Reflections on the Way : what would I have done differently?

Or, what would I do differently next time :)

Remember my decision before the Camino? Never to second guess myself … and To remain assured that whatever decision I made – and no matter how it worked out – was the right decision for me. That’s stood me in good stead through my Camino. I have no regrets!

But there are a couple of things I would do differently if I did the Camino Francés again.

The most important being that I’d take longer to do Navarre and La Rioja. They were -for me – the most beautiful regions, with spectacular views and interesting small towns and villages to stay in. I had time. I could have stayed longer. With the knowledge and experience I now have, I’d take longer for that part. I didn’t have any rest days on this Camino until Santiago and that was right for me, but I really enjoyed my half days a lot, so that’s probably how I’d do Navarre and La Rioja again. Lots of shorter days ….

I probably wouldn’t bother to walk the last 50-80 km before Santiago next time (since I already have my Compostela). The scenery wasn’t that interesting and the sheer volume of new pilgrims – the way they walked and the conversations I was privy to – made these the least enjoyable days of the whole Camino. I ended up pushing on the last day, and I’m really glad I did (another case of the Camino working out better than my planning!) because Santiago was far nicer than the immediate walk in.

I ended up with about ten days for Finisterre and Muxia which while lovely (if a bit chilly towards the end) means I really explored both villages really well, as well as those on the way there, so I might not feel the need or desire to walk the continuation Camino Finisterre again! That said the zero waymarkers meant a lot to me, and I’m really glad I got someone to take photos of me at both of them! More significantly, this extra time of reflection was really important, so I wouldn’t have changed it this time. But I probably wouldn’t repeat it.

Would I have taken different things is another good question,

Yes, I’d modify what I took but not by much!

My bag was on the small size but that prevented me carrying too much, and I could carry the 6 kg (7kg with water) quite well. I’d stick with the slightly smaller bag I think! Walking with one pole was great. It freed the other hand for my torch etc …and early on, when I had my water bottle on my back, I swapped hands regularly. (Later on I had the bottle on my waist -left side – so didn’t swap the stick over as much)

The main thing I’d change would be taking a thin sleeping bag rather than a sleeping liner. The liner had worked well more or less for the first four weeks … (it wasn’t enough in the Pyrenees but in Orisson there were blankets) but at times especially after the Mesetas it just wasn’t warm enough. That meant that unless the albergue had blankets I was a bit cold at night and so had to put some of my walking clothes on (which wasn’t that comfortable but did stop me freezing!)

Municipal albergues don’t provide blankets so in Galacia I ended up using private albergues most of the time and on the Camino to Finisterre and Muxia I stayed only in private albergues because they do have blankets! That area suffers from high humidity and so all the albergues had machines to dry the air -to prevent mould- but they didn’t heat the rooms so they weren’t nearly warm enough for me, and sometimes I needed two blankets!)

My clothing was about right. I used everything I had with me most days, though I didn’t need my rain coat (or poncho) for the first 30 days or more! Wonderful!

After the first week where I tried different things I ended up using my zipoff trousers everyday. They were perfect (much better than I thought) and in reality I could have left the extra pair of shorts at home. (I did wonder!) and next time I’d pack a pair of gloves (although my extra socks worked perfectly as a substitute)

The main thing I’d change is what I carried in my first aid kit.

For starters I’d take Betadine, surgical tape, a needle and thread (Alan did try to advise me!) and a really good insect repellant. The one I use in Finland was hopeless on the Camino! The insect bites were -for me- far worse than the blisters because I’m so allergic and once I was given a local spray I never had problems again. Lesson learned!

Oh and I’d take a spare battery for my torch (I was given one by another pilgrim) or possibly even take a head torch next time.

Two things that I would most definitely take again are wax earplugs (again given by a pilgrim at Orisson! .how lucky was that!) and a sleep mask. I lost my original in Pamplona but bought a replacement. Both these helped me sleep in the albergues (something I had worried about) …

and there was a third thing which made all the difference too … a dress/top thing.

I used it everyday after the shower …usually slept in it as well as wandered around the albergue, village town or city in it (with shorts or trousers if it was cooler) wearing plastic flip flops! It weighed next to nothing, took almost no room in the bag, always looked good and dried very quickly. I’m so glad I had it with me as it made a huge difference.

Overall I’m quite satisfied with what I took, the distances I walked, the variety of albergues I chose to stay in.

There are no regrets … and if I do do another Camino, I take this wisdom with me.

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