Every night at dinner tables along the Camino de Santiago the conversation inevitably turns to feet.
Specifically, how much they hurt. And what one should do to continue walking. “Let’s see?” “Can you walk?” “You should drain that?” “No, don’t.” Delightful. But when walking the old pilgrim trail of the Camino Frances (the most popular of the Camino routes) it is ALL about the feet.
At approximately 800km (depending on who you believe) the trail extends from St Jean Pied de Port, nestled in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, to Santiago in Spain and the shrine of the apostle St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims have been walking this trail for centuries. Today’s peregrinos (as Camino ‘pilgrims’ call themselves) cover an average of 20 to 30km per day, continuously for 20 to 40 days.
Then for the fun of it, some walk a further 90km to Finesterre (also known as ‘the end of the world’). Whatever itinerary you choose, here are my tips for walking the Camino de Santiago.
My husband was one of the very few lucky ones walking the Camino de Santiago. No blisters or foot problems to speak of. I was less fortunate. After 300km my left heel rebelled. Perhaps it was the warm weather and not airing my feet properly. Or maybe I’d become careless and stopped massaging my feet each night. In any event, one small blister appeared and then grew beneath the recommended dressing to the size of a 50 cent piece.
After a week I could bear no more. Of course Bronek (my husband) bore the brunt of it. When he tried to distract me as we trudged the last few kilometres that day, I snapped at him. It was all I could do to walk!
Fortunately the wonderful hosts at our accommodation took me to the local Centro de Salud (health centre) where I was well looked after. And mercifully the next day was short as we had walked further than expected the day before. So I tentatively covered the 5km in my socks and sandals (vanity goes out the window on the Camino!) giving my foot a much needed rest.
As we were crossing a bridge over an expressway on arrival at our destination, a truck driver hooted greetings. It was a welcome boost to my flagging sprits.
I did recover and continued on to finish the walk. Looking back at walking the Camino de Santiago, it was hard but it was also one of the best life experiences I’ve had. We walked an average of 20km per day. To make things a little easier on ourselves we carried day packs and had a shared bag transported each day (numerous organisations will arrange itineraries and baggage transfer).
We stayed in inexpensive pensiones that turned out to cost not much more than if we had each paid for a night in the shared dormitory-style accommodation used by many walkers. The more adventurous just step out in faith and trust that they will find accommodation along the way.
I recall the locals who in simple ways made the journey easier. Like the woman in a bakery who opened early to serve us breakfast so that we could get on our way. Or the person who called out to us as we took the wrong route.
And while walking the Camino de Santiago we met and mixed with people we would never normally come across in our sheltered lives. People from all walks of life, from all over the world. Many with whom we had no common language, but with whom we connected through our shared experience.
Always with at least one commonality – our weary feet.
Writer’s note: The Camino de Santiago forum is a useful resource for planning a Camino trip.
Do you have any tips for walking the Camino de Santiago? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Joanne Karcz published a blog when she walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago and has been writing about her travels ever since. She is also an aspiring travel photographer and takes her camera wherever she goes. Joanne loves discovering new things to see and do in her own Sydney backyard, and blogs regularly about the city’s suburbs. She has travelled through Europe and South America and taken a group of friends on the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. Her visits to Cuba and India were bucket list items, but she still has a few destinations to tick off!