Finding Community Among Tribes of Pilgrims

Note: This is the full version of the article published in the September 2018 newsletter for American Pilgrims on the Camino (See page 14: La Concha).

I was a little nervous when I attended my first Camino chapter event in the spring of 2015. That was when the idea of walking the Camino was daunting, yet surprisingly appealing. Out of my comfort zone, I drove through a tunnel and suburbs to get to a church where the Northern California chapter’s annual shell blessing ceremony was to place.  I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I would be the only newbie, and the activities would be overtly religious. To my surprise, there were a few of us Camino “virgins” there, and nobody preached! But just in case it were to start feeling like a cult, I picked a table by the door.

After lunch, there were presentations and Q & A's about the Camino

My first Camino event on March 28, 2015

The food spread in the potluck brunch was outstanding. Wine, of course, helped break the ice, and there was plenty of it. I learned quickly that pilgrims like to party! After the potluck came the shell blessing and the sharing of stories. These stories were inspiring to me. That was my initiation into the NorCal tribe of pilgrims, and I was hooked.

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Camino Couple Giving Back as Hospitaleros

I am pleased to share a guest post by Francis Kim, the voice behind Our First Date All Over Again. I got to know Anna and Francis Kim at our SF Bay Area pilgrim events and training hikes over the last two years. We trained for our 2016 Caminos around the same time and recently attended Hospitalero training together in Los Gatos, California. They will make an excellent team at an albergue some day! Below is Francis’s take on serving as hospitaleros.

Francis and Anna Kim are ready to serve! They prepared these delicious tapas for our pilgrim blessing and potluck on March 18, 2017.

Francis and Anna Kim are ready to serve! They prepared these delicious tapas for our pilgrim blessing and potluck on March 18, 2017.

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Intentions for 2017

I might be a little delayed in this post as the talk of new year’s resolutions has mostly faded away by now. I do have a good reason: on January 5, I had a minor surgery which forced me to slow down and heal. All is well, and I have recovered rather quickly. However, I believe that it is never too late to set intentions. Each new year gives us the opportunity to set our intentions and reflect on the previous year. My intentions for 2016 included two of my passions: yoga and the Camino, both of which were transformative in different ways. Last year also threw some challenges and surprises my way: the unexpected illness; a change in travel plans; the presidential election results; a rekindling of my faith; and a renewed connection with a family member. I believe it is good to be flexible and not too attached to a particular goal because something better might come along! You can’t go wrong if you follow your heart and listen to your intuition. At the end of this post, I share a few tools that you might find helpful: a five-minute meditation; an article on setting intentions; a spiritual reading; and an intention template that you can download and customize.

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Walking Day 6: Padrón to Santiago

IMG_8111Continued from Caldas de Reis to Padrón

Stage: Padrón to Santiago
27 km

For all the modern amenities the Albergue Corredoiras in Padrón has, it lacks in the coffee maker department. Groggy pilgrims were taking turns using a small Italian-style stove-top coffee maker.

Colorful decor and art

Cute kitchen, but they need more coffee makers

In the adorable-but-not-functional Ikea-like kitchen, I looked in every cupboard for a French press, hot water kettle, or even an American-style drip coffee maker, to no avail. I finally got my turn, made a stove-top pot of coffee, and shared it with the Aussies and they shared their milk with me. This coffee was enough to get me out the door. I knew I could get another caffeine fix later.

On my walk through Padrón there were detour signs. I did not think this would add much to the overall kilometers that day, but it ended up being the longest walk yet! Brierley’s guide showed 24.9 km for this stage, but my AllTrails app showed 27.4 km.

Detour Signs leaving Padron

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Walking Day 5: Caldas de Reis to Padrón

CCaldastoPadronontinued from Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

Stage: Caldas de Reis to Padrón
19 km

After my fifth night in a municipal albergue, I was getting used to the routine of putting my earplugs in to sleep through the “snorchestra.” Municipal albergues are the cheapest accommodations on the Camino: I paid just five euros for the first three nights in Portuguese albergues, and six euros the last two nights after crossing over to Spain. That is just thirty dollars at our current 1.12 Euro-Dollar exchange rate (the best exchange rate I have ever seen!). There is a range of comfort to match every budget on the Camino. I chose to stay in municipal albergues for two reasons: (1) to meet other pilgrims on my short Camino, and (2) because that is one of the requirements of being a hospitalero (volunteer) on the Camino.*

I couldn’t help but wonder what pilgrim life was like on the other side, like staying in a private room with ensuite bathroom and real sheets. Sure I could tolerate the sleeping above a different snoring man each night, but I was getting tired of the odd bathroom situations. The albergue in Caldas had an awkward setup and was lacking in good shower and sink facilities. Everything was shoddy and wobbly. I was thinking about how this would have driven my husband crazy. He grew up working in his Italian grandfather’s hardware store and learned many skills from the tradesmen. He even fixed a toilet in an old hotel room we stayed at in New Orleans!

