Introduction 

Tony and Ce Jacques completed the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago in Spain by foot. Carrying packs starting on 26th September to 1st November 2014.
Ce is 66 yo and in the last three years was fitted with two new knees. Tony is 63 yo and is on Cholesterol medication, heart medication, is morbidly obese and suffers from Sleep Apnoea necessitating him carrying and using a Transcend II CPAP machine every night of the trip.
They both completed the walk in 37 days, without help and through sheer bloody mindedness and planning.
Total distance walked without stopping or rest – 789 km.
These tips are their thoughts on this trip for you to use or discard at your wish. They warrant nothing – ‘Caveat Imperator’ – you decide and test everything you hear – it is your responsibility and your choices – accept or reject the suggestion.

    

Do it YOUR Way

There is no right or wrong way to do the Camino. You do whatever you want and are comfortable with doing and can do.
People choose to:

– Walk, cycle, run or ride a horse or even push a pushchair.
– Carry a pack, not carry a pack
– Use or not use vehicles
– taxis, cars and busses
– Walk a short or a long distance and time
– Do it all at once, do it over a number of years
– Start from their home, start from somewhere else
– Stay in Albergues or hostels or hotels
– Be organised and pre booked or see how you go
– Do any number of routes.

The “Rules” are:

  1. The Pilgrimage is from the start point to Santiago.
  2. A real Peregrino or Pilgrim carries a “Camino Passport or Credential” and gets it stamped along the way. This is used to gain entry to some Alberges and to record the walk so that a “Compostella” can be issued at the end.
  3. A Peregrino usually wears a Scallop Shell as a mark of the pilgrimage.
  4. Compostellas are only issued on Passports or Credentials if certain criteria are met:
    -- A walking Pilgrim has completed a minimum of 100 km walk – often from Sarria. Note it can be done over a number of years if necessary.
    -- A cyclist Pilgrim has completed a minimum of 200 Km cycle – often from Lyons. Note can also be completed over a number of years if necessary.
    -- The reason for the walk means what type of credential is issued – one is where the Pilgrim walks for religious reasons, another is “spiritual” reasons and for fun or health reasons.
  5. If you walk or cycle from Santiago to Finisterre and get the appropriate stamps in your Peregrino passport you can be issued their Credential.
  6. If you walk to Muxia, they also issue their Credential
  7. In 2014 only St Francis’ church is offering their Credential to honour their 800 year anniversary, in Santiago.

We suggest you set your goal – ie get to Santiago in 40 days, and ensure that you have flexibility and options – spare days for if you get hurt or sick, send packs on if necessary, take a vehicle if necessary etc.

   

Packs

You can need to be careful how you choose and manage your pack. It needs to be right for your body and how you want to use it.

Some considerations:

  • Get one that you are comfortable carrying
  • Try to only pack it so it is only 10% or less of your body weight.
  • Over long distances – lighter is better and critical.
  • Consider a bum bag worn in the front with a waterproofed Passport, credit cards, money wallet and purse and Pilgrim Passport – or secure these.
  • Have a name and contact details in the pack in case you lose it.
  • Get a pack that has a generous sized rain cover built in to it so that you can put it on quickly and easily and over some additional item on the outside. It is better if it is detachable for cleaning and drying
  • Consider putting the pack in a plastic bag and spraying it with pyrethrum spray (see bed bugs tip) to have it repel insects.

Considerations are:

  1. Waterproof or use a plastic bag inside and waterproof bags in that
  2. Able to reach external pouches where you carry water (best in simple, as bought, plastic containers)
  3. Enough external pouches or areas to keep handy important items:
    -- Maps / Guide Book
    -- Sun screen and lip balm
    -- Medical / blisters kit
    -- Insect repellent
    -- Wet weather gear
    -- Toilet paper
    -- Matches
  4. When you travel by plane and need to put your pack in hold baggage, get it wrapped in plastic or put it in an outer zipped carry bag (IKEA bags are great) so that all the straps and buckles are secured and will not be torn off by the baggage handlers.
  5. Remember that on a plane you cannot usually take into the cabin scissors, knives, some ointments or tubes of liquids and even trekking poles so they are better going with the pack into the hold baggage.
  6. Have a pack you can readily identify as yours – tie something colourful to it.

You need to try your pack and get used to it and be able to adjust it.

When you start out each day at least, get a friend to check the straps and their tightness and evenness. Ensure that the buckles will hold and not keep slipping. If buckles slip, adjust the pack and then use some waterproof tape to secure the strap and stop it moving

Pack Forwarding Service – ie Jacotrans

There is now a very big business carting luggage and packs on for walkers from stop to stop and several companies provide very good services and will sometimes transport people.

