There is something wonderful about making an unexpected friend. The gentle surprise of finding a kindred soul somewhere or sometime you weren’t expecting to.
Guest blogger SUNSHINE JEN shares her story of making new friends on the Camino. Not sure what that is? Read on, my friends!
In 2012, I walked the Camino, a 500 mile pilgrim trail, to Santiago de Compostela then onto Finisterre (aka the end of the world). The walk took thirty-seven days, and I walked in all conditions including snow, rain, hail, and sunshine.
I started the Camino in St. Jean Pied de Port with a male friend, and we walked for three weeks together in near winter conditions. We left the Camino, but I went back when conditions improved (my friend had to work). I walked the rest of the Camino (197 miles) alone, but I was not alone.
Even when I was walking with my partner, I was aware that women of all ages and nationalities were walking the Camino alone. Their reasons were as various as the rocks on the road. It might be religious or spiritual. It might be health-related. It might just be adventure of it. I started the Camino because I liked to walk, but I ended my Camino with another reason which I’m still trying to figure out a year later.
If you are a woman thinking of walking the Camino, go for it. There’s no one way to do the Camino. You can stay in albergues (hostels for pilgrims). You can stay in hotels. Staying in a hotel is not cheating. It’s comfort. There’s no such thing as cheating on the Camino. You can carry a pack or have it transported for you. You can go alone or with a tour group. You can walk or ride a bike.
I remember meeting a lady who was excited that she peed on a bush for the first time in her life. I never peed on a bush on the Camino. I made it a point to find a clean ladies room, and I always did.
There’s also help when you need it. In Leon, I had a small problem. I ran out of hair conditioner and didn’t know the Spanish word for conditioner. I walked into shop and through some gestures and broken Spanish, I tried to communicate with some sales ladies who patiently tried to communicate back with me. It took some time, but they found me not only conditioner but conditioner for fine hair to prevent split ends in a small bottle. The ladies in the shop even gave me a small sample bottle of shampoo. Yes, I experienced the miracle of hair care products.
Women all along the Camino were helpful. It could be a simple thing like pointing out a sign with an arrow that I had missed. It could be something more serious like a medical emergency. On the Camino, I learned that the world could full of kindness.
In the second half when I walked alone, I could find people to walk with or eat with, but if I wanted to be alone, I could be alone. I didn’t feel socially obligated to always be with people. I enjoyed my aloneness. I didn’t feel judged because folks seemed to leave their judgments behind. You want to carry as little as possible, and judgments were a heavy thing to carry.
One day, not far from Santiago, I was sitting in a courtyard at an albergue when a young American in her twenties sat down across from me and just started talking. Everything around her was amazing and exciting and new. I could’ve walked away, but I was comfortable in my chair. We had a nice chat, and we kept bumping into each other over the next few days. After all we were all on the same road going to the same place.
On the morning I arrived in Santiago, I was so jazzed that I had made it. After doing my happy dance, I went to a nearby café for a coffee. As I was learning about where to stay and what to do in Santiago, I spotted my young American friend and shouted her name. We embraced like long lost friends. She was also jazzed about being in Santiago.
A few days later, on the way to Finisterre, I lost the trail in a small coastal town. I came upon an English female friend now walking with her husband. They were taking the road back to Santiago. I hadn’t seen her in two weeks. We embraced and talked of Santiago. I finally admitted that I had lost the trail and couldn’t find any yellow arrows to point my way.
Like that one over there? She said and pointed to an arrow painted on the pavement just a few feet away from us.
Sometimes it’s good to stop and talk with friends. Sometimes they can help you find your way. I continued on my way and got to where I needed to be. I might have walked alone, but I couldn’t have made it without the friends I made on the Camino. And it wouldn’t have been as fun.
SUNSHINE JEN has blogged on happyrobot (www.happyrobot.net) about film, culture, and Los Angeles since 2004. She recently published her first ebook, The Slacker Pilgrim Guide to the Camino de Santiago. It is available on Amazon Kindle, Apple, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kobobooks, and Smashwords. She is currently working on a book of short stories set around Los Angeles called Beautiful Collisions which will be available on Amazon soon. Her twitter feed is @RoboSunshineJen.
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