2018 in Review - 19 Years of On Foot in Spain
By Nancy L Frey, 5 November 2018
Sometimes people ask us if we get tired returning to the same places year after year. For me leading a group of people is not about revisiting the same places over and over but rediscovering them anew with people who are usually experiencing them for the first time. As Henry Miller wrote, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I typically tell people in our opening meeting that for me it is a privilege to journey with others because it gives me the opportunity to witness that process of discovery, wonder and enjoyment in others that is potentially a great part of the travel experience. Sometimes people are deeply moved by their travel experiences with us and share how they have been inspired, healed, uplifted or pleased way beyond their expectations. Being a part of that process is deeply rewarding and keeps our energy high and is what motivates us to continue packing our suitcases, farming out the kids to their grandparents and giving ourselves completely over to our groups during our time together. In essence, leading groups is often more about the people than the place – it’s about you!
The Story Teller
By Nancy L. Frey
24 June 2018
The most extraordinary gift that I have ever received as a result of my work leading and guiding groups along the Camino de Santiago is the sculpture The Story Teller. Commissioned by a six-time Australian client, who has become a wonderful friend over the years, The Story Teller by Australian artist Laurel Billington is a remarkable sculpture that manages to bring to life the journey along the Camino de Santiago as this dear pilgrim remembers me conveying it to her. All the symbols of the journey are amply present – yellow arrows, the flora, the scallop shell, the backpack – as well as iconic links to the stories – the chickens of Santo Domingo, the Puente la Reina bridge, the Way of the Stars and the dog pilgrim.
When I received this gift I felt truly overwhelmed with emotion. It was deeply moving to have a dear client and friend sum up in such an extraordinary way what the Camino de Santiago had come to mean to them led by Jose and me. People often say to me that I tell stories well. One New Zealand man once told me that I could “make the stones talk” – a compliment that I found very gratifying. I love the stories of the Camino and I adore sharing them with others. It’s a pleasure to bring to life the hopes and dreams of pilgrims over the ages, the trials they suffered, the hazards they encountered, the saints and relics they visited along the way and the many miracles that motivated them to continue on. A good story continues to motivate and enrich our lives. We all have stories of our own which makes it possible to relate to all of these human and endearing stories we encounter along the Way
Cuisine & Lodging on On Foot in Spain Tours
I just wanted to thank you again from the bottom of my heart for making the Camino come alive. I loved the lectures, I loved the food, the accommodations were great and I loved walking the Camino. Thank you for making this the experience of my life.
Annette, Pasadena, Calif, USA
Compostela, Camino de Santiago & Camino Portuguese
We take great pleasure in introducing our clients to Spain’s rich and delicious food and wine culture. We believe a fundamental part of travel is to take in the place where you through all of your sense including your palate. We also abide by the belief that food is much more than fuel! Food for us is a delightful experience of sharing, savoring, learning, and enjoyment.
The picnics were like a feast. Enjoyed the surprise of what was to come and loved the explanations. Margaret, Glen Iris, Australia, Compostela
One of our cherished moments of the day is the daily picnic. Jose sources local products and each day puts together a colorful array of delicious foods including his popular salads. We always give an explanation of the picnic with tidbits of food history, cultivation and/or Spanish food customs woven into the narrative. Here is an example of a picnic explanation at O Cebreiro in June 2018.
Jose’s picnics are so popular that over years we have been frequently asked, When are you going to make a cookbook? In 2015 we self-published a book of Jose’s salad recipes that includes lots of images of the picnics, food history and the beauty that you find on tour. Here’s a link to our book and how to acquire it On Foot in Spain Picnic Salads.
On most days, the evening meals are included. We select local dishes or have you choose one or two of the courses from a selection of items regional to the area. Regional wines accompany our meals. The nights when meals are not included are opportunities for you to explore on your own – a fun night in the local tapas (or pinchos as they are called in northern Spain) quarter or a relaxed meal in local restaurant.
In Spain the largest meal of the day is at midday (usually between 2-3) and consists of a first and second course (usually a vegetable then a meat dish) served with wine, dessert and then coffee. Dinners are late; not usually beginning before 10pm in most households. On our tours we make an effort to create a compromise between Spanish and non-Spanish customs with rich, wholesome but not heavy lunches and dinners arranged well before the Spanish hour.
After the day’s walk and the evening meal slumber will happily come in the accommodations we’ve selected for each of our stops.
Depending on the tour, you’ll stay in either out of the way monasteries, charming rural guest houses (often restored stone farmhouses), luxurious paradors and/or hotels located in the heart of the city center. We make an effort to offer you an interesting variety of accommodations.
The hotels generally vary in scale from 3-5 stars depending on the tour and availability of accommodation in each locale. All hotel rooms have en-suite (bathroom in room) facilities. There is a single supplement fee varying depending on the tour for those requesting single accommodation.
The Smart Camino: Pilgrimage in the Internet Age
By: Nancy L. Frey, PhD
Annual General Meeting of the London Confraternity of St James, St Alban’s Centre, London
28 January 2017
- 1. Introduction (5 min)
In a way this feels like a coming home. In January 1995 I came to London to attend the AGM and other
Practical Pilgrim sessions as part of my anthropological research into the late 20th C rise of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I felt at the time and continue to feel very grateful to the Confraternity of St James and its members who generously welcomed me here years ago and opened their doors and minds to my research into the Camino (Slides with Howard, Marion, Alison, William, Laurie, the Foxes, James). Little did I know what a lasting impression these pilgrims and the thousands of pilgrims I have met since then would have on my heart and psyche. Thank you for inviting me back here all these years later.
Some of you may know who I am but others probably will not and you may wonder why I would be asked to talk about 25 years on the Camino. My first direct contact with the Camino was in 1992. As a doctoral student in the Cultural Anthropology department at UC Berkeley, I was in Spain looking for the topic for my dissertation. I reached Santiago in July at the height of the Feast of St. I saw pilgrims arriving into the Plaza de Obradoiro with their packs and scallop shells. In stark contrast to other Catholic pilgrimage, such as Lourdes, the suffering body was not in evidence. In fact many glowed or looked as if they had been through a powerful physical and mental journey. I sensed almost instantly that I had found my project: to understand the modern resurgence of this grand medieval pilgrimage. To learn about the pilgrimage I knew that I would have to both study its history and participant in it as pilgrim. In 1993 I walked from Somport in France to Compostela over 6 weeks. Initially an academic exercise, the pilgrimage ended up leaving a deep and lasting impression that continues to today. In 1994-95 I returned to Spain to conduct my field research and worked at six different pilgrim’s refuges or albergues including a memorable stint at Rabanal del Camino in July 1995 (which I repeated in 1997). I lived in Santiago de Compostela, traveled and walked parts of many different Caminos and visited pilgrims in their homes to do follow-up interviews in England, Spain and Germany. I attended pilgrim’s association meetings, retreats and as many events Camino related as possible. The outcome of my research was my book Pilgrim Stories. On and Off the Road to Santiago.
The Camino gave me many gifts, some very unexpected, and ultimately changed my anticipated life course. In 1997 I cycled the Camino again from Roncesvalles to take photos for my book with a pilgrim I had met during my research and who became my life companion. In 1998 we led six students from Roncesvalles walking the Camino and leading an academic course. Since then we have worked together teaching and guiding people from around the world about Spain and the Camino. Consequently, it’s been my remarkable fortune to have walked on the Camino several times a year for the last 17 years meeting pilgrims, hearing their stories, watching their journeys. People sometimes ask me if I get tired of being on the Camino. I can honestly say that No, for me it’s always a landscape of discovery and a privilege to share in someone’s potentially transformative journey.
This leads me to my current research. For many years, I didn’t think the Camino had changed very much beyond expanding numbers and progressively increasing infrastructure. When on the Camino all of these 25 years, I have never stopped observing, listening, interviewing and analyzing the pilgrimage experience. It was around 2006 that I started to notice changes. At first the change was slow and subtle and then it became progressively more rapid. For me the most profound change on the Camino since the publication of Pilgrim Stories in 1998 is the incorporation of new media technology into the Camino on the level of infrastructure, planning, contact and on the experience of being a pilgrim.
- General Changes in Camino (10 min)
Marion Marples contacted me to speak at the AGM and suggested it would be interesting to hear “an overview from your perspective of the current state of the camino and the changes since Pilgrim Stories was published.” Before I address changes wrought during the Internet Age, here’s a brief trip down memory lane of a few changes in the Camino over the last 25 years. This is a very general overview and by no means an exhaustive list. To prepare and illustrate this talk I had many old slides and negatives digitized from 1993-1997.
One caveat about Change: I’m very aware that the Camino has been in a constant state of flux and change at every point in its development since Pelayo supposedly first saw that star in the woods over Libredón in the 9thC AD. Many people yearn for the vague ‘medieval’ experience but the Camino never is what it was. One constant I have heard repeatedly over the years is that people typically think the Camino was ‘better’ when they did it which, of course, is a perfectly valid sentiment. It probably was “better” precisely because it was their first time and there’s nothing like the first time. The Camino will continue to evolve and change a reflection of our times, values, resources and psyches. It simply is what it is now.
Pilgrim’s Office and Statistics
I thought it might be interesting to start out with a few statistics from my book (mid-1990s) and 2015i (the 2016 year-end stats still not compiled). Statistics are a sticky issue on the Camino. The only consistent records are those maintained by the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago statistics and these only reflect the pilgrims who apply for the Compostela Certificate and miss many others. Nonetheless, they are the best available.ii
Numbers: 1996: 23,218 pilgrims got Compostela, 2015: 262,516. The Camino’s popularity as an international destination continues to grow. Excluding the Holy Years, the Camino’s growth steadily increases with no end in sight.
Sex: 1996: 65% men and 35% women, 2015: 53% men and 47% women. With greater popularity increase in women.
Internationalization: 1994: 33 nationalities 1996: 64 nationalities 2015: 153 nationalities. The Camino continues to attract travelers from far-flung places.
Top 5 nationalities:
1996: Spain (70%), France, Germany, Holland, Belgium
2015: Spain (46.6%), Italy, Germany, USA, Portugal, (France #6, UK #7 and Korea #10)
Mode of Travel: 1996: 71% walk, 28% cycled; 2015: 90.1% walk; 9,6% cycle. Cyclists were always in the minority but their numbers are waning as the mental shift has occurred that this is a ‘walking route’.
Roads Traveled – Development of other Routes:
1996: Camino Francés – no specific data – vast majority; 2004 – Francés: 77%, Portuguese – 8% 2015:
Camino Francés – 65.6%, Portuguese – 16.4% and Norte – 6%
Acquisition of the Compostela Certificate
I’ve debated about whether or not to bring up changes related to the Compostela Certificate as this is a sticky subject among the pilgrim community that often degenerates into non-productive and heated discussions about “authentic” and “real” pilgrims and could be an entire presentation on its own.
Nonetheless, I would like to make a general observation. As the pilgrimage unfolded in the 20th C getting the Compostela Certificate was most often a very meaningful memento but not necessarily the objective of one’s Camino. As the Camino has grown in popularity worldwide and gets regularly listed as one of the “World’s Great Walks” the idea has grown that one of the principal objectives is to “Walk the last 100KM to get the Certificate”.iii This focus has heightened conflicts among some pilgrims who believe that long distance pilgrimages are innately better than short distance pilgrimages and that the form of the pilgrimage (distance, where you start, what carry) is more important than the content. Even though clearly inner miles that are walked cannot be judged by superficial criteria of form, they regularly are by longer-distance pilgrims who disdain the 100KM pilgrims. I do not have time here to discuss this in-depth but at least two of the consequences have been 1) the increase in numbers and demand to walk the last 100Km, especially from Sarria putting a lot of pressure on that section; and 2) the Cathedral’s decision to incorporate a Certificate of Distance in 2014 to capitulate to the ego needs of long-distance walkers who place more emphasis on form than content in the pilgrimage experience. As one man wrote on a pilgrim forum, when the decision was announced: “My wife, who walked only from
Sarria, said I should get a different one since I started at SJPP!”iv The goal of the Camino becomes the pride and the Certificate and reinforces a competitive model of pilgrimage.
Motivations and Expectations.
