Tag Archives: Jacobsweg

‘The People We Meet…’ Nationalities

“The people we meet along the way…” -My answer to a casual question – “What about the Camino have you found most memorable?” – asked over a Pilgrims meal.

There were so many interesting folks we got to know along the way. As soon as I would comment on one person, another would pop up from memory. Instead of editing out certain persons, a difficult proposition as they all had qualities I wanted to mention, I opted to break them into groups. Even so I had to let some go. The first is Nationalities, simply because that was invariably the first question asked was “where are you from.”

The Camino was an international walkway where we met South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Dutch, Austrians, Swedes, Belgians, Spaniards, Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Australians, New Zealanders … so many that we lost track. And even though most spoke some limited English (not surprising), fewer spoke any Spanish. Which was very surprising to me, since most cafe & albergue staff had little English or any other language skills*. Still we managed to communicate.

The character who posed the question was a Galician Spaniard. He grew up near Santiago and was walking the Camino because “for years I’ve seen people from all over the world with backpacks on, entering the square of the Cathedral at Santiago, some crying, some laughing… others collapsing and just sitting… all after walking this thing called ‘the Camino’… SO I thought maybe I should try it to see what it was all about.” He had walked 110 km in a week ( all the vacation time he could spare) and was heading home via bus the next morning. I asked If he had discovered anything. He responded “No… not really”, with a laugh.

img_5813-1“Mik-hile” (he gave himself this nickname because his real name was too difficult to get westerners to pronounce properly), a twenty-something South Korean man, was the only other person at one of the first albergues we stayed in. As we unpacked I watched as he wandered the rooms holding his smart phone up over his head then down to check it… took me a few minutes to figure out that he was looking for … I asked, “No WiFi?”… he looked at me puzzled- so I said “INTERNET?” and he replied “NO Weeee Feeeee… very sad.” A laugh and shrug… As we enjoyed the evening meal using limited English & pantomime, we teased him about being young enough to be our ‘grandson’. Along the way over the next weeks we would suddenly hear “GRANDFATHER… GRANDMOTHER” as Mik-hile jogged up to give and receive a hug… We were always as pleased to see him as he was us.

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Olivia was another South Korean. She became known along the trail as the ‘Buen Camino Girl’ because of her exuberance when meeting or even seeing other pilgrims; yelling “BUEN. CaMEEEENO!”. You could hear her from blocks away.

Sel-Soo (phonetically spelled because I have NOT a clue how it should be) was a Brazilian man we kept passing and being passed by. We would smile, he would smile…and then exchange a “Buen Camino”. One evening being the only ones at the restaurant, we shared a table and a meal. Broken English and pantomime sufficed for our conversation. TWO weeks later we were approaching Palas de Rei and saw Sel-Soo waiting for a taxi. He was going into the next largest city because his legs hurt BUT, more importantly so he could eat some “pulpo” – pronounced POOL POE – a local delicacy. Apparently Palas de Rei is famous for it. Tilly asked “what is that?” Sel-Soo responded, “pulpo, pulpo… poooool-POE!” as he searched his memory for the English word… I laughed and then- having seen it mentioned on the menu – say ‘octopus?’… “YES – PULPO!”, he exclaimed and we dissolved into laughter.

Bern, an Irishman made my memory list when after learning about the Las Vegas mass shootings said “The whole world is broken.” We all shared a moment of silence at the table and nothing more could be said about it.

The Canadians we met were dominated by British Columbians (and mostly Vancouver Islanders) but we met the odd Québécois, Albertan & Manitoban.

Americans came from all over… Massachusetts, Georgia, Oregon, Washington (state & DC), Colorado, California, Texas are a few of the states I remember. OH yeah and we all avoided speaking about politics and ‘you -know-who’ back home.

p1030820Rich, a young American, was walking the Camino as a break from his volunteer work as a school counselor in Ghana. We remember his smile and positive manner. He walked fast and quickly out paced us so, we were surprised to catch up and pass him a few days later. Until, we saw how he and his new walking partner Katerina were interacting… I don’t think either of them were in any hurry to finish the walk….good for them.

