September 23 – October 18, St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela
All things considered, we ate reasonably well for not a whole lot of money, averaging 41 euros ($48) a day for the two of us. Some of the times breakfast was supplied by the albergue, other times it cost us 4-5 euros apiece. A typical pilgrim breakfast was at its most basic level a café con leche and two or more pieces of toast with jam and butter. From there juice might be added, or some meat or cheese protein or other treat. In Astorga we found a place that had a café or hot chocolate, churros or toast, and juice for an amazing 2 euros apiece.
We’d snack along the road, usually café con leche and some pastry, or a sandwich (bocadilla) we’d get at a café, also various easily transportable items (cookies, fruit, etc.) we’d picked up in a market. And dinner, when we could find it, would be a pilgrim dinner, or a meal provided by our lodging.
These were varied but all were ample in size and nicely cooked with quality ingredients, featuring three courses (first, second and dessert) where you could choose from 3-5 options for each course and almost always included a bottle or carafe of house wine to split. These ran anywhere from 10 – 14 euros apiece.
A downside to spending lengthy time in one country is the sameness of the cuisine, particularly at the easier points of access. Only in the big cities do you begin to find variety in the offerings and often this is nothing more exotic than a kebab or shawarma stand. The Spanish bocadilla is a fine thing but it is usually just a plain baguette with meat, cheese or both in the middle. Rarely if ever do you encounter mayo or mustard, lettuce or tomato. Possibly one could ask for these to be added. Maybe it’s an option I could have asked for. I’ll have to see how this plays out the next time I order one.
Spain is known for its Tapas and we found these could take many forms and varieties. In northern Spain (where we traveled), they are also called pinchos (pintxos in Basque) because many of them have a pincho or toothpick through them. The toothpick is used to keep whatever the snack is made of from falling off the slice of bread and to keep track of the number of tapas the customer has eaten.
We had a number of delicious encounters with Tapas in Pamplona, Navarette and Santiago, and then later, post Camino we’d fully explore them in Leon and Burgos. I’ll report on those later experiences in posts to follow. Depending on the region, you might pay for the Tapas or one will be given to you each time you order a drink. None the less, they are always good and this can be a very cost-effective method for eating your way through Spain.
Another reason you will likely consume Tapas in Spain has to do with dining customs, where dinner is usually served between 9 and 11 p.m. (sometimes as late as midnight), leaving significant time between work and dinner. Therefore, Spaniards often go “bar hopping” and eat tapas in the time between finishing work and having dinner.
Finally, the food item most often mentioned in our blog posts was the infamous Café con Leche. Mirroring our coffee consumption at home, we’d usually have 2-3 per day as we could rely on them being a good cup. Almost always expresso with scalded, not steamed, milk they differ from a cappuccino or latte in that regard, the treatment of the heated milk. The beauty of the Spanish version is its low cost, anywhere from 1.2 to 1.6 euros, a bargain in any language.
People walk the Camino for many reasons. And the nature of the travel itself, walking, sharing living space, running into the same people over a number of days, invites conversation. These interactions come easily as do the stories and from the stories derive the reasons for the journey. Rarely is it stated plainly, as in “I’m walking to honor my Mother” but is discerned by the life events related in the stories.
Our first night of the journey was spent at Refuge Orisson and after our family style dinner there, the owner asked that each of us, more than forty in the room, introduce themselves, state where they are from and give the reason for doing the Camino. We’d already had a taste of this earlier in the day, killing time after our arrival talking to an Englishman, Paul, who was walking as a commitment to his wife who had planned this trip with him, but had passed away from cancer a few months earlier.
We would bump into Paul a number of times, and many others in the first days when we were walking, but we ran into him unexpectedly many sections down the road on the way to Carrion de los Condes. He had made very good time walking. Below is a chart I put together of folks we met more than once, the frequency diminishing once we got on the bikes in Burgos:
For more than one person it was to honor a deceased love one (Gerda’s husband, the Pitt Twins mother who died at 47, their age as they tackled the Camino, etc.). For others, it was the physical challenge, devoted hikers bagging yet one more peak so to speak. A final generic category would be those like Tim, temporarily drifting (he’d quit his job as a manager in a social working agency and gone through the breakup of a long-term relationship), hoping the Camino and the time spent walking it would give them some insight into the best course for their lives.
Each of us brings a story to the journey and as it is told repeatedly it is finely tuned until it is easily repeatable, emulating the concept of the elevator speech (if you can’t sell your new idea in the time it takes to ride in an elevator your concept is not sellable) ours too became succinct and defined us as best it could in a few short words.
These stories bound us and created a separate space that for a period of time, allowed us to all share the same ethos, that of being a pilgrim. You’d find yourself calling out to each person you’d pass on the trail either Hola (hello or hi) or Buen Camino (good way) or both and these simple mantras reinforced what it is you were doing and who you had become. That is, a Pilgrim finding their way on their own Camino.
I can’t say if we will return to do another Camino. It’s tempting now that I know it would be by bike, making for a faster journey and one more suited to the physical me I’ve now come to accept, that 28-year-old vagabond now a fond but not repeatable memory. And with so many other routes to choose from, you could do one a year and not necessarily exhaust them all. A number of folks we know back home have the bug, returning time and again to do some version of the Camino, or another long-distance ramble (Hadrian’s Way, King Ludwig’s Way, The Peace Walk, etc.). Once it’s in your blood it’s hard to shake.
For now, this Camino will live on in our hearts and souls as daily we fight the temptation to say Buen Camino to everyone we pass, even though we are miles away from Spain. And I guess that is the lesson to be learned; in the end, we are all pilgrims on a Camino of our own choosing. It’s important that we do it right, treating every stranger as a friend, passing along every kindness received, and taking each day we have left as yet another section of the Way.
Café con Leche: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9_con_leche
The Peace Walk: http://www.europeanpeacewalk.com/