At Albergues and hostels and hotels all have the facility that you can take an envelope from the Hospitalero, select a hotel or Albergue etc at the town you plan to go to and put the required amount of money inside with name address to go etc.

Cost is usually under e10 per trip.

If the target drop off is closed the bag carriers usually drop the bags nearby but the owner has to usually search to find the place they nominated or where the bags may be if the nominated place is closed. Security of packs seems ok even when left elsewhere.
Many couriers seem to stop at Santiago and do not necessarily go on to Muxia and Finisterre.
We heard of the couriers also letting people go in the van.

Day Packs

It is a good idea to pack a very lightweight day pack in case you send your pack on, so that you can carry rain gear, food, drink, medicines, creams, dry socks and water etc.
Day packs would also be useful for the evening and for shopping.

DAILY WALKING DISTANCES

Your body will soon work out how far it wants to go.

Some considerations:

  • We found that at 63 and 65 yo, any distance over 22 km was a struggle.
  • We were happy to start walking just before dawn
  • it was a nice time to walk and was cooler on hot days but if starting too early, for safety, head torches should be considered – also helps to find the path.
  • Good to stop by 2-3 pm so that we could get accommodation easily and rest up and sort out washing and drying early.
  • Stop later and you may miss out on accommodation.

Considerations are: 

  1. We were happy to walk for 1 to 3 hours at the beginning before stopping. 
  2. We needed as good a breakfast as possible to start – coffee and juice were a staple, the cakes and croissants were poor but bacon, eggs and chips or the Tortilla potatoes omelette were good.
  3. We needed frequent stops to use a clean toilet and the bars and cafes usually had very good toilets, but take your own spare toilet paper. Note: many had no paper! 
  4. Bar stops for the loo and drinks mean you need more bar stops later! Cunning eh!
  5. Ensure you have enough water and food for your daily journey. Read the guide carefully!! There was one stretch with no shade and no fountains for 17 kms!
  6. Some people use taxis and public transport especially through boring areas of towns or is they are injured or need to catch people or bags up or if they are pre-booked ahead.
  7. Some people use bag carrying services forward between nightly / stops if they have a short term need (injured or tired) or they plan the trip that way (see packs for more detail).

Be flexible.

PLANNING

Do as much planning as you can. It is recognised that some people just grab a pack and go.

Some considerations that helped us:

  • Decide on the time of the year to go.
  • This will greatly affect:
    -– how busy the Way is – this can affect where you stay
    -– the weather and conditions – choose wrong and you can get stuck with rain, mud, heat and snow.
  • Get teeth fixed and get shoes that fit –I had to search for and find overseas 4E and 5E wide shoes.
  • Fix glasses, I considered a spare set. Sort physical issues – podiatrist, eyes, etc.
  • Medicines – get pharmaceuticals – doc to give script for overseas that allows bulk obtaining of restricted medications. Get doctor’s letter and have all medications and doses listed.
  • Sleep Apnoea - CPAP machine, where required, the portable Transcend II was great and weighed 2.1 Kg which was tolerable.
  • Use a tablets dosage box to minimise mistakes but use sticky tape on each slide to keep it shut and keep it in a big ziplock bag to keep the tablets dry and catch any loose ones.
  • Financials – pay bills for when away, take Debit Visa Card and/or Global Currency card (note - Travellers Checks are old hat and there are ATMs in most towns and you can pay by plastic in many places). We carried a cash float each of about e300.
  • Get well-fitting boots - have the toe box and length larger to cope with swelling. For my unusual width of 4E to 5E, the only supplier I could find was Propet in USA. I had checked Aust, NZ and UK!
  • Phone – put your iphone into an Otterbox case – my son had one run over by a car and it still worked! – Modern iphones can have many uses – ie great camera and video and with up to 64Gb storage that will store all photos. You can photograph info – flight times, meds, letters, insurance etc. It has a compass, a very useful flashlight and the “find my iphone” which is a godsend for if you lose it or you could have it save your life by allowing someone to find you. Also friends and family can track you! You can send emails and operate facebook and electronic banking.
  • We took fitbit fitness recorders the whole way - you may need the ‘dongle’ charger and you will have fun with it speaking Spanish and the time zone corrections!
  • Get an international roaming plan for phone - $10 per day extra means no bill shocks!
  • Get Seniors Travel Insurance – over 60s plan and very good for existing conditions.
  • If you have new knees, contact Ce!

