PC #64 – Is the Camino safe?

I’ve been to some hairy parts of the world –

The gangland areas of East LA, the projects of New Orleans, the black areas of Baltimore, the drug infested slums of outer Amsterdam, the back streets of Tijuana in Mexico, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea (a very scary place), the immigrant slums of Lyon in France, the outlying slums of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, the inner slums of Old Delhi, the Burmese jungles of the Golden Triangle, where most of the world’s heroin is produced, and Harlem late at night, where some of it is used –

I’ve walked through all these places safely, thanks to my PGS.

And I walked the Camino de Santiago safely, too.

But there were a couple of times when I was made acutely aware of just how vulnerable you are as a pilgrim walking the Camino, even being a man.

Often you’re walking alone, early in the morning or sometimes in the dark. You’re often on very isolated stretches of track, out in the woods or beside lonely roads where you’re very visible to the odd passing car.

You’re wearing a heavy backpack which makes it hard for you to cut and run, should you need to. And often you’re exhausted. It’s difficult putting up a fight when you’ve just walked 25kms.

I remember walking out of Pamplona early one Sunday morning. It was about 5:30am, it was dark, and there were groups of late night revellers wandering the streets. Some of them looked at me, and a few yelled out, jeering. They were drunk.

If it had been Sydney at the same time of the morning, in the dark, I’d have been worried about my safety. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have been out walking. Sydney can be very dangerous in the city, particularly on a weekend in the wee hours.

But in this instance, in Pamplona, nothing happened.

Two men followed me for a while early one morning as I walked through some deserted inner city streets of Ponferrada. Foolishly, I’d just stopped and pulled some cash out from an ATM. Really dumb, at that time of the morning. I finally stopped and turned and glared at the men, and they disappeared.

That’s the sum total of my uncomfortable incidents during my Camino.

However, I’ve heard of instances of women being harassed by men while walking on lonely stretches of track. And I’ve heard of one or two muggings.

Over the years, I’ve travelled extensively in Spain – not only on the Camino, but in and around Madrid, and through Cataluna. And I have to say that I’ve found it to be one of the safest places I’ve ever been. After all my travelling around the world, my PGS is now very finely tuned to the approach of danger. And I’ve always felt very safe in Spain.

But being a pilgrim and walking the Camino de Santiago doesn’t give you spiritual immunity from the vagaries of man. Remember you’re walking through a country that’s going through very difficult economic times.

Unemployment is very high, particularly amongst young people. And wherever there’s poverty and desperation, there’s the propensity for crime.

I’ve always maintained that you must walk the Camino without fear. That said, it’s best to be careful, just as you have to be careful anywhere.

Cig butts

22 thoughts on “PC #64 – Is the Camino safe?

  1. Bill, you are so on target here. Please all refer back to my post in the previous blog segment. It was the only time I ever felt vulnerable. Bill to explain more, you need to understand that fear never came into my thought process while walking. Friends had asked me if I was sure that I would be safe and I told them ‘absolutely’. My Camino friends had well prepared me ahead of time, including to listen to my inner voice and be observant to the people and places around me. My gut instincts have served me well all my life. In addition, my conviction that I had been called by the Camino to be there at that time of my life, re-enforced my belief that I was totally protected.
    As well, I had been gifted a TAU in Pamplona – I was blessed and my trust was complete.

    I had my first scary moment in Puente La Reina, during the night when someone touched and shook me out of deep sleep and screamed at me to be quiet. Very unsettling and I left the room and slept on the bench in the women’s shower. This happened to be a pilgrim whom I had come across before and he constantly had complained about the night noises. I found out the next day from the rest of my roomies, I had been talking in my sleep (which didn’t surprise me, I was dreaming constantly). Nothing that bothered them, considering the rest of the noises. Anyway, he was told off by the other pilgrims and I never encountered him again. Issue solved.

    A few days later, after spending the night with my friends Acacio and Orietta, who live and run the refugio in Viloria de la Rioja, I went on to Villafranca Montes de Oca. I decided to stay at San Anton Abad. This is a hotel that also has an albergue attached to it. I stayed in the albergue part, the hotel was fully booked. I did not sleep well that night and as it was my habit in September (it was very hot last year), I was looking forward to walking again early morning under the stars. By 4 am, someone was ghosting around in the kitchen, so I too got up ( I was always ready to walk, all I had to do was roll up my sleeping gear – I slept in the clothes I walked in the following day) and decided to wait until 5ish before walking. What I didn’t realize it was raining, not heavy, a steady drizzly, but of course the sky was overcast and no stars or moon to give you any kind of light. I did not want to go back into the kitchen and just sit there, so decided to start walking.

