W. Tripp, Jr. 2011
There are two key documents that all pilgrims need
to be concerned with. One is the Pilgrim’s Passport,
which certifies and documents your pilgrimage. The
other is the Compostela, received in Santiago to
indicate completion of the pilgrimage.
The Credencial del Peregrino (Pilgrim Credential),
commonly referred to as the Pilgrim’s Passport,
can be obtained in several ways. One is to obtain
a letter of recommendation in your home parish,
bishopric, etc. certifying that you leave as a pilgrim.
You can also obtain one in a church, certain albergues
or some other location such as a local office of
the Friends of the Camino, in the starting point
of the pilgrimage. If you are uncertain go to the
Gronce web site. Look at the albergues for the route
and place you wish to start. Under Basic Datos,
there is an item, Expide la credencial. If it indicates
Si, you can get one there. There is usually a small
fee, about 3€, for obtaining one. This certifies
that the bearer is traveling as a pilgrim. It permits
the bearer to use facilities reserved for pilgrims.
When it is initially prepared, it states whether
the pilgrim is traveling “a pie” by foot, “a caballo”
by horse, or “en bicicleta” by bicycle.
Once the pilgrimage commences, it is necessary once
a day (more or less) to have the Pilgrim’s Passport
sealed (stamped, signed and dated) at one of the
parishes, albergues or other establishments en-route.
This is easily done and is usually part of the check-in
procedure at an albergue.
Some people become so enamored with the seals that
they go out of their way to have them stamped at
churches, monasteries, etc. throughout the day and
even run out of room, requiring an additional credential
to include them all!
The “Compostela” is the certificate awarded to those
who can prove that they have covered the requisite
number of kilometers of the pilgrims way. They are
issued by the Oficina de Acogida del Peregrino attached
to Santiago cathedral at Rúa do Vilar 1, 1º in Santiago
de Compostela. Its hours are 10:00-14:00 and 16:30-19:00
(10-2 and 4:30 to 7). To qualify for the Compostela,
a pilgrim must complete at least the last 100 kilometers
to Santiago if traveling by foot or horse or 200
km if traveling by bicycle. Below is an example
of the Compostela.
Spirit of Pilgrimage
My initial interest in the Camino de Santiago stemmed
from an interest in medieval life and I often thought
of this during my pilgrimage. I finally concluded
that it was not possible for me to gain insight
into the motivations that would cause medieval men
(and the few women) to undertake the personal sacrifices
and separation from family to willingly undertake
the pilgrimage to Santiago. They would have made
their preparations knowing that the way was difficult
and perilous and that many would not return. Some
did not go willingly; it was their penance or sentence
for some misdeed or crime.
However, once embarked on the pilgrimage, the pilgrim
of medieval times had to find the motivation to
keep going, despite physical problems, the rain,
heat, and cold; this is equally true today. Part
of the motivation is sheer determination to reach
the goal. Another part is the sense of participation
in something larger than one’s self, the fellowship,
reinforcement and support of other pilgrims. In
addition, a medieval traveler would have had even
greater spiritual support from the Church, since
there were religious orders along the Camino whose
sole purpose was to protect and provide for the
There is a special bond between those that travel
the Camino. Some pilgrims travel by foot — “a pie”
is the term entered in the book at the albergues
— others by bicycle and a few by horse. The bond
is strongest between those that travel “a pie.”
Some people start out on their pilgrimage with others,
but most travel as couples or by themselves. However,
you never feel you are traveling alone. Due to the
spacing of towns with good albergues, most people
leaving an albergue in one town will end up in the
same place at the end of the day. They will also
encounter each other along the Camino during breaks,
whether in the open, at fountains or in bars. You
recognize and greet each other, and pull out a chair.
Early on I, as did other pilgrims, started greeting
the people we met as we passed - “Hola, Buenas Días,”
— always with a smile. These greetings were returned,
frequently with “Buen viaje” (Have a good trip),
or some other wish in Spanish. We also greeted other
pilgrims we met. We seldom saw the cyclists again
but they would always call out when they went by.