Thoughts are:

  • You can plan and book ahead:
    -– this means you will have places to stay, it will restrict Alberges (often you cannot book) and that will increase your costs dramatically
    -– this puts big stresses on you and can lead to having to take taxis when you drop behind or are injured and have to stick to a schedule 
    -– Not recommended.
  • You can play it by ear and stay where you find yourself
    -– This allows you to be far more flexible – It increases a risk that you might have to walk on if you are late
    -– This allows you to explore more and means you have to do the Pilgrim thing of putting your trust in ‘Him’ – which can be scary, but it seems to work every time! You will hear many say “The Camino will provide”… and it does!!

Read as much as you can find and watch DVDs. Great information we found was:

  1. The Way – DVD
  2. The Camino 6 Ways – DVD
  3. Paul Brierley’s Guide Book St Jean to Santiago
  4. I’m Off Then by Hape Kekkeling – Book (funny)
  5. A Million Steps by Koontz (W German) (fun)
  6. Walk in a Relaxed Manner by Joyce Rupp (USA) (interesting)
  7. Seven Tips to Make the Most of the Camino de Santiago by Cheri Powell (USA) (info)
  8. Off the Road by Jack Hitt (USA) (interesting but hard going)
  9. In Movement there is Peace by Elaine Foster (USA) (Good)
  10. The Way My Way by Bill Bennett (Aust) (Great)
  11. Pilgrim Tips & Packing List Camino de Santiago by S Yates (USA) (interesting)

FEET

Your feet are critical and you must look after them and listen to them and stop and immediately fix any problems that are developing, such as hot spots.

Walk before you go with the socks and shoes or boots that you will be taking and ensure they work well for you and will last the journey.

Some considerations that helped us:

  • Some people start the day by smothering their feet in Vaseline – this is a common method - we haven’t tried it.
  • Some suggest that putting on Vic’s Vapour Rub works well – it will probably smell great, we haven’t tried it.
  • We tend to use Leukoplast, Zinc Oxide Tape (BSN Medical Gmbh, D-22771 Hamburg, Germany). We use the 2.5 cm x 5 m – it is very smooth and silky white tape and you can tear it easily with your hands. You have to use the white, shiny tape, no other types. It acts as a skin and we put it over hotspots, blisters (best to burst or hole them so you release any fluid) and even over broken or bleeding areas. You need a pair of socks – inner liner smooth socks are best - to carefully go over the tape (be careful not to turn up any edges on the plaster as these will stick to the sock and may cause more blisters). I wear another pair of outer socks over the top as well - Ce doesn’t. The tape then stays in place for days or weeks if it is ok. You can wear it in the shower and you can keep walking. Replace it if it gets ‘daggy’. This is an old Army trick when you have to keep going and ‘soldier on’! We were unable to find the right tape in Spanish pharmacies but could get other types. We brought ours from Australia.
  • We found silicon toe sleeves very good if toes rubbed, some used cotton wool to keep toes apart.
  • You need to keep your nails well-trimmed.
  • Wash your feet and socks often and pamper them. It is suggested that sweat when dry can be abrasive. - Filing and heel balm – try to keep hard skin down and put heel balm on to soften hard areas. I had deep heel blisters that I was unable to drain and in the end had very hard skin build up that had to be pared down and re softened. Use a good foot file, regularly.
  • Some people use ‘Compeed’ – we haven’t but I’ve read they should be used to draw out the fluid from the blister, not on ‘collapsed’ blisters – check it out.
  • Some people remove the blister fluid by sterilising a needle and drawing cotton through it and some leave the cotton in to drain. We don’t use this method and Ce as a nurse feels that it risks introducing infection.
  • When working on feet and blisters, keep them clean and sterilise equipment, use sterilising ointment such as Betadine.
  • I prefer two pairs of socks – a thinner smooth, light inner pair and a good outer pair (we took X-Socks that have 3 year warranties). Ce used only one pair, usually the outer and had to cut off the tops as they were too tight on her legs.
  • Get your boots / shoes early and break them in and get them comfortable. Consider:
    • Take spare laces o Get wide enough boots, a little wider in the toe box and slightly longer than usual as your feet will swell.
    • If they are too loose and your feet shift going downhill you may get sore toes and lose toe nails.
    • Boots that keep your feet dry and breathe and are light and the right size are often an elusive ‘holy grail’. They also need good soles that will grip rock and not be slippery (I have always found Vibram soles very good). Ce swears by her lightweight leather boots (made by Chris Brasher in UK) that were totally waterproof and had Vibram soles. She was the only one on our walk with dry feet – some Austrians even desperately glad wrapped their boots - to no effect.
    • Tony has 4E and 5E (2X) wide feet and couldn’t find any in Australia or NZ or UK (TJ tried leather Alberg boots but they were too narrow) and eventually got a brilliant pair of Propet US Boots that were 5E wide called “Camp Walkers” from Amazon (they only cost $70 – a bonus!) They are really comfortable, lasted the Camino easily and were water resistant but did let water in – a small price to pay!!
  • Some people walk with many different styles of footwear – we saw it all – Boots, Shoes, Thongs, Crocks, Flip Flops or Thongs, Sandals and Bare Feet!

