Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Camino de Santiago Tips

A friend of mine recently asked for some tips for his Camino Adventure. So here is a list I made. Hope you'll find it useful.

Camino de Santiago Tips

  1. Watch the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez to give you an idea of the walk.
  2. You might want to read “The Pilgrimage” as well by Paulo Coelho. (Although I have not yet read this book)
  3.  The most recommended route would be the Camino Frances or the French way.
  4.  If your schedule fits, you may want to walk the entire stretch coming from St. Jean Pied de Port which is from France near the border. The entire walk would take about 30-35 days , 700 kilometres 
  5. I f you want to start halfway, recommended starting point would be Burgos or Leon.
  6.  Best time to travel would be just after summer around September (to avoid the crowd)
  7.  Download the app Camino Pilgrim which gives you an idea of the recommended stops as well as the albergues, supermarkets, pharmacies along the way. I am not sure if this is available in Apple.
  8. You can buy the Pilgrim’s passport at the major stops. You need this to be stamped when you enter the albergue. You need the passport in order to claim your certificate at Santiago.
  9.  Travel light. Leave the unnecessary stuff behind. My rule of thumb is to bring 3 sets of clothes. You can have your laundry every 3 days.
  10. Add 50% buffer in your travel time so you won’t be pressured and you can travel at your own desired pace.
  11. Buy a local SIM.
  12.  Don’t forget to pack the following: slippers, headlight or flashlight, wet wipes, adaptor, mulitplug adaptor, ziplock bags, trash bag, ear plugs, sun block, microfiber towel.
  13.  Try to fit everything in a 20-liter bag
  14.  Don’t be prudish. Some albergues especially the municipal ones or Xunta have communal showers. They cost 6euros/night/person. For more privacy you can opt for the private albergues which cost about 10 to 15 euros.
  15. Bring a stone – There is a tradition of bringing a stone at the start of your journey and  then leaving it at Cruz de Hiero. This symbolizes atonement for one’s sins.
  16. Bring a water bottle. It’s good to be always hydrated. There are water filling stations along the way
  17. Bring waterproof shoes that you’ve used for at least a month. This ensures that your feet are comfortable in it.
  18. Bring a poncho as rain might happen especially in the Galicia area.
  19. Bring ibuprofen, loperamide, blister strips
  20.  Avoid getting your feet damp. This could easily develop into blisters which can be extremely painful and slow you down.
  21. I normally rest after walking for 4 kilometres.
  22. Plan to walk 20-30 kilometers per day.
  23. Be wary of Sundays. Most supermarkets are closed so ensure that you have food available during these days.
  24. Towards autumn, the sun can go down pretty fast. Make sure that by 4pm, an albergue is within 4 km radius so you can check in before sundown.
  25.  Learn a few Spanish phrases. A lot of Spanish people barely speak English so they would really appreciate if you can utter a few familiar words.
  26. Take photos, a phone camera should suffice
  27.  Plan to arrive before noon at Santiago de Compostela so you can attend the mass for the pilgrims at 12 noon. Bags are not allowed inside the church. You can deposit them at nearby shops for a minimal fee.
  28. When getting your certificate you can request for a personalized one for an additional fee. This would include your name, your starting point and the distance you have travelled.
  29. Make friends along the way.
  30. Have fun ! The journey will be over before you know it. Enjoy every minute of the Camino experience.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Camino Frances Day 13

I couldn’t believe that my journey was nearing its end. That night in O’ Pedrouzo as I was preparing my stuff, there was an air of anticipation and excitement for everyone.  Like all pilgrims knew that no matter what, come morning, our journey was coming to a close. I felt a mixture of happiness and sadness.

The albergue chosen by Robi was a quaint one, it had two floors and was spacious. Being one of the early occupants, he was able to secure a cool spot. The room was big, probably around a hundred bunks, so the corner spot, he reserved at the far end of the room offered a bit of privacy. The ceiling was slanted in our area, reminiscent of a cozy attic.

