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“Bed race” You should read this before attempting Camino Del Norte in July/August.

Camino(s) past & future
CF SJPdP to SdC
(May 2015)
CF Sarria to SdC
(May 2016)
CF SJPDP-SdC
(May 2018)
VdlP (2022?)
You are right. They need to set a deadline for pilgrims to show up for their reservations.

We usually stay in CR. Mostly they insist that if we are going to be later than planned, we call them, or otherwise our room will be given to others.

More than fair I think!

Though I had to learn the appropriate Spanish phrases to advise that we might be late!
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Norte, Jul 2021
Hi everyone!

I did a lot of reading on this forum before me and my girlfriend decided to walk The Camino Del Norte. I have decided to write this post, since I myself found so much useful information posted and commented by other people. It is important to emphasize that this post is a mixture of subjective feelings, and actual objective observations.

This post is about what me and my girlfriend experienced as a very unpleasant “bed race”. We started from Irún on the 31th of July. We wanted to finish in Santander at the 13th of August, then do the rest some other time. Our plan before leaving was to primarily sleep at the donations-based albergues. The idea was to get the authentic pilgrim experience, but also, since we’re both students, save money.
What we soon learned is that there is not nearly enough beds at the donation-based albergues compared to how many pilgrims actually walking. It does not help that many of the pilgrims walking in the same period as us are also students keen on spending as little a possible. In my opinion, this is the main reason for the “bed race “

I will give you guys a short summary of our day to day experience of this “bed race.”

But before I begin I also feel that I need to provide some contextual information. Both me and my girlfriend are in our mid-twenties. Our backpacks that we carried were light and thoughtfully packed. I carried a 30l, my girlfriend a 40l.
We are both in good shape physically, and we are both Norwegians. The latter means that we are used to walking far in challenging terrain, and we didn’t find the Del Norte particularly hard. Even the infamous Deba - Markina stage was not that big of a deal. I’m writing this just to make clear that we are not ordinary scrubs when it comes to walking and hiking. So our issue wasn’t the walking itself, or not being able to finish the different stages in a reasonable amount of time. Our issue, as I have already mentioned, was the getting a bed.

Day 1 - Irùn. We arrived before the albergue opened. We were 4 and 5 in the line. 60 beds. Was full before 20:30. The volunteers working there had to turn people down.

Day 2 - San Sebastián. We soon discovered that San Sebastián didn’t have a albergue. Strange. We acted quickly, and booked two beds at a hostel. 33€ per person. Pricey, but understandable, since the city was full of tourists.

Day 3 - Zarautz. We kept a good pace, and walked past a lot of other pilgrims. We spent a lot of time sitting on a bench in Zarautz, treating a blister, and discussing if we should walk onwards to Getaria. A lot of the pilgrims that we previously overtook, now came rushing past us. It was only 12:30 in afternoon. We strolled causally to the albergue and meet some of the volunteers working there sitting in the yard. We were number 39 and 40. 54 beds in total. People arriving after 14:00 did not get a bed, and had to try their luck elsewhere. Me and my girlfriend started to get concerned. Is this the case at every albergue?

Day 4 - We booked a cheap accommodation at Ibiri Quarter in the hills after Deba, because we were slowly realizing that we were now competing for beds with the other pilgrims that we met at the albergues. A pleasant day of walking, no rush, so we were able to walk the Ruta Del Flycsh. That would not been a option if we had not booked a place to sleep that day.

Day 5 - Gernika. Again we “wasted” a lot of time strolling through Gernika instead of heading straight to the Albergue. We could almost have been 1 - 2 in the line. Ended up a 13 - 14. Other pilgrims coming down to Gernika seemed stressed. We meet two pilgrims that ran the last 2km with several blisters, just to get a bed. They were 37 and 38 in the line. The Albergue had 40 beds. We also spotted two people arriving to the albergue by car. They had hitchhiked just to try and reach the albergue in time to get a bed. Our concern was growing. Other pilgrims told us it would only get worse as we went along. This is not what we had imagined. It wasn’t fun seeing the disappointing look on the faces of other pilgrims that had to find somewhere else to sleep. A lot of them had really fought their way over that mountain/hill. In my opinion, they deserved a bed just as much as everyone else there. Brutal.

Day 6 - Bus to Bilbao. Someone accused us of cheating when we told them during breakfast. Is that the Camino spirit? We did not go to a donation-based albergue in Bilbao, because we didn’t want to occupy beds for people that actually walked to the albergue.

Day 7 - Castro Urdiales. We walked almost 43km that day. Both our pace and spirit was high as we approached La Pobeña. Our breaking point came on the beach, 600m away from the albergue. As we were walking on the beach at around 12:30, discussing if to rent a surfboard or not, a man about my age, with a backpack came running past us. Curious of why he was running, I decided to run after him. Since I found the entire situation a bit amusing, I decided to slowly creep up behind him. He spotted me just as I was about to poke him on the back. He let out a loud yell, and started sprinting. I sprinted after him, and then alongside him. He looked absolutely exhausted and stressed out of his mind. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing from the absurdity of the entire situation. I had to jam my shoulder into his, like in a soccer match, since we now were running on a narrow bridge. “Why are you running?” I asked. “The albergue, it is almost full” he yelled back. He started another desperate sprint. I decided to stop. I am not doing a foot race on the Camino. It turned out that some of his friends had arrived earlier than him, and had called him on his phone, telling him to hurry up. When he saw us on the far end of the beach, he decided to run like a maniac. The albergue had 38 beds. He got the last one. Brutal. We pressed on to Tu Camino Hostel. Full. The host helped us with a booking in Castro Urdiales, but we had to be there before 17:00. Not a pleasant day.

