viernes, 28 de agosto de 2015

Avisos para Caminantes

The Oficina del Peregrino

Live from the Oficina del Peregrino

I’m working as a volunteer in the Oficina del Peregrino in Santiago for the last two weeks in August 2015. My forum post in no way represents the views of the Oficina del Peregrino. These are just my own observations and comments.
The Oficina del Peregrino has their own website, which I would encourage your to visit if you haven’t already done so:
You should note, however, that a few things need updating on the site and I have alerted the Oficina to this. The Oficina is still at Rua do Vilar, 3/1. It is now open from 8am to 8pm. At 8pm the doors close and peregrinos in the courtyard will be attended to. The left luggage service is no longer at the Oficina del Peregrino. You have to go to the Post Office (Correos) for this. This is not far away, but is in a parallel street. They are open from 8:30am to 8:30pm. You can store your bag for 24 hours for 2 euros. They will also send your bag or bike home for you. The prices for this are on a sign outside of the Correos. There is also a Correos desk at the Oficina del Pergrino. It is through a doorway to the left of the courtyard. There are toilets for peregrinos at the far end of the courtyard. There is also an Alsa bus office which is only open from 9:30am to 1:30pm on weekdays. Above the toilets is a special greeting area for Dutch peregrinos run by the Dutch Cofraternity of St James. Nuns from the Order of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (called Camino Companions) are also there to talk to peregrinos about their Camino (the highs and the lows). They are mostly from English speaking countries, but some speak Spanish. You don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to talk to them. They run ‘decompression’ sessions from Monday to Saturday at 9am and at 2:30pm. They also have tea/coffee and biscuits.
Via the Oficina del Peregrino site, you can access statistical data on the pilgrims who have arrived in Santiago (and have complied with the official rule that foot, horse and wheelchair peregrinos need to have completed the last 100km of their route and bicycle peregrinos (bicigrinos) have completed the last 200km of their route.
I know that some peregrinos have had to wait 60 to 90 minutes to get their compostela. This reflects the large number of peregrinos. For example, in July 2015, 44, 799 peregrinos arrived at the office having complied with official rules. Those of you who thought the Camino Frances was crowded, were correct. In July, 27, 923 people came to Santiago via the Camino Frances. Compare this to 7447 on the Portugues, 3561 on the Norte, 2037 on the Primitivo, 1893 on the Plata, 1813 on the Ingles and 53 on the Camino Muxia-Fisterra-Santiago or Fisterra-Muxia-Santiago. I did the Camino Muxia-Fisterra-Santiago before starting my two weeks of volunteering. Details of this are on my Live from the Camino Muxia-Fisterra-Santiago post.

Why are there volunteers? Why don’t they all speak Spanish?

