Spain plans- trying to work out the details.
March 20, 2012 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Camino de Santiago/Spain- help me develop my plan by Wednesday

So I've decided I want to do the Camino de Santiago (thanks for the suggestion in one of my previous questions). I'll be trying to do the Camino Frances. I'm really worried about being alone and also potential for snowy weather. Because of the snowy weather concern, I've decided to start in Pamplona instead of Saint Jean Pied de Port, which I guess puts me past one range of hills. I don't understand the path very well- are there other places where this would be a concern?

So my plan is to just start on the trek alone and try to find other people to stick to. I'm worried that this will be hard to do at this time of the year since there'll be less people since I guess this is mostly a summer thing. I really don't want to walk alone- I have fears of being attacked.

If I don't feel comfortable when starting (as I feel pretty anxious about this right now) then I've decided that I'll have a bunch of back up plans for other things to do. I'm thinking horseriding lessons as I've always wanted to learn that, and cooking lessons.

Please share with me your thoughts about my concerns and also please send me any links you have to relatively affordable back-up plans in Spain, hopefully with a fitness element. I'm leaving Wednesday and coming back 4.5 weeks later, late April. Hopefully unharmed. :(

I know there are more relevant forums for the Camino part of this question but you are like my internet family that I trust more.
posted by saraindc to Travel & Transportation around Spain (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I did this alone after I graduated from college. Pamplona has a nice, big, municipal albergue (as well as a small German-run one outside the city walls). I think you'll have no trouble meeting people. If it is any comfort, the most popular hostel in SJPDP is completely booked for a week when it opens starting March 30, and I'm sure a lot of people are starting out earlier than that.

There is only one other day with huge elevation changes and it comes about 3 weeks into the trek, so I wouldn't worry about snow. The hospitaleros along the way will give you advice.

You mentioned that you are afraid of being attacked-- by human or animal? The only animals you're likely to meet are cows (they'll ignore you) and dogs. Flashers are an occasional problem, so it might comfort you to read up on strategies to deal with them. Personally I never came across one but I did hear some secondhand stories. Trekking poles are both fashionable in Europe and excellent protection from intimidating animals/people.

While walking along roads people may stop from time to time to offer you a ride or some advice. Before assuming the worst, check to make sure that you are following the yellow arrows correctly-- most likely, you've veered off the path and they're trying to help you. Hitchhiking is common enough; accept rides from females/couples/families if it makes you feel more comfortable.

Definitely buy a scallop shell. It helps identify you as a pilgrim (more so than the backpack) and people will be more helpful.

Remember on the Camino, you're never far away from a telephone or a taxi. It's ok to stay an extra day somewhere, or to skip a leg.

Make sure you have a great guidebook, I used the Brierly. Favorite albergues: Granon, Tosantos, Ventosa, private in Boadilla.

Have fun! One of my favorite experiences ever. As far as "sticking to people" goes, that's what I tried to avoid, but most people do make a buddy and stick with them. It may help to be the first one out the door in the morning, and allow people to gradually catch up with you throughout the day-- much better than being the last one in at the end of the day.
posted by acidic at 11:42 AM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

You will be fine! I did this alone 10 years ago, there are no safety issues other than pickpockets and blisters. If you can, start in Roncesvalles instead of Pamplona - leaving from the monastery is cool because they give you a blessing to send you off.
posted by yarly at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2012

worried about being attacked by people- not animal. specifically by men with 'unwanted sexual advances'
posted by saraindc at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2012

although i guess i could start worrying about animal attacks too...haven't had any rabies shots.
posted by saraindc at 1:31 PM on March 20, 2012

You've found my favourite thing! I've walked twice from Pamplona, once from Roncesvalles, a couple of weeks out of Le Puy, and I'm booking my flight for Sevllia soon.

I'm worried that this will be hard to do at this time of the year since there'll be less people since I guess this is mostly a summer thing.

Even at this time of year, there will be a couple of dozen people a day doing the early stages, many more by the end. (51 people reached Santiago today although most of those will have started much closer to the end.) You also don't really want to be walking in July/August: other than the sun and heat, the numbers of people passing through are incredible and they place a huge load on the infrastructure. (In August, 1500 people arrive a day into Santiago.) Racing to make sure you get a bed is not fun.

potential for snowy weather

Roncesvalles (~950m) is a long way from the highest point on the Camino Frances (the Cruz de Hierro a couple of weeks later is at ~1500m), and certainly won't be the coldest place you'll be. This site will generate a good elevation profile if you plug in some dummy data.

Of course, your actual concern is snow rather than the cold, and I can't answer for conditions right now directly, but the descent down to Zubiri (or beyond) on the first day does drop the altitude reasonably promptly, and I remember it as a beautiful relaxing walk. I certainly regret not starting in Roncesvalles the first couple of trips, and if I was starting tomorrow, I would be starting there.

If there's a problem with the track, the refugio-keepers there would presumably let you know, and you can either walk on the road or even take the bus back the next day.

So my plan is to just start on the trek alone and try to find other people to stick to.

Many, many people do this in ones and twos, and there are more foreigners than Spaniards, so meeting up with people really isn't a problem. People tend to fall into a rhythm of a certain distance per day, so that you'll often bump into the same people every evening in the next refugio, even if you haven't been walking with them. If you're particularly shy, "Have you found out where to have dinner yet" is a good opener, as is anything to do with feet.

