Spain Snapshots: The Medieval City of Mondoñedo along the Camino de Santiago del Norte

Leaving Lourenzá at just past 7am, we’d have a two hour hike before reaching Mondoñedo, where we’d agreed to meet Iván, Claude and Sandrine for breakfast. While we’d stop and feed our bodies whenever we felt hunger pains or a bit of weakness, this day was different – we’d need to double our intake of toast and coffee for a three-hour hike straight upwards into Gontán.

Not only was this the day we had to climb a mountain, but also the day we couldn’t lose MC. Hayley and I both cried silent tears to ourselves from pain, from frustration, from just needing to let out what our emotions were trying to say. It was a long day, and a pivotal one during the trek, where I nearly broke the promise I made to myself to walk every goddamned step to Santiago by checking bus schedules.

As we descended the lush valley into the small city of Mondoñedo around 9am, I took a misstep and felt a weird pain creep up my left calf. Remembering my years as a gymnast, it felt like tendonitis. I grasped at it in pain, trying to sooth the sore area by walking on on my heels and pulling out my mobile to check bus times out of the city.

Mondoñedo is one of the original capitals of the Galician kingdom and a city with more than 900 years of history. Its most famous landmark is its cathedral and rectory, known as a catedral arodillada for its squat spires. It was breathtaking and the backdrop for a lively market that morning under a soaring sun.

Climbing straight out of the city, we turned around to glimpse the village as the sun began to burn off the mist that had become synonyous with our mornings along the Camino. Thankfully, leaving Mondoñedo was quicker than savoring the entrance to it.

In the nearly six months it’s been since we reached Santiago on foot, but the quick stop in Mondoñedo has stayed with me, both for the views and the valley, as well as the day I decided to grit my teeth and prove to myself that I could handle an uphill climb, both mentally and psychically. 

Have you been to the Lugo province? 

Two Weeks on the Camino de Santiago: 14 Pictures of my Journey (Part 2)

Where we last left off, I had literally just climbed a mountain, but I had also scaled a mountain of self-doubt that told me my body was not strong enough to continue. We were halfway there, distance-wise, but coming to grips with the impending end of the journey.

Day Eight // Monday, August 5th, 2013 // Gontán – Vilalba //20km

Money can buy you happiness, it turns out, and we left Abadín before dawn after a few beers the night before and a sound sleep in a comforable bed to the tune of 19€ each. At this point, I’d only opened my sleeping bag once.

We didn’t speak much on the way to Vilalba, a once-powerful city that hosts a Parador. All of the sudden, there were more pilgrims on the trail who we’d never seen before, and we felt rushed to get to the next inn on time with Croissanthead (our so-named mascot for an earlier Xacobeo celebration). We had wine at the parador and met the cook, a man who had walked 15 Caminos in his life. I’d read somewhere that those who live along the trail are obligated by law to protect pilgrims and not do anything to ruin or impede their Camino. Written or not, pilgrims are respected by these townspeople, and not just for the tourism dollars they bring in. We were treated to a snack, courtesy of this fellow peregrino.

Even the local Proteccion Civil officer who ran the large albergue locked up 15 minutes later than normal because we invited him to a shot of orujo.

Day Nine // Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 // Vilalba – Baamonde // 20km

The reality of passing the halfway point in our journey was starting to weigh on me. The simplicity of pilgrim life was so inviting after a year of many changes and transitions for me, and knowing that I’d be finished in just five days got me a little depressed. I no longer befriended pilgrims, knowing I’d have to say goodbye to them once we reached Santiago. José was an exception. Sharing 20 kilometers with him into Baamonde was a treat.

The road that day was littered with small towns, dairy farms and leafy groves of trees and rudimentary stone structures. José is a secondary teacher in Valencia, so Hayley and I immediately had a connection with him and his outlook on life. Almost immediately after meeting another pilgrim, you exchanged the, ‘So what brings you on the Camino?’ question. José’s was simple, and it made me think of my own reasons.

