Your Stories, Your Camino – Máire Keane

I have received quite a few e-mails from readers wanting to write a few words about their Camino experience. Thank you to everyone who has written or are considering writing. I hope to continue this series on a weekly basis. The first post comes from Máire Keane. Máire walked the final 100 km of the Camino Frances from Sarria in June of this year. It was her first time on the Camino and it seems like she had a really positive experience. Another Camino awaits 🙂

Máire writes…

I am a lady of a ‘certain vintage’ and decided to walk part of the Camino on my own in June 2017. Because I was a solo traveller with some health issues I travelled ‘self guided’ using a specialist company. This was a great decision because they planned my route, organised my accommodation and luggage transfers and were available for additional support should the need arise – thankfully it didn’t.

My camino experience was extremely positive but I would advise someone starting to plan a camino adventure to train – the whole experience is way more enjoyable when your feet are happy and your legs are tired but able.  I met some sorry pilgrims with blisters, with calf strain, with pulled hamstrings….. I suffered nothing worse than a few insect bites.

I have great memories from my week in Galicia – great views, early mornings, good food, laughs, stories, paddling in the stream, head space, digital detox, a lightening of the mental load, farms, lemon flavoured Aquarius, lanes, coffee, forests, towns, churches, prayers, aging stoners recapturing their youth, nuns, rockers, bell bottom trousers, bikini tops – the Camino Francés had it all.

No negatives at all although on my next camino I will plan more myself (now that I know the ropes) and will probably book on a b&b basis rather than half-board.

I did feel a bit of an anti-climax on reaching the square in front of the Cathedral in Santiago – the square was almost empty and there was scaffolding in front of the Cathedral.  I think I must have had ‘St. Peter’s Square’ in Rome in my subconscious but thankfully some new friends I had made on the way met me and ramped up the excitement.  The pilgrim mass at 12 was a highlight, not solely because of the religious aspect but also the community feeling of having completed a journey together yet apart.

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Your Stories, Your Camino…

Have you recently walked a Camino? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Now, I realise that walking all or part of a Camino can be difficult to put into words. It took me a while to process all the thoughts in my head after my first Camino in 2011. What I am ideally looking for is a short synopsis of your Camino – where you walked and for how long, what positives you took from it, and if you had any bad experiences. If you could write about 100 words and include a picture or so, that would be ideal. Maybe you have created a video of your time on the Camino? If so, send me the link and I will post it. I will post your summary so others who may have not walked the Camino will take note. I think it will be very helpful.

Let me know if you are interested in getting involved by emailing me at clearskiescamino@gmail.com.

 

The Camino Through my Eyes #5 – Sindre Sandvik

imagesThe Camino Through my Eyes series returns for a fifth time and I’m sure you’ll enjoy this post. I began this series way back in October 2015 with the hope of helping you, the reader, in your preparations for walking one of the Camino routes. I have asked a series of questions to a number of people who have walked one or more routes and it’s great to read their replies. This contribution comes from Sindre Sandvik who lives in Norway. He has walked the Camino Frances and more recently, the Camino Primitivo, from Oviedo. He also owns a great blog (www.sindrealmost.com) with many videos, photos and pieces of advice. I hope this interview helps and if there is anything you would like to ask him, feel free to jump on over to his site and ask! Thanks Sindre!

How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?

Really the first time I heard about it was from a friend of mine at University but I did not take much note of it at the time. In my defence it was a sort of mentioned as a digression in a wine fuelled conversation of something that I’ve long since forgotten.

It was after I’d decided to walk it and I posted my intent to do so onto Facebook that my friend reminded me of the conversation and also told me to skip the Meseta, which I did not do.

How I actually became aware of the Camino de Santiago was when I decided to take up hiking again in a more serious manner and did some research (aka googled) hikes and trails and I happened to read and see YouTube videos of the Appalachian Trial in the US and subsequently also read up on the Pacific Crest Trail and the Central Divide Trail … the big three in the US. They are on my bucket-list for sure, but any of those would be a really serious undertaking. Requiring more resources, both time and money, than I could reasonably expect to have without planning ahead in a serious way.

