did happen to come across, were wonderfully kind and helpful. We started off slow, and after the first couple of days, we found ourselves relishing in the physical exertion of walking. The baby got into his own little Camino routine, and we found ourselves just enjoying the countryside and small towns along the way.
Which route did you do and why? How many days?
We did the Camino del Norte because it’s considered to be less crowded, and we wanted the greenery of Cantabria and Asturias. We walked for 10 days.
What tips would you give for parents considering walking with babies or small children?
You don’t need to pack as much as you think you do. Make sure you’re making routine stops along the way, and take it slow. As cliché as it sounds, it’s about the journey, not the destination. And enjoy the delicious Spanish food!
If you could do it over again, what you would you do differently?
Looking back, there were a few mountainous inclines I would have gladly skipped.
Did you meet other families along the way?
No, we didn’t, but we spoke to a few locals who had seen very few other families on the Camino del Norte. There had been a woman with a baby a couple of years prior to when we went, and a young family with four children a few years before that.
What are you up to now?
Teaching English in Cambridge, England, and dreaming of when we’ll head back to the Camino de Santiago – the next time with two little ones in tow.