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Month: June, 2018

Camino – final weeks

Final part of the Camino written from my laptop, while I’m back home.

I did write this, but my phone crashed, and I lost the last part of my blog, so here goes. “When you say nothing at all” is Playing…


Right, so the last part of my blog ends with my rest day in Estella, I then walked to Los Arcos. I had a brilliant evening here, I met a group on the road and zoned out with them that evening. At one point a Dutch guy told a story about the church bells in Holland. He said they ring and he hummed a very slow version of a Christmas carol, we all caught on pretty soon and sang the carol out loud. One of the guys sat back “no, it’s April, no f*ck, shut the f*ck up” but we laughed and finished singing while the rest of the tables in the restaurant watched us. I enjoyed this group, but they had been walking together since day one, they had bonded, and I was new and so I made my own way the next night.

The next night I spent in Viana (pronounced Biana). I saw the group from the previous night, but I had dinner alone. I was rather hungry, but it was siesta and the only open place was the restaurant in the fancy hotel. I ordered tapas here, it was all they had, the already prepared tapas was available. I ordered a glass of wine and tapas and then more tapas, it’s really small and I was actually hungry.

I chatted with the rather cute waiter, my Spanish now at an acceptable level to comprehend if the other party spoke slowly. Justin Bieber’s “despacito” song kept playing in my mind, but not only mine. Pretty much every pilgrim had it playing mentally sometimes. Anyway, the cute waiter said something very quickly, I tried to remember how to say slowly. I put my fingers to my temple, saying “Justin Bieber. Despacito. Que?!” (Justin Bieber. Slowly. What?!) he laughed for an entire minute before saying what he wanted to say and pouring me another glass of wine.

Not sure where, I think in Viana I took a bus to Logrono and then to Burgos. I was behind on time and needed to skip a part of the trail. I didn’t check anything except the number of days I had to get to Santiago, others might have checked where the most beautiful landscape was or what the weather on different parts of the trail would be like, I did not. I counted the days and walked from Burgos.

When I arrived in Burgos with the bus, I hadn’t yet booked a bed, I was thirsty, in need to a toilet and perhaps a snack. I walked out of the bus station. On my right there was a bright orange sign saying “hostel”, on my left a faded blue sign read “bar” (this means café in Spain). If I got something to drink first the hostel might sell out, if I went to the bar I would use the loo. If I kept standing here I’d block the door. I walked right, ordered a coffee and went upstairs to the loo. Then I went to the hostel, yeah, they had a bed for me and after that I went to explore Burgos.

It was workers day; the cathedral was closed. It was a public holiday, only the touristy places were open. I checked for a bookstore on google maps, having finished Up on the bus. The bookstore had an English shelf. I picked up one of the thinnest books, In Search of Us by Ava Dellaira. I ended up fascinated by the story, falling in love with James, and thoroughly enjoying the tale.

I sat down chocolate and churros for the first time. The waitress placed a cup of thick hot chocolate and a plate of deep-fried churros in front of me, she spoke no English, but with broken Spanish and hand gestures I asked how I was to eat what I had ordered. She explained that I dip the churros into the chocolate and then eat it, I don’t drink the chocolate. It was delicious.

The following day I walked to Hornillos del Camino. The weather was cold, icy cold and the wind strong. I put on my gloves and then struggled to carry my stick my gloves making it slippery, but my fingers were icy without the gloves. I kept walking through the monotonous landscape of the Meseta. It didn’t feel as though I was moving at all. A sign appeared saying the next town was 5km away, then 2km, then I realized I was hungry and thirsty, the wind was annoying, and it wouldn’t be pleasant to sit down next to the road. Yet, I had water and a sandwich in my pack. The next sign said 500m, but I couldn’t see anything. Alright, if I couldn’t see the next village at the top of the hill in front I would pause next to the trail. And then something came into sight, a dome? A dome! A church, next to which there was a house and then there was the little village nestled in the small valley between the low hills.

The dip was steep and the lady walking ahead of me looked momentarily ridiculous until I realized what she was doing. She wasn’t’ walking the steep descent in a straight line. She walked a zig-zag trail down, steadying herself against the stone wall on the one side and the brick all on the other. I bent my legs and made my own descent. There was a café which was overly crowded. Due to the abysmal weather nobody was sitting outside, and all the pilgrims were crammed into the small indoor area. I went to the loo and saw that the dining room was completely empty.

I ordered a coffee and carried it to the dining room. I took out my book and started reading. I defrosted enough while drinking my coffee that when I returned my cup to the counter my mind registered the sign saying “chocolate and churros” I ordered this and a rum, straight up.

It was lovely, sitting there, hiding from the cold, enjoying a drink and something wintery and warming. After an hour I folded down the corner of my book, squashed it in behind my water bottle and went back to the reality of the trail.

I arrived at the village with my hostel. I walked into the first place, they had a loo. The man behind the counter looked at me, “primo, donde bango?” (first, where toilet?) he pointed to the left. After that I bought a 2L bottle of water. I was still really cold as I walked out and looked up, my hostel was right in front of me.