To get the Compostela Certificate at the Pilgrim’s Office you need to state your motive because it is
supposed to be given only to religiously motivated pilgrims.v The Church has progressively become more lenient on how it defines religious. In my book I recount two controversial cases that would never occur today (a spiritually oriented Japanese Buddhist who was denied the Compostela and a Protestant man grieving for his son was finally given the Compostela after a lengthy interview with Don Jaime). In the 1990s the Pilgrim’s Office accepted the following religious motives: a) spiritual, b) religious and c) religious-cultural. On the Pilgrim’s Office website in 2017, the motives have evolved to: “Make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, or at least an attitude of search”.vi The religious-cultural motive no longer exists and the vaguer “search” has been incorporated to attend to the vast array of people who now find their way to the Camino.
In April 2015 I conducted a survey with follow-up interviews about tech and the contemporary pilgrimage experience at the Pilgrim’s Office. I was very surprised by the results. In my survey pool of 51 (representative of pilgrims arriving that day), not a single person indicated that “culture or history” motivated their journey. Rather the new primary motivation was “Experience”, “ i.e. “having the experience” or wanting a “new experience”. As a ‘world walk’ the Camino is now a ‘bucket list’ trip for many people who want to have and share the experience. “Personal” reasons including a “time out” was the other major motivation among the pilgrims in the survey group and gets more to the idea of an inner journey with self-reflection. vii
With the increase in pilgrims, the infrastructure and pilgrim based services (albergues, shops, vending machines, etc) has increased dramatically. The growth of private albergues with a standard fee has completely outmoded the donation-based model started in the early 1990s loosely following the tradition of monastic hospitality for pilgrims and the poor. Small towns that did not have any or very few services in the 1990, now have hopping pilgrimage-based economies – Moratinos, Hornillos del Camino, Rabanal del Camino.
There’s more competition between these services vying for pilgrims’ attention and increased commercialization. Signs on the edge of villages to advertise albergues are increasingly common. The woman who opened the first pilgrim’s refuge in 1990 in Hornillos del Camino, found herself criticized in 2010 by albergue owners in Fromista who thought that her donation-based refuge would be unfair competition.
Sections of Camino have been destroyed or continuously “improved” and it gets progressively more difficult to get muddy boots.
Increased growth has also brought increased regulation of activities linked with the pilgrimage meaning more red tape, bureaucracy and licenses. Good Samaritans like the Englishman John, The Pilgrim Helper, who offered free pilgrim attention out of his mobile refuge, found himself no longer welcome at the Sierra del Perdon because he needed a license as his free service competed with the local vendor who set up shop.
Pilgrims in the 1990s were pretty low-tech and “come as you are”. The current high-tech pilgrims weigh all the objects in their packs by the ounce, carry super-light, quick-dry, UVA protected clothes and carries physio tape instead of duct tape.
In the same vein, in the 1990s pilgrims often found their walking sticks (preferably hazelnut) early in their walk. The stick would become a companion and sometimes carved becoming a special map of the journey. Pilgrims still carry sticks but walking poles predominate.
INVASION OF OUR ATTENTIONAL SPACE
This is part of larger societal trend that public spaces are open for publicity with advertisers constantly vying for our attention.viii On Camino now anybody with a cause, albergue, or other business creates a sticker to plaster on any open space to try and grab your attention. Since 2012 there has been a huge increase of graffiti on way markers, especially in Galicia. In addition to the typical Izzy was Here and I Love Pepe, now see ads, web addresses, Pilgrim Hash Tags and a even commentary on popular mobile phone game: Pokémon GO, pilgrims, which keeps pilgrims faces to their phones and off the Camino.
THE CATHEDRAL: Security, Protecting Patrimony and Limited Access
The rise of Muslim terrorism changed security measures and pilgrim backpacks are no longer are piled up on the columns. In fact you can’t bring backpacks into the Cathedral anymore. ix
The fear of wild dogs and dogs in general was very real in the 1990s and even into the early 20th Cx. From the dogs’ point of view, pilgrims have gone from being strangers (something to bark at) to familiars (a normal part of the landscape). Dogs on the Camino Frances are now bored by pilgrims and the sound of passing sticks puts them to sleep. The taming of the Camino dogs is wonderful metaphor for the progressive domestication of the Camino over the years.
Changes related to Internet Age (30 min)
“Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” ---Sophocles
To compare the Camino from a pre-Internet time to an “Internet Age”, I’m using the year 2000 as a rough cut-off. Even though internet technologies were used on the Camino pre-2000, their use in the Camino pilgrimage experience was significantly more limited and thereby less impacting.xi I would like to make a general observation about tech.xii Technology (and by that I mean social media, mobile phones, Apps, the internet, etc) is a tool. Understood as a tool it is inherently neither good nor bad but neither is it neutral, many products are specifically designed to keep the mind engaged and users coming back for more.xiii My research on the influence that media tech has on the Camino and pilgrims is not a judgment on whether it is good or bad. Sometimes people say to me, “Tech? What do you mean? It has nothing to do with it. It doesn’t impact the Camino at all. It’s just part of everyday life.” My role as an anthropologist is to make evident our implicit assumptions and how these guide our actions in ways we may not be aware of. Each person needs to come to their own conclusions on the role they want tech to play in their experiences.
Pilgrimage is a process
In Pilgrim Stories the structure I gave to the book follows the idea of pilgrimage as a rite of passage. Underlying all rites of passage is a basic three-step sequence of movement: Separation, the Limen (In this case the journey along the Camino), and the Return Home.xiv No matter what the motivation, the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage follows the same pattern; the individual leaves the familiarity of home, begins a new identity as an anonymous pilgrim, and is often outside of one’s comfort zone. The change in external conditions can be destabilizing and disorienting and stimulate internal changes leading to insight and reflection. The final stage is the Return to daily life somehow different than before one began. In the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage both the physical and mental elements of this process, working in tandem, are highly salient. While the physical component has remained relatively the same, for most people the mental component has changed dramatically in the Internet Age.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve witnessed the progressive disruption of this three-stage.xv The Internet Age has brought a new layer of experience (the Cyber/Virtual Camino) and potentially increased Mental Activity that did not exist before as a reality or a perceived need. Also, as media tech becomes habitual in the Camino the boundaries between these different stages blur as people move in and out of them on the mental plane, ultimately impacting the power of the overall experience.
The Before in the Internet Age
Feeling anxiety before launching oneself into the unknown is a normal and universal human emotion.xvi One way that people manage anxiety (as well as to heighten potential enjoyment and success of the encounter with the unknown) is to prepare both physically and mentally. Before the rise of the Internet preparation was mostly limited to books, articles, word of mouth, Pilgrim Preparation talks and the like. Since the mid to late- 1990s and especially from the year 2000 on, the amount of information available on every conceivable aspect of the Camino is remarkable. With the birth of new forms of human communication (such as websites, blogging, vlogging, text messaging, online forums and social media groups), the Internet provides an easily accessible gold mine of information that now permits the potential and armchair pilgrim worldwide to find and get answers to any question they might have. If someone cannot find the answer through already established written sources on the web, questions can be directed to on-line Camino de Santiago forums, newsgroups and websites specifically dedicated to helping potential pilgrims develop and plan their journeys. Potential pilgrims can even pay for and attend classes to learn how to be a good pilgrim.xvii The Camino’s accessibility for consumption and participation has vastly increased for audiences that would have previously missed out due to lack of information or perceived support and “do-ability.”
While the wealth of resources has numerous benefits, pilgrims also experience drawbacks related to “too much information”. Potential pilgrims can get bogged down in the minutiae, feel overwhelmed by the quantity, confused by conflicting info and not be clear on when “enough is enough”. When scanning forums and Facebook pages to see what kinds of concerns potential pilgrims have popular topics in the Internet Age (from 2007 on when Camino Forums began to take off) some include: raincoat vs. poncho, toilet etiquette in albergues, is it difficult to make friends on the Camino?, and 30 Dos and Don’ts for Newbies. In fact, instead of diminishing anxiety, the information overload can prey on people’s fears and increase anxiety leading some people to cut off their forum connections before goingxviii. As one 20-something male wrote:
I leave next Tuesday and I've decided to stop reading the forum now as its mostly just worrying me. Every day I'm reading how there are no beds. Every day I'm reading that you can't walk your own Camino because you need to plan for the people who get up at 5am or only walk 15km, and are taking all the beds by midday. I keep on reading about people not acting in the spirit of the Camino. I just want to get there now as my amazing journey is starting to seem a little less.
Hopefully a break from the forum will allow my preconceptions to equalise again and allow me to regain my excitement.
Rant over! Aug 19, 2013
The perception of how difficult it is to prepare for the Camino has progressively increased over the years and you can witness it in the evolution of Camino guidebooks. For example, the first modern guidebook to the Camino de Santiago, written by Don Elias Valiña in 1985 (and then published in English in 1992), contains one page of commonsensical preparation advice called “Getting Your Bearings”.xix
Over the years guidebook introductions progressively got longer and longer leading in 2011 to the birth of a new genre of guidebook solely devoted to helping you prepare to do the Camino.xx Ironically, as the Camino has progressively and objectively become easier to plan, organize and do with increased information sources available from the comfort of home, efficient way- marking, and increased on-the-ground services readily available people now flounder in the morass of information and may need a guidebook to pull them free of it. Do you objectively need more help to do the Camino in 2016 than you did in the 1990s or have we made it more complicated than it is?xxi
Creation of Pilgrim Identity Pre-Camino and attachment to a Virtual Community
Another new facet of pilgrimage in the Internet Age is the development of one’s virtual Pilgrim Identity and participation in real time in other people’s Camino experience before even setting foot on the Camino through participation in online Camino Forums, FaceBook groups and the like. In 2008 I began to follow Forum threads and noticed that potential pilgrims began to start threads and identify themselves in jest as part of the “Class of 2008”. xxii A participant’s forum engagement can span days, months or even years before going. Some potential forum pilgrims post hundreds of comments before they ever set foot on the Camino and engage actively with other first time pilgrims, “Veteran Posters” and “On the Road” pilgrims who connect to the Forum from the Camino to check in or ask questions. These continuing Class of… groups share information on their upcoming journeys, motivations for going, encourage one another in their efforts and express gratitude for the Forum. Virtual connectivity to the Camino and an online Camino community is intensely heightened in the Internet Age.
The boundaries between the three stages of pilgrimage blur significantly as the Future/Virtual pilgrim enters the ‘Live’ Camino via the Virtual Camino. Virtual pilgrims create memories about places and form impressions of people, places, landscapes and experiences before setting foot into them.xxiii How does this impact the real, on the ground experience once the Virtual pilgrim is literally on the Camino in terms of expectations and attitudes about what their Camino should or ought to be? I’m not advocating not preparing but rather encourage potential pilgrims to use common sense and reflect on the impact of being hyper-informed. Discovery, wonder and surprise are elements often traditionally sought after in such a journey into the unknown, like the Camino, and can be impacted by extensive pre-activity and engagement.
WHAT TO TAKE
Packing lists have evolved significantly since the 1990s. Now in 2017 the vast majority of pilgrims carry a mobile communication device (eg, Smartphone, iPhone, tablet, pre-paid phones with Spanish sims) and will upload a Camino App as a guidebook, reference, connection point, etc.xxiv In Pilgrim Stories I made reference to one man with a mobile phone on the Camino that I encountered. An oddity. As our world has evolved over the last 25 years, the desire to connect to virtually both in and outside the Camino has progressively increased. I’ve also watched the evolution of Forum conversations regarding tech going from “Should I take mobile tech?” to “What mobile tech should I take?” These themes often overlapped and the topics generally created heated debate between self-defined “techno-geeks” and “purists” regarding the virtues and disadvantages of tech on the Camino. By 2014-2015 the bulk of questions revolve around the technical aspects and practicalities of phone usage rather than questioning the role tech might have in one’s journey.
Here’s a list of tech related items potentially on your packing list taken from a sample of thousands of Camino packing lists on-line and the photo that accompanied this blog entry. The author begins with the comment: “When it came to tech, I wanted to take as little as possible to both remain in the moment and keep the weight down.” On his list, made in 2015, he includes: a 4-way USB charger, sports watch, portable battery, Smartphone (as a camera, communication device and with an uploaded guidebook App), cables and noise-isolating earphones. xxv He mentions the sports watch that he uses to monitor his Camino. It’s progressively more common for people to monitor their journeys and bodies with Fit Bits and other Wearable devices to track number of daily steps, pace, distance, heart rate, calories consumed, start and stop times, etc.xxvi To keep their tech charged, some people bring their own solar panels attached to their backpacks. Are these new “essential” items of the Internet Age based on a real need or a need we’ve created by our progressively tech-centered lives?
