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self-guided tour groups on the Camino


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My wife and I are hoping to use one of three different self guided tour companies (they carry your bags from town to town and book your rooms). We will be walking from Leon to Santiago in September. Any suggestions? Horror stories? Recommendations? We aren't getting much help from their websites.
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I don't know of anyone who has used the services of a self-guided tour group. We met a number of pilgrims who did their own hotel bookings a day or two ahead and got their baggage taken ahead by taxi. Most of the guide books have contact details for hotels/hostals or inns and this seemed to work very well for them.
Perhaps you could share the contact details of the three companies you have found?
To a large extent I believe that it is these groups that are causing so much of the crowding being experienced at this time. When you have a dozen or two of these folks that are pre-booked far ahead into the hotel(s) in a small town it becomes very difficult to find a place. Three days ago I called three places in Sahagun before I found a room. From Sahagun I called everyplace in Mansilla and found nothing so I ended up coming to Leon.
I think its a bit simplistic to assume that one couple who prefer to stay in hotels and have their luggage carried are to blame for the overcrowding.
The overcrowding starts in the albergues and spills over into other accommodation along the route. The camino has taken on such a life of its own that I don't think anyone could have foretold how big it would grow.
According to pilgrim records, in 1967 there were 37 pilgrims and in the 1971 Holy Year, there were 49. This dropped to 45 in 1972. In 1982, also a Holy Year, there were 1,868.
Numbers really started climbing after the Pope's visits in 1982 and 1989. From only 3,501 in 1988 there was a 64.5% rise in numbers for 1989 - 5 760. And then in the 1999 Holy Year 154 613 and 179 944 in 2004.
What has caused this exponential growth?
Since the 1980's many organisations formed with the express aim of promoting the camino. The French Amis St Jacques was the first 'modern day' assocation having started in the 1940's. The Confraternity of St James was formed in 1983: the Flemish one in 1985: the Canadian in 1994: Brazilian confraternity in 1995 and so on.
After Paulo Coelho published his book The Pilgrimage in 1986 Brazillians started flocking to Spain to follow his journey. Now it is the turn of the Germans to want to replicate the journey of a German celebrity author.
Forums like this one have added to the growth. I read somewhere that in the 1960's there were only 4 500 computers in the US - now everybody has access to a computer whether it be in school, at work or the library, internet cafe.
Flying has become easy and cheap and people travel more than they used to.
Perhaps the camino is turning full circle - back to the medieval hey-days when the road was choked with pilgrims?
"When Ali-ben-Yussef sent a deputation to Dona Urraca in 1121, the legates were amazed at the crowds of pilgrims who thronged the road. They enquired of their escorts in whose honour so great a multitude of Christians crossed the Pyrenees . "He who deserves such reverence, "answered the escort, "is St James whose body is revered as patron and protector by Gaul and England, the Latin and the German land and all Christian parts." (Walter Starkie)
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I had no intention to ascribe fault or blame - merely to point out a reality. Tour organizers throughout Europe and elsewhere are packaging these trips and people are buying them. The reality is that unless you intend to join in the daily race to get to the next alburgue by noon you should expect to either join one of them, book ahead several days yourself or be prepared to sleep on the floor. Of course, doing any of the above takes away much of the spontaneity of the true camino experience.
jeff001 said:
join one of them, book ahead several days yourself or be prepared to sleep on the floor. Of course, doing any of the above takes away much of the spontaneity of the true camino experience.
I would not agree. I would say that using one of those companies you have talked about would take a lot of that experience. There is nothing wrong with sleeping few nights on the floor during your camino, but getting someone to carry your bags is wrong in my opinion. But everyone have their own way to walk Camino- maybe for you using travel company could be the one.
Have a great time- however you get there. Buen Camino!

edit: Sil- found this on british CSJ website: . Hope it will help you a bit.
This discussion takes us back to the old chestnut – “What is a real pilgrim?” that comes up regularly on this forum.
Some see camino pilgrims only as those who carry a heavy backpack, walk every inch of their chosen route, only stay in refuges, eat frugally and receive the Compostela in Santiago.

Of course this wasn’t what it was like in the middle ages. There was a mix of foot pilgrims, horse riding pilgrims, donkey pilgrims, Knights, Kings and Queens with their entourage of servants.
Some slept in the best monasteries, in taverns and inns whilst others slept in the open or in hospices. Viewing of relics was restricted – some were reserved for the upper classes only.

