(Caveat: This post was designed as a labor of love and gratitude, in a spirit of “let’s try [this or that],” by yours truly, a very inexperienced designer! For what it’s worth, the post “views” much better on a computer where, I promise, when there’s a reference to a “photo below” or “to the left” or “to the right,” that is truly where the photo is! On your phone or tablet? Maybe not…. Please be forgiving; I think you’ll figure out who is who, and know this: I’m writing about some amazing people! Any misrepresentation of their advice should be blamed on my sometimes-selective memory and/or my poor hearing, and is deeply regretted. )
Is there anyone left who hasn’t done the Camino? Or doesn’t know someone who has just returned from completing it? Or was planning on setting off for Roncevalles or St. Jean-Pied-de-Port before injuries reared their ugly heads or hiking mates backed out? Talk about opening a Pandora’s box: just mention that you are going to do the Camino and former pilgrims will be coming out of the woodwork. So, thinks I, why not collect their wisdom and advice to have at the ready? There are online forums where every Tom, Dick, and Harry pipes up with an opinion to share with other Toms, Dicks, and Harrys, but I’ve been lucky enough to have people speaking (or writing) directly to me, for my benefit. (Thus, if they mislead me, I know right where to find them to complain, right? They won’t dare lead me astray or give me bum tips. Not if they know what is good for them!)
There she is on the right, folks: the most immediate inspiration for my Camino. I didn’t know Virginia before her trip, but I knew of her and once she departed for Spain I followed her daily Facebook posts religiously. Oh, the spirit, the determination, the joy, the openness! And her photos! They left me drooling! Once she returned, I met with her in a couple of restaurants for shop talk, on a trail to walk together, and at her house to see some of her equipment (which she was more than willing to loan me). I asked her a lot of specific questions, all of which she patiently answered, but perhaps the advice she most wanted to leave me with could be summed up in this one word: “trust!” In other words: don’t get all uptight with the details; things have a way of working out. Go with the flow, enjoy the people you meet along the way, be open and curious and relaxed.
She walked the 500-mile Camino francés in spring of 2018
” T R U S T ! “
(And this advice from someone who, within hours of arriving in Spain, had her passport and all her money stolen!)
Mary Beth and her husband Fred did a 10-day pilgrimage on the Camino in June of 2014
Pictured below: Mary Beth & Fred (with sunglasses) and travel mates Jim and Sue (featured later in this post), taken when they reached Santiago
Mary Beth advised that I not put too many expectations on my walk, that I not decide ahead of time what I would or “should” get out of the walk. She said she just asked God to show her what she needed to see and understand on the walk. In her own words, these are the lessons she learned:
- When I was walking up a very long hill, I kept thinking I could see the top, but I couldn’t. It’s almost like a mirage…. The parellel in real life is that when we are going through dificult challenges, we have no idea how long or how difficult it will be, but trusting in God enables us to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not giving up.
- …it doesn’t matter if you are leading the pack or coming in last or even if you have to stop partway and get on the bus, you did what you could and that’s okay. The journey is not a competition but an experience.
- Finally, I learnd a new appreciation for taking time to enjoy my surroundings as I walked, seeing God’s beautiful creation all around me in the countryside, in the towns we passed through, in the people we traveled with and met on the trail.
Oh, and she urged that I bring a second pair of shoes so I wouldn’t have to walk around in wet ones in the evenings.
She spent three weeks on the Camino, arriving triumphantly at the cathedral in Santiago (pictured below) in late October, 2018
Bonnie was a student in my sister Pat’s sociology (or was it religion?) class well over 50 years ago. That a relationship has continued through the years seems nothing short of amazing. Equally astounding is that on the basis of that relationship Bonnie took the time to send me a detailed (3 pages, typed!) packing list explaining what she carried in her pack and the rationale behind her choices. Packing lists abound online, but Bonnie’s generous sharing was very welcome. I expect to be pouring over it as I prepare my pack. A few items grabbed my attention:
- bridal veil netting sprayed with permithran (bed-bug prevention)
- side-S hook to hang [the permithran-treated] backpack from bunk bed
- vaseline for lubing feet (validating what I have been doing for months)
- the importance of layers to accommodate the temperatures at all hours of the day
What she didn’t explain: how I’m going to fit everything I’ll want to have in my pack and keep the weight at 15 pounds or under….
