Camino de Santiago: Packing and Training Tips

Camino, Santiago, Compostela, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, Spain, yellow arrow, kilometer marker, travel, photo, Olympus

The Camino de Santiago has become a very popular destination/experience for many around the world, especially after the movie “The Way” hit the movies screens (maybe home flat screens is more appropriate).  People of all ages and nationalities gravitate to this, as did I and a group I traveled with last summer to hike the Camino.  I wrote about each of our 7 days in a series of posts but I’d thought I’d devote some time to sharing about the preparation.  By now means is this an exhaustive treatise on each of the topics but it should give you a good high-level understanding on training and gear.  Hope you find it helpful and feel free to ask questions or suggest your own tips via the comments!

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Dirt path going between farms

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Another church we passed this day

Training – or how to get ready

The Camino is not Everest Base Camp or Mt. Kilimanjaro but that does not mean it is easy.  The challenges posed by the Camino are different than an epic climb.  While in some hikes, altitude is a factor, that is not the case in the Camino.  The mountains or hills faced will not compare to hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or getting to Uhuru Peak in Mt. Kilimanjaro.  But if you walk more than the minimum distance required to get the Compostela (the famous certificate granted to provide pilgrims with proof that they did indeed make it to Santiago de Compostela), you will need to prepare for some good climbs – and the corresponding downhills (always fun on the delicate knees of a hiker…).

Another factor to consider is that how strenuous the day is depends on how much ground you plan to cover each day.  If you are young (read: in your 20s or early 30s), you likely think you can attack the Camino and do over 20 miles a day, perhaps 30.  That’s crazy talk.  Yes, you physically may be able to but a couple of things:

1.  After a couple of days of pushing this way, your body will let you know how crazy that was.  I have heard the horror stories.  Don’t be over-ambitious.

2.  More importantly, you are missing the point of the Camino.  Yes, getting to the destination is the “aim,” but the point is to be on a journey, a pilgrimage (whether spiritual or emotional).  Moving at the speed of sound renders this experience as just checking an item off the bucket list (which if it is all it is for you, then fast speed might as well be your friend because you will get bored not seeing it as an experience for such a long way).

The final factor to keep in mind is that while there may not be tons of steep hills nor altitude, this hike puts a lot of stress on your feet.  When I climbed Kilimanjaro, the distances walked on a given day were well in the single-digits in terms of miles (maybe it got to double digits in kilometer-land).  Yes, it was difficult due to low oxygen and steepness but it was not brutal on my feet.  Don’t get me wrong, when I would arrive at camp, I was desperate to take off my boots!  But the Camino is much more unforgiving when it comes to your feet.  They tale a beating, so make sure they keep on ticking.

Gear – or what to bring

Before I get into gear, clearly whether you are carrying all your stuff on your back or not makes a big difference.  Yes, there is an option to NOT carry it all yourself from place to place!  Now, that may not be your style and all that, and that’s OK.  But, for some, it is the way to go and so it was for me 🙂

Regardless of how you do it, I will still issue the same warning:  don’t over-pack.  You will be amazed at how little you can get by with – a lot less than you think.  And worst comes to worst, you can go to a local store along the way and buy what you need…  But I also say that because going on this journey, in my view, is about changing some parameters about our lives to develop new insights, clear our heads, have new experiences, and hopefully be renewed in whatever way you may need to.  So, with all that said, here are some things that I deemed important to take along my Camino…

Feet

    • Good walking shoes or boots.  Without good shoes that you have broken in BEFORE the Camino, you will be in trouble.  Don’t be cheap about this item.  Cheap out on the camera or other items but not on this, my friends!  These could be boots or walking shoes.  The former gives you better ankle protection.  The latter may feel more comfortable.  You may want both to alternate.  After many days of wearing the same show, you may long for a different pair…  Up to you (as are all the tips I share here!).  But I would definitely say, get waterproof in case it rains.

    • Along with the shoes, go non-cotton socks.  What good is a pair of proper and broken in walking shoes if you are going to just slap on cotton socks?  Cotton socks are an invitation for blisters and the painful fun that means for the few days after you develop them.  Wool socks and, ideally, liners complete the most important focus of your gear list:  your feet.

