In mid- September this year, I embarked on a journey across parts of Northern Spain. All I had with me was an 8-9kg backpack, my mom (a more seasoned hiker) and a hope that this would be a good journey for my soul (and my body, especially my slightly wobbly thighs). The walk would be over 21 days (as that’s all the time we had). The basic plan: walk as far as I could every day and try not get any injuries.
When I was first told about this walk I was not keen on any part of it. Walking for weeks, carrying a heavy backpack and staying in bunk bed hostels did not sound like any “holiday” that I was going to sign up for – but here I am, about to tell you about my personal Camino de Santiago journey or, as I like to call it, “the insane time I decided to take a very long walk and try not to lose my mind” or “why I wouldn’t want to be a real pilgrim, part 1”…
Here are a few facts about me before my Camino:
- · I had never done any kind of hike this long before (or any big hike actually – Does Lions Head count?)
- I had never owned a pair of proper hiking shoes until I got my Salomon’s a week before the trip.
- I did not train at all before, I was medium fit… but in no way a gym bunny.
- This was never on my bucket list (or any list of mine, for that matter)
- · It was spontaneous –booked and paid for tickets 2 weeks before we left
Note: Now I am not telling you any of the above facts to make you think like I’m awesome for doing this without any experience. I am sharing this to let you know that if you want to do this pilgrimage, and you think it’s impossible because you are not very fit or a hiker, it is possible (seriously if I can do this, you probably can too)
Ok, so maybe you asking - What is the Camino de Santiago? Well, it is the name of the pilgrimage routes that take you to the shrine of the Apostle St James, in the Cathedral of Santiago Compestela, in Galacia (in Northern Spain). It also takes you past many churches and cathedrals along the way. People do the route for many reasons ranging from spiritual growth to using it as a retreat/sabbatical, etc. In a nutshell, its meant to be good for the soul and pilgrims have done it for centuries. Now its popular with tourists and the religious.
The Camino can be done in many ways. There are a few routes and people walk anything from a week to 7 weeks to complete it. The original walk is from France and ends at the Cathedral in Santiago (it’s about 850km). Many people, however, walk only a part of it.
We chose to walk from Burgos to Santiago, which is about 500km walking distance and around 21-24 days of walking (depending on how much ground you cover per day)
My essential Camino packing list:
- · * Good, all terrain shoes (I highly recommend Salomon’s)
- · A sturdy, mid-sized backpack with waist supports and a rain cover.
- · A waterproof, lightweight jacket
- · A warm, zip up top
- · A pair leggings and/or hiking pants (full length)
- · A pair of shorts
- · 2-3 easy drying t-shirts/tops
- · One sports bra and some underwear
- · Head torch
- · Travel towel
- · 2 pairs good socks (I often wore stocking socks underneath them)
- · One luxury item – maybe a travel pillow or jar of nutella ;)
- · Medical kit – plasters, ointment, painkillers, KT tape
- · Comfy sandals – for after walking all day to air feet
- · Sarong or scarf - Handy to sit on or use when colder
- · Fold up, small bag (to use in shower or use as day pack when you get a break from backpack)
- · Travel sized toiletries
- · Copy of John Brierley’s book ‘Guide to Camino De Santiago’ and a pilgrim passport (which you will use along the way to collect stamps to record where you have been)
Biggest travel tip I have: Pack light! Always carry water and some fruit or a snack.
Most of the walk is a blur to me now. You walk through so many small villages, a couple of cities and across a lot of farmland, that eventually your brain just can’t recall them all (so keeping a journal for your own memory is a good plan).
The one thing that sticks out to me the most about this pilgrimage is the quiet and the open spaces you are often in. There is a lot of both between cities. If you decide not to bring along any music, you will find that the silence almost forces you to think a lot and this can be annoying, but also good.
People are mostly friendly too and greet each other with “Buen Camino” (which basically means “good journey”) all along the way. I found that there was a sort of comradery amongst pilgrims, which you grow to really appreciate on tough days.
Now I can’t tell you it was all easy or that I didn’t have one or two small meltdowns (think tears, swearing and a lot of “what the hell am I doing here”). I do think the first few days really test your body, mind and can push certain people out of their comfort zones - but it’s much needed. Once you get past the first week of aches and develop your own sort of routine, it all gets a lot better and easier.
I was very fortunate, my wonderful shoes (Salomon Speedcross 4), kept me from getting any blisters. Though I did end up getting a very annoying shin splint in the last week of walking, which I managed to handle with a days break from walking, KT tape and taking it slower.
We ended up walking about 450km by the time we reached the Santiago Cathedral. We had mostly stayed in Hostels or albergues and a couple of nights stayed in hotels. We walked on average 20 - 25km a day (a few days only 15km). We carried our backpacks the entire time (some people do pay to get them sent ahead, but we wanted to keep it challenging).
Some things I learnt on the Camino:
- · I am much stronger than I thought I was.
- · You need very little to be content
- · Challenging yourself and your comfort zone is the best way to grow.
- · The journey is the lesson, the destination is just a goal
- · I like hiking and the freedom of walking in nature.
- · Sometimes not planning and just seeing where you end up is better
- · Everyone has their own issues and we all deal with it differently.
- Keeping an open mind is important.
- · I would do it again – I never thought I’d feel that way (as I was happy to put it behind me), but I would definitely do it again.