The day begins with breakfast which is included as part of our package. Breakfasts vary from toast (no butter, though it’s sometimes on the table) with jam and often, sliced ham, cheese and pepperoni or other sausage. Yogurt and fruit is often available, as is orange juice – which is sometimes fresh squeezed. Of course there’s tea for those who don’t ‘do’ coffee con leche (coffee w/hot milk). At some of the nicer establishments there’s tons of food that might include scrambled eggs and bacon, though these are often a luxury, as is the coveted capuccino or espresso.
After breakfast, we pack the bags and drop them off when we check out as we’ve paid a service to transport them from locale to locale. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to plan for the Camino in addition to the other countries we’ve visited. We do have some small day packs, two with water pouches which are truly amazing.
Carmel is the first to hit the road, followed by the rest of us about an hour later. We walk and talk and stop to rest on occasion, reminding ourselves often to look around at the beautiful scenery. At times we’re reminded of the farmland of the Midwest, both visually and with our olfactories. If the sun is out, we’re likely to stop for short breaks more frequently due to the heat. We’ll sip water while walking, but have discovered a Coke product that mimics Gatorade called Aquarius, the lemon flavor preferred by most over the orange.
Depending on time and whether / not we pass a viable establishment for lunch, we may eat anywhere between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The lunch menu can be a full 3-course salad / soup, main plate of fish / meat / chicken / pork followed by a postre of Santiago cake / ice cream / flan / cheese’n jelly. An alternative to this heavier meal is a sandwich that resembles a submarine sandwich of any type of meat or egg combination. Did I mentione a sizeable portion of fresh bread? On everybody’s menu for lunch or dinner is a healthy portion of french fries, the staple on the Camino from east to west. I’ve never seen so many servings of french fries on a regular basis.
Dinner is usually the biggest meal of the day. It’s common to have a Peregrino’s (Pilgrim’s) Dinner which parallels the larger lunch menu of: Appetizer (pasta, potato salad, lettuce salad, soup, etc), entree of fish, veal, pork, chicken w/french fries and a postre (see above for lunch). Wine and/or water is included…all for a set price between 10-15 euros depending on the estabishment. Typically there’s a healthy quantity of food as walking pilgrims tend to burn a lot of calories. As for quality, that mostly reflects the abilities and interests of the host. We’ve sensed that some hosts have taken on a sort of ministry in their reception of pilgrims, taking pride in their service and making their guests feel special. In contrast to this, the path is filled with those seeking to eek out a living by providing the basics to the masses of people who pour through their towns and cities by the tens of thousands during the summer months. (I’m told in the neighborhood of 260,000 pilgrims per year.)
As far as things to do or see in the evening, well, that depends on the degree of sleepiness felt following a hefty walk and full meal (and possibly one’s consumption of wine). Knowing what to do from town to town also entails a dedicated amount of time to research each village and area to plan further, something we did not allow ourselves the luxury of doing. But frankly, I sense the majority of pilgrims are in the same boat as us, walking day after day and resting in the evening in order to get an early start the next morning.
Highlights from day to day tend to be conversations with fellow travelers randomly met along the way, or perhaps re-meeting familiar folks at one rest stop or another. Not everyone is open to talking as some ears are filled with earbuds; others are focused or too shy, I suppose. I’ve yet to meet a male pilgrim interested in sharing much of life while I’ve engaged various female sojourners in lengthier and interesting conversations from various parts of the world – S. Africa, Namibia, Transalvania, Shanghai, Australia, Canada, Spain, France, the USA, et al. Many different people with many different stories and reasons for walking El Camino de Santiago.