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.
At around 3:00 0 in the afternoon we finally arrived at our hotel in Rabanel del Camino, Spain. Although most of the trail had seemed relatively flat, we were now in the mountains region and we started to experience long, steep inclines, including the road through Rabanal del Camino to our hotel.
The isolated village of Rabanel del Camino is a small ancient hamlet with a population of about 60 residents, that sits at the foot of the Mount Irago and has a long interesting history. During the time of the Crusades in the 14th century, the Knights of Templar were widely credited with defeating the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula. That same secretive order protected Rabanel del Camino and provided protection to the Christian pilgrims crossing Mount Irago en route to Santiago. Knowledge of the extensive history of Rabanel and the Pilgrimage forces me to understand just how many pilgrims have struggled to walk through its stone streets over prior centuries.
We choose to stay at the El Refugio Hosteria in the center of town, right on the Camino. This quaint family-run inn has 16 rooms and is kept in immaculate condition. The façade of the building is made of stone and the rooms overlook the Monastery, the Camino and you can view the mountains which we would pass through the following day in the distance. We quickly went up to our 3rd-floor room and entered using an old-fashioned skeleton key. I opened the unscreened windows to let in fresh air, while Elizabeth collapsed on her twin bed. Inside the bathroom was the smallest tub I’ve ever seen, only about 2 feet by 2 feet, if my memory serves me right. I filled it with cold tap water and both of us removed our hiking shoes and sweat soaked socks and soaked our feet for a good long time. We immediately felt energized and comfortable.
I then walked across the street to the towns grocery/everything store to buy snacks and water for the next day. I purchased some chocolate and a couple of liters of Aquarius which I wrongly assumed was regular water. Back in the room I tasted the water and realized it wasn’t typical spring water but some sort of sports drink that neither of us liked, so we tossed it out. Yuck. Plan B was to purchase water for the next day from the hotel receptionist before we started out at 5:45am. This turned out to be a big mistake because when we departed there was no one at reception and the stores/ café was closed, so we started walking the Camino without any water in a heatwave. More on this in a future segment.
I then dragged Elizabeth to La Iglesia de Santa Maria de La Asuncion Church across from our hotel. Benedictine monks chant the vespers in Latin each night at this Romanesque church on the Camino. The ancient building had a pretty bell tower but the inside appears to almost resemble a cave. Because this service is well known to pilgrims as a must-see event it is usually packed with locals and pilgrims. I am glad we experienced the vespers but we ended up standing in the back and Elizabeth pouted through the entire Latin mass.
The only caution I have is the chapel is tiny and unless you get there early and are lucky enough to get a set, you will be squeezed in the rear or sides with many other pilgrims and locals. Here is the website if you would like additional information:
We ate a terrific Pilgrim’s meal at the restaurant in our Refugio. The entire gas light eatery was filled with pilgrims enjoying the ambiance, wine, and scrumptious meal. I had the salad with tuna and some pork roast and Elizabeth had her usually spaghetti Bolognese and ice cream. We then went upstairs to our room and past out from exhaustion.
We arrived at the deserted Astorga, Spain train station around noon, during a heat wave so hot and uncomfortable that it was widely referred to in Europe as ‘Lucifer’. Carrying all our worldly possessions on our back, we were full of excitement to start our pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago the next morning.
Although everyone told me I wouldn’t get lost on the Camino I was soon skeptical. After exiting the train station, I really did not know how to get to our hotel, just that it was a block or two from the Camino and the Cathedral. Somehow, I thought I would just know how to get there but this was not the case.
Since I didn’t want my 12-year old to know I was feeling disoriented and had no idea where the Camino was actually situated, I needed to get my act together. Luckily, I did have cell service and was able to google and find directions that were only 5 minutes away. But as we trudged up the steep road I then realized the Google estimate was for driving not walking. For the next 2 plus weeks, the only directions or times I would need from google would be the walking instructions.
The Camino’s path is marked with yellow arrows and scallop shells all directing you towards Santiago. We started seeing the arrows and we finally found our hotel across from the Cathedral and right off of the Camino.
Astorga is a beautiful town with lots to see and do. Hotel Spa Cuidad de Astorga was chosen as our hotel because it had a pool and spa. I wanted my child to enjoy her time here in Spain, thus the pool, but I really needed to recover from the jet lag, so the steam and sauna were for me. The hotel was quirky, modern, centrally located, and the staff was extremely helpful. They are used to pilgrims and their needs, and it shows. Our room was air conditioned but little did I know that would be one of the last air conditioned anything I would see for a couple of weeks.
We ditched our backpacks and went downstairs to the Spa. We had the entire place to ourselves as there wasn’t even an attendant there and thoroughly enjoyed the pool, hot tub, sauna, steam and Turkish baths. They have plush towels and drinks set out for those using the facilities. Although it is in the hotel’s basement, it had large windows and skylights, so beautiful light streamed in and it never felt closed-in nor claustrophobic.
We then set out to obtain our first pilgrim passport stamp in Astorga from the nearest albergue. An albergue is an inexpensive place where pilgrims sleep while on pilgrimage in Spain, that is owned by the local government or the Catholic Church. Since most albergues are co-ed I decided that it was best that my child and I stay in private rooms or moderately priced hotels along the way.
The pilgrim’s passport inscribed with your name is available through organizations such as American Pilgrims on the Camino ( APOC). Just like an official travel passport receives stamps from different countries, this passport receives a unique stamp from the businesses along the Camino. This passport entitles pilgrims to pilgrim’s meals and lodging at a substantially discounted rate along the way. Once you complete the Camino, the passport will be your proof at the Pilgrim’s Reception Office in Santiago that you walked the required stages of the Camino. After examining your passport, with its many different stamps and dates, the Pilgrim’s Reception officials will issue you a Compostela if you have completed the necessary requirements.
We then walked to the Albergue de Peregrinos San Javier to have our passport stamped. Once inside we realized how hot these albergues can be. There were no apparent fans and the place was stifling. We saw several pilgrims lying on their cots totally exhausted from the long day’s hike. Alarmed is an understatement of how I felt at that moment. What was I doing bringing my 12-year-old to Spain alone to walk 270 kilometers during the summer? Was I crazy? I would soon find out.
We then visited magnificent Astorga Cathedral, which began construction in the 15th century but not completed until the 18th. Adjacent to the Cathedral is the EpiscopalPalace a beautiful castle designed by the incomparable architect Antonin Gaudi at the turn of the 20th century and which houses a museum devoted to pilgrims. This town, with a population of only 11, 000, has both a palace, a cathedral and the Camino trail running through the town center. Amazing sightseeing opportunities everywhere in this village.
Within blocks of the Cathedral are plenty of shops serving pilgrims needs such as hiking gear, scallop shells and sun hats. After some last-minute shopping, we remained in the plaza just pilgrim watching. I was just so jealous of their look, which was part strength and confidence, and part shabby and dusty. They appeared exhausted to me and I could not wait for the next morning to become part of this group; those that were willing to give up their comfortable lives back home to walk across NW Spain.
Our plan for the following day was to rise before dawn to start out at 5:30 am when it was still reasonably cool and to begin our Camino.