Camino de Santiago

We completed 500 miles / 800km from SJPP to Santiago de Compostela along the Frances Camino on June 7, 2023. I posted a follow-up Lessons Learned on the Camino and our polarsteps photo journal.

The Camino de Santiago started out as a Christian pilgrimage, but as interest in The Way has exploded, devout Christians are small portion of the >400,000 people who travel along “The Way” each year. In May 2023 an average of 500 people were leaving SJPP each day, and way more people were starting each day in Sarria. For people used to the “typical” wilderness thru hikes like Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trail it would be useful to read Ten Reasons not to Hike The Camino de Santiago and a counterpoint What you can expect from the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is much more social and a lot less wilderness.

Jackie and I had hoped to walk the Way of Saint James in 2020 but COVID happened. Shortly after my retirement in 2022 Jackie and I simultaneously realized we could walk the Camino which we did the following Spring.

Check out 2000 Years of the Pilgrimage which starts with the life of James and ends in the 21st century.  In the the 9th century, the starting point of a pilgrimage was people’s front door and the end point was the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral which is reported to hold the remains of the Apostle James. We don’t know for certain it’s James, but it was someone very important in the Christian community from the 1st century. The space was treated as special (no other burials) through the 8th century when it was publicized as the burial spot of James. Over time several common routes to this spot developed and then were forgotten.  In the 1950s there was a renewed interest in the pilgrim routes and a program to welcome pilgrims was developed. Through the 1980s there were very few pilgrims. In the early 1990s the president of Galicia started to promote the pilgrimage and arrange for the municipal alberques to be built. Next, numerous associations sprung up such as the American Pilgrims which has local chapters such as Northern California.

Physical Preparation

Walking ~15 miles / day for 30+ days is challenging for most people, even those who are young and fit. On our walk we encounter many people who were struggling with the constant walking. The majority of people didn’t have trouble with the aerobic demands when we encountered hills, but rather the accumulated wear and tear on their lower bodies due to walking miles day after day. Nearly everyone had sore feet and muscles. The most common issue was blisters which will be addressed later. Some developed more serious conditions such as achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, or shin splints. All of these come from people placing a significantly higher load on their body than normal.

The best way to prepare for the Camino is to slowly increase the amount of walking you do each week. Doing a long walk each weekend is not going to be sufficient. In the running community there is a rule of thumb that your weekly “base” milage should be 2.5-3 times the race distance you are training for. I am not sure if this maps to long distance walking, but I think it’s a good starting place. In the case of the Camino this would suggest that if you are planning to do 15 mile days, that you should walk >=45 miles in a week, with at least one day that is close to the average day you plan to walk on the Camino. I would recommend work up to doing 3 miles each morning and evening (listen to a podcast or audio book if you need to make the most of your time) 5 days, and a 15 mile walk once a week. You could also look for ways to turn your daily activities into walks. For example, I typically walk to get groceries. Since I have to carry the groceries home this means that the trips are more frequent. On the good side, food is fresher since they aren’t sitting in my refrigerator for weeks at a time.

When doing your training, it’s important to carry a backpack that has the same weight you would be carrying on the Camino and using the shoes you will wear on the Camino. The slope of the shoe from heel to toe (called the shoe’s drop) changes the demands on your muscles and especially your achilles tendon. Many people wear shoes with moderate to high heels in daily life and use shoes which are near zero drop on the Camino. This can lead to achilles tendinitis.

Spiritual Preparation

Some people do the Camino as a tourist. That is collecting a set of experiences and crossing the activity off a “bucket list” while staying as comfortable as possible. My perspective is that walking the Way, especially if you are doing the full Frances Camino, is too much of an investment to approach the journey merely as a tourist. I plan to do this journey as a pilgrim. Jackie and I walked with an intension to be open to all we will experience, and to be a blessing to all the people we encountered.

Pilgrimages provide an environment to step outside everyday life and encounter something greater. Pilgrimages typically involve facing challenges and they aren’t meant to be easy or “relaxing”. It is said the Frances way has three distinct sections. The body: which challenges you physically as you adapt to walking 15 miles a day or so. The mind: between Burgos through Astorga where the landscape can be a bit monotonous. The final section is the Soul where you’re finding your true heart.

