I first walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2003 with a friend, before the Camino became as well known as it is today in the United States. Back then, I was thinking of becoming a priest and had just applied to seminary. Now, fast forward nine years, and I am walking the Camino again. I leave in a week and a half with a group of from Mississippi. Yes, I am now a Catholic priest, working in the missionary diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, where I cover two rural counties in the Mississippi Delta, where I serve in three parishes and two prisons.
When I first walked the Camino, I purchased a guidebook in Spanish when I was over in Spain (I speak Spanish, have served as a missionary in Ecuador for three years). I really researched what guidebook I wanted, talked to those who had recently done the Camino, and knew that this was the guidebook that I needed. I have been reading it in preparation for the trip. I really like the way it provides helpful hints in walking the pilgrimage route - giving pointers of which alternative route to take, telling the pilgrim to watch out for confusing sections of the road, speaking about the terrain or whether there are long stretches where the pilgrim needs to carry water or food with him. I like the spiritual aspect of the book interspersed with the practical aspect. Even for those who just do the Camino for a sense of adventure, the spiritual aspect will be there in one form or another. I still correspond with a couple for Minneapolis/St Paul whom I met in 2003 on the Camino. They were firm in saying that they were not religious and were just walking the Camino for the sense of adventure, but I can glean the spiritual aspect of their lives and the Camino experience from the emails and correspondence I have had with them over the years.
I appreciate the comments about the refugios in the guidebook very much. From my experience, those comments and talking with the other pilgrims will help make the decision of where to stay for the night.
I am definitely a guidebook/map oriented person. I need something to read and to consult when making my journey. I am very happy and relieved that I will have this guidebook with me when I embark on the Camino in the city of Pamplona on April 10, 2012. Being a pilgrim is a huge part of my identity now since I completed the Camino in 2003. I know that the Camino has changed so much in the intervening nine years. I cannot tell you how excited I am to go on this pilgrimage again. Buen Camino, everyone!
Update - May 2012 -
I just got back from the Camino on May 5. I walked about 325 miles of it over the course of 21 days, meaning that I averaged about 15 miles a day, which is similar to the trajectory that the author recommends in the stages he maps out. All of the English speakers on the Camino use this guidebook - it is like a Bible for pilgrims. Its weaknesses are very minor compared to its strengths. The elevations he uses can be a bit deceiving, but all the information he gives is so helpful. I appreciated the little coffee cup symbol he uses to show where there are places to get food along the way. The author really likes the natural trails compared to the paved ones. I would agree with him, but it was sometimes a relief to get on a paved pathway after have walked over rocks and through the mud for miles and miles. (The weather was horrible when I went - sun only one day, and rain, sleet, hail, and snow flurries the entire way, and this was in April and May!) However, I cannot recommend this guidebook enough. My is very worn and tattered, which means is that I got a lot of use out of it.