Mochilas on the Camino
In June of 2017, my 12-year-old daughter and I set out to walk the last 283 kilometers of the Camino Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrimage in NW Spain.
After spending several months’ salary at REI on lightweight gear, hiking shoes and clothing we were all set to begin this once in a lifetime hiking trip. However, once we arrived in Leon, Spain we quickly realized how hot and humid it is in the NW of Spain. The summer of 2017 was so hot in Spain that the heatwave was dubbed “Lucifer”. Assuming we might be in over our heads, the hotel receptionist suggested that we ship our backpacks to the next day’s destination for a few days until the heat wave subsided and that is what we did.
On the Camino Santiago, many folks have their backpacks, also known as rucksacks in Europe, shipped each day to their next location. It is very economical to use these services which only costs about 3 to 7 euros per bag and are extremely reliable. Since all your worldly travel items are in your backpack, it is critical that once you arrive at your next location your stuff arrives with all its contents intact and on time.
The Spanish people call the backpack or luggage transport service ‘mochila‘ and the albergue, Refugio and hotel reception areas all offer the service. Once a pilgrim arrives at their destination for the night they need to request a mochila envelope, the clerk will then make the arrangements with the transport company for you or you can call yourself. I was apprehensive about calling the service but quickly learned the person answering speaks passable English and the process is very simple. The hardest part of using this valuable service is figuring out where you will stay the next night. So, if you tell them you will be staying in a village 25 kilometers away but then you can’t walk that far your bag, unfortunately, will be at the village 25 kilometers away. Luckily after 2 or 3 days on the Camino, you will know how many kilometers you are capable of walking to each day. We walked about 24 kilometers each day and some days were much harder than others.
There are different transport companies in different stages of the way, but the drivers all seem to know each other and once you pass through their region of Spain they pass you off to the next region’s transport company along the way.
To use the service, you will get a small envelope which asks for some basic info like name, contact info, and lodging today and where you want your bag dropped off the next day. When you are departing your lodging in the am just attached the completed envelope with a pin or rubber band to your backpack, insert the cash and leave the backpack in the lobby with all the other backpacks. On really hot days we saw upwards of 20 packs in the lobby. When you retrieve your backpack later that afternoon/night at the new town there will be a blank envelope attached to the previously used one.. Once we did not know exactly where we were staying but did know which town we would be walking to, so the transport representative told me to pick up my bag at a certain bar in the village of Palas de Rey, and sure enough when we entered the town around 3pm, we found the bar and our back pack was near the bar. Easy Peasie.
Not carrying a back pack up long, steep hills and treacherous descents back down on the Camino was wonderful. We simply carried a day pack with water and other essentials. After about 5 days of walking we started carrying our own packs but it was nice to know we had options.