I talk about the Camino. A lot.
I talk to friends, to clients, to my hair stylist, and to random strangers.
Once we get past the basics of where it is and why it’s there, there are two questions that always come up:
1. Did you get a lot of blisters? (Nope, though as I’ve shared, that doesn’t mean that my feet cooperated…)
2. Did you get bed bugs after sleeping in all those places?
In 79 days, we slept in 75 different beds. Most of those beds were in gites and albergues, in close quarters with plenty of other people who were also moving from bed to bed.
Yet we didn’t carry or use any special chemical treatments to avoid bed bugs. We weren’t particularly vigilant about inspecting a place before we settled in for the night. Really, we’re just not the overly cautious or concerned types.
And yet not only did we never get bed bug bites, I only remember meeting one person along the way who did.
Maybe it’s because we traveled early (April-June, before the real crowds descend).
Maybe we were just lucky.
Maybe the bed bug rumors and scares are bigger than the actual threat.*
I can attest that the gite and albergue owners and managers along the Camino take the bed bug threat seriously. There were literature and lectures almost everywhere we stayed, although the actual rules and procedures varied widely.
Some places required that we leave our packs in lockers outside the sleeping area, and gave us baskets to carry only the belongings we needed to our beds. (Yet they were fine with us putting sleeping bags or liners on the beds…???)
Some places required that we disinfect our bags on arrival, usually by putting the entire pack, and all its contents, into a chemically treated plastic bag. (It smelled terrible, and the resulting noise of a dozen or more people trying to root around in their plastic-encased sacks made my skin crawl as if there were bugs…)
One albergue forbade us from using our own sleeping bags, and instead provided their own sheet sacks and blankets. (One less thing to pack in the morning? Well, okay. As long as they didn’t mind me using my own pillow.)
Mostly, the guest houses and hostels of the Camino ask that you pay attention. That if you see any sign of bed bugs you report it, and that if you have bugs you deal with them immediately, before you carry them into the next albergue.
As far as we could see, it appeared to be working.
Now, if we could only do away with all those plastic bags…
*According to the Confraternity of St James, who as far as I’m concerned are the ultimate English-language experts on the Camino, there was a serious bed bug problem a few years ago, beginning in about 2006. Since then, albergue owners and managers have stepped up prevention measures, and at least anecdotally, fewer people see to be reporting a problem.