Today we are hiking or biking a section of the famous El Camino de Santiago, the world's most popular long distance trail! Our guest today, Janet Hanpeter, walked the second half of the 480 mile Camino Frances (French Way) to Santiago del Compostela, Spain. The route runs through mesas, mountains, pastures, villages and cities for a ‘never a boring minute' adventure. Return refreshed and renewed on this trail famous for replenishing the soul.
Key Takeaways and Links:
- The Camino de Santiago is actually multiple caminoes, or paths, all of which lead to Santiago, where it is believed that the remains of St. James are buried. The most popular trail is the French Way, which starts in St. Jean Pied du Port, France and crosses the Pyrennes into Spain. The trails are commonly called The Way of St. James or The Way.
- Our guest, Janet Hanpeter, hiked a half Camino, 230 miles into Santiago. She, like other walkers or cyclers who do this journey, is called a “Pilgrim”. A Pilgrim MUST walk at least the last 100 km or cycle the last 200km (about 60 or 120 miles respectively) to earn his or her Compostela (or Certificate of Completion).
- Many Pilgrims hike from Sarria, a town 110 miles from Santiago and can be hiked in 5-8 days.
- A popular movie about the Camino, commonly called The Way, is a 2012 movie by the same name starring Martin Sheen (trailer and link to the movie below).
- A popular book about hiking The Way and how it became a journey of self-discovery is by Brazillian author Paulo Coelho, called The Pilgrimmage (link below). While popular, be forwarned that this book is a bit woo-woo, fyi.
- Pilgrims can stay in inexpensive alberques, or hostels, along The Way, if they show their stamped Pilgrim's Passport. Pensions (guest houses), AirBnB and hotels are another option in some towns.
- The Camino has been a popular pilgrimage route for over 1000 years, and in recent decades has become as much of a trail of self-discovery as a religious pilgrimmage.
- The summer is the busiest (and hottest) time to do a pilgrimage, so I recommend going in the shoulder seasons of April-May- early June, or September-October. Many alburques (hostels) are closed November – March.
- The most popular guide book is Brierley's, A Pilgrim's Guide to Camino de Santiago (linked below)
Notes from our guest, Janet:
It wasn't discussed during our interview, but she highly recommends that anyone planning on doing this hike watch the documentary called, Walking the Camino : Six Ways to Santiago. It follows six pilgrims and gives you an accurate portrait of the hike. She also told me that The Pilgrimage, which I made note of in the show off the interview, while very popular and did indeed help re0invigorate the pilgrimmage, is a bit woo-woo. So know that if you consider reading it.
[Note that the images above are clickable links as well]
Janet Hanpeter is a globe-trotting Baby Boomer who has visited 80 countries and all 7 continents. She has her own travel blog – Planet Janet Travels – to help inform & inspire other mid-life women & men to travel the world more widely, confidently and joyfully. Her blog’s tagline is “Experiencing Grand Adventures Beyond the Guidebook.”
Janet’s first career was nursing. In her 30s, she worked for 5 years as a travel agent which deepened her passion for international travel! In 2001, she took a trip to China & Tibet which was truly life-changing, causing her to fall in love with “exotic” travel! Janet now shares equal passion for cultural travel and “soft” adventure travel.
Last year, Janet walked 230 miles of Spain’s Camino de Santiago. She has hiked Peru’s Inca Trail, summited Mt. Whitney, trekked in Nepal’s Everest region, tracked mountain gorillas in Uganda & Rwanda, hiked the Routeburn Track in New Zealand, sea-kayaked in Antarctica, scuba dived on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and gone shark-cage diving in South Africa.
This is a great adventure for someone who wants to take a break from their everyday life.
Whether you do a section or the entire trail, you will return MORE WHOLE than you started!
You can read Janet's blog post on her adventure at Planet Janet Travels. While not originally planned, Janet feels called to go back in 2018 to do the first half of the trail (she did a half Camino by design the first time). I'll be sure to update this page when she gets back! To read about more of Janet's exciting adventures, be sure to visit PlanetJanetTravels.com!
Full Transcript of the show:
Kit: 00:00 I have an extraordinary adventure for you today, one that can be hiked or cycled, and follows in the footsteps of millions of people before you: the world’s most popular long distance hike, the Camino de Santiago. While this hike started as a religious pilgrimage back in the early middle ages it has often morphed into a more secular (hike or cycle) In the last few decades, where people are going not just to hike for spiritual reasons, but also as a hike for self-discovery, self-analysis, to get away from the chaos of everyday lives, too much business, too much family, too much problems and just take time to think. Get away from the internet and just spend some time inside yourself. This amazing trail combines history, culture, cute villages, food, beautiful historical cities, gorgeous landscape. You’ll meet people from all over the world, everyone with the same common goal of working their way to Santiago. I am your host Kit Parks, and welcome to episode 6 of the Active Travel Adventures podcast. Today we’re heading to Spain to hike or cycle the El Camino. Can we start with you introducing yourself?