In Santiago and Finisterre, whenever we recognized
a fellow pilgrim there were greetings and occasionally
a brief conversation, regardless of how well we
knew each other.
In O'Cebreiro we encountered a large group of people
traveling together. There were 39 people in the
group, ranging from a couple of children about 10
years old to several people in their early fifties.
They created problems in the albergue because of
their numbers and created havoc in the nearby mesón
where everyone was buying their meals. In the morning
the group completely overwhelmed the two-person
staff trying to handle the orders for coffee and
toast. Eventually one of the men went behind the
counter to make and serve the coffee. From then
on we dreaded them. If they arrived at a bar ahead
of us, although they separated into two smaller
groups, all of the places were taken or the food
was depleted. They walked faster because all they
had were small day packs like students use, but
covered the same distances per day. They had a van
that carried their main back packs with clothes,
sleeping bags and air mattresses. All of the other
pilgrims were upset with them because of that and
that as a large group, they stayed together and
did not mix with others—the general opinion was
that they were not true pilgrims. They were not
behaving within the spirit of being a pilgrim. They
were “turistas,” —always said with disdain.
The route of the “Camino de Santiago” is well marked
for pilgrims to follow. In recent times it has been
marked with yellow arrows to show the direction.
These are painted on trees, curbs, streets, sides
of buildings, rocks, backs of signs, even power
line poles - wherever there is a need to confirm
or change the direction.
The designation of the Camino de Santiago as a European
Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October
1987, followed by the Pope’s visit to Santiago in
the Holy Year of 1993, resulted in upgrading of
the markings in several areas, particularly in Galicia,
where there are now concrete markers and milestones.
After using the arrows for so long, I did not find
the improved markings more useful. As pilgrims,
we were so used to looking for the yellow arrows
that when we reached Santiago we joked among ourselves
about continuing to look for them after we returned
home. Despite the markings, it is possible to get
lost, or at least confused, particularly in cities
and large towns but you are always able to find
someone who can help you get back on the trail.
Years afterwards, you will notice a yellow arrow
somewhere and recognize it for what it is. in 2008,
I noticed a series leading away from Montmartre
in Paris. Recently I was in Tavira, Portugal and
noticed them crossing a bridge. I backtracked and
found they started from the Igreja (Church) of São
Tiago (Santiago) and there was an association of
friends of the Camino de Santiago in Tavira (Associação
dos Amigos do Caminho de Santiago de Tavira).
The route that constitutes the “Camino” varies from
foot paths to field roads to wide crushed stone
paths to verges of busy highways. For example, in
walking from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles,
I walked on the edge of a highway for several kilometers,
and also on a path less than a foot wide with a
steep drop-off on one side. That same day the route
went along a rock fault upthrust for 1/2 kilometer
and across several other rock fault upthrusts, as
well as passing through several villages. Later,
in the (comparatively) flat Castillian plains, I
followed a long, straight, essentially level Roman
road for 12 boring kilometers and afterwards, along
with other pilgrims, complained of the rough surface.
However, weeks later, approaching O'Cebreiro, I
walked for almost six kilometers in a steep uphill
climb over a rocky path that was not only rougher
but also had flowing water, mud and liquid cow plops.
The Camino frequently passed through farms and led
into fenced areas through gates. I was astounded
on one occasion to come out of the cover of the
woods only to realize I was passing through a horse
pasture with about fifteen horses. There was a woman,
another pilgrim, standing among them entranced by
the sight. Just outside of Burgos, I walked among
four horses who were grazing, including a playful
young colt. For the first time, watching the colt,
I truly understood the word gambol. As I completed
the climb out of Nájera, I passed near a farm building.
As I did so, the doors opened and a flock of newly
shorn sheep came out, led by a goat, and kept in
their places by two dogs. I have walked behind several
small droves of cows (but not too close) and through
them and have had to prod strays out of the way
to get by. Many were obviously milk cows but others
appeared to be destined for the dinner table.
