2006 - 930
2007 - 1070
In the 1999 Holy Year 1470 children were registered at Santiago and in the 2004 Holy Year 7% of the pilgrims registered at Santiago were from 0 - 10 years of age (925 children) and 11 - 15 years (15 967 children)
Mention walking the camino with a baby or child and you’ll be amazed at how strongly people feel about it. Some are virulently against it whilst others completely support the idea. Others are not sure how they feel.
Photo with permission
A recent post on a camino forum by a parent asking for advice about walking with her baby elicited a few cautionary replies, a few constructive responses and some outrightly rude posts from a particularly aggressive hospitalero! (Could he be the agitated hospitalero from Castrojeriz who Graham mentions in his story below who turned them away from the albergue?)
“I would caution you about walking with an infant. I met a couple travelling with a baby. He was upset many afternoons and cried. The parents apologised and said it was because he was off of his schedule. Well yes, we all were off our schedules on the Camino, but the poor baby didn't really understand why he should be off of his.”
“The main concern about small children on the Camino is illness. The night after I spent in the room next to the upset infant, I was bitten atrociously by bedbugs in an albergue. I needed to walk 16 kilometres to the next town and spent the next three days under the doctor’s care (thank you Spanish medical system.) This is not a complaint about albergues. They are clean and well run. I was grateful for the wonderful accommodations, but illness happens out there. The Camino is not a walk in the park.”
“I believe that babies are constitutionally far more robust than we decadent westerners appreciate. They can actually survive (and thrive) without many of the manufactured items we are seduced into buying for them. That aside, I think the camino will still be there in two or three years (and maybe even longer than that) when the baby is a little older and more robust.”
“Unless there is an overwhelmingly powerful reason to take a baby on a walking pilgrimage I would advise against it. By car and staying in decent hotels... maybe. On foot and staying in albergues... not recommended.”
“No to a babe in arms on the Camino! I did my first Camino in '97. As I type this, I'm in my second 2 weeks in León as a volunteer. I've worked with children as young as one (though most older) for 40 years. In the vast majority of guesthouses, there are no facilities for a nursing baby. What about the other pilgrims’ wishes who need a good night's rest. They have enough to worry about with bed bugs, flushing toilets and snorers.
I would have to repeat; the Way, the guesthouses, the communal baths are no place for a mother and a small baby!!” (This from a hospitalero trained to accept all pilgrims as though they are Christ himself!)
“A couple from Canada, authors of two or three books on the camino, walked the Via de la Plata a couple of years ago with a ten month old baby. Certainly the Spanish people were very welcoming of the baby and in restaurants the baby was usually carried off for play by one of the older women while they ate.”
I know it looks a bit improbable, but the little fellow will take up all the weight on your back plus you need to carry more in the way of supplies for him and you even if your main pack has gone on ahead. Even if he is plugged into a natural food supply you still need water + nappies etc.
“I've met a number of people with babies on the Camino routes. It has its own challenges and I think age and availability of suitable accommodation are the determinant factors.”
Photo from Ergo Baby
“I believe babies are very portable and easy to manage if breastfed. Only piece of equipment you need is a sling like the Maya type. Breastfed babies cry very little. They sleep with mom and need not cry at night. So I do not think of the baby as a problem in an albergue. I would think adults would be noisier than a baby would. I would take the sweet sounds of a nursing baby over a snorer any time. Take enough money so that you can indulge in a private room once or twice. I would take a baby over a toddler since the younger babes are in arms and like I said very portable and easy to manage. Do it.”
“Mums have been doing things with babies since they lived in caves and the species has survived!!!”
“Come to think of it, how many babies do you suppose were born on the Camino over the centuries? I think our squeamishness about sharing the Camino with babies is a modern phenomenon.”
STORIES ABOUT LITTLE PILGRIMS
Nicola and Rio: (All photos with permission)
The youngest pilgrim at 5 months?
He got more out of it the second time as he slept through most of the first 4 weeks. If there are 2 of you it will be far easier as you can share the load.
99% of people were very welcoming & friendly. Be prepared to stop regularly en route as everyone wants to take your photo. Its most definitely something I would recommend - but probably to have someone else with you. I had such an amazing experience I'm writing a book of it and am now planning the Via de la Plata! It'll be hard & challenging but so's life.
Do be fit & strong: nappies weigh a lot!
Do have a guidebook to see where you can next buy nappies.
Do have some spare cash to stay in a hotel for the odd night.
Do be prepared to bath your baby in sinks!
Do be prepared not to stop for coffee at the cafes with everyone else - your baby will be asleep on yur back. You need to stop when it suits them.
Do take a few dangly toys.
Do be prepaed to sing lots of repetative songs - these become second nature to the rythm of your steps.
Don't set out to complete the whole thing - it can be completed at a later time if need be.
Don't expect anything from anyone. Any help anyone offers is a beautiful bonus.
