The Do’s & Dont’s of Walking the Camino de Santiago

Taking a break from finances today to talk about my other passion – travel!  This is a continuation of my guest post So You Want To Hike the Camino De Santiago published today at GoCurryCracker.com.  If you are interested in knowing the In’s & Out’s of walking the camino, please hop over there to check it out.  If you’re interested in the Do’s & Don’ts, keep reading….

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Points along my 2013 Camino

Of all the lessons I have learned in life, I have learned the most from my mistakes.  The Camino De Santiago was no different.  It took a failed first attempt to wisen me up before being able to successfully complete the 500 mile hike multiple times since.  Today’s lesson is for you to learn what to do and what not to do before ever setting foot on the trail so, unlike me, you can be a first time success.  You’re welcome in advance.  🙂

First, a brief bit of history…

The Camino De Santiago is an ancient footpath in Spain with many starting points but only one ending point, Santiago De Compostela (SDC).  The history of  The Camino dates back to the middle ages when it was once (and still for some) used as a pilgrimage to the visit the remains of St. James The Apostle, located in SDC.  Since then it has also been used as punishment for thieves, bragging rights for Kings and Queens, and more recently, for historical, spiritual, or tourist related purposes.

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Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on hiking nor on the camino itself, but the following are tips that I have picked up over my past 5 camino’s.  I hope you find them useful!  🙂

The Do’s & Dont’s of Hiking the Camino De Santiago

First, the DON’TS:

1.   DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE – this one should be easy for most but let me break it down just in case there is any doubt…

  • Follow the house rules.  If your host asks you not to dress your wounds (read popIMG_1609 blisters, change bloody dressings) on their freshly washed and bleached sheets, don’t.  It’s gross, unsanitary, and did I mention gross?  Go outside or to the bathroom or wherever else they say is OK.  No boots in the house?  Don’t sneak them in!  Put them in the designated place they ask you to.
  • Turning on the lights so you can find your way to bed is an asshole move.  We go to sleep early on the camino.  If you aren’t used to that, it is time to get acquainted with finding your way in the dark or using a headlamp (preferably on the red setting) to get to your bunk.  Waking everyone up so you can sashay in after “lights out” is inconsiderate and will garner you few friends.
  • Do you snore?  I’m sorry.  I feel bad for you, I do…but I will fucking kill you if you wake me up night after night after night.  Be a doll and pay extra for a single room so as not to disturb those around you.
  • IfIMG_1402 you don’t know what LEAVE NO TRACE means, please Google it.  Shade along certain parts of the camino is very hard to come by.  Every single spot with a tiny sliver of shade always has wads of used toilet paper and “other” signs of pilgrim life.  If you gotta go, go.  Then pick up your paper or bury your waste.  Carry dog poop bags if you so desire but for Pete’s sake do not leave anything behind.
  • Don’t act entitled – wifi, hot water, and your favorite foods are not a guarantee.  There is nothing worse than sitting in a bar and having a jerk (usually speaking in English) walk in demanding the wifi code without first greeting the owners or buying something.  I have seen it more times than I care to recall.  The Spanish people are very warm and loving, do not piss them off by being culturally insensitive.  Remember, the locals don’t do things the way we do.  They sit down for an hour to chat and drink a cup of coffee the size of a thimble.  They are not in a rush and will not jump to appease you.

2.  DON’T BE A KNOW IT ALL – Many people get hurt or lost not heeding the advice of the locals.  If it is too dangerous to hike over the Pyrenees, it is too dangerous.  IMG_20120914_013154 (1)Do not put others at risk when you go missing and they have to send out a search party to look for your dumb ass.  This is their land and they know it well.  They have also seen it all.  If you are sick or injured and they say to see a doctor, go see the doctor.  ~MORON ALERT~  On my first camino I didn’t listen when they told me to rest after twisting my ankle.  Instead, I walked 30km the next day limping along so as not to lose my new-found friends.  As a result, I fucked up my knee by overcompensating for my shitty ankle.  A few days later I was on a plane heading home with a newly purchased one way ticket that cost the same as my original round trip not to mention a bum knee that has never fully recovered.  Don’t be a know it all!!

3.  DON’T TRACK MILES MORE THAN SMILES – For all you tally nerds clocking high

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See the bee?  I wouldn’t have if I didn’t slow my roll!

mile days, you are my people!  Hike your own hike is a well-known mantra for long distance hikers, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need a gentle reminder to stop and smell the roses.  I am the first to admit that I get wrapped up in the momentum of putting one foot after another, though I have also learned to take the time to relax along the way.  You may be out there to get away from it all (whatever it may be), but the power of the camino is that it gives you what you need when you need it.  “The Camino provides” is a common saying and one I that can attest to.  Be open to that magic and your life will change as a result.

