By Regina Winkle-Bryan
When a friend of mine said he was going to do the Camino de Santiago again this year, but starting in Paris, I said, “You’re insane.”
Terje, (aforementioned friend) and I did part of the Camino a couple years ago, an amazing hike which destroys one’s feet but feeds one’s soul. I am not religious, and did not do the Camino for its traditional purpose as a pilgrimage road to the city of Santiago in Galicia. I did the Camino because I had an assignment to write about it, and because I think natural tourism is a great way to get to know Spain.
The Camino de Santiago can be done by foot, by horse, or by bike, and when I was on the trail there were people of all ages and nationalities walking along it. I must say, it was much harder than I expected it to be, and those who go need to be prepared. Here are some tips if you are thinking of walking some or all of this unique trail:
1. Pack light. Real light. All you need is a drinking gourd and a staff…Really, a small backpack, a poncho/coat, sturdy shoes, and basic camping equipment should do it. I over packed and regretted it.
2. Get a good guide book. You need something with a map that breaks the hike into 20-30 km portions, which is usually what people walk in a day.
3. Plan for the season. Galicia is rainy all the time, but June-August is the driest season. In the summer, everyone and their mother and their dog is on the trail and you are less likely to get a place to stay. After September it’s smooth sailing.
4. Where to stay. There are lots of hostels on the trail as well as hotels catering to walkers. Depending on the season, you may want to book ahead. We didn’t make any reservations and had no problems staying in hostels (well, apart from all the snoring). However, we went in September which is off-season. Staying in hostels along the trail is very inexpensive. Most have kitchens where guests can make meals. Pasta anyone?
5. Did I mention comfy shoes? 30 kms a day means you need good shoes. You may also want a pair of flip-flops for showers in the hostels and to give your toes a break after a day of walking. Break in your shoes before hitting the trail. Both Terje and I had the wrong shoes and our feet suffered for it.
6. A word on food. In the last 150 kms of the trail there are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the way, just carry snacks and water (but also make sure to check that there will be open restaurants where you plan to stop for the night in your guide book). At the beginning of the trail (depends where you start from) food choices may be much less.
7. Need help? There are many tour companies like Camino Ways that will take care of all the organization for you. I’ve not been on a Camino Ways tour, but I’ve heard good things about them. http://www.caminoways.com/
8. Get into it! People are friendly on the trail. As a pilgrim, you start to feel part of a larger hiking team. It’s a lot of fun. There is bonding. Chirp out “Buen Camino” to your fellow pilgrims and be open to meeting people. There are plenty of interesting folks walking the walk to Santiago.
Get more on hiking the Camino on the city’s tourism website.