The say the Camino always provides, and it does – from new friendships to a bit of clarity to a stronger body, or even a hot plate of food after a long trek.

That afternoon when we rolled into Baamonde, just 103 kilometers from Santiago, and we had ample time to enjoy the 94 others who were there sharing four showers with us. Afternoon beers, a large and tasty meal in a table that was far too small for us and our food, jam sessions in the patio as we waited out a rain cloud. When you only have one thing in common and nothing else matters, it’s easy to make friends. Besides, that’s what Facebook is for!

Day Ten // Wednesaday, August 7th, 2013 // Baamonde – Miraz // 14.5km

“Be careful of the Santa Campana,” Fernando warned us before retiring to bed. Our walk from the sprawling pilgrim’s inn at Baamonde to the rumored ‘nicest albergue on the Norte’ was a short one, but we’d have to rush – there were just 26 beds in Miraz.

We woke at 5am. It would be dark until nearly 7:30 a.m., but we didn’t have any time to waste. My guidebook told me that we’d walk three kilometers out of Baaaaaaaaaaamonde before turning left over the train tracks. Our flashlights bounced off trees, searching desperately before we got off-track and lost a bed.

Then it began raining. We thankfully didn’t see the witches of the Santa Campana, said to lure pilgrims into sorcery by handing them candles when it’s dark and rainy along the trail.

By the time we got to Miraz around 9:30 that morning, there were already six or eight other pilgrims in line. We set our bags down under the overhang, respecting the pre-established order for beds and joined the others in the town’s only bar. We considered continuing on to Sobrado, but I’m glad we didn’t – apart from a warm bed and blanket and other English speakers (the small albergue is run by the British Cofraternity of Saint James volunteers), we spent hours in the bar, warming up over beers and sandwiches. The rain and the fact that we had to wait forever was made better by the fact that there was a bit of cerveciña to make the time pass quicker.

Day Eleven // Thursday, August 8th, 2013 // Miraz – Sobrado dos Monxes // 25.5km

We took our time walking into Sobrado dos Monxes the following day, knowing that we were nearing the end of the road. It was a perfect day, with puffy clouds within reach and enough solitude to hash out issues and just talk about nothing in between.

The albergue is housed in a 10th Century monastery, and Hayley and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to our weeks working in a haunted monastery in Uclés, Cuenca. The pilgrim hysteria was high, as a Jesuit group was also there, taking up nearly half the beds. After checking in and getting our stamp from the monks who lived on site and raised dogs and cows (which Carmela and I got to see!), Hayley and I escaped to a bar further outside of town. When we finished, half a bottle of wine each later, a stray dog who I’d tripped over earlier in the day was waiting for us, his broken chain dangling from his neck as he drooled over the hot pavement. We tried to lose him, and the poor pup kept getting shooed out of the monastery.

I honestly would have loved wasting hours petting him in the interior lawn of the sprawling, gorgeous palace, but he was not allowed to enter.

Long live Blacky. That is, if he stops tripping pilgrims.

Day Twelve // Friday, August 9th, 2013 // Sobrado dos Monxes – Arzúa // 22km

Fernando gave us a pep talk as we headed out of Sobrado towards Arzúa, the last major stop on the Francés and where our route would hook up with the main pilgrim trail. We’d lose most of our friends on this day who favored a shorter route that skipped the pilgrim town. Many bikers making their way to Santiago passed us, and we knew they’d reach Santiago in time for Pilgrim’s Mass that morning while we still had more than 50km to go.

Reaching Arzúa was a bit strange – there was already a long line outside the municipal inn when we arrived, despite making good time. Most of the private inns were booked up, too. In the end, a hotel offered us a good price for a street side room right near the central plaza.

