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….
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.
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 pop 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.
- If 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. 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
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).
~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.
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
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.
2. DO BE MENTALLY PREPARED – There is a saying that everyone cries at least once on
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!
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.
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!!
- 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…
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. 🙂
** 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!