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First-time Thoughts and Tips on Camino Frances

2020 Camino Guides

M. Sanche

MichelleS
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (Pamplona to Burgos) October, 2017
My husband and I got back a few weeks ago from walking a section of the Camino Frances (Pamplona to Burgos) in October, 2017.

The experience was more wonderful than I can express. We found that by moving through the landscape at a walking pace, we could really get to know and love it. Our bodies welcomed the exercise and fresh air every day, and our spirits benefited from leaving the busyness behind and walking in simplicity. We loved meeting fellow pilgrims from all over the world, and sharing an hour on the path or a leisurely supper with a variety of them. It was a fruitful, soul-filling time.

I see that other first-timers have shared their thoughts and tips on this forum, so here are mine:

1) Learning Spanish: I used the free Duolingo app to study what I could of Spanish for a few months before we went to Spain. It was more than worth the time, since it did help somewhat with understanding signs, historical information, menus and above all, the people around us. Now that I’m home, I’m using Mango Languages through our public library to continue my Spanish study, and I find it more useful in that it teaches how to have conversations rather than just to understand random sentences.

2) Pack Weights: We brought a minimum of clothing and other essentials in our backpacks. Mine was about 13 pounds and my husband’s was about 20 pounds. After we got home he found that he could have left about 2.5 lb. of unused items at home. I could have left 1 lb or more and still been well-equipped.

3) Accommodation: As a couple, we wanted to stay in double rooms with bathroom and thought we’d have to find hotels along the way. Instead, we found that many private albergues had these. We preferred staying at albergues since they usually had laundry facilities, kitchens and places to gather and meet other pilgrims. We used the Wise Pilgrim Guide, which showed us at a glance which albergues had double rooms and which didn’t. Because it was October and pilgrims were relatively few, we could call and book accommodation either the night before or the morning of in most places.

4) Breakfast: I am used to having protein in the morning, so the Spanish breakfast of toast/pastry didn't work for me. I stumbled upon hot chocolate ('Colacao') with steamed milk as a breakfast item, and that gave me steadiness and energy for the first few hours of each day.

5) Water: I brought a Platypus water system and a small water bottle. I was pleased with the Platypus because it was centred in my pack and easy to use while walking. I carried too much water for most of the trip, though. After some days I realized that .5 Litre was enough to carry in my Platypus, and that I could use my water bottle to get water at the various town water fountains. I would 'camel up' at the fountains and continue on with an empty water bottle and my .5 litre for sipping in between.

5) Pilgrim Wine: My husband found out that the wine included with pilgrim meals is almost always ‘joven’, meaning young wine that has only been fermented once and has less flavour. He found that in many places he could ask for a more aged wine (e.g. Crianza or Reserva in Rioja) for a few Euro more.

6) Blister Prevention and Care: Since our walking days averaged 17-20km per day, our feet were happy most of the time. I wore thin nylon socks inside my Smartwool socks, and with my Merrell walking shoes I had no blisters at all. My husband developed a ‘hot spot’ (i.e. pre-blister sore area) after some days, and used a second-skin product to prevent a blister from forming. It doesn't seem to have a brand name so I'll try to include a photo--we got it at a medical supply store in our city. We used coconut oil on our feet most evenings, which may have also helped in blister prevention.

7) White Flags: This was the term we gave the bits of toilet paper left along the trail in many places. Here’s what I did to avoid adding to them: I brought my own ‘biffy bag’ consisting of a ziploc bag for unused toilet paper, another ziploc for used toilet paper, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer in a light plastic grocery bag (see photo). I expect the whole thing didn't weigh more than an ounce or two. I stored it in an outside pocket of my backpack, and while I didn’t often need to use it since I timed my bathroom stops with meals and snack breaks, it did come in handy a few times. I also carried extra toilet paper in my pants pocket, since ‘aseos’ in bars and museums were missing that on many occasions.

8) Muscle soreness: After some days, one side of my mid-back became sore. After 10 or so kilometres of walking, my pain would begin. Neither ibuprofen nor acetaminophen seemed to help. What did help sometimes was that I had a physio ball with me (small rubber ball), and if I placed it between my back and my pack, putting pressure on the sore spot, that would give some temporary relief. The main thing that ended up helping was that if I sat on a bench or the ground leaning back on my pack for 5 or 6 minutes, my back muscles would gradually unclench and I could walk a couple of kilometres pain-free before needing to lean on my pack for another rest period. If I had it to do over, I would have continued the yoga stretches I was doing at home instead of leaving them behind once we got to Spain!

Now that we're home on the snowy Canadian prairies, we look back and appreciate that on the Camino we were not tourists, but pilgrims, with an identifiable role and meaningful work to do. Will we get the chance to finish the rest of the Camino in the future? We will be watching for yellow arrows to lead us back.

Ultreia!
Michelle
 

Attachments

HedaP

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances starting SJPdP Sept/Oct 2015, April/May 2017
Thank you for your first hand report. I concur with the advice to learn as much Spanish as possible. Even a few words can help to make connections with local people. Sounds like you had a buen camino and may the next be equally as good.
 

Sailor

Donante Vitalicio
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Infinito
Michelle, welcome aboard, your first post! Thanks for your good report. Please continue practicing your Spanish, and continue with your plans for your next camino. God bless you and your family, y que la luz de Dios alumbre su camino.
 

