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Prepare for the Camino de Santiago

by Annique Bolliger

Have you been infected with the walking buzz and want to prepare for the Camino de Santiago? This article will help you out big time. Here’s everything you need to know in preparation of getting to the famous pilgrimage.   

“The Camino.”

*Doof*

For the past 3 years this term has been fed into my ears like a never-ending tale. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t count the amount of times I’ve listened to stories, or transformative accounts from people who have walked this alleged life-changer.

From what I’ve been told, the famous walk through Spain ignites the walker’s soul, bringing on inescapable moments of deep self-reflection, healing, and inner balance.  From what I’ve seen, it also turns them into hardcore fanatics who’ve been there, done it, and got 10 t-shirts, along with 50 scallop shells and a new self-proclaimed minimalist identity. 

That’s right. People don’t do the Camino. The Camino does them.

As I’m writing this, my youngest sister Céline is currently walking her first camino. As for my mother, she’s walking her third Camino walk, also, as we speak. It marks consecutive year number three that she embarks on this personal pilgrimage – a journey that seems to have become an annual tradition for her, and for many others who have been completely sucked into the charm of this walk. 

What Is This Infamous Camino?

The Camino de Santiago is a collection of routes (or ‘pilgrim ways’) that track through the French, Portuguese and Spanish countryside and end in Santiago de Compostela, or more specifically, at the old Spanish town’s cathedral. The traditional route starts in France at St-Jean Pied de Port and continues for 800km to Santiago de Compostela.

Prepare for the Camino de Santiago 8

Photo by Xan Bolliger

Legend has it that the remains of St. James the Great, one of the Twelve Apostles, were buried at the cathedral, and that they had been brought there all the way from Jerusalem. During the Middle Ages, particularly around the 12th Century, it was one of the most frequently embarked on Christian pilgrimages.

This is why hardcore Camino fans call themselves pilgrims, or peregrinos  (in Spanish).

The amount of pilgrims that walked the Camino routes declined after the 1100s due to warfare, plague, and other disruptions, but in the past century the famous way has made one heck of a comeback. In the late 80s, the Camino was declared a World Heritage Site, and the pilgrimage has become a total craze.

You should know, since you’re preparing to walk it.

How to Get Started

It’s become quite clear to me that the Camino is an omnipresent force. I can’t escape it. My mother and sister are on it right now, so are at least 6 of my mom’s Camino friends, and for all I know, I’ll probably do the darn thing myself one day (and probably get hooked too).

So instead of fighting it, I decided to help you guys out – yes, you guys who are dying to embark on the Camino experience, but are not quite sure of how to get there.

In order to help you prepare for the Camino and inform you on what to do to get there, I met with the lovely Andrée Lombard, chairman of the Confraternity of St. James (CSJOFSA) in South Africa to ask her some essential questions that every South African who wants to walk should know.

Before I get to the juicy bits, I would just like to point out that during my interview with Andrée in her home, she was busy putting together Camino ‘pilgrim packs’ – while wearing a Camino t-shirt (pure coincidence, she said). Oh, and she was a few days away from flying off and doing her 6th Camino.

I told you. It does them.

A Chat with Camino Expert Andrée 

When was the CSJOFSA formed?

In 2006, but we had already gotten involved with the society in 2002.

As a South African who wants to walk – how do you start preparing ?

The best way to start is by visiting our website CSJOFSA.za.org where you’ll find lots of information and frequently asked questions.

After you’ve done some reading there, you can contact us about specific questions that you have.[/su_spoiler]

Do you need a Visa to do the Camino?

Yes. South Africans need to get a Shengen Visa (through the consulate, not through us), which is normally valid up to 6 months (but no more than 3 months in advance).

You need to apply through the country in which you will be in the longest, and not where you start.  For example, if you walk for 3 weeks and the majority of your days are in Spain – you will apply to a Visa through the Spanish consulate.

When you apply, you need to have proof of accommodation for every day you are in Europe. But as a pilgrim walking the Camino, you don’t know where you will be staying every night, since it will be mostly in hostels.

However, thanks to the association we have with the Consulate in Spain, as well as other European countries, we have the authority to issue a letter to you stating that you will in fact be walking the Camino. Take this letter with you, along with all other documents needed for the Visa application.

Travelstart has some useful info on the Visa topic for South Africans.

NB: In order to get this letter, however, you need to sign up online and be a member of the CSJOFA society.

What does the CSJOFA membership entail?

When you sign up as a member, you get a pilgrim’s pack.

