Practical (Confraternity of South Africa)

 

                                                                 FAQ

  Confraternity of Saint James of South Africa

  http://www.csjofsa.za.org/

 

  FAQ

• Who does the Camino and why?

• What does it cost to walk the Camino?

• Is it an organised tour?

• How long does it take to walk the Camino?

 

• What route does the Camino follow?

• What is the route like?

• How do you get from South Africa to Spain?

• How does one get to the starting point?

 

• What about language?

 

• When should one go?

• What about medical care and emergencies?

• How fit do you have to be?

 

• What do you take with you?

 

• What about security?

• Where do you sleep?

• What is there to eat?

• What happens when you reach Santiago?

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  01. Who does the Camino and why?

 

All ages, nations and intentions; all religions, philosophies and persuasions; many wonderful and truly courageous people walk the Camino. At certain times of the year (usually the summer holidays) there are lots of students walking, while out of 'season' there are often more seniors (65 - 85+) who have more time available for a leisurely six week walk.

 

Reasons for walking are as varied as the personalities - time to think, to celebrate reaching retirement or finish studies, to mark time before starting a new life phase, to come to terms with personal challenges, to meet people or simply to get away from it all. For many it is a challenge, a test of endurance or part of a spiritual journey. For those with religious affiliations, it is often a time to distil their thoughts, give thanks or to offer up their sufferings for special intentions. Some start off without a clear reason, but know that they have been called to do the Camino. Those who see it merely as a cheap way to have a holiday tend to exit soon, as walking the Camino without a purpose and very little comfort soon wears thin.

 

Few people ever complain about their discomforts - there is usually a quiet determination to do what they have set out to do. There is also a strong sense of support and encouragement, of mutual sharing. The camaraderie amongst pilgrims is a really special aspect of the Camino. Most agree that they have goals to achieve, but they are individual - not competitive or comparative ones. Whatever the reason for walking, the Camino is a personal challenge, and it's never fair to judge other people's reasons or commitment. Remember that no matter how fit you are, it requires a strong mental acceptance - and it's by no means a walk in the park.

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  02. What does it cost to walk the Camino?

 

If you plan to sleep at refugios and eat budget meals or cook for yourself, you can easily survive on 15 - 20 € per day. An average of 25 € would allow you to eat reasonably at the bars, and over 35 € per day would be necessary to live in the hostals or more comfortable accommodation. This does not include any transport costs. Prices in the villages are generally a lot lower than cities, so if you are on a limited budget, try to stay out of the larger centres.

 

Most of the small café-bars, village shops, side-of-the-road sellers etc don't accept credit (visa) cards or travellers cheques, so you will need to carry a certain amount of cash with you. There are ATM's in many villages, towns and cities along the way, so having your credit card activated for this is ideal. Just remember that they mostly use a four pin number, so if you have a five pin number, use the first four digits. The other reason why credit cards are useful is that banks are often closed in the afternoons, making it difficult to arrive in a suitable place at the right time to change money. Just a word of advice - certain banks will not let you access cash on your card (even in an emergency such as losing your traveller's cheques etc) unless you have deposited money into your account, even if you have not overdrawn your credit rating - check this out before leaving home! Credit (visa) cards can usually be used in hotels and upmarket restaurants, but confirm before ordering/booking in! Traveller's cheques can be a problem for small banks that do not have foreign exchange.

 

caminodesantiago.consumer.es - estimates that approximately €1 for every 1km walked. For example, to walk from St Jean to Santiago - 750 km you would need €750

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  03. Is it an organised tour?

 

There are organized tours available but the majority walk the various routes without guides or back-up. If you are with a tour group or have vehicle back-up, you are not allowed to stay in the pilgrim refuges. The Camino routes themselves are organised in the sense that they are generally signposted and there is official accommodation available in most places on the more popular routes. It is, however, an individual journey, so getting to the starting point, registering and organising an itinerary are your own responsibility.

 

On arrival at the starting point of your choice on the Camino, the first requirement is to equip yourself with a pilgrim passport (credencial del peregrino). This is obtainable from specific places in each town and the local refugio or albergue (pilgrim dormitory) will be able to tell you where to get one. You can also research this beforehand in the official guidebooks, depending on your route. South African members can obtain their credencials from the Confraternity. The current price is R50 plus R5 for postage. To become a member/obtain a credencial contact us by email. At present membership is only available to South Africans or residents of South Africa.

