Here are some FAQs about the Camino Frances:
Who are you going with? Like many pilgrims, I am walking alone. I’m walking in the busy summer season so there will be thousands of others along the 500 mile stretch at any given time. I don’t imagine I’ll be starved for company.
Where does the Camino start? There is no fixed starting point. Some people begin in Rome, others in Paris, some even start in Jerusalem. The most common start (especially for Spaniards) is in Sarria, about 65 miles from Santiago. It’s the shortest distance a pilgrim can walk and still qualify for a Compostela (see below), and it is easily completed in a week. The most popular route for foreigners begins in St. Jean Pied de Port or Roncesvalles, about 500 miles from Santiago.
How long does it take? I have allowed 30 days to reach Santiago. That’s a bit ambitious but certainly doable. It just doesn’t allow for rest days or injury delays.
How far do you walk each day? I need to average 16 miles a day to reach Santiago in time for my flight home.
How do you know where to go? The route is vey well marked by yellow arrows and scallop shells…hundreds of miles of arrows and shells. I will also have my iPhone and Google Maps as well as a scanned PDF of the leading guide book. Even so, I’ll expect get lost from time to time. (I am The Lost Girl after all) Fortunately, the locals can easily identify pilgrims and are very good about getting them back on track.
Do you worry about safety? The Camino is considered to be very safe so I don’t have any real concerns. I suppose just leaving home is a risk. No worries, I’m a tough old bird. (Note: we were robbed in our sleep in our locked hotel room in France a few years ago.)
Where do you sleep? I intend to sleep in albergues, which are basically hostels. Think big rooms with lots of beds. There are many, many albergues along the Camino. They are run by local municipalities, religious orders, Camino organizations and private individuals. There are also many privately operated accommodations and pensions along the route. Because I’m walking during the busy season, there may competition for beds but I’m sure it will all work out. I didn’t sign up for the Ritz Carlton on this trip.
What about food? The Camino Frances has a well developed support system so I don’t expect food to be a problem. In fact, I hope to find some really good food along the way. There are lots and lots of restaurants that cater to pilgrims and offer daily pilgrim menus. Also, many albergues provide meals or have kitchens where I can do my own, or collaborative, cooking. (I have a fork and a steak knife in my pack, a lesson I learned a long time ago.)
Who does your laundry? I do…by hand. I’m not staying at the Ritz, remember? It’s the “wear one, wash one” approach. You can be sure I won’t be struggling with clothing decisions–simplify, simplify…
What is a Pilgrim’s Passport? The Pilgrim’s Passport (Credential) is similar a regular passport in that it is stamped as evidence of its owner having been somewhere. Every time you stop at an albergue (hostel), restaurant, store, church, etc., you ask to have the passport stamped. On arrival at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago a clerk will review the stamps to determine if you qualify for a Compostela.
What is a Compostela? The Compostela is a certificate that says you completed the minimum requirements of the Camino by walking at least the last 100 kilometers…and be able to prove it. I will be walking 800 kilometers. For a Catholic there is some forgiveness of sins but since I’m not Catholic I don’t understand this.
What’s up with the scallop shell? The scallop is the symbol of St. James, thus making it the symbol of the Camino. It, along with lots of yellow arrows, marks the way to Santiago. Ever eaten Coquille St. Jacques? Well, there’s that scallop shell again… More info