One year on from the Camino de Santiago walk and the world has changed! I would never have believed that it isn’t even possible to walk it right now, and I feel very blessed that I was able to walk it this time last year!
Most people have no idea what the “Camino” is, what people are even talking about when we mention the words “the Camino Way” or even understand who St James is! But that is okay because sadly I didn’t know much about it before I embarked on this journey myself.
What is the Camino De Santiago?
There are many different names for this Journey and because it walked by many different nationalities, from varying directions in Europe. For most people, it is known only as “the Camino”, but for others, it ranges from Camino de Compostela in Spanish to Chemin St Jacques in French.
The first thing you must realise is that although the Camino trail finishes in Spain in the city of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. It starts in many different places around Europe, some walking thousands of kilometres that a trail that was discovered by St James over 1000 years ago.
Although, St James started his pilgrimage from Ireland, and part of this Journey needed to be via boat, this option became too expensive. So in later years (some 800 years ago), pilgrims started their Journey in Europe.
Initially, the pilgrims would land on the coast of Spain in either A Coruña or Ferrol; however, today the most well-known Journey begins in France in a little town called St Jean Pied de Port. Most people would not have heard of this small town in France, but to give you some clarity, it is close to Biarritz, which is the nearest airport destination.
The Camino Trail
So, what is the Camino Trail? And why do thousands of people flock to follow the Camino each year? Well, let me start by saying the Camino trail is a Pilgrimage. A Pilgrimage is a journey that leads you to a destination of importance. It is a long treacherous journey of one’s beliefs and faith to a Holy place. Usually, to discover themselves and have a deeper understanding of their faith in their religion.
Walking the Camino today has changed, and although a lot of people walk the Camino for this reason, others choose to walk it for other purposes that do not include their religious faith. In other words, you don’t have to be a pilgrim to walk the Camino trail.
The Camino De Santiago
Walking the Camino De Santiago is different for everybody because every person starts this Journey for a different reason, and somehow discovers more about themselves along the way. Walking the Camino trail can be fun, exhilarating, exhausting, challenging and rewarding all in the space of a few hours.
People often ask “what is the Camino walk”, and if you ask a million people, you will get a million different answers. There are many different ways to experience it, and there are many different people you will find along the Camino trail. There is no age limit, nor is there any particular criteria that fit the mould. Come as you are, but be prepared to have comfortable shoes and a strong mind because you are going to need both.
How long does it take to walk the Camino?
The answer to this is simple! How long is a piece of string? The thing about Camino is that it depends on many factors. Those include what Camino route you choose, what time of year you will travel in, how many kilometres a day you decide to walk and how much you will be carrying on your walk.
Your starting point is an essential factor, and although you may decide to walk for days and travel through thousands of towns. To receive your Compostela (yes, you get a certificate of participation at the end, if you choose to pay the small fee), you only have to walk the last 100 kilometres.
For most starting at St Jean pied de port is a good indication that you are on your St James way. It is approximately 790 Kilometres of French and Spanish countryside, with quaint little towns and some major cities. This Journey is by far the most popular Camino de Santiago route today.
For those walking the french way from St Jean pied de port, it should take approximately 34 days. Walking it from Sarria where the trails become crowded takes about 5 days.
If you choose the Portuguese way, which is another popular Camino route, then it will take around 12 days walking approximately 227kms. This coastal route is going to be my next quest if I ever get the chance to walk it again, as the landscape along the water’s edge, looks impressive!
When is the best time to walk the Camino?
I get asked this question a lot, and I give many different answers and here is why! There are pros and cons to walking during every season.
Walking the Camino during Winter can be tough (otherwise known as Camino finisterre), where temperatures can drop as low as 4 degree Celsius and although for some this isn’t at freezing point, for me living in South East Asia, is cold!!! The weather can also be rainy and muddy, depending on the Camino route you choose.
However, with fewer people walking this route during this period, it makes for more room at the Albergue (remember that fewer are open during this period though), you will have to pack bulky clothes so your load will also be more substantial.
To follow the Camino during Spring and Autumn, will see warmer days but nights are still cold (in my opinion). You will see the Camino trail, beginning to get busier towards the end, as some people try to avoid the most active season by walking during these more suitable times.
With more Albergues opening up during this period, and fewer people on the route, I find this the best time to walk the Camino De Santiago. You will find some areas can be cold, damp and windy, but overall it is a good choice.
Summer months on the Camino is at its peak, with thousands walking from Sarria and the experience changes significantly, with groups of people singing, laughing and blocking the pathway. The solemn feeling of being alone on the trail becomes a tourist hot spot. The benefit is that the weather is better, there is less chance of rain, and there are more people to talk to along the way.
