Camino Statistics

I talk a lot about the crowds and the volume of people on camino in 2013. It really caught me by surprise, especially as September and October are said to be “quiet months” for the trail. I was never really sure whether my perception of the crowds had any factual basis – until I came home and looked up the statistics.

There are a few different sites crunching the numbers but this one is a pretty reliable source on camino forums and discussion groups.

“The total number of pilgrims registered with the Pilgrims´Office between 1 January 2013 and 30 September 2013 is 189,642.” [Remember, there were still another 3 months left in the year and the numbers kept coming.]

The total for the same period in 2012 was 168,722. This is an increase of 12%.

Another site says: “Each year the pilgrims office in Santiago publishes the number of pilgrims that have received the compostela [official certificate] for that year. Since there are pilgrims that does not care about the compostela, and never pick it up, it is difficult to know exact number. Even so, the numbers below is as close as we get to “official” pilgrim numbers.

Pilgrims in 2013 that received the compostelas at the Pilgrims Office in Santiago:  215,880 pilgrims

  • On foot: 188,191 (87,17%)
  • By bike: 26,646 (12,34%)
  • By horse: 977 (0,45%)
  • In a wheelchair: 66 (0,03%)

How many of them travelled Camino Francés? 151,761 (70,30%)

You can see that most of the people walk Camino Francés, so maybe I didn’t imagine the crowds after all.

Is that less or more than you expect?

Adiós Azofra (and on towards Grañón)

Distance walked: 22.4km (from Azofra to Grañón)

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Walking from the golf club house in Cirueña towards the small village of Grañón, I passed through golden corn fields in the early morning sunshine – gorgeous! I also passed through Santo Domingo de Calzada. The town gets its name from Saint Dominic of the Road, so-called because he dedicated his life to improving the physical route for pilgrims by building bridges and roads. The town is now famous for its church and more specifically, because the church houses two live fowl – a cock and a hen.

Hmmmm….what?

Yep, you read that right. There are chickens living in the church. You couldn’t make it up!

I’m pulling this next bit from Brierley’s guidebook so you have a correct version of the story. It goes like this….

“Legend has it that a pilgrim couple and their son stopped at an inn here on their way to Santiago. The pretty innkeeper’s daughter had her eye on the handsome lad, but the devout young fellow thwarted her advances. Incensed by his refusal she hid a silver goblet in his backpack and reported him for stealing it. The innocent lad was caught and condemned to hang. Some accounts suggest the parents continued on their way, oblivious to the fate of their son and on their return from Santiago they found him still hanging on the gallows but miraculously still alive thanks to the intervention of Santo Domingo.

They rushed to the sheriff’s house and found him just about to tuck into dinner. Upon hearing the news, he retorted that their son was no more alive than the cock he was about to eat, whereupon the fowl stood up on the dish and crowed loudly. The miracle was not lost on the sheriff who rushed back to the gallows and cut down the poor lad, who was given a full pardon…..”

So, a live cock and hen are kept in the church to this day and it seems live there, permanently.

Over the previous days, the trail hummed with pilgrims talking about the cock and the hen. People asked me if I wanted to go see them, planned to go see them, would go see them. Those are three separate questions but either way my answer was roughly the same…

Hmmmm….I don’t think so.

My new shoes were working out pretty well and I expected to walk on further that day. If I were staying in the town overnight and needed something touristy to do, I might have considered a sightseeing trip to the church. But I would only pass through the town on my way west and I wasn’t that interested – however famous the cock and hen may be.

I’d heard mixed reports, too. Some people said we had to pay a fee to see the fowl, while others said that the place smelled really bad because of the poop. Others again said that there’s no guarantee of actually seeing or hearing the cock crow. They thought there wasn’t much point in making a trip of it if the creatures weren’t performing their showcase number.

I have no idea if any of these things are true.

All the chatter was entertaining but I had only one plan:

I’ll see when I get there.

By the time I arrived, I didn’t have any genuine interest in seeing the church or the famous cock and hen. The day was sunny and hot (a lovely daily occurrence) and I was more interested in finding a shady spot in which to eat my lunch. But first, I wanted to find a post office.

Ever since I purchased my new shoes in Viana, I carried my hiking sandals in my backpack. I was on my third day of carrying them and they were too heavy to keep. I decided to mail them home.

I also wanted to send some sweet treats to Handsome Husband, who was holding the fort in my absence. We spoke over the phone earlier that morning while I stopped for coffee in Cirueña, and he was on my mind. I missed him and wanted to send a small care package to let him know I was thinking of him. Oh yeah, and send some used hiking sandals too – what a lucky guy! 😉

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The Chicken-Friendly Church (and look at how blue that sky is!)

I walked the winding streets of the town, trying to find chocolate for H.H. I passed dozens of restaurants, café bars, and gift shops, all aimed at Camino tourists like myself, but I struggled to find any chocolate. I found dozens of bakeries, pastry shops (the Spaniards loved their baked goods), and ice-cream shops, but no chocolate.

