Too many mice in the cage

In college I completed a two year introductory program in Psychology. Among the many classes I took, one delt specifically on the sociological aspects and behaviors of people. I recall the teacher stating ¨when too many mice are in a cage, their behaviors turn towards aggression.¨

I have felt, over the past few days, that the Camino has become the cage with too many mice. Those who know me know that I have a great respect for the Camino and what it brought to me over the past few years. I looked forward to spending this Camino time really reflecting on my sister Denise´s life with us. I have experienced amazing moments of true compassion and support, but I must admit I have seen more negative behaviors that lead me to believe the overcrowding of pilgrims on the Camino has become detrimental to a peaceful journey…

I speak solely of the Camino Frances, and this comes as no surprise to those who have traveled this road in the past years. Incrementally we have seen the journey of walking and connecting and discussing become slowly more of a race to the next bed. I am aware that the current infrastructure is not enough to address all the current needs. Perhaps this is only an issue during the months most popular such as May and June in the summer, and September in the fall.

Last year I noticed a large increase in the number of pilgrims on the road and in the albergues. However, most times there was still a sense of respect for the individual, understanding of the conditions and patience shown by all.

I have only been walking for 4 days now, and in this short period I have seen behaviors that would, in the past, solicit from my parents a hard time out and loss of priviledges. Awful outbursts of anger and impatience at subtle small things, not just the lack of spaces in albergues.

Yesterday morning, EARLY morning, a pilgrim got up and started to go through her many groceries and plastic bags (the ones that really make noise) and upon multiple requests of pilgrims asking her to stop and move her items below in the foyer, she flew into a range and cursed at many of us. In passing, it was 5:05 in the morning!!

A few days ago, a pilgrim and I arrived by foot in a small village with only two small cafes to provide food and drinks. Parked beside one of the cafe was a huge bus full of tourists who were having a snack break. There must have been at least 30 of them, lined up in both small cafes. We stood in line for more than 20 minutes when we realized we no longer could wait for the crowds to dissipate. One of the pilgrims asked me how far I was walking that day, and I responded about 20 km. He then let me know that this group of pilgrims walk 2 hours per day, then retire to the local hotel. I have no issues with tourists being on the Camino, but in these cases, perhaps there could be measures taken to ensure the stops are in villages that CAN accomodate larger groups at once… leaving the smaller ones to be available to those who are walking most of the day.

And probably the most shocking behavior yesterday was seen in this beautiful church in Logrono. A group of 4 pilgrims were visibly upset and almost shouted at the small and timid nun. They were complaining about the fact the church had been closed in the afternoon, and they were quite strongly stating that this resulted in them having to return downtown to visit the church at a later time, which apparently was quite the inconvenience to them.

I was shocked and taken aback. I approached the nun and thanked her for being there to answer questions, and apologized for the previous group´s awful behavior. She noded and actually said she has noticed a change in attitude over the past few years.

Have this Camino become the proverbial overcrowded mice cage? It seems to me that we are all aware of this new challenge, but where does this allow for bad behavior? We are all tired by the time to get to our albergues or abodes. We are all a bit frustrated when faced with full albergues, limited room on the clotheslines and line ups for registrations. BUT let´s not become so impatient that the beauty of the Camino is lost…

I wonder if this will be the norm from this point on, until the masses travel through and we can see a lower number of pilgrims wandering the Camino? I am holding back on any conclusions, but for my short 4 days of experience, what I am seeing is not pleasant…
I will focus on the beauty there is here, on the kindness of others and try to ignore the nasty… if this is at all possible…

This Camino is too amazing to let this happen and perhaps with some open and frank discussions, we can turn this around…
I have hope…

6 thoughts on “Too many mice in the cage

  1. It is certainly very bad organisation on behalf of the tour companies/bus tour lines etc to stop for snack/ meal breaks in the smaller villages and maybe if you take note of these companies there will be enough pilgrim requests for them to alter their stops to accommodate everyone without the overload at the small bar/cafés.
    As for “supposed pilgrims” yelling or speaking disrespectfully to a Nun. That is just plain disgraceful and I would feel justified in reporting them at Santiago. A quick photo or two to identify them and straight to Johnnie Walker.
    They should lose any chance at receiving their Compostela.

