Pilgrim’s Passport or Credential (credencial del peregrino) for the Camino Santiago de Compostela
While traveling on the Camino Santiago de Compostela pilgrims carry small accordion pleated booklet called a credential or pilgrim’s passport. This document is used to identify you as a pilgrim and to track and verify your progress along the camino. The credential has numerous small blank squares, that the pilgrims will eventually fill with inked stamps or ‘sellos’ from albergues, refugios, lodging, churches, police stations, museums, eating/drinking establishments, and tourist sites. Each place has its own unique sellos.
Although it is not required to have a credential to walk the camino, unless you are staying in an albergue ( pilgrim’s hostel), if you want to receive a compostela at the end of your journey, you must carry this document and have at least 2 sellos stamped in it every day from Sarria, Spain until you reach Santiago. The official requirement request 2 sellos per day for the final 100km of walking ( or riding a horse) and 2 stamps per day for final 200km if you are on a bicycle.
Many of the stamps list the town on them and you can obtain one from the innkeeper when you check in at the end of the day and then an additional one from a church or restaurant during while you are walking. You will see stamps and ink pads on most bars when you enter a place to buy a coffee. Just ask any waiter for a Camino sello and he will probably point to it and you will be free to stamp your passport. Excluding albergues, if you do not ask for a stamp you probably won’t get one; it is on you to remember to get your stamps.
Most pilgrims start collecting stamps where ever they begin walking, not just in Sarria. If you start in a far-reaching place like St. Jean Pied de Port, France you might need several credentials because they fill up. Sellos are readily available at most places pilgrims frequent and they become a valuable memento of their Camino experience.
Once you arrive in Santiago proceed to the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office, receive your final stamp and at that point, they will examine your document and if you successfully meet the requirements you will be issued a Compostela which certifies your Camino. You will be allowed to keep both your pilgrim’s passport and your Compostela.
After leaving Palais del Rei it happened to be a Sunday and Sundays are different from the rest of the week on the Camino. Many of the services we rely on are closed on Sunday in this part of the country. So there won’t be two breakfasts for us today, no wonderful rest over café con leche and no socializing until we find an open cafe. When we finally find something open we ordered double of everything because we weren’t sure if this would be our last refreshments until supper.
Spain is beautiful and gritty all at the same time. The hills, farmlands and ancient forests are peaceful and spiritual but there is also inspirational pilgrim graffiti scrawled all over the place. Some pilgrims seem to really enjoy reading and photographing the various tags and motivational sayings but I prefer not seeing it. Call me old-fashioned or closed minded but it’s not my thing. My daughter loved reading all the messages so it might be a generational thing.
Many of the kilometer signposts are missing the actual plaque that lists the kilometers .to Santiago. To me this is vandalism and the person who removed the small plaque, possibly for a souvenir, is only hurting the local Camino Associations that have to raise money to replace it and all the pilgrims following the person who stole it.
Sundays also bring out multitudes of bike riders. They are everywhere and are speeding by us slow walking pilgrims. Some are just exercising on the hilly paths and some appear to be pilgrims because they are carrying a lot of gear. They are racing up and down the dirt Camino roads and I was terrified we would be hurt. When the bicyclists are out in full force us pilgrims have to remain alert or risk colliding with the bikers.
The wonderful old town of Portomarin is a joy to visit for a pilgrim. There are plenty of outdoor restaurants, discount and grocery stores and plenty of places to hang your laundry to dry. The town’s square includes the Church of San Juan, a building that is both a church and a small castle. This town is packed with road-weary pilgrims enjoying the fine outdoor cafes which surround the plaza. If I could have stayed for an extra night just to relax and soak in the Camino vibe I would but it was time to move on.
The next day was a blur. Pilgrims were everywhere on the trail, lots of small villages to walk through and unrelenting heat. Busloads of pilgrims from all over Europe, Asia, and South America were now on the way heading to Santiago. At one point we were walking with two young men from Korea when one mentioned they were from North Korea. What a wonderful experience for my daughter to realize that not everyone from North Korea hated Americans. They were wearing expensive Patagonia clothing so I assume they weren’t typical citizens from DPRK.
Hundreds of Spanish school children are now on the Camino on school field trips. They were singing songs, laughing and really seemed to be enjoying themselves. I felt sorry for my child because she clearly did not fit in but this was to be expected because she was walking with her mom and they were with their classmates. But she did not seem to mind and she received lots of second looks from the teenage boys but she was too young to notice.
We saw more than 1 family today pushing baby strollers up the steep hills and through the rocky paths. These baby stroller-pushing families should be awarded a medal, I know I would never be able to do it.
