I spent last week walking with strangers. As an introvert, this is something I wouldn’t have done of my own accord, as it is way out of my comfort zone. Meeting strangers along the way is one thing. But committing to spending 6 full days with a group of total strangers is a completely different story. However, when the opportunity arose, I said yes!
So, why did I walk with strangers?
A fellow teacher, María Ortega, organises Spanish retreats in Spain every year: a few days in a Spanish city, practicing your Spanish language and learning about the culture in a natural way. We met online, maybe just over a year ago, at an online event for language teachers and we started following each other.
One day, she asked me: “Why don’t we organise a retreat together, on the Camino?”. It was a scary idea (I’d never done such a thing), but at the same time I had the feeling it could be an interesting experience, so I said yes. We picked a route (Camino Inglés), set the dates and the rest is history, as they say.
As the starting day approached, fear kicked in and a voice in my head kept saying: “What were you thinking when you agreed to take part in this crazy idea?”
But it was too late to change my mind then. I was stuck walking with these strangers.
Who were they?
The only person I knew (and that was only online), was the other María. We soon became “las Marías”.
And then we had 5 men and 2 women, from several places: four from Reino Unido (UK), Inglaterra to be precise; one from Canadá (Canada), one born in China (China) but living in Estados Unidos (USA) and another one born in Polonia (Poland) but living in Suecia (Sweden).
The age range went from the 30’s well into the 60’s. So, all in all, we had quite a diverse group. I didn’t know any of these people at all before and I was not just going to teach them a lesson or two. I was going to spend a week with them! All day. Walking together for hours every day, sharing conversations, meals and even rooms.
On the last day, somewhere between Sigüeiro and Santiago. I’m the shadow taking the picture.
As I said earlier, I’m an introvert, and I enjoy spending time in my own company. So, as the starting day approached, I was feeling a bit anxious.
I know people meet other peregrinos on the Camino and sometimes they remain friends for years or even get married (read Julia’s story). But you normally have the choice to walk with someone or not. I did not have that choice and that thought worried me a bit. But I applied the Galician philosophy of Maloserá* and hoped for the best.
The truth is that I soon found out I needn’t worry. Despite being a mixed group of different ages and backgrounds, these people were all lovely in their own different ways. By the end of the week this group of strangers had almost become family and it was hard to part.
I’ll detail our journey in future posts, as I’m still trying to process the experience and I’m not back to my normal self (maybe I’ll never be?). So, for today, I’ll leave you with some thoughts.
I was wrong
I’ll be honest: I didn’t anticipate the effect this Camino has had on me. I know most people talk about the life-changing nature of the Camino and the emotion they feel when they reach Santiago. But somehow I didn’t think I would be so touched, for several reasons:
- First, I was on the Camino for una semana (a week) “only” and I didn’t think it would be long enough. I thought I would have to walk for weeks to experience all of that, but I was obviously wrong.
- I’m from Galicia. So, even if I hadn’t been to all the places the Camino goes through, I’m home. I’m not walking on exotic lands. I’m familiar with el paisaje (landscape), la comida (food) and the languages (both Galician and Spanish). Well, it was still somehow different, maybe because I was showing it to others.
- I’ve been to Santiago many times. In fact, I lived in Santiago for a couple of years when I was in college. I’ve been on Praza do Obradoiro countless times, I’ve crossed it in all possible directions, I’ve heard la gaita (bagpipe) millions of times too… Why would this time be different? Yes, your guess is right: I was wrong!
- I was walking with a group of strangers and this was supposed to be more of a “work thing” than a spiritual pilgrimage. Of course, I was wrong again! There was no teacher and student division; we were all together in a journey full of lessons to be learned by all of us.
*Maloserá. This Galician word does not have a literal translation. Google Translate will tell you it means “it will be bad”, but in fact it means quite the opposite. It’s an expression of our optimism and you can use it in any potentially negative situation. It means that you shouldn’t worry, that things will be OK, that it’s probably not as bad as it looks, that you are going to be alright…
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