Getting Ready: Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage

Ten weeks until departure.

Sometimes the universe presents a chain of events that require that you “make a leap of faith” and embrace it.

Recently fate led us to being on one of the secondary routes of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail. While living in Carcassonne we slowly realized that the start of the  Chemin du Piémont Pyrénéen branch of  Les Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostele (the French name for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela) was right at the end of our block.

Chemin du Piémont Pyrénéen
Chemin du Piémont Pyrénéen

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela or The Way of Saint James is a series of pilgrimage trails across Europe all leading to Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Galicia, Spain which Christian tradition holds is the resting place for Saint James the Greater, one of Jesus of Nazareth’s disciples.  Dating back 1,200 years, pilgrims of all faiths and backgrounds have been walking the Santiago de Compostela for religious, spiritual, or cultural reasons; for enlightenment; as penance; or as a personal challenge.

Map of Camino de Santiago - Chemins de Saint Jacques  From Wikimedia Commons
Map of Camino de Santiago – Chemins de Saint Jacques
From Wikimedia Commons

Tracy and I (with Kiara the micro-dog) have decided starting August 26 we will begin the pilgrimage and backpack the 500 miles (800 kilometer) path from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on France’s Western border; over the Pyrenees Mountains and through Basque country; passing through the cities of Pamplona (famous for the “Running of the Bulls and Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”), Logroño, Burgo, and León; across the Meseta plains; into the green hills of Galicia; and ending at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the city of Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral.  The trek should take us a minimum of five weeks.

Camino de Santiago - The French Route (Google Maps)
Camino de Santiago – The French Route
(Google Maps)
Our preparations so far:
1.  Our hiking equipment has been obtained, most importantly our boots.  The number one issue we hear from every guidebook, website, and blog is to have shoes appropriate for you and to break those shoes in thoroughly.  I’m an old Boy Scout who has sprained his ankles frequently in the past so I’m an advocate of wearing boots for ankle support although there are many supporter of wearing lightweight hiking shoes for the Camino.  The hiking gear we didn’t bring to France was purchased at Decathlon Sports in Carcassonne (a French sports megastore.)  Many of the products we obtained are made by Quechua, a French version of “The North Face.”  We will post our final equipment list in a later blog.
Tracy's Camino Gear
Tracy’s Camino Gear
2.  We requested our credencial, our pilgrim’s passport, from American Pilgrims on the Camino (http://www.americanpilgrims.com), the United States’ confraternity for Camino pilgrims.  The credencial allows us to stay at pilgrim albergues and refugio (hostels along the route) and to authenticate our progress with sellos stamps (like a passport stamps) at albergues, churches, town halls, and police stations along the way.
3.  We researched and obtained guidebooks that explain the various routes, history, and provide maps of the Camino.  We selected John Brierley’s A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago, the Confraternity of Saint James’ The Camino Francés: St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, and CaminoGuide.net’s Camino Francés.  We wanted some alternative views but  plan to only bring one guide with us on the Camino.  We have been reading blogs and forums about walking the Camino, we both greatly enjoyed and recommend http://www.girlsontheway.com/.
4.  We selected the Camino Francés as our route (Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain across the entire Northern end of Spain), picked our departure date as the last week in August, and made hotel and train reservations for Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port where we will start the journey.  We decided on a final night in a hotel to be well rested before our departure.  The hotel is located near the Pilgrim’s Office so we can arrange our final details before leaving.
5.  We have started a daily training regimen that includes walking the biggest hill nearby, the road to the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne.  The training is also part of our process to “break in” our boots and get acclimatized to carrying backpacks, something I did all through my youth and young adulthood but an activity I haven’t done in more than a decade.
Tracy hiking the barbicane at la Cité de Carcassonne
Tracy hiking the barbicane at la Cité de Carcassonne
Alan hiking the bailey in la Cité de Carcassonne
Alan hiking the bailey in la Cité de Carcassonne

6.  We obtained a chest carrier for Kiara.  Yes, Kiara the Chihuahua is traveling the Camino with us.  We understand that many albergues do not allow dogs, but we intend to camp whenever that occurs.  Kiara will do some daily walking, but most of her traveling will be as a passenger on her “beasts of burden” (the two of us) like the horseback pilgrims who also travel the Camino.

So our Camino preparations continue and we will post more updates as we go.

Tracy's boot over the scallop shell sign marking the Camino
Tracy’s boot over the scallop shell sign marking the Camino
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4 thoughts on “Getting Ready: Camino de Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage

  1. This has been on my mind for the past several days since you first posted about it! I literally said out loud, “Wow!” when I looked at the map you posted above as the true distance of it in that perspective, Alan!

    1. We are getting excited with the project. We know it’s a big undertaking, but we believe it’s doable. Like walking from Reno to San Diego (as the bird flies.)

  2. Sounds like a giant undertaking for you three! But fun and rewarding at the completion. I would rather do that on two wheels, like my trip to Milwaukee – Harley’s 100th Party- Canada-Home (5500+miles) in 2 weeks time the end of August.
    Might I suggest extra shoes (hikers) and socks to be carried or shipped to different locations along to route, I know when hunting with the best boots on market they would wear out during a season, have them extra ones broke in and ready to go! But say with the stay shoe.

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