Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our Camino, Part 3 - A Day in the Life

A stripped down version of a pilgrim's day would look like this: wake up, walk, eat, walk, eat, sleep. The simplicity of a day on the Camino is of one of the things people say they miss most once they return home. The repetitive daily routine allows plenty of time for introspection, conversation and observation, but our main concerns were how far to walk and where to eat and sleep. 

Wake, Eat, Walk

In a typical albergue dorm room setting with anywhere from two to 20 roommates, our day usually began with the early rustling of pilgrims packing up to leave. It's nearly impossible to do this quietly, plastic bags and zippers being the worst offenders. Before long the lights would come on and everyone was up. On one occasion it was Steven who was the offender. For reasons even he can't figure out, one morning he decided to announce to our dozen or so roommates that it was 6:35 a.m. and we were leaving. They were not too happy with him and we found out later they dubbed him "Six-thirty-five guy". He took a lot of good-natured ribbing as they caught up with us on the trail, but he was eventually forgiven. 

See that plastic bag? That is our alarm clock.

Most mornings we tried to get on the trail between 6:30 and 7:30, the earlier the better if it was forecast to be a hot day. Breakfast on the Camino is often offered at the albergue for around 3 euros. It usually consisted of toast, margarine (!!) and jam, and perhaps some other packaged baked goods, along with some fairly vile coffee. Most of the time it was served around 7:00 and for me, it was rarely worth sticking around for. I'd much rather get going and find a bar down the road where I could get a decent café con leche and a slice of Spanish tortilla, a delicious savory pie made with potatoes, eggs and cheese and served with a couple of slices of bread. Always with the bread! Steven preferred a croissant. Fruit was a rarity, so if we wanted it, we had to buy it ourselves at one of the markets in the villages. The freshly squeezed orange juice served in the bars, however, was exceptionally delicious!

No paper cups here, tons of dishes are used for a simple breakfast.

Bowl of coffee and toast. Sometimes the bread wasn’t even toasted, but at least we got real butter this time!

Spanish tortilla, my favorite breakfast.

Along with morning coffee comes the need to pee and one of the most asked questions about the Camino is "are there bathroom facilities along the Way?"  All bars and albergues have bathrooms, but sometimes the next village can be a few kilometers away. There are no facilities in between. On days when we knew it would be a long walk between villages, I limited my intake, though I tried to stay hydrated. It was a delicate balance. In case of emergency, all one can do is try and find a bit of privacy and take care of business. I only had to do this twice, Steven did it whenever, as did most men. No one was terribly shy about it and certainly no one gawked if someone happened to be right out in the open. That was rare, but it happened. 

In the Zone

By nine o'clock or so I had settled into my rhythm, head down, one foot in front of the other. I loved the feel of my backpack and the sound of my sticks as I walked along the varied terrain. As I tend to be a straggler, Steven would often turn around and admonish me to pick up my pace with a "click, clack!". Some days he was in his fast zone, so he just moved on ahead. I spent more than a few mornings without him, sometimes walking alone or with others, though he would eventually wait for me to catch up and we would finish our day together. 

I rarely listened to music or books because I preferred the birdsong and conversation of my fellow pilgrims, even if I couldn't always understand them. We met people from so many countries, it was amazing. We all had a common goal that united us, yet we were different in many ways. One thing we did understand was the universal greeting, "Buen Camino!". That literally translates into "good way", but when you are walking, it can have a much deeper meaning. It is said among pilgrims as a matter of course, but when you are walking through a tiny village and an elderly woman walking across the street waves and shouts "Buen Camino!", it was more than a greeting, it was meaningful to them and to me and was often the very encouragement I needed at the time. These were among my favorite moments on the Camino. Angels, all of them. 

The Camino has many symbols, the most recognizable being the yellow arrow and the sea shell. Pilgrims typically attach a shell to their backpacks, but in Pamplona, Steven and I sent them on to Santiago because every time we set our packs down, the shells would smash against the wall and we were afraid they would break. The yellow arrow is the guiding light on the Way. If, after walking for a while, we realized we had not seen an arrow, and we saw no other pilgrims, a slight panic would set in until we confirmed that we were on the correct path. Steven used an app called "Wise Pilgrim" to keep us from getting lost. Only a couple of times did he find we had strayed, usually just a block or two, never very far. 

Arrows can be anywhere, the road, a tree, a lamppost. Some are bright and others are barely visible.

