camino de santiago

First off we did not walk the Camino de Santiago because of the movie The Way. And now you are like what is the Camino de Santiago? According to wikipedia The, also known by the English names “The Way of St James” “Route of Santiago de Compostela” and “Road to Compostela” is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes (most commonly the Camino Francés or French route) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many take up this route as a form of spiritual path or retreat, for their spiritual growth.

Most of you will know that I am a book worm and it seems that the story of the Camino has always been there in the background. Lovely Dom Richard who married us often spoke of it with Sean. It was just an adventure that we always wanted to do. You know yourself you always want to do something but the time is never right or you put it on the long finger. The time came over two years ago when we said “Right lets just book off the six weeks and do this!” Being self employed wedding photographers we had to block book that time off ages in advance. It seemed crazy. I remember the first couple of wedding inquiries I had to refer, I thought to myself this is totally insane! Six weeks away from work, having to be on top of my game with the workload and not fall behind before we go. The amount of work and lack of income was a mess. You know what though, if you want to an adventure or to make something come to life, you can’t just sit back and wait for it. Make a plan, see it through, make it happen! So we really did have over two years to plan this adventure. Where all that time went I still don’t know!

I asked people what did they want to know about the Camino and most of ye wanted to know what we did to prepare and then what a normal day was like.

In truth we really didn’t do anything until the beginning of 2014. It all started when my friend Caroline asked how the prep was going, this could have been November 13′ maybe. Sure, what prep is there really, bag on back, walking, fun times, walking, drinking, fun times, eating, sleeping repeat. I said the same to Sean. At the time, the most important thing was to choose our route and take it from there. We decided on the Camino Francés. The most popular one. We figured it was the one we had heard the most about and the one we kinda knew from others. It was the one I knew from all my old books. Job done, closer to the time we would buy all our stuff and we really would start training. A while later another text and that said there was 5 months till we leave. YIKES!!! Life and work really do get in the way!

We both started walking then one of us kept walking. I have always loved walking, but longs walks twice a week was time consuming and was turning into a chore. There was still all that editing and work to be done. So I started jogging. Oh god I was so bad at it. A jogging donkey would be more graceful! Sean then started jogging with me. More for motivation than moral support. We built it up over time. Eventually we were up to almost 10k three times a week. Jogging is quick and easy, but lads you don’t jog the Camino!

We met with Seans uncle Noel who does walking tours on the Camino. He listened patiently as we explained our keep fit regime. He then sat back and gave us that knowing look. What he said to us, just sounded so fecking alien and ridiculous that I just wanted to laugh. He said that being fit was one thing but we needed to walk at least 20km in one direction, he gave the example of us walking from Limerick to Killaloe. When we got to Killaloe, we were to have lunch and go home via bus or car. The next morning get up and do the same thing. Noel said that when we got to the point where we could do this for a few days in a row without aches or pains that we were ready. He also advised that we should take in some decent hills along the way. All I heard that day was Killaloe… Seriously?! Killaloe?! THAT WAS MILES AWAY! Noel might as well have said walk to the moon!

We did pack our bags in April 2014. Water, bananas, the amount of weight we would be carrying. (They say your bag should be 10% of your body weight.) I had decided I would wear my trainers and Sean wore hiking boots. We walked along the canal across the country to Killaloe. Which is not 20kms from Limerick, according to our GPS it was closer to 28km. We walked at a leisurely pace, taking a break every two hours as we would on the Camino. In my head I figured we’d walk 5kms per hour. I knew roughly what time we should be in Killaloe for. The mental and it was mental thing that happened after 24km is that I almost lost my marbles. I had no idea why we weren’t in Killaloe, I didn’t know when this walk was going to be over. I was tired I wanted it to be over. Sean slowed his pace and watched as I started sing Disney theme songs out loud like a crazy woman, making up my own words skipping and laughing till I almost cried! When finally the town was in sight I said to Sean, that I had to just run and get it done. Off I went until I couldn’t run any more. We got in had lunch and a drink and went home. We did not get up early the next day. Though my feet were not sore, the rest of me was. Sean who wore his boots was pretty darn sore too. We eventually got up and did a 10km which took forever. We realised we were goosed. We were due to leave in four months. Okay, maybe goosed is not the word I verbalised at the time!

