Camino co-competitors

by Tabitha Kidwell

One of the best things about the Camino is all the other people walking. As you walk, you pass and chat with interesting people from all over the world – a lot of Americans and Spanish, but also British, French, Germans, Dutch, Italians, Japanese, Koreans, and more. It’s a great opportunity to meet and learn from people from all over the world!

One of the worst things about the Camino is… all the other people walking. The Camino Francés seems to have grown in popularity over the past few years, and even though it isn’t yet the highest season (July and August), it is pretty crowded. A couple of times, I’ve arrived in town mid-afternoon and found that the hostels I had hoped to stay at were already full. I’ve been able to find other hostels, and there are also more expensive hotels where I could stay, but it makes for a stressful arrival at the end of a tiring day.

I hoped to find some solitude and quiet along the way, and it can be found, but it takes work to find
it. As you walk, there are people ahead and behind you, and there are people going faster and slower than you. It’s easy to get drawn into looking at it as a race, trying to pass or keep ahead of others, especially at the end of the day when you are imagining that last bed at the hostel being taken by the speedster who just blew by.

I really hate this competitive spirit that makes me see other pilgrims as competition rather than fellow travelers. I hate that I wake with a start at the first rustle of a plastic bag in the bunk rooms and feel like I need to get up and moving so I’m not behind the crowd. I hate sitting in a plaza eating a sandwich and feeling stressed as I see pilgrim after pilgrim power by.

The truth is, it’s not a race whatsoever. There are hostels every 5 kilometers or so, and when you see someone on the camino, you have no way of knowing where they started or what their goal for the day is. You don’t know how heavy their burdens are or what pains they are working through. You don’t really know anything about your “competitors” unless you slow down enough to listen to their story. And by the time you’ve done that, they are no longer competition – they are friends, team members on this journey we’re all taking, together and alone at the same time.

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