In 2013, I walked Le Chemin de St. Jacques in France – 440 miles from Le Puy to St. Jean Pieds de Port. Though it sounds impressive, this French section is only one of many pieces of the El Camino. We, in Western North Carolina, are lucky to have an active chapter of the American Pilgrims on the El Camino.
How do you walk the El Camino in Spain and the rest of Europe? How different will it be from the French section? Last night, I went to a meeting at REI. where pilgrims shared their knowledge and newbies asked questions. I was somewhere in between.
People’s concerns ranged from snorers to how to train.
Snorers in the albergues (hostels) are real but you may want to stay in the private rooms. Though municipals hostels are large, private and parochial albergues are more modest in size and probably better kept up. And there’s always ear plugs.
How to train.
Well, we’re so luck to live in the mountains. We have an outdoor training ground right here in the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Start at the Folk Art Center and walk to east to the sea. No, I’m just kidding. Start at the Folk Art Center and climb to Craven Gap and go back down. The next day, go back and start from Craven Gap for another few miles. Go up and down Mt. Pisgah. Nothing on the Camino, except for the climb over the Pyrenees, is going to be as steep.
Training your mind
But you need to train your mind as well. You’ll meet people from all over the world. They know about their country and they’re fascinated with the United States. One experienced pilgrim put it well.
“They want to know about the U.S. and our guns, God, and government. We have a lot of guns. We’re always invoking God and going to church. And we (supposedly) don’t want big government.”
I backed her up with her observations. “And”, I said, “the rest of the world thinks that people are dying in the streets because of our dependence on private health insurance.” But most people around the room weren’t interested in understanding national and international news. They wanted to talk about socks.
“It’s a fantastic social experience,” said Esther. Easy for her to say since she is a native Spanish speaker. But she emphasized that on the Camino, “the language won’t be Spanish. It will be English.” Koreans and Dutch pilgrims all speak English.”
And here’s a major difference between my French experience and a potential Spanish walk, for me.
When I hiked in France, I didn’t just stick to socializing with pilgrims. Look at this picture of me at a Cousinade (family reunion). Where could I get an experience like this, without knowing the language?
I’m sure I’ll be back on the Camino at some point – not this year – but I don’t know which section.
The next meeting of the WNC chapter of the American Pilgrims will be the first Monday in June, June 1, at REI Asheville. The programs are free but you have to sign up with REI.