Books by Shirley
The Camino - Where to Start
Where does One Begin?
St. John Pied de Port is considered the ancestral beginning of one's journey on the Santiago de Compostela Camino. It ends after some 800 kilometers in Santiago. Getting to St. John Pied de Port can be done in several ways, but here are two of the easiest.
You can fly to Madrid followed by a very efficient European train to Pamplona. In Pamplona you will find a bus that leaves hourly to Roncesvalles. Once you are in Roncevalles, hire a cab to take you to St. John Pied de Port.
The other way is to fly to Paris, catch the train to Bayonne and, once in Bayonne, take a local train to St. John Pied de Port. The trains from Bayonne to St. John Pied de Port leave every half hour, but end their service at 10:00 PM.
It might be difficult to find a room or a bed if you arrive late in the evening, so if at all possible try to arrive during the day. This will also provide ample time to absorb the local ambiance, obtain your pilgrim's passport and locate the beginning of the Camino.
The Pilgrim's Passport
The pilgrim's passport is necessary for all who wish to stay in refugios which is where you can obtain your passport. It is important to get your passport stamp at each refugio along the way. The stamps will be your documentation that you have completed your pilgrimage when you arrive in Santiago.
The Pilgrim's Refugios
Staying in a refugio is part of the Camino experience. The purpose of the refugios is to provide a place to sleep and bathe; it is a place of refuge. Because they are simple and cover only the basic human needs, they put you in touch with the fact that all you really need in this world is you. Most are open from May through early November, but some stay open year round. The majority are free, but a donation of five pesatas or three dollars is always appreciated. The pilgrim's are granted their space in a refugio on a first come first serve basis. Sometimes they are full, especially in July, and alternative lodging must be found. The locals cater to the needs of the pilgrim's and will usually do their best to help locate a place to sleep.
Also be certain to remember that siestas are a way of life in Spain. Siesta time may vary, but businesses generally close between the hours of noon and four in the afternoon. Some pilgrim's have a difficult time adjusting to the concept of a siesta, but this is, and has been, their way of life which we need to respect.
Something else to keep in mind is that fiestas (celebrations) are common. Crowded streets and closed businesses are a good indication that you have arrived during a fiesta.
When is the best time to go?
The summer is very hot and the fall is rainy. Many Spaniards, and other Europeans, walk the Camino during their July and August holiday, so if solitude is important to you, (and it should be) plan your journey earlier or later. No matter when you go, try to walk alone. You will undoubtedly make friends along the way, but take this precious time for discussions and discovery within yourself.
Of course when you go depends on your schedule, but most importantly it depends on you. Are you ready to shed the creature comforts we cherish? Are you ready to explore your innermost thoughts, beliefs and ideals? Are you ready to surrender to yourself? If you are, then this, or any other pilgrimage will be a wondrous journey.