Buen camino is the common greeting of everyone, but everyone, along the Way. It is uplifting and a novelty at the beginning. It is becoming jaded by the half way point and by the last 100km when there are many additional pilgrims on the path, who are all fresh as a daisy and certainly not as weary as you, it is definitely irritating. I didn’t think I would find this but I did and I wasn’t alone among those who had walked the entire distance.
It is also quite hard not to feel superior to those who only walk the minimum distance to obtain the Compostela. (Although, of course, it is very uncharitable and un-pilgrim like to feel this way!) This certificate is apparently very well regarded if it is included in the C.V. of students leaving Spanish schools. There are therefore a large quantity of teenagers in the last stages and the atmosphere is more that of a jolly party than a pilgrimage.
I had read about the ‘Camino family’ and, of course, had seen it in action in the film starring Martin Sheen. I almost expected it not to eventuate but, in fact, it did. These are the people you meet, have dinner with, chat to, think you have left and then come across them again further on. You also get introduced to the ‘extended family’. These are the people members of your own ‘family’ have met that you might not necessarily otherwise have encountered and to whom you are consequently introduced.
My family was relatively small. It included Peter from Canada who seemed to walk at about my pace and who was the only one that continued on to Finisterre. There was Annie from Holland, to whom I shall always be grateful. She was just behind me when I fell and stayed with me on the walk into Estella. She accompanied me to the hospital and stayed that night in the room with me. I had already had a couple of dinners with her and we continued to meet on and off almost to Santiago when injury kept her a couple of days behind me. I was always sorry that we couldn’t walk into Santiago together.
Jane, from Australia, is the only one with whom I am still in contact and have met since and, no doubt, will see again. We shared several dinners and lots of chat. Kerrie, also from Australia, was forever taking photographs (even more than me!), strode out very purposefully and was very entertaining.
Colette and Clare were English friends, walking together, whom I first met in Acacio and Orietta‘s wonderful albergue in Viloria de la Rioja and with whom I subsequently spent several nights in various dormitories. It was Colette who mistook my boots for her own one morning and it was Colette, Claire and Kerrie that I bumped into in Santiago Cathedral after Mass. I hadn’t seen any of my ‘family’ for several days before that and it had been quite a lonely arrival at my ultimate destination with no one to share the thrill of actually arriving. I had thought these ladies were so far ahead of me that I wouldn’t see them again. It was therefore a double bonus to see them in the Cathedral and necessitated adjourning to a bar to celebrate!
I also have to include Florian in my family. I only met him twice but did, in fact, walk with him for an entire morning, which was very unusual for me. He had trained in a very closed order of the Lutheran church and was working with social services for young people (he was very young himself). He was walking the Camino as he was doubting the life he had chosen for himself. He taught me to slow down and relax a little. It was a lovely morning and we had taken a detour away from the crowds and ended up in a cafe with a small group of various nationalities who were all very relaxed and didn’t look as though they were going to go very far for the rest of the day! I left them to it and walked on. However, many days later, I was just entering the albergue of Paloma y Lena (another beautiful albergue) near San Mamed del Camino when I saw Florian sitting outside having a drink. I was so glad I was able to chat to him again even if it was very brief as he was walking on.
Other than that I met many, many people, mostly very briefly but some still made an impression or even, probably unbeknownst to them, helped me overcome my, at times, pitiful state. There were the two Irish brothers in my dormitory in Los Arcos. It was the first day out with my arm in plaster. It had been raining. I was cold and the hostel owner was decidedly unfriendly, understandably, given that I had, unthinkingly, walked in wearing my boots. They made me smile with their stories when all I wanted to do was cry. Later that day, I was having dinner in the dining room of a bar in which everyone seemed to be in a group and having fun. I was desperately trying to hold back tears as everyone would have noticed me crying in the very brightly lit room. A couple of ladies on the next table leaned across and asked me what I had done to my arm and then asked if I would like to join them. I’m sure they regretted that within the next five minutes as the flood gates opened! They listened to me and then I found out that they were from Christchurch, N.Z. and one of them was a librarian. I had spent the last few years working in libraries in I.T. so we had something in common. I was very very grateful to them that night as they lifted me out of my self pity.
The Camino, for me, was as much about meeting these people as it was about the walking and there were many others that I chatted to in dorms or over dinner, who seemed to lead remarkable lives and were very interesting to talk to. Unfortunately, I took very few photos of actual people!