During – Once on the Camino
OUTCOMES OF PREPARATION
As a result of preparation, some people do make better choices for themselves but it is readily apparent they many 21st C pilgrims still experience the same problems (both physical and preparation-wise) they did in the 1990s despite all the information available. The fumbling, the making of mistakes and dealing with the “problems” or adversities are actually an important part of a pilgrimage process the pilgrim often goes through to gain insight and reduce mental weights. Reading about it online or in a book is clearly not enough. For example, “reducing the bag”, ie, realizing you don’t need everything you brought and letting some of go, is often an important mental and physical step towards discovering the power of simplicity. Shedding the physical weight in the bag often then leads to the subsequent realization and comparison to one’s daily life – “Ah, my life is cluttered and materialistic. There is a lot I can let go of. In the Camino I feel so good and have so little.”
MOBILE TECH ON THE CAMINO
By 2017 most pilgrims carry a mobile device (as a minimum) on the Camino but there is a considerable spectrum of usage and level of connectivity. Generally, people who are more connected at home will also be more connected on the Camino unless they make specific, conscious decisions regarding tech usage. And likewise someone whose is less connected in daily life will probably tend to be less connected in the Camino. Some people are aware that tech habits might interfere in the process of pilgrimage as a meditative activity and make choices to be less connected. Many are not aware especially among the younger generation that grew up in a connected world and may have never experienced sustained disconnection in their lives. Others simply embrace technology and revel in all the ways they can remain connected, monitor and share their pilgrimages and keep their normal channels open and daily life activities up to date. For many tech connectivity will seem like a non- issue.xxvii One pilgrim described in a 2016 article his surprise in how attitudes had changed on the Camino since his first pilgrimage in 2007:
Behavior that is acceptable in public today — such as posing for selfies, constantly checking email, posting and texting in meetings and in class and in almost any social situation with friends and family — would have seemed odd, perhaps even rude back then. But things have changed.xxviii
THE EXPERIENCE OF TIME AND THE INCORPORATION OF TECH TIME
In the 1990s when you left, you experienced a bracketed period of time away where there was a significant mental and physical disconnection from home and the world imposed by the tech limited circumstances pre-Internet. Studies show that nature has a calming effect on the human mindxxix and walking is a meditative act which also has calming effects on the mind and can be therapeuticxxx. You found yourself grounded intensely in the present, in the Here and Now. It was hard to escape unless you chose to leave the Camino. The simplified day consisted of getting up, packing the bag, eating, finding the arrows and walking, mostly in nature. The combination of enforced reduced mental activity, the therapeutic and meditative powers of walkingxxxi and the calming effect of nature led typically to a profound change in the pilgrim’s sense of time and place.
People often carry a layer of stress in their daily lives, like a cork. Reducing the mental responsibilities, activities and stress in the Camino pre-Internet, allowed the release of that cork. As the cork popped unanticipated, unforced and often confusing upwellings of emotion and memories poured forth. Over the course of the journey these were often cathartic and profound. Pilgrims wrote in diaries and occasionally chatted with family but these experiences built up inside of the pilgrim, had to be dealt with in the moment, became layered and mulled over forming a large ‘whole’ within that bracketed time away. Often it was not until the Return that the pilgrim was able to begin to process the events of the journey.
In the Internet Age the power of the physical journey (the walking and the calming effect of nature) remains clearly present but the mental journey is significantly altered. People still face adversity through blisters, pains and day-to-day trials that arise. Pain helps anchor pilgrims to the here and now. But Tech usage helps keep that cork of stress in place rather than remove it making it more difficult to access those inner worlds. Your mind is kept engaged and distracted with status updates and notifications, taking photos and selfies, checking and posting social media, body and journey monitoring, online bill paying, checking the news, informing your family and friends, writing a blog, working, reading reviews of albergues, making reservations for the next day, checking your on-line dating site or resolving problems mediated by your phone. Rather than getting out of your comfort zone, it’s much easier to stay in it. Instead of a global, bracketed time away mentally and physically in a unique place and space, Internet Age pilgrims progressively tend to have a fragmented experience where their bodies are physically in the Camino but their minds are often switch-taskingxxxii between different virtual realities disassociated from the Camino at hand. Rather than being in the Camino people seem to want to constantly get out of it. It’s harder and harder for people to simply be content and be where they are.
MOBILE TECH PILGRIMS HAVE NEW NEEDS and NEEDINESS
“If you have a voice that could have a say in getting this fixed, what the Camino needs is better bandwidth, a larger WiFi zone and more outlets to charge devices.” American pilgrim (age 72), Sept
2014, San Juan de Ortegaxxxiii
In the 1990s there was little to no perception that a Camino pilgrim “needed” a mobile device to do the Camino. Now, in 2017, there’s a very high perception that it is necessary to have a phone and that doing so will improve your Camino experience. And, not having a phone is even considered irresponsible. The usual reasons given are safety, information, contact with family and convenience. The presence of mobile tech, and the demand for it, has created a new layer of “needs” for the pilgrim. The question in the 1990s for the needy pilgrim when entering an albergue was “Do you have hot water?” and then it became “Do you have a washing machine?” From roughly 2010 and beyond it became “Is there WiFi?”
As more and more accommodations have WiFi (up to 90% as reported by one pilgrim in 2015xxxiv) it is less of a question than a given. The new question is simply “What’s the password?” or if there is no WiFi some pilgrims will move on to the next albergue. This new need for connectivity also reinforces a layer of necessary “end of the day” tech activities for the pilgrim which requires significant mental engagement and distraction. It’s now an invisible weight people are unaware they are carrying but that increases one’s mental baggage substantially depending on how one uses it. Also giving people everything they want doesn’t necessarily make them happier. It tends to simply make them more needy and demanding.
My TECH TIME
With the fragmentation of the Camino as a global, bracketed mental experience, the sense of the day’s routine appears the same but now contains significant differences.xxxv As this technology became more accessible from roughly 2009 on in bars, albergues and places where pilgrims gather, people progressively spent more time connecting. Since 2012 when stopping at a bar or a café, pilgrims began to habitually take out phones. Also, when finished walking, settling into the accommodation, and attending to mundane activities like wash, the new normal is to have some “Tech Time”. In addition to the tech activities I mentioned above en route or throughout the course of the day, people also spend their free time in the albergues using their phones to play games, watch movies, read books, read and respond to threads on the Camino forum or FB group, Skype a loved one.
How much time people spend online varies considerably but it is a reality for most to spend some time each day. Pilgrims also learn from each other and do what others do. Some people have personal rules to manage their technology. One woman explained to me that she created for herself a “switch-off zone” when she turned off her phone while walking. The rest of the day is still in the Camino but its okay to be tech connected. In general, it’s common now to have reduced mental activity when walking and then increased mental activity during breaks and the end of the day.
INCREASE VIRTUAL CONNECTIONS AND DECREASE FACE-TO-FACE CONNECTIONS
Ease of social relations and community building, one’s Camino Family (as it’s now called), continue to be highly valued among Santiago pilgrims. How people develop and maintain bonds has undergone changes in the Internet Age. Cyclists have lost their “pony express” role connecting waylaid walkers and lost loves. It’s no longer necessary in the Internet Age.xxxviCyclists generally liked this role but this connection point which helped reduce resent between the two groups has essentially been lost.
Internet Age pilgrims continue to randomly meet up, form groups and may or may not share contact info. The increased numbers of walkers and accommodations means that it’s harder to always run into the same people. When contact info is shared, it’s often a mobile phone number, WhatsApp or FB acct, and maybe an email address with the older crowd. To contact another pilgrim, texting is common and meeting up has become much easier. Depending on the information shared, one’s anonymity, highly valued in the pre-Internet, is potentially reduced because anyone can access “who you are” through an Internet search.xxxvii
Pilgrim community impacted by My Tech Time
Internet Age pilgrims’ “tech time” practices increasingly impact the social aspect of the Camino. Pilgrims are less likely to reach out to others, if your social and emotional needs are being met through your device and your virtual connections. In the afternoon and evening, due to bandwidth limitations in albergues pilgrims gather around the WiFi zone, to connect and have their tech time. Pilgrims are increasingly “alone together” borrowing from sociologist Sherry Turkle’s work.xxxviii One long-term hospitalera in the meseta explained in 2015 how WiFi worked in her albergue in the meseta: Sometimes she would forget to turn on the WiFi in the morning and people would ask her to do. She commented, “they get agitated if they can’t get online”. She also shared that “As an innkeeper it’s great because WiFi is like sweets for kids, a pacifier.” She explained that if she wanted some peace and quiet, “I give everyone the password and then they all hook-up, and they get looking at their own individual screens contentedlyxxxix Potential bonding experiences are missed if you are busy doing something else. xl
RELATIONSHIP TO HOME
Going back to pilgrimage as a rite of passage, Leaving Home entailed a physical and mental break and transition between the familiar to the unknown. There was an implicit mutual understanding between home and the traveler that communication would be very limited, irregular and mostly one way (initiated by the Pilgrim). Both Home and the Traveler/Pilgrim accepted these limitations with some exceptions as a normal, and often difficult, part of “going away” and “being left”. Leaving might also be a tremendous relief coupled with excitement of going on an anticipated journey with new adventures waiting. There had to be a basic trust and letting go on both sides.
In the Internet Age, the Pilgrim’s relationship to Home is radically transformed on the mental level. Physically the pilgrim leaves but typically maintains a more heightened mental proximity to home and the world in general. One common reason given for carrying tech is to allay fears, report back and keep in touch with loved ones. “Worry from Home” projected onto the Pilgrim increases the sense of “needing to be connected” and being “on-call”. Pilgrims also want to share their experiences or know about home. That need to constantly reinforce home that all is “okay” is a shift in our attitudes regarding separation in travel. The old adage “No news is good news” appears less and less relevant suggesting that our contemporary virtual relationships have a greater fragility and they need constant, often public, reinforcement.xli In addition, pilgrims now receive constant feedback about their experiences from friends, loved ones and unknown audience members. Here once again, we see the blurring between the different phases of pilgrimage. People often experienced a tremendous sense of freedom by going on the Camino. You could be a different person and experience new and different things without judgment or ties or worry about what “home” might think. If you are constantly reporting back, you may inhibit yourself from experimenting with self and others.xlii
The sense of Missing and Longing for loved ones when far away can be an important step in realizing their value to you. Connection can provide tremendous support for a pilgrim especially when feeling down, tired, insecure, or lonely. The temptation and the ease with which you can resolve those negative feelings through a phone reduce the need for the pilgrim to look within to find a solution or look around to fellow companions or circumstances. Pilgrims appear more independent but actually become more isolated from their on-the-ground community and more dependent on their phone and
virtual community to resolve crises.xliii The consequence is self-limitation. People now experience “collaborative pilgrimages” where they never really separate emotionally and mentally from a larger audience with their experiences and remain entangled with home and the world on the mental plane losing self-individuation and self-reliance in the process.
PRE-INTERNET IS NOW DIGITAL DETOX
Curiously, what was a “normal” pilgrimage in the 1990s is now called a “Digital Detox” when someone chooses consciously not to use or bring a mobile phone on the Camino. This type of pilgrimage is rare and considered radical, extreme and even “medieval”. My research includes an in-depth interview and correspondence with a Swedish woman who did DD pilgrimages in 2006, 2013 and 2014.
One difference between the 1990s and now is that the highly tech -connected mind needs time to settle down and resists disconnection as the brain is accustomed to continuous activity and stimulus. When someone with a high level of connectivity in daily life chooses to not use mobile tech in the Camino, they can experience withdrawal symptoms such as phantom ringing and vibration for days and it can take more than a week for the mind to slow down and allow the pilgrim to feel the power of solitude, open your senses and deeply feel the Here and Now. Another pilgrim who went without tech in Sept 2015 reported on the digital media website Mashable that :
The first days were the hardest. I felt something missing from my hands. I am used to constantly reading emails and news on my phone, so I was anxious. In restaurants, I could not get used to not having my phone on the table. Everyone else connected to the Internet and I felt ignored. I'd go to the restroom or check my backpack.xliv
We expect now to be busy all the time, to have our hands and heads occupied and doing something. For many people their phone is their third appendage. We take these same daily life practices unreflectively into the Camino and suggest that we don’t know how to be with ourselves without our tech. Camilla, the Swedish detox pilgrim, told me in a 2015 interview:
“When people are bringing computers and iPads they are making it very difficult for themselves to actually get at what I consider to be the real experience. …I’m surprised people don’t see this! And “my right to technology” is, you know, so much more important than to the whole Camino [experience]. It surprises me a lot actually because I’m using the technology all the time [in daily life] but for me it’s super natural not to try and use it on the Camino, or at least to a minimum.”
