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Twelve types of Camino pilgrims: from warm-and-fuzzies to zoomers

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A woman rests on a sculpture in San Marcos Square in Leon that depicts a medieval pilgrim.

When Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his late-14th-century Canterbury Tales, he shared the stories of 24 pilgrims, from The Knight and The Wife of Bath to The Friar and The Merchant.


This crew of characters was travelling only about 100 kilometres, from Southwark, then a town south of London, Eng., to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, southeast of London.


Therefore, you might expect that someone like me, while walking the much-longer Camino Frances route, would likely encounter dozens more types of pilgrims, much different than those described in Chaucer’s book. Yes and no. In general, all of the hundreds of pilgrims I encountered over a month fell into one or several of these 12 categories:


  • Camino “virgins”: Like me, they were walking The Way for the first time. While en route, some researched thoroughly, frequently consulted their map, and booked their accommodations ahead each day. Others just maintained a mental note of their desired destination and its distance and trusted that the waymarkers and yellow arrows would guide them there;
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Three Camino “virgins” await a bus along The Way.


  • Christians out loud: These people, often ministers, sometimes prayed out loud in their hostel room, shared Biblical stories and references, and sought out fellow Christians for group prayer and informal worship;


  • eager love-seekers: Although women fell under this label, I encountered the male version more so. Some subtle, others not so much, they voiced their desire to find a wife or expressed unhappiness with their existing mate. Some were happily getting laid along The Way;
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This man, who walked the Camino with a donkey, is said to more or less live on the route.
He was one of the love-seekers I encountered.


  • hearty partiers: These pilgrims liked to over-imbibe on local beer or wine, sometimes on a daily basis. Some tried to sneak out past curfew at a hostel or arrive drunk in the wee hours and try to get back in;


  • mellow old hands: Those who had walked the Camino numerous times gladly embraced a slower pace and laissez-faire approach to the walk. Many retired Europeans chose to walk only a two-week portion, with no return ticket, knowing that they would come back another year to continue the route. I loved spending meals and days with these people, who knew the wisdom of taking time to enjoy one’s surroundings, relax, and let go of plans. They were masters of serendipity;
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My friend Dieter was one of the mellow old hands who made my trip so enjoyable.

  •  memorial marchers: To those who were walking the Camino in memory of a loved one, the route took on more poignancy. They could be honouring a recently deceased parent, spouse or relative or a child who died in infancy. The memorials along the way, to commemorate those who had died en route, added symbolic significance to the theme of these journeys;


  • nitpicking nudniks: Despite considerable choice in food and accommodations, there was never a shortage of those who found the Spanish bread too stale, the coffee weak, food poor, prices high, etc etc. Thankfully, these were the minority. (I love the word “nudnik,” which I learned in Asia while briefly travelling with some Israelis. From Yiddish, it can mean “a pestering, nagging, or irritating person; a bore”);


  • questioning Catholics: I met lapsed Catholics who hadn’t been to Mass in decades and others, including a priest, who held devout faith yet, because of hypocrisy and alienation of the church’s authorities from its worshippers, were wondering whether to remain with the church;


  • social media maniacs: At any café or restaurant stop, these were the first to whip out their cell phone and scurry to find a Wifi signal, seek out the next day’s weather and facts about upcoming destinations, text, browse through Facebook, and basically stay as electronically plugged in as they possibly could while in a daily pursuit ideally designed for a deeper form of plugging in. This behavior was hard to watch, yet admittedly, I was a less-frequent, more half-hearted part of their ranks;
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Here I am in front of the cathedral in Santiago.
I considered myself one of the soulful soloists.

  • soulful soloers: Many people, spurred by their own sense of spiritual connectedness, walked alone contentedly, seeking to connect with their own heart and nature’s rhythms, glorying in the unfolding beauty and culture around them. The Camino is an ideal place for such self-exploration;


  • warm-and-fuzzies: This term applied to almost every hospitalero I met; all experienced Camino walkers, and many retirees, they knew the hardships and high points of such a venture and greeted weary pilgrims with kindness, caring, openness, active listening, a sense of kinship, and sharing of insights;
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A cyclist rests outside a Camino hostel in Burgos.


  • the zoomers: Whether macho cyclists racing past walkers with little warning or athletes striving to walk at least 40 kilometres a day, these speedsters were determined to get to Santiago as soon as possible. Why the hurry?
March 27, 2014 at 1:32 pm
  • March 28, 2014 at 6:15 amHeather Conn

    Hi Nick,
    Great to hear from you. Maybe when I’m finished my Camino series I’ll profile you on my blog. Glad to hear you’re still biking daily. That takes dedication.

    Cheers, Heather

  • March 28, 2014 at 4:12 amNick

    Hello Heather ,

    Great to read your letters , remember me ? Nick, the guitarplayer from Holland.
    The most pictures I recognize and I ‘ve met the man with the donkey to.
    Great to see you standing in front of the Cathedral in Santiago !!
    Everyone makes a picture of himself over there.
    I hope everything is allright with you, over here in Holland i’m doing very good. Just finished recordings with my band and I still bike everyday.

    Wish yoy al the best Heather ,

    many greetings from the other side of the globe from

    Nick Van Engelen

  • March 27, 2014 at 4:28 pmHoward Katz

    I love the word “nudnik” too! Thank you for reminding me of it; I haven’t heard it in years. Yiddish in general is full of such rich and redolent expressions. I was exposed to dozens and dozens in my youth; very few remain in my brain now that I spend such little time in the company of fellow Jews.

    On the other hand, if I was living in New York … Oy vey!

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