Albergues are all different, and some are a little on the grungy side. For the low price, you get what you pay for. Nonetheless, Caldas de Reis was a beautiful small village that I would like to return to someday and stay in the hotel with the private thermal baths. Below is a 360° video I shot on the old Roman bridge by the albergue and fountain.

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In the news: Local man to make 620-mile pilgrimage

This article caught my eye today. Reblogged from source, Hi-Desert Star.

Local man to make 620-mile pilgrimage

Bruce Guthrie, of Morongo Valley, graduates magna cum laude from California State University at San Bernardino.

Bruce Guthrie, of Morongo Valley, graduates magna cum laude from California State University at San Bernardino.

By Leah Sanson Hi-Desert Star

MORONGO VALLEY — Bruce Guthrie started his higher education at College of the Desert in 1971, a few years after he graduated high school, but then he started a job, got married and didn’t finish his education, until now.

This June, the Morongo Valley man graduated magna cum laude from California State University, San Bernardino with a Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies and minor in environmental studies. He retired from the post office in 2009 and said finishing his degree was something that has always been on his mind.

With his degree achieved, his adventure is just beginning.

Guthrie spent time in Spain in 2015 when he volunteered two weeks in the pilgrim office in Santiago in the northwest part of the country. He plans to return this fall, when he will walk the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. He will cover more than 620 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela before going on to the coast at Finisterre and Muxia.

Read more: Local man to make 620-mile pilgrimage

Planning Part 7: What inspired me to want to walk the Camino

This is where it gets personal

The Camino is calling and I must answer. I have been attracted to Spain since a backpack trip in 1992 that concluded with a month in Sevilla, where I lived with a family while taking Spanish language courses.  Since then, I have been to Spain four times (see favorite places in Spain, so far).

Pilgrims at the cathedral in Santiago

Pilgrims on October 8, 2014 on a drizzly morning in Santiago. Click photo to enlarge. Know any of them?

The most recent visit was last October on a Trafalgar tour of northern Spain with my mom on our annual mother-daughter trip. I didn’t know much about the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage until this trip. We stayed in some of the towns that are along the way, and toured the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. We saw pilgrims of all ages with backpacks, looking both exhausted and elated in the cathedral, cafés and the pilgrim office. Continue reading

Planning Part 6: Training and packing for the Camino

Training and packing for the Camino

The final steps of Camino preparation are to train and pack. For any long-distance walking trip, it is essential to train by taking practice hikes with your gear based on your goals of average kilometers per day. For example, if you plan to hike the Pyrenees stage, which is mostly strenuous, you will want to do practice hikes averaging 12 – 16 kilometers per day in similar mountainous terrain. For route stages that are more level such as the Meseta, you should practice with longer day hikes of 25 to 30 kilometers per day. Make sure the shoes that you bring on your Camino are comfortable and already broken-in. Hiking boots that are above the ankle provide the best support, but running shoes may be an option if you are used to hiking with them. Feet may swell a shoe size on long distance hikes—buy accordingly.1

When it comes to packing for the Camino, carry only essential items in a lightweight backpack, so that you will be able to walk long distances without putting extra strain on your body. Although some first-time pilgrims might be tempted to pack emergency “just in case” items, they should keep in mind that Spain is a first-world country and provisions along the routes are plentiful. It is highly recommended to select and pack gear so that your backpack weighs 10% of your total body weight.

Sound impossible? I thought so too. Here’s what I’ve learned. Limit clothing to just two pairs of each item: one outfit that you wear and one clean set to change into. Hand-washing facilities and drying lines are common in albergues and some even offer washing machines and dryers. At the end of each day, most pilgrims hand-wash their undergarments, socks and shirts and hang them to dry overnight. If the climate is cold, rainy or damp, clothing might not air dry completely, but the clean change of clothes will be ready for the next day’s walk.

Fortunately, a great variety of lightweight, quick-drying clothing has become widely available at most sporting good and travel stores. The basic items you pack should be customized as needed. For example, you might opt for a sleeping sack instead of a sleeping bag if you travel in the warmer months. Or you might bring walking poles or find a walking stick in the forest to help distribute your weight as you walk.

My Camino Packing List, Part 2: Gear and Accessories

My Camino Packing List, Part 2: Gear and Accessories

The concept of packing light with just the minimal essentials might prove to be the biggest psychological challenge for many people. Some pilgrims start out by packing way too much, making their daily walks uncomfortable. Pilgrims can always lighten their load along the way by donating unnecessary items in the albergues or mailing heavy items to Santiago where they can be picked up at the end of the journey. Ironically, when pilgrims understand that lightening the load lifts a heavy burden, both literally and figuratively, they might just realize they don’t need all the “stuff” they accumulate in their homes. I have found in my research that all sources and pilgrims agree, the Camino provides.

