Onward to the End of the Earth!

It’s difficult to describe how it feels to complete a Camino in Santiago. It’s definitely exciting to begin the final day’s walk of “only” 23 km to Santiago, and to catch the first glimpse of the cathedral spires from the top of Monte de Gozo. And after several kilometers of city walking and a few false turns (how is it possible to lose a cathedral?) to finally arrive in the plaza. The atmosphere is celebratory, with a steady stream of pilgrims arriving, snapping photos, and plopping down on the flagstones to enjoy the view and to watch the show.

I even saw a couple of burly guys shed a few tears. But then reality sets in. You still have to find a place to stay, get in line for your Compostela certificate, do laundry, and get food. And then, you’re surrounded by tourists, bars, and souvenir ships selling Camino t-shirts and shot glasses and anything with a shell on it. It feels a bit like finishing a pilgrimage in Times Square – not at all contemplative, and a bit of a letdown. So, after paying our respects to St James and taking a rest day, we decided on an alternative but also traditional end to our Camino.

We laced up our boots and kept walking to the Atlantic ocean, to a rocky coast that the Romans named Finisterre – The End of the Earth. At this point, what’s another 90km, right? As our guidebook puts it, “The act of walking literally until the trail meets the sea can be helpful to shift gears and process the experience.”

Over the course of four days, we walked through farm lands and eucalyptus forests, past stone hórreos, and picturesque bridges. The Galecian municipal albergues are kind of dumps, so we stayed in some pleasant private accommodations. It’s been lovely to see the ocean again after all this time. And think about it – we can now say we’ve walked across an entire country!

Last night we walked the final 3.2 km to the 0.0 km marker at the lighthouse at the tip of the Cape.

We watched the sun set into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean (with hundreds of our closest pilgrim friends) and reflected on how lucky we’re been to have this adventure.

We made it!

800km… 500 miles … 35 days…1 pair of worn out hiking shoes… 4 Spanish regions…4 major cathedrals… Countless churchs… More slices of tortilla and cups of coffee and glasses of wine than I can track. Many, many trail markers and works of public art and conversations with pilgrims and yellow arrows… Mike and I finally made it to Santiago de Compestella.

I’ll admit I’ve been bad about documenting our journey here in this blog, but it didn’t really fit the pilgrim lifestyle. After walking all day, doing chores such as finding lodging, doing laundry and cooking, there wasn’t much energy left for blogging. Plus when I had energy, it was more valuable to spend it talking to other pilgrims from all over the world, right? And don’t even get me started on the quality (or lack thereof) of WiFi in pilgrim hostels!

However, I did post a few photos every day on social media, with a few impressions of each wonderful stage. If you’d like to catch up with a quick spin through the beautiful Camino Frances, please feel free to follow me on:

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.baehre

Instagram:

@jennbsmiles

What to pack for the Camino Frances?

Every time I climb a hill, I think about what I’m carrying in my pack that I don’t need. And there have been a lot of hills over the course of 800km, so I think I’ve got this packing list figured out! Now keep in mind, this list is specific to the Camino Frances where towns and services are close together. If you are planning for a more remote route, you might need to carry more food and water. I hiked in July and August when temperatures ranged from the high 40°s Fahrenheit in the Galician mountains to nearly 110°F across the Meseta. For a winter hike, you’d need warmer clothing. For another route you might actually need camping gear.

Gear

Backpack– You’ll need a comfortable, well-fitting backpack of 30-40 liters. Don’t buy anything larger than 40 liters or I will personally haunt you and give you nightmares every night of your Camino. It will just be heavier, and you’ll fill it with stuff you don’t need. I’ve been very happy with my Gregory Jade 38 pack, although I probably could have even used a size smaller. Gregory Jade 38

Hiking poles (optional)– I’m hooked on hiking poles. They take some stress off your knees going downhill, provide a rhythm going uphill, and keep you from falling when you trip over a cobblestone or your own feet. They are difficult to pack in luggage, so next time I’ll buy an inexpensive pair when I get to Europe.

Hiking Shoes– Choose a pair of running shoes or trail shoes. Fit is more important than type of sole, upper material, or anything else. There’s no need for heavy leather hiking boots on this trail! Remember- a pound on the feet is like five pounds on your back! Brooks Cascadia

Sleeping bag liner- In the summer, there’s no need for an insulated sleeping bag, because albergues provide blankets. But you’ll need a lighter bag or sleeping bag liner, because not all albergues provide sheets. In fact, some of the cheaper albergues use rubber mattress pads to make it easier to keep clean. I prefer a silk liner, over synthetic or cotton, because it’s light and comfortable. Mine is a mummy bag, designed to fit inside a sleeping bag. Next time, I’d buy a rectangular bag to have more comfortable sleeping space. silk sleeping bag liner

Pillow case – Most albergues provide pillows but not pillow cases. I’ve used a t-shirt, but next time, I’ll just bring an old pillow case.