I checked in, took of my boots and crawled under my comforter. I set a 30-minute alarm on my phone and didn’t move until it went off. The hostel had a real wood-burning fire going and I thought about the lyrics “oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside is so delightful, let it snow, let it –” no, please no snow! For breakfast the next day I had a wonderful ham and goats cheese omelette and I ordered a sandwich for the road. I later found out it also contained goats cheese.

The next night I stayed in Castrojeriz, on the way I arrived at a dilapidated cathedral. I really wanted to rest, but there didn’t seem to be anything here except for the cathedral… and music? I followed the music and found a café. I sat down with a coffee and rested my body.

That night I unpacked my entire pack, questioning everything I still had with me. I donated quite a few things in the give and take basket. I rummaged through it to see if there was anything I needed.

I laced up my boots and was intending to walk to Fromista, my little toe had some blisters on it. If I kept moving it was a dull pain, once I’d rested, cooled down and started up again it throbbed horribly. But I kept walking. After breakfast my toe gave a nasty twinge, and I decided to ask for advice in a pharmacy in Fromista. I texted Mum and asked her to Google about popping blisters. Then I sat down, I was now not walking, but hobbling and my other muscles were starting to complain.

According to Google maps the next town was 1h 10m away, the place I had just left and could still see was 37m back. I looked ahead of me and saw a hill. I was turning back. I would walk the flat stretch back and just sleep here. On my way back, a tractor passed me. I waved for help and the driver and his wife nodded, gesturing me out of the way as they drove passed me and stopped. The lady reminded me of Dobby the House elf, she barely reached my chest.

I tapped my right leg saying “dolor” (pain) she rambled on in Spanish something about the town not having medical care and if I needed medicine I shouldn’t go back because there was no doctor and no pharmacy. I didn’t know how to say rest in Spanish, so I ended up saying “relax” this satisfied her, and I hopped onto the back of the tractor where she joined me.

I went to a café, carrying with me a needle and some antibiotic cream. I ordered two shots of vodka. I used one of them to sterilize the needle and drank a sip from the other. I got to work, sticking the needle into the blisters and finally draining my shot as the needle made painful contact with the raw flesh below.

The bloke who owned the hostel gave me a ride to the next stop the following morning, this way I could rest, but I didn’t lose more time on the trail. The name is written Villalcazar and pronounced “Biyalcathar” which created some confusion. I had single room here for a change and I loved it.

I sat outside in the town square watching the pilgrims arrive, some stopping for a coffee before continuing, some merely passing by, others happy to have reached their destination. I had lunch with a beautiful boy from South America, Zac.

After a lovely rest I continued with the trail. I was yet again out of cash. The Meseta stretching relentlessly on ahead of me. I walked and walked, someone mentioned it was a 17km stretch with nothing in it. I had booked a bed in the next village and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Odd snippets of songs playing in my mind, when I started walking I thought of the film, Elizabeth Town and of the song which played when the film journey started. At once, Elton John’s voice filled my head “from this day on I own my father’s gun…”

Elton John then meant that I thought of “the trail we blaze” and then “without question”. The songs played in my mind, then snippets from the Harry Potter audiobooks and random lines from the FRIENDS series. Odd memories, like the time I had studied for the wrong test back in the sixths grade and then the trail. The trail was beautiful, the landscape gorgeous despite being monotonous.

Where was the next village? I kept walking, “all of these lines across my face, tell you the story of where I’ve been … all of these stories don’t mean anything if you’ve got no one to tell them to, it’s true, I was made for you” the lyrics repeated in my mind. They had used this song for a car ad back in SA. Was it true? Did stories mean nothing if you couldn’t share them? I don’t think so, but then again maybe I’m wrong?

I wasn’t wearing sunscreen and there was no shade, just a continuing gravel road to follow. I wanted to stop, I couldn’t see the road ahead. Perhaps it turned or dipped or – is that a tower? I had reached civilization at last.  The road dipped slightly and between the two very low hills was, well, not a town, but a collection of houses. I was out of cash again and found only one place willing to accept credit cards. The waiter touched my ass, but I came back for breakfast, being unable to go anywhere else.

I stayed in a place called Sahagun that evening and continued the next day. My blisters had been fine, but they now reminded me of their existence. I sat down on a bench along The Way and two pilgrims passed me by on horseback. A car slowed to watch the horses and I waved at the lady driving it calling out “can I get a ride?”. She was a middle-aged woman from England and dropped me off in El Burgo. At the café I asked the waitress to call me a taxi and get me to Leon a day earlier.

I needed a new book, I needed small socks to prevent new blisters, I needed many things which only a big city could provide. My heart missed London as I checked into Hostel Covent Garden.

To my utter surprise that evening I ran into the two Canadian ladies I had met while resting my twisted ankle back in Orisson. I was standing at an ATM and I looked to my right, “Chris?” “whazzup?!” said the blue-eyed pretty boy from the west coast of America who had sung Christmas carols with me in Los Arcos!