    And there they were, two pilgrims, one rather tall and burly, the other skinny and tiny and I tell you he truly looked like a leprechaun…. lol.. He had a hat like we see in fairy tales and green vest and a keen look and heckling laughter. His companion was more quiet and sourly, but what the heck it was 5 a.m and not everyone is a morning person. We turned on our headlamps and wandered off.

    Anyone that has walked this stretch from Villafranca to Ages, knows that you go over some hills and through woods, even by a stone labyrinth and in the dark, you have to truly watch out for the arrows. The drizzly and fog did make it more of a challenge.

    So what do pilgrims do when they walk, the either walk in silence or they talk. We talked and they had an interesting story. Apparently they were Irish travellers meaning gypsies and as young children had been removed by the church from their families and put into an orphanage and that is were they met and grew up and became friends for life. They even went into business with each other and now they were retired and decided to walk the Camino together.

    Just another story, a sad beginning but a story of friendship and overcoming hardship and so far everything was ok. But something had shifted, the conversation changed, I can’t even put a finger on it, and the way we walked changed, I was now in the middle, the little one in front, the big one behind me, their lamps going on and off… and I started to feel unsafe. I pretended to fix my shoes and told them to go on ahead, but it was still very dark and I did not want to loose them. I thought I rather see them ahead of me then not.

    The woods there are dark and also bloody grounds from the Franco era, there is even a monument by the side of the road commemorating the many people who lost their life. I am very sensitive to all those energies, good and sad. The rain got heavier, the fog thicker, it was difficult to walk. My self talk didn’t help either, it weaved from telling myself how stupid I was to praying to help me through to the next town. Panic is never a good companion, you feel, see and hear things that are not there (or maybe they are) and you feel frightened.

    This walk seemed to go on forever. Once we got to St. Juan de Ortega, I felt more at ease, after all, there were other humans around – and dawn broke. By the time I got to Ages, I had regained my equilibrium, ignored their calls to have breakfast with them, and I walked on to Atapuerca. I never saw them again, I asked about them too, because I wanted to avoid them, nobody seemed to know whom I was talking about, it seemed as they had vanished.

    I never again walked in the dark with pilgrims I did not know for at least a few days. It did not stop me from walking in the dark, especially when the stars where out in full force. I never again felt unsafe.



    • Ingrid, what a story! I’m so glad you came to no harm. I know that feeling of being followed, and then closed in on , and it can be terrifying. You really do feel like your heart is in your throat. An ambush makes you feel like prey, really stupid prey, because I always think I am so aware of the energies around me. I can relate to the dark, blood energy you felt on that one stretch. Sometimes the energy you get from one place is so overwhelming it can block out what’s happening around you in the “now”. I’m just very glad you weren’t hurt.


      • Sister, I walked through a few “dark” places on the Camino, but never with that kind of dark energy. I don’t think I would have felt reacted the same in sunshine. Daylight makes everything much lighter and of course there would have been lots of pilgrim walking. There is a big stone labyrinth on top of the alto. I would have loved to walk it. Ingrid


    • Hmmm – that’s the reason I wrote that blog Ingrid, because of what you’d said in that previous post of yours.

      Of course the story you detail here – what actually happened – could be read quite innocently, and on the surface it could be said that nothing actually happened and you freaked out unnecessarily. –

      EXCEPT –

      You felt unsafe, and I would say that your PGS was trying to protect you. Sometimes these things can, as you say, shift very subtlety, and if you had to file a police report, you would probably look like an idiot because it’s impossible to put into exact words why you felt threatened.

      But those energies of past slaughters do two things – they try to protect the innocent, and they try to darken the hearts of those with bad intent.

      Your story shows how vulnerable you can be, especially as a woman.

      As for the person waking you because you talked In your sleep – haven’t these people heard of ear plugs?

      Unless you are in danger of somehow inflicting harm on yourself, no one other than perhaps a relative or close friend has any right touching you while you’re asleep.

      I’m glad he was told off.

      Thanks by the way for this story – the purpose of today’s blog is not to frighten people who might be thinking of doing the Camino, only to say that you must take the kind of precautions you’d take anywhere.

      Just because you’re walking a pilgrimage, doesn’t mean everyone around you is going to be of pure heart.



      • Bill, it is why I elaborated. Yes, you are correct of course, nothing happened and one could say I might have over reacted. Except, even writing down the story made me feel queasy.

