Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Camino Community

One of the best parts of the Camino is the community of people you meet. I’ve made friends with Hungarians, Italians, South Koreans, Germans, Australians, Welsh, Canadians, Danish, Mexicans, Irish, Andorrans, Czechoslovakians. I’ve made friends with doctors and clowns and students and radio directors and chefs and monks and computer hackers and REI clothing designers. I've met the last Templar Knight. I’ve met people who had nothing and were doing the Camino completely on the hospitality of others, and I’ve met people who had more money than I could imagine having.

But despite all this diversity, we are all at the same level on the Camino. We wear the same clothes and eat the same food. We all sweat and we all wash our clothes by hand. We all sleep together in bunk beds in rooms of up to 200 people. We all have blisters and sore muscles. We all have a common purpose. Many of us are doing this for religious or spiritual reasons. And so we’re able to get to know people in a different way than if we met them in our daily lives. We much more quickly and much more often find ourselves in intimate conversations with people, whether it’s about the diarrhea they got from a bad fountain or whether it’s about how they experience God on the Camino.

Life is both slower and faster on the Camino. Try walking for five hours with nothing but wheat fields to look at and you will know how life slows down. It can be tedious, but it’s also the simple feeling of always moving at 4 kilometers an hour, rather than going 50 in a car. It’s also getting down to the basics, having nothing more on your To-Do List than “take a shower, wash clothes, find a grocery store.”
But life is also faster on the Camino. You can walk with someone for five hours then have a beer with them then eat dinner with them then sleep in a bunk next to them, and the next day do it all over again. You’re not just hanging out on a Friday night. People are exposed to stressful and difficult and demanding situations, and you see them in these situations and share these situations with them and get to know them in a different way than you might in your normal life. You get to know people very quickly on the Camino.

Sometimes you make a friend and run into them over and over, stopping for coffee at the same bars, sleeping in the same albergues, walking at the same pace on the Camino, for days or weeks. Sometimes you make a friend for a week or two and then they get 10 kilometers ahead or behind and you don’t see them again until Santiago. People come and go, popping up again when you least expect them. Sometimes you make a friend for an afternoon only. Sometimes you talk to someone for ten minutes. But even that ten-minute interaction can be something you remember fondly the rest of the Camino, can be meangingful, can touch you.

The professor from whom I first heard about the Camino said that all of life happens on the Camino. Within those 35-odd days everything will happen to you that happens in a lifetime.

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