You need walking boots or shoes and at night a pair of Crocs or flip flops are needed – think how you will carry them (usually on the outside of the pack were, if it mattered, they could get wet). I carried my flip flops tied to the inside of the web harness on my pack.

    

BUGS

Mosquitoes often bite at sunrise and seem to like the colour blue.

Bed Bugs need to be considered and you will hear about them but they are often not a problem for many people.

Some considerations that helped us:

  • Carry insect repellent and use it – often in sun screen it is great! Remember to take roll ons or creams, not aerosols as they are not allowed on aircraft.
  • Bed bugs are a pain as the only way of eradicating them is a full wash and hot tumble dry which can shrink clothes (we did worry with washing and drying the same load for Marino wool garments etc but there was never a problem for us). To help:
    • Carry a pyrethrum spray (you can buy it at pharmacies in Spain and possibly at Australian garden Centres).
    • Some people suggest you spray it on a mattress and look closely for bugs trying to escape up a wall. Check underneath the mattress and in creases of the bunk area.
    • Consider a lightweight sheet and pillow case and treat them by putting it in a bag and with the spray and letting them absorb – same with sleeping bags, liners, packs and clothes – you can do this before you leave home.
    • Remember to keep packs off the floor where you can.

 

FOOD AND DRINK

  • Pilgrims traditionally feed themselves from fruit and veggies that grow along the way.
  • We felt uncomfortable going into farmers’ fields and raiding their crops but were ok if they gave it to us or we could easily reach it from the path.
  • We were given a bunch of grapes from a lady in the city who insisted and had some from a basket she appeared to have gathered. We were given fresh almonds. We took some lovely sweet black grapes.
  • There were many people selling fruit, drinks and trinkets along the way – the prices were always good and we were happy to help people who were trying to help themselves. One had walked 4 km from town every day for 3 years and had made a lovely little rest area. One was a hippy living beside his barrow that was laden and he only asked for “Donativo” donations and felt it his duty to help Pilgrims.
  • When in Rome …. We ate the Spanish way, even with all the bread and fat we NEVER saw a fat Spaniard – man, woman or child on the path and outside the cities, we were fed!:
    • Bread with everything including wrapped around tortillas (omelettes). To have a break ask for “Sin Pan” (without bread).
    • Breakfast consisted often of:
      • Coffee (good) – An Aussie Long Black is an “Americano”, a Cappuccino is a “Café Con Leche” (a coffee with milk). On using vending machines they usually default to sugar and you have to dial down or back the sugar “Zucre” before you select it to dispense, A “Cortedo” seems to be a short black.
      • Bread or croissant with jam.
      • Occasionally a cake.
      • Orange Juice “Naranca” – often freshly squeezed and great!
    • Sometimes were able to order:
      • Bacon (or ham) and Eggs – “Oevas and Jambon”
      • Potato Omelette “Tortilla”
    • Lunch or snacks might include:
      • Sandwiches
      • “Bocadillos” – rolls with fillings
      • Tapas – “Pinchos” in the Basque Country but often with ‘Tapas’ written alongside.
      • Fruit – bananas, mandarins, apples, figs, plums (the figs were chocolaty and divine!)
    • Dinner was usually late (1900 hrs on) except where “Perigrino” (Pilgrim) meals were offered. Often referred to as Menu of the day. They were great value and good food but sometimes got a little monotonous. For mostly e10 you got:
      • Usually a full bottle of wine (red often offered but white in most cases was available). If you ask, sometimes more than one bottle. Note that wine is cheaper than water at e5 a glass! If you don’t want wine they would provide bottled water instead.
      • First Course – great fresh salads with asparagus, tomatoes, lettuce; soups – usually vegetable;
      • Second Course – steak (very thin) and chips; ham and eggs and chips; pork (small) and chips etc;
      • Third Course – Melon with Prosciutto; fruit; a small tub of ice cream.
    • In most places there were small shops or “Supermercardo” where we could buy Salami packs, ham, bread rolls, fruit, biscuits, great tins of Tuna and salad, Mars bars and Kitkats and sweets (Haribo).
    • In nearly all villages there were Cafes or Bars that offered drinks and food and a clean toilet (remember to take your own toilet paper as it was often needed). Often croissants- sometimes chocolate filled, tapas and coffee, coke “Cola” and “Cola Light” and Fanta (Orange – “Naranca” and Lemon “Citron”) and beer “Crevesa”.
    • In the earlier, more rural, areas there was often no bar but a garage would have been converted with drink machines, a table to get out of the sun and a rubbish bin. These were often very welcome and a great idea – only danger – no toilets!
    • The Camino we felt could have been renamed as the Coca Cola Camino as the signs and vans were in every village along the whole way. There were even all weather coke machines in the open and at picnic spots.
    • A common afternoon drink was a beer with pub squash (very refreshing and sometimes premixed)

