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Day 20:  Our little pilgrim counter-/sub-culture

Building an “us v. them” mentality (Candace)

Gijon to Aviles

Distance: 15.2 miles (24.5 kilometers)

Total Ascent:  220 meters

Difficulty:  3

Calories Burned: 3,066   

I feel so lazy. 

After our 15-mile hike yesterday, we checked into an old palace that has been renovated into a swanky new hotel, thanks to a wedding gift from our dear friends Zak and Erin (thank you guys!), poured a glass of wine and jumped into the tub (our favorite new way to end a day at 4pm, if a full-size bathtub is in sight). We then proceeded to watch some Downton Abbey on my laptop, drink wine and eat snacks in bed for the remainder of the day. And when Andrew decided that he was hungry at 8:30, I couldn’t even be bothered to put my clothes back on, so he ran downstairs to get a burger and gelato cones, and we finished the night with takeout and "The Prestige" in bed.

For a moment, I felt guilty that I didn’t take the time to tour around Aviles, to learn about the city’s architecture, to explore the beautiful grounds that our room overlooks.  But then I thought, “Nah, I’m a pilgrim, and this is how pilgrims end their day.”

You see, earlier this morning, as Andrew and I were walking out of the town of Gijon, we made a point to say hello to every person we passed (something we have always done), and maybe it was our stink, or maybe the backpacks, or maybe the fact that we were up at 9am when the entire town was still hung over from partying until 4am the night before (a trend we have found in Spain…no one wakes up until 9pm and no one goes to bed until 5am), but for some reason, our greetings were met with rolled eyes and scowls.  We were clearly not like them.

And in talking about this “us v. them” phenomenon we’ve started to sense, I was reminded of something that happened a few days ago.  One of our pilgrim friends and I were walking, and when we saw a mother/son team pass us on bikes with no backpack, my friend smirked and whispered “Tour-egrinos” under her breath.  You see, a Tour-egrino, I have come to learn, is a pilgrim, or Peregrino, that sends their bag on to their next hotel every night, or takes the bus, or has a car driving alongside their path.  My friend was disgusted by these Tour-egrinos, explaining that they steal our coveted spots at the albergues and generally ruin the Camino for all the other pilgrims.

Now, on this particular occasion, we later learned that the son in this team was disabled, and soon after changed our tune, but the “us v. them” mentality remains strong and gets stronger for me with each passing day on the Camino.

In fact, I remember the moment when I first felt like a part of the “us” with pride. The first moment when I noticed that we were different from everyone else. We had met a couple and their dog along the Camino, Mark (Belgium), Allessandra (Italy) and Scruffy (Guadalupe, Spain), and ran into them (sans Scruffy) in the little town of Scantillana Del Mar, while I was practicing my day of silence.  A few moments after speaking with them on the street, I watched Allessandra trying to make her way back to her hotel along the cobblestone, and had to smile. She was walking with the same pain I was, and her little hobble made me feel connected to her. I could literally feel her pain.

You see, in our little pilgrim tribe, we understand each other.  We know that we aren’t on vacation.  That we aren’t here to sight see.  Because we’ve seen the beautiful countryside of Spain for 6-8 hours by the time we land in our next city.  We don’t blame one another for wanting to take afternoon naps or fall asleep at 9pm.  Because we are pilgrims, and that’s what pilgrims do.

And as Andrew and I enter the last 10 or so days of our Camino, we see fewer and fewer pilgrims, and feel more and more isolated.  But it isn’t a bad thing.  It just makes us jump for joy every time we meet a fellow member of our little tribe.  And for this reason and others (i.e. budget), we have committed to staying in pilgrim albergues for the remainder of our journey.

So, while I’m sure we will take great photos of the next places we visit on our honeymoon, and we’ll stay up late and have nice dinners and dance into the night, we are pilgrims right now.  And that is all we have to be.