Image above by Toniflap / Shutterstock.com
Spain’s El Camino or The Way of St James is one of the most popular hiking trails in the world, with thousands of visitors plodding along its paths each year. Although the individual sets their own route, the most common trek in Europe is from St Jean Pied De Port in the French Pyrenees, traversing across the entire top of Spain and ending up in a town called Santiago de Compostela.
Before I did the hike myself I read a lot of boring blogs, forums and conflicting pieces of advice, a few things rang true and others I found to be less than helpful. Here’s my advice for anyone considering this wonderful adventure.
There’s an informative review under the heading “10 reasons why El Camino sucks”. The author’s opinion on this particular route is obviously rather negative but it does make for a worthwhile read and the main issues that he has with it may not be a problem to you – that it’s crowded and not very challenging.
“Why are you doing this?”
You are going to get asked that several dozen times a day by other hikers and if your answer is something that may not suit everyone you might want an alternative, a tweaked answer if you will. Some of the more conservative types may not like hearing about how you took too many drugs back home and are doing a little detox on what they consider a spiritual pilgrimage.
On the boots vs. sandals debate:
Sandals may be the most hideous footwear on Earth, especially when you’re going German style and teaming them with socks but this really is the way to go. I didn’t use even one of the bandages I took with me and instead handed them out to my boot-wielding new friends. Not to mention that I saw two toenails come off during a particularly steep descent.
I foolishly heeded someone’s advice when they said, “don’t take books, you’ll be too tired to read at the end of the day and they’ll just weigh your bag down.” Generally you’re going to finish hiking around 5pm and other than drinking wine (“pilgrims medicine”) or stuffing yourself with Spanish cuisine, there isn’t a whole lot to do when your feet are too sore to explore the new town. Take at least one book. Maps are not essential.
Camel backs are awesome.
One in Spain will set you back a measly EUR 10 and save you from taking off your backpack every time you want a drink and will encourage you to stay properly hydrated.
Putting your body through something tough and having nothing to do for a month but to walk and think can turn out to be a bit of a spiritual thing even for the least Godly of us. Unless you make a conscious effort to deny socializing, you are never going to be alone for long anyway and the new friends that you make will be from all over the world.