In all of the villages, barns are an integral part
and the cows and sheep were led in and out through
the streets and paths to and from their pastures.
Someone once told me of a village in Germany where
every morning the cows would be led out of the barns
and back in the afternoons. In that magic village,
a man with a machine would come out each time shortly
after the cows passed by and sweep the streets.
I assure you that none of the villages on the Camino
had such a wondrous machine. In some places the
stench of the urine and piles of manure was almost
overpowering and the road was slippery from the
Most farmers in the areas we passed through used
tractors, although the shift from oxen has only
occurred recently in some areas and many farms still
have the old wagons, plows and other implements
to be pulled by the oxen. In Galicia, en route to
Palas de Rei, we walked by two farms where they
were still using oxen to pull their plow. In another
sign of the past still lingering in Galicia, twice
I saw women walking with heavy loads balanced on
Some pilgrims stay in pensions, hostals (which are
different classifications in Spain) or hotels, but
most stay in the albergues, also called refugios.
An albergue may be run by a church or religious
order, a Friends of the Camino group, or the local
government. For example, the one in Trabajo is run
by the village but one in Rabanal is run by the
British Confraternity of Saint James, whose members
take turns acting as hosts. The charge for using
an albergue in 2011 ranged from donations to 8 euros,
about $12. Priority for using an albergue goes to
those on foot, horse, bicycle and those accompanying
others (such as the driver of a gear van for a group),
in that order.
An albergue provides unisex communal living. Above
is a typical scene in an albergue right after everyone
arrives. The sleeping areas range from one very
large room to several modest sized rooms, each with
bunks, usually doubled tiered but sometimes single
or triple tiered. The bunks are usually furnished
with a mattress and either a blanket or a pillow.
Spacing between bunks ranged from a very tight eighteen
inches to a comfortable three feet. Many albergues
provided additional space for back packs. I used
ear plugs a lot and was not disturbed by the sounds
from those that snored, as others were. Snoring
led to angry words on more than one occasion.
Some albergues, primarily private ones, let you
in as soon as you arrive. Many, normally city or
parochial albergues, however, do not let people
enter before 2 and even as late as 4 or 5 PM, causing
pilgrims to wander around with their packs. This
also results in a busy time inside as everyone tries
to shower and wash clothes at the same time once
they get in. The doors are closed and lights are
out between 10 and 11 PM. All albergues require
everyone to leave by a fixed time, such as 8 AM,
unless someone is sick and should not travel.
Most had separate bathrooms for men and women but
some did not. Showers and toilet areas provided
privacy but not much more. A typical shower stall
would have a lockable door and a single hook to
hang towel and clothes; the stall would be deeper
than it was wide so that there was an ostensibly-dry
dressing area. However, there was seldom a curtain
or door between the shower and the dressing area
and the floor was usually wet after the first person.
Getting completely dry was difficult. Most places
advertise hot water but at least three times I finished
my shower in cold water and once had no hot water
Recent guides to the camino now mention pay washers
and dryers at some refugios.
When looking for the toilets, look or ask for “Aseos”
or “Servicios.” Do not ask for “Toilets,” which
is not in the Spanish vocabulary. Similarly, only
ask for a baño if you are inquiring if your hotel
room (habitación) has a room with a bath. The aseos
in business establishments, such as restaurants,
are usually segregated by sex and have doors marked
with an icon, or a letter (H, M) or the words “Hombre,”
“Señor” or “Caballero” for men and “Mujer” or “Señora”
for women. However, some seem to prefer to use symbols
that are not easily figured out by a non-Spaniard.
Bowl toilets are the type most commonly used. They
are similar to those encountered in the US except
for the flushing mechanism, which is usually self
evident. In albergues, hotels and hostals, they
will be clean and in good condition. Missing toilet
seats and missing toilet paper are common problems
in restaurants, bars and service stations.
Squat toilets were commonly used in the past and
may be encountered in older bars and restaurants,
particularly in poorer areas of Spain. In many of
these, the squat toilet remains in the men’s room
but a bowl toilet has been installed for the ladies.
