There I went. Carrying a tremendously heavy backpack, I closed the door behind me and faced the freezing cold on my way to Santiago. On the 1st of March it was already one year ago that I commenced my journey! Time to look back, which I’ll do through a series of stories. Today will be all about the beginning and the preparation of my pilgrimage.
What should I pack?!
Yes. I’ve been there too. In the middle of the living room surrounded by piles of stuff that seemed extremely convenient for all these possible situations I assumed I was going to end up in. **SPOILER ALERT** You don’t need it, none of it. As all of the things you think will happen won’t and you’ll never be prepared for all that which will happen instead. So drop the bear spray, pour yourself a drink and read this blog post on what five things I think you cannot walk without.
Now you might think this is a silly thing to be on an essentials list but I became rather appreciative of water on my Camino journey… and that was when I ran out of it on a hot and strenuous day. In general, I felt stronger and more energetic being fully hydrated. Water brought me some sort of relief; I loved being able to wash my hands and face to cool down, restore and then move on again. So don’t forget your H2O, it isn’t fun being without.
two: a basic first-aid kit
Basic doesn’t mean you’ve got to bring a defibrillator machine. Instead, tweezers might come in handy for the occasional ticks (yes, I had a few) and paracetamol is always useful when experiencing extreme period cramps or horrific hangovers (yes, I had a few of those too). As there is nothing better than giving your feet some love after a long day of walking, iodine, plasters, foot cream and the like will certainly come in handy. Don’t forget about personal things you need. Having pretty bad allergies, my anti-histamines made the difference between residing in the abyss of hell and a great night’s sleep. Don’t go overboard though; just take a few (personal) necessities!
three: a writing thing
Will you write everyday? Probably not, however, there will be times you want to plan possible stages, make a drawing or simply jot down an experience, a thought or feeling. As I love writing and drawing, I took a lightweight notebook but I’m aware this doesn’t count for everyone. In case you bring a guidebook you could write in that (I didn’t bring one, but I saw people doing this and loved it!) and, of course, you could always use a writing tool or app on your phone. Don’t underestimate all the things that will pop up in your mind during your walk. Even if you don’t see yourself as the writing kind of person, it might be nice to pen things down in order to make more sense of them.
four: a feel good item
A what? A feel good item! It’s like a feel good movie – you watch it and it makes you feel fantastic. When walking the Camino, pack something light-weight that can instantly change your mood from OK to yeey! I loved having these moments of pure joy by simply bringing a few of these items. First one: coffee sachets. Wherever I went, I’d be able to wake up in the morning and make myself a cup of coffee. Do I need to say more?#instantbliss Second one: super socks. Before I left, my friends gave me a pair of bright pink hiking socks that quickly turned into my super socks. Sleepless nights, burning blisters or my weekly existential crisis, it didn’t matter. Whenever I would wear them, I felt like Wonder Woman. Third, and final, one: mascara. Although most days this item didn’t even enter my consciousness, there were moments it made my day cause it made me feel absolutely f* fabulous! You wake up feeling like shit? Tadaa! Mascara’s just made you unshit yourself. Done with wearing the same outfit for two months in a row? Mascara makes your outfit obsolete, so your outfit no longer has to occupy any of your mind space. For me, there were days on my Camino when everything was just a bit better with mascara. Whatever it is that makes your mood transform, take it to brighten those days when you think your internal sun has taken a sabbatical.
five: an intention
The final Camino essential is the only non-material item on the list. Good thing about those items is that you can bring as many as you like without being burdened by additional weight. Whatever you decide to take on your Camino walk, an intention is something that can guide you through difficult or unexpected moments, more than any physical item will. Before I commenced my journey, I set the intention of opening up to whatever happened to me. I figured that if I’d keep reminding myself of this idea, it would allow me move more freely through the feelings that would come up or situations I would encounter. In the end, returning to something fixed inside me encouraged me at all times. Set an intention for your journey, something that you really want to realise or learn, and repeat it to yourself regularly. It doesn’t take up any space in your backpack but it sure is useful in plenty of unforeseen situations.
Packing for the Camino is tough, especially because you want to feel prepared. First of all, you won’t be… but that’s the beauty of the entire journey! The Camino is one big suberb surprise that’s going to be way more enjoyable with a little less just-in-case-crap in your backpack and, of course, with these five things you cannot live without! Happy walking!
Whilst walking from Arles to Spain, I received several Instagram messages from prospective pilgrims asking me to share my thoughts about camping on the Camino de Santiago. Initially, I planned to camp most of the Way but, as with all the things that I initially planned, they went a little different and I ended up shipping my tent back home as soon as I got to Spain. For all of you who are thinking about bringing a tent – and yes, I know some of you do as I’m aware of the endless forum threads regarding this topic – here are some questions I reckon you should ask yourself first.
do I want to save money?
