Walk beside someone for two weeks and you’ll get to know them. Cat Gaa recently did the Camino de Santiago and tells us here about who she met on the road.
By Cat Gaa
They say that all roads lead to Rome, but when in Spain, all pilgrim roads lead to Santiago. For nearly a thousand years, the religiously fervent have been trekking from across Europe to Santiago de Compostela, a lichen-covered limestone town in Northwest Galicia.
There are a myriad of reasons to walk – to seek closure, to seek penance, to seek clarity – though others do it for the challenge or for exercise. My friend Hayley and I? We did it for adventure and to have the experience. Because the various stages go by distance to the next pilgrim’s inn, we ran into the same group of people during our two weeks on The Way.
The five people you meet in Heaven? Try the five people you meet on the Camino!
The Hardcore Pilgrims: One afternoon while napping, I heard a ‘tsk tsk’ coming from the other end of the inn. Fernando, who I had met a few hours earlier while waiting for the ‘albergue’ (inn) to open, was listening to music on his cell phone. The tune was about the Camino, all of the books he carried with him were about the Camino, and he handed out small arrow pins he’d fashioned out of paper mâché.
He and his wife Berta were about as pilgrim-centric as they come – they’d done countless treks, volunteer at the pilgrim’s inn in their hometown and Fernando even keeps a blog. I learned little else about them in four days but of their immense love for the Camino. These are the hardcores – those who dream of their next route, who know about the quirks of the road, who tell you Camino secrets.
The ‘I don’t care about the Compostela’ Pilgrims: On the flipside, you also get those pilgrims who don’t always play by the rules. They might grab a bus to get to the inn and snag a bed before the others, or decide they were done walking for the day and hail a taxi.
To be eligible for the ‘Compostela’ certificate once in Santiago, a pilgrim must walk the last 100 kilometers to the city on foot or 200 by bike, carrying pilgrim credentials that serve as proof that you’ve completed the task. We met several people who had either done a previous trek and didn’t care about another certificate, or who decided that it wasn’t important to be honest with themselves and the volunteers at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago. These are the ‘Me da igual’ Pilgrims.
The Speed Racers: Early on in the Camino, Hayley and I decided we would walk a maximum of 30 kilometers a day, and that we’d listen to our bodies to take frequent food and water breaks. One morning while we sat on the side of the road snacking on chocolate and nuts, we watched two fit couples breeze past us and soon disappear down a knoll. The four of them were all personal trainers and walked nearly 40 kilometers every day at a lightning pace. We’d sometimes catch up with them in the ‘albergue’ later, but after a few days, we assumed they’d already arrived to Santiago and perhaps Fisterra, given their strenuous pace.
After one rainy day racing for a bed and not stopping for nearly three hours, we quit speed walking and took the time to enjoy our Camino. There are always tortoises and there are always hares.
The Turigrinos: When the Camino del Norte hooked up with the Camino Francés in Arzua, we were shocked to find unfamiliar faces. Being early August, the nearly universal vacation month in Spain, the road was suddenly choked with people, including baby buggies and pilgrims without backpacks. These were the turigrinos, those who came to do the last 100 or so kilometers with a walking group or scout troop. We really didn’t mind them – until they took our bed at the ‘albergue’ or complained about back pain when not actually carrying a backpack.
The Purists: After joking about the people we’d met on the Camino over a glass of wine in the Plaza do Obradoiro, Hayley and I came up with a name for the types of pilgrims we were – Purists. We wanted to do the Camino the way we’d imagined it, by walking every single kilometer to Santiago with our packs. We had to splurge on hotels every few days (or sleep on the floor of the local sports center, no thanks!) and rather than having a pilgrim’s meal, we opted for a sandwich in the park, but we were extremely satisfied with our experience. We came to love hand washing our clothes, collapsing into bed for a long ‘siesta’ after walking and setting out while the air was crisp and the light was low.
Of course, we met people from all walks of life – people who complained, others who came with no money and relied on others, those who barely said two words, lost in their own thoughts.
Cat Gaa walked 200 miles on the Camino de Santiago del Norte in 14 days to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network of the Midwest. To read more about the journey, search out the Camino Resources page on her blog.