Peregrinos, do you stick to the 10% weight limit?  Digame in the comments below.

PS. Here’s a video that I found amusing and helpful about packing for the Camino.
Packing list review / Revisão da mochila para o Camino de Santiago (4:45 minutes)

If you know of other helpful Camino videos or resources that should be included on The Camino Provides, please email me at

Up next: What inspired me to want to walk the Camino? – Part 7 and final post of this series.


1. Alcorn, Susan. Camino Chronicles: Walking to Santiago. Oakland: Shepherd Canyon Books. 2006. Print.

Planning Part 5: Hospitaleros, Volunteers of the Camino

Hospitaleros: Welcoming Pilgrims on the Camino

Learning about the customs of the Camino will allow you to enrich your journey. One that is particularly fascinating is that of the hospitaleros, or volunteers of the Camino. Generally speaking, those responsible for albergues look for volunteers who have walked the Camino and who have taken a hospitalero training course.  Their most important duty is to serve as host to a steady stream of pilgrims.1 Most speak Spanish and multiple languages and can answer questions about the region or route ahead. Most are trained in first aid or know where to get emergency medical care. The common thread that these hospitaleros share is their gratitude for the Camino experience and their desire to give back by serving as a volunteer.

Americans Pilgrims on the Camino Hospitalero logoAccording to the American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) website, “Those who have gone on from walking the Camino to serving as hospitaleros say that this experience is in every sense a Camino of its own…. Many walkers on the Camino carry a strong sense of being part of a stream, a stream of humanity or even a flow of history, moving ever westward. As an hospitalero you become a rock in that stream. The rock stays in place and a drop of water hesitates briefly and then moves on, leaving the rock to interact with the next drop and the next and the next. You provide the resting place where fellow pilgrims can stop and renew themselves in body, mind and spirit.”

The requirements and training info are listed on the APOC Hospitalero page.

During the research for my essay, I was fortunate to be able to attend a Blessing of the Pilgrims Ceremony for Northern Californians who are planning to walk the Camino this year. I didn’t know what to expect because I thought I would be the only newbie there. I also thought it would be overly religious as it was held at a church community space. To my surprise, there were many of us Camino “virgins” there and it was an open and lively atmosphere.  The variety of dishes in the potluck brunch was outstanding and everything was delicious. Wine, of course, helped break the ice and there was plenty of it.  I got a big dose of hospitalero hospitality that day, and I loved it. Everyone really made me feel welcome. Below are photos from the gathering.

Blessing of the Pilgrims Ceremony

Northern California Chapter’s 4th Annual Pilgrim’s Blessing and Potluck in Pleasant Hill, CA on March 28, 2015

We were welcomed by friendly greeters who gave nametags, blank for newbies and with arrow symbols for those who had already walked the Camino. They encouraged me to ask any questions of these arrow-badged people, so I did. I met a few pilgrims who are passionate about the Camino and decided to serve as hospitaleros. One of them is a woman who arrived in Spain without a map and forgot her pin number on her ATM card so she couldn’t get cash for a few days. She lived off the kindness of strangers, as pilgrims have done through the centuries. This year she attended a hospitalero training and returned to Spain to volunteer at the albergue that provided her with free shelter in her time of need.

After lunch, there were presentations and Q & A's about the Camino

After a delicious lunch, there were presentations, stories, songs and Q & As about the Camino

Another woman I met is a high school Spanish teacher who embodies the spirit of hospitality in her life. She didn’t pre-arrange her hospitalero experience—she just walked until she found a place that was willing to let her stay and volunteer. Although she is fluent in Spanish, she learned a few phrases in French, German and Italian, such as “Boots go here. Backpacks go there. Here are the showers. Lights out at 10.”

These stories and the many more that I’ve heard since then are inspiring to me. In the spirit of the hospitaleros, I am already thinking of ways that I can give back while I am on my Camino, such as offering evening yoga sessions and morning Sun Salutations to fellow pilgrims. I believe that a good stretch will keep joints and muscles in good shape for all that walking.  So yes, the Camino provides, but it takes many dedicated volunteers to do so. Gracias hospitaleros!

Peregrinos, what was your experience with hospitaleros?  Digame in the comments below.

PS. Here are two videos that highlight the Hospitalero experience:
El CAMINO DE SANTIAGO “Hospitaleros Welcome” (in Spanish with English Subtitles, 10 min.)

Hospitaleros (in Spanish, 24 min.)

If you know of other hospitalero videos or resources that should be included on The Camino Provides, please email me at

Up next, training and packing for the Camino – Part 6 of this series.


Hospitaleros American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC).