Ultrarunning The Camino: A Travel Diary

In August 2018, ultrarunners and husband and wife, Agnieszka Pami and Marek Pamula took on a challenge of a lifetime… to run the entire Camino Frances in just 9 days to raise vital funds for their wheelchair-bound friend. While they ran into many unexpected challenges, Agnieszka says that the Camino transformed their lives in ways that they never expected. 

 

EMBARKING ON OUR JOURNEY

The French Way (Camino Frances) is the most famous of the Camino trails, stretching 800KM from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in North-western Spain. This is one of the oldest European pilgrim trails, and one of the most frequently used in modern times.

camino frances

Thousands of people set off to walk the distance for different reasons: health, sports, spiritual, adventure… just to name a few. This year, we decided to run it for a very special cause.

There are many people running this trail each year, in parts or the entire distance. However, we couldn’t find on the Internet any trace of people who have done it without any external support.  We wanted to run the Camino with only us and our 5 kg backpacks with everything we needed. We made the plan for 10 days. We’d run an average of 80KM, which seemed realistic, considering our running experience to date.  At the heart of the plan, however, was to raise money to pay for treatment for our friend Mirek, who was in a motorcycle accident several years ago. Our goal was to raise enough money for him to pay for rehabilitation treatment for 6 months.

For this purpose, we set up a Facebook page Camino on the Run and GoFundMe account to promote our fundraiser and raise awareness.  For months, we put all our effort into training and preparation, trying to balance this with work life. Everything else in our lives was put on hold until we reached Santiago de Compostela. On 20th August we started our journey full of excitement – and little we knew how this trip will unfold.

We arrived in Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port, and on the first day of our Camino adventure, we went through the Pyrenees. There were many uphills, but not as steep as we expected. Still, we walked them, being mindful that we could not use all our energy at the beginning. The day went fast, and the views on The Way were just amazing!

We stopped a few times to have some food, and refill our bottles. When we reached Pamplona, our first stop, we were thinking: “Ok, day one is over. Now we just need to continue”.

 

SETBACKS

The second day we started quite early, around 6:00 in the morning. There was 90 km to do on that day. Again, there were some hills on the way for the first half of the day, until we reached open fields. The sun was up and it was very hot, reaching almost 40 degrees and there was no shade. Again we decided to fast walk until it gets a bit cooler or we find some woods. Well, there was no shade until Los Arcos. There we stopped and made the decision to finish at that point (20 km short of the planned distance for the day), take a taxi to our next stop Logrono and go back to Los Arcos the next day to continue. Marek was feeling quite bad and I was nauseous as well. We thought that maybe we ate something heavy on the stomach and that we just needed some rest – but we couldn’t fall asleep until morning.

The next day Marek was throwing up and I felt dizzy. We realised quickly that it was a heat stroke. On the second day! We just couldn’t believe this. We were experienced, we have done so many races in hot conditions, running in saunas, and now this?! Obviously, we knew we had to take a break to cool our bodies, rest, and drink water. We took a taxi to our next place, Belorado. We were lucky that the room we had was very chilly and the owner was super friendly. He provided us with ice and frozen gel pads. This helped a lot, as I covered Marek with gel pads and cold towels and then went to take an icy shower. We also bought some tomato juice to sip, that helped a lot.

 

And even now, in these crazy times, the Camino de Santiago does transform lives.

 

The following two days Marek was not yet ready to go. The temperatures were still very high and his stomach felt shaky. But he was able to function normally. We decided he will be taking transport from one place to the other until he feels better and I will be doing at least a marathon distance each day so that our fundraiser still made any sense. At that stage it was obvious we will not make the entire distance but we couldn’t just leave it like that. The next two days I spent on the open fields again and I was happy that Marek is taking the safe approach.

We were able to continue together from day 6 to the end. We covered some distance each day and then we took a taxi from wherever we finished to our next accommodation. We knew that in order to receive Compostela certificate of completion Camino de Santiago we need to cover the last 100km with no gaps. And so the distance from Sarria to Santiago, which is approximately 120 km, we divided per 3 days. 40 km a day was not very challenging, especially that close to Santiago where there were many shaded areas like woodland. We started early each day and then we had plenty of time to rest.

 

We were so happy that we didn’t give up despite all the circumstances, that we remembered that journey itself is more important than the destination. And that we could help someone.

 

Catedral de Santiago de compostela

And so we made it to the Cathedral’s main square in Santiago de Compostela on 29th August. The atmosphere was amazing! People finishing their pilgrimage were shouting and dancing with joy. You would think it’s UTMB finish line, it was so cheerful. We went straight to the pilgrim office where we received our certificates.

We were so happy that we didn’t give up despite all the circumstances, that we remembered that journey itself is more important than the destination. And that we could help someone.

 

FOR A GREAT CAUSE

Mirek was part of our project from the beginning. He was hoping that we manage to raise enough funds to let him go to a rehabilitation centre for at least 6 months, where he could go through advanced treatment and have a real chance to stand up and leave the wheelchair days behind. The GoFundMe page is still open if you wish to help. He appreciates every donation, and so do we. This is why we continued giving updates on our page even when things turned bad. Believe it or not but at those times this was the biggest challenge – to stay positive.

 

A LEARNING CURVE

Now when we are well rested and had time to talk things through we know that the plan was too ambitious. We should have allowed ourselves 2-3 extra days just in case something goes wrong. We could finish the whole distance if we were more flexible in our planning. But as we had everything pre-booked we had no other option but to go from one place to the other. Also picking summer time maybe wasn’t the smartest choice. But hey, we learn from our mistakes, right? We have never done anything like that and the 10 days were amazing in what we learned along the way.

Camino on the run waymark

One of the best things we took out of this experience is that there is plenty of goodness in people. There were few situations where we thought: “Now we’re screwed. What do we do?!” And there was always somebody who helped us – even if they didn’t have a word of English.

Spanish people are very friendly, and proud of their country. You cannot see much of foreign capital invested in this country. They prefer their food, industry, banks etc. And this may be their strength. They also respect their family time. We could observe at many places where we stopped for some hot food how they come together with the whole family and friends and celebrate their time at the table with delicious food and sangria wine. The landscapes changed as we moved. Starting from the Pyrenees, then some open fields, forests, and lovely small hills.

We have also learned that there are more important things that pure ambitions: family, friendship, kindness, empathy, love. We keep telling people our Camino stories and we always start with: “It didn’t go according to the plan, but at the end, it was much better than that!” The Camino has some unique atmosphere and you have more time than at any ultramarathon to think. And even now, in these crazy times, it does transform lives.

This was quite a journey.

Agnieszka & Marek

DONATE TO THE CAMINO ON THE RUN BY VISITING THEIR GO FUND ME PAGE.

John Meyer: The Camino & Its Rich Reward

John Meyer, the author of Shadows, Shells & Spainrecounts his time walking the Camino de Santiago and how, despite some of the challenges he faced, his pilgrimage changed his life for the better. 

There is no doubt that walking the Camino de Santiago was one of the greatest adventures of my life. And I’m not alone. Numerous books about the Camino, dozens of websites devoted to the pilgrimage, and various Facebook Camino groups dedicated to providing answers to inquiring minds all universally agree: walking the Camino will potentially test your body, open your mind, and stir your spirit.

However, it would be naive to think that the Camino is not without its obstacles and annoyances. Yes, injuries are bound to happen to many pilgrims. I mean, how many times do you walk 800 kilometers inside a month (and probably without much training)? But they don’t have to ruin your trip. (I injured my ankle on Day 8; got some drugs & medical cream from the doctor, took a day off from walking, took a bus for a couple of days, and then started walking again.)

And yes, there will be snorers sleeping beside you if you choose to stay at albergues. And they will probably wake you up. And they will probably incite angry thoughts. But don’t give up. Try ear-plugs. Try some extra wine at dinner. Even try sleeping in hotels. But don’t let the snorers ruin your trip.

The Camino & Its Rich RewardThis journey is meant to challenge you and force you out of your comfort zone. It will also heal you. When I walked the Camino, each and every person I met had their own personal reason for leaving their friends and family behind to trek across northern Spain in order to visit Santiago de Compostela. Some had just quit their jobs. Some had just quit their marriages. Some just needed to unplug from their stressful lives back home. Whatever their reason they were all united in their belief that walking across Spain would help them heal from their hurts or stimulate their minds to live their lives better when they returned home.

It seemed to work. You could see it in their exhausted faces outside the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago. Emerging from the administrative center, with their compostela diplomas rolled up inside their hands, many pilgrims shrieked. Some wept. Some looked around for somebody to embrace: a relative, a friend, a stranger—it didn’t matter. Some just stared wild-eyed in joyous relief.

Having completed the arduous journey, I can affirm that marching along these (sometimes) lonely roads really does inspire you and gives you plenty of time to contemplate your life while you meet many other friendly, like-minded souls marching across Spain— just like you!

And sure, you can easily contemplate your life while sitting on your couch at home as well, but only by leaving all the distractions in your life… can you really experience some form of proper introspection which can lead to some form of very positive growth.

It certainly affected me back home as well. After my own 22 day walk across Spain, I wasn’t ready to give up the nomadic life so quickly! Before my trip, I had moved out of my downtown condo, sold much of my furniture, and had placed all my remaining possessions into a large storage unit. I just assumed I would look for a new place to live immediately upon my return.

But that didn’t happen…

After living for a month with everything I needed on my back, the last thing I wanted to do was buy new furniture again and set up shop. So I continued my nomadic life inside Toronto… for 2.5 more years! I just signed up for Airbnb rentals: a month here, a week there, a long weekend over here… Over the course of two years, I stayed in over 30 houses, apartments, condos, and basement suites (and even saved money)! I guess the nomadic life was truly inspiring to me and I didn’t want to give it up…

So I hope you seriously contemplate your own Camino journey. You will be richer for the experience. It will change your life… for the better.

___________________

SHADOWS, SHELLS AND SPAIN By John MeyerShadows, Shells and Spain By John Meyer

Available on Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble.

Lost and listless on the island of Mallorca, Jamie Draper searches for his estranged wife, Pam, who has left him without any explanation or warning. Exploring her last known location, Jamie stumbles upon an urgent letter from his missing wife promising full disclosure as to her sudden departure and her current whereabouts.
There’s just one catch: her mysterious adventure is disclosed in a series of letters she’s left hidden along the ancient Camino trail across northern Spain. Now armed with a list of clues to track the letters down, Jamie retraces Pam’s footsteps, while being both entertained and challenged by the many colorful Camino characters he meets along the way—including the enchanting Brie, who harbors her own secrets that just might compromise Jamie’s intended reunion with his wife.

Find out more at Johnmeyerbooks.com

 

 

My Journey of Self-healing and Empowerment

I used to be scared of the journey of self-discovery.

I dreaded the thought of what I might find. What if I didn’t have it all together? What if I needed development, healing or support from others? I couldn’t imagine opening myself up to judgment.

This way of being, this fear of being seen, led to years of false narratives, poor relationships, addictions, loneliness, obesity and a long affair with depression and suicidal thinking.

That is, until one conversation changed it all – a conversation that dared me to explore, to connect, to develop, and to stand up for my life and who I was capable of being.

It was the conversation that saved my life. journey of self care

I remember the day clearly. It was a beautiful Thursday morning in Brooklyn. I remember feeling hopeless and numb. I felt everything and nothing all at once. I had lost my faith and wanted to stop hurting. My depression had won. I was ready to end my life.

Five feet from the bridge I planned on ending my life on, I paused – something told me to call my Uncle Frank. He and my Aunt Sandra took me in after my parents died and over the years had become the father figure in my life. He is the person who roots for me the most, and sees me for me no matter what. He had listened. He had cried with me. He had given me every pep talk under the sun. He had done so much for me since I was 12 years old, I felt I needed to call him. He needed to know I had tried – tried to change, tried to get the negative thoughts to go away…but I just couldn’t try anymore. I also wanted him to know how thankful I was for him.

I didn’t know it then, but with that call I was sending out a cry for help. And thank God I did.

Uncle Frank answered the phone, and before I could even finish a thought he reminded me of my value. He reminded me of how important I was to him, to our family, to my friends and to the world. He didn’t even know where I was, but he knew how to save me. He made me talk to him, cry and feel everything I was trying to avoid. I needed healing. I needed to learn how to deal with the death of my parents, my childhood and domestic abuse, and a lifelong battle of “not being good enough.” I needed help, and Uncle Frank assisted the setup so I could get it. For the next year I was able to work less and put more energy into my mental health and growth. We talked almost every day to keep me accountable to the work and actions needed to shift my perceptions of my life’s reality. He took me seriously and acknowledged my pain, but also pushed me to recognize that only I could make it better. That idea still resonates with me. It will always be up to me to make the change I wish to see.

I remember walking home from the bridge still wondering if I would be back. Yet, something told me to borrow a little of my uncle’s faith and peace until I could find my own.

That was six years ago.

Melissa YogaSix years and one huge transformation later, I wholeheartedly believe what Uncle Frank told me at the bridge. I am important to the world. I’ve created a life filled with love, joy, connection, abundance and one grounded in my value. I still have low days (who doesn’t?), but now I have the tools of self-reliance, compassion and support to help me understand, communicate and nurture my emotions. I’m currently traveling the world, sharing my story one listener at a time. My uncle and his importance in my life get brought up during every discussion.

In September 2016 I joined the ranks of thousands of pilgrims by walking a portion of the Camino De Santiago in Northern Spain. As someone who once battled with obesity and food addiction, who once walked with a cane and couldn’t bend over to tie her own shoes, I felt like a superhero reaching the Cathedral de Santiago seven days after the start of my journey.

There’s a saying on the Camino: you start walking for one reason, but find the real reason along the path. I was doing the walk on a whim and as a fundraiser for Suicide Prevention. This, I thought, was my reason.

The pilgrimage was the hardest journey I had ever taken – spiritually, physically and mentally. But it was also the best. I met amazing people from all walks of life, had powerful connections and conversations. I walked for miles with a herd of cows behind me, and walked in the mountains of Sarria in the pouring rain. I cried with strangers in Portomarin and got taken in by a group of new Irish friends. I laughed hysterically and cried from fatigue. I stayed in beautiful places, ate amazing food and drank wine you dream about. Villagers greeted me with warmth in each new place, so thankful that I was on this journey and passing through theirs. I discovered global grace and community everywhere I went.

The Camino forced me to meet my resistance with love.

