Camino FAQ (UrCamino)  


                                                                            1. Frequently Asked Questions


    About the Camino


  What does 'Camino' mean?

- The direct translation of el camino in English is 'the way'. The Way of Saint James is the pilgrimage leading from various European cities to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain. The Way is living its second Renaissance right now. Pilgrims from all over the word walk to Santiago seeking spiritual experience.


  Isn't the pilgrimage only for religious people?

- No. According to statistics, there are relatively few pilgrims who walk solely for a religious motivation. Most pilgrims make the Way with a spiritual or intellectual purpose that is not always linked directly to their religion or faith.


  What is Saint James day?

- Saint James day is celebrated on 25th of July. Many pilgrims arrive to Santiago in this specific day. Events and  holy masses take place in the cathedral.


  What does 'ultreia et sus eia' mean, and why do I keep hearing it?

- Onward and even further!

- This comes from a 11th century hymn titled Dum Pater Familias, which appeared in the Codex Calixtinus (you can read more about it here). Pilgrims gradually came to use these words to greet each other.




  How long does it take to walk the Camino Francés?

- This, of course, depends on where you start and whether you walk, ride a bicycle or a horse.

- The classical Camino Francés (remember, there is no established 'official' route) starts from the small village of St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and ends in Santiago de Compostela, more than 800 kilometres from there. Walkers, depending on the weather, their pace, stamina and desire to take some resting days, generally allow between four to six weeks. Cyclists will need around two weeks to cover this distance.


  Which route should I follow?

- Which route? Are there more than one? Oh yes, there are. Although the most popular route, the one most people mean when talking about 'the Camino' is the Camino Francés, the French Route which traverses from the Franco-Spanish border at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Roncesvalles through Pamplona, Burgos and León, there are numerous others. Not considering starting points outside Spain — and there are many —, within Spain other possibilities include the Vía de la Plata from Sevilla through Mérida and Salamanca, the Camino del Norte (the Northern Camino) which begins in Irún at the western end of the French-Spanish border and which generally follows the northern Spanish coastline, and the Camino Portugués which travels northward from Portugal.


  I only have one week. Where should I start walking?

- It is advisable to start from a major city, where you can obtain your pilgrims' passport, and to finish in another major city from where you can travel home easily. In case you want to finish in Santiago de Compostela, start from Sarria, which is 100 kms from Santiago. (In fact, more than one-third of the pilgrims arriving in Santiago start from Sarria.)

- Many pilgrims make the Way in stages over a couple of years. They usually resume walking where they finished it the previous year.


  When should I start to plan the trip back home?

- It depends on how much time you've got. In case you don't know how much time you will spend walking, you can arrange your trip back home when you're on the way, one or two weeks before your planned arrival at your destination. In case you only have a limited timeframe for walking, you can buy your tickets at home, well in advance. As a general advice, always add a couple of extra days to your schedule, to have enough time for stopping and resting and to eliminate the need to hurry.

- Of course, you can always turn around in Santiago de Compostela and head for home on foot, as pilgrims used to do back in the olden days.


  When should I go?

- The 'pilgrimage season' starts around the Holy Week (the week before Easter) and lasts until mid-October. The most crowded month is usually August. In late autumn, winter and spring, bad weather, snow, and sometimes impassable roads are to be expected. In the cold months there are less albergues you can find open, so plan carefully if you're doing an 'off-season' Camino. Use the Camino Planner to find out which accommodations are open in your chosen month of walking. For more details, click here.


  How much money do I need?

- It depends a lot on your needs and preferences. Accommodation prices vary from zero (donativos) to 10 or even 15 euros. If you're not planning to have hot meals every day, you can make it out of 10 euros. Add another 5 to 10 if you plan to have a pilgrim menu or take your share of community dinners.

- Some additional expenses may be:

• Washing machine: most albergues charge up to 3 or 4 euros

• Internet: usually between 2 and 4 euros per hour

- An average day's spending would thus be between 15 and 30 euros, assuming that you don't want to stay in hotels and won't usually dine in the town's fanciest restaurant.


  Can I walk the Camino with my children?

- This is generally not advisable. Think of the following: would you take them on a 10/20/30-day vacation that involves walking 10/20/30 kilometres every day?

- Unless your children are old enough to want to walk their own Camino, to be able to carry their own belongings and not to get bored after a couple of days, you shouldn't take them with you.


  Do I have to train for walking the pilgrimage?