        I am of the same opinion, nobody should be frightened to walk the Camino, alone or in a group, the Camino is a very safe place to be, but not everyone is walking with a pure heart.

        I don’t even think it has anything to do with being more vulnerable as a women, just being human is enough.



        • Well,

          I certainly had my radar going when I was walking through the early morning streets of Pamplona.

          I’m very cautious when I don’t fully understand the culture of a country. You never know.

          And one bloke wearing a backpack with a sore knee is no match for a gang out prowling the streets tanked up on God-knows what.

          As I said in the blog, Sydney is a very dangerous city. Not many people realise that. But there’s no way I would walk around certain parts of Sydney city, particularly round George Street, after midnight.

          and I’m not being a pussy in saying this.



  2. I am reading this carefully today. I am curious, besides paying attention to your PGS, what other precautions would you suggest? Ingrid, you talked about the protective nature of other pilgrims while you were sleeping. Is it better to stick with a crowd at a later hour than 4 – 5 am? Other suggestions welcome as well.


    • Hi Julie –

      I’m like Ingrid, I really like to leave early, and it wasn’t a problem for me (possibly because I’m a male) – but particularly in the bigger cities, if you are going to be walking before dawn, you might want to consider walking with some other people. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of following your common sense –

      As I say, Spain is a very safe country, thankfully, and the Spanish people are truly delightful.

      I wouldn’t give the same advice if you were traveling in north India, which is a very dangerous place for solo women.



    • Julie, other than that one time, I never was worried. I think this was out of the ordinary.
      I agree with Steve, walk in daylight hours if you are unsure. Please don’t worry, you will be safe.

      I walked that early in the mornings in September, because it was very hot and I struggled walking past 1 p.m. I would generally leave by 5:30 am, or as soon as I heard noise (I had no watch) and there would always be enough pilgrims on the road already. In October it was another story. It stayed darker later, I left around 7 am. or later, especially when I was booked into a private place. I also needed more rest, since I was walking very slowly, all day long.

      5:30 a.m. was not an unusual time for pilgrims to start walking. Usually, they would be very quiet and not disturb the sleeping pilgrims. There were exceptions of course. My routine was easy. Before I would go to sleep, I had my backpack completely packed, hat and shirt on top, my stick and shoes outside the door, at the designated spot, or right beside my backpack. I slept in the clothes I walked in. All I had to do in the morning was roll out of bed, roll up my sleeping gear, put it into my plastic sack, quietly leave the room. Once outside, I would take out my headlamp that was packed in the sack for my sleeping bag, attached said sack to the back of my bag, brush my teeth, put on shirt and hat, socks and shoes and off I went. The first thing I took off my backpack in a new albergue, was my sleeping gear and placed it on the claimed bed with my hat.

      There was no groping through my gear in the morning, looking for things, no plastic bags making that aweful noise, no whispering, since I was solo, no headlamp, or cell phone light on to find things. I had a routine and it worked.

      I loved walking underneath the stars, there was a calm magic about it all. You are moving west and at some point you will feel the sun before you see it. You turn and you experience the most wonderful sunrises. Slowly the land and its people awake and in those moments in between night and day, you feel at peace.

      One of the most beautiful sunrises I experienced the morning a left Rabanal del Camino. It was a cloudy morning and I did not expect a sunrise. I was walking with 2 young South Korean girls, they were trying to teach me Korean.. I failed miserable and all of a sudden I stopped and told them to look back, and we stood there leaning on our sticks, watching the sun rise, tears running down our cheeks.

      Sunrise Rabanal ~ Ingrid Folkers
      “Like a phoenix rising through the clouds
      A fireball illuminates the sky
      Giving energy to the land and I
      Soon being vanquished by the clouds again
      Blessed be the eyes that see, the ears that truly hear
      Lifting my heart to the sky
      Glory be, to the creator of heaven and earth, and you and I.”

      Light and Love Ingrid


      • That’s a beautiful open Ingrid.

        Very beautiful.

        And you capture wonderfully the magic of walking before the sunrise, and then witnessing the sunrise in some of the most beautiful country on earth.

        I remember once leaving Foncebadon well before sunrise, because I wanted to see the Cruz de Ferro as the sun was coming up.

        I did – apart from a couple of other people we were the only ones there – and then I kept walking along that ridge that looked down on mountains that were magnificent, as the early sun’s ray’s hit them with a golden radiance that was impossible to capture in a photograph. But I have it indelibly in my memory.

        It would not have looked nearly as majestic, or magical, another hour later.