  • Now, if the socks and shoes don’t do it and a blister seems imminent (sometimes blisters just develop…), that is an important moment to take action one final time to prevent the blister from materializing. At that point, you want to protect the spot where you are beginning to feel the burning (which is exactly what you feel BEFORE the blister arrives). The simplest and cheapest solution is to place a small piece of duct tape on that spot on your foot. Yes, stop, take footwear off and apply the small patch of duct tape – don’t wait.  So duct tape is a must-carry on any hike with the added side benefit that you can repair other things with it as needed. But don’t carry the roll, for goodness’ sake! Wrap duct tape on a pencil or on your hiking pole and you will save space and weight.
  • In case things go too far and you develop a blister, a blister repair kit is a good idea to bring along.  I was the beneficiary of a fellow’s trekker blister “repair” kit coming down Kilimanjaro and became a believer.  I don’t recall the brand I used on the Camino but the item below is the one I bought for my next hike in Patagonia.

Clothing

Now we can get past all things feet.  From a clothing standpoint, the usual advice applies here.

    • Layers.  The weather can vary and some high spots can get very cold.  And depending on the time of year, it could get quite warm during the day.  So plan to have layers which help manage the changes you may experience throughout the day.
    • Waterproof.  At some point, you may encounter rain so you want proper rain gear which might as well also serve as wind-breaking gear.  In terms of things to wear, make sure it is really waterproof (Gore-Tex). Waterproof also refers to protecting the contents of your backpack, whether by placing a bag over your backpack or putting the contents of your backpack in plastic bags.  Your choice!
    • Wicking.  Since you may not be carrying one-for-every-day in the underwear category and to help your skin remain “un-irritated”, wicking underwear is a good idea.  It removes humidity before sweat covers your skin which prevents bad odors.  And, hence, should you decide to wear them more than once between washings, then at least you know you will not smell!  Because my hike was only 7 days, I had underwear for every day but I still used wicking underwear for the comfort of not developing chaffing, etc.

  • Temperatures.  Plan for a range of temperatures.  This ties to the layers bit but also realize that, at night when you are not hiking, you may want to sit outdoors and it may get chilly at night, even in the summer depending on the weather system on a given day in your area.  So some light jacket in the summer may be appropriate for the evenings; perhaps more substantial at other times of the year.
  • Comfort.  Be sure the materials you wear are comfortable to you.  During 6-8 hours of hiking, you want to be comfortable not itching or something else.  When you get to the next town, you WILL want those walking shoes off and will love slipping into some flip flops, sandals or running shoes or whatever other comfortable footwear you like.  Bring only one of those, no need to overdo it, but allow yourself this luxury!  (Flip flops could be handy to shower in communal showers if that’s your accommodation style!)

Miscellaneous

    • Hunger avoidance devices (read: snacks).  You will not hungry on this trek!  Plenty of places to stop and get a snack or a meal at very reasonable prices.  Carrying two boxes of protein or granola bars is wasted weight and space and, more importantly, keeping you from sampling local foods and snacks.  So, just carry what you buy locally or just stop along the way!
    • A camera!  You can certainly opt for a different kind of travel if you are not drawn to capturing memories in this manner.  Journaling, for example, may be a better way for some.  For yours truly, though, the imagery of a place not only captures my attention but is also a way I use to be able to share what I experience.  Along with this go the requisite battery charger or extra batteries and an appropriate number of SD cards 🙂  I do like the wifi SD card which allows me to transfer photos out of my SD card onto another device (good for backup or to clear memory on the SD card).
    • Toiletries and accessories.  Yep, you know what this list is about (toothbrush, deodorant, etc.) so no need to detail it nor give you too much advice.  But I will call out some things…  First, bring travel-sized items.  Second, see how much stuff you can live without.  Do you really need a hair dryer?  (No judgment implied!)  Finally, some items I will recommend…  Some hand lotion/moisturizer is a good idea.  Chapstick is a must.  And some antibacterial liquid (e.g., Purell) is also a must along with some wipies (no need to bring more than a handful per day, if that many).
    • First aid.  There are kits out there but I just go with common sense and practical.  There are drug stores and stuff in the towns you will pass so no need to overdo it.  Some band-aids, some anti-diarrhea meds in case you can’t make it to them town (no one had troubles of this sort in our group), some anti-inflammatory in case something hurts (knees, for example), and the like should make a good kit.  As a packing tip, I used the ziploc bags that are half of the regular sandwich bag to pack meds so I didn’t have to carry bottles which can occupy more space.  Whether you want to get Cipro (digestive system antibiotic), Ambien (to sleep) or anything else, it is up to you.  I took none of those meds (though I take Cipro when I go to some destinations).  Of course, if you are taking prescription drugs, bring those and write down somewhere the main ingredient (vs. the medication name) should something happen and you need to get some locally – the main ingredient is what you need.
    • Night light.  If you will be sleeping in shared accommodations, this comes in handy to minimize disrupting others’ sleep and/or preventing you from tripping in the middle of the night as you make a night run to the restroom 🙂  I prefer headlamps like this one so I can be “hands-free”; please don’t make me explain why 🙂