Janet: 01:12 Okay. Well my name is Janet Hanpeter. I’m in my 60s, and I’ve been a lifelong traveler. I think I developed a passion for international travel in late high school, when my mom and dad took me to Europe. But then at that point I just love to really travel abroad I moved to California right after college and I was definitely getting into the sports world. You know I enjoyed a little bit of running and swimming and a little bit of hiking and found a great group of friends and over the years we did different things and I think probably around 2001 I went with some of my good friends and we did a hike to Mount Whitney. But I’m not your big camper kind of girl, but we did a three day Mt. Whitney hike and as a result of that I developed some competence and so the next year we went to Peru and hiked the Inca Trail. And from that point forward I love to kind of combine my international travel with some of the things that were a little bit more adventurous and include some outdoor sports that were hiking and that sort of thing. I think each time you do something you realize, wow, after you’ve trained and you’ve done it you realize you can maybe add the next thing that’s kind of adventurous that’s a little bit in your doable list. So I think that’s how it started.
Kit: 02:28 What do you get out of this adventurousness because there’s a bit of uncertainty and uncomfort that comes along with that. So when are you getting out of it.
Janet: 02:39 That’s such a good question. I think it is really part of whether it’s when I’m doing my what I call my exotic travel, when I’m traveling around the world, whether it’s a physical adventure or a cultural adventure, it’s something that’s a little more exotic and it’s just that’s a little bit outside the comfort zone at the same time. It’s just so exciting because it’s something new and different. And I think my general adventurous spirit just likes to learn and grow and to experience new things that I haven’t experienced before. And the adventure travel piece adds into that like oh wow the opportunity to go to New Zealand and do some hiking in that beautiful scenery when someone gives you that idea you go gosh that sounds great. So I think it’s just that I’m always ready to add one more new thing to my list that sounds fun and interesting and unique, but yet I know that I can do it with maybe sometimes a little bit of training ahead.
Kit: 03:32 You do both kinds of travel. The regular cultural travel as well as adventure travel. Do you find that it’s easier to meet people on the adventure side as up to the cultural side?
Janet: 03:44 I wouldn’t necessarily say that. So much depends I think on who your travel partners are. You know actually meeting people is sometimes easiest if you’re talking about meeting the local people in a place that you’re going. It’s almost easier whether you’re on an adventure trip or a cultural trip is if you’re traveling on your own by yourself or maybe with one friend. It’s often easier to meet some of the local people as opposed to when you’re with a formal group of people that you’re already sort of your self-contained group and you’re almost doing a lot of your socializing within your group and that can be true whether it’s a cultural trip or an adventure trip.
Kit: 04:21 Today we want to talk to you about your adventure on the El Camino. Can you give us a brief overview.
Janet: 04:28 Well the Camino is called the Camino or really the Camino de Santiago. It’s become quite well-known over the last many years. And it’s a pilgrimage route across the northern part of Spain that leads ultimately to the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. The Cathedral there is where the bones or the relics of the Apostle St. James, which in Spanish is his name is Santiago, lie. And so for over a thousand years pilgrims, religious pilgrims, have been making pilgrimages across all of Europe to ultimately arrive in Santiago. So as a result there’s a lot of old kind of pilgrimage routes called Caminos that all end up, there’s different ones that all end up in Santiago. But the most famous onethe one that the majority of people travel on is the one that I did is the Camino Frances, or the French Way that is around a 480 mile pilgrimage route that starts just in France, which is why it’s called the French Way. At the beginning in the foothills of the Pyrenees, within a day or two, you’ve actually crossed into Spain and the whole rest of the Camino goes across northern Spain to Santiago so that is the traditional Camino and I imagine Kit, you have seen the movie The Way with Martin Sheen?
Kit: 05:41 I heard of it but I actually have not seen it.
Janet: 05:45 Well I certainly recommend that to all the listeners. It’s a phenomenal movie that came out in 2011, very beloved and it’s a fictional story set on the Camino. Martin Sheen actually walks it but it’s filmed on location and the scenery is stunning. And as a result of that movie a lot of the American audience, including me, learned more about the Camino and said, gosh someday I want to do that. So that’s kind of what put the idea in my head is to walk part of the Camino.
Kit: 06:10 I’ll be sure to put a link to the trailer for The Way movie with Martin Sheen in the web page for today’s episode. This movie along with several events that happened in 1987 increased the popularity of hiking the route. That year, not only did UNESCO declare it a world heritage site, but the European Council designated it the first European Culture Route. These routes promote the shared culture and history of the European integration. And last but certainly not least, the immensely popular, The Pilgrimage, written by Brazilian Paulo Coelho reinvigorated the pilgrimage. This tale is part adventure story and part journey into self-discovery and was immensely popular since Paulo’s memoir is as much a guide to self-discovery. And that was one of the main reasons it was so popular. I’m wondering how much influence this book had on encouraging if not welcoming those that choose to hike this trail for self-development and self-realization reasons as opposed to as a religious pilgrimage. I’ll put a link to this book on today’s show notes. What percentage of the people that you came across were actually doing it as a pilgrimage or as a more secular hike?
Janet: 07:26 Which is a great question! These days, you know in the past the people that walked it really were true religious pilgrimage type people doing that. Today no matter what the reason you do it, we’re all called pilgrims. But I think majority today that are walking it, there’s certainly some doing it for a strictly religious reason, I think the vast majority are doing it for their own personal reasons certainly many of us are wanting to have some semblance of a spiritual experience but at the same time also just that opportunity to see the beautiful scenery, to have this physical challenge it is by walking that and getting a chance to meet people from all around the world.