So those trails got put on the bucket-list and I looked at trails closer to home as we have a vast network of hiking trails in Norway (even a Camino, St. Olav’s vei also known as Pilegrimsleden) you can basically criss-cross Norway on foot on hiking trails.

But that was home and felt somewhat mundane, it was/is where I live after all and the thing you see every day does not spark the same wanderlust or feeling of adventure, not until you actually go out and see that it is more than you ever imagined.

So onward I went looking into things that would take me on an adventure, by this time I’d also bought a figuratively ton of hiking gear for hiking in Norway. A few hikes in I started doing more research and found out about Camino de Santiago, leading us nicely into the next part.

 

I find that planning for an upcoming Camino can be almost as enjoyable as walking it. How did you research and plan The Camino de Santiago?

I should mention that it took 3 years from first hearing about the Camino de Santiago until I actually walked it. However, it was only the year leading up to me walking it where I had actually decided that I was going to do it.

So the twelve months leading up to it was spent getting ready and doing research on specific things and getting some additional gear since hiking in Norway is slightly different from walking the Camino Frances.

I took pleasure in it, but it was more the knowledge that an adventure was waiting for me on the horizon. This was also a challenge, as giving you time to imagine and/or daydream might give you expectations as to what it was going to be… and preconceptions on what things should be might make you slightly blind as to what it could be as you experience it.

This was also one of the reasons I decided to walk a different route this year, Camino Primitivo, because I was concerned that walking the Frances the year after I completed it for the first time I would always, without intending to, compare it to my experience the year before.

So my advice is, do research on the practical stuff, like what to bring and what not to bring; how stuff works on the Camino, like albergues, backpack queuing etc. There are many good forums and many people willing to help you out with advice, but be mindful it is only advice and if you want to carry that book trilogy (Brierley) with you etc. you do that. After all it is you who will end up carry the weight.

So I did do that, researched what people usually packed and then packed some more; made sure I was capable of carrying the weight. I took my approximate weight and did 50km walks 3 times a week for the last 5 months leading up to my departure. Well not quite, the final month, I was out with tendinitis. Now I am not saying you need to do 50km hikes to prepare, that was just how long a trek around the lake in my town happened to be. I would recommend that you take your backpack for a hike of a few hours a few days at least before you head out on your Camino. This will help you discover if there is any problem with your backpack, shoes etc. better that it happens when you have time and opportunity to do something about it.

What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago?

A few things, as mentioned, do a few test hikes with your gear. Go out walking with it for a few hours for a couple of days.

But primarily pack light, pack light, pack light, pack light… a good backpack will transfer most of the weight in it to the hip belt and thus might seem like there is very little weight to carry. Your knees, ankles toe ball joints will thank you for every kilo you do not carry.

Now a bit of context and my reason for this advice, both my Caminos I carried a backpack that was close to 16kg (35 pounds) this is with 3 litres of water (100oz) and a weight I am capable of carrying. At times I would (on both Caminos) carry other backpacks on top of mine to help other pilgrims out…

So why then, since I both can carry more and do carry more on hikes in Norway, am I giving such advice?

Among the reasons: It cuts down on risk regarding health issues such as contracting tendinitis, knee pain, joint pain etc. it might also reduce risk of blisters.

And if those reasons are not compelling enough, the climbs up, few on the Frances, many on the Primitivo becomes less strenuous.

Other than packing light, have a healthy supply of Compeed, bring iodine and a Swiss army knife… it has the most important tool needed for the Camino …. namely a corkscrew.

AND if you are from northern Europe (-ish) and are walking the Camino in the warm season (May-Aug) bring salt tablets. They are just as the name implies, tables that contain salt. Because you will drink more water than normal due to the heat and sweat more and you need to replace the salt in your body and they are a practical way of doing that. Trust me on this.

