Well, I’m back after an amazing week walking through Galicia – from Santiago to Finisterre up to Muxia. It was one of the most emotionally ( and physically) challenging things I’ve ever done, and its time to share some of the lessons both practical and philosphical, I learned along the way.
Tips for future pilgrims:
- Bring Tiger Balm. I almost left behind my little container of ‘3 pagoda balm’ I bought in Thailand this past spring, thinking it a bit over the top. However, this tiny tin brought such relief to my sore calves after the first day’s 4km climb uphill it felt absolutely luxurious. And luxury on the camino isn’t that easy to come by.
- On the camino, there is only where you are. Thinking too far ahead on the trail (I know I need to walk 11km, then climb 600m in 3km then walk 9km more) makes the task at hand overwhelming. I tried to focus only on where I was, not on what would be coming up. This also came in handy when I ran into a flasher on the trail. Yes, that moment was scary as I was alone in the woods, but I kept walking, turned a corner and he was gone. On the camino there is only where you are right now, now where you’ve been or where you’re going.
- Don’t be afraid to sing. Songs pulled me through a lot of tough climbs or steep descents or lent a feeling of joy to my step. I didn’t set out with the intention to sing, but if a song popped into my head at a particular moment, I sang it as loud as I could.
- Bring a wrap for your knees/ankle etc. Aching joints are part and parcel of the journey and inevitably you will be happy to have a bandage to lend a bit of support to your knee or ankle. I didn’t bring the bandage I already owned as I thought I would buy on there if I needed it. In the end I did need it, but my personal bandage was far superior to the one I was able to buy.
- Don’t bring a clothesline or universal sink stopper. Hostels along the camino are well equipped and you won’t need a plug or clostheline, they were provided everywhere I went.
- Send your heart to your destination, and let it pull you the rest of the way. The last two days of the camino I felt in the morning I sent my heart to my destination and I spent the day letting my body catch up. This was different from the beginning, when I felt I was pulling myself there, while my heart lagged behind. I often felt, while on the trail, that a part of me was already there, I was only using my legs to ensure my body caught up to my heart. There was never any doubt whether or not I would arrive.
- Bring your own small bottle of olive oil. Spaniards only sell oil in 1l bottles, too big to carry on the trail, but I think oil is vital for doing any kind of cooking and breaking the monotony of ham sandwiches along the way. Hostel kitchens usually carry the leftovers of pilgrims, but there was never any oil. This also lets you make salads with salad dressings quite easily.
- Invest in good socks, at least 4 pairs. I didn’t get a single blister on the camino – I wore merino wool or smartwool socks, not so cheap at £14 a pair. However, I changed my socks ever 10-14km, and put vaseline on my feet everytime I changed them. I would budget yourself two pairs a day, with an extra pair so that they have time to dry – they don’t always dry overnight and need to be pinned to the outside of your backpack as you walk.
- Don’t be afraid to take a rest day. I walked for four days straight, and initially intended to walk for 6. On day 5 however, I had to rest. My right ankle was killing me and had swollen up, my glands were swollen, I was retaining water to the extent that my rings were cutting of circulation, I had a giant spot that was infected and I was sun-burnt everywhere. However, taking one day off resulted in amazing progress – although I could barely walk on my ankle on my rest day I walked 33km the next day without any painkillers – a miracle!
- Don’t worry about anything beyond your destination. Pilgrims often get up at 5am to race to the next town to be sure of getting a bed in the municipal hostel. I was often too exhausted from the previous days walking or unrested after hearing someone snore to get up quite so early. I was also often asked if I was ‘the last one’ on the trail or not. On a particularly bad day the 33km walk turned out to be 37km and I barely got there before 7pm. I promised myself I only need arrive at my destination and everything else would sort itself out. It always did, and I never once woke at 5am.