There are many reasons one might choose to walk 500 miles across Spain, some are following the religious route to see and worship at the churches leading to Santiago de Compostela and the bones of Saint James, others walk to heal emotional or physical wounds, and some to prove to themselves that they have sufficient emotional or physical strength.
I met a number of spiritual pilgrims: Christian, a Pastor from St Moritz, Switzerland, was on a 3-month sabbatical from his perish. The Camino was a religious experience and to allow his soul to connect with something larger. We walked together one long day, 34 km across part of the Masina. We talked about our lives and dreams. He told me about his need to connect with young people, to have an impact on their lives, understand their dreams. After the Camino he is riding his bike from Switzerland to Holland along the Rhine River. He has plans to meet and facilitate discussions with young adults about the future of Europe. After his ride he plans to publish his findings and discuss what he learned with politicians hoping to enlighten them to the ideas of the next generation.
I met three women walking the Camino to empower themselves. Two were married and said they had spent their lives taking care of others, family, husbands and children, never themselves.
Lenah from France has 4 grown children, her husband is a musician and travels frequently, she typically stays home caring for her mother and the needs of her children. She had never gone anywhere alone, was not much of a walker, yet she was alone on the Camino. I met her over and over again over my last week, I would pass her say “ola and buen Camino” and after taking a short break would find myself passing her again… Lenah walked steadily, had a very zen quality about her gate and demeanor. As I pushed towards the end of a long climb, I saw Lenah step off the trail, take out a blanket, some fruit and have a small picnic. The last night I saw her arrive in town, she did not have a reservation and nearly everything was “complete” so, I offered her the second bed in my room. Her face lit up, she had been talking to herself about spending her last night in a pension (private or small room) and I had just made that a reality. it was wonderful, we had a chance to get to know each other, exchange stories and the next morning walked together for 3 km on our way to Santiago.
From Cape Town, South Africa, Estella has two teenagers, and a small business she runs with her husband. She had never been to Europe and never traveled alone. She was terrified at the thought of the Camino, not sure if she was physically strong enough and spoke little English and no Spanish. We encountered each other multiple times one day, exchanged “buen Camino” and signs of exhaustion. When I stopped for the night in a very small village, I ran into her in the Casa (small B&B) I had planned to check into. “How are the rooms? How much are they? I asked. She showed me her room and then suggested since she had two beds we share… why not! We bought a bottle of wine and sat in the room swapping tales of our lives and the Camino, shared dinner and the bathroom. The spirit of the Camino is about sharing, trusting and understanding. I learned quickly to trust my gut and to share they experience with total strangers, this was exactly what she was hoping for as well!
A single woman from Brazil, walking alone, like me. We shared as much as we could, given our lack of a common language, spent many days and nights walking together and sleeping in the same Albergues. She spent most of her time alone, in what appeared to be contemplation. At one point she simply said life at home was hard and she was on the Camino to sort things out. Unfortunately some horrible person stole her shoes and caused her days of grief and sore feet!
Others I encountered were walking after their cancer treatments, just released from a rehab for emotional problems and those with a terminal diagnosis. They would briefly share the circumstances, but not the details. The Camino is a good place to spend this time with loved ones or alone. The focus on the here and now takes your mind off your everyday life. It can be risky to be unhealthy and on the Camino, here are few medical facilities and the small towns have Drs but, they do not speak English. These brave souls did not seem to care… they just walked on!
Also see: http://folioweekly.com/TALE-OF-A-TREK,9956