I have fears of being attacked.

I can only say that I have never heard of this as being a problem, but I'm not you.

Petty theft can be an issue, of course, but more so in the busier months; I have heard of people having their walking poles stolen, and my shoes were stolen from the large municipal refugio in Burgos (yes, really.) If you are incredibly unlucky and lose something, don't sweat it -- the pilgrims are a large market and there is an outdoor/hiking shop of some kind every few days.

I've decided that I'll have a bunch of back up plans for other things to do. I'm thinking horseriding lessons as I've always wanted to learn that, and cooking lessons.

Honestly, if you don't make it, this will likely be for a physical reason (probably blisters, possibly knees/hips), so if you are vaguely thinking about backup plans, I'd be inclined to look into cooking rather than horse-riding.

A few assorted thoughts...

* The best practical guide book is the CSJ one, but I haven't seen it for sale in Spain, and I doubt that they have it in DC either.

* Take zinc oxide tape and needle/thread for the feet.

* Pick up a poncho, preferably one which covers your pack as well, because you will get rained on hard at some point.

* This forum is active, and has good general advice about what to take and what to leave behind.

Feel free to message me if you have any other questions.
posted by robtoo at 1:41 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seriously, you are much safer on the camino than walking around in the US! Spaniards may think it is odd that you are traveling alone (europeans tend to be much more communal) but you will have plenty of opportunity to make friends. If for whatever reason a fellow pilgrim gives you the willies, you will never be that alone. And you can always stay a few days in a town and let him walk on. But believe me, blisters are a much bigger worry. Invest in great high tech socks, but wear sneakers instead of heavy boots.
posted by yarly at 2:55 PM on March 20, 2012

I walked the Camino Francais for the first time in 1990 (and have gone on pilgrimage twice more since) when it was far less popular than today and even then there were always other pilgrims nearby and now there are many more. More important is that through shared goal and shared meals and shared blisters, you'll almost certainly form a community with other pilgrims. I predict that very quickly there will be people around looking out specifically for you.

Also, although there are some mountains later on the route as well, none of the mountains on the Camino are exactly what some North Americans think of when they think of mountains. You won't be crossing the Rockies on foot, these are big hills. All the bigger after days of walking, but still.

Acidic and Robtoo give lots of give advice, I especially agree that staying in Roncesvalles is a great way to start your trip. It's a small community that has pretty much existed for pilgrims for hundreds of years and you'll be sure to meet all the other pilgrims there, in Pamplona you'll be just another tourist. And, well...Roland.

Wherever you choose to start though I'm sure you'll enjoy your trip.

Please message me if there's anything I can help you with.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 3:44 PM on March 20, 2012

Acidic and Robtoo give lots of good advice...grr
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 3:46 PM on March 20, 2012

OK, I found this video that might help you get a feel for things. It's by some pilgrims who started at just this time of year in 2008. It looks like there was some snow before Pamplona, though it doesn't seem to have been impassible.

Also if you want some idea of what some places along the way look like right now, there's always Webcams del Camino de Santiago. Unfortunately as the I write this, the answer for all them appears to be...dark.

Forgive me if I poke my head in again with something I've found...thinking about this makes me want to walk the Camino again RIGHT NOW.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 4:37 PM on March 20, 2012

Congratulation - you're embarking on a beautiful thing. I did the Camino Frances in late Fall 2003, setting off by myself. I spoke little to no Spanish, and easily found people to walk with. I saw no aggressive or threatening behavior at all, and it was one of the best things I've ever done. It took me a little while to wrap my head around this, but the camino has been in use more-or-less constantly for the last 800 - 1000 years, and the Camino Frances is the most popular route. In practice that means that if you want company, just sit tight - soon you'll find a German church group, for example, or a Brazilian communist, to walk with.
The weather is unpredictable, of course, but the whole thing is so extremely well-established that I simply wouldn't worry about logistics - just get up and go. Definitely get a pilgrim's pass so you can stay in the refugios. Take earplugs, wool socks, and a poncho. Pack much less than you think you'll need, then pare down by 1/2. You can buy toiletries along the way, for example, and SD cards, walking poles, etc. Compeed is the best thing for blisters; they sell it there.
Please do consider starting in Roncesvalles/Orreaga/Roncevaux.
God I wish I were going. Buen Camino.
posted by jcrcarter at 5:04 PM on March 20, 2012

so I'm back! I walked from Pamplona to Santiago in 30 days and it was fantastic. I quickly realized that it was much safer than anywhere else I've lived so my fears of being attacked disappeared quickly- although still possible, it didn't feel more possible than daily life. I skipped the snow in the beginning by skipping St. Jean but it hit hard in O Cebreiro later....but by then I was in the groove of things and could handle it.

Thank you so much for giving me the confidence to go on the journey of a lifetime! It was really amazing.
posted by saraindc at 2:09 AM on April 28, 2012

Yay! What a great update! So glad you went and had a fabulous time.
posted by yarly at 7:22 AM on April 28, 2012

I just saw you updated. Really happy you had such a great time.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 7:50 PM on May 23, 2012

« Older Temporary SFTP/Rsync for traveling videography   |   Recommend a surf instructor / school for one-time... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.