In 2016, I walked the Camino de Santiago, a long-distance hike through northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela.
On the first day, I noticed that the vast majority of my fellow pilgrims were young men and that some were looking to connect with female walkers. I got through the first day, politely declining all offers of a walking buddy, Camino romance or a jump in the sack.
By the time I arrived at the hotel where I would stay that night, I was exhausted, in pain and felt harassed. I promptly burst into tears.
A guy from New York took me to one side. He’d seen the way that the men were behaving towards solo female walkers and he’d watched me struggle to stay polite. He invited me for a late lunch and a pep talk to keep me on the way
Now, I was shocked by the little story that followed. These were his words, not mine, as he said, “Samantha, all men are dogs. That’s right. All men are starving dogs who don’t know how to feed themselves. So, they sniff around the pussy trying to eat them instead. You are the pussy, Samantha.”
I’m English, so it’s an ingrained habit to be polite when I first meet people. I nodded my head, as he carried on with his little tale while thinking this was all a little strange.
“I am a big dog, Samantha,” he said. “Yes, I still sniff around the pussy but I know better than to become a pain. These guys don’t.”
I nodded an okay as I listened on.
“Are you walking the Camino alone in the hope of meeting a guy or are you walking the Camino alone?”
“Alone,” I replied. “Definitely alone.”
“Well, you’re coming across as a little girl lost at the moment. You’re prime feed to these men.” Remember, his words not mine.
I didn’t care for dogs or cats but I did need his advice. I listened carefully as he told me what to do.
“Stop being so polite, Samantha. These are young men. A polite little no will have them keep on trying. Stop being kind, be firm, and they will respect you.”
“Okay,” I told him. “I’ll give it a go tomorrow.”
The next morning, I found myself on the Camino ready to hit the trail at the crack of dawn.
I’d walked about a kilometre before the first group of young men were by my side, wishing me good morning, all the while eying me up as if I was prey to be hunted. Suddenly, I could see that everything my friend from New York had told me made absolute sense.
Oh God, I thought, as I pulled out my headphones to listen to music to save myself while saying a little good morning under my breath. I cursed myself because I couldn’t be rude.
There were five men in this group, but one stood out, as he ignored all sense of boundaries, and came up beside me trying to talk in my ear. He slipped on a stone, missed his step, and nearly took a tumble to the ground. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. What he did next was shocking.
Suddenly, I felt my bum cheeks smart. That’s right. He had slapped my bottom. Hard.
Some of you might be surprised by what happened next. I’m not a violent woman in the slightest, I promise you that. It was pure instinct as my hand whipped through the air and smacked the strong, smooth cheek of his face right back. With my other hand on my hip, I prodded him in the sternum and roared, “Easy Tiger!!!! What the f*ck do you think you’re playing at!”
Silence. We all stood in shock for what felt like minutes. Suddenly, I was very aware that I was all alone on the long road to Santiago in a foreign country with no other people in sight. I felt like David facing Goliath, as these five men towered above me, staring right back. I’ve gone too far, I thought, as my legs started to wobble.
The silence was finally punctured with an “Aw, Bella. You’re breaking my heart!”
“Breaking your heart! Don’t be so ridiculous!” I shouted back. All sense of politeness gone, I slipped into lawyer mode and proceeded to put him in his place.
I took off my rucksack, placed it on the ground before me and said, “Now trot on, my friends and don’t be bothering me again!”
They turned away and carried on, heads facing the ground while all looking a little sheepish.
I moved to sit at the side of the path and took sanctuary under an olive tree. Crickey, I thought to myself, as I pulled out a banana from my rucksack and realised that my hands were shaking. The palm of my hand was bright red and smarted like hell. I felt a little ashamed of my actions. I’d not hit anyone like that before.
Another thought entered my head. You did good, Sam. You did the right thing.
You see, I’ve always had a problem with holding my boundaries, not just because I’m English, but because I suffered from childhood sexual abuse. My natural instincts are a little muddled, shall we say.
Not on this occasion. My instincts were right, as I defended the lands of my body like a Queen on her throne.
I sat a little taller, feeling ever so proud of myself. As I pulled myself up, I felt full of vigour instead of fatigued. I felt like I’d passed some sort of test.
As I walked on along the long road to Santiago, an old quote resonated with me, not just for the Camino, but for life in general. “I wasn’t looking for a hero. I was looking for my sword.” I found my sword that day on the Camino. The natural instinct to protect myself. I was never the little girl lost again.
(c) Samantha Wilson 2020. All Rights Reserved.