    • Backpack.  Please, whatever you do, do not bring a Swiss Army backpack (well-designed as they are for the frequent traveler) or, even worse, your college backpack.  You will be likely carrying more weight than you are used to and your back and shoulders will appreciate you bringing a backpack with a waist strap and a chest strap to help distribute the impact of the load  on your upper body.  Plus be sure the main straps and perhaps the backpack have some padding where they will touch your body.  It is many days of carrying it so be good to yourself.  And size does matters, when it comes to backpacks – will the size you get be able to fit all that you will carry on your back every day?  Remember, if you want the convenience, there are services that every day pick up your luggage and deliver it to the next place you will stay (if you know in advance).  With this option, you only carry what you need during your walk.  Bottom line:  figure out how much you need the backpack to carry (don’t forget to account for the water!) and then choose a size.

  • Backpack cover.  Along with this, have something ready to cover your backpack if it rains.  Trust me, no matter what they say, water will get in if it rains enough (e.g., think of the zippers).  You can buy a backpack cover (some backpacks come with it) or, save money and bring a nice size, good quality trash bag or maybe even just a cheap poncho.  You can also help prevent your stuff getting wet by packing the in large ziplocs and the place within your backpack. You are on the go and it may not always be easy or practical to get stuff dry.

Alright, there is likely more to be said and advice to be given.  I will likely made some edits in the future but feel free to share your thoughts, ask questions, etc.

Buen Camino!

Want to see what every day was like?  Click on the day and read on!  Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 and Day 7

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 7 from Lavacolla to Santiago!

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The big day arrived on Day 7.  On this day, we departed on the Camino for the last time as we left lovely Pazo Xan Xordo to enter Santiago de Compostela as many have done over the last 1,000 years on this ancient pilgrimage for the final 2.5 hours of our trek.  We were excited but were also on a schedule as we needed to arrive on-time to attend Pilgrim’s Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at noon.  Since this Mass gets packed, we wanted to be there at minimum 30 minutes in advance.  We wanted to sit on the nave on the side of the altar in case they used the “botafumeiro.”  They did not, to our great disappointment, but if they had, it would have flown right over us!

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Waiting for Pilgrim’s Mass to start

Monte de Gozo

But I get ahead of myself.  So we left Lavacolla sharp at 8 AM and made one stop at the impressive Monte de Gozo on the outskirts of town.  It was from this vantage point that pilgrims would get their first glimpse of the final destination.  “Gozo” means happiness which is exactly what the pilgrims would feel at this point after so many months/years of hiking their way across Europe and Spain.  I was more impressed by the monument built here and taking pictures of the sun showing through the top of the monument.

Monte de Gozo, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

The monument at Monte de Gozo

Monte de Gozo, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Each side of the monument commemorates something different

Monte de Gozo, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Loved catching the sun through the glass cross

The great arrival in Santiago de Compostela

At some point in the walk (I think it was on a big downhill), we stopped being “outside” of Santiago and entered the outlying sectors of the city.

Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, photo, Olympus

One of the last villages we passed before entering Santiago proper (after Monte de Gozo)

We crossed a long bridge over a highway and we felt like this was the final stretch.  OK, it was a long final stretch and we did stop at a café to make a final pit stop and to get a snack (not sitting down).  We knew once we hit Santiago, we were likely not going to get a break until noon Mass ended so this was a smart choice!

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Welcome to Santiago de Compostela!

As we got closer, it seemed the streets got narrower which kept making us more eager to finally get there.  I was eager to see the reaction of my fellow trekkers when they first saw the Cathedral (I had been there in 1994 already).

Getting the Compostela and Pilgrim’s Mass

Our plan was to hit town and immediately head to the Pilgrim’s Office (on rua Vilar) to get our “Compostela,” the certificate granted to those who complete the Camino.  A nice volunteer from Ireland named (of course) Mary helped English speakers with instructions to be ready to step inside and get the Compostela; a few questions were asked and the credencial (passport) was briefly examined.

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Pilgrims filling out their papers while waiting for their Compostela

It was an exhilarating moment to get the Compostela (after standing in line about 25 minutes) even if I briefly embarrassed myself by telling the lady that she had gotten my first name wrong.  She politely told me that they write the first name in Latin not in its regular form…  As soon as I got to the hotel later, I took photos of the Compostela just in case something happened to it on the rest of the trip!

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The big moment of getting the Compostela!

