Camino Pilgrims Should Be ‘Entrepreneurial’

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happy pilgrim

Yes, it is too dam small in here

“You want to be as entrepreneurial as possible,” I advise aspiring pilgrims. And I often get quizzical looks with this advice. Entrepreneurial? What in the world is he talking about?

Let me say right away that this has absolutely nothing to do with anything so crass as actual pursuit of money (Given that I’m American, I thought that was a necessary disclosure!). No, what I’m referring to is a pilgrim’s actual mindset. Because the question I receive time and again is, ‘Who do you decide to hike with’? And for those of you who have read my Camino narrative, The Best Way, you are aware that I consider the astoundingly diverse cast of characters that populate the Camino de Santiago–especially the Camino Frances–to be the greatest part of the entire Camino experience.

There is no cookbook approach to finding pilgrims to walk with. But the entrepreneurial mindset–looking for propitious situations and avoiding disadvantageous ones–is a good attitude to carry into the journey. This is especially important considering that reams of pilgrims–including many female pilgrims–arrive to do the pilgrimage alone. Right away they are going to be facing the issue of interaction with fellow pilgrims.

Of course, we all–or most of us–fear rejection. The good news is that relationships amongst pilgrims tend to develop organically. That is, you naturally find trekking partners based on your walking speed, frequency of breaks, preference for albergues, and dining habits. It also depends on one’s personality. I consider myself a bit of an extrovert; I like to be around people. And given the international population of Camino pilgrims, I prefer to be around pilgrims of as many nationalities as possible. “I don’t hike with Americans while overseas,” I have told people. That is not literally true, and I am not anti-American in any way. However, I don’t make the long trip over the Atlantic with the idea of hiking with other Americans. And I meet Europeans of the same mindset. “I can’t take this group any longer,” an Italian lady told me last year, speaking of a large group of Italian pilgrims. Perhaps not coincidentally, we ended up hiking together.

The previous year I ended up walking with a large contingent of males and females from Paris. Of course, the longstanding phobia that French and Americans have for each other is well known. I love the irony of it, and it certainly seems like you learn more when walking with foreigners (We spoke the neutral language of Spanish, which they had a much greater command of). You see all kinds of ironies on the Camino. I remember an unfortunate situation in an albergue when a drunk pilgrim began grabbing at a young French lady. An 18 year boy from Germany, France’s long-time nemesis, stepped in an rescued the girl. She ended up walking the next 300 kilometers with the German and his girlfriend, despite severe communication problems.

But perhaps I should not have mentioned that incident above for the simple reason that I have seen so few unpleasant episodes over the course of my three pilgrimages. The risk of other pilgrims causing you serious problems is very low, so stick your neck out. The odds are that you will be around people of very different backgrounds, which means that you have a lot to learn from each other. If for some reason you do find hiking partners to be unpleasant, there are a jillion different ways to get away from them. Melting into the crowd (there are people around at almost all times, day and night) of pilgrims is the most time-tested. In fact, unless you are especially content with the people you are walking with (Note: people have met on the Camino and gotten married), my advice is to bounce around some. Some days you might choose to go extra distance which will immerse you with pilgrims on a different schedule; other days you might choose to pull up short. “Hike your own hike,” is the well-known paradigm amongst Appalachian Trail hikers. Camino pilgrims would be well-served to follow this ethos.

It is worth remembering that the word ‘travel’ comes from the Anglo-Latin word, ‘travails’. This brings up yet another great irony. In this day and age of instantaneous communication and supersonic jet travel, it is harder than ever to travel soulfully and well. However, the Camino mode of travel–walking several hours per day, along with breaks, communal meals, and shared bunkrooms, is a step away from overly sanitized, antiseptic travel. Better yet, more than any way I have ever traveled, it affords a person great opportunity to make authentic acquaintances, rather than just surface-deep chatter with hotel desk clerks and waiters. But to maximize this opportunity, I recommend pilgrims do the Camino alone and with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Bill Walker is the author of The Best Way – El Camino de Santiago He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trailand Getting High–The Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.