Robi developed a shin splint hence walked only 2 kilometers from Santa Irene to O’ Pedrouzo. I considered it a blessing in disguise since it gave me the chance to finally catch up with him on Day 12. And so for the last leg of the Camino Day 13, Robi and I had the chance of walking together again.

We stepped unto the street of O’ Pedrouzo at 6:30 am, the chill of a foggy dawn greeting us.  We estimated that at a rate of 4 kilometers per hour we would be reaching Santiago before noon. We planned to catch the midday mass at the cathedral specifically offered to the pilgrims.

If not for the streetlights, we would have groped our way.  I realized how dark it really was when our path turned left into the woods. We turned on our flashlights, its brightness only enough to shine a few meters of our path due to the fog. I wouldn’t dare walk into the woods if I were alone in that darkness. We walked rather slowly because of Robi’s shin splint. A lone pilgrim overtook us. I admired his courage to venture alone in the darkness. It would be easy to get lost if one missed a turn. After a few minutes we came upon a fork. We shone the flashlights several times before finally seeing a small arrow pointing to the left.

We walked on, excitement building up as were on the last day. By the time the sun rose from the horizon it was still quite misty. I told Robi to go ahead as I took my time taking pictures. A photo of a spider’s cobweb here, a shot of a pair of boots there.

Robi had a bit of difficulty walking but I didn’t mind our pace. I was offering him a dose of ibuprofen but he had qualms about taking medicine.

The path led us to a hillside with a view- Monte De Gozo. It was a shame it was foggy. Otherwise we could have seen the three spires of the cathedral from this vantage point. Monte de Gozo meant Hill of Joy, it is said that pilgrims cry out in joy in this part upon seeing the end of their journey.

Monte De Gozo was the last hill before the cathedral. The remainder of the path was paved asphalt and descending. It led us near the airport on that foggy morning as I could hear the rumble of planes taking off and landing. Just from the frequency of plane sound I surmised that Santiago was a rather busy city.

A big sign saying Santiago De Compostela in bold red letters greeted us as we entered the central part of Santiago. We obviously posed for posterity.

We thought we were close to about 2 kilometers from the destination.

Twice we had to ask for the direction to the cathedral because the yellow sign was not so obvious in the central area.

When at last I came to see the church spires, it seemed that my heart would burst for joy. I cannot believe that the past 13 days went like a blur and there I was, flesh and blood, with blisters and all finally seeing the cathedral of Santiago.

We came in just in time, almost noon. We deposited our bags so we could attend the mass. It was solemn and I offered all my petitions and the petitions I have received from friends and family.

After the mass, we lingered a bit to marvel at the majesty of the church interiors. We met the other pilgrims.  Some looked very familiar, either I’ve seen them on the road or we were booked in the same hostel. They were all beaming, proud of making it through the journey.

I saw Eugene the guy from Gerona who was my roommate in Trebadelo.

Robi met a lot of pilgrims who started their journey with him in St Jean Pied de Port. They hugged each other as if long lost friends.

After the mass we claimed our certificates. Mine indicated my Latin name and the distance I travelled -300 kilometers. We hung around a bit in front of the cathedral and had posterity shots although I was a bit disappointed that the scaffolding ruined what otherwise would have been a spectacular view of the landmark. I was happy to see again David the Mexican guy I met in the Melide albergue.

To celebrate our journey’s end, Robi and I had lunch buffet with three Koreans at Carrefour -about 2 kilometers from the center. I did not mind the distance, 2 kilometers seemed a piece of cake when you’ve just walked 300 kilometers.

We stayed at a private albergue named La Estrella de Santiago which offered 6 euros/night. It was the cheapest we could find, a little far from the center but it had great amenities.

Florent who was our roommate in Astorga also happened to be booked in the same place. And so the three of us had a mini-reunion. Florent walked 2000 kilometers, Robi 700 and I 300. We chatted a bit over a bottle of wine bought at the neighborhood supermercado.

