Home SPAIN Lessons for the (good) Camino de Santiago from an expert pilgrim

Lessons for the (good) Camino de Santiago from an expert pilgrim

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More than two decades after heading to Santiago de Compostela, Paco Nadal, an expert pilgrim, offers key advice on making the Jacobean Way an unforgettable memory.

01. First Time

The first Camino de Santiago is like the first kiss. never forgets I’ve never forgotten anything from the first time I ventured down the Jacobean path. It was February 1994 and I was colder than Antarctica. My God, those winter winds that blow across the Castilian plain, change so much roald amundsen, At the time, doing the Camino was still a thing for geeks, not even a tenth hostel that are now, nor a hundredth part of the machines sale and Zero Hostel disguised as private hostel. And I hardly met pilgrims. but the heat hospitality was introduced into some parish shelters or associations of road buddies I didn’t find it again in any other trip along a Jacobian route. But, well, I don’t want to sound like a grumpy grandpa; Your Camino, the first thing you do, whether it’s today or next month, will be unique. Like that first kiss. Sure.

02. My Favorite Route

There was a Camino until the emergence of Xacobeo 99: the French one, marked by yellow arrows by the priest. ilyas valina and a long line of his assistants. Its success forced all Spanish administrations and federations to dust off other Jacobean routes—just as legitimate and historic as they taught us Uriah, lacarra And vazquez de parga in his Bible on the subject Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (1948)—. I’ve done almost all of them, at least all the big ones, and if they make me swoon (how hard it is to choose between mom or dad, because I love them all!) I’d say i like most primitive way, the one that runs from Oviedo to Melide (A Coruña), where it joins the French. According to history (or legend), the king followed this route Alfonso II the Chaste to confirm with his own eyes the presence of the tomb of the Apostle Santiago in mount libredon, What’s so special? A little bit of everything: more secluded than French, lots of mountains, it traverses an area of ​​Asturias unknown even to most Asturians and makes it comfortable without turning it into a pilgrimage The right services are there.

A sign for the Camino de la Costa near Orio (Gipuzkoa).
A sign for the Camino de la Costa near Orio (Gipuzkoa).March Baum (Getty Images)


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03. If you are going to do the Camino…

I never tire of repeating that there are two dangers for a walker: weight and the ones new shoes, Today, the main Caminos are so tame and toured That you will find everything in them, so the premise of keeping things in a backpack just in case does not make sense. Shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, shoemakers… are everywhere. Be very strict with what you add to the backpack: Your back will thank you. In summer, three or four fiber T-shirts will suffice (don’t wear cotton, which takes longer to dry), short pants, and a long, slightly warmer coat in case it gets colder. Another tip is to use the same liquid soap from the shower to wash clothes so you don’t need to carry more. As far as shoes go, that’s still key. Walking 25 kilometers every day is not what the legs are used to. And they will certainly suffer. Therefore, take comfortable shoes that have already been used, tamed. Never, I repeat, never, ever should you wear mountain boots or some really cute and cool sneakers to do the Camino. You’ll have all the ballots to scratch or blister and ruin your trip.

Parochial Hostel Rectory House (Leon).
Parochial Hostel Rectory House (Leon).El Piero (Getty Images)

04. A little help?

I have never used the services of companies that carry backpacks to the next hostel. but the camino de santiago is a very personal experience That everyone should live as they believe or want, and I’m not going to give lessons to anyone. but I believe an important part of the Jacobean experience to leave, Of course we are not going to Compostela to martyr ourselves, but the magic of the Camino, the reason why everyone who does it is happy, has a lot to do with it. personal development, with challenges set and overcome, with little bad timing, as a Sevillian friend said. The Camino is nothing more than a metaphor for life, and if they make everything too simple for you, you will pass on tiptoe, without living that life to the fullest. If your back hurt because you were carrying too much weight, you may have learned that you need less possessions and material goods than you imagine to be happy on the Camino (and in life). If you reach the end of the stage, your feet are bruised and your shoelaces are frayed, you will have learned that to achieve something on the Camino (and in life) you have to try; And it hurts at first, but then it gives relief. If you sleep in five star hotels instead of hostels, you will lose the Camino and the lessons of life, life is more fruitful if you share with others, if you give of yourself and give others your best . In short, everyone can do it however they want… but if they make it too easy for you, you’ll be missing out on a good part of the experience.

A bridge on the Camino de Santiago in Asturias.
A bridge on the Camino de Santiago in Asturias.

05. An Adventure Full of Tales

While doing the Camino for more than two decades, he narrates many stories. I remember the impression it made on me when I first stayed at the parish hostel in Granone (La Rioja)—one of the first and mythical hostels of the Camino Frances—and saw a box in the hall containing some bills and There were coins and a sign that said: “Pilgrims, take what you want, leave what you can”. Can this be done today? Publisher in 1998 Country-Aguilar he commissioned me to guide french way, This was not the first edition; One was published earlier, whose author stayed in a Navarrese town – whose name is irrelevant – and had some bad experiences with the neighbors, which led him to tell the guide that the enclave was inaccessible. Coincidentally, years later I was walking around the same town collecting data and I was amazed by the storm of water and wind that shows up on the news. I took shelter under a ledge, but still I was not saved from the torrential rain. At that moment, a garage gate opened, a neighbor came out with a jug of coffee with hot milk and some cookies, and invited me to take shelter until it calmed down. I thought: “Is it true that the Apostle Santiago exists, that he is watching me and sent this woman so that the new author of the guide could change his mind about this city?”. I am an atheist, but sometimes miracles happen.