Wise Pilgrim app

Aches and Pains

As we continued walking through the green fields, though villages, over hills and into valleys, we paid attention to our aches and pains, particularly in our shoulders, backs and feet. We tried to tune in to any possible issues and deal with them before they got serious. Sometimes a slight adjustment on a backpack or balancing of weight could alleviate shoulder or back pain. Early on, each time I felt even the slightest hint of a hot spot on my feet, we would stop and I would put tape on the area in hopes of preventing a blister. I was also prone to feeling teeny twigs or rocks in my boots, so again, we had to stop so I could deal with it. I called it my Princess and the Pea moments. It is time-consuming to stop and take off a backpack no matter the reason. Add to that the removal of shoes and socks, well, I learned quickly to tape my feet as a precautionary measure rather than waiting for that little "twinge" as I walked and also to shake out my socks and find any potential offenders before heading out. As we went along, my taping job got more and more elaborate until it finally just got ridiculous. But I kept it up whether I needed it or not, just in case. 

My very elaborate tape job.                             A pilgrim resting his feet.

A lot of folks like to stop and change socks halfway through the day. We tried this a couple of times on really hot days, but we found just letting our socks air out for a few minutes was just as helpful. Also, less laundry. When the weather turned cooler, we stopped taking off our shoes at all during the day. Both Steven and I walked in Oboz hiking boots, Smart Wool and Injinji toe socks. For us it was a winning combo, we had no problems at all. Maybe all that tape helped, who knows. 

Rest, Eat, Walk

Lunchtime on the Camino really depended on how far we walked on any given day and whether or not we'd had breakfast. If we had a long day, we'd stop and have something to eat. If not, and we planned to arrive at our albergue in the early afternoon, we would wait and have a late lunch. Even if we weren't eating, we would often stop for coffee or orange juice, or just a rest. Lots of folks bought food at the market to eat along the Way, but we only did this a couple of times. The reason being, we had to carry it. Forget that! Three-course Pilgrim's meals were available in bars and restaurants for around 10 euros, but I found it difficult to eat a big meal and then continue walking. "Enslata Mixta" was our go to meal, a salad with tuna. Bocadillas (sandwiches) were available everywhere, but they were mostly bread, like a baguette, with a bit of stuff inside, such as chorizo sausage. I do not like chorizo, in fact, I am not particularly fond of cured meats in general, so I only ate this a couple of times. If breakfast had been substantial, we didn't always eat lunch, but we usually had peanuts and a couple of Snickers and bananas with us for snacks or in case we were too tired to eat a late dinner, which happened a few times. 


By the time we reached the albergue we had selected to stay in on any given night, we might have already stopped off at the bar for a couple of beers and possibly some food. I am not much of a beer drinker, I never have been, but after walking 12-15 miles each day, it tasted like the nectar of the gods. So did Coca-Cola, which under normal circumstances I dislike immensely. 

Stop, Rest, Clean

Check-in at the albergue was usually painless, unless there was a crowd, which didn't happen too often. If the albergue didn't open until the afternoon, and it was popular, there might be a line. On our second night at Roncevalles, where the municipal albergue has over 200 beds, we waited in line for half an hour before we reached the lone receptionist. The process was always the same, we handed over our passports, which were recorded at each stop, and our pilgrim credentials which were duly stamped. There was usually a rack near the entrance where we would put our boots and sticks, then we would be shown to our room, or rather, our bunks. We almost always got a top and bottom bunk, and Steven helpfully volunteered to take the top one. I did get a top bunk once, and had no issues crawling up, it was the coming down in the middle of the night that I didn't care for. The guy below me didn't care for it much either, as I nearly stepped on his face. At least when Steven and I were together he could use my bunk to sit on, reorganize his pack and use as a step when coming down. 

We liked to try and keep our sticks with us if possible, but some didn’t allow it.

These floors were hard to walk on in just our socks!

No bunks in this spiffy dorm room!

After settling into our space, which mostly consisted of our bunk, perhaps a chair, or if we were lucky, a table. Mostly not. Sometimes we would have a locker to put our packs in, but most didn't have keys, so it wasn't all that helpful. We took what few valuables we had with us when we went out and didn’t worry about the rest of our stuff. We had no problems with theft. Steven usually sat with me on my bunk if it was tall enough to sit up. These were my favorite type, where we didn't have to hunch over to be on the lower bunk. If our day had started early, we might take a nap after check -in before hitting the showers. If hot water seemed scarce, we'd grab our stuff and head straight to the first available. Many were co-ed, which was slightly weird at first, but after a while, I didn't care at all. I was happy to get clean! 

We had a table and a chair at this place, because we got there early and had our pick of beds.