We had been told we could not take our backpacks in for Mass so we then proceeded to drop off our backpacks next to the Pilgrim’s Office for 2 euros.  We then were free to make our way to the Cathedral but, first, we took quick group and individual photos in the Plaza del Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral.

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Our Trekking for Kids group posing in front of the Cathedral

We then moved in to claim our spots for Mass and we took turns while we waited for the start of Mass to go behind the main altar to see the tomb of Santiago (St. James), after all, all this started because of him!

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Another detail of the interior

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St. James’ tomb

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Details from inside the Cathedral

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A side altar

During Mass, in the part where they greet the pilgrims, they mention groups by name.  I had told them at the Pilgrim’s Office that we were a group, Trekking for Kids, from the U.S. and Canada and it was neat to hear us greeted during Mass.

We had heard that because 2014 was the 800th anniversary of St. Francis doing the Camino, the Church of San Francisco (St. Francis), not far from the Cathedral was issuing another certificate to pilgrims (the “Cotolaya“) so we went later that day to claim it (at this point, we would have taken any certificate issued to pilgrims, I think!).

Church of San Francisco, St. Francis, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Walking towards the Church of San Francisco (St. Francis)

Church of San Francisco, St. Francis, Santiago de Compostela, Camino, The Way, pilgrimage, Spain, España, Espagne, travel, trekking, hiking, photo, Olympus

Main altar at the Church of San Francisco

So our week-long trek along this millennial pilgrimage came to a glorious end.  It was a unique experience and I loved returning to Santiago de Compostela of which I will write some more in another post.  I have some suggestions for those considering the Camino.  Keep an eye out for that post!

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Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 6 from Salceda to Lavacolla

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Day 6 saw our last full day of our walk along the Camino de Santiago as Day 7 would be a short day.  Day 6’s walk took about 5 hours (perhaps about 18 km) not including our lunch stop at Amenal.  I felt both excited at getting close to the finish line and also a little bit sad that the end was so close.  We left the hotel (and our luggage) in Salceda after a good breakfast and walked a few minutes to get back on the Camino.  Along the way, I had been collected the needed stamps on my “credenciales” (pilgrim’s passport); these are required to be able to get the “Compostela” certificate upon arrival at the offices in Santiago de Compostela.

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The pilgrim’s “passport” (credenciales) that you must stamp every day

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Proudly showing my stamped “credenciales” (or pilgrim’s passport)

Sights along the Camino

As usual, our way was a mix of fields of flowers, small forests, farms, and churches.  And the ever present signs pointing the way.  Here are a few of the images from this day in our trek.Camino de Santiago, nature, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Camino de Santiago, yellow flowers, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Beautiful field of yellow

Camino de Santiago, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Camino de Santiago, flowers, hydrangea,hortensia, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Canon EOS Rebel

Hydrangeas were popular along the way

Camino de Santiago, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Just keep following the signs…

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Church

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Cemetery

An amazing place to stay:  Pazo Xan Xordo

Once we got to Lavacolla, a stone’s throw from Santiago’s airport actually, we walked a little bit to get to our lodging for the night:  Pazo Xan Xordo.  We were wowed by this 17th century home and farm with its own chapel and beautiful gardens.  This place was a real dream!

Camino de Santiago, hotel,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Pazo Xan Xordo and its front patio

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Chapel near the front entrance of Pazo Xan Xordo

Camino de Santiago, church, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

The inside of the chapel

It also has a small restaurant but it was not open for dinner so our host dropped us off and picked us back up for dinner in town, where we celebrated being so close to finishing with a great dinner and a dessert I had not had, but seen often, yet:  ice cream cake!

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The final dinner on the trail (in Lavacolla)!

Camino de Santiago, ice cream cake, dessert,Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

The ice cream cake

A perfect ending to another great day along the Camino!

Camino de Santiago, Lavacolla, Spain, España, Espagne, trekking, hiking, pilgrimage, travel, photo, outdoors, Olympus

Yours truly

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Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 7

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 5 from Boente to Salceda

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Day 5 would have us walk about 19 km (12 miles) in around a 4.5 hour period, leaving Boente to head to our next overnight stop in Salceda.  The group left together every morning and, generally, stayed in proximity of each other but a few of us would generally spend part of the morning walking on our own or in silence.  Oh, we enjoyed each other a great bit but the Camino is an invitation to pray and ponder, much as it is also very social (I mean, here are all these people walking in one direction, with one goal in mind) – or, at least, as social as one decides to make it.

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My shadow also came along; but I ignored it when I was deep in thought

As usual, the variety in the terrain and passing through small towns and rural areas were a rewarding aspect of the walk.  But even though we may be in the middle of nowhere at any given moment, we were not far from a potential place for a “rest stop” or getting a bite to eat.

