Friends from Far-off Places
On the Camino you are likely to meet fellow pilgrims from all six of the inhabited continents. It is quite common to hear conversations in at least four different languages in the gathering room of an albergue or at a restaurant’s pilgrim dinner, or at least a variety of accents as pilgrims tend to use English as a common language. One of the beautiful things about the Camino is that you not only get to rub shoulders with so many different people – you will get to be friends with them!
Emilio Estevez’s movie The Way gets this part of walking the Camino right. Martin Sheen’s character, Tom, meets men from the Netherlands and Ireland and a woman from Canada, and before they can even be sure if they like each other they realize they are going at the same pace and are, in a way, connected. These groups form in a matter of days and have a huge shaping influence on your experience of the Camino.
Like Tom in the movie, I have encountered companions on the Way who, before I knew it, had became dear friends without whom the Camino would have seemed a lonely affair. The second time I walked, which was during my summer break from college, I quickly made friends with a couple of Quebecois pilgrims, an American man, a young Irish college student, an Italian mother and daughter, and an Australian man who was at least 6’6. Others joined us on and off again, Germans, Koreans, Brazilians, Hungarians, French, and more, but soon a core had been established.
Most of the time we did not try to walk together. Each of us had our own reasons for being on the Camino and we reached a sort of unspoken agreement to keep the others informed of where we planned to stay most nights so that, while we were apart on the trail, we did not lose touch with one another. We often pooled our resources to make a common supper if there was a kitchen where we were sleeping, and stayed up later than was physically wise sharing our lives from back home and teaching each other our heart languages.
The English literature scholar C.S. Lewis addresses the nature of friendship in his book The Four Loves:
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’”
Friendships begin all along the Camino, and it is a joy to experience. Sometimes it happens when you meet someone along the trail who happens to be going at your pace, other times it happens over the course of days when two people who are otherwise widely removed by age, geography, language, or culture, find that they share something in common. It may be as simple as a favorite food or sense of humor, or it may be as deep as a common grief or similar way of looking at the world.
The friends you make on the Camino are one of the most important parts of the experience, but they also make it all the harder to go home. Some of the emotions wrapped up in people’s tears when they arrive in Santiago are from the grief in knowing they are about to part with the people they’ve gotten to know so well during such a unique time in their lives. Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to stay in touch regardless of home country.
Pilgrims from other countries and cultures will broaden your mind to see perspectives outside your home in a way that reading international news cannot. Your new friends will have political, religious, and other opinions that differ drastically from your own because of where and how each of you grew up, but you will have much more in common , especially the experience of the Camino. Putting a friend's face on often-impersonal blocs of cultures, groups, and countries will change the way you read the news indeed. More than that, though, it will give you a network of friends throughout the world, and that is wealth without price.
Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter. hunter@CaminoProvisions.com