środa, 13 stycznia 2016

Everything you wanted to know about doing Camino, but you are too lazy to do a proper research.

To follow a good practice of DIY-themed posts, here is my two-penneth about how to make Camino happen. The biggest mistake is that people tend to overthink too much. Look, pilgrims were doing Camino for ages, sometimes without goretex jackets, membrane boots and Internet (!). Below you can find all my research and experience, boiled down to one (long) blog post. You will thank me later.

The rules

The general aim is to walk to Santiago de Compostela along one of the routes. Upon arrival, the Cathedral authorities issue a Compostela, a document in latin, stating that you have reached Compostela (or, if you are willing to pay 3 EUR and want to brag, they will issue another Compostela, more detailed one, mentioning the distance you walked.). How do they know you walked all the distance? When you arrive to the albergue or hostal, every time you check in, you get a stamp with a date from hospitalero (inn-owner). The stamps are collected in a special carnet, called Credencial de Peregrino, which can be bought in every major albergue for more or less 1 EUR. In the end of your pilgrimage, you show the credencial in the pilgrim office in Santiago. The credencial is also a proof for hospitaleros, that you are a pilgrim, not a tourist travelling by car. You can get your Compostela if you walked at least 100 kilometers to Santiago (it means starting in Sarria). If you are on a horseback or on the bicycle, it's 200 kilometers. You don't have to be christian to walk, I know that some muslims do the Camino. To be honest, most of the people I've met, were neither religious, nor spiritual. Nobody will examine your reasons, unless of course you want to talk about them. 

Before you go.

First of all, you need to choose the time and route. There are many routes, some are beginning as far as Norway or Russia. If you haven't done your first Camino yet, I recommend the most popular one - Camino Frances, the French route, running from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela. It's about 800 kilometers long, it took me 37 days (incl. 1 rest day) to walk and I'm not the fastest (nor the slowest) peregrina. Why Frances? Well, the density of albergues and pilgrim facilities is pretty high. It's also well-marked, I had no problems finding the yellow arrows. As for the time - I took it in October/November and I was happy with my choice. In the summer the Way is more crowded and sometimes all beds in albergue may be taken. July and August are also the hottest months, if you have heart or circulation problems or are simply a 60+ pilgrim, I wouldn't recommend that. On the way you can see sometimes a small shrines or memorials of people who passed away on their Camino. More often than not, they all happen to be around 60 or more and there are mostly summer dates. In November some of the albergues close, and some hospitaleros live in a denial regarding the existence of winter in Spain (and therefore the need of the heating). September is, from what I've heard, one of the best months to walk. 

How to find the way.

Every Spanish province has different facilities, but the general rule is that you follow the yellow arrows, it's not difficult. You won't need a compass. In most of the provinces, every now and then you pass an info board with a map, an elevation chart and distances between the villages. If you start walking from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, you will get a big, 6 pages chart, mentioning all the albergues on the way, the price, number of beds, facilities and mileage. I would say that having this chart is essential, it made life much easier for me.

First 48 hours

The nearest airport to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is Biarritz (BIQ), with seasonal flights from Spain, France, UK, Switzerland and Scandinavia, and regular (all year round) flights from Paris, Nice, Lyon, London and Madrid. You need to take a train to get to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. It is important to plan carefully - the last train leaves early and the train station is in Bayonne, another city, reachable with public transportation. In SJPP you need to register in the pilgrims' office, the volunteers there will give you the aforementioned chart, map of the town, credential, and the instruction for getting to Roncesvalles. They are also responsible for sending pilgrims to albergues, so that they don't have to look for the accomodation in the night. On the next day, you have two options: you can go to Orisson, and this is super light one, 8 kilometers away from SJPP. The other one is sleeping in Roncesvalles. In order to get to Roncesvalles, you need to get up early, cross the Pyrenees, and walk about 30 kilometers. Don't worry, it only sounds scary, in fact it's one of the most beautiful parts of the route and sleeping in a medieval abbey is an adventure itself.

The end of the first day, historical Roncesvalles Abbey. So, my dear Adso...

The rest of the Camino

The first day will teach you everything you need to know. Just follow the yellow arrows. First you will be walking trough the Basque Country, all the way to Pamplona. It's truly beautiful and green, full of small rivers and forest trails (just after leaving Roncesvalles you will be walking trough the witches' forest). Then you enter La Rioja, slightly hilly, covered with fields and vineyards (less shadow!). Castillia y Leon is the flattest part, this is the moment when you walk along some highways. The views are not that beautiful, but at least you don't climb. It goes slightly steeper after Astorga and it gets beautiful again. Galicia is absolutely stunning, green with oak forests, hills and the Celtic vibe all around the place. 


