“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.” – Robert Fulghum
I have found that after many years of doing a bit of travelling and random things like internships and au pairing – people love to tell, what I call, horror stories. Before I took my flight to go and be an au pair, on my own, in the middle-of-nowhere-France, I’d say everyone I told had a horror story to tell me. Something that they had heard about someone who had been an au pair and had the most atrocious experience. Their family was horrible, they worked her like a slave, the kids were demons, the area was dangerous, the city was ugly, whatever – you name it, I was told it. And I couldn’t understand why people were doing it… I didn’t want to hear it. All it did was made me even more scared than I already was. I couldn’t believe that all these people (who had never au paired themselves) had so many negative things to say about it. Luckily, my au pair experience was perfection and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Also, I’ll never forget, before I went to intern in the UN in Geneva, someone told me about girls being taken at the Geneva train station. They said that they had read it in the news (recently!) and it was happening to all white girls in their twenties that were travelling to Geneva alone. And I’m a twenty-something, white girl AND I WAS TRAVELLING TO GENEVA ALONE . Needless to say, when I got to the train station I was petrified and literally waiting with my Dad on speed dial to be “Taken” and expected him to go all Liam Neeson on their ass! Evidently, he didn’t have to, but I was unnecessarily fearful because someone (who had probably never been to Geneva) told me a horror story.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing this is because the same thing happened when I told people that I was doing the camino. I was told a few specific things, all of which turned out to be untrue. So, I decided I’d do a little myth busting today and share my experience.
The first thing everyone had to say was that June would be too warm to do the Camino. Lots of people said that it would be impossible to walk everyday because of how hot it would be. I couldn’t disagree more! I walked from the 2nd-6th of June and because you leave at 6.30 or so, the sun doesn’t rise fully for about 2 hours into your walk and even when it does, it’s so early that there’s no heat in it. We were finished walking everyday by 1 or 2PM and then it would start to warm up properly. But by that stage you can chill out, shower, nap, eat… do whatever you like. You also have the option of staying indoors if that’s what tickles your fancy. Every albergue has a common room area where you can just hang out. Two of mine even had a TV room. On the topic of weather, I was also blessed with mist every morning. The mist on the camino added such a cool ambiance. Some mornings it was creepy! But it was a cooling refresher as you walked. It also meant that no matter how sweaty you got (those uphills can be nasty!) you can blame it on the mist!
Bed bug epidemic
Everyone I spoke to before I went on the camino told me that the albergues were infested with bed bugs. I was, naturally, disgusted by the thought. In order to avoid them, I brought my own duvet cover (to use as a sleeping bag, because a sleeping bag is too heavy in June) in order to have something between me and the mattress provided. And, I brought a scarf to put on my pillow cases. Both of which I used and would recommend you pack if you’re going. Now, I must add a disclaimer here, I only did the trail from Sarria to Santiago which is an extremely popular part of the trail, therefore the albergues are well kept and the albergues I stayed in were all privately-owned and fortunately quite new. However, everyone I asked along the way, that had done the entire trail, or more than I had done, said that they didn’t come across any bed bugs whatsoever. If you ask me, I think there may have been a bed bug epidemic at one stage but now (because of all the talk) there are none because of everyone’s precaution.
I was also told that the final stages of the camino were all highways and you’re walking along main roads with cars speeding past you and pollution all around you. I was pleasantly surprised when I barely walked on one highway. Even when you are walking beside a highway, you are very much away from it and there is usually some shrubbery separating you from the road. But, the majority of the final stages of the camino are through forests, woods, fields and farms. There is no pollution from cars at all whether it be noise or air pollution. Most of the walk, I could hear the birds chirping and the crickets humming.
Foul food, cold showers & dirty dorms
The last myth that I wanted to debunk was that the albergues are dirty, the food is disgusting and the showers are always cold. Again, I was overjoyed to realise that once you have a head on your shoulders, do a minimal amount of research or just have a hawk eye before arriving at an albergue, you’ll be sure to get a clean one. In every albergue I stayed in (albeit I didn’t stay in a municipal albergue) the showers, beds, dorms, kitchens, everything was spotless. All of the showers were hot (one even had a rainfall shower with jets on the wall!). And as for the food, I’m obsessed with Galician food after living here for a year but if you don’t like it you can get sandwiches in any café and there were even places that served pizza in the bigger towns. So if you’re picky, just put in the effort and you can still dine like a king or queen.
I’ll never understand why people decide to tell horror stories to people who don’t know what to expect. I didn’t mind because I am a firm believer in keeping your expectations low when it comes to travel. I don’t think having low expectations is a bad thing – I think it’s a recipe for success. No matter how good or bad it turns out, you weren’t expecting anything better. My dad always makes fun of me for catastrophising things and then have them work out perfectly. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather that (and not let the catastrophising cause you to worry too much) than having unrealistically high expectations and being disappointed every time. Going on the camino, I had almost no expectations (apart from the fact that I assumed I was coming home covered in bed bug bites and hungry!) and it turned out so wonderfully. I had the most amazing experience and every night I didn’t get a bed bug bite, I got a nice meal, a warm shower, had a clean dorm and didn’t walk on a highway was a bonus!
I’d love to hear if you’ve ever been told a horror story before embarking into the unknown in the comments section below or you can find me on instagram, facebook, twitter or snapchat (imperfectlyfree).