Hear about hiking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) in northern Spain as the Amateur Traveler talks to Linda Martin from The Indie Travel Podcast.
Linda says, “the thing about the Camino is that it is as long as you wanted to be. So you start wherever you want and you finish in Santiago de Compostela [Spain]. It’s not just one way. A lot of people think that it’s a month, you start in the Pyrenees and you walk 30 days until you get to Santiago. But the thing about the Camino is that it started as a medieval pilgrimage and the pilgrims were leaving their houses and walking to Santiago and they just walked from their front doors so everyone had a slightly different Camino. The routes came up as people got together and walked together for safety.”
Linda and husband Craig have hiked various different routes that all make up the series of routes generally known as the Camino. Some take a month but Linda takes about the oldest of the Caminos which is the Camino Primitivo which can be hiked in a couple of weeks. Pilgrims started walking the Camino during the middle ages to what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela where legend says the remains of St James now lie. Modern trekkers come for a greater variety of reasons than just religious pilgrimage.
A hike on the Camino is more about the journey than the destination. At least once when Linda got to Santiago she just kept on walking until she got to the sea. But first, she got her pilgrim passport stamped and attended a pilgrim mass. If you are fortunate (or make an appropriate contribution) you can see them swing the huge incense burner that was used to mask the smell of so many pilgrims in a day before the refugios (pilgrim hostels) had showers.
We talk with Linda about accommodations, what you should take with you (as little as possible), friends she met along the way, the scenery and blisters. Use this podcast to either prepare for your own hike or take one virtually.
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Sandy on Travel to Santa Barbara, California – Episode 481
I enjoyed your Santa Barbara episode. As a native I was surprised to learn some things as well! I thought I would add a few things. Fiesta was mentioned but there are many festivals in the area, notably Summer Solstice, ethnic festivals and beer festivals. Speaking of beer, there are two breweries in Buellton, Firestone and the newer and hipper Figueroa Mountain. “Fig” as it’s known to locals is in an industrial area that is growing with wineries and restaurants. While Fig doesn’t have a restaurant yet there are often food booths and you can also order food delivered from the Excellent Gino’s. Industrial Eats is a restaurant that has shared tables, eclectic food and you can bring your own wine (lots of local wine tasting) and no corkage fee. Love your podcast, keep up the good work!
Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler, I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll be talking about our sponsor who is Travel Smith later on the show. But first, let’s go to Spain, and talk about the Camino de Santiago.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by Travel Smith. There’s no time like the present to take a trip, and nobody makes it easier for you to pack up your things, and head out than Travel Smith. With apparel, luggage, gear, and tips for every traveler Travel Smith helps you get there, look great, and feel good. Check out TravelSmith.com today. Amateur Traveler Episode #482. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about hiking one of the great pilgrimage routes as we go to Spain, and hike the Camino de Santiago.
Chris: I’d like to welcome back to the show Linda Martin from the Indie Travel Podcast. Freshly minted with a new degree in teaching Spanish, and come to talk to us about the Camino de Santiago, in Spain. Linda, welcome to the show.
Linda: Thanks Chris.
Chris: First of all, how much of that did I screw up?
Linda: No, you got it all right except for it’s Camino de Santiago, not Del
Chris: As I said Del, I thought that’s not the right…but you are trained to teach me Spanish, so now there we go.
Linda: It’s appropriate that I corrected it.
Chris: I wanted you to use that degree since you went to so much trouble to get it. So we have not talked about hiking the Camino on Amateur Traveler in part because when I think of hiking the Camino, I think of something that’s going to take a month, and we tend to target a North American audience, who just don’t have that much time off, and so we tend to target a week to two weeks. But you only had a week off after you finished your degree, and you did what?
Linda: Actually I had two weeks off. But the thing about the Camino is that it’s as long as you want it to be. So you start wherever you want, and of course, you finish in Santiago. That’s the idea. You’re walking to Santiago to Compostela, and it’s not just one way. A lot of people think just like you, that it’s a month.
You start in the Pyrenees and you walk 30 days until you get to Santiago. But the thing about the Camino is that it started as a medieval pilgrimage path and the pilgrims were leaving their houses, and walking to Santiago, and they just walked from their front doors, so everyone had a slightly different Camino. The routes kind of came up as people got together, and walked together for safety. But yeah, the Camino is as long as you want it to be or as short.
Chris: Well and when we say that it’s as long as we want it to be, it’s not just that you’re cheating, but there are also if we looked at a map of just Spain, ignoring the fact that it extended into France, and Italy, and all sorts of places depending on where their front door was. You have hiked multiple different routes in Spain. You’ve hiked south to north. You’ve hiked east to West.