4.  DON’T FORGET TO BRING A BACKUP FORM OF $$ – This is not camino specific but a lesson that I learned the hard way.  Always have two ways to access money (and keep them in separate places).

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Dude’s card got stolen by the machine. 😦  Good luck if it happens on a Sunday!

~MORON ALERT~  On my second camino I feared having my account hacked (it was big in Spain at the time) so I only brought 1 debit card with a specific amount of money on it.  My thought was, if I get hacked, they will only get what’s in that account.  I didn’t bother to think of what would happen if my card got lost, stolen, or I ran out of money.  Thankfully, my card wasn’t hacked or stolen but I did run out of money on the last day.  My friend Peter took pity and bought me dinner before I departed for the 10 hour train ride back to Madrid (I couldn’t afford the express train!).  Other issues that I’ve witnessed is the ATM stealing cards, banks being closed on Sunday’s, and towns with no banks at all!  Be prepared.  Have euros and a back up form of payment at all times.

5.  DON’T FORGET TO MAKE FRIENDS – Ok, it’s near impossible not to.

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This little boy celebrated his 7th birthday while walking the camino with his family.  He later insisted we all attend his birthday party for dessert!

To commiserate with other pilgrims on trail conditions or to join in the camaraderie of an impromptu sing along are some of the finest times one can have on the camino.  I have made life long friends on all of my journey’s but none like the one’s I have made on camino.  Like the personal finance community, the camino community is a tight-knit group.  We have a common interest which automatically binds us together in a way that those who haven’t been out there can’t understand.  Any person willing to hike 500 miles in the Spanish heat has a reason for doing so.  Some are emotional, some physical, but regardless, they all have a reason for being there.  Over the many dinners, tough climbs, cold beers and long days, you will become family and you will eventually be privy to each person’s reason.  Illnesses, divorces, deaths, pregnancies, celebrations – all reasons I have come across in my fellow pilgrims.  You never know whose story you will become a part of or who will become a part of yours

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Who needs a guitar when you have a didgeridoo?!

And now for the DO’s:

1. DO BE PHYSICALLY PREPARED – Walking 500 miles is a physical endurance test, however, walking it with 20+ lbs of gear on your back for 20+ miles a day for 30+ days straight is gruesome if you are not physically prepared.  Before setting off for Spain, start your training with an empty pack and slowly add all your crap.  Start by walking short distances and keep adding on the miles.  A long distance hike is not where you want to test your heart and it’s capacity to walk 20 miles in the Spanish heat.

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My mom (left) on Day 1 after crying her way all the way up the hill.  She did not heed my warning to train prior to our trip! 😉

2. DO BE MENTALLY PREPARED –  There is a saying that everyone cries at least once on

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An inadvertent pic taken during my meltdown.  Now all I can see is the beauty of that moment!

the Camino.  I’ve cried more times than I care to admit.  My favorite tear soaked moment came while making a tuna sandwich on the dusty ground in the middle of nowhere.  I was by myself, presumably lost on a never-ending trail that was supposed to be a shortcut, wondering if I would ever see a bed that night.  It also happened to be my birthday and I had a major case of “What the fuck am I doing here?!”  It happens.  Do not give in to your mind in a moment of weakness or exhaustion – those feelings are inevitable so prepare your self to speak louder than your mind.  If you are hurting it is super easy to let the doubt creep in and tell you it is ok to quit.  Don’t.  Rest and then get up and keep moving forward. Remember, many have done this before you with struggles similar (or worse) than your own.  You got this!

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Good question…

3. DO KNOW YOUR GEAR INSIDE AND OUT (I have a gear list posted HERE) – Know how your bag works, all it’s features, and how to pack it.  You don’t want to find out half way down the trail that your rain gear leaks, your head lamp has no batteries, or your shorts chafe in a strange place.  #BeenThere.  Get used to packing your bag and unpacking it.  Get used to reaching for things on the go and in the dark.  Each item you are carrying is essential and you don’t want to misplace them.  Gear shops are popping up along the Camino but they are still few and far between.