After about 7 hours of walking, we arrived at the town of Palas de Rei. After some searching, we realized our lodging was located directly over a noisy bar. In fact, I had to enter the bar to obtain the keys to our room. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because the room was spotless with cute twin beds and extra soft blankets in the bureau but the windows opened into a nondescript courtyard. I ensured the door was locked at all times and since there was no lobby I was not 100% comfortable staying there with my daughter.
This town was my least favorite place on the Camino, but it could have been because we were now just plain tired and worn out. In my opinion, there was nothing exciting or interesting about this place and the highlight was watching the local children riding their skateboards in the towns’ square. The Camino route in Palas dd Rei is on a steep paved hill and although the population is 3,500 it seemed more industrial than rural to me.
We ate supper with an atheist Pilgrim we briefly met the night before. She was from the UK and she despised the United States, the United Kingdom, and all other wealthy nations. Her goal in life seemed to be lecture everyone she met and ensure they were as miserable as she was. At one point she told me her husband had left her and I have to admit I couldn’t blame him. I quickly realized I did not want to spend one more minute with her, so I bought her a glass of wine and made up a story about needed to go make a call and we parted ways.
After a long, peaceful week on the Camino we felt part of the Camino family. We knew what we were supposed to do and say to everyone, and most importantly what to expect each day. Get up, walk, eat and rest, nothing more, nothing less.
Once we arrived in Sarria, Spain the atmosphere quickly changed and the peaceful calm of the previous trail was gone. There were pilgrims everywhere and they looked clean and energized with their sparkling new clothes and equipment. Sarria, Spain is the starting points for most pilgrims walking the Camino because the final 100 kilometers it is the least distance you can walk and still qualify for a Compestela once you arrive in Santiago. It was exciting to see so many new faces and groups but I was a little melancholy that the experience as I had known it, was over.
We stayed in a new albergue called Albergue Puente Ribeira in Sarria, right on the canal that runs through the Camino area. We loved our albergue because it was near all the action including a street fair and many restaurants. Puente Ribeira is super clean, modern and had several washers and dryers so we were able to sanitize our disgusting clothes and towels. Here is the website and I do absolutely recommend this place.
My clothes were falling off me because I lost weight from the heat and longs hikes so we stop by the local Rhodani Sports Store and bought new trail pants and shirts. Yea! The store was well stocked and the prices were similar to REI or Dicks in the US but they did not have a lot or any XL women clothes so I bought men’s clothes. Here’s the website:
We enjoyed some seafood and rice at one of the many cafes along the canal and then retired to our much-loved room to prepare for the final 100 kilometers of our Camino.
The next morning, we departed our albergue and jumped right back on the Camino which was located behind our albergue. All the additional pilgrims ensured the peacefulness and serenity of our prior days had disappeared, but it wasn’t unexpected. We had been warned the most people start their Camino in Sarria and it was true.
We wandered through beautiful hills, forest, and some older farming villages. We peeked into some of the open barns to gaze at enormous cows and enjoyed listening to the roosters trying to wake everyone up. Although the Camino had now changed for us it was still a simple place.
This day was long but it was relatively flat. After lunch, I swore we had walked at least 30 miles but it was probably only about 15. Today’s endeavor just would not end. Just when I thought I couldn’t go on anymore we approached the River Mino and the Camino trail went over the bridge over the river. Portomarin was our final destination for the day and it was just on the other side of the bridge.
Walking over the bridge was the most frightened I was our entire time in Spain. It was built high above the water and the cars sped by us pilgrims. I thought for sure we were going to get hit and tossed straight down into the River Minho. Looking back at the pictures it doesn’t look so precipitous as I remember but I guarantee you if you are the least bit afraid of heights you will not like anything about this bridge. Funny, but my 12-year-old wasn’t concerned about the terrifying bridge in the least. She was singing along with her music and devoid of any fear. Silly girl.
After timidly crossing the bridge we then faced a steep set of stairs up into Portomarin.
Will we ever finish this ‘easy’ day?? The stairs were a beast but the view the entire up is stunning, so we took our time and just kept climbing. Unfortunately, after climbing the stairs and entering this charming town we discovered this town was built on a steep hill and the main church and our lodging were at the top of this hill. Somehow we made arrived at our Refugio and were happy with our accomplishments.
Portomarin was definitely one of our favorite places. The main plaza has great restaurants where pilgrims congregate to socialize and discuss the day’s events.
