(03) 9331 0951

Camino Pointers:

I have put together some useful tips to read if you are contemplating
doing a Camino after completing a Portuguese Camino in October 2017 with a girlfriend.

It’s a great opportunity to reflect on your life, become fit, have a goal to complete, explore the lovely villages you pass and meet some interesting people along the way.

 

Which Camino?

There are many “Camino’s”, starting from many places in Europe – Rome, Paris, Canterbury in the UK, Lisbon etc. but all of them end up at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain where the remains of St James the apostle is buried. Some continue on to ‘the End of the Earth’ Finesterre and then Moschia. However the most popular Camino, and the one most people think is ’The Camino’ is called the“Camino Francais (French Camino) that starts from St. Jean Pied de Porte in France, heads over the Pyrenees to Santiago, and is 790km long (or around 1000km if you do the Finesterre/Moschia leg after arriving at Santiago). This walk was popularised by the movie ‘The Way” starring Michael Sheehan. The 790km French Camino takes around a month of walking, although you can choose to just walk the last 100km in 4 days.

I did the Portuguese Camino starting from the lovely city of Porto over 2 weeks.

 

Why do the Camino?

Many do this walk as a spiritual journey –an opportunity for reflection and a break away from the hustle and bustle of our lives. Some do it for religious reasons; others as a cheap holiday, opportunity to meet people or get fit. In the past it was a way to earn spiritual brownie points and forgiveness of past sins, or you would pay someone to do it for you. If you have walked at least the last 100km or cycled the last 200km, you are eligible for a ‘Certificato’ at the completion where you line up near the cathedral to get your ‘certificate’ with your name written in Latin, what Camino you completed, and how many kms you walked.

 

How do you do it?

There is no proper way to do the Camino – some ‘real” pilgrims take their backpack and stay in ‘Refugios’ or hostels along the way which is the cheapest option, costing around E15 per night. Many of these hostels are ‘first come, first served’ and don’t accept advance bookings, so there is always the chance in busy times that you will arrive and need to walk to the next hostel. Others stay in pre-booked hotels and have their luggage transported to the next hotel. Some do short sections of the Camino over several visits. Some do organized tours and just a few kilometers daily of the ‘highlights’, some cycle, some ride horses and one guy I know paddled in a canoe! One thing to remember is to purchase your Camino passport before leaving, as you need it have it stamped along the way – once daily until the last 100km, then twice daily. Stamps are available in the churches you pass, cafes, bars, accommodation and museums.

 

Along the way.

Essentially you follow the yellow arrows and scallop shells along the path every few hundred metres. If you get lost, locals will beep at you, come up and redirect you, or you ask someone.

Occasionally their may be 2 alternatives or the arrows may point in different directions (a local may have a café along one path for example and unofficially reroute pilgrims), but you will always end up back on the path eventually. It’s handy to check in on the guidebook from time to time.

Every hour or three there is a small café or bar where you can get coffee, biscuits, water and sometimes meals. It’s worth taking water always, and snacks on some of the longer stretches, and the guidebooks will give an indication as to the availability. Some pilgrims carry food and stop along the way for a picnic. Most restaurants offer a pilgrim’s menu which is 2 or 3 courses and a drink (including a ½ bottle of wine or a beer) for around $12-$15.

 

Organising the itinerary:

Essentially there are 4 ways:

  1. No stress – have someone organize everything with other people on a group tour.  There are many tour companies that offer an all inclusive tour, including ‘Wandering the World’ – a company set up by 2 Australian women that have lots of experience, offer numerous options, with meals, comfortable hotels and luggage forwarding.
  2. Do a self-guided walk with maps and accommodation pre-booked so you know where you are heading each day and know you have a meal and comfortable bed in a central location and optional luggage forwarding. “Wandering the World’ offer this option too.
  3. Pre-book places yourself, either before you leave, or the day before, on your mobile. This way if you arrive in a town you like, or feel you need a rest day or need medical attention you can adjust your schedule accordingly.
  4. Book a flight, make your way to the start and go with the flow and take each day as it comes. You can see how far you want to walk as the day goes on, then book as you arrive at a place that looks inviting and has space

 

What’s at the end?

The highlight at the arrival in Santiago is mass at the cathedral where pilgrims get front row seats if you get there early enough (at least an hour beforehand), and have their country read out during the service. At the end of the service the several hundred-year-old Biofumeria (a huge incense pot) gets hauled up by 5 adult men in robes and swings from side to side. No photos are allowed during mass, but it seems that this

spectacle is officially after mass, so thousands of cameras are at the ready! In Santiago there are many bus day trips to Finesterre and Moscia visiting a waterfall that runs directly into the Atlantic sea, lace making ladies, huge wind farms and amazing views.

 

Packing

If you plan to carry your gear, the ideal weight is 10% of your body weight.  That is not very much! I used a very comfortable 32l pack with an internal water bladder that just fitted my:

-Toiletries (mini-toothpaste/mini-deodorant/mini brush/small comb, mini shampoo/conditioner and moisturizer, soap (this doubled up for body and clothes hand-washing)

-change of clothes + a nice shirt for going out for dinner

-walking shoes + walking sandals

-raincoat (some people liked a poncho that fitted over the pack)

-Long walking pants that zipped into shorts

-kindle reader and charger

-mobile phone and charger

-lightweight puffy jacket that squishes down to nothing and is very warm for cool mornings and evenings

 

I took a small shoulder bag that neatly fitted my passport, small wallet, phone and guidebook at the front of my backpack so it was easily accessible.

 

Plus you could carry:

-sleeping sheet if you plan to stay in the hostels

-battery pack charger

-Notebook to record your thoughts and experiences

Whatever you think you might need, or be tempted to take, carefully consider the weight and the space it takes up. One of the lessons you learn when you carry your own pack is to live simply. If you have your luggage forwarded, you can let loose and in the daypack carry your phone/camera, rain gear, snacks and water.

 

When to go:

The most sensible time to go it autumn or spring for 2 reasons:

Every man and their dog go in summer, as this is when Europeans and students take their main vacation. Apart from being busy, it is also really hot.

Winter has the advantage of being very quiet, but if you plan to walk over the Pyrenees, you risk blizzard/heavy snow and would need to adjust your footwear accordingly.

 

Local Support

Organisations of past pilgrims supporting others who have completed a Camino, and those interested in doing one exist in most capital cities with regular get-togethers. Once a year there is a “CaminoFest’ in the Blue Mountains in Feb with authors discussing their books, lectures on how to pack efficiently, training tips, cooking classes, communal meals and sample walks.

 

Before you go

The recommended book to take with you is the John Brielly Guide relevant to the walk you plan to do

Watch “The Way” and semi-documentary “6 Ways to Walk the Camino”