Perhaps the hardest thing about living in Berlin so far is not being able to escape into nature anytime I feel like it. Even while living in downtown St. Johnâ€™s, the trail to Cabot Tower was within easy reach. Thereâ€™s a huge amount of green space here (you wouldnâ€™t believe some of the parks), but the sound of cars and honking horns and screaming children is never too far off.
This is partially the reason why Iâ€™ve decided to walk the Camino de Santiago in April; the other half of that reason is because my friend Michelle is a delightful storyteller and sheâ€™s responsible for opening my eyes to what the Camino experience is all about.
It was never really something I wanted to do.
Really, I just never had thought much about it. First of all, in order to do the whole route, it requires a great deal of time. At least a month, but more like five weeks or even longer if you want to be prepared for the unexpected. Secondly, walking five or more hours per day wasnâ€™t appealing. Until now. Until I started craving those outdoors experience so desperately, it physically hurts.
Furthermore, I donâ€™t have the long-term trekking experience Iâ€™ve so desperately wanted for years now. While Camino de Santiago is probably the easiest walk for beginners (in the way that a pilgrimâ€™s needs are highly met â€“ not because it isnâ€™t physically challenging), itâ€™ll give me the opportunity to become more experienced in this type of travel. Itâ€™ll also give me lots of time for self-reflection and ramping up my endurance. From there I hope to do a 10-day trip in the Dolomites in June. And then more long range trails when I’m back in Canada.
Am I a clichÃ©? Probably. I do live in Berlin.
What is Camino de Santiago?
Most of you already know a lot about the Camino. This mostly benefits my mother, who gasps in shock anytime I tell her Iâ€™m going anywhere new at all.
Camino de Santiago is the pilgrimâ€™s route starting in the French Pyrenees and moving into Spain. Itâ€™s a network of trails known as the Route of St. James that leads to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Itâ€™s the longest pilgrimage route in Europe, and itâ€™s a UNESCO World Heritage site. People have been doing it for a long, long time.
Iâ€™ll be doing the French Way (Camino Frances), the most popular but also apparently the most scenic route. There are many others as well, of varying landscapes and lengths. St. Jean Pied de Port is the starting place, but since I plan on starting my walk in April, I may have to skip the Pyrenees if thereâ€™s too much snow. (I know, right? Boo.) The total route is about 730 kilometres.
Am I Nuts?
But as far as hiking goes, the Camino isnâ€™t exactly roughing it. Iâ€™ll only be carrying a daypack with two changes of clothes, some outerwear, some gear, and a sleeping bag. (And some other necessities.) I donâ€™t need a tent, or big food supplies. Every day Iâ€™ll get up early, hit the trail, and wind up in a pilgrim town at an albergue â€“ a pilgrim-only hostel. (Yes, thatâ€™ll be fun with my sleeping issues. I look forwarding to sleeping near a snoring giant man.)
Food is plentiful; there are water fountains along the way. Hell, thereâ€™s a wine fountain. Itâ€™s Spain. I can do it for less than 30 EUR/day. Internet is plentiful (albeit not always reliable), so Iâ€™ll be able to fulfill work duties (even if it does detract from the trail experienceâ€¦this is the glorious life I chose).
Iâ€™m headed out just after Easter. I figure I can beat the summertime rush, and Iâ€™ll still meet fellow pilgrims along the way.
How Iâ€™m Preparing
This is hard. I still donâ€™t have a gym membership in Berlin â€“ I havenâ€™t been to the gym in four months. Itâ€™s ridiculous. I used to go at least three times a week back home, but often more like five times. I worked hard! New gyms intimidate me, so Iâ€™ve been putting it off. Camino preparation will help me get kick-started again.
Thatâ€™s not enough, though. And hiking is hard from Berlin. But Iâ€™ve also joined a local hiking group from Meet-Up, and hope to take on a few longer treks over the next few monthsâ€¦at least while itâ€™s still warm.
Other than that, Iâ€™ll be needing to save up for hiking boots, a sleeping bag, and a proper day pack. All things I had in Canada but didnâ€™t have the foresight to bring with me. Sigh.
I might be nuts. Iâ€™m probably nuts. Have you met me? But now Iâ€™m obsessed with the idea. My fellow travellers who have completed the route have all raved about the experience. Candace Rose Rardon and Flora the Explorer have written about their journeys, and reading about it all gives me the most delicious thrill. (And then naturally I watchedÂ The Way.)
The challenge, the opportunity to meet other pilgrims, the dusty trail. The kind of travel Iâ€™ve been craving more of, but have woefully neglected.
Itâ€™ll be hard, but I plan on doing updates every day or at least every other day â€“ even just snippets. And if youâ€™re a previous pilgrim, Iâ€™d love to hear any advice at all from you.
(Iâ€™ve also had a few people ask me about joining me â€“ and thatâ€™s totally cool. Youâ€™re welcome; the trail is for everyone! But just know that in my hippie fantastical mission for self-discovery I may wander off alone at times to ponder my weird and wonderful life. Don’t be offended.)