‘You’ll need these,’ he said, handing us a pair of earplugs. I already had some, courtesy of the Novio, but I shrugged and took them anyway. We took long showers, ate a filling lunch and caught up on the news for the first time in days. Here in Arzúa, pilgrims are kings and there are loads of facilities for them. We had ample choices of where to eat, had special deals on laundry services and massages, and found ourselves feeling alone in a booming town – it took us ages to find familiar pilgrims.

Pilgrim culture shock at its finest.

Our second to last sleep was interrupted early the next morning by a bagpipe. The town had some sort of festival, hence the lack of private inns, and its last revelers were playing bagpipes to signal the end of the party. So that’s what the earplugs were for.

Day Thirteen // Saturday, August 10th, 2013 // Arzúa – O Pedrouzo // 19km

We wizened up and book a private pension again, not willing to hurry our penultimate day for sake of a cheap bed. This meant we could take our time walking, stop more often and really soak up the last few kilometers. By now, we were 41km away from the Plaza do Obradoiro, which we decided to split into two days.

This day was among the most enjoyable – frequently stopping for a beer, running into familiar faces, realizing we’d done 300 kilometers and were all but finished. Joining us were loads of bikers (we nearly got plowed into!), many families and scout groups, and even people pushing strollers! We saw the turigrinos – those who sent their packs ahead and just walked with little weight. I felt lighter than on any other day, and even the purge I’d do later that day of things I wouldn’t need or hadn’t used in two weeks seemed to lighten the load tremendously.

I realized that I’d done everything I intended to do on the Way, save arrive in one piece to Santiago.

Hayley stopped just ahead of me and pointed – didn’t you want to leave something at this mile marker? Once in Galicia, it’s easy to see how many kilometers are left until the cathedral because they’re all marked with the distance down to the thousandth. Exactly at 21,0km I left a purple and orange ribbon for Kelsey. I’d scatter several more the following day, too – at the Lavacolla airport, at Monte do Gozo and at Saint James’s tomb.

Day Fourteen // Sunday, August 11th, 2013 // O Pedrouzo – Santiago de Compostela // 21km

I slept terribly. Maybe I was anxious, but it could be because a homeless man walked into the albergue and took a shower, and then an obnoxious family who hadn’t walked much all took showers after 11pm, turning on lights and hair dryers after I’d already drifted into dreamland. I tried to read Shirley McClain’s The Camino, but it was full of weird mystical dreams and meeting random dead Scottish men who give her a locket and then there’s a big black dog that chases her and she sends him a big red heart of love in her bind of some shit.

Anyway.

I was grumpy, but we didn’t have time for it. Every step meant one second less of our journey, one second closer to the end. Memorials and statues were around every corner, and I felt like we were racing to get to the finish line (we did want to arrive by mass at noon). I made sure to stop in the chapel of Santa Lucia, following my protocol to always leave her a donation as my Catholic aunt told me I was to do if I took her name for my confirmation. I was emotional, about ready to burst at any moment.

It finally happened after reaching Monte do Gozo. After leaving a ribbon on the memorial to Pope John Paul II and stamping our passport for one of the last times, we started the trek downhill. I teared up, wiping away my emotion as Hayley warned me to get it together, or we’d never make it.

We stalled as much as possible without losing track of the time, which included shooting last-minute footage, splitting an Aquarius, stopping to admire a part of the city we hadn’t seen on previous visits. It was ending.

As we arrived to the old town, I was overcome with emotion – for the struggles, for Kelsey, for knowing that tomorrow meant Seville and life and the school year and social media. The bagpipe that I’d heard several times on previous visits rang out and I tripped over my feet. Within moments, we’d passed under the arch and into the morning sunlight. The lichen-covered church towered before us, and even though I’d seen it many times, it was more striking and more beautiful and just plain bigger than ever before. We laid down immediately, taking it all in, happy for the journey and the fact that our legs didn’t fall off.