Toilets

There are no public toilets.

Always carry toilet paper – even into private toilets.

It is commonplace to stop regularly at Bars or Cafes to rest, have a drink of coke or coffee and have a bite to eat etc. Nearly all have lovely clean toilets – some ask for donations inside to pay towards them.

It is polite to buy something and some places ask for a payment to use the loo, if you do not do so.

It is usual to ‘go’ discretely beside the Way, although in nearly all cases, many people have had the same idea and there is much litter which can be both dirty and appalling!
Respect the Camino and carry ziplock bags and take your rubbish with you and encourage others to do so.

Some ladies like a poncho that can help keep them discrete.

In the Albergues some facilities are shared and require some planning to use.

 

Security

Usually things are safe but do not tempt fate and be vigilant in cities for thieves and pickpockets.

A money pouch for that and documents is a good idea. You need to keep a supply of euro e1 and e2 coins for washing machines, tumble driers, vending machines and bag transport costs – if you use them.
A bum bag worn on the front is useful and can give easy access to the guide and diary and gives you a place to keep your Camino Passport or Credential which you can often need to have stamped.

Always take your valuables with you (and phone and camera) when you go to the shower or toilet.

I found taking a small money purse very useful.

In the bum bag, I needed to line it with a plastic bag as the contents got wet in the rain or from my constant sweating.

I got a Westpac Global Currency card and was able via the iphone and telephone banking to top it up from time to time. I could also use it at most ATMs and as it was a Mastercard could use it in some shops, hotels and albergues. They issued two cards, so we had a spare waiting to be activated and could cancel one if we lost it.

I also took a Debit Master Card as a spare and kept the money in that account low and topped it up via internet banking, when required.

My phone had a code lock I used and I could track it via another iphone if I lost it and I could remotely make it make a noise or wipe its contents.

Using “icloud” I could have stored contacts, photos and data ‘in the cloud’ for safety and retrieved them later if required.

I kept my passport with me at all times.

I developed checking mantras (after going to the toilet etc) to make sure I had everything before setting off.

We got an excellent insurance – via Australian Seniors that was very reasonable, covered all issues and covered pre-existing medical conditions for a reasonable fee.

Credentials or Camino Passports and Compostellas

We got the first Credential or Camino Passport issued by joining Australian Friends of the Camino (afotc.com.au) – it was a Donativo!!

We got a second one in Spain as the first was not large enough and we kept it for the nightly stops so we could show it in Santiago for the issuing of the Compostella.

We used the second credential to collect all other interesting stamps from bars, roadside stalls and places of interest etc, as a further memory of the trip.

At Santiago they check the Credential carefully and note if the stamps are in sequence and that if it was being walked, that the distances and times correspond and that cars, buses or trains were not used!

The same Credential can be used on the trip from Santiago to Finisterre (Fisterre in local dialect) that can provide one Compestella from there and Muxia, where you can get another locally issued Compostella.

They ask you if you have completed the walk for religious or other reasons and you get a different Compostella depending on your answer.

In 2014, only, there was an additional Compostella issued on the Credential by the Franciscan Church in Santiago.

 

Hawkers, Scammers and Entry Fees

There are some beggars, but not many.

At the cathedrals there may be some beggars that are women and appear to be nuns or part of the church. They are usually at the entrance doors.

Some churches require tickets to enter (this was true at Santa Domingo where there is the tradition of the Chicken kept in the Church) and some as you walk round inside have money activated lights to be able to view parts of the interior.

We developed the belief that entry to churches for pilgrims should be free and where we would be forced to pay, we would walk away. Where it was free and they asked for a “Donativo”, we happily gave!

The only ‘Scam’ we thought we had come across was in the first third of the walk in a country area, a young girl approached us with a clip board. She appeared deaf and dumb and her clip board had a petition for locals to provide D&D facilities. We filled in our names and there was space for a ‘Donation” and we gave her e10 each. Two hours later in another village two girls approached us with the same scheme – we gave them e10 between us but think we heard them talking as they went off down the road. We resolved not to give again, but were not asked.