EXPECTATIONS & TECH
There’s been a shift in pilgrim’s expectations, often vastly differing, of what the Camino should or might be as a travel experience, a journey and/or pilgrimage over the last 25 years. The Camino as a pilgrimage in the traditional sense implies both an inner and outer journey to the sacred place. There’s an understanding that it entails a step into the unknown, the wilderness of the world but most importantly of the wilderness within, the inner places we haven’t visited in a long time or may not even know are there. A huge part of pilgrimage can be a confrontation of the self, a willingness to go down the unexplored, rough paths, take risks, overcome fears, experience solitude, loneliness and boredom, and confront discomfort both mental and physical, feel discouragement, desperation or intense joy and ecstasy.xlv
Many Internet Age pilgrims are aware of this as a model of the Camino but may not share it as an expectation of their journey.xlvi 21st C travelers want to connect and expect to connect. With the rapid advances in cheap, easy to use technology providing instant, real-time information, it’s possible to control many more aspects of the day to day Camino experience and thereby keep oneself from feeling as intensely. Tech usage can have a numbing quality on both positive and negative emotions.xlvii Mobile devices, headphones, tablets, etc, can help us keep distance from ourselves and others as well as potentially uncomfortable situations we don’t want to deal with. Pilgrims have gradually accepted and welcomed these changes for the most part. If you get lost, don’t ask someone, look at your GPS or call emergency services. Where to eat? Don’t bother exploring the village or town, just check your App for the best pilgrim recommendation or ask your virtual friends in online Forum group. Another major fear managed by tech is for example, “where to sleep”. The “not finding a bed” fear generated a lot of anxiety among pilgrims in the 1990s and continues to be a major source of anxiety. xlviii One solution that tech and the online albergue system gives the pilgrim is to book accommodation ahead thereby eliminating the worry of where to sleep.
Rather than let the trip unfold organically and face potential adversity as it comes, the trend is to try and control the Camino experience so “things don’t go wrong.” The old idea of “trusting the Road” is fading away. In exchange there’s a growing implicit desire to have what I call a “TripAdvisor Camino”, ie, one that has no glitches or problems. With our tech we are able to bubble wrap our Camino and resolve many more points of ‘discomfort”. This is good but it is also a double-edged sword. The pilgrimage is ‘smoother’ and with fewer rough parts but it keeps us from exploring more profoundly the wilderness within. We wind up diluting our experiences in the process. People are developing the habit of looking down rather than looking up to resolve basic ‘problems’ fundamental to the pilgrimage.xlix There is an implicit, and at times irrational, trust that what the machine says must be true or is more reliable than our own instincts, observations or what we can learn in face-to-face interactions. We are encouraged by the tech industry to do this. To illustrate this and end the section focused on the “During” stage of the Camino, here is a video by a tech company that has developed a WiFi app for the Camino to guarantee full time WiFi connectivity so the pilgrim can always be connected wherever and whenever .– Video for http://elcamino.tuwi.es/l . As rolling voiceover: The advertising tells us: “Do the best Camino with us…We will accompany and do the Camino with you so that it will all be much easier. We offer free WiFi so that you can live your Camino connected to the Internet. “
Our 21st C WiFi connected pilgrim looks down to solve his problems, interacts with no one as people have simply become noise around him, shares his solitary experiences with a virtual audience and never really seems to engage beyond the phone as WiFi fulfills all his needs. Progressively we are outsourcing skills, unthinkable just a few years ago, to our phones and thereby atrophying those abilities within ourselves.li
The Arrival in Santiago
Santiago is a transition point (as is Finisterre) between the Road and the Return Home. The Plaza de Obradoiro continues to be a powerful point of arrival and reunion point full of mixed emotions, elation, let down, triumph, worry about the future. Now it’s also very common to share the moment with the world.
MEMORY, HOW WE REMEMBER and HOW WE EXPERIENCE THE HERE AND NOW
Now we move to the daily Pilgrim’s Mass held at 12 Noon at the main altar in the Cathedral, a long-awaited event and important rite of closure for many pilgrims to Santiago even if they are not religiously motivated. An anticipated event for many people was and is the Botafumeiro censor swung at the end of the mass on special occasions. How we now experience that moment has changed dramatically. In 1994 we witness a sea of people contemplating the event. In 2016 we witness a sea of people capturing the moment.
Seeing how people experience the Botafumeiro through their devices is a good example of how our use of our phones and devices distances us from living them in the moment not just in Santiago but on the Camino in general. Rather than live them and feel them directly we mediate them through our phones by taking photos to share them or store them for future consumption. Or we multi-task our Camino and try to both live, see and feel it but also capture it and share it for others. Unless you focus on one or the other, it’s hard to do either one fully and completely. At times our perceived “right” to capture and share moments, can interfere with others’ enjoyment of simply being.lii Underlying this new trend in how we remember and experience events. We’ve developed a general distrust of our memories, memories often overworked by minds cluttered with all of our online communications.liii Rather than allowing oneself to simply be in the Camino, people have developed a layer of worry that “I need to record it or I’ll forget.”I have to keep track, rather than just be and trust the internal process. liv
REINCORPORATION – THE RETURN HOME
The Return, tends to be the hardest stage to talk about because it’s the least discussed and processed. In the 1990s I wanted to address the return – how did the Camino continue to impact people after they were done, if at all? In Pilgrim Stories I present the large spectrum of Return experiences. lv
My experience as a researcher on the Return in the Internet Age has been different than the 1990s. One difference is how people respond to me. When the Camino pilgrimage was a contained, whole experience and people didn’t have outlets, like they do now, the Camino remained more internal (unless you sought some mechanism of expression art, poetry, publishing a pilgrim’s acct). When I asked questions via snail mail (hard to believe but true) I would receive lengthy, deeply felt hand-written letters. Sitting down and writing about their experiences was often therapeutic and participants frequently expressed gratitude for the opportunity to reflect. The responses I receive now tend to be much shorter or in some cases non-existent! In my 2015 survey at the Pilgrim’s Office the 37 participants (of 51) who gave me email addresses had a dismal response: only 2 responded when I did a follow-up in 2016. Curiously, one of the two had consciously not taken a mobile device. When I posted a
thread about my research on the return in the digital age in 2015 on a Camino forumlvi, I was met with hostility and suspicion from a couple of members (some posts were even censored!) something that had not occurred when I did the same in 2007 and 2011. The most in-depth and profound responses I’ve received in my current research are from pilgrims who chose to walk disconnected.
Why might this be? One factor relates to the blurring of the stages (separation, limen, and return) and the mental proximity that is often maintained with home causing the intensity of the Separation and the Return to be diminished. When in constant and frequent contact with home describing the events and getting emotional comfort, there’s less surprise, feeling of missing and storing up of experiences that need to be shared. Home is also less surprised by the Returnee, even if they don’t really understand what the pilgrim has been through, because in way they’ve been there sharing photos, comments and stories along with the pilgrim. I mentioned this as the “collaborative pilgrimage.”
Another factor relates to how are communication patterns have changed over the last 10 years. On the Camino people share events, selfies, experiences, and emotions parceled out in bits and pieces to a virtual audience who may be giving real-time feedback to the pilgrim. When the return comes, there’s less need to share as the pilgrim has been processing and sharing, but in a very different way, all along. Also, once back home, our connected lives simply take over and we move onto the next thing. In my 2015 tech survey many people reported feeling less need to connect while on the Camino and liked connecting less but didn’t think much would change once they got home. Social, family and work-related communication including emails, social media, games and other on-line activities are endless. People are so busy keeping up it’s harder to reflect and process experiences unless you make a concerted effort.
As the Internet Age advances the evolution of motives, typically found pre-Internet, appears also to lessen and pilgrimages can be more reaffirming rather than transformative.lvii It’s now common to expect the Camino to be a “great experience” and then it is. For example, in San Juan de Ortega I met a 68 year old woman who gave me her Camino card with her name and Camino contact info (including email). Also printed was the phrase “It’s the journey that matters in the end.” She already knew before coming that it was the journey that mattered – a common Camino “lesson” of the 1990s. When I asked her to reflect on her Camino a year plus later she quoted from her blog entry written soon after she completed the Camino . The message confirmed the idea on her card and reaffirmed her expectations about what she hoped it would be. It was a wonderful, reaffirming experience but it didn’t seem to challenge her to evolve to a new place within herself.
The development of Camino forums, WhatsApp and FaceBook groups, etc in the Internet Age are a major change in the Return experience. These serve as important new outlets for Return Pilgrim to reconnect with other pilgrims, process the return, commiserate about the ‘glazed over look’ they get from friends and family and to help future pilgrims. The major difference between these forums and on the ground associations is the lack of face-to-face contact and infinitely greater access, upon demand, to the community. Generally, more posting and more likes lead to greater status and you can become a Veteran Poster, respected within the community. The tone of the forum depends greatly on the tone the Moderators and Veteran Posters give to it and this can vary tremendously depending on their level of experience, attitudes about the Camino and beliefs about what the Camino is or should be. For many active participants, membership is an important part of maintaining their connection to the Camino, pilgrim identity and sense of belonging in this enormous, ever-expanding virtual Pilgrim community. lviii
Conclusions (5 min)
The Camino and the pilgrims who course its ways are a reflection of the societies and worlds they come from. The world is not the same as the 1990s and inevitably the Camino is not either. Does this mean you can’t have a profound experience? Of course not. The important thing to be aware of is how our choices, our intentionality and our way of relating to the Camino, to home, our phone, etc influence a very important element of the journey - extended mental engagement or disengagement. People seek today mental disengagement a “time out” yet find it hard to see how the tech connectivity makes any difference to their overall experience. We seem to be progressively less aware of how these new habits keep us engaged mentally and distracted from where we are. Others embrace the engagement and enjoy the enhanced virtual Camino experience and sharing the Camino with others at large.
I’m struck as I continue to read pilgrims’ accounts of what they value most about the Camino and the lessons they have learned along the way. Special face-to-face encounters with others, the power of the human touch, being in nature, and the satisfaction and joy found in simplicity as we lighten our load on the Camino are the qualities of the journey that people crave and remember. Pilgrims of the
21st C are finding and cherishing these same experiences as they did in the 20th C but now there is tendency to buffer ourselves mentally against them via technology. Many times unwittingly our ‘independence/dependence’ created by technology, potentially isolates us from real time experiences because we’re too busy looking at our phones to be where we are and enjoy the many lessons found in silence, solitude and struggle.
People still feel good when on Camino because it stimulates feelings of connectedness. Even if the disconnection is brief or less intense it is positive. Pilgrims return to busy lives a little recharged and lament that real life isn’t like the Camino without realizing that you can bring life into closer alignment with the Camino through many small steps. The hazard the Internet Age tech pilgrim faces is resisting the temptation to fill up the gift the Camino gives - freed up mental space- with a lot of distracting noise (most of it junk food for the mind).
Exploring the impact of technology on our life experiences, and something as potentially profound as a pilgrimage, is important. Reflecting on the choices that we make is important and realizing that we have choices is also important. Reflecting on your usage ahead of time, the relationship you want to maintain with home and friends, will allow you to engage in different ways and bring intentionality to the Camino. And, Remember to look up.lix Thank you.
- http://oficinadelperegrino.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/peregrinaciones2015.pdf, Retrieved 10 Jan 2017
- This is what the Pilgrim’s Office looked like in 2004-05. I used to hang out there with Antonio, the attendant, waiting for pilgrims to arrive. Don Jaime had his office in the room adjacent to the Office and he would speak with pilgrims upon request. In the busy summer months, people would queue up on the Rúa do Vilar to wait their turn and more attendants were hired. In 2016, the Pilgrim’s Office moved location to a large renovated convent on Rua das Carretas below the Parador. A security guard now mans the main door.