Camping on the Camino doesn’t necessarily help you save heaps of money. Unless you want to free camp of course; a choice I hold an opinion on which I’ll share a little while later in this post. Furthermore, a distinction must be made between pilgrims who start their Camino in the Netherlands, those starting on the more popular French routes and those walking the Camino del Norte.
If you are commencing your journey in the Netherlands, taking your tent might aid financially as accommodation is sparse and expensive here as well as in Belgium and the North of France. Do consider departing in a period where temperatures at night are above zero and, in case they don’t, pack gear appropriate for these circumstances.
When starting on the Via Tolosana however, and I think this applies to most of the French routes, it depends whether bringing your camping gear will make a financial difference. Although I’ve heard the gîtes on the Via Tolosana are slightly more expensive than those on the Le Puy and Vézelay route, you’ll be spending between €10-20 for a bed often including breakfast. A pitch at a campsite varies between €10-15. That could save you a little bit, but frequently there are no campsites at all or they’re not on route. This means you’ll have to sleep in a gîte anyway or detour from the route and walk back to it the next morning. If you don’t care walking the extra k’s or figuring out your own route, by all means take a tent; it might save you some cash. If you prefer following the waymarks and remain on the GR653, leave your tent. Even though I’ve pitched my tent on some beautiful spots, I didn’t like diverging from the GR all the time as it was such a beautiful route!
Walking the Camino del Norte? Forget about the tent. There are tons of albergues on route with prices ranging from €6-20. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Even if you decide to leave your tent at home, you can still save some money! Make your own breakfast and bring things with you for lunch. Most of the gîtes in France have an equipped kitchen, so you can cook up a delicious dinner. In Spain, however, you’ll sometimes encounter unequipped kitchens, which makes cooking a little more challenging. Keep in mind that eating out and buying fresh produce in Spain is generally way cheaper than it is in France.
am I willing to carry the extra weight?
If you decide to camp, you’ll not just bring your tent. You will also need a mat, a sleeping bag, cooking gear, some other bits and pieces… BAM! That’s another three or four kilograms extra you’ll be carrying on your back. Oh that’s ok! Yeah, I thought so too and then I had to walk with it every day. Be wise, think again. Do you really want to make it more difficult for yourself?
why am I walking?
You’ve been walking for weeks on your own, you finally encounter other pilgrims (hooray!), they’re amazing, you walk together all day and then you have to say goodbye to them because you’re going off route to walk to a campsite. When this happened to me I was quite upset. I didn’t want to say goodbye! Stubborn as I am, I went to the campsite anyway because that’s what I told myself I would do! Things change. Your opinion on things might change. That’s OK! You don’t have to sit on your own in a tent four kilometres from the Camino route, even if that is what you decided you’d do in the first place. Eventually, I ended up realising I loved (!) being around people after a day of walking and that if I wanted some time for myself I could take those moments too in a gîte or albergue! I’ll be honest though, figuring this out took me about two months walking. Ask yourself why you’re walking? If you find that meeting other pilgrims is an essential part of your pilgrimage, bringing a tent won’t make you a happy camper!
a little note on wild camping
I haven’t been wild camping. Why not? To be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable pitching my tent in the middle of nowhere. When overthinking this possibility, I saw myself running away being chased by a violent French farmer with a big shotgun. Apart from that, the idea of taking a dump in the forest probably was the deciding factor not to. This, however, wouldn’tt be an issue anymore as I’ve had the pleasure of walking 32 kilometres with a bowel on steroids. Talking to one of my Camino mates, he made a valid point about wild camping. For those people that run a gîte or albergue on the Camino, hosting you provides them with an income. It’s their life. They’re the people that make the Camino possible for all those longing to be a pilgrim. If all of us would take a tent and camp for free, I think we forget to acknowledge something that is such a beautiful part of this pilgrimage: connecting to one another.
In case you are thinking about bringing your camping gear, I ask you to think again. For me personally, the freedom I thought I’d experience by bringing a tent ended up restricting me. Bringing a tent does not necessarily add to your Camino experience, it makes for a different experience. Choose wisely!
When I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, I immediately planned a “practice week”; a week in which I would not only walk several consecutive days but also practice with my gear. That week was last week. This is the third part of the blog post about my practice week; here you can read the first part and the second part.
