Our days are beginning to blend in to one another. The daily routine sometimes seems to take away from the other blessings that we continue to receive on the Camino. We continue to see beautiful scenery, interact with beautiful people, and experience the Camino graces. But, it all occurs within the context of our daily needs and physical concerns. There are things that we need to do and preparations that have to be met without fail or we fall behind. So, I thought I’d spend a little time describing what our daily routine has settled into. In other posts I’ve written about the wonders and graces we encounter every day, but there are also the much less glamorous and mundane aspects of the Camino that I thought I’d share today.
Our days start around 6:00 am (give or take) when other pilgrims in the albergue start to stir and prepare themselves for an early start. In some albergues (particularly the municipal albergues) the lights might actually be turned on at six. So, generally we begin our mornings at that time, too. In albergues where others are still sleeping, this packing may be done in the dark, perhaps using light from our hikers headlamps. Our packs are made ready for the day and we make our way out to the common area (often the kitchen/dining room), greet other early risers, apply sunscreen, and start preparing our feet for the Camino (one of the most important tasks of the day.) For me, this involves applying a thin coat of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to prevent rubbing or chafing, then donning thin liner socks and wool hiking socks. This might sound a little strange, but it seems to work. We are 13 days into our pilgrimage and still don’t have any blisters! Others are suffering terribly. Then we are ready to put on our boots, saddle up with our packs, and head out onto the Camino – often while it is still dark and often before 7:00 am.
We typically walk for an hour or so to the next town on the way. During this time it is delightfully cool and we often are treated to magnificent sunrises. In the first town, we can quickly spot the one of two cafés that are open and serving desayuno (breakfast). They are the ones with backpacks out front and pilgrims scattered about. Here we stop for breakfast which usually is quite light, consisting of cafe con leche (coffee with milk), toast with jelly or tostada de potata (not like a Mexican tortilla, but more like an omelet with potatoes), and maybe some orange juice – all for about 3 euros. If we can find a market open at this hour we will buy some provisions for lunch (fruit, juice, a sandwich, or the like). Then we are back on the Camino, hiking for the next few hours.
Sometime before noon we usually look for a place with shade where we can rest, take off our packs, boots and socks, and have our lunch. Cooling our feet during this time is very refreshing. Then we hike for another few hours until we reach our destination for the day. By this time the sun is up and beating down mercilessly on us. The Camino often has no shade available and we get very hot and sweaty. The packs begin to weigh down on us. Every step is magnified in our imagination. Our minds begin to ask questions about why we are even doing this. It often requires an effort of mind over matter to just…keep…going. There is a lot of graffiti on the trail and one I liked captured the spirit of this feeling. It read as follows: “Walk as far as you can, and then take another step.”
Eventually we reach our destination for the day and check into an albergue. Our guidebook lists all the albergues on the Camino, including information about the total number of beds available, the number of rooms containing the beds, and the price. It also tells us if the albergue is a municipal facility, one run by a church or monastery, or a private facility. The municipal and church-associated albergues do not take reservations, but we have discovered that the private albergues do. So, on occasion we have called ahead to make a reservation. This is sometimes critical since we walk at a slower pace than most other pilgrims and the rule is usually first come, first served. So, if you don’t arrive in time, there may not be any more beds available. This can be a problem since it turns the Camino into a kind of race to see who can get there before the others, which is not really in keeping with the spirit of the Camino, in my humble opinion. But, it is the reality of the situation and needs to be kept in mind. Every day we evaluate our options and act accordingly.
After checking into the albergue and getting our bed assignments we have some essential, end-of-day chores. First order of business is a shower – often in mixed gender bathrooms. There is always enough privacy to allow one to maintain his or her modesty, but you must accept that people in various stages of dress or undress will be in the room with you. You get over your inhibitions within a day or two. It’s just not an issue here and is part of daily life on the Camino. Look the other way if it bothers you. Next, we have to wash our sweaty clothes from the day. This is done by hand in tubs or sinks and the wash is then hung up on lines to dry (hopefully.) Next, we empty and then refill our backpack water bladders so they will be ready for the day’s trek.
At this point – especially after the shower – you start to feel much better in body and in spirit. Some ibuprophen helps reduce the aches and pains acquired during the day’s march. But, this is the time of day when you can relax, wander about the town, maybe have a beer with tapas, and enjoy dinner. We look for restaurants serving “pilgrim menus” since the meals, although simple, have been remarkably good and are very inexpensive (usually only 10 to 12 euros.). Then, it is back to the albergue to retrieve your laundry from the line, maybe work on email or a blog if there is WiFi available, and prepare for sleep. Lights-out happens promptly at 10:00 pm and everyone is expected to be quiet and go to sleep – usually not a problem after what we have been through all day. Of course, the Camino is also famous for it’s snorers. So, that’s another issue you need to deal with. And, that’s what earplugs are for.
So, that’s the not-so-glamorous side to the Camino. But, even though it is hard, hot, dirty work, the rewards so far have immensely out-weighted the negatives. The routine is good and the physical demands have been good. I believe this is all part of what makes the Camino so special and worthwhile. I think that one day we will look back, perhaps even with some fondness, at the daily rituals and hardships that are part of every true pilgrim’s Camino.