Other nationalities I have not listed here include Swedish, Austrian, Polish because they fit better into one of my other groups.

*HINT – Learn some basic Spanish IF you are going to walk the Camino – you’ll wish you had learned more!

Albergue Nights – Sleepless on ‘THE WAY’

 One of the first scenes in the movie “The Way” takes place in a large, crowded albergue (pilgrims accommodation usually open rooms with rows of bunk beds and very little – mostly none – privacy). Martin Sheen lays awake as the multitudes begin to snore and snore… IT is funny. UNTIL it is you laying there… 


Almost every morning I/we awoke to some fellow pilgrim complaining about the SNORING and not being able to sleep. Just to be clear: EVERY albergue has a ‘snoring problem’ and with rare exception, EVERYONE snores… YES LADIES – even YOU! People snore LONG & LOUD – first, when they are TIRED & second after they have had a few drinks. Combine a large group who have walked a 20+km day, then consumed the cut rate “Perrigrino Menu” which usually INCLUDES lots of WINE… AND the RESULT will be a LOUD & most cacophonous concert that night. Rather than complain, I thought about solutions. After all we were warned.

Every Camino guidebook stresses the need for ear plugs when planning to stay in albergues. From my perspective they are an ESSENTIAL – CRITICALLY IMPORTANT piece of gear. So important that I would even say 2 pairs are advisable – just in case. GOOD EAR PLUGS – NOT some cheap foam ones that the airlines hand out; BUT high quality – GONNA let you sleep through WWIII EAR PLUGS. Before we left the states, Tilly and I purchased 2 pairs each of silicone earplugs  that deadened the snores so much you could hear your own breathing. Only problem, for me – comfort.

I would usually wake up in the middle of the night take out the uncomfortable ear plugs  and lay awake for a while, exposed to the full intensity of the noise. The first night, I braced myself for a sleepless few hours… wondering why I consented to sleep in one of these places. Sure enough there were dozens snoring! But, before I could manifest my frustration, I perceived a rhythm. Some of the snores were synced with others. Patterns began to emerge. Then one section of the room seemed to reply to another section. It was a symphony of nasal obstructions that I was hearing. Instead of being aggravated I became fascinated. Soon I fell easily back asleep. 

Most nights in albergues, I seemed to be hearing different concerts. The snores, puffs, squeaks, sighs, humps, whooshes, all blended … I began to name the nights… The Somnambulist Symphony, The 40 Wink Opera, The Snorers Sonata, but the best and most memorable performance was in the public albergue in Leon -The Barnyard Concerto. I awoke to the sound of a cow. ‘Humpf…moooooooooooo’ -‘Humpf…moooooooooooo – then a pig joined in ‘huck…eeeeeee’ …. ‘huck…eeeeeee’ …. ‘huck…eeeeeee’ … chickens clucked… dogs barked… cats meowed …. climaxing with a tractor starting … sputtering ‘puh’ … ‘puh’ …. ‘puh’… the farmer muttered something unintelligible … AND then the cow started the sequence over again. I swear it went on for an hour or more… but who knows… I fell asleep smiling. 

But before I make sleeping in albergues sound idyllic, as is wont to happen there was the occasional concert crasher. The Irishman was one. When he snored it was as his neighbor said the next morning, “like a bloody 747 at full throttle pulling an 8 hour long freight train”. I was three beds away and even the super-duty earplugs could not entirely stop the roar. And there were the nights of raucous partying by the locals in the bars located directly beneath our accommodations… one lasting until 0430… On those occasions I thanked the makers of our ‘industrial grade’ ear plugs…. 

So, if you are planing a Camino walk… pay attention to the warnings of the movie and guidebooks… take some darned good ear plugs. It will help to throw in your imagination and sense of humor.

