Hiking The Camino De Santiago Pilgrimage
Written By Caterina Salvatori
Hiking the Camino de Santiago is one of those experiences that rarely unfolds as planned, therefore walking it with an open mind is essential.
When I exited the pilgrim’s registry office in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, and looked down the long narrow road before me, I saw the first of many Camino symbols pointing me in the direction of Santiago de Compostela. With my pilgrim passport in hand, I steeled myself against fears I hadn’t yet talked myself out of, and set off on the walk of St James.
Every morning I woke up tired and achy, yet energized and grateful for new adventures. With every step the Camino, fellow pilgrims and healthy doses of café con leche, kept me moving, kept me thinking, kept me laughing, and helped me dig deep to find strength and perseverance in reserves I thought were depleted.
34 days later, I reached Finisterre, the finality of seeing the 0.00 km marker and the Atlantic just beyond it was overwhelming.
I walked over a 1000 kms and on those long stretches without cover or rest, I cursed every windy, rainy, snowy, hail stormy day, but when it was over, I wanted nothing more but to walk it again.
No longer a religious journey, people from around the world walk it for different reasons; spiritual, athleticism, vacation, sabbatical, post-retirement, educational, pleasure, etc.
There are 13 Camino routes, each starting from various points in Europe but all leading towards the penultimate, Santiago de Compostela, and the breathtaking Catedrale de Santiago, most pilgrims end here, but many continue to Finisterre.
It is a self-guided hike but there are many travel outfits and services to make your way more enjoyable such as backpack delivery to your next albergue (hostel), bus / train options between longer routes, bike itineraries, horseback trails, and a 100 kms option from Sarria and still be eligible for a pilgrim certificate.
Tips For An Uncomplicated Pilgrimage
Set your intention: Before everything else, state the intention for your pilgrimage. By doing so, you are more likely to listen to your needs as you walk. If there is a day where you want to walk solo, do so, don’t feel you must walk in a pack.
Backpack: Travel lightly. Keep your pack weight under 12 kgs. If you are missing anything, family run stores line the route and major cities carry everything you’ll need.
Gear: Check weather reports before leaving and bring the right gear. Indispensable items for any season, lightweight rain gear and ankle length gaiters, hat with visor, lightweight easy to wash technical clothes, sun cream and lip balm, compression knee high socks and a pair of well broken-in hiking shoes. To save on weight, think in terms of multi-use items, a lightweight puffy jacket rolled up in its sleeve can double as a pillow, a pillowcase can serve as a laundry bag.
Useful Extras: Light weight food container, sealable plastic baggies, Swiss army knife, carabineer, bungee cord to dry clothes, flip-flops, one litre water bottle and trekking poles.
Technology: A smartphone with a decent digital camera and a lot of free space. Most albergues / cafés have reliable WIFI.
Blister prevention: Massage your feet and in-between toes with Glide every morning for a blister free walk. If you get a blister or any other ailment tend to it immediately.
Pick the right season: – Be flexible. It’s not a race, except during the summer when everyone is rushing to the next town to secure a bed. If you can, walk off-season for a less stressful pilgrimage.
Rest days: you may not love every minute of your walk, so add a buffer to your schedule when you simply need to stop and take that extra day.
Guide book and / or App: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: From St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela by John Brierley guide book and Camino Pilgrim – Frances Android app has updated route and lodging information, and downloadable offline maps. There are many books and apps available, find the right one for you.