There is another saying on the Camino that is quite special to me. As you pass another pilgrim walker you say “Buen Camino” meaning “good way.” These words always provided such comfort and cultivated exchanges of smiles, connection and space.

In one of the villages along my path, I met a man who owned a clothing shop. He lost one of his legs in an accident but continues to walk the Camino with the most beautiful spirit and smile. While he always bid me a “Buen Camino,” he would also say, “Mas que un camino,” meaning “there is always more than one way.” Every time I heard it I thought of my uncle, and my heart would be flooded with gratitude.

Six years ago I thought there was only one way to ease my hurt. I am so thankful I asked for, and received, guidance down another path. Although it was difficult to wade through the muck, my journey after the bridge led me to a new version of my life, where I could watch my dreams unfold. Now I get to share my story, write, lead meditations and host workshops in beautiful places all over the world. I couldn’t be more blessed by “my way” than I am today, and I hope it inspires others to picture new journeys for themselves.

In the last 15 minutes of my Camino walk, a rush of emotions came over me. I felt compelled to stop, take out my phone and record a video message to myself. In this message, I reminded myself that this moment was mine. I did the walk. I did the work. I met hard times with grace – and I persevered. I reminded myself to never forget who I was in my heart. A warrior. A woman who will always rise. I reminded myself to take care of my sweet and sensitive heart and to allow my creative spirit to fly. I stared at myself on the screen and cried – not out of sadness, but out of thankfulness. For the very first time, I offered myself gratitude for showing up, for answering the call for more love. Everything Uncle Frank told me six years ago rang true in my ears and in my heart. I could say it all, out loud, to myself – and BELIEVE it.

I went to the Camino for one reason. I found my real reason in these last 15 minutes.

I was healed, and this was my victory walk.

A few self-hugs and high fives ensued and I walked the rest of the way with a smile on my face, feeling an army of love behind me that I will never separate from again. I now dedicate my life to sharing my story, my struggle with suicide and depression, to pay forward what my uncle gave me six years ago – the pathway back to my value.

Mas que un camino.

More love always,

Melissa

MORE ON MELISSA

Back in May, Melissa put her belongings in storage and said goodbye to her life in Brooklyn, New York, to take on life as a global digital nomad, Intuitive Guide & Speaker. She has traveled to seven different countries since then sharing her heart, story and tools she used to transform her life through workshops, blogging, readings, meditation gatherings and talks focused on Sustainable Self-Empowerment and care.  She is currently finishing out the year living in Bali surfing and writing her first book. She is committed to Suicide Prevention Advocacy and inspiring as many people as possible to connect with their true value and lead from there: LOVE.

Follow Melissa’s journey here: SUPPORT SQUAD FACEBOOK GROUP, INSTAGRAM, NEWSLETTER

A Guide To Photographing The Camino De Santiago

Walking (or cycling) the Camino experience necessitates a means to capture the moment. While no camera sensor can match the mind’s eye and imagination for colour, contrast, and composition, for most pilgrims a camera (or two) is essential for personal visual documentation.

As a photographer and one who has walked and cycled the Camino multiple times and used smartphones, mid-range and high-end cameras and lenses to capture the Camino’s spiritual, architectural and geographic ambiance, I will offer a few practical suggestions. Keep in mind these recommendations are for those new to the Camino and/or have little experience in photography as most dedicated serious photographers know their craft well and what equipment to use.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - Church

First things first. Consider your photographic intention – do you want to ultimately edit and enhance your pictures after your trip?  If so, it makes sense to purchase at least a mid-price range camera that has the capability of shooting both in regular JPEG (most common recording format) mode and RAW (minimally processed digital negatives) mode and has the ability to capture at least 16-megapixel images. Editing RAW images give you much more versatility with colours, contrasts, and hues. That said most digital cameras today, at least the ones priced USD$250-1000 (or €200-€800) can give you excellent colour and black & white photographs right out of the camera but can also shoot in RAW format to be edited later.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - Wide Angle

Professional tips for better photographs of the Camino

Three suggestions I will share with those relatively new to the Camino and/or travel photography –

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 35mm moderate wide angle35mm moderate wide angle

1)      Perspective – There are two fundamental perspectives in travel photography, particularly for the Camino:  Personal perspective – photographing exactly the way you see the image (e.g., colour, shadows, field of view) and your audience’s perspective – i.e., how you want your viewers to see the picture. The first perspective involves “shooting from the hip” without any advanced camera settings (for example removal of shadows) other than having the camera in a reasonably basic auto or programmed mode. Most respectable point-and-shoot compact digital cameras with a fixed lens perform acceptably for this perspective. The second perspective (your audience) includes manipulating special camera settings during the shoot but especially in “post-processing” (after you download all of your photos) via one of the many digital processing software programs e.g. Lightroom or Capture.  Which perspective you choose is a matter of personal preference and intent and often times can certainly be an amalgam of both. That said and most importantly – do not undervalue capturing your personal vision on what is artfully and spiritually meaningful to you.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 28mm wide angle28mm wide angle

2)      Variety of lens focal lengths – You should be prepared to take wide-angle shots for the broad Spanish/Portuguese/French landscape, agrarian, and architectural views particularly for countrysides, lagoons and in cathedrals and small chapels (a 28mm lens or smaller, 12-14mm ideal). Be prepared to use longer focal lengths, e.g., 150-300 mm, to isolate distant and special subject compositions. Of course, single multipurpose zoom lenses can do both – e.g. a 24-120mm lens or even a 24-600mm lens as featured in Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 III digital camera (USD$1200 / €950). Example images and focal lengths are displayed below.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 50mm standard view50 mm standard view

3)     Smaller mid-price-range mirrorless digital cameras with either a fixed multi-purpose digital zoom lens or interchangeable lens option (e.g. Fujifilm XT-1, Lumix ZS100, Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, Sony RX100 IV or V) are among the best all-around cameras because of their smaller size and versatility. But know there are scores of other excellent camera options within this class of small to intermediate-size digital mirrorless cameras. If you have a choice to purchase a “weather sealed” camera, nearly all camera manufacturers have such models, this would be very helpful as anyone who has walked or cycled the Camino knows there will be times when wind, rain, fog, and even snow will prevail, depending on the season. The first camera I used on the Leon to Santiago Camino trek was a USD$300 (or €240) Panasonic 16 megapixel camera with a 14-45mm lens and I have to say – many of the photographs I shot with this intermediate size digital camera match up as well as those I have since taken with considerably higher-end Leica and Nikon cameras.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 85mm slight telephoto85mm slight telephoto

But know, if you can only use a fixed lens camera, particularly one with a multi-purpose zoom lens, be prepared to use wide angle captures (28mm or less, i.e., wider angle of view) and take a multipurpose zoom lens e.g., 15-45mm, 24-70mm, etc.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 14mm super wide angle14mm super wide angle

What camera should you take on the Camino?

Smartphone cameras – specifically newer iPhone or Android mobile (or cell) phone cameras.  In the last several years, mobile phone camera image sensors have improved markedly and then some – both in picture resolution, dynamic range and light sensitivity, even rivalling many of the mid-range and higher-end digital cameras. For stills photography, these newer cell phones can take remarkable photographs. The main downside of smartphone cameras is that they often are restricted to narrow fields of view, e.g., insufficient wide angle options, likely to have a cumbersome lens zooming mechanism, and not impervious to damp or rainy weather.