Black Magic, Angels, and Miracles on the Camino

Black Magic, Angels, and Miracles on the CaminoBlack Magic- on a Friday, late afternoon – bad luck we ran into last week when we followed the advice in our guidebook and took the bus from Mansilla to Leon in order to bypass the heavy traffic coming into Leon, a large city here in the north of Spain. Michael in a moment of haste, left his “murse” (man’s purse) on the bus. He didn’t realize it until we were halfway to our albergue so we had to make the decision: return to the bus which most likely would already have left the station, or check into the albergue and ask for some help there. We decided on the albergue option. There, we met our first angels, Christina, Paul, & Jose, the hospitaleros at the albergue S.Maria de Carbajal, a convent in the old city. As soon as we explained what had happened, Jose was on the phone to the police in both Mansilla and in Leon. They recommended we take a taxi and return to the Mansilla bus station, so that’s what we did. No sooner had we started back in a taxi, than Paul called to say that the Guardia Civil had gone to the station to check and that it wasn’t there and that we should return to the Leon National Police to fill out a police report which we did. Not a word of English was spoken by anyone at the police station. The report we filled out was in both Spanish and English. Finished! We were sent on our way. The police couldn’t even send us in the right direction.

It was as we stood on a street corner looking at our map, trying to figure out how to get back to the albergue, that another angel popped up. He led us all the way to our abergue!!! (Meeting again two days later …he asked if we’d found the bag and when we answered NO, he said we should just stay in Leon!) We checked into the albergue and immediately Michael got on the phone and cancelled all of his credit cards. Thankfully, all of mine would still work. Thankfully also, Michael had his wallet and cash in his pocket. The passport and iPad were the issue. We could deal with a missing iPad but….the passport would be a very big issue … we would have to go to Madrid, to the US embassy there to apply for a new one AND that would take three weeks. 
The bad luck wasn’t quite over. That night, unbeknownst to me because of my super duper Walmart silicone earplugs until 2 am, Michael was ferociously sick, vomiting violently all night long. I think the last episode being around 0530. I had no idea what caused it because we had eaten exactly the same thing and I was fine. Our three angels at the albergue insisted we stay another night and let Mike sleep most of the day.. they would clean and organize around him as he slept. I, on the other hand, had to leave.  
Off I went, not dressed for the cold – armed with map and guide book. Within minutes I was totally lost without my trusty navigator (Michael). Seeing a woman walking by carrying a pack, I asked her if she was a “peregrino.” Indeed she was; Alicia arrived the night before from Menorca and spoke fluent English and Spanish. She became the next angel. She was headed for the cathedral and invited me to join. The cathedral was closed so she bought me a coffee and we sat in the freezing cold outside so she could have a smoke. She kept covering me up with her sweater. We went to the cathedral when it opened at 9am followed by another site, San Isadora, where I believe the Holy Grail is kept, but after that, she spent the rest of her time helping me by walking to the bus station, calling numbers for the bus line, the police (both in Mansilla and Leon), the Police lost and found ….. and so much more….she did so much for me. Finally, I bought her a smoothie before she had to catch her bus to Villafranca to start her Camino there, and returned to see how Michael was doing. He was weak but, much better than before. 
Leaving Leon the next day, Sunday, Michael wasn’t able to go much farther than 8km. We got a private room in a Hostal. Mike still wasn’t eating much and I wasn’t too hungry either, having caught another version of my cold and maybe a bit of Mike’s flu bug. The next morning we tried to call the embassy to talk to a human….no luck there – only got the message telling us to write an email. USELESS! That was Monday morning. 