I was considering doing a 30 day variant of Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. I started a thread asking if there was any material / recommendations combining the exercises and the Camino Way. Based on the feedback, I decided that the Camino de Santiago will be too social to be fully immersed in the Ignatian exercises unless I joined a group lead by an experienced director. Doing the spiritual exercises as a walking retreat might be best done on the quieter Camino Ignaciano some other time. Rather, this might be the opportunity to really listen to my fellow pilgrims.

Nancy Frey has documented how Smart phones and WiFi have radically altered the Camino experience on her site Walking to Presence. For many people this has resulted in a deeper connections with “home” during the Camino, and less of a connection with people on the Camino. I believe everyone should think carefully about how much they will make use of connectivity. My current belief is less will be more.

We removed most apps (especially social media, and filtered email). We used a route guide, map, translation app, bible, audio recorder, and a daily devotional app. The one exception is we installed Polarsteps because Jackie’s dad asked up to bring him along because he was unable to join us.

Some resources that might help spiritually prepare that:

while on the journey

Timing and Route

The common view is that the best months are April, May, September, and October. You are missing the worst of the summer heat and the crowds due to school being out and the harsher weather (and closed services) during the winter. The temperatures in the fall and spring are cool which is perfect for hiking in, generally (7-18C, 45-65F) though it could go be colder or warmer. It is likely there will be several days of rain in the spring. The fall has less risk of rain, but larger crowds. I would note that during holy years there are typically an extra 100k catholics walking the Camino. The next holy year is 2025.

Any of the guides listed below will provide all the information you will need to plan a journey along the Camino de Santiago. A good starting point would be the online planning resources from the Village to Village guide.

All the guides break the journey into daily stages. Most complete the journey in 33 stages. Many of the stages are identical across the guides with the guides diverging slightly and then resynchronize in a few days. The traditional first stage from sjpp is one of the longest and toughest. Discussion of how to handle it / where to stay. If I was to do the Camino Frances again I would likely do the journey over more days. The standard 30-33 stages provide enough time for the walking, house keeping, and experiencing community with fellow pilgrims, but not enough time to fully explore the history, culture, and architecture.

Traditions & Important Sites

  • Remember loved ones lost with wooden cross along the way
  • Drink Rioja wine from fountain of Bodegas Irache, just outside Estella (early in stage 6).
  • Leave a burden behind, symbolized by a rock from home (or maybe the laptop you are carrying) at Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross (stage 24)
  • Wash in the stream at Lavacolla, just outside Santiago. In ancient times there weren’t showers each night. The pilgrims would wash and change into their best clothing to enter the city.
  • Pilgrim’s Mass (offers in serveral locations)

Zero Days

Some people plan “zero days” to explore a city’s sights and sounds. Other times zero days are to recovery from an injury or illness. The best recommendation is to take a zero day when you body tell you to, and skip zero days you might have planned if your heart wants to continue to walk. Commonly recommended towns for zero days:

  • stage 3 – Pamplona (lively town, food). I think it’s a bit early, but helpful for people who aren’t experienced walkers who might need to swap some of their gear, get a massage, etc.
  • stage 7 – Logrono (good size town known for wine and hundreds of tapas places, especially along Laurel street)
  • stage 13 – Burgos (arch, museum, cathedral)
  • stage 20 – Leon (arch, food, I think the most beautiful cathedral in the world)
  • stage 22 – Astorga (arch)
  • stage 25 – Villafranca

The follows are some towns which the community has indicated are good places to consider if you want a quiet rest:

  • stage 5 – Estella, architecture
  • stage 10 – Santo Domingo or Grañón
  • stage 14 – Castrojeriz
  • stage 17 – Villalcázar de Sirga
  • stage 18 – Sahagun
  • stage 19 – Mansilla de las Mulan
  • stage 26 – O’Cebriero churches

Interesting Sites (History, etc)

The follows towns might be worth exploring as you pass through:

  • stage 6 – blacksmith shop 200m before the fountain.
  • stage 24 – Ponferrada castle
  • stage 26 – O’Cebriero church
  • stage 28 – Arthur Lowe’s art studio on main trail, not Samos detour, 1 mile from the trail split
  • stage 28 – Samos monastery
  • stage 28 – Detour down to Ourense will add 90km, take you on a less traveled route and past some natural hot springs

Festivals Along the Way

An incomplete list which of seasonable festivals. The moon guide has others as do some of the other guides. Here is a sampling of festivals in 2023

  • Festa do Cocido in Lalin, February
  • Easter, Sunday, April 9, 2023
  • Festa do Maio – celebrations in Villafranca, Pontevedra etc, April 30-1st May, 2023
  • Ascension, Thursday, May 18, 2023
  • Fiestas de San Bernabé in Logroño, June 11, 2023
  • Saint John and Midsummer celebrations take place in many other seaside towns  and also in Santiago de Compostela, June 23, 2023?