SHERYL’S ADVICE & PHILOSOPHY:
“Keep your pack to 10% of your body weight!”
“Always have dry socks!”
“What’s great is the spontaneity of the Camino. It’s better without a plan.”
“It’s part of the [Camino]culture to just ‘let go.'”
Sheryl and I got in touch by phone at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Sheryl’s neighbor Liz. She walked the traditional Camino francés in late May and June of 2013. To say she loved the experience would be an understatement–“one of the best things I ever did,” she assured me–but unlike Virginia who said “trust,” and Antigone who assured me I wouldn’t have any trouble with the walk, that it wasn’t really that hard, Sheryl didn’t mince any words. She warned me
- that the grade on some of the inclines was going to blow my mind
- that “everybody was in pain,” regardless of age or shape or physical condition
- that there are lots of germs to be caught in the hostels and that it would be wise to have some Emergen-c along
- that I should walk less at the beginning of the trek and also at the end, doing longest daily walks in the middle of the pilgrimage
- that I should read up on how to avoid or minimize lactic acid build-up in my legs (drink plenty of water & do extra stretching)
“Take care of your feet!”
Fr. Joseph recommended applying Aquaphor before starting every day, and reapplying as needed during the day. (“Better than Vaseline which doesn’t let your feet breath.” … And here I thought my lungs were my prime asset for the breathing business. Learn something new every day!)
Concerned about my soles and my soul, he also advised:
“Go to find Jesus.”
In the photo below, fellow pilgrims strike a Last Supper pose with Fr. Joseph. (Yes, he is surrounded by twelve, but count if you like.)
He did a couple of weeks–and 222 miles–on the Camino in late summer of 2018
“You must meet Maureen,” I was told by my neighbor Nancy. “She just got back from several weeks on the Camino.” And so, after a flurry of emails Maureen and I fixed a time and a place to meet for lunch and hear about her experiences. I sat at the restaurant waiting for a stranger who would appear to be looking for me, a mutual stranger, only to spot a woman who generally sits within a couple of pews from me at 8:30 am Sunday mass! We looked at each other with an “I know you!” kind of look and formally introduced ourselves for the first time. Maureen arrived with maps, photos, and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm as she had returned only weeks before our encounter.
“The physical preparation is important,” she said, “but the mental and spiritual preparation is just as important. Don’t neglect it.” She recommended the book The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau.
You can tell from the photo to the left that Maureen had quiet moments for prayer and reflection.
She hiked the Camino in the summer of 2013 and 2014. Get this: her pack weighed under 10 lbs.! No wonder she has that smug look on her face! Her first piece of advice to me?
“Go as light as possible.”
I ran across a former colleague from the Spanish department while out hiking. She was curious about my loaded pack and my hiking poles. Upon learning of my upcoming trek, she asked if I knew Kelly (I did, though not well) and she told me that Kelly had done the Camino a couple of times. I promptly sent Kelly an email and she generously shared these tips:
- go as light as possible
- get waterproof boots
- bring a cotton or silk sleeping bag liner
- consider silk underwear tops and bottoms
- start hiking at first light for best pick of overnight stays
Of all the folks who passed on both their enthusiasm and their suggestions to me, Pat is the one I have known the longest. I’m guessing that we first met in 1971 and, both pursuing doctoral degrees in the Spanish department, we hung around together a lot. We lived in the same grad dorm, then later in the same apartment complex. We attended each other’s weddings and, at mine, she was put to work pinning corsages on those who needed them. Unfortunately, we haven’t lived in the same town since… I would guess 1976, though she has returned to Indiana periodically and we’ve enjoyed walking and talking. Our now 30-something children once upon a time had a tea party together. When Pat visited Bloomington at some point after her 2012 trip on the Camino–6 days, from Sarria to Santiago–we lunched together and I ate and drank up all the details. Never, of course, imagining that I would undertake such a journey, but all ears nonetheless.