 

The credencial needs to be stamped at an official venue with a rubber stamp (sello) at each of your stopovers, and it has to be presented in order to qualify for accommodation in the refugios. Stamps can also be obtained from the local mayor (alcalde), parish priest (cura), tourist offices, museums and even from some bars. Some obtain the sellos as proof of walking, but many also treasure them as 'souvenirs' of their journey. When you reach Santiago, the credencial becomes your proof of having walked the Camino, and on presentation to the cathedral authorities, they will issue the certificate of pilgrimage (compostela). To qualify for the compostela you have to have walked at least the last 100km, cycled or gone on horseback for 200km from Santiago. It is recommended that you obtain at least two stamps per day during this section. While it is not compulsory to apply for the compostela, most pilgrims appreciate the receipt as part of the closing ritual on arrival in Santiago.

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  04. How long does it take to walk the Camino?

 

Walking the entire Camino Frances route from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela can take anything from one month to six weeks. Depending on fitness, time restraints and inclination, daily walking distances may vary between 12 and 30 km. Sometimes the positioning of the refugios makes it possible to walk much less - or more - than that. You need to walk the last 100km or cycle 200km to qualify for your certificate (compostela). Cyclists will need around two weeks on average.

 

A complete list of the refugios with distances between them is available in most guidebooks or from the confraternities, but weather and terrain should also be considered when calculating potential sectors. Don't overestimate your fitness. If possible give yourself a few rest days along the way to recuperate and enjoy some of the cities. And listen to your body!

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  05. What route does the Camino follow?

 

There are a number of recognised Camino routes which start as far afield as Portugal, France, Spain and in various parts of Europe. Some peregrinos even start their pilgrimages walking from home and join the main routes from all over Europe. By far the most popular and well-developed one is the Camino Francés route which covers a distance of around 775km, and starts in the French Pyrenees at St. Jean Pied de Port. While the ultimate is to walk the entire distance, sometimes time, money or physical fitness preclude doing it all in one go. Some people come back year after year and walk it in sections. It is also possible to start the Camino Francés routes at various points along the way. Some of the main entry points are Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Burgos, León, Astorga and Ponferrada.

Please see our Routes page for details on alternative Camino routes and accounts from pilgrims.

 

Remember, though, that the Camino is not a competition. Be true to yourself and your ideals. Each pilgrim must chose his own options, and walk what he can with the right intentions.

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  06. What is the route like?

 

Very varied both in terms of scenery and terrain. It includes mountain passes, ranges of hills, farmlands and wooded areas, wheat fields and vineyards, fruit orchards and industrial estates as well as open plains and green, lush countryside. The Camino Francés route varies in altitude and gradient all along the way from 400m to the highest point at 1517m near Manjarin and after that there is virtually an up for every down through Galicia.

 

A good tourist map of Northern Spain from the Spanish embassy, tourism board or a travel agent suffices in most cases. Some books also carry maps, but it really is not essential as the Camino Francés route is well signposted with waymarkers bearing the scallop shell, which is the symbol of St James, or with yellow arrows. Signs are found on walls, stones, special boards, all over. Most of the paths have been specially maintained for pilgrims - some brick, some stony, some muddy, some shaded and others open to the bright Spanish sunshine. A few sections next to freeways can be noisy and one needs to be very alert to the speeding traffic. The open sections through industrial areas and places without the shade of trees can be very hot around midday - even in the autumn. At some points there are route alternatives giving the pilgrim the choice of a shorter road route and a more scenic (sometimes longer) option. See Route alternatives.

 

A useful tip is to spend some time checking out the start of the route the day before so that you know the way out in the morning. It's not difficult but it may be dark - or very busy - when you start out, so a recce will help to point you in the right direction.

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  07. How do you get from South Africa to Spain?

 

The main international flights from Cape Town or Johannesburg which go directly to Spain are with Iberia. Major airlines which have connecting flights to Spain are Lufthansa (via Frankfurt), British Airways (via London), Air France (via Paris) or South African Airlines (via London or Paris). Air Namibia usually offers very reasonable flights to Frankfurt via Windhoek.

