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Pilgrim Safety - Camino Frances


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I've just recently returned from doing the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances), and this is my first chance to be able to send this.

I was walking with another woman about a week ago shortly after 2 pm approximately 2 km outside of Sarria (in Galicia), very near the local railway track, along the camino route. The track itself was relatively remote and narrow, and as we turned a 'blind' corner, we were confronted by a male (blond hair, in his twenties, maybe 5ft 10", in what appeared to be 'pilgrim' clothes and gear) standing by the side of the track, facing on to it, with his trousers lowered, who started to masturbate as we turned the corner and passed him. We got to the nearest village, Barbedela, and told another female pilgrim (Spanish) walking on her own. A woman who ran the main albergue there said she would pass our information on to the police. Her face fell when she was informed he was a 'pelegrino'. We waited in Barbedela for about 45 minutes and didn't see him appear.

It was a disturbing experience, designed at least, to intimidate. I realise that in distributing this kind of information, this individual may get his inadequate thrills. We do, however, believe, that our experience, and the 'strategicness' and coolness with which he behaved more than warrants warning other women.

No matter how worldly wise you are, walking the camino, and staying in refugios etc, at any point, is based on trust. Sarria's location, being 100km from Santiago, makes it a very popular starting point for the camino (the minimum distance required to qualify for the compostela, for example). By the afternoon, typically, there are fewer people walking the camino. As a pilgrim, you're also particularly physically compromised by the backpack you carry. There are the variety of gradients, the isolated parts of track, and the physical exertion. Interestingly, he brazenly behaved like this, despite or indeed, maybe because, there were two of us. He plays on some of our worst fears. Being a 'pilgrim', he has the ability to blend in with other walkers. Given the transitory nature and flow of pilgrims, the ability to pass on or exchange information/warnings is completely inadequate. Yes, there is a lot of goodwill along the way, the customary exchange of 'buen camino' greetings and smiles. We haven't forgotten the great and decent people we met along the way. Reminding oneself of the alleged relative low risks of danger is, however, meaningless if, as we believe, this kind of individual is exploiting all the factors which comprise the heart of the camino experience.

My fellow female companion and I consider ourselves lucky. Ideally, of course, people like this individual need to be stopped. Leaving aside this particular individual, we think there are wider lessons to be drawn for other female walkers who are currently walking or considering walking the camino.
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