Packing Cubes– or stuff sacks. It’s much easier to keep organized and to pack your bags quickly in the morning with a few lightweight bags. packing cubes

Pee cloth – public toilets (servicios or aseos or WCs) are few and far between. When walking between towns you’ll need to find a bush and go au-natural. But don’t be a jerk and throw TP on the ground! Kula Cloth makes a discrete antimicrobial cloth that hangs conveniently on your pack, where it’s always available to catch the last few drops. Just throw it in the laundry every couple of days.

Water bottle– I brought a camelbak hydration pouch and didn’t use it. Too much trouble getting it in and out of the pack when refilling. It was easier to use a smaller flexible bottle and fill it up at each public fountain – they’re everywhere! I’d bring two 0.5 liter bottles. If you drink a bunch at the fountain there’s rarely a need to carry more than a liter.

Hiking clothes

  • 2 pairs of socks, synthetic or marino wool
  • Gaiters to keep the stones and sand out of your shoes Dirty Girl Gaiters
  • 2 pairs hiking shorts or skirts. I love my hover skirt from Skirt Sports
  • 3 pairs underware
  • 1 sports bra
  • 2 synthetic or marino wool short sleeve T-shirts
  • 1 long sleeve mid layer (I didn’t bring this, and wish I had. It gets chilly at night and I got tired of wearing my rain jacket)
  • Sun hat – I wore this every afternoon for sun protection, and even in light rain showers Chaos Hats
  • Bandana
  • Sun glasses – I dropped mine on the ground several times while juggling poles, map, phone, etc. It’s also easy to leave them behind. Don’t bring your Ray Bans.
  • Rain gear (lightweight rain jacket and pack cover, or Pancho) Mike insists on an umbrella
  • Optional wind layer – I carried a 2 oz nylon wind shirt

Camp clothes

  • Lightweight trousers – something clean to change into after you shower. I never hiked in long pants.
  • T-shirt or tank top, bra, undies
  • Pajamas – optional. You’ll often be sleeping in mixed gender dorm rooms, and you’ll probably have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. I brought a pair of cotton sleep shorts and a tank top
  • Sandals – the albergues ask you to leave your hiking shoes just inside the door to keep things cleaner. You’ll want a pair of keen sandals or flip flops for the rest of the evening and for walking around town when your feet hurt.
  • Town clothes (dress, earrings, lipstick) Totally optional, but I spent a weeks as a tourist before the Camino, and took three rest days. It was good for morale to change out of hiking clothes! I love Skirt sports dresses and the super light-weight travel dresses from Indygena
  • Swimsuit (optional) – I heard rumors of towns and albergues with swimming pools, but I never found one.

Toiletries

Bring a little bit of everything, but not too much. Toiletries get heavy fast. You’ll travel through plenty of towns with opportunities to buy more. Grocery stores are usually cheaper than Farmacies.

  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Facial cleanser
  • Q tips
  • Moisturizer
  • Sun block
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  • Prescription meds – I shopped at a Farmacie in Santiago and bought 100 days of my thyroid meds for €10. Much easier and cheaper than I expected!
  • Makeup, hair products, Deodorant, razor (optional)
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • First aid kit (blisters, colds, Imodium, allergy, antibacterial ointment)
  • Quick dry pack towel

Food

Only bring food from the States if you have special dietary needs. I brought gluten free energy bars for the first few days and nuun electrolyte tablets, but too much gets heavy!

  • Electrolytes
  • Energy bars
  • Hiking snacks (just a day or two at a time- there are lots of towns and grocery stores)
  • Zip locks

Electronics

  • Phone and charger – Spanish Sim card. I went with Orange’s Go Walk pre-paid sim card. €20 for two months of data and local phone calls. Great customer service and coverage.
  • Garmin watch and charger
  • Headphones and charger

Wallet

  • Passport, credit card, debit card, cash, pilgrim credential

Other

  • Clothes pins – optional. Mike lost a bandana from a windy line.
  • 50′ light parachute cord for clothes line – often there’s not room for everybody’s clothes at the albergues.
  • Headlight (preferably one that has a red light option and is rechargable)
  • Guidebook – supplement with a cell phone app, but it’s good to have paper backup.
  • Massage ball – you never know what’s going to hurt when you start hiking 15-25 miles a day while carrying a pack. I’d love to have access to a foam roller, but they’re bulky. A lacrosse ball is smaller, and worth the weight!

More surprises… The Camino provides…

After several short days near Burgos, we are back to walking all day – today we walked 30km. We are walking through the Maseta, which is high desert and flat, but a completely different terrain than a week ago.