After the reformation, pilgrimage died down and from the 1600’s many of the hospices fell into disrepair. By the 20th C most pilgrims visiting Santiago arrived by ship, bus and train. Georgiana King used mules and donkeys – Walter Starkie, who did four pilgrimages in 30 years, walked, rode in buses, took taxis and hitched hiked. (Can't say he wasn't a 'real' pilgrim!)

The man responsible for the reanimation of the camino as we know it today (he also painted the first yellow arrows) was Don Elias Valina Sampedro of O’Cebreiro parish.
He said, “In the 1970’s there survived only a remote memory of the Jacobean pilgrimage.”

Today, some pilgrims choose to walk, others choose to cycle or go on horseback. Some pilgrims choose to carry their packs whilst others choose to have them transported. Some pilgrims choose to sleep in refuges; others choose to sleep in hotels. Some pilgrims walk/ride for religious reasons; others walk/ride for spiritual, cultural, historical reasons.

We should learn to be tolerant of all pilgrims - as is the case on the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage, where all 'henros' are accepted as 'henro' whether they ride, walk or use a combination of both.
There are no ‘real’ pilgrims – only pilgrims.
This topic reminds me of my experience when I was doing the camino. I met a French Canadian woman and walked with her for about a week. Her back went out one day right outside Sarria and after an ambulance trip and a visit to the hospital they told her to stop walking. She was determined to keep walking but didn't see how she could keep carrying her backpack. I knew I had heard that you could have your backpack transported but she kept saying that she would feel like a failure if she did that. A number of people agreed with her. She had to stay in Sarria another day and I walked on. Days later we met up in another albergue and we started walking together again. She had decided to go ahead and have her backpack transported so she was able to keep walking and we walked into Santiago together.

I also met a French woman who was walking with her husband. She was having awful problems with her knee but still trying to carry her backpack. I told her that maybe if she didn't have the extra weight of the backpack on her knee that it might get better. One day I saw her husband walking with his backpack on his back and his wife's on his front. I stopped to talk to them and she said she didn't feel right about not carrying her backpack so she was going to stop and take a taxi to Santiago and met her husband there. She was very disappointed because after walking all the way from France she was going to stop only a couple of days before Santiago.

My opinion is that you need to be ready to make adjustments if you have to. I doubt very seriously if the first pilgrims were loaded down with sleeping bags, toiletries and extra clothes. If you are unable to carry your backpack then so be it. I did carry mine because I was able to but if I had a problem I wouldn't hesitate to have it transported. As long as I don't have to carry someone else's backpack it's no concern of mine how it is carried.
Older pilgrims, particularly, often enough have bone or muscle problems which make it impossible to carry a full load on their backpacks-- it is difficult for the outsider to distinguish between these pilgrims and those who are practising a decaff pilgrimage. Mind you, the only time I ever had accommodation trouble was on the National Day weekend, when all of Spain travels and visits.
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We "pilgrims" have some things in common:

We arrive from afar, full of expectations and carefully chosen equipment. We take tons of photos, we call or email home often, we know where we want to be on a given day and what we ought to see there, and if things aren´t as we want them to be we bellyache about it. We eat exotic food and sometimes get sick; sometimes we overdo or have an accident or get hurt. We see wonderful things and meet interesting people and imagine what life would be like if we bought that little place that´s for sale down the trail. We escape ordinary life for a little while, and test our personal limits.. When it´s over we go home and bore our friends with endless stories of our faraway adventure, and sometimes start planning our next trip back.

And that, my friends, is a definition of "tourist."
Rebekah...Thank you for giving me something to think about...after a raft load of emails amongst our group as to cameras, batteries, or chargers and starting a blog ...suddenly realizing that with out the prayerful part...this will be a tourist trip...not what I had in mind originally! Thanks for the little wake up call, perfectly timed before we leave!

And to all the others, thanks for the reminder to simply go with the flow, this isn't a race and it isn't a tour, it's a thoughtful prayerful journey, or at least it seems it should be. A way of getting outside your normal "life" and slowing to what someone else called earth speed. (I loved that description!)

For those who feel secure only w/a guided group, hey, if it it....but that's it..DO IT...
and for those who care to go it on their much the better...

Ask me in June ...LOL,

Karin .. with 6 more days and a wake up to go!
"To a large extent I believe that it is these groups that are causing so much of the crowding being experienced at this time" (jeff001)

I agree, but only when these groups begin walking three km. before the albergue and are the first pilgrims to take bed. If they sleep in a hostal there's no problem in my opinion.

"There is nothing wrong with sleeping few nights on the floor during your camino, but getting someone to carry your bags is wrong in my opinion" (kubapigora)

I agree again. The Camino is not just walking, but to decide in every moment what you are going to do. If your backpack is waiting for you ten km away you have to go there, you can't decide to stay in other lovely place you have just found. You lose your capacity of decision.

