A pilgrim walking the Camino has no status.
It’s hard to know who’s a millionaire, who’s a CEO, who’s a production line worker and who owns the factory.
I met a bloke, I thought he was a roadie for a rock band. Or an ageing surfie on benefits. Turned out he was a Professor at USC.
I met another bloke. Young fella. I thought he was a student on vacation. Turned out he’d just sold his tech company for $80m.
I met another bloke. 40’s. Would have said he was a high school teacher, or a dentist. He came across as a bit of a smart ass. He was actually a judge in the European Court of Justice.
None of the markers that define a person’s status are evident on the Camino.
No fancy clothes. No car. No big office. No staff or coterie of assistants. No waterfront mansion. No jewellery, or at least very little. You don’t see women walking the Camino with diamond rings or pearl necklaces. No Dior, or Bulgari or Manolo Blahnik.
Instead there’s muddy boots, and tech clothing, and ponchos. Or Goretex jackets, if you want to go upmarket.
Even the walking poles don’t really indicate status. You might have the latest Leki poles, but they don’t give off any signals as to your Net Disposable Income.
Backpacks too. No status there.
Weight and space are factors. Not much room in the backpack for that fabulous Hugo Boss leather jacket. Plus it weighs 2kgs. Nor can you really justify that Chanel handbag. Might get dirty, darling.
Millionaires sleep in albergues costing €7 a night. Heads of huge corporations sit down beside pensioners at communal tables and eat pilgrim’s meals costing €10. They pay cash. They’ve left their Platinum American Express card at home. (Sorry Amex, I did leave home without it.)
Everyone is equal. And in that sense, the Camino is quite unique. I can’t think of any other place or situation in society where there’s no discernible status.
Except maybe jail.
And in death.
Also, there’s no rank. No hierarchy. There’s no Sergeant Pilgrim. There’s no Governor Pilgrim. Everyone is judged on who they are and how they act – not on their material goods or their station in life.
Anything that you’ve achieved in life is meaningless on the Camino. It has no value there.
Except if you’re a walker.
We tend to bestow hierarchy on those who have walked more Caminos than us, or have walked further than us.
We grant hierarchy to someone who’s walked from Le Puy, for instance. We grant hierarchy to someone who’s walked eight Caminos. But that hierarchy isn’t something that’s come with them from their everyday life.
We’re quick to strip that hierarchy from them however if we discover that pilgrim catching a train. Or getting their backpack shipped ahead.
It’s a natural human desire to seek definition amongst us.
But a pilgrim has no status.
And that’s one of the joys of walking the Camino.