Finally, adjust your backpack for a comfortable fit, if you have more than 5-6kg in your backpack make use of your hip belt on the backpack to transfer some, if not most, of the weight directly to your legs. Your shoulders and back will thank you immensely.

Did you face any challenges?

Yes, on the Frances (my first Camino) when I started out walking 800km in the set amount of days I had (34) seemed like an awful long way to walk in not much time and I pushed myself to walk longer in order to be sure I’d make it. So there was a sense of urgency that pushed me to do 35-40km days in the beginning (and one 55km day.) This was in part because I also really wanted to go to Finisterre which is an additional 100km, but it was supposed to be an “if I have time” goal. The “if I have time” part eluded me for a bit and became a goal. I did eventually come to my senses after a few days and decided that Finisterre would have to wait for another time.

Physically the Frances was not too challenging apart from powering through injuries, I got 4 blisters on the entire 800km which is not bad. But one of them was a really painful one, it sat really deep and filled with blood. Treating it was not a problem but walking on it was anything but easy. So there were definitely days when willpower was required to get through the day and the only pleasure or joy was when you could go to bed for sleep. But there were few of those days, and such days also became part of the Camino and a shared experience by all and you’d laugh at the stories as you shared them with other pilgrims over a beer, cider, wine or sangria.

On the Frances, too, there was one other challenge. Letting people go, on the Camino you will meet a lot of great people whom you will enjoy the company of, some for a brief day others for many days.

Some will disappear either due to different walking paces, different schedules etc. etc. and not getting hung up on the people you know that you’d probably never see again especially if you shared a good conversation or connection. You learn that that particular conversation or connection was “of the moment” and could not survive past it. Sounds gloomy I know but there are also people you meet that you will stay in touch with and visit and chat with daily long after. The thing is if you get too concerned or fearful of the first one and the feeling of loss it could have you will miss out on the latter ones.

This year on the Primitivo however this last bit was less of a thing since I happened to meet a group of 14 Americans walking together and we walked all the way to Santiago together, the group (including me) split into different sub-groups every day since people had different walking paces and started at different times in the mornings.

My biggest challenge here I think was my final three days into Santiago since I by then had contracted a serious case of tendinitis in my knee and because of that I had to make the painful (hah, see what I did there) decision that I was not going to reach Finisterre this year either even though I planned it so that I had enough time this year.

Instead I spent 7 days in Santiago and met many other great and funny people a few of which I stay in touch with. So never so bad that it is not good for something (a Norwegian proverb)

I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favourite traditional meals along the route?

Paella, all the Paella’s and a small serving of pulpo (a big one is just too much), wine, cider and beer…. Those count right? Tortilla de jamon y queso is also good. The first few times you have it… after the 15th lunch with the option of Tortilla or Bocadillo, it loses its charm somewhat, but anything is better than a dry Bocadillo without butter!

Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?

Frances – Tosantos (the parochial albergue), Foncebadon – again the parochial albergue and Villatuerta. If you stop there, stay at Casa Magica … it lives up to the name. If you do stop there, say hi to Thor for me the resident Great Dane (dog). Also, Ponferrada with its great graffiti art.

Primitivo – Salas, La Mesa, Grande de Salime, A Fonsegrada (here stay at the A Fonsegrada camp site they have a pool. It is on the road left right before you walk into the town proper after the hellish hill)

These and many more places are wonderful, however for me what makes a place great when you walk the Camino is as much the people you are with there as the place itself.

One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in the Praza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?

The first time it was a range of I F-ing did it, and then the same but with a slightly sadder implication, my adventure was now close to being over. A sense of disbelief was also present I think… not quite realising that I had just walked 800km to get to this very place.

The second time was, well the second time… more of a “hey I made it” … what made it special and more touching was seeing how the Americans I walked with reacted, for them this was something more than a walk / hike, being devout Catholics as they were.

