Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bert's Camino de Santiago Part II: Tips, Experiences & More

Ironically, in my past travels, I've seen a lot of backpacking travelers like this group at the El Chorro train station near Málaga, Spain.

Upon seeing these travelers, I've always had that "thanks, but no thanks" attitude. And so I think it is pretty ironic and funny that I now find myself planning a backpacking travel trip of my own.  Will some traveler sitting on a train, looking out of their window at me think “thanks, but no thanks” like I did here? Who knows and frankly who cares?  I’m sure these guys didn’t care what I thought either. They actually sat right behind me on the train and they were very cool!
On this trip I will be walking and carrying everything I need on me. I will be stripped to the bare necessities and this thought haunts me. I mean how will I blog without my laptop? Can I live without my DSLR camera? What about my bottle of shampoo and conditioner and my big toiletry bag? I can’t possibly just bring only two pieces of clothing or sleep with a bunch of strangers and share a bathroom in an albergue. 

Will there be hotels that I can stay in rather than the albergues?  Should I bring a sleeping bag and travel towel just in case I have to stay in an albergue?  What will I eat? What if I have to go to the girls room while out on the trails? I suppose there won’t be any porta potties along the route! :) What if I get lost and it gets dark? Will my feet hold up? What if I develop really bad blisters? Can I learn enough Spanish to get by? Will the weather be good to me?

I have read tales about these wild unleashed dogs near a small town called Foncebadón along the Camino. Should I worry about them?

Although Bert said that he didn’t use them, I think I’m going to bring along my hiking poles. If anything it will give me something to defend myself with if need be. Bert mentioned that he can see how they might be useful on descents, but he recommends that I practice using them when doing my local hikes. I’ve already tested them once and they seem okay. There is this loop thing on my backpack to secure them if I get tired of using them. Who knows, maybe by the end of my Camino I’ll learn to twirl them around and toss them up in the air like a baton just as Martin Sheen and his group did in the movie The Way. :)

Food:  Based upon reading Bert's journals and e-mails, there's quite a bit that I may not be able to eat like jamón, churrasco and goat.  I'm going to stick to the seafood, eggs, fruit, salad and bread.  And I'm not a big wine or beer drinker, but I do love an occasional glass of cava or sangria.
Walking:  Although I won't be doing the entire Camino Francés Route, walking from Astorga to Santiago de Compostela (160 miles) is still a long way to go. Here's a google map that I created with my overnight and rest stops and points of interests.  It's a work in progress.

With all that walking, one day after the next for three weeks straight, I’m concerned about how well my feet will hold up. Bert recommends wearing two socks - an inner thin one and an outer thicker one. The reason for this is so any rubbing that takes place is between the socks, not between the sock and my foot.  Bert never had a blister walking on his Camino and so that is what I intend to do. He also recommends that I break in my shoes/boots well before my trip. Here's a preview of what I'll be taking.  I decided to start by getting my pack, sticks and a couple of other things to test the weight out on local hikes.  I figure I need some time prior to my trip to break certain things in.  Other items can wait until much later. 
Weather:  So what will the weather be like? On his walk, Bert told me that it had rained 11 days out of 33. He used overtrousers and a waterproof jacket that wasn't very waterproof and lacked ventelation.  Bert wish that he had brought a poncho and recommended it to me for my Camino.  I'm pretty sure that I will be walking in some rain too, so I will make sure to bring appropriate rain gear just in case. I already have a rain cover for my backpack, but I’ll need to get a better rain/wind jacket because I’m not sure my current jacket is completely waterproof. When I wore it at Iguazú Falls, I got soaking wet. I may bring along a rain poncho as back-up and also use it to cover the ground with in case I want to have a little picnic break or something.

Way markers:  Bert says that there are visible markers along the Camino to point you in the right direction.  These markers are in the form of clam shells, signs, assembled rocks and yellow arrows.  With all the things I've learned from Bert, these way markers and the maps in my guidebook (A Pilgrim's Guide to the Camino de Santiago:  St. Jean-Roncesvalles - Santiago by John Brierley), I hope to always find the right path while doing my Camino.

Music:  Since I'll be spending anywhere from 5-7 hours a day walking, I may need some music to keep me entertained.  I created a play list and here are some of my favorite songs to have on my hikes:  Lean on Me (Club Nouveau version), I Will Follow Him, KISS, 1999, Oh Happy Day, Three Little Birds, I Can Only Imagine (Mercy Me), and my new personal favorite, Camariñas by Luar Na Lubre with Paula Rey.  I first heard it on this YouTube Video of a father and daughter doing their Camino together.  
Accommodation:  With a pilgrim's passport (credencial), I will be able to stay in low cost lodgings called albergues (or refugios). The cost and available amenities will range from town to town. Bert stayed in some albergues with bunk beds, some with a private room option, some with no hot water, some with a washer or at least a clothes line, some with mediocre cooking facilities, most with shared bathrooms and communal dining, and some with/without pilgrim's meals.

