I snuggled into my bed, enjoying the comfortable mattress and soft sheets. Like most nights on the Portuguese Camino, I had sprung for a private room and was thoroughly enjoying it. The thought of bed bugs on the Camino was far from my mind.
The following day, I would finally reach the ultimate goal of my pilgrimage – the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. My husband Daniel was waiting there for me and I couldn’t wait to see him. But until then, I would enjoy one last night of having an entire bed all to myself.
As I lay in bed, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye that I assumed was a bug. I didn’t pay it much attention as the window was open. Perhaps a bug had flown in from the outdoors.
After the third or fourth bug crossed my field of vision, however, I snapped to attention. I had read about bed bugs on the Camino before I began my pilgrimage, so I knew they could be a potential problem. But I didn’t know anyone who had actually *encountered* bed bugs.
What did bed bugs even look like anyway?
I pulled up some photos on my phone and compared them to the critters crawling on my pillows and blankets. Yup, those were definitely bed bugs (or something that looked awfully similar).
My heart sank. It was already after 9:00 pm and I was exhausted. The last thing I wanted was to deal with blood-sucking bed bugs on the Camino.
But I couldn’t just crawl back into bed – there was no way I was going to fall asleep in this room now.
What was I going to do?
Note: if you’re only interested in reading about my encounter with bed bugs, you can skip ahead to this section: My Experience with Bed Bugs on the Camino.
Foggy Morning in Pontecesures
I began the day in Pontecesures which is located just south Padrón. When I peeked out my window, I found a magical landscape shrouded in a gauzy mist. I was excited to get out there and walk in it.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved the unseasonably sunny weather we experienced this October. The only time it had rained so far was when I happened to take a rest day. But it was nice to experience something new.
After eating a simple breakfast at my guesthouse, I began the day by crossing the bridge over the Río Ulla. I had crossed the bridge the previous evening in search of dinner, but this was a rather different experience. This time, the Nestlé factory was barely visible in the dense fog.
From there, it was a short walk to the city of Padrón through some farms.
Welcome to Padrón
When I arrived in Padrón around 9:00 am, not many people were out and about. The city was covered in its own layer of fog and seemed to be still asleep.
I didn’t know much about Padrón other than that Padrón peppers originate from the area. The city is also famous among peregrinos because it is the last major stop along the Portuguese Camino to Santiago.
I was still a bit hungry so I stopped for a second breakfast at the Rossol B&B Cafe Bar. Hobbits definitely have the right idea about multiple meals throughout the day in my opinion!
While I nibbled on my croissant, I had a great view of the Parish Church of Santiago de Padrón across the square. It’s a magnificent structure so I decided to go check it out.
Parish Church of Santiago de Padrón
Like many stops along the Camino, the Iglesia de Santiago Apóstol de Padrón (Parish Church of Santiago de Padrón) is dedicated to the Apostle Saint James.
According to tradition, Saint James first stopped in Padrón when he traveled to Hispania (the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula). After the Apostle’s death, his disciples brought his body back to Spain from Jerusalem in a boat. They stopped in Padrón while en route Santiago and tied the boat to a large stone called a pedrón.
Today the pedrón now rests on permanent display on the altar of the Parish Church of Santiago de Padrón. In fact, the town of Padrón derives its name from this revered stone.
When I stopped inside the church for a stamp, the attendant on duty proudly showed me to the altar so I could see the pedrón for myself.
A Relaxing Day of Walking
After leaving Padrón, I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon walking through the Galician countryside towards Santiago de Compostela. The path followed the main highway and through some industrial areas for some parts, but otherwise travelled through farms and vineyards.
I didn’t have a long day planned as I wanted to take my time and enjoy the journey. I also didn’t want to be completely exhausted when I arrived in Santiago the following day. So I took it nice and easy.
My Experience with Bed Bugs on the Camino
Fast forward to 9:00 pm when I realized, with horror, that I was in a room with bed bugs. My first instinct was to murder them. So I started squishing the bed bugs and washing them down the drain.
They must have been feeding on me because the bugs were filled with blood. I never found any bites though. This wasn’t a big surprise as I often don’t react at all to bug bites. I later learned that many people don’t react to bed bugs so this is common (some people get really itchy welts).
After a few minutes, I realized this was a dumb plan. I needed to notify someone at my lodging and get out of this room. There was no way I was going to get any sleep in this bed tonight.
What I *should* have done at this point was to trap some bugs in a glass. This way I could show them to the staff later. I didn’t really know what I was doing, though, and just walked out the door.
The Search for Bed Bugs
After locating a staff member, we returned to my room. She did not speak any English but the word chinches (Spanish for bed bugs) got her attention.
So we began looking through my bedding and pillows for together for bed bugs.
There weren’t any bugs on my pillow, which surprised me as there had been several when I left a few minutes ago. We stripped back the sheets and couldn’t find any.
This was rather embarrassing. I was sure there were bed bugs in my room. Where were they?
Later, I was to learn that bed bugs typically hide out of sight until a person is near – so this behavior was to be expected. But I didn’t know this at the time.
