“I took on a 130km trek!”
Walking the Camino del Norte section of the Camino de Santiago showed Lena Dobreci, an expat from Canada, just how mentally and physically strong she is.
“I love walking and hiking but the thought of taking on a major trek overseas had never crossed my mind – I thought walking 10 -15km around Singapore each week was my limit! However, when a friend invited me to join her and a group of seven other expat women on an adventure to Spain, it was a challenge I couldn’t resist. The plan was to trek part of the Camino de Santiago, a religious pilgrimage trail harking back to the Middle Ages in the northwest of the country. Apart from the sacred walk itself, I loved the thought of travelling with a group of females I’d never met before. All of us were aged between 48 – 68 and from as far and wide as Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA and Norway – whatever happened, we’d have a lot to learn from one another! Yes, it was a gamble that we’d all get along, but we created a WhatsApp group prior to leaving so we felt like friends before meeting in person. (And it stayed that way!).
I possibly didn’t train as much as I should have! In the run up to the trek I added in a few extra hikes at Fort Canning Park, and joined some ANZA walks, but I was more concerned about learning how to use hiking poles and walking with wool socks – as warned by others, it took weeks to adjust to them!
Our trek lasted six days and we covered approximately 130km. We started in the beautiful town of San Sebastian, known as a gastronomical mecca with delicious pintxos, Michelin-starred restaurants, and stunning beaches on which to relax before we set off. From there we ascended a steep climb out of town, with the yellow scallop shell, which is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, marking the way throughout to the seaside town of Zarautz – a total of 23km along the green coastline of the Bay of Biscay and countryside.
And so, we were off! Within minutes of starting out we were greeted by strangers saying “Buen Camino” – “Good Camino” – and the rule is that you reply with the same. This verbal exchange happened daily with locals and other walkers, and was an ongoing connection to people on the pilgrimage and the land throughout our journey.
Days passed fast and every one was different. We stopped to see a church in Getaria and at a quaint café in Zumaia. A 22km path led us along the coastline, with steep descents and ascents and flat terrain of paved pathways to reach the seaside town of Deba. We headed into the mountains for 23km of undulating hills on dirt pathways to Markina where we encountered wet and slippery conditions (and there may have been some cursing!). Another day we covered 24kms over creeks and into woodlands before reaching the historic town of Gernika (immortalised in Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica). The local square was bustling with activities and live music – a true highlight. Another 22 kms had us tackling cobbled pathways and steep ascents through local hamlets to the town of Lezama, before we ended on a relatively easy 15km to our final destination, Bilbao. Here we stood atop Mount Avril, mesmerised by the valley below.
Each night we’d stay at a pensione (guesthouse) and head out for incredible local food: fresh pastries, seafood, meats, Albarino wine, craft beer, and so many baguettes we all agreed that we never wanted to see another one again!
Our walking pace varied but thankfully, while I found each day challenging, it was also manageable. We remained motivated by chatting – laughter and comradery were key. There were also periods where we each walked alone, absorbed in the scenery and our own thoughts. A few of us followed the spiritual tradition to carry a rock/stone to leave somewhere on the trail. Doing so symbolises leaving your worries and fears behind.
Completing the Camino del Norte section of the Camino de Santiago showed me a physical and mental strength I didn’t know I possessed. I’m amazed that I could carry a backpack for such long distances. I’m now hoping to plan another trekking adventure, perhaps to Annapurna, Nepal. Who’s in?”
“I got my confidence back”
Deborah Lee from Singapore is the founder of trauma consulting company, Creaturae (creaturae.org). She has spent 2023 building up her self-confidence and identity through writing, poetry and performance.
“When my marriage ended in 2021, I felt like my reality had been shattered. Embarking on life alone, I realised there were many pieces of myself I had lost which I wanted to reclaim.
Words and music have always been twin passions; I studied film music composition in Los Angeles and used to perform regularly as a singer/songwriter around Singapore. Post-relationship, I wanted to tap into my creativity again and connect with the person I used to be.
I knew that writing was a good way of accessing my emotions. In my healing journey post-separation and divorce, I started to write as a form of catharsis, for example when I couldn’t sleep or had a lot on my mind. I was grieving, and writing my thoughts down helped me to process them. Through writing stories, poetry and songs and sharing them on my blog with others, I gained a sense of purpose, connection and healing.
Earlier this year, when I noticed that the ANZA Writing Group needed some volunteers, I felt inspired to help out. Initially, I joined as I was keen to meet new people, connect with others, and develop my writing voice, however, the benefits have gone far beyond that: together we talk about our writing and we share some of our most intimate work. To many, this might sound like a terrifying thing to do, but I’ve found it to be deeply encouraging. Indeed, this process has boosted my confidence as a writer, and as an individual.
One of my dreams is to write a memoir – I started a book titled “Memoirs of the Lonely Singaporean” six years ago. With the writing group’s help, this year I’ve got back into developing it. I’ve also found the courage to host regular open mic nights at the bar Non Resident (nonresident.sg).
In the process of doing so, I’ve learned to move past many of my fears that previously held me back as a singer-songwriter. I used to feel consumed by the mistakes I’d make, but today, after everything I’ve been through, I’m able to embrace mistakes as a beautiful and quintessential part of life.
Returning to writing and performing has restored my zest for living. These twin creative outlets remind me of who I am. For me, sitting down to write feels like an act of self-care and it is something I now prioritise. I am proud of how far I have come, am deeply thankful for the gifts of music and writing, and not least, the community, including ANZA, that has supported me in this journey forward.”
“I started wakeboarding”
Ellie Mills moved to Singapore six years ago from the UK. This year she took to the water to update her skills with a new hobby, wakeboarding.
“I’ve always enjoyed outdoor activities and living in Singapore brings many opportunities for trying new sports that somehow appear so much more appealing when away from the weather conditions of the UK! In the past I’ve scuba dived and tried paddleboarding, and wakeboarding caught my attention a few years ago. My first time out on the boat was during the pandemic when we couldn’t travel. My friend invited me along to a session and I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do. This year I’ve taken my new hobby to another level!
Wakeboarding involves being towed behind a boat (or by a cable) on a board similar to a snowboard. Your feet are encased in boots (bindings) and you hold onto a rope. As your confidence grows, you learn how to do tricks across the wake.
There are only a few places in Singapore where you can do this and my go-to is Marina Country Club where the boat takes us close to Selatar Island. I go with a group of friends – usually four of us for three hours, although groups can be bigger, or you can go alone. We take it in turns to wakeboard, and chat and listen to music in between goes (beers optional!).
Thankfully, the first time I tried wakeboarding I was able to stand up quickly which inspired me to continue. The secret to success is not to pull the rope.
However, it took a while until I could move the board across the wake. It takes guts to manoeuvre between the water, and of course, there is a lot of falling off as you go. My instructor, Melvyn, has a lot of patience! Once I was comfortable navigating the wake, I started to carve (fast turns), switch (change my leading foot position) and most recently, do a bit of jumping!
These days I wakeboard at least once a month. It’s pretty addictive and as soon as I learn one skill I’m keen to start working on the next. My new hobby has made a huge difference to my life here in Singapore. I now have a regular routine that involves seeing friends and keeping fit (it’s a full-on workout!). Seeing my improvement has helped boost my self-esteem, especially now that I’ve mastered some moves that at first seemed impossible. I’m currently practicing how to do jumps across the wake and I’m still working on getting the perfect photo for Instagram!”