The following is a guest post which I wrote and which was published on The Trek in 2016. It had around 1K shares and I think it’s still valid today. As I saw that the pictures have already disappeared and I don’t wanted it to disappear completely, I decided to post it here again.
This is kind of a response to Digger’s post about his very subjective reasons you shouldn’t hike the Camino. I think he’s right on a lot of things, wrong on at least one thing (see number ten) but above all, he shared – presumably with intention – only the worst. And there is so much more to be said about the Camino.
(And yes, my opinion is quite subjective, too :-))
I did Pamplona-Santiago-Finisterre, around 750 kms in four weeks. And I don’t wanted to stop. Ever.
1. The Camino is not a wilderness trail
The Camino Frances starts in in the French Pyrenees and crosses four Spanish regions until arriving in Santiago de Compostela. It’s mountains (the Pyrenees), than hills (Navarra & Rioja), than a long flat stretch (the Meseta between Burgos and Leon in Castilla), some smaller mountains again and finally, in Galicia, hills until Santiago. You will sleep in a town or a village every night and you will travers some villages every day. A lot of them small and very old with just a couple of residents. The landscape is splendid and diverse as is the flora, at least in spring.
2. The Camino is history
Since more than one thousand years – after the discovery of the tomb of the apostle James (Spanish: Santiago) – pilgrims walk to this place. There is still a lot of visible infrastructure from the middle ages and I saw a lot of people, especially Americans and Canadians, buzzing with excitement while standing inside or in front of buildings erected in the tenth century. In the bigger cities you’ll find several cathedrals, above all in Burgos, Léon and Santiago, which are gothic masterpieces and really breathtaking.
3. The Camino is spiritual
I’m not religious, but a lot of people do this journey for religious or more or less spiritual reasons. They leave home, family and friends to think about themselves or to cope with disease or loss. This does something to the spirit of this path. People are open and conscious and they share it in an unpretentious way. If you walk there, you will get the feeling of the thousand years of pilgrimage, the footsteps taken by millions of people through the ages. And when you are in Finisterre, looking at the Atlantic Ocean, you will realize with all your heart, why early pilgrims called this place “the end of the world”.
4. The Camino is not the Camino Frances
On the picture you see Roger. He started in front of his home in Bretagne. When he arrived in Santiago he made around 1.900 kilometers. It is said, that if you are a real pilgrim, you start your journey at your front door. There is a dense grid of Caminos from all over Europe leading to Santiago de Compostela (here’s the map). If your main goal is to be alone, don’t choose – from all the caminos – the Camino Frances. But don’t expect the infrastructure of accommodations neither.
5. The Camino is for everyone and it’s about people
With all the people you see on the photos above, I had some intensive and interesting talks, several kilometers and/or dinners. With eight of them I’m still friends on Facebook and I follow there lives attentively. Something connects us. With four of them I met after the Camino and we reconnected immediately – like friends do. Hiking ties relationships tightly. One died. I think of you, Adi.
People walking the Camino are of all ages and from countries all over the world. More than 16% are aged 60+ and there are nearly as much women than men (official church statistics here). The Camino is about community. You will get to know a lot of people and after a while, you will form something called a “Camino family”. You will help each other, you will have very good conversations and you will fight. ‘Cause it’s a family. And you will get to know them because you’re hiking approximately at the same speed they do.
6. The Camino has a lot of fancy rituals
You will drink wine for free out of a fountain in Irache. In the church in Santo Domingo de la Calzada you will wait for the crow of a rooster, which is living there with his hens. His crow will bring good luck for your way. You will bring a stone from home and lay it down at Cruz de Ferro to get rid of all your emotional baggage. And you will gaze at the huge swinging botifumero, a vessel in which incense is burned, at the cathedral of Santiago.
7. The Camino can be walked in peace
Even on the Camino Frances. For sure, the more you approach Santiago the more people you will see on the way. 25% of the pilgrims just walk the last 100 km. But even there (in May), if I don’t wanted to see people, most of the time I didn’t. You have to leave early or very late and in the villages you just don’t have to leave with the bunch. However, if you like to be alone in the evening, this will be very, very hard. In general it can be said, that the Camino Frances is more about people than about solitude. Chose wintertime to be on your own. Or another Camino.
8. The Camino is cheap
Where else do you get a bed every night for 6€ (official or parochial accommodations) or 10€ (very simple private accommodation)? There are more expensive ones, for sure, but on the price level they are still much cheaper than any crappy motel. Sleeping in a shared room in a bunk bed with a bunch of snoring people you don’t know, might not be everyone’s favorite thing, but so are motels, hotels and tents.
9. The Camino is the best thing ever happened to long-distance beginners
You don’t need a tent, you don’t have to be afraid of not having enough water, there are no bears and no rattlesnakes and there are a lot of people around in the evening. However, I had an incident including animals: A cow who pressed me against a wall in a narrow road. Luckily I’m thin enough so I didn’t have two holes in my chest afterwards. Beware of cows!
Anyway: You can try out your long distance hiking abilities without the scary part.
10. And finally: The Food is great!
One of the best things I made was cooking with my international Camino-bunch. The Italians were the chefs, the Germans organized the drinks, the Brazilians made coffee and the French commented on the cheese ☺. You’ll find kitchens in nearly every albergue. If you don’t have the occasion to be in such nice company, still do not go for the Pilgrim’s Menus. Search for places where the Spanish people go. You won’t get the same things as you get at home, but after all this is the idea of travelling: To make new experiences.
And the Spanish Serrano bacon is the best bacon in the world. Except maybe for the Italian Prosciutto di Parma.
If you want to be alone in the wilderness, sleep in a tent, eat dehydrated food and get really close to nature in every kind of way, the Camino Frances isn’t the right thing for you. If you like to get to know a bunch of nice people from all over the world, see architecture from the middle ages, hike enchanting and divers landscapes and have great breakfasts in picturesque old villages, than go for it ☺.
All that said, I’m really glad I did it, it was one of my best travel experiences ever. But I will rather go for a little more wilderness next time.