My 5-days on Camino Frances

Five tips for a novice pilgrim

This pilgrim shares his experience of walking 5 days on the Camino Frances.

Hi all, I walked just 5 days of the Camino Frances from 28 Aug to 1 Sept 2012, not very long but I found this Forum really helpful and useful before I left, so here are some notes from my experience which may help others.

Route travelled:
Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port —> Roncesvalles
Day 2: Roncesvalles —> Zubiri
Day 3: Zubiri —-> Pamplona
Day 4: Pamplona —> Puente la Reina
Day 5: Puente la Reina to Estella.
I’ve been told this 5 days is the most scenic on the walk so I’m glad I did it, but in hindsight, it took me 2 days to get to/from the start/end of the walk (due to missing connecting buses/trains etc) so I felt 10 days would have been a better time to get more walking for the travel. But it was still a very enjoyable 5 days.

Travel to/from the Camino:
To get to St Jean Pied de Port I took the train from Barcelona to Pamplona, and then a bus from Pamplona to SJPDP. This seemed to be the simplest way to get there from within Spain, rather than the trains to Bayonne etc. I used the Rail Europe website (http://www.raileurope.co.uk/) to find out train times – there seems to be a 7:35am, 9:30am and 3:30pm trains most days from Barcelona to Pamplona, takes about 4 hours, prices are on the website. Make sure to book these in advance or get there early – I got to the Barcelona train station about an hour before the 3:30pm train but it was sold out. I still managed to get to Pamplona using a string of local trains so it was OK, but far less convenient than a single direct trip.

There is then a bus run by the ALSA bus company which leaves from Pamplona bus station at 14:00 and 17:30 each day. Worth attempting to book these early too just in case (I got my ticket for the 2pm bus in the morning of the day of travel from the bus station (as had stayed overnight in Pamplona the night before). Trip took about 1.5 hours I think.

On the return trip I caught a bus from Estella to Pamplona (see timetable athttp://www.autobusesdenavarra.com) -I think the same bus line runs to stops further along the Camino and further back (eg Puente la Reina). Then train from Pamplona to Barcelona (using raileurope website for times again).

Accommodation
I can wholeheartedly recommend L’Esprit du Chemin hostel in St Jean Pied de Port, you need to reserve your place as its small and fills up quickly, but it had a wonderful atmosphere and terrific volunteers and it was great to meet the other travellers over the communal dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t record the names of the other hostels I stayed in on the trip but generally they were the official alburgues and I found them all to be clean/neat/reasonably comfortable (if noisy as hostels generally are).

Weather and packing
In just the 5 days I was on the trip the weather varied from sunny and very warm (28 degrees Celsius +) to cool at night (say 14-15 degrees) and it was very rainy on two of the days. I’d pack for that broad temperature range and you should be fine.

My packing list:
- sturdy walking shoes (I used Scarpas with Vibram sole, they were a shoe not a boot but I found that was fine and I wore them in before I left)
- sandals for wearing at end of day after walk; thongs (flip-flops) for showers
- good walking socks (I had two pairs of Coolmax thinner walking socks and wore both pairs each day – found this was a nice way to keep feet cool/dry while having enough thickness to protect against blisters. I also had a wool pair which I wore one day, but generally preferred the Coolmax.)
- safety gear and medical kit – bandaids/sticking plaster, sunscreen, insect repellent, small first aid kit, Nurofen etc, water purifying tablets, compass, emergency blanket etc – I didn’t use all of it but you need to be prepared. The bandaids, sunscreen and insect repellent were absolutely essential.
- toiletries (tried to get by with the minimum)
- good rain jacket (I had one from Snowgum in Event fabric which is apparently more breathable than Goretex, it was really good – waterproof/windproof and really light. Some people just had rain ponchoes which is fine but I was grateful when it was raining more heavily to have a proper jacket especially as it breathes so you don’t get sweaty.)
- 1 pair long zip-off walking pants, one pair shorts, two quick-dry breathable T-shirts, one wool thermal long-sleeved top, one light fleece.
- 1 silk sleeping-bag liner, 1 thermal sleeping-bag liner.
I also packed a beanie and gloves, and thermal long johns – but didn’t end up using them. It never got cold enough to need them at the time of year I went (late Aug/early Sept), although presumably you would need them for cooler months.

Pack and sleeping bag
I am also VERY glad I didn’t pack a sleeping-bag: it was VERY hot in the hostels even in the cooler evenings, with all the body heat from people sleeping, I barely even used the thermal liner I brought, and there were blankets available anyway if it got cooler.

The backpack I took (if this is any use) was a Deuter Futura 30L SL. It had a gap between the pack and the harness to let air flow through which was really handy in the hot weather. I would say 30L is a bit too small though – the packing list above only just fitted in, and it was packed so full I had no room even for snacks! I also had no room to fit in a water bladder so had to take water bottles instead, which were heavier and harder to get to. As I was travelling to other places after the walk, I fitted the Deuter pack inside a larger, 65L travel pack, for the rest of my trip (it was too big to take as carry-on on the planes unfortunately).

Bed bugs-
After much reading of the various forums on this, I ended up NOT taking a pyrethrum-soaked sheet and just putting insect repellent on my skin each night. I didn’t have any trouble with bed bugs and neither did anyone else I saw on my travels but it could be that the hostels have all just been bug-bombed or we were just lucky. The girl I was travelling with did get quite a few mosquito bites during the day (cos it was rainy) so insect repellent was very handy.

Travelling on your own
I was prepared to do the walk solo but ended up meeting another traveller to walk with, along with several other people along the way. I would say unless you’re a particularly shy person, if you are just prepared to be friendly and say hello to people and take interest in your fellow travellers, you will have no trouble meeting people to walk with and this is one of the nicest things about doing the Camino and one of the reasons why I was keen to walk it in the first place.

Anyway I hope this is useful and wish everyone well on their Camino adventure, I certainly found my short time on the walk really fun and enjoyable, if physically tiring. :D

Read all the responses and the conversation that this “5 days on the Camino de Santiago” post started on out Camino de Santiago forum.

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  • Heidi

    How long did it take you to get from StPdP to Roncesvalles? Was it as difficult as some say?

    • Yu Wang

      It took me 9 hours. It was the hardest part of the entire walk, especially the first 5 miles, hills, not strong at first, heavy backpack,… but beautiful scenery… worth it!


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