All the Albergue’s and restaurants are open; there are plenty of pilgrims and tourists to enjoy the adventure with; however, it will mean that Auberges fill up quickly and it could become more of a race to find a bed to sleep in for the night.
How long is the Camino De Santiago?
People often ask “how long is the Camino Trail”? And although I mentioned before the kilometres from the most popular distance, there are other Camino routes to choose along the way.
Leon is approximately 300kms along the French way. It is a relatively big town, with a major train station. So for those who would rather the historic Spanish country towns, this is the perfect option.
Ferrol, which is just under 100kms, is the traditional English way, for those wanting the experience to walk the Camino the way St James did all those years ago. You can walk it under a week, so it is perfect for those with little time on their hands.
Other less known routes start as far as Belgium, this is why some choose to walk the Camino over the years. They break down slices of the Camino routes and walk a little each year; others prefer to walk in on a one-time basis.
The best thing about the Camino De Santiago is that there is no wrong way to do it, choose the way that suits you best. Do it for you, for whatever reason that may be to you.
Walk it alone, with friends, with family, with a partner; it doesn’t matter, choose your own adventure and enjoy it for what it is, get out of it what you feel you need.
What to bring on the Camino De Santiago
Of course, it will depend on what season you have chosen to walk the Camino. It will also depend on who you are walking with and where you have selected to sleep. So here is an essential packing list that I suggest for those walking the Camino De Santiago.
- Functional, good quality hiking boots (ensure you wear them in before your hike, this is probably the most critical item you will need on this trip)
- absorbant socks, changing socks along the way is a possibility as your feet will sweat and can cause blisters
- Spare breathable shoes, this is so you can have your feet air a little after hours of walking. These shoes are also essential, and you should try and test them before your Journey.
- Comfortable hiking clothes, most people choose hiking pants as they are comfortable during any season and T-shirts and tops that are absorbant
- Jacket, best to try to find one that can double as a wet weather jacket and that you can easily roll up into your backpack.
- walking sticks, not everybody uses them, but for me, they were the best thing I bought
- PJs or tracksuit, depending on the season and where you will be staying (Auberge vs hotel) and remember the space and weight of the pack are essential.
- Change of clothes, to lounge around in and explore the town (if you have any energy)
- beanie/hat, depending on the season
- toiletries – mini packs if you can, there are always places to replace these along the way
- sleeping bag or slip, there are many stories of bedbugs in the auberges, so this is going to be an essential item bring along
- first aid kit, filled with all the essentials like plasters, heat cream and flu tablets
- electronics, earphones and your phone and cables are necessary, an international adapter and an extra charging pack is helpful
- Book, whether it is a journal to write in every day or a novel for your downtime, this will help you unwind.
- sleeping mask and earplugs, especially when sleeping in dormitory’s
- a sense of humour
SPECIAL NOTE – The less you take, the less you will need! You can wear one wash one every day. Most times, we washed our clothes in the shower and hung them out during the night, and they were dry by the morning. If they weren’t, there is always the option of hanging them to the back of your backpack.
Some tips for your Camino Journey
Be flexible; some days are going to be harder than others. If you can’t find an Auberge, then book into a hotel for the night (your body will thank you). If you plan to rise early each morning, but your body is too tired and battered, rest, sleep in, stay an extra day. It isn’t a race (well for most anyway), so if you need to change your routine a little, it is okay!
Do not let others make you feel guilty: choose your path; don’t let others make you feel like your Journey isn’t a real pilgrimage because you decide to discover it differently. Remember that it is your Journey, not there’s, and there will be loads of people walking it with their version of what they believe the Camino is.
Enjoy it all: Sure there will be times where you wonder why you have chosen to walk it because your feet are sore, your legs are burning, your tired, your hungry, you’re thirsty, you’re angry. All these things come and go on the Camino but enjoy it all, and it is the path you are meant to be on right now.
Have an open mind; be willing to respect others and the Journey that they are on. Every person has a different reason for following the Camino, and there is no wrong way to do it.
Download some podcasts; some days you want to walk in total silence, some days you want to chat to anyone passing and other days you want to listen to music or a good podcast that will get you through the tough days.