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Even ruins are charming

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Some places to eat are literally right by the Camino

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One of the many water fountains along the way

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Camino, Santiago, Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda

Another eatery right along the Camino

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Pilgrims include bicyclists (whose minimum distance to claim the Camino is longer)

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Even ruins are charming

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A house, a granary and hydrangeas

In Salceda, we stayed at one of the nicest places we were to stay at the Albergue Turístico Salceda, a little bit of the trail but no more than a 5-10 minute walk away.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, España, The Way, hikking, trekker, travel, photo, sunny day, trail, Boente, Salceda

At the end of the day’s hike, it is acceptable to celebrate!

It was a nice day and, after showering, we lounged outdoors resting and relaxing – with a nice bottle of Albariño wine.  I’d call Day 5 another successful day on the Camino!

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One happy trekker!

 

Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 4 from Palas del Rei to Boente

Camino, Santiago, Spain, church, small town, village, Olympus, photo, travel, The Way, facade

After a great dinner in Palas del Rei and a nice comfortable stay overnight, we left the town on Day 4 to head to Boente, a tiny town and our next overnight.  On this day, I would walk 21 km (about 13 miles) in around 5 hours to get to my destination.  But we would first make a stop in Mélide to try its famous “pulpo” (octopus).  Now, I am not a fan of octopus and similar ugly sea creatures but I had heard about how good the pulpo was in this part of Spain so we took off from Palas del Rei knowing lunch would be in the town of Mélide – I had to try it, I mean, I didn’t come this far to not try the local specialty!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we had to have a mid-morning snack (even though the breakfast at the hotel in Palas del Rei was pretty darn good!).

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The pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) along the Camino is huge!

After eating that monster (OK, I shared…), I had too much energy as my trek roommate, Emory, could attest…Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekkers, blue, travel, hiking, photo, Samsung Galaxy

As usual, the path is well marked and consists of a wide range of trail types, some more natural than others.

Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trailsCamino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, trails It is always amazing how there is a symbiosis between the age-old trails and the farms or villages the trails go through.  Sometimes you feel bad you are walking right by people’s homes but, it is likely that the trail was there first…

Camino, Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, Olympus, photo, bridge, trails

The scenery can be quite charming!

One of my favorite parts of the walk is running into the old churches in the small towns along the way.  I am not sure how active these churches are (I am sure they don’t all have their own priest) but they serve as witnesses to the needs of the pilgrims back when the Camino was truly a journey of faith, not just a modern-day trek.

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One of several churches we passed this day

Camino, Santiago, Spain, church, small town, village, Olympus, photo, travel, The Way

Another church on our way

One of the good things about the Camino is the availability of clean, safe water to drink so you don’t have to be buying bottled water or treating water.  I filled my bottles at the places I stayed but you can also do refills along the way in any of the public fountains available to the trekkers.

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Water fountain along the trail

Now before I get to the “pulpo”, I have to say I enjoyed the chorizo small plate more than the pulpo.  The place we ate at was across a small church along the main street in Mélide.  It had long picnic-like tables and a nice mix of locals and pilgrims!

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Chorizo al vino in Mélide

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The guy at the “kitchen” (right by the front door) preparing the pulpo!

Oh, and I have not told you about one of my favorite discoveries along the Camino:  the delicious tarta de Santiago (a dense almond cake, sort of)!!  Yum.  #period

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Tarta de Santiago

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Leaving Mélide after a nice lunch of chorizo, pulpo, bread – and some wine…

The walk that day was long and, as we approached Boente, we could not wait to arrive at our “albergue”.  You could say this was the day we stayed at the “least” of our accommodations (not being a hotel or house) but it was perfect.  We had reserved two private rooms to share across the 8 of us and it was perfect as we did not have to fight with individual trekkers to get a bunk bed, etc.  The albergue was more than adequate and clean, and the dinner they served was delicious.  At this point in my life, I don’t want to do a trek where I have to wonder if I will find a spot to sleep on a given town, or whether the one I will find will be not right by the toilet so booking ahead is the way I trek.

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The awesome Albergue Boente!

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The Igrexa Santiago de Boente (right across the albergue)

After a stroll around town and dinner, it was time to end Day 4 and rest for Day 5!

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Read more about my Camino:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 3 from Portomarín to Palas del Rei

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I enjoyed our night in Portomarín as the town had a nice location along the Miño River – and we enjoyed sitting at a bar the night before with a nice wine enjoying the awesome weather.  So I was rested and ready for Day 3.

