Camino Portuguese – no spiritual immunity.

I’ve been following a thread on one of the forums – about a series of armed robberies on the Camino Via de la Plata. A couple of men wearing balaclavas and brandishing knives have been stealing money off pilgrims walking alone.

It was a disturbing thread for a number of reasons – firstly, you set off on a pilgrimage believing you’ll be safe. That somehow the sacred nature of your journey will guard you from harm. But of course that’s nonsense. The Camino is like any other public place. You are vulnerable to the vagaries of man.

Secondly it’s disturbing that the economic situation in Spain is such that some men feel they need to rob others with a threat of violence. That’s sad.

Historically, pilgrims have always been subject to robbery and sometimes violence along the Camino. In ages past it was far far worse than it is today. The police in Spain want to prevent crime on the Camino, because the Camino brings much needed revenue to towns and regions that desperately need it.

And let’s put these recent incidents into context. The robberies have evidently been occurring on a remote part of the Via de la Plata out of Seville, where there are long distances between towns or habitations. Not the more popular Camino Frances. And it seems like this recent spate is the work of just two men – not several different thieves on different Caminos.

Of all the people who walk the Camino each year – and we’re into the millions – how many report being robbed or threatened? Hardly any. So the Camino is not unsafe. It’s just that you’ve got to be aware of your personal safety as you do anywhere, particularly if you’re a woman walking alone.

(Just on those figures – John Walker from the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago told me that for every pilgrim who receives a Compostela each year, the Office estimates that there’s another ten that walk the Camino but either don’t complete the pilgrimage, or don’t receive a Compostela. More than 200,000 pilgrims received a Compostela last year – so multiply that by ten, and you have more than 2 million people walking parts of the Camino last year. That is staggering.)

People regularly report stuff stolen from their backpacks in albergues – even those that put their valuables in their sleeping bags while they’re asleep. And in some of the larger towns, pickpockets are known to target pilgrims.

I’ve always said, being a pilgrim walking the Camino doesn’t imbue you with a spiritual immunity from crime.

Particularly for someone doing their first Camino, there’s a warm fuzzy sense of being a part of a spiritual journey, and a belief that your fellow pilgrim has the same purity of intent that you do. You trust your fellow pilgrim. You want to believe that because they too are part of this sacred and ancient walk, that they too are honourable honest people.

And 99% are.

But the Camino does attract opportunists. Waiting to prey on the weak and vulnerable. And pilgrims are at times very vulnerable. They’re vulnerable because they trust, they’re vulnerable because often they’re exhausted or suffering from injuries, some are vulnerable because they’re naive or innocent. The Camino might be their first big trip alone overseas, and they’re not savvy to the scams and the dangers.

Someone on this post said all pilgrims are good people. Let me tell you, they’re not.

99% are.

But amongst those 2 million people who walk along the Camino each year, some are thieves, some are scammers, some are simply not nice people. Labelling yourself a pilgrim, getting your Credential and putting a scallop shell on your backpack doesn’t immediately make you a good person with a good heart.

In an albergue in Astorga, I saw someone leave their iPhone on a charger and head out for dinner. I warned the person, but they shrugged and smiled, said it would be ok. Later they came back and of course their phone had been stolen.

The Camino for me represents the journey through life.

You go through various stages – of hope, of disappointment, of frustration. Sometimes you get angry. You have times when you strike obstacles, when you struggle, when everything is boring and tedious. But then you also have times when you’re unbelievably happy, when you triumph. When you win. When you can only ever see beauty around you. You meet people along the way that change your life, and you might in some way change their’s too. And you learn huge lessons.

That’s the Camino. And that’s life.

As in life, you’re going to meet some good people, and some whose energies are confused. Sometimes foul. They’re not bad, because I don’t believe anyone is bad – they’re just unwise.

As in life, you have to be careful. You have to be aware. But you must never let fear take over. Fear limits you. Fear reduces and taints your experiences. Fear leads to antipathy. To hate. To rejection. Fear takes away the joy.

