“The people we meet along the way…” -My answer to a casual question – “What about the Camino have you found most memorable?” – asked over a Pilgrims meal.
There were so many interesting folks we got to know along the way. As soon as I would comment on one person, another would pop up from memory. Instead of editing out certain persons, a difficult proposition as they all had qualities I wanted to mention, I opted to break them into groups. Even so I had to let some go. The first is Nationalities, simply because that was invariably the first question asked was “where are you from.”
The Camino was an international walkway where we met South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Dutch, Austrians, Swedes, Belgians, Spaniards, Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Australians, New Zealanders … so many that we lost track. And even though most spoke some limited English (not surprising), fewer spoke any Spanish. Which was very surprising to me, since most cafe & albergue staff had little English or any other language skills*. Still we managed to communicate.
The character who posed the question was a Galician Spaniard. He grew up near Santiago and was walking the Camino because “for years I’ve seen people from all over the world with backpacks on, entering the square of the Cathedral at Santiago, some crying, some laughing… others collapsing and just sitting… all after walking this thing called ‘the Camino’… SO I thought maybe I should try it to see what it was all about.” He had walked 110 km in a week ( all the vacation time he could spare) and was heading home via bus the next morning. I asked If he had discovered anything. He responded “No… not really”, with a laugh.
“Mik-hile” (he gave himself this nickname because his real name was too difficult to get westerners to pronounce properly), a twenty-something South Korean man, was the only other person at one of the first albergues we stayed in. As we unpacked I watched as he wandered the rooms holding his smart phone up over his head then down to check it… took me a few minutes to figure out that he was looking for … I asked, “No WiFi?”… he looked at me puzzled- so I said “INTERNET?” and he replied “NO Weeee Feeeee… very sad.” A laugh and shrug… As we enjoyed the evening meal using limited English & pantomime, we teased him about being young enough to be our ‘grandson’. Along the way over the next weeks we would suddenly hear “GRANDFATHER… GRANDMOTHER” as Mik-hile jogged up to give and receive a hug… We were always as pleased to see him as he was us.
Olivia was another South Korean. She became known along the trail as the ‘Buen Camino Girl’ because of her exuberance when meeting or even seeing other pilgrims; yelling “BUEN. CaMEEEENO!”. You could hear her from blocks away.
Sel-Soo (phonetically spelled because I have NOT a clue how it should be) was a Brazilian man we kept passing and being passed by. We would smile, he would smile…and then exchange a “Buen Camino”. One evening being the only ones at the restaurant, we shared a table and a meal. Broken English and pantomime sufficed for our conversation. TWO weeks later we were approaching Palas de Rei and saw Sel-Soo waiting for a taxi. He was going into the next largest city because his legs hurt BUT, more importantly so he could eat some “pulpo” – pronounced POOL POE – a local delicacy. Apparently Palas de Rei is famous for it. Tilly asked “what is that?” Sel-Soo responded, “pulpo, pulpo… poooool-POE!” as he searched his memory for the English word… I laughed and then- having seen it mentioned on the menu – say ‘octopus?’… “YES – PULPO!”, he exclaimed and we dissolved into laughter.
Bern, an Irishman made my memory list when after learning about the Las Vegas mass shootings said “The whole world is broken.” We all shared a moment of silence at the table and nothing more could be said about it.
The Canadians we met were dominated by British Columbians (and mostly Vancouver Islanders) but we met the odd Québécois, Albertan & Manitoban.
Americans came from all over… Massachusetts, Georgia, Oregon, Washington (state & DC), Colorado, California, Texas are a few of the states I remember. OH yeah and we all avoided speaking about politics and ‘you -know-who’ back home.
Rich, a young American, was walking the Camino as a break from his volunteer work as a school counselor in Ghana. We remember his smile and positive manner. He walked fast and quickly out paced us so, we were surprised to catch up and pass him a few days later. Until, we saw how he and his new walking partner Katerina were interacting… I don’t think either of them were in any hurry to finish the walk….good for them.
Other nationalities I have not listed here include Swedish, Austrian, Polish because they fit better into one of my other groups.
*HINT – Learn some basic Spanish IF you are going to walk the Camino – you’ll wish you had learned more!