Janet: 08:05 Sometimes it’s a chance just to get out of your crazy busy life and take maybe two or three weeks for yourself if you’re walking just part of it to get out in nature and have some chance to have some clarity in your life. So multiple reasons. But these days it’s really not as much for most people it’s not a strictly religious, but you know for many people there’s a spiritual component to it which is quite different.
Kit: 8:30 And most of the walk is relatively level correct? And often on pavement? [Janet laughs, “No!”] Oh! I got bad info!
Janet: 08:33 Now what I will say is as I mentioned the traditional French Way or the Camino full way if you start at the official beginning is 480 miles or 800 kilometers but you can start the Camino anywhere along the way that you want. And so that for most of the people, a few start actually at the beginning, but many start somewhere along the way. I myself chose to do a half Camino, so I started at a halfway point and walked the last 230 miles myself.
Kit: 09:07 If someone only has a week’s vacation where would be a good starting point?
Janet: 09:11 A good place to start for that is the town of Sarria which is S-A-R-R-I-A. And now when you walk the Camino, you have a pilgrim passport that you have stamped every day in the city or the town where you’re lodging that night. And so when you arrive in Santiago you go to the pilgrim office and you are able to then prove that you were a pilgrim and that you can get a certificate of completion or that’s the Compostela. Now the reason I say that is that to get that certificate or Compostela you have to prove that you have walked at least the last 100 kilometers of the Camino which is 60 miles. And so the starting town where many many people start their Camino because they only have a short amount of time.
Janet: 09:59 is Sarria because that’s the first really big town it’s 110 miles way from Santiago. So that’s a good place. It can take anywhere from five days- I was in good shape by the time I got into Sarria so I was able to do my Sarria to Santiago in five days. I had good friends from San Diego that just returned from walking the Camino starting in Sarria and they did eight days. They did a slower version because she had some injuries. So that’s a good place for getting a taste of the Camino in just one week.
Kit: 10:31 It’s important to get your credential your Pilgrim’s passport along the way and get it stamped along the way because those stamps show that you are actually a pilgrim and that enables you to stay in the inexpensive hostels. You can buy a pilgrim’s passport for just a couple of euro at the tourist office, and many churches and hostels.
Kit: 10:51 What’s the significance of the scallop?
Janet: 10:54 The scallop shell is back again when the Pilgrims were walking they would walk to Santiago and then it’s about another three or four day walk about 70 miles or so to actually arrive out at the ocean. And the town there is called Finisterre, which means end of the land or end of the earth. And back centuries ago when the people didn’t know the globe, they truly believed that end of Spain or when you go out to the ocean that was the end of the world. And so they would go out to the ocean get a scallop shell and return back. And so that really became sort of the symbol for the Camino and now all of us pilgrims pick up a white Camino shell at the beginning of our Caminos and wear it on our backpacks and that helps show that we’re a pilgrim as well as the fact that we’re all carrying big backpacks, so that’s kind of a giveaway and that we have hiking boots and we look a little disheveled.
Kit: 11:50 Many liken the fan shaped spines of the scallop shell all pointing to the base as representations of the different hiking trails that lead to Santiago. There are four main routes the French way that Janet did. Also the Portuguese way coming through Portugal, the Primitivo, which is the oldest established route, and then the North Way through the Basque. That’s the hardest route. As Janet mentioned, the French Way is the most popular route. The scallop shell is the symbol of the trail. Not only do all the pilgrims actually wear a shell but along that route you’ll see symbols of the scallop shell to tell you which way to go. Tell us about the villages you go through?
Janet: 12:33 There’s so many things that are special about the Camino. It really is an amazing experience in that you are walking through existing Spanish countryside in Spanish towns, Spanish villages. And so you’re walking through a normal day like that the actual Camino route happens to go through. So you’re getting to what’s great about it, it’s not just a hike in the woods where you don’t see anybody for a long time, you’re actually sometimes in the woods and sometimes you’re walking through little villages or even big cities. And so you’re getting to see every day Spanish life, and some of the villages are very small and charming so that one main road of the Camino is the actual paved road that goes through the town and you’re seeing the villagers in daily life.
Janet: 13:15 And when you’re in the Galicia region, which is the last area and Santiago is also in Galicia. It’s cow country and it’s green and lush and a little bit rainy and it’s filled with pastures and cows and so you’re going through villages it’s just rural life as well. But then you’ve got beautiful big cities like Leon, with gorgeous cathedrals and things to see so there’s always something new and unusual to keep you interested as you’re doing your walk.
Kit: 13:15 What kind of age groups did you see along the way?
Janet: 13:50 It’s amazing. It’s truly a cross section and I think a lot will depend on what time of year. The Camino over the years has become more and more popular, and more and more crowded.