- In Pilgrim Stories I trace the 20th C rise of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Up to the 1960s renewed interest largely came from academic circles. In the 1970s ‘doing the Camino’ meant taking a road trip to Compostela. In the mid-60s a few people, mostly with an academic background, started walking again to Compostela. In ever widening circles these early travelers (cyclists and walkers to Compostela) sought adventure, culture and history, transition away. The focus was on the journey not getting a Certificate. With the growing popularity of the Camino and institutionalization of the Camino in the late 1980s with the development of the Pilgrim’s Passports and limits established for the acquisition of the Compostela Certificate, a new motivation for doing the Camino developed and evolved adding controversy within the pilgrim community regarding authenticity – what is and is not a true pilgrim. In general, “more” is considered “better” and “authentic” with less focus placed on content, meaning and outcomes of an individual’s experience. It’s important to remember that in 1993 Holy Year the vast majority of pilgrims walking to Santiago that applied for the Compostela, started in Galicia and “only did the last 100Km” to get the Certificate but they were also mostly Spanish and probably did it with the desire to ‘ganar el jubileo’ (earn the indulgences associated with a Holy Year or Jubilee Year) even though it wasn’t necessary to walk to earn the plenary indulgences, it was a sacrifice, an act of faith. Now those who “do the last 100Km” are foreigners and not necessarily doing it with the same motivation rather it’s what they’ve heard the Camino is.
- https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/new-certificate-of-distance-offered-by-the-pilgrims-office.24969/, Comment #5, retrieved 14 Jan 2017.
- “To be a pilgrim, one has to make the pilgrimage with a religious/Christian motivation – in a greater or lesser degree. This is generally also combined with a cultural quest. When, added to this motivation, the journey is made on foot (which is the pilgrimage par excellence), by bicycle or on horseback, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela has, ever since ancient times, awarded the pilgrim an official document called a Compostela….Nevertheless, the essential things is to make the pilgrimage in the spirit of faith…and this can be achieved whatever the mode of transport. The Church, especially in a Holy Year, opens its doors to all and invites everyone to adopt the spirit of pilgrimage. (italics in original)” From the brochure titled “Holy Year Compostelan 1993” published in 1992 by the Comision Diocesana del Año Santo del SAMI Catedral.
- Retrieved from the Pilgrim’s Office’s official website, Dec 18, 2016: https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/pilgrimage/the-compostela/).
- Frey, Nancy L. 2016. Tech Survey on the Camino de Santiago, April 2015 With Follow-Up in March & April 2016.Unpublished article in author’s possession. Intentionality has changed for a lot of people since the 1990s – it’s now more popular “To have the Experience” and a “Time Out” and less popular as a way to experience culture and history and “to walk in the footsteps of one’s ancestors.”
- See Crawford, Matthew. 2015. The World Beyond Your Head. On Becoming An Individual in an Age of Distraction. NY, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- In 2006 one of the Santiago Matamoros (St James the Moorslayer) images became the politically correct Santiago Mataflores (Flowerslayer). Santiago ‘mataflores’, to ‘deal’ with radical Muslim terrorist threats in the Cathedral by not offending Muslims with the image of Santiago slaying Moors. The image is now perpetually covered with flowers up to the horse’s flanks so that the slaughtered Muslims are no longer visible. Santiago appears to be riding through a field of flowers, sword raised and ready for action, but no violence. El Correo Gallego, 02 Enero 2011. http://www.elcorreogallego.es/opinion/ecg/santiago-mataflores/idEdicion-2011-01-02/idNoticia-625783/. Retrieved Jan 10, 2017. Another change from the 1990s in the Cathedral are the lack of enormous lines that use to form to touch the column of the Romanesque Portico de la Gloria and the kneeling statue of the “Santo dos Croques”. But that ended in 2008 in the name of patrimony conservation as this Romanesque masterpiece is being studied and preserved.
- Alison Raju still mentions dogs as a worry in her 2008 edition of The Way to Santiago. Cicerone, p. 36.
- Brief History of Tech on The Camino. One of the last things I wrote in Pilgrim Stories was a prescient quote from Manuel Fraga, Franco’s Minister of Tourism and then Galicia’s President for many years. In 1997 “he announced his dream to see for ‘the Holy Year of 1999 the creation of a virtual *reality+ Camino de Santiago, that like the Jacobean route will be made by thousands of cyber-pilgrims from the five continents simultaneously.” (Pilgrim Stories, p. 254). In the year 2000 and beyond, the use of the internet to access information about the Camino and engage with pilgrim forums began to take off. As technology improved in this period, slowly increasing numbers of people began to carry mobile phones and other communication devices (eg, laptop computers) with them on the journey. Cyber cafés sprung up in towns and villages along the Camino. Emailing and blogging (a term invented in 1999 from ‘web log’) became common practice in this period. Pilgrims would spend free time in the afternoon hunting down cyber cafes in town or use the local libraries to connect. Social on-line networks such as Facebook and Twitter became mainstream around 2006 and 2007 respectively with millions of users around the globe. Other social messaging networks, video and photo sharing platforms such as Instagram (2010) and WhatsApp (2009) allow people to have instant connectivity to the internet, email, text messaging capabilities and the sharing of photos and videos at the touch of a button. Wifi and computers in pilgrim establishments (albergues and bars) became common around the same time (2010) making it less necessary for pilgrims to leave the albergue to find a cyber cafe. The development of Smartphones or iPhones, mini-computers that serve as cell phones, cameras and allow complete connectivity to the internet , news, and social media platforms, make bringing technology to the Camino very simple especially where there is free WiFi. Wifi is one of most important features of an albergue now. The Galicia government has prioritized having wifi in all the albergues over putting in adequate public toilets along the trail. Evidently, pilgrims connecting to the Internet is a higher priority than public health. In 2013 Apps (applications both free and pay) started to be developed specifically for the Camino for these devices and by March 2015 one researcher had compiled a database with “70 Camino-specific apps” Private email in author’s possession from Robert Nickerson, 21 March 2015). See also Robert C. Nickerson, Mark Austreich, and Jamie Eng, “Mobile Technology and Smartphone Apps: A Diffusion of Innovations Analysis,” Proceedings of the Twentieth Americas Conference on Information Systems, 2014. Marketing for these apps aim to make your Camino experience easier and more fulfilling. In only a decade our technology has advanced at a remarkable rate allowing ease of communication and connectivity to the net that was unthinkable only a few years ago. By 2014-15, this technology with improved Smart and iPhones could easily fit in your hand, pocket or backpack and came to be considered an indispensible piece of basic equipment. From Unpublished manuscript – Pilgrimage in the Internet Age by Nancy Frey.
- Bosker, Bianca, Nov 2016. The Binge Breaker. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/the-binge-breaker/501122/?utm_source=fbb. Retrieved 9 Jan 2017.
- Turner, Victor.1969. The Ritual Process. Ithaca: Cornell University.
- This is true, btw, of all rites of passage in the Internet age whether it be the way we experience going to the university, general travel or a study abroad program. In a discussion on “Learning as Loss” JS Atherton describes how rites of passage that are destabilizing ‘compel’ change vs ‘safe settings’ which make learning ‘possible’. Atherton J S (2013) Doceo; Learning as Loss 2 [On-line: UK] retrieved 19 January 2017 from http://www.doceo.co.uk/original/learnloss_2.htm
- Diamond, Jared. 2012. The World Until Yesterday. NY: Penguin
- Camino de Santiago forum thread started Aug 19 2013, Need to Stop Reading this Forum, http://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/need-to-stop-reading-this-forum.19975/Forum increases anxiety so need to stop Reading. Retrieved Feb 28, 2014
- Valina, Elias. 1992. The Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago. Trans by Laurie Dennett. First published 1985 in Spanish.
This edition is the 1992 English edition, p. 18.
- For example, the following three books are guidebooks on “how” to prepare and do the Camino: Nilsen, Sylvia and Greg Dedman. 2011. Your Camino - A Lightfoot Guide to Practical Preparation, EURL Pilgrimage Publications (308pp), Kelly, Gerard. 2012. Camino de Santiago Practical Preparation and Background. Create Space Independent Publishing (144pp), and Yates, Sybille and Daphne Hnatiuk. 2013. Pilgrim Tips and Packing List Camino de Santiago: What you need to know beforehand, what you need to take and what you can leave at home. Create Space Independent Publishing (138pp).
- Don Elías provided the following advice in his “Getting Your Bearings” advice, p. 18: “No anxiety – least of all about distance – should disturb one’s peace of mind. Don’t approach the journey in a competitive spirit; it is better to get to know the places on the route, their people and their monuments, and to have time to contemplate the beauty of nature. All of this will contribute to a satisfying encounter with others and with oneself.” Curiously, as more information has become available it does not seem that people are necessarily less anxious, more well-prepared or better pilgrims but the need to try and control the outcome of the experience (I want to do it right, have a great Camino, etc) by knowing as much as possible ahead of time has increased.
- What was occurring was the development of a pilgrim identity and feeling of membership in a virtual group with an anticipated shared, future experience together You were cognizant that you might never meet anyone in your Class of 2008 in person but nonetheless you had a virtual mental bond and connection. In other words, you were going through a virtual rite of passage as the Class of 2008 of loosely connected individuals and once you completed your journey you would have the new status of ‘having done it’ increasing your sense of connection to your virtual Forum community.
- This does not occur to the same extent in a Practical Pilgrim Day where your attention and experience is fixed to a particular place and space away from the Camino or simply reading about the Camino or hearing about it from a friend. In this Virtual Camino space it’s possible to have experiences and interact with the Camino and pilgrims on the Camino before actually being there.
- Frey, Nancy. May 2016. Tech Survey on the Camino de Santiago, April 2015. With Follow-Up in March & April 2016.
Unpublished paper in author’s possession.To assess the presence of mobile tech devices on the Camino, in April 2015 at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago I gave a questionnaire and follow-up interview to 51 people standing in line to get their Compostelas. My pool of 51 reflected the general cross-section of pilgrims arriving that day in terms of age, nationality, length of trip, etc. I chose people both using and not using phones as they waited in line. Of the 51, two did not have mobile tech devices with them. It’s the new normal to have a phone – a reflection of life in the Internet Age.
- One example of thousands of packing lists is the following from the blog What Dave’s Doing and his 5 Nov 2015 article “My ridiculously detailed Camino de Santiago Packing List: What Worked, What Didn’t and Why” http://whatsdavedoing.com/camino-de-santiago-packing-list/#tech, Retrieved 20 Jan 2017.
- With increased camera photo quality in Smart and iPhones, it’s less necessary to bring a separate digital camera and was waning as of 2015-16.
- Frey, Nancy. May 2016. Tech Survey on the Camino de Santiago, April 2015. With Follow-Up in March & April 2016. Unpublished paper in author’s possession.
- Challenger, Douglas, 14 May 2016, Walking the Camino in the Age of WiFi, http://www.onbeing.org/blog/douglas-challenger-walking-the-camino-in-the-age-of-wi-fi/8653. Retrieved 20 Jan 2017
- Carr, Nicholas, 2011. The Shallows. What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, pp. 219-20, NY: WW Norton.
- Hartmann, Thomas. 2006. Walking Your Blues Away. How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being.
Vermont: Park Street Press.
- “Walking is a form of meditation and it gets us out of our incessantly thinking minds (future-past-future-past) and into the present moment where the world is more focused and where we notice those “signs” we otherwise might miss.”
- Soojung-Kim Pang, Alex. 2013. The Distraction Addiction, NY: Little Brown, pp. 64-65. He has an interesting discussion on the difference between “switch-tasking” and “multi-tasking” and writes that “devices like cell phones are tailor-made for switch-tasking. They capture your attention by diverting it from something else” ultimately impacting your powers of concentration, p.65.
- Author’s field notes from Sept 2014.
- From blog entry What’s Dave Doing? http://whatsdavedoing.com/camino-de-santiago-packing-list/#tech, Retrieved 20 Jan 2017.
- As internet technology evolved in the early years (2002-2005) people began to want to connect more regularly with home. Cyber Cafes began to slowly replace public phone booths and telephone shops to make calls. Pilgrims would often spend long hours in the afternoons hunting these down to send off messages. Phones were expensive and the technology to blog and post not user friendly. Progressively, albergues started to respond to the demand and some incorporated coin operated computers. Readily available WiFi and improved Smart and iPhone technology made a whole range of tasks very user-friendly.
- Pre-Internet cyclists had a very important function as “the message bearers of the Camino… serv*ing+ an important intermediary function between waylaid walkers, lost loves, hoped for reconnections, and messages of all sorts – the pony express of the past.” Field notes, 19 Jan 1995.