Looking back, do you think you were prepared for your first Camino de Santiago? Have you or would do something different?

Did I mention packing light? I swear next time I will…. On the other hand, that is what I said before setting out on the Camino this year as well ….

But, no, on the whole I would say that I was prepared for it both gear and… oh no… just remembered. Yes… on my first Camino I would have brought different shoes, the ones I did bring had soft soles that flexed way too much. This I corrected on my second (this year) by bringing my half-height light hiking boots, Crispi A Way Mid GTX gets my recommendation if they happen to fit your feet (no affiliation!)

 

The Camino Through My Eyes #4 – Maggie Woodward

The “Camino Through My Eyes” series is becoming a big success and I’d like to thank you all for stopping by. It’s interesting reading other people’s perspectives and it sure backs up the phrase “No two Caminos are the same”. Last week’s contribution from Terry McHugh has seen quite a bit of traffic since I posted it.

This week I am delighted to introduce to you Maggie Woodward. Maggie is just fresh from completing the Camino Mozarabe, and she has posted a YouTube video, so check that out. I asked for Maggie’s thoughts to the questions I posed to my previous guests. By the way, you can find Maggie over on Facebook so make sure you give her a “like”, and her website magwood.me is packed with information for anyone about to take on the Camino. I’d like to thank Maggie for her time.

1) How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?

I’m not sure how I became aware of it.  I knew it existed but had no thought of walking the Camino until my daughter invited me to join her.  She wanted to walk the Camino to celebrate her 30th birthday.  I had never walked for pleasure before, so needed to do a lot of training.  So my first Camino was the Frances route from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and Finisterre in April / May 2013.  I suppose I started to train seriously 2-3 months prior to setting off.

2) I find that planning for an upcoming Camino can be almost as enjoyable as walking it. How did you research and plan The Camino de Santiago? 

I googled and discovered two pilgrim forums where I could find every piece of information I needed.  I also searched for blogs of people who had walked.  My daughter and I had originally planned to only walk for a couple of weeks, but the more research I did the more I realised that I wanted the ‘real deal’ – to walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela and beyond to Muxia and Finisterre.  So yes, I have to agree with you that research is all part of the journey, and the planning for my first Camino was very exciting – I thought of little else for quite a few months.

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3) What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago? 

    • Try not to have any pre-conceived ideas.
    • Be open minded.
    • If staying in albergues, take ear plugs.
    • Walk your own pace, don’t try to adjust to someone else’s – you can always stop and wait for walking partners at certain points along each stage.
    • Be aware that you are likely to hurt, a lot, for the first couple of weeks, but it will all get easier as you go along.  Three Caminos down the line, I don’t even think about taking my boots off now when I arrive at my destination, whereas on my first Camino the thought of removing my boots was never far from my mind.
    • Seriously consider using trekking poles.
    • Turn around often and look back at the view from where you have walked

4) Did you face any challenges?

Knee pain on my first Camino – I took many painkillers (pilgrim’s candy), but on subsequent Caminos this has not been a problem. I have always stayed in Albergues and I was always more worried about the lack of privacy in dormitory accommodation than about the actual walking.  It can be difficult, especially when beds are pushed close together so that it is like sharing a double bed with a total stranger (and some pilgrims can be very strange!).  I still find this a bit of a strain, as I do like my own ‘space’, but I still choose to use Albergues rather than private Hostales.

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5) I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favorite traditional meals along the route?

I have had a few exceptional meals along three Caminos, probably most enjoyable on the Portuguese – good hearty soups in particular.  But I am not a fan of the pilgrim’s menu, which is often poor quality, carbo loaded to fuel an empty tank.  I much prefer a single course of quality food or to make myself a lovely salad. I miss fruit and vegetables when I am walking – I eat a lot of fruit at home but surprisingly it is  not always easy to buy in small villages along the route.

6) Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?