"...Her back went out one day right outside Sarria and after an ambulance trip and a visit to the hospital they told her to stop walking..." (Artemis)

Only a few percentage of pilgrims who take a taxi to carry their backpacks have physical problems, in my opinion. But, if they are walking, why not?

"Older pilgrims, particularly, often enough have bone or muscle problems which make it impossible to carry a full load on their backpacks-- it is difficult for the outsider to distinguish between these pilgrims and those who are practising a decaff pilgrimage" (Oursonpolaire)

Absolutely true. If I'm 42, I'm strong, younger than many of them, and after 30 km. I finish quite tired, they much more, even walking only 20 km.

And about the outsider, depends on the outsider. Who walks during several weeks with all the backpack only carry what exactly need. If is an old person, the very exact need. And if this persons takes more, an hospitalero can notice it. If it's too "new", if it's ... well, he knows, don't ask me because I've never been a hospitalero.

Buen Camino,

Javier Martin
Madrid, Spain.
When I walked from Roncesvalles to Santiago in 27 days in 2002 I was the 'baby' at 56 years old and Georgette was 74.
Last year all three of us were over 60.
So, how old is 'old'??
Hi All :)
I suppose I'm a bit late on this topic but just been going down the posts and some thoughts came to mind. These thoughts are just that, not criticisms of anything others have said.
When walking with a Dutch pilgrims in 1996 one told us that he was going home to a broken marriage. I had no solutions for him and just listened, but over the many days of walking together we came to the conclusion that many pilgrims carry two packs with them, only one is visible. Since we don't know what is in the other pack why do we also weigh ourselves down with additional baggage - do pilgrims really need to burden themselves with the spirit of criticism of others and the spirit of competition that is often a feature of the life we briefly leave at home, and which we hope to be free of when we return?
Best wishes to all. :)

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Thanks for all the feedback. Although all was interesting, not all was helpful. Jeff 001, am not asking for feedback on whether it's the right thing or not, or whether we qualify as pilgrims. We are using a self-guided tour and only carrying small daypack each day. The companies we are looking at are: GAP, HookedonWalking, and WorldWalks. Has anyone had any experience with any of these and do you have any suggestions/thoughts about these companies or others?
It seems someone recently posted some information on this site about GAP tours but now I cannot find it. I'm sorry I cannot help out more. I must say that I was disappointed in reading this thread as it did not appear that people were interested in offering any helpful information--just expressing their own opinions. I hope you will be able to find some information about these tour companies and that you will enjoy your time on the Camino.
My feeling is that people who travel in big groups, whether organised by a company or by themselves, are losing out on something on a long walk. I witnessed a few such groups on the Camino and also on the trails of New Zealand. The group dynamic was strong, they had a brilliant laugh and clapped each other on the back for their achievements, but they didn't really need to interact with anyone outside the group. And that to me is the essence of pilgrimage: opening yourself up to chance happenings and chance encounters. It's not about the moral issue of whether you are a 'real' pilgrim or not, and if you have a physical problem and need bag transport I would say why not. But just realise that in a group you have insulated yourself and regulated yourself in a way that can be at odds with the spirit of what you are attempting.
notion900 said:
My feeling is that people who travel in big groups, whether organised by a company or by themselves, are losing out on something on a long walk. ... But just realise that in a group you have insulated yourself and regulated yourself in a way that can be at odds with the spirit of what you are attempting.
I don't think this is necessarily true at all. Some of the groups of young Spanish people we met up with in the last 100km were only interacting with members of their own group, and had possibly already known many in their group from wherever they hailed from. But they were having a rich experience as they walked together, sang together, went into the Cathedral together. The depth of their contact contrasted strongly with many of the perfunctory 'Buen Camino' greetings muttered by strangers as they passed each other along the road.
I don't think there are any 'rules': each finds their own way and makes their own path.
I don't so much mean groups of 3 or 4 friends, I mean bunches of 20 or 30 people who appear to spend a lot of their time sorting out amongst themselves the logistics of where they will meet up, what they will do next, what huge feast they will cook... etc etc. Not only do these big groups keep themselves to themselves, they can also inadvertantly 'take over' a hostel, completely dominating the atmosphere and making others feel shunted out. I've seen it happen so many times, and they are so caught up in the group dynamic they don't even notice they are doing it. But you are right, the important thing is to think about what we are doing, and why, and find our own way. Better to go in a group than not at all.
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notion900 said:
... but they didn't really need to interact with anyone outside the group ....

