It has been a year since I traveled a portion of El Camino. I sometimes contemplate how much my life has changed and how, even though everything crumbled around me, I can still find the courage and strength to move on. El Camino showed me not to give up, it showed me that even though the terrain is difficult you can forge on and you will eventually look back at the path left behind and see it through different eyes, amazed at all you have accomplished. That path is your journey, and it is part of what makes you… “you”.
Coming back from that marvelous adventure brought me back to reality. The losses were still there, but how I handled them was different. I have been told over and over again that if you can’t change a situation, you have to change the way you react to it. So that my friends, is what I have been trying to do since then… Each and every day has been a small step to try to regain control of everything that unraveled around me. Losing my family, home, friendships, and more, it’s over and above what most people can handle in a year. Top that off with a medical scare and most would run for the hills. Yet… here I am… I am grateful for each and every individual that has touched my heart. I think when we go through difficult times we tend to withdraw and hide within our shells, but I realized once I opened up, that there is beauty, love and caring souls all around me.
This blog post was meant to be about tips on how to prepare for El Camino, but to not write about what it does to you spiritually is impossible. Nothing can prepare you for the changes that happen within your soul. Nothing can show how it will affect the rest of your life… nothing… because El Camino is different for everyone. Each one of us has a different backpack of burdens, and each one of us will take away a different message.
I have to be honest and tell you that coming back to reality was not an easy feat. There were days I wanted to give up. But just like the trek through the Pyrenees mountains, giving up was not an option. Just like the day I yelled up to the heavens for help and I felt the energy from the angels, just like that… I have felt the energy time and time again upon my return. I am more spiritual now, I tend to lose myself in nature at times, I smile at the sun and talk to the moon, and no… I am not crazy; I just realized that we are all interconnected. That the universe is this well-oiled machine and that when we heal, we have to heal not only physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well. We need to balance all the facets in our life…
Now, I realize that kindness will take me farther than disinterest, that love is greater than hate and that no matter how deep someone has hurt you, you do not need to hurt them in return. So to all of those that have been unkind to me, I pray for you each and every day. I hope God opens your heart to forgiveness, humanity, compassion and lots of love…
Now that I spilled my guts out… let’s talk about what this blog is about. Preparing for El Camino. As some of you know I was doing the trek completely alone and I didn’t know what to expect. So this is what I did:
Camino Ways at https://caminoways.com/
Camino ways offers a variety of routes and they will find you hotels, albergues or hostels along the route. You can do entire routes or sections of a route. In addition you can add meals and luggage transfers. I was staying in Spain after my trip and needed to bring extra clothes that wouldn’t fit in my backpack, so I used their luggage transfer service.
They will send your credentials (Camino passport) to your first hotel/location or home if you reserve with enough time. Their customer service was excellent.
I stayed at hotels and I have to say the only drawback was that most people stay at albergues and the hotels, although very comfortable, for the most part were empty of peregrinos. I wrote a bit about that on this post https://wordpress.com/post/myjourney801967800.wordpress.com/164
Depending on your route/starting point you can plan to go to the closest airport and either take a bus or a train to your starting location. I do recommend to make your train and bus reservations ahead of time. I paid for my bus ticket and added the insurance. You can read the blog above to see what happened when I didn’t buy the train ticket!
My starting point was in France at St. Jean Pied de Port and I could have gone through Paris, but I opted to fly cheaper from the US to Dublin, from there to San Sebastian, Spain and then a bus from there to SJPP. I used kiwi.com for all my flights and I didn’t have any issues with connections. This blog talks about that portion of my trip: https://wordpress.com/post/myjourney801967800.wordpress.com/52
If you are not doing the full route you can check which towns have easy access to the trains and plan accordingly
It is imperative that you wear good quality, comfortable shoes. I wanted to wear hiking shoes but both pairs I bought were uncomfortable. I first tried Merrell hiking boots and I wore them for a day and those went right back to the store. Then I ordered a pair of hiking boots by Saucony and those had the same fate. Finally, I consulted with my PT and he said if I liked my walking shoes by Saucony to wear those and that’s what I did. They worked great!
Saucony Ride 8mm offset tennis shoes
I had concerns about blisters, so I purchased a couple of products to help with that.
Wrightsock Double Layer Coolmesh II from REI They were pricey but worth it. I brought with me 5 or 6 pairs, which per sales person suggestion, I shouldn’t wash every day. So I rotated them and washed them in the hotel sink and air dried.