We had 36 hours or so in Santiago, in which we drank beer, ate international food and paid out respects to Saint James. Hayley decided to shop for other clothes to wear on the plane, but I wore my smelly clothes home, concha attached to my bag. I was proud of it, and I wanted to it last until I was back home.

The thing is, the fact that I’ve seen and done something I’ve always dreamed about doing means that it’s going to last forever in my heart and my memories and my photos.

Yes, even this one: creepy doll heads in Lavacolla, just one of the weird things we saw in 325 kilometers.

Want more? My flickr page has every photo you could ever want to see, and I’m working on my first video! In the meantime, you can watch Hayley’s Camino video and tear up when I do when arriving to the Obradoiro (or laugh at how excited I get about a plate of lentejas)! To learn more about the Camino de Santiago, check out my resources page, or get your FAQs answered by Trevor of A Texan in Spain.

Spain Snapshots: My Camino de Santiago, Video Style

I get it – you’re sick of my Camino posts, but there are so many stories from the road to tell. You’ve had one round of my Camino photos, but when I hit the save button, I didn’t feel like the journey was over. True, it’s the sort of thing that stays with you for a long time, but short of actually going and walking, it’s hard to experience.

Splicing together a video was as frusterating as it was fun, but here’s the finished project. I took several hours of video, but have cut it down to give you an idea of pilgrim life – the walking, the clothes washins and dryins (look for that in Arzúa), the landscapes.

Thanks to my new GoPro Hero3 (and the famous Don Gaa, who life hacked his way to it at a bargain bin price), I’ve been shooting a lot of video lately, and I’ve got several projects in the works. Be sure to subscribe to my youtube channel for more videos of Seville and beyond!

Two Weeks on the Camino de Santiago: 14 Pictures of my Journey (Part 1)

The Camino is full of little moments – a beautiful medieval bridge, a small roadside shrine, a memorable meal shared with other pilgrims. In the 14 days it took us to walk from Avilés to Santiago de Compostela, we saw all of the things I love about Spain. Much as I wanted to capture it all in my journal or with my camera, there was simply no time. For once, I was living in the moment and learning about myself and about life.

But really, I would have ‘sooner broken my neck’ than leave my camera behind.

In all, I took 25MB of photos and videos. I wanted to remember EVERYTHING  – what our meals consisted of, the people we met and their faces, the names of every small hamlet we passed through. We saw breathtaking beaches, the lush rolling landscapes of Northern Spain, hundreds of farm animals and stone crucifixes.

The pictures that follow all have stories, or they were simply a part of pilgrim life – simple living at its best. I could write an entire blog about our daily experiences on the trail, but it would be much of the same: We walked. We stopped for a coffee. We walked more. I got a new blister. We kept walking…

These 14 pictures go beyond the big moments that we experienced – they’re all the little things that went into our shared experience.

Day One // Monday, July 29th, 2013 // Avilés – El Pito // 26.5km

I easily shot the most on this day – everything was so new, every way marker a bit different from the last, the landscapes so dramatic as the cliffs of Asturias dropped into the sea. The weather was perfect and my body felt strong and able. We got lost early on in the day, stopped for beer just because and even splurged on a gorgeous guest house with the most comfortable beds ever.

What has really stuck with me, though, was our afternoon stop in Cudillero, a quaint fishing village built on a hidden inlet. Foolishly thinking there was a beach, Iván and I waded in the shallow bay, letting the cool water ease the pain in our feet. I watched the local kids splash around and look for hermit crabs between the moss-covered rocks.

I remember feeling extremely happy, between the kids and the water and the bottle of cider that followed. The journey had only just begun, and I couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and set out again.

Day Two // Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 // El Pito – Santa Marina // 21.1km

Ouch. We began the day with a tough climb to Soto de Luiña, and I was relieved that we didn’t do those last 10 kilometers the day before. The trail led us back and forth between the beach and the rolling hills straight off of a bottle of Leche Asturiana as we passed through beautiful Soto and hugged the N-634 highway into Santa Marina, where we’d spend the night.