I delighted at finding a supermarket but the smallest bars of chocolate they sold were in slabs of 1kg – rather heavy for mailing home, and really bad for Handsome Husband’s teeth. But that was all they had. Otherwise, I’d have to send him baked pastries and they wouldn’t survive the trip. Eventually, I found a chocolate delicatessen and in my rudimentary Spanish, ordered a few small treats for Husband. There wasn’t much but it was the best I could do.

Back at the post office, I waited in line to buy a cardboard box for the sandals and the goodies. The sandals weighed a hefty 1kg and it cost about €25 to mail them. Many people would have thought that an outrageous price for postage, and would rather leave the shoes in a hostel for someone else to use. You would be surprised at just how many people change their footwear while walking camino, and leave the old pair behind in a hostel or even on the side of the trail. It’s a practical and symbolic gesture:

Letting go that which you no longer need

Letting go of material possessions

Letting go of the weighty baggage

Giving to someone else

Sharing your resources with the people around you, or the people who will come along after you

So, I could have left my sandals somewhere instead of carrying the unnecessary 1kg in my pack for 3 days. Lord knows, my shoulders would have been in better shape if I had a lighter pack!

I considered it, but I loved those Chaco sandals and still had a few years left in them. For me, it was cheaper to pay the €25 postage than to buy a new pair later in life, so I paid the money and watched them take the box from my hands.

The woman behind the counter had difficulty understanding my intended destination for the package. I guess she was used to seeing pilgrims come in and post their unwanted belongings on to Santiago, rather than sending them home. I’d heard this was possible – that if, for example, you had too much clothing in your pack, you could mail it to the main post office in Santiago for a nominal fee, and then collect it when you arrive in the city weeks later. It’s a smart idea – it allows pilgrims to lighten the load in their backpacks without having to throw away belongings that they wanted to keep.

I’d heard of the service but didn’t know how it worked or how much it cost. I also didn’t have enough Spanish to really find out. And either way, I knew I was done with the sandals and wanted to send them home. I wouldn’t need them in Santiago so I put Husband’s address on the front. The woman behind the counter challenged me on this and wanted to clarify why I wasn’t sending things to Santiago.

She spoke to me in Spanish and I understood maybe 10% of the words, but 100% of her gesturing.

You’re sending this to Santiago?

No, thank you.

You’re sure?

Yes, I’m sure thanks.

But where are you sending it then? What is this address? You know this isn’t a Santiago address, right?

Yes, I know, that address is my home.

Your home?

Yes, my home. My casa, sí.

Your casa?

Yes, my casa.

This is where you live?

Yes, thank you.

So you’re sending this to your home and not to Santiago?

Yes, exactly!

Oh…but that’s going to cost a lot of money!

Ah…that’s okay thank you.

It would be much cheaper to send it to Santiago, you know.

Ah thank you, but no.

You’re a pilgrim, right?

Yes, I am.

Are you sure you want to mail this package?

Yes please.

Okay, so you’re sending this package and it’s quite heavy and expensive. Are you sure you don’t want to send it to Santiago?

🙂

We went round in circles like this for 5-10 minutes and in the end, she accepted my decision. She shook her head at the madness but followed my request to send the box home, and filled out the forms and paperwork.

I didn’t have any return address to put on it, of course. I was a transient pilgrim and didn’t know where I’d sleep from one day to the next. I certainly wasn’t going back to any of the hostels I’d already stayed in. So I didn’t have a return address to give her.

She wrote the word “Peregrina” (pilgrim) all over the box. In other words:

If this package cannot be delivered, return it to this specific post office because the woman mailing it is effectively homeless right now. And if  you have to return it, we might track her down even though she’ll probably be finished walking by then and be on a plane home. The pilgrim is crazy anyway because she’s sending this box home instead of sending it to Santiago (even though I tried telling her but she wouldn’t listen!). So if she’s crazy enough to spend €25 on postage and the package comes back to us, she might be crazy enough to forget all about it. Let’s hope this casa address is real and that you don’t have to return this box. But if you do have to return it, return it to here.

I walked out of the post office feeling lighter in my backpack and hopeful that the box would arrive at its destination. I gave the chicken-friendly church a miss, and sat in the shade eating my lunch of baguette and cheese. Only another 6.2km to the hostel in Grañón, and hopefully a free space in which to sleep.

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“Doing the Camino”

I’ve debated whether to write this post but for a few minutes, I really want to explore the notion of “doing the Camino”. People say it all the time: “Oh, I’ve a friend who did that” or “Did you do the whole thing?” I’m trying to figure it out: what do we mean when we talk about doing the Camino?

I may be showing my age here but when I hear the phrase, I imagine Beavis and Butthead, sniggering and snorting, “Um…yeah…doing it…huh huh huh…” (That’s probably the first time that Beavis and Butthead have made it into a blog about the Camino de Santiago 🙂

I probably used the phrase myself before I packed my bag and went to Spain, but on my second day of walking, I met a woman who’s use of the phrase really challenged my thinking. She and I met in Roncesvalles, sitting in a restaurant with probably 70+ other people. We’d never met each other before, so we passed the next two hours eating fried fish and chips, drinking wine, and making small talk with the six other women at our table. For what it’s worth, the fish and chips were truly delicious, smothered in grease and salt.