Posted in Camino Thoughts
18 comments on “Camino Pilgrims Should Be ‘Entrepreneurial’
  1. Elandra Moran-Eigel says:

    I did my camino, last year this time, with the mindset of meeting the people that came my way. Many would reduce their speed and talk a bit – I would always tell them that I walk slowly and stop occasionally to look back and see the sights from another perspective, so when you feel you want to go on, don’t hesitate. I met some wonderful and interesting fellow pilgrims. I have camino fever and want to be on the path. The next time it will be Via de la Platte. I am hoping to have my pennies saved by next year. I am putting this on my facebook page because so many ask why I, a woman, went alone. In fact, I done most of my traveling alone. I did not have any problems with people; in fact, they were all wonderful. I met many angels along the way. Well, the young man who woke me up angrily, because I was snoring, just had a bad day. Anyway, thank you for writing the article.

  2. Kathy Cook says:

    Thank you both – Skywalker and Elandra Moran Eigel above – I have recently made a decisiion to walk the Camino and have only just started to think about it and to do my research – and was wondering whether to do it alone or whether to seek out a like minded friend – difficult really as much as I love al my friends not many of them are up for such a journey – of the soul, spirit and body! Reading both your blogs has given me greater confidence to plan this for me – and follow Skywalker’s advice to hike my own hike! I am looking to walk sometime in early September next year and am so looking forward to it!

    • Leslie says:

      A lot of people meet as the result of the forum. There is usually a thread for each month, this helps people plan to walk with someone during the first day or so. http://www.caminoforums.com/

    • Leandra Scott says:

      HI Kathy, i am also planning to walk September 2014 on my own, unless one of my friends are keen, but not so far. You never know we may meet on the walk

      • Kathy Cook says:

        Hi Leandra – that is so good to here – perhaps we can keep in touch thru here to check on planning/prep progress etc. Have you yet made a decision as to where you are starting from ?

  3. Kathy Cook says:

    Thank you Leslie – that is very kind of you to let me know – have only just started to use the forum so will explore more and ask more too. Good to know that there is a lot of experience out there that is so generously shared..thanks. Kathy

  4. Kathy Loney says:

    I am bringing a group of 10 with me this next June, 2014. I don’t anticipate we will walk as a group, but our stops at the end of the day are planned so we all stay together at night. We are all looking forward to a great experience. This blog is interesting … I will continue to read what is shared on this site. Kathy

  5. Bill May says:

    I walked from Leon to Santiago with a friend in early May 2013. I agree that the greatest pleasure on the trip was meeting people from different countries. We stayed in albergues the first few days, and that is where we met the people we would run into all along the trail. Although we switched to private albergues later in the trip, we would wait in the town square for our friends to show up so we could get together in the evenings and drink a lot of rio tinto and talk about the day’s travails on the trail. When I got home, I said I did not enjoy the hike. As time passed, I moved from this being the hardest thing I had ever done to I want to go back in a couple of years and do another section of the Camino Frances.

  6. Jesse says:

    Good advice, I plan to start the camino lusitana in a few weeks. I will be walking from coimbra to san tiago in the month of september. Can’t wait to see the pilgrims and who I will walk with. This is my first comment. Does any body know who to contact so I can blog for this web site?

    • Leslie says:

      Hi Jesse, you can contact me lesliegilmour – @ – gmail.com – however you can go to the write for us page and create an account and start there. I only have a few rules, min post length and original material. If you want to blog while on the route you can do that also and send by mail. Let me know if I can help.

  7. Bill Walker says:

    Leslie,

    Great term–’Serial Caminoist’. It very aptly describes me. More importantly, a whole generation of serial caminoists seems to be developing. And thankfully so, in this technology-addicted society of ours. Perhaps somebody–you, me, or one of our brethren–will start a special society of Camino addicts.

    Buen Camino

  8. Juju says:

    Thanks so much for this post – I have been agonising about whether to walk alone, especially considering the current financial situation in Spain. This has reassured me that it will be fine. I will be acknowledging my 60th birthday while walking in Spring next year.

