260 kilometers, 10 days and one pair of barefoot shoes. Buen Camino!

260 kilometers, 10 days and one pair of barefoot shoes. Buen Camino!

What is it like to go in barefoot shoes on the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela?

You know that feeling when you want to ditch everything, quit and just leave? Somewhere. Anywhere. Mainly away. So don't hesitate and go! It sounds like a cliché from a motivational brochure, but don't worry, there are no wistful thoughts about the meaning of life or photos of bulging navels on the beach in this article about a hike to the Spanish pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela.

I traded this for an adventurous trip on foot along the Portuguese-Spanish coast, and in November, the rainiest month of the year. 260 kilometers with a freshly treated ankle inflammation, without training, with a ten to twelve kilo load on the back and in bare feet. Let me tell you, it was a completely ill-conceived plan. If you are tempted by a similar adventure, go for it.

In order to be able to share my joys, sorrows and aching feet with someone on the way, I asked my friend Hanka to go hiking with me. 

Proper equipment is the basis
You will read on pilgrimage websites that the basic equipment for a walking pilgrimage is first and foremost proper shoes. So goretex boots with a cushioned sole that follows you will be ideal. It's just that you can put whatever you want into my stubborn and newly in love with barefoot shoes self and it will still have its way. Literally here. He also advises not to carry heavy things with you, not to collect souvenirs and similar useless things. Guess how much my backpack weighed and how much of it was souvenir stones.

But yes, equipment is the foundation. A padded backpack that will support you in the field and doesn't weigh much (go for classic outdoor brands, your back will thank you). Functional cloths, so that you don't smell for a hundred hunts immediately after the first day (the vaunted merino has really proven itself). And most importantly – a proper raincoat. Because the weather can be treacherous even in Spain. Who would have expected that? We don't even...

From where to where on the St. Jacob's Pilgrimage
The interesting thing about this pilgrimage is that there is only one destination, that picturesque cathedral in the north of Spain, but there are hundreds of beginnings. Thousands actually. You can start in front of your house and simply head towards Santiago de Compostela. Sooner or later you will come across cute yellow arrows that will be your guide the whole time. And know that once you start looking for the yellow arrows, they will suddenly be peeking out at you everywhere.

It has long been no longer just a pilgrimage for believers. You will meet an incredible mix of people on the Camino, and each of them has their own unique story that they are happy to share with you. Unfortunately, we had limited time for the journey and the pilgrims' stories, so we chose one of the most trodden routes - from Porto, Portugal, about 260 km. November is not exactly the best choice for long hikes in the surrounding area, let alone in a distant country, whose pitfalls you have no idea about. And that's exactly what adventures are about. So Buen Camino!

It is raining. It is already raining in the evening when we discover the beauty of port colors, tiles, cork and wine. And it rains even in the morning, when we frantically look for a credential, a pilgrim's card (you collect stamps for it during the journey, and thanks to it they also find you a clean bed in the pilgrim hostels called albergues). And so I tested the waterproofness of my leather barefoot shoes for the first time. They held true for a respectable time. They managed the first kilometers along the wooden walkway around the ocean brilliantly. But in the end they succumbed. Which I forgave them, because when it rains from above, from the side, and from below, you have no chance. This was also confirmed by Hanča's soaked professional mountain tops.

First day.
The first 22 km. First soaking. Joy and enthusiasm alternated with thoughts: Dude, am I going to walk in the rain for the next 240 kilometres? 9 more days? That backpack is kind of heavy. The barefoot shoes weren't the best idea. Raincoat and wind are not exactly friends. But those thoughts never lasted long. Views of the ocean and every other drenched laughing pilgrim with a Buen Camino greeting did not give difficult thoughts a chance. The Camino is what you make it. And why bother with something you can't influence anyway. So go ahead!

It goes so beautifully until the moment when the head, shoulders, knees, hips start to ... hurt and blisters on your feet appear. 

But you know what? To the left, the ocean roars and you keep walking along the path because you want to, no one is forcing you, and despite the blisters, it's fine. It's not raining. Pain not pain. The weight of thoughts about deadlines, unfulfilled tasks and Karl falls away and is replaced by a single important question of human existence: What are we going to eat?

