COUNTRY OF PROVENANCE
My Camino de Santiago
Cristina, the walker
It costs me a bit to sit here in front of the computer and start telling you about this journey. Pull out from my soul everything I have experienced since the beginning and transform it into a path of words, of discovery, of emotions and above all of personal growth.
I did not know anything about the art of walking three years ago. I was living a very happy time, among wonderful friends, concerts and travels. I was finally doing my dream job and I was very satisfied. I felt in love with what I had managed to build, after so much effort and disappointments, up to that moment. Yet I was missing a bit. I can’t really explain to you what specifically, it was perhaps a tension towards something that I wanted to see with my eyes, live on my skin and walk with my steps. A solo trip, that was where I had to start.
I remember the exact moment when I took the decision. Looking into the mirror one winter evening in 2017, in my little apartment in Milan at around 8 pm, I said to myself: “Cri, how about leaving for Spain and taking the Camino of Santiago? Are you ready to start understanding how it works? My “Yes I do” started from the stomach until it resulted in a beautiful smile and so from the next day I began to study. A mad and desperate study, pitted down to the smallest terms, notes, appointments with ex-pilgrims, endless surfing on the internet, reading Coelho’s books, visits to the Roman-Gothic church of San Cristoforo sul Naviglio in Milan. Move as soon as possible to get the Credential and start training, only this counted and only this accompanied me throughout the next 6 months.
Study in moderation
Of course, everything I learned, studied and planned was of little use. It took much less! I have become an expert on everything, on the best shoes on the market, on the bureaucratic timing to request the Credential – the pilgrim’s diary on which to stamp at each stage and which identifies you as such. Expert on the movements to be made and on the daily stages, even on the faces of the owners of the albergues but, today I will tell you, in hindsight: you really need much, much less than all this.
But everyone has his fixes, his weaknesses, his strengths and this of knowing every slightest nuance of everything, my control-freakism is (or perhaps was) my fetish, my personal cult. Today, after two years, this freakish makes me smile and makes me feel so much tenderness towards me. I realized it when, as a total neophyte of the paths, along my Way, I was talking to those who, on their fourth time on the way to Santiago, did not know many essential things for me, such as the Church of San Andrés in Villamayor de Monjardìn which has an exceptional acoustics… by the way, if you want to sing, experience it.
Another important episode of my study and of the results achieved was the discussion with a dear friend who I hosted some time ago for a few days, an expert on walks, mountains and sleeping in tents at 3000 meters, amazed and incredulous of my knowledge of each model of hiking boots, or the use of the stick or how to organize the backpack. “How do you know all these things? Are you sure you are walking only for personal pleasure or when you have some day off? “.
Before leaving, a good guide.
So you can trust me, if you are planning to organize your next Camino, according to my suggestions. I also suggest you silence all those stupid little voices that we have in our heads every day, and that tell us that we must know everything to do anything, that we are never enough, that we will never make it: Yes, you will!
So let’s start with some useful tips before leaving.
The best guide you can buy – and the one closest to reality of all those that, of course, I read before leaving – is by Terre di Mezzo Editore, “Guide to the Camino de Santiago de Compostela”. I followed it almost step by step, simple, intuitive and with practical and very useful suggestions, especially in times of need, when you need a second chance to find an albergue because all are full when you reach the last stage or to find out exactly in how many km you will arrive at the next stage. The suggestions on places to visit are also very useful, I discovered that of the Church of San Andrés right here. It is updated very often, so as to have information almost in real time, in each new edition. (I bought the 10th edition).
So the first step is a good guide, which will only give you an idea of what you are going to experience, but will be precious along the way. I recommend that you fill in notes and new information for each stage. Finding your notes or your tickets and receipts or reading the dates upon returning from this experience will be a balm for your soul.
Take care of your feet
The guide will help you to understand if this type of travel is what you are really looking for and the one that suits you. Once decided, we move on to the concrete, to the ground, in all senses. Let’s start from the bottom. I’m talking about shoes. Try many and study, yes, in this case I recommend you do it, study your feet. Study the best shoes on the market based on your budget and your anatomy, there are lots of hiking shoes and what is good for someone may not be good for you. So try, experiment and above all walk a lot before leaving, see if they are right for you. They will be a unique and indissoluble bond, a marriage I would say. I had a great time with the Salomon, high boot, in gore-tex (essential for rain humidity but also to keep the foot at an optimal temperature).
And socks, please socks. Whether they are anatomical, the running ones are fine and change them every holy day, wash them well with the piece of Marseille soap that you will bring with you and, personal advice, every two hours stop to rest at least 15 minutes and take off everything, let the feet breathe and dry your socks, if it’s too hot, nothing will happen to you, no blisters. Take care of your feet because only they can take you where you want and to the end, Amen.
If necessary, use Compeed plasters and leave them there on your small wounds, which will be small if you take care of yourself, until they come off on their own. I assure you that they will also save the life of some pilgrim who does not care about himself who will be lucky enough to meet you.
Backpack. Your home, your snail. A weight that you will hate very much at the beginning but from which you will no longer be able to detach yourself in the end. Once done, you will feel like you have put nothing or too little to survive. Once there, you will start leaving things on the street or thinking in grams: “Why three pairs and not two? did I really bring this extra pants? What’s this lipstick doing here? Noooo what about this ultra-fine cotton tank top? was I going to Ibiza by any chance?”.
Forget everyday life, forget everything and reflect on what can only be useful for your survival. Then start filling the backpack, which should weigh 1/10 of your body weight. Do you know how much mine weighed on 12 July 2018, the day of my departure? 12 kg. A madness. And inside I had almost nothing, for my “idea of nothing” of that time. Do you think my weight is 120 kg? My weight is exactly half.
I recommend that you put in your backpack: 3 pairs of anatomical anti-chafing socks and 3 pairs of comfortable underpants, 2 pairs of lightweight trousers or leggings or shorts and 2 breathable sweaters, 1 sweatshirt, a change for sleeping, a microfiber towel, a jacket windproof, hat, high protection sunscreen, sheet bag, sleeping bag for those who consider it essential, (I didn’t need it in the summer), earplugs, head or head torch, Marseille soap for laundry and shower , safety pins to hang the laundry, plastic bags with airtight closure, tweezers, small pouch and flip-flops (for shower and / or second shoes). Last gem: tiger balm, massage your feet and legs every evening, it will be a relief.
I would stop here, but listen carefully and understand what you really need. If you make a mistake don’t worry, by mistakes you learn, be kind to yourself. When I found a beach dress in my backpack on the last day, I burst out laughing. It was striped white and blue.
I walk, therefore I am.
I am a walker. I walk with my feet, with my mind and with my heart. I haven’t always been a walker. I started a few years ago, for fun and for a personal challenge: to walk on foot as many km as possible on the Camino de Santiago. The following year I walked in Peru on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and the following years I took many other walks, more or less known. Walking is a real passion for me and I can no longer do without it.
I love getting lost, only to find myself, along unknown city streets, endless woods or unexplored paths. I am two in one, two souls, two hearts. My name is Maria Cristina, I have two names and walking is one of my very personal forms of “Self-love“.
Will you come with me for a walk?