In the last three years, interest in an ancient pilgrimage walk, the Camino de Santiago (aka the Way of St. James) has grown exponentially. This might have to do with the Martin Sheen film, “The Way”, or more recently, the documentary “Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago”, but I think it’s also because the world we live in is changing rapidly and people are seeking meaning in their life. What better way to spend some time reflecting than walking 500 miles across Spain?
I first learned of the Camino de Santiago in 1995 when I was preparing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It fascinated me and I read all the books I could find, and did as much research as I could on the internet as it existed in the mid-90’s. I promptly put the idea of walking the Camino in the back of my head where it remained until 2009. In 2009, my life was in a good place, but I was a little bit restless and decided to make some changes. In other words, the perfect time to go for a walk. I started plotting and planning, reading everything I could find about the Camino. In spring 2010, I headed to Europe for the beginning of my Camino and four months of traveling around the world. I’d like to share a little bit about what I learned walking the Camino.
I cannot stress this enough and readers of this website I don’t have to tell you this twice! The Camino is not a backpacking trip. You don’t need camping equipment, so leave your tent and stove at home. Think of this as a long distance “hut” hike. You’ll be staying in pilgrim hostels called albergues each night (or you can stay in hostals, hotels or pensions too). You will eat in bars or restaurants each day and there are grocery stores along the way to buy snacks and lunch foods you can carry with you. Sometimes you can cook in the albergues too if you want to save money. You need to carry a small, lightweight sleeping bag, clothes and toiletries. The general rule on the Camino is your pack should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight, so for most people, a 10-15lb pack weight is sufficient. I usually recommend a 30-50L pack, so you should consider the Kumo on the smaller end, and the Gorilla on the bigger end. My basic packing list can be found here.
While walking on the Camino, you’ll see how simple life can really be. You wake up each morning, stop for Breakfast #1 before leaving. You walk about 10km to the next town, stop at a bar for Breakfast #2. Then you’ll power through another 10-15km, stopping for lunch on the trail or in a bar. Finally, after 25-30km, you’ll stop in the early afternoon to check into the albergue. You’ll take a shower, do your laundry and take a nap. Then it’s time to go to dinner before settling into bed with 30-40 other pilgrims in the same room. Bring your earplugs to protect yourself from the roncedores (snorers!), sleep well, and then get up and do it all over again.
Be Open to Whatever The Camino Brings to You
There are many sayings on the Camino. My favorite is “The Camino Provides”. It never failed. When I lost my jacket off the back of my pack due to not securing straps properly, I found one a few kilometers down the way in a “free” box at an albergue. When I needed a spanish phrase book, I found one in a “free” box in another albergue. When I became seriously lost in Logroño, a kind woman offered to give me a ride to where I needed to go. In addition to Camino “angels”, I also met amazing people from all over the world who I talked with as I walked. Being open to whatever the day brought me allowed me so many interesting and inspiring experiences.
Walk Your Own Walk
In the hiking world we have the saying “Hike Your Own Hike”. This is true on the Camino too. You’ll build a Camino “family” and want to keep up with them. Sometimes this works and other times it does not. It’s okay to walk at your own pace. It took me a week to realize I could not keep up the pace my Camino family was walking and I had to say goodbye. It was the hardest thing I had to do on the Camino, but with the amount of blisters and tendonitis I had going on, there was no way I could keep up. Once I started walking my own walk, I became more relaxed, I started to enjoy myself more and I met new people. Don’t get caught up in the race for beds or whatever else it might be. Walk your own walk.
Since returning from the Camino, hiking and backpacking has become a bigger part of my life. I use my hiking and backpacking knowledge, especially as I have lightened my backpacking kit, to assist future pilgrims with their preparations. If you are interested in learning more about the Camino, here are some resources I strongly recommend:
- Guidebook: Hiking the Camino (this is a new guidebook and it’s amazing!)
- Website: The Confraternity of St. James (UK-based organization with TONS of info, as well as a guide they publish yearly)
- Post-Camino: The Little Fox House (a post-Camino retreat to process your experience, for those need it)
- Camino App: Camino (app is in Spanish, but it’s free and it has the routes in Spain, along with info on each town)
- Camino Blogs: Camino de Santiago Press (this is a website which posts current Camino blogs so you can follow along!)