Camino de Santiago, Part 2
(part of an ongoing series from Pastor Carl about activities during his sabbatical)
In this post I will share a little bit about what a day on the Camino looks like - to get a picture of what the day looks like and to answer some questions I am often asked about where I slept, what I ate, etc.
What were the trails like? Every Camino is different and I will share based solely on what I experienced on the Camino Primitivo. I am using Camino to refer to the overall experience as well as the different routes that are available to pilgrims. Pilgrims is the term used for anyone walking the Camino though many are not walking for religious reasons. The “trails” I walked on varied widely. I put the term “trails” in quotes because it was very different than I expected.
I definitely preferred the trails to the roads for both the scenery and the quiet. It’s a little harder to enjoy the trail and meditate when you are busy watching for distracted drivers - driving while using a cell phone is not an exclusively American vice.
Where did you sleep? There are a variety of options along the Camino. It is not a camping type expedition so people don’t use tents. The most common place to stay are albergues or hostels. There are albergues located in many of the small towns and larger cities along the Camino. Some are run by local municipalities but many are privately run.
The albergues come in many different sizes and amenities. Some of them are dormitory or camp-like with a large room with a number of bunk beds. Others have smaller cubicle type bunks which provide a little more privacy (and quiet). Some even offer private rooms. I did not ever stay in a private room, though there was one time I did have a 4-person room to myself.
Generally speaking the albergues provided the bed, a pillow, and some paper sheets which were of a material like hospital exam gowns. There was also usually a blanket provided. Some offered a towel, others did not. The accomodations were generally mixed male and female but the shower and bathrooms were all single sex.
Most of the albergues had a refrigerator and many had kitchenettes or kitchen where you could prepare food if you wished. That was not something I did, but I did see some people doing so. There was also usually a laundry area where you could hand wash clothes and hang them on a line to dry or if you preferred, there were machines to wash and dry clothing. I typically simply hand washed my clothes and hung them to dray. I was fortunate at two of the smaller albergues where the hosts offered to wash our clothes - we simply put them in a pile and they were returned clean and dry.
On a few occasions I did stay in a hotel because there were not rooms available in any of the albergues. The hotels were small private motels and were definitely geared toward pilgrims. Many of the albergues took reservations though some did not. After an experience of not finding a place and ending up walking until almost 10pm, I started making reservations, usually done online with my phone.
What did you eat? For breakfast each day I would typically have some bread and cheese or meat that I had purchased the night before at local market. A few of the albergues offered a breakfast and I took advantage of that a few times; the ones I had were a continental style where there were fruits, bread, and yogurt available.
My lunches along the way were often more of the bread and cheese. I know I am not very exciting when it comes to food; I like to think of it as just having simple tastes. I will also say this - the bread and cheese was always very good. Doing it this way allowed me to eat on my own schedule as there were times along the trail where it was a relatively long distance between villages with anywhere serving food. Occasionally I would stop at a small place and enjoy a tortilla espanola, a sort of omelette with potatoes.
For dinner I would typically eat the albergue if they had a meal or there would be local restaurants that catered to pilgrims. They usually had a pilgrim menu which meant a choice of a soup or salad, a main course, a dessert and a drink (wine or water, which meant water for me). You got all of this for one price, typically 12-13 euros or about $14. It was always very good and filling. At one of the smaller albergues, it was a much more intimate experience as the 5 of us staying there gathered around a single table to enjoy our meal together.
Did you have to carry a lot? Because I didn’t have to carry tents, sleeping bag, or food other than a few snacks, I only wore a medium sized pack to carry my clothes, water and few other essentials which weighed maybe 20 pounds or so. I saw other carrying slightly smaller packs and others with some a little bigger but most were of similar size. And for those who want to carry less, there are services available on the Camino to transport your backpack/luggage from village to village. So some people just had small daypacks they carried during the day and then accessed their other gear at night at the albergue or hotel where they were staying.
Did you walk with others? Like all of the other things, it varied from day to day. The Primitivo is a much less travelled route so there are not nearly as many people on the trails On many days I would see less than a dozen other pilgrims while I was walking; this doesn’t include passing through villages and seeing people sitting at tables enjoying a snack or cup of coffee. This changed in the last few days before Santiago as the Primitivo merged with the Camino Frances, the most popular of the routes.
When I met someone I would often walk with them for a short while and hear a little of their story and perhaps share some of mine. We would then part ways and wish each other “buen Camino”, which simply means “good way” - a way to wish pilgrims well on their journey. I would also often be greeted in this manner by locals out for a walk or a bike ride.
On other days I would meet someone and we would spend the entire day walking together and getting to know one another. I spent time with a Romanian-born German, a Canadian who has lived in the Netherlands for the last 5 years, and an American who graduated from Hope College. We chatted about everything from our reasons for walking to the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Yes I found at least one other nerd on the Camino and though we disagreed about some of the movies, we were able to see each other’s point of view. We would also talk about life in general as well as faith. All in all, some good conversations.
That’s a brief picture of some of the logistics of life on the Camino.