There are millions of thoughts that keep visiting my mind every day, every single minute. Some of them get lost in the middle of their way, some of them stay and refuse to leave unless I realize them. Where do they come from? As the closest ones would confirm I am a keen observer. I explore everything that sorrounds me. I also love spending time with people who are inspiring in any way, yet I enjoy being alone welcoming ideas in calming silence. Either way it was, one day I found myself thinking about taking on the Camino de Santiago. As I knew well I was not ready to undertake such a challenge on my own I introduced this plan to a very good friend of mine. To my pleasure she eagerly accepted my offer and we only booked our flight tickets few hours later.
It is not common to ask pilgrims what has motivated them. The reasons might be very personal and not everybody is ready to share them with random people. Religious reasons, personal crisis, physical challenges, but also a lost of somebody they loved, the reasons may be various. And I simply did not find it correct to ask them such question. Myself, I did not have specific reasons for Camino or more likely I did not think about it much to be honest. Instead of "why" I wondered "can I do this?". I saw it as a personal challenge, exciting adventure that I need to live.
It was after I had left Portugal and returned to my daily routine that I realized one important fact. After I came back to my life I understood that this journey took me to a completely different world - the pilgrim one. Not a single day on the way is the same and yet it becomes routine very soon. Waking up at 6, getting your backpack ready, breakfast on the way, walking and walking again, finding a place to sleep, washing your clothes, dinner and finally some sleep. The only concern you have is how many kilometres you have to walk and what to eat throughout the day. More than in the political situation you are now interested in your feet that are about to get blistered. More than work related problems, you are thinking about the wonderful views that distinguish one day from another and make them unique. You cannot wait to be in the finish, because that is why you initially got on the road, but when you finally get there you realize it is way too soon. But now you get it all, now you understand. Not the finish but the way is all this is about.
"So, what did you find out on the Camino?" Some friend asked me. More than experiencing some spiritual awakening I realized quite a few things.
- I can walk 6 hours per day
- I can sleep on a different place every night
- I really don't need many things in my life
- and I can carry them all in one backpack
- the less I expect, the more I get
- and people are actually really kind creatures
Now some practical information for you:
There are about 300 thousands of pilgrims every year. Why do they just go to Santiago de Compostela? According to the legend and some written records the remains of St James can be found in the cathedral of this city. Even though St James was initially burried in Jerusalem, his remains were later on moved to Spain. People found out a few centuries later when his new grave was lighten up by number of stars. A church that was built on that place was replaced by a stunning cathedral and has attracted pilgrims ever since. The first pilgrimage took place in 951.
Credencial functions as sort of an ID for a pilgrim. We bought it for 2€ in Cathedral Sé in Porto. You fill it with stamps on your way to Santiago. You can get them in restaurants, hostels, churches, coffeeshops and other places. At the end of your Camino you use your credencial to prove your pilgrimage and the Pilgrim's Reception Office will give you an official certificate in return.
Camino and its signage
There are now 12 official ways (and number of the unofficial ones) how to get to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I had two reasons to choose the Portuguese one - so called Camino Portugués. First of all this way starts in Porto which had been on my travel list for a long time and the other reason was the distance. Unlike the Spanish way measuring around 500km, the Portuguese one is only 260km long. Therefore much doable for beginners.
I found the Camino to be very well organised in terms of tourist signs. You just need to follow the yellow flashes or the scallop shell which has been the symbol of Camino for many years now.
We also soon found out that pilgrims are greeting each other saying Bom Caminho or its Spanish version Buen Camino.
Every 15 to 20km you can find an albergue - hostels intended to accommodate pilgrims only. They are run by the state and cost about 6-8€ per night.
Albergues are equipped and furnished very simply. Kitchen usually lacks the cookware and other kitchen utensils. Sleeping bag is a necessity as no duvet is usually provided. However, if you are lucky you might get a pillow. On the other hand I must admit that all the albergues I have been to were clean and well-maintained. In addition all pilgrims were very polite. They always cleaned after themselves and respected others. Therefore despite being in a room with more than 30 people (men and women together) I never had any issue.
Pilgrims have to leave the building before 8 AM so that it can get ready before new pilgrims arrive. Albergue opens again at 1 PM.
You cannot reserve a place ahead in an albergue. Here you need to follow the rule "first come first served." I did not believe it much until we really did not fit inside one night and were forced to sleep outside, just few metres from the ocean. This actually happened to be one of the best experience of the trip.
Sometimes we chose to sleep in a hostel (around 15€ per night). The most beautiful hostel I have ever been to is Casa do Sardão and you can find it in Carreco. While we were sunbathing with a small pool nearby, horses, sheep and goats were keeping us company.
There are two options of Camino Portugués - the coastal and continental one. As I am a sea and ocean lover it was pretty easy for me to make the choice.
Camino de Santiago is not a race, everybody has their own pace which can vary from pilgrim to pilgrim. To complete the way we knew that on an avarage we have to do 25km per day. There were days we walked around 35km but also days we did much less. One day we made only 8km as my poor friend got heatstroke. Later on Lenka started to cough really badly so that we were forced to use the train for one of the stages. All together we did 230 out of 260km.
Porto – Vila do Conde
Vila do Conde – Marinhas
Marinhas – Carreco
Carreco – Vila Praia de Ancora
Vila Praia de Ancora – Vila Nova de Cerveira
Vila Nova de Cerveira – Tui (another lovely hostel can be found here Ideas Peregrinas)
Tui – Redondela
Redondela – Pontevedra
Pontevedra - Pontecesures (taking train due to the illness)
Pontecesures – Santiago de Compostela
Before I started getting ready for Camino, I had watched number of videos on Youtube and read a few articles written by former pilgrims. I wanted to avoid mistakes they kindly highlighted and I tried to use common sense. I knew that the rule "the less the better" must be certainly applied here. Experienced travelers say that the weight of your backpack should not be higher than 10% of your weight.
Also, you must not forget that not only you will be carrying clothes, sleeping bag and other things, but also food and drink for one day at least.
To be honest I think I packed my luggage really well. I used everything I had put in my backpack and did not miss anything during the whole 2 weeks. If I was to leave tomorrow and do the Camino again I would do my backpack in the same way.
What to bring with you depends when you are planning to go. As we did the Camino in July my packing list is a summer version and would differ from the winter one a lot.
back pack: Osprey Fairpoint 40L - Except for other things, the fact that this is a carry-on luggage persuaded me to go for this one.
sleeping bag: For summer period you only need a very simple one. No need to invest more money here.
toiletries: toothbrush, travel toothpaste, hairbrush, solid shampoo and soap 2v1, coconut oil in a small container (I use it instead of a cream), deodorant in a small container, suncream, razor, cleansing facial gel
soap for laundry: We were washing our clothes almost every evening and I was more than grateful to have this with me.
1x tank top
1x T-shirt with long sleeves
1x waterproof jacket with hood
running shoes: I did 95% of the Camino wearing them.
flip-flops: This is a reward for your feet after all the walking at the end of the day and they are also perfect for showers in hostels.
3 pairs of socks
raincoat for yourself and your backpack
Kindle: I read two books on my Camino.
earbuds: This is a must if you plan to sleep in albergues and hostels.
sunglasses and normal glasses + one glasses case
nurofen, eye drops, (a lot of) plasters
2x plastic bags: This can come really handy.
6x snack bar: just for the beginning
The only thing I was envying other pilgrims were their trekking poles. Especially the first 3 days before my hips got used to carrying the heavy backpack.
Whether you decide to do the Camino in winter or summer, from Spain or Portugal, alone or with somebody, I wish you enjoy it as much as you can. Let the Camino change you life.