Ever since I watched The Way in Spanish class in high school, I wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago. At first, I was really stressed about where to stay, how long it would take me, how to prepare physically, what to bring and more. But after speaking with someone who has hiked it themselves at says it’s not something you have to bend over backwards preparing for, I was put at ease. Regardless, I still did all the preparing I could to make this trip go as smoothly as possible:
Choosing my way: I don’t know how I came to decide on the Portuguese way, exactly. Perhaps because I’ve never been to Portugal and flights to Porto were cheap. Either way, upon looking at Camino ways starting in Porto, I had two options: the Coastal Way or the Central Way. I love the beach, so I went with the Coastal Way, even though it’s a couple miles longer, in hopes that a nice sea breeze will keep me cool on my trek.
Self-guided tour, guided tour or completely solo?: Upon looking for travel tips, I stumbled across a tour company called Camino Ways that offer a wide range of tours on several different Ways. The difference between guided and self-guided tours with this company are self-explanatory and with the company, you get to build your own package of hotel stays and create your itinerary with the option of dinner, airport transfer and luggage transfer between stops. For the Portuguese Coastal Way (last 100 kilometers only), the self-guided tours start at €550 for accommodation alone for five nights and the guided tours start at €1,000 for seven nights all inclusive (you don’t have the option to customize your trip like you can with the self-guided). Between the two, I would prefer the self-guided tour, but €100 per night just in accommodation seems quite expensive, even considering the “price” of convenience. So, I decided to book the whole thing from scratch using various websites and forums to answer any questions I had (I will list all resources I used at the bottom of this post).
Accommodation: First, I knew I would be spending one night in Porto and Santiago de Compostela at the tail ends of my trips, so I booked a hostels through HostelWorld likewise (I will update my hostels page accordingly after my stay). However, I didn’t know what my pace would be until I actually got on the road, so I didn’t want to have to commit to any bookings. I was told by someone I spoke to that they never had a problem getting accommodation the night of and I also read that pilgrims on foot had hostel priority over pilgrims on bike or horseback in most accommodations and that the Coastal Way is not as busy as other Ways. With that, I decided to take a chance and not book any hostels in advance and roll with the punches.
The training: Although the person I spoke to about the Camino insisted you don’t need training, I thought I may be an exceptional circumstance as I planned on walking about 25 miles every day for a week. Fortunately, my job over summer was quite physically demanding, spending sunrise to sunset in extreme weather conditions and on unmarked trails with rough terrain a couple days a week. However, I still trained a little bit specifically for this trip.
I trained some weekends with pretty much all of what I would pack (including a full water bladder) and a extra few pounds of weights for good measure. I walked four miles to begin an adding four miles every time I walked (the weeks are non-consecutive) to build stamina and find a good pace. Here are some of my statistics:
- Week 1: 4.00 miles / 80 minutes / 3.0 miles per hour / 0.0 incline / 3 extra pounds. Good start, although afterwards, my back and groin area were sore and the bottom of my feet and top of my left foot (probably from a weird fold in the the tongue of my shoe) hurt, probably from breaking in my relatively new hiking boots. Better now than on the Camino!
- Week 2: 8.00 miles / 155 minutes / 3.14 miles per hour / 0.5 incline / 5 extra pounds. Good walk for the most part. However, I got the most awesome blisters a little over halfway through my walk. I will look into more ways to prevent blisters and heal the ones I have right now. Also, my groin area was sore again as well as my lower back, but next time I will be sure to stretch as I go.
- Week 3: 11.75 miles / 251 minutes / 2.8 miles per hour. The best walk I’ve had thus far. I got outside (the weather was perfect, especially after the sun went down) to brave the elements and stare at something other than a television screen for four hours on the treadmill. This was also my first walk with my activity tracker and it was super helpful. However, my blisters from last week only got worse. I popped them only a few days prior to this walk, but they came back more painful than ever. I am going to really look into blister care and prevention to make sure this doesn’t happen on the Camino and in my last few weeks of training. I am also going to make sure I take longer breaks and stretch more often. Even though training is boring, it’s important that I learn how to pace myself and listen to my body to make good habits for the Camino. Other than the blisters, my energy level was good and I wasn’t sore the morning after, making feel confident that I would be prepared to do this for a further distance and for days on end if I continue with my training.
- Week 4: 6.00 miles / 180 minutes / 2.0 miles per hour. I decided to take a long hike as training this week. My friend Connor and I went to Romero Pools in Catalina State Park and I figured the trip was six miles roundtrip. Obviously, the terrain was pretty rough, there was a 1500 foot elevation gain, the road was winding and the weather was brutal. But with plenty of water (which made my backpack bare heavy) and periodic breaks, we made it! For this particular hike, I was less worried about the time and more about taking breaks when I need to, drinking plenty of water and listening to my body.
- Week 5: Holiday. On my holiday to New York and Washington, D.C., my dad and I did a lot of walking, about seven miles a day in basic sneakers. I figured that would suffice.
The packing: I have a horrible habit of overpacking no matter where I go, so I really tried to be minimalistic on this trip. Who am I trying to impress? My baggage was simple a 25-liter backpack (with packing cubes to organize my bag) and a money belt. My packing list is as follows:
- Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, prescription medication, aspirin, deodorant, tampons, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, nail clippers, travel tissue (also double as toilet paper just in case), chapstick, thigh chaffing relief gel (if you have big thighs like me and want to wear shorts, you’re going to need this or some other form of thigh chaffing protection), blister kit, travel towel, mini brush, headbands and hair ties
- Clothes: one casual outfit for travel, one pair of shoes (hiking boots), windbreaker, two pairs of hiking shorts, three hiking shirts, a few sports bras, bandana, pajamas, underwear and socks
- Other: hat, sunglasses, activity tracker watch, water bladder, phone, money, passport, portable charger, wall chargers, adapter, headphones, earplugs, dryer sheets (to keep my bag from smelling too rancid), plastic bags (to keep documents from getting wet) and a book
The route: Using the Camino Ways as a guideline, I planned my tentative route as such:
- Saturday, 16 September: Arrive in Porto, Portugal in the morning, explore, relax
- Sunday, 17 September: Bus from Porto to Vila do Conde, walk from Vila do Conde to Esposende (14 miles)
- Monday, 18 September: Esposende to Viana do Castelo (14 miles)
- Tuesday, 19 September: Viana do Castelo, Portugal to A Guarda, Spain (18 miles)
- Wednesday, 20 September: A Guarda to Baiona (20 miles)
- Thursday, 21 September: Baiona to Redondela (27 miles)
- Friday, 22 September: Redondela to between Pontevedra and Caldas de Reis (about 20 miles)
- Saturday, 23 September: Between Pontevedra and Caldas de Reis to Padrón (about 20 miles)
- Sunday, 24 September: Padrón to Santiago de Compostela (16 miles)
- Monday, 25 September: Fly back to London in the morning
After some consideration, I have decided to dedicate my walk to my late grandfather, a lifelong Catholic and avid traveler. I was lucky enough to share his last international trip to Prague a year and a half before his passing this past May.
I set off bright and early tomorrow (catching a 3-something AM bus to the airport, ugh), enjoy some queued posts and I’ll see you on the other side!
- Camino packing list forum thread
- Camino Ways: toggle around this website for great advice and booking of tours
- HerPackingList Camino packing list
Note: this is a queued post.