Which trail is your favorite?
I'm often asked, “Which hike did you like better, the Camino de Santiago, Spain, or the Appalachian Trail?” Answering that question is like answering to which child you like better, you can't answer that.
They are both very different experiences. It is like comparing sailing on a private yacht, vs. a cruise ship. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
The private yacht offers, well, privacy and yet allows freedom to sail where you wish and follow your whims. Meals are quiet, and entertainment tends to be with a few other guests and solitary activities, such as watching videos, reading or maintaining the yacht.
The cruise ship on the other hand has a defined route and schedule. The ship is not very “private,” except for your cabin. There are group events, shows, huge dining areas and the experience is more like that of a floating city neighborhood.
The Camino is more like the private yacht. There is no well defined route to follow. We followed the most popular route, from St. Jean Pied du Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela, a wonderful 500 mile (800 km) walk through some of the most spectacular countryside in Europe. It is rife with castles, ancient villages, scenic vistas and culture. However, the route we took, known as the Camino Francés, is one of many and even it is not well defined.
I'm currently working on finishing my story of that hike and I find it striking how many times we were lost on this “route.” Unlike the A.T., it is not as well marked and many times we had to decide on which path to take, there were choices, some longer, some shorter.
The A.T., on the other hand, is a well defined, 2,176 mile (in 2008) path that is marked with white “blazes” and I never needed a map. Oddly, the A.T. wanders through woods, mountains, hills, and other places that would seem to make it difficult to follow, but it rarely was. The Camino, on the other hand, goes almost directly west, from one village, town or city, to the next and yet can perplex and confuse the hiker.
In the photo, the white blaze, on the left, was partially eaten by a bear, you can see the claw marks. Those blazes were distinguishable and clear for the entire length of the A.T., provided bears weren't eating them. The image on the right shows the yellow arrows used to mark the Camino. They were often vague, inconsistent and puzzling. Here, even the person painting the arrow wasn't certain and painted a question mark over the arrow!
Which did I like better? I loved them both! I can't pick a winner, they are both world class and deserve to stand alone. They're both my favorite children.