The Camino Through my Eyes series returns for the 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. 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 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!)