I thought it about time that I divulged some Camino secrets … (no, I don’t mean of the Da Vinci Code kind that could upset the Vatican…and anyway Pope Francis is cool and the kind of person I would enjoy having a conversation with over dinner). I mean the secret or (some not so secret habits) of fellow peregrinos and peregrinas to give you an insight into this strange mobile ecosystem. Imagine the famous naturalist and TV presenter, Sir David Attenborough sitting in a hide at the side of the Camino de Santiago, observing the pilgrims as they go past, in their natural habitat and whispering into the TV camera. Perhaps this new nature documentary mini-series could be called “Life on the Camino”. This is what he might say:
1) Pilgrim Rush Hour
Here we are at 6.00am watching the first stirrings of pilgrims as they leave their lodgings in the dark. Being partly nocturnal, the Camino pilgrim likes to rise before the rest of Spain wakes up and engages in pseudo-competitive behaviour, with the alpha males, and one or two alpha females, rustling and packing up their nest to make a rush for the Albergue door. Yes, they made it, first out on the street, flashing their headlamps (as their eyes have not quite evolved to navigate their surroundings in the dark) and click, clacking their trekking poles to alert other pilgrims to their presence. They launch themselves head long into a frenzy of stiff, loping strides, sometimes in twos, other times in single file. More and more pilgrims begin to appear bleary-eyed and set off in a similar fashion – a scene reminiscent of the great African wildebeest migration. No-one really understands this behaviour because the Camino de Santiago is not a race…
2) Pilgrim’s Neck
Pilgrim’s Neck describes an evolutionary adaptation male and female pilgrims have developed along The Way in response to an important survival instinct – navigation. Navigation is so crucial to the pilgrim’s way of life, foŕ it will determine the success or failure of their journey, that it has affected their posture and physical development. You will notice them craning their necks, looking upwards, sometimes with a sudden jerk to the left or right and then the next minute they bend or stoop low scanning the ground just beyond their feet. This ‘rubber necking’ behaviour is quite common as it serves the purpose of enabling a rather lost pilgrim or group of pilgrims to spot the signs that they are on the right trail such as scallop shells, yellow arrows and red and white stripes.
3) Hiker’s Coprolalia
Every now and then along the route you might hear a pilgrim or two give a loud, uncontrollable outburst of expletives such as (and those of you with a sensitive and easy offended disposition please look away now), and I quote “F**k, bu**er, a**e”. This is known as ‘Hiker’s Coprolalia’ (not to be confused with Tourettes). The behaviour is catching and tends to occur before exceptionally steep inclines or sharp descents of hills and mountains, especially those that do not appear in the Camino Guidebooks by John Brierley.
4) The Giraffe Walk
Some of you may be familiar with the stage production of The Lion King, popular in the West End of London. If you are then you will remember the opening scene when life size puppets of animals from the African plains are propelled in a true to life manner by their puppeteers. There is none so remarkable a sight as the giraffe, languidly striding out its four limbs in alternate steps. This is not unlike the pilgrim using his or her trekking poles as two extra limbs, although perhaps the giraffe puppet is able to walk in a more elegant manner.
5) Butt Walking
On a similar topic, a common style of walking a pilgrim has to aquire early on is called ‘Butt Walking’, as a special adaptation to hiking at elevation. This means the pilgrim must shift focus from using his or her quad muscles to squeezing those glute muscles in order to get uphill without injury. The method has often been encouraged by fellow pilgrim and expert, Laurie. During a recent tricky ascent, Laurie said to me “Remember to squeeze those glutes, squeeze them harder!”. I replied “If I squeeze them any harder I will turn myself inside out”.
6) The Downward Pilgrim
No doubt many of you, and surely certain members of the pilgrim species, are familiar with the practice of yoga. Yogis near and far can often be found contorting their body into any number of postures for wellbeing. One such posture is known as ‘downward dog’. Pilgrims have cleverly adapted this posture using trekking poles, whilst wearing their backpacks. It involves placing the trekking poles a couple of feet in front of the feet and bending forward and low, holding on to the trekking poles for support but without bending the knees. This results in a good hamstring stretch and an eclipse of the sun, while the pilgrim derrier blocks out the sunlight. A useful mantra for this pose is “Wave your bum in the air like you don’t care and ignore all the people as they stop to look and stare.”
…And so we conclude tonight’s episode on “Life on the Camino”… join us next week.
Peace, love and light,