Umberto Di Venosa is the co-founder and CEO of Follow the Camino and has walked plenty of the routes himself. We asked him about his experiences walking the Camino and how the experience has changed since his first walk.
When did you first walk the Camino?
Why did you decide to walk the Camino?
I walked the Camino because it was a product I had suggested for adding to our main website back then, One Foot Abroad. I wanted to research it as a product. It was not for religion, spirituality or anything like that. It was to learn about it. I really enjoyed it.
What was the Camino like when you first walked it?
In 2007 it was very, very small. There were not many operators. We were the first company to offer the different routes of the Camino as a collection of stages. We broke down the different routes (the Camino Portuguese, the Nothern Way, the Camino Frances, and all the others ) into more manageable sections between towns. Each stage takes about a week. You can choose to do multiple stages after each other, or come back the next year to do the next piece.
There weren’t many people either. Since then, the number of walkers and pilgrims on the Camino has doubled or tripled which is why we created the second brand – Follow the Camino. We created a specific site for them which has all the information about the Camino de Santiago and the different routes and stages they can choose from.
What was your first impression of the Camino?
It was good fun! When I first did it I was all on my own, I did it in the middle of December. I went again in summer and it was much busier then. There was more sense of camaraderie and community. It was very enjoyable.
Has the Camino changed in the last few years?
Yes. The Camino was quite undeveloped. There were no companies transferring luggage, there was not as much accommodation as there is now, it was early stages. Now the infrastructure has exploded, there are plenty of hotels and brand new buildings have been built.
The people have changed as well because there are more international people walking. People from Korea and from the United States are walking the Camino, as well as Canadians, Australians, and people from everywhere. That is good fun as well. I think it has become more well known.
It can still cater to more people coming in, especially on the shoulder seasons. I think even more people will walk the Camino every year.
Tell us an interesting story from your many trips on the Camino?
One of my favourite memories is from my first trip. I was new to hiking and had a few problems. In my second week, I had tendon pains and I had to book a physiotherapy appointment.
I went into the tourist office and the lady there was so nice. She booked me an appointment and told me to visit the animal market while I was waiting. I ended up in a farm with big long benches and long tables with loads of food. It was with the community, there was no fuss or fancy stuff. Just good wine and food. It was a great memory.
What challenges have you found on the Camino?
These days I mostly do the Camino with guided groups. A few years ago we were on the Camino Finisterre, the Muxia Way. I was leading a group for a charity called the RISE Foundation and the weather was really horrible. It was lashing rain and it was really not nice. The group kept their spirits up, which was good. At one stage one of the team members was struggling. She saw a hill in the distance and she said: “are we going up that mountain?”. This person was really not looking forward to it and she was going very slowly.
She made it through, she took it slowly and just kept going. It gave her so much satisfaction.
Most of the time the challenge is in people’s minds. If you get cranky then those are the more challenging days.
Which Camino route is your favourite one?
I love the Portuguese Camino Coastal Route. I have walked it quite a few times. It is my favourite part of the Camino. It is out on the coast, with beautiful landscapes and wonderful views. It’s quite quiet too.
After the coastal section, you merge with the normal Portuguese Route. You’ll start to see more people and there are great spots to stop for a drink or ice cream. I know all my favourite places to stop and wait for clients to cheer them on, and for good food.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago in the future?
Sign up and do it. The Camino is a lot of people’s first big step into the outdoors. It will be the first time they have really started doing this kind of walking holiday and physical exercise.
I advise you to go with an open heart and you will enjoy it. Whether it is the landscapes or the food or the people, there is so much to see when you are there.
I don’t know anyone who regrets doing the Camino. Not a single person.
Sign up to the Camino and use this as your motivation to go out walking and get outside. You will be very glad you did.
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Originally published on 28th February 2020