We left the hotel (and our luggage, which was picked up by a service that dropped it off at our next hotel)around 9 AM and went towards the river where we had just a little confusion as to which way to go.  We crossed the river and returned to the path that would take us to Palas del Rei.

As usual, we stopped for lunch at a place past Hospital but before Ligonde.  It has a very nice outdoor seating area with plenty of shade.  The menu was typical of the pilgrim’s menu.

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Menu board with the offerings for the day

In this case, for example, 9 euros would get you a nice burger or lomo (pork) with real French fries accompanied with fried eggs!

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Delicious!!!

I also have to highlight one of my favorite dishes:  ensalada mixta which has tomatoes, lettuce, tuna, onions, olives and just goodness!

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Not only colorful and diverse but mighty tasty!

Palas del Rei is a small town of over 3,000 people.  We arrived around 4:30 PM after a beautiful, but long walk, with some good climbs.

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Wildlife along the way!

Camino de Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, path, Palas del Rei, Samsung

Dirt path going between farms

Camino de Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, path, Palas del Rei, Olympus

Sometimes the Camino overlaps with a modern road

Camino de Santiago, Spain, trekking, hiking, path, Palas del Rei, Olympus

Continuing to walk in rural parts of the Camino

We walked into it and past a church where a funeral service was being held.  We approached it from the back and then saw the steps leading down from the church to the street below – a steep walk down.

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San Tirso Church

Our hotel, Hotel Casa Benilde was not far from that point (maybe 50 meters?).

We arrived at the hotel and the manager and his assistant were at the front desk, likely expecting us.  They were the nicest folks, so ready to make us feel at home, walking us through every detail – including how they could accommodate our celiac and vegetarians in the group.  The hotel lobby was small and, we found out, that was the reason they “scored” low on the star rating system in Spain.  We were shocked at the low star rating as this place had excellent customer service, incredible breakfast catering to the dietary needs (all items were labeled gluten-free or not, etc.), the rooms were clean (if small), and the wifi was great in the rooms.

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More about the Camino before Day 3:

–  Day 1

–  Day 2

And after Day 3:

–  Day 4

 

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 2 from Barbadelo to Portomarín

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Finally, the first long day of our Camino started on Day 2 in Barbadelo.  Day 1, as I wrote about, was really a “baby” hiking day.  All good; ’twas for a good reason (like getting to see O Cebreiro).  But I (along with my fellow trekkers) were really ready to tackle the ‘mino.

I enjoyed breakfast with jamón serrano (Spanish ham), cheese, fresh bread, OJ, and my café con leche.  I was well-fueled for the day!

As luck would have it, it was raining that morning.  And with my cheap rain poncho, I was looking like a Camino fool on a tear!

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Yep, this is me in my rain gear…

Once again, the trails are well-marked with yellow arrows (or the kilometer markers with the seashell).  Rarely did these markers fail us!

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The ever-present yellow arrow!

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Art mixed in with function after leaving Barbadelo

The trail is so varied all along the Camino.  I loved that because it kept me looking forward to what else we would see.  And it kept me paying attention to my surroundings – which made me not take the scenery for granted.

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The Camino’s paths are very diverse.

Camino frances, trail, Camino, Santiago, Spain, travel, photo, trekking, Olympus Camino frances, trail, Camino, Santiago, Spain, travel, photo, trekking, Olympus

As lunch time was nearing, we passed Ferreiros, a small hamlet with a cute little church with an accompanying cemetery.

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The Church of Santa Maria in Ferreiros

But all wasn’t pretty landscape and charming little churches.  Lunch time was a time for rest, and a time for good food.  And, occasionally, a glass of local table wine or a glass of beer (I normally did not drink but a couple of times did have a glass of wine).

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Lunch on the Camino: wine is always near!

After what felt like a very long day, we finally spotted the Miño River, which meant we had arrived at our destination for the day:  the town of Portomarín, one of the largest we went through at over 2,00o or so inhabitants.  The original town (with a long history with the Camino) is now under water as it was flooded when a dam was built downstream – so the town we stayed in is fairly young.  However, it is worth noting that key buildings, like the main church, were moved before the old town was flooded to a new spot in the town.

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The Río Miño – and our destination on other side!

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About to enter Portomarín!

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A choice of stairs OR a riverside road to get to our hotel…

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Samsung Galaxy, bridge

Not that I was tired and trying to hitch a ride to Santiago!

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The charming streets of Portomarin

A festival had just taken place and there were some types of branches strewn about the main square and down the main pedestrian street.  The main street was cute and colorful and clearly well-lived by the locals.