The HikeGoo blister cream created a protective layer between feet and socks. Definitely worth it. I lathered my feet every morning before heading out.
I purchased at Walmart gel corn protectors and used them on my last two to three toes as an extra precaution. Just make sure you have enough space in your shoes so you don’t squeeze them too tight.
EQUIPMENT AND STUFF
I purchased the REI Trail 40 backpack and it had plenty of space and was comfortable. It was on sale for $89 which was pretty convenient. I could have gone with a smaller one, as I had luggage transfers and didn’t need to pack all my clothes in the backpack, but this was a good buy. Make sure you get fitted. I tried different brands and REI’s was the most comfortable. The employees were wonderful helping me find the correct size.
Redcamp Aluminum walking sticks from amazon.com. They were collapsible, lightweight and easy to use. The different tips for different terrains were an added bonus.
I never had to use the poncho as our days were nice and dry, but I did bring one just in case. Mine was lightweight and would cover the backpack and I purchased it on amazon.
I wanted to bring a trekking umbrella, but the price was too high, so I purchased another one and tried to rig it to the back pack. It didn’t work and it was too much weight to carry around.
This trekking umbrella was the one I wanted, maybe next time…
Invest in some exercise gloves or hand protectors. They saved my palms from developing blisters from the constant rubbing with the trekking poles. I got mine as a gift and they were from TJMaxx. They took quite a beating, so I know they did their job. I also wanted to protect my hands from the sun, because at my age, the sunspots are multiplying! They were similar to these ones:
Clothing: You don’t need to bring much with you, this is not a fashion show. Just enough to have clean items with you. I did lots of washes in the shower and hung to dry overnight.
- Quick dry shirts – I am allergic to the sun so I had to wear long sleeve shirts most of the time. I recommend swim/rash guard shirts that wash and dry easily, short or long sleeve, that’s your preference.
- Quick dry pants or shorts – If the items are quick dry you can wash in your hotel room and be ready by the next day. I do not recommend jeans.
- Breathable underwear – To the women out there, this is a must. My first day was very long and hot and I was soaked in sweat…not good. After that I just wore lace, comfortable and breathable underpants. Same goes for a breathable sports bra with medium support. If you develop any irritation, just take a nice bath and lather petroleum jelly.
Odds and Ends:
- Inexpensive carabiner clips to hook things to the backpack
- Multi-purpose tool/knife like a Swiss Army Knife. Just be aware that there are restrictions on planes and trains with carry on luggage.
- Anti-Chafe stick balm – but I didn’t use it much
- Hats and sunglasses – a must
- Towel – Not all albergues have towels. I stayed at hotels so I didn’t need one but I had a fast dry washcloth that came in handy because the hotels didn’t have washcloths. I also used it to cover my neck and head while walking.
- Suntan lotion
- Shampoo/conditioner – I heard some albergues didn’t provide these. All of my hotels had shampoo but none had conditioner, which it is a must for my hair. Let’s say I had a brillo pad on my head by the end of the trip.
- Toilet paper– yes you will need it as some toilets do not have it. You can always take a bit with you each morning from your hotel. I found toilets along the way. Some businesses require a purchase, which it was ok with me. This blog retells a funny toilet story:
- Zip lock bags for storing snacks, lunch, ice, etc. I saved breakfast items to have later for lunch and saved a lot of money doing that.
- Protein bars, packet tuna for quick protein boost, etc. I brought my snacks from home, as I am allergic to nuts and have to make sure what I eat won’t give me a reaction.
- Waist pack – I carried my phone, wallet and passport on a zippered waist bag, in case something happened to my backpack.
- Phone/camera/earbuds and portable battery/plug converter.
- Powder electrolytes. I purchased Emergen-C brand powder electrolytes that I could add to my water. Easy and convenient and I did use them.
- Pain reliever – I brought your usual acetaminophen, naproxin and ibuprofen. Wish I had brought Lidocaine patches, but another peregrino gave me some. I also brought some heavy dose prescription strength muscle relaxants but tried not to use them.
- I brought emergency ice packs and knee braces because of my injury. The emergency ice packs can’t go on the carry on, although I was allowed because I had a doctor’s note. I used a pack every day and sometimes while walking, but if you do not have major injuries, there is no need to have the extra weight.
I am confident when I tell you that you won’t regret doing El Camino. I hope it enlightens you as much as it did me. Every so often I go back and reread the blog, so I can remind myself of the lessons learned, the pain shed and the growth I’ve experienced. Good luck and Buen Camino! Keep me in your prayers.