Some of you may be wondering what that 800 kilometer hike across northern Spain will look like. From a geographic perspective, it starts in the Pyrenees mountains, crosses the Basque country and heads into the meseta or Spanish plains, and ends in Galicia. Much of it crosses fertile cropland, including vineyards, with about three mountain ranges. Along the way we’ll pass through numerous small villages along with the cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos, León, and Santiago de Compostela. Some of the way is roadside, some farm trails, some traditional hiking routes. But what does an average day look like? Based on the preparatory research I have done, here is what pilgrims tell me.
The pilgrim’s day starts early, perhaps 6 am, especially if you stay at an albergue or hostel. Most albergues insist everyone leaves by 8 am so they can clean for the next night’s pilgrims; yes, you can only stay one night in each albergue. Breakfast may be available at or near the albergue, or at least some coffee. Most pilgrims want to get on the road before the heat of the day, and many albergues are first-come, first-served, so there can be a little bit of an Oklahoma landrush in the morning to get an early start. One of the banes of pilgrims in the the albergues is the rustling sound of other pilgrims, which may start as early as 4 am, as they try to get packed and depart.
Whenever the time comes, breakfast is probably continental, such as a pastry with coffee. Lunch is often a sandwich called a bocadillo, which is some form of ham on french bread. Some push lunch back until 1-3 pm, perhaps coinciding with arriving at the next stop’s albergue, but others keep a lunch break around noon. Most pilgrims hope to get in to their next albergue or inn sometime in the afternoon. After check-in, you find your bed/room, unload, shower and switch into your casual dinner outfit, and wash your hiking gear from that day. Next comes some quiet time to siesta (my favorite), read, catch up on social media, buy some trail food for the next day, or fix any physical issues (blisters?).
Some towns have a pilgrim’s mass at night, and many restaurants will serve a pilgrims menu of three courses (soup/pasta, meat, dessert) and vino de casa for a nominal fee (E10). After socializing with fellow pilgrims, most retire early for the evening. This might mean sleep, but it might not, as the cacophony of snoring, people rustling in their backpacks, and the usual comings-and-goings can make sleep a challenge. Some pilgrims only stay in albergues; others only use hotels and private rooms.
Wake up and do it all over again. For 30-45 days.
Now of course there are the many hours of time spent walking, which can also be an opportunity for prayer, sight-seeing, introspection, or meeting one’s fellow pilgrims. That gets to the “why” of the Camino, and I will return in a future post to answer it.