Before we left to walk the Camino de Santiago the first time in 2015, I read everything I could, including plenty of Camino memoirs. I was desperate for practical information and advice. How would I know where to sleep? Where would I find food? What if I needed a bathroom in the middle of the day?
But I noticed that every story focused mostly on the people the authors met along the way.
Wait, I wanted to say to the writers. You’re walking through this magnificent country, and all you can talk about is the Austrian guy you met at dinner? Where are your priorities?
And then I went to France, started walking, and met the people. And they became the center of my story, too.
Today’s #CaminoTuesday prompt is companionship, because the true story of a pilgrimage isn’t just about the history or the trail or the architecture.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you’re from, whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, or whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert. If you walk the Way of Saint James, the people around you will make or break your experience.
The Camino is as much about the hours of conversation in the evenings, with people you’d never meet otherwise, as it is about the physical challenge of the mornings. Whether you have a good day or a bad day on the trail depends as much on the person walking beside you, sharing their story, as it does the mud or blisters or steepness of the hill.
My pilgrimage was a social experience in ways I never expected, and the people I met are bound to my memories. This is also true for both times I’ve gone back for shorter walks, in 2016 and 2018. I came home with new friends—some I’d known in person for only a day or two.
There’s a reason, I realized, that most people who have walked come home talking about their Camino Family, not their Camino friends.