You have heard about “The Camino”, perhaps you have seen the film “The Way” and think that you might like to walk across Spain to Santiago de Compostela and visit the supposed tomb of Saint James the Great. You will then probably ask yourself “how do I go about this venture? Where do I start? What do I need to take?” and a host of other questions.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to start you on your Camino. But first, the Spanish El camino simply means the way or the path in English. There is not just one Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in north-western Spain. There are several, recognised routes that have been used by Pilgrims from the 9th Century which have now been waymarked for walkers and where various organisations provide overnight accommodation in albergues (similar to what Australians may know as backpackers accommodation).
So …. Where to Start?
- Read as much as you can about the Caminos.
- Look at the Confraternity of St James website. In particular read through the menu items Pilgrimage Today and Planning Your Pilgrimage. Also follow the links on these pages to more information.
- Check your local library for books on the Camino. Look for guidebooks such as:
- the Cicerone Guide, The Northern Caminos by Laura Perazoli and Dave Whitson.
- John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino Portuguese published by Findhorn Press.
- Have a look at the Camino de Santiago Forum website at www.caminodesantiago.me/community There are forums for each route in addition to other topics.
- Borrow the Martin Sheen film, “The Way”, view the film, and then also view the additional material on the DVD.
- Contact your local Camino group and join. Most people who have travelled the Camino will only be too happy to help you.
- Consider other routes beside the Camino Frances which can be very crowded at times.
Just to name a few, there are the:
- Camino del Norte, along the north coast of Spain, starting at Irun.
- Camino Portuguese from either Lisbon or Porto.
- Via de la Plata, from Seville, a longer route
(Note: As some of these ways are less travelled, some experience is recommended).
- Decide how much time you have to undertake your Camino. Many European Pilgrims walk during their annual leave, in stages of a week to a fortnight at a time. Some just start walking from their front door and take three or four months, or over a period of many years, to reach Santiago de Compostela.
- Australians, who have to undertake a considerable journey to reach a starting point in Europe, generally complete the journey in one go. Note: Australian Passport Holders do not need a visa to enter the Schengen countries but are only allowed to stay in these countries for 90 days within a 180 day period.
- Calculate how far you can comfortably walk in a day. An average of 20 – 25km per day is a good figure to start with. Then calculate:
- Days for travel to start and home from Santiago de Compostela
- Add number of days walking (divide the distance to be walked by 20 or 25)
- Add at least one rest day for each week you will be walking.
- Add days for sight-seeing, visiting cultural sites along the way. These could be combined with rest days.
- Add some spare days in case you have to rest because of injury (blisters etc).
- Add at least 2 days in Santiago de Compostela. It is good to allow time to spend with your peregrino “family”, attend the Pilgrim Mass at 12.00 noon and visit some of the museums.
- If you want to walk to Finisterra, allow 4-5 days, including a trip out to the lighthouse and bus back to Santiago. You will probably end up taking at least 50 or 60 days in total for the complete trip.
- Once you have decided where you are going to start you can plan your travel. Australians will probably fly into Europe and your destination there will depend on where you are going to start. For example:
- By flying into Barcelona it is easy to catch a train to Irun, Seville, or Granada or towns on or near the Camino Frances.
- Paris, if you are walking the Camino Frances and starting in St Jean Pied de Port, or other locations in France. Travel by train within France is fast and not too expensive.
- You may wish to consider flying into Paris and flying out of Barcelona or Madrid.
What to Time of the Year?
This is really a personal choice. However, summer can be very hot in inland Spain, particularly in the south. The routes from Seville, Granada and the east coast of Spain should only be attempted in the cooler months Spring and mid to late autumn, and possibly winter (which also has its problems). Hot conditions can be coped with by leaving early at first light and walking shorter stages – and perhaps walking again in the late afternoon. For more information on the climate of Spain check Peter Robin’s website and the Agencia Estatal de Meteorología website.
Be aware that most of these data are averages and day to day temperatures vary considerably. The extreme temperatures for each month also need to be checked. Also read and consider the remarks at the bottom of Peter Robin’s weather page.
What will it Cost?
As a rough guide, day to day costs per person are:
- Breakfast, consisting of coffee, toast and jam (tostadas y mermelada ) or a croissant 3 to 4€
- Lunch, a bocadillo or sandwich and a drink of fruit juice 4 to 5€
- Evening meal, menú peregrino or menú de la dia consisting of salad, soup, rice or pasta; plus meat or fish and chips; and then fruit, yoghurt or ice cream. Wine (vino tinto) or water (agua) and bread (pan) included 8 to 12€
- A bed in an albergue (also shower and handwashing facilities) 6 to 15€
- Extras you may wish to purchase such as fruit and other snacks for the road, coffee and other drinks etc
- If sleeping overnight in a hostal with a double room with 2 single beds and en suite bathroom 35 to 50€ (for 2)
Note: These prices will inevitably rise over time.
Another guide to cost is to allow for the cost of one litre of petrol (about 1.40€ in Spain) per kilometre walked. This works out at 35€ per day if you average 25kilometres per day.
What do I need to take?
The first thing to remember is not to take too much. One rule of thumb is to carry a pack that, with its contents, weighs no more that about 10 percent of your body weight. Check the article on Packing Light on this website.
Whether you use modern walking poles, purchase a wooden pole or acquire one from a forest along the way is up to you. It is probably best to purchase and practise with your poles before leaving Australia. It is an advantage if the poles fit inside your pack. Also remember your poles may not be allowed as carry-on baggage.
(Author’s note: A personal recommendation is the Pacerpole. They are only available for purchase over the internet. I have walked with them on 3 Caminos, about 2,800km and really appreciated the assistance that they give. If you decide to use Pacerpoles I suggest that you order several extra pairs of rubber ‘street feet’ which are used on paved or stone surfaces. Take a spare pair on the camino.)
Remember that wooden poles will have to be declared to Customs when you re-enter Australia and may have to be surrendered, particularly if they are raw, untreated wood. You will also have to declare any scallop shells you bring into Australia, even if you have taken it with you from Australia.
Don’t forget travel insurance. Medicare does not cover you outside of Australia and neither does private health insurance. However, your private health insurance company may suspend contributions while you are outside Australia.