Make portuguese way I slept in fire stations many times; The absence of pilgrim hostels was made up for by the reception on this route. volunteer firefighters, A whole institution in Portugal. and in the via de la plata At one point I found myself facing a herd of black bulls, with fearsome horns, resting on a dirt path that I had to walk through. He did not know whether they were brave or tame; I only had to cross it with bullfighter courage or turn around and retreat more than 10 kms. Now after half time, and still stuck with no decision, I saw a countryman in a single seat Panda appear on the track and I stopped him to give me the right stretch to save the bulls. He took me, but he laughed at me: they were tame. During those years I have met a wide variety of people: young Dutch convicted of petty crimes who can commute their sentences if they make a pilgrimage to Compostela (with a social teacher) for an almost medieval law; Pilgrims who were so moved by the experience that they left everything behind and set up a hostel or ran one belonging to an association, or one from Huercal-Ovara (Almeria), always started the Camino at home and every August Crossed it on foot – while I was on holiday – all of Spain was scorched.

A landscape on the Camino del Norte.
A landscape on the Camino del Norte.

06. For each season and important moment

When they ask me which Camino de Santiago I recommend, I answer that it’s like buying a pair of pants: it depends on your taste, the size, when you’re going to wear them … if If you’re venturing for the first time on a Jacobean route and you don’t mind (you might even want to) share the experience with lots of people (sometimes, too many), I encourage you to do it the French way. Would say, the traditional one, the one that doesn’t let you down and in which the Jacobean spirit is visible in every town, village, hermitage or forest through which one passes. Yes actually, From May to September it is saturatedOne has to wake up early in the morning to get a place in the hostel and at times it feels more like a pilgrimage than a pilgrimage. If it’s summer and you’re looking for a Camino with ample services at each end of the stage, but with fewer people, a beach and milder temperatures…, the better northern route, in any of its two versions (Coast or Primitivo). Via de la Plata sounds like the perfect thing to do in spring to me; In summer I would only recommend this by bicycle, on foot it is hard and long walks without shade or water. If you’re short on time and want to do a full Camino, English From Ferrol: It takes about five days through places in rural Galicia with little company, ample services and a feeling that the pilgrimage has not yet become a procession. Those who prefer solitary challenges and harden themselves on the little-traveled Jacobean route, the Camino Portugues, but not from Tui (Pontevedra), but from the beginning, in Lisbon. One travels through an unknown Portugal, which cannot be seen from the highway; There are very few walks and few shelters, but all the necessary decorations to give free rein to your monologues in the midst of nature.

Santiago’s Eight Most Famous Caminos

  • French way. Classic, one of a lifetime. It enters Spain via Roncesvalles and crosses Navarra, La Rioja and Castilla y León before reaching Galicia at O ​​Cebreiro. Approx 770 kms and 30 stages.
  • Portuguese way. In Portugal, the Jacobean myth (and trade) is not so deeply rooted, so it is a wild itinerary with fewer services, except for the final stages, already in Galician territory. Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela is 610 kilometers, which is easy to do in about 23 days.
  • Portuguese Coastal Route. It starts in Porto, but, unlike the previous one, it continues along the coast through Povoa de Varzim, Viana do Castelo, A Guarda, Baiona and Vigo. After 190 kilometers and nine stages, it joins the main Camino Portugues at Redondela.
  • North Road. It begins in Irun, on the French border, and proceeds along the entire Cantabrian coast, passing Bilbao and Santander. Shortly before Oviedo it splits into two: one continues to Ribadeo (Lugo) on the coast and Primitivo continues to Melide (A Coruña) in the mountains of western Asturias. The first branch is about 819 km; Second, 798.
  • English way. It is followed by pilgrims from northern Europe who arrive by boat at the ports in A Coruña and continue on foot to Compostela. It has two versions: from Ferrol (112 km) and from A Coruña (76 km).
  • Via de la Plata. There is only one big one which goes from south to north. It starts in Seville and crosses parts of Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla y León, following old Roman roads to join the French road at Astorga (700 km and 28 days).
  • fistera-maxia. It is the only Jacobean route that does not end in Santiago, but begins there. 90 kilometers to Cape Finisterre and an extension of three or four stages. From there, continue to Muxia on the Costa da Morte (28 kilometers and one more stage). Or it goes first through Muxia and then on to Fistera.
  • Aragonese way. 166 km which starts at the Somport Pass (Huesca) and is considered a variant of the French, joining after six stages at Puente la Reina (Navarra).

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