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4. DO BE ALERT & STAY SAFE – The camino is well-marked but not foolproof (and we are all fools at some point):

  • Cell reception sucks in the middle of nowhere so don’t count on your phone as a reliable source.  Bring (or download) a guidebook to help you along your way.  The guide will show you distances, topography, and most importantly, accommodations (and their amenities) along the way.  You don’t want to stop for the day in a bummer albergue just to realize that 2 more kilometers of walking would have gotten you to a camino paradise with gourmet food, a pool, and men in banana hammocks!  The guidebook is key!!IMG_1693 - Edited.jpg
  • Follow your instincts when it comes to waymarks.  Some locals have taken it upon themselves to divert the path so it can go near their homes in an effort to bring money to their communities.  In most cases this is legit, in one case it was deadly.*  Pay attention to signs in the area or in bars along the path that will warn of any upcoming diversions due to construction.  Use common sense and good judgement.
  • Ladies, if you’re nervous about walking alone, let someone know your intentions.  I keep my mom and sister on Find Friends when I am out of the country so they know my whereabouts (with limited wifi they can at least see my last location with reception).  There are also many FB groups that will help to track your whereabouts with people so you can check in.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to them!!

5. MOST IMPORTANTLY, DO STOP TO ENJOY ALL THE LOCAL DELIGHTS…

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You can’t miss the FREE wine fountain at Bodegas Irache!

That’s it for the Do’s and Don’ts.  If you take anything away from this post, let it be to enjoy the journey.  Each day you will face new challenges.  You will think about nothing and everything all day long.  One thought may get stuck on a loop for 8 hours straight while others will fly in and out and never land for more than a second.  You will see mountains, plains, villages, cities, rivers, and some will even walk all the way to the ocean (3 days hike past Santiago).  You will meet every type of person from every country imaginable.  I brushed teeth next to a famous Italian opera singer standing next to me in his underwear.  That’s right, you will share bathrooms with complete strangers…and all that entails.  Enjoy every second of it. 🙂

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Post shower arrival shot in Santiago de Compostela 🙂

 ** Have you walked the camino or do you have plans to?  If yes, what has been your experience?  If no, do you have a specific reason you want to walk it?  Feel free to share in the comments below! **

Until next time…

PS – If you are interested in what gear I use, I posted my complete kit on my “Travel” page HERE.  There are some suggestions and tips as well as affiliate links to specific gear that has worked well for me.  Any income earned goes back to the running of this blog. 🙂

*In April 2015, a woman from Arizona named Denise Thiem went missing along the camino.  Five months later she was found dead.  Her murder is a dark stain on the history of the camino and a shock that touched many in our community.  In April of this year, Miguel Angel Munoz was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of Denise.  From the stories gathered, Munoz had put markers along the trail to divert pilgrims to a route closer to his home though his motive is unclear.  As safe as the camino is, there is crazy everywhere.  Please, be alert and stay safe!

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26 thoughts on “The Do’s & Dont’s of Walking the Camino de Santiago

  1. Wow! What a cool trip. I remember being in Spain for my study abroad, and riding in a chartered bus to Santiago de Compostela, and seeing the pilgrims walking on their knees (NOT, I presume, 500 miles) to get there. It was, without a doubt, the coolest mass I have ever attended (ok, I’m not Catholic, so I haven’t attended all that many). Incense flying, chanting, dusty incense everywhere. I absolutely loved the experience. How much cooler if you hiked it yourself. Great tips and thanks for sharing your experience!

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    1. Thanks, Laurie! On the knees is hardcore!! The mass itself is amazing. The incense burner you mentioned is called the botafumeiro. I didn’t mention it here because it is hard to describe (as you know) the emotion that goes along with it. The smell, the silence of the crowd, and the spiritual aspect is one only to be experienced. I am so happy you had a chance to attend!! I always feel like that is the icing on the cake after arriving to Santiago de Compostela. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like an amazing trip and your pictures are gorgeous. I’m more of a lie on the beach with a minor adventure here and there sort of traveller though 😉 My parents actually hiked a portion of the Camino trail a few years back and loved it. I would love to travel more through Spain. We were in Barcelona last year and had such a great time, beautiful city and I love al this history.

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    1. After hiking 500 miles, I want to hike on a beach too!! 😉 So cool that your parent’s hiked it. My mom wanted to go with me when she retired. Talked about it for years. Then she went and realized how hard it is. Day after day of just hiking!! We skip a big portion then walked for the last week. Looking back she has nothing but good things to say and always says she wants to go back. You forget all the hardships once you accomplish something so big. 🙂

      Barcelona is near the top of my list of cities I love!!