    • SkyWalker says:

      Yes, arriving alone offers the most upside for a pilgrim. It forces you to stick your neck out. Good things tend to happen on the Camino. And I’ve yet to hear any truly gruesome tales (I relate one in my book, ‘The Best Way’, about a drunk Polish pilgrims harrassing a French girl at an albergue), the likes of which you occasionally hear on the Appalachian Trail.

      Buen Camino,

      Bill Walker

    • Elandra says:

      I walked my first camino in September 2013 at 62 years young; many start and there are many who do not walk as far as they anticipate. It is not age that determines one’s camino; it is in the mind, spirit and soul that propels the body. I saw pilgrims who had blisters from the tip of the toes to the back of the ball of the foot keep walking. I wondered if and how one woman who was limping while leaning on another woman was going to continue her camino only to see her 2 weeks later walking better and glad she had continued. She had given herself a break by riding the bus and taking a rest for a couple of days. I saw those who were daunted by the grade of an incline and were angry for its inconvenience.

      I’ve heard it called one’s “muster,” but it is more than that. It – a name for “it” is hard to discern – is different for each person because there are those who “give up” at the end of the day saying that he/she does not think they can go any farther then trod off before the morning light and others to their next destination. There are those who give up before they get started; there are those who have to stop because of illness; there are those who arrive and feel the accomplishment as well as the sadness of the end at Santiago; and there are those who never leave because their life’s essence are on the camino – their memorials are along the way to give tribute.

      When I began my camino, I didn’t know what lay before me – part of its mystic for me – I wanted to see if I and my body were metal enough for the journey. Sure I had my challenges (sprained the same ankle 3 times – once outside Cezor Minor, once 3 km outside Santiago and again in Santiago. I was told by a volunteer physiotherapist that I had broken my ankle, and if I went to the hospital, I would be sent home. I had already walked on it for over a week and the worst was over. He taped it, admonished me not to walk on it for 3 days, and told me to drink 5 liters of water a day instead of the 4 I had been drinking per day. I did as he directed and did well until the 3 km before Santiago, but I was not daunted. My pilgrimage was mine and I had learned so much about me, my God and my fellow pilgrims. Some of my pilgrimage was not a cherished as it is

  9. Ann says:

    My husband and I walked from Leon to Santiago in May this year and it was a fantastic experience, we met so many wonderful people from many countries (we come from Tasmania Australia). We are in our 60s and carried our own pack and had no injuries or blisters. We are going to do the walk again in September 2015 starting from Saint Jean Pied De Port to Santiago. Does anyone have a good list of albergues on the way, this time we are going to book ahead each morning as we found the good albergues booked out by the time we arrived mid afternoon. I think to enjoy our walk more I might even consider sending my packpack ahead to the next stop (not sure of that one yet)
    Anyone considering the walk do it even on your own you will never regret it. Ann

  10. Gabi says:

    It was so pleasant to read the article! I did it just because I was missing my time on the camino in April 2013 so much. Yes, I started alone and I recognize everything that is said here about choosing people to walk with. Although since the season hadn’t had started yet, and since I did Camino del Norte, which is not that popular – there were a few days when I was not just walking, but also sleeping totally alone in an albergue. But that also was a fascinating experience. And along with the stunning views of the coastal Spain, the journey left me such incredible memories, that now all I’m dreaming about is how to find a free month and go back. Hopefully right away after my studies..
    Good luck everybody. Be optimistic and your hikes will be just amazing!!!

  11. Sandra & Vincent Mariani says:

    Meeting people from foreign countries is one of the great joys of the Camino. It is quite enlightening to hear other people’s perspective of the U.S. Europeans seem to know more of our country than we do of theirs. On our Camino Frances in 2008 we met people from 32 countries. In 2013 on the Caminho Portugues, we were a group of six for much of the way. Vincent (Swamp Fox) got to walk with women from five different countries (U.S., Ireland, Slovakia, Estonia, and South Africa). Looking forward to our next Camino Frances in 2015. We are certain we will make many more lifetime friends.

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