We made the decision to walk on for two days, allowing time for the bag to be turned in. It had disappeared on the weekend when everything was closed…. maybe it still would be accounted for. With nothing else to do so we walked on, admittedly feeling despondent & considering throwing in the towel on this experience.
We walked and as we walked we started to feel better. We saw a sign asking, “Are you a pilgrim?” It was a rest area off the beaten path. Michael wanted to stop and I wanted to take pics of the stork’s nest on the church. What a delight. Fresh squeezed orange juice, chocolate, fresh fruit….lots of stuff all by donation. There we met are biggest angel of all, Manuel who ran the place, and Barbara, an angel who helped translate to Manuel what had happened. Manuel called all of the numbers that angel Alicia had written down for me, without luck. But, he wanted to know where we would stay that night, just in case something turned up; as he promised to ‘try’ again later. 
Although we had planned to stay at Villavente; we ended up staying only a short distance further at Villar de Mazariffe. We went for a snooze and at 645pm were woken by a knock on the door to tell us that there was a man waiting to see us. Mike went up first. By the time I got there, I saw Manuel from the rest stop in Oncina, giving Mike his bag, with all the contents intac. From what we could understand of the situation, the bus driver had found the bag, contacted the Leon police who contacted Manuel.

Tears began to flow as we learned that Manuel had driven his motorcycle all the way to Leon to pick up Mike’s bag….drove to the village where he thought we might be staying….Not finding us there, he stopped at every albergue on the way back until he found us!!! I still cry to think of his great kindness…without any expectation of reward….just for the sake of helping and giving. We bought him a beer and then we met our next angels, Renata and Sylvia from Brazil. We wanted to know the details of what had happened and asked them if they could translate. So we told the story in English to Renata, who translated it in Portuguese to her sister Sylvia, who in turn translated it into Spanish For Manuel and that’s how we found out all the details.
And that’s the Miracle of the Camino for us. 

Blisters, colds and rest days … 

As you walk the Camino there are two topics of conversations that crop up continuously… one is BLISTERS… the other REST DAYS… everyone has a story … this is ours…

35 Years!… It has been over 3 decades since I had a blister… Hell I thought I was immune. We hiked and hiked and hiked our butt’s off in preparation for the Camino… I had nary a hot spot. BUT Day 9 – I’ve got a painful blister on the ball of my foot… caused by sheer arrogance. I noticed the hotspot when we stopped in a little village 3 km from our ‘destination’… a quick fix and off we went. Could have stayed in that village but, no… had to press on. So, my reward for being pig-headed was a dime sized blister. The fix was to pierce the blister with needle & thread… leaving the thread in to facilitate draining as it healed…. build up the area around the site with moleskin – taking the pressure off the blister. 
Even with the ‘fix’ we had to cut the next day (day 10) short. By noon I was in enough pain to know I needed to rest my foot. The tiny village we stopped at had no Farmacia. When the hostess of the Albergue learned of my problem she left with a “momentito” and came back quickly with 3 feminine pads… in broken English she explained that other peregrinos had used them on the insoles of their shoes to cushion the blistered area. I was skeptical but foregoing my ‘macho’ instincts I took them with a quick “gracias”. Although skeptical, the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a good idea. I could modify the pad by cutting a ‘my blister’ sized hole, further relieving pressure. After several attempts at proper placement – i.e.- the hole was centered under the blister… it worked, brilliantly and would remain in my shoe until the blister was completely healed. I was back on track… a few km warm up and then I could work through the discomfort & into a regular rhythm.
All seemed on track as my blister healed. Day 12… Tilly walked while complaining of a ‘minor cold’. That morning 3 fellow peregrinos had taken the bus to Burgos ( the next large city) in order to get one of them to a doctor because her ‘minor’ cold gone major. Now it was Tilly’s turn…over the night she went into full blown suffering (as bad as any ‘man-flu’ I’ve ever had). It made no sense for her to walk 18 km into Burgos. Without objection (yes I win a few on occasion), I decided to reserve a hotel and then take the bus to Burgos. Only thing as we soon discovered, there was no bus service. Thanks to the charming & lovely owner of the local panderia [bakery] who offered to call a taxi from Burgos – a 20 minute wait, we arranged transport. Although I knew we would pay for both directions of travel it did not matter. Hell, we had paid through the nose to for a taxi in Paris to catch a bloody train … this was about Tilly … her health first, budget later. The driver arrived promptly. His skill and deftness at navigation had us to our hotel within 20 minutes. 
Arriving at 0920. I spoke to the receptionist… explaining that we were early, that Tilly was sick and I asked to leave our backpacks until we could check in. The receptionist looked at our reservation, said there was a bigger room available immediately for 20 euro more AND it faced the cathedral. 20 euros seemed a small extra to get Tilly into rest mode. Tilly was quickly ensconced in the huge master bed and asleep by 10:00. The outer room had a second smaller bed where I could sleep without concern of waking/disturbing her. She slept all that day and night only waking to have dinner. I took the time to wander the plazas around the cathedral… 
Next morning I was expecting a good recovery. Only a few minutes passed and I knew another day of rest was needed. The hotel was fully booked – a holiday weekend it seemed. I hoped on the iNet quickly booked another room in a highly rated hotel 1/2 a km away. Although it was not as big a room, it had two beds, comfortable and had the added benefit of being 1/3 less. Another day of rest.
Today was day 16 and with Tilly feeling better, we set out. The pace started slow, picked up and within 3 hours we had cranked out 10+ km. We stopped for a brief snack and refreshment. I could tell Tilly was not yet up to snuff. Even tho’ it was 70+ F she moved into the sun and complained of being cold. I knew it it was time to stop… we will walk again tomorrow…. increasing our distance in small amounts daily.  