Let me take a moment to talk about Spanish showers and bathrooms in general. I'm going to use one albergue in particular as an example. There were separate bathrooms for men and women and they were pretty nice, white marble floor-to-ceiling and plenty of toilet and shower stalls. What was missing was ventilation. I'd like to say this was unusual, but nay, it is the norm. I don't recall any bathroom or shower room with ventilation other than the occasional opened window. So imagine five shower stalls filled with tired, dusty peregrinas blissfully basking in the spray of the wonderful hot shower. Before long, it's like a sauna, condensation dripping from the marble walls and the floors as slick as a Zamboni-freshened ice rink. I am wearing flip-flops, which was not a smart footwear choice under the circumstances. And all the toilet paper, what little there was, got soggy.  

Further, most bathrooms had a step up into them. This step could be a full-sized one, which meant I had to remember that so I didn't do a face-plant on the way out. Others had a step that was about an inch tall, which was a real toe-smasher in the middle of the night. All of the bathrooms had automatic timers on the lights, which mean they would pop on when someone walked in. In theory, this is very economical, but in practice, it wasn't very practical. Who can pee in ten seconds? More times than I can count I found myself sitting on the potty flapping my arms like a chicken trying to get the lights to come back on.  It's truly a wonder that my Camino journey did not end in spectacular fashion in a Spanish bathroom. 

Spain does not have stringent building codes. We went down and up two just to get in this one!


Colorful clothes hung up drying in the breeze was a common sight on a sunny day. Because we carry so few clothing items, making sure they are clean is essential. Most albergues had places where one could hand-wash their clothes, many also had washers. A few had dryers, but mostly we jostled for space on the clothes line or rack for solar drying. Every now and again we would land in an albergue that offered laundry service and most of the hotels we stayed in did also. We took advantage of every opportunity to have our laundry done for us, it was such a treat! We never had an issue finding ways to get our clothes clean, I think I hand-washed one pair of undies on our entire trip. 

Mike doing his part after his sister Keri and I washed, in the machine. Steven was at a table just off camera with wine.

Lots of line space gets filled quickly!

We pilgrims are a colorful lot! Bath towels drying on bunks.

By now, mid-to-late afternoon, while the clothes were drying or our laundry had been sent off to some laundry angel, we usually headed out into the village to meet up with friends, find food and drink, and get an idea of how to get out of town the following morning. Sometimes we stayed at an albergue off the Camino proper and we wanted to make sure we didn't get lost on the way out, particularly if we were in a larger town. We visited a few of the more significant cathedrals in larger towns, but didn't bother trying to see them all.


At some point in the afternoon we would study our Camino map and decide how far we wanted to walk the next day. Sometimes friends who were ahead of us would recommend a place they enjoyed staying and we might decide that was a perfect distance. We didn't always stay at the towns or villages recommended as stops in the guidebooks, some days it was too far, other days we wanted to avoid crowds. Once we decided where to stay, we picked an albergue. We based this solely on reviews of other pilgrims. As is typical, a few loved it and a few hated it. Unless we had a personal recommendation, we just took our chances, really. Steven would call and make our reservations for the next day. It was a fairly informal system, he told them his name and country of origin and all they asked was if we changed our minds that we let them know. No advance payment was necessary.

About the only thing that would make us skip a place is if someone reported having seen or gotten bitten by bedbugs. That said, unless it happened recently, we ignored the review and stayed there if it suited us. Bedbugs is a topic discussed endlessly on the forums and the remedies and methods of avoidance are vast. At one point we had joined up with an Asian tour group and for two nights one couple in particular would enter the room, find their bunks and start spraying. Whatever was in that bottle was incredibly strong and smelled like cloves. Then they would leave for the rest of the afternoon, presumably while the bedbugs made their way over to mine and Steven's beds. That spray would linger in the air forever, finding it's way up my nose and in my mouth. 

We had brought with us Sea To Summit sleep sacks that had been pretreated with permethrin, which may or may not have an affect on bedbugs. I thought I'd be fairly intense in my search for them before I ever touched my bed, but no. I was too tired to even care. I flopped down and that was that. We never saw them or had any bites. We only used our sleep sacks occasionally, for warmth, but also didn't hesitate to use the blankets provided by the albergues. Fewer bedbugs is one good reason to go early in the season. I can only imagine what it might be like in the inferno-like heat of August after thousands of pilgrims have slept there. 

Eat, Pack, Sleep

For the most part we didn't eat big meals during the day, but at dinnertime, we ate like trenchermen. Pilgrim's meals were available in nearly every bar and restaurant, but my favorites were the communal dinners offered by the albergues. For around 10 euros each, we would join our fellow pilgrims for a three-course meal. The food on the Camino is repetitive, to put it kindly. It's filling and cheap, consisting mostly of pasta, paella, lentils, bread and a bit of meat. As we made progress on the Camino, I figured out that if we could see the kitchen when we walked into our albergue, we were likely going to have a delicious homemade meal. If not, it was probably precooked and simply heated up before serving. That's a generalization, but pretty accurate. 

