If you can afford and plan to use hotel accommodation, restaurant meals, and luggage carried then this route report is not for you. In our five Caminos between 2006 and 2015, we stayed in albergues, cooked our own or shared meals and carried our own backpacks. Our last Camino we were 72 and 77 years old and it took us 44 days of walking compared with between 30 and 33 days earlier.
I have been thinking, dreaming, and planning for this for nearly 20 years. I first read about the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela in a 14th century biography, The Book of Margery Kempe. Margery, a quirky English mystic, took several pilgrimages over the years, including Rome, and Jerusalem. The medieval and ancient concept of pilgrimage fascinated me.
When planning a pilgrimage, we are often faced with a choice of going for it alone or as a part of a group.
The forums are swirling with questions such as “I want to do the Camino, but I have nobody to go with, should I go alone?”, “I couldn’t agree on dates with my friends, but I still want to go, is it OK?”, “Is it better to travel via an agency if I go alone?”, etc. Bottom line, everyone wants to know what is the better option.
I walked the Camino Frances from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Finisterre and, truth be told, I never doubted for a minute I wanted to do the whole journey alone. Was it better or worse than a group, I can’t really tell, but I can definitely offer a few pointers.
What’s the most common injury experienced on the Camino de Santiago? Without a doubt, foot blisters!
They take precious time, effort and skill to look after.
They make you walk differently and that can stir up other aches and pains.
They can get infected, and wind you up in the hospital!
Blisters have the potential to spoil your Camino experience!
How fit do I have to be to walk the Camino de Santiago or what kind of training do I have to do? This is one of the questions I am asked most often.
The answer depends on your Camino plan.
How long do you want to take?
Are you walking the whole way?
If you have a lot of time say 40 days or more you don’t need to have good fitness, you can risk getting fit as you walk, this is what most people do – however, this is not a good or advisable strategy for looking after your body, finishing, or reducing the inevitable pain that comes with walking every day and carrying a backpack, even though you will likely lose a lot of weight.
A quick trip is not something you can expect from Camino de Santiago. With routes going up to several hundred kilometers, a pilgrimage typically lasts 4 to 6 weeks on foot.
If you don’t have the luxury to travel for extended periods, or if you’re unable (or don’t want) to walk long distances, you can still do the Camino.
It is my belief that the Camino always has something to teach us, whether subtle or profound.
Those effects may be conscious throughout your journey, or more of a seed that grows slowly into our awareness long after our return. This is not my first time on the Camino, my 3rd tour to be exact, but each time I have come back ‘changed’…
To be honest, I wanted to get your attention with the title of this blog post. I guess it worked if you are reading this now 🙂
Great. Now that we are here I would like to clear something up which is of high importance to me.
The word “mistake” in the blog title is not really right. I rather try to see things as experiences and experiments instead of mistakes. This gives more space and helps us to go out and try more things because we are not so afraid of failure.
I retired on the 1st of September 2008 and I wanted to celebrate my new life and new freedom. The Camino de Santiago was the challenge and adventure I needed. So in late September, like children going on a school tour, myself and my fellow retiree Pat McEvoy arrived in Dublin Airport with our rucksacks packed. We flew to Biarritz and two hours later were in the beautiful village of St. Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees. Our adventure had begun.
12th August, 2017: Leaving Santo Domingo at 7.45 am, we thought we had made a good head start on the sun.
Fools! We should have left at least an hour earlier. We walked 23 kilometers today on a fairly easy route of gravel paths, tarmac in places, which ran most of the way parallel to the N120. There were no major height differences; 240 meters in ascent, 100 meters in descent. Easy peasy, apart from the fact temperatures hit 38 degrees, and we were walking in an area with absolutely no shade.
‘Many people avoid the Meseta, catching the bus from Burgos to Leon’, I heard on my first day on the Camino de Santiago. I was shocked. I thought most people were keen to walk the full route, either in stages or as a single pilgrimage. Whilst setting out to walk and enjoy the whole 800km, the Meseta was the section I was looking forward to with anticipation. I became curious as to what my experience would be.
Beautiful and unique gifts for pilgrims-to-be and memorabilia for pilgrims already finished with the Camino.
Buying presents can be hard especially for pilgrims. Many peregrinos while walking realise that they need very little in life. They live off a backpack for several weeks and stick to a routine of the Camino — wake up, eat, walk, sleep.
Thus material things are no longer as important as before.
In May 2012, I clicked SEND and put in play a turn of events and a journey that would change my life forever. In my sixth decade and in good health, I knew this was the time. With that SEND, I purchased my air ticket to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. While I had heard a little about the Camino over the years, it was a book by Guy Thatcher called A Journey of Days that really whet my appetite. I thought “I can do this!” and I promptly began reading and researching everything about the Camino. With each new piece of information, I knew my fate was sealed and I was compelled to go.
“Hey man, is there any way you can come hike with me on the Appalachian Trail?” I anxiously asked all my close friends.
“No, I’ve gotta’ work,” was the response I invariably received.
“Well, how bout’ just going for a week or two,” I virtually pleaded with most of them.
I was distraught. Fortunately the story has a happy ending. For the minute I stepped foot onto America’s most popular footpath, it became clear that the Appalachian Trail Community runs wide and deep. Approximately 3,000,000 hikers per year hike some part of it each year. Amongst that three million are approximately 2,000 thru-hikers. These are people attempting to hike the entire 2,181 mile trail from Georgia to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine in one hiking season. Thru-hikers usually begin their hikes in late March or early April. Anybody beginning in that time frame is virtually assured of being in the midst of a ‘bubble’ of hikers for the entire fourteen states.
It’s easy to find out how to start off on the trek along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are lots of inspiring pictures showing happy pilgrims making those final steps toward the Cathedral’s double stairway at the end of their pilgrimage. What happens between those two milestones? I’d like to tell you how to handle that intermediary period, the days when you are working toward your physical, mental, and spiritual goals.