“He’ll Regret It” and “I Need to Find Myself” are words that I heard on the Camino. “He’ll Regret It” captures the occasions of romance on the Camino. “I Need to Find Myself” refers to the romanticism I encountered. During my month on the Camino, I heard both stories about romance and stories exhibiting a sense of romanticism.
Andy told me about a couple he encountered the third or fourth night of the Camino. Because the couple arrived late, they had to pick separate bunkbeds. However, that didn’t deter them. The girlfriend had climbed into the bunk above Andy, and later the boyfriend climbed into the girlfriend’s upper bunk and the two of them had sex. Andy said that there were probably a dozen other people sleeping in the large room, one of whom was a young boy probably not even ten. Apparently the couple were oblivious to everybody else in the room. In the morning, since the woman’s bra had fallen onto his pillow during the night, Andy handed the woman her bra which she accepted with a sheepish grin. Andy didn’t say to the couple that they were rude and inconsiderate, but he certainly said those words later to me.
I overheard another story of romance on the last day as I was walking into Santiago. For at least a long block, I walked behind two other peregrinas who had already arrived, showered, and were walking to the Cathedral for the noon Pilgrim’s Blessing worship service. I overheard one say: “Yes, I met this guy on the second day of hiking. We hit it off really great. However, our relationship began on the Camino and ended on the Camino.” The other woman said: “Oh, I know what you mean. I got close to a fellow until he started smoking weed. He’ll regret that our relationship ended.” Although I was mostly oblivious to romances on the Camino, I learned that some people did strike up various types of relationships.
Romanticism is something different. It refers to the western movement which, among other things, prioritized feelings, emotions, and passions over the intellect, reason, and logic. Feelings, emotions, and passions allow one not only to express those deeper, unfiltered aspects of oneself, but also to get in touch with something truer, something more authentic than oneself.
Even more than the romantic, the Camino allows for this type of romanticism. I found it in many different ways and in many different people. As I left Pamplona, I met Sally from Australia. Her marriage of 30 years had ended in a divorce. “There was nothing more to our marriage. Neither of us had any feelings for the other.” In a matter of three weeks, she “containerized” her belongings. She gave the key to her sister and said “I’ll be back in two months or five years. I need to find myself.”
In San Martin del Camino, I had dinner with Ulrike from Munich, Germany. She was an attractive, single, mid-30ish woman who worked for one of the largest American multi-national corporations as an attorney dealing with their important German vendors. The company had given her an eight- week sabbatical. She said: “I love my job. I am very successful. I have no material needs. I live in the city I dreamed about since I was a young child.” I asked her: “Why are you walking the Camino?” She paused before answering, like a trial attorney sizing up the witness. “I need balance. I don’t want to wake up in ten years and find that I’ve missed a deeper purpose for my life.” I said back to her “In other words, you want to see if there is more to life than being a success at Amazon.”
While I doubt that there are any pilgrims who walk the Camino to do penance, I suspect that there are a large number who seek to find a “healing” of some nature. The “healing” may not be physical in nature as in the past; rather, the “healing” may be more emotional, spiritual. Like Sally and Ulrike, people come trying to “find themselves” or to find there is more to life than the roles they have played. It might be that among the reasons for the popularity of the Camino is that people can find ways of dealing with those questions. Maybe the Camino itself adapts itself to the various individuals with emotional and spiritual questions who walk its paths.