Warning – This post will be boring unless you are a Camino fan.
I started at St. Jean Pied de Port on October 14 and arrived in Santiago on November 27, exactly 6 weeks and almost 800 km later. For me, 6 weeks was the right amount of time. I found that 20 km/day was a good average, 30 km/day was a maximum, and some days had to be less than 20, for logistical reasons.
Joy – For the first month I felt joy every morning when I started, and loved walking all day. Even though I looked forward to the end of each day, I didn’t want to be anywhere else or do anything else.
I admit that I felt weary at the end, and not really sad to finish. It was partly because of the late-November weather, partly because I had an upset stomach at one point, and partly because I was simply tired. Maybe I needed a rest day but I was trying to get Santiago before the Galician rains struck!
Personal transformation, etc. – Without being smug or self satisfied, I have to say that I am quite happy with my condition in life, I am not “searching” for anything, and I did not come away a changed person. Maybe I learned a little more tolerance for individuals and a lessened need to reform people around me. I don’t feel a big need to describe and relate my Camino to my husband or family at home. It is something between me and the Camino and that is enough. In any case, I think I’m more cheerful and easygoing now that I am (semi) retired and have less pressure and fewer responsibilities than I did in the workplace or even functioning as a mother. Certainly the camino appeals to, and enhances, that relaxed condition.
Unexpected – Not too much, since I had been on the Camino twice before at the same time of year. However, every Camino becomes unique when various unknown factors define the journey.Becoming part of the Camino Rosé Club on Day 1 certainly brought more social engagement than I expected, as well as company for much of the journey. Of course I assumed before I started that friends would be made, but I didn’t know what form they would take or what eccentricities they would have!
Backpack – Carrying 6.5 kg is perfect and I could carry it all day without difficulty. I still had everything I needed or wanted. I met several people who regretted their heavier loads!
Winter Closings – Many places were closed especially in late November, although there were always beds available in the major stopping places. The number of closed places really made it very clear how crowded the camino must be in the busy seasons!
Weather – Quite good, with serious rain only on couple of days. However, you do need to be prepared for anything at this time of year. It snowed in O Cebreiro days after I was there. I regularly used my waterproof breathable jacket and rain pants as wind breakers and insulation, a merino wool buff and gloves were important temperature controls, and I even used sunscreen early on.
Walking alone – I enjoy walking alone, but I spent a lot of time walking within sight of NY-J (from Day 1) and we arrived in Santiago together. We walked at a similar pace and didn’t annoy each other with chatter. On the other hand, I also loved the days when I was not “with” anyone, and set out in the morning with no ties whatsoever. However, it got a bit lonely on the path in late November, especially when I took my time leaving town in the mornings and most other people had already gone. I walked much of the time with no other pilgrims in view.
Bedbugs – They love me. I got bitten twice in my first 3 weeks although other people in the same places had no problems. I had my things organized so my pack was inside an air tight bag at night and I could isolate night things for decontamination in a hot drier the next day. Of course, upon arrival in Canada, I did a very thorough inspection and treatment of everything.
Accommodation – I stayed in a mixture of pilgrim albergue bunks (7-10 Euros) and private rooms (20-35 Euros). While private accommodation is no guarantee against bedbugs on the camino, there might be fewer (since fewer people pass through) and I found that my bedbug prevention/control routine was easier in a private room. However, the albergues were attractive for the social connections and the price.
Physical – Overall, I was pleased with my body’s cooperation. I got 2 blisters at the 400 km point, for unknown reasons. They required care and attention for a week, but were not too bad. I had a bit of shin pain for a few days but it went away. My previously stress-fractured metatarsal performed perfectly. I had trained for about 6 weeks with 50-70 km of regular walking each week and think that it made a world of difference. Another factor is that I didn’t overdo my daily distances; my longest distance was 29 km and I rarely did over 25.
Where to stay in Santiago de Compostela – Several of my companions stayed in the Parador, a posh hotel that is a former medieval hospital. I stayed at the Hospederia San Martin Pinario, a former monastery. I thought it was the perfect place to end a camino – just the right combination of grandeur, modesty, comfort and price. Ask for a room on the pilgrims’ floor – utilitarian but private with simple ensuite bathroom, for Euros 23 including a good breakfast.
Next – I’d like to walk the Via de la Plata. Perhaps Seville to Santiago is a longer than I want to do in one session (1000 km), but Salamanca to Santiago is just over 500 km. Springtime would be nice.