I got your attention there, didn’t I Mum?
I’m disappointed to say that I’ve yet to encounter any WiFi on the Camino that is happy uploading photos via my ancient iPad to this blog platform; so even if I had have been brazen enough to take a photo of said Shirtless Belgian I couldn’t share it with you. Maybe I wouldn’t want to share. Anyway…
Almost 400km in and I’ve discovered that there a number of ways that fellow pilgrims connect on the Camino. There’s the head down, minimal eye contact ‘we’re concentrating on this sodding hill’ mutual acknowledgement; not unfriendly, just a silent acceptance of each other’s pain. Then there’s the ‘Buen Camino’ (have a great journey) cheery, timeless greeting; it crosses all language barriers and is even more welcome at tricky sections when both parties are out of puff and the effort is still made. The next type of connection I’d define as ‘helpful and informative’; weather forecasts, blister strategies, tips about cultural or gastronomic highlights in the next town or village or, crucially, where the next toilet is. The there’s the ‘easy conversationalists’; the chat that starts with the Camino but branches out to other travel adventures, stories of respective countries, customs, experiences, family and friends. All adding a sublime richness to the Camino experience. If you’re really lucky though you may also experience the truly ‘magic’ connections of the Camino. Exploradora and I for example have been good friends for a couple of decades and so far the Camino has served to both challenge but ultimately strengthen that ‘magic’ bond we arrived with. We’re blessed, as we’ve seen other pilgrims on the Way going through some quite tricky times together. But we trust for them that 800km will ultimately iron out any wrinkles in their relationships. What is fascinating for me in particular though are the ‘magic’ connections that can occur with ‘new’ people; deep connections that happen in a single conversation, eclipsing at times the ones you’d typically make over months or years at the water cooler in work, in a large friendship group or at a social club.
As I don’t know who will ultimately read this blog I need to respect each pilgrim’s identity. My audience could be just my parents admittedly but, just in case, I’ll generalise a little and use two examples. The first, an early morning chat on a steep, rocky hillside not long after I had encouraged Exploradora and her strong legs to go at the pace they were designed to take. Eating her dust, I took a water stop close to a man from across the Atlantic I had been introduced to a couple of evenings before; a total gentleman in both manners and human nature. It felt natural to cut the small talk quickly and we both shared some similar, emotional, family centric experiences that had occurred only days before on the Camino. Surprisingly for me, we were both unashamedly comfortable welling up and crying briefly together and, as we parted company again (as we both knew we felt like walking alone) he thanked me for sharing tears with him. As I walked on I thought ‘how odd is this freaking Camino…but I like it’.
The Shirtless Belgian appeared from nowhere some days before; a hot day with very little shade, Exploradora and I had gone quiet walking the last long stretch of the day when two Belgian men joined us. We paired off for conversation and, within less than two minutes, this lovely young man and I were talking about our rationale for embarking upon the Camino, the similarities in our respective upbringings and our attitudes towards work and finding our respective lives’ meanings. Bam! No weather chit chat. No world politics. No Camino logistics about accommodation choices. Just the real stuff (for us anyway). We then went on to topics of mutual interest; NLP, personality types, self development topics. In less than three quarters of an hour our weary legs were pleased to reach our next town but, for me at least, I could have talked with this intelligent man at this level for longer. It felt deep, of meaning, but at the same time light as a feather. No ‘heavy’ offloading, trading sob stories or striving to say anything profound.
I trust this unique Camino experience will allow me to continue to meet kindred spirits like the lovely gents I’ve described here. In ponchos, waterproofs, t-shirts – or no shirts. I’m not picky.