After a painful hike down a steep hill and about 100 stairs, we arrived at a beach that looked straight out of Jurassic Park – rock crags shot up from the water, creating small pools full of water when the tide came in. It was windy, chilly and rocky, but considering I am like a seven-year-old boy when it comes to prehistoric lizards and Asturias was once Dinotown in Spain, I was psyched.

But that hike up the hill again definitely deserved a super enormous dinner, one of the best we had along the trail.

Day Three // Wednesday, July 31st, 2013 // Santa Marina – Luarca //27 km

I had a terrible night’s sleep, but was psyched to get to Luarca, considered one of Spain’s most beautiful villages. It was a day with a lot of highway walking and a constant threat of rain, and we got to Luarca absolutely exhausted and later than normal. I also got my first two blisters long before arriving, though we did get fabada and a kick-ass salad. Not all was lost.

Day Four // Thursday, August 1st, 2013 // Luarca – A Caridá // 31km

This was the longest, absolute longest day ever, and also the ugliest. Every time we’d ask how far off A Caridá was, we’d get the same ‘Just about a kilometer’ answer from nearly everyone, when, in fact, we were much further. We ran into road construction, never-ending hills and detours. I honestly thought my feet were going to fall off by the time we got to Navia for a snack, and there were still 10 kilometers still to go (there was, however, a puppy halfway through).

We got several laughs by the time we’d had a beer midmorning and were so tired that everything was laughable – a deranged old lady who hassled Hayley, a cow who mooed at me while I relieved myself in the middle of a field, two more who got it on as we walked by (that was for real the funniest thing ever). I also sat on an ortiga, causing an itchy rash.

It was also here that we finally stayed in a shiny new albergue, grabbing the last three beds before the place filled up (which would have meant backtracking three kilometers to the old albergue). The hospitalero was amazing – he opened up his restaurant for us, gave us second helpings and bought us a drink later in the evening. When they say that people protect pilgrims and do what they can to make the Camino easier, they’re right.

Day Five // Friday, August 2nd, 2013 //  A Caridá – Ribadeo // 21.5km

After seven days between Oviedo and Figueras, we left Asturias, arriving to Ribadeo early enough to enjoy a long lunch, a long siesta and a visit to Trip Advisor’s top-rated beach, Playa As Catedrais. It was a quick day walking, to be honest, knowing we’d be racing the others to get to a bed in the teeny albergue in Ribadeo. Santiago seemed closer than ever as we crossed into the region of Galicia. All at once, the way markers changed direction and we walked with more purpose.

Ribadeo reminded me a lot of Cádiz or El Ferrol – you could tell that, if taken care of, the city could really shine. It was the perfect introduction to Lugo.

I also remember falling on this day in Porcia as we crossed a medieval bridge. My knee began giving me problems, and I’d eventually cave and go to a pharmacy for a knee brace. The pharmacy was located next to a store called ‘Todo para Abuelos,’ and we had to laugh at the irony.

Day Six // Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 // Ribadeo – Lourenzá // 27.5km

While in Ribadeo, Hayley and I realized we needed a breather from our other peregrino friends – we just wanted a bit of solitude. On the sixth day, we did a long hike through rolling meadows, passing towns with nary a supermarket or bar, just a small collection of houses and an occassional church. Villagers raised their arms to wave and mutter a ‘Buen Camino!’ and everything (including watching a huge caterpillar get pummeled by a car) seemed hilarious.

For the first and only time on the hike, we stopped for lunch before reaching our finishing point. After ordering a large beer, the woman at the bar informed us that she only had potato chips and old pastries to offer us. I was a bit crestfallen, as we hadn’t packed many snacks that day, but the bar next door didn’t disappoint – an enormous fuente of lentejas, a bottle of strong red and the laughter of the other pilgrims who had also stopped for fuel.

