A day in the life of a chillgrim

On the camino, there are those that wake up early, rustling quietly (or not) in the dark while packing up, and slip out into the dark well before the sun has started thinking about a new day. They walk by torchlight, crunching along in a moving circle of trail until dawn starts brightening the sky behind them. Then they carry on, stop for breakfast and coffee, and arrive at their next destination before noon. (You know who you are.) If they arrive at their destination (too) early, they might have to sit around waiting for the albergue to open so they can have a shower and do the laundry while they wait for the rest of us to arrive. With this early start they normally want an early night too, and some of them even turn the lights off in the dorm before ten to get ready for their pre-dawn escape the next morning.

I, however, confess to being a chillgrim.

I do not walk in the dark. You can’t see anything, so who knows what wonders you could be missing, and my ankles dread to think what damage an unseen rock could cause!

Don’t get me wrong, I like a sunrise as much as the next pilgrim, but I prefer to watch it during or after breakfast. For one thing it is always behind you when you are generally walking westwards, so the only sensible thing to do is watch it from a sedentary position, preferably on a hill or inside a bar, with optional snacks and beverages.

Waiting to leave until after sunrise also means most early pilgrims have gone on ahead, and sometimes I end up having the trail almost to myself. A slow start doesn’t necessarily mean I am slow though, once I am on the road I can get up to a good speed, or not, depending on my mood, walking companion and weather. Apart from up hills, where I follow Irish pilgrim ‘Uncle Frank’s 30/30 rule – walk for 30 steps, then stop, turn around, enjoy the view, take a photo, have a swig of water, get 30 good breaths in, then do another 30 steps. Thank you, Uncle Frank, hope to see you on the road again one day!

As a self professed chillgrim, I like to take breaks. I enjoy seeing a little village up ahead and start thinking about what would be nice for second breakfast. As early breakfasts normally consist of little more than a large café con leche and some sort of cake, croissant or toast, I often just have the coffee and wait for second breakfast to get a cheese toastie, an omelette or even yogurt and fruit. I had so much tortilla on my first camino, that I still don’t feel like another one. And the bocadillos are just too big, too much bread, too hard and sharp and dry. So second breakfast in a nice little village is perfect an hour or two into my walking day. With another café con leche, and/or an Aquarius, bliss!

But I don’t need the lure of a second breakfast to stop for a cold drink, a little rest, a chat with fellow pilgrims or the people in the bar, and also to use the toilet, adjust clothing layers as the day heats up etc. I could bring my own fruit, nuts, bread, cheese and drinks and sit down by the trail, of course, and I fully intend to do that more often in the future – think reaching the top of a hill and then sitting down to admire the view behind you while enjoying a picnic. But generally, I like to take a break somewhere with hot and cold drinks, loos and plastic chairs when I get the chance. Plus it helps the local economy!

As I get closer to the day’s goal, Spanish lunch time starts. This elusive window of opportunity when the kitchen is open, normally from 13.30-15.30-ish, hits while I am still out on the road, while the early risers have already walked, arrived, showered, done laundry and got dressed. Now, I am all for sitting in the shade enjoying a lovely, leisurely meal in the middle of the day, but it does make it harder to get up and keep walking again after. This is where the earligrinos have the advantage over chillgrims, as they are already clean and fresh and can go out, have that leisurely meal and then take an afternoon nap in the albergue. I try to see if the bar or restaurant offers something light like a nice soup, tapas or something, and keep moving. Which means I will have to wait until 19.00 for a substantial (pilgrim) meal to be served. So if you are a chillgrim, be prepared to either stop and stay wherever you have your big lunch, or have it and be sluggish – you’re not in a rush! Or just don’t have the big lunch and keep moving. You can always see if there is a menu del dia where you end up, as it is often better and more interesting than a menu del peregrino – but also a few euros more and you get less wine.

I normally get to where I am going, or somewhere I would like to stay, around three or four in the afternoon. Most albergues operate on a first come, first served basis, so the earligrinos have the advantage of first choice of beds. Which means that unless beds are assigned, chillgrims normally get the less desirable beds – top bunks, beds near the door or toilet etc. I don’t mind that so much, and in fact a top bunk allows me to sit up and stretch, and sometimes gives me more control of the window situation too – always open! – so every cloud has a silver lining. With some luck there is still hot water in the showers, and space on the clothes lines, and the sun is still warm enough for my clothes to dry. So I get on with the shower, laundry, general sorting-outing of things for the next day, and then go out to chill with an anchor beer or large clara while I wait for food to be available. I very rarely have a nap, as it’s too late in the day, and I am often getting hungry and want to sit outside and enjoy the weather and a rest.

At dinner the earligrinos and chillgrims gather for their affordable feast of massive salads, soups, chicken or beef slices and limp fries, and the ever flowing wine. In many ways it is the highlight of the day, as you chat to people about the places and challenges of the trail and the plan for the next stage, what to see and do and where to sleep. It’s where you catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while or meet random new faces that end up at your table.

Yes, I prefer to go out to eat when I am on the camino. Maybe it’s a part of the chillgrim mindset, as I do the cooking at home and I love not having to think about shopping, planning, prepping, cooking or cleaning up while I am away. Especially after a long day walking. I don’t mind communal meals per se, but I don’t particularly want to take part in the cooking, organising or tidying (or singalongs), so I tend to avoid places where the communal meal is a big thing – others love them, so there is no reason why I should take up a space! Also, by going out to eat I can decide what I want – big meal, small meal, cheap or not cheap – and that suits my chillgrim nature very well.

People sometimes ask what I do when I have finished walking for the day, as if they can’t think of anything to do all afternoon and evening in the countryside in Spain. (!?) Somehow it always feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day! I like to fill most of my day with the process of walking, stopping, staring, taking photos, talking to others, taking my time and just enjoy being outside, and the time and space to think or not think. Later on I might read, but not much or for long – there is normally someone to talk to, or something to look at, or something to clean, dry, fix, prepare, or something I need to go out to find or buy. I have never had a problem filling the evening until I reluctantly have to head back to my bed for lights-out and silence at ten.

Another advantage of being an earligrino is they have more time for sightseeing in the afternoon than I do; I tend to just stay put once I am installed in my accommodation for the night. I make up for it by taking a rest day in larger cities where I know there is more to see and do, and also easier to get hold of anything I might need, or walking half days so I have more time and energy after arrival. Each to their own, we all do what suits us best. And I suppose most who walk the camino fall in between the two extremes.

Are you a chillgrim or an earligrino? Or both, or something else entirely?


4 thoughts on “A day in the life of a chillgrim

    1. I suppose it can change over time or depending on who you are walking with as well? I just can’t get up and walk in the dark. I have tried!

    1. Thank you! And yes, if you can, you should. There is nothing quite like taking the time out to experience a much simpler everyday life.

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