Linda: So we’ve actually walked four Caminos. The first one was in 2008, and that was the Camino Frances which is what most people think of when they think of the Camino de Santiago. So this one is called the Camino Frances, which means the French Way, and the kind of accepted starting point is in Roncesvalles or maybe St Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees, and it goes all the way from there. If you imagine that Spain is more or less a square, it’s about 100 kilometers in land in parallel with the Northern coast and it goes all the way to Santiago de Compostela. We didn’t start all the way at the beginning though. We started in Pamplona which is about 50 kilometers in.
Chris: I didn’t realize that you had done that when you had hiked the first time.
Linda: We thought we didn’t have enough time. Because we had only say 35 days and we worked out how many kilometers we expected to do in a day and it just wasn’t going to work out. But it was interesting because as we kept walking, we started going slightly longer and longer distances. So we actually arrived in Santiago earlier than expected and then we continued on, and walked all the way to Finisterre, which is from Santiago to Finisterre, which is the end of the world.
Chris: Which is the Atlantic Coast?
Linda: That’s right, yeah. From there, that’s about three days from Santiago to Finisterre, and then you could do one more day to go to Muxía which is another accepted endpoint of the Camino. So that first Camino we actually got three certificates of completion. Because you get one when you arrive in Santiago. We got one at the Finisterre, and one at Muxía, so it was quite cool.
Our second Camino was in 2012. We were going to be celebrating ten years of marriage and we were trying to decide what to do to celebrate, and because we travel so much we didn’t just wanted to go on a one-week trip. So we thought what we’ll do? We’ll walk another Camino. So we decided to do the Via de la Plata, which started in Seville in the south of Spain.
Chris: Oh, wow. I didn’t realize you’d gone that far.
Linda: Yeah, six weeks. So that was really quite far. It was about 140 kilometers in total, and the idea was to arrive in Santiago, on our wedding anniversary.
Chris: We’ll you’re also hiking through some of the warm parts of Spain, rather than the wet parts of Spain.
Linda: That’s what we thought and we started in March, and the weather was quite warm, and Seville was actually was, like late 30’s, high 30’s. And we thought, “Well, as we head north it’ll be nice and warm,” but it wasn’t. It actually snowed. There was a lot of rain. Some days we got hailed on. The weather was quite, quite interesting.
So that was the Via de la Plata, which was awesome. It was an old Roman road, so it was very long and flat. So it wasn’t actually our favorite one because it was a little bit boring in terms of terrain. The third Camino we did was a Camino Inglis. Now this one goes from…it has kind of two starting points. You can either start in A Coruna or in Ferrol, which are both cities in the north of Spain, and the story goes at the English pilgrims caught a boat to one of these ports, and then walked on to Santiago.
We went from A Coruna, and the reason we went from A Coruna is because we lived there for four months, and I really wanted to emulate those medieval pilgrims who walked out of their front doors. And since we were living there we thought, “Well, we’re never going to be as close as this.” And you know being from New Zealand, it’s a bit hard to walk to Santiago over that ocean. So yeah, we decided to do that. We walked out of our front door and it only took us three days. It’s only a 72-kilometer walk, so it’s quite an easy one. If you go from Ferrol, I think it’s about 120 in five days. One of the things about the Camino is that if you want to get a certificate of completion, you have to walk at least a 100 kilometers, so for the Camino Inglis we didn’t get one of those.
Chris: Oh, interesting, okay.
Linda: So that was a little bit sad. But we did have our pilgrim passport, so we got stamps along the way, and so we still had a souvenir. Then our most recent Camino was just last month. We did the Camino Primitivo, and it’s my favorite, so far. So this one is the Original Way. The first person to walk a Camino was King Alfonso of Spain. I think it was in about, in the 9th century he walked from Oviedo in the north of Spain to Santiago. This one, it’s only 13 days or 14 days depending on how fast you walk. But the terrain was really interesting. We met lots of interesting people, and it was just a really great walk.
Chris: Now some people would decide at this point in the program that you must be a very religious Catholic.
Linda: No, I’m not Catholic at all.
Chris: So why are you walking the Camino? What does the Camino do for you? You’ve done it four times, in four different ways.
Linda: I’ve never heard of the Camino before we did the first one, but my husband Craig said, “Look, we’ve got to do this. It’s something I really want to do.”
Chris: You were doing this before the movie The Way came out, for instance, and other people heard about it.
Linda: I think The Way came out before we went. But it wasn’t maybe as popular then, but I’ll tell you something about The Way. The Way we watched after our second Camino, after the Via de la Plata. We were in Santiago and we decided to watch The Way and I quite liked it. I thought it was a really good movie, but it doesn’t tell you anything about blisters and that’s something you’ll get all over.
