Sunday, 22 July 2007

To be a Pilg

One of the reasons we bought the house in Moratinos was because it is right on the Camino. At this time of year literally hundreds walk, or cycle, through the village only a hundred yards or so from our front door each day.

Reb, my wife, is considerably more interested in all this than I am, but occasionally the passing parade catches my attention.

A day or so ago while walking the dog, I heard two pilgs (our name for them) talking English as they approached. One turned out to be a nice man from London named Charlie. We walked and talked for half an hour to San Nicolas then had a coffee in the local bar. Like several other pilgs, Charlie seemed to be getting over domestic problems, in his case, a divorce, and had also fallen for a French pilg called Virginne, as I heard it. An ominous name.

I get the impression that walking to Santiago has overtaken the traditional cures for emotional disaster. At one time, guys like Charlie would have signed on a whaler for a couple of years, or joined The Foreign Legion to Forget It All.

Women often have the same motives. A German lady, Astrid, recently told me she was heading West as an indirect result of being left practically at the altar a year ago by some cad from Cologne. Then the pair of us met another German, Christian, who sat around holding his head in his hands and moaning softly after getting the elbow from a fraulein. It's the same the whole world over, I suppose.

But the motives of some of them can only be guessed at. When I see a pilg walking the 'wrong' way, that is West to East, I generally ask them if they have been to Santiago, and what they are up to now. Another German told me, yes, he had been to Santiago, and was now headed back to St Jean Pied de Port, the traditional starting place just over the French border.

"OK, " I said, "then what will you do?" "I will turn round and walk back to Santiago," he said, "I have already walked the route twice in succession so far and I'm now half way back on the third trip. Then I will do it again a fourth time." Remember, this is a total of about 2,000 miles.

"Then what will you do?" I asked."Go home, of course," he said, as if it was obvious.

Sometimes the Pilgs heading back say they are off to Lourdes, then Rome, and even Jerusalem. Some of the "right-way" pilgrims have already come thousands of kilometers: they started walking their camino at their front doors. Which are sometimes as far away as Poland, Holland, Norway, or Scotland.
Walking fools. Possibly holy, possibly nuts. Still, it keeps them off the streets.

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