We’re back home and really missing the magic of the Camino!! Thought I’d close the blog with a last post with some pointers for all of you who will walk the Camino some day soon!
1. Phone connection – If you’re travelling from India DO NOT subscribe to the ultra expensive data roaming packages. If you need to receive OTP’s then take the basic roaming which is free with Airtel and Rs.145/- per month with Vodafone. When you reach your destination in Spain or France, pick up a prepaid SIM card in the city you land in. In Spain it was simple- just needed to show the grocery store owner our passports and we got a SIM immediately….hassle feee. Recharge can be done at a lot of places – petrol bunks, supermarkets, etc. We spent just 15euros on data and calling unlimited, for 2 months! Connectivity with the Sim was great, in the middle of the Meseta, on mountain tops, everywhere!
2. Book airlines, train and bus tickets as early as possible, in Spain, France, Italy. Tickets prices are flexible and increase quite drastically as you approach your travel day.
3. Booking.com is great to locate and book hotels. Sometimes, especially in small towns and villages of Spain, call the hotel you’ve found on Booking & you may get a room for 5-10Euros less. Other good sources for stay and information on the Camino that we found useful are Camino Ninja and Gronze. Booking.com is extremely useful to communicate with your next stay place, to let them know what time you’ll be reaching etc. The app does automatic translations and you don’t have to worry about language being a barrier.
4. Learn some basic words in Spanish. I tried learning some on DuoLingo before we left, but when you actually hear the language spoken, it’s really difficult to follow given the accent and speed. Cafe con leche (with milk) and Cafe sin leche (without milk), cervaza (beer) vino tinto (red wine) are some essential words! Gracias (thank you) and porforvor (please), helps! Some places serve you a hot black coffee but add cold milk, which is a downer, so I later learned to say Café con leche caliente…then you’re assured of a really hot cup of coffee! Aseos is the word for toilet – ‘hombre’ will be on the one for men and ‘mujer’ for women, as you sometimes can’t tell with the symbols used. As you walk the Camino and listen to people speak the language you’ll soon understand a lot more than when you started! It’s beautiful to listen to and the Spanish use their facial expressions and gestures when they speak, which is really great!
5. Staying in the albergues or hostels is really an experience! You find all sorts of albergues, no two are the same! Mixed dorms, some with fewer beds, some with many many beds. One thing you can be assured of is that every place is clean, bathrooms are spotless, as long as you wake up early to use them. Mixed bathrooms are not a good idea! Waking up early and getting ready is tricky. There’s an etiquette to follow – keep everything packed the night before, carry your bags out of the sleeping space to a common area, as zips and bags make a lot of noise in the quiet, and you don’t want to wake the others. Some albergues have private rooms and bathrooms attached, for those nights you want privacy. Apart from the albergues, there are pensions or apartments you could opt for, where you have a room and an attached bath or a common bathroom. The apartment normally comes with a good common kitchen, sometimes a washing machine too. The Casa Rural chain was one we really liked. Then of course there are hotels of all ranges you can avail of, in the bigger towns and cities on the path. Alda – a reasonably priced and really good hotel chain, is all across northern Spain – go directly to their website to book rooms and avail of good discounts they have online.
6. One of our favourite afternoon activities once or twice a week would be finding a Lavandería (laundromat) in the area. There’s nothing more satisfying than warm, fresh smelling clothes! The prettiest one we found was in Santiago, not far from the cathedral! A wash is 4euros and drying is about 3euros for 21 minutes of high heat.
7. Another favourite jaunt, everyday, was to the supermercado! Juice, local fresh fruit, tomatoes, chips, beer or wine (cheaper than water in Spain!)…the standard list! And Yatekomo – the cup o noodles of Spain! Comes in some interesting flavours!
