Editor’s note: Greg Scheaffer was sitting right next to me when I first learned about the Camino de Santiago and it was his pilgrimage last spring that pushed me to commit to one of my own. I asked him to write a guest post spreading some of the knowledge he learned on the Camino. True to form, Greg came through in shining colors with some great tidbits of advice I’ll carry with me and hopefully others will, as well. Greg’s Camino blog can be found here. Enjoy and buen camino. Or, as Greg will explain later, ultreia, peregrinos.
I met Jonathan in an Introduction to Spanish History class at Indiana University and we stumbled upon the Camino. As many say, the Camino started there for me. I was lucky to have the opportunity to actually start the trek from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago last summer and was thrilled when Jonathan asked me to a guest blogger. It’s one of my passions and I always love the opportunity to reminisce and talk Camino.
Preparation is a key aspect of the Camino. After booking the flight(s), second guessing your packing list and weighing your pack for the umpteenth time, there’s still the mental aspect to the Camino. Here’s the top 5 pieces of advice I can give to future peregrinos.
1. The beginning of the Camino will be the physical challenge, the second third of your Camino will be the mental fight and by the time you’ve hit the last third, it’s just a party.
The Camino is rarely flat. If you start in St. Jean Pied de Port, your first day is a brutal climb over the Pyrennes and surprisingly enough, the Meseta is pretty hilly too. Combine that with long distance walking, it can put serious stress on the body. But, as crazy as it sounds, anyone can do the Camino. You just have to put your mind to it and just keep walking. Once you learn that, it’s a walk in the park and an absolute party, especially when you run into “long lost peregrino pals.”
2. Don’t overstress yourself
While preparing for the physical stress is important, readiness for the mental stress is even more important. This starts as you’re reading this now. Relax — you can do it physically and mentally. As cliche as it sounds, the Camino provides. Need the motivation? Somehow, someway or someone will give it to you. Need walking poles? Barter with someone because someone’s going to be tired of carrying them. Just let go and relax.
3. There is no such thing as too much vino (or cerveza, I guess)
As my “camigo” Señor Vino, would say “It’s wine time” at the end of every day (and sometimes when we stopped). You’re in wine country, enjoy it.
4. It’s not about all the KMs, it’s about the friends on the way
Whether it was a short conversation with fellow peregrinos, peregrinos who I walked with for extended periods of time or the people who live along the Camino, they all helped me get through the Camino and things on my mind while I tried to return the favor.
My biggest recommendation would be to forgo the peregrino menu, get an albergue with a kitchen and invite your fellow peregrinos for a pitch in dinner. Those were the best meals I had.
Also, keep an eye out for donativos. These are alburgues that are donation based. “Take what you need, leave what you can” is the motto. I never once had a bad experience with the people running the alburgues. They were always going out of their way to help the pilgrims at the end of a hard day, but the donativos were run by volunteers and funded by donations. To me, I enjoyed my stays there more.
5. Ultreia, not Buen Camino
While the “Buen Camino” saying is popular and always uplifting, it becomes very overused and mudane. One phrase I found to better fit the Camino is “Ultreia,” which stands for “Onward”, “Keep Going”, etc. and the proper response is “et suseia” which means “upward.” This comes from the French medieval pilgrim chant telling each other “onward” and “upward.”