With that, walking long distances became more commonplace. One place we would go walking a lot was through The Burren, hence all the pics in this post that have nothing to do with the Camino. Confusing much I know! We would get in the car, book a B&B and walk and walk in all types of weather. We even brought friends with us. Even if we couldn’t get to the Burren we would walk laps around Limerick as much as we possibly could in a week. In July we took up spinning. We had done it years before and found it super beneficial to our health and overall fitness. We would go twice a week for an hour plus our walking. In the weeks leading up to the walk it went to three times a week with the walking.

Fast forward to July. A friend asked if we had booked the tickets and I was like, No sure, its grand. We leave the first of September, no matter what and the tickets will available no probs!.

August, I was now frantically researching what we should bring. I read all the blogs. I worried all the time about having to use the loo in open countryside. I worried about the sleeping situations, the showering situations.I worried all the time about my own shyness and how was I going to cope with a sheer lack of privacy. I had now stopped worrying about the walk itself. I felt that, that part at least I had covered. Then I was asked again had we booked our flights. I was just about to do it one evening, When Sean told me that Granny was coming to town and realistically we wouldn’t be leaving till later. I was like okay but it just means we have to add it on at the end. Forgetting that Sean already had to be back earlier for a big job. The joys of being self employed! Our pleasant relaxing trip of six weeks across Spain had now been chopped into 28 days..ish.

So while Granny came to town I made a list of what need to be bought and packed. Granny was pretty awesome and I did get a kick of buying Camino items while she strolled around town.

One day I went to Spain and in my bag I packed.

1 27litre bag, with rain cover.

2 dry bags. When there were days where we couldn’t dry or wash our clothes they went into one dry bag, clean clothes in the other.

4 pairs of shorts ( of which I only ever wore 2)

5 t-shirts from Pennies ( of which I wore 3 two long sleeve and one short)

3 vest tops

1 pair of long leggings. Handy for cold and sunburnt leg days. Worn a lot!

1 long skirt ( i wore it twice, it rained both times!)

1 dress ( wore once )

1 fleece

1 rain jacket

3 pairs of socks

3 pairs of underwear

1 pair of flip flops

2 hats, one for sunny days and a woolly one for cold mornings

1 travel towel

1 litre bottle in side pocket

One small mesh toiletry bag which contained: travel size shampoo, one bar of soap, a razor, toothbrush, toothpaste

First aid kit which contained: plasters, tweezers, scissors, pain killers, spray antiseptic, safety clips, string, ear plus, long elastic bandage and antihistamines. { We both had a zip lock bag containing the same}

1 zip lock bag with passport and travel docks.

1 wallet

1 sleeping bag liner.

1 large tub of Vaseline and 2 small bottle of travel detergent ( these items were shared back and forth between myself and Sean when walking)

In case you are wondering, the toiletry bag was mesh so you could with safety clips attach it to the outside of the rucksack and dry our while walking

Like wise the safety pins and string were brought in case we needed to dry clothes between beds at night.

My bag weighed 6kg, 7k when the water bottle was full. I wore a pair of Asics trainers with arch support. That was it really. Um I brought my phone an adapter and charger.

Sean has more a less the same, he just brought three sets of everything ( no skirt or dress though) he had the camera, cards, and the Camino travel book. Sean bought a 33lt bag. I should have done in fairness, but didn’t as was afraid I would pack more into it. It turns out I would have just had the advantage of having more room.

We kept our zip lock first aid bags in the top pocket of our rucksacks for easy access.

We had this idea to wear our water bottles on the front of our bags with a clip (like a Clip & Climb thingy). We forgot to do this on the first day so we learned how to walk while taking bottles of each others side pockets. We thought about the hydration packs. Loads of people had them. I was stuck for space in my bag as it was so, that was ruled out. I have to say though seeing what was left in your bottle was a gift and a reminder to drink more or that you had to fill up stat! We learned to continuously sup at the water bottle. Never guzzle it. We would normally drink about 4 litters a day while walking.

A few days before we left we met up with Uncle Noel for some more advice and tips. Lets face it at this point we were like lambs to the slaughter. He gave us much advice but because you are probably tired of reading my waffle I will bullet point what we lived by and leaded to us having such a wonderful experience.

