Making Human Connection on the Camino de Santiago

Making Human Connection on the Camino de Santiago

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or The Way of Saint James, is a 500 mile trek through four of Spain’s regions: Navarra, Rioja, Castilla y Leon and Galicia. While walking eighteen miles a day for several weeks, there was no separating myself from the natural environment around me. For hours a day, I treaded through dirt paths, paved roads, abandoned farm houses, uninspiring highways, cows with long eyelashes, and old men wobbling on cobblestone.

 

A few months after I finished my walk, I traveled to Vietnam, where I met a pair of Germans. I mentioned I had walked the Camino. “Oh, did you… find yourself?” one said with a wink and a heavy dose of sarcasm. I laughed. No, I told him, I didn’t ‘find myself.’ I, too, typically rolled my eyes at those suggestions. But, it would be a lie to say I hadn’t changed.

 

For most of us who walked the Camino, it was the first time we were alone for so long with our own thoughts. We could put on earbuds and listen to music or podcasts, or chat with the occasional passerby, but those moments faded. Batteries wore out, people walked too slowly or too fast, conversations slowed, and sooner or later, we were left alone, tormented by whatever floated through our heads. The stillness of nature and the rhythm of our steps soothed, but there was another, unexpected element of the trek: other humans.

 

The Camino is as much a relationship between the pilgrim and nature as it is one between the pilgrim and her fellow pilgrims. Many walk the Camino to escape their lives—some to come to terms with their best friend’s death, maybe to celebrate a triumph over cancer, or to forget an ex-wife—the growing popularity of the trail is a disappointment.

 

For me, however, the human touch—visible on the trail, in restaurants, at albergues—of the Camino was an integral part of why it meant so much to me. My relationship to my friend, who appears in many of the photos, strengthened. I found the graffiti, the painted stones, the quotes, and nightly gatherings of pilgrims, aid in the inward reflection that the Camino evokes.

 

The following photographs showcase various scenes of the Camino, made more beautiful by humans. We don’t have to distract from others achieving their goals or contribute to nature’s destruction, but instead form part of it and become one with nature and with each other.

 

The Camino is littered with guiding signs, like this one in front of Castrojeriz, Spain, indicating pilgrims are on the right route.

The Camino is littered with guiding signs, like this one in front of Castrojeriz, Spain, indicating pilgrims are on the right route.

A peregrino, pilgrim, takes a break in the Castilla y Leon countryside along the Camino de Santiago.

A peregrino, pilgrim, takes a break in the Castilla y Leon countryside along the Camino de Santiago.

Many pilgrims wake up at dawn and walk for several hours, often alone, only stopping for short breaks. Evenings are when pilgrims have time to socialize and relax. At Albergue Amanecer in Villarmentero de Campos, a group of pilgrims sit together after a long day of walking.

Many pilgrims wake up at dawn and walk for several hours, often alone, only stopping for short breaks. Evenings are when pilgrims have time to socialize and relax. At Albergue Amanecer in Villarmentero de Campos, a group of pilgrims sit together after a long day of walking.

A sign at an albergue reads ‘THANK YOU’ and under it a smaller sign reading ‘World Peace is Possible.’

A sign at an albergue reads ‘THANK YOU’ and under it a smaller sign reading ‘World Peace is Possible.’

Some pilgrims prefer solitude, while others are motivated by the company of others. A group of four pilgrims walk along wheat and barley fields in the Spanish countryside.

Some pilgrims prefer solitude, while others are motivated by the company of others. A group of four pilgrims walk along wheat and barley fields in the Spanish countryside.

The pilgrim poses for a picture near the border of Galicia. He just finished ranting about how awful the snorers are, and his tactics for silencing them in the shared albergue dorm rooms.

The pilgrim poses for a picture near the border of Galicia. He just finished ranting about how awful the snorers are, and his tactics for silencing them in the shared albergue dorm rooms.

Trash for one person might be the encouragement another needs. This beer bottle reads  “No perder nunca la sonrisa.” (Never lose your smile.)

Trash for one person might be the encouragement another needs. This beer bottle reads  “No perder nunca la sonrisa.” (Never lose your smile.)

There’s no sleeping in on the Camino. When some might see the weather and opt for a pajama day with netflix, a pilgrim walks quickly through the mist and morning fog of Galicia.

There’s no sleeping in on the Camino. When some might see the weather and opt for a pajama day with netflix, a pilgrim walks quickly through the mist and morning fog of Galicia.

A rock displays the message “Que necesita tu corazon?” (What does your heart need?)

A rock displays the message “Que necesita tu corazon?” (What does your heart need?)

The cliffs at sunset at Finisterre, the end of the Camino, once considered the end of the earth.

The cliffs at sunset at Finisterre, the end of the Camino, once considered the end of the earth.

Photo's by Author

Allison is a devout Latin America enthusiast, who loves a lot of things, but mostly a good cup a tea and loud personalities. You can find her on Twitter: @AllisonBYates and Instagram: @allisonyateswrites