Entrepreneurship on the Camino de Santiago

There is a massive amount of business opportunity being wasted on the Camino de Santiago.

Pilgrims generally start walking between 5:00 and 7:00 AM.  They are going to be walking all day, burning well over twice as many calories as in normal life, and are generally hungry.  Spanish bars, the standard (and often only) eating establishment in most of the towns, rarely open before 10:00 and when they do open, they pretty much only serve coffee.  And white white white bread.  (In the town in the picture there was no bar or cafe, and one little store, no sandwiches or prepared food, only that airy dry white bread.)

The Spanish siesta is still very much in force, especially in the small towns, and as pilgrims arrive at their day’s destination around 1:00 or 2:00 PM they often have to wait for things to open again at 5:00.

I was happy to see people sticking to their traditional ways, without regard for accommodating us interlopers, buuuut…

Particularly for that morning period, if you opened a little waffle, pancake, crepe, or whatever cart along the side of the camino and sold them for 50 cents each?  You would sell out every day.  You could take a giant vat of pancake batter down there and pilgrims would be licking it clean for you within two hours.  That’s actually kind of a gross and post-Apocalyptic image, sorry.

Sandwiches in the afternoon, especially if they actually have any flavor, and especially especially if you added a couple fans and shade to sit in, and it would be the same story.  Only without any licking.

I know I was just ranting about how business is tainting the Camino de Santiago (sometimes don’t you wish you could kick Big Business right in the taint?) and that may seem at odds with this, but it’s not, as long as the cart/stand is run with the right mentality.  Charge enough to cover costs and pay your rent, and provide for the pilgrims without exploiting them.  We are hungry, man!

All the way across Spain, 1,000 kilometers of walking and I saw one guy doing this, selling drinks and snacks out of the back of his tiny pickup truck at the ferociously windy peak of Alto de Perdon above Pamplona.

All this being said, I am going to rather contradict myself, as usual, and say that there is also something essential about pilgrims NOT having their needs met.  We SHOULD be hungry a lot of the time.  We SHOULD be thirsty and footsore and smelly.  It’s part of the experience.

This opportunity is glaring, and I know I am not the only one to notice it, and to be honest I am a little scared to see what will happen to the Camino de Santiago over the next few years.  I met an Italian guy, Graziano, who had been in one of the tiny towns the year before.  Last year there was one albergue, and one café.  This year there were two albergues, three restaurants, a tiny store, and at least three more buildings under construction.

So don’t open too many stands, but maybe one at the top of that one hill before Santo Domingo…