Camino Commerce

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.

Pool at that reserved albergue – fancy

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.

The Camino Frances is green on this map.
A bit tired of walking? Call a taxi. More common than you may think!

A dog can draw in customers.
In Villafranca del Bierzo. She said she was the only quilting store on the Camino.

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.

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Pilgrim Service

Yesterday evening I attended the pilgrim service in the Cathedral. It was very well attended, in spite of only Spanish being spoken throughout – with the exception of the rules about no cameras or cell phones to be used during Mass. In fact, the English word used was “forbidden”. Additionally, it was made clear , in English, that only Catholics could receive Holy Communion.

Not such an inclusive pilgrim event.

In spite of the forbidden camera rule, when the thurible (or censer) was getting set up, there were loads of phones out of pockets. Being a rule follower, mine wasn’t one of them – but the whole scene was quite dramatic.

The presiding priests at my service were in red chasubles, not green. The perspective of the videographer is such that he or she may have been seated right next to me.

While most modern day pilgrims have a daily shower, the original use of incense was to mask the odor of the peregrinos.

The Incense

After the service, I shared a supper with some friends and had an early night. On the way back to the albergue, there was a little party going on under a portico across from the Cathedral.

The Music

The change in the look of the place at night … quite amazing.

These last two nights in an albergue may not have been the wisest of choices. A lot of celebrating going on, and the door isn’t locked, but rather we all have an entry code. About 4 of my 9 roommates returned from their shenanigans at 2 a.m. Being an old lady, I had trouble getting back to sleep after that. We’ll see how tonight goes. Maybe it will help with the time change and jet lag adjustment 😋.

This morning, when there was no line up, I visited the Peregrino Office and received my Compostela certificate.

I really wasn’t going to bother – but someone convinced me that I’d be sorry if I didn’t get it. They “Latinized” my name … so they said. I’m not sure how officially Latin that is … maybe someone who knows can comment.

Now, it’s time for me to finally take advantage of that amazing Spanish invention – the siesta.

Hasta la vista.

I Have Walked 500 Miles …

….and I don’t think I want to walk any more! At least not for a little while 😎.

It was a brilliant day, in all ways. The sky was clear, walked under the stars and then some lovely but not too hot sunshine. It was a chore to go a bit slower, knowing that this was the end.

Last bits of countryside.

These guys (less the Brit) overlook Santiago. You do have to walk out of the way a bit to see them.
First glimpse of Santiago.
The cathedral spires in view up the rabbit warren of streets.

I understand why pilgrims are struck by vehicles so often in Santiago. They’re sort of punch-drunk from their achievement and completely stop watching for traffic or obeying basic safety rules. Drivers here must just hate us.

Then the moment … in the square in front of the cathedral.

A hiking boots selfie. Yay! Don’t know the guy in blue.
A few fellow pilgrims. A few tears were shed.
View from my top bunk.

My second last night in an albergue. And two final nights in the top bunk.

Good old St. James. I wonder what HE would think about it all.

Tonight I will attend the pilgrim’s service in the cathedral at 7:30. For the next couple of hours, I will try to begin processing the end of this journey.

Many Caminos, Many Pilgrims

Today was unique in that I didn’t take a single photo. I think perhaps my Spain tank is on “full” and I am not able to absorb any more. Or else digging my phone out from its safe and dry carrying place when it’s raining is just too much trouble.

I may have mentioned in an earlier post those pilgrims who began their camino in their home towns – home towns in Germany, or Switzerland, or Belgium.

While they are not large in number, they are perhaps larger than life. And the kilometers that they have travelled is impressive, for sure.

There are other pilgrims that for limitations of fitness or time, choose to begin in a place called Sarria (which I passed through 3 – or was it 4? – days ago, I think).

Sarria is at the 110 km mark from Santiago, more or less. If you complete (at a minimum) this last 100 km, then you too can receive a certificate from the Compostela. The other trick is proving your worthiness- some evidence that you’ve been walking along “the way” one step at a time. Here is where the pilgrim ‘credential’ is key.