Janet: 14:01 I think the last year or so over almost like two hundred and eighty thousand people completed the Camino from one of the different Camino’s ended up in Santiago. So it’s become very popular. And the summer times are really, from what I hear, I don’t recommend going in the summers. July and August are extremely crowded because then a lot of the Europeans are on summer vacations including a lot of Spaniards. And so it really gets filled up with people and probably a lot of younger people. But the rest of the time – I was walking in September October – and also May-June shoulder seasons of late spring or early fall are really good times to walk. So my experience is probably typical for the shoulder seasons and you’re still seeing people of all ages. But what was nice is being a 50 plus person, there were large numbers of people that were 50s, 60s and 70s walking the Camino and in fact, a lot of my Camino friends were absolutely in that age group. So it’s heartening because I think part of it is the Camino if you’re walking even a half Camino or even the last two or three weeks you have travel time to and from Spain, besides actual walking the Camino That ends up to be a significant amount of time off. So it’s hard often for working people that have two weeks vacation a year like we do in America to take off a lot of time to walk the Camino. So often it’s people that have a little bit more discretionary time and that often means they’re a little bit older.
Kit: 15:35 Tell me about some of the people you’ve met along the trail.
Janet: 15:38 Another one of the great joys of the Camino is the fact that you get to meet both the locals and I’ll talk about that in a minute. You get to know some of the local people particularly the ones that are running your lodging but then you’re meeting fellow pilgrims and they are from all over the world. It’s like United Nations walking and you get to make friends from all over. What I found is the pilgrims are made up of a lot of European countries so certainly you’re meeting a lot of Spaniards, a lot of Germans, a lot of French. And then like from England, UK and Ireland, and then a smattering of the different other European countries. There were also quite a few Americans, many Canadians. I also made friends from Australia, New Zealand, Poland I met. There’s a lot of South Koreans these days walking.
Janet: 16:26 So it’s fun just to find out where people are from. And I think a story I was really lucky on my first day as a pilgrim that evening I was staying in one of the Pilgrim hostels and I had met a lovely woman I was walking with during the day and so she and I went down to dinner at our albergue, the hostel, and joined another group of four people at the table and they ended up the six of us laughed and giggled for two hours. We had so much fun and for the next two or three days I walked a lot with this particular group and it was three guys, three good guy friends, that had been walking the Camino every year for a few weeks together, and then another woman Camilla from the UK who was a nurse midwife, and they were in their 50s and probably early 60s, and we just got along and had some deep friendships. I am still in contact with at least two or three of them. So it’s a real treat.
Kit: 17:24 I find that bond more quickly with the people I meet on the trail versus those I meet in real life. Do you find that as well?
Janet: 17:31 Absolutely. It’s so true, you’re right when you’re doing an adventure trip of any type. Part of that question you know when you’re meeting someone on the Camino is, “Hi what’s your name and where are you from?” And then really the third question is, “Why are you doing this?” because you know not everybody is going to do these adventure trips. Not everybody is going to walk the Camino. So when you’re talking to a fellow person going, “What made you decide to do this?”, there’s a natural bond as you’re saying, Kit, it’s absolutely true. That takes a lot of guts, and it takes a lot to commit to doing a multi-day walk and carrying a backpack, and doing all the things in preparing, that it has, it really shows that somebody took some real initiative. And absolutely do have a real bond your conversations are generally deeper they’re not as superficial because when you’re on these type of trips you are who you are. No pretense, you don’t have makeup on. You really get a chance to be authentic. And I think the relationships are just deep and genuine and really caring and compassionate. And certainly what we find is the pilgrims there’s a real deep Pilgrim community we’re all in this together we’re all pilgrims and everyone’s out to help everyone else, give some advice and, how’s your blisters. You know here’s some things I can tell you or gosh I heard about this great hostel this is something you should do if you’re going to that town I heard it’s a great place. You’re doing a lot of sharing back and forth.
Kit: 18:53 I know not every day is going to be lollipops and rainbows. Did you have some days that you thought to yourself, “Why on earth am I doing this?” And did the people along the trail, the fellow pilgrims, do you help each other out?
Janet: 19:04 I had been blessed, before I left on the Camino, one of my closest friends had done the full Camino, and I did the second half. She did the Camino just five months before I did. And so when she returned home I knew that she was going to be my mentor and she was, so I was incredibly prepared for what to expect from all of her great advice. And one of the big pieces of advice that she gave me which I continue to pass on to everyone is that, when you’re walk the Camino it’s really not a race, it’s a journey and that your pace is your pace. There’s no right way to do it. You don’t have to go to a certain number of kilometers every day and then in fact really the injuries that people get with blisters and tendinitis type of injuries are those that go too fast or too far.
Janet: 19:51 And so I took that to heart from what she had told me so I actually took it really easy. I averaged just 20 kilometers a day which is 12 miles. And so I took an easy pace. I stopped, I would stop to take pictures. I took breaks and also my mileage wasn’t that huge. And so as a result my body never broke down. I didn’t end up needing a rest day because I ended up having a few short days. Now if I had pushed it like a lot of pilgrims do I think I would have had some days where my body was rebelling and that very much happens. Where pilgrims may need to take a day or two off because they’ve pushed too hard and their bodies tell them to slow down.
Janet: 20:36 But without question whatever you’re dealing with there’s pilgrims all around you you’re staying in Pilgrim hostels and they’re there to encourage you there is in fact the hospitaleras these are actually the volunteers that run a lot of the Pilgrim hostels. They’ve experienced Caminos. Many of them have walked the caminos in the past. They’re now back to serve for maybe a two week or four week volunteer stint, and they know about the pilgrim life, and they know about injuries and blisters and they are there to support and encourage. So it’s an incredible encouraging family. So yes, if you’re having bad days, there’s always somebody around to support you and help you and love you. So it’s amazing. There’s probably not an environment as supportive as this it’s truly this unique spot in the world.
