Frequently Asked Questions
How do I obtain the Credencial de Peregrino?
There are two good sources for Credenciales that I know of, and two more
that you might try if you run out of time or the first two fail you:
Is the Credencial necessary?
- For the "official" version, I send a short letter in my best Castilian (English
would work too, I think) requesting one, along with a small donation (usually an
American Express money order for $25) to the Oficina de Acogida al Peregrino,
S.A.M.I CATEDRAL, 15704 -- Santiago de Compostela,
España. They've always responded quickly and sent me back the document
by return mail.
- My other source is the American Pilgrims on the Camino. You can access their website
www.americanpilgrims.com and submit
a request online. As a charitable organization, they don't charge you for the
service, but it's polite to send them a donation to cover the mailing and handling
charges as well. Theirs is not the Official Credencial, but it is accepted
on the Camino and at the Pilgrims Office in Santiago. I find, however, that if you
don't take a medium-tip marker pen and mark up the pages into sections, hospitaleros
and other sello givers will always want to put their sellos right in the middle of
the damned pages.
- If you happen to be in or pass through London, you might try the sister organization
of the American Pilgrims -- the Confraternity of St. James. Check their website at
www.csj.org.uk. Limited opening hours.
- Finally, there is an Albergue de Peregrinos in Oviedo, located not far
down from the Cathedral, open most evenings. I haven't tried to get a
Credencial from them, but they probably have some. And I do know that
they have some locally printed guide material to the Primitivo and the Camino del
Norte for sale. Finally, they will give you your first sello stamp in
the document (no charge).
Formerly this was not the case, but the rules are changing. With the
rise of turigrino traffic and various abuses of the system, the Pilgrim Office
now requires every pilgrim to present an officially approved Credencial,
fully stamped with at least two sellos per day for the last 100 km into
Santiago, to receive the Compostela certificate. Supposedly, hospitaleros along the
way should also insist on such documents for admission to publicly-sponsored
albergues. The blue Credencial of the American Pilgrims is accepted as an
officially approved document.
What's the difference between an albergue privado, an
Albergue de Pererginos, an hostal, and a refugio?
They're all places to sleep. Official Albergues de Peregrinos are State-supported, now charging 3 Euros per person in 2008. They'll have an hospitalero on duty to keep the place orderly, take your 3 Euros, and give you a sello for your Credencial. There are also private albergues, such as the very nice one in Bodenaya: these may require a charge or suggest a voluntary donation (donativo). You will also find hostales, which tend to be small, usually family-run hotels, such as Sra. Herminia's establishment in Campiello. Refugio is a term in common use on the French road, equivalent to Albergue.
Should I expect to spend every night in an albergue?
The short answer is No. In 2008, there are regular albergues in Oviedo, San Juan de Villapañada (an inconvenient one), Salas (a really bad one!), Tineo, Borres, Berducedo (still under construction but reasonably ready for occupancy), Grandas de Salime (another loser, although not quite so gross as the one in Salas), Cádavo Baleira (finest of them all), Lugo, San Román de Retorta, Melide, Arzúa, and the International Pilgrim Center (sometimes known as the Motel 6 del Camino) at the Monte de Gozo. There are a few others in odd or inconvenient locations too. In places where there are no publicly supported albergues, you can always find some other place to stay. Ask at bars or restaurants, and somebody will know a place with rooms available. The Primitivo takes you through some pretty remote areas, but it's not a camping trip.
Must I carry my own food and bottled water?
Sandwiches (bocadillos) can be good things to buy in the evenings and take along with you the next day for lunch, available from bars that serve food. You may want to bring some granola bars from home to help power you through the long mornings. You will need to carry your own water. Buy a liter bottle in a grocery store and when empty, refill it with tap water. Be very careful about using outdoor fountain water (bad example story available on request).
How do I get to Oviedo?
How well marked is the trail?
- The closest major airport is near Avilés, North of Oviedo on the Coast. A bus will meet you at the airport and take you up to the Bus Station in Oviedo for 9 Euros.
- RENFE ( www.renfe.es) has good train service from Madrid Charmartín up to Oviedo, with stunning views of the Cantabrians as the train crosses the high pass at Pajares.
- The ALSA ( www.alsa.es ) bus line also has excellent service from Madrid over the same route.
- And if you're coming from France, the FEVE light rail line has service to Oviedo from as far East as Bilbao. See their website at www.FEVE.es
In general, there are shell tiles, shell pyramids, or yellow arrows at all locations
where you need them. Some sections are intensely marked. You may, however, experience some confusion in areas of public works such as highway construction. The directionally-challenged may appreciate the comfort of a compass or even a GPS device.
What about starting the trek farther back in Spain, or even on the French side?
Historically, the oldest Camino pilgrimage trail began in Oviedo. More recently, in the High Middle Ages when the great port cities of the Northern Coast flourished with the wool trade, pilgrims began to follow a coastal route connecting these cities and hugging or paralleling the coast. This route now connects to long-distance hiking trails coming down from Bordeaux, crossing the border at Hendaye/Irun. Unfortunately, the Basque provinces and Cantabria offer little or nothing in the way of public hospitality to pilgrims for Santiago, although this may be changing. Trail waymarking and maintenance can be indifferent too, and much of the Camino requires you to walk on secondary highways, which are not particularly dangerous but which can be hard on the feet. Still, the Eastern half of the Primitivo and Del Norte Caminos offer you the chance to see marvelous places that rarely attract foreign visitors, such as Portugalete, Castro Urdiales, Santillana del Mar, Comillas, San Vicente de la Barquera, Llanes, and Valdedios.
Are the trails and albergues crowded on the Camino Primitivo?
Not until you join the French Road at Melide. In the off-season, you could walk all the way to Melide and never see another pilgrim.
What exactly is Pulpo Gallego, and why would anyone want it?
Pulpo is octopus, and Pulpo Gallego is the simplest and most successful way of preparing it. Since an octopus has no bone structure, it relies on connective tissue to hold itself together. The cook has to deal with this because untreated octopus with the connective tissue intact is unchewable. Galician cooks sometimes boil the whole creature, or they may snip off the tentacles and boil them in salted water. Optimum boiling time will depend on the kitchen's altitude, but at sea level it should be about 20 minutes. The meat is done when the connective tissue turns to gelatin. Continued boiling beyond that point is counter-productive. When ready, the cook removes the tentacles from the water, slices them into bite-sized chunks, and serves them up on a wooden platter with a spritz of olive oil and dustings of salt and paprika. You pick up the chunks with toothpicks and eat them without further ado. You may find pulpo gallego served with a second dish such as baked or pan-fried breaded codfish, which is also delicious. And lest you think that pulpo is more exotic than anything you'd want to try, I saw New York chef Mark Bittman prepare it in one of his little video demos on the New York Times website. What's good enough for Mr. Bittman has always been great for me.
What exactly is a Casco Antiguo?
The expression means the oldest part of an historical city. In most cases, the Casco was enclosed within defensive stone walls. Some towns like Àvila and Lugo still have their walls, while others like Oviedo tore them down in the 19th Century. And many Spanish cities on the Northern Coast are too new to have real Cascos. The one in Santiago de Compostela is one of the best preserved in Spain: the old city walls are gone, but the buildings within their old perimeter have maintained much of the medieval character, so the city uses the special term Zona Monumental to describe it.
Back to Index Page