There is no guarantee that a toilet will be nearby
when nature calls. Whether it is a squat toilet
or squatting in a private spot in the woods or bushes,
the position and physical effort are the same. If
you have not assumed the position since you were
a child, you need to understand/think through the
process. Put on your boots and most cumbersome clothing
combination and think of what will be involved in
going through the process in using the squat position
in going to the toilet—don’t forget the toilet paper.
Carrying your own toilet paper may be wise in any
case since several blogs have commented on the fact
that an albergue may not have toilet paper in the
The pilgrims I met were from many countries; mostly
European but also from the US, Canada and Brazil.
Ages ranged from teens (Spanish teenagers after
school let out in late June) to the late 60’s. It
seemed to me that ten to twenty percent were women
but 2010 statistics indicate forty five percent
were women. Many of the women traveled alone. Several
pilgrims had started walking or bicycling far away
from Spain: Great Britain, Switzerland, Italy, Germany,
the Netherlands and even Finland. I sometimes had
mental images of a river of pilgrims moving toward
Santiago. Up to O'Cebreiro, each day there would
be a few new ones. When I reached Santiago on my
first trip, I estimated there were about 70 arriving
that day. The peak is in August when most of Europe
is on holiday.
If you use a film camera, I recommend that you periodically
have your film developed in a town where you stop.
There will be more places that can handle 35 mm
film than APS but both are available. However, if
you have APS and use the panoramic mode, only a
few places can develop it locally. Most send it
to Madrid or another large city. Even Burgos sends
such film to Madrid. The advantage of developing
film en route is that you can verify that your camera
is functioning properly and you can mark the photos
while your memory is fresh. When you are finished,
mail them home and let your family get a preview.
When I arrived in Santiago, I selected one photo
and had several postcard sized prints made and used
them as postcards which I mailed to friends.
If you use a camera or other device that requires
recharging, you will soon realize that the facilities
were not designed to support many users requiring
such service. Expect to share an outlet.
Attention and Assistance
Spain has a very good medical system and health
care should not be a concern.
In all but the smallest villages there are farmacias
(pharmacies) easily identified by a sign consisting
of a green cross. Many pharmacists speak or understand
English and those on the Camino are familiar with
the problems encountered by pilgrims. They can sell
medications over the counter which in many cases
would require a doctor’s prescription in the US.
Each one will have a notice on their door of a pharmacy
in the area which is the duty pharmacy that will
provide after hours service and on weekends and
Everywhere there will be some location where one
can seek medical attention from a doctor. In some
villages, there may be a medical center (centro
de salud), which is not open all day. In others
there will be more than one centro de salud as well
as a hospital. In most but not all occasions, there
will be a doctor (medico, doctor, doctora) who speaks
English. If you are on the Camino and the problem
is minor, not requiring hospitalization or expensive
treatment, the costs will be minimal, possibly free.
When I travelled the Camino, I visited a doctor
twice. One visit cost 2000 pesetas; the other was
free. However, see “Travel Insurance” on Planning
Your Trip for other considerations.
Personal safety should not be a concern. Violent
crime is rare in Spain. There are hazards whenever
one travels but they are no greater for a pilgrim
than for other tourists. There is a relatively higher
risk of theft in Madrid, particularly when, as a
new arrival, your attention is distracted trying
to figure out where you are and how to get where
you are going. With backpacks or luggage you are
easily spotted as a tourist; if your gear is not
being watched because you have your back to it,
when you turn around, it may be gone. However, there
are very few muggings or other attacks on people.
The most significant personal safety problems are
the perils of the Camino.
There are three types of police in Spain. All will
assist you in case of any problem. The Guardia Civil
mainly police rural areas but also appear in cities.
Their uniform is olive green. The Policía Nacional,
wearing a blue uniform, operate in large towns and
cities. The Policía Local, dressed in blue, can
be found in smaller towns.
There is a universal emergency number, 112, used
throughout Spain and most of Europe for all emergencies.