Pat didn’t give advice as much as she just told me what she did and how she did it. The advice can be read between the lines: find some great food, some spectacular wine, interesting places to stay, and let the culture just wash over you.
The Camino, Pat told me, will pass right by the Godelia winery in Cacabelos, not far from El Bierzo.
To the left, a picture of one of the wines produced at the Godelia bodega, named in honor of the pilgrims. To the right, a pilgrim passing by the winery, totally oblivious to the Bacchanalian feast that could be hers. Pat recommends I pay more attention….
“Look to your right, pilgrim! Stop & rest your weary feet and quench your thirst!”
Bits and pieces of a lengthy phone conversation with Antigone have stuck with me. She advised:
- when heading out on day #1, choose the Valcarlos route rather than the one that passes through Orisson: less crowded and equally beautiful, plus a way to break up the long, steep journey to Roncevalles
- have some super light-weight sport shorts & top for wandering from hostel dorm room to bathroom; skimpy is better than indecent.
Interesting: Antigone planned to go it alone but met up with two women at the first albergue and they became an instant threesome (then a pair when one had to drop out). She had no complaints about the load she carried, though if I recall correctly, it weighed at least 25 lbs.! My conclusion: she must be incredibly fit and strong. “You won’t have any trouble,” she assured me, “it’s not that hard.”
Antigone’s photos below, from left: “tough questions” along the trail; “a real bed!!!”; “the finish line”
Pictured above–filling a thermos with (free) wine from a wine fountain outside a bodega along the Camino–is my cousin Kathy’s stepdaughter. Though we’ve never met in person, we’ve texted, emailed, and spoken on the phone. Antigone shared her Camino experiences with generosity and enthusiasm.
Sue and Jim
This lovely couple did their 10-day pilgrimage with Mary Beth and Fred in 2014. I see them most Sundays at church and they are 100% consistent in the advice they share (at right):
Read Joyce Rupp’s book: Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino
Check! 1st Camino book I read.
Have a second pair of shoes
Agreed! Won’t leave home without ’em!
but the most important piece of advice they could offer:
I had met Celia on numerous occasions, typically at birthday parties for the daughter of a mutual friend. That’s going back 15 to 20 years or more. When that friend mentioned that Celia had done the Camino and had traveled to Spain annually for month-long visits for over two decades, with students and independently, and offered to provide me with Celia’s address, I didn’t know what a tremendous favor she was doing me. My first thought was: why not connect with her? Exchange an email or two, perhaps even a phone call. Another “trophy” for this blog post which was already being drafted. What a surprise to have Celia respond to my first email with the suggestion that she could drive the hour or so to Bloomington so we could lunch and chat.
Among many gems of advice from Celia, both practical and “spiritual,” the following stood out:
Don’t rush. Take your time. Listen to your body. Try this mantra: “con calma se llega” (the translation “relax and you’ll get there” doesn’t quite do justice to the expression, but still…)
Take care of your feet. Stop every five kilometers or so, take off shoes and socks (see photo of Celia doing just that below), even if you end up putting the same socks back on. Or change them as necessary.
Safety pins can sub for clothespins; use surgical tape immediately when you feel a hot spot; when earplugs don’t cut it at the overnight accommodations, try an app with “white noise” (raindrops, ocean waves, etc.)
“Savor every moment, use all 5 senses” and “bask in the simplicity of the daily pilgrim routine,” for as she says: “just follow the arrows!!! There are very few decisions to make (even at the start of the day you don’t have to debate about what clothes to wear!)”