Tony in the kitchen starting to prepare paella. 

These ladies made one of the most delicious meals we had on our Camino, stewed chicken and peppers.

Included in the price of the dinner was either red wine and/or water. The first course was usually mixed salad with tuna, pasta or soup. These were fairly hearty starters and in the smaller albergues they were happy to fill your bowl a second time if you so desired. The main course was sometimes a thin pork chop with more bone than meat or a chicken leg with peppers, but often pasta and paella were the mains of choice. Once, we had paella four days in a row and I was done with it! French fries are the most common side with every meal, mostly cooked from a frozen state. Dessert was a choice of prepackaged yogurt or flan, or sometimes a piece of fruit. 

One night Keri made dinner in the albergue kitchen, it was delicious! Asian pilgrims cooked for themselves almost exclusively and the entire place smelled so good! One night a group of Italians made chicken and risotto and invited us to join. So tasty!

I enjoyed communal dinners the most.

There was no kitchen in this albergue, so everyone ate paella.

It started off yummy, but by the fourth night, I really needed a break.

Paella with noodles instead of rice. 

Delicious bean soup as our first course.

Ensalada Mixta always came with tuna, unless we specified otherwise. We ate a lot of tuna.

Fabulous roasted chicken and peppers. It was unusual to be served such a large portion of meat.

This is where we were introduced to a liqueur called “Hierbas”, like grappa with herbs only better. 

If the place we stayed did not offer a pilgrim's meal, we would head out into the village to find an alternative. Bars are open and each one offers exactly the same food as the one before it, and the next one down the road.  In Spain, at a proper restaurant, lunch service at a restaurant begins at 1:00 or 1:30 p.m. and ends around 4:00 p.m. Dinner service starts at 8:00 p.m. It's a timetable we never got used to and as a result, we had ice cream and Snickers bars for dinner on a few occasions. I don't even like Snickers bars all that much, but you'd be hard pressed to find a Reese's Peanut Putter Cup in Spain, or in France for that matter. 


After dinner I would sit on the side of my bunk bed and start going through my pack. No matter how carefully I had packed the day before, the very item I needed at any given moment seemed to be wedged at the bottom of my pack, and so everything had to come out. That started a whole reorganize and repack process that I was certain would make the next day more simple. It never worked! I went through this same process every damn day! I didn't even have that much stuff, but I could never seem to get it right. Still, I had my pack ready to go for our early departure. I really did not want to be "that guy" making all the noise in the mornings. 

But inevitably someone always did make that noise, then the lights would come on and we started the whole routine all over again. And we loved it!


  1. What an adventure! Memories will last a long time, I think.

    1. I think you're right. The Camino has a way of getting under your skin and it doesn't let go.

  2. Oh my , my feet , back and all my joint's hurt just from reading about it. You done great but wouldn't , couldn't be for me . I did so laugh about your description of the bath rooms and I needed a good laugh today . ( bed bugs eeewww ) Vern Boise

    1. Thanks Vern. It's not for everyone, to be sure, but I'm so glad we were able to do it and that you are coming along with us. :)

  3. Funny you should mention Oboz shoes. I just watched a video where a Pacific Trail hiker reviewed 3 brands of shoes for her 1,000 mile hike. She chose Oboz. Now I will go looking for those.

    I truly enjoy your blog on the Camino. Maybe next year I will try it at age 78. Onward.

    1. Is this the gal who starts her videos, "Hey y'all, Dixie here!" I've seen a few of her review topics, she's pretty good. I haven't seen the one with the Oboz, but it doesn't surprise me she chose them. Pretty excellent shoes in my book. Thanks for your kind words!

  4. Thanks for the "Day in the life of" peek at your adventures. Some of it is very appealing, others no so much!

    1. Kind of like building a house, there's some fun stuff, and some not so much! Love the way your project is coming along and fantastic you have so much help!

  5. This was such a great post. It really gives one a feel for what it was like. As a previous commenter said "A day in the life". I remain in awe of your experience.

    1. Thanks, Jo. Did your neighbor finish his walk yet? We met folks who've been at it for 10 years! Next year they arrive in Santiago!

  6. What a great view into your typical day, Linda. Glad to see my Zamboni brethren have taken on resurfacing Spanish bathrooms. 😊

    1. My god, you wouldn't have been so proud. I've never seen anything as slick!

  7. Those rough floors look as brutal as the roots on the trail! Thanks for taking the time to share this amazing experience, including all the reality of a 500 mile trek with hundreds of others. Love the communal table pics - such diversity! Not sure I'd be excited about bean soup when sharing a dorm room :-)))

  8. So fascinating to experience the daily reality of walking the Camino through your wonderful photos and commentary. Seriously, you guys are tough. I'm impressed.