I also loved Molinaseca but most of all I loved the tiny stone villages – most particularly Santa Catalina de Samoza, which has been tarnished now due to the murder of Denise Thiem in that area.  To be honest, on my first Camino I was too tired by the time I arrived at my destination to have any energy for sightseeing.  But I got to know and absolutely fell in love with Santiago de Compostela. On my second and third Caminos I had much more energy after my arrival at each stage and did plenty of sightseeing.  On the Portuguese route there are countless beautiful towns and cities to admire and enjoy and also on the Mozárabe.
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7) One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in he Praza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?
On arriving at the cathedral for the first time back in 2013 I was overcome with emotion.  I am not a religious person but something about this majestic place, coupled with the joy at having reached my destination, left me lost for words and only able to sink onto a pew and weep uncontrollably.  I am always drawn to the cathedral when I am in Santiago – it means a great deal to me.
My reaction on reaching the cathedral at the end of the second and third Caminos was not much different to the first experience.

8) Looking back, do you think you were prepared for your first Camino de Santiago? Have you or would do something different?

I was as prepared as I could have been, as a newbie to long distance walking.  I had researched and prepared very well.  There is very little I would have done differently – maybe I should have been more independent of my daughter, who is an experienced traveller and backpacker – I should have let her do her own thing a bit more.  But I couldn’t have been too overbearing because she wants to walk with me again next year.

The Camino Through My Eyes #3 – Terry McHugh

Having completed two installments in the “Camino Through My Eyes” series, I am happy to 51dxhBKOhML._UY250_introduce Terry McHugh to you all. Terry has walked numerous Caminos and has written about his times in Spain. I have read many books about the Camino but his book “Walk with the Sun Til Ur Shadow disappears” stands out as it gives you an eye into his trials to get to Santiago. He suffered greatly during his first attempt and flew home at Castrojeriz. Most would give up at this point, but Terry returned to complete it. More information can be found here. I’d like to thank Terry for taking the time to answer my few questions.

Let’s get started so..

1) How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?

When my son was made redundant in January 2012, he said he would use some of his money to walk the Camino Frances. My reaction was…..”walk the what??”. He tried to explain it to me but to me it sounded like a fools errand. I made him promise to text me every night so I would know he was safe, but as I tracked his course across Spain, I began to wish I had gone with him. By the time he got home at the end of March 2012, my mind was made up that I would do it in 2013.

2) Do you find planning for a Camino as enjoyable as walking?

Yes and No. When I decided to go, there was not much in the way of information to research it. There was just a handful of books and of course, ‘the Brierley Guide’. I read the Hape Kerkeling book “I’m Off Then” and much as it whetted my appetite for the walk, it did not give me much information about the history of or reasons for the Camino. As far as buying equipment was concerned, I did enjoy that so, yes, you could say I enjoyed the planning for my first Camino Frances but then I did not have any experience of the pilgrimage to compare it to. One of the reasons I ended up writing a book when I got home was my desire to find out about the history of this pilgrimage, who was St James and why has it survived and is still expanding after 1000 years. Preparing for my second trip was just something that had to be done. Expectation of crossing the Pyrenees, which I had not done the first time, was a real buzz especially as the time got closer. Maybe the question should be ‘is the expectation as enjoyable as walking?’. Maybe also we need to find another word to replace enjoyable because that’s not a good word for the days when you are exhausted and sore and being battered by wind and rain. 

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3) What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago?

I can only repeat what many have said before me. “Just do it” and “don’t forget to start”. You will experience emotions and feelings you did not think possible. For many, it will be the most extraordinary thing they will ever do and everyone should have at least one unbelievable feat in their lives.

