The first and most obvious difference between Spain and the UK, where I live, is that everybody here is wearing a mask, almost everywhere. Not just indoors and when they are in close proximity to others, but even on the streets and sitting outside. You may have brought a favourite reusable one from home, but my top tip is to visit a farmacia and get some of the simple blue ones, they are less than an euro. People lose them all the time, so make sure you have some spare for yourself or someone who has lost theirs.
People in service and hospitality are working very long hours! It is not unusual to see the same waiter who served you dinner, also serving breakfast. Hospitaleros get up early to see the pilgrims off, and then they have to clean everything, shop, replace, order, maintain, fix. Then new pilgrims come pouring in with their needs and requests and questions. Be kind, polite, patient and grateful, and if you can, be generous.
There are several ways you can help the people who make a living from helping you:
Keep some cash on you, not all small businesses will take cards as card machines cost money. So does electricity, which is particularly expensive in Spain at the moment, so help your host by switching off lights in your room.
Get WhatsApp, so your host can reach you easily and cheaply using wifi rather than call foreign numbers. WhatsApp is very popular in Europe so you can also connect with other pilgrims just using your phone number.
Call or message your host to confirm your booking if you know you will arrive late, say after two o’clock, or they may assume you’re a no-show and give your bed or room to someone else. And obviously don’t double book without cancelling any reservation you don’t need, so another pilgrim can have your place and the host doesn’t lose money.
Remember, just because some people talk about a bed race doesn’t necessarily mean there is one. Due to covid regulations the number of albergue beds is reduced by on average 50%, but the number of rooms is constant, so if you can’t find an available bed at your preferred stop, consider sharing a room with a friend instead. Also, booking sites normally don’t have access to all the beds or rooms in a place, so call them and ask the hosts directly and you might get lucky.
When walking on the road, please walk on the left hand side, towards oncoming traffic. Too often there are pilgrims on both sides of the road making it more dangerous for all.
Pilgrims often complain that there isn’t enough vegetables in their food. This is mainly true if you are only eating pilgrim menus, which are so cheap it’s a wonder they can offer you three courses plus bread and wine. Order a menu del dia for a few euros extra instead, or try one of the many new vegetarian and vegan courses for a change. Or just go to a shop and buy whatever fruit and veg your heart desires?
Regarding wilderness wees and worse, if you must, please get away from the trail – at least a couple of meters – and for goodness sake look behind you before you squat! And when you are done, make sure you take any paper or wipes with you to the next bin. It doesn’t decompose as quickly as you are hoping and it looks awful. Bring a bag for your toilet paper and leave no trace.
The same goes for littering the trail with pointless graffiti, stickers and slogans. If you carry spray paint or permanent markers on the camino, you are basically either a vandal or a troll. Keep your opinion on abortion, independence or Michael Jackson to yourself, and stop signing your name on signs, barriers or walls (unless you are in the Blue Bar in Reliegos). Take a selfie instead, or post on Instagram if you need the world to know where you have been and when.
When all that is said, I have found the covid camino walkers a very kind and friendly bunch, and apart from the masks and regulations everything feels much like it always did. The Spanish seem happy to have us back and we are so, so happy to be here. It is strange to see so few Americans, and no Australians or South Africans, but in time we will enjoy their company again too.
Edited to add: One thing that seems to be missing is the dreaded camino flu, aka albergue fever, possibly norovirus spreading among tired people living in close quarters along the route. Whatever caused it, it seems regular hand sanitising, new cleaning regimes, masks and/or social distancing has beaten it back. Long may it continue!