Here’s a photo of Bert at the communal dinner table in an albergue in Ribadiso. Wonderful!

My plan is to stay in hotels or private albergues whenever they are available.  Bert stayed in albergues and they seemed to work pretty well for him.  He did mention that some towns on the Camino are so small that they may only have albergues. 
What's on my Packng List (so far):  Bert said that he brought along a sleeping bag and although I hope to stay in hotels whenever possible and although most of the albergues do provide sheets, I plan on taking a sleeping bag and travel pillow anyway.  Other things that I will be taking include:  prescriptions (asthma inhaler & Claritin), first aid kit (including moleskin, sun block, insect repellent), camera, camera charger, extra camera batteries, extra SD memory cards, important documents (passport, driver's license, my credencial (pilgrim passport), airline tickets, lodging confirmations for Madrid, Astorga, Santiago de Compostela), guide book, pain/cold/upset stomach medications, ear plugs, rain jacket, fleece long sleeve, crocs (casual wear), compass/flashlight, whistle gadget), TP, water bottle, night wear, hiking (& personal) clothes (at least 2 changes), socks (2 extra), sunglasses, eyeglasses (plus one spare), hiking sticks, hiking hat, pen/notebook, emergency kit (include zip ties, ducktape, swiss army knife), small bag (evenings/non hiking days), security neck pouch, ziploc bags, itouch (with charger), cell phone (with charger) and plug adaptors. 
Go with the Flow:  According to Bert, there are all sorts of things that can make you change your plans - weather, injury, losing things, illness, and perhaps you find you like somewhere so much you decide to spend more time there. I guess some of the appeal of doing the Camino is not having any set schedule or plan other than moving forward one step at a time. That feeling is quite liberating but also scary at the same time. I’ve done some go with the flow type of travel before, but never without having, at the very least, set lodging arrangements.

And now on to the more positive and fun things about this trip.   

Must See Sights:  I am so excited to be visiting this part of Spain.  Here are some of the things on my "must see" list:  Astorga Cathedral and the Archbishop's Palace (Astorga), Templar Castle (Ponferrada), Church of Santa Maria Monasterio de San Francisco & Iglesia S. Nicolas (Villafranca De Bierzo, Iglesia de Santa Maria la Real (O Cebreiro), Triacastela Church (Triacastela), the many medieval bridges that I will cross over and the glorious Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela,

People:  One of the more fascinating things about doing the Camino will be meeting the many different people along the way.  And I'm referring to both the locals and fellow pilgrims. 
In the book I mentioned earlier, the writer befriends an English woman named Anne who had a fascinating history. She was obviously intelligent, but somewhat aloof as well. Although they didn’t hit it off when they initially met earlier on their Camino, they (along with a lady from New Zealand named Sheelagh) grew to become very close friends when they met up later towards the end. She had spent 8 months in India and during their long walks she would share some of the Buddhist teachings that were taught to her. She shares one of the most significant lessons that she had learned and it comes from a simple sentence from the Dalai Lama . . . "Drop the thought." She said that when something upsets you, just drop the thought! That is the only way of releasing it and not have it eat away at you. The author took that lesson to heart as he reflected on his own life and the things that bothered him and he thought to himself, just "drop the thought." Brilliant!
Based upon Bert’s experiences and from what I have read, there seems to be a strong sense of camaraderie between everyone and that no matter what part of the world you are from or what language you speak, on the Camino everyone becomes one . . . a pilgrim.

Bert said that he met some lovely people on his Camino. There was a Danish guy who I met on my first day (at the airport), and I saw him many times on route - we ended up in Santiago together. Then, there was a big German guy, Josef, who spoke English better than I do with an American or Canadian accent. And there are others, Jemma, Stephen (a chiropractor who did a lot of things like scuba diving and body surfing and has traveled to Japan and New Zealand), Erin, Melissa, Julian, Fabiana, Karen, Jens and Soubria, Elke, the Danish Dynamite ladies (who I mentioned in my Part I post), Wendy and Bill (from Canada) and then there was surfer Brian from San Diego. 
Bert shared a very funny story about an American lady named Mildred whom he had met on his Camino.  After El Burgo de Ranero, the scenery stays pretty much the same for hours, which gives a sense that you’re in the middle of nowhere.  In the town of Reliegos, Mildred related her story to Bert . . . “she was on this road, thinking how boring it was, how she was walking and walking and not seeming to be getting anywhere. She was fed up.  Why am I doing this? she asked herself.  God, show me a sign! she cried.  Just then a baker’s van passed her (on a road that maybe you might see two vehicles in four hours). The name on the van? - “Mildred”! :) Bert said that Mildreds happens to be national company in Spain, but it appears that they may no longer be in business. Fabulous story!!
Here are some wonderful photos of Bert with some of his pilgrim friends as they reached Santiago de Compostela.
Here's a photo of Jemma, Bert and Brian.  

