If you only read ONE book about the camino (other than guide books and pilgrim's stories) please make it THE PILGRIMAGE ROAD TO SANTIAGO - The Complete Cultural Handbook by David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson. This is THE authoritive book on the history, folklore, saint's lives, arcihtecture, geology, fauna and flora of the camino Frances. Understanding what you see on the camino comes from what you KNOW - so let David and Linda enlighten you and enrich your experience. The camino isn't just a long distance hike - it a journey back in time, through history and folklore and your walk will be that much more rewarding if you know a little more about the places you will pass through than the average tourist.
LEAVE YOUR 'EGO' BEHIND (Or - STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE)
Walk the camino as a pilgrim - not as Mr/Ms Jo Soap. Keep an open mind about where you sleep, what you eat, who you meet. Seek out the smaller, basic, atmospheric refuges. If you only want to stay in the 'nice, up-market' modern albergues, you might as well go to a hotel. Be open to what the camino can teach you. Don't be put off a place if your guide book says "Basic albergue, no electricity, running water or toilet". Sleeping on a matress on the floor inside a stone barn beats camping anytime. These refuges are usually small, intimate, friendly places with communal meals and pilgrim blessings. In his book on the camino, Prof. Conrad Rudolph (Chair of medieval art and art history, University of California) describes the albergues as the 'soul' of the camino. If you don't try them here, on the camino, where will you ever have an opportunity to try them? If you leave your 'EGO' behind and become 'as a child' you might just find a new, deeper, more attractive self!
DON’T TAKE TOO MUCH STUFF
(Nobody listens to this one!)
“I’m packing an extra pair of shorts – they weigh next to nothing: or a little black jacket for eating out at night – it hardly weighs a thing: or a sarong to wear when I come out of the shower – it’s as light as a feather."
Don’t be fooled – everything weighs something and when you add it all together, you find that you have another kilo or two in your backpack. Weigh everything and choose the lightest – not the most flattering! If you do take too much stuff, you can post it to yourself in Santiago where they will keep it for up to two months.
DO SOME TRAINING
“I’m fairly fit and spend most days on my feet so I don’t need to do training for the walk.” Famous last words of a pilgrim who ended up with tendonitis after 5 days hiking and had to pack up and go home. (She also walked too fast and carried a very heavy backpack.) Wear in your boots: try out all your clothes: buy the most comfortable backpack and hike with it packed with at least 5kg. TRAVEL IN OLD CLOTHES
Wear old, throw-away clothes to travel in to Spain. You can donate them to a shelter or leave them in your hotel room.
TAKE YOUR PACK INTO THE CABIN
To be safe, keep your backpack with you in the cabin. Luggage does go astray and you could be delayed for days if your backpack doesn’t arrive with you. Most airlines allow 10 - 15kg as cabin luggage. The dimensions are usually 25cm X 45cm X 56cm. These are so that the bag will fit in the overhead compartment.
DON’T RUSH – IT’S NOT A RACE
We met an Australian pilgrim in Roncesvalles in August who had walked from St Jean Pied de Port. “A friend told me about this walk,” she said. “He is a good walker and he told me that he had walked from St Jean to Roncesvalles in 6 ½ hours. I made it in just over 6 hours and can’t wait to let him know!” ‘What can she possibly have seen along the way in 6 hours?’ I thought. I know that you have to constantly look at the path, checking where you put your feet. If you don’t stop every now and then to look at the view, you don’t see the beauty of the view back into France. You'll also be too tired to do any sightseeing, so take it slow!
USE A WALKING STICK
Most of the camino paths consist of rocks, pebbles, gravel, mud – more mud - and (in Galicia) mud and cow shit! Some asphalt paths run parallel to the road but there is very little road walking. If you have joint problems – ankles, knees, hips etc – walk with a stick or two. There are some pretty steep hills and it’s not the going up that is a problem, its coming down!
TAKE GOOD RAIN GEAR
Some people like ponchos, others prefer rain trousers and jackets. I highly recommend a hiker's raincoat made by ALTUS that covers you and the backpack - no need for a pack cover. It is lightweight, sealed seams, unzips down the front and has added Velcro, has air vents on the chest, has a rain hood with a peak and, best of all, it has a ‘hump’ at the back so that you can put it on over your backpack. You can buy them online for about €20 from http://www.barrabes.com/
A SLEEPING BAG OR LINER IS ESSENTIAL
Most refuges insist that you have a sleeping bag (so that you don’t sweat all over their mattress covers!) In summer you will get away with a liner – silk or fleece – but in winter and spring you will need a warmer bag. Buy the lightest one you can find – mine weighs 540gr but you can also get mummy bags that only weigh 350gr.
A SPIRAL IMMERSION HEATER
SECURE A BED AWAY FROM THE BATHROOM
Close to the bathroom is always the noisiest place to be with pilgrims opening the door and flushing toilets at all hours of the night.
WASHING AND DRYING CLOTHES
8 Plastic pegs and a 2m nylon cord to use as a wash line. Useful when it rains and you can string it across the bars of the bunk beds to dry wet socks etc., also when the lines are full.
8 large safety pins to pin damp clothing onto the backpack so that it can dry during the day whilst walking. Nobody cares if your knickers flap on your backpack as you walk along
112 is the Europe-wide emergency number. It works even if you have no money in a pre-paid mobile phone or even if your supplier has no network. It works 24/7 365 days - and the operators speak many languages. The number for the Guardia Civil in Spain is 062.
Don’t take any notice of the little ‘Camino devil” who will sit on your shoulder and say: