Writing about the Camino is turning out to be harder than I expected. I don’t normally get writer’s block but something has stopped me up till now.
So let me write something quick and easy tonight – right now – without worrying too much about it or trying to get it ‘right’. I’m going to answer a few questions that people have asked me, dealing with practicalities. Let’s see what comes out.
Where did you sleep?
All along the Camino there are albergues, hostels run either by the church, by the local councils, or by private individuals. The private ones are slightly more expensive but only by a few euros. Generally you could expect to sleep in an albergue for 6-8 euros a night. Your bed will be in a dormitory unless you pay extra for a smaller room. The dormitories will have anything from 6 to 30 bunk beds and the rooms can be modern, clean and light or dingy, dark and cramped. It is best to get a lower bunk especially if you tend to need the toilet in the middle of the night.
Snorers are the main problem in albergues. We are not talking here about gentle snoring but it is almost inevitable that there will be at least one incredibly loud snorting, grunting, choking, room-vibrating snorer in every dormitory you visit. So you carry ear-plugs and you try to get to sleep before they do, and you practise loving-compassion and you accept that some nights you will be tossing and turning.
HOT TIP : push the earplugs deep into your ears
How easy is it to get vegetarian food on the Camino?
It’s not easy in most places but the bigger cities have greater variety of food. Every day there is tortilla – a thick omelette with potato and onion. But this is often what you eat at lunch time or in a walking break. You have to find something else in the evenings or just have tapas. Many but not all albergues have kitchens but remember that if you want to cook for yourself you may have to buy excess food and leave it behind.
HOT TIP : making friends on the Camino means that you can share cooking in the evenings so a bag of rice or pasta will do for 10 people and a new bottle of oil will be useful for everyone not just you.
The best food I had was in Albergue Verdi in Hospital de Órbigo. The volunteers who work there were professional chefs and all the food was vegetarian and often grown in the garden outside. And we had a delicious soup at the Albergue at San Bol at the beginning of the Meseta.
Was your backpack hard to carry?
Absolutely not at all.
I am a professional lazy walker and often rely on Pep to carry things when we go out hiking. I always imagined that because I have asthma it would be too hard to also carry a heavy bag. But on the Camino I carried my 7kg pack every day and hardly ever felt it to be a burden. On the one day it was uncomfortable, someone suggested I empty and repack it. This redistribution of weight transformed it from a heavy load to a feather light friend. I loved having all my stuff with me and enjoyed feeling I was carrying my own things. This was part of the freedom I felt – all I needed was on my back.
Did you meet interesting people?
On the first part of the Camino which we started at Pamplona, I felt quite shy about meeting people. I was with my little group and although we didn’t usually walk together we had company for lunch and at night. It took me time to get used to the easy-going chatty atmosphere of the Camino. By the time we reached Santo Domingo de la Calzada I had met a few people I felt easy with and from then on I found more and more friends.
Of course it’s easy for extroverts but don’t worry if you are more introvert, people are friendlier and more relaxed as the road winds on. I remember the couple who walked hand in hand the whole way – they were returning to walk the Camino together after meeting there the year before. I remember the woman from Peru who was carrying her father’s ashes to Finisterre because he had died before he could walk the Camino himself. There was a young shy German lad who held back from a communal dinner so I suggested we sit together because I also felt awkward at these times. Everyone started singing popular songs like Blowing in the Wind and suddenly his amazing and powerful voice rang out over the dinner table. He was a professional tenor. I promised to sing him a song in Catalan when we next met. But we never did meet again.
People come and go. We all walk at different speeds and unexpected things happen. Just as you get to know and like someone, you say goodbye one day fully expecting to see them again and then, they disappear over the horizon.
HOT TIP : If you meet people you like then get their emails or Facebook details early on and don’t assume you will find them again the next day.
HOT TIP : Don’t rush getting to know people. A lot of people talk about having a Camino Family but it all takes time to settle down. It is a long walk – there’s lots of time.
What problems did you face?
Of course there are also people you don’t like too much or who you find irritating. This was one of the special things about the Camino for me. I really tried to open to everyone and to notice myself when I started judging others. When I could remember to see everyone as if they were offering me a mirror to my own personality then I felt much easier. The main people that drove me mad were those invisible unknown women who left toilet tissue along the path after they had stopped to pee and those who threw their banana skins on the edge of the road. It was possible to walk for hours while fuming about this but when I noticed myself spoiling my own day in this way, I got out my plastic gloves and a bag and began to pick up all that I could see. I became the litter warrior and it turned into one of my happiest days.
HOT TIP : Even if you think banana skins and orange peel are organic, they actually take two or three years to decompose so it is still litter and leaves a lasting blot on the beautiful landscape. Take a bag and carry your rubbish.
I had many other problems including my encounter with a bed-bug, my blisters, and the tendinitis that eventually stopped my walk. I felt very emotional a lot of the time and had days when I laughed, cried and sang in quick succession. In my memory though the strongest thing that stays with me is the feeling of incredible happiness to be walking, to be free, to be out in nature, and to be doing something that I have dreamt of for so many years.