How to prepare for walking the Camino de Santiago

I read several books on how to prepare, among them, John Brierley’s “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago”, Jean-Christie Ashmore’s “Camino de Santiago, To Walk Far Carry Less” and “Seven Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago” by Cheri Powell. I also regularly browsed an online Camino de Santiago forum of questions, advice and tips on everything from travel to how to deal with bed bugs and blisters.
The guidebooks recommended carrying a pack that weighed no more than about 12 percent of body weight.
Once we started walking, we mostly stayed in hostels.
The hostels, or albergues, on the camino route are typically run by religious organizations, municipalities or private individuals. The religious and municipal albergues cost us between 5 and 7 Euro per night, privately run hostels 12-15 Euro.
The euro was worth about $1.10 when we traveled.
Accommodation was basic; sometimes there were two-person rooms, but mostly there were mixed dorms with bunk beds, shower and toilet facilities down the hall, a cold-water wash basin to do laundry and an outdoor washing line.
For 20 or 30 euros you could get a private room with bath. Using a washing machine and dryer, if available, cost around 6 euro.
A breakfast, usually of coffee toast or pastry and orange juice, was available in some of the private albergues for between 2.50 and 4 euros. If not, we walked to the nearest village, usually within one or two hours, and bought something to eat.
Although people in Spain typically don’t eat an evening meal until after 9 p.m., restaurants in the towns and tiny villages offered a three-course”pilgrim meal” at from 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. costing around 10 euro, including wine.
Most of the villages, even the tiniest, had a pharmacy, farmacia, where you could get basic medicines and foot care products, and a shop where you could buy food for breakfast or dinner. The larger towns had ATM machines where you could withdraw cash for daily expenses. Few of the albergues or businesses accepted credit cards.
We used our iphones for basic communication. We turned off the cellular data function in the settings and relied on wi-fi, pronounced wee-fee in Spain, to search the Internet and send messages or make phone calls via online services such as Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook.

Reflections on returning home

  We arrived back in Albuquerque on the evening of Thursday, July 9, almost eight weeks since we departed in mid-May for our Camino de Santiago pilgrimage journey.
It is weird to be back to see some things changed and some just the same. Odd to be driving a car after so many weeks of walking or taking buses and trains. Odd to see Albuquerque experiencing rain, but welcome to see the greenish tinge to the high desert landscape.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all those who encouraged us during our preparations for this wonderful journey and also those without whose support we could not have done the Camino. Thanks to:
Carlos and Denine Garcia for housesitting and tending our two cats;
Sarah Kotchian and Linnea Hendrickson, Camino veterans who generously shared their advice, tips and moral support as we prepared, and Linnea for bringing us to the airport for our departure;
Susi Harris and Andy Mitchell who picked us up from Heathrow airport in London, shared their home with us for a few days before seeing us off on our way to France to start the journey;
The John Brierley camino guide book which we consulted every single day while we walked and the camino, advice books by Cheri Powell and Jean-Christie Ashmore which helped us know what to pack;
Our employers, the Albuquerque Journal and Albuquerque Psychiatry and Psychology for giving us the time away from work to do this journey;
and especially the many friends from many nations who we met on the camino who made this an unforgettable journey: Eric from Holland, Diana and Tommy from Florida, Helena from Galway, Susana from Heidelberg, Dianna and Joe from Oklahoma, Susanne from Copenhagen, Valentin from Salamanca, Lenore and Susana from Lisbon, Andrea from California and so many more whose faces, voices and spirits will long remain in our hearts.

Adios Santiago, adios Camino

  It’s a hackneyed phrase but it rings true for the Camino, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Santiago de Compostela is a fascinating city of around 180,000 people with a mix of bustling commercial and industrial areas surrounding the warren of narrow streets in the historic quarter. At its center is the Cathedral, the destination point for the many pilgrimage routes.
We attended the pilgrim mass and later descended to the crypt to view the ornate casket of St James the Great. The legend that the casket contains the bones of the Apostle James spurred the tradition of pilgrimage to this city, starting in the 9th century.
We had a last evening with our little Camino family, Susanne from Denmark and Joe and Dianna from Oklahoma. We shared a pitcher of sangria and a few pinchos at Antullo’s, said farewell, hugged and watched the others don their backpacks and walk off to catch the night bus to Madrid. We left the next morning, all the richer for the weeks and miles we had walked with them and many others. 

My wish come true

 I was so thrilled to see the “botafumeiro”, the giant incense burner swing at the end of the pilgrim mass at the cathedral in Santiago today. I had so hoped to see this unique spectacle.We went an hour early to get seats at the cathedral because it fills quickly to capacity.

While we waited for the mass at the cathedral to begin, I closed my eyes and listened to the murmur of hundreds of voices. Every now and then a cathedral official steped up to the microphone and asked the crowd to remain silent in respect for the mass. The murmur would ebb momentarily, then gradually resume like the rustling of leaves.

During the mass It was so moving to hear the crystal clear voice of the nun who led the responses, and there were tears on many cheeks when we were invited to give our neighbors a sign of peace after saying the Lord’s prayer.

This was really a joining together of people from all nations, all ages and all walks of life.

We set out on our last day and reach Santiago 

   We made it. At 12:30 pm on Saturday June 27, we stood in front of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, 37 days after we started our Camino Journey on May 22 in St Jean Pied de Port, France.
We were exhausted and our feet hurt terribly. It’s hard to sum up what the journey has meant. Our first thought upon arriving was the anticipation of reconnecting with our friends of the road who have become like family to us.
The city itself was buzzing with life, it felt like arriving in a medieval market town. People thronged the narrow streets of the old part of the city where there were artisans just beginning to take down their stalls. In the distance we heard drums and bagpipes, or the local “gaita”. When we finally came upon them, we found a group dressed in some kind of traditional costumes, playing celtic music.
The line at the pilgrims office where we were supposed to get our “Compostela”, or certificate of pilgrimage , was so long they told us the wait would be an hour. We decided to return in the evening.
Unfortunately, the experience was underwhelming. After the anticipation of being asked why we had done the Camino and having to soul search fir the answer. It was like going through passport control at a very busy airport where tired overworked functionaries grudgingly filled out the paperwork. My certificate says I walked 775 kilometers from St Jean. When I questioned that saying the road sign at Roncesvalles said 790, and that was after the 26 excruciating kilometers over the pass from St. Jean. He just shrugged and said “That’s by road, on foot it’s 775.”

Only one more day to walk

  On our second to last day on the Camino, we passed this way marker with the iconic shell and yellow arrow pointing to the grafitti on the plastic trash can with the words from the John Lennon song Imagine. It seemed to sum up the message of the camino.
This is not a vacation; it is a life journey in miniature with all the ups and downs, both physical and mental. It is a place where people from many nations and all walks of life come together in a river that flows in one direction. 
We walked from Arzua to O Pedrouzo today, just 20 kms from Santiago de Compostela. We walked mostly on shaded woodland paths among groves of eucalyptus trees reaching more than 200 feet high. We passed farmhouses with gardens festooned with hydrangia and fuschia flowers and even palm trees. The weather has been kind to us, the promised rain showers have been absent and we enjoyed balmy sunshine.