Friday, 26 July 2013

on the camino de santiago

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This was a while ago now, but I thought it might be of interest to those considering doing the camino themselves. Back in May, my sister Morna and I spent 8 days walking through Galicia, North-western Spain, on part of the ancient pilgrimage the Camino de Santiago, which starts in Southern France and ends in Santiago de Compostela.

We started in the village of Sarria, calculating it would take us about a week to reach Santiago. Our calculations proved to be wrong (aka, we didn't actually read the itinerary, just printed it) and it only took us 4 1/2 days to get there... so we caught a bus out to a point along the Portuguese route and spent three days walking back. All told, we walked 170 kilometres in 8 days, or an average of about 23 km a day.

Along the way we suffered strained knees and ankles, blisters, colds, rain, underwhelming food, and occasionally our fellow "pilgrims" but it was an amazing experience nonetheless and has really whetted my appetite for doing more long hikes--maybe across the UK next year!

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(Photos are maybe not quite up to usual standards as left the big camera at home... and then just stole these off my sisters facebook).

Things to keep in mind along the camino:

1. It's cheap but it gets more expensive and more crowded the closer you get to Santiago. It's apparently exceptionally crowded in the summer... May was probably pretty perfect. If I was doing it again I'd probably do an earlier chunk (not the beginning as it's in the Pyrenees and I can't be doing with climbing hills all day). The section between Burgos and León is apparently flat and boring, but I heard the parts going through the Basque Country were pretty. On the other hand, it was exciting to get to arrive in Santiago. I even went to mass, voluntarily.

2. Don't overpack. I'm really content with Mo's and my packing job. I think my bag weighed 6 or 7 kilos, and hers maybe a little more but we basically didn't bring anything we didn't use. I had two legging/tracksuit bottoms things, maybe 5 t-shirts, two cotton dresses and two warmer layers, various hiking socks, plus a blanket I stole from the train on the way over which proved invaluable for a scarf, a sleeping bag, a pair of flip-flops (thank GOD), toiletries, a travel towel a rain poncho and not much else. It wasn't a glamorous trip by any means, but I had everything I needed. I didn't spend much money preparing either. I bought new boots and a few cheap things but basically just took ratty old clothes. Next time I would bring a book though. That was silly.

3. Break in your boots PROPERLY before you go. This was dramatic for me. I bought my boots about two weeks before, wore them on a bunch of hikes in Yorkshire and they seemed fine. After two days, the very slight pressure of one of them on my ankle caused internal bruising to the extent that I could hardly walk. Without the boots, perfect, with boots, agony. I walked (and sadly this is no exaggeration) 27 km in flip-flops and hiking socks that day. My hiking socks still have cloved toes and my feet took a long time to forgive me.

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Toasting Morna with wine the waiter referred to as "the blood of Christ."

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Beautiful rural Galicia.

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Wet rural Galicia.

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Friends encountered en route

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...and Santiago! Which incidentally is a lovely city, full of good food and pretty corners.

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Anonymous said...

What a trip! Thanks for posting. I long to do the Camino myself. My expectations at this point are probably impossible to meet.

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

It wasn't life changing or epiphany-creating, but it was fun. I enjoyed the walking, and I enjoyed the quality time with my sister, and the countryside (though not the ugly towns) and Santiago. For me it maybe set me on a trail to doing more rural and walking tourism, and not always city breaks. We'll see. :)

Xavi said...

Hi Emilly
This is a trip I expect to do may be in the next year. Beggining in Roncesvalles and ending elsewhere (Logroño, Burgos, León, maybe Santiago but no matter).
Serrat's Song singing to Machado says "se hace camino al andar". The experience is the most important. In fact, the real way (the life way) beggins when the camino is finished.
niece to know about you

Kezzie said...

Oh how wonderful! I'd love to do something like this!x

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

@Xavi: Agreed. In fact, we didn't even collect the stamps to get the compostela. To me that was completely unimportant, the recognition of having done it (and anyway I have the photos). I did want to see Santiago though, as I'd never been.
Starting in Roncesvalles sounds nice. Good to hear from you too!

bruixilda said...

in this photos (with that orange monyo, like mines) we are really twiiiins. My mum just saw them and yelled: you're identical! hahahahahaha. She added: please, I prefer the braids! hahahahaha

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

I prefer the braids too, but on the camino I preferred never brushing my hair. :D

Emily, Resplendent Tranquility said...

A friend of mine was talking about doing this someday. I knew exactly what she meant, but neither of us could remember the name. Camino de Santiago, mental note made.

Emily said...

Or Camin de Sant-Jaques de Compostela or some such thing if you start at the French side I believe!