Random bits of Camino wisdom
Emergencies: 112 is the Europe-wide emergency number. It works even if you have no money in a per-paid mobile phone or even if your supplier has no network. It works 24/7 365 days – and the operators speak many languages. The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062.
You can buy almost every type of medication in Spain, France and Portugal – they are first world countries and have more ‘farmacias’ than bottle stores! If you have a prescription, take the original bottle and the written prescription with you. Most of the farmacias can refill any that you may need.
If you have, or ever have had allergies, take an antihistamine with you. Different grasses, pollens, dust mites could set you off, so better be safe than sorry. You can also purchase antihistamines in the farmacias.
Money: Small café-bars, village shops, side-of-the-road sellers don’t accept credit cards. ATM’s work well in most large towns and cities. Travelers Cheques can be a problem for small banks that do not have foreign exchange so take cash. It can be a big problem to convert US dollars to Euro’s in most small towns and even in large cities. It is better to bring a few euros with you and then use the ATM to get more when you need them.
Budget: You will need approx. 30€ to 50€ a day – eating frugally and staying in the pilgrim albergues.
Some costs are: Albergue’s €8- €20 per night. Breakfast ± €3. Lunch €7 Dinner €9 – €12
You can get a credential from the American Pilgrims on the Camino before you go at no charge. The various countries credentials are accepted in France and Spain. You can also get them over there from most refuges and some cathedrals for about €2.
Make copies of all your documents as well as a list of passwords you might need for online banking, forums etc. and email them to yourself. If you need them you can log on and print them.
Wear old, throw-away clothes to travel in to Spain. You can donate them to a shelter or leave them in your hotel room.
You will not be allowed to take your walking pole, cutlery, scissors etc on the plane. Pack them into a postal tube, or wrap them in brown paper, have it plastic wrapped and book it into the hold.
Take your backpack with you in the cabin. Luggage goes astray and you could be delayed for days if your backpack doesn’t arrive with you. Conform to the weight and dimensions limits of the overhead lockers.
Almost every pilgrim albergue is staffed by volunteers called hospitaleros for the sole support of pilgrims from all over the world. Refuges are not a right but a privilege and should be treated as such. Help to keep the refuge clean and welcoming for the next influx of pilgrims. “Donativo” does not mean free – give a generous donation; be gracious and helpful to the hospitaleros.
Hospitaleros are individuals who have typically already walked the Camino at least once and some many times along many routes. These individuals wish to give back to the Camino so they volunteer. When you stay in an albergue with hospitaleros it is like you are staying in their home. They are there to welcome you and offer you help in any way they can. While at the same time looking out for your safety and well being by assuring that everyone follows the rules that have been set forth. In some albergues the hospitaleros will cook a communal meal for dinner and provide breakfast. In some there is also an optional prayer service conducted by the hospitaleros.
Some refuges only open in May and close again in November.
Don’t expect anybody in northern Spain to speak English (or German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese etc). It will pay to learn a little Spanish before you go. Ditto French and Portuguese.
Sleeping bags or liners are essential. Some refuges have blankets although less and less due to the possibility of bed bugs. They insist that pilgrims have their own ‘sacks’. In summer a sleep liner will do and a lightweight sleeping bag in winter.
“Will I find a bed in May, June, July, August etc?” It is first come, first served. When you reach a refuge you secure a place by placing your pack outside the door. Some refuges only open after 2pm so you might have a long wait if you get there early. Once inside, you secure a bed by rolling your sleeping-bag out on the bed. In Galicia some refuges do not accept pilgrims who have walked less than 20km. Most refuges vacate at 8h00 – 8h30.
The bed closest to the bathroom is the noisiest!
Pilgrim Menus are offered in most villages and towns. You can buy food in supermarkets to cook in the albergues. Most municipal albergues will have a kitchen that is stocked with basic cooking facilities and utensils. It is very inexpensive to buy basic food stuffs in Spain and cooking for yourself in an albergue is a great way to keep your costs down. Many pilgrims that stay in municipal albergues cook. Many times sharing the cost of food and cooking duties with other pilgrims is a really great experience.
Washing clothes: Take 8 Plastic pegs and a 2m-nylon cord to use as a wash line. Useful when it rains and you can string it across the bars of the bunk beds to dry wet socks etc., also when the lines are full. If the clothes don’t dry? Take 8 large safety pins to pin damp clothing onto the backpack so that it can dry during the day whilst walking. Nobody cares if your underwear flaps on your backpack!
Take a shower hook or 2 large suction hooks to hang clothes in the showers. There are never any clothes hooks inside (very few outside) and that means no place to hang your dry, dirty or wet clothes and, some of the showers don’t have doors. If you walk in France take a universal bath-plug as well. Many places have baths but don’t provide plugs.
Take toilet paper – remove the cardboard roll and flatten it. Most albergues run out so be prepared! Don’t steal the albergue’s toilet paper and please don’t litter the Camino – carry a plastic bag for used tissues.
Heavy boots are not necessary on the Camino Frances. For hikers who need ankle support lightweight, waterproof boots or terrain walkers will suffice. Take sandals to wear whilst not walking.
Cameras: Digital is the most popular although most people simple use their phones these days.
There are public phones all along the route. You can purchase World Call cards before you leave, purchase a World card in Spain or use cash. If you take a cell phone remember to switch it off in a church, cathedral, monastery etc.
Cell phones: You can rent one, buy one or buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card. For the best coverage either Movistar or Orange, is recommended.
Post Offices in Spain: Most are open from 8h30 – 20h30 on working days and 09h30 – 14h00 on Saturdays. Parcels sent ahead will take 3 – 5 working days. Charges are ± €5 for up to 2kg to €12 up to 20kgs (See below for sending parcels to Santiago)
When using Internet cafes you will find foreign keyboards a bit challenging! Remember that Ctrl + Alt 64 makes the @ sign on pc’s.
There are Web Cams on the route: To find out which towns by visiting this website: http://www.santiagoturismo.com/camaras/ The one in the Obradoiro Square in front of the cathedral is located in a row of balconies of Pazo of Raxoi in Praza do Obradoiro. You can stand there and wave to your family back home!
Women on their own are safe but should take the same precautions when in a large town or city as they would anywhere else. Don’t accept a lift, don’t drink too much etc
If you are lucky enough to find an open church, go to mass whenever you can, even if you are not religious. The Camino is a medieval Catholic pilgrimage and you’ll be denying yourself a complete experience if you don’t attend at least a few masses and blessings.
Bed bugs: Bugs have been making headlines for a couple of years on the Camino and at times the problem reaches almost plague proportions. Albergue’s have been fumigated and hospitaleros (volunteers) advised on how to check for and eliminate the pesky bugs. Different remedies and drugs have been suggested. Lavender and other essential oils, and Permethrin. Permethrin spray can be used on your backpack and your sleeping bag / sleep sack. It repels bed bugs for up to 40 days with one treatment and up to 7 washes.
If you find bedbugs in your dormitory report it immediately to the hospitalero.