You want to walk the Camino de Santiago.
Enough people have approached me in my personal life about walking this ancient trail through Spain that I eventually made a form email response.
“Hello, I’d like to walk the Camino, can you point me in a direction?”
Why, yes, I can *forwards email.*
But then I was like–this is getting a little out of hand. Why don’t I make this official and more public? Hence: BLOG POST. Reference away, Internet.
And let’s get started.
So. The Camino de Santiago.
The last girl to approach me about this asked me (actually we were in line for a bathroom in a public facility): “So, where should I start?”
And, I guess if I’m being honest, if you’re asking that question…you’ve already started.
Somehow, inexplicably (or maybe it is explainable. I do, of course, believe in a God who calls us) the Camino simply calls to people. And who knows how.
But, somehow, you hear about it. And maybe it will be somehow weird and not-even-that-attractive, but deep inside you’ll think, “Maybe this thing.”
And it won’t go away.
It won’t be loud per se, but it will be persistent. Here and there, you’ll think, “Should I? Could I?”
So, by the time you get to asking me, a woman you know who has walked the Camino (through the grace of God), you’ve already started, friend. And that’s good. That’s good and Buen Camino.
OK, I’m going to send a bunch of stuff your way, and you’ll need to sort through what you need right now and what you don’t need.
Which route to take?
There are actually several routes to Santiago (link that is SO COOL). The most popular one is called the “French Way,” which starts in France and crosses into Spain.
This site looks super janky, but it has been one of my favorites, because it lays out the routes very distinctly. I mean, the interface looks dated, but the information is solid. It gives a good interview of which towns to stop in and the distance of each day’s route (look on the right hand side. It gives you a good idea of your route).
You can use that and work backwards from how much time you have. Say you don’t have five weeks to walk the French Way (and few of us do)…say you have ten days to walk. Well, see where to start and go from there. 🙂
Keep in mind that you must walk at least 100 km or cycle 200 km to earn the compostela in Santiago.
This resource gives you an overview of each route, which might be helpful as you try to select which one will work best for you.
You have this li’l passport book, see? And you can take it to restaurants and churches and the like, and they have these rubber stamps, each stamp different, and they stamp as you travel.
This is important for a few reasons.
First of all: with your passport you can unlock deals only open to pilgrims (“peregrinos” in Spanish)–deals like cheap stays at the hostels (“albergues”), lesser fees for dinner in restaurants, etc. Secondly: you’ll take it to the pilgrim office once you reach Santiago so you earn your compostela.
As far as travel goes, you’ll need to travel from the Madrid airport (sometimes called “Madrid- Barajas T4” when you’re searching online) to your-start-of choice. (See “Which Route to Take,” above). On the way back, you’ll go from Santiago back to Madrid. I.e. I think that’s easier than getting a round-trip to Santiago and then backtracking. But, that’s up to you, obviously.
You have a few options here. First of all, you have the bus, ALSA. It’s a bus–not bad but not too fancy, either. The route takes a while, but since you’re jet-lagged, it’s possible to sleep for most of the way. The station is right in the airport–no problem. You can probably get a one-way ticket around the $50 mark (give or take).
There is also a train option, RENFE. The train works great once you’re there, but it’s sometimes a gigantic pain to work with them from this side of the pond. Fair warning. 🙂 They can be helpful, and often are…other times, they’re not. But, again, once you’re there, the service is better. Oh, also, they don’t publish their schedules until a few weeks in advance. Now, their schedules don’t change all that much, so you could probably look at the farthest-out schedules and guess what time your train will be leaving/ arriving, but that’s another downside.
For what it’s worth, I think we bused in both times and then took the train from Santiago back to Madrid.
As a tip, RENFE offers an overnight “sleeper train” option that I took both times. My pilgrims really enjoyed that experience. You get a little bed and a little sink and you fall asleep and wake up…voila! Arrived! Quick and pain-free! The sleeper train does cost a bit more, but it’s not that bad, and if you pretend it’s the cost of a hotel…it’s really not bad at all. The station is either in the airport or virtually next door (it’s hard to remember the detail), and the Santiago train station is also very easy to find.
How do you know what to do once you’re there?
Honestly, if you’re in a town, you start looking for yellow arrows spray painted on buildings. This and also tile shells mark “the way.” You can also ask someone to help you. Chances are the town can help you find the Camino pretty easily.
You’ll want to take a guidebook with you to see tips and everything. This online one seems okay, especially for where you are in the game: still researching. Here is another book, but I can’t personally vouch for it. The one I used, I can’t find. The online one seems similar, though.
Basically, you want to have a place to sleep every night, that’s what the guidebook can help you find. Some of the places on the English route are VERY rural. So, that’s why a book is helpful.
Well, I think this should be a decent start for you.
Other things that I found helpful:
1. Try to pack only 10% of your body weight. I know, it’s rough. But, it’s a good place to start. If you go to REI, they can help you look at your stuff and see what can maybe be taken out.
2. Here is a Nell Suggested Packing List. I put it together myself after the first Camino. It’s not a bad start. I did notice that the French Way had much more, um, private shower experiences. So no need for a swimsuit on that route. Unless you want to go swimming…nothing like finding a public pool at the end of a long day of hiking! 🙂
3. Two words: practice hike. Even if it’s just three miles. Put on the shoes, put on the pack, and start. Comparing the pilgrims who did at least one practice walk and the pilgrims who did zero practice walking…night and day. The mental prep/ understanding of the weight/ shoe issues can all be addressed closer to home.
4. Wool socks. Please. You’ll thank yourself. That and quick-dry undies. #bless
Should I go on? No. Some things you need to learn yourself. But! It is a beginning. Buen Camino, pilgrims!