Kit: 21:25 In case you’re multitasking while listening to this program, I want to stop just for a minute and emphasize something that Janet just said about hiking your own hike. Doing your own pace is super important. I remember a time when my girlfriends and I were doing a section hike on the Appalachian Trail and so many, mainly the young people, out there are all in a competition to try to see how many miles they can do each day and they’re trying to bang out 20 and 30 miles but they’re missing the trail and they’re missing the point. The guidebooks all have cute little detours that they talk about. And one in particular always struck me about that trip was there was a gravestone from a hermit an Uncle Nick Gransby, or something like that. And on his stone says, “He lived alone, he suffered alone, and he died alone.” It’s 30 feet off the trail. It was a cool historical gravestone and not one person that entire afternoon, even though dozens upon dozens of hikers walked right by the grave stone, stopped even to take a look. They were so much in a hurry to get as many miles as they could that day. I just think that’s sad. So I just want to emphasize and encourage you to hike your own hike, go at your own pace and you’re doing this for reasons other than clocking in the miles.
Kit: 22:40 Let’s shift gears for a minute. Can you tell us please about the accommodations and in particular about the hostels?
Janet : 22:46 First let me tell you about the Pilgrim hostels and then the other options. I stayed probably two thirds of the time in the pilgrim hostels. In Spain they’re called albergues, and there’s a wide variety of them. But generally what that does mean it is accommodations that are only for pilgrims. You have to show your Pilgrim passport to get in and they’re generally coed dorm rooms and with bunk beds. And they provide mattress pillow and blankets and so you need to bring your own sleeping bag. And the rooms can varythere can be one big room with maybe 50 bunk beds for 50 pilgrims in it, or it can be 10 different rooms where maybe there’s only bunk beds for eight people per room. So it really varies. But you’re generally sleeping in this kind of coed environment.
Janet: 23:34 And then you have your bathrooms. Occasionally they are coed of course with the shower stalls are closed, etc. But many times I was surprised, actually pleasantly surprised, there’s a separate men and women’s bathroom, and they’re lovely and actually these days, there are many different types of albergues, and more and more of them are privates, which means they’re privately run and operated, often by families, often fairly newly opened and really done very lovingly. And I was amazed at how modern and clean and how well set up they were for Pilgrim needs. The other kind of advantage that you get when you’re staying in the pilgrim hostels, you get a chance to make many new friends. You might be eating your meals there for an extra fee. They will offer dinner and so you make some really nice friendships at the hostels as well.
Janet: 24:19 Now occasionally some of the albergues, particularly the private ones do have s a couple of rooms that are private. You can be staying at the albergue, but you’ve got your own room and maybe even your own bathroom which is a lovely thing, so you can upgrade. I’ve done that a couple of times. Those of course as you can imagine go pretty quickly. But then the next kind of level up in places where I’ve stayed quite a bit were the pensiones. And that is one level up, where in fact that is not quite as fancy as a real hotel, but it’s more like a B and B, where you’ve got your own room which is great and then you’ve got your own bathroom or maybe a shared bath with one other room and those were a little bit maybe three times as much money but still very reasonably priced. So I would vary at times I would do the pilgrim hostels and then a couple of times maybe every fourth day I would book a pension so that I can have my own room and have a little bit of privacy and be able to have a lights out time that was on my own time and not with the dorms.
Kit: 25:21 Logistically how do you handle laundry.
Janet: 25:25 You become really good. Your life really as a pilgrim is walking, eating, drinking, sleeping and doing laundry. Those are kind of your five main duties. So it works out the particular pilgrim hostels and really even the pensiones, that deal with pilgrims are well set up they’ve got really good laundry areas. Even more and more actually these days have washing machines with pay. You need to put in your coins and often with that, will have dryers. But all of them have a laundry area, so they’ve got a washing area with big bins where you can wash your clothes. And then big laundry lines where you hang them outside. I only used the washing machines one time because it’s just a hassle, you have to keep coming back. I generally almost always hand washed my clothes. And yes, that’s the first thing you do when you get in from the middle afternoon, early or middle afternoon, when you arrive after walking that morning, you get to your room. You get to your bunk, you unpack, you head off to the shower immediately.
Janet: 26:24 Then you could put on your clean clothes and then you head off to do the laundry of the dirty pair that you just wore that day and you want to get it on the line by the latter afternoon so it has time to dry in the sun before getting up the next morning. So it worked out really well. You learn when you go that you’re taking clothes that are very much easy to wash and dry quickly. Bringing the proper clothes is super important.
Kit: 26:46 You want to stick with the synthetics that they sell in the outdoor sports places like REI, or online or wherever you choose to shop. Avoid cotton. It does not dry quickly. And if you get cold, they have a saying, “Cotton kills” because it does retain that moisture. And do you want to be able to dry out as quickly as possible. If you see me in most photos I’m wearing almost the same attire I just replace it as needed. It’s one of those long sleeve shirts which is also great to keep the sun away that you can roll up to short sleeves and the zip off pants. If I get drenched they dry out almost instantly. So that’s why I wear them all the time. I just love them. Wool is also another nice option because it does keep you warm even when wet. So Janet, tell me when you look back on this adventure. What’s your favorite memory?