- Some nationalities, such as Koreans, tend to remain separate and not integrate as much into the general pilgrim group largely due to language barriers and perhaps cultural attitudes regarding group and individual travel experiences. Their mobile phones help significantly reduce the need to connect with others as they can access answers to questions via Korean Camino help sites and Forums easily. A pilgrim in the 1990s and a long time Camino hospitalero, José explained how once he ran into Korean pilgrims in a daze walking around town because the albergue was closed but their phone information had told them it was open. He described them as being in a bubble and at a loss about what to do. Private field notes, Feb 2015.
- Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together. Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. NY: Basic Books.
- Frey, Nancy. Unpublished manuscript, Pilgrimage in the Internet Age.
xl In albergues tensions can arise over limited charging outlets and one of piece of advice from a former pilgrim was to carry a power strip (multi-outlet) as a good way to make Camino friends. Tech usage considered thoughtless can also cause other irritations in albergues when notification pings are left on, people talk loudly on phones or bright screens on tablets and phones light up the dormitory as pilgrims go to sleep.
xli Could go into FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) here and the traveler doesn’t want to disconnect either for fear of losing touch with the quick pace of relationships. My son, upon returning for one week in Jan 2017 without his phone on vacation, had 23,500 new WhatsApp messages plus thousands of other Instagram and SnapChat to go through.
xlii See the work of Jenkins, Kathleen E. 2014. “There’s an App for That: Parents and their Emerging Adult Children Undertake Emotion Work on the Camino de Santiago.” Presented at the August 2014 meetings of the Association for the Sociology of Religion and the forthcoming 2017 article, Jenkins, Kathleen E. and Ken Sun “Technologies of Intimacy: Families Negotiate Spirituality and Technology in a Sacred Space.” Sociologist Kathleen Jenkins has explored the relationships that parents and their adult children have when walking the Camino. One of the patterns of behavior she observed in conflict resolution between a parent and their adult child was the utilization of the phone to mediate the problem. For example, a daughter would spend considerable time texting her boyfriend back home to complain about her mother rather than deal with her mother directly. She was physically in the Camino but mentally at home with her boyfriend much of the time and engaged in “intimate labor” through her phone rather than face-to-face.
xliii While generally positive the relationship to home can also be considered a burden. As pilgrims get more deeply into the experience, and the feeling of the Here and Now, the need to connect can decrease. People may get tired of having to report about their journey and may just want to live it. This can cause conflict within the pilgrim who does not want to disappoint the ‘audience’ or worry home if they don’t communicate regularly.
xliv Tamara, EJ, 10 Sept 2015, Learning to live without technology on the Camino de Santiago, http://mashable.com/2015/09/10/hiking-the-camino/#1vX_95lGTEqC, Retrieved 20 Jan 2017.
xlv And through this exploration of that internal wilderness sometimes we find things we like and don’t’ like (how we react to a situation, deal or don’t deal). Potentially the pilgrim is given the opportunity to then reflect and grow as a person as they
confront and react to the challenges the Camino places before them.
xlvi And the role of tech in the Camino (however defined) is debated within the pilgrim community. Voices have been raised over the years questioning this role. .xlvi Pilgrims motivations, as discussed at the beginning, have evolved. A “time out”, an “experience” a “lovely holiday” are popular motives. Participants generally know that it will be physically challenging and usually entail some “roughing it”. People also expect now to be connected when they travel. For many people phones are now like a third appendage or an extension of their hand and have become accustomed to reaching for their phones to resolve problems and interact with others instantly. There’s also a general assumption that society (and in this case the Camino) should and will meet those tech expectations. From this point of view having a phone, Wifi and decent bandwidth is a no-brainer. For example, the thread from the Camino de Santiago is a good example, Is Just being there enough?
https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/is-just-being-there-enough.29344/#post-247079, retrieved 28 Sept 2014.
xlvii Carter.Christine. 2015. The Sweet Spot. Ballantine Books.
xlviii Jackson, Roni. Private email in author’s possession from 11 September 2015. “There is a tremendous bed shortage right now it seems. I have been incredibly fortunate so far but there is such anxiety among the pilgrims about where they are going to sleep each night and if they are going to find a bed. So many pilgrims I speak to have started booking ahead-almost all of them it seems!”
xlix By planning and engaging online as one goes, yes, you ensure a comfortable, secure experience but you also potentially lose opportunities to discover, explore and learn life lessons.
Wifinova, company that allows all day connectivity. Connect you to http://elcamino.tuwi.es/ “Juntos hacemos el Camino” meaning ¨Together we do the Camino¨– reinforces idea of collaborative pilgrimages.From website http://elcamino.tuwi.es/, retrieved 22 Jan 2017. Quote in Spanish and translated by me. Here is the original“Haz el mejor Camino con nosotros…Nosotros te acompañamos y hacemos el Camino junto a ti para que todo te sea mucho más sencillo. Te ofrecemos Wifi gratuito, para que puedas vivir tu camino conectado a la red, y compartirlo y sentirlo como más te guste. Contamos con un gran despliegue para tu máxima satisfacción, siendo la red Wifi con más puntos a lo largo del Camino.” “Do the best Camino with us…We will accompany and do the Camino with you so that it will all be much easier. We offer free Wifi so that you can live your Camino connected to the Internet and share it and feel it as you would like. We have an ample network for your maximum satisfaction, being the Wifi network with the most connection points along the whole Camino.” Read this as video is going: In the website advertising, instead of a journey of self-discovery and solitude, it’s now a “shared journey” where you are always accompanied by this virtual entity and community. The advertising video clip is found on YouTube: https://youtu.be/eG4USG-D2X0.
li I’m paraphrasing Marshal McLuhan’s idea from Understanding Media that tools “numb” the part of the body that they “amplify” and quoted in Carr, Nicholas. 2011. The Shallows, p. 210. Pilgrims also become more needy and demanding when things don’t go their way if they are doing a Trip Advisor Camino. There is an expectation that they will and if they don’t they find it difficult to adapt. “Gratitude often arises out of conditions of scarcity”paraphrasing Christine Carter, see above. The more pilgrims have the more they believe they should have. There’s nothing wrong with this change it’s just a shift in expectations about what it means to be a pilgrim on the Camino from the 1990s. There’s a growing tendency to go to your phone for information (location, weather report, services) rather than use your observable information at hand.
In a meeting with a well-known in Santiago he told me one of the projects he was thinking about setting up was a 24hour Help Line for pilgrims to be able to call if they have an emergency or are sad and lonely, etc. My instant gut reaction was Why would you want to outsource pilgrim needs to a hotline to someone sitting in a room 1000 miles away? This is a new trend. People want to “help” pilgrims more and more but it’s important to carefully analyze what “helping pilgrims” really means. Helping often signifies giving people more tech rather than encouraging self reliance. independence, resiliency and empowerment. With increasingly more “help” there’s a tendency to push the panic button more readily and expect someone or somebody else to resolve your problem as well as think they should rather than do it yourself. People become more needy rather than self-reliant as a result. li“Helping pilgrims” ends up meaning encouraging them to outsource their problem-solving skills to their device rather than exercise those skills.
lii From my article, 2015, Fuck Your Selfie, unpublished in author’s possession.
liii We are also aware that home consumers have limited attention spans and consume fragments better than long texts in Internet Age. A huge experience like a pilgrimage is an enormous process of experience, challenge, crisis, reflection, moving on and the way we remember things is disturbed by immediately fixing the memory or event in time and place. It’s impacting the way we remember and what we remember.
liv The priority becomes sharing and showing the world where you have been rather than simply living the moment for yourself. This existed before in the 1990s, people carried cameras and this was a concern. I discuss in Pilgrim Stories people describing their camera as a burden and one man was relieved when he lost his on the train before reaching the Camino. He would keep it inside. Allow things to unfold internally rather than immediately fix it in time and space. Give self freedom to go through range of emotions and their evolution before putting it out there for external consumption.
lv Radical, long term change was unusual. Most people fell somewhere in the middle where the Camino’s lessons influenced in direct and subtle ways further actions in their lives and led often to specific changes or actions. The Camino remained sharply in the pilgrim’s memory often returning months later and was valued very positively, despite often being unsettling and confusing when your eyes were opened to the realities or hypocrisies of your life. Gratitude towards the Camino and the many gifts received from anonymous people along the way was a common feeling.
lvilvi Camino de Santiago Forum thread: Tell me about your Return Home
lvii Motives also do not appear to evolve in the same way with connected Internet Age pilgrims as in the 1990s. In Pilgrim Stories I describe how motives often evolved over the course of the journey within this bracketed space away. For example, someone might start the Camino thinking it’s only a physical challenge and adventure but at the end it would have become an intense spiritual experience. It was much harder to escape from oneself without the handy distraction of tech and consequently the pilgrim was often pulled, despite him or herself, into a powerful and unexpected confrontation with the self. Consequently, rarely did people start and end with the same motives – some kind of inner shift usually occurred.
lviii As in the 1990s people still join on-the-ground Friends of the Camino chapters in their local areas, become volunteers or return to the Camino again. The Camino continues to draw people back again and again because they like the way they feel there. “Serial pilgrims” as I identified in Pilgrim Stories, have expanded their horizons and seek out other Caminos and European pilgrimage trails including Rome and Jerusalem once they get the “Camino bug”.
lix Levi Felix, a Proponent of Disonnecting from Technology, Dies at 32, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/obituary-levi-felix-digital-detox.html?_r=0; Retrieved 12 Jan 2017 I feel similar to the late Levi Felix, founder of the company Digital Detox that sought to help tech-saturated individuals reconnect with their lives, “I love that technology connects us…., but we have to
learn how to use it, and not have it use us”.
On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018), Part IV
By: Nancy L. Frey
Part I of our story covers the early years of On Foot in Spain’s family story.
Part II gets into the logistics of how we made it happen and what the kids do on trips.
Part III explores some of the special experiences, stories and even Camino miracles we’ve had over the years.
Part IV gives thanks to all of those different people who have made On Foot in Spain possible.
Support Team: The Family Behind the Family
Bringing one of the kids has been fabulous but it almost meant that two were left behind. Thankfully we are blessed with a great support system in Jose’s parents and his sister and her husband. The kids are the only grandchildren and nieces and nephews for our Spanish family giving our kids remarkable and close relationships with their extended family. Having their support over the years has made it possible to leave the kids and run On Foot in Spain knowing they couldn’t be in better hands. Needless to say it is always hard leaving the others but this has been our curious family experience. We could never have done it without the extended family support and we are very grateful! The photo below is of the On Foot Family and the Support Team in 2016!
I also cannot forget to mention the bus drivers who have shared all of these journeys with us over the years. Some of the drivers took a very special interest in the kids and enjoyed their free time with them. We were grateful on numerous occasions for their care, understanding and assistance helping us in a busy moment when our four hands were occupied and a little one needed a hold. Thank you especially Luís, Jose Manuel, and José who all took numerous trips with the kids from when they were babies. In the photo below Jose Manuel talks to Sam who is sitting in the cargo bay of the bus.
The Family Across the Seas
I grew up in California. When I chose to make my life in Spain it meant that I would be very far from my family. That has been the biggest challenge of living abroad for me. Fortunately I have intrepid parents who have joined On Foot in Spain – my Dad and Mom once in the Picos de Europa and my Mom on a total of five trips. My Dad instilled a love of hiking and the outdoors in me at an early age taking us on annual summer trips to Yosemite and always encouraged fitness, a love of history and the power of engaging deeply with nature. My Mom has always been my unconditional rock and support and sharing with her this country and people I love has been a very special experience. I am very proud of her trips and strength as she strode along in her 70s along the Camino with great verve and energy. What an inspiration! She joined us in 2004 in Portugal with Marina on board. Here are the three generations.
Our Extended On Foot Family
Something that makes our company unique is that Jose and I decided from the beginning that we would lead all of our tours. Consequently, we personally know all of clients from the first email to the final goodbye. There were many points along the way when we thought about expanding in various directions, hiring guides, increasing tours, and turning On Foot in Spain into a larger enterprise. We would hem and haw (mostly me) and finally come back to the same decision that coincided with our own philosophy – we wanted to keep On Foot in Spain very personal, ensure high quality and guarantee that an experience with us would be more like traveling with friends and family than with an impersonal company.
(Photos: Left – I have man photos of Jose sleeping with the kids on the bus. This is my view from the front seat looking back. Here, Jose and Marina are snoozing as we drive along. Right – A picnic at Cirueña on the Camino de Santiago tour where the clients are stretching, elevating and Sam is doing his own thing with balloons around a fountain he spent many joyful moments playing around).
