My Camino: Alex Kay

Camino Francés
Camino del Norte

Alex Kay

Alex Kay at Finisterre

ALEX KAY’S career in speech pathology took her from her family farm near Naracoorte in South Australia to London where she worked and travelled for two and a half years. With two Australian girlfriends, she walked the Camino Francés over 31 days in May, 2012.  She walked the Camino del Norte (The Northern Route) and the Camino Primitivo as a solo pilgrim in August 2013, her final adventure before a year in Bali, volunteering as a Speech Pathology Advisor  for children and adults with physical disabilities. She is planning her next pilgrimage.

When did you first hear of the pilgrimage?

From Dr Karl on Triple J radio, when I was in my early twenties. I remember him clearly referencing the Camino in answer to many of the questions listeners asked him, which intrigued me. Seven years later I finally set out on my very own pilgrimage  -and my first walk longer than five hours.

Boots?  Bike? Other?

Both pilgrimages on foot, carrying all my own gear. Daily blisters on Camino One – my shoes were constantly cursed. Upgraded to  boots (from Columbia) for Camino  Two and a new foot care routine – heavy duty moisturizer before putting socks on, foot scrub in the shower and then more moisturizer. With feet like a well-oiled machine, it was a blister free ride. I used walking poles on both Caminos, essential for weary legs and for fending off wild animals.

Time for bed

Albergues  (hostels) on both caminos.  Never pre-booked. I resisted ‘bed head’ (the rush to get to an albergue to secure a bed) as I felt this took away the experience of the walk. A couple of times I slept in albergues privado (private hostels), relishing a real towel and sheets on the bed. One night, on the Northern route, I had an entire albergue and host family to myself and was treated to a sea salt foot scrub, homemade brownies and a guided tour around town. Such a treat.

My pilgrim’s day

Alex Kay

Communal dinner on the Camino Frances

It didn’t take long to slip into my Pilgrim routine: last out of bed, bathroom to myself, foot care, walk first five kilometers, coffee and breakfast , walk, stop for a snack, walk, find somewhere to stay, shower, wash clothes, foot care, socialise, sleep.  I averaged 32km a day. Repeated daily! I checked emails and my phone once a week (mainly to keep my parents happy). I kept a daily journal which I still carry with me.  After both caminos I sent an email summary to friends and family, trying my best to capture my story.

Alone or Accompanied

Doing a pilgrimage with my two best friends on Camino One was an amazing journey – we were all content to walk at our own pace, meeting up for coffee breaks and spending evenings together. Then, being solo on the Northern Route brought an independence and new-found freedom. Each decision was entirely mine, which led to moments of elation and despair.  For the first week, I didn’t meet another pilgrim.  When I did, I was ready for some conversations! From then on, our small group from different countries became my camino family.

Best thing about the pilgrimage

Achieving my daily target of kilometers; tired and satisfied legs on the bed, dinner with fellow pilgrims and camaraderie; my pilgrim family on both caminos; unexpected friendships with people from all over the world; the strong bonds that came from meandering conversations. The spirit of humanity along the track, the daily acts of kindness from local people and fellow pilgrims. I came to respect my feet, my health and be in a constant state of happiness with my minimal belongings. I also fell head over heels in love on Camino one. There is nothing much that is better than all of those feelings combined!

Menu of the day

Camino de Vino became my slang name for ‘the way’, after my new-found love of Rioja Wine, and the unlimited wine that accompanied the peregrino menu (pilgrims’ menu). Walking up to 40km a day meant I was free to eat whatever I liked, which including a carb-on-carb tortilla boccadillo for breakfast, essential to sustain me until the Spanish afternoon siesta was broken. My favourite meals were those that were cooked together with fellow pilgrims, sourced from the local markets and created from our different global cultures. Every night was a food safari.

Pilgrim essentials

1. Ear plugs. Be gone to the ‘albergues snoring orchestra’.
2. Woolen underwear, in hot or cold weather. This is a must.
3. Columbia walking shoes, waterproof but breathable – perfect for my sweat prone feet!

Alex Kay during her pilgrimage

Alex Kay on the Camino Frances

Read Watch Follow

‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago’ by John Brieley – has the most comprehensive maps and daily plan for walkers. The spiritual guidance also provided a daily laugh amongst the pilgrims.
It was much harder to find information about The Northern Route. I used the only current English guide ‘The Northern Caminos: Norte, Primitivo and Ingles’, by Dave Whitson and Laura Perazzoli. The maps were hard to read and the information often incorrect, hence I tagged along behind the German speaking pilgrims who had a more comprehensive guide book with great maps.

Best tip

Don’t plan. The camino has a way of ‘happening’ and its serendipity nature will astonish you. I guarantee you will run into the lovely person you met on day one-  you always see the people you want to see again, without planning to meet up.

Do the Camino your own way, don’t get ‘bed head’ (see Time For Bed, above) and embrace the daily journey as part of the experience.