BOOTS, CHECK: FINDING THE RIGHT FOOTWEAR FOR YOUR CAMINO

Considering I was going to hike 2500 kilometres, I was well aware that I would probably need some specific gear. Though not entirely sure what “specific” would imply I figured that, as a pretty experienced camper, it couldn’t be that difficult to sort out what I would eventually take with me or not. Three nights and two mornings of online activity later, I discovered that the resources providing information regarding “hiking gear” in the broadest meaning of the word, seemed to just never end. Ranging from lightweight self-inflatable mats to sporks, 3-season tent reviews, the benefits of merino wool, non-gtx advocates, intriguing layering systems and walking pole discussions… I had about 55 tabs open and thought I was going mad. It was just too much information and I did not know where to start.

So I asked myself: After your first hike, what was the thing you wished for most? Besides more food, which does not really qualify as gear, the first thing that came to my mind where shoes. I required a good pair of shoes. Bingo. I asked Google:

“hiking shoes”

“hiking boots or shoes”

“hiking boots shoes or trail runners?”

“hiking two seasons boots”

“gore-tex wiki”

“hiking long distance gore-tex or not???”

My online search for shoes continued for about a week. I read up on what shoes would be most appropriate for my journey, I read about ankle support (“Is it necessary?”), the discussion around gore-tex (“Your feet will get wet anyway!”) and discovered all hiking shoes and boots were not going to make me look any better, so I decided not to worry about aesthetics. Reading the diverse and, often, contradicting opinions and arguments on a wide array of forums, I concluded that there was only one way to find the right footwear: to fit some.

That said. I headed to an outdoor shop here in Amsterdam, walked in and told my story to one of the employees. I explained her about my doubts concerning shoes with ankle support, my preference for shoes without gore-tex and also provided her with the information that I was going to walk 2500 kilometres and would be carrying about 10 kilograms on my back.

I was in there for two hours (!) before I made a decision.

During these two hours, I fitted a f*** ton of hiking shoes, boots and trail runners and this is what I figured out whilst actually wearing the footwear:

The (low) hiking shoes and trail runners did not do it for me. I do admit their weight is ideal, however, the absence of ankle support whilst standing and walking didn’t feel right. The slightly heavier boots with the ankle support on the other hand, immediately influenced my posture and made me feel more grounded, which I consider being a plus when carrying weight on your back.

I personally prefer leather shoes over waterproof shoes. Why? To be honest, I cannot really put my finger on it generally eating a plant-based diet. Anyways, the two main reasons are the durability of leather boots and their ability to naturally repel water.

hanwag tantra.png

Every shoe or boot has a different fit and every foot is different. The front part of my feet are wide whereas my ankles are relatively small (yeah, picture that, how odd), This meant that I did not fit the boots of certain brands, some of which were highly promoted amongst hikers on the Internet. What I am trying to say is that, even though there is lots of useful advice online, try to find the right shoe for you.

Eventually, I went home with the Tatra Lady (leather) from the German brand Hanwag. The boots fitted my feet perfectly, they provided excellent support and I will be able to use them after walking the camino. To make sure that these were the right ones, I have tried them on at home a couple of times and I can tell you, these are absolutely it!

Love,

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WHICH WAY ARE YOU GOING?: ROUTES TO SANTIAGO

In order to walk somewhere you need a route or at least some directions. When trying to figure out how I was going to reach Spain, I initially got a little lost in the vast network of European pilgrim routes – there are just so many of them! In addition, most Dutch pilgrims depart in France, so the majority of the information online only provided half of the route to Santiago. Then, I discovered a website that made me do a little dance. Santiago Routes made planning your camino route into something super exciting! Using this website I have been able to (partially) plan my way to Santiago, let’s have a look shall we?

from Amsterdam via ‘s Hertogenbosch to Visé/Wezet

Since I live in Amsterdam, I will start my journey from there. As far as I could find, you can take five different routes when kicking off your pilgrimage in the Netherlands. In order to arrive in Belgium, I will commence my journey on the pilgrim path (Pelgrimspad). Why? Firstly, because it starts in Amsterdam. Second, it is an established long distance walking route marked with blazes, thus, easy to follow. This last point is very vital as, in the early stages of my walk, I do not want to get too lost ; )

from Belgium to France

My choice to walk to Visé limits my route options when proceeding to France. When walking to Visé you have already found your way to the Via Limburgia; a pilgrim route that will take you through Belgium to Rocroi in France. Just so we are clear, at this stage the total amount of kilometres will be about 616. When walking on 20 km on average, I will probably arrive in France after roughly a month of walking.