In St. Jean (and at other major points along “The Way”), one purchases a blank credential for a Euro or two. At each albergue, hostel, pensione – and even some hotels – you can get a stamp. This is then dated by the hospitalero – proof of your painful progress across this amazing country. Stamps can also be had at cafes, bars, bakeries … and of course, churches and cathedrals. Some pilgrims are ‘stamp collectors’ and run to fill up their card as quick as they can. I’m sure there are some young Korean pilgrims with three or four filled credentials.

Me, I’ve just been getting a stamp from each place I’ve stayed. And one church, where the nun in charge was VERY insistent that I should have a stamp.

One side of my credential. I’ve now got a few stamps on the reverse.

Due to the influx at Sarria, there are a lot of dripping wet pilgrims on the trail on these last days. Some have been concerned that there won’t be space in the albergues – but that hasn’t been a problem. Maybe it will be more of a challenge in Santiago where people stay for a day or two instead of moving on.

I guess I will find out – TOMORROW! I can’t believe that there is only one more day of walking. I’m just one of the “common” pilgrims – one who began at St. Jean, not Denmark. Not Sarria. Not León. It’s far enough. But not too far.

Yesterday’s group of solo travellers- the woman at the left with the very red hair (Meta from Norway) has walked over 2,000 km. Elisa, third from the right, began in Sarria. The boy Daniel, on the far right, is from Madrid and lost his wallet, passport and credential two days ago. We all contributed to his supper, and Bettina from Germany (second from right) paid 10€ for him to stay in our albergue. The Camino has many pilgrims – but when the sun comes out a bit and we all can eat together, we’re all just people getting along as best we can.

Buen Camino.

Galicia

As the Montanes de León recede behind my footsteps, the weather has continued to deteriorate. Rain and strong winds while I’ve been walking – and then it usually gets a bit more civilized towards evening.

After a couple of days without wifi … I’ll post some of the photos that have stood out in this neck of the woods known as Galicia. There is a unique language here – and a pride in a culture, that, like the Basque (and Catalonia) leads to a push for independence.

A sculpture of something other than a pilgrim.

Self explanatory signs.

Yesterday morning (when it wasn’t raining), I found a guidebook sitting on a rock when it was just about light. It was a Michelin guidebook in four languages – so that didn’t help narrow my search for the owner. I walked as fast as I was able to overtake pilgrims ahead of me – after six different and unsuccessful inquiries, I slowed my pace.

Late in the morning, i stopped at a little cafe and asked a young German woman I’d seen the night before if it was hers … she said no … but the Swedish woman at the next table exclaimed that it was hers.

Brit reunited with her book.
There are lots of these little structures around here. I think they are for corn storage.

Rain makes rainbows.

Two days ago I was witness to a life and death dust up on the Camino. When I was about 5 feet away, the aggressor rat (yes, really) ran into the cracks and vines in the rock wall along the path. His victim was left a bit disoriented on the path.

I don’t know how Sal the salamander made out in the end.

They refused to pose nicely. I’d hate to be chased by them through the streets of Pamplona!

One soggy pilgrim.

At the end of today’s jaunt, which was a combination of the rainforest on Vancouver Island and Sleepy Hollow (fully expected the headless horseman to pop out of the woods), I have 40 km to go to Santiago. The plan is to arrive Tuesday around noon and go to the pilgrim’s mass that evening at 7:30. Wednesday will be for processing the last month – and probably doing laundry – before going to the airport on Thursday. That’s as much planning as I have done in the past month.

Seems a dream.

Sixteen Soggy Salamanders

Not sure what the Spanish call these guys …

It was bound to happen. Yesterday’s forecast turned into today’s reality. At six, like si.e jund of broken clockwork, I was awake and took my leave of the lightly snoring Edita. Had breakfast downstairs in the pilgrim kitchen – some yogurt and a banana… and put on my rain gear. So far, it had just been extra weight in my pack. Today, the wind was blowing night and the rain was lashing down.

No point in avoiding it, I got out the door and set to following the damn arrows. Just go. You won’t melt.

