Julian Lord – Time to be a Pilgrim (post #4)

Time to be a Pilgrim

It seems that each time I return to the Camino, the extremes of the Pilgrim customs grow further and further away from each other.

The stark conditions of the ’93 and ’94 Camino, where everyone, rich or poor (except the very richest), would walk and sleep in the same circumstances — either you walked every step, or you could forget about a place in the Refugio, and anyone who broke those rules was a false pilgrim, that the Hostels down the line would be warned of –

And the Hostels themselves were most often converted barns, sties, or one-room houses, often with dirt floors, simply fitted with some bunk beds, a cold shower and WC, and a tiny desk and chair for the Hospitalero.

I can remember in ’93 that my first hot shower on the Camino was about 3 days before Santiago.

Sure, there were a few places to stay along the way that provided better comfort, usually religious establishments, but these were the exception not the rule, and they were still quite Spartan compared to even the bare minimum that people expect nowadays.

What was gained, though, in those conditions was amazing — as even the deepest and most firmly defined social differences between any and every Pilgrim simply could not exist on the Camino as it existed then.

Millionaire or unemployed, University man or manual labourer, devout Catholic or vague agnostic, we were all the same in the harshness of the Path and the starkness of the Pilgrim life.

Yes, some people did sometimes take a bus, and the pack transport services were already in their infancy, but barring illness and such, the only distinctions between the True and the False pilgrims involved either using or shunning those services, or having a motor vehicle backup.

The current creature comforts and their easy availability are of course not bad in themselves, but they have contributed greatly to turning far too much of the Camino into the Tourigrino Way.

The Camino is now inhabited by a certain type of cash-conscious bourgeois bien-pensants that have zero comprehension of even the basics of the spiritual Journey towards the Apostle and towards the Church and towards God, nor otherwise of any other of the various deeper reasons and spirituality of the Way.

But the Camino remains, ever true to itself and to each Pilgrim, denying any claims of ownership upon it, and any attempt to place a cash value on Pilgrimage.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

39 thoughts on “Julian Lord – Time to be a Pilgrim (post #4)

  1. Why one walks and where one stays is never for me to judge and compare with. To each his own and I respect anyone who picks up the challenge equally. There is no right or wrong way to walk the Camino.

    Having said that, I can only imagine the differences you must see, but the world is not a static place and neither is the Camino.

    Buen Camino Julian


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Raises the interesting question of who is the “false” pilgrim – the one who walks every step between 4-star hotels if paradors are unavailable – or the one who takes the bus between albergues?


  3. I do and did both, i mean sleeping in 3 stars hotels or like today in 5 euros albergues. and taking the bus , sometimes, not often but . i do not care un which category i am. it is my way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly Marie – and no-one can question your commitment, or your underlying spiritual and religious motives. No one SHOULD question them either, as Steve has pointed out above.

      For me though one of the most thought provoking aspects of that article is how communication – whether it be through a book, like the German book, or a film like THE WAY- has brought greater awareness of the Camino, and hence greater numbers – and whether that’s a good thing or not.

      When I was writing surfing articles for Surfing World magazine way back when I was a uni student, it was the same dilemma – you discover a new and fantastic surfing spot that’s never been surfed before, and you have beautiful photos of the spot, and then it gets published and next time you go there it’s inhabited by hordes of surfers and the magic is gone.

      Or a food critic who finds an amazing out of the way restaurant and writes about it and then can’t get a reservation three months later.

      I’m considering another book, and a feature film – but will this only make it worse? Or should everyone be entitled to the benefits the Camino can bring? These are dilemmas for someone like me, who has the capacity to proselytise the Camino into a wider arena.


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  4. I really should clarify that my purpose here is not just to present an opinion of my own, that the Camino back then was “better” or “purer”, but these sentiments that I describe are very prevalent among Pilgrims whose first proper Camino predated the commercialisation of the mid- and late- 1990s.

