When walking the Camino de Santiago, you should go on your own and rough it.

Those two pieces of advice set Mark Cilia La Corte, a 58-year-old Maltese-British citizen, on his voyage along the historic pilgrim trail.

“Stay in the albergues [hostels], not in hotels. You will be sleeping on bunkbeds in rooms with thirty people, but that is where you will meet the most interesting people,” a friend who first got him interested in the walks told him.

Mark has now walked three of the Camino’s major routes, including the 800km Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago.

What is the Camino de Santiago?

One of the routes of the camino. Photo: Mark Cilia La CorteOne of the routes of the camino. Photo: Mark Cilia La Corte

The Camino de Santiago is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St James (Santiago in Spanish) in Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.

The practice of walking the different pilgrim routes has become increasingly popular with people from all across the world - and that includes Maltese.

Millions of pilgrims from around the world have walked the Camino, with records of pilgrimages along the route dating back more than 1000 years.  

Most travel by foot, although the occasional pilgrim does the route by bicycle or even on a donkey.

Why do people walk the Camino?

According to Mark, although many people walk the Camino for reasons of faith and spirituality, many just take up the challenge to reconnect with themselves, to reflect on their lives and to enjoy the amazing scenery, food and wine.

Mark Cilia La Corte and another pilgrim on the Camino. Photo: Mark Cilia La CorteMark Cilia La Corte and another pilgrim on the Camino. Photo: Mark Cilia La Corte

For Mark, the walk was a response to some difficult personal news.

 “After having been diagnosed with cancer, I decided to walk the Portuguese Camino, from Porto to Santiago, to get my mind off things.  8 months following the eventual surgery, I walked 400km of the Northern route from Bilbao to Oviedo.  It was a wonderful feeling to be able to walk and enjoy the breath-taking coastal scenery so soon after my surgery. The Camino was the best possible medicine”.    

In such a fast-paced world, where nobody seems to have time to enjoy the simple things in life anymore, the Camino provides the opportunity for people to live in the present moment. People can truly appreciate nature and have meaningful conversations with other pilgrims as they walk through the Spanish countryside together.

“It’s a place where you can be your true self and it’s a great relief. Nobody knows who you are, what you do, how much money you have or don’t have, and nobody cares. They judge you by who you are there, and it’s liberating.”

How do you prepare for the Camino?

It is hard to train for walking an average of 25 km day, every day for about 33 days while carrying an 8kg to 10kg backpack, as in the case of the Camino Frances.

“You never know what is going to happen to your body when you walk that much every single day for such a long time, especially when you’re no longer a spring chicken.”

“I try and walk between five to 10 km a day every day. For most people that might sound like a lot, but if you think about it, when I walk five km, I am doing a fifth of what I would do on an average Camino day. A few months before the starting date, I put in a couple of 15km or 20km days here and there and make sure I train with a backpack weighing around 8 to 10kg (10% of your body weight).”

An important lesson Mark has learned on his different Camino experiences is how little one truly needs to be happy.

“Good authentic food and wine, the other pilgrims you meet,  beautiful scenery,  and just the bare essentials to keep the weight you carry down to a minimum”.

Those basics include toiletries, two shirts, two trousers, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, shoes, flipflops, a microfiber towel, a sleeping sheet, a sweat shirt, and a light waterproof jacket.

Mr. Cilia La Corte's Camino passport. Photo: Mark Cilia La CorteMr. Cilia La Corte's Camino passport. Photo: Mark Cilia La Corte

Mark has some accommodation advice, too.

If you stay in the albergues, stick to the pilgrim menus (which often include a bottle of wine). It’s possible to live on €20 to €30 a day for all food and accommodation. However, most pilgrims like to stay in a hotel or B&B  every now and then just to have a good night’s sleep and some privacy. Some don’t stay in albergues at all. 

 “Ultimately it’s your Camino,” says Mark. “So do whatever you feel is right for you and enjoy the journey.“

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