Another possible, but unlikely, scam was Ce being moved to tears by a little cat with a broken back dragging itself around chairs outside a Rural Hotel. The cat did not appear distressed but was obviously badly affected. The Dutch Bar attendant spoke good English and told us that the cat had recently appeared but that she could not afford to get it to a vet. Ce asked how much that would cost and she said e20. We gave her that and she promised to see to it.

Camino Phases

We have heard it said that on the Camino Frances it is split into the following three areas:

  1. For the Body – you get fitter
  2. For the Mind –your mind relaxes and gets fitter
  3. For the Soul – the last third feeds your soul!


The walk was originally a Pagan pilgrimage along “earth lay lines”. It was guided by the Milky Way above and at Finisterre or Fisterre to locals, they would burn an article of clothing. That area is named to Coast of Death “Cote de Mort”.

Christians took over the festivals (as they did with Easter and Christmas) and reworked the route to a Christian Pilgrimage.

Note that the walks go past the Churches in every town and they are often the key features on the horizon.

Castles, the Hospitals and the Albergues were created to assist pilgrims and the Crusaders set up forts to protect Pilgrims from attack and death on their journey.

Medical Issues

Tablets

It can be wise to get medicines dispensed in bulk to cover several months, before you go.
You will have to visit a doctor and their prescription should be written to waive the usual monthly cost requirement so you can get several months dispensed at once, especially if they are at lower costs or controlled frequencies.

At the same time you can get the doctor to give you a letter that says what medications you are on and the dosage and frequency – important if you have to get more dispensed in Europe or you are questioned by Police or Customs for any reason.

If you get medications dispensed in advance it can assist you towards the cheaper medication Medicare scheme if you approach the threshold for cheaper medications before the end of the year.

I purchased a $2 tablet box from a $1 shop, with individual plastic slide covers covering 4 compartments per column with seven columns in all. This allowed me with a morning and evening set of tablets to pre-dispense 2 weeks’ worth of tablets.

For safety I ‘locked’ each slide by sticky taping the slide shut and making a folded over tab to allow me to open it individually.

Lastly I put the tablet box into a large Zip Lock bag that kept the tablets dry and also collected any that fell out.

I kept the bulk tablets in their individual foil wrappers and in separate Zip lock bags together with one printed label from a box. I calculated how many I needed for the days we planned to be away plus a 10 % contingency.

I kept all the zip locked tablet sets in a master Zip lock bag and buried it inside my pack to keep it secure and cooler.

This worked very well and my pack got lighter as we travelled! We were away 23 Sep to 17 Nov for our trip.

Potions and Creams and Emergencies

It is wise to have a light first aid kit. Consider a Space Emergency Blanket, stretch bandages and clips, Elastoplast, antiseptic ointment, tweezers etc.
We needed good scissors and Tony took small nail clippers. Remember these have to go as hold baggage in an aircraft along with knives and poles. We needed a good foot file to keep down hard skin.

For creams Tony needed – Canestan Plus (or Hydrozol) style anti-fungal cream for fungal growth in damp creases; antibiotic ointment for bad skin issues (you probably need a prescription) – needed for nose sores and some skin eruptions that developed; Daktarin Gold – used every morning before putting socks on as a precaution against tinea from shared areas – it worked well and never developed; 3B anti chaffing cream in case problems arose; Lip balm for chapped lips; Aloevera for use after sun burn develops and as a soothing balm.

Ibobrufin tablets (can be purchased easily in Spain) and are vital if painful foot, shin and leg pains develop to dampen inflammation, dull pain and allowed one to continue. Very strong tablets can be bought cheaply over the counter in Spain.
Panadol and Asprin (can be brought cheaply there).

We needed a small “housewife” with cotton, needles, nylon thread, buttons, thimble? Etc.

Cpap

I told my specialist that I was going on the Camino and I would be losing weight but I could not take my home ResMed CPAP machine.

He said words to the effect “You must, you are chronic!” …. He helped by suggesting some lighter travel models.
Checking them out I ended up finding a Transcend II machine, the size of a can of coke and the whole system weighed about 2.1 Kg.

It worked well throughout Europe. It got me access to bottom bunks and hospitalaros provided power cords where necessary – a bonus!

I used it through France, Spain and UK – no problems.

Poles and Staffs

Although we were loath to use walking poles in the beginning, for us they were lifesavers.

