Like many experiences that have any age on them and help give shape to meaning, The Camino is often spoken about in metaphor or aphorisms.
One of them “The Camino Provides” is part of what captivated me about the whole endeavor. The thought goes something like this—walking on the Way of St. James, you really only need to take the things you absolutely need. For one, who wants to schlep across the Iberian Peninsula with something that you might only use twice–a travel pillow, for instance. Every ounce you can take out of your backpack means that much less wear and tear on the legs, knees, ankles, and feet. Also, many of the Camino Routes–especially the Frances and Portuguese–are resourced enough such that anything you need and isn’t in your backpack can be purchased. More than likely, though, there’s another pilgrim walking with you or staying in an alburgue with you that is more than willing to share. So in a very real sense, “The Camino Provides” applies to tangible items.
But the aphorism also points to the lyrics from The Rolling Stones…. you don’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you find you get what you need. There are countless pilgrims tales of folks walking all day, coming into town late only to find that the alburgue they had highlighted in their book was full and they had to stay in another one. That, or, folks had to sleep on the floor. Desirable? No. Did they get a place to stay? Yes. One such story that I read (and can’t find) was that all the alburgues were full in the town and the pilgrim was told there was a restaurant in the next village that could put her up. The pilgrim was imagining that they would be spending the night sleeping on a table or the floor…. maybe some chairs ganged together. That she discovered was the restaurant had just finished building an alburgue. She got to stay in it and, because the CO was yet to be given, the owner could charge. So it was free.
The Camino Provides. Yes it provided lodging but it also provided an opportunity for hospitality, to trust, and an invitation to adventure. In our work-a-day lives where everything is structured, everything is predictable, and everything is double-checked and verified–the Camino invites you to consider opening yourself up to a little ambiguity.
You Carry Your Worries in Your Backpack
I heard about this aphorism in the later stages of planning for my Camino. Again the saying in multi-layered. If you are really worried about not having enough clothes, you overpack on clothes. If you are afraid that you will run out water, you’ll carry multiple water bottles. If you are afraid that you’ll get blisters, you’ll carry boxes full of your favorite blister pad/ barrier.
But it works on another level as well. Confessionally, I’m embarrassed at my relatively paltry Spanish. While I didn’t carry my best friend–rather fluent in Spanish–around in my backpack, every time I ran into something that required more than muttering 2 or 3 words I would defer to my friend to translate. I also hate being the cliche. One of those cliches was that American pilgrims are always the ones to arrive last at the alburgue and the last to leave the alburgue. Well, we were the last folks leaving each morning. Why did that matter to me? I said it was because I didn’t want the alburgue hosts thinking we were ungrateful or get in their way cleaning up. But, if I’m honest, I just don’t like looking like I’m not “in the know”.
So What Was in My Backpack?
Folks always want to know what you carry on the Camino. If you search YouTube, you can find a plethora of packing lists and gear reviews. Here’s mine:
Backpack: REI Flash 45 (2018 Model). This pack was more than enough room. You really only need 35 Liters in your bag. 45 was overkill. But the pack fit my long frame and (slowly diminishing) gut better than others. The pack cover was useful on rainy days but the travel lock was not used. In my top pocket was my Brierley book and a waterproof bag with my wallet, my phone, my credencial, and my passport.FIrst Aid, Sewing, and Emergency TP:
All I used here was the Compeed, Triple-Antibiotic and Advil. Everything else was superfluous.Sleeping Bag: I took an REI 50F Bag. I also used the gray waterproof compression stuff sack. Worked like a charm to shrink the sleeping bag down as much as possible. The green thing on the left is a sleep sheet. It didn’t get hot enough to use that instead of the sleeping bag. If I ever go back I’ll take one or the other, not both.Electronics kit (kept in a mesh stuff sack): the international travel charger with 4 USB ports was a winner (and friend maker!!). The earbuds were useful for music. The headlamp I used once. I’d take all three again. The cord that came with the charger worked on Lightning and had an adaptor for USB micro. Not pictured is a small lithium-ion battery that I used to keep my Apple Watch charged.Hard wear: Extra carabiners, extra trekking pole tip covers, diaper pins and bulldog clips, compact day pack, clothes line, laundry soap. Only ever used the day bag. But the rest was there just in case. And its all light.Toiletries and pack towel–’nuff said. I did like the Dr. Bonner’s peppermint bar soap and the tiny “dry bag” for the bar.Foot lotion, sunscreen, Peppermint foot powder. While all this stuff made it to Spain, everything but the three items I identified didn’t make it out of the airport.Socks and underwear. Gross confession–I have sweaty feet. I took 2x the socks as I did outfits. And I changed my socks every time we stopped for a break. I think that’s why I didn’t have too many blisters. Base layer/ underwear? I doubled up as well, not knowing about accessibility to washing clothes. It wasn’t an issue. Extra clothes items: glove liners, toboggan, flip flops, wide-brim hat, extra boot laces, rain jacket, 2 buffs. I used all of these except the laces. Flip flops were for the shower and walking around without my boots. So you really only need 2 outfits–today’s clothes (the ones on your back) and tomorrow’s clothes (the ones in your backpack) . Both outfits were zip-off quick dry pants. The shirts were wicking/ quick dry shirts. I also brought a pair of soccer shorts and 1 cotton shirt to wear after I showered/ as pj’s. I rarely used them. Instead, I just went ahead and put on “tomorrow’s clothes” after my shower. Not pictured: I took a down jacket that folded up into one pocket. The idea was it could double as a pillow. I used the jacket in the mornings a couple of days. Never used it as a pillow. Also, trekking poles. I used them almost all the time. They were amazing. Shoes? I wore Merrill MOAB2 low-cut, ventilated. They served me well. Ankle height boots are overkill for many and trail runners, so I understand, aren’t enough support for cobblestone sections. Lastly, I had a copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. It was amazing to read her in her own country.