I’d seen mention of the Camino de Santiago while researching the Canterbury Pilgrimage, but it was a few years later at a friend’s dinner gathering that I was inspired by the host and her husband’s recent French Way adventures. Returning home that night, I immediately cracked open my laptop and began to do a serious deep-dive on the Camino. I joined Facebook groups, looked at websites and ordered the Confraternity of St James’s guide books for the Portuguese interior and coastal routes. Clearly obsessed, I even bought the kindle version of these books when I realised that I had forgotten to bring the hard copies on my Christmas holiday to South Africa.
Having done the planning leg-work and walking itinerary, I then informed my family of my plans. My mother was really not keen on me going alone and voiced the reservations I myself was feeling about it. Initially, my friend, Kim, had asked if I would like to do Machu Pichu with her but I’d had to decline due to to financial constraints. So, I thought this an excellent compromise and asked Kim if she would instead like to join me on the Camino. Three days later our flights were booked for April and we spent the intervening months researching, walking and acquiring all that we thought was needed: which was of course far too much. We spent every Sunday we could walking the legs of the Hertfordshire Way (UK). There are so many posts online put up by helpful people on what they took on their Caminos. But the first thing I realised while walking was: my needs were different to theirs and too much of what I brought was redundant (including that second bag of Haribos we left behind in a hotel room – Sacrilegious, I know!)
However, for me, the real preparation was in the reading and thinking. I laid hands on every Camino book I could find and looked for recommendations on websites and Facebook. Personally, this was a pilgrimage and not something I would call a hike. The nuance in terminology was more about the intent than the action. It had a different dimension to it. I felt I needed to ready myself mentally and emotionally to truly understand and appreciate this much anticipated journey that I was about to make.
Books I read:
- Paulo Coelho – The Pilgrimage
- Hape Kerkeling – I’m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago
- Shirley MacLaine – The Camino: A Pilgrimage of Courage
- Keith Foskett – The Journey in Between: A Thru-Hiking Adventure on El Camino de Santiago
- Sonia Choquette – Walking Home
What I found was, all of these books are about the French Way. I could not find a book written about the Portuguese Way, although I think this is the second most popular Camino route. But we could not do the French Way as we only had two weeks over the Easter holidays available to us as we are both teachers. I began to fear that I had chosen the wrong spiritual journey and would not experience the true pilgrimage. I knew I was being silly and superficial. All the reading I had done had only enabled me to overthink things. This was not the celebrated French Way, but it was nevertheless an amazing and humbling experience not lessened by the fact that it is not as popularised by media and celebrities.
MacLaine’s book was difficult to read. I felt disturbed by it’s vivid strangeness. She welcomes derision and, to be honest, its hard not to deride her book. But what I found interesting was her exploration of the duality of the heart and mind and the need to make the two more compatible. Instead of overthinking something, sometimes you just need to feel it. Otherwise you may feel conflicted and so lose your instinctive heart’s truths. The same could be said for my overthinking of the pilgrimage itself. I began to fear that I was doing the wrong spiritual journey and needed to learnt to just experience the Camino.
Coelho’s book was also very spiritually centred. Once again I was conflicted by the storytelling and events. But what I did take with me was his message that we should once again allow ourselves to feel the exuberance of joy that children feel. Because of this unabashed joy, they seem closer to God. We as adults lose this fearless joy and so similarly feel that we drift further from grace. The access to pure and unabashed joy (John Dewey calls it ‘joie de vivre’) does seem more difficult the older and more experienced I become. It’s difficult to not feel more and more disenchanted as one ages. Once again, I needed to learn to just experience things and not overthink them.
My favourite book was Kerkeling’s. His writing was less metaphysical and had just enough spiritual introspection for me to enjoy his journey. The same can also be said for Foskett’s book which was light-hearted and accessible.
Clothes and gear that I eventually finished with (I’ve left out the things I disposed of along the way)
- 70l backpack (far too big)
- Sleeping Bag
- Hiking boots
- 3 pairs socks and 2 pairs liners
- 1 bra
- 3 pairs of knickers
- Running leggings
- Quick dry shirt (sooooo much rain! So quick dry is essential)
- Quick dry long sleeve shirt
- Fleece zip-up
- Puffy Jacket
- Rain jacket (totally useless and never used again)
- Rain trousers
- Poncho (goes over your backpack but flaps wildly in the wind)
- Leggings for sleeping in and going out.
- Long-line shirt for sleeping in and going out.
- First Aid kit
- Ankle Guards (I have weak ankles)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Lip balm
- Small deodorant
- Power bank
- Journal and pen
- Camp drip filter
I should have brought
- Shampoo/ Conditioner (and not used the hotel soap)
- Cream (The elements could be harsh)