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Buen Camino

7 things no one tells you before you set off on the Camino De Santiago

You’ll think about nothing but your feet.

THE CAMINO DE Santiago is one of the world’s best-known long-distance trails, with the most popular route beginning at Saint Jean Pied de Port in France and ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galica, Spain.

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Approximately 500 miles in length, the standard trail takes you across the Pyrenees, through numerous Spanish towns and villages, and reminds you that no matter how fit you are, if your feet are in ribbons, you’re no better than the next walker; also known as pilgrim, FYI.

I completed the first 300km back in 2014 and had one of the best trips of my life, but here are just 7 things no one tells you before you haul that rucksack onto your back in Dublin Airport.


1. You will become OBSESSED with the condition of your feet.

Yes, prior to the trip you’re advised to invest in socks made specifically for hiking and you’re told to cover your feet in Vaseline before every day’s hike, but nothing prepares you for how all-consuming the subject of feet can be.

You tend to them the moment you get up, you tell anyone who’ll listen how your feet are holding up that day, you’ll press plasters and bandages on anyone who looks at you, and you’ll stiffen and allow a cold pang of fear to zip through you when you realise you may have fallen foul of a blister.

If you think talking scaldy feet with a perfect stranger is vaguely repulsive, the Camino isn’t the trip for you. And if the idea of examining another person’s foot has you gagging into your sleeve, you’re done.

2. You will have at least one utterly sleepless night.

You will have walked dozens of kilometres – often in considerable heat – and long for your bed at the end of each day’s hike, but there will always be at least one night when sleep evades you.

It could be down to the godawful scratchy blankets provided to you by the hostel or because that gobshite from Carraroe snoring in the bunk beneath you sounds like a tortured hippopotamus or simply because you’ve lost your earplugs, but either way you will spend one night staring at the ceiling, questioning your life choices.


3. You’ll find yourself envious of  the most random things.

No matter how prepared you think you might be for your excursion, another pilgrim will always have something that leaves you feeling vaguely (and sometimes furiously) jealous.

Whether it comes down to their plastic cutlery, foldaway towel or the extra pocket they have on their backpack, you’ll find yourself eyeing up their spoils, and idly wondering how you might shake them down for them.

I distinctly remember side-eyeing a pilgrim in her sixties and wondering whether it was really fair that she had a water bottle with a handy spout while I had to unscrew a damn cap every time I needed a lousy sip.

4. You will dump your belongings at will.

I hadn’t taken my first official step on the Camino when I found myself fecking Barack Obama’s memoir (hardback no less, because I’m an idiot) out of my ruck and lobbing it onto a shelf in the first hostel.

Noting how lightly your fellow pilgrims pack is enough to make you dump half your kit in the first bin you see.

You’re told to pack light, but it’s not until you begin the trek do you realise the true meaning of the term ‘packing light’.


5. You will earn a nickname or a reputation among your fellow pilgrims.

You often end up seeing the same people day in and day out, and if you don’t catch their names, you generally just given them a nickname.

When a few drinks renders you much drunker following a day’s hike and too much time in the sun, you stupidly reveal the nicknames you have created for certain people.

And that’s when you realise you too have earned yourself a questionable moniker.

6. Showers are not made equal.

For obvious reasons, some of the best showers I’ve ever had have been on the Camino.

But no one thinks to tell you that some of the worst you’ll ever endure are likely to be found on the Camino as well.

And if you’re thinking cold showers, you’re wrong.

I recall multiple showers so hot that it felt like my body was being pierced with millions of glass shards.

In the Spanish heat after eight hours of hiking, the last thing you need is pure lava assaulting your body, but that’s what you’ll endure in some places.


7. You’ll have serious post-Camino blues.

If you do the Camino as intended, you’ll feel pretty removed from the ‘real world’.

When your principle focus is on the day’s walk, the day’s feed and that night’s bed, it’s easy to forget about the standard grind back at home, and that’s why it hits you like a tonne of bricks when you make your return.

Yeah, you’re only dying to fill everyone in on your adventures and you’re literally pining for your own bed, but the idea of having to focus on anything outside putting one foot in front of the other can seem pretty stressful.

You’ll get over it, but Christ you often wish you were back in a hostel side-eyeing your one’s snazzy water bottle.

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