Sleeping & Housing

Nearly all the land along the routes are privately owned. Historically it’s been harder to find a camping spot than a bed in a alberque (hostel for pilgrims), hostel, or hotel. Most years I would recommend forgoing camping and leave the typical back country backpacking gear behind (tent, stove, sleeping pad, sleeping bag warm enough for outdoors, etc). The 2023 season seemed to be stressing the system due to a backlog of pilgrims whose trip was delayed by COVID, and a number of alberques that haven’t re-opened since the pandemic. I would still recommend using the alberques, just that you should make reservations.

Alberques (guide to alberques) are the cheapest, most available, and more common option. All alberques have dorm style housing. Many have communal dinners or a common kitchen. Linens and blankets are often not provided in the dorms… so unless you have have made reservations for every night and confirmed they will provide all you need, you should plan to bring a sleeping bag, or a sleep sack + quilt/blanket, a towel and at least a bit of soap. More on this in the gear section. The downside of the dorms is that you don’t have privacy, snoring and others moving around can interrupt sleep. Some of the alberques have private rooms for extra money which often have ensuite bathrooms and typically provide linens and towels.Jackie and I think that a private room in an alberque is ideal, allowing a good night of sleep, intimate time as a couple, while experiencing community with other pilgrims.

There are also hotels, guest homes, pensions, and inns which provide housing. If you are traveling during peak season I would encourage pre-booking accommodations a few months before your trip. If you have a reservation and don’t need it, please cancel it.

Many people worry about bedbugs, especially in the alberques. We didn’t encounter any bedbugs nor did anyone we traveled with. From reports I have read online and from friends’ experiences in previous years bedbugs will be found occasionally but are uncommon. If you stay in a location that has bedbugs, there is nothing that can guarantee you won’t be infected. There is some evidence that treating your sleeping gear with Permethrin will provide some protection. If you end up picking up bedbugs, washing throughly and then washing all your clothing and gear in 140F water will kill them.

Packing & Gear

My original packing list had a base weight of 5.5lb and fit into a 14l bag. At the end of the trip I updated my camino 2023 lighterpack list to include everything I carried on the heaviest day. The picture below is nearly everything I carried or wore:

Items I added at the last minute which are missing from the picture above (+) were added but I wouldn’t bring in the future (+/-) and are in the picture but I didn’t need (-):

  • + N95 mask which was quite useful, had to use when entering some pharmacies
  • + small folding eating utensil (used a few times)
  • + small pouch for coins (used everyday at cafes that didn’t take credit cards(
  • +/- USB power bank (not needed by me but used by others)
  • +/- Shakedry rain jacket (not needed for rain… poncho worked well, used a few days as a wind jacket)
  • +/- foam visor (used twice when wind was too strong for my hat)
  • +/- small lock (not used)
  • – zpacks tent pole (used… but in future frozen shoulder should be healed and no longer needed for exercises)
  • – Headlamp (used once, just used light on my phone
  • – Rain pants (didn’t use, let the legs of quick dry pants get wet and they dried out in less than 2 hours)

On the walk I picked up some skin lotion and a 15l folding messenger bag to used when I returned home (I with we had a Decathon store at home). When Jackie’s Achilles tendon started to hurt I carried a few of her items. This raised my “base” pack weight to 7lb, 11 pounds on the heaviest day including water, leftover food / snacks, and a some of Jackie’s extras. There are experienced Camino walkers who take less than me such as Tim Evans’s 7L fanny-packing list.

Everyone I have talked with that wasn’t an experienced light-weight onebag traveler or ultralight backpacker said they brought too much stuff. They often either gave away the unnecessary items, shipped them home or to Santiago. Several people told me that any item not used by the time you got to Burgos isn’t needed, and you should get rid of it. I encourage everyone to treat the Camino like a pilgrimage and leave behind excess baggage and live in the moment. I have some general notes about packing light aka onebag travel.