Janet: 27:30 It’s so hard. I don’t think I really have one. It’s like each day was special. Each day, the scenery was beautiful. Each person I met, so many pilgrims I met were just so special and interactions with them. I mean I could probably sit down and give you 50 of them so I can’t say one really stands out above the others. It was honestly the composite of every day it was experience after experience after experience. I had to journal every night so I could try to remember it even though I was taking pictures as well. You’re just so filled with amazing memories and heartfelt experiences. The Pilgrims you meet and the locals you meet I think getting into Santiago and knowing that you finally arrived in your destination city for me, after 19 days, that was like, “Oh my God! I’m finally here!” and being able to be in the church service because they have the famous thing when you are in Santiago. At the cathedral they have the Pilgrims Mass twice a day at 12:00 noon and at 7:30pm. And so it’s filled with pilgrims. We’ve come from all the different Caminos. It’s our first day. Or maybe, we arrived the day before, and we’re sitting through a traditional Catholic mass. And you certainly don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate it and, you’re here in this famous beautiful spiritual Cathedral. And it feels like such a culmination of all the effort that you’ve done and like wow, “I’ve really done it. I am a pilgrim.“
Kit: 28:56 In case you’re wondering why St. James is buried in Spain. It was St. James who brought Christianity to the Iberian Peninsula. And after he was beheaded in Jerusalem, they brought his remains up to Spain in 44 A.D. The tomb was abandoned in the third century but rediscovered in 814 A.D. by a hermit who saw some strange lights in the night sky. The bishop recognized this is a miracle and told the king, who then ordered construction of the church on that site. And it said that the king was the very first pilgrim. Tell me this Janet. I have this image of people hugging complete strangers when they finally complete this trail.
Janet: 29:32 Oh absolutely. You know who else is a pilgrim you may not know them personally but absolutely when you’re in the main plaza in front of the cathedral as you’ve just arrived and everybody’s got their hands up and in celebration and getting photos taken you know you’re congratulating each other you may not have ever seen them or know them but you have this shared experience that you can really appreciate what they’ve done and what an accomplishment it’s been whether they’ve walked for seven days or 20 days or 42 days. It’s still an amazing accomplishment.
Janet: 30:09 Arriving at the church has special meaning for those that have hiked for religious or penance reasons. You’ll find that on the years that St James Day, which is July 25th, falls on a Sunday it will be especially crowded on the trails because that year has been declared a Holy Year or Jubilee Year of special indulgences or special forgiveness. The next time St. James Day falls on a Sunday will be 2021, 2027 and 2032. You’ll see a tremendous spike in the crowds those years.
Kit: 30:39 Of the multiday treks that you’ve done. How does this hike compare to those, and which ones are you comparing them to?
Janet: 30:46 I’m always getting asked that as I travel a lot and people ask, “What’s your favorite trip?” And I say, “Well it’s like asking a mother or father with six kids which was their favorite kid?” You know you can’t, they’re each wonderful and unique.
Janet: 30:57 Well I guess I might compare it to Nepal. Nine days trekking in Nepal which was equally special and fabulous. Both places you’ve got gorgeous scenery. Of course the scenery is very different. In the Camino the variety of the scenery as I mentioned starting halfway, I had everything from the flat meseta where I started in the middle of the Camino which is the meseta, it’s a flatter area, but then you head up into the mountainous hilly region again, where everything’s green and lush, and so you have such variety of scenery. As mentioned the little villages the big towns. So that part of the Camino you never get bored because the scenery is always changing so that’s one thing that’s very special. And the fact of it you’re part of history you’re walking on this pilgrimage route that has been walked by pilgrims for a thousand years, so there’s a piece that you really connect to something bigger than yourself, which I think makes it so special.
Janet: 31:58 And I think another piece is the fact that it is such a multi-day, it’s even way more than the nine day Nepal trek. It’s that I was walking 19 days, which is like wow almost three weeks, that makes it such an accomplishment where it’s just day after day and the time goes so quickly you can’t even believe at the end you’re going. “My God, I almost been doing this three weeks where did the time go?” That is a special aspect, and a feeling of accomplishment. And then the fact that I did carry, like many many pilgrims, my own backpack, and so that’s a huge challenge in itself is being able to pack everything that you need for your 19 days or longer in just your backpack and to try to keep it under 20 pounds.
Janet: 32:46 And that includes two pounds worth of water so that’s a huge challenge, and knowing that you’re carrying this day after day over terrain from flat terrain up a mountain. We did have one mountain, O’Cebreiro, where that day it was a 2000 foot elevation gain, and I carried my backpack up that mountain and actually was OK. So it’s all of those pieces and I think the international aspect of meeting Pilgrims from around the world like I mentioned, all of those combined to make it such a unique experience that’s unlike anything else. And that it’s a real physical, mental, emotional and spiritual challenge to do something that is unlike anything any of us have ever done before. You’re really outside your comfort zone at times.
