We have a couple of days in Villafranca del Bierzo thanks to Jennifer’s all-night zoom with Australia, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to answer some questions people have been asking. (We spent today eating and visiting all five churches in this little town.)
We are not carrying all our luggage. We each have a backpack where we are carrying a raincoat, water, snacks and so on (our ‘so on’ does include an iPad each). Then we have a bag which is being moved from stop to stop by a nifty company called Jacotrans. That bag has clothes, toiletries, sandals, and Jennifer’s computer equipment for her meetings. We might have done the baggage transfer anyway but the computer and a second iPad (one of the boards requires it) made it essential. Each morning we leave the bag downstairs and each afternoon it appears at our next hotel or hostel.
Even with the baggage transfer we are not carrying a lot of clothes. The wonders of high-tech merino clothes mean that if we do a washing when we arrive at our hotel it will not only dry overnight but will smell fine. Washing as soon as we arrive is the key, you don’t want to let things settle. As a result I have been rotating the same shirts and socks now for ages and I promise you I am not objectionable.
Although you can use the luggage transfer on the fly each morning, we have booked the whole trip and so it’s costing us about 4 euros a day. We could do that because we also booked our accommodation the whole way through. There were two drivers for that – the most important was we had to have appropriate places for Jennifer to do her zoom meetings with Australia, and a dorm room was not going to cut it. So we needed to be sure we had a room that would work for the meetings, and once we had booked some rooms we needed to book the others to make sure we got there. In effect booking some meant we had to book the lot. The second reason was we were wildly unenthusiastic about being in a dorm room with a shared bathroom – and I don’t regret our approach at all.
What we have learnt is that there is a half-way approach available. We booked everything through Booking.com largely because we booked nine months ahead and we could cancel up to the day before (fears of a COVID shutdown made that necessary). But we’ve found a lot of the hostels only put one, or no, rooms on Booking.com. So if we were to do this again we’d do the booking.com and then would directly contact some of the hostel with private rooms.
The reason we’d do that is some of our long days were dictated by where we could get accommodation through Booking.com. Doing it again, we’d try harder to avoid the 30+ kilometer days – we can do them, but they simply aren’t as pleasant as 20-25km.
Planning our day’s walk and navigating along the way, we have found an app called Wise Pilgrim to be invaluable. We have a guidebook which provides background information, but having an app which tells you that you are still on the right path is worth its weight in gold. The app also has up-to-date info on the best places to eat and stay which we’ve appreciated.
The walking has been tiring at times, but incredibly fulfilling. Once Jennifer’s blisters healed we’ve not really had any problems that didn’t already exist. (Well, there’s one other injury: I managed to blister my thumb wringing out the hot washing. That would be minorly irritating except it’s right where the strap for my poles goes, so I’ve been sporting a bandaid for days.)
Our days have a broad pattern. We have been trying to leave reasonably early but not stupidly so. The fact that we tend to walk fast and don’t have to seek out accommodation at the end of the day gives us room to maneuver. Breakfast is most often a coffee and croissant in a bar. We’ve been trying to aim to arrive at our destination by early afternoon. That allows us to shower, do the washing, and get something to eat by about three when most Spanish restaurants shut down until about eight.
We do walk faster than almost everyone we have come across. But we also stop at every opportunity so we tend to get places about the same time as others. We also end up passing the same people multiple times a day. One of the best things about the Camino is the community of people with a shared endeavor. Some people you get to know better, others you just share a smile and a ‘buen Camino’ greeting with as you pass.
There is a huge variety of approaches amongst people even though we all have the same goal. Some are walking in boots, some in shoes, some in sandals (which I don’t get). Backpack sizes are all over the place – and it’s constantly amazing how many people don’t wear their packs correctly. Ninety-plus percent of walkers are using poles. Jennifer and I are walking in the same boots we’ve had for ages (we think Jennifer’s blisters came about because she experimented with new socks) and our boots are showing all the signs of covering 500km in the last month.
We are I would say fitter and leaner than we started out, but I have to say all the walking has been accompanied by a lot of excellent eating – so it’s almost even in the end.