 

From England and Germany in particular there are budget flights available to Spain. See section Where can I find out more about the Camino? for airline links. Do not expect any frills or home comforts on these airlines, but they are cheap, efficient and get you to some ideal towns for Camino purposes. Ryanair flies out of Stansted but this is connected by coach to Heathrow and likewise in Germany they fly out of Hahn, a coach ride from Frankfurt airport. The earlier you book the more chance you have of a cheaper flight and the midweek flights are usually cheaper than the weekends for holiday destinations.

 

Arrival points from other countries in Europe are generally Biarritz in France, or Bilbao, Madrid, Pamplona, Seville, Valladolid, Santiago or Barcelona, depending on where you wish to start walking. See the section How does one get to the starting point? for further details.

 

From London it is also possible to take a coach and ferry option (main disembarkation points are Santander and Bilbao) but although it may be reasonably priced it will take a couple of days to co-ordinate timing of the various modes of transport.

 

Visa Applications for South Africans: If you are travelling on a South African passport, you will need to apply for a Schengen Visa which is valid in Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. You should obtain your visa from the embassy/consulate of the country in which you will be staying the longest - not necessarily the country into which you first arrive. If the duration of your stay in Spain is longer than in any of the other countries, then apply for the visa from the Consulate General of Spain, 37 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town 8001 Tel: (021) 4222415 - Fax (021) 4222328 Office Hours: Monday to Friday 08h30 - 13h30 (for submissions & collections) Telephone enquiries until 15h30. You can also apply through the Consulate in Pretoria.

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  08. How does one get to the starting point?

 

 (Prices and transport schedules are subject to change)

 

 To start from Le Puy, France

- From Lyons: Take a train to St Etienne, then another to Le Puy. (this is possible in 1 day)

 

 To Start from St. Jean Pied de Port, France

- From Paris: Take a train from Paris/Montparnasse to Bayonne, then the high-speed train south to Bayonne or Biarritz.

- From Pau: Take a train to Bayonne.

- From Madrid: There are various options: (a) There is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport. Take the underground (from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take a train to Irún (Spanish side)/Hendaye (French side) There are two connections per day. (b) Take a plane or bus to Bilbao (c) take a train (underground from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx 9h00 & 17h00 (5 hours), or bus (5 hours) or plane to Pamplona

- From Bilbao: From the airport (good help at tourist office there) take a bus to Plaza Moyua (1,15 €) and it takes about 15 minutes. (a) Take an ALSA bus (reportedly 6h30, costing 16.50 €) from the terminus at St Mamos (can get there by tram or metro) to Bayonne(duration 3 hours) (b) coach service to Hendaye - ticket and bus stop at Termibus by the Hospital Civile de Basuto. 1hr 50mins €7. (c) take a train to Irún, and walk over the French border to Hendaye. (d) To go via Pamplona or Roncesvalles, take the 6h00 bus to San Sebastian (1 hour), and the 10h00 train to Pamplona (2 hours) and the 18h00 bus to Roncesvalles.

- From Irún/Hendaye: take a train to Bayonne (about 1 ½ hours). There are many options. Or take a bus to Bayonne - the bus stop is just after the board at the French Railway station.

- From Biarritz: It is possible to fly into Biarritz: (www.biarritz.aéroport.fr) - the airport is close to Bayonne. You can catch a bus or a train to Bayonne station. Another option is to take a half hour taxi ride to St. Jean (about €54 for four people),

- From Bayonne: A 1½ hour train journey to St. Jean (three trains per day at approx 9h00, 15h00 and 18h00, only 15h00 on Saturdays - may not run on Sundays) The train fare is 7.70 €. It's a slow train through lovely scenery, and usually only used by pilgrims - so you can start making your first Camino friends! If you want to explore Bayonne while waiting for the train, leave your pack at the Bayonne tourist bureau office. On Saturdays there is a lovely market in the town.

