Camino Life: Clothesline Mix-up

A typical albergue clothesline like this one leads to a funny predicament for Hunter on the way to Santiago.

A typical albergue clothesline like this one leads to a funny predicament for Hunter on the way to Santiago.


A lot has changed since I first walked the Camino Francés 10 years ago. As more albergues open to handle the increasing numbers of pilgrims, washers and dryers are more common in both new and old places as hospitaleros compete for business. In many albergues, however, you will still find that in order to clean your clothes you will have to hand wash and dry them on a line or rack.

This basic setup is part of the charm of the Camino, and can lead to a great sense of camaraderie with your fellow pilgrims as you share detergent and debate whose socks smell worse. It can also lead to some embarrassing mix-ups if someone else mistakenly takes your clothing, and leaves on their walk before you get going.

On my second trip in 2011 I was traveling light, and had only two sets of clothes. I had a good system going: I’d check into the albergue for the night, shower off, put on my clean set of clothes, wash my dirty stuff, and hang it to dry on the albergue clothesline. In the morning I’d collect it, and repeat the cycle the next day. It was a good system. Then one morning, it happened. I went to collect my clothes from the line so I could pack up and go. Shirt? Check. Socks? Check. Still a bit damp, but I could hang them on the outside of my pack to dry while I hiked and they’d do fine. Pants? Check. Underwear? Gone. Nada. Nowhere to be found.

At this point I should mention that one of my fatal flaws is pride, which surfaces at moments like the one I just described by tempting me to be silent about a problem rather than asking for the help of fellow pilgrims. In this particular instance my pride also led me to the decision to  be thrifty and tough it out, rather than spend six Euros for a pack of new underwear.

So, I adopted a new system: Check into the albergue, shower off, put on my clean clothes sans underwear, and wash my dirty clothes. In the morning I’d collect them from the line, put on my underwear, and hike like normal. It was a bit awkward to explore the towns I stayed in and socialize with my fellow pilgrims while I was secretly going commando, but I was confident no one knew any different, and had the satisfaction of saving money, and I made it to Santiago on one pair of underwear.

If something like this happens to you, first check the “lost and found” bin at your albergue to see if you might find something you can wash and use for your own. Let me assure you it’s okay to buy a replacement for something you need on the Camino. You’re not a wimp, or a spendthrift, or going against fate. Oh, and take my word on this – don’t try to hike without wearing underwear. Wear damp underwear if you have to, but don’t go commando while you walk.

So how about you? Do you have some funny memories like this one about Camino Life? Write to me:


Hunter Van Wagenen’s Camino experiences began in 2007, and he enjoys sharing the humorous and the miraculous stories, in addition to practical advice he has lived and collected. His dream is to live in Spain helping pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. He currently lives in Greensboro, NC with his wife Stephie, who will walk her first Camino this summer with Hunter. 

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