Camino Frances 2017: Preparations

Lets talk about a few more things before we walk the Camino together (well, I spare you the pain ;))

Now, Verena, in your last blog post you told us a lot about why people these days walk the Camino – but why did you walk the Camino? 

Ah – I think I’ve spent too much time on my own or why would I have a proper dialogue with myself – pretending I was more than one person?! Anyway… let me try to answer that question. I guess, as with most things in life there is not just one simple answer. There is one part of me who just loves walking, one part (or maybe two parts) that love wine, there are other parts that love to meet cool and interesting people, one part was hoping to clear the ongoing chatter in my head – at least for a little while (damn it, what happened to my meditation practice), one part was longing for sunny weather (I currently live in northern Germany), one part was hoping for answers to some questions, one part just wanted to get away from everything (obviously everything stands for things that are really important to me – but that I would rather not share – because if everything was really everything then it would include, for example, my guinea pigs and I am OK with having them around) for a while – and I am sure I have missed out on a few other parts that are now feeling rather neglected.

But why did you choose the Camino Frances? Usually you hate to go with the flow, don’t you? And you already walked a stretch of the Camino del Norte – which is far less crowded (which you usually prefer) – So why? Whyyy? 

OK – that inner voice that asks me questions is still there. I guess I will just accept it. I chose the Camino Frances out of the following reasons:

  1. My Spanish is pretty much non-existent – and this can be challenging, as I experienced when I walked on the Camino del Norte a few years ago (and I guess I just didn’t want this kind of challenge this time). I am not saying you cannot get by without Spanish on the Camino del Norte – it is just a bit easier on the Camino Frances, due to its popularity. And sometimes easy is just nice.. yeah…
  2. I knew that the vast majority of people walk the Camino Frances and I was looking forward to meeting some interesting people – have interesting and more or less inspirational conversations and/or just have a good time over dinner. In comparison: On the Camino del Norte I often walked for hours without seeing a single soul – which quite obviously can also be beautiful and was exactly what I needed that time. I guess, it really just depends on what you want.
  3. On the Camino Frances you do not really have to plan ahead. In pretty much every village you pass you find an albergue where you can stay for the night, there is a water fountain every few kilometres – so you do not have to carry a lot of water with you – which makes life much easier. In comparison, on the Camino del Norte sometimes you just have to walk for 30km or so because there is just no place to stay in between (especially when you walk in low season). You do not have this issue on the Camino Frances. However, I have heard that in peak season you do actually have to plan ahead, due to the simple reason that hostels fill up quickly.

What is it like to walk the Camino solo – as a female?

I definitely worried about this when I walked my first Camino a few years ago. But: first of all, especially on the Camino Frances you do not really walk alone. Even though sometimes you see no-one else you can be quite sure that there is another pilgrim less than a 10 -minute walk away from you (that might not be valid in low season – whereas in peak season you might not get into the situation that you just do not see any other pilgrims, I guess). This can be quite different for the other Caminos. As I said, when I walked the Camino del Norte I sometimes walked for many hours without seeing anyone. Now you might ask yourself: isn’t it dangerous to walk in a foreign country all alone – and sometimes even through a forest (images from some horror films you have watched in the past pop up in your mind)?  skull-and-crossbones-2077840_960_720

Yeah, well…I guess, things can happen – whatever you do. Whether you walk through a forest or whether you eat some peanuts. Obviously, you never stop using your common sense, right?! But when I freak out about these kind of things (as I frequently do), I always try to remind myself that my mind is probably- as it tends to do- presenting me with the worst-case scenario. It just loves a bit of drama…But seriously, how likely is this to happen? Just remember all those worst case scenarios your mind has already created in the past – how many did come true, huh? Huh?

Oh – and if you think you will struggle to make new friends… Well, don’t worry about it. I mean, in the end it comes down to you. But if you are open and curious and throw a few: ‘Buen Caminos‘ in the direction of your fellow pilgrims (try not to hit them) – I am sure you will have no problem making new Camino friends.