Chris: I thought I remembered him having foot problems and it ended. For those people who don’t know this is a movie by Emilio Estevez, with Martin Sheen, mostly as the star who, both plays the father of Emilio Estevez, a character in the movie and is his real-life father.
Linda: Yeah, it’s worth watching and it’s good for inspiration. But it really annoyed me how the female character’s always wearing jeans. We’d never wear jeans on the Camino. That’s another thing.
Chris: You would never wear jeans because…?
Linda: Well, because you’re walking and jeans are so heavy. You need to have breathable fabric. So lightweight walking trousers or shorts, something like that, would definitely be a much better option.
Chris: So this time you picked this shorter route because you had two weeks and so you picked the Original route, and you said the terrain was more interesting. Or was it more interesting than the one that came out from Seville?
Linda: That’s right, yeah. We were looking at options. Which Camino to do? And the reason we only had two weeks is because I finished my degree and then we had to go to a wedding. Also we had a friend of ours coming to stay and she had never done the Camino. So we were left with four options of Caminos to do. Well, four or five, one was to do just two weeks of the Camino Frances which is perfectly fine.
We could have started I Leon, and that would have been acceptable, but of course we’d already done the Camino Frances. We also could have done the last 200 kilometers or so of the Via de la Plata, which is a really wonderful section of it. It’s called the Camino Sanabres. So you could start in Salamanca or Zamora and go about two weeks, but we’d already done that, too. We could also choose to do the part of the Camino Del Norte. The Camino Del Norte with the border of France as well, and we didn’t want to do just two weeks of it. We’d quite like to do the whole thing, at some point.
And then the Camino Primitivo was another option, and it was the perfect length. But the problem was that in all the forums, it’s talked about as the most difficult Camino, is the terrain is difficult, lots of ups, and downs and things like that. We didn’t find it too difficult and we’re not particularly fit. We’re not unhealthy. Yeah, we didn’t find it too hard. There are a couple of steep climbs, and a couple of steep descents, but in general, it was just a nice amount of up and down. You don’t want to be on the flat all the time because it gets really boring.
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Chris: I feel like we got distracted a little bit before, and that I didn’t quite hear your answer of why you do the Camino because we got distracted by the movie. Let’s go back a bit.
Linda: Well, Craig said we should do it and we started walking. And I just fell in love with it because it’s so freeing. Everyday you just get up and you start walking, and the only thing you have to think about is where you’re going to sleep and what are you going to eat, and maybe where am I going to wash my clothes? So it’s just quite freeing and I don’t think you have to be religious in any way to do it. But I think everyone who does it has some sort of spiritual experience or at least just gets to know themselves a bit better. Also you meet amazing people while you’re walking, so it is quite a meaningful experience, so that’s the reason I do it. I also like hiking, so that’s another reason.
Chris: In fact, the first time you were on the show we were talking about some of the great hikes of New Zealand, so people want to hear about that. That predates you’re doing the Camino, as I recall.
Linda: I think so.
Chris: It might even predate you doing podcasting. But I’m not sure how long ago that was.
Linda: It was some time ago, for sure.
Chris: You mentioned that you only have to worry about where you’re going to sleep at night. Talk a little bit about that. How does that work on the Camino?
Linda: Well, the most common place to stay on the Camino is Albergues. So in many of the towns and sometimes, just in little villages or in the cities, there are pilgrim hostels that are called Albergues or Refugios, so that means hostels or refuges, and they are usually only for pilgrims. If you want to use one you have to get a pilgrim passport, which you can get before you start the Camino. It’s just basically a folded piece of cardboard, with spaces for stamps.
You can order it online or you can go to the cathedral of the town where you start or the tourist office, and every night, when you want to stay in Albergues, you present your pilgrim passport and the person looking after the hostel will stamp it for you. The level or the standard of accommodation is different in every place. So sometimes it’s really, really nice. Sometimes it’s very basic. The Albergues are, either privately owned or done by the local council. So they’re called municipal Albergues, run by the local council, and it tend to be a little bit cheaper.
We found it interesting in this most recent Camino because you can book the private Albergues, and we didn’t know that. Because in our previous Caminos, we’d always just shown up, and booked in, and if an Albergues was full, we’d go on to the next one. But this time, we were in a group. There were three of us, and then the group expanded and there were five of us, then seven of us, and so we couldn’t just show up and expect to have seven places, free. So we started staying in the private Albergues, and that meant we often got a private room. I mean the private room for seven people, but still, it was quite cool.
So when you stay in these Albergues, there’s always showers, toilets, a place to wash your clothes. Sometimes there’s a kitchen. Sometimes there’s a bar. Every place is different. There’s usually bunk beds, and they provide you with disposable sheets, but you need to have your own sleeping bag.
Chris: You mentioned the cost being more or less, when you’re at municipal ones. What kind of costs are we talking about?