- This is optional, but wouldn't hurt you, of course. If you are in good health and physical condition, you can walk the Way without special training preparations. However, it is advisable to take walking excursions to gauge your physical fitness, and also to test and break in your walking shoes/boots. In case you have some sort of physical deficiency, or just simply are not used to walking great distances day by day, it is highly recommended to try your capacity and limits before embarking.




  Where can I stay at night?

- Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela has been going on for more than a millennium, and during that time a strong tradition of support for pilgrims has developed. Through the Middle Ages this included hospices operated by kings, queens and religious orders. The tradition continues today in Spain in the form of refugios and albergues.

- Until recent years, these were principally operated by municipalities, regional governments or religious organizations. Presently the number of privately owned albergues is boosting rapidly, following the increasing interest in the Camino. Most of them still operate in similar manners. Most have dormitory-type sleeping arrangements, usually bunk beds and communal bathing and toilet facilities. Some have a set price per night, and others are donativos (run on pilgrims' donations). A few serve or organize evening and/or morning meals as well, and some have cooking facilities available. Most open in the early or mid-afternoon, require that you be on your way by 8 AM the next morning, and only allow one night's stay. Some put restrictions on cyclists and walkers using backpack transport.

-  To stay in an albergue or refugio, you are required to present a credencial, which is the proof of being a 'true' pilgrim, and not just someone trying to take advantage of cheap accommodation.

- Reservations generally cannot be made ahead in refugios and albergues.

- You can, however, choose a hotel to stay, although this way you might also might miss some of the experiences of pilgrim life. Please note that on this website you won't find any hotels, guesthouses, bed&breakfasts and the like.


  What is the difference between an albergue and a refugio?

- Nothing much; generally these terms are interchangeable. The term refugio in Spanish or abrigo in Portuguese ('refuge', 'shelter') has been around for longer, and the more recent overnight facilities tend to call themselves albergues.


  Can I recharge my mobile phone/camera on the way?

- Yes, you can in almost every albergue (save the very humble ones), but bear in mind that others will want to charge their gadgets as well. There is mobile phone coverage everywhere on the Camino.


  Are there bed bugs on the Camino?

- In several albergues there was a big wave of bed bugs along the Camino Francés in 2005/2006. In most cases the problem has been solved, but still every now and then they multiply again. Occasionally arriving pilgrims' belongings get disinfected by albergue owners before they are allowed to cross the threshold. As a precaution, it is advisable to use a very light, synthetic bed sheet, which solves not only the bed bug problem, but also other hygienic issues.


  Can I find books for reading in accommodations?

- In almost every albergue you can find books left by other pilgrims. You are usually free to take those books with you. If you are done with your own book (and don't want to carry it further), just leave it in an albergue for pilgrims coming after you.


  Where can I wash my clothes?

- You can wash your clothes practically in any albergue. In most cases you will find a sink for washing clothes, and a rope in the garden where you can hang your clothes. Many albergues have coin-operated washing machines. It is advisable to join others to wash your clothes together and share the expenses.


  What does 'donativo' mean?

- The Spanish word donativo means donative, that is, maintained by pilgrims' donations. At such albergues and refugios there is no fixed price for the accommodation, but pilgrims donate as much as they can afford and feel like.




  Am I too old or young to walk?

- Rule of thumb is as follows: you can walk if you can carry your own gear. If you have a known health problem, you have to ensure the conditions for your walk. Certainly, for underagers it is advisable to walk with an adult.


  I am a disabled person, can I walk the Camino?

-  Yes, but you have to inform yourself about stages you intend to make. There are many stages you cannot accomplish by wheelchair. The Way is mostly leads on dirt roads, forest tracks, or cobblestone roads which are not suitable for wheelchairs. By all means you have to get some information about stages you want to make.


  I am a diabetic, can I walk the Camino?

-  Yes, but you have to look after your insulin supply. Consult your physician. Carry at least a day’s supply of food at all times. Test your blood sugar very regularly and adjust your insulin dose as needed. Consider going with someone who knows you well and recognises your sugar low symptoms. Eat as regularly as possible. Look after your insulin and carry a spare pen. Drink plenty of water. It is advisable to take a regular walks prior to the Camino to see how your body respond to such exertion.


  I'm a vegetarian. Will that be a problem?

- Of course you can walk the Camino as a vegetarian as well, but you need to consider that almost every pilgrim menu contains meat dishes. Be prepared to make your own food. This may increase your expenses.


  What should I do if I get a blister?

- Read about blister treatment and prevention here. cf + loin




  Is it safe for a woman alone?

-  Yes, it is. Lots of pilgrim walk alone, men and women alike. The Way is no more dangerous than any other city in Europe. In summer you meet pilgrims everywhere. As long as you rely on your commons sense, you are not in danger. Every major and medium sized town has its police station. See Towns list at Routes.


