The Pilgrims

Something I wasn’t exactly sure about when traveling to Spain and hitting the Camino, was who the rest of my pilgrimage group would be. Turns out it’s about 40-50 high school seniors and college freshman. What? What? What!?

Now I like kids, especially this age group, since they’re typically smart, able to converse quite well, and usually a lot more interesting than most adults I know, but I always find a group this size intimidating.

And, as someone used to setting my own schedule, waking up when I want, having a lot of quiet solitary time, and pretty much running my own life, it wouldn’t have been my first choice to share group wake up calls, meals and prayer time.  It’s especially on hikes that I love walking solo, stopping when I decide and eating whenever I want to, so I am only being honest when I admit I had a few misgivings about traveling the Camino for six days with such a young and large group.

However, I can also honestly say that after having spent two full days on the road with these guys and girls, I am blown away by them. The group, Carmelite United, is made up predominantly of youth group members from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Tenafly, NJ, and the Church of St. Anastasia in Teaneck, NJ.  Under the guidance of Elliot and Mike, and a few other “adult” chaperones (I’m talkin’  ’bout you Vinny, TJ, Rich, Bill, Justin, Alicia, Kristian, Cilia, and the rest) — the group has been rolling along the Camino at a pace of 17km a day, and will continue to do so for the next four days, eventually headed to World Youth Day in Madrid (by bus this time,) and then Fatima, Portugal after that.

It’s a great group and I already feel welcomed and part of a family, because it is a family.

And even though I’ve only known them a total of three days, it’s actually quite easy to get to know 50 people up close and personal when you’re sharing whole albergues (Spain’s version of hostels,) with them.

There’s Walter, one of three or four Spanish speaking young adults in the group, that now knows the burden of traveling to Spain with 40 people who don’t speak a lick of it, and who is always the go to guy when the group becomes involved in incomprehensible arguments with Spanish waitstaff.

There’s Michelin, she just celebrated her birthday yesterday, and she’s been hiking like a champ with a torn ACL — a brace on one knee, and ace bandage on the other, a walking stick, and endurance to rival any of the adult males here, (I’m still talkin’ ’bout you Vinny, TJ, Rich, Bill, Justin, Mike and Elliot.)

Let’s not forget Jasmine.  In the middle of a long and very steep incline, she began swaying like a gentle flower, overcome with dehydration (we are all learning the dangers of not drinking enough water, and have warned everyone in the group to chug a bottle at night and in the morning before departing.) But by the end of the day, she was back on her feet and looked like a million bucks.

So, Carmel United, thanks so much for allowing me to be part of the fun, part of the adventure, and part of your spirituality — it’s a rare blend of energy, faith, and finding the sacred in the everyday with you guys.  Even though I’m not used to this sort of thing, it wouldn’t be a Camino experience without you.  Because, after all, it’s about community and the journey together, and less about any one person or the destination.

A brief view of life on The Way for those of you back home…                                                            (click any picture to enlarge to take you to a slideshow view)

the pilgrims
that's a lot of red shirts
on the path
following the signs
Amber and Dana
Tim, Claudia, Sylvia
walking along...
...still walking...
...yes, still walking...
caring for the sick
she's okay!
the wild ones
the family (even me! can you spot me?)