Blisters! Blisters are caused by friction and you probably won’t even notice it starting. It will feel like a tiny TINY grain of sand in your shoe. If this happens. STOP. take off your shoe, clean your foot of Vaseline and make sure its not actual sand. If you can’t see anything pad the area with a plaster cover the rest of the foot in Vaseline, shoe back on and continue on your walk. Noel said not to ignore this feeling or indeed if you did get a small stony in your shoe don’t continue on, even if you can see your destination. Stop and check. We did this religiously and neither of us got a blister in the 700km we walked. I got one tiny one, that cleared after a day, I am sure it was from new shoe syndrome. It never came back.

Each morning cover your feet in Vaseline. It helps stops the friction which leads to blisters.

Look at your days walk, like its your days work, so on average you will walk 7 or 8 hours, in which you will take breaks.

Don’t think of it as if you walk 5km an hour and you want to walk 25km it will take you 5 hours. That simply won’t happen and you will drive your self demented. Some days you walk faster or slower than others.

Take a break every two hours regardless of where you are and take off your shoes. Let yourself and your feet breath.

Get into your albergue early enough in the day, in the busy season they fill quickly. Try get in around mid afternoon. It also means your not walking in the heat of the afternoon sun. Shower straight away and change into fresh clothes. You need to give yourself the mental break. Its like you have finished your days work and now need to chill!

Get your bag ready for the next day, have respect for the other sleeping pilgrims, be in a position just get up and go.

ALWAYS ALWAYS, find your way out of the town/village the afternoon before you leave while its bright. Not doing this and getting lost in the morning will cost you valuable time.

Stay hydrated. Always check your water and don’t run out. Most churches will have a fountain on its grounds.

Have fun, don’t rush it, IT IS NOT A RACE!!!

Treating our daily walk like it was a days work was probably the best advice I got. Even though I knew we walked 5km an hour (more and faster on flat or down hill) it stopped me being so rigid about the time scale of the day. If I gave myself 8 hours walking time and we got in early it was a bonus. It stopped me having another crazy Disney episode! That and the Vaseline. It literally saved our feet.

Then I guess I will run through a normal day.

In the beginning we were waking up at 5.30 or 6am. Get dressed apart from feet, Vaseline our feet within an inch of their lives, then sock up. Roll up sleeping bag and put away. To bathroom brush teeth and use the loo. Out of the dorm with backpack, find shoes. Shoes on.

Most of the time we would be out with in twenty minutes of waking. Some-days this was longer, due to sleep deprivation or pure laziness.

Once outside the albergue we would put the headlight on Sean and then walk to the nearest fountain and get water and then start on the days walk.

In the beginning we would walk for an hour or two through the dark. Most of this time we would walk in single file so I could follow the light. Other times I would get out my phone and use its flash light. We should have bought two lights!!!

By the time it started to get bright, you would normally becoming into a town or village. Most of the trails would have a coffee shop as soon as you walked in. Handy much! We would take our first two hour break here, have our cafe con leche and breakfast. Most of the time breakfast was on omelet with bread or a tortilla that sometimes would two layers with mayonnaise and ham in-between. Pan au chocolates were a bit hit with us too for breakfast.

Bags back on, we would walk again. All the time looking out for yellow arrows on houses or ground, some towns had the trail marked with bronze scollop shells, others with a blue sign with a white scallop shell. Some times you would just follow those in front of you hoping they were paying attention to the markings. Other times it was so flat you could see pilgrims walking off into the horizon. Some times we would walk together or ahead of one another. Sean designed a way of carrying the camera strap over his neck and laces through the hood of the camera bag. It meant that he didn’t feel the weight of it. Genius. We would laugh and say hello with fellow pilgrims who had we had passed out earlier and who were now passing us out. We would chat about our lives and our plans for the future. We would chat about work our worries about being away for so long and what we would be going back to. We would reminisce about our early days of dating and laugh till we cried and had to sit down. Other days we would walk long lengths of time in total blissful silence. Then before we knew it, it was time to stop again. And so the day went in this fashion until we reached our destination. I have to mention. I never had to pee outside in the wild. I saw many that did, I still don’t know why. You never really walk for that long with out stumbling across some small shop or place that has a loo. Granted there are days where there is no where to go for a few hours, then again but then just don’t gulp water and fill your bladder slow and steady people!