I just started a new Facebook Group for those wishing to begin researching, preparing and finding out info for a possible Camino Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage.
This group is not made up of judgemental or experts on the Camino. It is just a group of regular people who want to learn more about the Camino and possibly start planning their Pilgrimage. Those who have walked before are especially welcomed to answer questions.
Please consider joining and contributing your knowledge. Here is the link to copy and paste into your browser:
Just prior to beginning the Camino Santiago (French Route) we observed this wonderful gathering of the local religious population outside the Cathedral de Leon on a beautiful Sunday morning. The plaza is beautiful with lots to see and do.
Here is the official website if you want more info: https://www.catedraldeleon.org
Sorry, my video skills are so poor.
Camino Santiago de Compostela with a soon-to-be teenager.
Today we went on a little horse ride up a mountain trail on the Camino.
Elizabeth was still suffering from a blister on one of her toes, and although we tried all the recommended therapies it was necessary to give her foot a rest so it could heal. We decided to skip hiking for a day and to ride horses along the Camino trail instead.
Our next area to walk was up to the mountain hamlet known as O’Cebreiro in Galicia and I found a horse stable called Al-Paso that caters to Pilgrims. Al-Paso is located directly on the Camino in Herrerias and has twice daily trips up the mountain for about 30 euros each. The manager’s name is Victor, and he was a wealth of information about the horses and the Camino. Elizabeth was the youngest rider but luckily there was another young person about 18 years old for her to chum around with. Our group consisted of about 8 riders, 2 guides and the rest Pilgrims from Italy, New Zealand and the USA.
The horses well-cared care for and were given a lot of attention and love by Victor and his staff. There were a lot of flies swarming around the horses’ heads and they were not wearing fly masks, but the assistant assured me that horses were used to it and it didn’t bother them. Still, I spent a lot of the time swatting the pesky insects off of my poor animal’s head during our ride.
Our group rode straight up the mountain and passed many Pilgrims and runners along the way. The ride was smooth but we moved at a quick enough pass that it was fun and exciting. The farmlands and valley views were spectacular and we both really enjoyed this experience.
We only stopped once so the horses could have a drink from a water trough in the center of a small village about 3/4 of the way up. Once we arrived at the top and dismounted we took some photos and then headed to the center of the ancient but tiny village called O’Cebreiro, where we enjoyed local music, some tapas and liquid refreshments.
O’Cebreiro weather is startlingly different from the other parts of the Camino we had walked in. It had a thick mist surrounding it and was much cooler and comfortable out. There are lots of things to see in a small space which has been described as a hobbit’s hamlet. The round stone buildings with thatched roofs are called pallazas and they appear to be right out of a fairy tale. I bought several tee shirts and the prices were very affordable. This is a cool place to spend an afternoon.
The next few days rushed by and I hardly had time to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the Camino way. We completed walking in the Leon Province and then entered the hypnotizing countryside and vineyards of the Galicia Region.
Elizabeth and I were eating, sleeping and most importantly walking together, day after day, with no breaks from each other or the schedule. To pass the time, sometimes we discussed history, politics, how talented she was twirling her walking stick and how difficult middle school was. We took care of each other, me by ensuring her toe blister was cared for and her by handing me her walking stick each time we descended steep hills, so I did not kill myself in a tumble. We were both entirely committed to each other’s success here and in life. She seemed to mature right before my eyes and my stress levels vanished to a non-existent level. The life I had was perfect at this time, as we wandered up and down the hilly pathways and inched closer to Santiago.
Departing Ponferrada, we enjoyed the path out of town because this flat Camino section runs parallel to a river or creek that was partially visible with our head lights. But just when I thought it was going to be an easy day, we were faced with a monstrous stone staircase that needed to be climbed. It was only 6:00 am, and I was already overheated and panting climbing these killers. But once we arrived at the top, it was satisfying to know that we were able to do it without stopping to rest. Our bodies and our mother-daughter bond were getting stronger by the day. After the stairs, we were rewarded with a lovely stroll through the edge of town. We then entered the bountiful and green, wine producing region of NW Spain known as Galicia.
Spain is the worldwide leader in exporting wine, ahead of even Italy and France, and its wine production dates back 2,000 years. Galicia is well known for its lush landscape, white wines, and seafood. At one point on the Camino, we approached a large wine production factory that bottled wines called Vinas de Bierzoso. It was opened to the public and although there was a wine tasting area, this was a real wine factory with its workers in protective clothing and hairnets. I wanted to buy a bottle but did not want to carry it, so we continued on. It was so nice to walk in and out of different grape vineyards during this wonderful day and we sat down regularly to enjoy the pretty scenery.