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The main plaza after a festival

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Colorful balconies and one seemingly bored local

Portomarin, Galicia, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The reminders of the festival make for a beautiful carpet on the main street

The Church of San Juan (San Xoán) was moved, as I said, from the old town to a new spot.  It is late Romanesque and feels like a church and a castle at the same time.  We went in as we found out it was open to stamp pilgrims’ Camino passports but, unfortunately, there was no Mass scheduled for that evening.

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The moved Church of San Juan

The interior was simple without being plain.  I found it very peaceful.

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Main altar of the Church of San Juan – modest

After our first full day of hiking, I was glad to enjoy a nice meal, some vino, and a nice peaceful view from our room at the hotel.

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The end of the day offered this reward from the balcony of my room.

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 1 from Sarria to Barbadelo

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As I explained in an earlier post, my time to do the Camino de Santiago was limited so we started in Sarria, west of León, 110 kms from the end point in Santiago de Compostela.

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The first marker of our hike: the 110 kilometer marker!

The itinerary though had us visiting O Cebreiro and Samos prior to starting the hike so that didn’t leave us much time on Day 1 to hike.  So we hiked a very short distance that day going from Sarria to Barbadelo, a small town with a very nice small hotel “Casa Barbadelo.”

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Our group in Sarria, about to start the Camino!

I am certainly glad to have seen O Cebreiro and Samos but it made for a long day on the road and I was, along with my fellow trekkers, eager to get on the Camino for real.  Though the hike that day was very short (1.5 hours or so), it was a good warm-up.

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The ever-present shell of the Camino – you see it anywhere in Europe where the Camino goes through!

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The way forward marked by the sign and the yellow arrow!

The terrain we crossed went by some major highway but it was very rural and lush, crossing farms along the way.

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Highway near Paredes

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Very lush lands between Sarria and Barbadelo

The highlight was crossing a 12th century bridge named the Aspera bridge that crosses the Celeiro River.

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The Aspera bridge (and the ever-present yellow arrows!)

We did enjoy arriving at Casa Barbadelo where we shared 3 rooms among eight of us.

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Approaching Casa Barbadelo

The rooms were basic but spacious and the buildings in Casa Barbadelo were quite new.  The grounds were quite nice and the place even had a pool.

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The front yard of Casa Barbadelo – note the outdoor seating area on the right

We enjoyed a GREAT meal and lots of good laughs that night accompanied (or triggered?) by one or two glasses of sangria.  A perfect ending to a long but short (does that make sense?!), easy first day on the Camino!

Along the Camino: Charming O Cebreiro

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As I mentioned in a prior post, I started the Camino de Santiago around kilometer 110 in Sarria due to time constraints.  However, the group that organized the trek, Trekking for Kids, knew from a prior trek that O Cebreiro was a town we could not missed.  So on our way to start our Camino, we made a stop to see O Cebreiro in Lugo, Spain.

O Cebreiro, Spain, Camino, Santiago, kilometer marker, yellow arrow, travel, photo, Olympus

O Cebreiro is just 151 km away from Santiago. The yellow arrow indicates the way to Santiago for the pilgrims.

If you are already on the Camino, you will go one up to the most challenging uphills in all the Camino (not THE most, but one of the most from what I am told) to get to O Cebreiro.  But based on what I saw, I would say you would be rewarded by arriving at O Cebreiro.

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The town has a few souvenir shops and eateries: a good stop for a pilgrim!

O Cebreiro is known for its “pallozas” (huts).  It is said they belie the pre-Roman history of the town.

O Cebreiro, Spain, Camino, palloza, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

The palloza architecture

O Cebreiro, Spain, Camino, palloza, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Another example of the architecture typical of the town

O Cebreiro, Spain, Camino, palloza, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Even the trash bins espouse the palloza architectural style!

O Cebreiro is also known for a miracle that happened there.  The miracle happened in the early 14th century when a peasant struggled on a harsh winter day to get to the town to hear Mass and the Virgin Mary appeared during the consecration of the host and wine.  Back in those days, the story of what happened traveled through Europe and even the Catholic Monarchs themselves, Ferdinand and Isabella, did a pilgrimage to the town.

Its current church, Santa María la Real,  is not that old at all but it is built on ruins discovered in the 1960s of a pre-Romanesque church.  The baptismal font does that from the 9th century so there is something really old in there 🙂

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Looking into the church…

O Cebreiro, Spain, Lugo, Santa Maria la Real, church, Olympus, photo, travel, altar

Close up of the altar

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Side altar at the church

The church is simple and charming but definitely a great place for a wedding!