Linda: It’s not very much, the municipal ones usually cost between 5 or 6 euros, and a standard charge for a private Albergues is, around 10 euros a night.
Chris: So a very cheap accommodation.
Linda: Very cheap, yeah.
Chris: And then you talked about, when you don’t have a reservation. When you’re staying at the municipal ones, for instance or you’re just haven’t made a reservation at the private ones and they are full, then you hike on to the next one. How far is the next one and at what time during the day do you need to decide that you’re going to be stopping, so that you aren’t hiking all night to try, and get to the next one?
Linda: That’s a very good question. It depends on which Camino you’re on. If you’re on the Camino Frances, there are towns every…well, it depends every 5 to 10 kilometers, so deciding where to stay is a very big factor. On our most recent Camino on the Camino Primitivo, some people would show up. Find out there wasn’t anywhere to sleep. There weren’t any beds available and they’ll go and sleep in the forest, which I didn’t really like the idea of.
Most towns and villages also had private accommodation that we could choose. So it was never really a matter of hiking on to the next town. Usually it was just hiking on to the next hotel. But that’s a factor that you need to consider. It’s a good idea to have either a guidebook or at least a list of towns with information about what is in each town. How far the next town is, things like that, and to see if there is private accommodation in the town. So that if you get stuck and there isn’t a bed in the municipal Albergues, you do have a different option.
Chris: Tell me more about the experience. We want to go into more details about the how’s. But let’s go back to the why’s. Tell me about the best day you had on this particular Camino.
Linda: One of my favorite days, I woke up. Craig was a bit, unwell. He had problems with his blisters, so we left him behind. I was walking with my friend Janine and we arrived in this little, not even a town. It was just a little bar in the middle of the forest, and we stopped to have a coffee and some more of our friends arrived. And we had our coffee with them and we decided that we wanted to walk alone. Because during most of this Camino, we’d been walking together or in a group, and so she went off and I followed five minutes later.
It was just really nice to walk alone and think about why I was doing the Camino and where we were going to stay that night, and the people I’d met. And I was walking quite fast, so I passed a lot of different people as I went up a hill. It was one of the difficult hills of the Camino. And you know I just stopped to say hello or ask them how they were doing, and it was just really nice. And I got to the top of the hill and I was thinking, “I must be coming to the meeting point.” I’d arranged to meet Janine at a certain bar.
I was thinking, “I must be almost there.” I thought, “I really want a sandwich, a Bocadillo, with ham, and cheese and I’d like a Tinto de verano, which is a mix of red wine and lemonade.” I was thinking, “Oh, gosh. I’m really looking forward to getting to the bar and having those two things.” I got to the bar and Janine had already ordered the Bocadillo. It was just the best. So these, little things you just get so filled with joy. Because you don’t have that much going on. So when you arrive and you’ve got your drink, and you’ve got your sandwich, all is well with the world.
Chris: My impression is because I’ve heard you talk about the Camino multiple times. Because I’ve listened to Indie Travel Podcast, as long as you guys have been doing it, which is eight years now.
Linda: Nine years.
Chris: Not counting the one you took off. But I won’t give you too much grief about. But my impression is that it is other than the end, and we’ll save that and talk about that in a bit, getting actually to the destination, assuming we’re actually hiking for the destination, which I’m not convinced that that’s really the point. It’s a lot of moments, rather than you go here and you see this. If I said what’s the most notable spot on the Camino. It’s going to be more of a personal moment. Am I getting it correctly?
Linda: I’d say so. In fact, I find it difficult to remember all of the places I’ve been to. In fact, I was just reading over my notes at the Via de la Plata, and it was really great. Because I made a travel diary of every single day and I could see what happened every day, and it reminded me of all these little moments. But looking back at it, I don’t remember, “Oh, I went this town, and then I went to that town, and then I went to that town.”
It’s more of that the full experience of you get up in the morning. You walk. You talk to people, and you walk. You stop for lunch, and then you walk. Then you arrive and you collapse, and you sleep. It’s just a very simple routine and I think you learn something about yourself while you’re doing it, maybe. Maybe you learn you don’t like walking, or maybe you do. Or maybe you just…I don’t know. You have to be with yourself because there’s nothing else to do and I think that’s really free.
Chris: The other thing that’s really interesting that you’ve said is you mentioned the day that you wanted to walk by yourself. But you also said we started as three, and then we were five, and then we were seven.
Linda: Yes. That was quite funny. So we started off with me, and Craig, and our friend Janine. That was three of us and on the Day 1, so we arrived at an Albergues, which was actually quite a lot closer to the beginning than most people would have chosen because the information we had suggested that you do a 30-kilometer day on Day 1, and there was no way we were going to do that. So we decided to break Day 1 into two sections, a 12-kilometer day, and an 18-kilometer day. So at the end of Day 1, we arrived in this Albergues, and there were three or four pilgrims there, and we met a girl call Clotilde. So she became one of our friends.
