Camino – first half

by marietteferreira

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.