If you are doing the Camino in the summer you don’t need a lot if you stay places that provide “linens”. Hiking clothing that can dry overnight, clothing to wear while your clothing are drying (sandals, shorts and tee), a poncho, a fleece or sweater, a sun hat, a small first aid kit focused on foot care, a toothbrush, and a water bottle. When needed (which is less frequent than you might expect) you can wash you hiking clothing in a sink, shower, or machine if one is available. That’s all you need.

The single most important item you bring is footwear. I think minimalist shoes are the best way to go IF you have used them for at least six month. Otherwise I would generally recommend wearing trail runners or hiking oriented sandals. Sandals are often seen as people recover from bad blisters which makes me wonder if they won’t be the best “shoes” to start with. I have written up a brief comparison of boots vs trail runners. It’s important that you use whatever footwear you have selected (or identical models) for an extended time before the Camino to give your muscles a chance to adapt. For example, going from traditional shoes with a heel to zero drop trail running shoes is a good way to end up with achilles tendonitis. For people who are prone to getting blisters I would recommend sizing up your shoes by 1 size and wear 2 pairs of socks: a thin liner made of coolmax or nylon closest to your foot, and a thick wool sock worn “inside out” so the fuzzy part is against the shoe, and the smoother side is facing inward toward the liner and your foot. Another good option are Xoskin toe socks. I have zero blisters after walking thousands of miles in Xoskin toe socks. I had pre-blisters from other socks heal while wearing Xoskin socks while doing 15 mile days.

The second most important item is your backpack. People who complete the Camino generally use outdoor oriented pack which are between 20-40L in volume. For people carrying less than 10 lbs, there are many good options. If you are carrying more than 10 lbs you will want a pack that has a hipbelt which is capable of transferring the majority of the weight to your hips rather than just stabilizing the pack. I have a post about selecting a good trekking pack.

Most people who are going to sleep in the albergue dormitories bring a light weight sleeping bag (rated for 40-50F) which removes the need to worry about sheets and blankets. My recommendation would be to use a silk or nylon sleep sack which is paired with a light weight quilt or blanket. When it’s warm you can use just the sleep sack. A good quality down backpacking quilts can cost $300, but if you only need enough insulation for sleeping inside (say rated for 55F), then there are a number of light weight down or synthetic outdoor blanket / quilts which are less than $100. Costco sometimes has a down throw blanket for around $25. A classic poncho liner, aka woobie is another option. Some folks find that just a sleep sack combined with their outwear can work. Clothing which are warm enough for “light work” in 40F (a typical spring morning) should be warm enough for sleeping indoors when the room is >=60F. I used a sleep sack and a piece of Polartec Alpha Direct 120gsm fabric which was used as a blanket at night, and as a scarf, shawl, vest, or poncho liner during the day. I wrote up a description of this in a post about my poncho system.

For people who are used to luxury & comfort, don’t just prepare yourself to “rough it”, but embrace a simple and more communal experience. It is especially important to minimize what you bring because you will be carrying everything for many miles each day. If your bag feels heavy before you start walking, you are bring too much and it will get worse as the days progress.

Conventional wisdom is that people carry a backpack that’s less than 20-25% of their body weight. There were several experiments run by the US and by the Swiss military. The key finding IMHO was that on extended (8+ hour) exercised that fit / trained individuals had a measurable increase of fatigue and a drop in agility when they carries more than 10-12% of their lean body weight. This has been my personal experience. In a well designed pack I feel no more tired at the end of a 20 miles walk carrying <12% of my lean body weight as compared to carrying no pack at all. The caveat is that I have some issues with my shoulders. If the pack does a good job transferring weight to my hips I can carry between 15-20 lb with no pack related fatigue. If all the weight is all on my shoulders I need to keep the weight to 6%, around 8lb or the shoulder pain starts to fatigue me. My wife found her sweet spot is around 6lb.