We saw her every day for the next three or four days, and eventually she just kind of formed part of the group. We were making sure that she had a bed, and we were just checking that she’d arrived okay and she was just part of the group. On Day 3, I think it was…we left our Albergues. We’d actually missed on the one that we really wanted to stay at which was a private one and we hadn’t realized that we could book it. So it was from then on that we realized we could book the Albergues. So we walked out of our place, and Janine actually collided with a guy who was walking at speed, and he’d come from the previous Albergues.
So we thought that was strange, and we kind of nicknames him Speedy Gonzales, and then we continued on and about 25 minutes later, he stormed passed us again, and we thought that was really strange. Because how would he pass us, when he’d already passed us? And so we said, “Hello” and he said, “Oh, I got lost,” and it turned out that he had gotten lost every single day since he’d started. So we walked with him for that day, and we got along really well, and so after that he joined the group as well. So his name was Gabriel and so they were the first two…Clotilde and Gabriel. And when I started calling up Albergues to book them, I decided to ask them if they wanted me to book for them as well.
So because we were making these phone calls, we had this group of five that we needed to book for, and then over the next few days a woman called Nancy, an American, and also another Spanish guy called Pablo joined in. So that’s how we ended up to seven, and when we arrived at Santiago, our arrival photo has seven people in it because they were our group.
Chris: How much have you kept in touch with some of the people you met on the Camino in the past years?
Linda: Well, in this Camino, we’ve, actually got a WhatsApp group. So I just received a message from Nancy on the WhatsApp group because it’s Gabriel’s birthday. So you know it’s quite fun. We’re definitely still in contact with that group. With previous Caminos, not so much, with the Camino Inglis because it was only a very short one. The Via de la Plata, there weren’t many people on it. We only met a few people and they were older. So we didn’t really get their details, so we’re not on Facebook with them.
But on the first Camino, the Camino Frances, we’re still in touch with three or four people and it’s really good to see what they’re up to. We went and stayed with one of them, one of the people we met on the Camino Frances. He was housesitting or looking after a castle in Belgium. So we went and stayed with him in his castle, so it was quite cool.
Chris: It’s a dirty, thankless job, but somebody’s got to do it. You mentioned getting lost and I have heard that sometimes the Camino is not as well marked, as one might like.
Linda: That’s true. We have differently got lost, and after we joined forces with Gabriel, he lead us astray.
Chris: You let him navigate after all he had told you?
Linda: We were talking. We were in this town. We stopped to take some photos, and we just headed off in the wrong direction, but luckily we were walking down the hill and someone over in their car to say, “Are you on the Camino? Well, you’re going the wrong way. Turn around,” and so he turned around. And actually another pedestrian just joined with us to walk us to the place where we had to turn off, so that was really nice.
On previous Caminos, on the Frances, we got lost a couple of times. But usually you can find your way again, and if you’re willing to just stop and ask for help, then you’ll be fine. And now I mean we had our smartphones with us, so we can always look at Google Maps, and see if we’re in the completely wrong place, if we’re really worried.
Chris: And then blisters.
Linda: Blisters. Yeah, it’s a major factor.
Chris: You apparently left Craig somewhere in Spain, on the route. Because he had blisters and it was man down. I assume he eventually caught up with you. But let’s talk about some of the things that you should know before you go on the Camino, and blisters being probably the top of a lot of people’s list.
Linda: Yeah, I think you need to know that you’ll almost, certainly get blisters. On the first Camino, I actually didn’t get any. Maybe one small one and everyone said I had miraculous feet. But on my other Caminos, I have, certainly got blisters and most people get them. It’s something that you’ve got to expect. If you don’t get blisters you’ll certainly have sore feet because you’re walking for 20 to 30 kilometers a day. So it’s a good idea to have some sort of blister solution pack. We use Compete which is really, really great tool.
They’re like blister plasters that you stick on the blister or on a place where it’s just starting to feel like you might get a blister and you just leave them on. You leave them on until they fall off even if you go into the shower. They’re actually quite expensive, but if you get the right ones, then they can stay on for several days. Lots of people have different techniques for dealing with blisters, such as…well, when we were on our first Camino, someone suggested to us that we cut open the blister and fill it with iodine. It’s called betadine and we found that to work quite well. But if you already have a technique for dealing with blisters, just continue with that.
Chris: And I assume the first obvious thing is, don’t bring a brand new pair of shoes that you haven’t broken in.
Chris: Do you have any other suggestions?