I didn’t have dinner this evening as I was still doing the 5:2 diet. The big city vibe felt harsh. After quiet days and small towns, all the vibrant-ness of the city felt overwhelming. The hostel had a hot shower and I enjoyed the feeling of the water cleansing me.

The next day I walked through the outskirts of Leon, the nice city centre turning into residential areas and then car dealerships and mechanics and furniture stores. I kept walking losing track of time. I walked into a café and ordered food and a shot. The waiter looked at me with a slight smirk. And I looked at the clock, it wasn’t lunch time it was 9:30. I blinked, the busy energy of the city had made it feel as though much more time had passed.

I didn’t feel as thought I had left Leon when I arrived at my next stop, La Virgen del Camino. The outskirts of Leon seem to morph into the next village and I sat down at a café. I ordered a hamburger, the waiter asked me what kind I wanted, and I said “tu favorito” (your favourite) it was so good!

My afternoons now had a rhythm. After arriving at a place, I set a 30minute alarm and lay down, after “waking up” I would take a shower, change into my dress (if it was warm enough) or some clean clothes. Then I would do laundry and head to a café. I lived on red wine. I sometimes ordered a bottle of red (if it didn’t come with the meal) and zoned out at the café. I tried to move as little as possible in the afternoon. I would sip my wine and read my book and talk to other pilgrims and blog and people watch until it was time to order dinner.

Every morning my feet seemed to have recovered, but my left shoulder hurt. It would start twinging earlier every day until it wouldn’t stop hurting at the airport when I was heading back.

Can’t remember where this happened, but it was before Hospital del Orbigo. My feet were tired, and I walked into an albergue, they had a bed and I unbuckled my pack before dropping down into a seat. I booked two nights, my body needed a rest.

The next morning, I woke up and vacated the room, so the girl had time to clean the other beds in the dorm before the next pilgrims arrived. The first laundry of the day was drying in the slight breeze. As I walked out of the room to the loo, my sleeping mask pushed up into my hair, wearing yesterday’s dirty t-shirt and my underwear, the lady who owns the hostel looked up and smiled “buenas dias, guapa” (good morning, pretty girl) “I like it here I thought” as I returned to my room to get dressed.

That evening I sat next to a man from France and a group of Koreans. I got lectured about elegance by the French man and learned how to say cheers in Korean. I was amazed, we spoke English and French and Korean and we didn’t feel isolated. My throat was starting to hurt.

Before going to bed I rummaged through my bag and extracted the little box containing antibiotics. I took two, but still woke up with a horribly sore throat. I checked Google maps, there was a pharmacy in the next village. I had antibiotics, but nothing else. I walked to Hospital de Orbigo. It was Sunday, and everything was closed.

I booked a single room for the night; the village was so cheap I could afford it. The door didn’t have a lock and during the night I could hear the man in the next room snoring.

The lady at the pharmacy spoke English when I got there the next day and gave me what I needed. I waited at the bus stop hoping to make up for lost time, but the other pilgrim standing there said she had been waiting for the bus for 2 hours. We chatted for a few minutes and decided to share a taxi to Astorga.

I was dropped at the train station and she went to the city centre. I just refused to walk while taking antibiotics. I got a train to Ponferrada and again I got a single room. I stared at it, it hadn’t cost me more then the previous night, but I was looking at a room with two beds, a tv, a private bathroom – this meant a shower as hot and as long as I wanted. In shared bathrooms, I always respect that other people also want to have a warm shower at least.

I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower on my phone’s Netflix. I walked to the nearest place that got good reviews on Google Maps and had lunch, I came back here for dinner and asked the waiter to bring me his favourite, just no blood sausage. He had a glint in his eyes as he talked me through what I would be eating. I ended up having an octopus started, turkey and cheese with salad for the main course and ice cream cake for desert. As usual there was a bottle of red wine on the table and a basket of gorgeous bread.

I wanted to be back on the trail! I took my last antibiotics and closed the blinds, I slept beautifully and started walking. I had started drinking a shot early-ish in the day. I spoke to a British guy about this and he explained that alcohol opened your arteries, so if you want your blood to start moving it helps. The American hikers I met carried a flask with them thinking this totally normal.

I walked into a café and ordered a shot, the elderly lady behind the counter made me think of professor McGonagall giving me a stern disapproving look before pouring my shot.

That night was wonderful, I walked to Pereje and met two American hikers and a Spanish guy from Madrid. I had a good evening with them. This was the bonfire night. After dinner the four of us and the big Spanish group headed back to the only hostel in the town carrying with us the wine and beers we hadn’t finished at dinner. We were singing “Buen Camino” based on the Despacito melody, I had a bottle of wine in one hand and hooked in to the Spanish guy’s arm and the group made its way happily back to the hostel.