Albergues are ran by hospitaleros (inn-owners). The general rule is that they offer a bed in a big room, where there can be ever 100 other people sleeping (but it's usually more like 8 or so). Some albergues offer single rooms, but they are of course more expensive. Vast majority of albergues has also decent Internet, heating and hot water - not all of them though, so in the "links" section below you can find a thread in one of the forums about water/heating in albergues. The priority in getting a bed is given to the disabled and old people, then every other pilgrim on foot, then people on the horseback and bicycle. The last in the queue are people in cars and on motorbikes. Albergues provide disposable sheet and pillow cover, sometimes also a blanket. It means that you need to have your own sleeping bag. Most of them have kitchen and washing machines. Since you are going to share rooms with other people, don't be a dick and respect their night sleep. don't use rattly plastic bags in the morning, and super strong flashlights in the night, prepare your things the evening before, so that you can spare your co-sleepers the symphony of packing and unpacking.

Albergue in Granon, the Holy Grail of all pilgrims

The packlist

This is a neverending story, and everybody has different ideas. The rule of thumb is that the backpack should weight around 10% of your body weight. In total, with water and food you may carry, it should be not more than 15% of your body weight. You DON'T need the fancy hiking gear. After learning on mistakes, I may recommend taking:
  • A 40 liters backpack. It's the second single important piece of gear, so choose careffuly. 40 liters gives you enough space for taking everything you need, but not too much either. 
  • Good walking boots. This is THE most important piece of gear. I was walking with a guy who thought that military boots are a good idea. Well, they are not, and that guy had the biggest, the most painful blisters I have ever seen. In my case the cheap-ish Quechua boots were enough. Make sure they are water proof and that they hold your ankle.
  • Raincoat. It WILL rain at one point.
  • Pants x 2. I took 2 x long sport leggins, but in the summer you may consider taking shorts.
  • Longsleeve x 2 (again, in the summer you won't need more than one)
  • Shortsleeve x 1
  • Tanktop x 1
  • Socks x 5 (because washing them every day is no fun)
  • Briefs x 5
  • Bras x 2
  • Hoodie x 1
  • Medicines: band-aids, painkillers, something with pseudoefedrinum and ibuprofenum, that will put you back on your feet when you get cold.
  • Elastic bandage - helps with minor knee and ankle injuries.
  • Sewing kit (= black thread, needle, and safety pins)
  • Scarf (and hat if you walk in the autumn, in the summer a cotton scarf will protect you from both, cold and sun, and protection from the sun is essential in the summer)
  • Pyjama (a flannel longsleeve for winter, a shortsleeve cotton for summer)
  • Sleeping bag (a very light one for summer, maybe even just a silky sheet, a semi-thick one for autumn. Some albergues have no heating and no blankets)
  • Small towel
  • Flipflops
  • Light shoes to use in albergues.
  • Flashlight
  • Sunglasses
  • Reflective vest - in Spain it's not allowed to walk on the roadside without a light and a vest, and there is a reason for it. You may have to walk after dark.
  • Electric splitter. In Spain, the most common sockets are CEE7/3. It's important, to check your plugs, because the completely round ones won't fit.
  • Camera - I was hesitating wether I should take my DSLR, I did and it was worth it. But sometimes a phone camera will do.
  • Smartphone. Let's face it, it's 2016, you will need it, and therefore you will also need an...
  • ...Energy bank.
  • Cosmetics: Toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, antiperspirant and 2 in 1 shampoo and shower gel. 
  • Enamel mug. Not a must, but was pretty useful for me at times, especially in equipment deprived kitchens of Xunta Galicias albergues.
You don't need a shell or a credencial for stamps, these things you can get upon arrival.

Most of the stuff I took with me, it was more than enough.

The money

After a stormy discussion with my co-peregrinos, we decided that 24 EUR per day should be enough for a budget pilgrim. The cheapest accomodation is 5 EUR (however, it's not always available). 10 EUR is a full pilgrim dinner menu. Sometimes you will want to cook, so it will be much cheaper. In autumn months you will also want to wash and dry your clothes (they won't dry by themselves with this air humidity and you can't use the dryer if you don't use the washing machine, the dryer won't dry the hand-washed clothes). They are 3 EUR each, on average, but you will surely find someone to split the cost with, every 4 days or so. Some albergues are "donativo". It means that you pay as much as you can afford, it doesn't mean they are for free (And this is very important. You don't want to be a freeloader). One important remark: Adjust the length of Camino to your budget. It's no fun to be walking every day 25+ kilometers and counting every cent. 

