|I went left.|
At the tourist agency in Bilbao a few days ago, the attractive tourist agency girl told me that some people take the bus to the hostel on the outskirts of town, that the number 58 goes right there.
"Um, isn't that, like, cheating?" I said to her, joking.
She turned her palms upward and shrugged. "Maybe. But a lot of people do it."
Which brings me to the subject of today's post: What's "legal" on the camino and what's not? What's considered acceptable, standard practice, and what will earn you an asterisk that will forever taint your camino experience? Basically it's simple: start somewhere far away, and walk to the town of Santiago de Compostela. That's it. Don't hitchike, don't take a bus into town if you're tired, and don't get a ride from someone because you broke your ankle. You're on the Camino to walk, and that's what you're going to do. But just in case there are any doubts, I've conjured a few scenarios, some of which earn the dreaded "asterisk", and some of which do not.
1) Hitchhiking into town because it's snowing and you're wet and miserable. Asterisk.
2) Hitchiking into town because you're wet and miserable and then hitchhiking back to where you were on the Camino. No asterisk.
3) Getting to the tourist office, finding out where the hostel is, and then taking a bus or a tax there. Asterisk.
4) Having someone drive your bag to the next town so you don't have to carry it. I'm tempted to put asterisk here (especially if you're under the age of 65), but if you're still walking, it's OK. An asterisk on your soul, though.
5) Riding a bike. No asterisk, or rather, the biggest asterisk of all. This is something completely different altogether. if do the Camino de Santiago on your bike you can't say you did the Camino de Santiago. You can say, I did the Camino de Santiago.....on my bike. You are forever obliged to utter this phrase, even in situations where it's not relevant. It should be the first thing you mention in subsequent job interviews and also accounted for in your wedding vows. And you should possibly get an asterisk tattooed on your lower back.
However, this situation is easy to avoid. if you do the Camino de Santiago on your bike all you have to do is never mention that you did the Camino de Santiago. If possible, deny you've even heard of it. You're allowed to say you took a bike trip through northern Spain, but that's it. Basically, you either walked it, or you never did it at all.
6) Riding a horse. No asterisk. This is somehow OK, just because I enjoy picturing someone trying to water their horse in downtown Bilbao, or enjoying a pincho in a bar while their colt waits timidly at the end of the street. However, when I say no asterisk, I mean for the horse. The horse did the Camino de Santiago, not you. You sat in a moving, neighing chair.
7) Walking along the road because it's more direct. No asterisk. Absolutely no asterisk. It's maybe not as "pure" as always following the arrows, but as far as I'm concerned, as long as you walk to Santiago de Compestela under your own power, anything goes. You can walk along the autopista and pay the tolls, for all I care. Walking along the road is usually a pretty terrible experience (especially for your arches), but there are some places where its saves many kilometers and arrows have even been put up for those who don't want to walk the "real" path. In my opinion, if you're following arrows, you're on the path, regardless of when they were put up or if there's a "more real" path somewhere else. If there were arrows straight to the Irun airport and down a jetway to a flight that took you directly to Santiago, that would still count. But unfortunately, as far as I know, that doesn't exist.
8) Non-sanctioned ferry rides. I can't really think of anyplace where this would be an issue because any water crossings that might come into play already have a Camino-sanctioned route through them. Yesterday's boat ride from Somo to Santander, for example, had arrows and Camino signs leading up to it and is even accounted for in the guidebook. Some might say, "oh a true peregrino walks the whole way. A true peregrino goes around." But I'm not so sure. Take the short boat ride from Laredo to Santoña, for example. Small boats have been ferrying peregrinos across that stretch since time immemorable, so by doing it the "easy" way, you're actually a more devout pilgrim, and St. James will smile upon you.
HOWEVER, and this is somewhat different: if you were to, say, bring a small blow-up raft to cross a certain body of water so as not to have to walk around it, that would qualify as an asterisk. Take the estuary between Islares and Oriñón, for example. But, whereas a raft would give you a big fat asterisk, putting your stuff in a trash bag and floating it across while you swim would not. It would, however, make you insane.
In summary, it's pretty straight forward: get to Santiago by walking under your own power, and you've done the Camino. Ride a bike or a razor scooter or a hot air balloon, and as far as you're concerned, the Camino de Santiago doesn't exist. I, of course, have not yet done the Camino de Santiago, so I will try to remain humble.
Humble, and asterisk-free.