The road to Santiago was one of the most popular Christian pilgrimage destinations for hundreds of years. It suffered during the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, the Napoleonic Wars and after the industrial revolution. It is now slowly clawing its way back to its former glory years.
In another block nearby, the owner has removed his animals and has replaced them with a half-dozen vending machines offering sandwiches and hot coffee and dressings for blisters.
Some places will charge you $5 for a breakfast of muffins packed in industiral plastic or $25 to sleep in a room in a private home, and you will be grateful because 500 people seeking to stay in a village of 100 inhabitants is common, especially in summer.
As there was in the past, there is a big fuss about this opportunism.
As far back as 1133 the authorities of Compostela admonished traders after finding pilgrim money was being paid over to residents. A few years later, the bishop instructed Gelmírez to channel water to a source in the northern facade of the cathedral to stop the greed of the landlords who attempted to charge pilgrims for water.
Today the signs of the French Way are well established, but at the beginning of this boom there were some who diverted the yellow arrows so that the 'Jacobean Mana' would pass the front door of their bar or hotel.
The truth is that there are more people wandering in the wilds of the steppes of Castile, with unique names such as El Burgo Ranero or Hermanillos Calzadilla, than there are people entering the route to Santiago on the National Road.
In Rabanal del Camino, a tiny town in the mountains of Leon, there are four hostels for pilgrims, two hotels and a country house.
Take the paradigmatic case of Foncebadón, a town of Leon abandoned and in disrepair for at least a century, which has already opened three shelters, an inn and a restaurant with a medieval letter.
All this has resulted in extra comfort for the pilgrim. A few years ago the daily walking itinerary had to be carefully planned because the stages were far apart and places to eat and stay overnight were scarce. Today, the number of pilgrim hostels scattered throughout the French Way numbers 254.
If there is anything that identifies the Camino de Santiago and makes it unlike any other route it is the hiker's world of exclusive network of shelters for pilgrims. This is a legacy of that tradition of hospitality which allowed medieval travelers to get around the world. Only those pilgrims on foot, bicycle or horse who hold the credential of a pilgrim (a kind of passport issued by churches, associations and even their own shelters) allowing them to sleep in these shelters. Authenticated by the owners of the shelter they avoid being overun by sneak vacationers in search of cheaper accommodation.
(and leave nothing for its upkeep).
Like the sign put up by a priest (in Granon) which says "Pilgrim, give what you can, take what you need" - these are now just a nostalgic memory. Typically, shelters now vask for a fixed price (three to five euros) except a few honorable cases, such as shelters run by the Federation of Friends of the Camino de Santiago, who remain faithful to the donation system.
Compostella or certificate of welcome
The yellow arrow
All this happens in the most famous French route, the busiest since antiquity. It starts in Roncesvalles (Somport in Aragonese ) and passes through Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and Leon before crossing O Cebreiro into Galicia. But there are many other ways that have improved significantly since the 2004 Xacobeo. Historic routes, used formerley by medieval travelers and now, in the slipstream of the success of French, are being put in use.
Chief among these is the Camino Portuguese where the first yellow arrow is found on the facade of the Cathedral of Lisbon. It is a unique opportunity to learn a different Portugal, on foot or by cycle paths, historic sites and remote villages off limits to those traveling by car. From the Tagus to Lisbon Santarém back and then continues to the great monastery of Tomar, Coimbra, Porto and Vila do Conde, to enter Galicia at Tuy. It is also marked, but has the same shortage of shelters on the Portuguese side as in the last Xacobeo - only three.
Camino del Norte
Via de la Plata
The English Way (A Coruña- or Ferrol to Santiago), the Camino de Finisterre, and from Cape Finisterre to visit the Santo Cristo de Fisterra, and the sanctuary of A Barca, in Muxía, the Camino de Alava, the Camino de Madrid, Soria, the Ebro Valley ..