For practical tips:

  • Use Vaseline or the peregrino foot balm sold along the Camino. You would lubricate your car engine moving parts. Your feet are moving parts so lubricate them to cut down on the friction that causes blisters
  • Buy walking poles and note I use the plural. Then when you get to Spain either use them or lose them, don’t carry them on your back as I saw many doing. If you are bringing your back pack as carry on luggage on a plane, buy the poles when you get to the Camino.
  • Drink lots of water. Don’t drink beer while walking, it helps to dehydrate you and try to avoid ‘cola’ drinks. They can bubble around your stomach, not a nice experience.
  • Walk at your own pace, don’t try to keep up with someone faster just because you are in their group. Decide in advance where you are going to that day and where you are staying and agree to meet up later.

4) Did you face any challenges?

Every day was a challenge. The mountains were tough as I don’t do inclines very well. The flat of the Meseta was tough first time because of the deep mud. On my 2nd Camino, I tried to walk from Burgos to Hontonas (30km) in one day and the third time was so cold I wanted to cry. Some days just putting one foot in front of the other was a real challenge. And finally, on my second Camino, trying to sleep at nights was a problem. I found myself waking almost every hour so that getting up at 6 was extremely difficult.

High up Mt Perdon

High up Mt Perdon

5) I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favorite traditional meals along the route?

  • Trout as it was served in Navarra was excellent.
  • Paella served in the albergue in Hontonas and again in Vilar de Mazarife was exceptional.
  • Seafood out by the coast in a little fishing village just before Finisterre was the best ever.
  • And of course the vino. Best wine I have ever had

6) Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?

Where do I start….. Castrojeriz, I suppose because there I had my worst night and my best night. First time it was where I lost the will to go on and turned for home. Second time it was where I met some Irish and Irish descent and had the greatest party ever. It is not a bad little town.

Mercadoiro – Just before you reach Portomarin, you will find this little hamlet with an official population of one. There is a bar/restaurant with large patio/garden with a converted barn serving as an albergue. The madness of Portomarin packed solid with hundreds of pilgrims vying for beds then dinner is happily avoided.

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7) One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in the Praza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?

How do I put this into words…. The night before, standing looking down at the city from Monte do Gozo, fills you with pride and you look back at almost 500 miles and think, just for a fleeting moment, ‘that was easy’. As you make your way into the city you wonder what you will do when the walking is over and your new best friends head off home to their own countries/ Friends you may keep in touch with but never see again. A feeling of melancholy envelopes you. As you turn that final corner and see the cathedral before you, this cathedral that has barely been out of your thoughts for up to 6 weeks, the tears start to flow as sadness and joy at the same time overcomes you. As you queue up at the pilgrim office awaiting your Compostela, there is more joy as you recount adventures with friend and stranger alike. As you answer the questions and receive your certificate, there is a tremendous feeling of achievement. When you think of tomorrow and the journey home, you are like a lost child knowing not where to turn next. As you sit on the plane, as you finally leave Spain, you want to be on your own. On the way out, you chatted merrily to your fellow passengers, now you are silent. For you are carefully planning your return.

8) Looking back, were you prepared for your Camino de Santiago?

Not a chance. How can you be prepared for your first day facing Alto de Perdon or “mudslide mountain” as we called it, if like me and not an experienced hiker and have spent 32 years as a desk jockey. How can you be prepared for the most total exhaustion you have ever felt as you collapse on the grass in Uterga just about 50 metres from the albergue? How can you be prepared for the immense kindness of total strangers, an experience you would never get in the so called ‘real world’? How can you be prepared for the daily ups and downs, and may I add, ups that are higher than anything else in life? Nothing can prepare you for your first Camino. It is like nothing else in life. Would I change anything if I could? Probably yes. I would not have given up at Castrojeriz. But then, maybe not, as I would not have met my good friend Mees when I went back some months later. So looking at the whole picture, I would change nothing.