We made a lovely bonfire and later the group decided that more wine would be good. I said I’d go and the Spanish guy offered to help me carry. We walked back to the only restaurant in the village. The proprietor and the Spanish guy talked for what seemed a long time, finally the crucial part was translated “there’s no more wine” I blinked at the man behind the counter and he walked into the back, he came back with one bottle and 4 beers. They had obviously planned on providing for the pilgrims during dinner, but nothing more. We literally drank the town dry that evening.

I sat next to the Spanish guy closing my eyes, my body still recovering. One of the American guys suggested I go to bed, but I was having fun sitting between people.

I arrived at O Cebreiro the next afternoon and checked into the municipal albergue, glad they still had a bed and to my pleasant surprise I found the big Spanish group, the Spanish guy from Madrid and the two American’s there as well. One of the American guys hadn’t been able to get a bed and I snuck him in later, he slept in his sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of my bed.

Earlier that evening we had hiked up one of the hills with a bottle of traditional Spanish coffee liquor to watch the sunset with a Korean guy. The American guy turned on a south African song I had never heard of “I fink you’re freeky and I like you a lot” they liked it I thought it cringe worthy.

But then the three of us started dancing and it didn’t matter that it was good or bad or that we had blisters, we had walked here and had shared this and were watching a glorious scene and we were together today and the music changed and the guy sang “jump, motherf*cker, jump” and we jumped, waving our fists in the air and then it was over and we laughed and once we started it was hard to stop.

The other American guy came to join us later, when we saw him we changed the Buen Camino song based on the Despacito melody to “Hola Luka, hola luka” singing until he joined us. We sipped the coffee liquor out of a shared up and we talked and watched the sun and then I realized it was 9pm and I was hungry. I left them to their own devices and headed for dinner.

I saw the Spanish guy the next day in Triacastella, but he was more comfortable speaking Spanish and was sitting with the Spanish group. They were friendly to me, but I couldn’t understand them, and I went for dinner alone. Chatting with a mother and son from Denmark who were doing the Camino together.

On my way to Sarria I saw a Dutch guy I had met a while ago walking with his girlfriend, whom I hadn’t been introduced to. They walked together as though they had decided to wlak the Camino together and not like two strangers who had met on the say I watched them and into my mind came Fiddler on the roof “they look so natural together…” which was randomly followed by The Turtles singing “I can’t see me loving no body but you for all my life…” I thought of Beth saying she understood why I didn’t walk with my headphones and I chuckled as I kept walking.

I hadn’t planned on staying in Sarria, but when I arrived there I didn’t want to walk any further, I could have if there was no bed, but I just didn’t want to. I walked into the first hostel and asked for a bed, no they only had single rooms left. I took it my feet were hurting and my shoulder throbbing.

I now had blisters between my big toe and the next, wearing my comfy flipflops hurt sometimes. I met a Camino tour guide and stared at him. “Can’t they just follow the yellow arrows?” I asked, the Camino is an easy, well-marked trail. Who needs a guide here? He said, “Camino is business”. He books the hotels (not dorm beds), arranges for luggage to be transported, though doing this yourself is easy, points out the good restaurants in the town. It’s his job, so despite me wanting to laugh we had a good time each of us enjoying an ice cream.

If I could get to Santiago by Wednesday 12h I would see the amazing Botafumeiro ceremony, held only 7 times a year. Ok, I’ll try, I took a taxi to Ferreiros which was 10km away, then I had to walk 25km each day and I would be there. Somewhere this logic stopped making sense and I arrived in Santiago Thursday afternoon unable to skip anymore of the trail.

As I entered Portomarin I saw the American guy who had slept at the foot of my bed a few days ago. He was shirtless and after I hugged him I realized he was … “why are you wet?” “I jumped in” he said as two other pilgrims joined us. “You what?” “I jumped into the middle” he said pointing at the massive river behind me. One of the other hikers who had joined us asked “did you swim out?” my friend looked at him slightly amused, but I answered, “What? Do you think Neptune pushed him out?” my friend now looked at me “Neptune? The planet?” “no, the god of the sea?” “I thought that’s Poseidon” this is when the fourth hiker, a Spanish speaker chimed in adding in Spanish that Neptune and Poseidon were the same gods belonging to different mythologies.

Eventually we all went our separate ways and as I passed an ATM I paused, I still had cash, but I had now learned how annoying it could be.

A few days later I stayed in Rabadiso. I took a shower washing my hair for a change and texting a German girl I had met on the trail we exchanged a few texts and then I boasted “I have clean hair” to which she replied “I can see Santiago” now there was no way for me to compete. I’d gladly have dirty hair and a view of Santiago, or would I? I liked the trail I was getting closer to my goal, but I wasn’t sure I wanted it to end just yet. I spent a fun evening chatting with an elder British gentleman.

The next night I stayed in a place called Pedrouzo, the trail was forest-like. Every day I walked among trees enjoying the shade. I had bought a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower back in Ponferrada, when I wasn’t walking or chatting I would read or sit in silence. I stick clicked as I walked. Every time I saw a Camino sigh, I would double click it. Click-click on stone, crunch-crunch on the gravel thunk-crunch as I walked over a wooden bridge onto a gravel road.