Why can it be beneficial to walk the Camino solo? 

I did a lot of ‘solo’ travelling in my life and obviously there were also times I travelled with friends, a partner or family. Both experiences can be wonderful. Again, I guess it really depends on what you want to get out of an experience and the circumstances you are in. However, I guess, it could be beneficial for everyone to go on a solo trip at least once in their life and here are some reasons why:

  • you will have to arrange everything yourself – and damn, even if you screw up a few times you can still say: Wow – I did it.
  • if you do not want to be all by yourself all the time, you will need to approach other people, and yes, that sounds scary at first. But: most of the time (in my subjective experience) you will just find out that the other person is as happy as you that you have approached them. And if they aren’t (or if, for some reason, you change your mind about them) so what, you will become good in traveller (or in this case pilgrim) smalltalk. A new skill.
  • you are free to follow your heart and you can have your own rhythm. When you want to stay somewhere – stay and if you want to go somewhere else – go.
  • If you buy a bottle of wine you can have it all to yourself 😉

And how did you prepare for this trip – if you did?

Well, here is what I did/and didn’t do:

  1. I ordered my Credencial del Peregrino online. Your what? The Credencial is like a pilgrim’s passport which gives access to inexpensive, sometimes free, overnight accommodation in refugios along the trail. It provides pilgrims with a rIMG_20180124_114714ecord of where they ate or slept, and serves as proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the journey was accomplished according to an official route, and thus that the pilgrim qualifies to receive a compostela. But was it necessary to organise it before you started the camino? No, not really – because you can also get it at the pilgrim’s office in SJPP/France or at some of the refugios along the Camino. But hey, I do have a bit of German in me…
  2. I bought stuff. There are several packing lists for the Camino online so I will not go into detail here (but they are very helpful). What is important to remember: less is more. And uhm.. 2 pairs of socks and 2 sets of underwear for a 5 week trip sound like not enough? Yeah, but they are… and believe it or not: even your knickers have some weight (which you might not be aware of, because you usually don’t carry a spare pair of them on your back when you go on a 800km long walk, right?!) And if you can, try to invest in some high quality products. Whereas one of the two t-shirts I had with me was made out of polyester and immediately started to smell, I met a woman who had invested in a merino wool t-shirt and she let me smell it after a sweaty day of hiking (sounds gross, I know) and jeez, it did not smell at all. But hey, in the end, it all does not really matter. Yes, some products will make things easier for you and some might make it a little harder – but don’t let a tight budget keep you from doing what you want to do. What will solve many of your problems is extra time. If you do not need to rush, you need less stuff. Could this be the same as in real life, uhmmm? Comfortable shoes however are definitely helpful – whether you rush or not.
  3. I went for one longer hike before I started walking the Camino. It was supposed to be a short 15km hike, however, I got lost – so it was more like 22 km hike – which resulted in some bad blisters on my feet – even before I had started the Camino. Maybe I should have just not practised at all… But hey, you know your fitness level the best – don’t underestimate a 800km walk. Again, the more time you have the less you will have to worry.
  4. I bought a bus ticket from Germany to Bayonne/France (sounds far? yeah- approx 20h on a bus). IMG_20170404_161124Why a bus?? Because I wanted to suffer a little bit – not as much as those pilgrims who walked all the way from their homes, but just a bit to remind me of what suffering feels like.
  5. I organised my first night accommodation in advance. A hotel room in Bayonne/France. Enough suffering – I wanted to enjoy a bit of luxury after the long bus journey and before starting the Camino.

And that was pretty much all I did. Oh, and yes, I took a Camino guidebook with me… but honestly spoken: I hardly used it on the Camino Frances – it was rather one of these things you carry to calm your nerves “just in case” – “just in case”….

And this is what my Camino looked like:

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 09.41.20

Aha… yes, as you can see somewhere in the middle I gained some speed… what happened? Did I just get really fit? Did I learn to fly? I will tell you in one of my next blog posts…

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

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