Ten things nobody warns you about on the Camino de Santiago

A recent ex-pilgrim contacted us with a complaint. The internet in general (without naming anyone) portrays the Camino too positively. This gives people the incorrect impression that walking the Camino is easy, devoid of dangers and difficulties. She asked (very politely) if we would publish her experiences and thoughts in order to help other people get a clearer understanding of what they'll be getting themselves in for.

When I started the Camino I was very naive about what lay ahead of me. I had see The Way like everyone else and I imagined that it would be a leisurely stroll through pristine countryside. The reality turned out to be much less enjoyable and actually very difficult.

I wanted to warn people who might be thinking about walking the Camino. It's not easy and you will really suffer and in the end you don't achieve anything. You get a little certificate from the office in Santiago and that's really all you have to show for a month of unpleasantness and pain.

You should really ask yourself before you set off if you really want to put yourself through this when in the end all you'll get is a certificate written in a language you don't understand.

It was the the most difficult and frightening experience of my life. You walk for days with absolutely no backup, far from home, in an underdeveloped almost third world country where nobody speaks English. I'm really hurt and angry that the people on the Camino forums didn't warn us about the hazards and hardships.

1. The bedbugs are horrible. I didn't actually seen any myself but I met a woman who was in Zagorra and she said it's full of them, when they woke up they were all covered in red rashes, all over their bodies, and itching uncontrollably. Another person said that there were bedbugs in Mangia and several pilgrims had to go to hospital because of the bites. I was just terrified the whole time, when I arrived in an albergue the first thing I do is get out my ultraviolet light and scanned the beds for footprints, then I sprayed everything with disinfectant, then I slept in my bedbug proof sleeping-bag liner which I'd treated with disinfectant. I came out in a horrible rash, I thought it was bedbugs but in the hospital they told me it looked like a reaction to some kind of chemicals, they didn't know what, I think it must be some of the chemicals they spray on the crops. There are hazards everywhere on the Camino.

2. The difficulty of buying hand sanitisers. This has been the biggest nightmare for me. I can't find them anywhere although I spend every afternoon looking for them. Also wetwipes, almost impossible to find. How do Spanish people wash their hands?

3. The lack of toilet paper. Why don't the forums warn us about this? Every bar seems to have a total lack of toilet paper. It's just as well that every pilgrim has a supply with them. If you're going on the Camino bring enough toilet paper to last you the whole time because the shops don't stock it either. It makes me shudder!

4. People getting undressed without due consideration. Europeans are like wild animals. As soon as they arrive in the albergue it's like they can't get their clothes off fast enough. Some days it was like a cheap porno film in the dorm, you know the ones they make in dingy motels? And it wasn't just the young people, some of the most shameless were the older ones, and it wasn't just the men. I saw things that will remain embedded in my memory till the end of my days. The horror.

5. People who don't speak English. They were everywhere, seriously. What is their problem? Why can't they just speak English like everybody else.

6. Unsanitary conditions, generally, everywhere is just so dirty! The toilets, the kitchens, the dorms, everything. It was disgusting! I took to wearing a face mask and surgical gloves. One woman I met said she met a woman who had contracted dysentery from the showers in an albergue. Another woman said she had heard you could get malaria because mosquitoes were breeding in the bathrooms.

7. Dogs. It didn't happen to me but I met several people who said they'd heard of people who'd been attacked by packs of wild dogs. They sustained horrific injuries. Be careful out there people!

8. Walking, much of the Way isn't even properly surfaced, you have to walk on dirt! And it's up and down all the time, why can't they flatten it out? Sometimes it's dangerous because it's so steep. I've heard of several people who were seriously injured, tripping over stones or falling down hills. It's a disgrace.

9. The snoring. I met one woman who said she hadn't slept a wink for the whole Camino. Terrible. She said every night the snoring was like the baying of herds of donkeys! All night long without stopping. Thirty days with no sleep! Can you imagine?

10. Finding a bed. This was a constant worry. I met one pilgrim who had been sleeping outside every night because she could never find a bed. I heard of pilgrims fighting in the line ups for albergues. Bribing hospitaleros hundreds of dollars. Prostituting themselves. Just for a bed in a filthy dorm with fifty other smelly people. I always found a bed, in fact many of the albergues were half full, but it's degrading and humiliating what happened to other people. Next time I'm going to book in advance.

11. The crime. Loads of people got robbed. An elderly gentleman had €4,000 stolen from him. All his money! Another man lost his brand new iPhone, $1,000 worth! Several people were attacked by gangs in white vans. I'm not racist but apparently gypsy gangs roam the Caminos in the summer waylaying pilgrims on the road or when they're in albergues and taking everything. Why doesn't the police do something?

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