- From Pamplona: There are a few options: (a) take the Autocares Artieda (formerly Lamontanesa) bus (18h00) to Roncesvalles (4.35 €) Tel. 948 330 581 Mon-Fri at 18h00 Sat: 14h00 (Not on Sunday) (b) take a taxi to St. Jean (reported 20 € per person - need to share with others). From the airport it takes 2 hours. Luzaide/Valcarlos: Andoni 636191423; From Garralda: Angel Mª 609411449; From Espinal: Francisco 649725951 (c) Contact Express Bourricot taxi service (see details below under Roncesvalles)

- From Roncesvalles: take a taxi to St. Jean (Contact: Caroline Aphessetche of Express Bourricot, St Michaelmas road, 64220 Çaro. She is based in St. Jean Pied de Port. Tel: 06-61-96-04-76 email: apcaroline@hotmail.com (9 € per person). She also arranges luggage transfers - see website for details. http://www.chemindecompostelle.com/ServicesGR65/TransfertBagages/TransfertBagages.html

- From Barcelona: Take a train to Bayonne (10 ¾ hours)

 

Tips about starting at St. Jean Pied de Port:

The Route Napolean from St. Jean to Roncesvalles traverses 163m - 1440m in 27kms. If you are unfit, consider taking the Road Route, or breaking this stage out of St. Jean by staying at Hunto (7km) or Orisson (10km). For Orisson, it is advisable to book ahead at: refuge.orisson@wanadoo.fr or Tel: 06-81-49-79-56 or 06-86-99-82-03: This route should not be done in winter or in bad weather.

 

 To start from Roncesvalles

- From Pamplona: take a taxi or bus.

- From St. Jean: take a taxi.

 

 To start from Pamplona

- From Madrid: Choose from: (a) There is a Renfe (train) booking station at the airport. Take the underground (from the airport or other point in Madrid) to the RENFE station, then take a train take a train (underground from airport to Chamartin station) (2 per day, approx 9h00 and 17h00 (takes 5 hours) (b) take a bus (takes 5 hours) (c) take a plane

 

 To start from Burgos

- From Madrid:

(a) Catch the underground to Avenue America, then Bus (Continental Auto) (takes 3 hours)

(b) You can fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from both Burgos, and then catch a bus.

(c) Catch a train

 

 To start from Leon

- From Madrid: Options: (a) catch a train (4 hours) (b) catch a bus (c) Fly to Valladolid, which is about 130 km from Leon, and then catch a bus (d) Fly to Leon with Iberia (40 mins) and then bus from the airport (which is at Virgen del Camino on the Camino route) into the city.

 

 To start from Ponferrada

- From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus: 07h45 (7 hours) €28,55 or take a train: 9h15 (6½ hours) €29,00

- From Madrid: Take a bus.

 

 To start from O'Cebreiro

- From Madrid: Take an Alsa coach to Piedrafita (5km from O'Cebreiro): 10h00 or 23h59 (5½ hours) €25.48

- From Bilbao: Take an Alsa bus to Piedrafita (5km from O'Cebreiro): 7h45 (8 hours) €31.51

 

 To start from Sarria

- From Madrid: Catch an ALSA bus to Lugo, then a local bus to Sarria.

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  09. What about language?

cf  Language (C.South Africa)

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  10. When should one go?

 

It depends very much on the time of the year. A Mediterranean-type climate prevails over most of the route, but as with most places the weather is very unpredictable - and every year is different! South Africans are not generally used to cold weather and it does mean carrying more kit, so May through to September are recommended. As for rain, it can be wet in virtually any season, particularly in Galicia, and suitable rain gear makes the walk that much more bearable in wet and muddy times. If there is any doubt about bad weather, ask questions of the locals and use your own judgement rather than just following other pilgrims - especially when walking over the Pyrenees or in other mountainous sections. Never cross the Pyrenees on the Route Napoleon alone in bad or unstable weather, rather take the low road via Arneguy. See the section What do you take with you? for more information on travel gear.

