Background to my trip
I have heard about the Camino Frances for many years, but didn't realise until lately how many options there were and all the different terrane. The symbol of the Camino is the shell, this is because of the many lines coming from the shell, signifying all the different paths the pilgrims took to get to Santiago (where St. James' remains are thought to be buried, under the cathedral).
The French Way seems to be the most popular for Irish people to do. This starts in the Pyrenees and ends in Santiago. Myself and my father joined from Sarria, which is 112 Km to Santiago.
I can't tell you why I have always wanted to do this, I suppose it's one of those things! My father and I started walking together a couple of years ago and we talked about doing it for a while and then we finally decided to book it!
I had called in to a travel agent- O'Leary Travel in Wexford one day to inquire and a girl I knew from school - Maura Doran was working there and the rest as they say is history. The booking of it was very simple. Michael Granger was the name of the man she booked it all with and he gave full itinerary, tips for breaking up your day, where to eat and your bags were transferred seamlessly to your next hotel/pension waiting for your arrival.
Packing and your Day Bag
I brought carry on luggage and my backpack. So had to be quite strict on what I had, and that meant prioritising the walking clothes (comfort over style!) the nicest thing when you are finished a days walking will be a shower and put on your flip flops.
Not only is what you pack essential, it's how you pack them is crucial.
- keep socks and underwear together (even put elastic bands around them)
- Keep rechargers, adaptors, headphones together, to find easily and helps you remember to bring them with you each day!
- Keep one pair of socks and underwear in a zip lock bag, for the back pack/day bag
- Bring either comfortable, supported runners or hiking runners. This is a preference and whatever you are used to, don't decide last minute!
- Have a comfortable back pack that closes on the chest and waist for extra support.
- I brought a 2 litre bladder, with the straw attached that you bight down on and sucked as you went along. I put a hydration tablet and vitamin effervescent tablet in the water each day to ensure I was replacing anything I lost through sweating and exertion.
- Jellys are important, to give a boost when you need it.
- Rain proof gear is important, I had no experience of rain when I did my Camino but that doesn't mean I was not prepared. Check your weather app daily and pack if needed.
- Zip lock bags are great for bringing snacks and keeping stuff from getting wet.
- Keep your Camino passport in a zip lock bag, with a pen. Handy for writing in the dates beside the stamps (you will need at least two stamps/sello a day to receive your compostella/certificate at the end). Most places you go have them readily available and most churches and tourist offices.
- Vaseline will become your best friend! Rub a small amount into your feet each morning, along with any area that might be rubbing. (even the cheeks of your bottom!) Prevention is usually better than a cure.
- Put vaseline into day bag and if you feel somewhere rubbing along the way put it on.
- Bring a small packet of compeed blister plasters, don't go mad as there are plenty of pharmacies along the way. As soon as you feel a tingle put the blister plaster on! (Hopefully you won't need it)
- Paw paw cream or sudocrem for any soar area or if you graze yourself.
You would need to be getting out and walking and being generally active before you go. You don't need to be super fit but you want to be able to enjoy it without too much discomfort/aches.
The part I did wasn't too hilly but there were a few stiff climbs along the way. The part that I found the most difficult was definitely the down hills. My feet were starting to burn each time we went down hill and I was starting to dread it.....then along came the most lovely Canadian couple (who are from Saskatoon, where my father and monther lived for 18 months a few years ago!!) anyhoo....the man was used to skiing and they went about showing me how to put what they do into practice for coming down hill...I was all set:
- Tilt your pelvis back
- bend your knees into a semi squat
- tilt you shoulders back
- and walk....it made such a difference and my weight was evenly distributed through my feet and it took the pressure off my knees and shins
That's the thing about the Camino, you can get chatting to people from all around the world or just walk alongside them in silence. You will hear "buen camino" and it is a lovely expression of good will to all who do it and it transcends all languages.
It is important also to keep an ear out for cyclists, they don't always use their bells but a great many of them do it also. Where there is one there are usually a few more....!
Remember when walking you are always following the yellow arrows, sometime the shells are pointing in the opposite direction but you are following the arrows.
I didn't use walking poles so I don't have any advice on this. I never felt I needed them, but a lot of people use them.......
A few phrases...
When you are walking along you will be aware that you are walking through little towns and villages and it is not the big resorts that you might be used to on the family holidays, where most people speak English! Have a few phrases, especially how you might like your tea or coffee.
My father being a Barry's tea lover, brought his own teabags....this was fine until we had to order hot water, you might think that was fairly simple but it wasn't, so out the phrase book came! We learnt that hot water was "agua caliente" and life was back to being simple again...I even ordered my coffee as "cafe con leche", I still never convinced dad to do the ordrering!!
Arrival to Santiago de Compestela
Finally, when you arrive, I would recommend you go get your certificate/compostela (if you would like to receive it) that day. This has all changed recently enough.
When you go to get your certificate, you need to get a number first and there are only a certain amount of numbers given out daily.
- You must go to the Pilgrims office on Rua de Carretas, 33. You will find this, when you stand in front of the cathedral and then go down the steps by the hotel (on your right with your back to the cathedral.) and then turn right. This will bring you onto Rua de Carretas (police station will be on your left) and you just need to find no 33
- Go in the door, there will be a security man on it. Go straight through the doors until you come to steps down, follow the left steps down and go left, into a room where you will find a ticket machine. This is where you get your number.
- When you go back upstairs you will see the queue for the people, where their numbers are close to the number they have. You might be hundreds away from that number!
- If you turn on the camera on your phone (you must have internet) hover the phone over the ticket and click the link and this will show you, your number and the actual number they are dealing with at the moment.
- I would advise going for your shower, change, food, drink now! check in every so often to see how your number is moving and when there is about 20 ahead of you go back (might depend on how far you are from the pilgrims office.)
- Go in when you see your number and the desk you are required to go to, fill in the form. There is an option for another cert but you will see all of that when you are there.
- If you decide to leave getting the cert until the next day, be there before it opens at 8am and you will have to queue and follow the instructions above.
This was my journey on the Camino, so far. I hope you enjoy reading about it. If you are planning on taking a trip like mine I hope you find it helpful. I chatted to friends of mine, before I went and I soaked up all the information and advice they gave me, and I hope I have done the same for someone else out there.
I think it's like anything, don't put it off too long, if it is something you really want to do.
Buen Camino x