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 28mm wide angle28 mm wide angle

Price ranges for respectable digital travel cameras (mostly priced by the camera’s number of functions, sensor and autofocus capability, capture rate, and video function)-

USD$250-$500 (€200-€400)
USD$500-1500 (€400-€1200)
> USD$1500 (>€1200)

Photographing the Camino de Santiago    Photographing the Camino de Santiago

Example cameras by price range (these are just a few, note that most of these prices are for the camera body only – does not include the lens):

USD$250-500 (€200-€400)

  • Canon EOS M100
  • Canon EOS Rebel T6
  • Fujifilm X-A3
  • Fujifilm X-A10
  • Nikon 1 J5
  • Nikon D3400
  • Olympus PEN E-PL8
  • Olympus TG-4
USD$500-1000 (€400-€800)
Our pick: Nikon D5600
Also consider: Olympus E-M10 III

  • Canon EOS 77D
  • Canon EOS M6
  • Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D)
  • Canon EOS Rebel T7i (EOS 800D)
  • Fujifilm X-T20
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX85
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX850
  • Nikon D7500
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
  • Olympus PEN E PL8
USD$1000-1500 (€800-€1200)

  • Canon EOS 7D II
  • Canon EOS 80D
  • Canon EOS M5
  • Fujifilm X-E3
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
  • Olympus PEN-F
>USD$1500 (>€1200)

  • Nikon D750
  • Canon EOS 6D II
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
  • Canon EOS 5DS / 5DS R
  • Fujifilm X-Pro2
  • Fujifilm X-T2
  • Leica TL2
  • Nikon D850
  • Sony a7RIII
  • Leica Q

 Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 150mm moderate telephoto150mm moderate telephoto

Some final points on getting the most from your choice of camera

Memory cards – Depending on your camera’s sensor size and megapixel count (i.e. its ability to capture special detail in an image) you will need to consider the size of the memory card you use. If you are spending 3-4 weeks walking or cycling the Camino I would suggest at least several 32-gigabyte memory cards or at least one 64 or even 128 GB cards. Above all, back up all of your photos as soon as you return home. Rule of thumb – a 16 mp camera with a 32 GB card can shoot ~5700 regular JPEG images whereas, if you are shooting in RAW it’s ~570 (depending on level of RAW compression you choose) images.

Image detail: The general rule for high-quality sharp prints is 300 pixels per inch. For example, an 8×10 inch print needs 8x300x10x300 = 7.2 megapixels. One can still make very nice 8×10 inch prints with fewer megapixels, but the lower the megapixel count, the softer the image. All of the digital cameras mentioned in this article have at least 16 mp sensors (i.e. 16 mp per saved image).

Photographing the Camino de Santiago - 150mm wide angle - 28mm wide angle28 mm wide angle

As a final suggestion, I would recommend having at least two means of capturing the Camino, aside from your eye and brain of course – a smartphone and at least a mid-range digital camera that can capture at least 16 megapixels per photograph. Here, the smartphone can be a reliable back-up to your primary camera.

In any event, for many of you, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage and one that deserves many exceptional photographic impressions to savour.

Guest Contributor – Ralph LaForge

  • markers Photography Blog

Meet the Camino Honeymoon Couple

They’re young and beautiful and spent their honeymoon and Christmas on the Camino de Santiago. We have the exclusive interview for you!

Where are you from, how long have you known each other?

Ellyn and I are from Singapore. Although we married each other in July 2012, we have actually known each other for over 14 years now. We are good friends from high school back in 1998, but college and careers took us away from each other for nearly 12 years. She had a special place in my heart throughout this period though. We finally started dating in 2010 when life saw it opportune to bring us back into each other’s lives. I’m glad to have married the love of my life and I will treasure the time we spent walking the Camino together always as it completely affirmed for both of us that we have married the one.

Why did you choose to spend your Honeymoon on the Camino?

I’m a big fan of the author, Paulo Coelho, and read his book “The Pilgrimage” quite some time ago. His book made me fall in love with the idea of walking the Camino. When Ellyn and I started to plan for our honeymoon, I proposed the idea of walking the final 100km of the Camino Franceson December 12.

At the time I thought, a typical honeymoon consists of things that I’d do on any other holiday, i.e. tourist attractions and beach resorts. So, I thought wouldn’t it be incredibly romantic for Ellyn and I to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime experience for our honeymoon instead? The walk is something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives because the 5 days we spent on the road, with only each other for company, really bonded us together as we spent long days just chatting and discovering new opinions we had and new depths to each others’ personalities. It allowed us to strengthen our trust, love and respect for each other as we watched each other overcome the challenges of the day and the challenge of the Camino itself. We also timed our walk to end on Christmas Eve. Walking into Santiago de Compostela (the third most religious city in the world after Rome and Jerusalem), the day before Christmas and attending the pilgrim’s mass on Christmas day is such a special experience we’ll never forget.

Do you think walking the Camino brought you closer?

Definitely. In the hustle and bustle, we find ourselves in today, it’s refreshing to spend 5 days on the road with Ellyn, away from email, work phone calls and other distractions. We had only each other for company and that certainly brought us closer.

Would you recommend walking the Camino to other couples?

Walking the Camino on your honeymoon is not going to be easy. But I highly recommend it to couples who are looking for a unique honeymoon experience that they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives. In a sense it’s an analogy for life ahead, walking together not in front or behind and ready to face live challenges one step at a time.

Lastly, what was the most romantic spot on the Camino?

The entire Camino really. Walking through the hamlets and witnessing the locals go about their normal day while you’re on the road to Santiago has a certain sweetness to it. Meandering through country roads amidst all of nature’s greenery is also incredibly romantic. And the city of Santiago de Compostela in Winter, with its snow-covered church rooftops, is indeed a wonderful sight to behold.

How was the accommodation suited for a couple on their honeymoon?

We were really taken care of on this front as Follow the Camino had told each of our hotels that we were on honeymoon so we were put in the best room in each hotel, or casa rural, each night and the staff went above and beyond to ensure our stay was as comfortable and romantic as we could ever have hoped for.

Are you planning a return to another section of the Camino for your anniversary?

Absolutely, it would be a dream of ours to complete a full Way over different sections across a number of years.

If you’ve been inspired by our honeymoon couple, why not surprise your loved one with a romantic week together on the Camino Romantico!?

Simply tell us what date you wish to go and the occasion for walking the Camino. It can be for Valentine’s week, for your honeymoon, your renewal of vows or just to express your love and we take care of the rest.

Discover more about the Camino Romantico trip here

Please contact us at info@followthecamino.com for any queries about the Camino de Santiago walking tours or our services.

Walking the Camino de Santiago in Winter

Thinking about doing the Camino in winter? Here’s what you need to know, including popular routes to take, essential supplies to pack, and how to dress for the weather.

Why do the Camino in Winter?

Doing the Camino in winter has a lot of advantages. For one, the busy season starts in May and ends in October, so it’s a lot less crowded as soon as November rolls around. This means more peace, quieter paths, and an experience closer to the original pilgrimage made all those centuries ago. And since soul-searching is such an important part of any pilgrimage, a little isolation can go a long way!

Another advantage? It’s much easier for weary travellers to relax when they put their feet up at the end of a long day. Fewer guests mean more time devoted to YOU. Bear in mind, Catholics take Christmas very seriously and it’s not uncommon for accommodations – especially hostels – to close between 24 December and 7 January.

