Online Camino Forums
by Sylvia Nilsen
(Durban, South Africa)
Sylvia and her friend Val, along the Via Francigena
For anyone wanting to walk a ‘Camino de Santiago’ pilgrimage route, the best place to find answers to your many questions is an online ‘Camino Pilgrim’ forum. There are forums in most languages and some are even multi-lingual.
After walking the 750km Camino de Santiago pilgrimage from Roncesvalles to Santiago in 2002 I joined the newly formed Confraternity of St James in South Africa. I was asked to form a chapter in my area and in 2003 I hosted the first of many St James’ Feast Day lunches in my home. It was wonderful to meet others who had walked the same route as me and to chat with experienced pilgrims and wanna-be pilgrims who had come to ask advice from those who had walked the pilgrimage.
In 2003 I found an online Camino forum where I was able to answer some of the many questions asked and also to learn more about the Camino from people who had done different routes. After a few months I realised that the same questions were being asked over and over again. There was no ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ facility on the forum so I offered to compile one for the forum owner. He later added them to the forum website under the banner ‘Sylvia’s Top Tips’. I continued adding questions and answers to my growing list and a few years later had collected over 30 pages of questions and answers.
In 2004 I walked the 1000km Via Turonensis pilgrimage trail from Paris to Spain and from Sarria to Santiago. There was very little information about this French St James’ route on the Internet as few pilgrims had walked it. Soon, people starting asking me questions about the route so I added more questions and answers to my list. In November of that year, I joined a new Camino Forum based in Santiago de Compostela and my list almost doubled!
In 2006 I walked a different pilgrimage trail, from Lausanne to Rome on the Via Francigena trail. But, el Camino was calling so I walked the Camino Frances again from Roncesvalles to Santiago in 2007 and from Lourdes to Pamplona in 2009. I also walked the Camino Ingles from Ferrol, on the north coast, to Santiago and from Santiago to Finisterre – the end of the known world in the middle ages. Much of the information, including downloadable guide books, was gleaned from the Pilgrimage forums.
Through the forum I ‘met’ Rebekah who wanted to test an online training manual for volunteer ‘hospitaleros’ (wardens) to work in the dedicated pilgrim shelters on the Camino in Spain. I was able to do the online training and although the concept has not been adopted by the Spanish Federation, I spent two weeks working as a volunteer hospitalera in a pilgrim shelter in Galicia and have trained 26 past-pilgrims in South Africa, some who have gone on to volunteer in different refuges in Spain.
Online forums are a great way for people to find out about the places they want to visit and for experienced travellers to share their knowledge with others. I have turned my compendious list of FAQs into a book which I know will answer the many questions asked by those wanting to do the Camino – and answers to a few questions that they didn’t think to ask!
Most online travel websites have forums – Lonely Planet, Virtual Tourist, Tripadvisor, to name a few. Some forums are destination specific such as the one for the Appalachian Trail or for climbing Mt Everest or doing a Camino pilgrimage trail.
Based in Santiago, one of the largest and busiest forums on the Internet is called Camino de Santiago. Several Yahoo discussion groups are active, including Santiagobis, started by a Dutch pilgrim, one of the oldest on the Internet; Saint James at Yahoo; a group for cyclists; and the Via Francigena.
Sylvia Nilsen is the author of Your Camino on foot, bicycle or horseback in France and Spain. Published by Pilgrimage Publications and available on Amazon in print, digital and Kindle and at bookstores.