Eventually there was a collection of red roof tops in the distance, Santiago? I checked google maps, I was an hour from Santiago, so yes, those rooftops must belong to the city which was my destiny, the place I had walked to for the passed 5 weeks. I was finally here! In my head I heard David Bowie singing “I, I will be King, And you, you will be Queen … we can be heroes just for one day” arriving in Santiago would make you a hero just for a day. I had done it, climbed the Pyrenees and had my ass touched by a weird waiter and danced on the hills with other pilgrims and had drunk red wine and ate octopus and learned Spanish and rode on the back of a tractor and walked 800km to the very end.

I checked into my hostel, my shoulder aching, I had intended arriving at the cathedral wearing my hiking clothes and my pack, but my shoulder hurt. I put down my pack and took a shower then I headed for the Cathedral, here I knelt at the grave of St. James. I had made it. I was in Santiago de Compostella (St. James of the field of stars).


Life changes & plotholes

Many stories I have been following suddenly seem to contain giant plot holes. Authors add life changes for the characters, but don’t really describe the effect. The authors never lived through drastic life changes and so they don’t really know how it feels to adapt  to an entirely new life or to live very free or in solitude or any of the things they try to convey.

In Twilight, Bella goes from a human girl who loves to cook to a Vampire who never misses cooking. She just automatically adapts, I get the feeling that Stephany Meyer never adapted to a new lifestyle.

In Bunheads, the main character is meant to be this free person who accedentally didn’t finish high school because she went traveling and got distracted and then ended up dancing as a show girl in Vegas. Now one of the girls in the village this showgirl is living in doesn’t want to move  away and instead of acting according to her craze free persnoality and telling the girl to leave and experience life, she just helps her to stay in this tiny little village. Also in Buheads one of the characters breaks up with her boyfrined after 7 or 8 years. This happens early in the season, but she never freaks out or cries or misses him or anything.

Then I watched Me Before You. I could feel the author had traveled and lived, she had experienced change and so she could describe it’s efffects accuretaly. At the end of the movie when the letter is read, the sentence “you’ll be sitting on one of those chairs that never sit quite level on the pavemen. I hope it’s still sunny” it made me feel I am in Paris, it was a tiny piece of info, but it added real-ness.

I have lived in many lifestyles, traveled to many countries and suddenly these small things skipped or added to stories become really noticible to me atleast.


Camino – first half

Conveyer belt part of the journey

I was picked up at midnight, Disney princess style and traveled for 11hours until I arrived in Madrid airport and, after losing my taxi driver and myself, I finally found my room.

I struggled a little to find my way around to a cellphone store and finally got a working SIM card so after that I’ve had Google maps and haven’t lost myself again.

I went to bed before 8 that first night exhausted by the day’s journey. The next morning only one fact was lodged in my mind – I had a bus at 10:45. I packed my backpack and ventured out for breakfast. I didn’t understand one word of the menu and ordered the only thing I recognized from another pilgrim’s blog tortilla de patatas (a potato omelette for lack of a better description)

I read Jojo Moyes on the bus and ripped out the first 140pages of the book once I got to Pamplona. I had lost track of time and days, just checking every step as I got to it. I checked my phone for the time telling myself regularly. It was 4pm as I kept trying to anchor myself in the new time zone.

In Pamplona there was a definite feeling of the Pilgrimage. I had arrived by bus, but Pamplona is on the Camino trail, so the others in the hostel had come after a day of hard walking and brought that energy with them.

I shared a laundry machine with two other hikers splitting the cost and having fresh clothes finally. This morning I woke up as the other hikers were leaving and smelled slightly burned toast as they opened and closed the dormitory door. I felt vaguely wrong-footed not being on the trail and then I suddenly realized that this was my last morning of sleeping in for a while tomorrow morning I would be on the trail. I sat bolt up right. I had totally lost track of time just living from bus to bus – tomorrow it would finally start. I snuggled back under my duvet and slept for another hour…

I also had some slightly burned toast for breakfast … and here I am waiting for lunch time, writing my blog, and then another bus.

Traveling with a mini keyboard that connects to my cellphone, so I can document my journey.


Camino part 2

I got to St. Jean Pied de Port, I was finally at the start! My bus drove passed my hostel and I froze trying to memorize the route from the bus station to the hostel. My phone wasn’t working, I had a Spanish SIM card with data and I was in France! I grabbed my bag and retraced the route arriving at a hostel called Gite Compostella. A nice house which has been adapted for a hostel. On the tiny patio there were 2 or 3 laundry drying racks. When I got to my pack I had lost my water bottle along the way. I went into town to get my Camino passport and a new water bottle.

The town was picturesque. Small cobbled stone streets filled with stores attempting to sell stuff to pilgrims. I found a water bottle with a clip which I could attach and then never lose it again.