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  3. That sounds like a great trail to hike! Not too long, not too short… I always wanted to do Ireland’s Coast to Coast trail with my dad, but never got the chance. I want to finish the last 460 miles of the AT someday. When I was hiking it, I hit a point where I was just done.

    I got out of it what I wanted, except for finishing, but the point wasn’t ever to finish rather figure out what I wanted to do with life. Finishing was secondary. Once that worked itself out, and my friends started dropping off, it got SO monotonous. So, I left and started on the life plan I’d figured out while hiking, lol.

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    1. I’ve heard Ireland’s coast to coast is difficult but I have yet to meet anyone who has don e it themselves to actually compare notes. I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to do it with him but perhaps in the future you can do it with your own kids as a tribute to him. I found a lot of that on the camino as I am sure you did on the AT.

      Speaking of the AT, I can’t believe you stopped after so many miles!! I totally get it though. The monotony is tough after 500 miles I can only imagine that x 4! It’s all about the mental. You also had the added joy of sleeping outside and a pack that probably weighed 3 x mine! All that said, I would love to do it one day. It’s my FI dream trip. Now I know who to come to when I start planning!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have the same thoughts now about “why did I stop when I was SO close”. My mind was in a different place then. Everyone I’d hiked with left for one reason or another and that last couple of weeks was just bleh… I’d called my brother to come hang out in Damascus with me for the weekend and after hanging with him for 2 days, I was like, “I’m catching a ride back, I’m done here.” My hope was by hanging with him I’d get recharged and re-energized to complete it, but instead I was like, “Nope, I’m good and if I hurry I can start school this Fall instead of waiting until Spring.” So that’s what I did.

        When you get ready for planning it, feel free to hit me up. My knowledge is dated on most recent books, etc… but logistical stuff doesn’t seem to have changed much at all over the last 15 years. 🙂 Good luck!

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        1. I totally get it. My first time on the camino I got hurt and, after a few days of moping about, it didn’t take much for me to fly back home. Good thing is, the AT is going nowhere. You can always finish it later. I know that takes away from the thru hiker status but getting to Katahdin would be cool!!

          I’ll definitely check in with you when the planning starts. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your dress in the last picture!!! Good info. I sent it to my former boss to compare his notes to yours. I would just buy my own private room since I can’t sleep with other people…even people I know who don’t snore (ie, you and Shannon). That would be the hardest thing for me is crap sleep plus all the hiking! I for sure would have more than one meltdown!

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    1. The sleep deprivation is no joke. Thankfully you sleep pretty well after walking 20 miles (and drinking copious amounts of red wine). My last camino I definitely took a few extra private rooms. It is a vacation after all!

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  5. Cheryl

    I love this.

    I have big asperations of hiking the Camino one day, as well as hiking to Everest base camp. And Torres del Paine in Chile. All seem like they’d be amazing experiences. My problem is my love of modern conveniences. Sigh. I’m not sure I’m cut out for roughing it!

    For someone who has never done this sort of travel, are there any short routes you’d recommend as a “test”?

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    1. Cheryl, there are plenty of tour groups now that you can do the camino in style. I mean, you still have to walk, but you don’t have to carry your bag and you can stay at private establishments. There is a camino for everyone!!

      The camino has many starting points. You have to walk the last 100km to be the certificate from the church at the end. Sarria is the town most start at that want the experience without the longevity. Sarria is about a 3 days walk but you can stretch it out for longer if you’d like shorter days. Even for someone who has never done this type of thing (like my mom!), I have faith you can do it!! If it sucks, just hop a bus to one of the beautiful coastal cities or the train to Barcelona! So many back up options.

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  6. Must be nice!!! 😦 LOL — Great to read about people living the dream and traveling the RIGHT WAY. We absolutely love hiking. Having done some Alps crawls in Switzerland, this Spanish trek looks daunting by comparison. I will bookmark this post for when me and the Mrs. take on the Cam de San. TY!

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    1. Haha – well, if it helps I only get paid when I actually work so it can be quite costly to do trips like this because there is no money coming in….BUT, it’s totally worth it!! Someone else mentioned this hike in the Alps on the GCC post. I have some major research to do. They guessed about 45 E a day. Is that accurate? I am also obsessed with the hut to hut trail on Shikoku in Japan. So many great trips to come!!

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  7. Tina

    I found you via GoCurryCracker. Love your guest post. Saw “The Way” and the idea has never left my mind. Reading your post made me put this as my bucket list destinations. We do a lot of hiking and walking but will look into the shorter route to start. Thank you so much. I’m a new subscriber and hooked. Food, travel and budgeting are always on my mind when I’m supposed to be working.