And so it came to pass. What a delight to spend a couple of hours visiting with Celia over some yummy Thai food. The surprises continued and my jaw nearly dropped when I learned that Celia had begun serious research on the Camino as early as 2000, that she has published scholarly articles, presented many talks, and hobnobbed with other Camino experts through the years! All news to me! I was totally taken in by her bright-eyed enthusiasm as she talked about finally walking the Camino–the 500-mile francés– in June of 2011 (not quite half of it) and June of 2013 (the rest). Now her bucket list includes returning as a volunteer along the route. Celia facilitated my reconnecting with a professor of mine from the early 1970s, who, she told me, was one of the “prime movers” in the reawakening of the Camino that slowly began by the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s. Wow! Thanks, Celia! (And thanks, Dave!)
She may be camera shy and not a fan of social media, but there is nothing shy about the way she tackles adventures! World traveler par excellence, I had the pleasure of hiking and even camping with Tammy when she lived in these parts and participated in Walking Women activities. Her humor and vitality are sorely missed. But Tammy? I don’t think she’s missed a continent on this good earth. Last year alone, to celebrate her 70th, she went on 7 major trips! One of those trips took her to northern Spain and a 50-mile section of the Camino. Based on her experience, she passed on some advice, along with her best wishes for my trip.
Do you suppose I’ll rue the day I decided to skip some of her suggestions?
Advice I seem to be ignoring:
(Tammy announced in June of 2018 that she was organizing a 7-day Camino hike from Porto, Portugal to Santiago. She wrote:) “I know that the trail from Portugal is easier and prettier [than the Camino francés].” But, Tammy, it’s Spain that is calling me. And I’ve heard it’ll be gorgeous…. except for the parts that aren’t….
(in an email to me, she wrote:) “Skip hostels if you can…. bed bugs and lots of others in one big room and shared bathrooms…. Inns and paradors are good.” Winning the lottery would be good, too! Until then, I plan to do this pilgrimage as a “shared experience” with other “commoners.”
Advice I’m much more inclined to follow:
take gloves, hat, and warm coat
I am all about staying warm. Just tell me how I can pack my fluffy jacket in a carry-on bag…. The hat and gloves? Believe me, I’ll have them!
fun tip: use app on phone called “where to pee”; it gives bathroom locations anywhere in the world
I suppose the trail IS too busy to hope to relieve myself behind a tombstone or a tree…. And, from what I hear, the 135+ miles of “The Meseta” are open and treeless… I’d better at least look into that app, my bladder behaving as it does…. (or doesn’t!)
And on and on! My sister has a neighbor who completed the Camino with her husband and has gone back as a volunteer. “I’d love to talk with your sister,” she told mine. “Maybe we could meet her half way between here [Chicago] and Bloomington.” I’ve learned that a former colleague did it with his wife and their 2- and 4-year-olds. That a former neighbor, from just across the street, first walked and then, like my sister’s neighbor, returned to volunteer as a volunteer. There’s Susie and Jen, daughters of my friend Sue’s neighbor…. Truly, I’m almost afraid to mention my plans as I then can’t resist the temptation to get in touch with all these people and hear their experiences. Each pilgrim puts his or her own spin to the journey because, it’s obvious, each one walks his or her own Camino. Though the words and the advice vary, all seem to love talking about and sharing their story. The one universal statement I have heard is this:
“YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE IT!”
I’m inclined to believe that! For now, though, I feel the need to retreat a little bit, to quiet down, to pay more attention to my Camino. I’ll be a more prepared pilgrim, and, I believe, a more giving one, thanks to the efforts to which others have gone in order to set me at ease and smooth my path. It’s probably time–beyond time now!–to gently shut the door and seek within, to ask, of myself, the kinds of questions that only I can answer. And also this: I want to leave room for the mystery and the unexpected gifts. The surprises. The messages. The lessons. Somehow I suspect that they will be present and plentiful. Hopefully my interior soil will be sufficiently tilled and receptive to the seeds that fall my way.