Taking care of yourself
There is an old saying that holds the essence of how to take care of yourself: Keep it simple, take your time, and enjoy. These basic rules can be translated into the two areas of importance: physical body and material carried.
Your feet are your 'babies' — they will carry you and your weight through it all. Care for them, listen to their complaints and tend to them imediately as you would to a newborn child.
Your body is the 'machine' — it will support your wish to walk the Camino. Respect it by feeding and watering it well. Water is the 'gasoline' that will keep it running; it is the 'oil' to the joints, it helps prevent blisters and muscles from 'drying out', becoming stiff and painful.
Below is a list of how to care for your physical body:
Before embarking on the walk, find the right boots/trekking shoes and trekking sandals. This is done by going to your local store trying out a thousand pairs (if necessary) until you find the ones that feel just right when trying them on the first time. Try on and buy one size larger than your usual fit, for the toes will need the space on the downhill tracks. The trekking sandals should be a perfect fit, for they will let you continue walking comfortably while airing out sore/swollen or blistered feet.
A blister is a small pocket of fluid within the upper layers of the skin, typically caused by friction, burning, freezing or infection. Most blisters are filled with a clear fluid called serum, or pus if they have become infected. Blood in blisters appears when subdermal tissue and blood vessels are damaged.
If you do find a pocket of fluid (blister well under way), take a sterlized needle with thread and puncture the pocket close to the base, pulling the thread through it to drain the fluid, or simply push out the fluid form the blister. (Do not cut into the blister or peel off the skin, this will only expose the underlying layer to infections.) Disinfect the area by rubbing in whatever antiseptic you chose to carry (tea tree oil, iodine, alcohol, chlorhexidine etc.). Again, air it and let it dry before putting your socks and shoes/boots back on to continue walking. In the morning the blistered area must be plastered by a flexible bandaid to avoid more friction. Attention, care and regular inspection is advised the following days.
Keep therefore your feet clean and dry. To avoid friction as much as possible, wear special, touring the 2 layer sock system. A thinner sock layer to act as a friction barrier to the skin, and an outer trekk sock to absorb the humidity (sweat) created. (Talcum can be applied to the feet before putting on the socks, to absorb the humidity and keep the feet dry).
On the way
As mentioned above, listen to what your feet are telling you! If you start feeling a sore point, this is probably a blister in its early stage (do not try to puncture it if there is no fluid; leave to air out and dry). Sit down, take off your boots/shoes and socks. Dry your feet and let them breathe. Inspect them. Apply foot cream and massage them if you feel they deserved it.
After a day's walk
Treat your feet to a foot bath (water, salt, and add a little vinegar too). This will soften and disinfect the skin, ready for another day in the enclosed quarters of your boots/shoes.
Shoulders, back, hips, ankles
As with the feet after a days walk, you might experience sore shoulders, ankles, knees etc. These body parts should be treated with the same care and appreciation that you give to your feet.
Treat the affected area to a massage, using your cream of personal preference. Tiger balm is great in treating inflammations and sore joints. It relaxes and strengthens muscles, and can alleviate headaches. Even in small quantities it stretches far, perfect for keeping the pack weight at a minimum.
Water and sun
Always try to keep your water bottle full and remember to drink. Protect your head from the blistering sun with a broad rimmed hat and use suncream on exposed skin.
Winter versus summer
In winter and colder seasons the same simple rules should be followed, yet there are a few points to be added.
Your body extremities, i.e. head, hands and feet should be kept as warm as possible. A cold wind can do a lot of damage to the skin, even on a sunny day. Use suncream, a fat cream or vaseline on exposed skin, i.e. ears, nose and face. For the lips a sunscreaning lip balm can be advised.
Breathing cold air directly into the lungs can bring on inflammation to the respiratory organs, a painful and uncomfortable cold to carry on your walk. It is therefore advisable to breath as much as possible through your nose.
You will find seasonal directions for what clothing and materials are advised to wear/carry here.
Useful telephone numbers
In addition to the general 112 emergency number, the following telephone numbers might be useful in Spain:
- Guardia Civil (Civil Guard): 062
- Police: 091
- Firefighters: 080
- Ambulance: 061