The heat wave continued to haunt us and that night while staying in the lovely town of Villa Franca del Bierzo we found some relief. The town has a picturesque river flowing through it with a beach area for swimming and sun bathing. This place seemed different from the others to me in that it wasn’t a typical Camino type stop with tourist stores everywhere but a real town with restaurants, stores and locals who were out and about, working and socializing. I liked it here.
After checking into our Refugio, we went for a swim in the crystal clear, fresh water river. I expected to see many pilgrims cooling off but didn’t any. It did not matter because we had a ball. Elizabeth was thrilled to be swimming and devouring ice cream at the foot of Leon mountains we had just walked over. The icy cold water was the perfect remedy for my aching legs and Elizabeth’s sore foot.
In the year 2009, my family faced a heartbreaking situation when my husband and father to our 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth died after valiantly fighting the dreadful disease known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). At the time of his death, we both had successful careers and Elizabeth had not even begun kindergarten. It rocked our world to the core, but I decided right away I was not going to allow our great misfortune ruin our lives, so I chose to survive.
After the funeral, I really had no time to properly grieve because I was responsible for a small child and a demanding career. We fell into a routine and with tremendous help from our family, Elizabeth did great. She is now 13 years old and remembers very little of our life before ALS robbed her of her dad.
I found working, commuting and single parenting very difficult, so at age 52, when I had accumulated enough time to retire, I did. I stayed home and raised my then 7-year-old and removed some of the parental burdens from my parents, who up to my retirement were doing most of the child-rearing.
My late husband’s name was Joe and he was a New York City Police Detective. Everyone who met him agreed he was the perfect example of a stereotypical NYPD type of guy, with his thick NYC accent, always impeccably dressed in Paul Stewart suits, quick-witted and sarcastic. He was 6’5” and weighed well over 230 pounds so criminals rarely tried to flee or fight with him or his brothers in blue. He definitely could protect himself and the rest of our family. In 2008 he started slurring his words and losing weight but we did not know what was wrong. In late 2008 it was apparent that the problem was ALS and several months later he was dead.
My husband was a September 11th World Trade Center first responder, as were most of the people we hung out with and knew, but his illness has yet to be formally linked to that horrible time. As most of those who were present while the attack happened we know what really happened down there. There were no respirators or face protection on that day and many, many people have since become sick and have passed on. Our family and friends believe his disease was caused by the toxins he inhaled during those first hours at Ground Zero.
I have wanted to walk the French Way of the Camino Santiago de Compostela since viewing the movie, “The Way” in 2010. Although still struggling with grief, we had built a nice life for ourselves, but I thought if I completed this pilgrimage maybe I could finally put his death behind me. The time was not right because of Elizabeth’s young age and I was fearful of taking her to Europe to walk alone. In 2017 I finally decided the time was right, so Elizabeth and I flew to Spain to walk the Camino Santiago de Compostela.
One of the important stops along the Camino is named Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) and it is the highest point on the way. As you can see from the attached photos, a metal cross is affixed to tremendous wooden pole that is surrounded by a massive pile of small rocks which have been growing larger each year as pilgrims walk past. Pilgrims place a rock in their backpack when they leave home and it stays there until they arrive at the Iron Cross and then they leave the rock at the base of the mound. The act of leaving the stone is to absolve them from their sins and to leave their burdens or pain behind on the mound.
There are several legends of the origins of the Iron Cross, one being it was built by the hermit Gualcemo in the 11th Century to help pilgrims cross the mountains or maybe it was simply erected centuries earlier as a trail marker for when the ground was covered in snow.
While still at home we prepared a nice beach rock with Joe’s name and attached a small replica of his NYPD badge. We carried it to Spain and hiked with it until we arrived in Cruz de Ferro.
When we approached Cruz de Ferro I was immediately struck at how different this site was from all the previous Camino stops. There was a paved path, lots of police vehicles watching the site and busloads of tourist waiting for their chance to climb to the top. Definitely not the quiet peaceful sites we used to on the Camino.
After Elizabeth and I climbed to the top of the mound I could only focus on the thought that what we were standing on had been built by so many others before us and all the new stones we were leaving would soon be crushed by future pilgrim’s stones thus building the pile larger.
Elizabeth and I then left our precious stone on the base with all the others. This was a solemn moment for us and there were tears, but overall, I was overjoyed remembering our love and acknowledging the grief and great loss we have experienced during the past 8 years. Rest in Peace Detective D.