Linda: Well, I always wore two pairs of socks. So one really lightweight pair of socks, like business socks and then a thicker wool pair, and that reduces friction, so you don’t get as many blisters. However on the most recent Camino, I did the same thing and I ended up with really hot feet, so it doesn’t work for everyone. Craig quite often wears walking sandals. So they’re open shoes and that way he doesn’t get so many blisters or he doesn’t get a lot of problems with heat. But the reason he got blisters this time is because one of the shoes broke, and he didn’t fix it quickly enough. And so because the back part was broken there was more rubbing, so he ended up with a big blister on the sole of his foot.
Chris: What other warning would you give, before somebody does a Camino?
Linda: Whatever you do pack the least amount possible. Really because you’re carrying it. One good rule of thumb is to carry less than 10% of your body weight. So if you weigh 60 kilos, you shouldn’t be carrying more than about 6 or 7 kilos. So you need to find a lightweight backpack, a lightweight sleeping bag, and then put in the least amount of clothes you can. You really only need to two changes of clothes. One set for wearing during the day, and one set for wearing at night. I always carry extra pair of socks, because if you get wet socks, sometimes they don’t dry very fast. So I always have four pairs of socks, and four pairs of undies.
But apart from that, in terms of trousers and t-shirts, two is all you’ll need. You’ll also definitely need rain equipment. So you can either get a poncho, and then like a pack cover. But this time I had a huge poncho that covered my head, and then covered my bag as well, and that was a really good option because it was just one item, rather than having to put the jacket and then the pack cover.
Chris: Okay, you arrive finally. Tell us a bit about that.
Linda: It can be a bit disappointing when you finally arrive in Santiago. Because you’re walking for a week or two weeks, or three weeks or as long as you’re walking and you have the idea that you’re walking to Santiago. So then you arrive in Santiago, and it’s all over, and Santiago is a very nice city. But it’s not that exciting, so it’s got a very nice cathedral. At the moment the cathedral is being reconstructed, so it can be a bit sad. Our first Camino, I was quite disappointed when I arrived. But the second Camino I lowered my expectations, and I was really excited to finally arrive. So it depends on where you set your expectations.
If you think of it as a walk for walk’s sake, and not to get to Santiago, that might be a bit more helpful. So you arrive at Santiago. The first thing to do is go to the cathedral and get the obligatory photo in front of the cathedral. It’s not very pretty at the moment because it’s being reconstructed, but you’ve got to do it. After that you need to go to the pilgrim office and get your compostela, which is this certificate of completion.
You have to hand over your pilgrim passport, to show that you’ve actually been doing the Camino, and they’ll give you a certificate. They expect you to make a donation one year or two year, or something like that. Then you’re done. After that, if you can, it’s a really good idea to arrive in Santiago before 12 o’clock midday because then you can then go to the pilgrim mass, and you really have to, even if you’re not catholic. It’s a good idea. It’s just a nice completion thing. So we always go, and sometimes the Botafumeiro is swinging, which is an enormous incense burner. It’s really enormous. It takes eight men to swing it.
Chris: Oh, my.
Linda: Yeah, the story goes that the reason they used to have the Botafumeiro is that the pilgrims arriving were so smelly that they swung this huge incense burner, basically to hide the smell. Now these days we have modern showers, so we’re not quite as smelly. But it’s just an amazing experience to see it swing. Unfortunately it only swings when someone pays for it, and we’d been lucky enough on three of our four Caminos to see it swing. So that’s been really good. However if you want to get a seat at the mass, you have to get quite early around 11:30 or quarter past 11:00. Because so many people arrive everyday and most of them want to go to the mass, that it’s quite often packed to the rafters.
Chris: And you’ve mentioned, even if you’re not Catholic, and you’re not Catholic, by the way last time I checked. How many of the people that you would run into, would be doing it for religious reasons? Do you know?
Linda: I wouldn’t know. I haven’t talked to very many who were doing it for purely religious reasons.
Chris: I was going to say I’d think it would be a relatively small number.
Linda: Yeah, I think so. There used to be a question…well, there still is a question. When you arrive at the Pilgrim Office to get your certificate, you have to say whether you did the Camino for religious reasons, secular reasons, like spiritual reasons, or a mix of both, and I would say only 80-90% would be in that middle section.
Chris: A mix of both.
Linda: A mix of both, yeah. They eventually changed it. On our first Camino, if you said that you did it for nonreligious reasons you actually got a different certificate, from the people who are doing it for spiritual reasons. But I’m pretty sure they have the one certificate now.
Chris: Interesting, and you mentioned that the first time you were actually a little let down by finishing, and so you carried on. You didn’t end there. You had some extra days in fact, and that seems like, not an uncommon thing to then continue on, to walk to the sea. Because that’s a pretty obvious stopping point at that place.