This decision meant that we kept things small because to provide a very personalized service, maintain an enriching and fulfilling home life as well as getting the necessary rest in between trips, it was necessary to limit the amount of travel time during the year. It seems to have worked. Over the last 18 seasons Jose and I have led 1501 people on 159 tours. Now in 2018, as I write this, 90% of our clients are either return walkers or friends of friends. Every year we have walkers repeat with us and who we now count as our friends. Our On Foot Family is truly our international extended family!
Nancy and Jose possess this wonderful talent of bringing people together in their trademark and subtle and gentle way. Meeting and getting to know this fantastic group of people was one of the many highlights of the walk. I am convinced that the group’s collective experience was enriched by the expert facilitation of Nancy, Jose and Sam. Thank you for making this such a fantastic experience …and for your skill and thoughtfulness.
(Photo: Left – Jose prepares the picnic while Sam explains what he’s doing to his friend Anne. Right – Nancy and Sam with our stones at the Iron Cross in September 2007)
We would like to thank all of you for accepting and embracing our family in our business and sharing with us experiences that have become a lifetime of memories. You have become part of our family and our shared memories are now part of our family and the On Foot in Spain story. On Foot in Spain has always been more than just a “business” for us, it is a life project and a philosophy. Thank you.
Marina and the Group joining hands in 2012.
On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018), Part III
By: Nancy L. Frey
Part I of our story covers the early years of On Foot in Spain’s family story.
Part II gets into the logistics of how we made it happen and what the kids do on trips.
Part III explores some of the special experiences, stories and even Camino miracles we’ve had over the years.
We like to think that some of the good vibe of the Camino and the joy of having family aboard have inspired at least two and maybe three Camino miracles over the years. When Marina went on her first trip as a dear 5mth old baby, we were joined by a lovely, young couple who shared with me that they wanted to have children but had given up hope after trying for years. Imagine our surprise when they wrote to us several months later to say that they were expecting a baby and they thought the Camino had worked some magic and cute Marina had been an inspiration. Three years later when Sam was 6mths old, he joined us on one of his first trips. In attendance was a couple from Singapore on their honeymoon. Sure enough 9mths later, we received an announcement in the mail that they had had a baby boy and put Samuel as his middle name!
In the photo on the left, Marina, Jose and Nancy take a break at the bar in Gonzar along the Camino in July 2012 during the Compostela tour. On the right, Nancy picks up Sam to give him a big kiss after finishing the stage with the group and arriving for the picnic that Sam and Jose have prepared. For those of you who remember that picnic, Jose is taking out of the bag the octopus (Pulpo a la Féria) that I have just bought in Melide for us all to enjoy warm and savory.
Your relationship with each other and your love for Marina were important parts of the whole experience for me. Your individual personalities and the quality of your interactions added a dimension to the tour. I cannot explain it very well, but in a sense you, and how you interacted, reinforced the spiritual part of the Camino for me. –Bill
Entertaining themselves Can Lead to Entertaining Others
Inevitably on tours, our kids spend a lot of time entertaining themselves. In the bus, we would have a box that contained our child’s collection of books, pens and crayons, sketch pads, dolls, cars and whatever else suited their fancy. As word spread that one of our children would be on tour, the kids would occasionally receive a little gift from a client including a number of books over the years that have become family favorites including the delightful Where is the Green Sheep?, the very inspiring family travel story Are We There Yet? or, specifically for Sam (I am) the funny Seuss story Green Eggs and Ham. Our kids became experts in Australian animals with wonderful books about all those curious marsupials and birds with funny names. A couple of Canadian beavers made an appearance to Marina’s delight and she proceeded to incorporate them into her imaginative play. Here she shows the beavers (left) to a woman (who had me in stitches much of the trip) and Sam with his drawing book on the bus (right).
On some occasions people can’t walk or don’t want to walk for one reason or another and then end up spending time in the bus. If one of our children is on the trip, sometimes they do a bit of bonding and this can become an unanticipated dimension to the trip. Sam loves to sketch. He would often sit in his chair and sketch dinosaurs, mermaids, people – whatever he was thinking about. Sometimes a sketch would make its way up the bus from a passenger in the back and then a story or further drawings evolve from there. In these two photos below, Sam is leaving his mark at the powerful Cruz de Ferro/Iron Cross, the Camino’s literal highpoint (1504m) in June 2013. People often bring stones or other mementos from home to deposit at the foot of the cross.
On the final dinner in Santiago, we invite the child who has been with us to attend with the group. Typically, Sam would draw a mermaid or portrait of each person to give them as a going away gift. I’ve had repeat clients tell me they still have their drawing in a book or marking a page. Here we are at the final dinner at the Parador in Santiago de Compostela in May 2011 (my how time flies!).
Not all a bed of roses!
There have been challenges on the road with the kids. It would be a lie if I said it wasn’t at times exhausting managing all the roles and trying not to let it show. On occasion a lost dummy/pacifier would signify a minor crisis or a sick little one who would have a restless night meaning we might not get all the sleep we might have wanted. One funny moment was when Marina sent her shoe out the window, to her great delight, of a hotel into a stream and she watched it float away never to be seen again. What are the odds of that?
One event I still cringe about came at the end of the walk down a long lovely mountain into Molinaseca. The group was sitting down in a circle having drinks in an idyllic spot next to a cool river. Marina was about two years old and just walking. She climbed up into an empty chair and was smiling and looking at the clients who thought she was pretty cute. I was standing behind her making sure the chair wouldn’t tip over and then something happened and she was falling through the air and fell flat on her face. I was devastated (and the clients horrified). Everything has a silver lining though and it turned out that were three pediatricians on the tour and they leapt to their feet take a look at her. She couldn’t have been in better hands and fortunately was soon better.
n the photo on the left, I get a hand from a young man traveling with his family along the Camino. They were a wonderful group of three siblings who made an effort to get all of the cousins together and take a family adventure. We were very fortunate to share the Camino with them. On the right, Sam and Jose look down the drain hoping to find some lost object. I hope it wasn’t too important (I don’t remember so it must not have been too traumatic)!
On occasion rainy weather provided challenges for keeping little ones dry and entertaining beyond the bus or the van. The bus is equipped with a video player and sometimes when the clients are walking, Jose might slip in a favorite movie on a rainy day. Some of the favorites included Mamma Mia, Nemo, Duma and Kung Fu Panda. One rainy afternoon Sam was watching Kung Fu Panda and the walkers arrived. It was nearing the end and I went to turn it off. Some of the people in the group spoke up and said – “No, keep it running.” It turns out the Disney’s Kung Fu Panda has a lot of Buddhist philosophy woven in and encourages focusing on the here and the now, a message that people often find resonates with how they feel on the Camino. At one point the character Master Oogway says,
There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the "present.”
In the end Sam’s movie ended up reinforcing what some people were already experiencing, the gift of the Road, the laughter, the spontaneity, the joy of the group, the time away, the power of the present. We all laughed about it and how this silly Disney movie could somehow have enhanced and reinforced the Camino experience.
"We loved seeing your beautiful family interact and think you are so fortunate to have and enjoy each other. And we are fortunate to have met you!” Margarita and Diego
In this photo, I have just been reunited with Sam or Marina at the final picnic on Monte Pedroso outside of Santiago de Compostela on our 11-day Camino de Santiago tour. Often on the last day, at the last picnic, we would get a surprise visit of one of the other children. Despite the challenges involved with bringing the children, it has always been worth it. We have been able to have special one-on-one time with each child and, despite being away and working, we were able to share very meaningful time with each one while on tour. Jose also knows every single outdoor play park in northern Spain!
Making Connections and Corrupting influences!
We have enjoyed the client interactions with our kids immensely. It’s something we try not to push onto our clients (as again, we don’t want our kids to be the center of attention) but sometimes our children and clients simply connect. We love how relationships can develop that cross age, nationality or sex which is also what happens on the Camino when people can meet one another wherever they are. We’ve had offers of babysitting on a free night, lots of requests to hold and feed the babies, and spontaneous story-telling sessions. The kids are all bilingual and speak English, American-English, of course because of my influence. I’ve had a number of non-Americans get on the bus and hear one of our kids speak and say “They have an American accent!” Well, of course, they aren’t going to speak Australian!
In the photo on the left Marina, on the Camino Portuguese tour, learns how to cut her thumb off without blood in 2010 and Sam (right) introduces clients to the joys of foot elevation and resting after the picnic in Uterga in 2015.
The kids have also been introduced to other local customs by clients who’ve enjoyed their company post-walk. In this funny photo, six-month old Sam (2007), on one of his debut trips, is on the lap of an Australian man getting ready to initiate Sam into one of his country’s customs! He looks a little overwhelmed.
Sometimes these connections have continued post-tour and Sam has become pen pals with several clients over the years. In fact, right now he is writing a story, chapter by chapter, back and forth through the mail with a special woman who has traveled with us five times.
To read the final chapter of the On Foot Family story, go to On Foot Family Part IV.
On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018), Part II
By: Nancy L. Frey
Part I of our story covers the early years of On Foot in Spain’s family story and Part II gets into the logistics of how we made it happen and what the kids do on trips.
The backpack, the stroller and the bicycle
Often people ask – “Do they walk the whole thing?” Typically, in our division of labor, Jose organizes everything behind the scenes making sure things runs smoothly and I walk with the clients on the trail and explain the sites as we go. When one of our children joins us they typically become Jose’s helper and “right hand man/woman”. Consequently, normally our child will be with Jose organizing and I’ll be walking though as they got older they would also walk on their own with me and/or the clients. In the two photos below, you can see Marina walking with a client in 2012 and Sam taking a photo along the Camino with another client as they walked along (thank you, France, for this nice shot!).
On some of the tours there are sections that allow Jose to walk and if we are with one of the children they have been able to come with us when they were little in a backpack, when a bit bigger in a stroller, walking on their own or even on bicycle from time to time on the Meseta. We believe that Jose lost 3 or 4cm of height due to carrying the children over the years many, many kilometers in the backpack! Here is Jose carrying Marina on the left in 2004 and carrying Sam in 2007 (right).
The stroller was worth its weight in gold, now long retired, and enjoyed many trips down the Camino with each of the kids. Often we would come up with funny ways to keep the hot sun off the kids with clothes pins, light blankets and, when those failed, small branches with large leaves. On the left you can barely make out Marina under the ferns in the stroller along the Camino in 2005. On the right, someone took this nice photo of Jose and me walking into San Juan de Ortega pushing the stroller in 2008.
It makes me smile thinking of Sam sailing down the hill on his little bike on the Meseta outside of Hornillos del Camino. Here are a couple of photos of him on the Camino in 2013.
What the kids do on a tour
Depending on their ages and interests the kids normally spend a lot of time on tour helping Jose organize, prepare picnics, shop and/or interact with clients. Since the days are long, the children typically do not attend dinner and instead have some kind of culinary adventure with Jose as the clients and I head off to a restaurant meal. Each day we pass out maps to the clients and review the section to be walked. When one of our children is on tour they take over the role of passing out maps, helping clients stamp their Pilgrim’s Credentials, find the yellow arrows and sometimes pass out chocolate or fruit to happy and tired walkers. On the left Jacob stamps the credential for one of our pilgrims in 2005 and Sam passes out dark chocolate with almonds on the bus in 2013.
A very important role the children take on during our tours along the Camino de Santiago is to give a scallop shell to each client as they begin their journey along the Camino. Somehow receiving your scallop shell from a little hand takes on special meaning; especially knowing that that same hand may have picked up that shell back home in Galicia months before. The scallop shell is a beautiful symbol of rebirth, regeneration and fundamental to the Santiago pilgrimage experience. One of our vital On Foot activities, that does not take place on tour, is collecting scallop shells for our journeys along the Camino. Beachcombing for scallop shells that will be become part of our tours is a cherished family activity. Please follow this link (https://www.onfootinspain.com/tours/learning/articles/beachcombing-scallop-shells) to read about our beachcombing for scallops on the Galicia coast. On the left Marina passes out shells in 2008 at Roncesvalles and Sam does the same in 2013.