What’s the Weather like on the Camino between October and February?

Winter on the CaminoNaturally, many pilgrims first concern when considering the Camino in winter is the weather. This really depends on the route you decide to take, but those looking to escape the snow should probably avoid mountainous areas such as the Pyrenees. In areas including Spain and Portugal expect temperatures to range between 5 – 15°C come December and sunshine to last around six hours a day. France and Spain are at their wettest in November but less in the surrounding months.

How cold is cold? Well, this varies person-to-person, but when temperatures reach around 0 ºC or 32 ºF and water starts to freeze, we can all agree it’s cold! This means you’ll need three to four layers to make sure your body keeps warm. You may even be tempted to bring even more clothes for added snugness as you set out in the morning, but remember that your body heat builds up and soon you’ll be too hot. Just remember to add and take away layers as you respond to changing temperatures around you.

Camino Portugues and Camino Frances in Winter

Certain routes along the Way are more popular than others during the winter months, including the Camino Portugues and Camino Frances.

Camino Portugues

Once summer gives way to autumn, temperatures begin dropping on the largely coastal Camino Portugues, but not by much. Generally, in September the temperature averages at around 25 ºC or 77 ºF, and in October and November they drop to around 20 ºC or 68 ºF. Coinciding with the temperature drop is the rise in rainy days in the area. Changing from autumn to winter then, it can get as low as 14 ºC or 57 ºF, and once February comes around, your rain gear will certainly be put to good use.

Camino Frances

Like on The Camino Portugues, temperatures along the Camino Frances start to cool off as autumn takes hold. Starting out at around 23 ºC or 73 ºF in September, it drops to 18 ºC or 64 ºF in October, and then 13 ºC or 55 ºF in November. Chances of rain increase along the route, too. In Sarria, and other areas in Galicia, for example, there are more rainy than sunny days predicted. This is actually quite typical throughout northern Spain at this time, and temperatures averaging around 9 ºC or 48 ºF aren’t uncommon.

What should I Pack for the Camino in Winter?

Quality beats quantity when it comes to the Camino. You won’t need a lot of clothes, but the ones you take should be top-notch.

Base Layers: Layers are extremely important at this time of year. Synthetic or merino wool anti-bacterial keeps moisture away from the skin. Fabric weaving and thickness vary so choose based on the temperatures you expect to encounter. Budget-wise, something between €30 – €60 should do.

Fleece: Synthetic materials can act as great insulation to keep the body warm, while still allowing moisture to evaporate. You probably have a fleece already, but make sure it’s synthetic since not only will cotton or wool get and stay damp longer, but the wind will be cutting right through them. Prices ranging between €30 – €50 should be enough, with more complex materials hiking up the price.

T-Shirt: Again, opt for synthetic tees to keep as warm and dry as possible. These can act as a light extra layer over a base layer, and are also helpful for identifying team or group members travelling together.

Jacket: If you’re going for layers, adding a down jacket or windbreaker is an essential purchase. They’re not cheap though, ranging between €80 – €400, and the choice is enormous, which can make the decision even tougher. Best to ask advice directly from an outdoor clothing store, while a good all-rounder would be a 3 in 1 jacket combining waterproof, fleece and mid layer.

Winter Gear on the CaminoRainproof: How dry you stay depends on your budget. Your best bet includes Gore-Tex and Paramo, but other similar fabrics are easy to pick up. Gore-Tex could well be the most famous brand on the Camino, feel plastic and are noisy. Paramo is a newer fabric that imitates animal fur to keep water away from the body, and feels more natural. Ponchos can be good for rain but not so much in terms of practicalities.

Trousers: On the Camino, function beats fashion, every time. Enter convertible trousers. These’ll keep you quite warm and you’ve got the option to zip-off the lower parts of the leg when you get too hot. Those going in colder months might not need this option, in which case thicker hiking trousers will do the trick.

Waterproof Trousers: Wet trousers are never pleasant, so having waterproofs where rain is expected is a good idea. These can cost you between €40 – €150 depending on your budget, but they aren’t a must. Remember that rain doesn’t fall directly on legs and that in some regions showers only last an hour and are followed by sunshine. Your call!

Accessories: Hat! Make sure to cover those ears as they’re the first body parts to get frostbite in cold weather. Bring sun cream to prevent sun and snow burn, and sunglasses to prevent sun and snow glare. We also suggest using walking poles to help maintain good posture during the day – whether you’re with or without bag.

Gloves: Don’t get too stressed about having the ‘right’ pair of gloves. Even the waterproof kind rarely keep the rain completely out for more than an hour or two, so chances are that pair you’ve been using at home is most likely enough.

Socks: Last but certainly not least, socks. Our suggestion would be to bring a synthetic or merino wool sock as they don’t store moisture like cotton does. There are loads of different types, including 1000 mile and double layer socks, so it’s worth trialing some during your training. It’s important to walk in clean, dry socks, so bring at least three pairs to rotate. Those sleeping in pilgrim hostels (the ones that are open in winter!) should get to the heaters quick, as they don’t always run at night.

How the Camino Helped Me Heal Emotionally by Debra Aston

To walk is to see and hear what is not possible in a car. To hear the quiet, to feel the rough pilgrim walked ground under your boots, to taste the sweat on your lips.

At times it was amazing, painful and overwhelming. But I am grateful and thankful I was able to do it in order to help me heal emotionally.

I had sad, happy and many, many proud moments. There were times when I just stood in awe at the beauty around me. Then there were times I thought “What on earth are you doing?” but you just push on.  As us women do in most parts of our lives, especially during the toughest moments.  There’s a saying that goes ‘women are like tea bags, you don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.’  I firmly believe that so I set out on my Camino Portuguese Coastal journey to prove it, to myself above all others.

Why the Camino?

Nineteen months ago my husband left me. There were times I thought this is the end I can’t live without him.  I was so sad and so broken I really didn’t see light at the end of the tunnel. My friends were offering me all sorts of advice but nothing seemed to be working.  I had spent such a massive part of my life being half of something that I didn’t know who I was or how to be the full unit, alone.

Then I heard about the walk the Camino de Santiago and how it can help you heal emotionally and you supposedly you come back a changed person. The idea completely appealed to me, even though I was so scared of undertaking such an epic challenge.  I thought it would get my ex out of my head and heart once and for all. I booked my flights and accommodation and waited 6 months. I used this time to do a lot of research and reading about personal experiences on the Camino de Santiago. It was then I realised this journey was about ME and only me, not him. I had to prove to myself that I didn’t need him or his approval. It was time to see what I could do on my own. It was time to dig deep, push my boundaries and really see what I’m made of.

The Camino Experience

I loved the little old villages made of so much brick and stone, but it was the quietness that I found unusual where was everyone? To hear the occasional dog bark a cat meow, a lawn mower or a rooster crowing was nice to hear in the crisp morning air. We take for granted what we have, we are all too busy to look up at the sky at the shape of the clouds. To stop and feel the wind on your face or the warmth of the sun on your skin. To walk in the forest alone, to hear the birds and the water trickling in the steam and to feel a bit cooler in the shade of the trees. Walking alone you notice these things as you are one with yourself you are being mindful no distractions. All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other and look at the beauty around you.