My pack was and is still rather unfamiliar to me, so I unpacked it entirely every time I wanted something. Initially I had stashed my jacket at the bottom thinking I’d only remove it occasionally if it happened to be cold. I soon changed the order, being in the mountains during spring was too unpredictable.

I spent an awful lot of time packing my pack, suddenly remembering I had laundry drying outside and then unpacking and reorganizing and repacking until all my stuff fit.

I went into a cafe and ordered a coffee and a sandwich for the road. “Un sandwich, sil vous plait” I said almost surprised that I could remember some of my self-taught French. “Jambon?” (ham) the lady asked, “et fromage” I said after a pause, her words seemed to take time to register and make sense. “Burre?” (butter) she asked but I heard “bare” no I thought I’d like some butter or olive oil or something. After another beat we understood each other, “oui”. I left after a lovely strong coffee with a sandwich the size of half a baguette sticking out of the side of my pack next to my towel.

I was wearing long pants and a t-shirt early in the mornings while hiking in the foot hills of the Pyrenees mountains. I paused, took off my pack and reorganized. I zipped off the bottom part of my trouser legs and stashed them in my pack, thus turning my pants into shorts. I also put on the vividly pink fluffy inside part of my jacket and kept going.

The trail sloped up and up and up, I looked up and saw a man walking ahead of me, he’s calves also straining as he hiked up the mountain. I was climbing up a mountain which I hadn’t expected, I had only read that the first two days of the trail are the hardest. Soon the only sound I could hear was my own heavy breathing. If I stood still, then I experienced silence.

I walked passed amazing views and realized I was really hungry. I sat down on the first reasonable bolder I could find and had half of my sandwich. The view was spectacularly beautiful. Up, up, up we all walked, the paved road changing into a dirt road which became a muddy trail before turning rocky. I paused again, and again trying to catch my breath. Finally, at a level spot I sat down on a log. I checked the time on my phone, I would sit still for 5minutes before continuing. I had the rest of my sandwich, I felt a lot better and thought that this was a good idea but after walking for 30seconds I was back to breathing like I’d never stopped. At some point I arrived at a water fountain. I drained my entire water bottle and refilled it. I stared in disbelief as some hikers just emptied their “old water” onto the grass and refilled the bottles. I was parched.

Later I chatted with a personal trainer who said you shouldn’t sit down for a rest, just slow your pace. The thing is, your body takes time to get your heart rate up and when you sit down you cool down, so when you start again it takes more energy to get your muscles warm and your heart rate up again.

Suddenly, Orison was in front of me. Orison is what Cheryl Strayed might have referred to as “an outpost of civilization”. It’s nothing more than a hostel and a restaurant with a roaring trade. Here part way up the mountain you get to rest, buy a cup of coffee, some juice, fill up your water bottle buy food. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich and a beer – I was done for the day even though it was only 11am and I had left my paperback book in my hostel that morning. Now the idea of carrying a light book didn’t seem so bad, but that morning I had no idea what the trail would be like and my bag had seemed too full already.

Every half hour a new batch of pilgrims would arrive. Me and some of the others were spending the night in Orison, but the others continued to Roncesvalles another 5-hour hike away.

I walked back to my hostel room, 800m before Orison, and at the gate I slipped as my ankle gave way and I landed hard on my knee with the weight of my pack crashing down on me. “Aaaah!” I exclaimed in surprise. I remembered the video of a guy who taught how to self-rescue when you fall through ice, give your body a moment to get over the shock, don’t act immediately he said. I adjusted my position into a sitting one. I sat there for a few minutes until the shock passed and I could think. I rested my weight on my scraped knee and my good ankle, pulling myself up with the help of my walking stick.

I had my lunch sandwich outside the hostel watching the mountains. After a lovely nap I had a cold shower and did my laundry. It’s usually impossible to stay in one place more than one night, but I told them that I had hurt myself and they said they’d help me somehow.

During the night I went to the bathroom my knee and my ankle both stiff as I climbed the stairs. How was I going to hike the trail if I couldn’t climb one floor of stairs? Would I have to go back home after only one day on the trail?

This morning I packed up and walked back to Orison, my ankle not hurting but not feeling “right”. I had my breakfast with another pilgrim who was a question asking person which I found rather tiring and pointless. I don’t think he cared at all what I said. But each question was followed by another.

I would be staying over near Orison another night which had two perks, I’d rest my ankle and the nosy pilgrim would head on without me.

I sat down at a table and fiddled around. It was a cold misty day outside, every batch of hikers arriving at Orison looked wet, it wasn’t raining, but the fog left them covered in droplets of water and everyone was attempting to pull a waterproof cover over their backpacks to keep the content dry. Since most of them had only started walking this morning, it didn’t happen naturally, it looked like a struggle. I was joined at my table by an elderly lady who continued her hike after a cup of coffee. Then a couple of really chubby girls who seemed to have bitten off more than they can chew. They left for their rooms soon after finishing their snack. After that a Frenchman sat down. We were polite as far as my limited French allowed us to be but mostly we sat in silence. He had a beer and a large plate of food while I typed and had another ham and cheese sandwich.