Janet: 33:28 But luckily you’re in such a supported environment of the Camino where in fact any of your needs there’s gonna be somebody around that can help you. So that part makes this challenge doable because you know you are being supported. So all of those together I think is what makes it so incredibly unique incredibly special.
Kit: 33:47 On a scale of one to five for difficulty rating, where would you put this if five is the hardest?
Janet: 33:55 I would put this at a three or four. There is a lot of that would depend. Amentioned the Camino is great. Everyone can plan the Camino that’s right for them so you can start at the beginning of the French Way and do all 480 miles or you can start at Sarria and do the last 70 miles. So that gives you that option. And then you can carry your own backpack like I did and many pilgrims do. But there’s excellent services where you can actually ship your backpack. If you’ve got a 20 pound backpack and maybe you’re just not strong enough, or you’ve got some injuries, you can ship your backpack ahead every day to the lodging where you’re going to be staying that evening. So that takes a huge not only weight off your back but that I think makes that little bit more manageable. If you’re walking the whole Camino and you’re carrying your own backpack, it’s probably a four. If you’re doing a smaller amount of it and maybe you’re shipping your backpack ahead during some of the hard sections, sometimes pilgrims in fact will carry up their own backpacks, but if they’re hitting a day with really lots of uphills that was going to be really big, or even some tough downhills, they would ship their pack ahead.
Janet: 35:12 Or that they would sometimes do that when they maybe had some injuries they were trying to recover, they would give themselves a break for a few days. So knowing you’ve got that option of the backpack being shipped ahead and only carrying a daypack that helps lessen some of the stress on your body. So I’d say it’s generally a three and could be up to four if you’re really doing the whole thing.
Kit: 35:35 Do you have to book your accommodations in advance or can you get away with winging it?
Janet: 35:40 I was a little surprised. Again, I started in mid-September and I’m thinking that things would be a little bit better, but the fact that the Camino has gotten so popular, I happened to hit a bulge of pilgrims around the same time. I was on parts of the Camino so that you would find out, you would get to towns and it would be quite booked up, so you learn as you’re going. I didn’t book anything ahead. But once I got there, and you’re kind of always planning, what was great is you have the flexibility when you’re going independently like I did and I went on my own, that you can decide where you’re going to walk each day. But generally I would know that day kind of where my goal was for the next day, so if I was finding during that particular cycle of time I was in that there was a bulge of pilgrims and that some of the towns were really getting booked up and where I was hoping to stay that next night was not a very big town and didn’t have a whole lot of pilgrim hostel options, then I would often call ahead or book ahead to at least know that I had a room waiting for me when I got there. So you could kind of play it by ear but I would say I probably booked about half the time, you know, one day ahead.
Kit: 36:51 Is this trail like many where they always make room for you… even if everything is full?
Janet: 36:58 What you hear is, and I actually had an experience that the people, if you get to a town and it’s really filled, and maybe there’s not a town a close way another two or three miles away, that people will work with you and figure things out.
Janet: 37:16 Maybe another pilgrim has got their own room but it’s got two beds, and will hear about it, and go, “Wait: you can come share with me.” One day in Rabanal, I was trying to make reservations ahead, but no one was answering my calls. And so I arrived into town a little bit nervous going, “Oh my gosh”, because I knew I wanted to stay there, and there wasn’t a lot of other options. And so I went to one of the albergues there, and the man at the desk said, “You know, I’m sorry, our regular dorm rooms are filled up. We’ve got an overflow room where you can sleep on the floor we’ve got a mattress. Will that be OK?” I said, “Are you kidding. I’ll take anything!” Well it turned out to be a huge huge room with, they ended up putting seven mattresses spread out across the floor. It was way more comfortable than if I had been in the dorm room, so it was a great experience. It’s kind of like the Camino, there is a term that we use: the Camino provides. It’s that when you have a need, things seem to open up and you get taken care of, someone figures something out. So yes, I think generally things work out.
Janet: 38:21 You know worst scenario, there are taxi services and if, really a town you happen to hit just a horrible time, there’s absolutely nothing available and you’re really there late at the end of the day. You can always take a taxi to the next big town and stay there for the night and potentially take a taxi back the next morning to where you started, you know, last left the Camino, so that you’re doing the full thing. So there’s always options. You get really creative and that’s where pilgrims can help you learn the pilgrim world and how things work and you get a lot of advice from fellow pilgrims So yes lodging can be challenging, but it always does seem to work out.
Kit: 38:57 Is there anything I did not ask you that you’d like to convey to our listeners?
Janet: 39:03 Actually yes. You did ask about terrain. Let me actually mention that, and I didn’t get to that last time. When you’re doing the full Camino, the full French way, the meseta, or the mesa, which is more of a flat section is the middle third of the Camino. So the first third, when you’re starting in France in St. Jean Pied du Port, going over the Pyrenees all the way to the town of Burgos. That is an area of both mountainy and hilly areas. Then you hit the flats, and then that last third of the Camino is where you start getting back into hills and into the mountains. So you have a real variety. You definitely have hills and some mountains, and there’s a lot of up and down, and what’s great about the Camino is, occasionally you’re on some roads and if it’s a bigger busier road they usually made a path that is like a dirt kind of gravel path that parallels the road, often sometimes tree lined. You’re at least able to walk not on the road, but along the side.
