This post is about some observations I made during the Camino experience.
Information about the camino
I purchased the book by John Brierley via amazon. Later I found there was an edition containing just the maps from that book, but I took the book with me as I thought the extra information about towns and villages would be useful.
There are many books available catering for camino walkers. Dealing with physical training issues, clothing, planning, timing, mental preparation etc.
I also subscribed to a discussion forum at https://caminodesantiago.me where I learned lots of small things about clothing, weather, packs, sending packs forward, a luggage storage service in Santiago, security and many other subjects. This was very good preparation and by the time I reached the starting point for my walk, I was not too surprised by anything I encountered.
It was apparent that a significant fraction of walkers/pilgrims set out on the walk without adequate preparation.
A reasonable level of walking fitness is essential to ensure the feet, toes, legs and mind are prepared for the continuous stresses of this adventure. Setting out without preparation is brave, perhaps, but also very likely to cause problems. People who don’t walk regularly are unlikely to have hard enough skin on their feet to deal with daily distances of 20km and more.
I was told by several people about their walking companions who had joined them on the camino but were not regular walkers and had not trained at all. They had all found it too much and had to abandon the camino and leave their friends to continue without them.
To prepare for this trip I spent time in the preceding months doing long walks. The baseline was walking 6-9km every day for the preceding year or more. In the preceding two months I walked the 6-9km every day but two or three days a week I increased it to 20km. In the month beforehand I walked three consecutive days of 20km each week. I walked in the socks and shoes I intended to use on the Camino.
I became aware of walkers with awful blisters on toes, heels and on the sides of their feet. Not the tiny blisters the size of small coins, some of these went right around the heel and due to continuing to walk on them without treatment, they were virtually open wounds. Some of these people had to abandon the Camino and go home early. What a disappointment that must have been. Yet with some preparation and moderate training those problems could have been reduced or avoided entirely.
I still did get some blisters on both my smallest toes. I treated those with compeed blister dressings after draining the liquid from each blister and from then onwards I put compeed blister prevention onto all toes and heels at the start of each day. It is in the form of a waxy substance that reduces the friction between skin and sock. A bit like putting protective stuff on your lips to prevent cracking.
Some walkers use vaseline for the same purpose and said it was equally as good as the branded products.
But unless you know from experience with your feet, socks and shoes that blister protection is not necessary, you should assume it is and take action to prevent blisters from forming.
Phones and Wifi
As I wanted to stay in touch with my family at home I decided I would call home using FaceTime which is an Apple specific audio or video chat application. Skype does the same thing. But either would only work if you have either a wifi connection or you have a phone connection, 3G or 4G. Unless you want to pay roaming charges, which are scandalously high for my Australian carrier, you need to use a local carrier.
I bought a SIM card for the UK company Three from an online seller in Sydney before I left Australia. There are many such services, a web search brings them up immediately.
There are also vendors in airports in Europe offering similar products. I saw them at Madrid airport and in the past I have bought sim cards in the USA, in Holland and in the UK.
Roaming is open in most EU countries so I had phone coverage almost everywhere I went in the UK, France and Spain. It cost AUD29 (less than €20) for the first month and the same or a little more for the second month. This was a small price to pay for the flexibility and functions it gave me. I knew from previous experience in overseas countries that trying to manage with just wifi when I was in range of a cafe or albergue would be too restrictive and limiting.
But I saw many people struggling with wifi limited access on the basis that their phone company in the USA or Canada charged them too much for roaming and they apparently did not realise how easy it would have been to just swap out the SIM card for one from a local provider.
For the VOIP type of application (Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp etc) the data allowance I had with my Three sim card was ample to allow me to make a 30 minute call back to Australia every few days, plus gave me access to all my usual email accounts, plus web access. I also made a few phone calls to book accommodation. Some people used Facebook to inform their friends on their progress, others used Instagram. I used this blog.
Sending packs forward
This option is available at every albergue and other accommodations. It would reduce the fatigue from carrying the pack and could allow you to walk longer distances each day. It does mean you need to decide for each day where you will go to that day, and preferably book a bed at that place. If you have a phone then you can do that easily. It would help to be able to speak enough Spanish, but many I observed had only English and still managed to book a bed.
Sending unwanted items forward
It saved me a lot of weight in my pack to send a package of unwanted or dubious items forward to Santiago where they were held by the post office for me. There is a nominal maximum number of days they will be held – I think 45 days. I removed several kilos from my backpack this way.
Post camino fitness
After the camino I know I am able to walk longer distances than I previously could. And I have lost some weight, amazing given the amount of food and drink I consumed in those 40 odd days. My goal now is to keep up the fitness level as well as I can, and be physically able to continue to enjoy the outdoor life I like.