The Camino is a joyful experience. But it doesn’t give you spiritual immunity.

statue at BJ

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Camino Portuguese – no spiritual immunity.

  1. HI Bill, thanks for this posting which is very timely. I leave tomorrow to walk my first Camino although it will only be the northern part of the via de la plata and not where you mentioned the robbers. I have never undertaken any long walks before but have been a solo traveller for many years and yes, you are right, 99% of the people you meet are honest but there is always that small element that cannot help themselves when opportunity comes their way. We always need to be mindful of our situation and take simple precautions. I have loved following your blog and know my experiences will leave me with similar feelings. Maddie

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    • Dear Maddie,

      my goodness you must be so excited! Leaving tomorrow! Please if you get the chance check in on this blog and let us know how you’re going.

      Yes it’s always best to take common sense precautions – nothing that you wouldn’t do if you were traveling anywhere else. My point on the blog was to say that just because it’s a pilgrimage, doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. You just have to be sensible.

      You’ll have a ball Maddie. I hope it all goes well for you!

      Bill

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  2. Interestingly, I left my phone plugged and unattended several times with no problems at all. Probably because I am such a good guy and give off good karma. 🙂

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      • That’s me. Mr. Intimidation. HaHa.

        Pretty amazing that I will be seeing you in another few weeks. I am actually having lunch today with the lady who turned me onto your blog, so she is the one that is really responsible. Camino at work, I am sure. Joining us from opposite sides of the world. It is a small world.

        Steve

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        • Hey Steve – yes, it’s going to great to meet up “off the Camino!” And to meet Jill finally too! As for your having lunch with the lady that put you onto my blog – it’s crazy how these moments of serendipity can change things..

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  3. Buen Camino Maddie. Bill, as always, thought provoking and unfortunately such truth. Ingrid

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  4. Interesting thoughts Bill. Humans are such a paradoxal mix. Within every being there is a divine spark that is good, and that cannot change. But we do have the ability to do good and do wrong, and we all do bad things sometimes. To me the difference in someone that is “bad” is that they premeditate the bad things they will do, and then rather than feeling remorse and correcting that path, they continue with the same kind of negative behavior. A momentary slip of behavior or a weak moment with a poor decision does not make a person bad, It makes you human. But good people try to do better when they know better. And I do believe that most people, are mostly good.However, I believe some people actually lose their moral compass, they have slid down the slippery slope and no longer care. They accept the wrong behavior as justified or necessary. These are misguided and scary people.
    It is sad that the Camino is not exempt from the negative side of humanity, but it is still of this world. Don’t you think it comes close to feeling heavenly though? So many people sharing a common experience brings people together in an amazing way. And the paying forward of good deeds happens all the time.

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    • Hi Kathryn, yes there is a wonderful feeling on the Camino – and every day you see examples of selfless generosity and kindness. Especially to strangers. But this can also be a trap for the unwary. It can create a sense of bonhomie and trust that can be exploited by the dark of heart.

      I don’t even think premeditation constitutes “bad.” To me it just shows a lack of wisdom, and spiritual development.

      Some people also confuse psychotic behaviour with evil. These people are not evil, they’re unwell. They’re sick.

      Viciousness, brutality, hatred that fuels violence – are these people bad, or simply ignorant, as the term is used in Buddhist and other esoteric texts.

      What is good and what is bad behaviour? For me it’s the exhibition of whatever energies you bring to the world.

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  5. Thought provoking post, Bill. I am saddened to learn of the rash of robberies, but not surprised. I hope the robberies do not scare away prospective pilgrims. Travelers of any persuasion are often targets of theft or scams. It’s unfortunate, but reality. Thanks for reminding everyone to be safe and aware. Maddie, I know how excited you must be! Have a wonderful journey! Buen Camino! Julie

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    • Thanks for your comment Julie – I think if someone really wants to do the Camino, they’ll do it. I don’t think these kind of isolated incidents would put them off, unless they actually didn’t want to do the pilgrimage. Bill

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