FASHION ON THE CAMINO

In good weather, layers are the best. Sleeveless first, then short-sleeved, followed by long sleeves. Strip as needed.

For cool windy days or for light rain, this wind jacket we bought last minute in Laramie WY has been a godsend!

When it rains steadily a poncho which covers everything, works the best. Shorts are best because bare legs dry much faster than leggings.

And when the rain stops, all you do is flip the front of the poncho back over your head where it can dry somewhat and allow you to cool off. That poncho kept me cozy and warm today for the first half of the day. The cap is a MUST as it keeps the raindrops off my glasses. The “mussar ” (scarf), my favourite from Oman, is also a MUST as it keeps your neck warm, soaks up sweat, dries quickly, and works as a blanket in the plane too. The little orange “baby wash-cloth” (thank-you Leah) is my “snot rag”. There’s already way too much tissue deposited all along The Way!

Today is Day 21. We are at the halfway point in Sahagun, just a few days before we get to Leon. We have had only one rainy day before today, earlier on in the walk. The MAGIC abounds on the Camino but that’s a whole other blog!!

6 DAYS OF WALKING

6 Days of walking, 115 km plus or minus a few, approximately 20 km/day. Here is a photo gallery of the best these 6 days had to offer.

Roncesvalles to Zubiri:

Elevation map

Breakfast at the pub.

Leaving Roncesvalles after breakfast just as the sun was rising.

Cows in the mists of early morning.


Day 3 Zubiri to Trinidad de Arre

Day 3 was a rainy day. We experienced a lot of “slippery slopes” and heard later that some poor soul had broken an ankle on said slippery slope. 

Always pretending but actually this time Michael was suffering from a sore knee.


 

I love cats. Michael doesn’t. When we stopped for coffee and to get out of the rain for a while, this cat popped up onto Michael’s lap looking for a handout.

These people were taking pictures of two young Korean men, one in a wheelchair, the other carrying a fully loaded pack, pushing the wheelchair. Our first lesson on the Camino…DON’T JUDGE! Imagine our surprise when later, the trail narrowed and became muddy, the young man in the wheelchair popped out of the chair and helped carry it quite a distance, walking quite nimbly. Apparently they are making a documentary about the accessibility of the Camino (or something like that.)

The bridge into Trinidad de Arre. We saw a 12th or 13th century convent/church and decided to stay there. Asked if they had a private room – they did. It was a beautiful building and we made some new friends who informed us that there was to be a fiesta that evening and bulls running in the street the next day.

