Camino stories: Just another day on Camino. I donated my kidney.

Crazy things happen on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrim path in Spain. Contemporary Camino stories tell of miracles and chance meetings. Friendships seem to form in minutes, cutting across the barriers of worldly time; strangers break their last morsel of bread together; prayers are answered.

Wayfarers have walked and prayed along these routes for centuries. If you take the time to look and listen, you, too, may sense the mystical power in the path. Here’s one of those crazy Camino experiences during my recent journey to Santiago.

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Camino de Santiago stories: Divine appointment at a bus station?

a car parked on a street in front of modern building with hole in roof over road
Bus station in Logroño, Spain | Photo by De Artistosteles - Trabajo propio via Wikipedia

I met Milka at the Logroño bus depot today. We both stood a bit dazed in front of the electronic monitor, which rotated bus departure times and destinations in a surprisingly rapid fashion.

Neither of us was accustomed to taking a bus while walking the Camino de Santiago. But she was heading back to Los Arcos to retrieve her passport and ID, which she had left at the hotel. “I’m just so happy. The hotel called to let me know I’d left them there,” she smiled. As for me, I needed to give my aching legs a reprieve from the day’s 28 km.

“What do you use to find bus routes,” she asked, initiating the conversation. The electronic departure board was not doing it for her.

“I typically use Rome to Rio. But I hadn’t thought about using it to find my way to Nájera today,” I said. “Thanks for the reminder.”

I’d seen her along the way for several days, but we’d never spoken. Our conversation today started with the typical questions one asks on the Camino. Like ‘Where are you from?’ that helps you decide which language they might speak and if you might be able to converse with them.

“I’m from Orlando but originally from Peru,” she revealed. Her fluency in Spanish helped me immeasurably with the bus schedule, which was limited on Sundays. Later, our conversation would turn deep, like it often does on the Camino.

Camino stories are often filled with fervor.

a large ornate gold altar with religious images can be found in Camino stories over the years
The retablo at the co-cathedral of Santa María de la Redonda | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

But before the conversation could become heartfelt, Milka left to catch her bus to Los Arcos. I had three hours before my bus left for Nájera.

That gave me plenty of time to walk back to Old Town Logrono, attend Mass, get a bit of breakfast, and then return to the bus station by 1 pm.

It must have been quite a spirit-filled Mass because this is what happened next.

Unexpected reunion at the bus station

peopple in colorful clothing mill around 3-story lobby of bus station
Interior of bus station in Logroño, Spain | Photo by De Artistosteles - Trabajo propio via Wikipedia

I took breakfast after Mass at a trendy bar and then returned to the bus depot. I was surprised to see Milka there.

“I can’t believe you traveled all the way to Los Arcos and are back already,” I said, sitting beside her. As a walking pilgrim, it’s hard to grasp that what takes all day to walk only takes 20 minutes by bus.

It turns out she, too, was waiting for the bus to Nájera, which was scheduled to leave in about 15 minutes, so we settled into conversation.

She told me she was walking the Camino for herself and her brother, who, at only 31 years, has been in intensive care several times since getting COVID.

“He was praying at the church, and the priest asked him, ‘Why are you crying?’

“‘Because I need something difficult to get.’

“‘What is so difficult to get, my son?’ the priest inquired.

“‘It is so difficult to get a kidney. I need a kidney, and it has been challenging to get.’

“Then the priest offered to give him one of his kidneys. He’s in the process of being tested to see if he would be an appropriate donor.” Milka said.

“Why can’t you donate a kidney? I asked.

“I was tested, but I have too much calcification,” she explained. After hearing a bit more about the healing of one of her brother’s dead lungs and bouts with health problems, I asked, “Do you trust the hospitals in Orlando?”

“Oh yes, we’re going to Mayo in Jacksonville,” she said. Tears welled up in my eyes.

“Okay, if the priest is not a match, I’ll donate one of my kidneys,” I said. “I might be too old, but I’m willing to try.”

Milka hugged me. But this Camino story is not over yet…

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Like many Camino stories, this one connects to childhood memories

a group of people - perhaps telling Camino de Santiago stories -sitting on a bus

After our bus ride through Rioja vineyards, Milka and I ate lunch outdoors in Nájera in a restaurant crowded with Spanish families across from the bus stop. That’s when I told her the story about my Uncle Frank.

“You see, in the 1960s, my cousin Mary Lou needed a kidney. The only person in her family who tested positive for being a donor was my Uncle Frank, her father.

“But the doctors were not sure that it would work. Back then, there had never been a cross-sex kidney replacement before. I’m pretty sure this happened at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota,” I said, spelling out why I teared up when she mentioned their hospital.

“So Mary Lou and Uncle Frank chose to be test Guinea pigs, and it worked! They were brave and took a step out of their comfort zone,” I said, and matter of factually handed her my business card. She slipped my card into her Camino backpack.

“Talk about your brother as you walk,” I encouraged. You’ll find someone who matches.”

That night, when I called my husband Dan and told him about the encounter, I expected he would be upset and suspicious and tell me the whole thing was out of the question.

Instead, what he actually said was, “Just another day on the Camino. Volunteering to donate your kidney.”

a aerial view of a city with two rivers
Logroño, Spain, a stop along the Camino Frances | By Despotismo Ilustrado y Barroco - Logroño Oficial via Wikipedia

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Hi, I’m Stacey

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…

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4 thoughts on “Camino stories: Just another day on Camino. I donated my kidney.”

  1. Stacey, who says that life is short. If anything, you are adding to it daily, if not in your own personal life but potentially to another person. Priceless, simply priceless.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your words of encouragement, Brent! Isn’t that an incredible story? From the divine appointment in a bus station to sharing stories, to the priest donating his kidney, me mine and my Uncle Frank the first cross-sex kidney donor!

      Reply
    • You are so funny! Glad to hang out with you in Greece…and more recently in San Sebastian, Spain. Keep up the good travels, my friend!

      Reply

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