Valuables are always subject to theft. After a long
day’s walk, you will be tired and will sleep very
soundly under conditions where there are many people
around you, not all of whom are honest. Minimize
the valuables you carry and take precautions. If
you have two credit cards (or a credit and debit
card—a good idea), do not carry them together.
While you are traveling as a pilgrim, your most
important documents are your passport, the loss
of which will complicate your return to the USA;
your return tickets, and your pilgrim’s passport.
You will use the latter on a daily basis but the
others should be wrapped securely in plastic to
protect them from water and kept in a safe location
in your back pack or on your person. Keep a copy
of your passport in another location, such as your
wallet, so that it is unlikely that you would lose
both. If you plan to travel much after you arrive
in Santiago, mail your Compostela home so that it
will be safe—it is irreplaceable.
The Spanish state railroad, RENFE (Red Nacional
de Ferrocarriles), operates a variety of trains
that connect many cities and towns. The fastest
train, the AVE, connects Madrid, Cordoba and Sevilla
using special tracks. The TALGO trains are also
high speed and they connect many cities using the
regular tracks. Other trains are much slower and
while cheaper, take hours longer. RENFE has a very
good web site with schedules, fares and other information
available in English.
In Madrid the major stations for long distance are
Atocha, Chamartín and Norte. These are all served
by the metro system which has a line connecting
to the airport. You can get a map of the Madrid
Metro System here. The fares vary by class of service
and quality of train and in general are very reasonable.
For example, the June 2011 fares from Santiago to
Madrid, a seven hour trip, are 67.10 euros for First
Class and 50.60 euros for Tourist Class.
Buses provide inter- and intra-city connections
and connect major towns to the smaller ones. There
are many private, regional companies rather than
a single national inter-city bus system. In some
cities there may not be a central bus station but
many little offices spread around town for each
firm. In a small town, the bus station may be not
much more than a garage used for other business
with someone doubling as a ticket seller. Ask for
the estacion de autobus or parada de autobus and
someone will help you with directions. There are
waiting places on the highways on the outskirts
of villages where the traffic does not support a
bus stop inside. Many villagers use busses to travel
to the larger towns where they shop or conduct other
necessary business. Fares are surprisingly cheap,
and are paid to the driver if picked up on the highway.
In major cities and large towns there will be lots
of taxis; their markings will vary with the region.
They will have meters and there will be a green
light and a sign “libre” to indicate they are free.
Their rates, in general are reasonable - many Spaniards
use them regularly for shopping—but watch the meter
or agree on a price in advance. In small villages,
there is probably someone who uses his car to provide
an unmetered service for the locals. If you are
in a small village and need transportation ask someone
where you can find a taxi.
of the Camino
Before leaving Madrid, I was told that the problems
with the Camino were the feet, the heat and the
cold. I would add rain to this list. Many people
have problems with blisters. For my first trip,
I followed a backpacking expert’s advice (Hiking
and Backpacking, A Complete Guide, by Karen Berger,
W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 1995) and had
no problems with blisters. However I had a problem
I had to stop and rest for several days and adjust
my pace early in the trip, because I over-stressed
my ankles by walking too far on uneven terrain with
a heavy load too early in my walk on the Camino.
I used a bus to go from the point where I decided
I really should see a doctor to reach a centro de
salud (Medical Clinic). I experienced two days of
rain, and their muddy after effects in Navarra.
I then encountered a short spell of hot weather,
but the main problem was cold weather due to an
unusual weather pattern that set record low temperatures
throughout Europe. Due to the hot weather experienced
in Navarra, I sent some warm clothes home from Pamplona.
As a result, I crossed two high mountain passes
in cold weather with only summer clothes. It was
38ºF with high wind, fog and rain mixed with snow
when I crossed the Montes de León at Foncebadon
in late June . It was not as cold but foggy and
rainy when I started my long trek from O'Cebreiro,
the top of the pass over the Montes de Cebreiro.
I started out with a spare set of walking shoes
but sent them back from Pamplona to reduce weight,
relying on rugged Teva sandals for use in town.