Here's a photo of Elke, Bert and Josef.

Here's a wonderful group photo of Bert and some of his pilgrim friends.

I'm sure that each one of these smiling pilgrims walked away from their Camino experiences with so many fond memories that will last them a lifetime.

Corresponding with Bert has helped me tremendously to answer many of my questions and address most of my fears and trepidations that I have about my trip.  I can't wait to see some beautiful landscapes, learn some of the interesting history and visit some of the churches in this part of Spain.
My original plans were to leave this October, but my friends have just recently decided that they want to do the Camino de Santiago too and so my trip is postponed to September 2014. Although I was looking forward to my Camino this year and would have totally done it as a solo traveler, I'm so glad that my friends want to do it and it will be a lot of fun to have someone to share my experiences with.  

So where will I go this year?  Should I go to Lisbon as I had originally planned? What about finally traveling to Peru to see Machu Picchu?  Do I have enough time to plan a new 2013 Trekcapri Travel Adventure or should I just have a relaxing staycation this year?  So many things are racing through my head.  Suddenly, I think to myself .  . . Kathy, you need to just calm down and "drop the thought!"  :)

Once again, I’d like to say a very warm and heartfelt thank you to Bert for taking the time to share his experiences, photos and tips with me and for allowing me to post them on my blog. I hope that you enjoyed visiting the very beautiful country of Spain with Bert and found his information useful for your own Camino de Santiago.  I enjoyed walking along with Bert through this part of Northwestern Spain and I hope that my Camino experiences will be just as wonderful as his were.
I'll continue to train with my friends on hikes, prepare my backpacking gear and dream about my now distant Camino de Santiago. 
I can't wait for September 2014 to get here! 
Buen Camino!


  1. Thanks again so much to you and to Bert for sharing this. Drop the thought, I love it! And also the Mildred story. Preparing for a trip like this is so different than most vacations. Two pair of socks is a great idea (no blisters!).

    Looking forward to hearing what you decide about 2013 and I too am looking forward to Sept. 2014 when you go!

  2. Hi Annie, thanks so much for your comments. I also love that Drop the Thought tip and found Bert's Mildred story very funny! :) Yes indeed this trip is very different from most vacations. I'm really not sure about what I'll do now for 2013. I'm almost tempted to have a staycation but I'm also tempted to head to Peru. I'll be interested too what I'll do. :0

    Have a wonderful evening.

  3. I did staycation last year and it really was nice to just relax and catch up on things around the house. But I'm ready to travel again in 2013 and hope it works out.

    You've been wanting to go to Machu Picchu for a while...:)

  4. Hi Annie, how cool! I hope it works out for you to travel this year too. It's nice to travel but I agree with you I think it's also nice to just relax and catch up on house stuff.

    I was just thinking about MP this morning. I had done some research a while back and I went back to read this traveler's blog when she went to MP and she did it with only 2 weeks planning. It was a last minute trip. I found her blog on the Fodor Forum when I was thinking about going to MP a couple of years ago. I've always wanted to see MP. I'm going to check out my old notes and airfares and see if I can do it this year. :)

    Thanks so much for your comments Annie. Have a wonderful evening.

  5. I read this blog post a couple of weeks ago but am just now finding more time to leave some comments on blogs. This is a great resource for anyone thinking of doing the Camino walk. That is so exciting that your friends are interested in doing this walk with you!

    I know what you mean about being up in the air on a trip for this year. I am in the same boat right now and may end up just staying home (not a bad place to be!).

  6. Hi Girasoli, thanks so much for your comments.Spring can sometimes be a busy time so totally understand if you don't have a chance to comment. No worries.

    I'm glad that my friends are coming too. I must agree with you, being in Hawaii is definitely not a bad place to be. I'd like to be there myself. :)

    Hope you are having a wonderful Spring so far.


It's me Trekcapri (aka Kathy). Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment.