My first Camino was a solo one in 2005. As a woman in my fifties, I was relieved to find that I felt very safe. Since that time, I have walked many solo Caminos and have never felt afraid for my personal safety.
However, the same cannot be said where traffic is concerned and last year I had a particularly narrow escape when walking a section of the Via de la Plata. The section between Caceres and Casar de Caceres entailed walking on the road with a barrier and a steep drop beside the narrow shoulder. Unfortunately, it was raining, not heavily but enough to mar visibility. Even more unfortunate is the fact that I wear an olive green poncho.
I walked facing the traffic with my poncho open at the front to reveal my bright t-shirt. That didn’t help the vision of the driver who approached from the rear. He was overtaking at great speed and the first I knew of his presence was the draught that shook me as he sped by. He obviously had not seen me. I almost became a statistic and would have been to blame if that had come to pass.
It is mandatory to wear a hi-vis vest when walking near traffic in the early hours of the morning and after sunset. As I don’t walk at those times, it had never dawned on me to include a vest in my pack. After all, my friends know me as a lightweight packer and if something is not absolutely necessary, it’s not in my pack.
Is my life worth 137gm? I certainly think so and I’ll definitely not take the risk of walking unnoticed in future.
Alternatives to a full vest are wearing a cycling harness (a more modest 59g, available online from www.monkeysee.net.au) or attaching
reflective tape to external gear. Reflective wrist/ankle bands are also effective in increasing visibility as is reflective tape wrapped around poles. When walking on the road is unavoidable, rather than shrinking into yourself, hold your poles away from your body to enlarge the target. Drivers will give you a wider berth thus ensuring better bodily protection.
Some Camino routes require little road walking but road crossing is necessary on all of them. This requires extra attention for Australians as Europeans insist on driving on the opposite side of the road from us. This is not only disconcerting, it is dangerous for anyone not paying full attention and the potential for error is increased further in those using earphones to listen to music.
STOP, LOOK, LISTEN & THINK before crossing the road. This may sound like basic common sense but the pilgrim mind is not always focused on common sense.
Not only are poles useful as an aid to walking and to increase your noticeability, they are also a handy tool should you meet an unfriendly dog. While most of the potentially aggressive dogs you meet along the Camino are chained or fenced in, there are the occasional ones that present a problem. It is important that you do not make eye contact with them. Keep walking straight ahead and use your poles to protect your legs. Often dragging the poles on the ground behind you is sufficient to dissuade a dog from approaching.
I have heard that many dogs have been punished by having a stone thrown at them and simply pretending to pick up a stone is sufficient to warn them off. However, I cannot attest to the effectiveness of this approach as I have not put it to the test.
Sometimes dogs are used to herd and protect animals and these dogs will generally only bother you if they sense a danger to the animals in their care. It is best not to approach the herd no matter how cute and photogenic the animals appear to be.
Julie in hi-vis vest with Tony Jacques
The most important advice I can give for any situation either at home or on the Camino is to follow your intuition. It is always wise to listen to that which is different from the way that you usually feel and a sense that something is not quite right deserves attention. The Camino can heighten your sensitivity to intuitive messages and, particularly if you are walking alone, it is important that you take note of what these messages are telling you. If you feel uncomfortable walking a particular section alone, simply ask others if you may accompany them for a while. Pilgrims are very accommodating and no explanations are necessary.
Women finding themselves in a confronting situation may find it useful to mention that their boyfriend or husband is waiting for them. Walking within sight of others and carrying a whistle (your pack may even have a whistle built in to the sternum strap) are also recommended strategies.
The national emergency number in Spain is 112. It is highly unlikely that you will ever need to use this number however it is advised that you store it in your
mobile’s contact list.
Though the Camino is very safe on a personal level, there have occasionally been issues with theft. Jewellery and other non-essential items are best left at home and valuables (including your passport) should be kept with you at all times. As ATMs are freely available, it is only necessary to carry a limited amount of money. If you have more than one debit/credit card, keep them in separate places. An under-clothing pouch or money belt are good examples of appropriate places to store valuable items and sealable plastic bags are useful waterproof containers for taking to the shower with you.
Hopefully, you will never need to access a copy of your passport or to phone your bank or insurance company but taking the time to record the details so that they are readily available is a good safety precaution that you will appreciate should you be in the unfortunate position of needing the information.
As far as looking after my belongings on the Camino is concerned, I tend to agree with Sanjiva Wijesinha’s lesson number 3 (from his book Strangers on the Camino): Trust in God – but make sure to tether your camel.