I think I opened Pandora´s box when I asked for questions! Here we go. I´m loving Porto… parts of it remind me of Naples. And it´s warm, so to sit out on the roof terrace at night, surrounded by lights, is a great pleasure. The first photo in the post is from the terrace at night; I´ve enjoyed three nights of this.
Was there anything you would have done differently to prepare for the Camino?
I think I was okay with my prep. I started training in January for a June departure. The best thing I did was to learn how to use trekking poles properly. This sounds simple, but it´s not intuitive. Though I´ve had an ACL operation on my left knee, and my ankles are vulnerable, I had no trouble at all with joints or muscles. I used little leather kayaking fingerless gloves with the poles and that enabled me to use the pole straps easily and well. I saw a lot of people using two poles improperly. Don’t bother to buy them right before your trip. If you don´t practice with them so you are comfortable, it will provide no benefit. In the future I would BRING A SMALLER PACK. I found that my 45 liter plus pack was on the large side. Everyone always brings too much gear and has to leave some behind. I was so jealous of people with smaller packs. Mine, however, was smaller than some. Don´t go for superlight weight at the expense of comfort. Do not bring anything that is the slightest bit uncomfortable. Don´t bring dressup clothes… you won´t use them, not even a skirt. Buy something new when the Camino is over. Ladies, one nice scarf, one pair of earrings (I broke two pairs underway) or your one piece of jewelry, and a lipstick or eyeliner will make you feel like a queen.
The best things I brought was my iphone, a Joby Gorilla bendy tripod with a phone holder, and a full-sized Brookstone folding wireless keyboard. I didn’t need an ipad with this setup, and I didn’t need a camera. It also made strangers come up to me all the time and take notes on the setup! I brought a semilarge sketchbook and was happy with that, a small set of watercolors. I liked having a sarong along as a towel, privacy shield, scarf, skirt, blanket, picnic blanket, and so on. Many Europeans carry a smaller pack and a larger waistpack. I used a larger moneybelt in front, under my shirt for easy access, for passport, credit cards, cash and phone. You may not like the look of a waistpack, but they are secure and very practical. Don´t carry your phone in your pocket, loose. Zip it away routinely somewhere.
Hey folks, the Camino is COLD in the summer. Bring an extra layer. I would bring a light Merino wool top and leggings…. spiffy long underwear… at any season. I only brought one pair of pants and the leggings… worked well. By cold, I mean in the 40s and 50s. Even if you don´t use them in the warmer parts, you will in the mountains and Galicia. To really prep, you have to hike a lot with your pack and your boots, with a fully loaded pack and poles. By the way, I wore runners, and did okay, but I wish I had taken boots. This was not necessarily for ankle support, but because parts of the trail are quite rough and stony underfoot.I felt I had to be careful as I walked of the bottoms of my feet. But you have to decide for yourself. I had two blisters once, then not one other the whole trip.
BRING A GOOD PAIR OF WALKING SANDALS as your alternates. I took adjustable Tevas. Don´t bring flipflops… I met at least 4 people who threw them out and had to buy better sandals in Spain, because your feet swell and can need pampering and support after walking. I also enjoyed having a somewhat hardier daypack than the ultra super flimsy ones… I got a packable one by Eagle Creek. Also, all the Europeans have little ultralight synthetic sleeping bags that pack to the size of a liter of water. They are not common here, but my Marmot nanowave 55 was quite similar. Your sleeping bag should weigh under two pounds. If you are older, or a larger person, your pack will be bigger. I bought an Altus poncho, which is a raincoat with a hump in the back that goes over your pack, in Spain, and I loved it. They are not made commonly in the USA yet. You can buy an Altus and a sleeping bag in Europe before you start.
Take MORE TIME and more money than you think you need. This is standard travel advice, of course, but be willing to be flexible with what your ideas are for the Camino. You probably will want to or have to change plans. I didnºt reserve anywhere and was glad. You can always use booking.com a couple of days before. Walk at your own pace. You´ll see folks doing 40 or even 50 kilometers a day. Let them. Use your smarts and intuition to tell you where to start and end.
Is it better to go alone or with another? It depends, of course, but I have so say that for sheer contemplative time, going alone is great. You have to be in tune with your hiking partner. Many women go alone. It is just interesting to go alone with your thoughts and your conversations with the Beyond. It is very safe for women, especially if you are not in the first bloom of youth. Apples and oranges, alone or together: It´s your Camino. Most useful gear: a set of around 8 large safety pins to use as clothespins, and an elastic travel washline. You need the pins to keep your clothes on the line when thery´re hanging out a third story window or whipping around in an alpine wind, and you can use the pins to pin the still damp clothes to the outside of your pack. I prefer thick hiking socks and they take a long time to dry. I took a small shred of beatup towel to use first to dry my body, then throw on the slippery floor to stand on. All the showers are tile and tend to be dangerously slippery. I carried a regular old bandana everywhere and used it for so many things. Often bathrooms have no soap or paper towels.
Mentally or emotionally, what would I have left behind? It´s easy to whip out pat answers to this one. You need a lot of patience with yourself and others, and to leave judgement of yourself or others behind. I saw a lot of folks get into trouble with a competitive feeling, especially when you´re older and less fit and comparing yourself to athletic youngsters. But I will rant a bit about an attitude that caused me personal problems. This may not sound very spiritual. I wish I could say something more enlightened-sounding.
The thing that caused me big trouble was taking a tourist approach to Camino lodging rather than a pilgrim approach. The pilgrim approach is to take what is there, be grateful for shelter and company, and to laugh off any problems the next day. After all, it´s only one night. You don´t have to rush or reserve or prefer or angle to choose a better place. You know God is taking care of you: trust.
The tourist approach is to read ahead, to plan, to try to figure out what might be the best place. Of course, you want to stay somewhere that is not horrible. But most hostels are fine. I found that when I tried to pre-read, angle, plan, or consider reserving, it did not do me any good at all. Rather, the opposite occurred: I became critical, pissy, and discontent with what I got.
I am not even sure planning has that much to do with it. I am sitting here in an exsquisite townhouse hostel, a Porto villa from the 1800s, and I am only here because it was the only one that kept popping up on Booking.com, not among my first choices. I personally wish I could have left this demanding, deserving, entitled feeling behind. As a pilgrim, you take what is there, and you are SO HAPPY just to stop walking. My worst mental problems came from confusing being a pilgrim with the comforts of 21st century tourism. True hospitality is so simple.