  Should I walk alone or with a group?

- If you walk to receive answers for your own questions, or you want to be in seclusion, go alone. Walking with somebody or with a group means conforming. The Way presents different things to one who walks alone and to one who walks with other people. If you walk with a companion, we suggest you to take your time and find periods, opportunities, days to walk alone.


  Can I take my dog with me?

- Yes, you can, but you have to consider the following: many albergues don't welcome dogs. However docile you dog is, it will still be seen as trespassing the territory of the local ones, and could be attacked. Furthermore, dogs also get tired and they may have health problems as well. In summer, dogs' paws might get burnt on the hot cobblestones and asphalt. If it is not absolutely necessary, you should rather not take your dog with you. Guide and service dogs are a different matter. Albergues have different policies for welcoming those dogs. You will have to ask locally about this issue.


  Where can I stay if I'm doing the Camino on horseback?

- There are albergues that provide shelter for horses as well, but not too many. Check out the town and accommodation pages and plan carefully.


  Where can I stay if I'm doing the Camino by bicyle?

-  There are plenty of accommodations on the Way where you can lock up your bike safely. Note, however, that most albergues give preference to pilgrims arriving on foot over cyclists.




  Should I take walking poles?

- Using walking poles is not a must. If you have walked without it up to now, you don’t need to get such gears. It is mostly useful going uphill and downhill. It’s advisable to borrow it at home to try how it's fit for you to walk. In case you don’t need an expensive walking  pole  which is professional, and has its advantages of course, during your Way nearly in every town you can buy a traditional wooden staff for a few Euros. In case of feet problems walking poles support your weight and its use is suggested.


  What should I take with me?

- See a detailed list here. cf + loin


  Where can I get my pilgrims' passport?

- You can obtain a credencial in every major town, as well as accommodations and churches. For more info, click here.


  Should I take a tent?

- Generally, you should rather not. There are albergues where you can sleep in your own tent, but in most cases you can use it only when all the beds are occupied, and there is a garden or open area where you can set it up. Carrying a tent means unnecessary overweight. By sleeping in your own tent, you also deprive yourself of being together with other pilgrims and the feeling of companionship.


  How much should my backpack weigh?

- Ideally, your backpack shouldn't weigh more than 10% of your body weight. Try to keep that in mind when packing. To keep the weight of clothes in your backpack to a minimum, prepare to wash them every two or three days. Also count in the weight of water you'll be carrying with yourself. In case of smaller people, the 10% ratio is unrealistic, so don't be suprised if you can't keep the weight of your backpack under 8 kgs.


  On the road


  How much can/should I walk per day?

- There is no such thing as a compulsory daily distance — you walk as much you like. On the Camino Francés nearly every town or village has its own pilgrim accommodation, so it is enough to walk only a few kilometers a day if you like.

• an average walker's speed is 3-4 km/h

• an expert walker's speed is 4-5 km/h

• a fast and tough walker's speed is 5-6 km/h

- Pilgrims usually walk 20 to 25 kilometres per day, and complete the Camino Francés in 30 to 35 days. Always choose a daily distance that your body can tolerate. Never exploit your resources, because you endanger your entire pilgrimage by that.


  What is an average day on the Camino like?

- Pilgrims usually get up early. In summer they start their Way at 5-6 o’clock to take considerable distance comfortably before the summer heat. Usually pilgrims must leave alberges at 9-10 o’clock at latest. Pilgrims walk during the day, and arrive to the their next stop early afternoon. Alberges usually open at 13.00. Pilgrims rest at siesta time, and late afternoon they have sightseeing. In the evening they have dinner, meet each other, read, write diary. Sleeping time usually starts at 22.00.

- In spring and autumn the schedule mentioned above starts a few hours later.


  How do I start walking?

- Walking starts with obtaining the credencial, the pilgrims' passport. In major cities, as well as in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, you can find a pilgrims' office where you can ask for your one. This document is needed for sleeping in albergues and refugios, and getting a compostela, which certifies that you have made the Way. Don't start walking without a credencial.


  Is it true that there are dangerous dogs on the Camino?

- There aren't any more dangerous dogs on the Camino that in any other part of Europe.


  How will I know which way to go?

- The answer is basic: follow the yellow arrows. The way is well marked almost everywhere. Locals will also be eager to help you whenever you seem to be lost or going the wrong way.

- If you don't feel so secure about yourself, there is a multitude of guidebooks with maps available.


  Where and what can I eat?