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    1. Hi Tina – thanks for stopping by! The Way was a huge boost for getting Americans on the trail. Before that, we were few and far between. I think it showed that really anyone can do this hike. The shorter route is a great idea !! It isn’t the injuries that take most people out, it is the mental part and the monotony. It can get daunting at times but that is the part that I love!! TO go for a few days you will certainly get a taste but not enough to want to quit. 😉

      I’m so happy to have you as a new reader. It sounds like we have plenty in common so I hope you enjoy it!!

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      1. Tina

        I have got my sister and 23 year old daughter intrigued. We are researching this trip for next fall. Have you done the route from Porto? There is this bed and breakfast near there that bears our family name. I’m interested to go stay there just for the name. Kind of weird because we are from Southeast Asia and this b&b is in Portugal. I’ve always thought our last name was odd. Who knows maybe we have Portuguese roots. 😎

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        1. That’s awesome!! I love when others get hooked on a great idea. 🙂

          I did the route from Porto following the ocean the first few days. That would be cool if you have some family ties there!! If you do go, make sure to stop in Matosinhos. I stayed in a cute place a block from the beach. All sorts of fish being cooked on the street. It was so perfect!!

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  8. Omg, wine fountain!! Was it good? Red wine and chilled? 🙂
    Lovely post! I’m sorry that your knee got injured on the hike and also really sad to see that someone was murdered in 2015 😦

    I love hiking/traveling too, I have done the Annapurna basecamp and have always found the El Camino intriguing but was deterred because it’s such a long trek!

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    1. I can’t say that it was good because truly I can’t remember! The first time I went by it was off for repairs. The second it was 5 am in the morning – I took a small bit in a water bottle for a more appropriate drinking time but it was hot from the Spanish sun by the time I got around to drinking it. In this picture, I was there alone when a few tourists walked up. They offered to take my picture (mainly because they wanted pictures of a “pilgrim” drinking from it) to which I obliged. I can’t remember if it was good but I do remember feeling like an animal at the zoo, completely on display. Regardless of if it was good or bad, it was FREE and you know that’s for me. 😉

      Annapurna base camp looks incredible. I would say with those skills you could definitely make the camino. No need to start in St. Jean Pied de Port. Start wherever you want and enjoy the walk. It is tradition that pilgrims walk from wherever they call home. In Spain that is quite close, other countries walk further. There is no right or wrong start, just the hope that you make it to the end. Santiago de Compostela is what it is all about. I hope you make it out there and, if you do, buen camino!!

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  9. veronica

    Hey Miss Mazuma

    Hoping you can comment on something. I had heard through the grapevine that the albergues along the camino were experiencing a problem with an outbreak of bedbugs. Mind you, I had heard that a few years back. Any thoughts on that? I know, I know, bedbugs are just something that might happen, you can’t let it stop you. But if it were a problem, I might approach the experience differently – maybe take as little as possible and toss everything away at the end to ensure that I don’t bring any unwanted souvenirs home???

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    1. Yes, Veronica, bed bugs are an issue at times. In past years, each allergic has taken great effort to try to eliminate the problem. One is to use disposable mattress covers every night. Another is to have plastic mattress covers. I encountered two issues with bed bugs. One, it was obvious as I saw them on the bed right after check in. My mom and I picked up and left immediately. The second, I woke up with bites. That night I went to a hotel and washed all of my items in steaming hot water (do one round in the dryer hot heat first then a full wash and dry cycle). I didn’t have any further issues.

      Unfortunately, you’re right. It is hard to prepare for something that is hard to predict. Your idea to leave everything behind is a good one. In fact, there is a tradition that people burn their items in Finisterre at the “end of the world” though it seems that tradition has become frowned upon with so many pilgrims doing it! Regardless, after wearing the same clothes for 30 days, it is easy to dump them and never look back. 🙂

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  10. Maisie

    Hi Miss Mazuma,

    I enjoyed your post. Yes, this is something that I would like to do someday. I cannot explain why, it is almost like a longing since I found out about it on a trip to Spain with my daughter in 2013. My husband is on board with it. I think that we will most likely do portions of it, like you did with your mom. (We have had injuries that required surgery and sometimes act up. I am not sure how they will do.) The Camino keeps coming across my path in so many different ways. I think I have some research in my near future.

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! There is another post I wrote on GoCurryCracker.com that will give a better picture of the overall hike. If the Camino keeps calling you, it’s time you answer the call. 🙂

      Like

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