I’ve been to some hairy parts of the world –
The gangland areas of East LA, the projects of New Orleans, the black areas of Baltimore, the drug infested slums of outer Amsterdam, the back streets of Tijuana in Mexico, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (a very scary place), the immigrant slums of Lyon in France, the outlying slums of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the inner slums of Old Delhi, the Burmese jungles of the Golden Triangle, where most of the world’s heroin is produced, and Harlem late at night, where some of it is used –
I’ve walked through all these places safely, thanks to my PGS.
And I walked the Camino de Santiago safely, too.
But there were a couple of times when I was made acutely aware of just how vulnerable you are as a pilgrim walking the Camino, even being a man.
Often you’re walking alone, early in the morning or sometimes in the dark. You’re often on very isolated stretches of track, out in the woods or beside lonely roads where you’re very visible to the odd passing car.
You’re wearing a heavy backpack which makes it hard for you to cut and run, should you need to. And often you’re exhausted. It’s difficult putting up a fight when you’ve just walked 25kms.
I remember walking out of Pamplona early one Sunday morning. It was about 5:30am, it was dark, and there were groups of late night revellers wandering the streets. Some of them looked at me, and a few yelled out, jeering. They were drunk.
If it had been Sydney at the same time of the morning, in the dark, I’d have been worried about my safety. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have been out walking. Sydney can be very dangerous in the city, particularly on a weekend in the wee hours.
But in this instance, in Pamplona, nothing happened.
Two men followed me for a while early one morning as I walked through some deserted inner city streets of Ponferrada. Foolishly, I’d just stopped and pulled some cash out from an ATM. Really dumb, at that time of the morning. I finally stopped and turned and glared at the men, and they disappeared.
That’s the sum total of my uncomfortable incidents during my Camino.
However, I’ve heard of instances of women being harassed by men while walking on lonely stretches of track. And I’ve heard of one or two muggings.
Over the years, I’ve travelled extensively in Spain – not only on the Camino, but in and around Madrid, and through Cataluna. And I have to say that I’ve found it to be one of the safest places I’ve ever been. After all my travelling around the world, my PGS is now very finely tuned to the approach of danger. And I’ve always felt very safe in Spain.
But being a pilgrim and walking the Camino de Santiago doesn’t give you spiritual immunity from the vagaries of man. Remember you’re walking through a country that’s going through very difficult economic times.
Unemployment is very high, particularly amongst young people. And wherever there’s poverty and desperation, there’s the propensity for crime.
I’ve always maintained that you must walk the Camino without fear. That said, it’s best to be careful, just as you have to be careful anywhere.