Walking the Camino – written last year (as TCK mum)
I’ve been absent for a while, figuring my life out! Well not really, I’ve been off walking the Camino de Santiago and working on rebranding my new website. I’ve also taken some time off to chill, be with family and to enjoy being present. (Admittedly a lot of that time was spent doing housework and embarking on moving house – AGAIN! )
So here I am, a little stale, a little lost but also kind of found myself (I know that it’s so cliche, but it’s true). I think as mothers of empty nesters we find ourself lost and a little confused with our own identity, trying to figure where to head next in our life story. So voila! I found myself by losing myself on the Camino.
For those who have never heard of the Camino de Santiago, it’s a pilgrimage in Europe, and there are many routes to walk. However, all roads lead to the arrival into Santiago De Compostela.
For most, it is a spiritual journey, but for others, it’s a hiking challenge that somehow turns into much more along the way. Whichever route you decide to travel on, and for whatever reason you choose to walk it, everyone has their own story. For our trip, we decided to walk the much-trodden path from St. John pied de Port In France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
People talk about three parts to the pilgrimage, the body, the mind and the spirit and in that order. Whoever came up with this definition was, of course, bang on, and I felt three stages drove my Camino journey. These stages are what makes this walk a special one, and here is why.
First, you must soldier through the physical aspect of it, and yes everything you read about the first leg on the St Jean Pied De Port, is right. This leg of the path is by far the most physically challenging, and with the constant incline and in windy conditions, it made the climb that much more challenging.
I wondered at times if I would make it to the end, knowing that I was physically struggling on day one. Although I knew there was going to be an uphill slog, the cold and windy conditions took me by surprise as it did my fellow pilgrims.
Once we were able to push through and get into a rhythm and ensure each morning we were well prepared (feet and all), we understood what was physically needed to continue this Journey.
The second part of this Camino was all about getting past the demons in your head. The ones that tell you this was harder than you imagined and that it would be easier to catch a taxi when your body was physically hurting. Overcoming the first hurdle of self-talk, comes the Journey of thought.
Most of the paths (excluding the last 100kms) you see very few people, so your internal thoughts drove you through the day. For most of us, our lives are so busy that having a moment to your thoughts is almost impossible.
So when you spend hours a day walking and thinking then well, your thoughts can be your own worst enemy or you can solve the problems of the world, you choose.
The third part of the Camino you realise that this somewhat primitive Journey that you have embarked on can be somehow gratifying. Something is enriching about not hearing your mobile phone ring or an email ping all day, and with it, you leave behind today’s global issues and replace them with human’s basic needs.
Every day is a question of where will we sleep tonight? What will we eat today? How long will it take us to arrive at your destination?
It is amazing how different your mind works when life’s stresses are left behind. Time to think, time to spend walking and talking with others, time to live life to the fullest, the Camino does take you by surprise, it sweeps you up and makes you a better version of you, without you even realising it.
I started the Journey a burnt-out sceptic, and I have returned a chilled out believer, who would have thought.
One year on from the Camino De Santiago walk.
If you had told me last year that I would have spent most of 2020 being in lockdown in Sydney, I would have laughed. For those who know me, my life is all about travel and to think that I am not only physically grounded but also locked away in isolation!
The past year has seen some hurdles in my life, living as LAT’S (living away apart) has been difficult at times. I never dreamed in a million years that I would be spending most of the past 12 months living in a country away from my husband.
I spent the last three months of 2019, recuperating from a knee replacement (yes, I am that old), which had me more excited than ever about my 2020 travel plans!! Which of course have since been cancelled or postponed.
We moved house (and will be doing it again, while we build our dream home) in Sydney and downsized into a condo in Singapore! Life just gets busier and busier.
We also made the big decision of moving our dog for the final time (she is almost 10) to Australia where she will spend her last years in retirement with the children looking after her when I am not in town. We have made the right decision, as she is loving the time she is spending at dog parks, long walks and of course the love and affection she is receiving from the kids.
And then recently having to move my mother into an aged facility, because living alone was no longer an option! Can I say, out of all of life’s curveballs, this was by far the hardest, and I am not quite ready to discuss just yet!
So here I am, one year on, getting myself through the next stage in my life! One that is full of excitement of putting down our routes in Australia once more, one filled with (hopefully) letting me back in Singapore to be reunited with my husband.
One that still sees me on the road to recovery with my knee. That has yet to allow me the luxury of a hike like the Camino. It has, however, given me the strength to believe that next year, I could try something similar!
I have only been given one life, one Journey, one destination so I am here to continue on it the best way I know how, by being me, and doing what I do!
Who knows what the next twelve months will bring, where I will be, what road I have chosen. I do, however, choose to take my Camino journey with me wherever I go, because it changed me and I will forever be grateful for that experience, the friends I made, the person I found inside me and of course the memories of my time there.
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