The 1st Global Conference of Friends of the Camino Associations, recently held in Santiago de Compostela from 4-6 June, was an interesting and tiring experience.
Interesting and tiring for the same reason, because of the diverse range of people attending which meant long periods of concentration as we listened to strange accents and our languages sometimes translated slightly awkwardly. Most attendees were from Amigos associations, though not all, and I am proud to say that we had a member attend who had just completed the Camino Francés. There were representatives from the host region, Galicia, and of course many representatives from the other Amigos Associations in Spain. There were people from Portugal, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Finland in Europe, along with folk from the UK, Ireland, North America and Canada and Japan. Southern hemisphere representatives came from South Africa, Brazil, South Korea and of course Australia, while countries further east too, such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia, sent representatives.
Each session had 5-6 speakers, talking on a specific topic, with a time limit of 10 minutes per speaker. Most speakers spoke in their native tongue with simultaneous translations into four languages English, French, German and of course, Spanish. Unfortunately, the Brazilian representative chose to speak in Portuguese, not one of the translated languages, and so we had to depend on a very good photo PowerPoint to tell us the story.
The program was such that there were a mixture of sitting and listening activities, and mingling activities, including a walk down from Monte do Gozo to the former Pilgrim cemetery behind Praza do Obradoiro.
After the welcome formalities on the first afternoon we went straight into presentations, with speeches on the Research, Restoration and Conservation on the Camino from a French and a German participant, among others. Throughout the next two days, four more sessions were conducted on Communication, Diffusion & Publications; Reception and Hospitality; Relations between Amigos
Associations and Institutions and Society; and Present Challenges, Future Trends. Some speakers, but by no means all, stuck to the topic AND the time limit, others had to be hurried along by the panel chairman.
After each session there was an open forum. This was where people got sidetracked well and truly, and it seemed to me that the Spanish for they were the only ones participating in this part of the session probably because of the language, were anxious to make their own case known. This ranged from a comment on a recently published book (about the devil on the Camino!), other paths that should be promoted, to what was being done about a medieval bridge in Sarria that is obviously an issue, and even why the Pope hadn’t been invited!
I spoke at the final panel session addressing the topic of Current Challenges and Future Trends. As part of the presentation I gave an outline of AFotC, showing our Pilgrim Credential, our newsletter and our fridge magnet, as well as explaining how our logo has the Southern Cross superimposed on the shell a waymark for us. Our challenges are similar to those of South Africa, Brazil, Canada
and America distance, within our country and to and from the Camino, along with the expense. Everyone seemed surprised that we had to pay so much to get to the Camino, and the Spanish were impressed that so many of us had made the effort to walk some part of the Camino (in 2014 nearly 4,000 of us received a Compostela).
We often complain about the Schengen Visa and the 90 days allowed, but spare a thought for our fellow pilgrims from South Africa who have a very tedious process to go through, including letters from authorities, to be able to stay for the normal 30+ days it takes to walk the Camino Francés. There was concern for safety and security expressed by all, but in particular by the Japanese and the South Koreans.
These three days were beneficial in a number of ways. I believe, for our Spanish hosts, it was helpful for them to hear how much effort we put in to reaching the Camino, and how much it costs us. For us it was the meeting, and hearing, from our sister associations throughout the world, learning of the services they provide for their members, and they learning from us. Hopefully, when we get organised you will be able to view some of the leaflets we have collected on our website. There are numerous paths being reopened throughout Western Europe, and now there are many paths being opened from further afield in the East. This gives us a chance to walk on roads much less travelled. On the first day a display opened of posters sent from each organisation. Kevin Burrows designed ours, and it stood proudly next to the American Pilgrims Association.
One of the frequently discussed topics was the bottleneck that occurs at Sarria. The Amigos from the Camino de Invierno, which departs the Camino Francés at Ponferrada, heavily promoted this route as an alternative to the overcrowding of the last hundred kilometres.
Sprinkled amongst the talking and listening were social activities, dinners and lunches, the walk from Monte do Gozo, and a viewing of the documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago by Lydia Smith. Though this has been shown in other parts of the world, it has just begun showing in Australia you might like to check it out.
Fittingly, the formal part of the conference concluded with Mass in the Cathedral and the swinging of the botafumeiro.