 

The following descriptions are based on reports from returning pilgrims:

- January - February Very cold with snow - not advisable

- March Rainy, windy and moderate to high potential for snow

- April Variable - warm spring sun, sometimes even hot, rain, sleet and snow around the Pyrenees/Roncesvalles, thunderstorms around Sarria & O Cebreiro

- May For wildflowers spring or early summer is a good time. It is still fresh, but generally warm, (22 - 23 °C) with some rain and wind around O Cebreiro. It can however also be very cold with snow in the north

- June Warm to hot, some rain

- July - August Generally pretty hot with daily high temperatures on the meseta (Burgos to Léon) up to 40°C. This is the time to be in Santiago for the Feast Day on 25 July. It is also traditional holiday time in Europe, so the route tends to be busiest

- September Generally warm days and cool early mornings and nights. Rain from around O Cebreiro intermittent, increasing towards Santiago. There are still a few wildflowers in Navarre and La Rioja, and broom blooms in Galicia. The meseta fields are brown and dry and field crops mostly harvested except vineyards around La Rioja and Villafranca del Bierzo

- October Cooling down and windy, especially around the Pyrenees, O Cebreiro and other high places. It can be chilly early on, with rains, cloud, fog and even snow always possible. This is chestnut season! Dark till around 8am so its not easy to set out early.

- November - December Very cold with snow - not advisable

 

See the section Where can I find out more about the Camino? for weather website links.

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  11. What about medical care and emergencies?

 

Training aside, many people do get blisters and other aches and pains - especially in the beginning. Some get shin splints, tendonitis and muscle strains, particularly if they do too much too soon. Thankfully most refugios have a doctor or clinic on call and treatment is free for most minor ailments. Many also have volunteers offering therapeutic massage treatments which are most welcome. Many pilgrims have also found that helping others along the way gave them a chance to share, provide moral support and demonstrate solidarity.

 

First Aid kit: most essentials are readily available from pharmacies (farmacias) Look for a sign with a green cross. So it is not necessary to weigh yourself down with medicine for every eventuality. Basics you might consider would be: a good sun protection cream, Disprin (for headaches, sore muscles etc.), Immodium (for diahorrea), Zambuk, Wonder Rub or Arnica Oil (for foot massage, bruising and other uses), thread, needle and mercurochrome (for the blisters). Foot care: Keep nails trimmed short, and take along clippers or scissors. As blisters are likely to be your main concerns, look out for Compeed products in Spain - excellent plasters, guards and an anti blister stick which you rub on before walking to prevent hot spots. They cover, heal, soothe, take the pressure off a blister and are water-proof. Instructions are often not in English, so remember they have to be soaked to remove them, otherwise you'll rip the new skin. For blisters - thread a piece of cotton through the blister, using a sterilised needle - it serves to drain the fluid but leaves skin intact. The South African version is available under the trade name "Coloplast" and is imported from Denmark. The product name is "Comfeel: Plus transparent hydrocolloid dressing. It is distributed in SA by: AstraZenica for MDI, 374 Anderson Street, Menlopark. 0081. Tel: 011 802 2943. It is also available through pharmacies. Softigel toe guards from Green Cross shops are also useful.

 

For muscle strain or tired feet try something like Reparil gel or Deep Heat. Many South Africans also chose good old Zambuk to rub their feet and keep from forming blisters. A regular massage with some sort of ointment is worth the effort. Wonder Rub - a sportsmans rub which contains Arnica, Hypericum, Rhustox, Terebinth, Calendule, Brycnia & Euclyptus - and it is also good for aches and pains. It is available in a 100 ml tube from Renaissance, Herbs from Africa label, PO Box 77, Groot Marico. It is only sold by distributors, Jackie Sinek, 021 855 3500 is the Helderberg agent.

 

Prescription Medication: carry enough with you from home, and make sure you have a signed copy of your prescriptions to validate carrying large amounts of scheduled drugs. If you have specific medical conditions which need to be known during an emergency, make up a card containing all medical information in English and Spanish including blood group, contact details of your doctor, insurance details etc. and keep it with your passport.

 

Finally take out good travel insurance before you go to cover for major injuries or illness - just to be safe!

 

Emergency Telephone numbers National police 091

Local police 092

Medical (insalud) 061

Emergencies 112

S.A. Embassy Madrid 09 3491 436 3780

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  12. How fit do you have to be?

 

It is sensible to be relatively walking-fit, so some training beforehand is strongly recommended. For those who are not fit, start your practices with short distances and build up, eventually carrying a backpack up hills with the full weight. Try to do a couple of consecutive days training, preferably in the shoes, socks and other gear to build up stamina. Other suggestions are to walk up and down flights of stairs, walk barefoot on the beach for ankle and knee strength, do weight training on the upper body and strengthen leg muscles with specific exercises. It is also important to stretch properly before you start walking and afterwards.

