Note: This post is part of a weekend series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do (or learn) during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures. Congrats to Donna from our Facebook page who was the winner of this week’s giveaway. There’s a copy of my book The Bell Lap on the way to you Donna.
There’s just something about a good hike. Maybe it’s because modern life so often has us cooped up inside. Maybe it’s the fresh air and scenery. Maybe it’s just getting a chance to stretch our legs while we’re still healthy and active. Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed that retirees tend to front load their Bucket Lists with activities that include walking and hiking.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to share a story with you today from my friends over at One Road at a Time. Patti and Abi started their blog a few years ago and are writing about their adventures as they try to see the world (you guessed it) one road at a time.
When I saw that they were hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I emailed Patti and asked her if I could interview her for an article on hiking the Camino. She graciously agreed and when they were taking a break to let their blisters heal (the hike takes more than a month), she took time to answer a few questions. Enjoy.
For those that aren’t familiar with it, tell us about the Camino de Santiago (e.g. What is it? How far? How long does it take? Etc.)
The Camino de Santiago – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is an ancient pilgrimage. It is believed the ashes of St. James are buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and pilgrims dating back centuries would travel the Camino to pay homage to St. James. It is a pilgrimage of faith, or dedication, or discovery, or a personal challenge. The distance from the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port, to Santiago, Spain is about 800 kms (500 miles) and most pilgrims walk it in about 35 days, although there are many pilgrims who walk just a section(s) and there are those who walk sections of the Camino on different visits. Every pilgrim walks his/her own pace on the Camino. We know and have talked to people who have done the entire walk multiple times. There are pilgrims who also bike the Camino.
Where are you right now? How many miles have you gone so far?
Right now, April 30, we are in Leon and we have walked about 150 miles. We walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, in France, to Burgos, Spain and from Burgos we took the train to Leon. We chose not to walk across the meseta (approx. 100 miles) because of my foot ailments.
Sometimes the “why” of these trips evolves over time or only comes months or years later once you’ve had time to process the experience, but what initially made you want to do it? Did it just sound like a fun challenge or was there some other reason?
We jokingly say we have no idea why we are walking. We love to walk and we wanted to see Spain. We have no deeply profound or spiritual reason. We are here, living it. But I can tell you it was important to us to do it now, while we are able.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Blisters! I have been plagued with blisters on both feet. At home, we walk all the time, up to 20 – 25 miles per week and I have no memory of having a blister in the past decade or more. Here on the Camino, I refer to myself as a walking blister. Because of the blisters, we chose not to walk the Meseta, using the days instead to rest and heal in Leon before continuing on to Santiago.
Where do you stay on the route?
We stay in hotels, B&B’s, pensions, casa rurals, etc. because we want the privacy and because we want to ensure a reasonably good night’s sleep. And let’s face it, we want to be comfortable! Many pilgrims, of all ages, stay in albergues (hostels), which are either municipally or privately owned. Municipal albergues are usually free, asking for a donation and the private albergues charge anywhere from 5 to 10 euros for a bed in a dormitory or 30 to 40 euros for a private room. Albergue accommodations are most often co-ed dormitory style.
Have the people been nice so far?
Yes! Pilgrims have a comradery because they all understand what it means to be on the Camino. The locals are also incredibly nice. There is a phrase, “Buen Camino” and people passing by will just stop and say, “Buen Camino.” And the locals are so willing to help with directions or information if needed.
Are there any pros and cons to doing the trip with your spouse?
I can’t imagine doing this with anyone other than my husband, Abi. There is nothing easy about making this journey and having the emotional support of my hubby is essential. Plus, we know what the other one needs, wants and likes. There is no second guessing.
I’ve heard two types of fun described. Type 1 fun is fun while you’re doing it. Type 2 fun is painful and challenging while you’re doing it, but fun once it’s over and you have a chance to reflect back on it. Does the Camino fall more into the second category?
Absolutely! About day 5 we asked each other, “Are we having fun yet?” The answer was a resounding, “No!” Fun is going to Disneyland or playing cards and drinking tequila with good friends. The Camino is damn hard, physically demanding. But it is also incredibly rewarding and if you want to get to know a country and its people, walk across it.
What is the typical daily cost (food, hotel, etc.)?
The cost is really determined by your journey. I know a young woman who walked the Camino solo and I believe she averaged about $33 per day because she stayed in albergues and ate pilgrim meals. I would guesstimate we average $100 per day for the two of us. Our average accommodation stay is $60. Pilgrim meals (a preset 3-course meal) average $11 – $13 and they can be found most anywhere. Incidentals such as snacks, toothpaste, sunscreen and band-aids, we purchase along the way.
Did you train for it at all?
We did. We did a lot of extra walking for a couple of months before we left home, but we traveled for 5 weeks in Europe and the Middle East before starting to walk, so it didn’t really pay off.
Do you meet a lot of people and/or participate in different traditions/gatherings associated with the walk or is everyone pretty focused on the hiking?
We’ve met and talked with people from all over the world but there aren’t any traditions/gatherings that I know of, although there is a large social media network. I believe there is more social interaction with those who stay in the albergues because after all you’re eating and sleeping with so many others. During the day we’re pretty much just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. We have however, come across groups of up to 20 that appear to be walking together and there are organized tours available also.
Any tips for people considering doing the walk?
Don’t do this on a whim! I researched for over 2 years. I believe the most critical component in preparing for this walk is your gear. The right shoes, the right socks, a pack that fits well and choosing wisely what you will carry with you because every ounce counts when you have to carry it. Do your homework.
Any short/fun stories or travel serendipity you’d like to share?
The owner of our hotel kidnapped us. It’s a long story. Those interested can read about it over here.
Do you have any major takeaways, life lessons, etc. from your walk so far?
Yes! Don’t jinx yourself by saying you never get blisters! Other than that not really, but ask me again at the end of our journey.
Anything else you’d like to mention about the experience that I didn’t ask about?
The terrain of the Camino tests the walker from beginning to end. On day 1 we climbed over the Pyrenees Mtn. with a summit elevation of 4,600’ and we had to slog through snow and mud. I’ve had an ongoing debate about which is the lesser of 2 evils, uphill or downhill? Loose rocky downhill grades to flat broad farm roads to asphalt to washed away sections of the trail; the Camino throws everything at you. Walking in the spring has gifted us with the most beautiful vistas anyone can imagine.
Tell us a bit about your blog “One Road at a Time.”
I launched One Road at a Time in October of 2012. It started as a creative outlet for me; I love to write and tell stories. I try to capture the human interest side of the story with details and photos. I designed every aspect of the site, with the support of my husband, Abi, and my wizard webmaster. To get to know me and Abi a bit better scroll through the archives and read a few of our posts. You’ll find a variety of content including classic road trips, hospitality intrigue and adventures abroad. We retired early and downsized our lifestyle and while we don’t live large, we have a home base and the resources to travel. By sharing our journey we hope to inspire others to redefine retirement…One Road at a Time.
Thanks Abi and Patti! Good luck with the rest of your walk.