Couch to Camino: Andrea Smith is 25km down... but it's not the 'gorgeous walk in lovely weather' she was sold
After weeks of writing about it, Andrea Smith takes the first few steps of a 115km Camino trek, but has she done enough?
A few nerves, a lot of rain and plenty of advice from friend Frances Black - Andrea Smith has knocked the first few kilometres off her 115km Camino trek.
Saturday, October 3
With a suitcase full of blister plasters and socks that cost €14 per pair, I meet up with Frances Black and the lovely crew who are walking The Finesterre Way of the Camino in aid of The Rise Foundation at the airport.
This is probably one of the lesser-travelled routes, as it leaves from Santiago rather than arriving into it, but the charity has already done the more popular ones over the last two years. The flight is short, and we arrive in Santiago mid-afternoon, where we stay at the Grand Hotel for the evening.
There are 22 of us altogether, including Umberto and Alberto from Dublin-based Follow the Camino, who are guiding our tour. Everyone seems lovely and so friendly. We are armed with information and Umberto explains the various days and what we can expect over each one. The only disappointing thing is the weather reports that suggest it might rain, he says, but hopefully there will just be light showers.
After a lovely buffet meal at the restaurant, some of us head off for an early night, while others go off to catch the rugby celebrations. I’m kind of nervous, as I’m slightly fitter than I was at the beginning of the summer, but am still a fat couch potato in general.
So after all the talking, writing, debating and thinking about it, here we go…...
Sunday, October 4
9am: After a continental buffet breakfast, we gather at reception and the atmosphere is great. Everyone is animated and laughing (probably with nerves) while Umberto gives us a pep talk.
We’re all in good spirits as we put together our walking poles and strap our haversacks on our backs. Thankfully our luggage is being transported ahead of us to each hotel so we’re not laden down - that would kill me altogether.
And then we notice that it’s teeming outside, like literally bucketing down, so out comes the rain gear. As people start putting on waterproof ponchos and trousers and jackets, I curse myself, not for the first time that day, for not being better prepared, because I have packed for sunshine.
Look, I know Umberto’s packing guide clearly said to bring waterproof gear, but we’re in Spain, for Gawd’s sake, and it’s practically still the summer. And I’m pretty sure this whole thing was sold to me as a gorgeous walk in lovely weather. It’s a miracle I even managed to bring a jacket, albeit a light, non-waterproof one.
After a 2km walk to the starting point, we’re off in the lashings of rain.
Umberto actually said later he had never seen such bad weather on the Camino, ever! We walk along following the yellow shells and arrows that point the way, sometimes walking along the path, and other times through a forest. The wind is howling, all the trees are swaying, and within 20 minutes, every inch of me is soaked through.
Wish I hadn’t bothered to put make up on now that it is rolling in rivers down my mush.
Most people are in the same position though, as even the people with all the waterproof stuff on say they’re drenched. When you’re with such a big group, you walk with various people at various times, and for today, I spend the morning with Frances, Cathy, Harry and Mags.
Some people shoot off and walk the thing like they’re going for a mere stroll in the park, and we’re the slow group at the back - the remedial class. I have found my people.
Thankfully they’re all great company and keep me going through the day, and Cathy is one of the funniest people I have met in my life, as in completely off-the-scale, no-filter bonkers, The stuff that comes out of her mouth makes me laugh through the trauma of being teemed on and blown away.
As we walk along, it’s a case of looking down at your feet, because the paths through the foresty bits can be uneven and the wet leaves make them slippy, so you have to mind your step or you’ll go flat on your face. Some bits go uphill, which I hate - I could walk forever on the flat though.
I give silent thanks to the lovely Teena Gates for lending me her walking poles. At the beginning, I didn’t really know what the point of them was, but soon they were saving my life, particularly on the rickety, downhill bits.
After 8km, soaked to the skin, we stop for half an hour for coffee and some people have a bite to eat. Have never been as pleased to see a little shack of a cafe in my life. We also have a pee break, and trust me, there is nothing as depressing as pulling drenched knickers back on! We go off again, and this time we end up walking 16km to our ‘lunch’ destination.
This, my friends, was the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.
At one point, there was a massive mountain that we had to climb, and when Umberto pointed out the electricity pylon at the top and said we had to go up as far as that, I prayed he was joking.
“Are you having a giraffe Umberto?” I said, borrowing my pal Twink’s favourite expression. He wasn’t. This was where I parted company with the remedial class, because I wanted to walk by myself so that I wouldn’t feel pressurised into keeping up.
The rain had thankfully stopped, so I took out my headphones, and listened to the cheesiest. most upbeat songs I could imagine, singing along and probably wrecking the heads of all the nearby woodland animals. As I trilled,“Reach for the staaars,” the bends curved upwards ever higher and I was absolutely wrecked.
My feet hurt, the backs of my legs ached, and I wondered whatever possessed me to volunteer myself for this madness?
I started making desperate plea-bargains in my head to whoever could help me. I may be a lapsed Catholic, but I invoked God’s mercy as I trundled along that hateful hill. I stopped literally every two minutes and sat down for a minute on every bench I passed, and bribed myself with the music. “Walk to the end of the next chorus and then you can stop,” I’d mutter. “Fifty steps and then you can sit down!”
Poor, lovely Umberto kept coming back to check on me and he wanted to walk with me to keep me company, but I sent him on his way as I wasn’t able to deal with having anyone else there or making conversation. I needed every breath I had to keep upright.
Mind you, I’d catch glimpses of him ahead, as he surreptitiously checked that I was still alive. At one point, as I made contact with the road surface again, I saw the bloody electricity pylon, and I was higher than the shaggin’ thing!
What goes up (and up and up) must eventually come down, and thankfully, after two hours going uphill, I got to come down again.
I walked for miles and eventually caught up with Cathy, Harry and Mags at the food venue. Only it was now siesta time and we were out of luck as they had stopped serving.
This was where we became a bit hangry (hungry and angry, for those who don’t know) but we just laughed and joked it off. We were picked up for our hotel not far from there, and by then, I could hardly bend my knees to get into the car. We arrived at Casa Rosalia in Negreira having walked 24.91km, and I staggered up the stairs to my room.
Frances said it’s like having a baby as you forget the pain soon afterwards, and after a blissful hot shower, fresh clothes and a lie-down, I was feeling somewhat human again. By the time we went for dinner, there wasn’t much of a bother on me. Dinner was delicious and we compared war stories and tips around body aches.
I was in bed by 10.30pm to rest my weary bones, as there’s another long day ahead tomorrow, and tried not to be bitter as I scrolled through Facebook and saw that you’re all enjoying lovely weather.
If anyone would like to take pity on me and sponsor me for Frances Black’s charity, The Rise Foundation, which helps families who have loved ones in addiction, my link is www.mycharity.ie/event/couchtocamino/
And we get to do it all again tomorrow…….