A list of the reasons I am proud of myself

1. Travelling 36 hrs and changing 4 planes on my own. Pilgrim Certificate
2. Changing seats on the plane so a mother could sit with her daughters.
3. Not getting lost just missing the turns.
4. Gave a homeless man some coins and touched his face.
5. Played ball with a dog and had a horse bow for me.
6. Losing my phone charger and not having a panic attack.
7. I was blessed by a priest and through tears watched the Botafumerio.

All the pilgrims I met on the way were amazing as we all have something in common it makes it easier to make conversation. I heard about a woman who had both breasts removed she was getting on with her life she was 90 years old and a father and son walking together the father was blind. What I learnt was everyone has their troubles and a story to tell that will make your own problems seem minimal, don’t judge lend a helping hand or just listen. All parts of the world have the same people rich or poor healthy or sick, if all you can do is smile that is all some people need.  You could just offer them something as simple as a smile in the very moment they may need it most.  You may never even know how much that smile meant to them in that very moment in time.

My personal Growth

Looking back, I probably should have trained harder for the walk.  Nothing prepared me for the hills, but I got up them and when I was at the top gasping for air I was proud of myself for doing it on my own, it was me pushing myself. Me all alone, pushing my boundaries and making myself grow and become a better, stronger person.

Yes the Camino gives in mysterious ways. Is it a coincidence? Maybe but, I don’t think so.  To me it is a magical path that sincerely helped me heal emotionally when I needed it most in my life.

Would I recommend the Camino de Compostella to anyone?

No… EVERYONE.

This trip really took me out of my comfort zone and in spite of the physical challenges I had a fabulous time. Would I have tried writing anything like this before? Certainly not, but now I am a proud, strong independent woman and I feel I owe some of this new found feeling of pride to my Camino journey.

I booked my trip through Follow The Camino, and would like to thank Jose Chivite for all his hard work to make this happen for me. Nothing was too much trouble. Great job thank you.

Your fellow pilgrim, Debra.

Start your day with Purposeful Intention by Melissa Carter

 Purposeful Intention Meditation Script

 

Good morning beautiful one.

Welcome to a new moment, a new day, a new opportunity to shine from within.

As you beging to settle in for today’s meditaiton, know a head of you is a new opportunity to connect in meaning, in power, in love and in truth.

Choose your soul’s purpose and your heart’s passion, may they be devine.

Begin to get comfortable, softening your shoulders, softly closing your eyes, relaxing in and letting go.

Allow for just the next few moments to let the steady stillness of your heart and quiet wisdom of your higher self hold you in love.

Go a head and take a deep inhale for a count of 5 and then exhale for a count of 6.

Inhale a bit deeper this time for a count of 5 and on your exhale, slowing down for a count of 6.

Each breath softer, deeper, further relaxing and letting go.

As you beging your next inhale, invision your breath warmly and brightly spreading and flowing throughout  the parts of you that still might feel a little sleepy, a little tight or a little low and as you begin toexhale invision the breath completely leaving the body.

Letting go of anything not serving you, creating more space for more light and more love.

Continue on for a  few more breaths on your own.

Allowing your breath to find it’s natural rythm soften your shoulders further, soften your face, relax your jaw feeling the liquid relaxtion seep in to all parts of you.

We’re now going to set your intention for the day from within taking a deep breath trough your heart’s centre and your exhale the same way, ask your inner wisdom what intention do I need today to allow me to connect powerfully, to lead gracefully and love fully.

What do I need to know and as you exhale, fell the answer settle in.

Continue on your own now, hearing the truth of your heart ignite the wisdom intuition can bring.

As we begin to end your meditation feel the weight of your body in your seat, holding you, grounding you right where you should be.

Trusting all the answers you may be seeking are already within you, ready to walk right along side you on your journey.

Begin to move your writsts and ankles, deeping your breath, feeling the space around you, the ground underneath you, taking a moment to offer gratitude for the opportunity of stillness and self care.

Thanking your body, thanking your mind, thanking your heart.

Thank you for showing up for you today.  I hope you enjoyed your meditation. You’re welcome back here at any time.  Remember, everything you need to ignite a life you love is already within you.

May you lead from here and may you shine always.

 

Loads of love.

Wellways mental health charity Australia

Cheryl, Kym and Tony from Australia open up about their Camino to raise awareness for mental health

See video and blog post below:

The Idea

When the three core people/organisers of this group (Cheryl McInnes, Kym Murphy & Tony Whyte) first started exploring the possibilities of walking the Camino de Santiago for the second time, we were excited about the potential for this but also saw there was an opportunity for achieving something of a greater good at the same time. Having read people’s stories/blogs about having walked the Camino to raise money for a cause and charity dear to their hearts, we agreed that this was something we would also like to do and all agreed on walking to raise awareness and funds for Wellways mental health charity based in Australia.

We then approached Wellways to get a sense of whether or not they would be interested in partnering with us for this purpose. To perhaps raise money for the fantastic work they do as a mental health charity and perhaps anything else that appeared appropriate to them. Wellways is an Australian organisation that does a lot of work supporting people experiencing mental health challenges e.g. depression, anxiety, bi-polar, OCD, schizophrenia, etc. This happens in many different ways, including peer support groups and supports for carers also.

Wellways came back to us promptly with a very positive response and asked to meet with us to explore it further. Many meetings took place over the 12+ months preceding the commencement of our Camino de Santiago challenge for mental health awareness. At the same time we approached Follow the Camino to get a sense if they would be willing to support the cause as well. Cheryl and Kym had walked their 2014 Camino thanks to Follow the Camino having made all their travel arrangements for them, and we agreed it was worth going back to them a second time as the first experience had been flawless.

By the time we got ourselves organised, we had grown from 3 people in the group, to 8 people in the group and once all the travel details were sorted out, flights from Australia booked, final details and planning with Wellways completed, it was time to sit back and commence the countdown. We were all getting VERY excited.

Wellways on the CaminoTaking on the Camino de Santiago

Members of the group arrived in Europe at different times, linking our Camino challenge for mental health with other holiday opportunities to make the most of a very long haul flight from Melbourne Australia, to Europe and our destination point of St Jean Pied de Port at the beginning of the French Way of the Camino de Santiago.

Tony began his Camino in Aire-sur-L’Adour, walking 162 kms before meeting the rest of the group in St Jean Pied de Port on 26th August. We take our hats off to him for tackling this before beginning the 900 km planned walk as part of the Wellways for mental health efforts.

And at last the group is all together and we’re ready for the big adventure. After a rest day and last minute preparations, we begin walking our Camino for mental health awareness on 28th August, up and over the Pyrenees to Roncesvalles in Spain. What a day! It was misty most of the way, but still an awesome experience.

Each of us had prepared to be as physically and mentally fit as we could manage for this almost 900 km trek across Spain to Santiago de Compostela and on to Muxia on the Atlantic Coast. It’s true to say though that you cannot fully appreciate just how physically and mentally taxing this amount of kilometres can be. None of us could fully be prepared to walk an average of 22 kms per day, day after day for 40 days, so of course it was hard going at times. Everyone had their own demons to deal with along the way, and despite preparations, there were some blisters, there was some tendon tenderness in the feet, sore knees and hips, headaches, lack of sleep, adjustment to diet and timelines, and sometimes just not in a good head space. But despite all this, our Camino trip was amazing in every sense and we would not change a thing.

