Spiritual Journey on the Camino de Santiago

Dave and Carol at a Camino meeting
Dave and Carol at a Camino meeting

At most meetings of the Western North Carolina Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino, we talk about equipment, wonderful scenery, and maybe great churches.

But why are you planning to walk the Camino?

David MacVaugh of Asheville and Carol Deacon of Rock Hill, South Carolina were the speakers last evening at our monthly meetings at REI Asheville. They just returned from doing the Camino Frances, the most popular of the routes to Santiago. This was David’s second Camino this year – yes, two trips in 2016 – and Carol’s first. This was also the first time both walked together for so long. You really get to know a person on a long distance walk.

David started with taking a survey of the audience. I kept score.

Six pilgrims had done multiple Caminos, four had done the Frances, three the Norte, one the Portuguese and one the Chemin de St. Jacques (me). And 16 people were dreamers and planners.

Chemin de St. Jacques
Chemin de St. Jacques

David was concerned with making connections in his spiritual journey. The pilgrims he met in the albergues (hostel) were the highlight of his Camino. One Italian sang opera. A Frenchman sang “Achy-Breaky Heart”. He found that sharing bread at the albergue tables so powerful.

Carol, a yoga teacher, saw her walk as an extended yoga practice.

“I wanted to walk out of the particulars of my left and just walk day after day,” Carol said. David asked why others in the audience had done the Camino.

Don W. said he wanted to walk but still sleep in a bed. Other people said they went for adventure, historical reason, spiritual reasons, get over a broken heart, to celebrate life and sobriety or to show their independence. Rebecca wanted to see if she could still be a Catholic.

David and Carol were vegans, which is tough to do in Europe in general, never mind on the Camino. But they realized that they needed to be flexible. The Basque country is so, so beef oriented that even I found it difficult to find a nonbeef meal and that was in France. Beef is the people’s common, every day food, even their “poverty” food.

Dave and Carol sent their luggage on ahead so that they only had to carry small daypacks. But by giving your pack to a courier service, you needed faith that the pack was going to get to the next hostel and that the next hostel really existed. David and Carol felt that other pilgrims judged them for not having the fortitude to carry their own packs. Whether anyone really judged them or not doesn’t really matter. They felt that way.

On the Camino, your job is to walk, eat and sleep – and in my case, to blog. Pilgrims in the Middle Ages had no insurance, no guarantee that they were going to get to Santiago. And remember, they had to walk back home as well. So they needed faith that it was going to be all right.

Most Camino pilgrims have never backpacked, or stayed in huts, shelters, or hostels.The Camino is the first time that they interact with “strangers”. So they find it a powerful experience. This is not a hiking crowd.

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