From 2004 through 2011 I have walked the entire Camino Frances
seven times from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago; I am 72. Here are some basic tips for walking at any age.
Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much...
.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Separate categories of my kit, ie. clothes, toiletries, sandals and sleeping bag travel in sturdy plastic bags within the backpack. Thus all is relatively waterproof as well as easier to locate than if 'lost' within the pack.
Take anti-diarrhea medicine and pocket packs of tissues for toilet paper. There is nothing worse than diarrhea on the trail first thing in the cold morning air!
Carry some euro bills in small denominations; breaking a 50 euro bill in a remote village can be impossible! However, gas stations will often make change even if you don't buy gas!
Get up early
Since pilgrims must vacate each albergue by 8 am, nearly everyone wakes around 6:30. After waiting in a few cold lines to use the toilet facilities one quickly learns to rise by 6:15 to beat the rush!
When all else fails the commonality is pantomime.
At each day's end what a great pleasure it is to remove your pack and only sit! If you have never hiked wearing a pack just imagine carrying 15 pounds of potatoes continually for half a day.
Drink lots of water and relax.
Water helps prevent painful tendinitis. One of the most important 'rules' of the Camino (and life) is to 'let it be'.
Food on the Camino
Breakfast and a big late lunch after walking are my norm with periodic bar stops throughout my walking day for coffee, hot chocolate or fresh orange juice and the loo. In Léon hot chocolate is so thick that the spoon almost stands in the cup. Served with freshly made crullers it is a delicious, caloric treat and fuel for trekking! For a delicious pick-up try freshly squeezed zumo naranja or orange juice. No champagne has ever tasted better!...In those albergues which offer kitchens many pilgrims for either dietary reasons and/or to cut costs prepare their own meals; except in emergencies I generally don't. However we all realize that today's food provides the fuel necessary for tomorrow's walking. Furthermore basic rations are always carried since the only shop or bar in town may NOT be open! My basics include tea bags, packets which make a cup of soup (even including croutons), firm cheese, small sausage, simple cookies and some chocolate. Often these same ingredients serve as a predawn breakfast hours before any Spanish bar would dream of opening!...Some hospitaleros provide delicious dinners; communal meals at Eunate and Granon are always memorable feasts. Generally for lunch or dinner many places along the way offer a standard three course Peregrino Menu (Pilgrim Menu) for 8€ or 9€. Although edible these often are only basic courses. A better alternative is the Menu de Dia (Daily Menu) which costs a bit more but provides much better quality and choice.
Walking pace and determination
Start walking slowly and go very easy for the first week. Daily distances cited in the guidebooks are not sacred; do not attempt 40 km the first day! ‘Slow, but dependable’ could be my motto. Since I am old I average 20 km per day for 55 days to walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago and continuing to Finisterre. The furthest I ever walked was 33k in heavy rain to Olveiroa ; this was one of the WORST days ever and as exhausting as my first time up to Roncevalles!... Consider the topography and the weather plus your health and pack weight as well as personal strength and ability to endure. On the Camino everyone moves as he wishes; only the last 100km MUST be walked in order to receive the treasured Compostela or pilgrim certificate in Santiago.
Although I do get weary I love to walk! Hearing the continual crunch of one's footsteps is very reassuring. You know that you can do it and can continue to do it as long as you have the energy. ...In sunshine my shadow is a constant companion. Always slightly to the right when the morning sun is behind, it is an uncomplaining, intimate presence. ... Shades of Peter Pan! However, it does seems to slouch a bit!
Stormy weather walking
When the path is hidden by mud, rain or snow for safety walk on the road. In winter Gendarmes warn pilgrims not to cross the mountains by path since conditions can be too dangerous; if you fall you are hidden. Hence follow the lanes.
In autumn and winter albergues are often frigid, without heat or hot water. Be prepared! Make a cozy 'sandwich' for sleeping by folding a blanket in half the long way, place your sleeping bag on top of the bottom half and pull the top half over all. If there are no blankets put your poncho beneath the sleeping bag to block the cold from rising.
Can you do it
Is the Camino appropriate for you ? Or more accurately could you endure such an effort as walking every day, carrying a full pack and staying with a group of strangers in albergues each night? Here are some additional alternative views to help clarify this decision.
1 This is NOT a walk in the park! Just because so many pilgrims have been successful does not guarantee that you will be. Anybody any moment can fall or pull or break anything. The most common injury is the result of trying to walk too far too quickly carrying too much! Easy does it. Be a snail; slow but, determined, like me.
2 To get an idea of how it feels to walk for a day with a loaded backpack carry 6 kilos or 13 pounds of potatoes continually for at least six hours around the house rarely sitting down.
3 Do bugs, dust, dirt, mud, rain or snow bother you? Can you pee in the woods? If you need a sanitized toilet seat and/or spotless surroundings this is definitely NOT your thing!
4 Can you share a dorm with others and/or sleep next to a stranger? Do you tolerate snoring? Or do you snore? What about smelly socks, garlic breath or worse?
5 Do you need hot water for a shower? Can you balance soap, shampoo, and sponge in one hand while trying to regulate water temperature and/or flow with the other? When done can you put your clean clothes on while balancing on one leg to avoid puddles on the floor?
6 Can you be up, dressed,packed and walking by 8am in summer or dawn in winter? Such are the rules for using municipal albergues.
7 Can you accept that nothing you carry on the Camino is ever truly clean or dry or tidy? Reality is a gradation of grey and damp and mess! Nevertheless that's life.
8 Do you meet people easily? Can you chat and share ideas, food, or help? Are you ready to smile and offer your hand in friendship? A smile returned by a new friend is one of the Camino's many joys. Just try it!
What matters is to DO IT!
As pilgrims said in the Middle Ages Ultreia!