This is my first blog since I have returned from my first Camino. We only walked for 6 days and walked over 90 miles, but we are already planning trip number two!
Now that I have experienced my first part of the Camino, what did I learn? Did I take anything that I never used? What was I eternally grateful for? Did I worry about things that I really shouldn't have? What would I do differently next time?
Just for future notes: I am reporting on the Camino Frances, leaving in May 2016.
Items that I really didn't need
I had planned, planned and planned some more for this trip. Every single little item was weighed and purchased with extreme precision. In hindsight, there were quite a few items that I really didn't use or need.
- Shewee – I had stage freight and simply could not use it, even though I had practiced in training and also in the shower! Julie and Rachel kept calling me “toilet ninja” as I was the one who was always running into the cafe! I did go outdoors on two occasions, but both times I just did it the old-fashioned way and used my handy andies! (sorry for the gory details!).
- Washing line – this was crazy! What was I thinking? I remember the video on YouTube of some guy saying what a brilliant idea it was to have a twisted washing line in your pack to dry your clothes. In reality, nothing drys quickly even when they are attached to your backpack! I had clothes on my backpack every day! Yep, my undies were flying around like a flag! Perhaps next time I will buy Union Jack undies!
- Sleep-phones – I didn't use these either. The idea was to listen to relaxing music with my comfy sleepphones at night so that it would block out the snorers and noisy people at night. But after years of being on call I found that I woke to the slightest noise. Especially in bunk beds! If I was on the top bunk the whole bed moved if the person below me wriggled in the night, and if I was on the bottom bunk then the squeaking from above drove me up the wall. We spent three nights in hostals / private rooms and I finally managed to get a peaceful nights sleep.
- Bed Bug sheets – I did use these when in the municipal Alberger, but they never fitted the whole bed, and the pillowcase was not as comfy. Next time round I thought I would take my own pillowcase (just a plain white one) and get people to sign it along the way.
- Walking boots – this was my biggest mistake. About 4 months ago I bought Rachel (my 13 year old daughter) some cheap walking boots from Aldi (£25). She had been training with us in her comfy Aldi boots and she was adamant that she didn't want new boots, but I should have put my foot down. On day 6 into our trip she was really struggling. The boots offered little “arch” support and she was in so much pain that we had to quit the trip 4 miles before the end. Lesson learned.
What were my best buys?
I had many items in my pack that I took with me that were an absolute godsend.
- Lightweight sleeping bag – I only bought the lightweight one at the last minute. My other sleeping bag was about 3.5llbs and my new one was under 1llb and so comfy! I actually used it as a quilt rather than a sleeping bag, which was ideal considering the weather we had.
- Craghoppers Jacket – both Rachel and I took our compression lightweight waterproof jackets which came in handy at night time when it was chilly, and also when it rained we were both comfy and dry (and it rained a lot!).
- Osprey Rucksack – this was by far the best purchase for me. Mine was a 50l and I didn't fill it completely, but it was a perfect fit. I never felt pressure on my shoulders or too much weight on my hips, it was just right. My pack felt part of me as I travelled, it was one of my best buys.
- Penknife – I didn't think I would use this, but it came in handy to cut bread and cheese in the middle of no-where.
- Fitbit – all three of us had our Fitbit's on which was a fab way of seeing how many miles we had walked each day. I really didn't need my Apple Watch, it was just something else to charge each night!
- Camino guide – I originally purchased the John Brierley book that everyone recommends but after catching up with a fellow pilgrim before we left I was advised to buy the Michelin guide. It was brilliant and if I had a stack of them along the Way, I could have sold loads and would have earned a fortune! Everyone wanted one as it was so easy to understand.
Did I worry about things that I really shouldn't have?
Yes! is the simple answer to that question.
- Bed ninja – the first day I was paranoid about not getting a bed at the Orrison. I had messaged and emailed them on a number of occasions and never got a reply. The forums set a panic inside of me as they were all talking about the lack of beds and the saturation of pilgrims on the Camino. One post in the forum had mentioned that 900 pilgrims were arriving each day. When we arrived at St Jean Passport Office I was only the 5th person she had seen that morning and we didn't get there until gone 10am. After a hard day's walk (steep uphill!), we got to the Orrison about 1.30pm and they had plenty of beds. In fact, it was one of the best experiences of the whole trip! The double rainbow was just breath-taking.
- Lack of places to buy food on the way – The Camino will provide. You can't really explain it, but when you need a hot drink or something to eat there is always something that appears around the next corner. From the Orrison to Roncesvalles there was a van in the middle of no-where selling hot coffee, cheese, and bananas. This didn't happen the once, it happened on numerous occasions. Just when you need it. We met one guy called Juan who had not worked for three years, but each day he trekked up the mountain to sell fruit, cans of pop, water etc to earn a few pennies.
- Internet access – Considering I run a social media marketing business, I was paranoid about lack of the internet. I did struggle for internet access for the first three days, and if I am being honest it was a bit of a godsend. I couldn't blog properly, upload images to Facebook and check emails. By the third day my phone would only allow me to post on Facebook every now and then. It was a bit strange as my best friend Julie managed to secure a connection, but my phone just would not connect. (Perhaps someone was trying to tell me something?). After I got over the initial frustration, I gave up and this really had an impact on my trip. Not worrying about “checking in” or posting to SnapChap or Instagram every five minutes and more importantly I didn't check for any emails. All I did was post on Facebook once a night and upload the photos to an album.
- Weight of my backpack – I was paranoid that I would be carrying too much weight. I had a limit of 15llbs and I sacrificed quite a few items to make sure that I was underweight. I completely forgot that I had food and water still to carry, as well as taking some of Rachel's clothes when her shoulders were aching. If you have the right backpack then weight, is important, but if you are over by a few lbs then it's not a big issue.
What would I do differently next time?
- Take my journal – I left mine at home and used my phone to write up my notes, but it is not the same.
- Read the forums, but take everything with a pinch of salt.
- Train with more hills – the mountains were quite tough, and I wish I had trained better with more hills.
- Travel wallet – one thing I didn't do was take a travel wallet. I had everything in see-through bags which was a pain (waterproof but not ideal!).
- Hairbrush – we took those naff little round travel brushes with mirrors in them. Rachel had knotted hair most days which was not good. Next time she will take a better hairbrush!
- Clothes – I will also take something to wear in the evening next time as I felt scruffy all the time!
- Albergues – I know Julie will disagree with me on this one as she really enjoyed the “everyone together” sleeping arrangements, but next time we will probably spend 50% of our time in a private room. When you are walking 15 miles a day then your sleep is really important.
We are looking at going again either in October this year or May again next year. I have enjoyed collecting pins along the Way to attach to my rucksack and I am looking forward to adding to my collection.