There are many things to consider before starting your Camino. For us it went something like this: 34 days walking or even longer hikes and cut the duration? Book ahead or go with the flow and risk no available beds at the next location? Communal albergues or hostales with twin rooms? Carry all our belongings each day or just a day pack and send the rest via baggage transfer? Factor in rest days or not? Start each day in the dark or wait until after sunrise? Walk fast or meander? Attack the long days and the hills or stop for breaks along the way?
Should you choose to, there are many ways to judge a pilgrim and his or her pilgrimage. Are you a ‘true pilgrim’ if you walk less than 40km a day, stay in bed and breakfast accommodation, take a few rest days, use a baggage transfer service and walk at a pace that stretches you but still accommodates enough ‘puff’ to talk to other pilgrims? Or are you a ‘true pilgrim’ if you aim to complete the Camino in a record number of days, enjoy the community of dormitory living in albergues, take no rest days, carry all your belongings each day and get a buzz from starting really early and hitting your own speed targets, only taking on water and snacks on the move?
Whilst I lean more towards the first example (800km is challenge enough for this old bird without complicating matters further), I firmly believe that anyone with the tenacity to take on a pilgrimage of this nature is a ‘real’ pilgrim, regardless of approach, and all deserve the same degree of respect. Almost two weeks in and we’ve met people walking the Camino in stages planning to come back year on year, cyclists completing up to 70km a day, injured pilgrims calling taxis along the way, less fit people taking frequent breaks and pilgrims of the long lunch with wine variety not caring what time they reach their destination. And when we’ve spoken with fellow pilgrims about their reasons for walking the Camino we’ve been frequently moved and inspired, for a wide variety of reasons. Even the ones originally dragged along by friends or spouses begin sentences with “next time…”
As humans we can’t help but create mental units of measurement to judge our own and others’ lives: marital status, nature of employment, salary, type of home, weight, fitness level, beauty, confidence, children, no children, lifestyle choices, the list goes on. On the Camino however I’ve experienced the lowest degree of judgment than any other place or time in my life. The rare comment about not staying in a communal albergue or not carrying all my belongings on my back each day have been exponentially outweighed by genuine concern for my strapped shin, interest in my accent and heritage, humour in many different forms shaped by varying cultures, shared meaningful conversations about life and even some shared tears. And no one seems to care if my face is tired and shiny and my wild hair perched on top of my head like a bird’s nest.
I wonder will my units of measurement shift when I return home? Like most people I suppose, before this experience I’d have thought that I’m not a very judgmental character, but this experience I find pushes your boundaries somewhat. Will my units of measurement be kinder, more flexible, more meaningful? Will I look deeper, beyond the homeless pilgrim’s dirty clothes and gaunt face to his loyal, healthy, happy dogs, before I pass judgment? I hope so.