It’s now 1pm and I am surrounded by hikers who are flushed with their success of completing the first part of their journey while I am passing time waiting for a miracle to heal my ankle and partly wishing I was on the trail and minorly happy I’m not hiking in fog with a 10m visibility.


Camino part 3

Life on the Camino seems to contain so many stories

Yesterday I rested at Orison and by 3pm I got a free lift back to a hostel just outside St. Jean de port (a taxi would have cost almost 50 euro) – spent the night with an English lady from Oxford (I liked the fudge near Queen’s lane I said and she laughed “oh you went into the fudge shop?, knowing exactly where I had walked), a French couple traveling with their 14-year-old and two ladies from Canada.

Orison only accepted cash, which I didn’t expect. I ran out of money by lunch yesterday. I expected to be able to pay the hostel with a credit card, but they didn’t have a machine. The British lady came to my rescue, placing 40euros on the counter, paying for my bed, dinner, breakfast and a lunch sandwich for the next day. I blinked at her, said thank you and then added her on WhatsApp. I paid her back a few weeks later via PayPal, but she saved me that evening. I did draw money, more than usual, when I eventually found an ATM.

She also had medical training and I had her take a look at my ankle and my knee. “No, it’s not painful” “yes, it’s a little stiff” “can you wiggle all your toes?” nerve damage hadn’t even occurred to me, I tried, “yes, but I’m guessing I’m not climbing the rest of the mountain tomorrow?” “no, but if you can walk you can do the rest”.

In the morning the owner of the hostel gave me a lift to St. Jean where a transport would pick me up and I would be dropped off on the other side of the mountain where the easier part of the trail begins.

Everybody I have met thus far has been kind; while walking through a village today, I accidentally left the trail and walked into the village, an elderly Spanish lady directed me back onto the trail out of sheer kindness.

The only other pilgrim taking the transport over the mountain was an overly chatty and very excited new pilgrim who just would not stop talking the entire hour I spent with her. She would ask questions but seem insincere. She talked about her pack, her experiences in a non-stop flow of adrenaline induced excitement without seeming to care whether the driver or I was interested – perhaps just in my mind but still, I was glad to part ways.

I had understood I was staying in Roncesvalles, so when I checked Google maps and found I had 6km to walk I was rather surprised but pleased. It was a test run for my ankle and I was happy being back on the trail, though I reminded myself to check the distances of the hostels and not add an extra 6km to my day accidentally again.

I hadn’t dressed for hiking and after about 10minuts on the trail I realized I was wearing my soft bra, not something for the trail. I extracted my sport bra, looked around. I could hear cars, but the trees were hiding me. I put on the dri-fit Nike bra, manoeuvred myself out of the flimsy one and then put on my t-shirt again. Not long after that I remembered water and food. I hadn’t planned on hiking. I had a little water left in my bottle, but no food. I continued thinking I’d never do this again and then stopping at the first form of civilization I found. Stocking up just in case.

At some point there was a downward slope, I took off my backpack and my water bottle, which I had forgotten to clip on rolled down “no no no!” I started but it just rolled to a stop next to a bush and I vowed to clip it onto me bag every time after that.

I started typing this part of the blog last night but was joined by a Frenchman who spoke no English and later on by a Spanish chef and so blogging was paused. Even though we spoke 3 different languages and came from 3 different countries, magic happened, and we chatted and had dinner together and enjoyed each other’s company and stories. This didn’t always happen, sometimes you felt lonely or conversation was laboursome. You couldn’t communicate despite the person understanding English and you being able to speak French/ Italian/ Afrikaans (if they were Dutch)/ Spanish and the conversation would die away, and other nights magic happened, and we communicated and loved and laughed and shared beyond all the barriers or culture and age and language and whatever.

Today I got up in a single room and enjoyed packing without worrying I might wake someone. I had  slept fitfully but felt rested when I woke. I also found an English book at my hostel, Up by Patricia Ellis Her. When I took a shower, I found what I had read about, other pilgrims had left some cosmetics behind and I topped up my shampoo and conditioner before going on.

For breakfast I had to wait 10minutes for a cafe to open, I ordered a black coffee to start with, a sandwich with mozzarella, lettuce and tomato for the road and a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon on toast for breakfast.

A thin mist hung over the trees. As I understood it, I had left most of the forest and the worst part of the mountain decent behind when I took my bus journey to Roncesvalles. Today I didn’t think I wanted to know what “the worst part” had looked like the previous day. The trail I was descending was treacherous in places.

To avoid erosion those taking care of the trail had added rocks, which usually helped but, in some places, it had been trodden to gravel in others I stepped on lose stones. Then there was the decent on rocks, hard under my feet and causing my toes to complain.

The trail was beautiful. At one point I was plunged into a world of soft blight lime color. The trail was beautiful, but I took my time, descending slowly and due to this I was regularly passed by surer footed speedy hikers.