As Robi was still set to go to the coast (Finisterre) which is about another 3 days, I gave him my cane as a gift.

I have booked my trip back to Madrid via Blabla car. I was set to be picked at the Santiago De Compostela train station at 4am.

At 3 am I took one last glance of my albergue then shut the main door behind. I did not bother waking up Robi. I had given him already my Buen Camino.

300 kilometers
13 days
It had been an awesome journey, definitely something for the books.

The past 13 days went like a blur. It had been a tough walk with shin splint and blisters. My will had been tested several times and yet I made it. I recalled the past few days, a sea of faces flashed before me, the German guy who gave me medicine in Acebo, the bar tender in Foncebadon, Christian my first roommate in the walk. I thought about all the pilgrims I’ve met in this wonderful journey, each with their own stories, triumphs and trials. They are most likely back in their own lives, in their own unfolding stories. Most I won’t ever see again. They will now forever be part of my memories of my walk to Santiago.

In my heart I knew I will be back again.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Camino Frances Day 12

The albergue in Melide was one of the best I’ve stayed in this Camino - yet I experienced the worst night there. It was because of the rowdy guests from another room. They were bantering way past midnight and one lad went inside our room to hide from his friends. This despite the lights out already. It went for about 3 times until an exasperated German lady gave a scolding and rose off her bed to lock the door. I’ve heard that Spanish pilgrims tend to be a raucous bunch but what happened that night was definitely over the top. I wished that the incident were more of an exception than the rule for juvenile Spanish pilgrims.

The albergue had two floors, I hobbled down to have a glimpse of the kitchen in the morning. With only limited choices in the vending machine, I decided to just take my breakfast on the first bar along the way, which in hindsight was a bad idea -the next bar had I checked the app was 5 kilometers away.

I referred to the Google map to seek the exit from Melide. After passing by several narrow streets I finally found the side road designated for the Camino route.  Robi was about 25 kilometers away. I proposed that he walked a shorter distance that day so I could catch up with him on Day 13 and we could walk the last leg of the Camino. The plan was for us to meet up at O Pedrouzo. This meant that I had to walk 33 kilometers for the day, a little more than my usual daily average.

My blisters had gone much much worse now. The day before I can still fool my mind to disregard the pain. But this time around, the pain kept on hounding me. Incessant, unyielding, seeking attention. Every step was excruciatingly painful. If only cutting off my feet was an option. The morning was chilly yet perspiration beaded on my forehead. Every godawful step required willpower. Maybe the pain would go away. “It’s all in the mind, I challenged myself”. And yet it didn’t.

Emotional pain was one thing. Experiencing physical pain was an entirely different matter. I would have chosen emotional anguish over deep-seated physical pain any time of the day. Every step was tormenting, yet I know that each one will be bring me closer to salvation. “Only two more days to go”, I coaxed myself.

My pace was slower than usual. A couple of pilgrims overtook me. I didn’t mind. I just needed to survive the walk that day and it would soon be over.

Pained, hungry and exhausted, I was so glad to see an unmanned fruit stand in the middle of the woods. After what seemed like ages,  finally an available food supply. It’s signage” El Pequeno Oasis” was apt. I got two bananas and an apple, and dropped the appropriate amount on the coin box. The fruits alleviated my hunger but not the pain of the damn blisters.

Thirty minutes later I spotted a coffee shop. Normally I would have gone ahead already but I thought of giving myself a cheat break if only to have a break from the painful walk.

I was glad to meet David in the cafe, a Mexican roommate in Melide albergue. His route was the Camino De La Plata which was the first time I heard about it.  The route he followed was mostly for nature-loving folks as the path were in the untouched parts of the Asturias region. I would eventually learn that this path was one of the most challenging Camino routes.

