Life is either a daring adventure or nothing - Helen Keller

 

 

The Pilgrim Passport 

The Pilgrim Passport (or Credencial del Peregrino) is a much-loved item in the pilgrim's kitbag, and is also of great significance. After receiving the passport (most would obtain this from the Accueil Saint Jacques in Saint Jean Pied de Port upon arrival), this becomes the ticket to pilgrim accommodation along the way. Upon presentation at each albergue, the passport is stamped as proof of pilgrimage. If Santiago is successfully reached (and a minimum of 100 kilometres walked), then the stamped credencial qualifies the pilgrim for the treasured Compostela (traditional certificate of pilgrimage).

 

Pilgrim Numbers

(Pilgrims receiving a Compostela - statistics from the Pilgrim Office in Santiago)

Year                Number                       Year                Number

1990                4,918                           2000                55,004            

1991                7,274                           2001                61,418

1992                9,764                           2002                68,952

1993*              99,439                         2003                74,614

1994                15,863                         2004*              179,944

1995                19,821                         2005                93,924

1996                23,218                         2006                100,377

1997                25,179                         2007                114,026

1998                30,126                         2008                125,141

1999*              154,613                       2009                145,877

                                                            2010*              272,380

* Signifies a Holy Year 

 

FAQ

When is the best time to go?

What do I bring?

Where is the best place to start?

How long does the journey take?

Where do I stay?

Do you have any other handy hints?

 


 

When is the best time to go?

This really depends on what you are looking for in the trip. For traditionalists (and anyone who likes big crowds, the heat, and a party atmosphere), then the summer months of July and August will be to your liking. The feast of Saint James (25 July) remains a significant date on the Camino calendar, and continues to draw the masses year after year.

The spring and autumn months of March - April and September - October respectively are more conducive to those who prefer a more peaceful journey. (I went in spring, and despite the wild weather at times, I was very happy with my choice of season.) The temperature is more pleasant (though the likelihood of poor weather in the mountain areas does increase) and the reduced pilgrim traffic means finding accommodation is a whole lot easier. (back to FAQ)

 

What do I bring?

The general rule is that you should aim to carry not more than ten percent of your weight (don't forget to include the weight of the backpack). This is no easy task, but it is extremely important for a successful journey. I couldn't quite manage the ten percent rule, but I did end up with a pack of less than nine kilograms.

Here's my full list:

·        Hiking boots (these soon become your friends, so ensure they are of good quality)

·        1 pair of Crocs sandals (a great choice; very light and comfortable)

·        3 pairs of socks (good quality woollen socks are a must)

·        3 pairs of underpants (I survived even after I lost one pair!)

·        1 pair of shorts (for walking)

·        1 pair of light-weight trousers (for the evening)

·        3 shirts and 1 Pullover / Fleecy top

·        2 hats (1 wide-rimmed to stop the sun; 1 warm to stop the cold)

·        Waterproof trousers (no use bringing cheap ones like I did)

·        Spray jacket

·        Thermals (very handy for the chilly mornings)

·        Poncho (even a cheap one serves its purpose well)

·        Sleeping bag and liner (for those alleged bed bugs)

·        Bum bag - Camera, wallet, mobile etc

·        Toilet Bag (with all things little; little toothpaste, little shampoo etc)

·        Towel (small, absorbent, and quick-dry)

·        Water Bottle

·        Torch (Mini Maglite)

·        Pen knife

·        Small inflatable pillow (a luxury, but worth it - for those albergues without pillows)

·        Plastic bags (very useful for ensuring dry clothes in the backpack remain dry)

·        Bubble wrap (when there's nowhere to sit, and everything is wet - invaluable!)

·        Super light umbrella (for wet evenings - surprisingly useful)

·        Spanish phrasebook

·        Confraternity of Saint James guidebook (my Camino Bible)

·        Walking sticks / poles (I purchased these very early on in the trip - a must!)

·        Notebook and pen (back to FAQ)

 

Where is the best place to start?

There is absolutely no bad place to start. The choice is entirely up to you and will be dependent on your resources in terms of time, money and walking capabilities. I met people who walked as (relatively) little as 100 kilometres, whilst others I had the privilege to befriend had walked well over 1,000 kilometres.

Probably the best known and the most popular is the starting point of St Jean Pied de Port in France. The location of this little town (which is also where I started) ensures a challenging first day or two through the Pyrenees and into Spain. It is certainly a 'baptism of fire' in terms of a gruelling beginning, but it is definitely worth the extra effort. (back to FAQ)

 

How long does the journey take?

That depends entirely on where you start, and how far you want to travel each day. For me, the journey from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago (a distance of 774 kilometres) took thirty-seven days to complete at an average of about twenty-one kilometres per day. Most of those I met were covering about twenty to twenty-five kilometres per day. That would see them finishing in just over a month. Others were completing beyond forty kilometres in the day. The overriding factor is to listen to your body, and respond accordingly.

Not everyone who begins the walk is planning to complete the entire journey. Many people come in their holidays, walk for an allotted amount of time, and return home having never reached the city of Santiago. Some return to the Camino at a later date; and some don't. Either way is okay. There is no right or wrong in tackling the Camino de Santiago. (back to FAQ)

 

Where do I stay?

If you want the true experience of pilgrim living, then the albergues (pilgrim hostels) are definitely the way to go. These are to be found all the way along the journey, with even the tiniest villages in the remotest areas offering at least one refuge to the weary. The albergues cater solely for the travelling pilgrim, with most applying the first-come first-served rule, and allowing only a one-night stay.

The rates are more than reasonable ranging anywhere between a couple of euro, up to about ten or so euro (more for those including meals in their price). The facilities are generally pretty basic (most have mattresses and pillows; a handful have only sleeping mats), though at times the low price does actually match the standard of facility on offer. All in all, the accommodation is good, with the privately-owned albergues leading the way in quality. (back to FAQ)

 

Do you have any other handy hints?

With the exception of a handful of pilgrims, the amount of English-speaking people to be found along the way is extremely minimal. With that in mind, it is definitely worth learning a few key phrases in Spanish before you go. Personally, I would have been lost if I couldn't order a coffee and a ham and cheese roll (Café con leche, y bocadillo con jamón y queso por favor). A phrasebook is therefore a must for the hungry pilgrim with a very limited Spanish vocabulary.

The biggest handy hint is quite simple. If you want to go, then go. No amount of preparation can totally prepare you (either internally or externally) for what lies ahead. From my experience, too much planning can be a source of stress and cause a loss of enjoyment even if you do finally make it to Spain. Yes, walking the Camino is a major undertaking and you need to be diligent in your preparation. But if your heart says go, then go. (back to FAQ)