Seven Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago
by Cheri Powell

Supplemental Information

This page was developed to be a companion to the book. To keep printing costs down, no illustrations were included in the physical book. You can find them all here. I’ve included some additional information and lots of photos. You can download the cost spreadsheet in Appendix C and click on Internet sites in Appendix D.

I’d love to hear your comments. Let me know how this page worked for you. Tell me about your Camino plans or comments on your completed trip.

Buen Camino!

Book cover
Tip #1   |   Tip #2   |   Tip #3   |   Tip #4   |   Tip #5   |   Tip #6   |   Tip #7

Appendix A   |   Appendix B   |   Appendix C   |   Appendix D

Tip #1 – Know the History of the Camino
St. James is usually depicted in one of two ways: a fighter or a pilgrim. As a fighter, he is Santiago Matamoros or St. James the Moor Slayer. It is in this guise that he appeared to the local armies who were trying to drive the Moors out the Iberian peninsula. This is the way he appeared in several of his miracles.

He is also portrayed as a pilgrim, although he never actually undertook that role. He is dressed in robes with the traditional cockleshell on his hat, a bag with supplies, a gourd for carrying water and a staff. These items have become the traditional symbols of a pilgrim. There are many examples of both representations along the Camino.

The silver casket, which holds the remains of St. James, is located directly under the altar in the cathedral. Unlike the bejeweled image that is directly above, pilgrims cannot touch the casket. It can only be viewed and photographed.

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Tip #2 – Know What to Take and What to Leave Behind

On our first day out from St. Jean Pied-de-Port we met a colorful Spanish pilgrim wearing traditional symbols of the Camino. This was his third time walking the Camino and he told us that he always wore this outfit on the section from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Roncevalles. For the remainder of the journey he looked like the rest of the modern day pilgrims.

We found this sign along the Camino, early in the trip. It says: “Pilgrim: This is the way to Santiago and it is an organization much older than Bierzo (local wine). Bring your bread and raise your (glass of) wine, because ‘with bread and wine you walk the Camino.’” I suppose this was all that was needed by early pilgrims.

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Tip #3 – Know How to Set Expectations and Goals

Until you actually walk the Camino it is difficult to envision the different terrains that you will experience. These photos will give you a flavor of some of what we encountered on various days.

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Tip #4 – Know How to Get There, Get Around and Get Back

These inexpensive carriers are available to carry your treasures back home. This one survived as airline luggage with no problems.

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Tip #5 – Some Good Things to Know

Albergues come in all shapes and sizes. In some places along the way, you can find advertising for upcoming albergues.

There are many fountains along the route. Carry a refillable bottle and you will never be thirsty. There is even one fountain at a winery that dispenses both water and wine. The sign that accompanies it says: “If you wish to arrive in Santiago with strength and vitality, then with this wine, drink a toast to happiness. – Irache Fountain – Fountain of Wine”

The signposts that point the way are as varied as the landscape. It may be a small sign in a field or a large map showing the countryside. Whatever the sign, there is a yellow arrow and usually a representation of a shell.

The Santiago Cathedral is a magnificent structure. And within the cathedral is the Portico de la Gloria where the master sculptor Mateo left his great work. This is where the pilgrim goes to make a wish and to butt heads with Mateo.

But there is even more going on here than meets the eye. Earlier on the Camino, I had inadvertently recorded a bit of drama that had taken place soon after Mateo finished his masterpiece. I took pictures of what I thought were curious statues. One was of a woman who seemed to have her breasts cut off and on a plate. Next to her was another figure who seemed to have his/her eyes on a plate. I did not think any more about them until I saw the curiously shaped cheese being sold in a shop in Santiago and heard the story of how Mateo’s portico was changed.

Around the upper part of the portico there are figures of various staints. It seems that the image of Ester was especially well endowed. The figure of Daniel is across the way and his line of vision goes directly to Ester’s breasts. This sparked a lot of talk at the time and the cathedral leaders ordered Ester’s statue to be altered and the breasts reduced in size. This act also attracted attention and caused some lesser known sculptor to create the curious statues I had photographed. And the curiously shaped cheese, called tetillas in Spanish, is still being sold in markets today.

The compostela that is given out is rather official looking. It does not inspire the same emotion I get when looking at my pilgrims passport.

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Tip # 6 – Know the Etiquette on the Path and in the Albergues

The Camino is truly an international place. This becomes even more evident as pilgrims gather each afternoon and evening in an albergue. Language barriers are overcome with signs in several languages. Sometimes all that is needed are pictures and arrows.

Claiming a bunk is easy – put your backpack prominently in the middle of the bed. All albergues have places to wash and dry clothes and shower.

It is a shame when some deface the Camino with graffiti and litter. Unfortunately, as we neared Santiago, the incidence of both became more prevalent. At least a few try to channel artistic talent into murals and humorous paintings that can be enjoyed.

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Tip #7 – Know How to Stay Healthy on the Camino

Sadly, some pilgrims never leave the Camino. The occasional shrine or monument can be found along the way.

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Appendix A – A Typical Day

This is a picture of the schoolhouse albergue. We’ve claimed the last bunk next to the windows.

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Appendix B – Spiritual Side Trips

Just looking at the pictures of Eunate brings back a peaceful feeling. The wildflowers were abundant, ubiquitous and beautiful.

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Appendix C – Cost of the Trip

Here's a spreadsheet to assist you with calculating the costs associated with the trip. It's in Microsoft Excel format - if you don't have that program, a reader is available here.

Calculate expenses to get to the Camino

Appendix D – Further Reading and Internet Links

Interrnet Links
For ease in connecting to the links given in the book, the sites are listed below.

Camino Groups
These sites are groups that can be joined to get specific questions answered.

Culture Shock
Some sites to further exlplain sysmptoms and what to do about them.

Jet Lag
These sites explain the symptoms and tell how to avoid them.

An excellent source for route and elevation maps.

Map showing French Route

Saint James
A few sites that offer information on Saint James.

Spanish customs and norms

State Department
These sites give information about all countries in the world and issue travel warnings when there are problems in an area. (Scroll down and click on “Spain.” This will give some brief background and history about the country.)

Travel web sites to get your plane ticket or your hotel

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