If you have yet to wander the Camino de Santiago, you may be wondering where a pilgrim might lay their weary head for the night.
Even though the Camino de Santiago is classed as a thru-hike, all Camino routes have the necessary infrastructure to ensure there is a village or town where a pilgrim can stay each night.
Some pilgrims decide to stay in small guesthouses and hotels along the way, but most will walk a hard Camino and stay in hostels, known as albergues, on the Camino de Santiago, sharing a dorm room with fellow pilgrims.
It’s all part of the Camino experience, yet sharing sleeping space with strangers does take some getting used to as those of you who have walked a Camino de Santiago can testify to.
It’s the loss of privacy. The snorers, the windbreakers, and the belchers. The being woken up at 4.30am by the first pilgrim to hit the road, after being kept awake until 2.00am because of the fidget above you with the cheap nylon sleeping bag, tossing and turning all night long. Quality matters. Every time.
One of the strangest bump in the night moments that I experienced was during my stay in a great albergue with only 12 beds to the room. As I slipped into my sleeping bag on my top bunk and settled in for the night, I realised that the beds were a little too close for comfort. I swear, when I pressed my head into the pillow and looked across at the young man in his twenties in the top bunk next to me, we were so close, I felt as if we were sharing a double bed.
Which was a bit of a problem, as he woke me in the night, crying out for his mama while making strange noises as if he was suckling from a nipple. I know, we all had a good snigger. I didn’t have the heart to tell him in the morning, but I’m sure his nighttime antics would have been brought to his attention at some point on the Camino. This is why I recommend you bring along a pair of earplugs.
Then there’s the little problem of bedbugs. After blisters, they are the bain of a pilgrim’s life. Fortunately, I have no bedbug stories for you from the French Way, but I saw pilgrims covered in bedbug bites from head to toe. There’s little that can be done to stop them, you see. The nature of the Camino gives these little creatures the perfect opportunity to thrive.
Instead, one night, I remember being kept awake by a man in the bunk opposite. He scratched himself all night long. As I watched him scratch away, I started to scratch. I was itchy everywhere. After numerous visits to the bathroom to make sure I hadn’t become infested, I realised his scratching was making me feel itchy. Just like catching a yawn, my skin prickled and itched as he scratched away.
I was to face bedbugs on the Portuguese Camino on what was to be the worst night of both of my Caminos.
I rocked up a little later than my usual finishing time, as I had covered more kilometres than I intended. My lateness wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference, I later found out. A staff member took my money and led me to a sun lounger cushion on the floor, which was to be my bed for the night. The beds had been taken hours ago, I was told.
Oh my, I thought to myself, as my body was already in agony from the day’s walk. Being just an inch thick, my mattress for the evening just about took the edge off the hardness of the floor underneath.
There were thirty other pilgrims in the room with their own cushions from hell. Well, time to get on with it, I thought. This was the Camino, after all.
Later that evening, as we all settled in for the night, I grabbed a couple of blankets: one to cover me with and one to serve as a pillow. Within ten minutes, I was scratching and itching for my life. Bedbugs. Yes, I was finally going to have my Camino bedbug experience.
There was another problem, as we all found out that night. Mosquitos. The room was full of them. I buried myself in my sleeping sack with only my face open to the air and spent the whole night cursing the little bloodsuckers. I can’t tell you the number of times I was bitten. We all were. Every pilgrim cursed and swatted the air above them. The night went on and on and on.
Around 4.00am, I decided that the church-run albergue had a secret agenda to make sure that pilgrims had at least one night of extreme discomfort.
As dawn broke and we all began to rise, I looked around at my fellow pilgrims and couldn’t help but laugh. Everyone had welts and bite marks on their faces. Until I saw my own face in the mirror, that is. I had at least 30 bites, some so close to my eyes that both eyelids were swollen.
As I thanked the staff member and went to leave, he told me to remember that the Camino was a pilgrimage, not a holiday. At that point, I realised that they did want us to suffer. What a night.
So, you may begin to understand why most pilgrims struggle with the sleeping arrangements at first. We all grunt and groan at the sound of the first snore of the night, but all forgive and forget in the morning in the clear light of day.
At some point, my tolerance levels increased as I became used to the bumps in the night. Eventually, I began to enjoy the moments before sleep, and took comfort in the soft sounds and shuffles of my fellow pilgrims.
Would I recommend staying in albergues? Definitely, it’s all part of the Camino experience.
There’s a sense of safety in numbers which adds to the feeling that we really are all in this together, walking ourselves and each other to Santiago.
Check out my e-book, A Wild Woman’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago for practical advice on preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago including snippets from my journey and stories from Camino pilgrims. Click the link to download your copy.