The Camino Through My Eyes #2 – Wise Monkeys Abroad

imagesI published the first in this series last week and have got a great response so far. It was great to receive Linda’s contribution and I’d like to thank her for that. This week, I posed the same questions to a great couple who write over on wisemonkeysabroad.com. Le and David love to travel and write about their times abroad. They have ventured to many places I will only see on postcards and visited Ireland at the start of this year. However, Le & David both walked the Camino de Santiago in September 2014 from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and I was really interested to hear how they got on. So here we go…

1) How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?

We heard about it back in 2008 through a work colleague of Le’s at the time. We didn’t think much more about it until in 2013, we were speaking to a family who did the last 100 km and loved it. We decided that it would be something we needed to do before we turned 40 (in 8 or so years time). Somehow within a matter of weeks, it went from doing 100 km to doing the 800km from St Jean Pied de Port. No one ever mentioned to us the spiritual component nor mentioned how much it would change our lives.

2) I find that planning for an upcoming Camino can be almost as enjoyable as walking it. How did you research and plan The Camino de Santiago?

We actually didn’t research or plan it. The most planning we did was try and train for it. The way we organised our Camino was through a company – We were travelling through Europe for 2 months prior to starting the Camino, we placed the planning into someone else’s hands. We didn’t want to travel with only Camino gear and there was no way we could carry everything to walk the Camino either. So we needed an option. With the company, they booked us into all private rooms with ensuites and had our luggage transferred. They mapped out our days (including rest days). We were very happy with this arrangement. From our perspective, we went on the Camino “blind”. Leading up, we also refused to look at any pictures or read too many blogs about the Camino because we didn’t want to experience it before we did the Camino. So we had NO expectations. We didn’t watch the movie, “The Way” as many people suggested. We wanted to experience everything first hand. We also didn’t train as hard as we should because we had read, “why walk the Camino before you actually walk the Camino?”

3) What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago?

– Use Vaseline on your feet.
– Learn to tie your laces so your shoes don’t slip or rub.
– Do the Camino YOUR way…there is no right or wrong way!
– Don’t pass judgment about how others do the Camino because that in itself is not what the Camino is about.
– Enjoy yourselves. It’s not a race!
– Don’t just go from one place to the next… actually enjoy the journey along the way.

4) Did you face any challenges?

Every day was a challenge. You learn very quickly on the Camino that you will be challenged physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But the beauty of all the challenges we faced is that we learnt many valuable lessons that we have been able to apply into life outside of the Camino.

5) I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favorite traditional meals along the route?

– Paella
– Galicia Soup
– Chorizo

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6) Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?

– Burgos: it was where we celebrated our wedding anniversary on the Camino
– Viana
– Logrono
– Santo Domingo

7) One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in the Praza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?

We hugged each other and cried. It wasn’t the sheer sight of the cathedral but it was the experience. We had been through a relatively tumultuous few years prior to the Camino for varying reasons and also the spiritual journey that is the Camino overwhelmed us so much. And we felt like we had become different people because of the 800km. We were also devastated that this beautiful experience was at an end. We would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

8) Looking back, do you think you were prepared for your Camino de Santiago? Would you do something different? 

No, we didn’t even know what Buen Camino was and we also didn’t even know how to use the Brierley Guidebook. So you could say, we were not prepared at all but we would NOT have done it differently. We loved the way we did it, without any preconceptions.

Thanks very much for the contribution, Le & David.

You can “like” their page on facebook here. Another “Camino Through My Eyes” will be posted early next week.

The Camino Through My Eyes #1 – SomewhereSlowly.com

imagesIf you are one of the many people who are planning a forthcoming Camino de Santiago, the next series of posts may be of valuable use to you. I have asked the owners of blogs I follow to contribute and give their opinions of the Camino. Most of the people own blogs dedicated solely to the Camino, like myself, but other writers like to travel far and wide all over the globe. I hope to continue posting on a weekly basis on this topic after this. So why not subscribe to the blog and keep an eye out for future posts. Even having walked the Camino a number of times myself, it is great hearing from other people who have walked it, just to get their experience, whether it be a bad or good.