Absolutely agree.

This is the reason why I always prefer to walk alone if possible.

Buen Camino,

Javier Martin
Madrid, Spain.
Well, I don't really have an opinion about this.
But I do have an experience.

That is ...

I walked from SJPP in the fog and cold rain.
At the crest, exhausted, I watched in curiosity as a bus pulled up and let out a group of about 35 "pilgrims" of all ages, who with a spring in their step and full of energy, literally bounced down the hill into Roncevalles.

Those of us who had walked UP the Pyranees ...limped in an hour or so behind them, to find the best beds taken and the lines for dinner long.

Next morning, their bus picked them up and delivered them within a short distance to the next "pilgrim refugio."

How did I feel about that?
I'm still trying to sort it out.
Heh annie, I had a similar experience, on my very worst day!!!! but it took me a few weeks to realise what had happened.

I left Conques in drizzle, but enjoyed the climb up out of the valley. It fined up at the top, and there was a choice of paths. I decided on the 'scenic route', though it soon lost any scenic appeal: there was a horrendous thunderstorm with lightning and I was scared stiff as I walked on this high path with no shelter. Then the mist rolled in, and I couldn't see anything anyway, then the drenching rain arrived. Then I got diarrhea. Oh no!!!

Fortunately I arrived at the end of this horrid day, drenched and dirty, to a very welcoming gite, and was soon able to get cleaned up and dry again. But I was soon to feel a bit bemused to see other people arrive, who looked like walkers.... ie they had packs and wore rain ponchos.....but they were not very wet at all. I had been saturated, and I was a bit befuddled - how on earth could they have remained so dry looking? It took me a few weeks before I realised that they were the breed of pilgrim in France called 'car-supported'. I think they had had a lot of car support that day, and had probably spent a lot of that very wet day in cafes!!
My first day on Camino out of SJPDP...I was passed by a man in black riding in a taxi. I had booked ahead to Orrison and when I puffed into view of the albergue...there was the man in black, beer in hand admiring the view. The next morning, now among a new group of friends I trod up to Roncesvalles...only to be passed up..two hours after our the man in black..again riding in a taxi. At the cafe, beer in hand...he acknowledged our arrival and indicated we should get a bed, because they were filling up fast. I can't remember ever seeing him walking...well, maybe once in Estrella...I'd just exited the Amblatoria and he was walking into the tourist waiting for him...motor running. I wasn't happy. I didn't know his circumstance...but I was feeling somehow cheated. Here I was, lucky to make 10 km in a day by noon and he was sleeping in until late (or as late as possible) and arriving by taxi early enough to stop in a bar...have a few cervezas and then check into the albergue.

I don't know if he ever finished his Camino.

After Burgos, I took the train, walked some, took a bus, walked some..walked into Leon...took the train to Sarria and then walked the remainder on My Camino into Santiago.

Along the way I passed folks walking a few km into or out of a town. Carrying no more that a day pack and a few bottles of water. Often, I would see them hunkered down under an awning...keeping out of the rain...or the sun...protecting their beverage of choice from getting too diluted or too warm...but happy just the same.

And, you know...initially, I was more perplexed than angry. I couldn't understand how they could consider this a pilgrimage at all. After a period of reflection, I came to this realization...some of them were obviously husband and wife, some just friends...some were older...and in fairly good fiddle...while one among their number was obviously ill, or at least under the weather. And, although I never stopped and spoke with them, individually or as a group...I began to assess their situation and assign a purely subjective reason for their circumstance for being on the Camino.

I thought of the couple...just off the caravan and gathering their things in readiness of setting out. The woman was obviously fit and full of energy, while her male friend...possibly her husband, was not well coordinated and maybe a bit disoriented. I watched the lovingly way she checked the strap on the single water bottle he would carry and then shouldering a pack carrying needed gear, extra water and some food. Maybe this wasn't the first time they had done anything like this before...but, maybe it would be the last time they did it together.

The boisterous group of five men...all different in size, shape and lift ability...but all joking, laughing and just being guys...together. Maybe they had grown up, worked many years together or served in the forces and this was the culmination of their shared experiences before age and disease unraveled the tapestry of their friendship.

I guess, for what ever reason we decided when, how, or why we walked the's for the Camino to decide what we take home with us. For some the experience will cement a long standing relationship, for others it's a Way that provides one last positive memory...for others...they still don't know.

As to the man in black...I never saw or heard of him again...but I am sure of one thing...the Camino isn't done with him yet either.

Buen Camino...everyone!


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