I’ve been contemplating this topic for over a month. The ‘Camino Phenomenon’ has become a force to be reckoned with – and because of the €€s involved, there is no shortage of those profit-minded individuals looking to cash in.
Since my first experience with the first 1/3 of the Camino Frances (or, The French Way) in 2013, a lot has changed.
It was possible to have have your bag(s) transported then – but few seemed to be exercising that option. And when they did, there were sometimes problems and some Spanish chaos. Now, there is a smoothly-running bag delivery service machine. While a few different options exist, Jacotrans is king of the Camino.
I don’t know if they are working on a franchise model, but they have a great network of pickup and delivery. Now if there’s a problem, it’s more than likely that the pilgrim didn’t fill out the tag with the correct albergue/hostel/village name information.
It works very simply – which is part of its efficient genius. For each bag, you fill out a tag – theres a ready stack near the entrance of each accommodation. The tag is also a little envelope into which you place a 5€ note. Attach the tag(s) to your bag(s) and deposit in the designated area. By 3 p.m., give or take, your bag should be at its next destination. Of course, since you’re only carrying a water bottle, hat and sunscreen, you’ve skipped down the trail at top speed and may arrive ahead of your gear. And just push repeat – if this is how you’d like to Camino.
Drawbacks include not having your ‘stuff’ with you when you might need something. Extra socks? A bandaid? Rain jacket? And, I believe the biggest disadvantage, is having to pre-determine where you’ll be staying, right down to the albergue. To each pilgrim, his or her own experience.
That brings me to the next commercial update on the Camino- accommodations. Sure, there are still the “Municipals” – church or community run albergues that offer the most basic of accommodations. But even they are now taking reservations. Mostly by phone. Any private hostels, bunks, private rooms, swimming pools (a new perk to basic bunk beds) … can all be found in Booking.com. Look at the photos, read hundreds of reviews, che k the ratings (don’t forget Trip Advisor!), and click reserve. One bed in a ten bunk room? Four beds in a four bunk room? No bunks? Private bath? One could spend a lot of valuable time working out what’s going to happen the next day.
I did book a room – twice. Once, after not being able to get a room in Roncevalles, my Irish friends convinced me to hedge my bets and reserve. So I did, and it was lovely. Then I went back to my wild and wooly ways of just ‘playing it by ear’ – until Santiago. In that bustling full-of-peregrinos city, I thought that having a guaranteed bed for my two nights might be a smart option. It did make it a relaxing arrival at the cathedral knowing I didn’t have to set out immediately to procure a bed somewhere.
In the cities, the restaurants often ask you to please rate them on Trip Advisor. That took me slightly aback at the beginning – but the under 40 (and sometimes the under 60) pilgrims are checking their devices for the best places to eat. The internet is changing the camino.
This competition, the ratings, have improved the general look of both the cafes and the hostels. To ignore what pilgrims say, to not respond to the feedback, could be the end of a Camino business, and the Spanish seem to be listening.
North American expectations around privacy, cleanliness and also extra amenities are driving change. There are many more private rooms available than ever before. Breakfasts are advertised as “toast and coffee” and “bacon and eggs” rather than tostas y cafe and jamon y huevos. Make it easy for the English speakers with all the €€ in their pockets.
There are spaces where no villages appear for several km – and little oases spring up. Some, like this one, offer a few basic things in exchange for a donation. Some of these are run by churches. But others appear to be private enterprises – donation or not.
The other, and perhaps the most important thing on the Camino is LOCATION. While 100 meters is nothing when you’re in a car, you actually think hard about the necessity of the extra steps. No matter how hot or thirsty you may be. You rationalize that there will be another place, just ahead, that doesn’t require any detour steps. And maybe some friends are there. Even better.
Statistics. Now that’s a concept. In an earlier post, I’ve mentioned my pilgrim ‘credentiale’ that I had “stamped” to show where I’d stayed as proof I’d been there. But that’s just for me. Each hostel and albergue, no matter how posh or rustic, records your passport information. That’s right. Your passport, as in property of the Canadian government passport. Some places capture the information electronically, usually by scanning. Others are a bit more old fashioned. What a proper analysis of those statistics could tell the Spanish department of tourism and/or commerce! How quickly any pilgrim moves across the country. What kinds of places are they staying? How much are they spending? Are they alone or with a set group? Makes me giddy thinking about all the great data that could be extracted. I hope they’ll use it well.
It’s now estimated that over 200,000 pilgrims walk the Camino Frances annually. Somewhere, there is an exact number, I’m sure. And that’s just one Camino route.
In many of the small mountain towns, aside from some agriculture, the only visible business appears to be Camino related. The economic benefits to Spain cannot be overstated.
Buen Camino, España.