Some people ship their bag(s) town to town via a transfer service and carry a small daypack which holds only what they need for the day. This costs 4-6Eu for one time, and around 150Eu for an entire journey. I would recommend not planning to do this as a regular practice, though it can be useful if you are trying to recover from an injury or fatigue. If you going to use a transfer service I would recommend using a duffel which does not need to be expense. We saw a number of people using $4 Ikea frakta duffels. Realize that mistakes can be made, and you might find your transfer bag misplaced for a day or two. For people who are finding lodging as they go, using a transfer service can add stress and complications since you don’t know where to ship your bag on days you don’t have a reservation. Warning: Several traditional alberques have banned “suitcases” or transfer services from delivering because the alberques exist “to serve pilgrims, not tourists.”

It’s better to bring twice the money you think you need, and half the stuff. It fairly easy to pick up items that you forgot, lost, or are damaged along the way. Worse case is a 20 minute taxi ride to a larger town. Several of the town along the Camino have a Decathlon store, which is the Ikea of outdoor equipment and clothing. There are also a number of stores which cater to nearly all the needs of pilgrims (shoes, clothing, backpacks, toiletries, etc) such as Boutique du Pelerin in St Jean Pied de Port, Caminoteca in Pamplona, Pilgrim Oasis in Carrión de los Condes, etc. Most of the towns have a small store near or on the Camino route which sell comfortable shoes (almost all sell Hoka) and some other items that pilgrims might need.

The following is a picture of the contents of Jackie’s backpack for the Camino. She used a 10 year old Camelbak hydration pack which was retired at the end of the Camino. Jackie runs colder than me so she brought more insulation that I did.

OuterwearClothingMisc Other
Uniqlo Down Jacket
Montbell Insulation Skirt
Ikea Rain Poncho
Montbell Umbrero Hat
Macpac Nitro Alpha Direct Hoody
Montbell Windbreaker
Buff
2 Yoga Pants
Decathon Dress
+2nd Decathon Dress
Underwear (not shown)
Leg Warmers
Waterproof Socks
Wool Socks
+Compression Socks
Trail Runners
Slides

+Merrill Sandals
Glasses
Cell Phone, Charger , Cable
Passport
Toothbrush / Paste
Moisturizing Sunscreen
+Ankle Brace
+Knee Brace
+Tiger Balm & CBD Lotion
small fabric shopping bag
Notebook, Pen
Headlamp
Towel
Sleep Sack
Initial Items, Items Offloaded, “+” indicates items added. Buff wasn’t used. Waterproof socks used only a few times. Leg warmer not used after compression socks was purchased. Jackie didn’t bring first aid… she made use of the kit I brought.

Unlike backcountry backpacking, you rarely need to carry much food or water because you will be in the next town before you need more. Generally .5-1L of water will be plenty if you periodically stop at a cafe / food trunk for a drink and make use of the fountains. You will want more water on the hottest days. You might want to carry some food with you when entering a less populated area on Sunday because the groceries / cafes / restaurants might be closed or have hours which are incompatible with your schedule. I liked granola bars and Laughing Cow cheese which doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Of course, if all the food options are closed you can treat it as a day of fasting.

There are a few items I might add in the future:

  • Pad to sit / sleep on. There were sections of the trail without benches, rocks, or tree trunks to sit on. A pad could have been useful. Also in the case of not having a bed to sleep in, having a pad could be useful because some of the churches and alberques will let people sleep on the floor if there are no free beds in town.
  • Penny Whistle. Small and light to carry but allows producing music. There were several places that instruments were pulled out and singing commenced. Typically the instrument was a guitar, but at one location a women played a penny whistle which was beautiful.

Blisters

Jackie and I were blister free for the entire Camino… but we seemed to be exception. Most people got blisters, especially people wearing hiking boats. Ironically, we met people who developed bad blisters that used exactly the same boots and socks they have used on numerous trips in the past without developing blisters. Many people were able to manage their blisters and continue to walk. A significant number of people we met needed to add a zero day and/or take a taxi or bus to shorten their daily walking to give their feet time to recover.

The first step is to try to prevent blisters. Blisters develop when you skin is exposed to friction, especially when wet. The best prevention is to keep your feet dry by wearing fast drying, well ventilated shoes or sandals. Avoid waterproof shoes and boots. In rain they don’t really keep your feet dry due to feet sweating, and they hold moisture when it’s dry. As mentioned above, you want enough room for your feet to expand a bit and not be crowded without being too loose. Double socks can be helpful.