The rain falls and the wine heals
"It's raining a lot, everything hurts, and it hurts the most from the hill." this is what my half way notes look like. But karma works and the bad always replaces the good. Even a seemingly complete trifle is enough to throw you back into your cool. The sun will rise. You will see a rainbow. You will meet a herd of cows. Someone will take a picture of you at a stone medieval church and you don't have to take an awkward selfie. Or you just take off your shoes for a while and have a good coffee. I recommend enjoying this moment of joy every day and ending it with a glass of delicious Portuguese/Spanish red. Or three.

Along the way, they are used to pilgrims in cafes and restaurants. With an extra smile, they take pity on you and allow you to dry your shoes by the warm fireplace. Fortunately, there are plenty of such places along the Portuguese route. No one there finds it strange that you have wet socks hanging from your backpack and when you walk in, a small ocean forms below you, sometimes of water, sometimes of sand. Although most of the locals have never walked the camino, they have respect and understanding for the pilgrims.

The benefit of the pilgrimage is definitely the accommodation aka albergues, which are scattered along all the routes roughly so that you can find one for each day. Or at least every other. And although it is not customary to have heating in Portugal or Spain, the albergues are equipped with fireplaces or direct heaters for winter and rain. And that is usually enough to dry socks, shoes and a T-shirt overnight.

Warm feet, especially
"Take care of yourself and especially keep your feet warm", Hanča's dad said goodbye to us before the trip. It goes without saying, but try it when it's raining so hard that it doesn't really matter if you jump over a puddle or step into it. But the world is still beautiful, even if you limp into it and a blister calls out with every step.

Which reminds me, there's plenty of great advice on taking care of your feet on a walking pilgrimage on the savvy internets. For example, wear two socks so that the foot does not rub so much and blisters do not form. It works, really. It's a shame that I didn't figure it out until halfway through. However, I have to say that my blister was just a small piece compared to Hanca's several blisters, and it disappeared in two days. Hanka, in the cushioned mountain boots, enjoyed the fun with blisters much more and much longer.

Another miracle is duct tape, which can relieve a sore knee and thus also the hip. Before the second one starts to hurt. And calendula ointment is an incredible healer. And to lubricate the feet in the morning and in the evening. I believed that this habit would remain with me at home. After all, taking care of your feet, which carry you throughout your life, is essential. But you know, when I remember once a week, that's enough. Don't be like me.

The joys of everyday moments
Going in two has something in it. You have someone to share those thousands of excited, curious thoughts about life with, someone to complain about body aches to, and someone to tell over and over that you're hungry. But it is very important to find a balance in all of this. Because sometimes, and more and more towards the end of the journey, there is a natural need for silence and pedaling. Gave. Alone. In the confession of his thoughts.

And sometimes you need to break these deep moments with a perfectly absurd moment of pure joy. When will one of you suddenly say the statement of the century: Hey, I've become a millionaire, I own two giant swimming pools. In the shoes! Or you meet a 70-year-old grandmother in a long softshell skirt instead of a förtű, who is walking the camino for the fourth time, and you absorb from her the wisdom of the world and the fear of bedbugs. Finally, you get a phone call from her and a promise that when you come to Australia, you have a place to lay your head. If she could, she would definitely bake us buns. Compared to her 600 km from Lisbon in sandals, our 260 km and half our age are total butter. I wish I could be like her one day.

Are we there yet?
We walked about 30 km a day. At the beginning, the 260 seemed incredibly far away. And as they dwindled, the excitement grew that the goal was approaching. But as soon as he started getting dangerously close, the disappointment that the whole adventure would end one day appeared again. But also the curiosity of what it's like to reach the destination and stand in front of the cathedral. The last kilometers were fun. The weather changed like swallows on a wire and we didn't care at all. As well as the fact that we reached the cathedral via a lengthy detour. Because suddenly she was there. In all its glory. And so do we. It was an incredibly blissful feeling of a small big victory accompanied by the sadness of it slowly and surely coming to an end.

The Camino brings many difficult but beautiful moments, fatigue, exhaustion, hunger, sadness and longing, but above all laughter and joy. You will realize how perfect the human body is. How grateful we should be to him. That when something hurts, it has a reason, and it's mostly our own fault. Perhaps with poorly chosen footwear. That's not my case though, going in barefoot shoes was an absolutely brilliant idea.

Should I go again? Sure, just tomorrow!

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