The St. James Pilgrimage has great signage, you will see the symbol of a yellow shell on a blue background on every other post. However, when you stray a little off the route, you need to rely on yourself (and a good map). Going the extra few kilometres is no drama, the surrounding countryside is beautiful. However, those with over a hundred kilometres in their legs and a pack on their back want to wander as little as possible.
There is a number of apps dedicated to the Camino (as the St James's Pilgrimage is called for short) routes. I've also downloaded some of them. Most of all, however, I've found the Czech app mapy.cz to be the most useful. It includes local hiking routes and, without exaggeration, almost every trail.
Some sections of the official marked Camino route are on the road, and not every pilgrim wants to tread miles of asphalt. When finding your own way in natural terrain, the Czech app has proven to be the most reliable. On several occasions I encountered fellow pilgrims wandering in the woods, standing helplessly where the trail split into multiple directions. Then, when I pinpointed the correct direction and others confidently followed, national pride oozed right out of me 😊😊
Eat a proper meal at least once a day
However, no app could cope with information about open cafes, shops or restaurants. Often, where all the apps, in line with the signs along the road, announced an approaching food supply, there was only a closed, dilapidated shack. On the other hand, the improvised stalls in the backyard, where locals offered refreshments for a voluntary donation (probably without a license or any health checks), were always a pleasant surprise.
It was also sometimes difficult to accept that the restaurant - although open - only cooked at lunch and dinner times. Didn't have time to eat before 2 pm? No matter, the chef will come again at 7 pm. And in the meantime, pilgrim, do something about it 😊
Even more charming was the barter trade that flourished in the hostels. So one fine Sunday afternoon (everywhere was closed) I traded a bag of cherries from a local grower for a tin of tuna with a piece of bread. And a fresh salad for some biscuits. And then we all had a good laugh about it.
Spontaneous camaraderie made for an evening or even just half an hour of walking together. Good humour, willingness to help, encourage, advise each other - these are the hallmarks of the Camino for me. Whether you're going alone or with a partner and you're keen to meet new people, the opportunities are countless.