It was like waking up from a nightmare and then realising it actually happened. Although, I must admit that, when opening my tent zippers the sight was pretty amazing. The grass was completely white frozen and the winter sun peeked through the trees. My body, however, did not feel as amazing as my surroundings looked and if I did not just have the night that I had, I would have ran to the heated toilet building (Yes. Throughout the night, I had the idea to sleep in this building. In hindsight, I probably should have.). I opened the door and saw Rennon packing his backpack with the energy of someone that fell asleep in a five-star hotel and woke up with a champagne breakfast. “Good morning!” “Morning.” I replied. Ok, I might have given him a bit of a death stare. “How was your night?” It took me a lot of courage admitting to the horror that was my night but deep inside I was aware that Rennon already knew my night was going to suck hard when he saw me sitting in the opening of my tent, boiling water in a pot without a lid.
“What’s for breakfast?” I answered with a question, as I was wondering whether I, as a rookie, might have brought the wrong breakfast despite my extensive research on nutrient-dense, dehydrated foods. “Porridge with dried fruits?” Pass. He asked to have breakfast together in a shelter on the terrain. By the time I gathered all my bits and pieces, he already ate his and was busy making some tea. As I ate my porridge, he gave me valuable advice on apps, gear and hiking in general and promised me to send his packing list. I thanked him for the advice and before he took of, I told him I would survive another night. He thought so too. An hour after Rennon left, I decided I would not.
I stood in the toilet building crying as I felt like I was giving up and because I could not feel my toes anymore. Then I realised that my dad and stepmother were staying in Otterlo, a village in the Veluwe where I had done one of my previous walks. I called dad, deconstructed my tent, moved all my crap into the toilet building and hysterically packed my bag. Once packed, I walked to the bus stop and travelled to Otterlo. A steaming hot shower, a couple of Jägermeister and a good night’s sleep got me all set for the days after.
In the days that followed, I did two walks with my backpack that weighed about 10 kilograms. The first was 16,2 km and took me about three hours, the second was 18,2 km and took me almost four hours to complete. During these walks, I did not only realise that I suck at taking breaks, I also discovered a whole new set of muscles in my feet and back. After doing some research about my sleeping bag, I found out that the comfort temperature for a female using this particular bag is 4°C, for a male it is -2°C. No wonder -5°C was a little too cold for me. Finding a sleeping bag suitable for a colder night is now on my to-do-list. I did however manage to sleep two more nights in my tent… this time it was above 0°C and I had an extra sleeping bag.
All in all, these couple of days were a valuable experience, just a little bit of a shame I had to learn it the hard way ; )
When I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, I immediately planned a “practice week”; a week in which I would not only walk several consecutive days but also practice with my gear. That week was last week. This is the second part of the blog post about my practice week, read the first part here.
The sun had set. I had made myself some dinner that I partially had to slurp out of the holes of my foam pad, as I dropped it there in a hurry to shove it in my mouth (I was really hungry). It was time for a shower. At this stage, it was so cold that I figured a hot shower would be the only way to get myself warm before hopping into bed. Undressed and ready to face the water, I was stoked to see the timer on six minutes. Six whole minutes of showering! And then I turned it on. The water was a lukewarm. Just enough to make you think you are not showering with cold water, but miles away from an actual hot shower. Not a great start of the night. When walking back to my tent, my body remained cold and, in addition, my mood was crap.
Installing myself in my sleeping bag, I suddenly notice a flashlight shining on my tent. After Rennon, I had only spotted two more guests entering the terrain and since they all camped a lot further from where my tent was, I freaked out a little. “Asleep yet?” It was Rennon. Sigh of relief. “Nah. Not yet. But I’m sort of in bed already.” “We are having a campfire, want to join?” “Nah. I want to get up early tomorrow and I’m pretty tired, so I’ll have an early night.” “Alright.” Truth was. I was so cold, I did not even want to go outside. The only thing I wanted was to get warm.
And I can tell you. I did not get warm. My feet were tucked into my backpack, my mat was folded so that my upper body was furthest from the ground and my water bottle was filled up with hot water to warm my feet. With every movement, I rearranged my sleeping bag and my liner, put my hat back on and wrapped my fleece around my head to seal the opening of my sleeping bag. Around 1 AM, in between tears, cursing and falling asleep for no longer then twenty minutes at the time, I remembered the existence of my emergency blanket. My mind screamed: this is the emergency! I took the neatly folded blanket out of the package and draped it over my sleeping bag. A couple of minutes later, it felt like heaven: I was getting warm again.
With everything that seemed to go right in the beginning, this highlight also did not last very long. Between the sleeping bag and the emergency blanket formed a layer of condense which dampened my sleeping bag and, in turn, made me even colder. Attempts to unfold my stiff body to dry the top of the sleeping bag with my (now completely frozen) towel were merely symbolical, as I already knew that the feeling of being cold would not stop – wet sleeping bag or not.
Throughout the night the temperature dropped to -5. It was the longest night of my life.
Final part will be published on Sunday!