 

Age doesn't have to be a deterrent. Pilgrims range in age from babes being pushed in prams to octogenarians. However, if you have led a sedentary life it is advisable to train beforehand and have a thorough check up with your medical practitioner before starting out.

 

Remember that every pilgrim experiences some days of discomfort as the body becomes acclimatised to walking day after day. At times it's hard to accept and you'll wonder why you chose to do the pilgrimage. Find consolation in the fact that it does get better - and find your own pace.

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  13. What do you take with you?

cf  list (C.South Africa)

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  14. What about security?

 

  Theft

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.

 

  Dogs

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.

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  15. Where do you sleep?

 

The official Camino accommodation (refugios or albergues in Spain or gîte in France) is in simple dormitory-style buildings of various ages and designs. Run by a host of organisations including local municipalities and Friends of the Camino groups, they mostly offer bunks and showers, some with kitchens and living rooms. A few provide pillows and blankets. Bathroom facilities vary quite a lot and if you come late there may be a shortage of hot water. Prepare for the fact that some refugios (mostly the ones in Galicia) have communal facilities for men and women and a few don't have doors on the showers! Somehow the pilgrims all work this out without too much embarrassment or discomfort!

 

The accommodation varies in comfort levels but mostly pilgrims are so tired that as long as there is a bed or mat to sleep on, they are happy. Some offer communal evening meals for a small amount, others have kitchens with basic utensils. Most have clothes washing areas and lines. Many have opening times around lunchtime (between 13h00 and 15h00) and curfews of 22h00. All expect you to leave by 8h00 in the morning, and you can't spend more than one night in a refugio unless there is a serious reason. Preference is given to walkers over cyclists.

 

Some refuges only open in June and close again in November. It is first come - first served. When you reach a refuge you secure a bed by placing your pack outside the door. Almost every pilgrim refuge is staffed by volunteers 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. Give a generous donation; be gracious and helpful to the hospitaleros.

 

South Africans tend to have quite well developed 'personal space' concept and it takes a bit of getting used to the lack of privacy and space. Persevere, as it gets easier after the first day or two, and staying in the refugios is really part of the whole experience. Remember you're not looking for five star comforts on a pilgrimage - otherwise you may as well take a nice little hike around South Africa or drive the route and stay in hotels! The other thing to remember is that many Europeans seem to prefer having the windows and the shutters closed - something foreign to most South African - and Australian - pilgrims who are big on fresh air, so try to find a compromise.

 

For most pilgrims the accommodation becomes incidental and secondary to the wonderful friendships formed, meals shared and support provided by the hospitaleros (hosts) and fellow pilgrims. Also available in most towns are hostals, which are the local equivalent of our B&B's - but mostly without the breakfast! They provide privacy, a few home comforts and quiet for the pilgrim who needs a break from the refugios. There is a range of basic accommodation offering bed and sometimes private bathrooms (cama con bano or cama combinado) with varying comfort levels.

 

 Prices for refugios and hostals

 

As with the standard of accommodation, prices for the various refugios and hostals do vary. The least expensive - often the municipal facilities and those run by volunteers - range from "donation based (donativo)" to 4 €. We recommend that at least 3€ be paid as a donation. The private ones range between 6 and 10 €. Some offer breakfast for an additional 3 €. Hostals range from 21 to 54 € for twin bed room with en suite. Some offer breakfast as well. See section What happens when you reach Santiago? for details about accommodation in Santiago.

 

Camping and alternate accommodation: Rough camping is difficult as there are not many rural places in France or Spain which are public open areas. A guide to accommodation called 'Guia Oficial de Hoteles y Campings del Camino de Santiago' listing all accommodation, ranking, and prices etc including camping sites is available from Spanish tourist offices or Tourspain in Madrid. Click here to e-mail.

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  16. What is there to eat?

 

No account of the Camino would be complete without mentioning the food. Most pilgrims travel on limited budgets and so enjoy the availability of the simple traditional food with plenty of fresh produce and breads. Breakfasts generally consist of orange juice, coffee or hot chocolate and croissants, toast, muffins, or churros (a sweet fried dough delicacy) from bakeries or small bars (more like cafeterias than places to consume alcohol) along the way. It is advisable to check the day before to see what time bars open, as not all have hours to suit pilgrim departure times. Those that prefer a more healthy option generally stock up on yoghurt, muesli, fruit etc to prepare in the refugio before leaving in the morning or to eat somewhere along the trail.

