Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Unusual friends - #15 People on the Camino de Santiago

Continuing with the series about unusual friends, this is #15 and the people I have met on the Camino de Santiago.

As many of you will be aware I have been slowly doing the Camino with a set of friends for the last few years, but in the course of the walking that this has involved, I have met a lot of interesting people.  The Camino is not everyone's cup of tea and it is a roller coaster experience, with many highs and a few lows. On the whole it is a remarkable spiritual experience and you find people of all races, religions and beliefs who do this centuries old walk for a variety of reasons. One thing is for sure. If you get to the end of your planned segment, in my case usually a 150 km segment, you are guaranteed to want to carry on, health and time permitting.
So, back to the people I met during my walks, there were so many that I had to go back through my notes to remember.
First I should mention the Sikh man from my own part of the world, who I met in Santiago. I have to say that earlier while we were walking, someone mentioned that they had seen another Sikh man who was ahead of us.
With Amrit at Santiago de Compostela
When we got to to the Cathedral, our group spotted him in the crowd. Indeed I met the man at the foot of the stairs leading up to the cathedral entrance. We felt like long lost friends, and had a long chat. He was also with fellow walkers including a seventy year old lady from San Antonio, Texas. I had been in San Antonio, since Manjeet lived at the time in Austin. Amrit and I exchanged contact details, as he was interested in doing the coastal Camino, which passes through Laredo, and we agreed to stay in touch and to meet in Laredo when he came by. However he has failed to show up in the six years which have now gone by.
I came across other Indians too, like the Young man from Bangalore who was with his Korean companion. He was walking fast, and as he went by he happened to say the customary 'Buen Camino', and he stopped to say 'You are Indian, right?' and we walked together for a while and I inquired how he came to be on the Camino. Like me, he was of the opinion that the pilgrimage was equally interesting for people of all faiths.
As much as I have enjoyed doing the Camino, I can imagine that for some people it can become quite difficult. One of the difficulty is the loneliness if you happen to do this alone, specially if you decide to do the entire Spanish part in one go, which can take as much as a month. At one point I came across an Italian lady who happened to be at a nearby table as we had breakfast at one of our overnight stops. She was on her own and as she got up to leave she came over and asked me if I was from India. She had been walking for two months having started in Zurich! She had been doing pilgrimages in India and told me that she found the Spanish pilgrimage much less spiritual. I disagreed.

 The Hindi speaking Russian

A lot of people come to mind when I play back my inner movie from the Camino. People like the man who had a donkey for a companion, played music on a guitar, and who shared the Camino with us for a while. The Russian who spoke several languages and who tried to impress me with his knowledge of Hindi. The rather large Australian who arrived totally unprepared with a friend and found that his friend had to depart after a couple of days when he twisted his ankle.
There was a Canadian retired professor of Engineering, an American lady from Charlotte, a Californian young lady recently graduated who was at the same hostel where we stayed, full of foreign pilgrims run by an enthusiastic Spaniard and his curious bunch of volunteers from all over, including an Israeli cook and a Californian yoga teacher.  At one point we met a group of cyclists from Mexico who were doing the Camino as part of a wider trip which included France, Germany and Italy. The owner of a hostel who had done the Camino eleven times with whom I had a long conversation and then the old man who wore two rings, his own and his recently departed wife's, with whom I shared a tear or two.
And many others who contributed to a feeling of shared happiness and well being who would be too numerous to mention, but let me say that one of the best experiences of doing the Camino is to be in the warm glow of people who want to share the peace and spirituality with all people they come into contact with. I have no recollection of anybody who might have wanted to annoy anyone or had any intention to cause any harm or steal or any kind of ill feeling towards fellow pilgrims.
My Camino fellow pilgrims at Santiago
One exception comes to mind. An old lady in a small town where we stayed, took a fancy to a young Dutchman who was being very polite but trying to evade the amorous advances. He decided to join us for dinner hoping that the woman would leave him alone, but she came over and carried on her quest at our table! Later we walked around the town, and she could not move as fast as us or the Dutchman and we lost her in the dark.
Our group of pilgrims still have about a hundred kilometres to complete the Camino.
Lets hope we can do that and meet more people in the process.

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