The physical adjustments happened for most people after a week to 10 days, despite the extreme heat, and we settled into a routine of being up early for breakfast, having our bags all packed and ready to go, backpack organised, teeth cleaned and all that and then heading off with walking poles in hand. For the two in our group who were in albergues, their routine involved very early morning starts in the darkness in an attempt to beat the heat and ensure a bed at their destination. One of the many benefits of travelling with Follow the Camino extolled upon them daily as the two witnessed the others having the luxury of arriving to guaranteed accommodation at the end of every day.

The click, click, click, of walking poles became a comforting sound in the quiet of the early morning. Along with the “Hola” and “Buen Camino” between fellow Pilgrims, the Camino “family” was gradually forming with each day.

Over time, we learned to say “Adios” to some of them when we would stop for a rest day, knowing they would be ahead of us from that point on. And then new members of the Camino family would come along and we’d get to form bonds with them, enlarging the friendship ties as the days and kilometers grew.

Promoting mental health awareness

And all the while we were mindful that we had a crusade, a mission to promote conversation about mental health and the great work that Wellways in Australia does to support people doing it tough. We had our grey “Wellways – a million steps for mental health” polo shirts and these were often the trigger for conversations along the way, and we know that through these polo shirts, we reached out to many pilgrims on The Way. Many spoke of people in their close family/friendship circles who had battled some form of mental health challenge, and they understood why this cause is so important. Many people along the way told us they were going to donate, or in fact HAD donated to the Wellways website, because it was something they too felt strongly about.

Mental Health CharityWe discovered over time that our reputations had preceded us, word had spread about “the Australians walking for Mental Health, in the grey polo shirts”. We were so thrilled to hear about that, not for any personal reason, but because getting the word out there was so important to us.

Team bonding

And it’s true to say we had a lot of fun along the way as well. Happy Hour at the end of each day demanded we sit together and relax with a Vino Tinto, a Vino Blanco or Rosado, a Sangria, or a Gin and Tonic to rest and talk about our day. We didn’t walk as a group during the day, but this had always been the plan from the very beginning.

People need to walk their own Camino. This is also a personal journey for each individual and it’s vital to remember that. And people walk it for very different reasons. Sometimes it’s for religious reasons or spiritual ones; for some it’s just about a physical challenge, or something they just want to prove to themselves and for others the reason is to be discovered along The Way, and it’s all perfectly OK. Every reason is legitimate because we are all “called” to walk the Camino or we wouldn’t want to do it.

The weather was very kind to us along the way. We had lots of sunshine and very warm days, but also some cooler ones and a little rain too. We were prepared for all eventualities so nothing was going to stop us. We were a very determined bunch! And we met some awesome people along the way, some of them pilgrims, some of them locals, all of them were so friendly, helpful, gracious and kind.

The lessons Wellways at Santiago de Compostela

And a lasting impression we have is that we too now have become part of the Camino pilgrim history. Our footprints, our steps and our spirits have joined the millions that have walked before us over a thousand + years and that is an amazing reality, almost hard to take in. When people in the future stop to ponder on the pilgrims that have gone before them, we too will be among those even if we are unknown by name. Our spirits are with all those other pilgrims that welcome and encourage those who follow.

That is an awesome thought on which to finish.

If you are interested in walking the Camino for a charity you can find out more here.

How Walking the Camino Changed Me For the Better

When my friend asked me to join her walking the Camino de Santiago with a guided tour of one week, I decided why not?  I always wanted to have a walking holiday so it’s something that I could tick off my bucket list. I didn’t look into what the Camino is or the history or anything like that. I just went with the flow and followed the tour guide and the arrows. We arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port a Basque village in the foothills of the Pyrénées with our group.  Everyone in the town was sitting in restaurants or strolling around all in walking gear, rucksacks and walking sticks all very casual and low maintenance, except for me.

Me being a high maintenance person who would never go out without wearing make-up arrived in my skinny jeans, full face of make up and sandals. Oh, how I stood out!

Settling In

Once we checked in, on went the hiking boots and hiking jacket and off out we went exploring the town of St Jean.  Everyone was so friendly, passing saying “Bueno Camino” I asked my friend what they were saying.  She explained it’sa greeting fellow pilgrims say while passing other when walking the Camino. It dawned on me then and there, we were fellow pilgrims now. Walking up a steep street in St. Jean, I noticed hiking boots hanging up on a wall that left me wondering what they meant.  It was, as if to say these people who hung up their boots had completed the Camino had already experienced the effect the Camino has on you.

Day 1

On the first day we started early, cold and foggy.  Off up the mountains with us we went with our rucksacks and packed lunch.  Day one consisted of 25km walking before our next location. About 16kms in I felt like my legs were giving up on me.  I really wasn’t enjoying it anymore, I just wanted the day to be over so put my head down and walked by myself not chatting or interacting with anyone in the group.  Believe it or not coming up to the 20kms mark when I could actually see that we were reaching the end of our day, I got my second wind.  I managed to summon up enough energy to take me to the finish line on day one.  Feeling loaded with pride in myself and a renewed sense of ‘can do’ in myself.  I now believed I could face day two convinced if I could do day one, I know I can finish day two.

Going Guided

Before we got tired on the climb our amazing tour guide started to give a history lesson about St. Jean Pied de Port and on objects we passed especially the Camino arrows (our map/guide).  Walking all the day was surprisingly calming and enjoyable but my favourite stop of the day was  the last stop of the day, just before we got to our hotel. So good to sit down and get a coffee and a snack  and take off the walking boots for an hours or so to air the feet after walking about 18kms.

Our tour guide pointed out objects to us along the way, advised us of keeping a pace, of meeting points and where we would rest to eat our packed lunches. The climb alone went from ‘adrenaline pressed cocky woman’ to ‘stressed because of the steep climb’ to ‘getting so hungry’ to ‘exploring the areas’  to ‘realising your appreciation of your surroundings’ to ‘realising how at peace you are, how with nature you are how you start to look at life differently’  All within one day or 25km.

our guided tour groupOn arrival at our next hotel, after going through all those emotions, it was time to kick off the boots and have a shower before getting dinner. When I kicked off my boots I thought about those boots hanging in St. Jean.  One day I’ll hang up my boots.

Stage one of the French way is only 3 days to Pamplona.

Over the three days we dined morning, noon and night with our group. Little did I know how much we would get to know each other so well in such a short space of time, how we encouraged each other, how we looked out for each other.  The group became a close team; the group became our little family.

Learnings

All those emotions experienced from seeing all the shrines along the way of where people pick up a stone, stood still for a minute and think of what’s bothering you, what makes you sad, what grudges you are holding onto, why your angry etc.  You think about what’s wrong or that sadness for the loss of a loved one. Once you put that stone/picture/anything on the shrine you have to let it go of all your anger/worries/sadness. You learn to let it go and leave it exactly where you placed that object and you walk away lighter. That’s how I felt anyways after I did it on day 3, leave it there and move on. Be it spiritual or whatever you want to call it, once you walk the Camino you will understand.

I may have only done three days but those three days were the best days of my life.  High-maintenance, what’s that? It took me down a peg or two and makes you appreciate what you have and what loved ones are around you because that’s all that’s important. Life can get busy and hectic and it can suck you in until you get over what’s going on in your head.  Now, when I get like that, I stand back and remember what I felt them few days on the Camino.