David seemed fascinated by a beehouse in front of the cafe; he took a picture of it with his handy digicam. I asked him to take my photo with my reliable phone. He went ahead after he had his breakfast. I lingered a bit to massage my soles. By now my blisters had grown into big bulging bubbles. If I had only a sharp safety pin with me I would have gloatingly pricked them if only to avenge for the suffering they had brought me.

The foursome group I met in Triacastela, O Cerebreiro (who also stayed at the Melide albergue upon my recommendation)  took their breakfast at the shop. The British guy noticed my pained look and offered a blister strip. I used to think he was haughty but his gesture totally debunked that. I profusely gave my thanks. I plastered it the wrong way though and so the walk was still painful when I resumed.

The next two hours had been pure torture. I did not pause to take any pictures along the way. My mind was just set to reach Arzua, eight kilometers away which had a pharmacy. I was dead set to buy blister strips and ibuprofen.

Around 1130 I paused at a clearing just after I ascended a path. Each step felt like my foot was being stabbed. I was longing to see Arzua already. A pair of pilgrims who were Asians passed by, they looked familiar although I can no longer which part of the route I have met them. I asked if they knew how far Arzua was. They must have sensed the look of desperation on my face and asked me what was wrong. When the guy learned about my blisters he offered an ibuprofen tablet. I ran out of water already (maybe that explained why I felt so exhausted) so I just swallowed the tablet. I took a photo of the exact scene so I would not forget that point of the walk where I almost passed out.

I never got to see the Asian guy again. I wished I did. I owed him that painkiller he gave me. It did alleviate the pain. After 30 minutes I have finally hit Arzua. I immediately went to the pharmacy and brought ibuprofen and blister strips. I grabbed a liter of water, bread and salchicon from the nearby supermarket and sat on a bench. While I took ibuprofen only half hour earlier I took another tablet. I decided that extra dosage is needed to counteract the torture.

Miraculously the pain subsided and I was on my way again. I was surprised to see David on the path again. I got ahead of him earlier because he was taking his time in taking pictures of the surroundings (this explained why he perhaps took the Camino Primitivo. This route meets Camino Frances in the Melide to Santiago leg). I asked him to take a photo of me. Surprisingly the shot captured a smile that belied the ordeal I had earlier that day. As David’s pace was faster than mine I bade him farewell with the usual “Buen Camino”.

I passed by a house where some thought-provoking quotes were posted. I took some shots. At this point the foursome group caught up with me.

I passed by a phalanx of pines trees that looked creepy even in mid afternoon. If I were a horror movie director this would definitely be one of the shooting locations.

At 330 I stopped by a road-side cafĂ©. There was a weather-beaten old man with a black dog and a peculiar pilgrim passport. Instead of the usual stamps he had signatures of pilgrims- he had done the Camino a couple of times already hence was no longer interested for the stamps. Pleased to know that I came from the Philippines he asked for my signature.  He had not gotten any from a Filipino before. I was pleased to oblige.

According to the Google map, Pedrouzo was still 8 kilometers. It would be past 4 pm soon and I was aware of the risk of being on the road during sundown. But I needed to catch up with Robbie who already sent me a Whatsapp message that he had already checked in at a municipal albergue in Pedrouzo. He actually placed some of his stuff on a bunk across him to reserve it for me.

I saw that the last leg for the day would fall along the highway, so even if I failed to reach the albergue by sundown, there would still be light from the road. So I violated my 4 by 4 rule and went on.

The thought of meeting Robi soon, made me walk faster, the blisters still hounding but the pain had subsided considerably.

Thankfully just as the last thumbnail of the sun disappeared on the horizon I found the albergue.

I was overjoyed to meet Robi again. I never would have thought that I would catch up with him again and yet there we were reunited in O Pedrouzo. We had pizza, fries and beer to celebrate our reunion.

At the end of a challenging day we had only 20 kilometers left to walk.

Santiago De Compostela was now within our reach.