I’ve now been home for just over a week after hiking the Camino de Santiago although it somehow feels much longer than that – it was one of those experiences where you can’t remember what life was like before and can’t imagine what going back to real life would be like. You just feel like you’ll be walking along the trail for the rest of your life – and actually, you feel pretty good about that!
There was plenty of time for quiet reflection, and I learned a lot during the trip – not only about the Camino, but about myself, too. Read on to find out what I learned, what you should be looking forward to if you’re booked in to do the trip, and a couple of facts you might not already know about the trail!
1. Walking 100km is not as daunting as it seems.
Especially when you break it down over six days. True, the first two days are 25km each, which seems a long way before you set off, but before you know it you’re settling in to your first stop’s hotel and thinking about what to eat that night. It’s actually the shorter days – around 15km, of which there are three – that seem unusually short when you do them!
2. Your body aches for the first two days.
The soles of your feet, your ankles, your butt, your hamstrings, your shins and calves… expect your body to start hurting after day one, then by the end of day two, for everywhere to hurt. Weirdly though by the third day your body starts getting used to it, so apart from tired feet, the more you walk, the better you feel!
3. Swimming feels amazing after walking.
You might not feel like going for a big swim after all that walking, but honestly moving your body in a different way for a couple of lengths feels so good and I believe it really helped with my recovery. Lidos are popular in towns along the Camino, so ask your hotel reception for your closest one.
4. The people you meet along the way make the trail.
Although the Camino de Santiago is beautiful, it isn’t as epic as a mountain hike, and you’ll see more farmland and forests than grand views. It’s the people that really make the Camino special – yes, the ones you hike with who you get to know on a deep level, but also the people you bump into along the way. A few of note for us were John, who was almost 70 and was hiking the Camino alone; and Michael, who was on his very first trip out of America and had been walking for a month. Inspirational stuff.
5. Everyone walks the Camino for different reasons.
All those people you meet? They’re all walking the Camino de Santiago for different reasons. Some do it alone as a pilgrimage (the official start of the Camino is your home, with the end being the cathedral in Santiago, where you hug the statue of St James), some do it in large, noisy groups (we saw lots of Spanish school trips during our time!) but the best part is that everyone is respectful of one another. You greet your other walkers with “buen Camino” (good way) which unites everybody on the trail. Find out a little more about the pilgrimage here.
6. Prepare for the hills!
Everything I’d read prior to hitting the Camino said that the trail had a few hills, so to prepare with a little hill training. Honestly – although it’s manageable for all fitness levels, the Camino is more than a little hilly! The hills tend to be long on both the way up and down, so if you don’t live near any hills, make sure you’re well acquainted with the stepper at the gym. I find that tilting my pelvis backwards slightly helps engage my glutes and hamstrings (but don’t let that become a habit when walking normally, as it can cause problems) and Lunges & Lycra recommend just letting yourself trot freely downhill, which takes the pressure off your joints. Find out how I trained for the hike here.
7. You eat a LOT..
Walking the Camino de Santiago is no time for diets, macro tracking or food prep. You have to eat SO MUCH, and you have to be willing to be a little looser with your diet restrictions than you’d normally be. You’re walking through rural Spain, so a lot of the food is similar place to place (albeit amazing!), so if you’re walking with a guide make sure they know your dietary preferences then they can help choose what to eat. Our guide Lalo was amazing for many reasons, but one of them was that he called ahead to restaurants to ask them to buy in ingredients and prepare special dishes for our vegetarian and vegan group members. That’s what I call service!
8. ..But if anything, you LOSE weight!
I weighed the same when I came back despite feeling like I’d eaten all the bread in the world, and some people even told me I looked slimmer than before. So seriously – don’t worry about how much you’re eating on this trip!
9. Backpack tans are a real thing.
Don’t expect a lovely even tan when walking the Camino. You’re going to get a backpack tan no matter which cut of top or how much sun cream you use, so just embrace it! We’re walking with just day packs here, as G Adventures transport the main luggage, which makes life a lot easier. You can find out what I packed for the trip here.
10. The easy signage makes the trail easy to walk alone.
I will forever sing our guide Lalo’s praises due to his knowledge about the trail, Galicia, and Spanish history, but also because of his dedication to his job, and I now consider him to be a good friend. However, if you really do want to hike the trail alone – or if you get lost from your group – the signage you should look out for are as below, with the yellow stick shell drawing on. I can imagine hiking all by yourself would be a completely different experience (and something I’d try for maybe three days) but the Camino seems to be a safe enough place to do it.
11. The tiredness REALLY hits when you get home.
The initial walking tiredness begins to wear off after a few days, as I said earlier, but the real tiredness hits when you stop. I haven’t felt tiredness like I felt waiting for our plane home on the Friday morning for a very long time. I slept on the plane, on the train from Gatwick to Manchester, then all afternoon at home. I made the mistake of going to CrossFit the next morning, which I wouldn’t recommend doing… I’d say to take at least two further days off work after the Camino to recover – pretty handy that the G Adventures trip returns on the Friday, giving you the weekend to rest hard.
Has this post got you pumped for your own Camino de Santiago hike? Click here to WIN the very same trip! G Adventures are also offering you 15% off all Active trips when booked by September 30, for travel before July 31 2018. Quote promo code: 18TS015ACT01 when booking. Lalo is running his final Camino trip for the year August 20-27th, so I’d recommend you got on that one if you can!