Janet: 40:00 But then many times if you’re going through a little village, you’re on the paved road but it’s a small little road there’s very little traffic on, and then a lot of the Caminos on kind of dirt gravel, tracks through the woods. Sometimes it’s rocky, so there’s times you feel like you’re just walking on pavement. Other times you’re on a real hike, where it’s uneven terrain that’s dirt and rocky, and you’re going up and down and it’s a hike and you’re glad you have hiking poles. So it’s a real variety of terrain for someone. So it’s more than just a flat walk in town. There is definitely hiking aspects but nothing technical. I mean there’s nothing that’s you know, a major technical, but I think when someone’s training for the Camino, you really want to do some hiking so you’re comfortable with uneven terrain for just your footing. And definitely there’s times that hiking poles really do come in handy.
Kit: 40:51 Is the trail easy to navigate?
Janet: 40:57 Yes, you always see the pictures of the famous yellow arrows. And so the Camino Frances, since it’s the most popular and really the number one, there’s a huge Pilgrim infrastructure all along it. So now there’s great facilities of lodging, of towns with cafes, lots of people doing it so there’s lots of social aspects as well as the fact that it’s very very well marked with the yellow arrows. And they’re very creative, so you get quite good at looking for the yellow arrows that are pointing you in the right direction. Plus you do use your guidebooks. I used Brierley which is kind of the main Bible and his book has got very detailed trail maps for each day. So between Brierly’s trail maps of knowing what I was going to be doing that day, how far from each place, how far to the next cafe, how far to the next water fountain, and then being able to match that up with the yellow arrows along the trail. I would get turned around a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad. So it’s pretty well-marked which is great.
Kit: 41:59 How do you determine where you’re going to travel next and what’s on your bucket list?
Janet: 42:04 Yeah well actually my next trip is going back to Spain. I am going to go back. I did not expect this when I first planned to walk my half Camino, the second half of course. I had no intention of going back to Spain to do the first half. And even as I finished the Camino in Santiago I still wasn’t sure if I’d want to go back. But about three weeks after I got home all of a sudden it just hit me, it’s like, “I’ve got to go back.” I’ve got to go see the first half. I’ve got to experience that part of the Camino and see the Pyrenees and see the towns of Pamplona, and the Basque country. So I’m going back next May, this coming May, to go back and walk my first half. And experience that. So that’s certainly next on my list. I’m not sure after that what’s on the adventure bucket list. I’ve done so many different things so I have to think about what might be next after that.
Kit: 43:00 And Janet you travel so much that you’ve actually become a travel blogger and run Planet Janet. Can you tell us a little bit about that please?
Janet: 42:59 You bet. That’s Planet Janet Travels, that’s officially the trademark. But yes I became a travel blogger as my full time gig about a year, year and a half ago, because all these years I’ve done many different things but travels always been that unifying passion and as I’ve got to the point, back in 2001 I did my first photography tour to China and Tibet and absolutely fell in love with that type of exotic travel. I loved being in cultures China and particularly in Tibet that were so different, so exotic, that I went, “Oh my gosh!” My heart was just, my soul was on fire. I just loved being around that, in a place that was so so different, and that’s really like adventure travel honestly. And so I knew I wanted to do more of that so I came home from that point and started instead of just doing Europe which is a wonderful place.
Janet: 43:57 I started really branching out and seeing other parts of the world: going on Africa safaris. I just had a chance this past year to go to Antarctica for the first time. I’ve done the Galapagos. I’ve been to Asia, I’ve been adding more and more of these incredible destinations I’ve been wanting to see out of my own desire to explore the world and meet the people that inhabit it. And I started getting more and more of these trips and more and more people were following me and I would have email reports, and do some slideshows about my trips. It became clear that that’s really what I was known for and what my passion was so that’s why I decided to really make this my full time avocation now to share my travels around the world… to really inform and inspire my readers and my audience so they can get out and travel the world even more widely than they have. To do it joyfully and confidently.
Janet: 44:51 And I’m really aiming at fellow baby boomers for the midlife and above to get out because there’s so much of the world. And Kit, I know you know how this is, there’s so much of the world to see and experience, and you know we’re not the young 20 somethings that have six decades of travel ahead of them. Our clock’s ticking and there’s a lot of the world to see and I’ve got a lot I want to be doing, so I’m wanting to encourage people to get out and travel as if your best life depended on it. So that’s my travel. Planet Janet Travels, so I do blog post stories about my travels and I have a Web site so people can come and see all of my different blog posts. I have a weekly newsletter where I talk about my favorite, my most recent favorite trip, and give some travel tips.
Kit: 45:33 Of course I’ll have the links to Planet Janet Travels on the show notes on the Web site. In addition to her blog post on the Camino I want to thank Janet for spending so much time with us teaching us about the El Camino. It sounds like a trip I’m going to add that to my bucket list. Be sure to download the free travel planning cheat sheet on the El Camino that you can find at the Web site at ActiveTravelAdventures.com. Episode number 6. Or you’ll get this automatically if you register for that monthly newsletter. It includes all the details that you need in order to plan this trip. Whether you do it by yourself or with the tour and all sorts of helpful hints and information about traveling in Spain I hope you enjoyed this episode and are enjoying the Active Travel Adventures podcast.