We spent the last 10 kilometers belting out John Denver songs. Rocky Mountain high….yes.

There was just one bed at the inn and no shower door in Lourenzá, so we decided to splurge on a private room. Just 10€ for a bedroom, hot shower, laundry facilities and a kitchen where we’d meet Valèrie and Guido, the adorable French couple who moved faster than we did.

Day Seven // Sunday, August 4th, 2013 // Lourenzá – Gontán // 24km

My first step out of bed was fine, but the second caused a weird crack in my knee. It was still dark and I fumbled for the bottle of aspirin I’d left nearby in my plastic bag filled with drugs, earplugs, needles and band aids. It was going to be a long day.

The trail wasn’t so long, but after a quick nine kilometers downhill into Mondoñedo, we had to literally climb a mountain. As we zigzagged into one of Galicia’s ancient kingdoms, I told Hayley that I was considering taking a bus or taxi to Gontán. She nodded her head in agreement, though I knew she wouldn’t be joining me. I even got tendonitis as we neared closer to our breakfast spot, an aptly named Bar Peregrino.

After a strong coffee and an enormous breakfast, my optimism came back, and I was willing to push through the pain. As we left Mondoñedo and its breathtaking valley and continued the climb up, I was happy that I decided to forgo a free ride and stick to my plan to walk the entire way to Santiago.

Halfway up the mountain, which was a climb of eight kilometers, Santine and Claude were stopped, talking to a woman on a rickety chair dressed entirely in black. Two small boys rode bicycles in the small hamlet behind her. She pointed to a cemetery down the rode with a dozen headstones. ‘They’ve all left. I’m all there is,’ she lamented.

Reaching Lousada meant we were nearly to the top of the mountain, and even then there was another hour of walking. We tried to animarnos with a bit of cheese and chocolate, and I’m pretty sure we both cried that day of physical pain and exhaustion. The inn was once again full, meaning walking to the next town, Abadín, and paying for a hotel room.

…to be continued.

Want more? My flickr page has every photo you could ever want to see, and I’m working on my first video! In the meantime, you can watch Hayley’s Camino video and tear up when I do when arriving to the Obradoiro (or laugh at how excited I get about a plate of lentejas)! To learn more about the Camino de Santiago, check out my resources page, or get your FAQs answered by Trevor of A Texan in Spain.

Seville Snapshots: Luarca, Asturias

We were faced with a decision that only a pilgrim faces: walk the 1.8 kilometers to an albergue that was rumored to be next to a dairy farm in Almuña, or walk 3km downhill to the town of Luarca.

Duh.

The humble village would house us on the third night of the Camino de Santiago del Norte, a long walk of mostly weaving in and out of the N-634. Billed as one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, I was eager to spend the night on the water, as it would be one of our last.

Luarca is stacked above a small inlet on the Bay of Biscay surrounding a port. I imagined quaint fishing boats bobbing along the river Negro and ornate buildings decorating the cobblestone streets and small, tucked-away plazas.

Sadly, the city fell a little flat for me (truth be told, the road into Luarca was more picturesque!). While I could see some charm in the crumbling buildings and the colorful port, Luarca was disappointing both in vistas as in the bustling pueblo I expected to find. I felt a weak city pulse, despite the number of tourists and pilgrims eating al fresco and splashing in the cool, clear water. In its defense, I ate an incredible salad at my pension’s bar on Calle Crucero!

Think I’m full of it? Christine in Spain was there earlier this summer and had loads of things to say! Have you ever had expectation of a city or place, only to have them fall short?

Thanks again to my trip sponsors – Caser Expat Insurance, Podoactiva, Books4Spain, Your Spain Hostel and Walk and Talk Chiclana. 

Camino de Santiago Round-Up: Best Advice and Resources

If you’re reading this on August 11th, chances are that I’m basking in the sun that’s peeking in and out of the clouds in Santiago. I’m likely hot, caked with dirt and nursing blisters on my sore feet. I’ve handed out t-shirts and ribbons, broken down in tears more than a few times and met pilgrims from all around the world.

