Also known as the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain is one of the oldest pilgrimage routes in the world. While some hikers take on the trail as part of a spiritual journey, others do it to take in the splendid country and the history of the route. If you are considering going on the famous Camino Trail, there are some things you should take into consideration before you begin.
It is not just a hike
The first thing that you should think about before embarking on your journey is to understand what the Camino de Santiago really is. Beyond being a memorable hike, the Camino de Santiago is a Christian pilgrimage path that ends at the Cathedral of Santiago where the remains of Saint James are kept as a holy relic. Saint James was reportedly martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD. His body was transported to Santiago for burial. The arrival of the body naturally is the subject of debate, but one version says that the body was lost at sea following a storm, but later washed ashore intact and covered in scallops. Because of both his martyrdom and the bizarre way that the remains made it to Santiago, Saint James’s resting place is considered holy.
A pilgrimage is a spiritual act for many, which means if you are hiking the Camino Trail for any other reason, you need to be respectful of those who are on a spiritual journey. The trail has been in existence since the Middle Ages and while its popularity has only recently increased, you should be aware of others around you.
You will need some time
The traditional route is about 800 kilometers or around 500 miles, starting from St. Jean-Pied-du-Port in France and ending in Santiago, Spain. Otherwise start on the Camino Aragones near Barcelona or the Camino Primitivo from Bilbao and Oviedo. The Primitivo Trail is the oldest route. Walking the entire thing will easily take you a month. You can start in other locations if you are short on time, but even the shorter routes will take you a week. This means that you are going to need to train ahead of time. Of course it is not an intense kind of hike in difficulty, but few of us walk all day, every day and can do so easily for a month. This is not an endeavor to undertake on a whim. Instead, prepare, plan, and practice walking ahead of time to save yourself some pain later.
Bring the right supplies
A month-long walk is going to inspire you to pack everything that you could possibly think of. But over packing is a big mistake. Remember that everything you bring is going to be constantly carried by you over the course of a month. Here are some essentials you should bring:
- Sturdy and comfortable hiking or walking shoes: Keep your feet healthy and happy by wearing good shoes. Ideally they would not be shoes that you just bought and still need to break in. No one needs blisters. Some people will bring a second pair to give their feet a break from the main pair, especially in the evenings.
- Guide book: Having a guide book with you will allow you to check out sites along the route and give you insight to the history and importance of the area. It can also help keep you on track in case you find yourself sidetracked.
- Cell phone: Beyond taking pictures, having a phone is a good idea for safety reasons. You may also want to bring a camera if you are worried about cell phone battery drain during the day. Also bring a charger for when you have the opportunity to charge up your phone.
- Sleep sack: You are not going to need a full sleeping bag on your journey. Not only are sleeping bags huge and heavy, but they are going to slow you down. A sleep sack will keep you warm enough wherever you are sleeping.
- Some clothes: Do not bring a lot of clothes. Just a couple of t-shirts and shorts or light pants. You are going to want things that will dry fast when they are rinsed out and that does include underwear. You should also have a light, waterproof jacket. In the summer the heat is intense, but there is a risk of rain all the same. Having quality socks will also help your feet from suffering.
- Quick drying towel: Light towels will save you space and you will not have to wait for them to dry.
- First aid kit: Having Band-Aids and ibuprofen on hand can help stay comfortable when needed. Likewise take your medication with you if you have some. You also need sunscreen and bug spray.
You should get your pilgrim passport
There is a pilgrim passport that you should acquire if you are going to do the journey. You will need to get the passport stamped daily, but it will give you preference in hostels, making finding a place to stay a little easier. At the end of the journey, your passport will be the proof that shows you walked more than 100km so you can receive your certificate of completion. You will be able to buy a passport anywhere on the route from a variety of stores, churches, and other establishments. The certificate is considered an important paper and one that some Christians believe will help get you through the gates of heaven.
If you do not want a religious document, you can also earn a certificate of welcome, which is the non-religious certificate of completion. The rules are the same for the “Compostela,” meaning you still need to travel at least 100 km to earn it.
This journey will definitely be one you will never forget. Despite the difficulties you may experience on the trip, never forget to look around you and take in the views and culture along the route. Having a trip without incident never makes for good stories, so keep in good humor and you will have great memories for the rest of your life.
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