Sure enough, there was a fiest that night with fireworks, music, food, and carnival rides. Before that though, we encountered this young man chasing an excited, screaming group of kids with his bull on wheels.

Day 4 Trinidad de Arre to Zaraquigui

Nearing Pamplona we walked around the walls of the old city.

….and through the gate into the city to search for a coffee.

Lunch break.

Day 5 Zaraquigui to Cerauqui

Our first taste of grapes – the harvest all around us.

At the top of the pass at Alto del Perdon. Spectacular!

Cerauqui where we stayed the night at the top of the hill!


Day 6 Cerauqui to Estella

The sun rising and illuminating the hills in the direction we were walking.

Such beautiful countryside. Constantly new vistas.

Here We Go, Again…

Dreams & fires are alike ….some are extinguished  … some burn out… others die out, smolder… then some new fuel and a breath of air and they reignite.

It’s been almost 2 years since our ‘shakedown’ walk in Switzerland on the Jakobsweg… 100km in a week. A test of our desire to walk the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James). We discovered that not only was walking the best way to see and experience the countryside and people but, we really enjoyed the challenge of carrying all our necessities on our backs 20+ km each day to stop at a hostel populated with others with similar intentions.m shakedown . And so, OUR dream/plan became –  work one more year save [Our lives are bound by one financial stricture – absolutely  NO DEBT. Saving up rather than ‘borrowing’ is our mode…]  and prepare for the three month walk from where we left off in Switzerland through France and Spain to the Compostela de Santiago in Spain, a 2300+ km journey. BUT, when in early 2016 we had to commit to another year teaching at a dysfunctional school, the stress on our physical & mental health was a price higher than we were willing to pay.  We retired from teaching and returned home.

We thought the dream extinguished,… but, it was merely smoldering until a breath of air and some added fuel changed everything. For Tilly and I the ‘air’  was the question ‘if you had only 30 days to live… what would you do?’ Both of us immediately  thought of the Camino journey we had abandoned.  Our fuel was the follow-up “ IF those things are so important WHY NOT do them NOW?” The fire was re-kindled.

Our first question wasn’t “Can we afford it?” but rather “What do we do to make it happen?”  I jumped into “RESEARCH” mode… within a day I had a spread sheet detailing the daily expenses, travel costs and associated costs (storage for our 5W and truck). We could consider 30 days, 45 days & even up to 60 days. But the three month journey that would take up where we left off in Switzerland would have to wait until we added a few more $ to the travel fund.

When your plans don’t fit your circumstances THEN it is time to take the hint and alter the plans. If we started in France, we had the perfect window of opportunity … Late Sept – October and November …60 or so days. We could use our accumulated air miles to lessen the cost – although in the end it only saved us 20% or so as we jumped through hoops & miscellaneous expenses of transferring and purchasing the extra air miles to make it all work. Having used all our air miles; next time I will just hunt the cheapest flights online… less work and certainly less aggravation.

So 10 days after the decision to go… only first nights hotel and the flights are booked. If it had not been so prohibitive cost wise I would not have booked a return fight home…. then we would have had no deadline. So I booked our return from Paris 67 days after our arrival… almost twice the time most folks take to complete the journey… alleviating the ‘deadline factor’. Once we arrive in Paris – we can be like the pilgrims of old …take it one day at a time… accepting what comes.

In the last few days though, I have come to realize that our ‘journey’ doesn’t start when we first put our feet on the trail in France. It began nearly 3 weeks ago when we committed our selves to this – our “Pilgrimage” or just a very long walk?  What’s the difference? A Pilgrimage to me, implies a journeying with an spiritual or religious intent. My interest is not in seeking enlightenment or an life altering epiphany. It is merely to walk a long way and see what happens…. it is about ‘being’ moment to moment in the now…

But I think my easy explanation to anyone who asks WHY, will be  “Because it’s there” (George Mallory’s reply when asked why he wanted to be the first to climb Mt Everest.)