If I stopped moving the silence would be an amazing sound, but usually I would hear my own footsteps or my breathing in my ears.

On my way from Pamplona to St. Jean the bus had passed a truck next to the road where I saw many pilgrims sitting next to their packs taking a break; when I went to get my pilgrim passport in St Jean I was handed a map and the lady marked Food Truck on it as a point to stop and refill my water bottle. On my guide book app read about the basket of underwear next to the food truck. Today, after a long walk through the trees I found myself entering a clearing and then crossing a tar road across which was the food truck. I ordered Sangria for 1 euro (cheap) and sat down eating my sandwich, resting my feet from the trail and my shoulders from my pack.

An explanation of the basket of (clean) underwear next to the food truck: It was meant as a give and take basket for pilgrims. A lady discarded some uncomfy underwear there, fell in love and got married on the Camino – which lead to a tradition of leaving underwear in the basket, which now contains a sign reading “magic happens” in multiple languages.

I started hiking this morning at 8:30, after my breakfast and by 13:30 I was in my next hostel in Zubiri. I took a shower, hung my laundry, put on my dress and headed to a cafe where I’m sitting while typing this. I ordered the pilgrims menu which was said to come with water and wine. A basket of bread was placed on the table followed by a large jug of water and an entire bottle of wine. I looked at it and then began to nibble the bread. The pilgrims menu was a three-course meal, salad, meat, desert.

My afternoons don’t have a decent rhythm yet, rather I try to do everything that needs to be done after arriving in a new place.


Part 4

Just some unchronological snippets of life on the Camino

On the way to Orison there were lizards, small little heat loving geckos that run along the way. These annoyed an elderly lady I met who jokingly said even the lizards move quicker than she does along the Camino.

Then in the forest part after Zubiri (day 3) there were fat 2inch long black snails with spikey bodies oozing their way up trees or along the side of the forest path. I found a patch of water in my way and pocked at it with my walking stick, the stick clicked loudly on rock.

The forest gave way to green fields and farm lands which slowly started to turn into vineyards. The lizards and the snails vanished.

Along the sandy path I found patches of mud. I used my stick again, I pocked the mud and my stick sank inches into the squelchy wet brown earth. I stared at it. It was too wide to step over I was wearing shoes with fat soles that were water resistant or water proof or something, but not entirely, if I stepped into fluid I would at some point soak my shoes. I put my weight gingerly onto my foot which was in the mud it sank down, but I jumped the rest of the mud and continued easily on my way.

In the downhill parts a fellow pilgrim had advised me to bend my knees and it helped a lot. Walking in a slightly squatted position slowed my steps and put some of the weight on my quadriceps (thighs) instead of my calves.

Btw I am currently in Estella for a rest day, eating something so delicious: I pointed and received a cup containing custard topped with cream then a doughy cakey something and finally jam, apricot jam if I’m correct.

I spoke to a man along the way who has walked many different Caminos and arrived in Santiago about 15 different times. He dismissed all the “rules” saying that he has never arrived in Santiago to find someone received a medal and a trophy for doing it “right”. For walking fast or slow enough, for booking or not booking rooms, for having carried the right amount of things, for being spontaneous or adventurous enough. There is no right way to walk the Camino, you find your own way and that’s it!

Yesterday I attempted resting for an hour during lunch. I had a long leisurely lunch with a guy I met along the way thinking it might aid my feet in carrying me further. It did not work. In fact, I think it tired me out more, starting up again after lunch was hard, I walked all the way to Estella and then refused to move the next day, despite having met a lovely girl along the way whom I hoped to spend more time with.

It’s Sunday today and I am taking a rest day, I had initially planned on a rest day every week and this was my first. I packed up my bag since it’s not possible to stay in the same hostel two nights in a row and wandered around town. One elderly Spanish lady walked up to me and pointed in the opposite direction babbling in Spanish and telling me the Camino was in the opposite direction, finally I mentioned, in broken Spanish, to say “No Camino para mi” (no Camino for me). She let me go.

I found an open bakery and set up here for a few hours. I read my book, Up, and wrote my blog on my tiny portable keyboard and relaxed entirely. Through the window I could see the first pilgrims of the day arriving in the town.


Things I’ve trashed from my bag: I had read a few packing lists for the Camino. One guy had packed a laundry line saying it took no space (It did!) and that it wasn’t heavy (true) but it was unnecessary, thus far every place I’ve stayed in had a laundry line.

Someone else had suggested a cup, I bought a metal one along with a plate. These I discarded very soon, always in the way and always clanking. My water bottle was enough, and a cafe would always wrap your sandwich for you, so a plate wasn’t crucial.

Next to go was my wash cloth. I could get clean without it. And so, I will repack my bag today, I’ve been on the trail for a week, so this is a good time to reassess everything I’ve packed. Things that seemed like a good idea, the washing line, were entirely unnecessary and kept getting in my way.

That’s it for today I guess.