When we booked in to the albergue and said we wanted to stay four nights there was a problem with the last night. A school group from Seviila – 80 kids and 21 teachers/leaders – had booked the whole place. The Hospitalero decided we might be good for the group and contacted their leader to see if an exception could be made. Not only did they allow us to stay, but they invited us to join them for dinner and to take part in their activities. The boys played football and the girls made friends.
When it was time for dinner – not a moment before 9pm! – we all paraded up to a local mall with an Italian buffet. The buffet was at least twenty meters long and that didn’t include the dessert bar or drinks station (which the kids were surprised to see included beer and wine on tap!) We could have lingered here and enjoyed the food immensely, but none of us got to eat much because we were all being plied with so many questions.
I did my own questioning too of a couple of the leaders and was highly impressed at this trip they had organised. I have watched other school groups bounce along the Camino in their own little bubble almost oblivious to the experience apart from taking selfies to post on social media. These groups have also tended to be loud and inconsiderate of other pilgrims. (Harsh, but true). This group was so different. The leaders were very organised – kids were allocated to dormitories and even the showers were numbered and a roster for who could use which shower was taped to the wall. It might sound excessive, but it meant they functioned like a well-oiled machine.
A lot of thought had gone in to making this experience more than “just a tourist trip”. There were three primary goals, and not goals you would necessarily usually associate with a group of mainly 15-16 year olds. Reflection, silence and sharing. Every day the students were required to keep a diary. Some prompts were given for those who needed ideas. Each evening the group would gather together and some of the students would share their observations from the day. We arrived back at the albergue at 11pm and there was no talk of it being too late to do the discussion ( which we were invited to and attended, but understood hardly anything!!)
After the kids’ reflections there was a half hour lecture about the Camino delivered by a local priest who talked about the Camino being a metaphor for life. They also had creative activities to participate in – taking photographs on a particular theme and a group art workshop.As far as the silence goal went, no-one was allowed to use music devices while walking. The teachers really wanted the kids to hear birdsong, streams trickling, wind whistling. Then they went one step further. One morning they set out in silence. Absolute complete silence. Both of these initiatives were initially unpopular with most of the kids, but became favourite experiences for some of them. So much so that they were telling us all about it!
Sharing manifested itself in a number of ways. Obviously sharing dorms and bathrooms. But also this was a group not from one school, but three schools collaborating together. Sharing reflections in the evenings. Additionally there were sharing-focused activities. Each student had to interview a Spanish pilgrim and non-Spanish-speaking pilgrim. They were provided with questions – what is your name? Where are you from? Where did you walk from? Why are you walking? What advice can you give about the Camino? About life? The teachers were particularly interested in encouraging cross-generational sharing and were delighted at how well this worked. I imagine the kids may have been less delighted at having to write up the results of their interviews! But such is school I suppose when proof of engagement in a task is required.
It was interesting to me to reflect that our own pilgrimage achieved all the same aims, just in a more informal organic way. And it was great to see that even a large group could have a similar experience, packed into just five days of walking (plus a few days gof visiting historical monuments to bring alive some of their history).
The Spanish kids were awed that we (and especially Ella-Rose ) had walked from Sevilla – they thought it was a long way on the bus! They were amazed that we had walked for seven weeks and were not suffering – I explained the first week is the hardest, then it gets easier and they only got hard walking!! Interestingly, a lot of them are now keen to walk another Camino and some were going home to ask their parents if they could walk as a family! Some of them have fathers who walk frequently, but never take the kids – that might be about to change!!