The Driving Pilgrim

Pilgrims in times past would use various means to traverse the Camino. Most would walk, but some would ride horses, some would ride in carts and palanquins, some would ride donkeys. They would reach Santiago and they would receive their Compostela.

So in these modern times, why not do the Camino in a car?

I have just driven the Portuguese Camino from Porto to Santiago in a Peugeot 208CC Coupe. So why can’t I get a Compostela?

The Peugeot looks like a donkey. And it acts like one too – but that could be just be me having difficulties with the stick shift.

It’s an interesting dilemma.

Bikes are okay – but motor bikes aren’t. It’s okay to catch a train or bus for certain sections, but you can’t drive a car.

It seems like drivers are being discriminated against. Which must prompt the question – is that in the spirit of the “true pilgrim?”

There have been endless discussions here and elsewhere as to what constitutes a true pilgrim. I think we can all acknowledge that it really doesn’t matter whether you’ve carried your backpack all the way, or stayed in a Parador, or whether you’ve jumped a train between Burgos and Leon – it’s what’s in the heart that determines whether you’re a true pilgrim.

My heart, while I’m driving, is pure pilgrim. Believe me.

Especially when it’s pouring with rain.

Turning on the windscreen wipers beats donning a poncho, I’ll tell you that for free. Also, when it gets really cold, I turn on the heater. Fogs the windscreen sometimes, but who said being a pilgrim was easy?

There are exceptions to my pilgrim spirit while I’m driving. Tailgaters on the Autopistas, for instance – I’m not immune to yelling at them to f- off. And then of course I immediately regret it, realising I’ve momentarily lost touch with my inner pilgrim.

And when those pesky walkers with the backpacks and stupid walking sticks spill out onto the road, acting as if they own it, I have been known to blast them on my horn.

It delights me when they jump and curse me. It’s not very pilgrim-like to curse someone, buddy – I think to myself, grinning, as I whizz past.

And if I see a group of pilgrims up ahead walking on the road – my road – beside a puddle, I have been known to veer the car over a little bit and drench them all.

If you become a driving pilgrim you can have fun like me, I think to myself as I gleefully watch them in my rearview mirror as I speed away.

Being a driving pilgrim though is not all fun, let me tell you. You can develop very bad sores on your butt from sitting for long periods of time. And you can develop RSI from using the indicator too much.

Then there’s the road glare. Horrible. I know one of the big questions for the walking pilgrim is whether to wear boots or shoes. The big question for the driving pilgrim is whether to use polaroid on non-polaroid sunglasses.

It’s an important decision and one that you shouldn’t take lightly.

I would suggest, before you undertake a driving pilgrimage, you try out both types of sunglasses on a training drive. Only then can you make a fully informed decision.

I’m thinking I should publish my own Brierley guide – The Way of St.James, by car. I’d detail the practical route, by Autopista – and the mystical route, by secondary roads.

I’d include those hotels that have free parking, and the gas stations where they wash your windshield. I would explain how the tollways work, which lane to choose as you approach the booths, and where the speed cameras are.

I would also make a list of the historical buildings and churches that you can see from the road as you drive past.

If you’re a driving pilgrim, the choice of rental vehicle is critical.

A BMW or Audi is not cool for a driving pilgrim. You need to choose something a little more… ascetic. Something a little more boring, like a Ford Fiesta, or an Opel.

It should have no more than a 1.6L engine, and of course it has to be diesel, and preferably a stick shift. No automatics for the “true” driving pilgrim. And if you really want to be deemed a true driving pilgrim, then Air Con is a no-no.

Also, a true driving pilgrim would never be seen in a convertible, or dare I say it, a coupe. Or indeed anything with a sunroof.

A true driving pilgrim has to do it tough.

As for how long should you take? From St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, you could do it in two days, tops. That’s hammering it. Deal with the speed fines later.

This would though include stopping to check out a few Cathedrals along the way.

You are, after all, on a pilgrimage.
car ext

28 thoughts on “The Driving Pilgrim

  1. Aw, Bill, it’s good to see your much appreciated, but at times inappropriate (ie for people who don’t have a sense of humour) sense of humour is back (and yes, I’m being thoroughly judgmental here). I think it’d be safe to say I’d not ever contemplate driving a Peugeot here or anywhere, with or without a sunroof. Why can’t those pesky Europeans just drive a good old Japanese car like the rest of the world, I ask?! Have fun during what’s left of your trip 🙂


    • haha – thanks Britta!

      I actually tinkered with this post for the past week, to keep myself sane.

      And then when Jennifer and I had dinner with Marie and Manoli in SdC, I told her about the post and we laughed and laughed.

      Laughing is very therapeutic, I believe – even if sometimes it’s a little inappropriate, as you say!



