El Camino de Santiago--Camino francés


           The WaY of St. JAmes--The French Road


Reflections & Advice




Follow the drinking gourd

Follow the drinking gourd

For the old man is going to carry you to freedom

If you follow the drinking gourd.


 From May 29 to July 6, 2004 I walked the most popular variant of the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago), starting from the French town of St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port and ending in the north-western Spanish town of Santiago de Compostela.   I then (July 7-9) walked on to the coastal town of Finisterra (or Fisterra).  The total distance was about 860 km (538 miles).  I thus averaged 20 km (14 miles) a day, ranging from 0 km for the shortest day to 52 km (33 miles) for the longest.  This brief page complements existing, excellent, internet sources about the Camino in 2 different ways:



Practical Advice 

  • Tent

  • Mattress

  • Jacket or sweater (a T-shirt and two long-sleeved shirts can take care of the coldest June morning)

  • Insect repellant (I only encountered 2 mosquitoes on the trail; it this changes, you can always buy repellant en route),

  • Dog (there is often too much traffic nearby, so dogs must often walk miles and miles on a leash.  They can’t do that.  I met two dogs on the trail, and both started perky enough.  By the tenth day, however, both limped horribly and had to be sent home.  For your sake and theirs, leave them home.  If you need a guide dog, use a human guide instead--bring one or find volunteers on the trail itself). 


Should You Take the Camino?


I’ll assume now that you are wondering whether to wander the Camino, and try to help you make up your mind..  To begin with, two classes of people should definitely take the Camino:


We are now left with the question:  Should non-Catholics who have already discovered the joys of self-reliant travel take the Camino?  There is no easy answer to this.  If your primary goals are solitude, privacy, silence, wilderness, breathtaking landscapes, wildlife, or challenging hikes, the Camino is not for you.  Take instead something like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage to Gosain Pond.  Another way of putting this:  If you do not wish to spend a vacation with many people, often on or within earshot of noisy highways, on asphalt and gravel roads, amidst wheat fields or vineyards, in the company of cows and sheep, then the Camino is not for you.  If you wish to escape the sights, smells (e.g., cow manure), and sounds (cars, church bells) of civilization, then the Camino will bring you little joy. 

There is yet another annoyance which makes the Camino less pleasant than it could be.  Most people stay in the cheap ($3-5 a night) barracks-style inns (albergues), which, despite the crowds and inconvenience,  are really preferable to hotels, for they are part of the overall pilgrimage experience.  Typical pilgrims start walking at 6-7 a.m. and reach the inn at about noon.  The genuinely hospitable inns are already open by then, so that pilgrims can get in upon arrival, unload their packs, shower, rest, or go out to explore the new village or town.  But quite a few inns open their doors at 3 or 4 p.m. (e.g., the inn at Roncesvalles), forcing the weary pilgrims to either wait hours or go on walking in search of a more hospitable inn.  You will need to take this recurring annoyance into consideration before deciding to walk the Camino.


But, despite this recurring annoyance, despite the fact that my vacations usually consist in either living and working in strange lands or hiking in wilder, lonelier, quieter places, I am glad I walked the Camino, warts and all.  I can only guess what was special about the Camino:


¡Buen Camino!


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