When I walked the Camino de Santiago I started out as a solo walker–but I was not alone on the Way. Many others that I met both on and after my pilgrimage talked about starting alone and then making friends as they walked. Every year, over 100,000 people walk on one of the many Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trails. We all shared the path, our meals and our sleeping spaces. It’s inevitable that, even as strangers, we would end up making friends and sharing intimacies. Here are just a few varieties of intimacy that I experienced on my Camino.
Friends and Intimacies on the Camino de Santiago
Befriending a Pony
I met Pony (his real name, no kidding) in Astorga. This was about halfway through my Camino and just a few days into his own. He’s a gay hairdresser from Key West. I’m a straight philanthropy consultant and travel blogger from San Francisco. So of course we had a lot in common. We bonded over a shared love of show tunes and a mischievous sense of humor. Up to that point in my walk, I had made some friends. But they were on a faster pace than me and so they had pressed on ahead. Hence, I had spent much the previous few days walking alone. I set out do the Camino de Santiago alone. In fact I encourage women to do the Camino Solo. But by the time I hit Astorga, I was ready for some company.
Pony was a great walking companion and a very supportive fellow pilgrim. Because of him, I saw ALL of those quirky little village churches, listened to the beautiful vespers service in Samos and had some emotional support on my hard days. I was grateful to have met him.
Dude, I saw your penis
There’s this German guy, I’ll call him Happy, because of his cheerful demeanor. His modesty threshold is low by anyone’s standards. Happy, his wife and I had been pacing one another throughout my trek and so on occasion, we would find ourselves in the same albuerge. Most pilgrims would shower and then change in the bathrooms. But Happy’s post-shower habit was to strip and dress in full view of all bunk makes. He tended to check-in later in the day so the deshabille often occurred during everyone else’s nap time. Because of this, I had the honor of rolling over during many a nap and cracking my eyes open just in time to see Happy during his wardrobe transition.
Side view, rear view, full frontal. I didn’t know his last name, but nonetheless, I knew him well.
If this Bunk’s a Rockin’, Don’t Come a Knockin’
It was the middle of the night and I could not figure out what was going on. The girl above me (I’ll call her DeNile) wasn’t a large person, and yet there was clomping up the bunk steps, creaking, whispering, silence, creaking, more creaking, and a lot more creaking. Then silence. I was very tired and so just shrugged it off and went back to sleep. The next morning, a fellow bunkie Mike (his real name), gave me the missing pieces. Italian Hair Guy had crawled into DaNile’s upper bunk and, well, shenanigans ensued. Mike and I each saw DeNile again over the next days so we each asked her about it. She denied the event. How can you deny shenanigans performed in bunk room with 12 other people? Shrug. I wished her a Buen Camino and went on my way.
Mike and I thought that the DeNile story was hilarious, so were sharing it with a large group over drinks a few days later. The conversation devolved and someone posed the question of how one might get self-pleasure on the Camino. We all agreed that it would be difficult given the exhaustion and cramped living quarters. Lo and behold, that very night at the convent albergue, Strapping Young Man gave it a go. Strapping was in the lower bunk next to mine. He believed me to be asleep. And I was indeed trying to sleep but it was a loud, crowded, well lit albuerge. Despite the lights and the nuns (convent!), Strapping started in. Imagine his shock when I abruptly got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I think I ruined the mood of his party. Sorry Strapping, but this post-menopausal married chick needs her sleep.
We met Beaming Smile as we huffed our way up a big hill into town. She was casually drinking a late morning coffee. She shared with us that she had fallen in love with a German guy but had lost him on the trail. For the last few days she had been looking for him, but to no avail. She had just concluded that he must be ahead of her rather then behind, and she was thinking she would try to catch up with him. He was wearing orange shorts and we were instructed to tell him to wait if we saw him. OK…how likely was that?
We continued hiking, had some lunch and toured beautiful old town of O Cebreiro. We then continued huffing up and down hills. Finally, we crested the last hill and plonked down at an umbrella oasis. Lo and behold, we espied Beaming and Orange Shorts. She had somehow managed to pass us. The two lovebirds were hugging and snuggling and ensuring one other that they wouldn’t separate again. It was very sweet. Now there is more to this story… some stuff involving Beaming wanting to ride horses, questions about why she got such a late start when she was supposed to be searching for her true love and some crazy business about how she left her pack behind… but it doesn’t make any sense. She was beautiful, but not a linear thinker. Regardless, I was happy to see Beaming and Orange Shorts together again. I hope that their budding love lived past the conclusion of their Camino.
I’ve been told that some of these experiences are uniquely mine, but I don’t think so. All of us experienced strange intimacies on the trail. We made fleeting friends, swapped stories with strangers, shared tears and co-mingled our laundry on the drying line. It’s all part of being a pilgrim.
Prepare Yourself to Make Friends and Gather Stories on Your Camino
If you are preparing to go on the Camino, check out these great resources:
- Hear about walking the Camino solo and get inspiration to commit to your trip.
- Get ready for your pilgrimage using our Camino training guide, which includes trail tested tips and a 12-week fitness planner.
- Figure out how to get to Saint Jean Pied de Port to start your hike.
- Check out my Pilgrim Packing List.
- Get an epic reading list of 31 books on the Camino.
- Get a budget for the Camino.
- Find the right Camino app or the best guidebook.
- Get more advice at the Camino de Santiago Forum
- Pick up the Brierly guide book for the Camino
(this post was originally published in 2014 but has been edited and updated. There are affiliate links in this post)
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