....To Santiago

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day 3 on the Camino: Zubiri etape

 This morning I woke up at 5 am to the sound of rain pounding on the roof of this huge Abbey dormitory.
For the first time I sensed pilgrims were not eager to jump out of their sleeping bags to gear up this morning, and so most slept on until 6:30 am when the lights flickered on.  Time to don the vast array of raingear which makes the pilgrim´s rucksack so heavy:  rain pants, Altus ponchos, goretex jackets and gaiters.  I have only a cheap poncho and some plastic bags which I slip over my inner socks and fold over my boots.  Hey, they worked as well as gaiters!  My best piece of equipment for maneuvering through morning mists and squalls was a trekking umbrella which was my stalwart shield against some high winds in the morning passes.
We finally arrived at the first village with a food market in over 26 kilometers of schlepping.  I loaded up on cheese, apples, sausage and a huge baguette for lunch.  Stuart made a noise about the extra weight and I agreed to carry it all with the understanding that as soon as he nibbled on the chorizo, he´d have to tote it.
Five nagging cats shared our lunch with us outside a cafe in a hamlet. Stuart decided we had to pay the "cat tax" in Spain.
The forests  are filled with moss covered beeches and boxwoods and we nibble on the remainders of blackberries which escaped the ravishing hoards of passing pilgrims who feasted on them all summer.
We pass many poignant monuments which memorialize pilgrims who have died on the Way of St. James. 

All in all, we traveled another 20 km today and staggered into Zubiri and collapsed in a lovely albergue; a heavenly oasis for a few precious hours.  I ache all over, especially my right shoulder which I wrenched yesterday in a tumble on some scree, but I know how restorative a good night´s rest  can be.  Everyone who knows me knows I am a night owl--not anymore. I am up and dressed by 6 am, booted up and fueled by cafe con leche before dawn and ready to walk on...

Dinners in the albergue are communal affairs with plenty of vino tinto to stimulate conversation.  I was at the French table this evening and tried my best to keep up with the gist of the conversation, but found myself mentally flagging when dinner dragged on way past the hour mark.  The French folk kindly tried to engage me with my rusty French, and they were so patient when I stopped to grope for a word;it was a good to make the effort to share their language.  I was definitely sitting outside my comfort zone tonight!
Tomorrow we will walk through Pamplona, where we departed four days ago by bus, and I hope to make it to Cizur Menor a few km beyond the city.

So far the nationalities I have encountered on the Camino are French, German, Spanish, British, Australian, Canadian, South Africa, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Swedish, Belgian, Dutch....and Americans are well represented!  "The Yanks have arrived!" said one Englishman as he passed me on the Way.

Tomorrow we will walk through Pamplona through to Cizur Menor a few km beyond the city.
I hope to upload some photos soon.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Roncevalles at Last!

General Strike in Pamplona
Pamplona was our first encounter with Spanish soil.
There was a general strike going on across Spain
which brought what seemed to be all of the 200,000
citizens of Pamplona into the city streets for a march and demonstration.
Stuart and I wove our way into the marchers heading for
the bus station, and things were just beginning to get a bit
So we quietly boarded our bus to St. Jean Pied de Port,
and watched the Pyrenees loom around us.  I began to
ask myself what we were getting into, but I also knew that
all pilgrims feel this way on this part of the journey.
The Pilgrim´s Office where all would-be pilgrims must
register, was extremely busy and we just managed to get
two of the last beds in the municipal auberge up the street.
(Our notion of carrying a tent flew out the window as soon
as we tried to heft our full packs, so we are at the mercy of
the refuges, which is as it should be, since part of this
experience is to get out of our comfort zone, and privacy is
just that--a comfort.)
The walk ahead in view
So we got a bed and a simple pilgrim meal and tried to sleep!
Excitement and restlessness were high, but the through
hikers in the bunks around us were dead asleep by 9 pm.
Some had already walked the La Puy route of some 740 km,
so they already had a walking, sleeping, eating rhythm.
The next day at the crack of dawn, we are out of the auberge
and forlornly looking for an open shop to purchase any kind
of bread or food to carry with us.  Not one shop was open,
so we girded our loins and began our upward march.
First day, 8 km, straight up into the gently undulating
Pyrenees.  The vistas grew more and more spectacular with
each switch back in the road.  Pretty soon, the only sound
was the clanging of cowbells and sheep bleating on the hilllsides.
I leaned heavily on my tall wooden staff to help me up the
steep incline.  It was the most grueling hike I have ever
undertaken.  We were regularly outpaced by the experienced
alpine wakers who clack-clacked past us with their trekking poles.  Ah, well, we are pilgrims, not hikers!  One more night in a refuge in France, and again at dawn we  were off  after a cup of coffee and some bread and jam.