    Accommodation is another issue entirely. It would obviously need much detailed thought and data to address.
    Take heart and remain hopeful, and don’t let these incidents spoil your special Camino. I’m sure that the majority of pilgrims are far more respectful than these few who have clearly a very long way to go with regard to common courtesy, good manners respect for others.

  2. Brokenness, being rude, and bad behavior are lessons also. Learning to navigate through this can be the challenge one needs to learn, even on the Camino.

  3. Hello Sylvie, nothing much has changed, I felt the same way in September 2012, for the most part in the first week. I somehow naively believed that “pilgrims” are a gently lot, full of grace and tolerance and at their best behaviour, after all we are guests in someones country and home.

    It took a week, of physical and mental “bootcamp” to learn, how to be a pilgrim myself and to accept that pilgrims are just people with a lot of garbage in their mochilas, and the Camino, eventually, teaches us to be human.

    I too had to go through a transformation, largely to become even more tolerant then I am – actually I found out that I wasn’t that tolerant as I had thought, because I kept swearing into my non-existing beard, and the ugliness of my thoughts scared me.

    I did not like myself and felt abused in a funny kind of way by my idealistic understanding of what a pilgrim ought to be, I felt hurt by some of the comments of my fellow wayfarers, I felt sorry for myself in an unfamiliar way.

    My swearing and curses changed to prayers and wishes of tolerance, acceptance and balance, and openess to the teachings of each day. A shift so subtle, helped me look at all with pilgrim eyes – embracing it all, the good and the ugly.

    Light and Love my friend, the Camino loves you – listen and see and accept and let it sooth your aching heart and soul. Ingrid

  4. Sylvie,

    I walked the France in Oct 2012 and did not experience this at all nor did I hear from any of the hundreds of pilgrims I met along the way that there was a problem …… last year I walked the Portugues and Finisterra and this year will be walking the Norte … Now saying that all the books I have read do talk of a crowed Camino during the peak Summer month in that you need to get up early and stop early

  5. Hi Sylvie, In many ways I am with you: where are the spiritual experiences when everyone is fighting for his/her place in the sun? Where did we go wrong? Except, maybe we are (and traditionally have been led astray by the more secular idea of the pilgrimage (vs the “Camino” which is definitely Catholic, cerca 12th century and even before): that if this is a spiritual journey we should be able to experience it individually. This never was the idea of the pilgrimage, at least from the 12th century. Prior to that? Well, I don’t think the rule book had been written and as you probably know I think it extremely unlikely that pilgrims went to see “St James” (who cannot possibly have been buried there anyway) but far more likely Bishop Prioscillian of Avila who is a man with a message contemporary for our age, most definitely obscured by the Catholic Church for a long time and for their own purporses. Anyone more interested, search the name Priscillian on the Internet, and maybe look up: http://www.pilgrimagetoheresy.com
    for a few comments on the same.
    How to apply such a philosophy? See http://www.thelittlefoxhouse.com All are welcome…regardless of philosophy, religious, historical, cultural understanding, faith or …… If we have a bed for you, a place for you to move away from the Camino and reflect and get ready for the journey home, you will be welcome…

  6. A sad commentary, but thanks for sharing, Sylvie.

    In 2008, when annoying pilgrims kept showing up along my path, I took a “layover” day in Pamplona and let them pass me by. My journey was peaceful after that time and I met the most amazing pilgrims and friends thereafter.

    How to find peace that passes understanding as you trek along El Camino? Download this spiritual and walking guide to your smart phone or device, or order the paperback version on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Walking-Guide-Santiago-Camino/dp/061598939X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396032466&sr=1-1&keywords=stacey+wittig

    Includes scripture and introspective questions to help you follow the pathways of your heart… Buen Camino!

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