It’s no secret that I love walking the Camino de Santiago. Over the years I have been fortunate to meet many folks who play a very active role in ensuring the camino routes that we know and love are well maintained and marked. There are other folks who create and support pilgrim accommodation and pilgrim support groups and others still who work to support the Pilgrim Offices in France and Spain.
One such pilgrim is Rebekah. She’s amazing! She has dedicated so much to the Camino and I so admire her. One the group that she organises each year is called Ditch Pigs. She puts out a call for pilgrims to gather and collect litter. She arranges funds, accommodation, food and transport and then she co-ordinates everything on the ground when we arrive… and she also collects litter! And I should add that this is just one of the many many activities that she undertakes throughout the year! You can find out more on her website… and you can also make a donation! https://www.peaceableprojects.org/about
I decided that it was about time I helped and so I volunteered to be part of the Ditch Pig crew in 2021. I travelled down to Burgos on the night bus, grabbed a few hours sleep before meeting the other pigs in a little bar outside the old town. It’s December on the meseta and oh my gosh it’s cold… but nonetheless still glorious! I spent an hour wandering around Burgos before heading off to meet the others.
After our lunch we drove to our first nights accommodation, in the tiny little village of Granon on the Camino Frances. It was freezing! But we had a hearty meal and a roaring fire, plenty of wine and lots of blankets. The group decided to get a few hours of litter picking in first too before dinner which also helped to warm us!
On our second day the group was split into two, my group started in Santo Domingo and walked towards Belorado, where the other group started; the plan was that we meet in the middle. The camino didn’t actually feel too littered but it’s amazing how many bags of rubbish we collected and true to our name there were times when we did indeed end up in the ditches. We stopped for lunch partway through the day and swapped stories of our efforts and our caminos before returning to our task.
At the end of a long day we headed back to Belorado and our albergue. It is still so so cold and the albergue was toasty warm! We all made the most of hot showers and tea before heading out to find dinner.
Day three saw us being dropped off at San Juan de Ortego and the other group starting at Villafranca Montes de Oca. I have to confess there was not so much litter picking today as the hills were snow covered and any litter was buried under the ice, but nonetheless we found lots and we also had time for a snowball fight and to make a little snowman… before we met our fellow ditchpigs in the middle of the stage. At one point we stopped to chat with a local, he took our photo and we ended up in the local paper!
Sadly tonight was the end of my Ditch Pig adventure and I had to bid adieu to my new friends. I had a night-bus to catch in Burgos so once the group were settled in their nights accommodation, I said my farewells and headed off into the cold night.
Many folks have congratulated me for helping out but in all honesty this trip was a joy! I spent three happy days in the company of pilgrims, enjoyed walking along the Camino Frances in winter and felt happy that I was finally giving something back… but ultimately I got much more than I gave! I really hope I can volunteer again. My schedule is always so busy but if I’m free I’ll be there in a heartbeat! Thank you Rebekah and my fellow Ditch Pigs for making this such a special experience.