    I think what most of us are annoyed about is exactly the sort of false humility that some of the richer Pilgrims seek, and which is well characterised by the Der Spiegel article, whereby they desire to go on pilgrimage according to these fake notions of some weird self-enforced “poverty”, except that their basic comfort requirements have forced systematic changes throughout the entire Refugio system whereby the ACTUAL poorest are being forced out into the street — which BTW was ALSO a common occurrence on the actual Middle Ages Camino, albeit not in the fantasy Camino described in that article.

    My central annoyance, and that of nearly every other “old-timer” I’ve spoken to on this subject, is that a certain gentrification of the Camino has taken place, which would be fine EXCEPT that it presents itself as being a “poverty” — but it is nothing of the sort.

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    • Elitism comes in many forms, including the salty old pilgrim who can’t understand what the newer generation is coming to. Why, back in the day, when I walked the Camino . . . . . . . . . (you can fill in the blank).

      Judgment comes in many forms, but it is always judgment.

      I walked the Camino because “it was there”. I had no idea what I was seeking, if anything, nor did I give it much thought as to what I would receive. I ate pilgrim meals most of the time, but not all. I slept in albergues many nights, but frankly, as time wore on, I preferred sleeping in hostels or hotels for not much more money. I simply slept better and was more comfortable. I did not need the self flagellation of poor sleep if I could avoid it. Of course, that only applies to me.

      I met some wonderful folks both running and staying in small rural hotels. I even caught a cab, heaven forbid, through Ponferrada because I simply did not want to walk through another industrial area that day. Interestingly, I did not ask for a cab, but continued walking and decided I would take one if it came my way, and if not I would walk. The second car was an empty cab. Did the Camino provide? Or was that the day I should have turned in my Camino credentials?

      Will I walk another Camino? I don’t know. I didn’t think so, but now I don’t know, and at this time, it simply doesn’t matter. I may wake up some day to the siren song of the Camino and heed the call. Who knows? Who cares?

      I guess this topic will rally forth as long as their are pilgrims walking the Camino. Is there a right or wrong perspective? I doubt it. I simply state my perspective.

      Buen Camino, Steve 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Steve, I think you’re a good case in point here. You didn’t walk the Camino initially for any religious or spiritual reason – you did so because Jill and you wanted to work out stuff between yourselves, and you both felt it would provide that opportunity.

        But I, and others too, have seen profound changes in you, from the man who set off from SJPP in May of last year – to the man you are today. Have you embraced the church or spirituality? I don’t believe so, not in an obvious way. But do you have a greater sympathy and understanding of yourself and others? I believe you do.

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  5. I should also clarify that there have been MANY unquestionable improvements to the Camino in the past 20 years, and the one that seems the clearest is the extensive work that has been done to improve the quality of the hiking surfaces, the trails, local particulars of the various routes and et cetera …

    Just one example, we no longer have to cross over a motorway on foot at a bend in the road with poor visibility …

    In its material aspects, the Camino is far, FAR improved from its state 20 years ago …

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very suspicious of anyone, particularly a journalist, trying to draw conclusions though from appearances.

      There are some who have the financial resources to walk the Camino in a degree of comfort, but no-one can peer into their heart and soul and judge their level of commitment or earnestness. Their spiritual or religious needs. We are all of us too ready to judge on the external and the superficial.

      Equally, there are some who aren’t cashed up who walk the Camino for opportunistic reasons – to party, to get laid, to steal, or simply to hide. To escape.

      I keep coming back to the belief that anyone who walks the Camino, whether they seek it or not, will get some osmotic spiritual or religious benefit – whether it be on the pilgrimage itself, or sometime later.



    • Julian, in saying what I’m sating, I’m in no way criticising your take on this. Please understand that. Because I think you have enormous tolerance – given your long association with the camino, before anyone of us had even the slightest notion of what it was.

      I can’t go back to the beach where I grew up, because now all the sandhills are gone and there are skyscrapers and ice cream stands everywhere.

      It hurts me too much to see it now. I have my memories of what it once was, and I wish to keep those memories intact.

      Change is brutal sometimes.

