The Camino Frances is over 700 kilometers long, broken into a number of stages. The stages typically end in a town large enough to contain plenty of beds to sleep in and one or two places to eat. The length of the suggested stage depends on the difficulty of the day’s walk, but it’s usually somewhere between 15 and 20 miles (24 – 32km). It makes for a long day of walking, depending on your speed and how often you take a break.
Along with your own intuition and knowledge of your body, a reliable Camino guide (affiliate link) is indispensable for helping to plan your stops. I spent some time every day reading my guide, picking an end point for the next day as well as making contingency plans. If I’m feeling good, why not walk another 5 km to the next town? Or, if it’s stinking hot, I’ll stop early in this other village. A good guide gives a little history of the villages you pass through as well as lets you know if there’s someplace to eat, or sleep, or buy supplies.
Most albergues would like everyone out by 8am. In the summer the sun is completely up by then. I always started earlier since I was typically awakened by the movements of others in the room. When I walked in September there was enough light to see by 700am. I enjoyed leaving early enough to see the stars when I was on the Meseta and the ground was flat. I bought a headlamp to help illuminate the path. As the trail led into the mountains and the path grew rockier I would tag along with others leaving at the same time. We helped guide each other.
Eventually the sun would ascend high enough to light up the landscape and reveal a cafe open for something to eat and a cup of something hot. My choice for breakfast was always Cola Cao, a chocolate drink mixed into steamed milk, and a huge piece of toast served with butter and jam or tomato and olive oil, depending on my mood. Sometimes you’ll come across homeowners offering food and drink in exchange for a donation. They consider it a duty to offer hospitality to the pilgrims.
I took regular breaks during the day. Not only did my feet appreciate it but for the price of a drink you can use a bathroom instead of squatting on the side of the trail. It doesn’t bother me to pee outdoors,…when you gotta go…, but quite frankly people are pigs. They squat wherever and leave toilet paper (and worse) behind. For that reason when I passed a cafe I made use of the facilities. I almost cried at one stop. The innkeeper provided tampons and flushable wet wipes in the bathroom. After walking and sweating in the heat for hours, the wet wipe was gratefully applied. Amazing how much fresher you feel after washing your face, hands and girly parts.
Reaching your destination at the end of the day’s walk is an event in itself. You may have to wait for the albergue to open, you may find out the albergue is “completo” and have to find another place to stay. Some places offer a glass of water, others collect your money, stamp your credencial and point to the dormitories. All you want to do is take off your boots and rest. But the bed needs to be made and frankly, you stink and need a shower. And if you want clean dry clothes tomorrow, you need to wash the ones you’re currently wearing.
I encountered my first co-ed bathroom the second day on the Camino. I got over it very quickly. All the stalls had doors and the albergue was mostly empty when I arrived, so I just was careful to poke my head around the door and avert my eyes. You get used to turning your head to give people privacy, on the trail or in the albergues. They do the same for you.
The shower gives a little burst of energy, enough to make the bed, wash clothes for the next day and
hobblewalk into town for something to eat and explore a little bit. As the day draws to a close, there are opportunities to relax and socialize with the other pilgrims, “How far did you walk today?” “Where are you going tomorrow?” People retreat to their bunks with the sunset. They hang their towels from the top bunk to give them a little privacy and block the light from their phone. I wore earplugs every night to block the noise. I encountered some champion snorers (and I’m pretty sure I add my own music to the mix)!
I always went to bed humbled by the many small acts of kindness I encountered during the day’s camino experience.
Sleep is incredibly refreshing and if it’s slow to come, you can always walk farther tomorrow. You’re one day closer to Santiago.