Today, while walking the Camino de Santiago, we crossed another ancient pilgrimage route, called El Camino Lebaniego – a pilgrimage to the monestary which holds the largest relic of the “true cross” of Christ’s crucifixion. While the Camino continues west to Santiago, this route diverges south, and again it is a reminder of the countless people who have walked this way before me. The crossroads is a lovely spot along a canal where we walk across a lock.

The sign describing the pilgrimage to the cross was my favorite part of the day. At the bottom of the English portion it reads: “If you walk for religious reasons, or you walk for cultural reasons, you are welcome. Whatever intention you bring is good.” I think this means whatever reason brought you to the Camino today is the right one – it is where you are meant to be right now.

After a very long day, when we bypassed lovely hotels and beautiful gardens and even swimming pools…

We finally arrived in Población de Campo. The albergue at La Finca is lovely, with each pilgrim having her own little private space of bed, and shelves, and light, and locker – all for 10€ pp. I joked with Mike that the little privacy curtain has super powers, and would even block out snoring.

But when we walked across the garden to the restaurant, we learned that, for the first time in our Camino, they had absolutely nothing gluten free than we could eat. We were pretty much ok if the pilgrims’meal contained pasta – we were prepared to order off the regular menu and to spend more money. But the woman at the bar clicked her tongue and said “muy dificile, muy dificile” repeatedly, and didn’t offer us a single gluten free thing we could eat. So I was ready to have peanuts for dinner, but we decided to put our tired feet in shoes and walk into town to see what we could see.

We stopped at a small hotel and asked if they had a Pilgrim’s menu. The response was an absolute torrent of Spanish (I have GOT to become fluent in Spanish) but the gist of it was, “we don’t have any pilgrims starting here tonight, so we aren’t doing the pilgrims menu. You’re staying at La Finca, right?” So Mike and I said yes, and proceeded to look very sad, and senior spoke to senora and soon decided that if we came back at 7:00, we could have dinner. So we walked down the street and killed an hour in a local bar where my elbow literally stuck to the table and we had to pull the barkeep away from his telenovelas. But after we ordered wine and peanuts, he warmed up to us. He asked where were were from, and showed us his collection of currency from pilgrims who have visited from all over the world: USA, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, Bulgaria… He gave us each a shell (the symbol of St James), and wished us a Buen Camino!

So we made it back to the hotel right at 7:00, and seriously had one of the best meals of our entire Camino. The whole dining room was set, with a table just for us. A bottle of water, a bottle of wine… Senior brought a tureen of the best soup I’ve ever had – white beans and clams, still in the shell. Then a plate of tomato salad. Then pork ribs that just fell off the bone. Then dessert – but the cream dessert had a cookie crust, so in distress, senior gave it away to the front desk clerk instead and replaced it with the most delicious ripe melon. And, to go with the melon, he brought us two shot glasses of house-made after dinner liquor, that tasted like sunshine and honey. After all this, he only charged us 9€ each. We did leave an appropriate tip (trying not to be stupid Americans) and a glowing Google review, but their hospitality to these two starving pilgrims will be one of my best memories of the Camino.

You’ve got a lot of huevos, my friend…

My Camino is pretty much powered by eggs! Mike and I are both gluten-free for medical reasons so we can’t eat bread, pizza, sandwiches, or pasta. It can make things kind of tricky in Spain. Breakfast here is usually bread or croissant with butter or jam and coffee and juice. The easiest snack to grab during the day’s hike or when the day’s walk is over but there’s hours until dinner is a boccidillo, or ham and cheese sandwich. Since we can’t do bread, we eat tons of eggs instead.

We are becoming connoisseurs of the Spanish tortilla. At it’s most basic, it’s a big omelette of eggs and potatoes. It’s usually sitting in the counter of a bar, ready to be sliced and served alone or as a sandwich.

Now mind you, we’re eating this at least twice a day, so we get really excited when we find something different -maybe tortilla with olives and peppers, or one that’s extra thick or particularly crispy on top.

Of course, Mike is thrilled when they give him a slice that’s extra big – when they don’t, he’s taken to ordering two slices right off the bat. I, on the other hand, order two coffees ’cause there are no venti-sized cups here!

Occasionally, the tortilla is already premade into sandwiches, so we have to negotiate using our very limited Spanish to see if they’ll make us a fresh one “sin pan.” Sometimes these turn out to be the freshest, yummiest tortillas of all!

We recently spent the night in the small village of Atapuerca, which is organised to support tourists visiting the archaeological site and not really supportive to pilgrims. The only place serving food before 8pm was a bar. And the only option besides sandwiches was fried eggs. Go figure!

Add that to the hard-boiled eggs we often make when we stay in an albergue with a kitchen and, as Mike says “I think I’m on my eighth egg of the day.”