Second, as soon as something doesn’t feel right apply treatment, don’t wait for a blister to appear. Sometimes changing your laces or adjusting your socks is all that is needed. Most of the time adding something to protect you skin. My experience is that KT-tape and Compeed blister bandages are the most effective treatments. Duct tape works pretty well. I don’t find Moleskin very effective.

Third, if you develop blisters treat them. Start by draining them and then clean gently. Next you need to make sure they don’t get worse. One option is to leave a small thread in the blister to allow it to drain and then put a breathable protective bandage over them. The method I used in the past was to squirt a bit of superglue (I bring some single use tubes) into the blister. This keeps the loose skin from tearing and makes a durable barrier which protects the tissue under the blister.

Guide Books and Apps

There are a variety of guidebooks and applications designed to help people successfully navigate the Camino de Santiago. All the guidebooks provide information about the route itself and places to stay. Some provide a day by day schedule. Others provide information which allows the pilgrim to decide were they want to stop.

  • Google Translate which you download language modules so it can work offline. So you can communication with people speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin, German, etc.
  • A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley is the classic english language guidebook (minor updates 2023, don’t buy it in kindle form, terrible formatting, no hotlinks!). It breaks the route into discrete stages. Many people follow his stages woodenly which typically means that the villages listed at the end of each stage will be more crowded. Brierley includes selection about ‘the mystic path” and “personal reflections” which can be enriching, but annoy speople wanting a purely practical guidebook for a long hike.
  • Moons Guide is the only guide which highlights food, and focused more on local culture, detailing local festivals and annual events but is somewhat dated. Several of the restaurants mentioned are now closed.
  • Wise Pilgrim is a very practical guide which is reported to be the best  iOS/Android App. The app supports offline maps. The full content is available as a Kindle and Paperback book.  Much of the content is also freely available of their website. Has booking.com links for any of the lodging that supports online reservations, and WhatsApp links for any lodging that can contacted that way which is great for non Spanish speakers. The paid version has the best offline map (which includes several of the alternative routes). Downside is that it sometimes crashes but always restarted.
  • TrekRight Camino Guide is a iOS Guidebook application. UI needs work but is one of the most complete online guides. Trail notes, offline maps, indications of service in town include grocery stores, some good details sbout each of the lodging locations. Missing booking links and WhatsApp contacts found in Wise Pilgram. Has a notes, flags, highlights flags.
  • Buen Camino De Santiago by Carlos Mencos is available for IOS, Android. What a bit awkward to set up, provides a nice view of your daily stages. Has incorporated a bunch of content from wikipedia and some video clips to provide background to the version towns along the Camino.
  • Camino Guides by Gerald Kelly  is available as an iOS/Android app, Kindle, paperback, and a downloadable PDF. Gerald also makes a free version of the PDF available (which is missing maps and historical background). 
  • Village to Village Guides by Anna Dintaman & David Landis is a practical guide (last updated in 2018?), and has a good online supplement
  • FarOut (aka GutHook) is a hiking oriented mapping guide which focuses on the trail, water sources, etc rather than the towns. I don’t see the point with how well the trail is marked.
  • Camino Ninja is a free app that seems well regarded. Alas, the author died in 2022… it is no longer updated. Folks doing CaminoCamino are working to pull the data into their app.

Resources

  • caminodesantiago.me is a very active online community run by Ivar Rekve, a resident of Santiago de Compostela.
  • santiago.forwalk.org is a very well done website. They have a number of “pre selected” routes / stages with information about what services are available with pictures and links to make reservations.
  • Route Planner which lets you choice start/end locations, and then select the villages you want to stop in  (lists type of accommodations but no description of them). For these selections the website can generate a number of files including a path to be viewed through google earth, gps waypoints,  and a schedule in a nice, spreadsheet readable table
  • American Pilgrims; Online Resources is a list of other resources that are freely available on the Internet.
  • Stingy Nomads Camino de Santiago Guide seems filled with useful information from a couple that has recently walked many of the routes.
  • camino adventures
  • onestepthenanother: Recommendations for pilgrims on several trails
  • /r/CaminoDeSantiago/
  • backpackinglight camino thread
  • gronze.com: in spanish, but google translate can make it quite useful
  • Metroblue: Best weather app I have found. The weather maps are really useful. iOS