- On your way, you will find bars in almost every settlement, where you can have a tortilla (potato omelet), bocadillo (sandwich) or tosta mista (toasted ham and cheese sandwich in Portugal) even in the morning. You will encounter several places during the day where you can buy food in shops.

- If the albergue you stay in has its own kitchen, you can cook for yourself, or you can cook together with other pilgrims. Some restaurants offer three-course menus del peregrino (pilgrim menus), which usually cost between €8 and €12. It is advisable to inform yourself about the settlement where you plan to stay for the night, so in case there are no shops or bars nearby you can buy some food beforehand.

- It might also be a good idea to carry some food (e.g. snacks, bread, sweets) with you in case you get hungry while walking.


  Can I get a stamp in my credencial if I don't spend the night in an albergue?

- Yes, most of the time you shouldn't have any problems. There are even places where there is no accommodation but they will offer you some water, a cup of coffee, a conversation or a stamp.




  I don't speak Spanish/French/Portuguese. Will that be a problem?

- If you speak English, German or Italian, communication won't be a problem. If you don't speak major European languages, don't worry. With openness and confidence all language barriers can be overcome. It is advisable to keep a simple vocabulary that includes the most important sentences in the local language. Keep looking around, because there is always a chance that you find a fellow countryman near you. And don't worry, you will meet many kind and helpful people on the Way.

- If you are still uncomfortable, organize your Camino to walk with a companion.



                                                                       2. Taking care of yourself


  General advice

- There is an old saying that holds the essence of how to take care of yourself: Keep it simple, take your time, and enjoy. These basic rules can be translated into the two areas of importance: physical body and material carried.

- Your feet are your 'babies' — they will carry you and your weight through it all. Care for them, listen to their complaints and tend to them imediately as you would to a newborn child.

- Your body is the 'machine' — it will support your wish to walk the Camino. Respect it by feeding and watering it well. Water is the 'gasoline' that will keep it running; it is the 'oil' to the joints, it helps prevent blisters and muscles from 'drying out', becoming stiff and painful.

- Below is a list of how to care for your physical body:



- Before embarking on the walk, find the right boots/trekking shoes and trekking sandals. This is done by going to your local store trying out a thousand pairs (if necessary) until you find the ones that feel just right when trying them on the first time. Try on and buy one size larger than your usual fit, for the toes will need the space on the downhill tracks. The trekking sandals should be a perfect fit, for they will let you continue walking comfortably while airing out sore/swollen or blistered feet.



- A blister is a small pocket of fluid within the upper layers of the skin, typically caused by friction, burning, freezing or infection. Most blisters are filled with a clear fluid called serum, or pus if they have become infected. Blood in blisters appears when subdermal tissue and blood vessels are damaged.

- If you do find a pocket of fluid (blister well under way), take a sterlized needle with thread and puncture the pocket close to the base, pulling the thread through it to drain the fluid, or simply push out the fluid form the blister. (Do not cut into the blister or peel off the skin, this will only expose the underlying layer to infections.) Disinfect the area by rubbing in whatever antiseptic you chose to carry (tea tree oil, iodine, alcohol, chlorhexidine etc.). Again, air it and let it dry before putting your socks and shoes/boots back on to continue walking.  In the morning the  blistered area must be plastered by a flexible bandaid to avoid more friction.  Attention, care and regular inspection is advised the following days.

- Keep therefore your feet clean and dry. To avoid friction as much as possible, wear special,  touring the 2 layer sock system. A thinner sock layer to act as a friction barrier to the skin, and an outer trekk sock to absorb the humidity (sweat) created. (Talcum can be applied to the feet before putting on the socks, to absorb the humidity and keep the feet dry).


  On the way

- As mentioned above, listen to what your feet are telling you! If you start feeling a sore point, this is probably a blister in its early stage (do not try to puncture it if there is no fluid; leave to air out and dry). Sit down, take off your boots/shoes and socks. Dry your feet and let them breathe. Inspect them. Apply foot cream and massage them if you feel they deserved it.


  After a day's walk

- Treat your feet to a foot bath (water, salt, and add a little vinegar too). This will soften and disinfect the skin, ready for another day in the enclosed quarters of your boots/shoes.


  Shoulders, back, hips, ankles

- As with the feet after a days walk, you might experience sore shoulders, ankles, knees etc. These body parts should be treated with the same care and appreciation that you give to your feet.

- Treat the affected area to a massage, using your cream of personal preference. Tiger balm is great in treating inflammations and sore joints. It relaxes and strengthens muscles, and can alleviate headaches. Even in small quantities it stretches far, perfect for keeping the pack weight at a minimum.