So my host and I began having an awkward conversation about what to do next. We didn’t speak the same language so we communicated by typing into Google Translate onto our phones.
She suggested maybe the bugs had flown in from outside. I shook my head no. Was I sure they were bed bugs? I was insistent that they were. I showed her the picture on my phone, but it was blurry and not particularly helpful.
As we went back and forth like this for a few minutes, I started to doubt my memory. Was I imagining things?
Then she admitted something that confirmed my suspicions. She said that the room had previously been treated for bed bugs but they were sure it was fine now.
Ok I wasn’t crazy then. If there were bed bugs in the room before, they could still be there. Those blood-suckers are notoriously hard to kill.
A Long Night
When it became clear that I wasn’t going to sleep in the room, my host offered to switch me to a new room. I agreed and hastily gathered all of my belongings.
If I had discovered the issue earlier in the day, I would have preferred to go someplace else. Chances are that if bed bugs are living in one room, they may be in other rooms as well.
But it was late and I was exhausted. Moreover, I had spent several hours in the other room. I couldn’t in good conscience go to another establishment without taking precautions to ensure no bed bugs traveled with me. I wasn’t up to that at the moment.
My new room was fine and I found no bugs in it, even though I spent a while searching for them. I was too wound up to sleep right away, so I spent the next few hours researching what to do about bed bugs.
Probably not the best nighttime reading material, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.
Treating My Belongings for Bed Bugs on the Camino
I was extremely fortunate because my encounter with bed bugs happened on my last night. That, and I didn’t get any bites.
I wasn’t that far from Santiago de Compostela and would have plenty of time to deal with the issue after my arrival. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my last day on the Camino but it could have been much worse.
After researching half the night, I learned that the best way to ensure that one’s belongings are bed bug-free is to subject them to high heat. All I had to do was wash everything in hot water and run them through the dryer. Alternatively, you can put non-washable items straight into the dryer.
I had also learned that I could spray my belongings with Permethrin, but I couldn’t seem to find any. I decided to skip this step because – as luck would have it – Daniel had rented a very nice AirBnB apartment for us in Santiago that had both a washer *and* a dryer.
While dryers are fairly common in the United States, they are rare in Europe. We have rented lots of apartments in Europe over the past few years almost none of them had dryers. So this was an extraordinary stroke of luck.
I was especially grateful for the dryer because I wasn’t able to wash all my belongings – like my shoes and backpack. But they all fit into the dryer just fine (well, it took several loads).
We dumped all of my belongings in large garbage bags before entering the apartment. Then I set them outside on the balcony until Daniel was able to put them all in the washer and/or dryer.
And yes – my awesome husband did most of the work while I took a long relaxing bath. I am a lucky lady.
How to Avoid and Treat Bed Bugs on the Camino
While bed bugs do happen sometimes on the Camino, they are still fairly rare. Most people on the Camino will never encounter them.
And for people that do, it doesn’t mean that the lodging (or the person) is inherently dirty or bad. Any place can experience bed bugs, as long as new guests are staying there.
That being said, there are a few things you can do to avoid and treat bed bugs on the Camino.
Avoiding Bed Bugs
Before leaving home, some pilgrims treat all of their gear with Permethrin. This is an insecticide that is toxic to bed bugs and will repel them. Be sure to also bring some Permethrin with you in case you encounter bed bugs on the Camino.
Once you arrive at a hostel or hotel, the first step in avoiding bed bugs is to NEVER put your backpack on the bed. Bed bugs love to hitchhike on backpacks from place to place.
Before settling in for the day, take a moment and inspect the bed and bedding for bed bugs. They like to hang out near the headboard or in mattress seams. If you see one – inform the staff and move on to a new lodging.
If you’re sleeping in a hostel, consider using a silk sheet or bed bug sheet which repels bed bugs.
Treating Bed Bugs
If you get a bite or find a bed bug – don’t panic!
Try to trap the bug if you can so you can show it to the staff at your lodging. If you don’t notice the bites until the next day, it is critical to inform the hosts from your previous lodging so they can prevent the bugs from spreading further.
Lay all of your belongings out in the sun and spray them with Permethrin if you have it. Then wash everything with hot water and dry them in dryer.
If the weather is nice, another option is to put all of your belongings into a black garbage back seal it up. Then leave it in the sun all day as the heat will kill the bugs.
If you’re considering a pilgrimage on the Camino but are worried about bed bugs, don’t let that stop you. My encounter with bed bugs really wasn’t that big of a deal, all things considered.
I’m so glad I did Camino and would do it all over again (in fact, I’m already dreaming about my next one!)
Portuguese Camino Stats
Date: Tuesday, October 19
Starting Location: Casa de Hórreo in Pontecesures
Ending Location: Somewhere between Pontecesures and Santiago de Compostela
Stamps Collected Today
- Previous journal entry: Portuguese Camino Day 14: Making New Friends at a Kindergarten
- Next journal entry: Portuguese Camino Day 16: Arrival in Santiago de Compostela
For more information about my pilgrimage along the Camino Portugués, visit my Portuguese Camino web page.