There were lots of things about walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage recently that were very different to what I had imagined or expected. One of the things I had not expected or prepared for was all the advice I got.
People who had walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela gave us advice. People who were walking the Camino, at the same time as we were, gave us advice.
Now there’s nothing wrong with advice – if you ask for it, or if you clearly need it. But the advice that we kept getting on the Camino was of this kind: their way of walking the Camino was the right way; their way of walking the Camino was the correct way; their way of walking the Camino was the true way. The advice constantly gave the impression that there is one true way or, at the very least, there is a best way to do the Camino.
It may help for some readers, as we explore how all this applies metaphorically to our journey, our pilgrimage of life, to remember that “Camino”, the name of this pilgrimage, is just the Spanish word for “Way”. El Camino means “The Way”.
So the advice we received would be about what time to get up, where to stop, how to organise your day, and so on. And so on.
Actually, we met people doing the Camino in a variety of ways. Some were walking and sending their bags ahead by car; some were biking; some were bussing, skipping what they saw as the boring bits, the Roman Road across the flat plane of the Meseta, through the suburbs of the larger cities; some only walked the last 100km; some had walked all the way from their home in Europe; some were doing it in bits – 2 weeks at a time, when they got holiday from work, picking up where they left off.
Nearly all of us were walking Westwards, but very occasionally I would meet someone walking in the opposite direction. I would generally stop to chat. Obviously some of these had walked to Santiago de Compostela, and were now walking back, joy shining in their faces. But I met a couple of guys who had started in England and, having previously done the walk I was doing, had done the Camino Inglés (from England to Santiago de Compostela), and were now walking to Rome, with the hope of walking on to Jerusalem! Another person had arrived from USA, walked from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela (the Camino Portugués) and was also on his way to Jerusalem.
One couple going the “wrong way” had a campervan with bikes. Each day they biked down the track to where they intended to sleep the night, left their bikes there, walked back to the campervan and then drove round to where their bikes were parked. In total they were biking to Santiago de Compostela and walking back!
I met a couple of guys walking the “wrong way”. One had inflated balloons on his pack. We stopped and chatted about the balloons – it was his birthday, so we sang “Happy Birthday”, and all continued. A couple of days later they passed us again. Going the “wrong way”. And the next day again. I recognised them by his deflated balloons, still attached to his backpack. “Hey, balloon man,” I ventured, “I don’t get how several days in a row I keep passing you when I am going West and you are going East.” I discovered they were with their wives and had a car. Each day their wives would start walking (West), and the two men would drive to where they would stay that night, walk back up the track to meet the women (the men now walking Eastwards) and, when they met, all four would walk back (Westwards) to their parked car.
We met a woman only walking the last one hundred kilometres – very slowly – she was celebrating that she could walk at all; she had cancer and had thought she would never walk again. There was a blind man walking the last 100km with his brother. Another blind man walked with his wife, his hand on her shoulder. We met a woman in the Pyrenees who suffered from Juvenile Arthritis and had never walked more than 5 miles, 8km, in her life. Another woman’s feet got so bad she could walk uphill, but took a taxi on the downhill stretches. A man had walked from Lourdes, then his feet gave out, and he bussed forward to continue from the last 100km to complete the pilgrimage on his munted feet.
I hope you are getting my point: there is not one, true, pure, correct, right Camino. There is not one, true, pure, correct, right Way. And, I hope you are picking up, this is a parable for life – life as a journey; life as a pilgrimage. Even on the one Way (the one Camino) there are many ways.
The photo is one I took on my recent walking of the Camino de Santiago. This is one of my blog posts on walking the Camino.