Turns out, as is often the case, it sounded worse than it actually was. It was windy, but I was sheltered by a lot of trees and a serious uphill climb to San XIL. Saint 39?? Never quite figured out what/where that was.

Lots of cow pats to step around, and as the title suggests, 16 salamanders on the trail with me. Yes, I was counting.

Only one pilgrim passed me – I let him go by – otherwise I didn’t see a soul for over 2 hours.

The sun was ‘up’ by then, and the rain had lessened. I followed a little sign to a restaurante that I could see. A dog was squished as close to the door as he could get and he was happy to come in with me.

The señor acted a bit strange when I asked for coffee, but did confirm that I’d get some. I took off a few things – felt kind of bad about the puddle I was making.

Eventually I got a coffee, but thought it odd he wasn’t using his fancy espresso machine.

The sign by the door indicated that the washrooms were outside off the patio. I asked him if this were so as I stood to use the facilities. He just said ‘no’. His Anglais was zero…but he then showed me at his sink that he had no ‘agua’ and therefore there was no ‘aseo’. OK…who needs a bathroom, anyway?

Restored by a hot drink, slightly dried, there were brief glimpses of blue sky. The rain had stopped.

If you look close, there are calves in these shelters peeking out.

Before I knew it – or after four hours of slogging – not sure which it was – I was in Serria. This town is just over the 100 km mark from Santiago- and as such is a “starting” point for some pilgrims. One must walk the last 100 km to receive the certificate from the church in Santiago. I’ll write more in this and the pilgrim ‘credential ‘in a later post.

One thing that became evident in Serria was the increase in Camino shopping- gear, souvenirs…all things Camino. It seems I wasn’t in the Montane region any longer. I was seeing people in Serria that I knew had stayed last night in the same town as me. Where had they come from? I had literally hiked virtually alone through the rain.

After I checked into my alburgue fir today, Pete and the Canadians Wendy and her husband Bob told me they’d taken a taxi from Triacastela to Serria and then hiked the 5km to Barbadelo. OK, now I don’t think I’m going crazy, at any rate.

Happy to be here … less than 110 km to go. No problem…bahaha!

Fowl weather?

Dog Days

It was a much less strenuous and stressful day today – some intense little climbs, but the majority was a descent.

There were an unusual number of friendly dogs along the way, including one big beggar who was being very well fed at Alto de Poyo by all the pilgrims.

The mountain villages have a lot of charm. Lots of farm animals and a “time stands still here” quality.

Around noon, I stopped to visit a pilgrim who had found a nice wall to sit on and have a snack – so I took the opportunity to change my socks. As we walked out of town together, we were accosted by a Spanish Grandma about 4 feet tall who pulled on my arm quite emphatically that she had something to show us.

Barb came with me – neither of us are fluent Spanish speakers – and we followed the Señora into this dark house(?) with cats and the smell of cattle…

Señora chased us back out to the street – apparently we weren’t supposed to go all the way in – and she was then carrying a plate covered by a lovely cloth. She lifted it and showed us this plate of crepes – which she began to sprinkle with sugar and fold and hand one to each of us.

We were saying gracias … and then as we lifted it to our mouths, we got the plaintive “donativo” …

It was a Spanish Grandma shakedown. At the end of the day, other pilgrims speculate she is bringing in 100€ a day with the crepe deal. Who says ‘no’ to a Spanish Grandma? She refused to let us take her photo. Probably concerned that we will send it to the tax authorities.

Barbara and I walked out of town laughing out loud at the absurdity of the situation. Quite amusing, and I’ll now be on my guard … there’s no such thing as a free crepe.

Tonight I’m in the big-little town of Triacastela. Sharing a room for two with a woman from Germany that I just met today in the lobby. Things like that happen on the Camino- not anywhere else. (The Alburgue was full, and she asked me if I’d like to share a double room.)

Such luxury, once again, with towels and blankets and stuff.

And, it would seem that Santiago may only be, God willing, about six days away. This was one of the last sign posts I saw before Triacastela.