As soon as Kevin and I started telling people that we were going to walk the Camino de Santiago, a slew of questions flooded in, most of which revolved around how exactly one “does” this. For example:
Is this something you have to sign up for?
Is this a tour?
Do you do it with a group?
Is there a schedule you have to follow?
Where do you stay?
Have you already booked your hotels?
Are you walking for a cause?
The answer to all of these questions is, very simply, no.
You don’t have to sign up for anything. We are not doing a tour, though there are some tour companies out there that will organize it for you, should you be so inclined. We’re not walking with any sort of group, though we certainly hope to meet others along the way. There’s no schedule to follow. You stay in what are called albergues, which are basically hostels that are only available for pilgrims (those walking the way). We haven’t booked a single hotel except for our first two nights in Pamplona. We’re not walking for any cause – this isn’t like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer - we are walking just for us, for the experience.
Basically, the plan is that there is no plan. There is a route that you follow, and a list of places that pilgrims can stay along the way, but other than that, you just show up, get your Pilgrim’s Passport, and start walking.
There are many different routes that lead to Santiago, but the most popular one (and the one depicted in the film The Way) is the Camino Frances. There is no “official” start to it, but most people start in St Jean Pied de Port, a small town in France, right in the Pyrenees. Originally Kevin and I were planning on starting there too, but since we really wanted to try to keep our walking to 30 days, we decided to start from Pamplona, which will cut out the first three days (and also save us from the trek over the Pyrenees) and should keep us within our goal of making it to Santiago within four weeks.
When we get to Pamplona we’ll have to pick up our pilgrim passports, and once we have those, we’re pretty much good to go. The pilgrim’s passport is the document issued by the cathedral authorities in Santiago, and is needed as proof of your pilgrimage. It needs to get stamped at least once a day, and in order “to prevent abuse of the 1000-year old spirit of hospitality of the pilgrimage, access to the refugios is restricted to those carrying such evidence of their pilgrim status.”
Albergues (sometimes called refugios), are basically hostels for pilgrims only. I have no idea what they will really be like, but I call them “old-people hostels.” You show up, show your pilgrim’s passport, and then stay in a room filled with other walkers. They usually cost between €5 -€10 a night. A family style meal is usually offered, in which you eat and drink and dine with your fellow pilgrims, and you’re only allowed to stay one night. Sometimes the albergues are located within monasteries, like the below:
Other times they are in newly remodeled buildings, like this one:
Our tentative plan is to stay at a hotel every third or fourth night, so that we can have some privacy and be able to catch up on personal hygiene stuff, among other things. You know, things like leg shaving and bed sharing and what not. I don’t know about you, but I am an incredibly slow leg shaver, so there’s no way that I’m going to be able to do that in a communally shared shower space. I also like to take luxuriously long hot showers, which isn’t really hostel etiquette.
Nor is walking around in your underwear, which is another thing I quite enjoy.
For the most part, there’s an albergue or hotel at least every three miles, so how long you walk and where you stop is entirely up to you. Most people walk an average of 13 miles a day, and that’s our plan as well.
However, we’re also allowing ourselves the freedom to just do what works for us. Which means that maybe one day we’ll only feel like walking five miles. And maybe another we’ll feel like walking 18. And if it’s pouring rain all day and after about two miles we’re tired of being muddy and cold and wet, we have no problem calling it a day and taking a taxi to the closest town.
Since neither of us have ever done a trip like this before, we really won’t know what it’s actually going to be like until we start. Our “training” has consisted of some weekend hikes, the longest of which has been seven miles, so it might take our bodies some time to adjust to being able to walk 14 miles a day consistently. And we’re okay with that.
So like I said before, our plan is that we don’t really have a plan.
And that is kind of the most exciting part about it all.