One of the joys of walking the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain is the conversation. Unlike the US, positivity prevails. On the Camino, people focus on their personal journey. The cares and concerns of the world are rarely in evidence. A small exception, especially among Camino veterans, is a suggestion that the Camino has become too popular. Moreover, the business has become very prominent.
The basic idea is that people walk the Camino for strictly religious or spiritual reasons. Now the number of tourists who go on this trip is too much. Worse, the business caters to an increasingly sophisticated audience unwilling to enter into the spirit of carnal humiliation that is the hallmark of pilgrimages. I admit that while I try to maintain the spirit of pilgrimage, I also want to stay in a nice place and enjoy good food.
Sometimes this happens by accident.
One day when I finished work, the albergue (think homeless shelter) where I wanted to stay was full. I was sent to a hotel behind the main church in town. It turned out to be the San Anton Abad Hotel, far from an albergue. Without any intention, I fell into the lap of cheap luxury.
Part 1: Charles C. Milliken: Getting Out of the Boat
Part 2: Charles C. Milliken: Report from the Camino: Plan Meets Reality
The history of this hotel offers interesting perspectives on business and the Camino. A solid stone structure, the building was completed in 1377 and was intended as a hospital for the sick, as well as accommodation for pilgrims. Although it has long ceased to be used as a hospital, it has never ceased its activity of accommodating visitors. Twenty five years ago it was massively rebuilt and improved. The owner said he wanted to give something back to the Camino and the people who walk it. During my stay there, I did not feel like a poor, penitent pilgrim. This is something that worries some people. But even in the 14th century, pilgrims had to have food and shelter. Someone had to build that building. Someone had to staff that building. Someone had to maintain that building. All this costs money, time and effort.
I remember an incident that happened years ago when I was teaching. A student advisor of mine decided to switch from business to human services, Reason: He wanted to help people. Clearly, he didn’t think business helped people. This opens another line of thought. What does it mean to help someone? Doesn’t it help them to provide food, shelter, medicine and thousands of other things that people need? Perhaps the problem is motivation: pilgrims on the Camino must walk with God. Most people who provide food and shelter do so with the hope of making a profit. Profit, as we know, is a dirty word unlike salary and wages. As the golden rule says, shouldn’t we do unto others? This student probably wanted to do it to others for a long time. Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but work does work for others, not for others. Treating others implies that the other is a passive recipient. Doing for others involves making an offer to another that he is free to accept or reject. I think this is a subtle but important distinction.
Part 3: Charles C. Milliken: A Report from the Camino: Lessons of Life
Part 4: Charles C. Milliken: Report from the Camino: The Camino People
The Camino is growing, and while people advocate for a way to limit the number of people walking, there is no practical way to do so or to screen non-pilgrims. More people travel, more services are required. What’s happening on the Camino is a microcosm of what’s happening everywhere: More people’s growing desires are causing more businesses to expand to meet them. Having walked the Camino for over four weeks now, I understand the desire for simplicity. But I also understand the desire for better things on the Camino or elsewhere. Such is human nature – always has been and always will be.
Charles Milliken is professor emeritus at Siena Heights University after 22 years of teaching economics and related subjects. You can apply to him [email protected].