from France to Spain

France has so many walking options, you might experience some stress when picking. My decision was motivated by me really wanting to say hi to Jeanne d’Arc in Reims (her statue that is), one of the most inspiring historical figures. Likewise, I did not want to walk through Paris. You go on romantic weekend trips to Paris, walking through it sounds horrid. Consequently, I have decided to travel from Rocroi to Vėzelay – a commune where lots of pilgrims begin their camino. There are several options after Vėzelay: You can either walk to St. Jean- Pied-de-Port via Périgueux or Rocamadour, the latter of which appears to be slightly more physically demanding. As I am not sure in what kind of mindset I will be at that stage, I will decide when I get there.

routes in Spain

About 1705 kilometres later you have arrived in Spain. In Spain there are eight main routes, however, coming from St. Jean- Pied-de-Port you can either choose to walk the Camino Frances, the Camino del Norte or El Camino Primitivo. The Camino Frances is the most popular route to Santiago and tends to get pretty busy during the summer months. The Camino del Norte is dubbed the coastal route and seems to be quieter and more difficult. To spice things up a bit you can always divert from the previous two routes to the El Camino Primitivo. This route is the first of the routes to Santiago and is known to be rather challenging. Although many advice the Camino Frances as the preferred route for first timers, this choice too, will largely depend on what way I feel like going at that stage of my journey and, not unimportant, how my bank account is feeling about that particular way ; )

Due to the uncertainty of the weather in March, as well as in preparation of the imagined challenge that this first month will bring, I will predetermine my route from Amsterdam to France. When arriving there and – hopefully – having acquired a daily walking routine, I would like to let the Way unfold more naturally. As you have seen here, there are many roads that lead to Santiago; the route I am describing here is just one option. Choose the route that you would like to walk, it’s your journey after all!

Love,

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image credit: wikipedia.org

THE WAY OF ST. JAMES

Now we have gotten over the initial shock of the endeavour, let’s dive into a little history of the Camino de Santiago and Saint James in particular. Although most people have heard of the pilgrimage to Santiago, not everyone is aware of where all these roads are actually leading to and why people have travelled them since the Middle Ages.

The myriad of routes that compromise the Camino de Santiago all lead to one particular place: the shrine of Saint James the Great. Although not much is known about James as a historical figure, the Bible describes that he died in Jerusalem as a martyr in 44CE. From the fifth century onwards, tales were published adding to James’ character, depicting him as the first missionary in Spain. Other stories narrate how his body made its way back there, how it was buried and forgotten.

The miraculous rediscovery of his tomb in 813 and the chapel that was build to mark it reignites the interest in and support of this cult site. The construction of a larger church at the end of the ninth century, ordered by Alfons III, furthers the growth of the city of Santiago and incites pilgrims to visit James’ shrine. From the eleventh century onward, pilgrims from all over Europe, travel to Santiago de Compostela to venerate St. James.

Although pilgrims walked the Camino the Santiago for religious reasons, these pilgrim routes were also places where people came together, interacted and exchanged things, whether that means goods, culture, art, ideas or knowledge. In the Middle Ages, the Way of James’ thus allowed for cultural and intellectual dialogue between Europe and Iberia, being one of the reasons why UNESCO declared the Spanish routes of the camino as world heritage in 1987.

In the past years the Camino de Santiago has become ever more popular and those who perform it are not only motivated by religious reasons. Some like the physical challenge, others admire the artistic expressions one can find along the routes and some simply do it because they have always wanted to. I would love to hear about all of these reasons, because I find it fascinating that even though the reasons to conquer the camino are as manifold as the routes themselves, people still partake in a Christian pilgrimage. I wonder, what is it about the camino?

Naturally, this quick introduction to the story behind the camino does not even come close to the rich history of this pilgrimage, as well as the academic research that has been performed on it. Future posts might shine some more light on these topics, for now though, we will continue with some other camino matters.

