Trail Day 12: A Tale of Two Caminos

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Photo by: J W Foster

I’ve just returned to our communal sleeping area after a raucous dinner party which could have been casted straight out of the movie, “The Way.” Joe is fast asleep on the bunk next to me, he was completely exhausted and went to sleep right after dinner. We’d arrived into Santo Domingo de la Calzada late in the afternoon and decided to stay in an albergue that is run by Cistercian nuns. The ancient structure is attached to the village church and looked like it used to be a convent or monastary at some point in time. On the ground floor was a communal kitchen/eating area with stone walls, wooden beam ceilings and logs burning in a huge fireplace. After being assigned our individual beds, I’d decided to hang out in this social area and took a seat at one side of the dining room. On the other side of the room was a long table filled with peregrinos from all around the world laughing, eating, drinking wine out of a leather boda bag and trying to see who could take the longest swig.  The laughter was ear-splitting with frequent clapping, picture taking and overall rabble rousing.
During the midst of my conversation with some fellow peregrinos–one is doing her second Camino de Santiago in two years–I heard for the third time today that almost every peregrino is at a crossroad in life. One young man from Ohio who was sitting with us had just completed his two-year Peace Corps commitment. Another couple we met earlier today is just starting retirement, and yet another was recovering from a divorce.
Is it true that the Camino calls to people who are trying to make some important decisions or going through important changes in their lives?  If so, why?  What is it about the Camino that is so attractive during times of grief or uncertainty?
As we discussed some of our theories around the fire tonight, there was a consensus that the Camino brings you to your most basic form of existence; finding food and shelter, and lots of walking while pushing your physical endurance and limits of pain, fatigue and exhaustion. As a psychologist, I think it is at the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And so, it is at this very core or foundation that we can begin to construct the lives we wish to build. The Camino first strips us down to mostly physical beings with some brief flirtations with dreams of the future, and at first these dreams are merely punctuations in the running cocophany of burning feet, brain numbing fatigue and the persistent inner battle over what to dump out of our backpacks.
As we continue walking, I’m forced to realize how many of my material possessions are unnecessary. The backpack is a good example of the axiom “that which you own, owns you.”  We pilgrims talked tonight about a quote from Henry David Thoreau that says something to the effect that “your material possessions do not only cost what you paid for them but also what you give up in order to have them.” I have heard uniformly from other pilgrims that the Walk of St. James teaches you just how little you really need to live a happy life. Tonight as I glance over at the joyous crowd eating a simple meal of stewed olives, onions, tomatoes and pasta, I can only nod my head in agreement. And speaking of a simple life, it is close to 10 pm– I’m afraid it’s way past this pilgrim’s bedtime.

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