I failed to realize what it would be like to walk
around town in cold rainy weather in sandals while
my boots were drying.
On my second trip, in April 2000 along the Mozcrabe
Route, from Salamanca, it rained almost every day.
Several days I walked the entire day in rain gear.
I had to resort to walking alongside the road because
after two weeks of rain, many sections of the camino
were impassable. More than once I had to retrace
my route and make a detour of several kilometers
because there was no way else to continue. I also
made an immediate right turn to head for the safety
of the nearest highway when a front crossed, the
temperature plunged and it began to sleet.
My third trip happened to be during the month when
a drought ended and Spain and Portugal experienced
the heaviest rain in 30 years, and associated with
that were cooler than normal temperatures.
Thieves and con artists are problems faced by travelers
today, as their predecessors did in medieval times.
I had a pair of trousers stolen from a clothes line
at an albergue outside of Pamplona. A friend had
25,000 pesetas (185 dollars) stolen from his wallet
in an albergue while he slept. He was subsequently
bilked out of 33,000 pesetas (~250 dollars) loaned
over several days to a fellow traveler who said
he had lost his bank card and would repay him when
he received a replacement card in León. Instead
the fellow traveler disappeared when we reached
I encountered dogs everywhere but never had a problem
despite some nervous moments. Those that were loose
were usually friendly but there were a lot of very
unfriendly ones behind fences or chained up. On
the second day of my first trip, the path toward
Roncesvalles led up toward and around a house, passing
between two buildings. One building had two very
large snarling dogs chained in the yard and the
other had three. There was no doubt in my mind that
they would make mincemeat of anyone they got hold
of! It really was an act of faith to continue walking,
following the trail, trusting that the chains would
hold and they were not long enough to reach the
path. That evening most of the people that had followed
that route talked about those dogs. Later, another
pilgrim swore that two dogs in one village had faked
sleeping until he had walked by so they could come
barking at him from behind. He held them at bay
with his walking stick until the owner called them
off. When I walked the Camino in 2011, dogs in the
open ignored us; the barkers were those behind a
Bugs were seldom a problem. The worse time I had
was when I applied sun screen to my face mid-morning
and was promptly surrounded by black mites that
swarmed in front of my face and around my head.
They remained with me for over an hour despite my
best efforts to get rid of them. I think I was bitten
by a mosquito only once. However on other occasions
while traveling in Spain, I have had problems with
mosquitoes at night, and thus think some type of
bug repellent is recommended.
The modern pilgrim faces modern hazards, such as
sharing the road with cars and trucks, and in 1997
I passed at least three markers where pilgrims have
died since 1993. Because the routes followed by
the original pilgrims became main thoroughfares
and eventually highways, the current Camino follows
lesser paths, which are frequently not well maintained.
The grass and weeds along a farm path are cut at
the convenience of the farmer, not to provide a
service to the pilgrims using it at his sufferance.
Although most of the Camino was a path away from
or separate from a highway, there were many sections
where it was necessary to walk on the edge of a
highway. The first time I had to do so extensively
was during a steady rain when the normal path was
too muddy. There was only a slight shoulder with
a narrow section of pavement outside of the white
line marking the edge of the road to walk on. I
walked facing traffic and was very surprised once
to feel as if I had been struck when one car passing
another came from behind so close and at such high
speed that I could feel the impact of the air push
me. There were also short sections where there was
no shoulder and no extra pavement, making it necessary
to walk on the highway. I was acutely aware of traffic
and was always ready to leap into the water or bushes
Blisters are a common problem, particularly during
the first weeks of the Camino. Blisters arise from
friction against skin, in this instance the sides
and bottoms of your feet. They can be avoided entirely
or minimized. Avoidance requires breaking in your
shoes gradually so that the skin has time to thicken
or callus in such areas. It also involves taking
care of your feet. A blister does not appear out
of nowhere without warning. One is proceeded by
a hot spot, a red area that develops because of
the friction at a spot on the foot. You will notice
an irritation or soreness. When this starts to happen,
STOP and take remedial action; it will not go away
Check out the problem. Make sure your socks are
not folded or creased and shake out your socks and
boots to remove any debris that might have gotten
inside. Also, use stuff from your first aid kit,
such as moleskin or Second Skin, to protect the
hot area. If the skin has broken, treat it like
Tendonitis is an inflammation or irritation of a
tendon, a thick cord that attaches bone to muscle.