Firewood

Member
Camino(s) past & future
March - April 2018! (Flights booked, gear being acquired, excitement building!)
Thanks especially for #7 tip! As has been said before, those "White Flags" are not the type of Camino markers anyone enjoys seeing!
 

callinglisa

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
May 2018
Thanks especially for #7 tip! As has been said before, those "White Flags" are not the type of Camino markers anyone enjoys seeing!
My husband and I got back a few weeks ago from walking a section of the Camino Frances (Pamplona to Burgos) in October, 2017.

The experience was more wonderful than I can express. We found that by moving through the landscape at a walking pace, we could really get to know and love it. Our bodies welcomed the exercise and fresh air every day, and our spirits benefited from leaving the busyness behind and walking in simplicity. We loved meeting fellow pilgrims from all over the world, and sharing an hour on the path or a leisurely supper with a variety of them. It was a fruitful, soul-filling time.

I see that other first-timers have shared their thoughts and tips on this forum, so here are mine:

1) Learning Spanish: I used the free Duolingo app to study what I could of Spanish for a few months before we went to Spain. It was more than worth the time, since it did help somewhat with understanding signs, historical information, menus and above all, the people around us. Now that I’m home, I’m using Mango Languages through our public library to continue my Spanish study, and I find it more useful in that it teaches how to have conversations rather than just to understand random sentences.

2) Pack Weights: We brought a minimum of clothing and other essentials in our backpacks. Mine was about 13 pounds and my husband’s was about 20 pounds. After we got home he found that he could have left about 2.5 lb. of unused items at home. I could have left 1 lb or more and still been well-equipped.

3) Accommodation: As a couple, we wanted to stay in double rooms with bathroom and thought we’d have to find hotels along the way. Instead, we found that many private albergues had these. We preferred staying at albergues since they usually had laundry facilities, kitchens and places to gather and meet other pilgrims. We used the Wise Pilgrim Guide, which showed us at a glance which albergues had double rooms and which didn’t. Because it was October and pilgrims were relatively few, we could call and book accommodation either the night before or the morning of in most places.

4) Breakfast: I am used to having protein in the morning, so the Spanish breakfast of toast/pastry didn't work for me. I stumbled upon hot chocolate ('Colacao') with steamed milk as a breakfast item, and that gave me steadiness and energy for the first few hours of each day.

5) Water: I brought a Platypus water system and a small water bottle. I was pleased with the Platypus because it was centred in my pack and easy to use while walking. I carried too much water for most of the trip, though. After some days I realized that .5 Litre was enough to carry in my Platypus, and that I could use my water bottle to get water at the various town water fountains. I would 'camel up' at the fountains and continue on with an empty water bottle and my .5 litre for sipping in between.

5) Pilgrim Wine: My husband found out that the wine included with pilgrim meals is almost always ‘joven’, meaning young wine that has only been fermented once and has less flavour. He found that in many places he could ask for a more aged wine (e.g. Crianza or Reserva in Rioja) for a few Euro more.

6) Blister Prevention and Care: Since our walking days averaged 17-20km per day, our feet were happy most of the time. I wore thin nylon socks inside my Smartwool socks, and with my Merrell walking shoes I had no blisters at all. My husband developed a ‘hot spot’ (i.e. pre-blister sore area) after some days, and used a second-skin product to prevent a blister from forming. It doesn't seem to have a brand name so I'll try to include a photo--we got it at a medical supply store in our city. We used coconut oil on our feet most evenings, which may have also helped in blister prevention.

7) White Flags: This was the term we gave the bits of toilet paper left along the trail in many places. Here’s what I did to avoid adding to them: I brought my own ‘biffy bag’ consisting of a ziploc bag for unused toilet paper, another ziploc for used toilet paper, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer in a light plastic grocery bag (see photo). I expect the whole thing didn't weigh more than an ounce or two. I stored it in an outside pocket of my backpack, and while I didn’t often need to use it since I timed my bathroom stops with meals and snack breaks, it did come in handy a few times. I also carried extra toilet paper in my pants pocket, since ‘aseos’ in bars and museums were missing that on many occasions.

8) Muscle soreness: After some days, one side of my mid-back became sore. After 10 or so kilometres of walking, my pain would begin. Neither ibuprofen nor acetaminophen seemed to help. What did help sometimes was that I had a physio ball with me (small rubber ball), and if I placed it between my back and my pack, putting pressure on the sore spot, that would give some temporary relief. The main thing that ended up helping was that if I sat on a bench or the ground leaning back on my pack for 5 or 6 minutes, my back muscles would gradually unclench and I could walk a couple of kilometres pain-free before needing to lean on my pack for another rest period. If I had it to do over, I would have continued the yoga stretches I was doing at home instead of leaving them behind once we got to Spain!

Now that we're home on the snowy Canadian prairies, we look back and appreciate that on the Camino we were not tourists, but pilgrims, with an identifiable role and meaningful work to do. Will we get the chance to finish the rest of the Camino in the future? We will be watching for yellow arrows to lead us back.

Ultreia!
Michelle
 

Sunbun

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Zip
Michelle, welcome aboard, your first post! Thanks for your good report. Please continue practicing your Spanish, and continue with your plans for your next camino. God bless you and your family, y que la luz de Dios alumbre su camino.
Thanks. These lists were very helpful for me when I was preparing for my first Camino.
 

long trails

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2012
You were not tempted by the Spanish tortilla in the morning? I am not a nutrition expert but I figure there must be quite a bit of protein from the eggs.

Nice list of tips by the way.
 

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