I’ve been thinking back on my Camino, and trying to work out what I did right and what I did wrong.
I speak now as a pilgrim, not as a tour leader. It will be for others to determine what I did right and wrong in my capacity as a tour leader.
But as a pilgrim, here’s quick rundown of what I did right:
- I was relaxed. This is probably the biggest thing I did right. I went into the walk relaxed, and I remained relaxed. I believe this is why I didn’t have any real pain this Camino, as compared to the last. On the last one – the Camino Frances – I was tense and anxious. And I believe those negative energies manifested themselves in my body as extreme pain. This time, I knew that I could manage the distance, and so I kept relaxed.
- I gave in to The Way. I started out wearing a GPS watch with a chest strap on to monitor heartbeat, calories expended etc. At the end of the first day I took them off – everything – and I decided to wing it. I had digitised my guide books but I never referred to them. I never knew how far it was to the next town, or what the next town would be. I just walked, and I winged it.
- I got my injuries right. I wore a knee brace with black pantyhose underneath to prevent skin sores from the metal brace. The brace kept the bone-on-bone separated, and I had no pain. I had set out at the start to not use any painkillers – tablets or creams. And I didn’t. I didn’t need to.
- I got my boots right. Those Meindl boots, pure leather, were a joy to walk in each day. I’d broken them in sufficiently – about 600kms or so around Mudgee – and by the time I hit the Camino they had moulded into my feet.
- I got my blisters right. Even with these super duper well fitting German boots, I still got blisters, probably because the first week or so of walking the Camino Portuguese was on cobblestones. They were brutal. And on some sections, the Camino led you along busy roads with a sloping cobblestone shoulder, which acerbated the foot issues. This time though with blisters, and there were only a few small ones, I ignored them until I couldn’t ignore them anymore, then I lanced them with a pin, drained them unceremoniously, and then covered them with Betadine. That’s all. The Betadine dried them out, hardened the skin, and within a couple of days the blisters were gone.
- I did it right. I wore a backpack, I walked every mile, I never offloaded my pack on the van, and I never took a ride. I did the whole Camino as I’d set out to do it. There were a few days there when I was really knackered – like the day I did 37kms because I got lost, adding 6kms to a 31km day. That was tough. But no-one ever said the Camino was easy.
- I had fun. The last Camino had been intense. This Camino was intense at times too, but I also had a lot of fun with a bunch of people whose company I really enjoyed.
What I did wrong:
- Just kidding. I did a lot wrong.
- I got my water totally wrong. I left myself dehydrated too many times. One time, after leaving Arcos, I walked nearly five hours without a drink, because I’d given my water bottle to my wife, who was sick. That was dumb. I should have picked up more water immediately.
- I didn’t do enough yoga in preparation. That was a big mistake. My back wasn’t as strong as it should have been, and my hamstrings were tight every morning. Next time I’ll make sure I include a very solid regime of yoga as part of my preparation for the Camino.
- I should have been more inclusive of other pilgrims. My focus on this Camino was on my group, and my wife, but I should have engaged more with pilgrims outside of the group. I did so with Cathy and Tim, the two lovely Americans from Virginia, but that was about all. You learn so much from talking with others, and you also give out too – equally important. I regret now that I didn’t give myself the time to do that more.
- I should have gone to Mass on Easter Sunday. I didn’t do this, figuring that I wouldn’t have gone to Mass if I’d been in Australia because I’m not a Catholic, why should I in Santiago? That was nonsense talk. I’m a pilgrim, I’ve walked the Camino, I should have gone to that Mass – and I deeply regret that now.
- I shouldn’t drink white port at 11am – three bottles of white port between the four of us – when I have another 15ms or so to walk. I regret that too. And yet we had the best time!
- Lastly, I regret not whupping the Landers Express at least on one occasion. The only time I did, I woke up three hours early and got the jump on them. That’s kind of cheating. I regret not having smashed them fair and square on the hill up to Rubiaes. But fact is, they were always going to leave me standing still…
Apart from my duties and obligations as a tour leader, this Camino for me was a test ground – I wanted to see if I could walk two weeks without pain, and I did. That’s given me enormous confidence now to start to plan something much longer. An epic pilgrimage…