Note: This is the full version of the article published in the latest newsletter for American Pilgrims on the Camino (See page 14: La Concha).
I was a little nervous when I attended my first Camino chapter event in the spring of 2015. That was when the idea of walking the Camino was daunting, yet surprisingly appealing. Out of my comfort zone, I drove through a tunnel and suburbs to get to a church where the Northern California chapter’s annual shell blessing ceremony was to place. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I would be the only newbie, and the activities would be overtly religious. To my surprise, there were a few of us Camino “virgins” there, and nobody preached! But just in case it were to start feeling like a cult, I picked a table by the door.
The food spread in the potluck brunch was outstanding. Wine, of course, helped break the ice, and there was plenty of it. I learned quickly that pilgrims like to party! After the potluck came the shell blessing and the sharing of stories. These stories were inspiring to me. That was my initiation into the NorCal tribe of pilgrims, and I was hooked.
After a year of training hikes, Camino events, and pilgrim interviews with the NorCal Tribe, I made my first Camino—a short-but-sweet walk on the Camino Portugués—and it had a major impact on me. The importance of the local pilgrim community didn’t hit me until I returned home. When my own family and friends asked silly questions like, “How was your vacation?” or, “Are you done with the Camino?” I realized the Camino would never make sense to many people. So I kept going back to the only people who could relate, my Camino tribe.
I soon learned that the greater tribe of pilgrims is comprised of many sub-tribes, each with a different focus, but all with something in common: they are kindred spirits who want to give back to the Camino. I had been wanting to find a way to serve as well, so I became very involved in organizing and promoting events. The founder of our chapter thought my enthusiasm would be a good addition to the Steering Committee tribe, pilgrims who make all the NorCal chapter events happen. I then joined the team’s conference calls that take place on the first Wednesday of every month.
In February 2017, I attended a training to become part of the Hospitalero tribe of albergue volunteers. A few months after my second Camino (Inglés from Ferrol), I started to do Camino presentations and coordinate more chapter events. I gradually evolved into a Camino social butterfly. I jokingly introduced myself at hikes with, “Hi, my name is Laurie and I’m a Caminoholic.”
In 2018, our chapter’s liaison to the American Pilgrims Board Tribe invited me and Guy, our chapter coordinator, to the board meeting in January 2018 to help plan the National Gathering in Menlo Park, California. They were a bit surprised that I wasn’t already a chapter coordinator so they made it official and invited me to be part of the Chapter Coordinator tribe. And because the National Gathering took place in northern California, I was so fortunate to meet other coordinators, some of whom traveled from as far away as Alaska and Florida—passionate pilgrims from sea to shining sea! I met more amazing people of the American Pilgrims on the Camino tribe at the gathering and had a wonderful experience.
Over the years through my blog, I met dozens of Camino authors, filmmakers, artists, musicians, and craftspeople who are so inspired by their Camino experience that they use their talents to create something special. This group I call the Camino Creatives tribe, and I always enjoy hearing their stories and sharing their labors of love. In fact, I bumped into a few of them in Santiago after completing my third Camino (Primitivo) The Camino really is a small world!
If you look at the big picture, the actual time spent on a Camino is a mere blip in any given calendar year—as it was for me during my three short Caminos. Though those among the tribes of pilgrims I’ve met aren’t exactly a “Camino family” who bonded on the Way to Santiago, I have made some good friends through the diaspora of pilgrims. It is no surprise that I feel connected to the Camino year-round because of these tribes.
Looking back to 2015, when my Camino calling was so strong—I know now that I am meant to serve wherever I am planted. Whether it’s on the Camino serving as a hospitalera, teaching yoga to hikers, mentoring new pilgrims at home, or simply making people feel welcome at events, I have found a way to serve with joy, through my tribes of pilgrims.
Artists, writers, crafters, and creatives: I plan to publish my annual Camino-Inspired Gifts for the Holidays in late Nov. If you’d like to submit something created in the last year, email me at Laurie@caminoprovides.com. Please include a brief blurb, price, one image, and a link for more details. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see last year’s post.
I look forward to seeing what you all have created this year, and sharing the Camino love! ❤️