It is most often caused by repetitive, minor impact
on the affected area or by a sudden more serious
injury. To prevent ankle tendonitis while hiking
conditioning beforehand boots with ankle support
help. Dehydration is also a factor in many hiking
injuries. When it is dehydrated, the body doesn't
function as well as it can. If you develop tendonitis,
R - Rest
I - Ice
C - Compression
E - Elevation
Chapping is when the skin roughens or cracks as
a result of exposure to cold or weather. The most
frequent part of the body that chaps is the lips.
Hands and feet are common cracking sites. But superficial
cracking can occur anywhere, especially the delicate
skin of shins, forearms and cheeks. If you look
up chapped lips, you will find they are likely to
develop if you live in a dry climate, spend a lot
of time in the outdoors in the sun or wind or allow
yourself to get dehydrated—much like the conditions
on the camino.
If you have simple chapped lips, frequent applications
of an oil-based lip cream or one containing petrolatum
or beeswax can help, MayoClinic.com states. Don't
use flavored lip balms, which may cause you to lick
your lips more often. For hands and other parts,
apply a skin moisturizer.
Chafing is caused by sweating and rubbing. Walking
isn't the only thing that can cause this problem.
Any activity that requires skin to repeatedly rub
against skin can lead to chafing. And moisture,
either from sweat or rain, makes the problem worse.
Some common chafing sites are the inner thighs and
under the arms or breasts. If you start experiencing
this problem, check out your clothing to address
the source of the problem. In areas of repeated
chafing such as the inner thighs or groin or under
the arms or breasts, you can cut down on friction
by dusting on some powder. Ointments such as Vaseline,
Noxzema, zinc oxide ointment and cortisone cream
can likewise help such areas of skin slip past each
other. Chafing that hangs on for more than two days
after the rubbing stops may have graduated into
a fungal infection.
a local Pharmacist or Health Clinic
You can always seek help for these and other common
problems experienced by pilgrims by going to a pharmacist
on one of the towns you pass through. In addition,
consider visiting a local heath center or even a
hospital. Because of the way the Spanish health
care system operates and how pilgrims are viewed,
you should have minimal costs and problems.
in Cafes, Bars and Restaurants
Bars in Spain are where everyone stops for coffee,
sandwiches and other food. There are few fast food
places on the Camino and most pilgrims hope fervently
that there will be a bar in one of the small pueblos
in each day's walk. Depending on the time of day
and what your needs are, you can get coffee, water,
soft drinks, wine, beer or something stronger. Coffee
is always made on the spot, never served from a
large pot as in many American restaurants. I depended
on finding a bar every morning for my “café con
leche” and something to nibble on, usually a magdalena
(similar to a muffin).
Bocadillo doesn’t really mean sandwich but for practical
purposes it does. Ask for a “bocadillo de queso”
and you will get half a loaf of crusty bread split
and filled with several slices of the local cheese.
At one stop in a small pueblo, at a place that wasn’t
even a bar, but where a woman catered to passing
pilgrims from her house, my bocadillo was delicious
country bread with several thick slices of excellent
white cheese, similar to a pressed ricotta. Sadly,
I never encountered that cheese anywhere else.
Some people prepared most of their meals in the
kitchens of the albergues. Most were like me and
ate in the local bars and cafes. Wherever there
was an albergue, there was a place where one could
buy a meal. Often there was a bar with a “comedor”
or dining room which featured a pilgrims’ menu.