Linda: It’s a great idea, I think it’s a good idea to set the idea that you’re going there right from the beginning, though. Because the first day that we started walking from Santiago to Finisterre, I don’t know I had had the idea that we were finishing in Santiago and I was just so tired. So they say that it’s a good idea to spend two or three days in Santiago. So that you can meet the people you’ve seen along the way and I think we should have at least spent two nights there. Because leaving after one night was definitely not the right decision. But yeah, going on to Finisterre is definitely a good idea.
Chris: What’s the best advice that someone gave you about the Camino?
Linda: To do it. I think that’s the best advice. Just do it, for sure. But also to pack light, like I said earlier. Take the least amount possible.
Chris: Were there any places along the route, this time or actually in any of your previous times, where you strayed from the route. There was some place that you were walking by that’s not on the Camino, but it’s worth stopping at?
Linda: There are lots of places, and they’re usually marked on a map. If you have a guidebook that tells you what’s along the way you can do a little detour and they’re quite often Roman ruins. On the most recent Camino, it was only about 500-meter to a 1-kilometer detour just to go off the route little bit, and we saw an old, Roman bathhouse. That was quite cool, just the remains of it. So yeah, there’s definitely lots of options for that. On our first Camino, we took all of the detours. On the most recent one, we didn’t take as many because we were a bit more tired, and old.
Chris: Yeah, I was thinking as you get closer to Santiago, do you take fewer detours or as your foot gets more weary?
Linda: I don’t know. I think on our previous Camino, we probably took more because we didn’t want it to end. So we were just trying to keep on going, but it depends on how you are. On the most recent one, we were both quite tired and Craig had his blister problem, so we definitely took a minimum amount of detours.
Chris: What was your biggest surprise this time?
Linda: I think my biggest surprise was being part of a big group. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting to do the Camino with Craig, and Janine and that would be it. We’d meet people, but we’d leave them behind. But that wasn’t what happened at all. We really got to know these people, and they became really good friends, and we ended up being a group. So that was quite interesting. I think one thing people don’t realize about the Camino is that it’s really social, so you get to know people along the way. It’s not just about walking.
Chris: And what is the appropriate greeting, when you run into somebody on the Camino?
Linda: When you run into someone, you can just say hi. But the most important thing when you leave you can say Buen Camino, which means have a good walk or good walk. So it’s more about how you say goodbye than how you say hello.
Chris: One picture that brings back this experience, this particular Camino.
Linda: I think, for me, the Camino is always the road stretching out in front of you and it could be like a proper road or it could be just a footpath. It could be winding up the hill, but that’s always the way I see the Camino. The world stretching out in front.
Chris: Before we get to our last three questions what else should we know before we…one more time, the name of this Camino that you did?
Linda: So the Camino I did was the Camino Primitivo, and we’ve actually got lots of notes about the different Caminos, at Indietravelpodcast.com/Camino.
Chris: As well as at least four episodes, about the different Caminos.
Linda: That’s right. So there are links to all of those different episodes at the Camino page. So it’s a good starting point.
Chris: What else should we know before we follow in your literal footsteps?
Linda: One thing you should know is that it’s a really good idea to have some sort of guidebook with you. The Way is marked was yellow arrows, and although we talked about getting lost earlier you probably won’t get lost or you won’t get very lost, and you can just follow the arrows, and you’ll get to where you need to go. But what you do need to know is how far away the towns are, what the distance is, and things like that, so a good guidebook is a good option.
You could get one just for your phone. I like to have a one-page printout of a list of towns with the distances between them, and the facilities in each town, so that I can plan where I’m going to stop along the way. And the benefit of that is you can just put it in your pocket. On this most recent Camino, we didn’t use any guidebook at all. We just used the Eroski guide. Now Eroski is the supermarket in Spain, and for some reason, they have a website of helpful tips of various kinds, and they have a whole section about the Camino de Santiago.
So if you speak Spanish, you van go to the CaminodeSantiago.consumer.es. Even if you don’t speak Spanish you can have a look at the guides, and look at the photos, and they’ve got like a topography of each section, so you can see what you’re going to going straight up, straight down or a mix of both, and yes, it also has information about the towns along the way.
So I found that quite useful. I had the Primitivo guide just saved on my phone, so I could have a look at that every night. So yeah, definitely get either a guidebook or an app and have some information, so that you can read along the way. I quite liked looking up the historical information or information about the towns that I was in either the night before or the night that I was there. So it was quite good reading material.
Chris: Excellent. And I should mention that this is actually the second episode we have done on the Camino. The other one though, we cheated and we have an episode on mountain biking the Camino, which I’m sure you know purists will be aghast at.