The ideal is to walk 20 or 25kms a day. In the first week we had no clue what we were doing and it took us a while to find our Camino legs. There were days where we would get into a town that we had decided would be our home for the night. Yet we would arrive at 11 am when the albergue would still closed for cleaning. Shops weren’t really open for lunch and were only serving pastries and coffee, when all we wanted was lunch food. So we found ourselves walking into to the next town and then the next. In the first week it felt that we walked for the sake of it. To get it done, conscious of only having 28 days. We would walk any where from 25-42km a day in that first week. It was craziness and not sustainable. There was one day where we walked 40kms and arrived into a town around 4pm and there was no where to stay. One of the Koreans ( you will meet them later) looked at me with total panic explaining that not even the hotel had a bed. Not even the places that slept 80+ to a room had a cambas (bed) for us. That feeling of total desperation, when you had nothing left to give, no more steps left in your feet, to be told that there was no room in the Inn, it was the end of the world. I just can’t explain it. Sean left me at the side of a road, I literally had nothing left in me to walk, he came back a time later having found two beds. I didn’t jump for joy with relief, we paid for our bed with silent gratitude and laid down for a long time. That was a well taught lesson and was the last time we walked that distance in one day. We learned then to chill out and enjoy the time we had on the Camino.

We would look through Brierley’s book every day. In the end we used the map with a large pinch of salt. It was however brilliant for deciding your lodgings for the night. We normally would try and find some where that had smaller dorms or rooms that slept four to six. That was the ideal. It didn’t always work that way. You would make a choice of three and just pray you would get one of them. You would queue up along beside fellow pilgrims, shoes off and wait your turn to check in. Checking in meant you gave over your passport and your credential. They would take your passport details, ask where you started from and stamp your credential. It would cost anything from 5-12 euros to stay in the municipal albergues (government run places with larger dorms and basic facilities) 9-12 euros up would see you bumped up to private albergues with smaller rooms blankets on the beds and normally they would have an option for you to get your dinner from them that evening. Once you had paid you would be given a stamped docket with your room and bunk number. Once you found your bunk you would place your sleeping bag on it, it was like this unwritten rule that the bed was now claimed as yours! We normally stayed in the Municipal albergues which didn’t always have lockers. So we would take it in turns to have showers and mind the others belongings. To be fair I never saw or heard of any theft on the Camino. It would have been just fine to leave our bags alone. All clean of the red grit and dust from walking we would repack our bags and set about washing and drying our clothes from that day. Most places had washers and dryers for an exuberant fee. If not it was a basin and a good scrub and then dried on a clothes horse. To be collected later that evening. After the first week we started saving up our clothing in the spare dry bags and washing and drying a load. Bed bugs are rife on the Camino. Heat is one of the things that kills them. So every other day we’d boil washed our clothes and dry them on the hottest settings. It was an expensive task in the end, worth it for fresh clean clothes. We came home without having crossed their creepy paths.

Once your had your house work done we would head for a wander around the village or town we ended up in. Some times it was a village with a population of 8 and there wasn’t much to see. These were the nights you really chatted with fellow pilgrims. Other times there would be too much to see all at once. By the time we were ready to go and see things it was about 3pm. Siesta time. With not much open for food, or shops to buy food. The bars were however, open. The funny thing was we would always end up at a bar with friends old and new. So you would find yourself sitting with a cool beer passing the time away. Shops opened at 5pm and more often than not we would buy food to cook in the albergue later that evening for dinner and lunch for the next day. If we did feel lazy we would book a pilgrims dinner which was normally served at 7pm. These dinners would cost anything from 9-15 euros each. Three courses and half a bottle of wine. They were almighty craic where where everyone chatted and laughed the evening away. Eventually we stopped going to these meals. Our budget was €50 for the day. It all adds up. We discovered that if we bought fresh ingredients in the shops for dinner and lunch the next day, plus a bottle or two of wine, that bill came to €10! With all the albergue that side of Galicia having kitchens this was the best option. It was so much fun cooking in the small kitchens with people from all over the world. Stirring others food, sharing ingredients, learning new tips and tricks. Sometimes I thought this was so much more real than the pilgrims meals in the bars. After dinner you would read or do more socialising or write in your book or god forbid take a stroll.

All the albergues had a curfew. Lights out was at ten. Most nights we found ourselves already in bed by 9 and drifting off to sleep. Its sounds nuts, but you will be that tired. You body will be craving that old battered mattress to sleep in. I would throw in my headphones and try have the volume loud enough to drown out the snoring but not loud enough to wake others. Then they broke and I had no option but to deal with the snoring, just like everyone else. I heard from one lady that there comes a time on the Camino when you no longer hear the snores. She was right there did come that time when sheer exhaustion kicked in and you slept through the night. They were the best sleeps.

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