Love,

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To write this blog post, I have used the following sources:

  • Lokin, Daniëlle, en Kees van Schooten (ed). (2011). Pelgrims; onderweg naar Santiago.
  • Murray, Michael. (2015). “The Cultural Heritage of Pilgrim Itineraries: the Camino de Santiago.”

DECISION MADE. NOW WHAT?

The first thing that appeared in my mind after making the decision to perform the Camino, was not figuring out who this St. James-guy was and why people were walking days on end to be near his relics. To be honest, I was more concerned with the fact that I had now internally agreed to walk from Amsterdam to Santiago, which freaked me out a little after I found out this route compromises roughly 2500 kilometres (Wanna know how I found out? I’ll tell you all about it soon!). Since I made the decision to go, two people told me that they knew someone that walked “the Way”, so I figured it was doable… although I did not dare asking if they departed in the Netherlands to avoid coming across like a snob.

Walking an average of 20 km a day, which is according to most Camino websites the average amount one walks daily, means I will reach Santiago after being on the road for 126 days. That is, of course, if I walk every single day. Yes, I made that cursive, because that sounds a little silly now, doesn’t it? Sure there will be days when I am exhausted, wet, cold, in my period longing for home and chocolate, a decent bed, warm shower, walking around in the middle of *** nowhere, wishing to take a day off. Or perhaps there will be days I am in a beautiful place and want to linger around for a little. (Oh, all the expectations!)

Days off or not, it does not change anything about the 2500 kilometres that my feet will be covering. Besides the distance, I had so many other questions. Where will I sleep? What will I eat? How much money do I need? How does it work? Will it be safe? Will I get lonely? How do I wash my clothes? For how long can you walk in the rain? How am I going to find my way? Do I really need to know all this stuff before hand? Do all pilgrims have this many questions?

Although four months seems to be a long time, I reckon there is no such thing as being too prepared, so I have officially commenced my pilgrimage preparations. Inspired by the exorbitant amount of information for future pilgrims you can find online and in the library, I have distilled several topics that I will be covering in the upcoming posts:

know your camino – This category will cover all sorts of historical and practical information regarding the Camino de Santiago, answering questions like… what is the Camino the Santiago all about, who was St. James, why did/do people decide to go on this pilgrimage, and how are we going to get there in one piece?

prep your physique – Yes. We will have to cover this. I know. I do not want to be working out either. Here I will be giving some inspiration on how to prepare your body for long distance hiking, keep you updated on my individual progress and provide some information for the actual journey.

make up your mind – Besides your body, your mind has to be in an excellent shape too. This category will focus on mentally preparing yourself for the trip and will also include some of my personal musings.

get your gear going – It is very simple. When being on the road for such a long time, you will need things. I have no idea what is necessary either. This category will cover my attempts to find out.

Excited? Well, I definitely am! So excited, I have been spending the past week in a sleeping bag to practice.

Love,
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image credit: nadinewalks.com

THE END?

And then she graduated. The End.

Ok. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but receiving my diploma a while ago did feel like the end of a life phase. Anyways, I decided freaking out was not going to get me anywhere and where certain things end, new things begin. Although obtaining my master’s degree was quite the battle I reckoned that, when I survived writing a 60-page thesis whilst in constant doubt about my academic abilities, I was totally ready for a new challenge.

As a (now) scientist of religion (yes, I know) I have always been fascinated by pilgrimage and spiritual journeys. Preparation, travelling and transformation are all experiences that naturally occur when going through life. Purposely experiencing these stages, with or even without a religious intention, makes for inspiring stories and intellectual nourishment. Although I had written my thesis about the Hajj – the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca – I knew I wouldn’t be able to experience this ritual myself due to simple fact that I would never be able to enter Mecca as a non-Muslim. However,  I was aware of a possible alternative.

The Camino de Santiago, among others known as the Way of St. James, is one of the most popular Christian pilgrimages. Last year 277.854 pilgrims arrived in Santiago, a number that is growing every year. I have always longed to be a pilgrim myself. Why? Perhaps, because I am in search of something myself but I also want to figure out who these people are, where they come from and, most importantly, what motivates them perform this pilgrimage. Whatever it is that makes me yearn to be on the road for 4,5 months to walk 2500 kilometres to Spain… it sounds exactly like what I am looking for.

Love,
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