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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: albergues, pilgrim’s offices, tourism offices… You can also get it through the Confraternities devoted to St. James, or through Associations of Friends of the Camino worldwide.

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.

The botafumeiro

We start the year in this blog talking about one of the elements most closely associated with the Compostela pilgrimage: the botafumeiro, the enormous incense burner (or thurible) in Santiago Cathedral that swings

Botafumeiro

What does “botafumeiro” mean?

The name “botafumeiro”, in galician language, means “smoke expeller”, though strictly speaking, a more correct expression would be “bota fume” or “fumeiro”.

Where does it come from?

The botafumeiro was installed in Santiago cathedral for the first time in the XIII or XIV century, in order to alleviate the odor caused by the masses of pilgrims that spent the night at the cathedral after their long voyage. Santiago wasn’t the only place with a similar device: in the past, the cathedrals of Orense, Zamora and Tuy also had their own botafumeiros. Nowadays, however, it’s only used in the latter in special occasions (and in Santiago, of course).

Through history, the temple has had four botafumeiros: the first one was used until 1530, when a new one was made of silver thanks to a donation from king Louis XI of France. This one, however, was stolen by the french troops during the Peninsular Wars in 1809, and it was replaced by a new one made of iron that was in comission until 1851, when the current one was built by José Losada, the same craftsman who made the urn where the remains of the apostle Santiago are kept.

What is the size of the botafumeiro?

The botafumeiro weights 80 kg. and measures 1.60 m. of height. Every time it’s used, it has to be filled with 40 kg. of charcoal and incense.

When the botafumeiro is used, seven “tirabuleiros” pull the ropes and make it swing, thanks to the elaborate system of pulleys in the cathedral. The botafumeiro swings for about 15 minutes, which is the time it takes for the priests to walk around the nave and aisles of the cathedral.

When can I see the botafumeiro?

The botafumeiro is used oficially during the opening and closing of the Holy Year of Jubilee, as well as in the most important religious celebrations. During the year 2016, these will be:

  • Epiphany, Jan. 6.
  • Easter (Resurrection Sunday).
  • Feast of the Ascension.
  • Apparition of the Apostle Santiago – Clavijo, May 23.
  • Pentecost.
  • Santiago Day, Jul. 25.
  • Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15.
  • All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1.
  • Feast of Christ the King.
  • Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
  • Christmas.
  • Moving of the body of the Apostle Santiago, Dec. 30.

How to get mobile and Internet access if you are in Spain walking the Camino

Although the Camino is a place to forget about daily routine and find new experiences, it’s always convenient to keep a link to “civilization”: home, family, friends, that Wikipedia article explaining the history of the church you have in front of you… Not to mention the chance to share pictures of your experiences:

#caminodesantiago #bicigrino #Navarra #todavialoquequeda

A photo posted by Aritz (@aritzbb) on

Therefore, we here present some of the best options for pilgrims who have travelled to Spain to walk the Camino and wish to access the Internet or phone home.

This is not a comprehensive list. As anyone with experience in the subject knows, keeping track of all possible plans for all phone carriers can be exhausting. Instead, we have picked the most attractive offers for the non-spanish traveller spending a few days in Spain.

Consider also the following:

  • Buying a SIM card is easy. Most of the carriers listed here have stores in almost every city and midsize town (and even some small towns) along the Camino.
  • Spanish law requires you to provide ID (ID card, passport…) when purchasing a new phone line.

 

Vodafone.vodafone-logo

Vodafone has the Tourist in Spain plan. For 15 euros you can have a SIM card with:

  • 1 Gb. data.
  • 60 min. in phone calls to Spain or abroad (to a list of 35 countries).

All of them valid for one month.

Vodafone also has other offers under the “Vodafone yu” brand, with similar prices.


 

Orange.orange-adsl

The SIM Holidays plan from Orange provides you, for 15 euros, with:

  • 1.5 Gb. data.
  • 60 minutos in phone calls to Spain or abroad (to a list of 40 countries).

Valid for 15 days.


 

Movistar.movistar_logo_ecuador

Of all the offers provided by the biggest spanish carrier, we have picked the Habla 24 Horas + Tarifa Internet 5. you can buy a SIM card for 10 euros, with 5 euros of credit, which you can use then to buy

  • 400 Mb. data access.
  • Phone calls in Spain at 10 cent./min. rate.

