Walkin' and coughin'
October 18, 2011 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Looking for first-hand experiences of the Camino de Santiago--with potentially complicating health issues. Can it be done?

A friend of mine wants to walk the Camino de Santiago in the spring of 2012. Complication: emphysema.

My friend is 53 years old. He uses inhalers but no oxygen therapy or anything like that. He walks everywhere, so the walking part itself isn't the problem. (My knowledge of emphysema is pretty limited too so forgive me if I'm leaving out any crucial information.)

Here's his question to me:

"my biggest concerns are how best to tackle this journey with emphysema. i don't want to just do it on a bus or some lame tourist experience, but then again, i don't want to get stuck mid route because the hills are too steep or some such nonsense."

So, a two-parter:
1. Any first-hand experiences of the Camino de Santiago would be greatly appreciated!
2. (How) can he walk it?

(Please note that I'm not looking for medical advice--he'll check this all out with his doctor yada yada. Just, you know, what's the experience like and are there easier routes. Thanks!)
posted by devotion+doubt to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I did half the route (ten years ago or so). At one point, I got blisters and was going really slow. One of the other hikers came back and checked on me to make sure I got there OK. I had to take two days off to get antibiotics (infected blister), and then took a cab or bus to the place where I was supposed to be and finished the route.

There are easier parts, but sometimes you are literally walking for most of 6 hours (if you're not a fast walker). I went in the spring, so it wasn't too hot or cold.

Some of the places you stay will have hosts who can tell you about the next portion of the route (but not all do). I think the best way to do it would be to map out the sections of the route (at very least based on distance), and be willing to take a bus or taxi or rest for two days if he needs to do so.
posted by ejaned8 at 6:37 AM on October 18, 2011

A friend of mine did the walk this summer. She has also had health issues (muscular related), although she's pretty much recovered and it's hard to say if they had any impact on her experience. Her advice is that the journey is absolutely worth taking, and for the best result, recommends the following three things:

- Don't carry too much. A guide she read before going said to carry no more than 1/10th of your bodyweight.
- Don't rush. The journey is something to complete in your own good time, and you'll enjoy it much more if you don't feel obliged to keep pace with anyone. Obviously this is especially applicable if you have health issues.
- Have a tent. The beds in the Auberg are cheap, but under heavy demand, and she saw more than one person very stressed about finding a place to sleep. Being able to fall back on camping will take this weight off your mind.

She didn't know enough about choice of routes, but wishes your friend the best of luck, and says she's extremely glad she did it.
posted by fearnothing at 8:38 AM on October 18, 2011

I completed 500 km of the Camino, starting in Burgos and ending in Santiago. I covered 500 km in 28 days, taking more time to really enjoy the sights and sounds, yet still walking on average 6-8 hours per day at a nice pace.

I started on May 15th, when the weather was still cool at some areas (with higher elevation). By the time I arrived in Santiago, the average temperature was quite high during peek time (1 pm - 4 pm).

I am 51, recently retired, and trained some before leaving home. There were 3 or 4 areas that were quite strenuous, but could be done by either slowing down, taking many walk breaks, or splitting the segment in half so that the body could get a good rest. Most areas were relatively flat, with very little pollution with the exception of a few larger cities such as Leon.

My advice is as follow:
- Invest in a good guide book - I leveraged two books - "Miam Miam Dodo" (french) by Lauriane Clouteau & Jacques Clouteau, and "From St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela" by John Brierley. There are others out there, so check out which are available for your chosen route.

- Limit your pack weight, or if this is not possible, have your pack sent ahead each day through any of the groups who are registered with the different albergues. For a nominal price, they will taxi your pack from your albergue to your next stop. Keep in mind that many of the municipal albergues will not accept delivery of backpacks, so private albergues should be considered for this. This allows you to walk the Camino without the challenge of carrying the pack.

- As the previous poster mentioned, TAKE YOUR TIME! Walk at your own pace, and take as many breaks as you need. This is good advice for EVERYONE! We tend to get involved in great conversations and sometimes force our bodies to keep up to faster walkers - this is a recipe for many potential issues such as tendinitis, stress fractures and other injuries.

- Tend early to onset of issues- take care of blisters as soon as they are felt, rest when tired, even take a day off to recover. Letting small things go unattended may result in much greater issues later on.

- There are many health care locations on the camino - seek professional help when needed. I had to visit a dentist when a tooth became infected, and although I had to travel a bit longer to find a clinic (some villages are so small they don't have the facilities) I was able to find the right clinic less than 20 km away.

I met many pilgrims who had a variety of health challenges, but all managed with proper planning and attention to their bodies.

My Camino experience was life-changing, and I would recommend to anyone who dream of doing part or all of the Camino to just do it! I long for the simplicity of the Camino life, I miss the friendship of other pilgrims, I miss the beauty that is Spain, and I miss the feeling of having nothing else to do but eat, sleep, walk and be amazed!!

I plan to return next year to redo the same Camino (Frances) but next year I will start in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port and complete the more than 800 km trek.

If you want more information, please send me a note and I will give you the link to my website Camino entries and pictures of the Camino. Good luck and enjoy the experience!!
posted by hanessa at 10:55 AM on October 18, 2011

I've walked the main route ofthe Camino twice now (as well as, more recently, large parts of the northern coastal route) and while I was quite a bit younger than your friend when I did it, I met many people with a variety of health issues who did very well, following much of the advice given above. Taking it slow is an especially good idea, not only because it is easier that way, but also because it seems such a waste to rush such a wonderful experience.

It's been a been a few years since I walked the main route, but even then the refuges were sometimes crowded, especially as we got close to Santiago (there is a huge influx of people in the last 100km...if he's thinking of only walking part of it, I'd actually suggest the first part). Taking a tent does add something to your pack weight though, so if your friend's finances are up to it, it should be possible for him to stay in a private hostel or inexpensive hotel (or a pension) if the refuge is full. Also, bear in mind that the large number of pilgrims means that he will rarely be very far from people willing to help if he does have any problems.

There are a lot of internet resources on the pilgrimage now. When I walked part of the northern route I used a site which gave cut-away views of each part of the path, giving a good idea of the climbing involved. I can't find that site right now, but I'll keep looking. In the meantime, this site seems to have a lot of useful links.

Please feel free to contact me if there's anything I can help you with.
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 6:46 PM on October 18, 2011

« Older Heatmaps, cickmaps?   |   it's not a bug, it's a feature! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.