The past few days I’ve had a lot of interactions with Americans. They are well represented on the trail and by my rough survey seem to outnumber most nationalities with the exception of Spaniards and Italians.
When not identifiable by speaking louder than anyone else at a cafe or restaurant, you can recognize them by the way they say “Buen Camino”. Americans tend to use a rounder, drawn out “o” like in know, while native Spanish speakers and others use a higher, shorter “o”.
One couple from New York state that I talked to was disillusioned with their trip so far, saying it wasn’t what they expected. They also started in St. Jean and were sticking to a fairly rigid schedule in order to make it to Santiago in time for St. James Day (7/25). It was clear they were tired from the many miles but it wasn’t the physical aspect that bothered them. They are out here for religious reasons and seemed a little taken aback by the large number of people walking for other reasons. It sounded like they were expecting access to daily church services,blessings and more clergy interaction than what exists
I would say the majority (60-70%?) of people I’ve met and talked about reasons for walking the Camino with have given a reason other than spiritual/religious. There are quite a few in between life stages or trying to figure something out but not a pilgrimage in the strict sense of the word. Notably, there are very few young people walking for religious reasons.
Of the young people that consider themselves Catholic/Christian believers, they are almost overhwelmingly American. I’ve also found that a sizable majority of the overall American contingent is walking for religious reasons. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I found it an interesting observation.
Yesterday evening I had my own American moment. All day I had been rushing – rushing to get to Ponferrada, rushing to get cleaned, rushing to visit the castle. I proceeded to rush to dinner as well, leaving the hotel at 7 pm but knowing that I was early by Spanish standards. If there’s such a thing as fast food in Spain, I haven’t found it yet. I’ve seen one Burger King and a littered McDonald’s cup, so they must have one of those somewhere too. I just wanted to eat and get back to the room so I could write the blog and take care of a few planning related items.
Knowing that pizza is pretty quick, I stopped by the local pizza joint and asked if they were serving yet. A friendly waiter told me the kitchen doesn’t open until 7:30. So I went and sat on a bench in front of the church and made a few phone calls. Incidentally, while I was sitting there, a wedding party came out of the church, so that was pretty cool.
At 7:30 on the nose, I went back to the pizzeria, told the waiter I was hungry, can I please have something. He showed me to a table but in a way that suggested I was breaking protocol. I didn’t care. I wanted to eat and go. The pizza came out quickly, I wolfed it down and immediately paid the bill ($9.50 for pizza and a large beer). I left a tip even though you don’t tip in Spain.
I wasn’t quite full yet, so I popped into the ice cream store/cafe (lecheria) across the street. I’m never sure what to do in Spanish cafes and bars. Do you go in and order or do you sit down at a table and wait to be served? It seems like every place is different. This was an ice cream counter. I just wanted a cone to go – I’m in a hurry – so I stood in front of the ice cream display and made eye contact with the servers scooping it out. Nothing. No acknowledgement. No other customers there.
Frick, I think to myself. I gotta sit down outside and be served there. So I grab a table and watch the same waiter that was behind the counter go bring some drinks to these old ladies.
Now if you know old ladies, you know that they only pay with coins. So here I am, fingers impatiently tapping on the table while each one of these ladies counts out their 5 and 10 cent coins to pay their individual tab.
Finally the waiter comes over to me and takes my order – two scoops of lemon sorbet. I wasn’t going to get a drink, but hey, I have to sit here anyway so I’ll take an orange Fanta too. As I’m waiting for my ice cream, I take a look around me and I see everyone sitting there, happily talking, on their phone, reading a paper, and it hits me – I’m banging my head against a wall. I’m in Spain, trying to apply an American lifestyle. The country doesn’t operate that way. I’m trying to pack too much in and that’s not the right strategy.
It’s not malicious. It’s not wrong – I’m the one that’s wrong. Grabbing food to go is anathema here. It’s not done. Rushing through a meal isn’t done. Apparently ordering ice cream at the counter so you can rush to the next thing isn’t done either. And by reverting to my American habits and expectations, I’m swimming against the stream; it’s the opposite of going with the flow. I would be happier, more relaxed and accomplish more by accepting the way things work and operating within that.
After eating my sorbet, I forced myself to sit there for ten minutes and do what one does in a cafe – watch the other patrons and watch the world walk by. I won’t say I wasn’t antsy, but I was content.
July 16, 2017
Ponferrada to Villafranca – 16 miles
A ceiling painting of the Last Supper at a random church along the way