For a healthier Camino

High temperatures, solar radiation, mosquitoes, overload… easily avoidable inconvenient companions that could mess your pilgrimage up.

dirty-boots-camino-santiago

Blisters

Foot blisters are caused by excessive friction with socks/footwear and excessive moisture on your feet.

The four key points to avoid foot blisters are:

  • Worn-in footwear
  • Footwear made for walking, of the proper size
  • Feet always as dry as possible
  • Natural fiber socks with no or smooth seams

 

New footwear should never be used for prolonged hiking. They are the most straight way to serious blisters that could keep you unable to walk for several days.

The footwear should be made for walking and be of the right size, keeping your feet firmly snug, but not too tight. Some people can suffer substantial swelling when walking for hours, possibly needing footwear of a bigger size than usual.

Footwear must keep your feet reasonably dry when walking under the rain or along some of the muddy or puddly paths that you will most probably come across. Many people suffer from sweaty feet; they must by all means keep them dry when walking. Foot powder and even open walking footwear should be considered.

Natural fiber keeps your feet dry and is smoother than synthetic. Socks should be made for walking, with very smooth seams or even no seams at all.

Tendinitis

Tendinitis is the single most diagnosed chronic connective tissue disease in Western medicine.

Symptoms of tendinitis typically include:

  • Pain, often described as a dull ache, especially when moving the affected joint
  • Tenderness
  • Mild swelling

 

Tendinitis is a condition of a substantial seriousness that requires immediate attention to avoid further complications. If you suspect this condition, it is essential and unavoidable to proceed to immediate care, that will include rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers. Unfortunately, it will likely mark the end of your pilgrimage.

Causes of tendinitis, in the context of the pilgrimage, are:

  • Overloaded joints due to excessively heavy backpack
  • Lame walking due to blisters or other minor previous injuries
  • Lack of physical training
  • Excessive daily mileage
  • Dehydration is bad for connective tissues

 

Bug bites

There’s no risk of serious infections being transmitted via bug bites in Spain, but mosquitoes and other flying biters are an irritating concern that can be avoided with the use of insect repellents that can be found in every supermarket.

Sunburn

In northern Spain, UV radiation index can reach red-zone values (“very high”) during every day of the summer.

A UV Index reading 8 to 10 means very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Unprotected skin and eyes will be damaged and can burn quickly.

Minimize sun exposure between 12:00 and 18:00 (Spain’s timezone in summer is shifted more than 2 hours from its natural meridian. In the westernmost parts, like Santiago, around summer solstice sun sets at around 22:15). It’s recommended to seek shade and wear protective clothing, wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Apply SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after sweating or swimming. Watch out for bright surfaces, like sand and water, which reflect UV and increase exposure.

camino-santiago-drinking

Dehydration

Even when not engaging in intense physical activities, low-grade dehydration is a common, widespread problem that can have major impacts over your health.

Early signs of dehydration are thirst, general discomfort, dark-colored urine, and a less obvious symptomheadache; it’s usually resolved by simply drinking.

People not accustomed to prolonged outdoor exercise must be aware of these symptoms. If ignored, dehydration can lead to loss of strength, and even heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

In the context of pilgrimage, dehydration occurs when body water loss exceeds water intake due to exercise and/or high environmental temperature.

Dehydration is easily prevented by drinking regularly. Don’t wait for your thirst signal to kick in. Our body needs a steady supply of water. There isn’t a magic figure of liters per hour; just make a point of drinking a little more water, rather than a little less.

Caffeinated, sweetened and alcoholic drinks should be avoided for a proper hydration.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two potentially serious conditions that can occur if your body gets too hot. They can occur during strenuous physical exercise in a hot environment. In northern Spain summer diurnal temperatures rarely rise above 40ºC/ 104ºF, but it’s still hot enough.

Heat exhaustion occurs when your body becomes depleted of water and salts. When you are affected by a heatstroke, your body is no longer able to cool itself.

Heat exhaustion or heatstroke can develop quickly over a few minutes, or gradually over several hours or days.

Symptoms typically include:

  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • General discomfort
  • Heavy sweating
  • Intense thirst
  • Fast pulse
  • Urinating less often, and much darker urine than usual

 

If left untreated, more severe symptoms ensue.

Persons under these conditions need immediate help, and must lie down in a cool place. Their body must be cooled by any means possible: remove clothes, wet and fan their skin. And they need urgent hydration.

They mustn’t be left alone until they feel better, which shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes. If the condition persists or the person looses conscience, medical help is needed. Call 112 (the emergency services number in Spain).

The Credencial. Walk the Camino and prove it.

