Five Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago

24 April 2015 3 Comments Category: Active Lifestyle, Cat Gaa

Ever since I saw my Spanish Modern Culture professor lop off the top quarter of Spain and draw a cross somewhere in its wild northwest corner, I’ve been obsessed with walking the Camino de Santiago and discovering Northern Spain’s culture and cuisine with a backpack and a scallop shell affixed to my back.

The Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, is a medieval pilgrim route that – while starting from various points around Europe – ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. An extensive network of routes, pilgrim’s inns and organizations, the road has been traversed over centuries under the belief that the Apostle Saint James’s body washed up off of the nearby coast and was buried on the very spot where a cathedral stands. Santiago is the Spanish word for James, and the city itself is an architectural and cultural treat.

When a friend and I chose to do the Northern Route that curls along the coastal fishing villages of Asturias and Galicia, we had only one rule: to walk the 326 kilometers into Santiago and the Plaza del Obradoiro on foot. We battled blisters, lack of beds at pilgrim inns and some personal demons on our odyssey, but stuck to our promise.

On August 13th, 2013, we embraced in front of Santiago’s cathedral, the rumored resting place of the Apostle. After a refueling glass of regional white wine and long showers, we were already planning our second go, scheduled for spring or summer of 2016.

Arriving plaza del Obradoiro Santiago

Take Training Seriously

One of the first pieces of advice you’ll hear is to wear sturdy shoes and to break them in by walking. Training for the Camino is two-fold: you’ll have to decide on what gear to take, and then you’ll have to get used to doing little else by walking and carrying a backpack.

As a rule of thumb, your pack should be about 10% of your body weight, so buy a waterproof backpack that’s been fitted for your stature – just ask a salesperson for their suggestions and to properly put it on you.

What you bring will depend largely on which route you’re taking and the time of year you’ll be walking. Do your research carefully, and once you’ve got your equipment, set aside time to break in your hiking boots and get accustomed to your straps, and consider doing some light weightlifting.

As a former athlete, I wasn’t concerned about the physical pain that I knew I’d encounter, but I was worried about nagging injuries to my knees, back and ankles. Caser Expat Insurance offered me a free consultation with Podactiva to check out my strides and help correct bad habits that I’d learned as a gymnast.

The first few days of the trek were the most grueling, but as my body grew stronger and my mind cleared, I seemed to notice these aches less and less.

Cat from Sunshine and Siestas on the Camino de Santiago

Cat from Sunshine and Siestas on the Camino de Santiago

Have a Skeleton Plan, but Don’t Stick to It

One of my favorite parts of the Camino was being able to take each day as it came. I’m Type A and often compartmentalize my time and plans to be able to maximize each day, but the Camino taught me to sit back and let the day unfold itself.

When we planned our route, we took 14 days and counted back 14 stages from Santiago. We chose the next closest town, and padded in a few more days in case we’d need a rest or wanted to do more tourism along the way. Many Camino routes pass through major cities, and you may want to stop and rest your feet.

I’d consider your first and last night’s accommodation, and then leave the rest up to how you’re feeling and open to other plans. We’d often pow wow with other pilgrims the night before for suggestions on where to sleep and what to take, but ultimately left it up to how we were feeling.

Take Care of Your Body and Mind, and Disconnect Every Once in a While

You become acutely aware of your body and its needs when walking. Listen when to needs rest, when it needs food or water or when you can handle more. You’ll be amazed with how strong you get in just a few days.

Remember that your feet need extra care – they’ll be your main vehicle during your time on the Camino. Pharmacies along the route are well-versed in pilgrim ailments and carry everything from braces to blister care to pain pills.

As someone who is constantly connected to the Internet as a blogger and digital marketing graduate, I made myself turn off my phone when we were walking. Afternoons were spent speaking with other pilgrims or reading, and meals became long and leisurely. I didn’t miss my phone at all, though I did call my boyfriend each evening, ready to spill what we’d seen and experienced during the day.

Cat from Sunshine and Siestas on the Camino de Santiago

Cat from Sunshine and Siestas on the Camino de Santiago

Be Grateful

It’s an unspoken rule that people who live in pilgrim towns are especially affectionate towards peregrinos. You’ll be chased after with wishes of Buen Camino! and offered directions or water. Don’t ever forget the kindness these people show you – the word gracias goes a long way in Spain. If you learn one word in Spanish, thank you should be it.

Remember, It’s YOUR Camino

The most important advice any peregrino will give you is to make the Camino about you. Every person you meet will have a different reason for embarking towards Santiago, and this is often the first question after asking your name. Some do it for exercise, others for religion and still others for clarity. They say the Camino always provides, so listen up and be ready for whatever that is.

The Camino de Santiago is more than just an age-old tradition or a way to save money on a trip to Spain. Coupling the centuries of tradition with a sense of camaraderie, your time on the Camino is 100% yours, and each step you take towards Santiago will bring you closer to whatever it is you may be see.

[Caser sponsored my gear and transportation, as well as gave me a free consultation at Podoactiva, so I’ve included that for marketing purposes. If you find it unnecessary, just cut it!]

3 Comments

  1. Feriha

    Lesley Murray Jan 31, 2013 I walked this part of El Camino de Santiago with Ria as one of my guieds in 2011. This is a magical and exhilirating experience whether you are doing this walk for religious reasons or just to walk through the lush countryside and little villages of this part of Northern Spain and it is a real buzz when you get to Santiago at the end. This tour is a great way to go as your luggage is managed for you leaving you free to enjoy your surrounds. Accomodation is in interesting and varied places and comfortable. The meals are excellent and includes daily picnic lunches on the walk. Ria is an extremely experienced guide and good fun.I hope to join Ria on another walk sometime.

    • Typical Non Spanish

      Thanks for sharing your experience, it sounds like you had a great time! We hope you are able to make the adventurous walk again soon! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Our Experience at Marbella 4 Days WalkingTypical Non Spanish

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