After the Camino – What Now?

Now You’re Home, excerpt from Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim

First, you will miss the camaraderie of your fellow pilgrims. You will miss the coffee at breakfast that everyone takes for granted and you knew it was spectacular, and absolutely, you will miss Spain.

I also found that I needed to recreate the solitude I found by walking most of my caminos by myself. For me, it’s found in empty churches. While I love seeing a full church, lit up to the rafters with candles and chandeliers, with the organ playing and people singing, I do love to slip in quietly to sit in the back of an empty church. I cherish a few moments in a sacred space.

I have a dear friend who told me once that the prayers that are voiced inside churches will stay there long after the prayerful have left. These entreaties to God or the saints are embedded in the walls, the floor, the benches, and they echo and reverberate even after everyone is gone, when the church is empty. That’s what I keep looking for now.

If you think you might want to volunteer in some fashion with the Camino, there are several ways to get involved, while you plan how quickly you can go back.

You can join a local chapter of the pilgrim association. And if there is not a local chapter, you might think about starting one. Maybe you’d like to work in an albergue. APOC offers hospitalero training as do most other pilgrims’ associations. This training, over several days, will give you an idea of what it would be like to look after pilgrims and would identify you to the Spanish Federation, so you could apply for an official volunteer assignment. It sounds more complicated than it is. After just a few days in training, you will be able to apply to a post in Spain by identifying the fifteen days you would like to work and where you would like to be assigned. Get in touch with APOC when you return to get information on how to get to their training. You may be offered a post near the place you liked while you were walking or you could find yourself in a place you don’t know at all – which can be really wonderful. I’ve done both.

You can also research albergues on Facebook, certainly, and Eroski which features a section with pilgrim-written reviews. Get a sense of their way of doing things, look at photos, and then write to the albergue directly to offer your services. I’ve done that, too.

In either event, training is essential. Hospitaleros on the Camino are trained to protect pilgrims in a very special way. It requires a skill set that’s a combination of soccer coach, parenting, and working as a mental health professional to be able to listen to the stories all day and be able to find what your pilgrims need during their stay with you. The walking can be refreshing, of course, but sometimes, it can also be stressful. I have discovered that a solid night’s rest will recharge me every time for another day of walking, but I do like to talk to the hospitaleros. And I love it if they know how to listen.

The nice people who write Compostelas can also be volunteers. There is a regular staff but they are augmented by scores of pilgrim volunteers. If you have a particular gift with languages, this might be the job for you. Application to these posts is made directly to the Office.

And how will you know it’s time to walk again? Many people swear right away, “I will never do this again!” But I tell people it’s simple to know when you are ready to start planning another walk. You will be shopping for a shirt. You’ll find your size and the color you were looking for, but before you check out, you ask yourself, “Gee, I wonder what it weighs.”

That’s when you know.

Walking the equivalence of the entire length of Manhattan every day for a month is not for everyone. And you might think you just could never make it. But we do. We get up, we buy plane tickets, and we go. We learn about ourselves and the planet in a way that I cannot find anywhere else. We make lifelong friends from all over the world. And sometimes, the smallest thing will make the biggest impact.

When my father was seriously ill, I called my youngest daughter and asked her to bring me some clothes when she flew out to Michigan to be with us. I told her I really needed a “shawl.” But she misheard me. When she arrived, she handed me a “shell” from the Camino, one of the ones I had carried on my backpack. Even though I thought I needed a wrap to keep me warm, she knew on another level, inherently because she too is a pilgrim, that the shell was what I was really asking for.

Buen Camino, pilgrim. May your walk be easy and your rewards great.

If you’d like to read more, try my book! Buen Camino! Tips from an American Pilgrim


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