Five Things To Know Before Hiking Spain’s Camino De Santiago
Who walks 800km across Spain for fun? More than 200,000 pilgrims who take the Camino de Santiago trail every year, that’s who.
The most popular of Spain‘s hiking routes, the Camino de Santiago walk is a trail marked with yellow arrows from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France right across to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Hiking the ancient Camino trail is a great way to break free from the routine of everyday life, to live simply, meet new friends from all corners of the earth and fully immerse yourself in an entirely new landscape and culture.
Here are five useful tips for anyone planning to tackle the Camino de Santiago walk from someone who’s been there, done that.
Pack as light as possible. I’m talking less than 10 per cent of your body weight. A 10kg bag may not seem too heavy at home, but it will feel 10 times heavier when it’s tugging on your shoulders every day for the next month.
A light bag is the ultimate freedom on your Spanish walk. Mine was 6kg and I wouldn’t have wanted it a gram heavier. Depending on the time of year, essential items include a sleeping bag, microfibre towel, walking pants, shirts, a jacket, underwear, one light dress for the evening, a pair of sandals, hiking boots, hat, sunglasses, socks, gloves and basic toiletries. Forget make-up – you won’t have time, no-one wears it and it adds weight.
If nothing else, the Camino trail is an incredible reminder of how little we need to survive.
I walked the Camino trail during March and April. I faced some light snow at the beginning which moved into warmer autumn temperatures as I reached Santiago de Compostela.
Listen to your body
Enthusiasm is great. But, unless you’re used to regular long-distance hiking, pushing yourself too hard in the first week of the Camino trail is a recipe for disaster. Often, it’s those who bite off more than they can chew the first week who injure themselves.
It might not be the case for everyone, but, if you spend the bulk your time sitting at a desk, easing into the Camino walk is a good option. There’s no shame in breaking up the first few days of your Spanish pilgrimage into “shorter” stints: start with 15 to 20km days, and gradually increase the distance from there.
Be kind to your body, keep an eye out for signs of exhaustion, and take rest days when you need them. Drink lots of water and take a magnesium supplement to help your muscles recover.
You’ll find your fitness improves every day and remember, the Camino de Santiago walk is not a race.
Your feet are everything
Love your feet, for they are carrying you on this great journey. Start by investing in a good pair of hiking shoes and break them in before you go.
Everyone seems to have a different theory on how to protect your feet from every hiker’s biggest fear: blisters. I wore two pairs of socks every day while walking the Camino – thick ankle socks with long a woolly thermal socks over the top – and it worked a treat. At lunch, I took my shoes and socks off (you’ll see this a lot on the Camino trail). Each night, I massaged my feet with Vaseline then spent the evening barefoot or in sandals. I never had any serious blisters.
Heed good advice
It’s rare to find a traveller on this pilgrimage without a copy of John Brierley’s Camino guidebook. Brierley breaks the Camino de Santiago walk up into 33 stages, but remember – it’s only a guide. Don’t feel pressured to stop in every single town he recommends as there are plenty of other equally wonderful towns to choose from along the Camino trail (many of which are quieter than the ones he recommends)
Joining a forum is also useful. Ivar Rekve’s forum is a goldmine for information on the Camino walk. His list of recommended hostels is spot on. Most range from a donation to €15 (AU$24) per night, but the quality of the accommodation varies immensely.
Two of the best are Albergue Verde in Hospital de Órbigo and Casa Susi in Trabadelo. Casa Susi is run by an Australian pilgrim who has walked the Camino trail 10 times. She’s renovated an old barn to create a gorgeous hostel and her pilgrim meals are delicious, with many of the veggies grown in her own garden.
Walk your own Camino trail
It’s not uncommon for hikers on the Camino trail to become focused on who’s a “real pilgrim” and who isn’t. But, if you’re in Spain, walking along this ancient trail, you, my friend, are a pilgrim. If you want to spend every night in luxury accommodation instead of hostels, so be it. If you need to catch the bus for the last 5km of the day because your feet are cramping, you’re still a pilgrim on a pilgrimage.
Some people only have time to walk the last 100km. Some people will walk the Camino trail in 30 days, others in 60. It’s the diversity of the pilgrims you encounter that makes the Camino de Santiago walk such a special experience. Some people are on the Spanish walk for physical adventure, some are seeking spiritual enlightenment. Others aren’t even sure why they came.
Be open-minded, reserve judgement and enjoy the experience as it unfolds, for that’s where you will find the magic. Buen Camino!
(Lead image: jmgarzo / Flickr)