FAQ : Security


                                                           What about security?

                                   Confraternity of Saint James of South Africa




  What about security?



- Carry passports etc in money belts or in a pouch around your neck, concealed beneath your clothing.

- There is some petty crime such as pickpockets in the larger towns, but the countryside is safe. Be sensible and you should be fine.

- It is rare to hear of any theft from the refugios. However it is practical not to leave valuables unattended in your backpack, and sleep with your valuables on, or under your pillow.

- Most South Africans - and those who live in big cities will be very security conscious, and will in fact find the low crime rates and safe traveling quite liberating!


  Women travelling alone

- Hundreds of women travel alone and have no problems.

- Take normal safety precautions when alone in a city at night.



- Problem dogs are an urban legend!

- Most dogs are tied up and the rest seldom cause any problems that can't be handled with a shake of a walking stick.

- Pilgrims often take their own pets but they do struggle to find accommodation, as few refugios accept dogs.


                                                     American Pilgrims FAQs         




  Is the Camino safe?

- In a word, 'yes'. Like traveling anywhere in the world, prudence is in order, but it is probably safe to say that the Camino is a relatively benign environment.

- It is often said that one never walks alone on the Camino and that is quite the case on the Camino francés, perhaps less so on the less-traveled routes. It is probably generally a good idea to have a companion, especially in more remote stretches. Very little of the Camino is in larger cities.

- There are occasional reports of theft in albergues and of uninvited approaches on the road but again these are relatively rare. An event of any seriousness should be immediately reported to local authorities and it would also be useful to post reports on Camino forums as soon as possible.


  What about those dangerous Camino dogs?

- Generally speaking, dogs along the Camino have by now become completely inured to the existence of the odd parade of peregrinos passing along the road.

- Still there are places on all the routes where there are working herd dogs whose job it is to protect their charges and they may not be so benign.

- The possibility of meeting an unfriendly dog is one reason many peregrinos carry a walking stick or staff.


- You are STRONGLY advised NOT to take your own dog, well-trained and friendly though he may be.

- Actually this would be nearly impossible traveling from North American anyway. Certified service dogs are a completely different story and you will have wide privileges concerning this in Europe.


                        Confraternity of St James : Frequently Asked Questions  




  What about dangerous dogs?

- This is less of a problem than it used to be, especially on the Camino Francés, where the local dogs are by now entirely used to seeing pilgrims pass.

- But in France generally, and on the other Spanish routes, where dogs are generally kept to protect farms and flocks, it is as well to be wary.

- This is one of the best reasons for carrying a stick, and showing it (not raising it in a threatening manner, which will only make matters worse) to an unfriendly dog is usually quite enough to keep it at bay.

- Some pilgrims carry an ultrasonic dog repeller (enter this term into a search engine to find suppliers).


  Is it safe for women travelling alone ?

- Yes. Be sensible of course, as you would be anywhere. But your kit - rucksack, boots, stick - identify you immediately as a pilgrim, and the local people still respect the pilgrims' motivation. In any case, on the le Puy route and the Camino francés, you're never really alone: there is a great sense of community among the pilgrims, and there will always be others close by to help you if you need it, and to walk with if you choose. And since, in the refugios, everyone shares a large common dormitory, there's safety in numbers ...

- We get occasional reports of flashing. It would be wise at least to walk within sight of others. And you will be helping other pilgrims by reporting all such incidents to the nearest hospitalero and the Guardia Civil.

- In September 2006 a female pilgrim reported unwanted sexual attentions when she was the only occupant of a refuge with no hospitalero in attendance. While, fortunately, such incidents are rare, we suggest that in such a situation you consider seeking more secure overnight accommodation, such as a small hotel.

- The same general advice would apply on the Via de la Plata and the Vézelay route, but you would be less sure of support from nearby pilgrims.

- The Pilgrimage to Santiago Forum has a discission thread on crime on the camino, with particular reference to this topic. http://www.pilgrimage-to-santiago.com/board/camino-crime-watch/


                                                      Basic Travel Precautions

                                                     Richard W. Tripp, Jr. 2011




- There are several basic precautions that all travelers should observe and they are part of ones preparations. I will include them here for reference and to emphasize their importance.


  Protect and Backup

- People who use computers know the importance of protecting and backing up data. The same needs to be done with several items you will be traveling with. At a minimum you will travel with a passport, airline tickets and money (cash, travelers checks, or credit/debit cards).

- Do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk by carrying credit cards you will not need on the trip. For example, your U.S. gas cards cannot be used in Spain.

- Make a copy of your passport and keep it separate from your passport. It will make it easier to get a replacement if yours is lost or stolen.

- Have a list of all credit/debit cards and the numbers to call to report their loss. Keep this separate from the cards.


  Emergency Telephone Number

- The most common European emergency number is 112. 112 is valid in Spain and Portugal. A traveller visiting a foreign country with a mobile phone does not have to know the local emergency numbers, however. The mobile phone and the SIM card have a preprogrammed list of emergency numbers. When the user tries to set up a call using an emergency number known by a GSM or 3G phone, the special emergency call setup takes place. The actual number is not even transmitted into the network, but the network redirects the emergency call to the local emergency desk. Most GSM mobile phones can dial emergency calls even when the phone keyboard is locked, the phone is without a SIM card, or an emergency number is entered instead of the PIN.


  Emergency Contact information

- You should have a pocket-sized card that has the names, relationship, and phone numbers of those persons who should be contacted in the event of an emergency when you are unable to provide that information. Have one in your wallet and another in your backpack. Make sure one of the contacts has a medical power of attorney to act in your behalf.



- Carry a copy of your prescriptions. It will facilitate replacement, and, if necessary, will help you explain to a doctor what medication you are taking.


  Travel Insurance

- For minor medical problems, health care in Europe is not a problem. However, local hospitals are not accustomed to dealing with American insurance companies. Travelers who need to be hospitalized may be asked to put up a sizable cash deposit. This is especially important for older travelers covered by Medicare; Medicare does not pay for any medical care outside the United States.

- Another consideration is medical evacuation coverage if the traveler wants to return to the United States for treatment but cannot fly on a commercial carrier (the airlines won't take anyone whose condition is unstable), it can cost as much as $40,000 to be medevac'd. Or, as one recent traveler without medevac coverage found out, his only other option was to have major heart surgery in Spain.

- Several companies provide medical insurance for travelers, at a cost of about $6 per day (and up, depending on age); among them are:

  Trav-Med-MEDEX Assistance: 800-723 5309

  Wallach & Company: 800-237-6615, is a broker for this type of insurance


  US Embassy Contact Information

- You should know how to contact the US Embassy in the event of a problem. Located in Madrid, the Embassy is open 9 - 6 on weekdays with someone available by phone 24 hours a day for emergencies. The phone number is 91587 2200. There is also a consular agency in A Coruña. Its number (open workdays only) is 98121 3233.


                                           Medical Attention - Safety - Perils

                                                Richard W. Tripp, Jr. 2011




  Medical 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 holidays.

- 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.


  Spanish Police

- 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.


  Emergency Number

- 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.

                                                          * * *

  Perils 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 with tendonitis.

- 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 León.



- 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 fence.



- 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.


  Road Hazards

- 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 if necessary. 



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