One day I will complete it all and hang up my boots for good, but until then I’ll bring my boots home and wear them every inch of the way.  My day will come and someday someone else will see my boots hanging and think “what are they hanging up there for?”  They will figure out the answer one day just like I did.

Kindest Regards

Clara Hayes  

Camino Music – Atlantic Arc by David Kinsella

Follow the Camino recently caught up with musician David Kinsella who has released an album inspired by Galician music and the Camino de Santiago.

Follow The Camino: David, can you tell what the Atlantic Arc is and your inspiration for the album?

David Kinsella: The Atlantic Arc as the name suggests is the link naturally formed by the Atlantic Sea. It connects the Celtic countries and regions of Ireland, Spain, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Isle Of Man, Brittany, Portugal. There is a common link between these regions in a cultural, social and economic sense. I have been fascinated by the natural connection and similarities in the Galician and Irish cultures in particular. The most obvious for me is the musical connection and especially as I play the Uilleann Pipes, I have a huge love and interest in the Galician Pipes in particular and also the close relatives Asturian and Cantabrian Pipes.

FTC: What type of music would you recommend for people walking a Camino?

DK: Music for a journey on your own with nature and your thoughts requires a special ingredient. It should not be too fast, slow, sad or deep. It just needs to be a melody to carry you along. I call this “Camino Music”. It doesn’t have any particular structure, just a beat to carry you along. The “Camino Music” should take up the space in your head that is usually occupied with serious thoughts or stress. When I compose music it brings me off to somewhere I imagined I have been before, I get lost for a moment with the help of melody on my whistle and Uilleann Pipes.

FTC: What are you best memories from recording the album?

DK: Composing and recording my album ‘Atlantic Arc’ with great company from Spain and Ireland brought me away across the sea to Galicia. However the best privilege of my “Camino Music” is that every time I play for example the first track on the album “From Leap To Santiago” in front of a live audience in a concert venue or at home in the Slieve Bloom Mountains beside the fire,  I close my eyes and my mind carries me off to somewhere on the Camino de Santiago.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions on walking the Camino, the Camino de Santiago tours or our services at info@followthecamino.com

Couch to Camino with Andrea Smith and Frances Black for RISE Foundation

Irish singer/songwriter Frances Black and journalist Andrea Smith are raising funds for the RISE Foundation by walking the Camino de Santiago in October.  

Frances Black set up “The RISE Foundation” in order to focus on family members of those with addictive behaviour (alcohol, drugs, gambling, food or sex addiction). Frances and her team are dedicated to working towards helping family members to free themselves from the stress, anxiety, and worry of having a loved one with addictive behaviour. They also look to understand the nature of addiction and the profound effects it has on relationships.  

Follow the Camino guided The RISE foundation on the Camino Portuguese Coastal Route last year which was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone involved.  

Rise foundation Camino Video   

This October, Frances, Andrea and a group of at least 30 others will tackle the Finisterre / Muxia Way of the Camino.This is the third year that Follow the Camino founder Umberto di Venosa will be guiding the group along the Way.

 

Andrea Smith is writing a weekly article for The Irish Independent about her preparations for the Camino. If you want to follow her progress you the links are below.

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If you have any more questions about walking the Camino, our other Camino de Santiago tours or our services, then please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@followthecamino.com

Via Francigena- The Camino New Contender: By pilgrim Elaine Jones

I love the Camino. It’s been a huge part of my life for several years now, and I must confess to writing this whilst sitting in one of my favourite bars in Santiago, having just completed the last 100kmwith another fantastic group. I’ve walked various sections of the Camino many times now, but each time is special, it’s as simple as that.

Reading on the Camino

However, this year a new contender has come into my life – the Via Francigena. The glittering prize is Rome, the eternal city. That needs no introduction. But when I recently walked the last 100km, from the medieval town of Viterbo to Rome, I was taken aback by how much this “new” (to me) pilgrimage took hold of me and won a place in my heart. Although following in the footsteps of Sigeric the Serious (yes, seriously, that was the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury who famously completed the pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome in the tenth century), I felt as though I was the first one to do it. It’s a more or less established route of course, though there are several variations and alternatives which can be a little confusing, but it is so much less commercialised than the Camino. There are comfortable hotels to stay in, fantastic medieval towns and villages to pass through, and the restaurants serve high-quality dishes which are justifiably famous and much more than just pizza and pasta. But no souvenir shops selling pilgrim regalia, no plethora of albergues, bars and vending machines….. and no T-shirts.

VF

I was an individual walker through beautiful, rural Lazio, my pilgrim status kept within myself and not on display. At times I missed the instant camaraderie of the Camino: no calls of ‘Buen Camino’, no-one to swap stories with or compare blisters….. but to be fair, in early March I was the only walker, pilgrim or otherwise, and later in the year there will be more encounters with fellow pilgrims. However, there was more time for reflection, quiet times to appreciate the scenery, opportunities to talk to local people. If not exactly a novelty, I was certainly noticed and received many friendly waves and offers of lifts by passing cars. There were not as many coffee stops as I’ve become used to, and look forward to, on the Camino. But whenever I passed through a village, I was always rewarded with superb coffee and cakes, as arguably only the Italians know how.

Biking the Camino

There were many memorable moments. The two old farmers who stopped in a red jeep, offered me a lift to my destination and couldn’t really understand why I preferred to walk – in the pouring rain! The Etruscan amphitheatre and rock church in Sutri, with wall paintings depicting pilgrims doing the same as me – just fifteen centuries earlier. Walking along a small section of a Roman road, knowing my feet were treading on the same stones as who knows how many people before me. The old nun at the Sanctuary who leaned out of a window to greet me, and the cat who showed me the way into the church. Dinner in Isola Farnese where the whole restaurant had been taken over by a family party, but I was welcomed and given a table in the middle of the festivities. The first sight of the dome of St Peter’s from Monte Mario, with Rome spread out before me like a map. I could continue, but this is my story and, like walking the Via Francigena, it is very personal and special to me. I can only urge you to do it yourself, especially before it becomes more well known.

I received my Testimonium, the Pilgrim’s certificate, and will proudly display it with my Compostellana. My heart lies in the Camino, that hasn’t changed. But maybe my soul is inthe Via Francigena – and I don’t need the T shirt to prove it.

If you have any questions about walking the Camino or our other Camino de Santiago tours, feel free to email us at info@followthecamino.com

Cancer Survivor, John McGarry – His Story

On World Cancer Day, with the theme ‘Not Beyond Us’, this is the survivors’ message: that cancer can be beaten successfully and a good life can follow.

John McGarry has walked the Camino in 2014 with Follow The Camino. As a cancer survivor, John came to us with great ambition to walk the Camino. We have guided him with the best itinerary with rest days and stages cut. He did training in Dublin and Howth before his Camino trip. In between two of John’s trips, he has discussed his experience with Umberto.

Marking World Cancer Day today, the Irish Cancer Society is trying to make sure that people know the early signs of cancer – and how to take action if you spot any of them. Click here to check the signs of cancer. The survival rate for all cancers in Ireland has increased from 45% in 1994-1999 to 60% in 2008-2011.

Click here to read our article on Couch to Camino with Andrea Smith and Frances Black for RISE Foundation.

If you have any questions about, walking the Camino, the Camino de Santiago tours or our services, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@followthecamino.com