This particular woman struck me as a real go-getter: ambitious, outgoing, and an achiever in life. She had travelled extensively to offbeat places like the Galápagos Islands. I found her stories interesting until she said things like:

“I’ve done South America. I’ve done Asia. Last year I did Kilimanjaro: now I’m doing Camino. After I finish Camino I’m doing the New York marathon.”

Or maybe it was Boston.

But you get the idea: everything was already “done” or on the “to do” list. And ideally, in quick succession.

Over time, I felt uneasy listening to her because her list was extensive. She had lots of stories and factual information, but had very little to say about how these things made her feel or had influenced her life. I wasn’t looking for a big Oprah revelation (or maybe I was) but it just seemed she had done all of these things and not reflected on any of them.

Had a trip to the Galápagos Islands been a childhood dream come true, for instance?

How did it feel at the top of Kilimanjaro?

Had these experiences changed her in any way or made her life richer?

I hadn’t a clue.

She had done lots of impressive and awesome things, but the way she listed them off made them sound trivial. I didn’t want to challenge who she was in the world, but internally, I found myself challenging her choice of language.

What is this fascination with “doing” all the time? Is it a western preoccupation? Do we have a fear of idleness? Maybe a fear of our own mortality? Is it a way of padding the job applications to demonstrate just how fabulous and qualified we all are, all the time? Maybe it’s a way of standing out in a world full of seven billion people?

There was something about her story telling that made me think of this:

Consuming, without engaging.

It’s like eating a meal without letting the taste of the food register in your mouth.

Consuming the experience, the travel, the mountain, the pilgrimage, whatever, without engaging with it or reflecting on it in any great detail. Consuming it, without even noticing it. Consuming it without acknowledging how magical it is to be alive at all, and in a position to experience such wondrous treats.

You know those books that list off 5,000 places to see before you die? Well, it felt like she was making her way through that list with great efficiency but with very little joy or wonder.

Galápagos Islands? Check!

Camino? Check!

Lived, died, dead, and buried? Check, check, check, check!

 

I really didn’t know, but I could imagine the rest of her script looking something like this: “I did Camino. I did the New York marathon. I did the old age thing. I did life.”

By all means “do the dishes” or “do the laundry” but don’t “do Asia” or “do Kilimanjaro”.

Save a bit of space for feeling delight or awe now and then. Please.

 

I reflected on her words for weeks afterwards. Do, do…done, did, did…everything sounded like a check box item, neatly ticked. Trying to equate this with Camino was unsettling because I met hundreds of people “doing it” in different ways.

For instance: I walked 800km between France and Spain, but I met a guy who walked from Prague. That’s right: he started walking six months before I did so by the time we met, he’d already crossed through the Czech Republic, Germany, France, and then Spain. Could you equate our walk in any way? Was he “doing the Camino” better than me, or more fully than me because he walked further, for longer? Compared to him, was I even “doing it” at all?

Were the mass-going Catholics “doing it” better? Were the people who walked only 100km from Sarria “doing the Camino”? What about the people who walked for a week at a time now and then – were they “doing the Camino” for just a week, or for years?

I met people walking and cycling. I had a group of people go by me on horseback. I heard of a guy who was “doing it” on a unicycle. One day, I saw two people on quad bikes! Were we all “doing” the same Camino?

Personally, I wanted to walk the Camino for more than ten years. I knew I wanted to walk westwards from the French side of the Pyrenees for 800km, alone, carrying all my belongings on my back, and in one full run. I didn’t want to do a week at a time or make do with a shorter version. Don’t ask me why but that was always my aspiration, and with the exception of two short and unplanned taxi trips, I “did” the Camino as I had hoped. I was very happy about fulfilling the dream with its detailed specifications. But in all my time walking, I met hundreds of people who were experiencing the same route in different ways. I couldn’t figure out who was “doing it” properly or truly, or how we would ever calculate that measurement to begin with.

So the only thing I could come up with was to change my choice of language. I stopped talking about “doing the Camino” and instead, talked about “walking the Camino”. I expect most people don’t notice the difference and don’t care either way but for me, my change of language marked a change in my thinking. That dinner in Roncesvalles, so early in the whole journey, reminded me of why I was there. I didn’t want to consume without engaging: I wanted to be open to the experience and even be changed by it. I wanted it to touch my heart. I wanted it to fill me with feelings of delight and awe. I wanted to live it and celebrate it, not just do it.

So, in all my writing and rambling, I’m aiming to keep that phrase to a minimum. It’s not my phrase and it’s not my preference, and I really need to explain my distinct reasons for rejecting it.

Phew.

So glad I got that off my mind, it’s been rattling around in there for quite a while!

That’s my thinking on the matter, but what’s yours? When you think of “doing the Camino”, what do you think of?