Pilgrim Starting Point Stats

I’ve had a great time poring through the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela’s statistical pages and have come up with some interesting lessons. Fig. 1 shows the large percentages of pilgrims who start at Sarria, the minimum (100 km) distance required to earn a compostela in Santiago.

Fig. 1 - Many starting points for the Camino, but biggest by far is Sarria.

The fact that fully 37% of pilgrims begin in the last 100 km confirms that the Camino Frances gets more crowded the closer a pilgrim gets to Santiago.  It’s also surprising how spread out the starting places are, and how many people begin in places like Leon, Ponferrada and O Cebreiro.

Interestingly, Sarria is the most frequent starting point by far for pilgrims who finish in all but four months — May, June, October and November. This suggests that local, short-walk pilgrims flood the Camino Frances during the high summer months, while long-walk pilgrims make up larger numbers in the shoulder months of spring and autumn.

Fig. 2 - Sarria is by far the largest starting point for pilgrims in all but four months.

A caution with these stats from the Cathedral at Santiago — they reveal only the eight largest starting points each month. The result is that some important starting points like Astorga, for instance, sometimes show significant numbers but sometimes aren’t recorded at all since they don’t make the top eight consistently. Astorga and other, smaller starting points are included in “other” in each chart.

I’ll look in future postings for country of origin among pilgrims to see how or if that has changed over the years.

June 11, 2011 Samos to Mercadoiro

Jacqueline, a blur from behind, as I usually saw her. Walking the "Austrian pace."

Left the Samos monastery albergue and had toast for breakfast across the street. Then walked without yellow arrows from memory out of Samos. Somehow many of the directions from/to Samos have been intentionally obscured by someone. Met Oussie of Hungary at the option (i.e. the fork in the camino) and she suggested the longer route via woods and farms to Sarria. She gave a four-leaf clover she had found as remembrance. Very sweet girl; one of those camino people I wished I’d spent more time with.

I took her route and enjoyed the beauty of green. Many ups and downs, though. Then finally hit road to Sarria. Met the older Brazilian couple at coffee (remembered them from Foncebadon) who mentioned that Alexandre was behind them. Continued to Sarria and met mother/son duo — Deirdre and Patrick of Ireland. Patrick is moving to Seattle in October to work for Microsoft. Debating about living in Redmond, Bellevue, or Kirkland. Asked at albergue at top of stairs for cell phone store to recharge phone with money and waited at Movistar store for probably an hour during lunchtime to be helped. Put 30€ on the phone.

Left Sarria and walked with So. African man, part of a larger So. African group, to Barbadello where I was delighted to meet Jacqueline. Walked with her to Mercadoiro, just shy of Portomarin. Opted to stay at Mercadoiro for total kms of 32.5 that day. Nice dinner with Sven and Britta of Germany, then drinks with Heidi, Beata and a Dane. Lots of laughter, with Beata constantly apologizing for her German and me teasing Dane for actually being Dutch. This is a nice albergue, with a sort of ramshackle layout but rooms no larger than 5-6 beds, each room with stone walls.

August 21, 2008 Sarria to Portomarín

By this time the effects of the walking were taking a toll on Gail and I was puzzled about why she wasn’t feeling stronger the farther we walked. Gail was complaining of extreme pain in her foot and she was walking very slowly with a barely noticeable limp. I offered to call a taxi and meet her at the next day’s goal, Portomarin, but Gail was insistent she would walk it — and a little insulted that I’d consider calling her a cab. We both recognized, too, that, if Gail didn’t walk the last 100 km from this point on, she would not qualify for the compostela, the completion certificate at the arrival to Santiago.

So we set off from Sarria, stopping regularly at sites along the way to take photos. Over the next km we saw a Dutch man whom we’d met climbing to O Cebreiro, and we spent a lot of time with Christian, an Austrian man who wanted to practice his English and who was delightful company. We also met an Austrian woman who spoke only German and her daughter who spoke English well. Also we met two young Swedish men who wanted to celebrate the birthday of one, so they’d bought two boxes of wine and were carrying them to share with pilgrims along the way.

