The evening before my Camino began, some new friends and I had dinner in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port with a woman who had walked 12 days before an injury ended her Camino. Twelve days! A veteran. We plied her with questions. Now I don’t remember anything she said.
I’m a big believer in spontaneity on the Camino—if you’re planning too much, you’re doing it wrong. Advice kind of implies planning, but I would like to give some very minimal advice without too many specifics. Advice without spoilers, if you will.
Best Meals (for Food and Company)
The most reliably great meals I had on the Camino came in these two ways:
- Communal meals, often in donativos, and
- Meals prepared by the proprietors of the albergue.
In a communal meal you’ll be asked to help cook or clean. (That’s part of the definition of “communal meal.”) I usually had a good time doing either one. I didn’t discover them until relatively late in my journey, but If I ever walk it again, I’ll hit up as many communal meals as possible. Advice: Look for communal meals or places where the proprietor cooks for you.
Bonus #3: Meals cooked with fellow pilgrims were always great for company, and about 50% of the time good for the food.
Bocadillos are a type of sandwich very common in Spain. Usually they’re quite minimalist, consisting of about 9 parts bread to 1 part meat and/or cheese. They’re often dry and hard to swallow and seem more like meat-flavored bread than anything I’d call a sandwich. However, they make pretty good hiking food. Advice: If you’re getting tired of the same old default bocadillo, try asking the server to add lettuce and tomato to dress it up a bit. (Okay, one spolier: The Spanish tortilla bocadillo makes great hiking food.)
Menus del día or Pilgrim Menu
The “Pilgrim Menu” is billed as a set menu available to Camino pilgrims for a low price. For non-pilgrims it’s called the “Menu del día” (menu of the day) and costs the same, so I don’t really think the restaurants are doing pilgrims any favors. The first course is usually a high-carbohydrate dish like a large plate of pasta. Advice: If this gets to be too much day after day after day, try asking for a salad instead. The “ensalada mixta” is usually good. (The second course is a protein dish usually vaguely labeled as “Meat,” “Chicken,” or “Fish.”)
A meat-filled white bean soup I found common in Galicia. It originates from Asturias, but I first discovered it in Ponferrada, which is in the region of Castile and León, and it was my go-to dish for my time in Galicia. If fabada was on the menu, I ordered fabada. From WikiPedia: “Fabada is made with dried large white beans (fabes de la Granja), shoulder of pork (Lacón Gallego) or bacon (tocino), black pudding (morcilla), chorizo, and often saffron (azafrán).” I was happy to replace my bocadillo habit with a fabada routine. Advice: If fabada is on the menu, order it.
Like the meals, I had good luck at donativo albergues. A “donativo” is an albergue that accepts a donation of your choosing. They usually recommend 5–10 euros for lodging and another 5–10 for the meal if there is one. I always went for the meals in theses places. Someone in one of my walking groups had a list of donativos but I don’t know where she got it. Advice: Choose a donativo over a municipal albergue whenever possible.
I had six or seven nights when I could not sleep because of snoring. Advice: If snoring gets to be too much, try moving, either to a commons area or an overflow room. I’m not aware of anyone getting kicked off a couch in the middle of the night. I’m sure anyone who sees you sleeping on a couch will guess you’re escaping some snoring. (Those six or seven nights were either before I discovered I could move or in places where there were no unlocked areas to escape to.)
Side note: It’s rare, and hard to believe, but some albergues, like the massive one in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, have a “snoring room.” The idea is if you know you’re a snorer, you can be cool and take a bed in the snoring room to avoid disturbing everyone else in the room. (In case you’re wondering, there were no snorers in my room at this albergue.) Someone later told me that few snorers want to use the snoring rooms—I guess they don’t like snoring to be stigmatized—so to avoid snoring, you should try putting yourself in the snoring room! That sounds a little too clever to be true, but it’s an interesting contrarian thought.
Perhaps I have given too much away! If you would like some recommendations for albergues that I found particularly good for lodging or food, email me and I’ll send you my short list.
Oh, one more thing: use an umbrella.