Once we have taken the trouble to travel the long route to Santiago, it’s only logical wanting to prove that we have accomplished such a feat, and claim the document that demonstrates it: the Compostela. It will be useful also in order to claim a place in the albergues that still offer Christian hospitality. The established way to prove it is the Credencial, a document that we should use to collect the rubber stamps of albergues, bars, restaurants, churches, post offices… even banks or police stations; any rubber stamp is valid, provided it identifies a known place along the Camino.

Compostela
The new model of the Compostela, the pilgrimage certificate.

You must get your Credencial before you start the pilgrimage. You can get it in almost any catholic church nearby, or other places that you will easily find out once there. The official Credencial is printed on pasteboard and it’s accordion-folded in sixteen pages. The first page functions as a cover letter, and should be filled in the distributing place with the pilgrim’s data. There’s a space in the top to be filled with the delivering entity stamp; in the bottom is a space to be filled with the date and the Cathedral stamp once the pilgrimage is accomplished.

The second page contains instructions for the use of the Credencial:

Necessary considerations.

• This Credencial is for the sole use of pilgrims by foot, bicycle or horseback, who wish to make the pilgrimage with a Christian sense, if only in an attitude of spiritual quest. The Credencial has the goal of identifying the pilgrim; that’s why the institutions that represents the pilgrim shall be a parish, a catholic guild, a diocese, a Friends of the Camino association, or any other Christian institution related to the pilgrimage. This Credencial does not give the pilgrim any entitlement. It has two practical finalities: 1) to give access to the albergues that offer Christian hospitality on the Camino, 2) to serve as a pass certificate for requesting the Compostela in the Cathedral of Santiago, the certification of having accomplished the pilgrimage.

• The Compostela is granted only to those who have made the pilgrimage with a Christian sense: devotionis affectu, voti vel pietatis causa (motivated by devotion, vow or piety). Moreover, it’s only granted to those who make the pilgrimage to the Apostle’s tomb for the entire last 100 km by foot or on horseback, the last 200 km on bicycle, or 100 nautical miles and the rest by foot.

• The pilgrim’s Credencial, therefore, can only be issued by the Church through its own institutions (bishopric, parish, guild, etc.) or, in any case, through institutions authorized by the Church. The Compostela shall be granted only by the S.A.M.I. (Saint Apostolic Metropolitan Church) Cathedral of Santiago (as stated in the Seminars on Holy Year, november 1993)

• The albergues that lack any official subsidy should be supported, albeit in their austerity, with the collaboration of the pilgrims (cleaning, facilities maintenance, promote rest, economic help…)

• The organized pilgrimage groups with a support car or by bicycle are requested to search for an alternative lodge other than pilgrim’s shelters.

• The bearer of this Credencial accepts these terms.

The remaining pages contain boxes for putting the rubber stamps along the pilgrimage route. The stamps are usually obtained in the places where the pilgrims are housed, like the albergues, but also in parishes, monasteries, cathedrals, hostels, municipal chambers, and many other places.

Finally, the back of the Credencial shows a series of maps of the Ways to Santiago, and another page with a blessing taken from the Codex Calixtinus, written in the 12th century.

certificado_distancia
The new Certificado de Distancia (Distance Certificate)

Different Credencial have been issued during years by different entities, always with the license or the Archdiocese of Santiago. More than 25 models of Credencial issued by Friends of the Camino association in Spain and other countries have been considered valid for decades and handed to the pilgrim for free or for a small fee or contribution. But this has, as it seems, come to an end. The Cathedral’s authorities have long wanted to unify the Credencial system, and the Cathedral’s Chapter took a definitive step on November 2015 through the following note:

“After a long dialogue with many of the entities that issue a Credencial, and at the request of several of them, it has been found necessary to address this matter, that is seriously harming the image of the Camino and the pilgrimage.

Currently, we receive more than 25 different models of Credencial, with prices from zero to twenty euros, in some cases. Attempts have been made to even sell them through the internet. The pastoral embracement, the careful attention and the gratuity must be the fundamental aims of our presence in the Camino and in the goal of pilgrimage.

The Cathedral of Santiago’s own registered Credencial must be considered the only valid, with a price for pilgrims that shouldn’t exceed 2 euros. The management of the Credencial must not be done with commercial or venal criteria; the profits that could result from it, necessarily limited for the current model, should always redund in a better service and attention to the pilgrims.

With the aim of avoiding harm to all those entities that are currently issuing Credencial, a moratorium will be granted so that it will be possible to use them until April 1, 2016. From that date on, only the official Credencial issued by the Pilgrim’s Welcome Office will be admitted to grant the Compostela.”

So, be warned: starting from April 1, 2016, the only accepted model of Credencial to claim the Compostela from  will be the one issued by the Cathedral of Santiago itself.