“It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
– from the poem Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou
Until I read the poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou, I had never contemplated the idea that there could be joy in my feet. In fact, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my feet at all. And yet, they comprise the vehicle carrying me around my world, or as my partner Brett would say – the number 11 bus. Walking is a truly joyful experience, therefore, by association, surely there is joy in my feet. Will my feet retain that joy, I wonder, over approximately 1000 km of terrain, up and down steep mountains, undulating hills, across endless plains and along rugged coastal paths? It is a daunting thought.
While preparing for my pilgrimage, I thought it wise to invest in my feet – the number 11 bus, and keep them happy and healthy. In various online Camino community fora, I have noticed the debate between those pilgrims advocating for hiking boots or sturdy trail boots and others, who suggest that I only need a good pair of trainers. I have usually worn my trusty Brasher hiking boots or 50 peak trail shoes on past mountain treks and cross-country hikes, but they can be heavy going at times, depending on the terrain and memories of ankle sores, lost big toenails and heel blisters came back to haunt me. So I decided to try something different and headed off in trepidation to my local Runners Need store to ask for some advice. A few minutes later I came out with a very bright, and almost shiny pair of Saucony Peregrine 5 trail running shoes, which are as light as a feather, fit like a glove and can grip on all sorts of surfaces (and a bargain with 70% of in the sale!). From Peregrines to peregrina (peregrino/-a means pilgrim in Spanish) here I come!
In addition, I bought some Sorbothane sports inner soles to support my arches a couple of pairs of Thorlo Experia ankle socks and from the Natural Shoe Store a lovely pair of red Teva Tirras. The word on the Camino is to wear waterproof flip-flops or sandals in the showers at the albergues as well as to have an alternative to change into at the end of the day or when sightseeing on rest days. So there you have it. My feet are sorted and should, hopefully, remain joyful throughout the journey.
I have gone into ‘kit list speak’ haven’t I? It’s years of packing and unpacking for aid missions and living out of various backpacks and suitcases that does it. I can get a bit nerdy or OCD about packing lists, so while we are on the subject I had better let you know about some other pieces of essential pilgrim kit I have gathered together. Here is a brief list in no particular order:
1) Pilgrim passport or Credencial (not your regular passport) – I bought mine from the Confraternity of St James, near Blackfriars, where you can peruse and buy various guidebooks and maps as well as ask for practical advice.
2) Guide books – I have two of the John Brierley books, the Way of St James (Pyrenees to Santiago) and Camino Finisterre (Santiago – Finisterre – Muxia). You can get these from Amazon or the Confraternity.
3) Backpack – I’m borrowing Brett’s 55 litre Black Diamond backpack, which has a sturdy frame to give good support to the hips and shoulders. I was advised not to have a bigger one than this. I’m not expecting to fill it either!
4) Vango airbed sheet (single) – Brett has kindly lent me his to combat bedbugs at the hostels!
5) Altus rain series, poncho – Another item I have scrounged from Brett. OK so I will look like a freaky, gigantic, tangerine turtle but hey, everyone else will be wearing something similar when it rains so why not? The good thing about this is it covers everything, even the backpack!
6) Ultra lightweight down jacket – a while ago I picked up one of these from Uniqlo, which is great for layering, lighter than a fleece and packs down into virtually nothing.
7) Heat tech base layer – Another great find from Uniqlo. These heat tech long sleeved tops are brilliant for layering and very lightweight. They keep the heat in, while wicking moisture away from the body.
8) Travel blouses – I just got a couple of quick dry short sleeved blouses from the Regatta outlet store online and they arrived the next day, and at a bargain price!
9) Buff hat – Who would have thought a tube of material could be so versatile and so much fun? I’m taking a buff hat instead of a sunhat because you can make a hat out of a buff as well as 13 other items. It truly is a multi-purpose product and very lightweight. Click here to take a look at this demo video.
11) Lightweight sleeping bag – another scrounged item (thanks B!)
12) Water bottle – 1-litre capacity will be plenty as, apparently, there are many water fountains en route. Mine is a Laken.
13) Antiseptic bar soap – doubles up for showering and laundry.
14) Compeed blister plasters – because blisters need love cushions.
15) Needle and thread – for those little sewing emergencies and doubles up for draining blisters (ouch!).
16) High factor sunscreen – at risk of sounding like a package tourist, I’m shamelessly taking Piz Buin factor 30 SPF because it works (pilgrims in the olden days didn’t need to worry about this sort of thing…).
18) Petzl head torch – a handsfree wonder for any traveller. Ok so it makes you look like a potholer or a bicycle light in the dark and at a distance, but if I leave the albergue before the sun comes up or get to the next one in the dark, I don’t want to fall off a cliff.
19) Swiss army knife – I know, old humanitarian aid worker habits die hard! (And yes, I do know how to use all the gadgets so you have been warned…).
20) Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 – to keep in touch with all of you lovely people out there.
Guidance from peregrinos is to pack no more than 10 kilos or 10% of your body weight. I’ve managed to keep my backpack weight at 10.2kg, so we’ll see how it goes.
On that note, I had better leave you now and get back to training.
UPDATED August 2016 – Smart apps.
Of course, nowadays with the advent of oodles of new technology, I’m sure many a peregrino and peregrina have smartphones, iPads and tablets on their kit list. Well, I will update this section to include some smart apps to help you plan your Camino walk.
First up is Follow the Camino with their handy weather tool called Camino Weather, which helps pilgrims plan their trip with regards to the weather. It On the page you can see a map of the main Camino routes leading to Santiago de Compostela. Whether you walk or cycle the Camino you can browse each month of the year and see 10 years temperature averages, rainy days and sunny days. It is not a weather forecast but Follow the Camino tries to give pilgrims the best description of likely weather each month. Click on this link Camino Weather to try it out. Let me know what you think.
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Peace, love and light,
PS Peregrino is the Spanish word for pilgrim (in the masculine form). The feminine form is peregrina but it doesn’t seem to be used that often when talking about pilgrims on the Camino. Instead, it is often associated (on Google) with Elizabeth Taylor, who at one time owned La Peregrina Pearl, one of the most famous pearls in the world. I think los peregrinos and las peregrinas throughout history are all pearls in their own way, because a pearl is a symbol of truth, faith and love. Isn’t that interesting? More on symbols later on…