  Water and sun

- Always try to keep your water bottle full and remember to drink. Protect your head from the blistering sun with a broad rimmed hat and use suncream on exposed skin.


  Winter versus summer

- In winter and colder seasons the same simple rules should be followed, yet there are a few points to be added.

- Your body extremities, i.e. head, hands and feet should be kept as warm as possible. A cold wind can do a lot of damage to the skin, even on a sunny day. Use suncream, a fat cream or vaseline on exposed skin, i.e. ears, nose and face. For the lips a sunscreaning lip balm can be advised.

- Breathing cold air directly into the lungs can bring on inflammation to the respiratory organs, a painful and uncomfortable cold to carry on your walk. It is therefore advisable to breath as much as possible through your nose.

- You will find seasonal directions for what clothing and materials are advised to wear/carry here.


  Useful telephone numbers

- In addition to the general 112 emergency number, the following telephone numbers might be useful in Spain:

 • Guardia Civil (Civil Guard): 062

• Police: 091

• Firefighters: 080

• Ambulance: 061



                                                                                    3. What to carry


  General advice

- What follows below is only an advice based on experience. Some things are optional to take, whereas you might find some items missing from the list.

- Ideally, your backpack shouldn't weigh more than 10% of your body weight. Try to keep that in mind when packing. To keep the weight of clothes in your backpack to a minimum, prepare to wash them every two or three days. Also count in the weight of water you'll be carrying with yourself. In case of smaller people, the 10% ratio is unrealistic, so don't be suprised if you can't keep the weight of your backpack under 8 kgs.

- In summer :



• Two or three T-shirts plus one with long sleeves (to protect against sun/chill).

• Shorts and trousers. A good solution are zip-off pants with removable leggings.

• A light sweater/summer fleece for cooler nights (or days).

• Raincoat/poncho with cape. It should cover your backpack, too.



• A pair of hiking shoes. Preferably Gore-Tex or the like. These shoes are water resistant, yet let your feet breathe. As soon as you try them on in the shop, there should be no doubt that they are comfortable. Don't make any compromise here. Also keep in mind that feet have a tendency to swell in warm weather.

• A hat or bandana to protect you from the sun.

• Sunglasses.

• Three pairs of hiking socks. Quality is very important here to avoid the biggest fear of every pilgrim: blisters.

• Walking poles (optional). They are useful on downhill and uphill paths, and also in wet and muddy conditions, but will turn into extra weight when not needed.



• A pair of sandals. They will serve you well when strolling around in towns.

• A pair of plastic slippers or flip-flops.

• Swimwear.



• A light sleeping bag. If it gets cold, you can always put some more clothes on.

• Earplugs (for those who are annoyed by snoring).

• Pyjamas (or just a pair of shorts and a T-shirt).


  Personal care

• One or two towels. Baby towels serve well because they soak up a lot and get dry fast.

• Shower gel. Preferably with protection cap on top.

• Soap (washing soap also).

• Deodorant.

• Toothbrush and a small quantity of toothpaste.

• Razor.

• Face cream and/or suntan lotion.

• Something against flu for the first few days. Some people experience the syndromes of influenza after the first few days.

• Painkillers.

• Any medicine you usually take.

• Sticking plasters that you can cut yourself.

• Tea tree oil to disinfect wounds and blisters.

• Wound treatment creme, also good for wounds caused by sweating.

• Comfrey creme for treating arthritis, inflammations or bruises.

• Some sports cream to treat your feet with after a day's walk (and also to massage other hurting body parts).



• A few clothespins to hang out your drying clothes.

• A pocket knife.

• A pair of small scissors.

• Something to read if you're the reading type; something to write on and with if you're the writing type.

• Headlamp or small torch.

• Tissue paper, toilet paper. Don't take too much, you can buy them on the way.

• A small sewing set.

• Some safety pins.

• A smaller shoulder bag or neck wallet for your documents.

• European Health Insurance Card if you're from the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland.


  From autumn to spring

• Basically the same equipment as in summer, except that clothes should be warmer, but breathable. Walking makes you sweat in winter, too.

• Consider swapping the hiking shoes for boots, especially in winter.

• Two pairs of long under leggings, one for walking and one for sleeping.

• A hooded anorak that's warm enough and protects you against the wind.

• Gaiters or waterproof trousers.

• A warm but light sleeping bag that is appropriate for below zero temperatures.

• Cap.

• A pair of gloves.

• Count an extra two-kilogram weight on top of your summer equipment. If it's 8 kilos in summer, it will be about 10 in winter.



  retour à Q.Pratique Généralités


delhommeb at - 15/10/2012