To get the ball rolling, I asked Linda over at SomewhereSlowly.com to tell me about her experiences from planning to her times on the Camino. I “met” Linda over on the Camino Forum a number of years ago and since then, we have been discussing the Camino constantly. She has just recently returned from Santiago after walking from Astorga. If you are actively planning or researching, I would encourage you to visit her site. So here we go…

1) How did you first hear about The Camino de Santiago and when did you decide to walk it?

I grew up in a pilgrim city myself, so the idea of pilgrimage has always been there. When a friend told me her father was walking to Santiago from Paris, I found myself inexplicably attracted to the idea – and I never did any outdoorsy stuff at the time. I walked the Ingles as a tester in 2009 and decided that I liked it. It took three more years before I had the time, money and company to start my Long Walk, six weeks on the Camino Francés.

2) I find that planning for an upcoming Camino can be almost as enjoyable as walking it. How did you research and plan the Camino de Santiago?

I registered in the Camino forum (www.caminodesantiago.me/community) in 2007 and have been picking up tips, doing research and kit testing ever since. I too enjoy the planning – though the Camino never goes to plan – and preparation and am always thinking of ways to make my kit lighter, more flexible, more practical. I can also talk about it until the cows come home, and luckily I have internet pilgrim friends to discuss these things with!

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3) What advice or tips can you give future pilgrims walkers who might be considering walking The Camino de Santiago?

Less is more – less stuff, less worry, less expectation. Plan realistically and pack sensibly, but remain open to what happens. Make sure you have something to keep you warm, something to keep you dry and comfortable shoes and backpack, and take them all for a few long walks beforehand to make sure they really are comfortable over time. Take half the stuff and twice the money and you’ll have a great time – if you need anything, there are shops in Spain. You really don’t need much, and why carry things you don’t need?

4) Did you face any challenges?

Physically, not really, even though I could have been fitter and probably have avoided injuries just by pure luck. I always stop or slow down if I feel that something is wrong or I get tired, but I have seen people get tendonitis and injuries from pushing themselves too hard. I think my biggest challenge was learning to ask for help and getting used to being around so many people and accepting our differences. My Zen is sometimes challenged, but it keeps getting stronger!

5) I’m a big fan of Spanish food and drink. What were your three favourite traditional meals along the route?

That’s easy! Pimientos de Padron, Santiago cake and Albariño! Oh wait, and then caldo gallego, and anchovies and cheese, and zorza, and Cebreiro cheese … did I mention black lentil soup? And chorizo? And an ice cold Clara on a sunny day? Did you say only three…??

6) Molinaseca and Belorado are favourite towns of mine along the Camino. Do you have a favourite spot?

I prefer the smaller places to the big cities and hilly Galicia to the meseta. Molinaseca is one of my favourites too, as well as Rabanal del Camino, O Cebreiro, Villafranca del Bierzo and of course Santiago de Compostela herself.

7) One can feel a range of emotions on arriving into Santiago de Compostela and seeing the Cathedral standing tall in the Plaza de Obradoiro. How did you feel when you completed your Camino?

After six weeks on the road … deflated, actually. My Camino family had decided to slow down near the end of the journey while I wanted to speed up, so I arrived on my own …and it was kind of an anti-climax. I sat down on the square for a while and then felt a lot more jubilant as I saw others I knew coming in and could celebrate with them. I still feel that the journey ends at the Praza do Obradoiro, which is always full of pilgrims, and not in the cathedral. I love that square. Watching it is like watching the sea from the shore.

8) Looking back, do you think you were prepared for your first Camino de Santiago? Have you done or would you do something different?

Yes and no – I was equipped and prepared but could have done better and have done better in the years since. These days I walk in shoes, not boots; my pack is smaller and lighter, I wear merino instead of technical materials, I do more layering with fewer multipurpose clothes. This year I even walked with Pacerpoles and found them very helpful. Bottom line: I know what to expect, so I worry less and enjoy myself so much more!