Finding Connections on the Camino: A Story of Camaraderie
This is hard to write. Every person walking the Camino has their reasons for doing it. I have my own, of course. I carry them like an immense additional weight every step of the way, over 500 miles of varying terrain, as does everyone else.
There is a metal cross on a mountain top called the Cruz de Ferro where everyone stands and throws a rock over their shoulder into the pile at its base. Some have brought their rocks from home. This is supposed to symbolise the release of a burden you are carrying. Some people throw rocks with people’s names on in memory of someone they have lost, some place a rock with no reference at all. Whatever the reasons for someone’s decision to do this walk, the symbolism binds pilgrims in a way that is quite extraordinary.
In the last 4 weeks I have met a) people of all ages from b) all over the world who c) are all doing this for a reason. Nobody is doing it simply because it’s there. And that being said everyone is happy to talk and share, almost regardless of age or language.
I’d like to share some of their reasons with you, but I can’t. They are all intensely personal, but it is a privilege to hear them. I can say that my reasons for walking have slowly changed and reformed through the process. The time you have each day walking 25km means you can think and plan and reform and ponder everything. I wonder how they will look and feel at the end?
Also, because the walk, the Strange Walk to Santiago, is something you have chosen, then you must walk at your own pace. To keep up with someone who is quicker is hard and to expect someone to slouch around at a slower speed is unfair so there is an unspoken agreement that everyone walks at their own speed and conversations may be short, medium or long or just have to wait till later or another day.
This means the connections you form are also based on total truth and honesty. It is like a community of nomads all heading in the same direction who almost immediately, at first meeting, feel they can trust their fellow travellers. In my experience this is pretty unique.
I have a small group of regulars I walk with and meet at each stop - an American couple, a Welsh actor, an American lady, an Italian electrician, a Belgian fisherman, a German student, an Australian actress, an Italian gent, a kind Taiwanese smiler and a gleeful Japanese young man - so happy all the time. A bunch of Aussies and an English couple. There are also many Spaniards doing part of the Camino for a few days, or all of it.
Some of them, strangers, wave and say hi or "Bon Camino" - the cry of the path. Some tap you on the shoulder as they walk by to encourage you. The cyclists, probably feeling guilty as they press their electric buttons to zoom off, always greet you!
One night we sat in a bar in Fromista and recited poems we had written so far. After a few beers it was funny and moving. These sorts of evenings in life, are rare and rich and there is a bond which makes it feel like a family.
So many more people and types all wanting to get to the end. And at the same time not wanting it to end at all. As each day goes by the time seems to go quicker.
And you learn that you cannot judge anyone because who knows what burdens they are carrying?
What I do know is that it is impossible to do something like this and it not change you a little. The proximity of humanity and in many cases, the very best of humanity, fills you with hope.
When I cast my stone, I hope my burdens will fall away onto the pile. Wouldn’t that be amazing? To walk away from that mountain with no burdens at all? And all my fellow pilgrims feeling the same? I fear my burdens such as they are will still remain but maybe they will seem different/changed/lighter. Either way I know my fellow pilgrims are there to support me to the end. And if this is hard to write, entering the square in Santiago next week is going to be an emotional tsunami!