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Pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela

Walkabout California author Tom Courtney and his wife Heidi hiked the 500 mile Camino in Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route to the burial site of St. James. Click here to read Tom's blog and enjoy pictures from the journey. Join this discussion with questions, stories from your adventures on the Camino, and advice for fellow pilgrims.

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Ron Friedman asks:

Hi Tom:  this sounds like a wonderful experience.  Does this walk necessarily have a religious element?  Do many people who are not Catholic do this?  What are some planning tools (books, maps, websites?) that you would recommend?  Many thanks and happy walking.

Ron,  I think  most pilgrims on the Camino are not Catholic, and the pilgrimage does not have a religious element for many, including me.  But, it may have a spiritual impact for most.  It certainly is a profound and perhaps life-changing experience.  There are many books, articles and websites on Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  It seemed like most English speakers carried one form of John Brierley´s ¨Camino de Santiago.¨ The Confraternity of Saint James produces ¨Pilgrim Guides to Spain¨ and other materials.  I enjoy a chat group Santiagobis. There are so many more resources.  Once you start searching, you will find them.  There are also many local Camino groups including one in the Bay Area that gets together.  Buen Camino, Tom

Am planning to do the pilgrimage in 2013.  We have about 3 weeks of time off.
 What is realistic and what would be the best route for that length of time?

John and Cathy,

My wife, Heidi, joined me on the Camino in Leon for the last 200 miles (325 km) of the walk.  We hiked for 18 days and averaged 12 miles per day (19 km), including one extra rest day in Astorga.  This was a very reasonable pace.  The Brierley book sets out an itinerary that averages 15 miles (24 km) per day.  If you have a full 21 days of hiking and would like to hike at a faster pace, you could try starting in Burgos, 315 miles ( 510 km) from Santiago.  Both Leon and Burgos are fair sized cities and worth visiting.  Buses and trains should travel to both cities from Madrid.  For train information, try this website.  Here is a link to bus information. 

We hiked Camino Frances, which is the most popular route, but there are several others.  They all end in Santiago.  The Camino Portugues might be a nice alternative.  Has anyone made this journey?

Best wishes and Buen Camino,

Tom Courtney

I would like to walk  the Camino but not excited about sleeping in places with 10 or 20 people in a room. Hotels, B & Bs or private room hostles are more to my liking. Is this possible? Any thoughts?

Gordon,

Yes, the Camino Frances has hotels and B&Bs along the way.  I stayed in Albergues most of the time when I was travelling solo for the first 300 miles (485 km) of the pilgrimage.  Once my wife, Heidi, joined me, we mostly stayed in casa rurales or hostals.  Both are bargain hotels, but they are very nice.  We used the "Pilgrim Guides to Spain" published by the Confraternity of Saint James.  There are other publications that we saw folks using along the route.  We hiked in September, and only made reservations in the larger cities.  Otherwise, we followed directions and picked a place that looked good.  There are many more pilgrims in July and August, and you may want to make reservations a day or two in advance.  This can be done by phone or email.

Buen Camino,

Tom

To expand on this, if you are staying in privately owned rooms, hotels, albergues, etc., you can make reservations. If, however, you want to stay in the albergues run by the various municipalities or religious organizations in Spain, you can not make advance reservations. Many of these later do not have a set price, but instead operate by "donativo"--a donation of 5-10 euros or whatever you can afford.

If you do stay in the albergues, bring earplugs :-)  

From Tish Woods:

What a pleasure to read your entries from your journey. I am hoping that 2012 will be my year for the Camino. I have creaky knees from 30 years of professional dancing and undependable feet. Nevertheless I want to do this! Would you advise starting where your wife joined you? It sounds like that might avoid the Pyrenees and the long doldrum section. Also did you experience bed bugs? And if so did you treat your equipment prior to going? And what was that treatment.......thanks so much.

Tish,

I can empathize with your creaky knees.  I took a quick look at Camino stats and saw that in 2004, 8% of pilgrims were over 60 and 28% over 50.  It appeared to us that the percentages were higher when we hiked in autumn 2011.  The last 100 km to Santiago travels through the mountains.  The trails are very good, and we did not feel that the climbs or descents were brutal, but many were long.

Knowing that you will finish by hiking in the mountains, perhaps the distance is the main concern.  People join the Camino at many starting points.  To officially qualify for the Compostela, one must walk the last 100 km, but I don't think the piece of paper is very important.  Heidi joined me in Leon and hiked the final 200 miles.  It was glorious - a few beautiful cities with preserved old centers without cars,  lovely villages, wonderful scenery through the foothills and mountains of Galicia.

Bedbugs - I did meet one pilgrim who thought she had been attacked.  Bedbugs were a problem a few years ago, but the albergues have worked hard to eliminate them with apparent success.  I hope that continues.  You can stay abreast of the situation as your pilgrimage approaches by checking with Camino de Santiago websites.  There are clinics for pilgrims along the Camino that are ready to treat bedbugs. 

I have not heard of any treatment for equipment to apply prior to leaving.  Does anyone else know of a successful treatment?

Best of luck on your pilgrimage.  Let us know how it went.

Buen Camino,

Tom

My husband and I have been on various routes of the Camino "network"--France, Spain, and Portugal--for a total of 10 extended trips--close to 2,000 miles. We have never had a bedbug problem.

I agree with Tom, great efforts have been made to eliminate them. I hasten to add that I also have read reports from time to time about problems in U.S. hotels, too, so unfortunately, this "{problem" is not limited to Spain. 

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