We then continued on the way, happy to be in Spain, grateful to have been married to my best friend and hopeful that life for my daughter and I would just keep getting better.
Today we jumped out of bed and headed out to walk through the Monte des Leon (mountains of Leon). I first stopped at the reception desk to drop off the key and buy some water for the long day ahead, only to find a sign that informed us that reception was closed and those departing should leave the key on the desk. Okay then…
It was still dark out and the was air was misty as we headed up the hill and soon passed a closed café. I kept assuming we would find someplace to buy water for the upcoming walk but I was wrong. As always, around 5:30 a crowd of pilgrims were beginning their daily trek and soon enough we approached a Camino arrow and could see with our headlamp that the trail was leaving the village and heading into a forested area. I knew from looking at a map that the next town was only 6 kilometers away and figured it wouldn’t be difficult. The heat hadn’t started it meteoric rise yet but all we had was about 5 swigs of water left in our water bottle. Most reasonable people would turn around and wait until the town opened up to buy water but not me. I just wanted to stay with the multitude of pilgrims, avoiding a late start and being left behind. Huge mistake.
When the sun finally rose, we could see the landscape had changed dramatically. We were now on a gravelly dirt trail in the mountains. On our right was higher elevation and to our left was a gentle drop down from the mountain slope. We experienced beautiful views but at no time did we see any houses or facilities in any direction.
The heat came in quick and hard, and I was huffing and puffing as we continued forward and upwards. I had put my daughter and myself danger of dehydration and heat exhaustion with my haste to get on the Camino.
After a while, we stopped to rest on a felled tree aka a Camino rest stop, as I tried to figure out how to make this situation right. Camino veterans always say “the Caminoprovides” which is loosely translated to mean that when a pilgrim is lost or out of sorts the Camino will give you what you need, and somehow at just that moment, it did. We were deep in the forest with no cell service or water and thoroughly overheated when two young Brazilian brothers sat down and joined us. They spoke minimal English and I spoke no Portuguese, but they offered us a granola bar. I declined the food and instead asked if my daughter could have a small drink of water because we had none. They shared some of their water with us, I thanked them and we were all on our way again. Many pilgrims have very limited funds and resources, but everyone we met was beyond generous and kind.
We continued on up the mountain range and a short time later we reached the small hamlet of Foncebadon, which until very recently was an abandoned town overrun with wild dogs that supposedly do not like pilgrims. After several famous books and a popular movie about the Camino Santiago de Compostela were released and the Camino regained its popularity and this once deserted town is now being reborn. I believe 10 people now reside there and volunteers routinely visit to assists with pilgrims passing through.
I rushed into the first cafe and purchased at least 5 bottles of spring water and some locally made cheese. This café, as were most, was located right on the Camino trail, literally a few steps from where pilgrims walked by. As we sat outside at the plastic picnic tables assembled for the pilgrims we saw our Brazilian saviors. I gave the brothers several bottles of water but they declined my offer to buy their breakfast. I am quite sure they thought I was some crazy old lady, dangerously walking in the mountains with her child with no provisions and they were right. We would see them again many times on the trail and I will always be grateful for their kindness.
Foncebadon is an isolated mountain outpost with a strange but quaint vibe. It looks like it could be a science fictions movie set but staged in a beautiful country area. It’s main, and possibly the only road is made of dirt and runs straight up into the mountains, but on both sides of the road are all these old, dilapidated stone structures that don’t look habitable; most without roofs or windows. But every now and then someone has gentrified one of these ruins and now uses it as a café or albergue. It’s either going to be the coolest location to visit in about 10 years because of these unique structures being renovated or completely deserted again because too many of these same structures have collapsed. It’s hard to tell which will happen.
In the 12th Century, a hermit named Gaucelmo set up shelter and protection for pilgrims passing through the mountains here. It was an important route toward Santiago but in the late 20th Century it was known more as an abandoned town where wild dogs routinely attacked pilgrims. We did not see any wild dogs ready to pounce on us as we passed, though we did see at least 30 -40 gentle sheep wandering down the road toward us. Elizabeth loved this encounter with the sheep.
After moving on, we were blessed to have experienced one of my favorite moments on the Camino. As we walked the trail the forest opened up and we could now see the most beautiful blue sky and an incredible panoramic view of the valley. We heard cowbells ringing in the distance and saw several horses grazing a few feet from us. We then sat on my towel about 10 feet from the Camino on the side of a mountain saturated with acres of wildflowers and hundreds of bright orange butterflies and had an impromptu picnic of farm fresh cheese, chocolate, rasberries and spring water. Absolute heaven.