1. GO WITH SOMEONE VERY SPECIAL
My mother had wanted to do the Camino de Santiago for the longest time, so I figured “why not?” It’s only 5 days, I can walk can’t I? I’m fit, and healthy, And how far is 118km anyway, some folks do this pilgrimage thing for 800km’s, this small 118km slice of a walk will be a doddle (yip I used those words), a casual five day stroll through some quaint Spanish villages eating tapas and drinking local wines, what a treat…It was a treat! A treat of proportions I could never have imagined. Not because of the tapas or wine (which were fresh and delicious and soul feeding) nor because it was a “doddle” (which it wasn’t); but because life never gives you 5 days to just walk and walk and walk. To just be. To just experience and to breathe and to be.
You want to share this with someone important, someone that will be there to talk when you need and walk when you need and most importantly to share the magic with – because this is just too special to share with just anyone!
2. PREPARE YOURSELF PHYSICALLY
And its challenging.
You are simply not ready to be upright for that many hours. And just for the record Mr Camino marker guy – your 118kms is totally wrong! My GPS showed 150km’s of non-doddling walk!
Its really really really tough – but thats part of what makes it a gift. Six to eightish hours a day of walking through glades and farmland, up seemingly never-ending calf-numbingly steep hills and madly steeply down again, crossing streams and rocky paths through deserted hamlets and rural towns is a gift like no other. One doesn’t think (weirdly), one just walks, body too sore to think, legs too tired, feet too hot, too thirsty, too out of ones comfort zone to think. You just walk. And be. Chatting some of the way, silent for some. One foot in front of the other. Just walking.
3. YOUR SHOES ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND
Buy them today even if you are just contemplating this trip.
And get walking in them. Far.
You need shoes that will support you through various terrain, that breathe, that are waterproof, that are comfortable – and most importantly that you’ve walked in for at least…well, very very far.
I spent 6 months training in mine before I left.
4. PACK HALF OF WHAT YOU THINK YOU NEED
Focus on packing the clothes you need to walk in. Trust me, you are not out for long in the evenings, you need much less “civilization” clothes than you think! Your socks are as important as your shoes, as are your walking clothes. I walked in running leggings with breathable tops (not vests they chafe). You need to pack – 5 of each of: breathable running/hiking socks, leggings, tops.
Layering is your friend. In May when we walked the temperature varied from 8ºc up to 23ºc. That means starting out in a warm running jacket, breathable gloves and head wrap – and ending in just a t-shirt.
5. SEND YOUR BAGS
Unless you feel very strongly about carrying your bag as a core element of your pilgrimage – don’t! There are multiple options for sending your bags daily. With this service you can focus on just a small bag to hold your passport, pilgrim passport, energy bar, phone etc. Carrying water may seem like a good idea – but its heavy and you will find water along the way. I walked with a “fanny pack” rather than a back pack and found it to be way more comfortable and very practical.
6. ARZUA-ULLOA CHEESE
Don’t ask – just try it! For breakfast, for lunch, for snacking. Oh-my-word YUM! And Estrella Galicia – no questions, you just have to. Of course Iberian ham and magnificent regional olives need no introduction so have that too – of course! Just trust me on the cheese & Estrella!
If that feels too much for the morning then go for some coffee with a banana and a thick slice of Tarta de Santiago – the Spanish Almond Cake found on the Camino de Santiago.
7. LITTLE CHURCHES EVERYWHERE
There are little treasures all along the walk. Little gorgeous hidden gems that will touch your soul as you light a candle or wander into to get your stamp or to say a prayer within. Go inside and just be.
8. PILGRIM PASSPORT
Because you need two stamps a day to get your pilgrim certificate – but also because its quirky and fun to see the different stamps folks have created. Every little store and restaurant and church have their own unique stamp. They will be a wonderful reminder of the places you wandered into and the memories you create.
9. BRUSH UP ON YOUR SPANISH
Seriously. Some of the little hamlets are so tiny, and the vast majority of pilgrims we encountered were Spanish speaking – you need to know the basics. You don’t want to be missing out on that amazing cheese and beer and coffee and cake! Oh and you will get lost. You will. You need to know how to ask how to get pack to path when that happens. Of course google translate is your friend, but you’ll get a much warmer response if you use your basic Spanish! Hola!
10. CONSIDER WHERE YOU CHOOSE TO STAY CAREFULLY
The system of pilgrim hostels (known in Spanish as “albergues”) are a unique feature of the camino, especially the Camino Francés, which allow pilgrims to sleep in dormitory-style accommodations for €5-15 per night. There are many along the route – we walked the last stretch of the French Way and noticed albergues at least every 5km.
We chose to stay in local hotels – which were basic but staffed by lovely friendly folks and generally well located not too far off the path. I can’t help but feel that we missed an important piece of the journey – and when I return again, I will most definitely be joining the vast majority of the other pilgrims in the albergues!
The Camino is a journey unlike any other I have ever experienced. If you are thinking of doing it – stop thinking! Just book! It will change your life forever.