The volunteer programme was started by Johnnie Walker (his forum name) in 2012. The volunteers were called ‘Amigos’ and wore dark blue shirts with ‘welcome’ on the front in various languages in white letters and ‘Amigo’ on the back. This was initially sponsored by the Confraternities of St James of UK and Ireland. So the first volunteers were from English speaking countries and not all spoke Spanish (though efforts were made to pair up Spanish speaking Amigos with non-Spanish speaking ones). The Amigo programme continued until 2014 and the sponsorship from other Cofraternities increased. The original remit of the volunteers was to greet peregrinos, answer questions as best they could and ensure the smooth flow of peregrinos from the queue to the desks to have their compostelas filled out. This was in the old office, up the stairs, which some of you will remember.
In 2015, the Amigo programme, was taken over by the Oficina del Peregrinos. We are no longer called Amigos, we are called Volunatarios and have a light blue T-shirt with a half scallop shell design. Many of the Amigos have come back, which is why you still have some Voluntarios that don’t speak much Spanish. Some Voluntarios still act as greeters. They also try to speed up the process of getting a compostela by asking peregrinos to have their credencials ready (as opposed to at the bottom of their ruck sack). Peregrinos are also asked (by some Voluntarios) to have their identity cards/passports to hand. This isn’t to check who you are, it is simply so that the people at the desk have a clearly written version of your name so they don’t make errors on your compolstela/certificate of completion. Other Voluntarios with language skills, like me, are at the desk issuing compostelas. Voluntarios are only there during the summer when there are a large number of peregrinos. At other times of the year, paid staff are at the desks. So the added presence of Voluntarios in the summer does help speed up the process.
Where do I get my compostela?
The compostela desks are now in a room to the left of the courtyard and there is a number system in place. When a desk becomes free, the number of the desk will come up and the peregrino at the front of the queue will be asked to go to that desk. We are aware that some people want to go in together as they have walked together. Nevertheless, we prefer people to go in one by one as there isn’t much space inside (particularly if people have large ruck sacks) and it does go quicker if your travelling companion goes to the next free desk rather than wait for you to get your compostela and then get theirs.
Please note: The certificate is a compostela. A compostelana is a woman from Santiago de Compostela.
What happens at the desk?
You will be greeted and asked to fill out a form. This asks for your name, gender, country (for people with multiple citizenship, you need to choose what you want announced in the Cathedral), your city/province (particularly important for peregrinos from Spain), age, occupation, mode of transport (foot/bike/horse/wheelchair) and where you started from. All of the data, apart from your name is entered into a database and this is used for the statistical report. You can see what the report for July looks like by going to the web link above. I should stress that your name is never entered into the database (there isn’t even a space for it), so you are never identified as an individual. A typical entry would be: female, Canada, Glasgow, 49, teacher, spiritual, foot, Muxia.
The person at the desk will examine your credencial to ensure that you have completed at least the last 100km for foot, horse and wheelchair peregrinos and the last 200km for bicigrinos. We know the routes and so can spot things that seem incongruous. We normally want to see at least 1 stamp (sello) per day up to the last 100km and then 2 per day after that. These can be from bars, cafes, restaurants, hotels, albergues, gas stations, post offices, shops police stations and churches, i.e. basically anyone who has a stamp. Please make sure these are dated. When I did the Camino Portuguese in 2009 I got a stamp from a police station. They were delighted to be asked for a sello.
Why do I need two sellos for the last 100km (or 200km on bike)?
To prove that you really did walk it. As shocking as this sounds, some people do cheat. Some people don’t know that they need to get 2 sellos in the last 100km (or 200km for bikes). These people will be questioned about their route simply to ensure that they did walk/cycle it.
Why am I asked my motivation for doing the Camino?
Having worked at the desk, I can say that this is the thing that really does confuse some people. The categories on the form are: religious, religious and other, and sporting. These categories need some translation. Religious (religioso) is for people who are doing the pilgrimage for a religious motivation. Some peregrinos tick this box saying, ‘well, I’m Catholic’. However, you don’t have to be Catholic to do the Camino de Santiago for religious reasons. I’ve had a Buddhist from Nepal tick the ‘religioso’ box. Most people do the Camino for ‘spiritial’ reasons. This would fall under the category of ‘religioso o otra’. ‘Spiritual’ can have as wide a meaning as you want it to. One woman did the Camino after having made a promise that she would do so if she was cancer free for 5 years. Some people say that they aren’t religious, but do feel that they have changed as a person while doing the Camino. Some people do the Camino in memory of someone. If you do this, you can ask to have your Compostela dedicated. Your name goes on the form, but at the bottom, the desk person can write a dedication (it helps if you write down before hand exactly what you want written). I would count all of these as ‘religioso o otro’. If you tick either of these two boxes, you get the compostela. There are some people, however, who have no religious or spiritual reason for doing the Camino. They are doing it as a cultural/historical experience or as a long distance trek. People with this as a motivation don’t get the compostela. They get a certificate. They also get an extra stamp in their credencial to indicate that their motivation is sporting/cultural.
