The camaraderie and sense of belonging that pilgrims experience during their journeys is quite unique in today's technological age. For me, it is one of the most powerful experiences of the journey. Total strangers spontaneously greet each other and chat, the pilgrim's greeting "Buen Camino" is heard countless times a day.
The rucksack on their backs is a clear marker that distinguishes pilgrims from locals. This is by no means to say that only pilgrims are positive. The locals also often say hello, wave out the window, and engage in conversation. I took the beautiful photos of Baiona after I introduced the conversation to Elizabeth, a Spanish woman of almost 90 years. Galician, actually. In addition to telling me the history of her family, she also let me step onto the terrace of her house with a magical view of the city.
The languages of Spain
To the impartial observer, our conversation must have been quite a funny spectacle. Elizabeth spoke Galician (the Spanish used in Galicia) while I attempted Castilian (the Spanish taught in schools). As I learned later, people used to speak only the language of their autonomous community (there are 17 in Spain) and only recently has "written" Castilian been taught throughout Spain. It is therefore more likely to be spoken by the younger classes.
Even some gaps in language skills did not prevent us from having a cordial dialogue, and I was very pleased when Elizabeth agreed to take a photo together.
A foreigner is welcome
I encountered a friendly or neutral reception all along the route. (Except for one village just before Santiago, where a few walls were "decorated" with unpleasant messages directed to pilgrims.) Frankly I am quite surprised at this friendly reception, for as we know - man does not like change. And for the residents of the villages along the Camino, the inscription of the pilgrimage routes on the UNESCO list of monuments has meant a change that is truly FUNDAMENTAL.
To give you an idea, last year around 450,000 pilgrims arrived to Santiago. Before the UNESCO listing, it was around 2,000 people a year. Most of the Portuguese route goes through the countryside and smaller towns where people know each other. Imagine suddenly having a couple of dozen (more likely couple of hundreds in summer) strangers outside your house every day. And that's EVERY DAY.
Yet the locals greet them with a smile and wish them a safe journey. That's what I call a positive mind-set and hats off to them!
Friendship among pilgrims
"Do you want to charge your phone?" This was a common question people would ask me about halfway through my wanderings. I'd forgotten my charger in one of the hostels, and since it was a rural area and then again it was Sunday and everywhere was closed, there was nowhere to buy a new one. In one of the hostels I posted a question on the forum asking if anyone had a free cable for a while. There were a few right away. And since a lot of people walk a similar pace of about 20-25 km a day, they often meet again in the hostel in the evening. No sooner had I put down my backpack and taken off my shoes than someone with a free charger reported in.
By the way - the situation resolved itself the moment one of the hosts gave me the charger, saying that someone had forgotten it some time ago and it was waiting for me 😊