Photo with permission: Graham, Elaine and Elliott - 1 year-old:
We had a few important factors going in our favour from the beginning that made the trip (which included not just the Camino itself, but also trans-continental and trans-Atlantic flights and exceptionally long bus rides from and to Madrid at either end) much easier for us than it could have potentially been. The most significant of these was that the baby has a very easygoing, mild, gregarious temperament and was able to graciously tolerate things like the constant changes of scene as we went from albergue to albergue, the incessant and invariably loud attention of rural Spanish women over the age of 60 (especially in Galicia ... hmmm...), and having to spend several hours each day sleeping, sightseeing, or happily babbling to us while strapped into a backpack.
Our average pack load, child included, for me and my fiancée was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 kilos apiece, and may have been as heavy as 17 kilos on a few occasions (Sundays in the deep countryside mainly) when we had to haul enough food to feed all three of us for the following day.
To help my occasionally-problematic ankles support the rather excessive weight, I walked the Camino in my heavy-duty, military-issue Corcoran jump boots (http://www.uscav.com/Productinfo.aspx?productID=7615&TabID=1), which ended up performing stunningly well. Those parachute boots left my feet in much better condition at the end of the day than much lighter and springier shoes left the feet of many other peregrinos who were carrying lighter loads. I did have some painful but not catastrophic difficulties with my left knee for the last 120km or so, but I would blame sliding around on the crumbly, slate-strewn hillside trails of western León and Galicia for that long before I would look to load or footwear. My fiancée, who has the constitution of a Sherpa, alternated between a pair of low-top hiking shoes and a pair of Teva sandals and walked the Camino with nary a problem.
Fortunately, we didn't need to carry heavy jars of baby food or anything like that; the baby was more than happy to eat what we were eating -- in fact, he insisted upon it. His beginner's set of teeth was able to handle tortillas, which he loved, and other soft foods with ease, and we would just chew or mash anything he couldn't handle on his own for him. His mother was also still nursing him; and so any nutritional deficiencies of the local diet; which in some areas seemed to consist solely of white bread, coffee, sugar, and ham; could be made up with breast milk.
Photo with permission:
Even when we were thrown in with the main group, though, the ten or twenty seconds of the baby's crying before my fiancée or I could get up and rush him to the bathroom to take care of his problem was less disturbing to fellow peregrinos' sleep than the near-constant presence of multiple people whose snores could demolish entire city blocks if suitably concentrated, packaged, and deployed.
In the end, when we made it to Santiago, the Pilgrim's Office was nice enough to put the baby's name into an annotation on our Compostelas, so there's a record of him having done the Camino along with us (does riding on my back for 800km count as travelling to Santiago a caballo?).
We're not sure what sort, if any, of a lasting impression the trip has made on the baby, but he seemed to enjoy himself immensely while we were on the road in Spain. There's only one thing that's odd about him now that we can attribute directly to our walk on the Camino. He was starting language acquisition in earnest at the time we hopped on a plane to wing our way to Spain. Even though we're back in the California now, he still gets very insistent, for example, about wanting a drink of "ag'ga" and likes to call our attention to any four-legged "peh'oh" or "gah'oh" that happens to walk by. It seems that, while my fiancée and I brought home Compostelas and seashells for souvenirs of Spain, the baby brought home Spanish words.
2 Year-Old pilgrim
The Family as Pilgrim on the Camino Francés By Robert Sellick
(First published in the CSJ of UK Bulletin)
When our son was born relatively late in our lives, we made a promise to attempt a pilgrimage on the Camino de Francés to offer thanks, celebrate new life and explore the experience as a family together sharing pilgrim customs. We made this camino together. We completed the camino nine weeks later with our two year old son, Martín after many adventures, much help, little criticism, intense sun, summer storms, surprising places, strange situations, and a dream of what the final outcome might be.
We decided to make the journey when he was two years old. He could already express his own feelings and walk, yet he was still sufficiently loyal to his parent’s wishes and preferences. Moreover he didn’t weigh more than the normal backpack. We researched about families making the camino but found little specific information available. For several years I had been a member of the Confraternity of Saint James which offered us plenty of information and encouragement.
We chose to set out in May when the days are longer, with moderate temperatures, and the natural beauty more colourful. We decided to take a light compact push-chair (actually the wheels were too small for the stony paths) and a backpack to carry the child. Also there were numerous clothes, nappies, food, first aid, remedies, books and toys for Martín on top of the normal pilgrim load. We also carried his birthday present, a small pedal-less bicycle, which we hung on the backpack or pram, so that he could develop his own mobility. We left St Jean-Pied-de-Port to cross the Pyrenees and entered Spain on foot. By now we were clear that our progress would be much slower than any other pilgrim. More importantly, patience and sensitivity to the emotional needs of the child are the keys to a successful camino. In this way his pace became our optimum camino.
When we visited the church in Roncesvalles to seek a blessing, Martín became nervous in the dark silent atmosphere. He cried and shouted as a priest blessed him. Gradually during our pilgrimage Martín´s behaviour changed. During the long days with villages far from one another, Martín shouted enthusiastically tulung, tulung (tolling bell) or torre, torre as he spotted churches still distant on the horizon. For him they became important destinations. Little by little when we entered churches, hermitages, monasteries and cathedrals he became calmer and conscious of the peaceful atmosphere. During the final weeks when we entered a church he would sit for a minute or two on a pew to contemplate the atmosphere.
