There’s a whole lot of mythology out there about walking a camino in Spain.
To you, it may appear to be an attractive romantic notion – out there strolling across the Spanish countryside, breathing in that fresh country air and restoring yourself at the end of each day with copious quantities of vino tinto.
It may also seem to be something well out of your comfort zone and far above your fitness levels.
This post will remove some of the mystique and hopefully a few barriers stopping you lacing up your walking shoes and joining the friendly flow of folk on their way to Santiago de Compostela.
1. You do not have to be fit to undertake a camino, but it helps. Common sense says that the more kilometres you get under your belt (or in your legs) at home, the more enjoyable the experience will be in Spain. You make the decision. The choice is yours whether you are fit enough, as are the consequences if you are not.
A hilarious read is The Year We Seized The Day by Elizabeth Best and Colin Bowles. They made the decision to walk the Camino Frances and three weeks later they were taking their first tentative steps on The Way. Yes, it was incredibly challenging for their bodies and not real pretty in places, but they survived to laugh about it at the end and they got a book out of their combined experiences. Grab a copy to get a bit of real camino insight. No romantic, or glossing-over notions here.
2. Walk in Your Shoes and Backpack: If the thought of training makes your blood run cold and you are more than happy to avoid it, that’s totally fine. One small recommendation though is to get your body used to the weight of your backpack – even if it is just a daypack – and walk your shoes in. On the camino you will quickly learn that your backpack and shoes are your two most important pieces of gear and they can make or break your experience.
3. Choose the Right Camino: After even the smallest amount of research, you will find that the camino is not just one path. There are paths leading to Santiago de Compostela from all over Spain and Portugal, and connecting to a large number of other European cities. If you are not fit, I recommend you start out on the most popular route, the Camino Frances. Yes, it can be very busy, but the infrastructure is so well set up that if you decide you only want to walk 10km a day, in most cases that is possible. That distance should get you to the next village with accommodation and a bar! This path also has excellent public transport connections.
4. Don’t Carry Your Backpack: If you want to make it even easier for your back and your knees, have your backpack (or suitcase) transported to the next town by a luggage carrying service. This will cost you around €10 per day, but it means you can amble along with your water and your snacks and without a care in the World.
On the Camino Frances, there are a large number of transport companies to choose from and it is possible to organise this very quickly and easily when you get to Spain.
You might find that as you do get fitter, you can walk further each day and one day, toss that sucker on your back with absolute ease and sprint into Santiago de Compostela.
5. We All Hurt: I can’t speak for everyone of course, but we all hurt. Even the fittest amongst us take some time to adjust to the day-after-day rigours of the path. We all sweat, our feet and legs get tired and we gladly throw off our backpacks at the end of each day. We are all in this together and all have the common goal of Santiago de Compostela in sight. There is no need to strive for perfection. Perseverance is far more appropriate.
6. The Camino Welcomes Everyone: You will meet a veritable United Nations of humanity as you walk and, believe me, they come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t worry about your extra kilos, your love handles or lack of fitness as I can guarantee there will be someone even worse off than you. Yes, there will also be many people a million times fitter than you. Just take it in your stride and accept them and yourself.
You will also meet people who have all the latest hiking gear, bells and whistles and brand names who look like they have just stepped out of the flashest outdoor store. You will meet people who look like they have gathered a few essentials in a well-worn backpack and simply walked out their front door. And they probably have.
There is no right or wrong on the camino. The most important thing is to set out in the first place.
7. You Will Lose Weight and Get Fitter Along the Way: I would put money on the fact that a camino will change you physically and spiritually. Unless you catch public transport every day and eat your body weight in pintxos and tapas, your body will respond to all that fresh air and exercise. Not that it is a goal, but I always lose 5-6kgs when I walk. A nice little side benefit.
8. Just Do It: Life may never be perfect. The time may never be right. Your fitness level may not be ideal. Just do it. Make the decision to walk and then walk.
Yes, there will be tough days and days when you question your sanity. Other days you will be dazzled by a breathtaking sunrise and you will know that this is the best and ‘rightest’ place to be.
Don’t be put off by the size and scale of walking a camino. Just think of it as going out for a walk one day and then do it all over again the next day, and the next day, and the next, and…
What are you waiting for?
What: The Camino Frances is the main pilgrim path connecting numerous northern and north-eastern European paths, leading all the way to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. It was the route featured in the movie The Way starring Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen.
Where: The Frances starts on the French side of the Pyrenees at a gorgeous small town called St Jean Pied de Port and takes in the major Spanish cities of Pamplona, Logrono, Burgos, Leon, ending at Santiago de Compostela. It is approximately 790km long.
When: For safety reasons, avoid walking in the extreme Winter and Summer temperatures. Each year a small handful of pilgrims lose their lives on the path because they have put themselves at risk and not prepared for the conditions.
Why: To walk, dream, talk, laugh, wonder, appreciate, taste, think, and be grateful.
How: Walking is by far the most popular way to undertake a camino, but horse and donkey transport are also acceptable, and bicycles are extremely popular too.
Who: It is a walking United Nations. Just take that first step to opening yourself up to a whole range of new people and experiences. Regardless of your age, you will find wells of resilience you did not know you possessed.
Related Posts: Check out my posts under the TWO FEET tab on this blog for walks all over Spain, Portugal and Italy.
Related Blogs: For an excellent source of information, check out the Camino de Santiago forum. There is not a question in the World that hasn’t already been asked. The answers are here.
Read About It: To get planning your Camino Frances, go to the camino bible – John Brierly’s Camino Frances guide book. Available from Book Depository.
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