8. ‘Pan’ or bread, you’ll be eating ALOT of it! Every village has a panaderia which is the centre of activity! You’ll see people walking around town with long loaves of bread under their arms or in their bags, children chewing on pieces of it! It’s in every meal. Boccadillas – a sub without all the vegetables and mostly hammon and queso(cheese) are the most popular lunch offering. Spanish omelets or tortillas are the most popular breakfast. For the vegans there’s always ensalada (veg salads). Along the way, you’ll always find ‘pilgrim meals’ being offered by restaurants and albergues, usually for dinner. It’s a set meal for anywhere between 10-18 euros and has 3 courses plus a wine or beer or coffee. The choice in each course is large in the restaurants. In private albergues, the cook (the owner) decides what they’ll offer. It’s normally the more popular local cuisine. If you’re lucky you may get paella- which is just brilliant!
9. Invest in good shoes. Nothing else matters. You need to keep the feet happy. We bought Columbias from their outlet in Bangalore and they worked well for us. Make sure the shoes aren’t tight. On days where you’re walking longer than usual, wear 2 pairs of socks. Whenever you stop for a break, take off your shoes and let your socks air. We did these things and avoided blisters for the most part of the trip. Do stretches before you start everyday and take care of aches and pains in your legs, on priority.
10. Lights with sensors are all over the place in albergues, pensions and hotels – In corridors and in the bathrooms. We’d find ourselves waving our hands to re-activate the lights in the loo, after it automatically switches off in 2min. In the Roncesvalles pilgrim hostel baths, the shower switches off in 2 min. You can restart that of course! A hot shower after a long walk and one before you set out the next morning are necessities, and the showers of Spain did not disappoint!!
11. Giving way to cyclists on the path is important. They have a difficult time cycling on the unpaved paths we walk and appreciate walkers moving out of the way when you hear them approaching.
12. Always use the pedestrian crossing to cross roads, even the smallest roads. Everyone stops for people who follow the rules. You’re likely to be yelled at or run over if you try crossing anywhere else!!
13. Add a little light backpack/ bag to your luggage, to use when you go out in the town or village in the evening. This way you don’t have to buy a plastic ‘bolso’ every time you go shopping.
14. It’s cash or cards. E-wallets are no use. Would recommend you carry your banks Forex card. There are ATMs aplenty in even the small towns. Many small pension and apartment owners and cafés, we found, in the villages, would accept only cash. So make sure you always have some cash on you.
15. There’s no Uber in Italy or Portugal. As for Spain, you can use Uber in Madrid and Barcelona & other large cities, but in the countryside (even Santiago), it’s the local taxi services. There are standard rates they follow. Some have meters. The local cafe can always help you find a reliable taxi driver.
16. In the small towns and villages, everyone- yes everyone, wishes everyone ‘Buenos días’ or ‘Buenas tardes’ or ‘Buenas noches’ depending on time of day. Don’t ignore anyone as no one ignores you. Most locals will recognise you’re a pilgrim seeing your backpack and clothing and will add a ‘buen Camino’ to the greeting. In the bigger cities like Burgos, Leon, Astorga and Santiago, given the crowds, this bonhomie is missing. We preferred stopping for the night at the small villages and towns precisely for this reason.
17. And lastly, how much would this cost on an average? It would depend on where you stay every night really. John and I had a budget of 100euros per day – this was split up this way:-
Lodging 30-50 Euros – (private rooms were on an average 40-50 euro per night for a double room, a bunk bed in an albergue was on an average 10-15 euros per person)
Food 20-25 euros (for quite a luxurious spread per person) – breakfast is anywhere between 4-6 euros, lunch and multiple coffee breaks 7-10 euros, dinner 10-15 euros (if you want a heavy pilgrim meal- this can by shared by two people – most restaurants allow that and charge you a couple of euros for the extra drink). Many days we’d just visit the market and buy fruit and empanadas for dinner, along with a bottle of local wine. The bigger towns have great supermarket chains like Dia and Carrefor that carry really good sandwiches, ready to eat pastas and paellas, salads etc which make for great and cheaper alternatives to eating in the cafés.
Miscellaneous expenses: 5euros for forwarding your bag using one of the baggage forwarding services. I used JacoTranz, which was very reliable. In the last 100km, where the number of pilgrims are far higher, the fee decreases to 4 euros per bag.
To conclude, don’t worry or be anxious about anything – the Camino truly provides!