The continuous movement and change day by day is a big challenge as much for a child as for adults. For the parents it is the tiredness caused by the additional weight of the child and his luggage. For the child it is the constant movement of people and places. Also the parents are concerned with the energy, health and enthusiasm of the child. The rest stops were as important as the progress so that he could play, rest, explore, and eat. The daily progress varied between six and twenty kilometers. Some days were spent mainly resting. Very important elements of the stops were the albergues and refugios on the camino. We spent more than fifty nights on the camino.
Our timetable was not the usual pilgrim one. A child sleeps longer than an adult and we were always the last to leave the albergue in the mornings. Occasionally an understanding hospitalero would offer us an extra hour in bed in the morning. Frequently we put Martín, still asleep in his sleeping-bag directly into his push-chair. We dressed him when we stopped for breakfast an hour or so later.
After a late start we always walked in the mornings with a long stop at mid-day for lunch and rest. We preferred a stop in the shade of trees with sandwiches more than the pilgrim menu because it gave Martín more space to play and rest. Playgrounds were very important destinations; we stopped for five hours in the park in Hospital de Orbigo. At about six in the evening we began to walk again if we wanted to reach a more distant albergue. We enjoyed the tranquillity of the camino at sunset so much. The evenings offered us a far more peaceful space for contemplation.
Arriving at dusk at an albergue it was always a little uncertain if there would still be room. Frequently the hospitaleros were a little surprised to receive a family with such a young child. However they nearly always gave us a warm welcome. Only in a very few cases did the hospitaleros doubt if they could accommodate children. We had to convince them that Martín would not cry or shout in the night, certainly not as loudly as the infamous snorers, or noisy pre-drawn risers who rouse everyone. Martín invariably shared one of our beds. From time to time other pilgrims seemed a little uneasy having a child in their dormitory or dining room as if their dreams and relaxation might be disrupted.
On very few occasions was Martín intolerable. Normally he would be in bed by lights out, and frequently the pilgrims were charmed by him. Occasionally hospitaleros offered some special treat; such as a room for three of us alone, or playing with Martín for an hour so that we could get away for a short break. There were very generous hospitaleros who were sensitive to our needs, like those at Eunate, Cirauqui, Nájera, Hospital de San Nicolas, Bercianos, Astorga and Gaucelmo at Rabanal. The parish church albergues had the strongest spirit of hospitality offered by volunteers. The private albergues also offered a distinctive, and frequently warm, welcome. Some of the municipal and Galician albergues were more formal and less sensitive to the needs of a family. In Galicia there were fewer private albergues and the rush of pilgrims in July frequently meant no spaces were left in the state ones by the time we arrived. We were increasingly dependent on the hostales.
Completing the pilgrimage
At last after nine weeks on the camino we reached Santiago. For each one of us it was a very personal experience. Moreover together as a family we came to understand our spiritual capacity to support one another in moments of uncertainty and exhaustion. Not only did we share motivation but also the patience with the daily rhythm which varied day by day and from dawn to dusk.
No Compostela for Youngsters
We were very disillusioned by the decision of the church authorities to reject Martín’s application for his compostela. We felt that Martín made his pilgrimage with so much effort and spirit, and that not once did he express a wish to give up the adventure. Moreover that Martín, at his early age, achieved and learnt much more than us, his elders. The pilgrim office gave us several reasons for declining his application:
* His age – so young that he did not have the ability to choose for himself to do the camino.
* His lack of capacity to express verbally the significance of the pilgrimage on his religious and spiritual development.
* That he had not taken his first communion.
Our opinion is that there are other pilgrims of all ages who have not taken first communion, but as adults were not asked if they had taken first communion, their applications for compostelas were obviously not declined for that reason. He was given a certificate acknowledging his completion of the pilgrimage.
We felt that some of these norms need reviewing because the youngsters put more effort into the camino. They develop a unique spiritual sensitivity from the experience distinct from but shared with that of their parents. The Camino Francés was a great success for each of us in the family, and something that will always be shared between the three of us. We can confidently recommend the camino to more families with youngsters. With improvements in the infrastructure, principally road safety black-spots throughout the camino and albergue accommodation in Galicia and increasing the awareness of hospitaleros, the conditions for families on the camino will improve even further. Martín, we hope, will return to follow his own footsteps on the camino once again.
Robert Sellick contributed this paper to the Foro Europeo Conference held in October 2007 in Jaca, which he and William Griffiths attended on behalf of CSJ.
The Family Adventure Project. One of the blogs is about a family who did the camino on tandem bikes with trailers. http://pedallingpilgrims.blogspot.com/2008/08/set-in-stone.html Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pint Sized pilgrims on the camino http://www.soultravelers3.com/
Go to http://www.casadellibro.com/
Backpacking Books: (From Amazon.com)
- Camping and Backpacking With Children (Paperback)