In many of these places, there was no written carta
(menu) of the day’s offerings, and the man or woman
taking your order would come up and advise you what
was available for the first course, wait for you
to make your decision and then repeat the process
for the second course. For 8 to 10 euros (about
11 to 15 dollars), one would get two courses, bread,
wine (or beer or mineral water) and dessert. We
always finished a meal with a cup of coffee which
was usually an extra charge.
In every bar, dining room and restaurant, save two,
there was a television. If it was off when we started,
as soon as a local arrived, it would be turned on,
whether they watched it or not. One exception was
the dining room at the Parador in Santa Domingo
de la Calzada. The other exception was a small inn
in Galicia where the owner said he had removed it
because people did not focus on the food when it
There is supposedly a hierarchy of eating establishments
in Spain although there are many that blur the boundaries
and the name is often deceptive. Restaurants take
the upper end in quality, service, atmosphere and
price. All have bars, although there are many bars
that provide little other function; except in small
towns and villages, where the bar may mask a comedor
(dining room) where excellent inexpensive food can
be found. The cartas in restaurants and comedors
feature different dishes that are intended to be
served in courses-a steak will not be served with
vegetables and other side dishes. Cafeterias are
a step below restaurants and offer platos combinados.
They often display pictures on the outside showing
the various offerings available, which comprise
the meal—dessert and coffee are always served as
separate courses. Dessert is included in a “menú”
but not with a plato combinado. Coffee (or tea or
infusion) is sometimes provided as an alternative
Asadores are restaurants that specialize in roast
meats, usually over a wood fire (fuego de lena)
or in an wood fired oven (asador de lena). There
are other speciality restaurants: Sideria—featuring
cider, Marisceria—fish and shellfish, Cerveceria—beer.
Almost every restaurant offers a “menú del dia”
or “menú turistico;” many of those on the Camino
offer a “menú peligrino.” These are all multi-course
meals at a fixed price, usually consisting of a
first course, main course, dessert, bread and drink
at a price lower than if ordered á la carte. They
are seldom included on the carta provided by the
waiter but are sometimes written on a board outside
the restaurant or will be gladly described by the
waiter if asked. A note of caution, if you do not
speak Spanish well, do not expect an extensive conversation.
You most likely will be frustrated if you try.
In one modest place the dialog went something like
¿Ensalada o Sopa? (Do you want salad or soup?)
¿Pescada o carne? (Do you want fish or meat?)
¿Y para beber? (And to drink?)
mineral sin gas y vino tinto. (Mineral water without
gas and red wine.)
resulting meal was delicious.
and Cooking Your Own
Most public albergues have a kitchen with limited
facilities, cooking ware and plates, glasses and
cutlery. The ones I have seen had a modest kitchen
including a stove, sink and food preparation area,
usually a small refrigerator, but there was no certainty
as to what else would be available. Some were very
good with two stoves, a refrigerator, and were well
outfitted with pots and pans, dishes and utensils.
Many were short on one thing or another. Once after
deciding to have a group meal with 12 people pooling
our money to buy the makings, we realized well into
the preparation that we only had the utensils for
6 people. We had to borrow glasses and some utensils
from a nearby cafe to augment what we were able
to scrape up from the pilgrims that carried their
own. All of that contributed to the meal and the
sense of camaraderie.
Most towns and villages are large enough to have
one or more small grocery stores. But do not expect
to encounter a supermarket and the selections such
implies. The small grocery stores will have very
basic items. Do not expect to find varieties of
lettuces and many fresh fruits. Some villages are
too small to support a store and they are served
by mobile shops, often consisting of a modest panel
truck which makes daily visits to the village and
sells fresh fruits and vegetables and other items
from the rear. Its arrival is usually announced
by the constant blaring of the horn and one can
find its location by looking for the women going
or returning with their shopping baskets.
The following are some recipes suggested because
they will be easy to prepare in the kitchens found
in albergues and the ingredients should be easy
to obtain in the villages one will pass through.
Pimientos con anchoas
Pasta with various sauces: garlic and oil, anchovy,
fresh tomato; alfredo
Tomato bread, with ham
à Q.Pratique Généralités