This post was written by Maria J Bellido.
Maria is an awesome Virtual Assistant who helped Mike plan his Camino. She is super organised and a great executioner of plans and a fountain of creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Maria speaks 5 languages and lives in Zaragoza, Spain.
First of all, I need to thank Mike (and Maya) for this challenging opportunity. Walking El Camino de Santiago Norte with Maya really makes a difference!.
Although I began my planning duties in a quite common or ordinary way, I quickly realized that Maya, a 30kg dog, had the starring role in all this walking experience.
No Room At the Inn for Pilgrims’ Dogs
There are many blogs sharing a few experiences and I only have to agree with one statement. Most of the “albergues” – the hostels catering to the pilgrims – are not open to host dogs. They have tons of excuses to say no, even when I only focused in “casas rurales” with plenty of space to camp. They argued that they also had (barking) dogs that disturbed pilgrims during their restorative sleep hours.
After contacting a few of them, I thought it was better to change my mind and start looking for camping places that welcomed Maya.
And issues came up again! Some of the areas Mike and Maya will be walking through are quite small villages, nearly deserted, where only elderly retired people live and campings prefer to chose touristic areas, close to the beach. A good example could be Lezama, 2406 inhabitants. All the camping areas are located at a reasonable distance… with a car… and the purpose of El Camino de Santiago is walking, right?
When all the ordinary options seemed to be too complicated, some other options appeared. Thanks to the magic and fascinating world of new technologies, there are new startups that are putting together all the dog friendly hostels and hotels in Spain and other European cities. After a good research it looked like the most convenient option was in Portugalete or Bilbao.
For the rest of the waypoints on Mike’s walk where official camping options have been nearly impossible, I guess wild and discrete camping becomes an alternative. But sshhh! Let’s keep this between you and me!
Not Planes or Trains, just Automobiles
Maya’s accommodation was not the only challenge.
Mike wanted to drive from Granada to Irún, park the car there, walk El Camino, rent another car to return to his starting point and then finally drive back with the initial car back home. Complicated, right?
We quickly eliminated trains and planes as options for Mike to get from Granada – in the south of Spain – up to Irún in the North. Most regional plane operators don’t allow animals in the hold on domestic flights and for the ones that allow pets on board – they have to be small pets (less than 12kg) and have their own rigid travel carrier. The train regulations were not much help either.
While I was researching car options, I confirmed that whilst Irún is a fantastic place for transport companies operating in Spain and France, it is not a target place for rental car offices. All of them chose Hendaye instead. Although the walking distance between both places is just 4,6 km, we shouldn’t forget that we are crossing the French border. And you know how expensive it is to leave your car in a different country, right?
After a funny chat with Mike, we thought that a good choice would be changing the initial route. He will now be walking from San Sebastián to Santander instead. Another good reason to change the initial destination is that we couldn’t find reasonable options to rent a car in Laredo to come back to Irún. Santander is a bigger place with sort of a world of possibilities.
If you are planning to walk El Camino de Santiago Norte on your own without the company of your dog, you have tons of opportunities to find affordable accommodation at albergues, sharing cars or travel by train, bike or plain. Anyway, nothing is impossible and I think this experience (both walking and planning) will be a good one to remember.
And please, do not forget to join and donate to Mike’s cause here and share your thoughts!