In recent years, more and more people have started to take that leap and do the Camino. You could even say that it has “become a craze” in many countries around the world. But not everyone prepares properly for such a special Camino.
If you’re about to do the Way of Santiago for the first time, here are my professional tips for you to take into account:
Get informed – with guidebooks or other specialized books, connecting with other people who have already done it, watching documentaries and films…
Many pilgrims who come for the first time believe that the Camino is a trail, green and flat, and then they find out that each stage is different (as if it had a life of its own), with steep climbs, hills, rocky and uneven terrain, asphalt, flooded areas and valleys tucked between mountains (especially when you reach Galicia, where we have lots of mountains). This means you need to adapt to the terrain with its constant ups and downs, which, although they allow you to enjoy dreamlike panoramic views, are difficult to tackle, especially if you have already covered a lot of kilometres.
That’s why it’s so important that you have as much information as possible about the weather, the best possible footwear and clothing, the most essential food and drink your body will need, the weight you will carry in your backpack, the kilometres you will cover per stage and, not least, the physical limitations you may have at the time of your embarking on this adventure.
As for the weather, you should bear in mind that Galicia is very rainy, especially in spring. This means you will deal with a lot of humidity, especially early in the morning and late at night, and it may rain in the middle of the forest, where you will find nothing to shelter you but the trees. Always wear a raincoat.
Don’t forget to use sun protection adapted to your skin type, as you may also be out in the sun for long days.
Footwear should be properly suited to your foot. Never wear new shoes. Choose used shoes (already broken in) that don’t hurt you and are already adapted to your feet. They should be waterproof but breathable, sufficiently flexible, and they should have good grip. Your shoes will be your best ally – treat them like your best friend. You choose the Way, but they will help you in your steps.
Moisturise your feet every day with a good moisturiser (my recommendation is to use Vicks VapoRub) to prevent blisters.
Each day will involve a great muscular effort, which means you need to get your body ready with stretching, towards the beginning of the walk, when our bodies start to warm up. If you stop for breakfast or a snack, it’s very important that you stretch to avoid possible cramps or stiffness that may prevent you from resuming your walk. You should be sure to stretch at the beginning of your walk, as well as at the end of each stage to relax all the muscular overload. This will prevent that dreaded muscle soreness, or at least keep it at bay.
Sometimes the stages are long and winding. So don’t forget to always carry something to drink. Water is the best option, or a drink that provides you with salts, especially if it is hot. Never alcohol, as it will make you more dehydrated. Also make sure you bring something to eat, such as nuts or fruit (bananas are highly recommended for their potassium and magnesium content, and oranges, which will provide you with vitamin C).
Luggage should be light and contain only the essentials. You will actually need a lot less than you think. Don’t fill your backpack with “just in case” items that will end up becoming a burden. In the event that your bag ends up being more than 20% of your body weight, it’s best to hire a baggage transport service.
Remember: it should be a Camino to enjoy, not to suffer through.
You will walk along dreamlike paths straight from a fairy tale, with a magical light full of mystery, and that smell of fresh grass in the heart of nature that captivates everyone who walks the Camino for the first time. Because whoever does it once will undoubtedly come back for more. A Camino that gets us away from our daily lives and allows us to become aware of ourselves, of who we are, what we want in our lives and what we want to discard from them, or simply to be grateful for what we already have and don’t appreciate. Listening to the silence that dwells within us and enjoying the sounds of nature… All of this makes us reflect and allows us to feel completely free to make decisions that we probably wouldn’t make in our daily lives because we feel too limited.
The Camino marks a “before” and an “after”.
Therefore, I believe that we should all let go of something negative that oppresses us and take hold of something positive that excites us, that motivates and invigorates us, to embark on our New Camino, getting in tune with ourselves, our soul and our being.
I like to call it the Way of meditation, of reflection, of purification and inner cleansing, which frees us from that “emotional pack” that we all carry on our backs to a greater or lesser extent. That’s why, on the Camino, the most important thing is to eat, drink and rest in order to free our minds and achieve physical and emotional balance.
Finally, I would like to leave you with the pilgrims’ greeting and rallying cry, ultreia!