Have you ever wondered what happens on the Camino de Santiago in between walking from one town to the next? After all, most pilgrims are finished walking by early afternoon which leaves a lot of time to fill until the following morning.
In this article, I’d like to give you a better idea of what to expect on the Camino and as to whether this long distance walk might be for you or not. But let’s take a look at a quick overview of the adventure before taking a peek at everyday life on the Camino.
Walking the Camino Frances – A Quick Overview
I finished walking the Camino Frances last week. It was my second time to walk this particular route and the logistics of this adventure is one of my reasons for wanting to return. In other words, it’s easy to organize a dander on the Camino and you will meet people of all ages and shapes and sizes and pilgrims from all walks of life.
What exactly is the Camino Frances?
The Camino Frances is one of the many long distance walking paths in Spain that leads to the main Cathedral in Santiago. Just so you know, there are several other paths that lead to this same Cathedral such as the Camino del Norte or the Camino Primitivo. However, the Camino Frances is by far the most popular route with more accommodation and resupply options and a lot more fellow pilgrims too!
It stretches for 790km across the top of Spain. Some pilgrims choose to walk the Camino Frances in stages every year, while others walk the entire path in one go. It takes most people between 30 and 40 days to complete the walk. The starting point is at a town called St Jean Pied du Port on the French border. This walking path is marked with yellow arrows and travels through many villages, towns, and cities that have a long lineup of places to stay including hotels, guesthouses, and albergues (hostels). Now, let’s take a closer look at day-to-day life on the Camino…
The Morning Routine and Breakfast on the Camino Frances
Pilgrims tend to rise early and start walking as soon as possible. It’s up to you of course but it gets really hot on the Camino and an early start will help you avoid walking for too long in the hottest part of the day. That being said, most pilgrims end up going to bed rather early which means it’s not such a big deal waking up at 6 am. In my own experience, I also found most pilgrims really enjoyed walking during these quiet and peaceful hours and being able to start their day with a walk at sunrise.
While some Albergues or hotels offer breakfast, some do not. I also noticed that many pilgrims prefer to start moving and wait until the next town for breakfast. This is usually within a one-hour walk (5km) from where they slept the night before. Coffee with tortilla (potato omelette), eggs on toast, or pastries are common staples for breakfast on the Camino. I sometimes carried my own which might consist of rice crackers with avocado and cheese or rice crackers with banana and peanut butter.
Summary: Every morning is a simple affair and you simply rise early and start walking until you feel hungry or reach a nice cafe in which to enjoy some coffee.
Mid Morning and the Actual Walking Itself
This part of the day goes by really quickly on the Camino. It might take a week or so to get used to walking long distances but there comes a point when you settle into the experience and process. If you like talking with other pilgrims or listening to podcasts and audiobooks as you walk, you should find this time goes by even faster. Believe it or not – walking 20km every day will eventually seem like a very normal thing to do!
Every five or ten kilometres, you will also encounter small villages and towns and these are usually equipped with albergues, cafes, shops, and a fountain to refill your water bottles. This also means that pilgrims can stop for the night if they don’t wish to walk any further – *unless they have made a booking elsewhere that day/night.
The scenery is spectacular on the Camino Frances and changes a lot as you proceed from east to west across the top of Spain. The beginning is quite lush and cool but the middle section is extremely flat, dry, and open, while the latter stages of the Camino Frances are very mountainous and green. It’s a lovely aspect of walking the Camino because you get to see these landscapes change slowly over time and this also makes it very easy to notice and appreciate the present moment.
I really enjoy talking with other pilgrims on the walk each day but I also like to spend time alone. During this time, I sometimes listen to podcasts or music or plug out entirely and drink in the scenery and spend some time alone with my own thoughts.
Either way, you should find the mornings and the walking itself to be a rather spontaneous affair with stunning scenery and interesting conversations.
*About making bookings: Some pilgrims make all their bookings before arriving on the Camino. While this ensures they will never be stuck for somewhere to stay, it also means they will be tied to a specific and rigid schedule that may not suit later on. I believe a better way to organize accommodation is to book the first few days/week and then make the rest of your bookings as you go along. This means you might make bookings just one day in advance or even that same day which will allow for more flexibility and the option of taking a day off whenever you want.
About Meeting Other Pilgrims on the Camino
Meeting other pilgrims is a magical part of this journey and the Camino is “a place” that makes it easy for people to connect – even the socially awkward. This often means pilgrims will strike up a conversation with you at random coffee stops or while waiting for your laundry in an albergue. There’s also a sense of openness and trust with these interactions which seems to allow for quick and easy connections between friendly people who just want to be part of one another’s journey.
If you are more introverted, like me, you might be a little concerned about this side of the experience. However, it’s just as easy to spend time alone and even avoid such interactions. I actually spend at least half of my time walking alone on the Camino and simply do this by either walking ahead or dropping back from other pilgrims. It’s perfectly okay to do this on the Camino and nobody is likely to feel offended.
Moral of the story: You can be alone or you can be with others – it’s up to you!
Reaching the Next Town at the End of Your Daily Walk
As enjoyable as the walk might be, it’s always a welcome relief to reach your destination each day. I like to celebrate this part of the day by going straight to the room, taking off my hiking boots and socks, and lying down for ten or fifteen minutes.
I’m also very hungry at this point and after a quick shower, I like to get straight out to the nearest restaurant for something to eat. Food is really good on the Camino Frances and there is plenty of meat, fish, and vegetarian options along the way. As a long distance walker, you might also start to notice a lack of expectations and appreciation for any kind of food that can replenish the lost calories from that day.
But what else is there to do?
It’s then common for pilgrims to take a short nap but I myself like to stay awake and wait for an uninterrupted sleep in the evening. You will also need to do laundry every few days and this can take an hour or two – depending on the facilities available. And then there’s time for reading or writing, chatting with other pilgrims, or enjoying a glass of wine and just putting the feet up in a quiet spot in town.
In the evening, “pilgrim meals” are arranged in many of the Albergues which is another nice aspect of the Camino. These home-cooked meals are usually very healthy and cheap and provide an opportunity for pilgrims to get to know one another. Although I do quite enjoy these occasions, they normally commence at 7/8 pm which is a little late for dinner in my opinion. For this reason, I will often have dinner much earlier and be relaxing with a book or movie on my iPad by that time instead.
After that, it’s lights out and time to prepare for repeating this process the next day!
It might seem like there’s a lot of space and time on the Camino Frances and this is true, but time goes by really quickly. After a long walk, it’s even nice to “do nothing” and the routine of shower, food, and laundry is often more than enough activity to fill your afternoon and evening. This is also another lovely thing about life on the Camino; you get to focus on the basic necessities in life. You gradually forget about the many distractions and needless thoughts that tend to occupy one’s mind back in the real world. If you feel intrigued by any of the above, I believe you will enjoy the Camino!