Both the compostela and the certificate are beautiful documents with the text written in Latin and coloured illuminations on the sides. People who have done the Camino earlier than 2014 will have received the old designs. Personally, I very much prefer the new designs. As both documents are in Latin, you name is translated in Latin (if possible). You will be Dnum (Dominum) if male and Dnam (Dominam) if female. Then your first name(s) will be translated into Latin. We have an online file with Latin translations and for tricky cases we have a book. I was recently defeated trying to find a translation for Stewart. It wasn’t on the computer document, in the book and the full time staff didn’t know of a translation either. If anyone who specializes in Latin does know a translation for Stewart/Stuart, I’ll add it to the list. Your family name is not translated.
When I volunteered in the Oficina in 2012, I did a ‘Live from the Oficina’ post. I mentioned the issue about ‘motivation’. I received an angry reply saying that asking people to choose their motivation was a ploy by the Catholic Church to inflate the number of religious people in their statistics. This sparked quite a lively debate. Many people on the forum had no problem at all with being asked their motivation. In all honesty, people have multiple motivations and they can change along the route. You can start off by doing the route as a long distance trek and then ‘find yourself’ on the Camino, which is more of a ‘spiritual’ experience. We ask what your motivation is so we know whether to give you the compostela or the certificate of completion. There is no sinister plan in asking you your motivation.
What if I’m in a large group? Do I have to wait in the queue?
When I first volunteered in 2012, everyone had to show up with their own credencial. So we had large groups, particularly from schools, wait in the queue. Now we have a separate office for this. This is just a bit further down Rua do Vilar past the RENFE (train) office. If you are in a group of more than 6, see the security guard at the door and he will direct you to the group desk.
Can I get someone else’s compostela/certificate?
We prefer people to show up in person with their credencial and ID to get their compostela/certificate. However, there are times when a fellow peregrino is too ill to stand in the queue. In this case, it is acceptable to get a credencial/certificate for someone else. However, you do have to explain this to the Voluntario at the head of the queue and the person at the desk and you need to have their credenical and ID.
What do I have to pay for the credencial/certificate?
This is free (or, in other words, without price). If you wish to make a donation, there are locked boxes at the desks.
What is the distance certificate?
This was introduced in the last two years. This is a separate certificate, written in Spanish or Gallego (if you want yours in Gallego, please ask) which has your name as it is in your passport (i.e. not in Latin), the distance you completed (without using buses, cars or trains), when you arrived in Santiago, when you started your route, where you started and which route you did. For this certificate, you have to pay 3 euros. I was talking to some Belgians who had cycled from their home about this. The husband noted that it wasn’t even the price of two beers in Santiago . His wife added that it wasn’t the price of one beer in Belgium. Getting this certificate is totally optional. Some people who have travelled long distances want one. On the other hand, I have had people who have started in Sarria and are proud of their 116km who have also wanted them. We have an official list of distances based on the route on foot. Some of these differ from the distances in the guidebooks. If you are a bicigrino, travelled on the road and have some sort of meter that measured your distance, please mention this as it will differ from the distance on foot. We will put down what you have on your meter.
Do I need a ‘tubo’?
You will be asked if you want a ‘tubo’ (a cardboard tube). These are very sturdy and are ‘Ryan Air proof’. If the Oficina they cost 2 euros. In shop next to the Oficina, you can get one for 1 euro. The one from the shop is a white with blue design. It is the correct size for the credencial/certificate of arrival. However, it is a bit too small for the distance certificate. In the Oficina, we have blue tubes with gold shells and red tubes with gold shells. If you decide to get your tubo from the Oficina, you will be given a choice of colour. IF you get the compostela/certiciate or arrival AND the distance certificate, we recommend the red tubo, which is slightly longer. The distance certificate is bigger than the credencial/certificate of arrival.
I just want a credencial, do I have to stand in the queue?
No! Just go to the Voluntario at the head of the queue or to the top of the queue if there is no Voluntario and explain that you want a credencial (pilgrims passport). This is 1.50 euros per credencial.
Can I leave my luggage at the Oficina? Can I have my ruck sack delivered to the Oficina? Can I leave my bike?
No. We no longer have a space for this. There is left luggage at the Correos (see above). Any bags sent ahead end up there. If you have a bike you can park it on the right had side of the courtyard while you are waiting to get your compostela. After that, you have to take it away.
I want to go to Finisterre or Muxia on foot or by bus, where do I get information?
The Oficina del Peregrino gives advice to peregrinos who ARRIVE at Santiago. They don’t issue information or credenciales for people who want to continue onto Finisterre or Muxia by foot or bus. You can get this information from the Oficina de Tourismo de la Provincia de Galica, which is on 30-32 Rua do Vilar (same street as the Oficina del Peregrino, other side, half way down) . If you are walking, I can very much recommend the John Brierly guidebook. If you have spaces left in your credencial, you can use this to go onto Finisterre or Muxia. I would recommend getting two sellos per day. It is normally 3 long days to Finisterre or Muxia. In Finisterre, if you present your stamped credencial to the desk at the Albergue de la Xunta, you will be given a Fisterana certificate. If you continue to Muxia (one more day) and to Tourist Information, you will be given a Muxiana. Both are beautiful document, are written in Gallego and say that you have arrived at the ‘fin do Camino’ (end of the Camino). If your credencial is full, you can get one from the Provincial Tourist Office (address above). You can either go to Finisterre first or Muxia. When I did it in 2009, I went to Muxia first and then Finisterre as I wanted to end at the End of the World. However, I met a German peregrino who wanted to go to Finisterre first: ‘I want to go the the End of the World and then beyond’!
