How I Prepared for the Camino de Santiago
How do you prepare for something you have never considered doing? Especially for something as daunting as the Camino de Santiago (the Camino) could be, might be.
In my case, I prepared by relying on the experience of others. I read blogs. I listened to podcasts. I joined Facebook Groups. But mostly, I walked.
Why the Camino de Santiago?
My Camino pilgrimage began with my friend, walking partner, and travel buddy Debra. You might remember Debra from our Hilton Head post. No matter the weather, we walk together several times each week.
Last year, on one of our early morning walks I mentioned that I wanted to work toward something that would inspire my workouts and test my fitness. We threw around a few ideas and the next time we walked Debra suggested the Camino de Santiago. Right then we decided that we would walk the Camino the following year.
In retrospect, I had heard about the Camino from friends who either wanted to walk or knew someone who had. And there were others outside of my immediate circle who had already done it. In fact, the more I talked about it, the more peripheral connections I had. I took that as confirmation that I was meant to experience my own Camino pilgrimage.
What is the Camino de Santiago?
First, some background on the Camino. The city of Santiago, Spain is named after St. James. The latin translation of Santiago de Compostela equates to St. James of the Field of Stars.
Second, according to tradition and religious texts, Saint James was the first apostle to become a martyr. He was buried in a forest, today the site of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
Subsequently, early pilgrims made their way to the cathedral on a “camino” or, in english, “the way” to witness the burial place of Saint James. So, the Camino de Santiago is “The Way of Saint James” or simply “the Camino.”
Finally, today people like me make their way to Santiago de Compostela from points across Europe via the networks of the early pilgrims. These spiderwebbed routes are spread throughout Europe. There are many “ways” to Santiago. The call to Santiago is as varied as the pilgrims themselves but most take their first step for religious or spiritual reasons.
How We Planned
In the beginning we immersed ourselves in a crash course on the aspects of hiking across Europe by way of the Camino. As two well-traveled and fit women, we knew we could easily put the trip together but we had to make some major decisions first.
First and foremost, which route to take. The Frances, del Norte, or the Portuguese? If we did the Portuguese would we take the Central or the Coastal? Would we add the Spiritual Variant? Would we continue on to Finisterre and Muxia? There were so many choices that early days were a flurry of flying text messages, emails and conversational deliberation.
Finally, after much research we decided to start in Portugal on the Coastal Route. Unfortunately, six weeks before our departure, our hotel canceled and we ended up changing to the Central Route. This proved to be a good thing as the variety of terrain and combination of city and countryside would be a better mix.
Early in our planning we decided to do the last 100 km, or 62 miles. Since we had limited time this made the most sense for us. And who knows, we might end up doing more than one Camino. Before we left, our final routing topped out at 75 miles over six walking days.
Another easy decision we made was not to stay in albergues, or hostels. There are myriad lodging options and combinations available for every budget. However, we had limited time to spend and we wanted to know exactly where we would be sleeping each night, we wanted our own shower, and we wanted privacy. Fortunately, we were clear that it was critical not to compare our journey to someone else’s. There isn’t a right way to experience the Camino.
Although there were luggage transport services available we decided to add an extra layer of complexity by moving our bags ourselves. As we were both using smallish backpacks and only staying in three hotels over seven days, we opted to move our things to the next hotel before we started walking. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it provided mental simplicity for us.
Deciding on our gear was the easiest part of the planning. As you already know, I am a seasoned backpack traveler. All I needed to add was a new pair of hiking shoes and an updated day pack. The rest was simply deciding what to wear on the trail.
Once we determined these main points, we were willing to let the rest of our Camino unfold as it would. There’s a saying among pilgrims……”the Camino will provide.” We were willing to allow that to happen for us.
For part two of “How I Prepared for the Camino de Santiago” click on this link and you won’t miss a thing!
I’m writing this post ten days before I leave and hope to be updating from the road.
Until then, Buon Camino!