Guide books – and the sour taste they leave

Guide books - and the sour taste they leave


The comment was:

We all start out like this…

We buy a guide book, read excitedly about the Camino and its stages and often follow the recommendations about albergues and routes outlined in them because after all the author must know!

During my last Camino I decided to ditch the recommendations of the famous Brierley guide when I discovered that the little villages in between stages are often more beautiful, peaceful and welcoming then the ‘recommended’ stage destinations.

However, one day I got confronted with the reality of what these recommendations mean to locals and I was both shocked and saddened by it.

Walking out of Leon I decided to take the ‘grey’ route planning to stay in San Martin del Camino. It was a pleasant walk despite walking along the road. One of the locals, now in his 90s, had left out snacks and drinks in his front yard for pilgrims to enjoy as he used to walk the Camino many times when he was younger …. It was the nicest thing ever … except there were no pilgrims to enjoy it and this was in June!

Upon arrival in San Martin I stayed in Santa Ana … it was spacious, clean … and very empty! There were 4 pilgrims (including myself) and the other 2 albergues didn’t look any busier. When I talked to hospitaleira I discovered that since the route via Mazarife was recommended hardly any pilgrims came this way and a 4th Albuerge in town had to close down already. During the joined evening meal I discovered that 2 of the other pilgrims only had ended up there because they had ‘taken a wrong turn’ and they wanted to take the recommended route too. I felt very sorry for the owner of the Albergue as she was so welcoming, an amazing cook and we even got free cherries from a tree growing in the yard.

Make of this little story what you want but it really brought home to that the decisions we make, the guide books we follow (often without thinking too much about it) can have a profound impact on the locals. Perhaps we should start using our own head more, choose our routes and places to stay based on what feels right to us rather than following the trail like sheep.

Despite all this I had an amazing time and wish everybody all the joy and love there is to discover out there!

Read the full conversation on the good and the bad about using a guidebook.