Are there any outdoor toilets along the way?
Not that I saw, but they are not needed. Most of the time, you are within a few kilometers of a village where there are small pubs, which always have a toilet available.
Did you bring any electronic devices with you?
Yes. I had a small digital camera, an iPod and a cell phone. The camera I used extensively, the cell phone I used only to contact my family and the iPod was used only on the flight over.
Did you ever have any problem finding a place to stay?
Twice I had some concerns about a bed for the night. Once I got the last bed in the second – and last – albergue that I tried in a small town. Once I was misled by my guidebook and missed the place we were going to stay. By the time we got there, about 5:30 in the evening, there was not a bed to be had in the town. We got a cab to the nearest place where there was a bed. In the morning, I got a cab back to where we had walked to the day before, so I could continue the walk.
Did you have any concerns about personal safety?
Never, and I was told by my female companions that when they walked alone they did not have concerns either. I never saw or heard anything that made me think that there might be a safety issue.
Did you have any problems with dogs, as many books about the camino report?
The books about the camino that I had read cautioned the reader about the vicious dogs of Spain. I saw lots of dogs in villages, not tied up, lying around on the street, but was not bothered by any of them. However, another pilgrim walking at the same time was bitten by a dog, I found out later, so keep a stick or pole handy.
Did you have any problems with your feet?
I had almost no problem with my feet. I had trained for a long time with the boots and socks that I would be wearing, so the boots were well worn in and my feet had adjusted to the regular walking.
Did you have any unusual problems? What did you do?
Yes, my backpack, which had been very carefully planned and packed, was airline unaccompanied baggage and it never arrived. Never. After waiting five days in Pamplona, I re-equipped as well as I could and started my walk.
Did you carry everything in your backpack on your back?
I carried my backpack, but there are tours that will look after your baggage for you. There are also local companies that will transport your backpack to the next stopping place for a small fee.
Did you have to cross any mountains?
Yes, there were several places where the pilgrim has to walk through mountain passes, with elevations sometimes above 5,000 feet.
Did you use no poles, one pole or two poles?
I used two telescoping poles and was very glad to have them. They were especially helpful when going up or down hill.
Did you use a guidebook?
Yes, I used Brierley’s Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, and I recommend it highly. It is available through the Confraternity of Saint James (See links on Contact page)
Did you walk alone?
I started alone and walked alone for about two weeks. Then a young woman asked if she might walk with me for a while. About a week later a young man, asked if he could walk with me, and a few days after that a third person, another young woman, asked if she could walk with me.
How did you get there?
I flew from Ottawa to Toronto, then to Munich and from there to Madrid. I took a train from Madrid to Pamplona.
How did you prepare for the camino?
I trained for the better part of a year, walking with the same boots, clothes and backpack that I intended to use on the camino. I put 25 pounds of sandbags in the backpack to simulate the load that I expected to carry. In the months just before I left, we went to Mesa, Arizona for two months where I spent a lot of time hiking up and down the mountain trails there.
How difficult was it to find and stay on the camino?
Almost always it was very easy to navigate. There are formal markings, as well as many, many yellow arrows keeping the pilgrim reassured that he or she is on the right path. As well, local people helped whenever I was straying from the path.
How far did you walk each day?
On average, I walked about 22 kilometres each day, although some days I walked only about 15 kilometres and one day I walked 38 kilometres (that was too far).
How far did you walk?
I walked for 701 kilometres, about the distance from Ottawa to New York City, from Calgary to Vancouver, from Boston to Washington, from Monterey to San Diego, or from Tokyo to Hiroshima.
How long have people been walking the camino de Santiago?
The camino de Santiago has been a Christian pilgrimage path since about 880, when the remains of Saint James were reputed to have been found in north-western Spain, near the place now called Santiago de Compostela. For millennia before that, it was part of a Celtic pilgrimage path to Finisterre, which is on the coast just west of Santiago.
How many days did it take you?
From start to finish it was 34 days, which included 3 rest days.
How many people walk the camino now?
In the most recent year, about 100,000 people arrived in Santiago, having walked all or part of the camino.
How much did you carry?
Probably about 10 kilos, or about 22 pounds.
What did you do about drinking water?