And, knowing me, I’m probably kicking back a saucer of Albariño en O Gato Negro, a hidden gem in the Santiago dining scene.

As I write from my camp bedroom in La Coruña, less than 100km from Plaza de Obradoiro and the end of my journey, I already feel a bit different from this whole undertaking. The Camino isn’t just about me and my pack, Santi – it’s about my other caminante and dear friend, Hayley. It’s about the other peregrinos I will meet and share stories and snacks with. It’s about the blisters and the sore knees and the aches and pains and beating my body will no doubt take. It’s, of course, about Kelsey and her family, too. I know I’ll be thinking of her with every step, over every mountain. The Camino is my physical tribute to her fight against leukemia and sarcoma, and a sort of spiritual cleansing that I hope to have to get me through the grieving process that still hits me at times.

It’s about the people who have shared in all of this with me, and I feel as though I’ll carry so many of you, too. Your well wishes, donation dollars to Dance Marathon and your advice have taken me far enough. I’ve always been someone to see through any challenge I undertake, and I go after what I want. The Camino has been something in the back of my head for ages, and I’m happy I’ve waited for nearly 28 years to be emotionally fit and at a point in my life where I’m ready to step ahead and see what’s waiting for me.

The Camino seems to be all about people coming together and sharing, and this is part of what attracted me to it in the first place. During the few months we’ve spent dreaming and planning, Hayley and I have used a number of different websites and resources to make this journey happen. I’ve rounded them all up for you here (this list is definitely not exhaustive, but I used them and found them useful):

General Information and History.

The Camino de Santiago has existed for generation, for centuries, and its as steeped in history as it is tradition. For a general overview to the trail, check out the following sites.

Tom Bartel shares his advice for packing, first aid and enjoying on The Way: http://travelpast50.com/category/camino/

Santiago de Compostela’s Town Hall provides background information and history: http://www.santiagoturismo.com/camino-de-santiago

Trish Clark’s Camino guide is a great companion while on the Francés: http://guidetothecamino.com

While this site, Girls on the Way, is not just about the Camino, it’s got loads of great information on long-term hikes: http://www.girlsontheway.com

Packing Tips.

Before even hitting the road, Hayley and I made multiple trips to Decathlon, we broke in boots and bags while consuming ebooks on packing. They say the pack should weigh about 10% of your body weight, so we were working on packing a lot into just a little. These sites helped me pack my own bag.

Eroski’s guide: http://caminodesantiago.consumer.es/llevatela-al-camino/

Candace Rardon’s guide on Matador Travel: http://matadornetwork.com/goods/how-to-pack-for-the-camino-de-santiago-pilgrimage-trail/

Erin Ridley’s guide on La Tortuga Viajera (fun fact, she met Candace on the hike!): http://www.latortugaviajera.com/2012/05/camino-packing-list/

I also used an e-book called ‘To Walk Far, Carry Less

You can check out my own list here. How did I do, you ask? I ended up not using the sleeping pad, tossing out the walking sticks (I should have had two, especially for the steep climbs on the first few stages) and didn’t need to bring so many T-shirts. I also found that doing the washing with a stick of laundry soap, rather than gel or powder, was more effective in rubbing out the grime, dirt and stink from my walking clothes.

Planning.

The Camino fits my Type A personality with the planning, and Hayley’s borderline Type B with its ‘go with the flow’ sort of obstacles. But still, getting to and from the Camino, choosing the right route for your physical capabilities and preferences and even where to stay needs to be taken into consideration. Forums were particularly helpful, especially those related to the Camino del Norte, which is not as popular as the Francés.