 

Locals tend to have cooked lunches, but pilgrims mostly choose bocadillos (crusty rolls) with cheese, chorizo sausage, sardines or smoked ham (jamon) with fresh fruit, or possibly a tortilla (omelette). Many bars are closed during siesta time (mostly 13h00 to 15h00), so if you plan to arrive somewhere at around that time, stock up beforehand. Picnics in the countryside are always an option when you carry a bit of food with you.

 

Other readily available treats are almonds and other nuts, good cheeses and some nice packets of biscuits and chips for snacking. The local confectionery shops with their delicious pastries and homemade chocolates are too much to resist, (especially in Astorga - where they also have chocolate factories - and a museum of chocolate!) And of course, in Galicia there is always Santiago Tart (almond tart) for a mid morning boost.

 

The evening meal is sometimes a communal affair at the refugio with pilgrims sharing their resources and sociability. Some pilgrims choose to cook their own meals such as pasta and salad or cold food. If you chose to cook at the refugios, keep it simple as facilities are minimal, and remember that you will either need to leave surplus behind for following pilgrims or carry loads of leftovers. Some of the refugios have oil and salt available. Many pilgrims take advantage of the special peregrino menus or menu del dia (special of the day) in the local bars. The pilgrim menus are good honest food but can be repetitive. It usually consists of plate 1: mixed salad, soup or pasta; plate 2: beef or chicken or pork or fish or lamb chops with chips; plate 3: dessert is usually pre-made and is crème caramel (flan), ice cream or yoghurt. Most restaurants offer local specialities and the ever-popular tapas - a variety of delicious appetisers to be enjoyed with the local beer or wine. The Spanish tend to eat dinner late - around 21h00 - but many bars are happy to serve famished pilgrims from around 19h00. Remember that many restaurants charge separately for items such as bread (which is often brought to the table unsolicited). So check before you eat!

 

Pilgrims mostly choose the very acceptable vino de casa, but the excellent red wines of the Rioja province should definitely be sampled if possible. One of the special experiences along the way is the stop at the Fuente del Vino (fountain of wine) in Irache, where the local red is available free of charge to pilgrims who pass the winery. The beers are great and mostly quite cheap by South African standards - and there were different brews in virtually every town.

 

The amount of water and method for carrying it are personal choices. However, it is essential to carry water, which can be replenished safely at any drinking fountain in the villages except where you see the sign NON POTABLE . Options for water storage include army-style bottles attached to the outside of the pack, simple plastic cooldrink bottles carried in a side pouch or the "Camelbak(tm)" type system often used by cyclists.

 

Shopping is very simple. There aren't a lot of big supermarkets, as we know them in SA; mostly little bakeries or corner stores with a small range. Other pilgrims and the hospitaleros are generally a good source of information for where to shop - many of the shops are in houses and not immediately obvious to the passer-by. Whatever your preferences, you certainly won't starve!

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  17. What happens when you reach Santiago?

 

On arriving at the cathedral in Santiago, there are a number of special rituals which pilgrims choose to perform as part of the 'closing ceremony' of their walk. These are all described in detail in many of the publications, and include obtaining the compostela, visiting the cathedral to place a hand in the beautiful carving of the tree of Jesse at the main entrance and hugging the 13th century statue of Santiago before giving thanks at the tomb. The special pilgrim mass is a wonderful spiritual opportunity with hundreds of pilgrims still in their travel stained clothes all gathering to offer prayers, and if lucky to observe the spectacular botafumeiro (huge incenser). Though it's mostly in Spanish it is a truly moving experience. And of course it's a chance to reconnect with people met along the way. This is when the celebrating begins as you share the achievements before heading back home to plan your next Camino!

 

Be aware that after completing the pilgrimage, very often people have a bit of a downer - either exhaustion or a feeling of depression or anti-climax. You'll just need to be gentle with yourself, and try to ease back into your normal life slowly, enjoying those never ending memories and flashbacks to the Camino.

    

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                                                                       01/06/2011

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