Interview with Camino Legend: Dan Mullins

Before I head off to walk the European Peace Walk (today!!), I interviewed Dan to ask him a few questions about why and how the camino pull’s us in.

Truthfully, I owe a great deal to Dan, after walking the camino myself he helped me put a few things into perspective and if it weren’t for his podcast, I’d have never even heard of the EPW. So here are a few questions and answers from Dan Mullins, someone I’m really proud to call, not just a fellow pilgrim, but also a friend.

How did you first hear about the camino?

I’m one of eleven children. My mother raised us all then decided she needed enlightenment and embarked on a PHD in theology.   

I was a late teenager by this stage watching my mother transform from uber-carer, to uber-student, all the while providing three meals a day for her growing family.   

Mum had Shirley MacLaine’s book ‘The Camino’ on her bookshelf for years and I never took any notice. One Christmas, on a rainy afternoon on the Gold Coast, I picked it up and read it in a day. It moved me somehow. I said to my wife Jennifer “I would love to do it”. Jen rolled her eyes.

Ten years later we were back at Mum and Dad’s, another rainy afternoon and I saw ‘The Camino’ and read it again. Our children were older and I said, again, to the ever-patient Jennifer, ‘I ought to do this walk you know’.    

In mid-2016 I was booked to be a reporter at the Rio Olympic Games when I was told at the last minute, after covering the last four Games, I was surplus to requirements.

Management said ‘have three weeks’ off’ – a ridiculous idea when you have children at school.  Jen said ‘why don’t you do that silly walk in Spain you’ve been talking about forever!’

It was going to be too difficult, too expensive, too daring, too brave.

I came home three days later and the ticket was on the kitchen bench.   A gift from my family for my 50th birthday.   

I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on my 50th birthday.

Dan Mullins Camino

After completing your first camino, you started your own podcast to talk with other pilgrims about their experiences. What brought you to want to do that?

I just felt I wanted to maintain the connection. On the penultimate day in O Pedrozo in 2016 I sat with some Canadian pilgrims and we talked about what the Camino meant to us. I said “I don’t know what has happened to me, I only know I love it”

Returning home, my teenage sons said “Dad, you seem different, we like it”.

So I wanted to maintain the connection with that feeling. That emotion. I wanted to keep the fire burning in me. I wanted to keep the feeling you get when you smile at someone and say “Buen Camino”. The feeling you get when you stop and say to someone sobbing on the side of the road “are you okay pilgrim?”

I felt I’d found something very special ~ and I wanted to share it.  I still do.

I feel I’ve been given a gift to share and I ought to share it.

Giving is the best feeling in the world.

You’re about to head to Spain for a fourth time this year – What do you think it is, (the essence) that keeps bringing you back to walk (or sing) again?

I’ll tell you a short story. My lovely wife Jennifer suffered a catastrophic stroke in 2011.   

My little brother Ben had died the year before. Benny and I played in bands together for years…we were insanely close. We lost him suddenly. I still miss him terribly.

Jennifer had the stroke the following year. My whole world was turned upside down.  

BUT we made it through all that.  

I needed something to give me time and space.

Something, someone, some spirit, led me to the Camino de Santiago.

It was what I needed. It knew it. It called me.

The ‘essence’ is the freedom to be YOU.   

We are always ‘someone’. A writer, an actor, an electrician, a cook , a brother, a son, a mother, a father, a teacher, a musician, a SOMEONE.

The Camino provides the opportunity to be …YOU

Just …YOU

Just …ME

Where else in the world can you walk for days and days and no one gives a fig about what you do for a living….?

You could be a brain surgeon….a rocket scientist….a cleaner….a croupier….a cheesemaker….a dressmaker. No one cares.

I WILL be back in Spain this year walking – and singing – and I hope to bring pilgrims together to celebrate this unique opportunity they have given THEMSELVES.   

Reach out and touch it. Then grab it… make it yours.

Sing while you walk.   

Do you ever feel guilty leaving home?

No. I miss my family terribly. I travel a lot. We have shaped ourselves as a family of travellers, livers, dreamers and achievers. No boundaries.

The world is ours to share. When someone offers you something, you ought to take it. The world is no different. Don’t be afraid.

We’re only here for a short time. Make the world a better place.

If you could go back and walk the camino for the first time as your twenty-year-old self, do you think you would have felt the same about your experience as you did a fifty-year-old?

Not on your life!    

As a twenty-year-old I was out of my depth. I was a young policeman in Queensland, in the midst of the most corrupt regime in Australian legal history.  

If you’d told me a pilgrimage existed on the other side of the world where I might find some respite I’d still be hugging you now. 

I have lived with the legacy of my 20s for 30 years. It was a nightmare and remains a recurring nightmare.

It’s a huge part of who I am and why I am a pilgrim.  

I have learned to live and let live

To forgive ~ and try ~ to forget.

That’s why I love pilgrims. They love unconditionally. 

Can you tell me a little more about your upcoming album ‘The singing pilgrim’ ?    

I wrote a song on the plains of Spain while walking a 1,000 kilometre Camino in 2017. I came back to Sydney and recorded ‘Somewhere Along the Way’ (the Camino Song) in a studio with no computers, old 1950 microphones and a spirit licking in our hearts and minds. We recorded live and did it in three takes.

I’m putting the finishing touches to the album to go with the song. Worlds are colliding, I have enlisted the best musicians in Sydney, in Australia and beyond.  

They all say the same thing “Dan….you’ve got a vibe happening here man!!”

Someone said to me on the Camino in 2016 “…the Camino won’t give you what you want…it will give you what you need.”   

I didn’t understand.

Perhaps I needed to believe I could record the album I’ve been working on in my heart and mind my whole life.

It will be out sometime this year and will have a thread of the Camino spirit woven through it.

I can’t build a house or fix a car. But, I can sing like a bird. I can play a guitar and make people dance.

I can tell a story to make people reflect on how the story resonates with them.

My shirt might be creased but my heart is sound.

I truly believe the Camino is providing a path for me.  

What’s your advice about the Camino generally, for someone unsure if they should walk?

I would say this:

You CAN afford it

You CAN experience it

You CAN survive sleeping in a room with 90 other people

You CAN communicate with people from all around the world – with just your basic English

You CAN share and care…..YOU CAN

You WILL love the food, the people, the culture, the history

You will LOVE the other pilgrims, their stories, their experiences

You will ADORE the churches, cathedrals, cafes, bars, homes, albergues, pensions and hotels

And you WILL laugh about snorers

You CAN – and WILL – be someone’s Camino angel

And YOU will grow

YOU will learn

YOU will laugh

YOU will cry

YOU will be happy

YOU will be sad

YOU will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible

YOU! Celebrate YOU!

EVERYONE else will celebrate with YOU

I’m no expert. I’m a candle flickering in the corner and if someone can make use of the light ~ all well and good.

I just love the momentary shine

Buen Camino.

You can find the facebook group ‘My Camino – The Podcast’ here with links to his recent podcasts and updates on the upcoming awaited album.

Here’s a little bit about the EPW in case you’re interested, click here.

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