Alone or Together on the Camino?

At first I was committed to doing this with Kate and the only way it seemed possible for us was to do it in stages over a number of years, since Kate wouldn’t be able to get sufficient time off work. As we thought about it and planned it felt more and more right for me just to do it and for Kate to join me for snippets of time when she could. For all that I felt committed to doing this with Kate I now see in retrospect that pilgrimage like the Camino is probably something to be done on one’s own.

There is a degree to which couple’s or groups can overpower the unique exchange that takes place amongst the pilgrim community. I once saw one couple on bicycle pilgrimage. They were dressed in identical gear from top to toe even down to the silly camera’s they had attached to their helmets. They looked slightly comical but as a double act they also seemed to announce to the pilgrim community that they were a self contained unit. I certainly feel that the pilgrimage experience is different depending on whether you walk alone or with another. Both are valid of course, and whilst being in company with a partner does not preclude encounters with strangers there is a kind of democratic conviviality amongst the pilgrim community that overcomes the potential loneliness of the solitary walker – you are a solitary walker amongst a host of solitary walkers and therefore you are part of a community, a community that can become friendly, warm and hospitable very quickly. As someone put it to me, “I met that chap for the first time this morning and in half an hour I had his entire life history”. Such a comment can be both horrifying and refreshing depending on your perspective or indeed your mood on the day in which you have such an encounter with an open hearted pilgrim keen to off load his life’s story and his troubles to a listening ear.

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