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Like I assume many of you did also, when I was contemplating walking the Camino de Santiago for the first time I conducted an online search to see what others had thought about their experience, to weigh up the pros and cons and to judge whether it was going to be a worthwhile investment of my time and money or not.
One of the highest links on Google brought me to an article written by Francis Tapon, entitled: 10 Reasons Why El Camino Santiago Sucks.
I must admit that the article was convincing and appeared to be written by someone genuinely wanting to warn others not to waste their time and money on the walk from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela.
However, I instead took the advice of the majority of other much more positive feedback online which basically raved about the experience and having walked my first and then second Camino – now planning my third – I wanted to respond to Francis Tapon’s article from an objective point of view so that others who have read his article may have the other side of his damning feedback.
Each 1-10 comment written by Francis is listed, with my response directly underneath each of his. I do just want to add that everyone is completely entitled to their own point of view and this is simply my opinion. Francis is more than welcome to respond to this article should he wish to clarify or argue any points made within it.
1. Only about 1% of El Camino is a narrow (1-meter wide) dirt trail; 99% is a road (either a dirt road, 2-track road, paved road with little traffic, or a busy highway).
This is a very inaccurate statement and I feel written to mislead.
Anyone can see from the photos I took on my Spring/Summer 2014 Camino that the majority of walking is on either dirt trails or walking trails:
2. About half the time you’re on a paved road or on a dirt path right next to a paved road. Some of the paved roads have little traffic, but others are quite busy.
SOME of the time you are on a paved road or on a dirt path right next to a paved road. Yes, I agree that when you do find yourself on a paved road that some have little traffic, but others are quite busy.
3. Because you’re on a paved road so often, by the end of the day your feet may feel like they’ve been put through a meat tenderizer. Although I’ve hiked over 65 km in one day in steep mountains, I found it harder to do 65 km in one day on the flat Camino. My feet just ached too much from the frequent paved roads.
Please refer to my comment 1 and 2 responses 🙂
4. About 95% of the time, car traffic is within earshot. El Camino often gives you the illusion that cars aren’t near because you sometimes can’t see the nearby paved road which may have infrequent traffic. However, it takes just one car to remind you that there is indeed a road nearby.
Wow, another sweeping statistic 🙂
Actually, the most annoying sound for me on the Camino was the sound of the birds chirping all through the night. During the day though generally the only sounds you will hear when not with other pilgrims will be the sound of your own two feet marching along and perhaps the sound of wind swaying the olive tree branches which so often border the path. But yes, when you do find yourself next to a busy road then it is logical that you will then hear traffic (again, my response to comments 1 and 2 are relevant to my answer to this question).
5. Amenities distract from any spiritual mission you may have. With endless bars, restaurants, hotels, vending machines, tour groups, you’re hardly removed from the “real world.” This defeats much of the purpose of living primitively in a search for a deeper meaning or understanding of life. On the other hand, it’s nice to have easy access to ice cream.
The villages and towns do have lots of amenities (thankfully), but on the Meseta (between Burgos and Leon) for example there are often 20-30km between villages or towns and there is plenty of room for spiritual development if this simply can’t go side by side with the odd purchase of an ice-cream here and there.
6. The scenery is monotonous. It’s endless pastoral farmland everywhere you look. Far in the horizon, you might glimpse some real mountains. The most photogenic places are the towns and villages; since you can drive (or bike) to all of them, there’s no practical need to walk between them.
Another sweeping statement. Perhaps Francis only walked one section of the Camino because the landscape changes so dramatically as you walk from the Pyrenees to the lowlands and then eventually into rain-soaked Galicia.
7. It’s a skin cancer magnet. Infrequent trees means that a brutal sun is hammering you most of the day. In the summer, it’s hard to tolerate.
Absolutely. Anywhere in Europe in summer is a skin cancer magnet if you don’t wear proper protection. Trees are not a substitute for sun cream lotion.
8. Unfriendly commercialism. El Camino has become a big business, where the locals are sometimes unfriendly and seem to just care about getting your money.
I do agree with comment 8. One for you Francis! 🙂
9. It’s a cacophony of sounds. Rumbling 18-wheel trucks, ear-splitting motorcycles, angry barking dogs, blaring music from cafes, honking horns, and ringing cell phones. El Camino assaults your ear drums. At least there were no jack-hammers. Oh wait. I walked by one of those too.
Mmm, didn’t we already cover this in comment 4 Francis, just 5 comments back?
10. It’s hard to take a piss. There’s little privacy. Cars and pilgrims are constantly passing you by. After 3 p.m. most pilgrims retire to their albergues (huts) and you’ll get more privacy to do your business. Nevertheless, at 7 p.m. one jogger still managed to catch me with my pants down.
I can’t really comment on this point except that if privacy is an issue when walking the Camino then my advice is to simply walk a few metres to the side of the path to conduct your business and then you won’t be ‘discovered’ whilst relieving yourself on the main path.
If you have any thoughts on any of the comments and responses made in this article or if you wish to add information, then please feel free to leave a comment or question in the Reply box below.