I usually walked with Christian, pausing each time Gail was out of sight behind us and then allowing her to catch up. At one point just before Portomarin Christian and I were deep in conversation and missed a yellow arrow. Gail called to us from behind and let us know we’d missed the turn.

We walked down into the valley where the town of Portomarin had originally been — it had been moved in the 20th century when a dam had been built, creating a reservoir over the town’s ancient site. We crossed the new highway bridge high above the lake and climbed up into the new town on the hillside above, noting the Romanesque church that had been moved stone-by-stone from below to the new town. Gail sat on a bench in the square while I hunted with Christian for a hotel room. When we got to the room Gail collapsed on the bed. I told her to stay put and I would bring her dinner. I found a restaurant, explained in Spanish that I wanted a dinner to go, brought it to her, then returned to the restaurant for a meal with Christian, Jake and Carol who’d by now met each other. When I returned to our room Gail had fallen asleep with the dinner half finished beside her. I lay down next to her, hoping her camino would become more joyful in the days ahead, but thankful that we could be here together to experience these days of walking the Camino de Santiago.

August 20, 2008 Triacastela to Sarria

If I’d been smart I would’ve chosen the shortest route possible to the next town, Sarria. Instead I remembered Stefan of South Africa’s words about how I must go to the monastery at Samos because it’s one of the great experiences of the camino. This adds about 6 km to the day’s total distance and Gail’s was exhausted and discouraged after three tough days of walking. This day would not be a hard uphill or downhill, but it would be long.

As we left Triacastela for Samos I noticed someone had written in French on the back of a road sign, “Don’t forget to smile!” I pointed the graffiti out to Gail and translated it for her. She was not amused. This was no vacation for her — just a long walk in a foreign country trying to keep her husband happy. I was sad that Gail hadn’t started to enjoy herself yet, but I knew, I just knew, that as her body caught her up to the physical challenge she would find the great spiritual rewards of the walk.

The walk from Triacastela begins along the roadway, with timbered parks and a creek off to the left side. Soon it veers into the forest for the long, shady walk to Samos. After a few hours we saw the large monastery in the valley below. I was thrilled to see this important building, rebuilt from its original medieval structure after a fire. It was clear that the monastery was the primary institution of the little village of Samos and I had images of the idyllic life of a monk, copying manuscripts in the morning and working in the fields in the afternoon.

Gail and I came down the long, narrow, curving road into town, stopping at a produce store to pick up delicious fruit. We came into town, had lunch at a roadside cafe (where unfortunately a detour had caused large trucks to constantly roar past us), then headed a few blocks toward the monastery itself. We discovered the monastery door was unlocked and its gift shop was open, but unfortunately the monastery itself was closed until its guided tour hours, much later in the evening. Intrigued, but disappointed we left Samos for the day’s goal of Sarria.

The quickest way to Sarria is by the road, so we walked out of Samos along the highway, rejoining the main camino some miles out of town. The long walk left us both tired and grumpy and as we walked into town we looked immediately for a hotel that could put us up for the night. A hotel of 12-15 stories in height appeared before us and we arranged a room for the evening, the two of us dropping in exhaustion on the hard single beds.

After showers I convinced Gail to walk out of the hotel with me to find a place to eat and to look for other pilgrims to enjoy. She gingerly walked on her pain-filled feet over the nearby pedestrian bridge across the river and as we hunted for a table among the many sidewalk cafes there we saw the familiar faces of Carol and Jake, the Americans we’d met back at Villafranca. This cheered us both up and we enjoyed a fun evening of camino stories and conversation over Menu del Peregrino and ample red wine. I was glad to see our friends — both to enjoy their company and to show Gail the joys of pilgrim companionship. Our meeting was definitely a bright spot in a day that had been a long slog for my beloved wife.