Available in: Italiano
When I decided to do the Camino de Santiago I knew it would not have been a travel like others, I knew it need physical preparation, organization and above all determination. Even though I already have read and listened stories of people who have done it, I read up more before to leave. On web you can find an unlimited variety of experiences, tips and guides, every country seems have its own catalogue. I’ve found them really useful when I was organizing my trip and was full of stress and doubts.
Now that I’m back home, I would like to contribute with what I tried on myself and with experience of people I met. I want to start just with a list of things you don’t have to do during the Camino. Some of these were determined by wrong decisions I’ve made, others by simple ignorance, or were mistakes of other people I met along the way. Obviously I don’t say to you what are mine, maybe you can imagine it or if you are so curious you can ask with a comment.
1 – Don’t buy cheap shoes and socks
It’s almost unnecessary says that the best investment for your travel consist of shoes and socks, because you have to deal with a really long “walk” of hundreds of kilometres. I bought the shoes “La Sportiva – Ultraraptor” and I can assure it was the best deal (I’ll talk about them in a next post). I was wrong instead when I bought thin hiking socks in silver thread. Their best quality is to prevent the formation of bacteria and skin fungus, perfect for hygiene and against bad smells. After first days appeared already blisters on both feet, and I had some problem to walk during the first part of camino. Then I bought classical reinforced hiking socks, they wrap and dampen foot perfectly. When blisters were restored I had no problems more.
2 – Don’t get off from Saint Jean Pied de Port on the wrong foot
The first day, when you arrive in the beautiful french town where the adventure begins you feel excited, anxious, tremble to start as soon as possible. I know you will not like it, but despite it’s one of the most expensive towns of all camino stop one night here and start the day after in early morning. Almost all public transports arrive in S. Jean at mid-morning or midday, then spend the afternoon to request the credential (if you don’t have it already) or to stamp it with the first “sello”. As you may already know, weather on Pyrenees is highly variable and for your first leg you will deal with the most difficult task of the camino. Then it’s better to leave in the early morning, and always with good weather.
3 – Don’t start without an appropriate poncho
As already written above the weather on Pyrenees is highly variable, then it’s really important that you have an appropriate poncho by the first day of the Camino de Santiago. Not those of simple plastic throwaway, but those ones “professionals”. I suggest you to buy it at home, because prices along the way are not always honest and you risk to spend more than you should. Besides the fact you may dump in the rain already during the first day, I can assure this is not a good experience.
4 – Don’t walk too many kilometres than you should
Even if guides suggest you legs to do day to day, you will realize soon that you could handle your daily kilometres basing on your rhythms and your needs. My advice is to don’t overstate, to don’t go too far. Especially during first days, your body is not used already to the effort and you’ll suffer for the following days. Then start with suggested legs and if you need it and you have a good physical skill you will go over them. When you will feel you can continue to walk over your daily leg you will be able to walk for more kilometres guides suggest. The sense of Camino is to take your time, to handle your body and the physical effort, then follow your instinct but don’t pull on so hard.
5 – Don’t be late in big cities or in interesting towns
The French way runs through some of the most beautiful and legendary Spanish cities and many pilgrims are not able to stop even only for two nights to visit them at the best. Especially who travel like me, with tight budget and a booked return flight, can’t stop more than a night. We were used to arrive in cities we wanted to visit around at midday, so we could visit cities like Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and so on. We decided in advance which city to visit better and handling our legs we were able to arrive few kilometres from our objective the day before. The following morning we had to walk just few hours to arrive at destination at midday. So we had the time to settle down in albergue (you can’t do the check-in before 12pm in almost no one albergue municipal) and spend all afternoon visiting the city.
6 – Don’t arrive before 9am at wine fountain of Irache
If you are reading this list most likely you are going to depart or you are still thinking about it. In the first case, you’ve obviously heard about wine fountain. In the latter case, if you don’t know it yet, one of the many reasons why you should do the Camino de Santiago is that you can drink wine for free! Yes, you’ve read correctly! The “miraculous” fountain is located in Navarra, in a small town called Ayegui, just after Estella (a suggested leg by guides, and it deserve a stop for its medieval beauty). We stopped for a night in Estella, hosted in a fantastic donative albergue.
The following morning, we knew about this Bodega Irache where every pilgrim can take refreshment with water or wine for free. Our bad luck was to arrive there too early. Leaving early in the morning, as every good pilgrim should do, we arrived at the fountain at 8am and found the wine tap closed. Some said because of the period, second half of September, right after grape harvest and so barrels were empty. Others said because of the time, they asserted that it’s possible to have free wine only after 9am. So, keep attention to plan your travel to be there in a right time. Do it for me because I didn’t get it!
7- In Galicia is not possible to cook in albergues municipales
Galicia, despite being the last region of the Camino where is located the goal, namely Santiago de Compostela, has a defect. It has a good service of albergues municipals, they are all part of a common network with same services, sometimes also structures as similar. All albergues have even the same wi-fi password, so pilgrims have to register on line only the first time and after they are connected automatically in the other ones.
However, despite the general opinion is pretty good, the impossibility to cook inside them is a really big defect. In fact, in each structure there is a kitchen but they are not furnished with cutlery, pots, dishes, well all the necessary to save money and cook. Obviously I hope in the future this will change, because I can say to you that Galicia was the region where I spent more right because of this inconvenience. I suggest you to plan you budget scheduling to must eat in some restaurant or bar.
8 – Don’t ask for a simple coffee, or an espresso, but for a Caffè solo (for Italian people)
I hope my Spanish friends don’t get angry with me, but for most of Italians the coffee, the only real and inimitable coffee is the espresso as we are used to drink in Italy. It can seems a presumption, but it’s just a question of habit. Coffee can be made in really different ways, each one efficient and outcome of popular traditions. In Spain they are used to drink a coffee more long, and less strong respect to our espresso. After various attempts, asking to local people how to can get an Italian coffee a man disclose the secret. That is to ask for a “caffè solo” and I can assure you that by that moment my life on the camino has changed.
9 – Don’t use hiking sticks to walk
This is an advice I give you on a personal level, then according to my experience and to the way I see the camino. Since the first day, the most difficult, I’ve never thought to use hiking sticks to help me to walk. Perhaps because since the moment I decided to leave I’ve seen this travel as a personal challenge. And as a personal challenge it should have been faced only by myself, without any “help”. Far be it from me to demonise who use them, also because sometimes they are absolutely necessary for health problems, but if you can avoid them and walk on your own legs. You’ll see the satisfaction will be greater when you’ll arrive only with your own legs strength in front of Santiago Cathedral, it will be because of you and of your determination.
10 – Don’t give up, Animo!
At the end, the most important and never banal: never give up! There will be moments of bad mood, of tiredness and stress. This is part of the full pack you bought when you started the camino. Right in these moments you have to gather out strength and carry on. You’ll have to handle your body, your emotions and your thoughts. It’s right this the sense of Camino! But don’t worry, you’ll find always someone who will smile and wish you “Buen Camino!” and maybe at the end of the day you’ll be with him/her to grab a cerveza.