Valid for one month.

Aside of that, you can also add the Habla Internacional plan, which allows you to make phone calls abroad at prices similar to those of local calls.


 

Yoigo.logo_yoigo_verde

We recommend from this carrier the plan tarifa del uno 1 Gb., in which, for 10 euros a month, you can have:

  • 1 Gb. data.
  • 20 minutes of calls to spanish numbers.
  • You can also use VoiceIP services such as Skype, Whatsapp, etc., which are disabled in the other prepaid plans of this company.

 

Carrefour.650_1200

With this carrier, you can buy a SIM card for 10 euros with 10 euros credit, and then purchase plans such as the Bono Mejorado, which, for 7.9 euros/months, gives you:

  • 1 Gb. data.
  • 30 min. in calls to Spain.

You can purchase this card in all the Carrefour supermarkets.


 

Lebara Móvil.lebara-500x500

Just like Carrefour, this carrier lets you buy a SIM card for 10 euros with 10 euros of credit, and use it to add, for example, the Todo en Uno 500 plan, which offers for 15 euros:

  • 1 Gb. data.
  • 500 minutes in calls to Spain and abroad (to more than 40 countries).

 

Questions? Contact us.

These are only some of the possibilities if you wish to have an Internet-enabled phone line during the Camino. However, if you want to save yourself some work, we at Caminofácil can help you. We can make the arrangements to provide you with a SIM card and leave it at the hotel of your choice. Contact us for more details.

 

What to carry in your backpack for the Camino? A personal perspective

One of the most frequently asked questions among would-be pilgrims is: “what do I pack?” There are practically as many different answers as people travelling along the Camino, since each person’s needs and tastes are different, specially when it comes to more “personal” equipment, such as boots or backpacks.

Neverthless, we can always look towards the experience of veteran pilgrims, since, after walking the Camino a few times, patterns start to emerge and we start finding ourselves facing the same situations, while other problems never end up taking place, despite us packing for them “just in case”.

This is why today we have asked Joaquín Luján from the “Club Caminante de Badajoz”, a nine-Camino veteran, for his packing list.

 

Joaquín insists us that he doesn’t want to tell anyone what to carry (since each person’s needs are different), but just to share his experiences. Thus, the first thing he tells us is that, when it comes to trekking equipment (boots, backpacks, walking sticks…), the best thing to do is to go to our local sports store and ask for advice there. After this caveat, Joaquín tells us about the things that he has found useful along his many Caminos:

  • A light guidebook with towns and hostels.
  • Shoes. Whatever they are (boots, sandals…), they should be one size bigger than your usual size, and ideally you should wear them for a couple of months before beginning the Camino. “In the beginning I used boots and two pairs of socks“, Joaquín tells us, “but now, after nine Caminos, I just wear sandals with no socks. A group of basque pilgrims saw me and called me ‘the sandals guy'”.
  • First aid kit. A female hygiene pad might be useful, to treat foot blisters.
  • Safety pins.
  • Needle and thread for sewing.
  • Even during the summer, it’s advisable to carry a rain jacket, as well as warm clothing, in case you decide to start your walk early in the day.
  • The walking stick. As we have mentioned here before, it must be tall enough to carry it at “heart height”, so that your upper body takes part in the exercise.

 

Aside of this, the australian author Doug Ericson also has his own list, in which we find some other pieces of equipment that might be interesting:

  • A LED lamp.
  • Sunglasses.
  • A hat or cap to protect yourself from the sun.
  • A water bottle.

 

Anyway, since each person has his/her own tastes, our advice is again to ask in our local trekking store for the most specialized equipment, as well as exchanging advice with other pilgrims. And of course, remember that if you got it wrong and packed more than you need, you can always use our services to carry your luggage day by day along the Camino.

The walking staff

One of the most important elements for the pilgrim is the walking stick. The traditional sticks that we associate with the Camino, called “bordones” in spanish, are about as tall as a man, which gives them several advantages: since they are at “heart height”, they facilitate blood circulation in the upper body, and allow your arms to support part of your weight while walking. This way, your upper body takes active part in the exercise, which won’t happen while normally walking.

fotos-bordones

Obviously, the same benefits can be achieved with a modern trekking pole or hiking staff, as long as they are tall enough to achieve the aforementioned effects.