So there you have it. We went to Arenillas. There we decided to stop doing the Camino. We will enjoy the rest of our vacation not stressing and racing for beds. Probably never doing this again, at least not in summer. We really enjoyed walking, the coastal view and Spain in general, but the stress of not knowing if you have a bed or not, ruined the overall experience.
Hope someone will find this post helpful/informative, or at the very least a bit entertaining.

Next summer will be spent in hiking in Norway. There is no “bed race” there.
Thank you. This has been my suspicion for 2021 since it is a jubilee year [4x per century only] and the feast day of their patron saint is July 25. I was told by many seasoned Camino vets to not worry and not book until a few weeks prior...but my gut and past experience elsewhere tells me it will be a madhouse. I appreciate the frank confirmation and perspective. ps- the Urdiales episode is hilarious, sorry, but it cracked me up. Hope you can laugh in retrospect.
 
Camino(s) past & future
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Thank you. This has been my suspicion for 2021 since it is a jubilee year [4x per century only] and the feast day of their patron saint is July 25. I was told by many seasoned Camino vets to not worry and not book until a few weeks prior...but my gut and past experience elsewhere tells me it will be a madhouse. I appreciate the frank confirmation and perspective. ps- the Urdiales episode is hilarious, sorry, but it cracked me up. Hope you can laugh in retrospect.
You are talking about an area of the Norte around Irun/San Sebastian/Bilbao, right? What makes you think that the Santiago Holy Year will be felt there so that it will be "a madhouse"? Were you there in 2010 and 2004? During past Jacobean Holy Years, mainly Galicia and Santiago were flooded with visitors ... Camino sections far away didn't notice much increase of pilgrims traffic. On the other hand, this area is a very popular destination for summer holidays. Every summer.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Norte, Jul 2021
You are talking about an area of the Norte around Irun/San Sebastian/Bilbao, right? What makes you think that the Santiago Holy Year will be felt there so that it will be "a madhouse"? Were you there in 2010 and 2004? During past Jacobean Holy Years, mainly Galicia and Santiago were flooded with visitors ... Camino sections far away didn't notice much increase of pilgrims traffic. On the other hand, this area is a very popular destination for summer holidays. Every summer.
Wow so snarky.
I'm not talking about a holy year, I'm talking about a jubilee year. It only happens four times in a century. It's a pretty big deal for Catholics with plenary indulgence etc. To arrive in Santiago by July 25th we would all be on the same route. I'm no expert but it certainly is a plausible scenario.
 
Camino(s) past & future
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Wow so snarky. I'm not talking about a holy year, I'm talking about a jubilee year. It only happens four times in a century. It's a pretty big deal for Catholics with plenary indulgence etc. To arrive in Santiago by July 25th we would all be on the same route. I'm no expert but it certainly is a plausible scenario.
@lisaflora, apologies if the intention of my comment is not clear. I just feel that it is not helpful for others to tell them that all the caminos will be flooded with people along their whole length during a Jacobean Holy Year when there is no indication for this to have happened in the past. I feel it unnecessarily creates a misleading sense of urgency for next year.

I am talking about Jacobean Holy Years, called Ano Santo Xacobeo in the Galician language. They are celebrated during each year where Saint James' feastday, the 25th of July, falls on a Sunday. This happens about 14 times in a century, not 4 times. It happened in:
  • 1909, 1915, 1920,1926, 1937, 1943, 1948, 1954, 1965, 1971, 1976, 1982, 1993, and 1999
  • 2004 and 2010, and it will happen in 2021, 2027, 2032, 2038, 2049, 2055, 2060, 2066, 2077, 2083, 2088, and 2094
After 2021, the next Jacobean Holy Year will be in 2027 and in Galicia they are already making preparatory plans for it. Catholics do not need to walk at all on foot to Santiago to receive the Plenary Indulgence in the context of a Jacobean Holy Year. However, a short foot pilgrimage of 5-10 days, equivalent to a distance of 100-200 km from Santiago, is popular in this context.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
2002, Toulouse/Aragon 2005, Cami S Jaume/Aragon 2007/9, Mont Saint Michel/Norte/Vadiniense 2011, Norte/Primitivo 2013, Norte/Primitivo 2014. Norte 2015, Cami S Jaume/Castellano-Aragonese 2016
Someone may have numbers for the del Norte from the last Jacobean holy years which could be illuminating, but my guess is that any huge increase in numbers will focus on the 100-km stretch leading into Santiago. I would expect some increase on the del Norte, but would be surpised if it got the flood in any real way. While devout RCs of the holy year inclination (there are many practising RCs for whom such considerations are not important to them) are definitely out there, I do not see a flood, especially on the eastern stretches of the del Norte.

Still, I could be out to lunch on this.
 
Camino(s) past & future
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
Someone may have numbers for the del Norte from the last Jacobean holy years which could be illuminating, but my guess is that any huge increase in numbers will focus on the 100-km stretch leading into Santiago.
I recommend exploring the statistics pages on the Oficina de Acogida al Peregrino's website, and in particular the Comparativa function, for the various caminos and the various starting points. The data go back to 2004.
 

trecile

Camino Addict
Camino(s) past & future
Francés (2016 & 2017), Norte (2018), Francés-Salvador-Norte (2019), Portuguese (2019)
@lisaflora - I think what everyone has been trying to tell you is to stop stressing out about booking places to sleep almost a year in advance. There are many reasons why you aren't finding accommodations this far ahead, the least likely is that it will be a holy year, especially more than 100km from Santiago.
More likely is that albergues, pensiones, hotels, etc. haven't released their inventory for booking yet, especially since many don't know what the Covid situation will be like in the next couple of months, let alone next year. They don't even know if they will be in business!
 

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