We had been warned about the Camino del Norte and the Primitivo. We were told they were difficult routes with far too many steep climbs and descents. We were told that it was beautiful but at the expense of constant up, down, up, down, up down, every day with long stages and not so much infrastructure between towns.
Maybe because of expectations, we were more unprepared for the beauty than the mountains and hills. This is an entirely doable trek. I am within touching distance of my 60th year, overweight and fairly out of shape. Melanie is in better shape but has an arthritic knee. We walked every step for 812km over 32 straight days. That’s a 25km per day average.
I think 90% of the Caminos are done in your head. Sure, medical issues pop up to give you challenges but it is how you prepare for and reply to the challenges. By the walks being “in your head”, I mean two things. First, yes, it takes mental toughness to walk 25km every day for a month. We walked for a short bit with an 84 year-old South African who walked the entire Primitivo. It took him 16 hours to walk over the Hospitales Route. Do you think he could do it if he was not mentally tough? He just doesn’t give up.
Just as important to mental toughness though, is wisdom, experience, common sense, self-discipline and self-awareness. You have to do your homework ahead of time and know what the Camino might hit you with. You have to listen to your body and know when to slow down, rest, walk shorter stages as well as when to speed up, keep walking and do longer stages. You have to know how to deal with issues that come up in a fairly calm and efficient manner. When we didn’t have a place to sleep in Castro, we didn’t sit down and cry or through a temper tantrum. Fortunately we had the resources and experience to know how to deal with it and still walk the whole route. When I had trouble with my shoes on the first days and peeled my skin raw, I knew that Derma-Active would fix that and I have walked without that pain ever since. You also have to be disciplined – and that is where I depend heavily on Melanie. When our friends walked a 35km after Lugo, I was keen to do it as well but Melanie was correctly the voice of reason. We could have walked the 35km but at what expense? It turned out that Garret, Janek and Agata all had problems that day and suffered some all the way to Santiago. We would have been in worse shape, for sure. We found other ways to see them every day. Several other days in the hot sun, we suffered a good bit. Wisely, we dealt with those days by using the GPS to shorten the stages a bit so we could still walk all the way to Santiago. In total, we may have saved about 15km of hillier trails or mostly walks around the long river at Boo but it doesn’t matter to us that we walked 812km instead of 827km. We walked to Santiago.
Finally, this was a beautiful walk. The weather mostly cooperated with us and it helped us more times than it hindered us. I wish I had brought my rain pants and a warmer jacket but I survived. Melanie obviously didn’t need her new, lightweight camping quilt because all the hotels / pensións and albergues had blankets and were warm enough or too warm. Other than those things, we we had prepared ourselves and had no regrets. I’m glad we changed over to the Primitivo route because of the beauty of the mountains, the challenges, the history and, most importantly, the people we met.
It was a great walk.