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  6. In short, these days, The Camino is whatever each of us thinks it is, or makes of it. You can say, “it always was, ” but, in my judgement(!), that’s not so. It used to be a pilgrimage, and nothing else. And it was that way until around 20 years ago, I believe.
    One thing can be safely said about it these days – it is a monster.
    Also, nobody can “do” the Camino for no money, any more. Somebody else must pay for those who don’t pay for themselves.
    Is that reasonable, in our collective judgement?


  7. In case Bill, or anyone, wonders what I’m at – I take a sort of “professional,” interest in The Camino Frances – having lived on it, half-way along, for the last eight years.


      • I live in a village called Moratinos, Bill, and when my wife and I moved here, it was about the only place on the Camino which had nothing – no albergue, no hotel, no bar, no shop.
        Now it has the first three, at least. That’s the big change round here. We used to have pilgrims staying with us fairly often, now with all the other facilities they less frequent, which is fine by us. We still get the ones with no money but that’s OK, we atr not a business. Yes, I’ve walked it all once, and different bits of other Caminos (e.g. Le Plata) often. In fact I walk a couple of hours or so of it most days with my dogs. Been a hospitalero several times, in all sorts of places, as well.The big change is the rapid disappearance of “donativo” places, and the emergence of people running albergues who are in it for the money.

        Liked by 2 people

        • So comments that you make come with an informed and personal experience – with an authority – which is great. It’s good for us to know that. Thank you.

          By the way, anyone who’s a friend of Julian is welcome here warmly.


          Liked by 1 person

          • Still a good few pilgrims coming through, but it’s now slackening off a bit. I was going to suggest Julian might get fed up with some of his fellow travellers – if I might so designate them – and decide to quit. I certainly hope he doesn’t, of course, but there are some world-class dingbats around, particularly the ones who think they are Templar knights. Plenty of hippies too, although they are generally all right, except when they play guitars and sing very badly, usually “The Streets of London,” and, Blowin’ on the wind.” Can you imagine? Worse than the roncadores.


          • Yes, I’m looking forward to Julian’s arrival. I was beginning to suspect he might get so fed up with his “co-pilgrims,” or some of them, the litter throwing ones with musical accompaniment – that he might quit. But I think not. He is made of sterner stuff.

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  8. This 2014 Camino is being stranger even than usual. I’ve so far been sort of weaving in and out of it, in various different ways — plus to the complete opposite of the 1994 one, when I was alone because of being faster than everyone, I am now alone because of being slower.

    Despite my being a “purist” and “True Pilgrim” and bla-bla, I’ve not been on pilgrimage yet without getting into a car at least once, and 2014 is already no exception LOL

    Possibly caused by too many painkillers, I developed a nasty bit of indigestion, so I had to hitch a lift to the nearest town — this was Lumbier, and the ride took me several kilometres away from Santiago and so has lengthened my walk hehehe

    I eventually had to sleep two nights there, and I am very grateful for the help of the priest there. On the other hand, for the time being I don’t even consider putting the knee braces on in the morning, and they’ve been just hanging from my backpack for about a week now. My legs are still weak, hence that slowness, but they are no longer painful, touch wood, at least for the time being.

    The Camino is about as hard as I was expecting, but I did not expect to be out of those braces this early into it !!!

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  9. Just put a quote I remembered today on another blog – but as it seems very pertinent to the Camino discussion today, I repeat it here.
    It’s attributed to Yogi Berra:
    “Nobody goes there any more – it’s too crowded.”


  10. I’m 300/1000 km of the Way to Santiago, for those who wish to know such details 🙂

    Walking back to SJPP seems compromised simply based on time factors, but we’ll see

    Being slowed down simultaneously by tummy trouble, an annoying blister, and still my lack of stamina — though I am most grateful for the general good behaviour of my knees !!!


  11. Tiens!
    Don’t start worrying about walking back – until you get there, Julian!
    Poco a poco, as they say round here.
    Very often.

    “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”
    (Dolores Ibarruri, aka ‘La Pasionaria.’)


    • La Pasionaria – as a good communist and miner’s daughter – prolly never did the Camino. If she had walked it today, she would be one of those people shouting into her mobile phone all the way from Roncesvalles to Compostela to make sure there was a proper revolutionary crowd gathered in the Praza do Obradoiro on her arrival.

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