  2. Bill – what a gift this is – in so many ways – after a tough week for all who are part of PGS, and for a tough couple of weeks for you and for Jennifer.
    The Larrikin returns – how fabulous is this?!!!
    Cheers! Jenny


  3. Good to see the humour has returned Bill.
    I’ve missed the lighter side of your blog this past week!

    Can a true pilgrim fly from their homeland?

    I hope so – because yesterday I booked my flight from Brisbane to Porto in April and I doubt my travel insurance would cover me cancelling because “flying isn’t in the true spirit of a pilgrim!”

    Besides, if I need to swim I might need to organise some extra time off work!

    Safe travels back down under.


    • Many thanks Greg –

      I can tell you now after having driven the full route we’ll be walking that it’s going to be a beautiful pilgrimage.

      And yes, the food is spectacular!



  4. Fabulously refreshing post Bill!
    Love that your sense of humour has reappeared.
    How much fun is laughing!


  5. Bill, the next version may have to be the flying pilgrim. As you know, we Aussies have to fly to get anywhere, and spend a lot of time in airports. Is a pilgrim who luxuriates in the Qantas lounge a true pilgrim? Perhaps they have to walk 10 km around the terminal whilst waiting, instead. Surely one who spends 48 hours in transit could be classified a pilgrim.
    So pleased to be able to have a laugh this afternoon.
    Enjoy your last few days. Look forward to the next post. Never sure what you have in store for the PGS family.
    Blessings to you and Jennifer.
    Anne ✈ ✈


  6. 🙂 my vote for a pilgrim car would go to Citroen, especially an older model, with bucket seats in the back,but the ” truest of pilgrim” in the car would have to sit frame work that joins those seats. 😉 Remembering childhood excursions in my uncles car 😦 . someone said to me ones, the reason one cant buy one in an english speaking country is, that nobody would want to have a “lemon”. thanks for the morning chuckle


  7. Oh, Bill, this post is priceless! I am still laughing. Actually, I think a pilgrimage in the vehicle here in the USA known as a “Smart car” would qualify for a Compostela. Of course, without cursing those on foot or knocking over those on bikes! Great post, Bill! Count me among those who are glad to read you smile again! Julie


  8. Bill,

    This is a fabulous post, I love the playfulness of it all.

    So great to be smiling and laughing at events again!

    I am looking forward to the food blogs, can’t wait for a preview of the culinary delights that await us in April. For now, enjoy Bavaria.



  9. I love it! I will be right behind you in our RV! Because, as I found out last week at my first Pilgrim’s Meeting, apparently where you lay your head down at night is what qualifies you as a True Pilgrim!
    I mentioned, regretfully in retrospect, that I was considering going with a Camino Agency to plan my Pilgrimage. Sweet Jesus if they all didn’t stare at me with laser eyes!
    ”I would not experience the True Camino if I stayed in pre-arranged accommodations, that is not what the Camino is about,” said the lead Caminoist after telling us we needed to purchase top of the line $80 wick-a-way shirts(at least 3), expensive tear-a-way pants, and hundreds of $ worth of gear.
    So Bill, I’ll be right behind you in my RV, wearing a horsehair shirt and roman sandals, and I won’t even turn on the AC, because that would not be True Pilgrim like.
    Might even write a blog, ”Wallydocking* my way through The Way”

    Thanks for the great laughs Bill,

    *Wallydocking: an RV term used to describe “urban stays outside of a RV park” and covers “stealth camping” “front yard camping” “Flying J / truckstops” “Wal-Mart / retail parking lots” and other similar situations.


      • I can see it now, a sequel to your book: ”The Way, My Way or the Highway” including a souvenir cd with such hits as Sinatra singing : ”I did it Highway!”, or the Proclaimers ” I’m on The Way, from misery to happiness today”, and my favorite, Michael Jackson’s: ”The Way, you make me feel!”



        • Sonia! You’re ON FIRE today! I just love this post and your post about your first pilgrim’s meeting! Absolutely hilarious! GO GIRL !!!
          Cheers – Jenny
          PS – top songs too!


      • Hey Sonia!
        “I can see it now, a sequel to your book: ”The Way, My Way or the Highway” including a souvenir cd with such hits as Sinatra singing : ”I did it Highway!”, or the Proclaimers ” I’m on The Way, from misery to happiness today”, and my favorite, Michael Jackson’s: ”The Way, you make me feel!”

        I almost choked on my coffee laughing !!!

        Bill, Its about time we have a little levity here… Enjoy your time in Europe and safe travels home…
        Fran H.


    • Ah, Sonia, like she (Jenny) says!!! ‘Wallydocking’, only in the US! and I love the implications inherent in all those sayings! Thanks so much for yet another LOL and entertaining post 🙂


  10. Funnily enough, during the very earliest period of the Camino revival, the 1950s, the car was considered as the standard way to do the Camino — a relic of this persists in road signs all along the tarmac version of the Francès.


    • Ok, that’s interesting Julian.

      If someone is so inform they can’t walk, or can’t ride a bike or a horse, then why shouldn’t they either drive a car, or be driven?



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