Today was a steady climb up to almost 2000 meters across16 km, then a treacherous downhill slide at the end descending to the Abbey at Roncevalles, where 200 other pilgrims were already milling about trying to get bunks.  Roncevalles is the traditional starting point in Spain for El Camino de Santiago.
I have my bunk and I have rubbed my sore muscles with balm and hand washed my clothes.  There will be Pilgrim´s Mass tonight in the great Abbey church.  I look forward  to the official imprimateur of the church´s blessing on this journey.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Essential Packing List for an Autumn Camino

I know that other pilgrims who are preparing to walk the Camino really love to read other pilgrim's packing lists.  I know because I read so many packing lists on the Camino de Santiago Forum that I practically had the essential items memorized by the time we stuffed our backpacks to leave for our pilgrimage.

So here is our post-Camino list for a September to November walk, meaning the final culled list of essentials which were not ditched along the Way.  I will add that most of these items, down to the long underwear, were treated with permethrin to ward off bed bugs and that really did the trick.  Pack weight, approximately 8 kg without food or water, 9 kg fully loaded.

Tall wooden walking staff
Keene hiking boots two sizes larger than my feet, no blisters
Orthotic insoles off-the-shelf
60-liter Gregory backpack
XX Large ziplock bag as waterproof inner liner for pack
Lightweight down sleeping bag rated to 45 degrees  F  (765 g)
Silk sleeping bag liner  (121 g)
Thinsulate gloves
Coleman poncho  (many uses)  (Stuart used an Altus poncho)
Go-lite trekker umbrella (227 g)  multi-use and worth its weight
Fleece hat
Hi-visibility vest
Water and wind resistant anorak
2 tech t-shirts
1 tech long-sleeve base layer shirt
1 tech long-sleeve button down shirt
1 Fleece top
2 silk underwear tops
2 silk underwear long johns
2 thermal runner's tights
1 pair convertible pants
1 pair microfiber tights
Travel skirt
Passport neck wallet
3 underpants
2 pairs silk liner socks
2 pairs hiking socks (medium and heavy-weight)
1 pair Injinji toe socks
Buff  microfiber
1 pair Crocs
Camp towel
First Aid kit
Blister and foot care first aid kit  (lambswool, toe gel caps, and moleskin essential)
Shower caddy bag
Lush shampoo cake and light cloth for wrapping
Leggetts travel soap
Travel toothbrush and tooth paste
Ear plugs  (several pairs)
Lip balm
Dental floss
Tissues and plastic bags for disposal
Essential oil fragrance 2 oz.
Contact lens case and fluid 1 oz.
Nail clippers and emery board
Hair ties
Nivea cream in small tin
Sports gel
Supplements:  Emergen-C, magnesium caps 400 mg, probiotics, Immodium, theanine, naturopathic sleep aid, electrolyte drops, Arni-Sport tabs, ibuprofen, allergy pills
Camp towel
Head lamp
Rubber braided clothesline
Brierly guidebook
Safety pins/S Hooks
Small journal with fine point pen
Small plastic bags
2 liter Platypus hydration pack
Duct tape on pencil
Needle and thread
Cable ties
Waterproof matches
Small length paracord
Hand sanitizer
Camera and memory stick
iPod and charge cable
Sunglasses and prescription glasses in case
Small stone for Cruz de Ferro
Nysil daypack

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stowing our Demons and Muses

When packing for a day hike, a small rucksack with a few things thrown in will suffice--a water bottle, a sweater, a picnic lunch, sunscreen, maybe a camera and a hat if you remembered to grab them on the way out the door.  It's easy to keep your pack light and carefree for a day hike.

