My research on what to expect, what to bring, what time of year to go, how long I would need, and so much more for my upcoming Camino de Santiago adventure started almost a decade ago, in 2008. Yup, 2008. I came across a great article in some magazine that sparked the ‘follow the Way’ bug in me!
Within weeks I bought and poured through A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley, the 2008 edition. My desire to clip a scallop shell to my pack and follow the yellow arrows of the Camino were never too far from the surface since. It’s now August 2017 and I am just 11 sleeps from departure.
In this last year I have done a lot of research to prepare for the journey. I thought I would share a bit about the non-fiction books I have read and the tips I derived from each for my Camino. Here goes:
Guidebook(s) to the Camino de Santiago, John Brierley
As part of my research, I have read the 2017 version of the Guidebook for the Way of St. James (French Way) that I read back in 2008, the Portuguese Way (Camino Central), and the Muxia Circuit through Finisterre way – both the full Guidebooks and the shorter Map book versions. These books by Mr. Brierley are often referred to as the ‘bible of the Camino’ and for good reason. They have everything you need. Maps with breakdowns of the distance on different kinds of surfaces (woodland path vs forest roads), elevation gain, info about areas and places, where to stay and where to get your next cafe con leche. If you are going to walk the Camino and only had time to read one book, make it a Mr. Brierley guidebook!
TIP: I will be taking the Map versions of each of 3 of these Ways with me on the journey as we will be walking some or all of each. However … avert your eyes all book lovers this hurts my heart too … I have ripped out any page I don’t need to cut down on the size and weight of each book. Weight or lack thereof in your pack is critical for the Way.
I’m Off Then, Hape Kerkeling
Here is where I admit I was seriously hoping to find a Bill Bryson book on the Camino. I have read every single one of his books and thought maybe there was a secret stash only those who have bought their flight to St. Jean Pied de Port where the St. James Way to Santiago starts know about. Nope. But a darn near close second was this book, It even had a recommendation from Mr. Hilarious Travel Exploits Bill Bryson himself. For good reason too – this book was an easy, entertaining and really enjoyable read. Hape has a great way of explaining people and places with just enough detail to leave an impression and make you want to to head there to see it for yourself. On it!
TIP: Every chapter in this book finishes with an insight of the day. Most were really great reminders like drink more and some were quite profound. I have made a note in my journal to come up with an insight daily (and yes you will be subjected to each here on this blog). I want to see if mine too go from basic needs (drink more) to profound and insightful and often spiritual like Hape’s did by the time he reach Santiago.
The Way, My Way A Camino Memoir, Bill Bennett
While this book was definitely about Bill’s Camino experience and included information on the route, walking, how his body held up (or didn’t); it was also so much more. Bill really got into the story of other pilgrim’s. The getting to know them, learning why they were walking, and overall just making a real connection with other people’s and their story. He brought this all into his memoir. So it was really like reading the memoirs of many, not just Bill’s. The laughs throughout the book were icing on the cake.
TIP: Talk to people, engage and interact with other pilgrim’s. To some of you that may sound like a total no-brainer but for this introvert it is something I will have to really think about and force myself to do. I will though, commitment made (and now I want to build a fort in my room and hide lol).
What the Psychic Told the Pilgrm, Jane Christmas
Jane sets out on the Camino with a bunch of women she barely or does not know at all. After mentioning she is going to walk the Way to an acquaintance back home within chapters she is a Camino tour guide effectively to a bunch of other women. Of course you can guess that does not lend itself to a restful and spiritual Camino but rather a lonely, crazy making, frustrating one until Jane takes her Camino back.
TIP: Walk your Way, your way. I am heading to the Camino with my bestie Lana (and fellow blogger here on Running for the Gate) and we made a ‘pinky swear’ of sorts to make sure we do in fact walk the Way, our own way. We each have one “we are not walking today” card and neither of will walk that day AND we have unlimited with no judgement or shame “I am not walking today” where the other one can walk and we will meet up at our destination.
Call of the Camino, Robert Muller
This book is half Robert’s account of his pilgrimage and half explanation of the myths and legends along the Camino route all intermixed throughout. I really liked this format. I geeked out and made notes so I could tell Lana about legends as we walk through certain areas and churches. I love the Rooster in the church story! I also found personal Robert’s experience honest, easy to read and I hope my experience is something like his is on the Way. I loved how he, like Bill Bennett, also included the stories and his connection with other Pilgrim’s.
TIP: Learn about where you are going. Know some of the history, myths and legends of where you will be visiting. I do this for every trip and it really brings me joy. I find recognizing something, even a story or history of a building, while abroad helps with the homesickness that even the most experience travelers deal with.
Beun Camino! Camino de Santiago: A Father-Daughter Journey (ebook)
I am racing to read this book before I depart on my own Camino next week. The book is written jointly by Natasha (daughter) and Peter (dad). Each chapter has “Peter” sections and “Natasha” sections about the same day or trail section and has a whole bunch of history and legend of the Way and St. James throughout. So far it is really great!
TIP: If you are going to share your Camino, do it with someone you love – someone who encourages you but doesn’t pressure you – someone who will approach the Way in a similar frame of mind – someone who will also give you the room to make your Way, your way. I am super lucky to have this in my Camino mate Lana but I could have also happily and ecstatically walked with my Dad too. Wow, that would have been amazing! (Dad, there are a bunch of other routes to Santiago. What you doing next year?)
The Way of the Stars, Robert C. Sibley
Robert has walked the Way of St. James twice. Do not be surprised by that – from what I have read once the Camino is in your blood you cannot help but want to do it again! The first time Robert walked it was alone and this second time he set off with his young adult son. Robert gives the details of his first walk and provides insights on how he now sees the Camino a second time but with his son at his side (or ahead on the trail). An easy read with lots of good chuckles throughout.
TIP: Bring something you learned on the Camino, home with you. Robert spends quite a bit of his story talking about being unconnected from the urban life, really enjoying the break from a commute and daily work demands. I want to focus on how good it feels to just walk and bring that home with me. Like not getting so caught up in the house needing to be vacuumed that I don’t go for a hike. The lint on the carpet can wait but my peace of mind shouldn’t.
The Journey In Between, Keith Foskett (ebook)
I saved the best (aka my favourite) for last. This book is awesome. Keith Foskett is a thru hiker and an author – my own dream. His Camino story hit home for me as it is blatantly obvious he loves nature and loves putting one foot in front of the other. Me too! I love eating up space and time with my own two feet then looking back and thinking “I did that”. Keith’s story made me laugh out loud, cringe at the pain of his blisters, agree audibility with his insights, and chomp at the bit to start my own Camino.
TIP: Almost all not-so-great-events will make a good story next week or next year. Even situations and circumstances that in the moment feel awful may be the best story you ever told. When I walked the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales in 2008 with a 102 fever due to infected spider bites it was awful BUT it makes a great story when trading travel experiences with others!
Well that’s my book list … so far. I have no doubt I will be adding to this list when I get back. Reading for nostalgic instead of research purposes. Really, my ultimate dream would be to add my own book to this list. Can you imagine!
PS 11 Sleeps!