Walking the Camino de Santiago
by Bethan Davies & Ben Cole

Reviewed by Tucker Hancock

Because the twenty-first century traveler need not, like tenth-century pilgrims, “brave wolves and bandits” while making the historic pilgrimage from St-Jean-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, they’ll be looking for something else to spice up the old journey. Fancy that, then, because Walking the Camino de Santiago, by Bethan Davies and Ben Cole, lists the best place to eat spicy octopus – or “paprika-spiced pulpo.” Also featured are: “best places to see birds of prey” (though not wolves), “best place to be like Hemingway,” and, as well, very cool, “best medieval flashback”.

Walking the Camino de Santiago is not a flashy guidebook; in fact, it’s incredibly dull if only flipping through, but it is a guidebook – and there’s something a little off-beat about it, as though it was self-published, which it is (Pili Pala Press). Because Pili Pala is a small press, the guide lacks the glossy professionalism of a Lonely Planet, and photographs of an enchanted Northern Spain are disappointingly absent. But for the traveler already decided on the pilgrimage, there’s actually little need for those charming, Lonely Planet-esque photographs, which are primarily aimed at selling a place – and thus a guidebook.

In lieu of photographs, there are some very basic drawings of flora and fauna, which are a bit comical, but helpful anyway. That the guide devotes extra attention to locating and identifying various plants and animals is charming and indicative of the quiet, appreciative nature of the guidebook and the pilgrimage itself.

The pilgrimage is a 780 kilometer trek, traditionally commencing in the Basque lands on the French-Spanish border and ending in Galicia, at Santiago de Compostela, near the coast of Spain. The route travels through the Pyrenees, traverses plains, and hits such cities as Pamplona and Leon – passing Romanesque churches, Gothic cathedrals, hamlets, and hermitages. Both the Celts and Christians traveled the route, the Celts following the Milky Way to the ends of the known earth, the Christians to pay homage to the bones of St James. Today, anywhere from 70,000 to180,000 people walk the Camin for religious reasons and tourism alike.

Whatever motivates you to walk the Camino de Santiago, Walking the Camino de Santiago will help you get there. The mileage and elevation maps are helpful as far as the walking goes, the listings and descriptions of albergues are useful for locating lodging, and the attention to bars and restaurants will find the “smooth, gorgeous and dirt cheap rioja,” as well as a three-course meal or tapas.

The book is lightweight, 7 ounces, and 182 pages long – it’ll fit in your pocket and won’t weigh down your pack. And when you’re looking for the “most eerie landscape,” you’ll know to go to Foncebadon.

Bethan Davies and Ben Cole
Walking the Camino de Santiago
(Vancouver: Pili Pala Press, 2006)
ISBN: 0-9731689-2-6. $23

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