I’m a great people watcher! I love watching people’s behaviors, and of course chatting and interacting with them as well.
One of the things that has intrigued me is the attitudes and actions of different pilgrims whilst they undertake a Camino. Of course, I shouldn’t assume that all the people I see walking the Camino are actually pilgrims. I wonder what proportion they are?
But there seems to be amongst many of the walkers an attitude that the local businesses along the way are there to almost pander to their needs, or giving whatever they need. What do I mean by that? I know it’s very easy to judge and I shouldn’t, but sometimes it’s hard not to! Here are some examples.
As we were leaving Arzúa, we popped into Casa Nené for some breakfast. We were having a leisurely breakfast when three walkers paused outside. We could see them through a cafe window as they deposited their backpacks and poles all over the outside furniture which thankfully, was under a very large awning, as it was raining. They were reorganising all of their gear before leaving town.
After a few minutes of organising their gear, one of the ladies came into the cafe. She wandered up to the counter and said in English, “Stamp? Stamp?” The waiter on the cafe politely gave her a stamp so that she could stamp two credentials. I sat there wondering what might happen next.
Next, she went outside to chat to her colleagues. Two minutes later she was back, this time with three more credentials. “Stamp? Stamp?” she asked again. Again, the waiter gave her the stamp which was held behind the bar so that she could stamp their credentials. Next, she grabbed a handful of tissues off the bar which she stuffed into her pocket, at which point she left the cafe. With that, they donned their packs and went on their way. Without ever purchasing anything in the cafe.
Today as we left our pension, we stopped a couple of hundred meters up the road for breakfast, as our pension only provided tea and coffee for breakfast. We need a little bit more than that to get our engines running!
So we had a great breakfast of bacon, eggs, coffee, and orange juice in the nearby cafe. Halfway through breakfast as we were looking out the window at the pilgrims on their way, a lady left the traffic of pilgrims on the far side of the road, stepped over the bush barrier, that was quite a busy road, and came into the cafe. She dumped her pack outside before coming in. As she entered, she nodded to the owner and said, “Buenos dias,” before heading to the bathroom at the back of the cafe. Pat and I exchanged glances, as we were both wondering what might happen next. Sure enough, as she emerged from the bathroom, she walked straight out the door, put her pack on, crossed back over the road, and commenced her Camino. We exchanged glances with the cafe owner, he just shrugged.
Some people do really treat cafes along the way as public toilets. But there are those who may take the view that local business are more than happy to help passing pilgrims. I’m sure some are, and I’m sure some can get frustrated, because we’ve seen both.
The Book and the Stamp
Later on in our journey today, we came across a guy who I had seen before, he is selling a book which was about his Camino six years ago and how it transformed his life. He seemed to be living out of a camp with his very cute dog, that Pat had stopped and played with.
As well as his little book stand, he was offering a really nice stamp with his little bowl for donations. He seemed like a really nice guy, and we chatted for a moment. I couldn’t help but notice that quite a few pilgrims stopped to stamp their credential, but none put any kinds in the little bowl.
Some were more than happy to help themselves to the rather nice toffees that were in the bowl next to the donation bowl, but none seemed happy to put any coins into the bowl.
We also got a rather nice stamp in our credential, but made sure that we got some coins into the bowl.
So why do I mention these short stories? It comes back to why we’re walking the Camino, and what we hope to learn from the experience, I think.
To me, it’s very much about a spiritual journey until a degree of awakening. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn about themselves, to learn how to get on with others, and I think most of all, to learn gratitude. To be grateful for what we have, and to have some empathy for those who have not.
There was no doubt that many of the people we have seen along the way over the last 40+ days have been doing it tough, to use an Australian expression. We’ve spoken to business owners about the local climate. We’ve seen locals selling walking sticks along the way to try and make a few extra Euros. There’s no doubt that whilst some businesses are doing really well out of the Camino traffic, others are not really exposed to it, or the benefits of the pilgrim traffic don’t permeate down to all elements of the environment that we’ve passed through. So I think in questioning our motives for walking, we also need to be aware of our interactions with the people that we meet along the way, with that I mean the local people. I think one the greatest lessons that we can learn is that there is as much, if not, a greater pleasure in giving than receiving.
Towards the end of the day, we stopped at a cafe for lunch and it just so happened that the owner spoke very good English.
After lunch, I asked her if she wouldn’t mind if I just asked her a question. “No problem,” she said. I said, “What do you think about a lot of these walkers coming into the restaurant and grabbing stamps and wanting to use the bathrooms and not buying anything?”
She said, “It’s a nightmare!” She said, “They’d come in wanting to charge phones, to use the Wi-Fi, to use the bathrooms, with no intention of buying anything. And that’s why we’ve actually put a combination lock on the bathroom door!”