Linda: I think it’s a really good way to do it. You can also go by horse and I’ve never met anyone who has done it by horse until this Camino, and he was actually going back the other way. So I thought that was quite interesting. His problem was he was doing it with a horse and two dogs, and one of the dogs had actually been stepped on by the horse, and so they’d had to stop for several weeks, while the dog recovered. I think it’s a good idea to do it by a horse with dogs. You know doing it by bike is definitely a good option, as well.
Chris: Excellent. Last three questions. One thing that makes you laugh…and say only on the Camino?
Linda: Only on the Camino will you be sitting around at breakfast fixing your feet, and it’s totally normal. Every morning there are blisters and it’s quite disgusting.
Chris: Then maybe the answer to the other question is you really know you’re hiking the Camino when…what?
Linda: I was going to say that. But I think you really know you’re walking the Camino when you arrive in a town after walking 20 kilometers, and you decide just to go another 10 kilometers because you really not just done with walking for the day.
Chris: Excellent. And if you had to describe the experience in just three words what three words would you use?
Linda: In three words, I would say freedom, community, and challenge.
Chris: Excellent. Linda, where can people hear more about your travels?
Linda: Just go to Indietravelpodcast.com, and you can listen to our podcast, and read articles, and everything.
Chris: And the URL for your Camino page.
Linda: That’s Indietravelpodcast.com/camino. Nice and easy.
Chris: Excellent. And I think the most recent episode of the Indie Travel is on your Camino experience?
Linda: One of the most recent. The most recent one is actually about Berlin.
Chris: Oh, right. That’s true.
Linda: You missed that one.
Chris: No, I’ve heard it. But I just forgot that you had done that one. Excellent. Thanks so much for coming back on the Amateur Traveler, and sharing with us your obvious love for the Camino de Santiago.
Linda: Thanks for having me.
Chris: In news of the community there’s a decision made in terms of an Amateur Traveler trip for next year for 2016, probably around April and that is Cambodia, and Angkor Wat. We’re currently looking at a trip that starts in Saigon, then goes to Cambodia and ends in Bangkok, Thailand. So anybody who wants to see Vietnam or Thailand, it can also fit well with the 10-day trip that we’re looking at. For details on that, go to amateurtraveler.com/trip, and join the private Facebook community where we’re talking about all the details for that.
I heard this week from Sandy about the episode we did last week on Santa Barbara. She said, “As a native I was surprised to learn some things, as well. I thought I would add a few things. Fiesta was mentioned, but there are many festivals in the area, notably summer solstice, ethnic festivals, and beer festivals. Speaking of beer there are two breweries in Buellton, Firestone and the newer, hipper, Figueroa Mountain. Fig, as it is known to locals, is in an industrial area that is growing with wineries, and restaurants. While fig doesn’t have a restaurant yet, there are often food booths and you can also order food delivered from the excellent Gino’s. Industrial Eats is a restaurant that has shared tables, eclectic food. You can bring your wine. Lots of local wine tasting, and no corkage fee. Love your podcast. Keep up the good work, Sandy. ”
Thanks so much, Sandy. I always appreciate it when people do what Sandy did and left this as a comment on the episode, so that other people could see it.
With that we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com, or better yet do what Sandy did, and leave your question on the episode at amateurtraveler.com. You can also follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram as Chris2x, and maybe even Periscope, as I edit this show I did some of it as a Periscope, and as always thank so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.
+Chris Christensen | @chris2x | facebook
5 Responses to “Hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain – Episode 482”
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Tags: adventure travel, audio travel podcast, camino de santiago, hiking, podcast, spain, trekking
September 15th, 2015 at 1:50 pm
Thanks for another great episode.
After hearing you two talk about “The Way,” I refound it as a recent addition to Amazon Prime and ripped right through it yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book (or movie) by its cover. I had passed over it several times as the cover just didn’t grab my interest.
My son (6 years old) and I love to hike, so this has certainly fired my imagination for when he’s a little older. (The much-closer-to-us John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains might have to wait a bit longer, this seems more doable logistics-wise.)
For blister protection strategies and dealing with various feet problems, I would suggest the book/blog “Fixing Your Feet” by John Vonhof. ( http://www.fixingyourfeet.com/ ) He’s got a lot of great advice and has practical experience from fixing foot problems at many long-distance endurance races.
One other alternative for blister protection are Engo Blister Prevention Patches, which basically attach to the inside of your shoes.
Keep up the great work, congratulations on 10 years, and looking forward to Episode #500!
September 23rd, 2015 at 10:57 pm
This post makes me really excited to go in October. I did choose to just show up and do one of the smaller trails and hopefully it’s just as good.
January 11th, 2016 at 1:54 am
a very interesting episode, thanks! this actually just inspired me to travel to Spain next summer 😀
January 11th, 2016 at 8:36 am
April 25th, 2018 at 5:08 am
Such a good episode! Can’t wait to do the Camino again