Crazy Encounters on the Camino de Santiago
Bleary eyed and a little nervous, I was awake before they turned the lights on at the hostel in St Jean Pied du Port at the start of my Camino de Santiago. It was a damp and drizzly dawn, and everyone was a little restless. There was an air of uncertainty about in the room I had shared with 2 other women as we stuffed our things back into our packs and headed down for breakfast. None of us knew what lay ahead. Who would we meet? How would this walk unfold? How would we handle our new lives on the road?
I had my share of struggles, but all in all, I loved the Camino experience. I have said it a thousand times – I met so many wonderful people along the route. I am sure that you would hear the same from anyone who has walked the Camino. It is the people you meet that make the journey. But, what about the crazy encounters? The people, for better or worse, you just won’t forget! Here are a few of my crazy encounters on the Camino de Santiago. (I have not included photos of any of these people for obvious reasons….but their memories will live on forever!)
Two becomes one guy
Barely one week into my walk, I received some terrible news from home. It almost marked the end of my trip as a family member had been involved in an accident and was in a coma. (Fully recovered now, but there were some tense moments!) I decided to make it an early day, stopping in Uterga when I saw their beautiful gardens and the blessed WiFi symbol. A chance to connect with the family and find out what was happening back home. I ordered some lunch and buried myself into my laptop. After a few minutes, a man came over, asking if I minded if he sat with me. Telling him I had no problem with it, but that I was in the middle of something urgent, I got straight back into my emails.
Next thing you know, he is telling me his life story. Turns out, he lives close to me here in Canada, and had started the Camino with his “lady friend”. Nose still in my computer, I tried to focus on the emergency at home, but he pushed on…”oh, it hasn’t gone well”, he said. Turns out, their relationship hit a few too many bumps on the early Camino days, and she left him in Pamplona on their third day. He was now on his own and full of anger. I felt for him, I really did. What can you do…it didn’t sound like she wanted to do this walk in the first place, and from what he was saying, he cajoled her into this trip as they were on rocky grounds already. An 8oo Km walk could strain a solid relationship let alone one that was not on good footing.
Somehow, perhaps due to the common ground of speaking english or the hometown similarity, I just couldn’t shake this guy. The more he told me about his story, the more his anger turned to rage. You could actually feel it radiating off of him! I just couldn’t get away from it. I ducked out early the next morning, in an attempt to avoid him, but he was unavoidable. You knew he was there before you even saw him! I felt bad for him, but I couldn’t stay near him.
Luckily, I met a wonderful, peaceful man from Amsterdam on the road, and we walked together for some time. He had such a calming effect on me and the anger of Two becomes one guy was quickly forgotten. I did hear that he mellowed out – but it took him some time. Hopefully, he worked through his issues as he walked…the Camino does have that effect on people.
You just don’t get communal living lady!
This is one I struggled with for weeks as I walked the Camino. On the trail, everyone is in a similar boat. We wake, we walk, we find a place to lay our heads. I was struggling with what felt like the weight of the world. The accident at home exacerbated by the weight of my backpack. My footsteps were heavy. I landed into Santo Domingo de la Calzada to find a huge line outside the municipal albergue. Panicked, and perhaps not thinking straight, I jumped into the line and waited for a bed. One of the volunteers came through the line with a list of rules, one which stated – “No noise before 6:30 am. If you are leaving earlier, bags are to be packed in the corridor”. I was so excited. This was my kind of rule! Frustrated by so many people rustling through their packs, waking the house at 5am to hit the trails in the dark, I relished the thought of a quieter morning. Man, I could not have been more wrong!
I believe there were 14 people in the room, but it was the actions of a group of 5 women that had me going crazy! The alarms started going off around 5. The crinkle crinkle of people digging in their bags went on and on. I understand the fact that there is likely to be a little noise – it is relatively unavoidable, but it was like this person was digging her way to China! Then her friends got in on the action and the noise got louder. I made a shhhh noise and burrowed deeper into my blankets. Then the women started talking – basically debating whether or not to wake one of their friends. I asked them to be quiet. People were trying to sleep. Next thing I new, she was centimetres from my face, lecturing me on communal living. I didn’t understand how she was lecturing me on not understanding communal living! Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought communal living meant going out of your way to be quiet and considerate of your fellow person, not make as much noise as you want…too bad for everyone else! I didn’t challenge her (but boy, did I want to!) and stayed in bed. By 6:15, I couldn’t take it any more and got up. I was shocked to see that this group of women had not in fact made so much noise in preparation to get an early start, but rather, unpacked the entire contents of their packs onto their beds and disappeared! I saw them in the breakfast area as I head out of the hostel! At least, waiting for me in a few days was Burgos…I had booked a private room at a quaint little hotel with a real bed and private bathroom! Some days, a girl just needs a little added bliss!
The walk to Acebo was stunning. The views went on for miles as I descended from the highest point on the journey. The breeze was a little cool, but the sun on my face was ever so refreshing. I remember walking into town, excited to see friends from the Camino sitting on the patio of one of the first bars in town. I plunked myself down and relived the day over a sangria. Life on the Camino was awesome.
I had run into a problem with bed bugs in an earlier town and was quite worried about whether or not I was done with them. When I saw a man spraying his sleeping bag, I popped over to ask him a few questions. Turns out he was American and more than happy to help me out. He sprayed my sleeping bag and my freshly washed clothes and we got to talking. He introduced himself as a US Assassin! I really didn’t quite know what to do with this! Surely, assassins don’t go running around telling people that that is what they do…I am sure the spy game doesn’t work that way. All night he regaled the group at the dinner table with stories of his life as a former Navy Seal, as an assassin and how he accidentally met up with another retired Russian assassin and how they recognized each other! Not quite sure what to do with this story…but I am ever so grateful for the fact that he had bed bug spray! Turns out he was able to use some of those assassin skills after all.