Well, what if you are planning to walk 35 day hikes back-to-back?
Would you pack any differently?
Some pilgrims who have walked the entire 500+ mile Camino Frances insist no, you would pack virtually the same items, with the addition of, say, perhaps, an extra set of underwear and socks.
That's it!  You're done!  Off you go now!

For some prepping pilgrims, myself included, this short list strikes an arrow of fear directly into the heart of their sense of material security; the "what-ifs" immediately descend like a penetrating, cold rain to flood the peregrino's mind.  What if....
I get a blister?  I sprain my ankle or my wrist? My pack gets wet?  I get bitten by mozzies, ticks, or worse?  I get chased by a mean dog?  I need extra meds,  electrolytes, allergy pills, my teddy bear?   My clients/boss/patients have a crisis in my absence which only I can solve?   (Ahhh, so this is how the lesser demons begin to gather and mumble to themselves.  They think they are going to be stowaways on your journey to Santiago!)

Those are just some of the fear factors that one will try to guard against should the looming Camino become too challenging to bear.

And what, too, about the little enthusiasms we'd like to tote along to magnify, enrich, or commemorate our journey?  What if I want to....
Take pictures?  Call my family and friends?  Sleep outside in a tent under the Milky Way?  Have an entire bottle of vino tinto to myself for a picnic lunch?  Play my guitar in the evenings?  Write in my journal or sketch the scenery?  (Our personal muses dance in our heads, joyfully begging to be carried along the Way!)

So I am coming up against some hard decisions!  And while I am in the final throes of packing for the Camino, they are also reality checks, particularly since I have experimented with hauling some of my tidy but tangible fears and joys on my person in the form of the ubiquitous backpack during a practice hike or two.  I have begun to understand viscerally and precisely what those fears and joys weigh....in kilograms!

 Many of us may not be able to bear to shed these things which weigh us down like so many inessential appendages....that is, until we have dragged them on our backs halfway up into the Pyrenees mountains.  I imagine that after that first long day of slogging ascent one might begin to balance the desire for security very harshly against a quickly growing desire for freedom.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Surprise Ball

Certainly, you are called, and just as certainly you are answering this call.  What awaits you, what beckons to you, what makes this an extraordinary adventure is still in the process of unravelling, revealing treasures as they surface in the very process of the unravelling, much like the crepe "surprise ball" party favors which so delighted you as a child.   Do you remember your delight when the trinkets emerged one by one, the crepe paper falling away in great colorful heaps?  Such fun!  Getting to the center of the ball of surprises was not so important--the journey to the center was all!  Just so, this journey will unfold its treasures to you along the Way as the road unravels like a crepe paper band behind and before you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Camino Bear

2012-07-07 18.39.59 by Alice Despard
2012-07-07 18.39.59, a photo by Alice Despard on Flickr.
When we made the decision to walk the Camino de Santiago six months ago, it came to me that we needed a bank to save our pennies for this venture.  At the time, Stuart was working on a papier mache project which was becoming this bear head.  It had an egg carton mouth, tennis balls for a snout and ears, and a post-modern color scheme festooning him in muted stripes.  I loved it and requested that he make it into a bank with slots for us to deposit money. So he put holes in the ears and the mouth, and secured the bottom with a base and perforated hatch, and we began to roll up bills and put them in his ears.
I found a purple velvet box upon which to display him, and placed Camino Bear prominently in our dining room; a shrine representing our aspirations toward pilgrimage.
Small objects come and go at this shrine--a small empty journal, a scalloped book mark, a shiny blue carabiner--each endowed with a meaning.   Shrines are amazing portals into the imaginal realms, and this shrine is helping me to wrap my spirit around what lies ahead in Spain.  Here, through this bear, there is communication with the hidden realms and the powers of manifestation run strong through the symbolic intention of penny-gathering.