Official Camino forum: http://www.caminodesantiago.me/board/?sid=9a633b9c5cb0f40609a9e2e2520b091e

Another great forum: http://www.caminoforums.com

A great breakdown to miles traveled and costs incurred (including blister count!) http://traveledearth.com/category/journeys/camino-de-santiago-journeys/

I also used the corresponding pages of the Ciccerone guide to the Camino del Norte, updated in summer 2012, courtesy of Books4Spain. Apart from this book, which I found to be mostly correct, save a few changes for construction in Asturias, I also used the Eroski guide to the stages in Spanish, which also had great information about the allergies along the stages and reviews from other pilgrims.

Pilgrim Credentials.

While traveling on the Camino, pilgrims carry a sort of passport that is a collection of stamps from monasteries, albergues and other historic sites (we have loads from bars and restaurants, too!). Once in Santiago, they can go to the pilgrim’s office to receive the Compostela, the official document stating that the pilgrim has walked at least 100km or biked at least 200. You can email Peterborough Pilgrims, a Christian Order located in the UK, at pilgrimpeterbros@gmail.com. They sent both Hayley and I our (street) creds by mail, free of charge, within a few months, so plan ahead. You can also get the along the Camino at parish churches, but not at albergues.

When actually getting the compostela at the Pilgrim’s Office (Rúa do Vilar, 1, adjacent the cathedral), you’ll be asked to present your credentials and write some basic information about nationality, age and starting point on a log. If you’ve done the walk for spiritual or religious purposes, you’ll be given a fancy certificate, written in Latin, stating you’ve received plenary indlugence and are absolved of your sins. If not, you’ll still recieve a certificate of completion.

Since I did the walk in memory of a friend who had passed, I was able to also add her name to my certificate, known as ‘Viccario por.’ There are volunteers in the office from all over the world, so you shouldn’t have a problem communicating your correct information. To keep your compostela from wear and tear, the post office or tourist shops sell cardboard tubes for cheap. (Many thanks to another pilgrim I met along the way, Fernando Puga, for this information. You can visit his Camino blog here).

Story Telling on the Walk.

The Camino is littered with stories, with reasons for walking, with pilgrims looking for something, whether spiritual or emotional. Part of my fascination with the big walk has been because of the incredible tales I’ve heard that have come from a few days or weeks of just walking. No doubt, we will have shared meals and swapped anecdotes with people from around the world.

The Camino is extremely spiritual, and Aviva Elyn and Gary White explore the spiritual temples along The Way: http://powerfulplaces.wordpress.com

One of the best (and there are few) resources on the Camino del Norte: http://www.caminowalkaboutnorte.blogspot.co.uk

Cole Burmeister walked just four days of the Camino from St. Jean Pied-de-Port, but he captured lovely images: http://www.fourjandals.com/europe/walking-the-camino-de-santiago-photos/

Randall St. Germain’s intimate details of his trip, including information on getting to Fisterra: http://www.caminomyway.com

I’ve always loved Sherry Ott’s perspective when writing, and her notes on the Camino are fantastic: http://www.ottsworld.com/blogs/best-time-to-walk-camino-de-santiago/

Books to read before, during or after.

I’ve long read pilgrim stories, touched by the way that the road can profoundly change a person. Here’s a selection of what I’ve read, and what’s on my Kindle for the trek (Waah, I can’t travel without it!):

Kevin Codd, ‘Field of Stars

Guy Thatcher, ‘A Journey of Days

Paulo Coehlo, ‘The Pilgrimage

Robert C. Sibley, ‘The Way of the Stars: Journeys on the Camino de Santiago

Shirley McClaine, ‘The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit‘ – finished this while on the Camino and, dios, it’s out there!

Joan Fallon, ‘Santiago Tales

Have any other great resources to share? Planning on doing the Camino de Santiago some time during your life? I’m writing this ahead of time, but I already think I’ll be back for more. You can view all of my photos on my Camino Flickr Set, get inspiration from pinterest or check out my twitter log while I’m away.

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