Ryan Air, the mom and pop Irish airline, plays a key role in forming the inimitable culture of Camino de Santiago. Those of you fortunate enough to have trekked on the Camino know that it is the ultimate European activity. Practically every major country, with the curious exception of Great Britain, is well represented on the Camino. And now the British are returning to the Camino in significant numbers since Henry VIII.
This year has seen an especially large inundation of pilgrims from Ireland and Italy. This is in spite of the fact that both countries are facing severe economic distress. How do their denizens afford to do the Camino in the midst of such economic turmoil. Again, the answer is Ryan Air. I heard repeated stories from Irish and Italian pilgrims of flying to and from their countries to and from Leon, Santiago, and Madrid at fares in the 50 Euros range. One girl told me her fare from Santiago to Milan, Italy was 40 Euros. Irish pilgrim often fly in from Dublin for less than 50 Euros. I booked a flight for my departing nephew from Bilbao to Madrid for 29.50 Euros. The really impressive thing to me as an American is how these airfares are during the summer months. In the United States, especially for international flights, the months from June 1st to August 30th are blocked off for special discounted fares.
This is more than just trivia. The Camino population features many young, aspiring, and working class people who desire to get a taste of this renowned pilgrimage. With Ryan Air they are able to arrive at the Camino for the price of a long bus ride. But a quick aviso is in order.
You have to do it the Ryan Air way. This means booking everything online yourself and printing out your boarding pass. Failure to print it out is a 60 Euro penalty. Further, there is a charge for any bag or backpack that does not fit in the bin at the checkout counter. Because I carry my tent on the Camino due to my 2.12 meter height, I am forced to pay a baggage fee. This is reduced significantly, however, by booking it online in advance.
But the baggage restriction plays right into the hands of the Camino and European culture. Less is more. That is life on the Camino. Any pilgrim can tell you that carrying less weight is bound to make your days more enjoyable. Further, with the plentiful albergues and pueblos, it is not necessary to carry too much heavy clothing or lots of food.
Yes, Ryan Air is the bridge to the Camino. It was really cool this morning on the flight from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid. Of the 185 passengers, at least a couple dozen were pilgrims who carried onboard their modest/sized backpacks after completing their pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela.
Bill Walker is the author of The Best Way–El Camino de Santiago. He is also the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, as well as Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a whimsical book on the subject of height.