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Wedding guests enjoying the town as a waiting room

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The bride and groom’s ride! Awesome!

As we wrapped up our visit to get to Samos (where we would visit its famous and huge monastery), we saw where the Camino leaves town headed west towards Santiago de Compostela.  It only made us more eager to get our show on the road at Sarria, our departure point.  But first, Samos!

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Pilgrims leaving O Cebreiro to continue their Camino… (Note the yellow arrow on the building.) Buen Camino!

 

On the Camino de Santiago I Went – Another Pilgrim

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The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, is an ancient pilgrimage indeed with a timeline of over 1,000 years.  Pilgrims from all over Europe would come from far and near to visit the place where St. James (or Santiago) is buried:  under the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain (Galicia, to be more precise).

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A map in O Cebreiro showing the many routes pilgrims took from all over Europe to get to NW Spain

In modern days, though, not all who “do” the Camino are necessarily doing it for spiritual reasons but I would find hard to believe that most don’t get something spiritual out of the sacrifice and effort doing the Camino requires.

The Camino is a joy not only for the experience of trekking these ancient “ways”.  I have to admit that the social and culinary were also part of my Camino.

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One of my favorites from my childhood re-encountered in the Camino: croquetas!

I will aim to share about the experience in a couple of different ways in this and upcoming posts:

  • The first way will be to simply share what everyday was like using photographs and other thoughts – whether you ever plan to or want to do it.
  • The second will be by sharing what I did to prepare and do the Camino, in case you are yourself hoping to, or actually planning to, do the Camino.

Why I went

I first learned more about the Camino when I met a co-worker back in 2003 who had just done the Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port – so about 30 days’ worth of trekking (close to 800km or 500 miles).  It all sounded hard and just too much time.  Over the years, as we became good friends, I enjoyed hearing stories about what the Camino was like and the friendships he struck along the way.  It made me curious about the Camino though I never thought I would want to “walk” for 30 days.

Years later, as I got more into trekking/hiking, I started thinking that I -some day- would want to do it (or part of it, to be more precise).  Watching the movie “The Way” helped inspire me but not tons more.  The coup de grace was when an organization I do treks with, Trekking for Kids, announced they would do a trek to do the Camino in the summer of 2014.  That sealed the deal.  Combining both my desire to do the Camino with the mission of Trekking for Kids (to improve the lives of orphaned and at-risk children around the world) was the perfect reason to go.

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The group of trekkers and the children and staff of the Bayti Centre in Essaouira

How we did the Camino de Santiago

The Trekking for Kids trek mixed a few days at a center for at-risk children in Essaouira, Morocco, called Bayti Centre, followed by seven days on the Camino (read more about our time at the Bayti Centre here).  Because the overall trek had to be kept to less than two weeks, the starting point of the Camino had to be picked such that we could do the minimum required distance (100km for those walking; 200km for those cycling) to be able to get the “compostela” (or the certificate issued in Santiago de Compostela that validates that you did the Camino) yet stay within the desired overall trip duration.  In addition, it had to allow for the travel day or two between Morocco and the start of the hike.

The preferred route was the traditional Camino Francés which is sort of parallel to the northern coast of Spain but further inland.  It is likely the most popular route of all though I wonder how the other routes are (and secretly hope I can check out some day!).

This meant we would need to start the hike at the last possible point we could and still meet the minimum walking requirements:  the town of Sarria, which meant we would do more than the 100km minimum (at least, 110km).  There were, however, a couple of important towns right before Sarria that were worth seeing (O Cebreiro and Samos), yet we did not have time to hike through them (would have required one or two more hiking days) – so the itinerary included driving through these towns before being dropped off on the trailhead from which our hike would start.

Our Camino route

Our hiking itinerary was as follows (click on the Day to read the post for that day!):

  • Day 1:  Begin at Sarria.  After a very short (“warm-up”) hike, we would overnight at Barbadelo.
  • Day 2:  From Barbadelo to Portomarín
  • Day 3:  From Portomarín to Palas del Rei
  • Day 4:  From Palas del Rei to Boente
  • Day 5:  From Boente to Salceda
  • Day 6:  From Salceda to Lavacolla
  • Day 7:  From Lavacolla to Santiago.

The map that follows highlights in a blue oval the town of Sarria, our starting point (immediately to the right, you will see Samos; further to the right, you will notice O Cebreiro).  The purple line that connects the blue oval to Santiago de Compostela to the west (left, on the map) is the route of our itinerary.Galicia, Camino, Santiago, Compostela, camino frances, Frenc route, Sarria, map, pilgrimage

On to Day 1!

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