Lessons Learned

There is no wrong way to do the Camino. Everyone does the Camino in their own way and for their own reasons.

1. First off, don’t believe what all the “official” sites say about The Camino Portugues...The Portuguese route is VERY well signed, just remember to look for the yellow arrows anytime you come to an intersection or crossroad. This is particularly important in the event you end up in an in-depth conversation with someone while walking. Intersection…look for arrow! Straight road with no turns or crossroads…chat away! Not that we might have missed an arrow while talking and walking…nope, never, not us…okay, we will fess up, it happened twice, which is how we learned the handy lesson about intersections and arrows. Also, TGFTGPS (Thank Goodness For The GPS!).

2. You don’t need to speak Portuguese to do this route. In fact, we found more people spoke English in Portugal than in Spain (and even if you don’t speak English or Portuguese, everyone we encountered was very nice and tourist sign language goes a long way). Having said that, here is a list of Portuguese words we found useful (working on it…). 

3. The vast majority of English speaking pilgrims had Brierley’s book (A Pilgrims guide to the Camino Portugues, 5th Edition), and all called it “Liarly’s” book. It is semi-useful, but alot of the information is out of date, and a lot of the recommended places to stay were out of business. (Yes, we know the 5th edition says it was published in 2014, but the critical information doesn’t appear to have been updated in years. If you don’t believe me, refer to page 65 where it talks about the Festa dos Tabuleiros and says “…It is held in July every 4 years with the next one in 2011 (the last one in 2007…”  Um, yeah and this was updated in 2014?) At any rate, the overal consensus was that Brierley’s book is better than nothing. To be fair, the local tourist boards seem to continuously update and improve the route, so no map (or even GPS route) will remain current for long, hence the yellow arrows. There are, however, certain times when unmarked alternate routes have been developed and are worth taking (we have a couple listed in our “Recommended route” section)

4. The recommended stages…yeah, ok…soooo unless you have been hiking 30+ kilometers a day for the past 3 weeks with a full Camino pack on…DON’T FOLLOW THE RECOMMENDED STAGES. It just won’t be fun, your body will break down in the first week (blisters, tendon strains, the urge to maim people), and you will miss alot of really cool stuff because you will be stressed on making the distance and too exhausted to play tourist by the time you get to the end point. (And there is alot of cool stuff to see!)

 We have come up with an alternate stage plan based on our experiences and alot of conversations with other pilgrims. You can access that information with full daily GPS routes here.

5. If you can avoid it, don't start walking out of any major city or traditional Camino “start point” on a Sunday or Monday.  Lisbon, Porto, and Tui/Valenca are the main places where people start their Camino.The majority of the piligrims start on Sunday... Scenario: they catch the Friday night flight to Portugal, get in on Saturday, start walking Sunday or Monday (depending on if they sightsee for a day). This is what everyone does. Don’t do it. Try to time your walk so that you are walking out of the major cities on Tuesday - Friday. You will then be ahead of the swarms of pilgrims, the trail will be nicer and the Albergues less crowded.  Note: the same advice goes if you decide to continue from Santiago to Finisterre or Muxia…Don’t start on a Sunday. 

6. The Camino Portugues is alot of “road” walking. This doesn’t mean you will be on a busy road with cars, but rather that you won’t be on a dirt trail all the time, you will be on pavement a lot. Scenic pavement, but pavement. And this means a lot of repetative pounding on your feet with each step the same as the last. You need a comfortable, light weight walking/hiking shoe or boot, with GOOD CUSHIONING. A supportive trail runner would work well. Gortex is a must have! Also,unless you know exactly how to put the insoles back into your boots the exact same way each time, don’t pull them out! We saw a lot of people pull their insoles and leave them half tucked into their boots to dry. All this does is cause the insole to curl and cause blisters. If you must pull the insole out, just lay it flat and let it keeps its shape.

7. Blisters. Before you even start get some Compeed! If you are in the “Compeed is evil” camp, then carry tape to protect blisters. (Personally we love Compeed.) And as soon as you even think you are getting a blister stop and treat it! Also, take a breeak every 2-3 hours, pull OFF your boots and let your feet rest.

8. Hiking/Trekking Poles…okay this is going to be a rant…Yes, trekking poles can be useful if used correctly. If you don’t know how to use trekking poles don’t bother taking them because all you will end up doing is expending excess energy, carrying excess weight, and possibly stabbing a fellow pilgrim. If you do carry trekking poles,  please be aware of the fact that you have a 2-3 foot peice of metal with a nice pointy end on it attached to your hand…especially if you are prone to gesturing emphatically. If you are interested in learning how to correctly use trekking poles, here is a good video tutorial. Trekking pole technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFO5fXn544s

9. Packing list:  There are a million “Camino packing lists” on the internet, pilgrims get into arguments about what to take, what not to take, what is right what is wrong...etc. We read the lists, we packed, we re-packed, and re-packed again. And five days into the Camino we mailed home 3 kg of “what were we thinking” stuff. The simple fact of the matter is what works for you is not what will work for someone else. We met a woman who was carrying a hairdryer but each day ripped a page out of her guide book to lighten it (uh, okay). We met a man who was carrying the smallest day pack I have ever seen, which contained only an extra pair of socks, one extra t-shirt, one pair of very small shorts, and a superlight jacket. That plus the one set of clothes he wore every single day was all he had and it worked for him (again uh, okay). Having said all that, here is what we ended up carrying day to day (becasue there can never be enough Camino Packing Lists on the internet, working on it too).

Addendum to Packing list:  If you are carrying a GPS, get rechargable batteries. Marc likes the Sanyo Eneloop brand. We carried the USB charger and 2 sets of AA rechargeable batteries, and we were never without power. We met one guy who didn’t have rechargeable batteries and he was going thru two sets of alkaline batteries a day (and they charge a premium for batteries along the route). The rechargeable batteries cost more up front, but are way cheaper in the long run (and more environmentally conscious). 

10. Don’t be afraid to catch a train, bus, taxi, goat cart, etc (just not in the last 100 km if you want the Compostela). Maybe you need to be in Porto for a wine festival, maybe the traffic is just too dangerous, maybe it has been raining for 6 hours and you are cold and miserable, maybe you are hot and tired and out of water, maybe you are just done for the day and need to rest. Remember: There is no wrong way to do the Camino. Everyone does the Camino in their own way and for their own reasons.

Buen Camino, and most importantly HAVE FUN!

© Eat, Drink, and Carry a GPS 2013