Walking El Camino de Santiago

Former nzherald.co.nz news editor Simon Winter takes on the 775-kilometre Spanish Pilgrim Trail

Spain: The dirt-cheap Camino

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On the trail from Castrojeriz, descending to Hospital de San Nicolas. Photo / Simon Winter
On the trail from Castrojeriz, descending to Hospital de San Nicolas. Photo / Simon Winter

In Spain, milk is NZ80c a litre, a four-pack of yoghurt costs less than NZ$1 and you can buy terrific red wine for less than €2. A 1.5-litre water costs 20c!

Cans of northern Spain's favourite San Miguel beer go for 41c a pop - Coke is 70c - and a six-pack of Heineken costs NZ$5. It's three times that back in New Zealand.

The supermercardo shelves are spilling over with dirt-cheap deals. When you're used to grocery shopping back home, it's an eye-opener.

But why so cheap?

There are many reasons, standard of living among them.

Spain's 23 per cent (5.3 million) unemployment is the worst in the 17-nation Eurozone. Almost half the country's youth are out of work.

As we wander across northern Spain we're reminded that, although New Zealanders complain a lot, we've got it pretty good.

Spain is struggling. The pilgrim trail is littered with ancient villages, often just a few kilometres apart - many are run down and others are seemingly abandoned but for the bar/cafe/hostel proprietor, his wife, and three dogs sunbathing on the cobbled path.

Some thrive. Gorgeous old villages like Viana and Navarrete have retained their historic beauty. They're unforgettable. But the overall picture looks grim.

We've certainly noticed -when it comes to food (and booze) prices - that back home we're being gouged.

Fresh fruit, cereals, cheese and meats are less than half what they sell for in NZ. It's the same with liquor and other liquids.

Of course on the other hand, it's about meeting the market. For Camino locals, riches are in short supply.

All of which plays into the pilgrims' hands.

The daily cafe con leche (coffee with milk) is around €1.20 and stays in albergues rarely cost more than €8, some are by donation.

The enormous nightly three-course peregrino meals or the lunchtime 'menu del dia', featuring two mains, bread, dessert and a full bottle of vino tinto are available in nearly all Camino villages for around €9.

Throw in a few treats and a thrifty pilgrim can comfortably get by on €30 a day.

After 330km, one of our favourite places to rest our sore feet are the character-filled 'bars'. In New Zealand we'd call them cafes, but they're not really the same thing.

There are always a couple of locals perched drinking red wine with their morning baguette and paper as waves of pilgrims file through.

In the evenings they're filled with tired travellers exchanging tales and planning the days ahead.

While most don't have deep pockets, the daily flocks are still what's keeping most of the Camino villages alive - as they've done for hundreds of years.

Route marker: 330km down, 445km to go.

* Simon Winter is a former nzherald.co.nz news editor. He and partner Lisa are following the sun through Europe. They're finding the weather somewhat colder than expected.

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