If you are going by bus, the timetable below will be helpful (thanks again to Falcon for supplying this).
Where can I get a map of Santiago? Where can I stay?
You get this from the city tourist office. This is also on Rua do Vilar (number 63). It is one the same side of the road as the Oficina del Peregrino. It is almost at the end.
Pilgrim Mass
The Cathedral has a number of masses, but the one for pilgrims is at 12pm everyday. If you get your credencial before 11am, you will be mentioned at the 12pm mass by your nationality and starting point. If you get your credencial after 11am, you will be mentioned at the 12pm mass the following day. If you are unsure, please ask. At times, pilgrims registered between 11 and 11:30 might be mentioned at the noon mass. The Botafumeiro doesn’t always appear (see below). If you enter the Cathedral and it is attached to a pillar, if probably won’t be used. If it is unattached, that is a good sign. In the past, you used to be able to attend the mass with your ruck sack. This is no longer possible due to the very large number of people who attend this mass. Security at the church door will turn you away if you have a large ruck sack. If in doubt about the size of your bag, ask security well beforehand. If the Botafumeiro does come out, the best place to sit is in the transept (i.e. if you imagine the letter t with the altar at the top, you sit at the bit that crosses below the top. You can access this from the steps at the top of Rua do Vilar on the far side of the Praza de Prateria. If you want to get a good seat, arrive at 11am. By 11:30am, most of the transcept is already full and you might be lucky enough to squeeze in next to someone.
Many people ask if they will see the famous Botafumeiro swing. This is a very large insense burner. It is used for liturgical purposes and not as a tourist attraction, so it is used on certain feast days and if it has been booked in advance (see below). At the moment, it also swings at the Friday mass at 19:30 (i.e. 7:30pm). The Cathedral fills up quickly for this mass, so I would recommend arriving at 6:30pm to get a seat. On some occasions, the doors are shut early if the Cathedral is full.
If you are a group of peregrinos, you can request, WELL in advance, for the Botafumeiro to swing. However, you have to pay for this. You can request this and get details on the fees by emailing:
8 men (los tiraboleiros) are required to swing the Botafumeiro and so their presence has to be organized. You can’t just show up at the Pilgrim’s Office and offer to pay then and there (yes, people have tried to do this). Office staff are NOT told when the Botafumeiro has been booked by a group. This is so we can genially tell people that we don’t know. The idea behind this is that people should go to the mass for the sake of going to the mass and NOT just to see the Botafumeiro. At the beginning of the mass, people are reminded that this is a sacred event and that they are not to take photos. This doesn’t stop people from dragging out their cameras and phones if the Botafumeiro does swing. Honestly, there are tons of links on YouTube if you want to send your family and friends a video. It is much better just to watch it and not take photos or film clips. It looks a lot better if you are not peering through a view finder. See, for example,
The Botafumeiro will come out on the following feast days:
· La Epifanía del Señor: January 6
· Domingo de Resurrección: variable dates
· La Ascensión del Señor: variable dates
· La Aparición del Apóstol-Clavijo: May 23
· Pentecostés: variable dates
· El Martirio de Santiago: July 25
· La Asunción de María: August 15
· Todos los Santos: November 1
· Cristo Rey (the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent) (i.e. Nov 22 in 2015)
· La Inmaculada Concepción: Decemember 8
· Navidad: December 25
· Traslado de los Restos del Apóstol: December 30
Rituals at the Cathedral
If you are facing the altar, on the right hand side, behind the altar, there is a door with steps which leads up to a bust of Santiago. There is normally a queue. You can hug the saint (above the altar) and leave an offering if you wish. You are not permitted to take photos. On the left hand side, there is a door to go down to the crypt of Santiago, where his remains are said to be in a silver coffin. There is an area for kneeling down and praying.
Finally: Pilgrim House
Pilgrim House opened up on July 24, 2015. It is run by volunteers (separate from the Oficina) and is funded with donations. It is on Rua Nova 19. This street is parallel to Rua do Vilar. Their website is
They are open from 11am to 8pm, but are closed on Sundays and Wednesdays. The rational behind Pilgrim House is that it provides services for peregrinos. You can get your laundry done (for a fee), they print off boarding passes (for a fee), they have wifi, they have books you can borrow, they have a nice chill out space. You can leave your ruck sack here (hanging on a peg and unguarded). Everyday at 5pm they have a meeting point for pilgrims. So if you want to meet other pilgrims, this is a lovely place to go.
I hope that peregrions arriving in Santiago will find this information helpful. Please note the the Oficina del Peregrino will be moving to a new location in the future. At the moment, this is planned for November. I’ve been told that this will have a larger area for giving out credenciales. It will have left luggage. It will also have international greeting areas. Longer term plans are for an albergue and restaurant. If you are planning on arrive in November, please check the forum and the Pilgrim Office website for an update.
Buen Camino!

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