Well, let’s face it, the Camino (the way of St. James) is not a hiking trail and you all knew it before me. Now I know too, so I learned something, not only about the Camino but also about myself and my expectations and needs and my non-existent patience.
Roughly my reason for “planning” to hike the Camino starting originally beginning of March was an escape. After one continuous year of traveling through the US, I went home end of February. I don’t know about you guys but for me, coming back was incredibly hard and still is. In February I just wasn’t able to face it and took the chance to just leave “home” again after a week or two with the help of my dad and his old campervan. His vacation plan was to road trip to Gibraltar and back. I just thought, ouh Spain, there is the Camino and it should be warm(er) there in March already, hm. That was basically the whole thought process behind the idea. To be honest, I only did a little bit of reading, I talked to some people who did the Camino before, also people who hiked long distance trails in the US before that. That was it, I didn’t prepare much more and now I know I just totally underestimated it. It’s flatter than I thought, much more road walking than anyone could wish for, it was much colder than expected (unusually cold for Spain though) and there were much fewer opportunities to stealth camp than I hoped for. And that pretty much sums up the reasons why I left the Camino after only 6 days of hiking, apart from the fact that I stressed my knee and ankle with increasing the daily mileage too fast on the unfamiliar terrain.
In the end, I hiked 205km (128 miles) of the Camino Francés from St. Jean Pied de Port in South France to Cirueña in Spain. There I decided to leave the Camino and use the chance to ride back to Germany again with my dad. That made the decision certainly easy.
So the Camino was not my way but not everything is bad about it of course. In fact here are a few things you should consider if you thought about hiking the Camino at some point.
People & trail mentality
- The little towns are gorgeous and authentic. Spanish people are extremely helpful and friendly. It is easy to hitch, especially if people can identify you as a pilgrim for example by seeing the shell on your backpack.
- If the sun is on the grass is greener and the blue sky is brighter, no kidding.
- The people hiking the Camino are easy going, everyone just wants to have a fun time, maybe some time for themselves and it is totally not about the mileage you do per day. There is no such thing as competition like you sometimes can see or feel on US long distance trails. Also, a lot of people don’t carry their luggage themselves and hire a bus transfer for the luggage. It just doesn’t matter.
- The pilgrim menu starts at around 10 Euro (~12 USD) and you get a 3-course meal combined with a bottle of wine.
- Prices for bunk beds in hostels start at 5 to 7 Euro (facilities and comfort varies). You’ll find cheap and good food along the way (bread, cheese, tortilla, ..) and get a coffee in every town stop for about 1.50 Euro.
Trail condition & navigation
- Yes, there will be a lot of walking on roads or next to roads. I really enjoy hiking alone but on those long flat roads, I was always happy if I had a companion to talk to and forget about it. You might want to consider a hiking partner.
- Navigation is easy, cell phone reception is widely available. If you don’t want to carry a guidebook even though your backpack will be super light, check out your trusted app store, there are a ton of Camino apps. If you like the “Guthook” apps you will be pleased to read that there is a Camino hiking app available by Atlas guides.
- If you are like me and like to push yourself…, slow down, take a strolling pace and enjoy the coffee breaks as often as possible. The flat asphalt made it easy for me to go fast and probably take a wrong stride. The guide boo
Must have gear (if you’re coming from the ultralight sector)
- Bring camp shoes (flip flops): In every hostel, you will be required to take off your hiking shoes off almost at the door and use your camp shoes in the rest of the house which pretty much always has cold tile floors – I have to mention it because I didn’t think of it :-).
- Bring earplugs – also a no-brainer I suppose, if you will sleep in hostels especially bigger ones there will certainly always be a person who is snoring.
- Last but not least, be aware of what you want and what you expect from a hike in Spain. The Camino is a pilgrimage way and a lot of people certainly want to find an answer when setting out to hike it. Do not expect that necessarily everyone wants to walk or talk to you on the way because they are thinking hard. In the hostels though and during breaks, almost everyone wants to share company and wine ;).