Sometimes Jose walks backwards from the meeting point to meet clients. He is always a welcome site, especially when joined by one of the kids whose energy usually inspires the walking the last few hundred meters. When we are on the Meseta one of the memorable sights are the huge stacks of rectangular hay bales that lay off to the side of the Camino. Normally, pilgrims don’t climb these but it’s one of Jose’s favorite things to do when he is accompanied by one of the children. Seeing Jose and Sam, Marina or Jacob waving down from the high haystacks greeting pilgrims is a memory that often sticks in our clients’ minds. On the left, Jose and Sam are visible atop a huge stack of bales on the Meseta in 2013 and 10 years earlier (2003) you can see Jacob and Jose pushing a huge bale across the wheat stubble.
As the kids mature they generally want to walk with the clients, chat and interact. It’s been lovely to observe the unexpected bonds that have developed sometimes between clients and one of our children that neither part expects. Sam has a particular fondness for older women (‘grandmas’) and from a very early age would be very attentive – buttoning a forgotten button, rolling up or down a sleeve, holding hands or remembering forgotten walking sticks. He has been called on occasion an ‘old soul’. He has also learned how to converse with adults quite adeptly. He normally puts them through a series of questions – asking questions that he was often asked first by adults – favorite color, animal or book. Consequently, he would often ask his walking companions: “How old are you?” a typical question he was asked. As age can be a sensitive subject, I would overhear conversations and start to cringe thinking – ut oh, where is this going? With some trepidation, I might here an answer such as “72”, “58” or “75” and Sam, the sharp fellow that he is, would immediately respond, “ Oh, that’s not old. 90 is old!” The laugh, relief and gratitude of the client was quick and spontaneous. Sam was never coached. He just somehow knows how to be with people and make them feel good. Here is Sam helping explain the picnic to Ann in 2014.
Marina has enjoyed meeting people from around the world and practicing her English like she did with Allison along the Camino in July 2012 (left). Sam and Annette have become pen pals after coinciding on several trips together. Here they are on the Camino Portuguese together in 2016 (right).
In 2017 we had a client with us who had traveled with Sam on the same trip along the Camino in 2014. Due to school obligations, Sam was unable to go on this trip and the client conveyed to me how special his presence had been (something I hadn’t known previously). On the tour we reached a small chapel in the middle of nowhere and the client stopped and looked at me with a smile and said, “I remember this place.” He described how Sam joyfully appeared, did the splits on the open-air altar and then helped pass out melon as I began to tell the story of the site. When I was going through the thousands of photos that I have collected over the years, I was tickled to find a photo of Sam doing the same splits on the altar the client was referring to in the anecdote above (June 2014).
On the right, the group has stopped to see a slow worm that Sam has found as they hike up to Cebreiro in 2012. By the way, a slow worm is neither slow nor a worm. It’s actually a totally inoffensive legless lizard that slithers along like a snake and sometimes has vestigial forelegs.
As our children have matured their roles have also evolved. Jacob has accompanied Jose on a number of private trips, accompanying the groups, explaining sites, helping him prepare all parts of the trip behind the scenes and been a great companion. When Jacob was 15 he joined Jose to help him with a private, youth group that was walking the last 100Km to Compostela. Afterwards the organizer wrote (who had also traveled with Marina when she was a baby):
“I just have to tell you what a special young man Jacob is (although I am sure that you already know that). He worked really hard to be a good guide and he was, but he also became one of us as the week went on and we all fell in love with him. Our guys thought the world of him and consider him now a friend and he holds a very special place in my husband’s heart.” Sarah
As a mother, being able to combine work and family means the world to me. I like this photo of me and Jacob (2005) and the rapport that we have as we connect and share some thought or idea while enjoying Jose’s picnic. Jacob always had a skill of conversing with adults on a wide range of topics (history, politics, science) from an early age. In the photo on the right, he chats with the group below the Cabo Vilano lighthouse on the Galicia hiking tour in 2005.
To read about some Camino Miracles, go to On Foot Family, Part III.
Jacob (1999), Sam (2006) and Mariña (2003)
On Foot in Spain Family (1999-2018)
By: Nancy L. Frey
Combining family and work life is inevitably a juggling act. Jose and I have been fortunate to be able to bring both together and over the last 19 years by frequently incorporating one of our three children into our tour experiences. Growing up with the business has proven to be extremely rewarding with many unexpected and happy outcomes for us, our kids and our travelers. Looking back over the years I marvel to think of walking through two pregnancies, bringing the babies and watching the little ones grow up picking up sticks or dropping leaves down streams as they walk along the Camino or meeting hundreds of people from all over the world. It’s been quite an adventure and we’d like to share with you some of these On Foot Family memories and show you how our family has grown over the years.
As one client shared with us:
“We are so grateful you are in the business of building memories and relationships. Your family approach to life and work transforms thinking and inspires us.
Ever grateful, Connie & Bill”
Children offer spontaneity, openness and a unique vision of the world which is less inhibited than that of an adult. Seeing experiences through their eyes can be very renewing and enlightening. Anyone who has children (or doesn’t!) knows that it’s a risky activity letting a potential loose cannon, such as a child, free in your business. The kids always understood what we expected behavior-wise when we’re on a trip and they learned to be good hosts from an early age rather than the ‘center of attention’. Consequently, it has worked very well over the years and generated an incredibly positive reaction from those who travel with us. In the photos below are Jose, Marina and “Pepito” in 2005 (left) and Sam with plums in 2014 (right).
How did we do it?
We launched On Foot in Spain on the internet in 1999 the same year our eldest, Jacob, was born. I should mention that Jose and I walked the Camino in June 1998 leading a group of university students when I was three months pregnant with Jacob and that is how he got his name. Jacob is another way of saying Santiago as is James, Jacques or Jaime. We ran our first tour in 2000 when Jacob was about 1 year old. We decided it was best if we got into the swing of things first before adding in extra, unpredictable elements. He made his debut in 2001 at the end of a long Camino tour and it was a delight to see him and have the clients meet him. We thought maybe in the next year we could incorporate him into a tour. In 2002 he joined a youth group from New York City we led along the Camino, picking up new lingo from them and then started to come regularly on tours. In the photo on the left, Jacob is handing out a chocolate to a member of a wonderful women’s hiking club that has joined us on two trips (2003) and on the right Jacob is helping Jose prepare a picnic atop Monte Pindo on our Galicia hiking tour (2005).
Having the kids on board through two pregnancies, babyhood, as toddlers, as growing children and now even as teenagers has been a great adventure. I was very fortunate that my pregnancies were uncomplicated. I’m one of the lucky women that never experienced nausea or morning sickness of any kind during my three pregnancies. Leading walking tours was also a great way to stay fit while pregnant and I was able to walk up to the seventh month with both Marina and Sam. In the photo on the left, taken in Sept 2003 at the Sierra del Perdón along the Camino de Santiago, I’m 6 months pregnant with Marina. On the right, Marina helps me explain the picnic on a Portugal tour in 2006 when I was 4 months pregnant with Sam.
Marina and Sam were also “planned pregnancies” in the sense that we knew we had a window of opportunity to make family-life and work compatible and this is why they both are born within a few days of each other – Marina December 5th and Sam on November 27th. You see they both needed to be travel-ready babies by the time the tour season started in April or May. Sure enough both Marina and Sam made their debut on the Camino, outside of the womb, when they were 4.5 to 5 months old. Below on the left, Marina and I take a break at the picnic in 2004 while an attentive Cynthia keeps us company. On the right precocious Sam began driving the bus in 2007.
I breast fed both of them for about 8 months so needless to say that provided additional challenges (and somewhat comical in retrospect) in tour leading. As my role is typically to walk with the group and Jose handles everything behind the scenes organization-wise, how was I able to maintain breast feeding, walking and leading all at the same time? Jose has this knack of always appearing when you most want or need him. Sure enough, at just the right time, Jose would show up in the van with Sam or Marina and we would have a peaceful moment of rest and nourishment. Sometimes I look back and think, how did we do it?
Some of my favorite photos from this period are the ones clients have sent of me explaining Jose’s great picnics with Sam or Marina tucked under my arm looking very interested and curious about what is on the table. Marina helps me explain the picnic on the left in 2004 and Sam on the right in 2007.
Babies are delightful and very unusual to have on a tour. Somehow the babies were all ‘good’ and simply brought joy to the groups – gentle cooing, singing to themselves and open-eyed curiosity. As one client wrote about Sam when he was 6mths old:
Dear Sam, Thank you for being the bright light that shone on us as we made our way along the Camino. You made our journey a very special one. Hugs and kisses, The Group
These are two photos of dear Sam taken in 2007. On the left, that’s how he looked greeting people when he got on the bus (note the dear Australian koala by his side!) and on the right hanging out with the girls during free time.
Or about Mariña:
“Mariña made my Camino most unforgettable. I wish I had more time to hold her.” Paul
On the left in May 2004, Paul holds Marina and, on the right, Sarah in June 2004.
To keep reading about how the On Foot Family evolved, continue here On Foot Family, Part II.
|Tour No.||Tour Name||Dates||Price||No. Days/Nights||Spaces Available
|Tour 1||Tenerife Island: Lava, Sea & Stars||5-11 April 2019||2425€||7||Sold Out!|
|Tour 2||Camino de Santiago: On Glory Roads||8-18 May 2019||3475€||11||Sold Out!|
|Tour 3||Camino de Santiago: On Glory Roads||5-15 June 2019||3475€||11||2 Spaces Available|
|Tour 4||Camino Portuguese: Porto area to Santiago||2-8 July 2019||2275€||7||Sold Out!|
|Tour 5||Galicia: Food & Wine Journey||5-11 Sept 2019||2675€||7||2 Spaces Available|
|Tour 6||Camino de Santiago: On Glory Roads||25 Sept-5 Oct||3475€||11||Sold Out!|
To book a tour, please click here.
Beachcombing for Scallop Shells with On Foot in Spain
A version of this article was posted on On Foot in Spain’s Facebook page 21 Dec 2014
By Nancy L Frey, February 2018
On our Camino de Santiago tours we gift our walkers scallop shells, the primary symbol of the Santiago pilgrim. We gather these shells ourselves from the Ría de Arousa in Galicia, the very same estuary in which the Apostle James’s stone boat sailed looking for safe harbor before eventually being buried in what came to be known as Santiago de Compostela. This image of St James/Santiago (note he’s standing in a boat dressed as a pilgrim) comes from the town of Ribeira on the Ría de Arousa.
In winter we like to go with our kids to a favorite set of beaches to find shells, beachcomb and enjoy this magical, remote spit of land in the sea. Beachcombing is a marvelous, relaxing activity that we enjoy together as a family and individually as we discover the wonders to be found on these magnificent beaches. Here Sam sits in the distance floating atop a sea of shells.
You have to go at low tide to cross over to the string of shell beaches where we find the scallops (and lots of other shells!)
We've reached the first set of beaches. The beaches lie at the mouth of the estuary where the open ocean batters the coast. Striking deep mustard-yellow lichen adorn the granite boulders.
Scallop shells start to appear - buried beneath other shells, wedged between rocks, in the water. Some shells are whole, others are broken, weathered or worn.
Scallops come in many color variations and sizes. They are all unique like each pilgrim and his or her journey.
Reaching the next set of beaches, we continue our trek out along this rocky spit that reaches out into the open ocean. It looks like we might be able to walk all the way to Sálvora Island but no chance. The urge to see how far you can go is strong.
Scallop within a scallop - one of the many gifts from the sea.
We each search for shells and anything that captures our fancy - sometimes together, sometimes alone.
Along with the scallops, we find razor clams, limpets, many types of snails, mussels, oysters, cockles, clams...
At high tide the water will cover this beach completely. We always keep one eye on the water to make sure we don’t get caught. Being out here is mesmerizing.
When you get down on your hands and knees you realize that what looks like sand from the distance is actually an infinite mass of shells in various crushed states. As far down as you dig, all you can find are shells.
The sea birds like to hang out here including many yellow-footed gulls, sandpipers and cormorants. The cormorants like to warm and dry their sleek black wings in the sunshine perched on the rocks.
You can spend hours slowly combing the beach finding special treasures.
Marina holds up a very large yellow-toned scallop.
Jose and Jacob showing some of their finds and Jose holds a stunning pink-tinged scallop.
With an eye on the rising tide, we reluctantly make our way back across the rocks to the mainland sorry that they treasure hunt is over. At the end we pull out our collection of shells and select the ones we can use to gift to our walkers. Inevitably our pockets are filled with sand, polished beach glass and other eye-catching bits and pieces of beach.
Now back home for cleaning, drilling and red cords to be attached for our walkers (to be continued…).