Stories

History, Culture, Architecture

The Camino is steeped in history. Having a sense of the history and culture and enrich the journey. While walking the Camino you will pass some classic architecture. Some resources to appreciate this background:

  • The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago: The Complete Cultural Handbook by David M. Gitlitz won’t tell you anything about the modern cities, hostels, or amenities but will give you an in-depth look into the history of the path you are walking.
  • Iberia by James Michener isn’t about the Way, but provides a good amount of background about this region of Spain.
  • History of Spain: Readable and engaging history book
  • Beginners Guides to Architecture on the Camino: Some good threads on caminodesantiago.me

Random Hints / Practices

  • Be curious and ask questions of the people you meet. There are many amazing stories you will hear, and many reasons people are walking the Camino. My favorite questions were: “Why are you walking the Camino?” “If someone was praying for you, what would you want them to pray about?” “What have you learned during your walk?” “How has the Camino changed you?” “What are some of the hightlights of your walk so far?”
  • Make a list of people you meet and take pictures of help your memory. Maybe consider asking how you could pray for them and make prayer cards.
  • As you enter new cities look for a poster with a list of local taxi phone numbers and take a picture in case you are injured and need transportation. Often in the entry of hostels, sometimes there is a poster near the entry / exit to the town. When you take a new picture delete your old picture. For non Spanish speakers, try putting the number in to WhatsApp or iMessage and see if they are on one of those platforms. If so, you can send them messages which includes your location and your request that you translate into Spanish using a translation program.
  • Walking takes hours to go between towns, but a taxi and bus takes tens of minutes. It’s pretty quick and not that expensive to return to a town to retrieve something you left behind. Realize just because a town has buses doesn’t mean they have buses that go to where you want to go.
  • Get used to Spanish schedule. Breakfast is a croissant or other slightly sweet pastry and a coffee, maybe a tortilla. Lunch is generally 1:30-3:30. Dinner starts at 8 PM. Many stores are closed in the mid afternoon and on Sundays.
  • If you want to get a Compostela, use the pre-register website a couple of days before you finish and get a barcode. You will likely be in and out in 5 minutes rather than waiting in line for hours.
  • For people biking the Camino… have a bike bell. Its sound is pleasant and universally understood. Saying “coming through” only works if people understand you language and is more jarring that a bell.
  • If you are having trouble finding a place to stay on the Camino look a few km on either side, There are often hotels and guest homes that are pretty close, several will offer free pickup and return to the Camino so you don’t have extra walking.
  • If you walk from SJPP, prepare for things to change in Sarria. There are many more people and many are more tourist than pilgrim. First, don’t judge them, everyone is walking a different road. It will be much harder for them to experience the Camino spirit, but try to share it with them. To avoid the massive crowds try leaving before 7am or after 9:30. Most of the tours / packaged trips have a breakfast which is between 7-9am.
  • Each morning I would stop at first church I came to that was open. I would go inside, if there was a nun present thank her and then sit down to reflect of what I had to be grateful for and then to pray for the coming day and the people I had met along the way. Doing the make the rest of the day better.
  • Once a week stay someplace with a washing machine. They are way more effective at cleaning clothing than hand washing.
  • If you are bring a cell phone, have WhatsApp loaded. It seemed to be the universally used communication tool along the Camino for many businesses and most of the pilgrims. Take a screen shot of your QR code (settings, click on the QR code icon next to your name). If you don’t have connectivity and want to exchange contact information with someone just have the scan or take a picture of your QR code which will save the hassle (and eliminate errors).

I am not in control. I am not in a hurry. I walk in faith and hope. I greet everyone with peace. I bring back only what God gives me.

Murray Bodo, The Pilgrim’s Credo

3 Comments

  1. This is helpful and inspiring. Thank you for sharing some references I hadn’t yet encountered. Well done! My husband and I and two friends did the entire Frances route during April-May 2023. As you stated, it is a profound experience for mind, body and soul. We generally did not stay in alburgues. We prebooked private rooms at small inns and hotels. After sharing our walks and meals with many pilgrims each day, we enjoyed a quiet rest at night. Each Camino experience is different, but I would not discount a private room. I look forward to another Camino… not yet sure which one. Buen Camino!

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