As (ahem) mature aged individuals, I certainly have foot and ankle stability problems. In fact every step I take I have to watch where I put my feet and that is quite tiring over a full Camino Frances. The proof was that every time I looked up or somewhere else, I seemed to stumble!

I have a great Podiatrist in Katoomba (Elizabeth Oakes) who managed to sort out a left foot cuboid bone problem with some massage after I had a problem two weeks before I left that hit me crossing a road in Parramatta and resulted in 7 hours at Katoomba and Lithgow Emergency Casualty where after an X Ray and a Ultasound Scan they diagnosed Plantar Fasciatis. I was on crutches for 3 days but got better!

Also I have a right ankle that is prone to turning over on uneven ground.
As a result I used two light weight trekking poles from Katmandu – they are Italian’ Fizan Escape’ poles and are 245 gms each. They have a spring shock absorber that can be locked out and they are collapsible. They have formed handgrips and hand straps and removable rubber feet.

Here is just one of the charts on the internet that give pole lengths, have a look yourself:

This suggests, for me at 5 ft 7 ins, that I should use 115 cm poles - it worked
well.

There is a way to use the straps. You put your hand up from underneath through the loop and rotate your hand to the outside. This should leave you with the strap around your wrist and coming from underneath through the top of the hand, to the handle on the top. This then means that you can rest on the strap and not have to tightly grip the handle and is an easier way to walk.

The poles provide great stability when you stumble, especially on broken ground and they are great for going down hill where it is steep or as often, loose or broken or rocky. They even help on the old Roman cobbled roads.

The shock absorber is useful for more power when pushing off and to soften any shock putting the pole down.

They have a very strong point that works well on broken ground and rocks and not so well on streets and smooth surfaces (the the rubber feet help more). Some people use the rubber feet all the time but they have less grip on broken ground.

It is wise to fit the mud covers near the bottom of the poles as they help in the mud.
In towns during quiet times it is respectful that you carry your poles or put the rubber feet on, as the ‘clacking’ sound can be very noisy and are very annoying.

Poles are good to lean on if you are exhausted.

The methods of using poles is as varied as the people but apart from some discussions with Ce as to the best way, here are our experiences:

  1. A Pole placed forward every step (Ce prefers this), it is well balanced.
  2. A Pole placed forward every second step (this works for Tony best), the poles swing forward more slowly.
  3. Our Finnish Perigrino, Parvo, said that the only proper way to use Poles is to let them trail behind and then, with the poles at about 45 degrees, use your arms as if running and the hand pushes back on the pole thrusting you forward. This is a ‘Langlauf’ method and some people had what seemed to be little rubber feet for the bottom of their poles that assisted in this. We’ve tried but so far haven’t been able to source the feet but we’d like to try them. This method would work fort every one or two steps.
  4. One woman we passed didn’t pick up the poles to replant them; she dragged them through clattering on the ground – drove me nuts, I couldn’t stand it and was happy when we could hear her no more!
  5. One Canadian woman told us she used a ‘Slalom’ technique flailing the poles over herhead ‘for power’ … idiot! 
  6. Often people carry their poles or strap them to their packs when they don’t need them
  7. Some people only used one pole.

Some just used a stick or staff. Some had a better made wooden staff (these appeared more traditional) and the best had a metal spike in the bottom or a cap, with a wrist strap attached. Be conscious of having to declare it at Australian Customs.

Luxuries and Clothing

It is good to take a lightweight luxury item.

Ce loved her silk pyjama trousers she would put on at night. They were discrete and looked good and could almost be worn out at night as well.

Tony used his own coloured pillow case which was great and would have been even better and lighter if he has a silk one!

The down sleeping bags were a godsend!

Clothing and Washing

The secret is to layer – have lightweight high tech fabrics and merino wool styles and put them on or take them off (even in bed) depending on how cold or hot you feel.
I found great Kathmandu pants and vests that were ‘anti bacteriological’ and lightweight.

Next I had a long sleeved thermowear vest.

Next a comfortable nylon or polyester short sleeved shirt.

When needed then a long sleeved thermowear top was excellent.
Finally, when needed, a light weight rainwear jacket.

Ce took a lightweight thermal down top that packed down to nothing and was very warm and luxurious

Tony sweated a great deal and was soaked most days within the first 20 minutes! This meant trying to wash and dry the clothes every day. This meant learning the words “Lavadoro” (washing machine) and “Secadoro” (Tumble drier) early on and this often drove where we stayed. Usually each one cost e4 and took 30-40 minutes each. In many Albergues and Hostels, the Hospitalaro would do it for us – which was a joy and left us to rest or explore.

By washing every day Tony only needed one spare set of clothes for emergencies and some spare socks and pants.

