Shell motif Camino de Santiago

The pilgrimage routes to
Santiago de Compostela
in pictures

Shell motif
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Top Tips for Walkers

Wendy's Top Tips
See also Sylvia's top tips giving responses to all the queries on our bulletin board
Physical Preparation
--- Test out your footwear with a fully-laden rucksack carried for extended periods on successive days walking on hard surfaces.
· Consider wearing impact-reducing insoles in your walking shoes / boots. There is a lot of walking on hard surfaces - tarmac and rocky paths. (But, again, try them out before you go as you may need to wear thinner socks.)
Desk Preparation
· Learn as much Spanish as you can. Almost no-one speaks English and very few people are used to communicating with people whose first language is not Spanish.
· If your command of Spanish is still not very good, prepare in advance some phrases that you think you might need, e.g. 'Will this door be locked in the morning?', 'Where do I leave the key to the albergue?'
· Make a list of places, distances and facilities for planning and preparation purposes.
· Save paper (and thus weight) by writing phone numbers, addresses for postcards, any other useful reference information in the back of your notebook / journal.
--- If you travel to and from Spain by coach, consider taking road maps which cover the journey (but send them on along the route, don't carry them while you are walking).
--- If you don't need a corkscrew and bottle opener (or the thing for getting stones out of horses' hooves), then a miniature Swiss Army knife is well adequate.
--- A lightweight, powerful headtorch is very useful (e.g. Petzl 'Tikka').
--- A bandanna can serve as a headscarf, hat, eyeshade, tablecloth, washcloth and a cleaning cloth for grubby washbasins. A lightweight sarong serves as a dressing gown, bathrobe, makeshift pillowcase, lightweight sleeping sheet and a sunshade.
--- Dental floss is useful as heavy duty sewing thread. Similarly, a small quantity of Sellotape and string, plus a few safety pins and cable ties also come in useful for improvisation and repairs.
--- When choosing your clothing, consider how easily you can handwash it and how quickly it will dry - important in Galicia where the atmosphere is wetter.
--- Don't overstock on toiletries and pharmacy items - they can all be obtained in most villages along the route.
--- Plastic bags are useful for protecting your belongings from rain and can double as a 'handbag' for your valuables when you have finished walking for the day.
--- Consider carefully whether you need to take a map - especially if you have a guidebook with sketch maps.
--- When pruning your packing list, concentrate on containers and papers / books.
--- Be absolutely ruthless about cutting down on the weight you carry. Don't forget that you might need to add two or three kilograms of water plus an allowance for picnic food to the weight of your pack.
--- 'If you haven't got it, you will have to make do without it.'
While walking
--- Attend to foot discomfort immediately you are aware of it - it only gets worse.
--- A sling for a water bottle can be easily constructed from a length of string.
--- Rest just before you enter the place where you will spend the night. You may still have quite a lot of walking to do to find what you want.
--- Take frequent rests during the day's walk. Take your rucksack off your back and try to lie down at least once.
--- When shopping for picnic food, buy cans with ring-pulls to avoid having to take a tin-opener.
--- Soaking feet in cold water (ideally with ice in it) is beneficial.
--- Keep a diary and write it up every day.
--- If your family and friends have internet access, consider sending 'round robin' emails or setting up a (free ) 'blog' page. (Internet access definitely available in Caceres, Casar de Caceres, Salamanca, Zamora, Ourense and Santiago de Compostela (and possibly elsewhere)).
--- If taking photographs is important to you, make your camera is easily accessible. If you can be bothered, it is helpful to note where you took photographs.
--- Make sure you have enough to eat. Walking all day expends a lot of energy and you need to be properly fuelled.
Mobile Phones
Other pilgrims I met all carried mobile phones.
For: It seems that a satisfactory signal is obtainable over most of the route and certainly in the towns and villages. Texting might well be the cheapest way to contact people at home. In places where I stayed (hostales and refuges) there was almost always somewhere to plug in a charger.) You can phone ahead to check that bars and hostales (and some refuges) are open.
Against A phone card weighs less if you want to telephone home. You need to carry a charger and an adaptor if you cannot buy one with a European plug. You need to be able to speak very reasonable Spanish if you want to telephone within Spain especially in an emergency.
Coping with the Heat
If you plan to walk in the summer months you are likely to have to do at least some walking in the middle of the day when it is very hot. Here are my thoughts on keeping cool:
--- start early in the day (in the dark?) and warm up with the day
--- take frequent rests
--- be careful about your caffeine intake - in coffee, Coca-Cola, etc. - it dehydrates the body
--- wear sunglasses (to give the illusion of shade)
--- tie a wet bandanna around your neck
--- stray well hydrated (500ml before you set out, and several litres while you walk)
--- make sure your water bottle is accessible while you are walking - make it easy to drink
--- keep a steady pace and don't rush
--- just accept that it will be hot and try to avoid thinking about how hot you are - part of it is in the mind.
Until I started out on the Pilgrimage, I had been to Spain only for two weekends, so the following were useful background to the country itself:
A Traveller's History of Spain - Juan Lalaguna (Cassell and Co / The Windrush Press)
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning - Laurie Lee (Penguin Books)
Spain - Jan Morris (Penguin Books)
Our Lady of the Sewers (and Other Adventures in Deep Spain) - Paul Richardson (Abacus)
In my opinion, this is the best book about lightweight travel: Beyond Backpacking - Ray Jardine (AdventureLore Press) (Ray has walked the 2,500-mile US Pacific Crest Trail at least twice.)
Language - I used the very smallest Langensheidt's Dictionary and the Lonely Planet phrasebook.

Wendy's Top Tips were written by Wendy Petty who walked the Via de la Plata in 2003 and are reproduced here with grateful thanks