The water in the villages, towns, cities and in the fountains along the way was always drinkable. I drank tap water everywhere an never had a problem.
What did you do about money?
Spain is part of the European Union and operates in Euros. An ATM card is the easiest way to manage money. There are ATMs in all but the smallest villages.
What is the story about the scallop shells?
The scallop shell is worn by pilgrims on the camino as an expression of their faith. Since the twelfth century, almost all images of Santiago or his followers include a scallop shell on hat or tunic. It is now widely used as part of the pilgrim tradition. There are conflicting views on the origin of the scallop as a symbol of St. James. One is that a drowning man at Finisterre was saved by St. James and was borne to shore, nearly covered in scallop shells. Another is that the scallop was a symbol of an older Venus fertility cult and was then co-opted by the church as a symbol of spiritual rebirth and resurrection.
What kind of map did you use?
I used only the rudimentary maps in a guidebook that I bought in Pamplona.
What made you decide to walk the camino?
I has been aware of the camino for ten years. Then about 2004, I started to feel a compulsion to walk it. I had then and have now no idea what the compulsion was, except that I wanted to see if I could meet the physical and psychological challenges of walking alone for five weeks in a strange country.
What time of day did you start and how many hours did you walk each day?
I set out usually between 7 and 8 in the morning, and I usually stopped by mid-afternoon.
What was the weather like?
Most of the time, the weather was cool and somewhat rainy, with occasional bouts of really hot weather at the start and, on one occasion, snow in Burgos. Unless you are walking in the heat of summer, you need clothing for cool weather and definitely a good rain jacket or poncho. I preferred a rain jacket.
What was your backpack like?
I used a backpack with a rigid frame. A daypack won’t do the job. It is important to keep the weight off your shoulders.
When did you do your walk?
I started walking on 21 April 2007 and finished on 24 May 2007.
Where did you start?
I started in Pamplona. That was not the original plan. I intended to walk from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, just across the French border, but I waited 5 days in Pamplona for my backpack, which was lost by the airline. By the time I decided to re-equip and go on, I did not have enough time to walk the extra 90 kilometres from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Pamplona.
Where did you stay? Did you camp out?
I did not camp at all. I stayed in small hotels or hostels. Sometimes I had a room to myself. Most often in the hostels, known as albergues, I had a bunk bed in a room with from four to 20 bunks.
Why did you decide to walk in April and May?
There were two factors; weather and numbers of people. The weather is better in April, May, September and October than in other months and the crowds are greatest in June, July and August.
Why is the camino so popular?
People are searching for meaning in their lives, and that includes in the time they spend not working, as well as their time at home. Walking the camino is an opportunity to spend time with yourself. It is also a time to enjoy the wonderful people from so many countries who walk it for their own reasons.
What do I need to bring?
Remember, what you bring you will carry on your back.
- Clothing (all clothing, except for the walking socks, needs to be synthetic so that it can dry overnight)
- Hat for sun and rain; Long pants x2; Shorts, can be zip-off pants; Shirts x 2; Underwear shorts x 2; T-shirt or underwear top x 2; Wicking socks, x 2 pair; Walking socks, x 2 pair.
- Cold weather
- Fleece jacket; Polypropylene longjohns and top; Gloves.
- Wet weather
- Waterproof jacket or poncho (I used jacket and preferred it to a poncho); Waterproof pants (optional but useful).
- Hot weather
- Boots, light hikers work well, be sure that they are broken in and comfortable; Sandals or light shoes for in the villages.
- 40-50 litre pack with frame, wide adjustable belt and rain cover; Poles, collapsible, x 2; Sleeping bag; Pillow case (use this with your fleece to create a pillow); Headlamp (extremely useful in the albergues when lights are out); Water bottle
- Towel; Soap; Shampoo; Toothbrush/toothpaste/floss; Sun glasses – not needed while walking, useful in the villages; Sun screen; Imodium; Aspirin or Advil or equivalent; Bandaids; Antiseptic cream; Muscle pain medication; Footglide/Bodyglide/Vaseline (to prevent friction between your toes); Laundry soap; Clothes pins x 6; Toilet paper
- Ziplok bags; Camera with spare batteries; Any personal medications
- Passport and personal papers