You need your own pegs or safety pins to attach laundry to a line and it is not unusual to see clothing drying on the outside of a Pilgrims pack as they walk along.

Evening wear for Tony was a light nylon top, a light pair of tracksuit pants or shorts and the thongs without socks, sometimes the thermal top or rain jacket. Ce used a nice top and a lightweight skirt she picked up along the way, sometimes a thermal top, down jacket or rain jacket.

Hats are required – especially one with a peak that dries quickly – for Tony it kept the sun off, it kept the sweat out of his eyes and glasses and meant that if you didn’t want to look ahead, it masked the view of a steep climb or long path.

Ce found that a nylon sleeve was very good as a neck muffler, a head band or on an arm good for keeping the sun off a sunburnt area.

A good microfiber towel is lightweight and Tony preferred the large size. It was helpful to have a smaller towel clipped to the outside of the backpack for mopping up sweat etc.

Rain Gear

Lightweight rain jackets were useful.

We bought heavyweight ponchos that could double as tents or groundsheets but were too heavy - we gave them away after day 1!

Lightweight ponchos shredded in the wind.

Over in Spain on the Camino, near Castrojeriz and before the start of bad weather and the Meseta, Ce and I went into a quaint ‘Arkwright’ style camping shop near the Municipal Albergue. There we purchased ‘Alto” ponchos that were big enough to cover our packs, had hoods and arm sleeves and front opening zips and velcrose (see photos at Tip 1). Yes, like all items, you sweated inside but they could open at the front. They were strong enough to survive very strong winds and although Tony looked like a ‘Teletubby’ they were and are great and packed down to a small size less, than a can of coke, and they were light.

Electronics and Internet and Wifi

Lots of people have iphones, ipads and the equivalent.


Every place almost without exception had free wifi, even in the most rural areas – Australia lags behind sadly in this area. You are expected to buy something in exchange for the password but it allows you to email, connect to facebook etc.

Because of this, hardly anyone used the ‘pay as you go’ internet connections and kiosks and the bottom has dropped out of that market.

You need different mains plug adaptors for France, Spain and UK to Australia – one that has all types in a single housing is best. It is also good to have 1 or 2 USB charging sockets available as most phone and camera chargers use these, via a cable. The adaptors need to manage the different voltages as well, if your equipment is sensitive.

Accommodation

Using your Camino Passport or Credential, you are entitled to stay in Albergues that are run by organised groups, the municipals or are Private. In some they will need to see your passport and will often take a photocopy. This is good to protect your security as they use this to track you on your route.

These usually cost e10 per night or less per person, include usually bunk beds, mattresses and pillows and shared toilets and showers and a kitchen area. Often they will have washing machines, sinks and driers and clothes lines (take your own pegs). It is not unusual to see pilgrims with clothing pinned (safety pins) to the outside of packs drying as they walk.

Next up are Hostels which often save twin bedded rooms with their own bathroom and some offer washing facilities by the Hospitalero. These are great and luxurious by comparison.

They usually cost e20-40 per night per twin bedded room.

There are Casa Rural Hotels and Hotels with varying star ratings, usually with dining rooms and own bathrooms and showers. Luxury.

Cost e40-e100 per room per night.

Tents and Sleeping Bags and Liners

Since we stayed in Albergues and Hostels and Hotels we did not need or take a tent or even sleeping mats.

We took lightweight down sleeping bags that were great, especially as some places did not provide blankets (all provided pillows and mattresses, some paper mattress covers and pillow cases). Note there were stories that occasionally, bed bugs might have inhabited a few blankets.

Ce always enjoyed her sleeping bag which was a luxury as well.
Tony always used an inner silk sleeping bag liner sheet which was very light, luxurious and packed away to nothing. On hot nights it was all he used, on some nights he topped it with a blanket and a sleeping bag. Ce never used the liner.

Documents

You need your Passport.

An Aussie Drivers Licence is usually accepted when hiring a car.

A letter from your Doctor re medications is a good idea.

You need a Camino Passport or Credential – can get one by joining Australian Friends of the Camino and/or buying one over there.

It is a wise idea to have a guide book and or maps. John Brierly’s is good but you don’t have to stick to his stages or even routes. Some love him, some hate him!

Security Revisted

The Camino is relatively safe for most. 

Some youngsters have a saying that “what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino!!”

We met 15 yo girls walking on the Camino, on their own, safely.

There was a strong Police presence in 2014 all along the route.

Where necessary, the Hopitaleros know who has come from where and where they are going.

Many come and go along the Camino. There are few stats on who starts and does not finish but some people do the walk in stages over many years.