Whom will you meet

Surely not just catholics. There are many people on Camino, most of them, according to my personal observations, not doing it for any spiritual reason. There is a fair share of caminantes doing it "because it seemed to be a good idea". I'm just saying that if you think that everybody on Camino is a love-spreading hippie, you may be dissapointed (however, I must say, that people care about others more than usual). I saw families with kids, couples, friends and there are many single people walking. I even saw an article about two pilgrims with a toddler. Most people who do it, are either students, or between the jobs, or freelancers, or pensioners. According to the stats from 2015, the biggest group of pilgrims is from Spain, (47%), in the top ten there are also Italians (9%), Germans (8%), Americans (5%), Portuguese (5%) Frenchies (4%), Brits (2%), Irish (2%), Canadians (2%), and Coreans (2%). English is ubiquitios, but knowing some basic phrases in Spanish, won't hurt. Don't worry about walking alone, there is always someone you can join in your albergue. When you meet people on the Camino, you greet them with "buen Camino!", or especially in France "ultreïa!" (For which you reply "et suseïa!").

You can meet hipsters, travelling with donkeys...

...or very cool Frenchies...

...or two lovely Scottish ladies...

...or a German, who won't piss off all the way to Santiago, yes, I'm talking about you, Max...
...or a Belgian monk walking 800 kilometers in sandals.

What not to miss?

There are some really cool places on Camino Frances. You won't miss them, at least most of them, but it's good to know what awaits you:

  • Irache, there is a wine fountain there. You can drink free wine from the tap in the wall. How cool is that!? (Don't be a dick and don't take it in bottles! It's not a take-away service!)
  • Cruz de Hierro, 3 kilometers after Foncebadon is a place where people leave stones that they took from their home, which symbolizes offering whatever issue they have started their Camino with.
  • Monte del Pedron, with its monument of pilgrims on the brow of the hill. According to the beliefs, if you, as a pilgrim, die after this point, all your sins will be forgiven, so it'a basically a highway to heaven.
  • Forest of witches, just after you leave Roncesvalles
  • La Casa de Los Dioses, where David Vidal from Barcelona, created an oasis for pilgrims in an old farm with no electricity or running water. You can find this place shortly after leaving Leon de Santibanez Valdeiglesias. You can have a rest, a drink, some delicious fairtrade food, and you pay as much (or as little) as you like.
  • The best albergues I've stayed in, are definetely Roncesvalles (for the "Name of the Rose" fans!), Casa Paderborn in Pamplona, Pequena Potala in Ruitan, Pajar in Ages, Municipal in Azofra and the cherry on the top - Grañon, a Holy Grail of Camino's albergues, not for standard, but for the atmosphere (and it's just beautiful).
Cruz de Hierro

Monte del Perdon


I used one pretty cool app. Maps.me allows you to use offline maps, shows footpaths, drinkable water sources, inns on the way, ATMs and everything you will need. I also recommend downloading pedometer, it' cool to know what's your speed and how your fitness improves. I found out everything I needed in https://www.caminodesantiago.me/. For the winter pilgrims I recommend THIS particular thread about heating in albergues.

Questions? Ask in the comments! Buen Camino! 

sobota, 2 stycznia 2016

Oh what a year it was! / Oh what a year it will be!

2015, I will miss you, you were fantastic. You began innocently and then went full steam ahead. I remember grimmy winter and working in a place I didn't like at all. Gosh, that was so long ago. That was before I had to move out from my old house, before four fantastic months in Bergen happened. That was before a hitch-hiking trip in Japan. And before that 850 kilometers hike in Northern Spain. This year was so rich in experiences, that I can barely remember last beginning of January, exactly a year ago. My diary mentions only that I had problem with wisdom tooth. 

It's already January 3rd, 1 am, so perhaps a bit late for New Year's wishes, but still, may 2016 be a year of a breaktrough. May it make you daring and fearless and fierce, doing things that you weren't even dreaming of. May it bring you to the point when you decide to speak loudly about what's important to you. May you fail, may you fail a lot, because it will mean that you have tried a lot too. 

For me it looks like 2016 will be a year of hard work, that will set a foundation for achieving future goals. Travelling is fun, but it's actually pretty easy, if this was a lunch, travelling-related goals would be a dessert. I'm still polishing my New Years resolutions, but the list is full of boring, grown-up stuff. Such as finishing what I started. Or getting a driving licence (which is pretty much the same thing). Or getting a super-duper job that I would love. Santa got me proper running shoes, so I guess I can't argue with him and at least I need to get back to my #1 goal

2016, come on me, bro!