Is it possible to do the Camino without sharing a room with ANYONE? I know that, for me, a single room would be the only option. If not a single room, then maybe a campsite–but sharing a room with others would definitely not work for me. I want to know because I would like to hike the Camino, but I don’t like sharing a room. For me, sharing a room with others at the end of the day would take away from the pleasure of the experience.
The above comment led me down a path of thought that weaves a contrasting thread across the fabric of My Camino. Come with me as I explore its meanderings. Neither you nor I know where it will lead, thus it becomes a new adventure that we share together.
Ask a hundred people to synthesize their Camino experience, and I’ll bet you’ll get at least twenty wildly differing responses. The remaining eighty will probably fall loosely into one of the first twenty. That’s my unofficial, uncorroborated, and unsubstantiated assertion. Among the different twenty, though, there is ample leeway for constructing a Camino of one’s own. There are, you see, few rules and those exist only if you are eager to acquire a compostela, if making a spiritual pilgrimage, or a certificado, if making a non-spiritual journey, attesting to the fact that you made the effort to cover at least the final sixty miles on foot (or 120 miles on bicycle or horseback) before reaching Santiago de Compostela.
The lack of rules is, I believe, one reason that so many people from so many walks of life, of varying age and nationality, race, creed, physical ability, social and economic status, personal preference, and character, are found every day on The Camino. Some are optimists and some are pessimists. Some are athletes and some are obese. Some are gregarious and some are timid. But all are challenging the limits of their own abilities and, indeed, of the way they relate to the environment, to the people around them, and to the world at large.
The interesting thing about challenging oneself is that it leads to change. One needn’t have any intention of change: the very act of challenging oneself is the open door to change. It happens naturally and without conscious effort.
With the exception of teens and students, virtually everyone I spoke with during the early phase of My Camino, chafed at the concept of sharing a room with any number of unknown individuals. Even groups of friends who travel together and share a room among only themselves, sometimes find the communal living difficult because one of them snores loudly or reads late into the night or has smelly feet. It’s natural.
But as the days wore on and bodies grew tired with each day’s effort, pilgrims, myself included, grew gradually accustomed to the hubbub, clatter, and clutter of fellow pilgrims. What seemed intolerable in the beginning, eventually became customary. I grew to expect the inconveniences of others’ habits and recognized that my habits too might be less than appealing to others. In fact, I began to look upon the acceptance of differences between me and others as part of the pilgrimage process…the letting go of expectations and demands, acquiring the ability to adapt and to cope in substantially less than ideal circumstances, and the observation of how some others cope with little or no effort.
This last one, the observation of others, was particularly interesting to me. I routinely marveled at how different people cope with different situations. Perhaps more than most, I like a clean and tidy environment. I like clean body, clean clothes, clean sheets, clean everything really. I balk at the dirt, debris, loose hair, even the sloughed off skin cells of other human beings and animals. How interesting it was for me to see that those people who travel with the least weight on their backs were able to do so because when it came time to sleep, they curled up in an albuergue blanket used by who knows how many people before them, and laid their head upon the albergue pillow without bothering to cover it with a pillowcase of their own. They slept soundly, and in the morning they had nothing more to do than fold the blanket and be on their way.
In contrast, if I suspected the sheet had not been changed, I removed it, turned it over, and replaced it. Sometimes I placed a disposable sheet over the albergue’s sheet and in the morning I carefully stowed it so I could use it again. I always put my own pillowcase over the pillow. I discarded any provided blanket and laid out my own down sleeping blanket. Not surprisingly, in the morning I had to make numerous preparations before I could leave. I’m convinced I would have left earlier more often had I not had so much to do that would have necessarily disturbed those around me.
I watched those casual folks who lived simply, took what came their way, and embraced it with no psychological angst. I began to examine my personal habits and found myself easing up here and there on my own prejudices regarding the presence of other people. For example, by the end of My Camino, I had taken to sleeping merely underneath my own blanket rather than wrapped up in it. I also reverted to sleeping nude, which is what I do at home. I made an effort to be discreet, but I didn’t worry overly if some fellow pilgrim happened to catch a glimpse of my buttock. What of it?