      • Hi Ingrid, Bill and PGS family –
        Thank you both for sharing your experiences – we all need to be aware of our personal safety, no matter where in the world we are, particularly if we’re alone.
        Ingrid, I am volunteering at Refugio Gaucelmo at Rabanal next year – from 30 June to 16 July … with your permission I would like to have your poem on the noticeboard for all pilgrims to enjoy and to appreciate when they walk out from Rabanal early next morning. It would be something very special from a pilgrim who was so moved by the Rabanal sunrise to write such a beautiful poem … Jenny


      • Jenny, yes of course. How wonderful for you to volunteer there, it is one of the Refugios I would love to volunteer myself. Being a tea person and all that, what lovelier time to be able to spoil the pilgrims each day with tea and scones (I would hope) and the Spanish cream is just m a r v e l o u s :-). Jenny, please contact me via personal email, I have a few questions I you wouldn’t mind having answered.. Thanks Ingrid


      • Hi Ingrid – I wasn’t sure how to access your personal email so I’ve sent you a friend request to facebook and I’m very happy to pass on my email address to you, which is sjheesh@optusnet.com.au . We can discuss Rabanal, when you have a chance. I shared your beautiful poem with my yoga group this morning – everyone loved it. Best wishes – Jenny


  3. Sorry for this barrage of spam! I have a spam filter on this blog, but it doesn’t seem to be catching these pesky buggers. I keep deleting them as they come in, but it;s a nuisance when the email notification kicks in, and it’s spam.

    By the way, I’m twisting jennifer’s arm to do a blog tonight or tomorrow morning.

    I’ve had my head down finishing the revisions of the book, which I finished today. It’s now coming in at 72,000 words – so I’ve lost 11,000 words from the previous draft. Much tighter, and funnier too I think.

    Next stage is to go through it again and do final polishes, which should take between two to three weeks, and then I begin the process of self publishing, and handing it to a literary agent as well who’s expressed interest in reading it.

    I really don’t expect anything exciting to happen with it – I’ve just wanted to write it, that’s all. It will complete something I set out to do – once it’s finished, then I will feel as though I’ve closed the door on that part of my life.

    And then I’ll start planning my next one!


    • ¡Buena suerte, Bill, with your endeavor. It is almost like giving birth… pushing a book out, eh.

      my spam filter must be working, no spams to me. Looking forward to Jennifers blog. Ingrid


  4. Another wonderful post with words of wisdom. The poem is beautiful, Ingrid. Hope to see a few sunrises along the way.
    I was feeling fine about walking alone, but a few questions have crept into my head lately. Must cast them aside.
    Would those who have walked have observed that there are more “shadowy” characters lurking these days? The economy must be having an impact. Are there any areas more risky than others, besides the cities?
    I consider myself a tough old thing. Have lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea for a few years, and survived some attacks and close calls. We lived by the unwritten rule in PNG and I guess the Camino is no different.
    Bill, how are you going to distribute the book? iBooks? Amazon? Kindle? Hope to get my hands on it whilst walking, if not before.



  5. There was one time on the camino where I had a sense to be aware. It wasn’t other people, but dogs. We left Astorga early, but it was already light. We were on the path outside the city, and I noticed there were various dogs – I suppose about 10 of them – just wandering around the area, doing nothing in particular, and regularly would cross the walking path. I looked around to see their owners, but there was no-one – just these dogs. This was the one time on the camino when I was glad there were two of us. None of the dogs was overtly threatening, but the whole siutation just raised my anennae.

    On another occasion, my husband was walking alone, from Viana to Logrono, early in the morning when it was still dark. Another female pilgrim waited for him to catch up with her and asked if she could walk with him for a while, as there was a dog ahead.

    We had no sense of other danger on the camino, but I suppose the experience of walking alone is different. My husband did lose his wallet – in a tiny village with only one b&b, where you could expect it to be returned. We were not entirely sure of the chain of events, but the wallet was never seen again.


    • Other than the French dog who ran out and bit me I had no issues with dogs. The thing that amazed me most was that they would be lying on the Camino sleeping, and did not even open their eyes when I walked past. They absolutely had been desensitized to pilgrims, so dogs were never an issue for me after the first 5 miles.


    • Hi Kay –

      I get freaked out by dogs – and while I never had a problem, a woman I was walking with for a while told me that her friend had been attacked by a monster dog – he tried to fend it off with his pole but the dog bit through it. He was bitten too, but not badly.

      I’ve never seen such big dogs as those in northern spain!



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