“Did you go with anyone?” she asked. I was at a Camino talk hosted by our local chapter of American Pilgrims on the Camino. Future pilgrims come not just to hear the presentation, but to ask their questions to those of us that have been there.
“No, I went alone,” I told her.
“Really? You went to Spain to walk 500 miles all by yourself?”
Yes, indeed I did. From the moment I decided I would walk the Camino I knew I’d do it alone. Some people considered joining me, and if it was meant to be it would have worked out that way, but it didn’t. I tell most people I highly recommend doing your first Camino all by yourself. Here’s why:
- I could stop wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
- In the big cities like Burgos, I didn’t feel compelled to party into the night with other pilgrims, so I didn’t. I enjoyed a long walk in search of a vegetarian restaurant with my new friend Rick. I visited the Museum of Human Evolution and sat for coffee with a couple other pilgrims. And when I decided, at 5:30 that evening, that I’d had enough of city life, I donned my pack and walked for a couple hours, without having to consult with anyone else.
- When I arrived in O Cebreiro and fell in love with its stone church, cobbled streets, and Celtic look, I decided I would stay there. It was only noon and I had only walked seven miles that day (compared to my usual 12 to 15), but the rain had changed from a mist to a steady stream and I didn’t have anyone saying “We can’t stay here! We really should keep walking.” So I followed my intuition. And that night was one of my best along the Camino. At least 10 people I’d met along The Way whom I thought were miles ahead of me by now, or miles behind, showed up that night in O Cebreiro.
It used to confuse me as to why the concept of doing things alone was so foreign and scary to some people. And then I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. To an introvert like me, the idea of doing things alone is not just acceptable, it’s actually appealing and many times preferred.
For those of you that equate the word “introvert” with the word “hermit,” you might want to pick up Susan’s book for a little more insight. One major difference is where we get our energy. Introverts are recharged after spending time alone; extroverts renew themselves by being with others. Not all introverts are shy. I have no problem starting up a conversation with strangers in coffee shops, art galleries, on trains, on planes. That makes sense because we introverts prefer deep conversations with one or two people as opposed to a large gathering.
I went to the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands this weekend. Upon hearing I was going, a friend asked if I would like company. “No,” I said. “I prefer doing art-type things alone.” When someone else is with me, I can’t stop and talk to an artist for an hour, nor sit and write for 10 minutes when feeling inspired, nor stare at a mesmerizing work without interruption for a solid three minutes or longer. A friend might want to see the whole show, whereas I left before seeing everything — eventually wanting to escape all the people and roam the quiet aisles of the used book sale at the library down the street.
So don’t be offended if a friend tells you they’d prefer to spend the night reading a book instead of joining you at that concert. Don’t be surprised by the friend who comes to the party, but ducks out early without saying goodbye. And if I’m describing you? Don’t be afraid to go out on the Camino alone. For us introverts, it’s a little slice of heaven.