One of our team members, Kelly Catlow, has a passion for the outdoors, in particular hiking. Whilst she has completed numerous Great Walks throughout New Zealand, she has also walked the length of Spain: An 800 – 900km walk called the Camino de Santiago. Not only has she walked it once, but twice! And this year she was planning to walk her third! All different routes, but ending up in the same location. Clearly this walk is addictive, so we asked her to tell us more about her experience walking the Camino…
What and where is the Camino, and when did you experience it?
The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage walk across Spain that is 800km – 900km in duration, that ends at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. In the middle ages, millions of people walked the route, to ensure they would spend less time in purgatory. Today, people walk it for all sorts of reasons, and that’s the beauty of the Camino – the people you meet along the way.
The Camino in English means the path, the road, the way, the journey – take your pick! I had never heard of The Camino until my parents gave me a book to read called ‘The year we seized the day’. For anyone interested in the Camino, it’s a good read. I would say at this moment in time, I wasn’t in a good space, with my marriage ending after 18 years. I knew I wanted to walk this route, and put it on the bucket list of things to do, just for me.
When my dad died in 2016, the last thing he said to me was ‘Don’t wait too long’. So, I bought a ticket to Spain and set off on my adventure, solo, six months later. That was my first Camino, two years later I walked my second, and this year I was to walk my third – all different routes, but ending up in the same location.
They say Camino’s are addictive – totally!
Describe a standard day on the trail? What size pack were you carrying?
My daily walk could be anywhere from 24km – 42km. It depended on how I was feeling, the distance between townships and the albergues (bunkrooms) that I could stay in.
I would sleep in bunkrooms of up to 50 people, getting used to the snoring and ‘other’ noises at night, takes a good week to get used to, and then you are fine. The communal facilities are ‘interesting’ – no time for modesty – no changing rooms to speak of and everyone all sleeping in the one room.
I would get up around 6:30am, and set off walking, stopping at the first cafe/bar for a fresh orange juice and breakfast. I would walk until around 2pm most days, find an albergue, grab my bunk bed, and set about my afternoon routine. It goes something like this: shower, change into my one set of fresh clothes, handwash my walking clothes in an outside tub of cold water, hang out to dry, head into the village, grab a beer, walk about another 2km around the township making sure I saw everything I wanted to, then head back to the albergue for a communal dinner at 7pm, and in bed by around 8:30pm. This routine is exactly the same for 30 days straight.
I walked the first Camino with a 30litre pack, but my second Camino was in the mountains, so walked with a 40 litre pack so I had more room to carry the odd bit of food incase there was no supplies or shops during the day.
How long were you walking the trail and what was your weight loss?
I lost 5kgs on my first Camino and 10kg on my second Camino. It took a month to lose this weight, and a month to put it all back on again when I returned home.
Tell us about the best highlight you experienced in the time away?
My most memorable experience is hard – so many! I saw some amazing villages, cathedrals, museums, beaches, coastlines, mountains, but it always comes down to people.
The last 10 days walking across the mountains, there was only a few people on the trail, I would say maybe 12. We always seemed to cross paths, staying in the same villages, meeting up on the odd night and then again a few days later.
The final night we all stayed in the same albergue, and decided to all walk together for our final day into the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
Everyone helped each other, some with blisters, some cutting the backs off their sandals to make their feet feel better, some needing to stop more often than others, but it was the camaraderie, the friendship, the laughter, the conversation, the compassion and empathy, the group.
I was overwhelmed on this final day, I had walked 800km, and when I arrived into the town plaza, the tears flowed. I thought of Dad.