Random Final Thoughts

I guess I forgot to add my final random thoughts about this Camino which I had posted elsewhere.  I hope that they may help others in their Camino or decision process.  Holler if you have questions.

  • First, it is a fantastic walk. I have no regrets about choosing this one and I loved walking it.
  • As all Camino walks are, it was challenging in its own unique ways. In April, we experienced snow on the ground, hail in the mountains, rain, mud, lots of burning sun, endless miles of gravel walking, lots of roads, that durn N-II highway, lots and lots of flat terrain. But we loved it all anyway.
  • The first week in the Basque mountains is unbelievably stunning and I am referring to the people as well as the scenery and walks. Most days there are shorter stages of 18-22km and even with little preparation, just perfect for this old man’s legs.
  • In April / May, the trails in the first week had lots of day walkers. We met a few pilgrims along the route and a few more walking the Camino routes in the opposite direction after Navarrete but don’t count on seeing too many. I hope this changes.
  • As with the other Caminos, I loved walking through the many beautiful small villages as well as the ancient larger cities. Spain ages wonderfully and respects her past.
  • I could not imagine how a pilgrim could do this walk without the GPS tracks. Arrows are plentiful in some sections and few and far between in others. There are lots of places where arrows were generally plentiful but then you hit a fork and there is nothing, you need the iPhone. I met one pilgrim who said he rarely referred to the GPS but he also admitted to getting lost several times and walking lots of extra kilometers. I have found that all I need to stay on the trail is my iPhone (phone, camera, money converter, watch, alarm clock…) and the app Maps.me (offline maps) invaluable. Maps.me can be pre-load at home with all the needed maps and trail tracks, uses no data on the trail, works in airplane mode so the battery lasts longer, it’s free, easy to use, and never has failed me.
  • I met only one person on the whole walk who I would describe as having an unpleasant experience with. He was just trying to make a buck though.
  • You walk on a lot of lonely stretches through the forest, desert, farmlands, along rivers and canals, etc. I felt safe the entire time except in two situations that turned out to be nothing but they were worrying at the time. Once along the long canal, we had a SUV of young men drive past us up and down a track a few too many times and they slowed to look at us but not speak. On another occasion heading into Lleida, two African immigrants – I was guessing by their looks to be illegal but that’s just a guess – were out picking snails out of the roadside drain. They took too much interest in us, luckily one at a time but only five minutes apart. They each came up to us as soon as they saw us, stood inches away asking detailed questions about what we were doing overall and that particular day. One was carrying a thick stick. My imagination said that they were sizing me up. I was happy that I am an XL.
  • I like to walk every step of the Camino but the stages in this walk are sometimes challenging. A 16km day followed by a 35km day happens. To level out the days, I think four times we ended up doing something like walking the short day, checking into our accommodations, dropping off most gear, taking a taxi 8-10km down the next days route and walking backwards to town. The next day we took a taxi to the same spot and started walking to the next town. That means each of those rides cost about 20€ so that blew 160€ on taxis to make it more tolerable.
  • We chose to stay mostly in pensions, casa rurals, hostals or hotels. Most places that meant 40-75€ per night for the two of us – a lot more than the 10-20€ on the French route but no one kept me up by their snoring. My wife might not be able to say the same thing. :p From Navarette to Igualada, maybe half the stage ends had albergues that provided cheaper options.
  • The ability to speak Spanish helps a lot on this Camino. I found it necessary to at least be able to ask for a room, make a reservation on the phone, order a meal and get a taxi as well as to understand when you get an unexpected answer.
  • Bring a cheap phone along to make room reservations one day in advance. It would be very useful most days and even when you are staying in an albergue, you may need a phone to call someone to unlock the door.  A 10€ pre-paid SIM card was all I needed for the month. It still probably has 9€ credit.
  • One of the most unusual things I brought, that I needed every day was a clothes line. I take that back, the most useful thing I brought was flexibility.
  • I like walking every day, if I can. I’ll come back and be a tourist when I can’t walk any more. That said, take at least an extra day in Monserrat. You really need to experience the evening and the morning without all the tour busses.  I can not stress enough that you will appreciate the beautiful solitude of the place if you stay the extra day.
  • Food: some days we had great food – top quality meals for about 15€ each. Some days we got stuck with toastados for breakfast, a shared boccadillo or less for lunch and we find out that we can only get a few pintxos or racciones for dinner. We went to bed hungry a few times which isn’t good on a Camino but then I think of the poor in the world. I’ll survive.
  • The entire Camino is definitely on Spanish time. It was really hard to find breakfast before 8:30am. Dinner before 8:30pm is even more difficult. Even check out times in some accommodations were not allowed until 8:00am! In one place on a Saturday night, the hospitalero said that he understood we were walking the Camino and could be very flexible about breakfast time the next day. When we asked for breakfast at 7:30am, he almost had a heart attack. He said “it’s Sunday!!!” Normally they do breakfast at 9:00am but he meant by “flexible” that he could make it at 10:00 or 11:00am! We negotiated to 8:30am and he was still a bit grumpy.
  • Arriving in Manresa is absolutely nothing like arriving in Santiago de Compostela.  There are no fellow pilgrims greeting you, no traditions or rituals, no ceremonies, etc.  In fact, we had a heck of a time just getting into the Basilica because we arrived the first time during siesta.  We couldn’t even find a bed in the Jesuit House.  On our later second attempt to get into the Basilica, at least the woman who recorded our names in the Camino log and gave us our certificate, seemed to show some interest in our plight.  We spent a fair bit of time in Ignatius’ Cave before we felt like “okay, we have arrived.  Our walk is done”.

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