It surely appears a contrast—the Camino and technology—one over a thousand years old and the other changing almost daily. But, they are a good match.
This article is not meant to be a definitive guide to technology and the Camino rather a starting point, an introduction to how technology might be used to research and plan, aid whilst on the Camino and to keep in touch whilst on your pilgrimage. It will be embraced by some and rejected by others, and that is to be expected, as we all bring a range of experiences, preconceptions and goals to the Camino. Something as simple as a mobile phone is embraced, tolerated or rejected on the Camino, so further technology would be expected to engender a greater range of response. Let me state my position: I like gadgets, I like technology, I like cyberspace. I am an electronics engineer by profession, and I embrace technology. This article comes from that perspective and unashamedly advocates the use of technology. But, turn down that mobile in the albergue at night, and don’t carry a lot of weight in gadgets!
How do we begin planning for a Camino? We research, collect information, sort it, talk with others, decide and then start booking and training. How can technology help those?
Let’s look at information gathering. Clearly, visiting your local library is one approach, but how about using the internet? There are e-mailing lists (Santiagobis is probably the most common http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ Santiagobis/) in which you may receive a daily digest of emails relating to the Camino. Also consider online forums or posting boards (www.caminodesantiago.me/board/) where you may browse topics, read answers, post your own questions, use online calculators, download maps and photos. These have lots of resources, personal experiences and others willing to answer questions. There are weblogs or blogs, where people recount their own journeys (Google search ‘Camino blog’). Google is your friend for all these resources. Google Earth (http://www.google.com/earth/index.html) is a great tool for looking at distances, geography, photos of points of interest and creating routes, similarly the web-based maps.google.com. If you have an Apple iPod (or IPad/IPhone) check out iTunes for a good podcast series called ipilgrim podcast. Currently there are over 30 episodes, typically 30 minutes each. This podcast series is like a pre-recorded radio program, with each episode discussing some aspect of the Camino. Whilst on iTunes, do a search of the store using the term Camino. You will get many matches as people tell their experiences and stories, as well as lectures. We will come back to discussing iTunes shortly.
Let’s get on our way. How are we going to keep in touch? Internet is available in many bars along the way. Email services whilst travelling could be gmail, Hotmail or yahoo amongst many others. But how about keeping in touch with many at once by using your own online blog from www.blogger.com (see http://rimmerworld.blogspot.com.au for my example). Facebook is another means of informing many at once. Both of these support uploading photos. If the computer has a microphone, then voice communication is possible through the use of Skype (www.skype.com), an application that uses a technology called VOIP over the internet to make very low cost calls to phones and free calls to computers. Simple chat via the keyboard is also a feature. Another example is msn messenger. If both computers have webcams then a video call may become possible. An alternative is to take your own Wi-Fi capable device and use the many free Wi-Fi hotspots that are becoming available to allow connecting wirelessly to the internet. I found Wi-Fi hotspots more prevalent than internet cafes or internet PCs in bars along my recent Camino Portuguese. This conveniently leads to a discussion of Wi-Fi capable access devices.
Most modern laptops have a Wi-Fi capability, but are not really practical to carry in the backpack. A lower cost and weight netbook may be more feasible. A more practical solution is to use a smartphone or tablet. A smartphone is a type of phone using a mobile computing platform to give the ability to download applications (apps) with numerous connecting means to the internet. The best known example is the iPhone from the Apple Company, but also consider android-based mobiles from Samsung, Motorola and the like. The bigger siblings of these devices are the tablets such as the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom amongst a crowded market. These devices are Wi-Fi capable and quite light. Just be careful to keep them protected from weather and knocks. ‘Blackberries’ are also an alternative, but I do not know much about them.
Galician drink machine along the trail
Digging a little deeper into the smartphone paradigm, let us look at what is available in the major two platforms, beginning with the Apple iOS devices. The iPod Touch music player, iPad Tablet and iPhone all allow the download of apps. These are small programs that run to add extra functionality. The apps are accessed and downloaded via iTunes. Searching iTunes you will find much Camino related apps, videos, maps and podcasts. Some good apps are Camino (Spanish language app covering the major routes, showing stages, albergue facilities and contacts, sites of interest, practical issues), Camino de Santiago (Ivar Rekve, a gateway to the Caminodesantiago.me forums), Camino de Santiago Camino Frances (another Spanish app giving maps, routes, elevation, topography), BBVA con el camino de Santiago (location aware maps and events), but also Spanish language learning apps (SP lite, SpanishPhraz or iTranslate), hostel booking apps (Hostelworld). Many of the apps are free with others low priced. If you have a GPS capable iPad or iPhone then some of the map-based apps may attract. You can also carry ebooks on your device. I missed books immensely on my caminos. Using the Wi-Fi capabilities, Facebook, email, web access, Skype and Facetime (video calling between Apple devices). Not forgetting you can take photos and video on your iOS device, as well as just listen to music.
Camino sign on the trail, Galicia
Looking at the Android platform, many of the same or similar apps are available via play.google.com the new name for the Google android market. We will again find Camino de Santiago, BBVA con el camino de Santiago, as well as XacoGeo (heritage information and interesting locations for Northern Spain), Santiago de Compostela (Official app of Santiago de Compostela Tourism) and Spanish & Portuguese dictionaries and verbs. Many other map and photo apps are available, some free and some paid. As for iOs devices, there are more general use apps e.g. Skype, Fring or Tango for chatting, messaging or video, Hostelworld, TripAdvisor or Booking.com for accommodation, as well as many Spanish travel guides. Don’t forget ebooks as well, both for entertainment and guides.
Handheld GPS navigation devices are something to consider. The waypoints are available on the Australian Friends of the Camino (www.afotc.org) website. When you return, consider sharing your story on Youtube (www.youtube.com), your photos on flickr (www.flickr.com) or put your own album on Facebook (www.facebook.com). Consider Windows Movie Maker or Windows Photo Story 3 to tell your own tale.
Did I forget to mention you can still use your mobile as a plain old phone? Enjoy.