It includes

  • The Visa letter
  • A pilgrim’s passport (whenever you stay a night at an albergue/hostel, they give you a stamp – this proves that you stayed over, for Visa purposes).
  • A pilgrim record (aka credentials)
  • A Spanish survival guide (a little booklet with useful words and phrases for the Camino – very handy)
  • A 10% Cape Union Mart gift voucher (especially first-time pilgrims will need to get some gear)
  • A South African flag ribbon – that they can tie onto their backpack to show off the ‘proudly SA’ spirit
  • A luggage label
  • One card from the Camino deck set (each card has an inspirational quote)

What to Pack

Seeing as I have now observed my mother pack for this experience three years in a row, I have a pretty good understanding of the most essential rule when it comes to what you take with on the Camino: little.

It’s actually really impressive on just how little experienced pilgrims get by. My mother once showed me a fellow pilgrim’s check-list that had every gram of every item listed – from the water bottle to the panties, ensuring that the backpack won’t exceed 4kg.

Also, forget about absurdities like beauty products. Take my mother as an example – she gets a Brazilian-blowout before she walks, and it turns her Klein-Karoo, Tina Turner hair into an easily manageable silk sheet – no products (i.e. extra items) required. Tamed be the frizz.

As it were, I asked Andrée what her own top 3 most essential items are when she walks. 

Good shoes – Not the typical leather hiking boots, because they will give you terrible blisters. Your best bet is trail shoes, like a pair of Salomons. They are light, airy, and dry fast.

Also, very important – buy them 2 sizes bigger than your normal size. Your feet will swell.

A sarong – This is one of the most useful items. You can use it as a sheet, as a skirt, to cover yourself when you come out the shower, or as a sun visor when you walk. You can tie things with it, or even use it as a bathing costume.

A bandana – It’s something you can use as a cloth, as a hanky, or dip it in the fountains and tie it around your neck to cool off. You can also wear it as a head sweat band.

Check out this really useful list of recommended items to pack!  

What’s It Gonna Cost?

By far the biggest expenses for this adventure are the flight ticket (around R9000), and the Visa application (around R1500, depending on the country).

Once that’s out of the way, you’ll have to work out a daily budget for the duration that you’re walking. This budget will cover everything – your meals, accommodation, and perhaps the odd unforeseen expenses, like an extra pack of plasters, or a spontaneous artisan cheese board…

The recommended daily budget is about R 500 (€ 30), but it can be less if you’re smart about it.

Tips on How to Save 

Tip 1

Avoid  fancy restaurant meals. Many pilgrims buy groceries and cook together – this can come very cheap indeed, and fun. Apparently it’s quite rare for a pilgrim to eat without company.

Tip 2

Sleep in a hostel/albergue instead of hotels. It costs about R180 (€ 10) per night for a bed, pillow, and access to a shower, and another R180 (€ 10) for your meals. 

Nice little side note – the wine you get with your meal is bottomless. Good thing it’s lighter than the SA wine. note

“No Camino without the vino,” as the say.

Tip 3

Buy one or two small snacks for the day at a grocery store (e.g. a banana and a müsli bar).

Have a look at this awesome Cost Calculator on Caminoteca.com . You can select the amount of days you’ll be walking, along with what your meal and accommodation needs will be.

FAQs Galore

If you want to check out some more infos and FAQs on Camino preparation, have a look at the following websites (and smash Google for even more):

Andaspain FAQs

Caminoteca FAQs 

Hiking the Camino FAQs 

If you are set out to do this thing, the CSJOFA society is the best way to get all the information you need. If you are based in Cape Town, you can also join the weekly hiking group (you’ll find an abundance of pilgrims – best opportunity for you to get first-hand accounts and tips). To find out about these hikes and other social events, contact Gium Marais.

Prepare for the Camino de Santiago - Andrée Lombard

Andrée Lombard – Chairman of the CSJOFSA

Long Live the Camino

Just before my mother started her current Camino in Le Puy, we got a video in our family Whatsapp group. What I saw was a spunky, excited woman in a blue rain jacket hop-dancing around with pure excitement at what was about to come.

Over the past few days, I’ve been getting the most stunning daily  camino photos from the two of them. Truly breathtaking. 

Basically, I know I’ll walk the bugger myself one day.

For those of you who are planning to walk the Camino in the near future, I trust this information will come in handy, and that within a few days of setting out, you too will come back and make your loved ones overdose on magical, inspirational Camino stories.

To follow my sister’s daily Camino pics – just follow celinebolli on Instagram. For every day, she adds a Camino photo along with a little reflective journal caption 🙂 

EduConnect 2cents

If you’re still unsure whether you want to actually walk the Camino, read Jacobie’s beautiful and humorous Motivations to Walk the Camino.

And we kid you not, Jacobie is also walking it again as we speak…

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