Questions about the Camino de Santiago

Writing about the Camino is turning out to be harder than I expected.  I don’t normally get writer’s block but something has stopped me up till now.

So let me write something quick and easy tonight – right now – without worrying too much about it or trying to get it ‘right’.  I’m going to answer a few questions that people have asked me, dealing with practicalities. Let’s see what comes out.

Where did you sleep?

Camino
there were three people snoring in this room

All along the Camino there are albergues, hostels run either by the church, by the local councils, or by private individuals. The private ones are slightly more expensive but only by a few euros. Generally you could expect to sleep in an albergue for 6-8 euros a night. Your bed will be in a dormitory unless you pay extra for a smaller room. The dormitories will have anything from 6 to 30 bunk beds and the rooms can be modern, clean and light or dingy, dark and cramped. It is best to get a lower bunk especially if you tend to need the toilet in the middle of the night.

Snorers are the main problem in albergues. We are not talking here about gentle snoring but it is almost inevitable that there will be at least one incredibly loud snorting, grunting, choking, room-vibrating snorer in every dormitory you visit. So you carry ear-plugs and you try to get to sleep before they do, and you practise loving-compassion and you accept that some nights you will be tossing and turning.

HOT TIP :  push the earplugs deep into your ears

How easy is it to get vegetarian food on the Camino?

Camino food
Albergue Verdi
Camino food
San Bol Albergue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not easy in most places but the bigger cities have greater variety of food. Every day there is tortilla – a thick omelette with potato and onion. But this is often what you eat at lunch time or in a walking break. You have to find something else in the evenings or just have tapas. Many but not all albergues have kitchens but remember that if you want to cook for yourself you may have to buy excess food and leave it behind.

HOT TIP :  making friends on the Camino means that you can share cooking in the evenings so a bag of rice or pasta will do for 10 people and a new bottle of oil will be useful for everyone not just you.

The best food I had was in Albergue Verdi in Hospital de Órbigo. The volunteers who work there were professional chefs and all the food was vegetarian and often grown in the garden outside. And we had a delicious soup at the Albergue at San Bol at the beginning of the Meseta.

Was your backpack hard to carry?

Camino backpack
All I need is on my back

 

Absolutely not at all.

I am a professional lazy walker and often rely on Pep to carry things when we go out hiking. I always imagined that because I have asthma it would be too hard to also carry a heavy bag. But on the Camino I carried my 7kg pack every day and hardly ever felt it to be a burden. On the one day it was uncomfortable, someone suggested I empty and repack it. This redistribution of weight transformed it from a heavy load to a feather light friend. I loved having all my stuff with me and enjoyed feeling I was carrying my own things. This was part of the freedom I felt – all I needed was on my back.

Did you meet interesting people?

Pelegrinos
Pilgrims but not walkers on the Camino

On the first part of the Camino which we started at Pamplona, I felt quite shy about meeting people. I was with my little group and although we didn’t usually walk together we had company for lunch and at night. It took me time to get used to the easy-going chatty atmosphere of the Camino. By the time we reached Santo Domingo de la Calzada I had met a few people I felt easy with and from then on I found more and more friends.

Of course it’s easy for extroverts but don’t worry if you are more introvert, people are friendlier and more relaxed as the road winds on. I remember the couple who walked hand in hand the whole way – they were returning to walk the Camino together after meeting there the year before. I remember the woman from Peru who was carrying her father’s ashes to Finisterre because he had died before he could walk the Camino himself. There was a young shy German lad who held back from a communal dinner so I suggested we sit together because I also felt awkward at these times. Everyone started singing popular songs like Blowing in the Wind and suddenly his amazing and powerful voice rang out over the dinner table. He was a professional tenor.   I promised to sing him a song in Catalan when we next met. But we never did meet again.

Camino Food
Singing at dinner

People come and go. We all walk at different speeds and unexpected things happen. Just as you get to know and like someone, you say goodbye one day fully expecting to see them again and then, they disappear over the horizon.

HOT TIP : If you meet people you like then get their emails or Facebook details early on and don’t assume you will find them again the next day.

HOT TIP : Don’t rush getting to know people. A lot of people talk about having a Camino Family but it all takes time to settle down. It is a long walk – there’s lots of time.

What problems did you face?

Of course there are also people you don’t like too much or who you find irritating. This was one of the special things about the Camino for me. I really tried to open to everyone and to notice myself when I started judging others. When I could remember to see everyone as if they were offering me a mirror to my own personality then I felt much easier. The main people that drove me mad were those invisible unknown women who left toilet tissue along the path after they had stopped to pee and those who threw their banana skins on the edge of the road. It was possible to walk for hours while fuming about this but when I noticed myself spoiling my own day in this way, I got out my plastic gloves and a bag and began to pick up all that I could see. I became the litter warrior and it turned into one of my happiest days.

Camino Warrior
Camino Warrior

HOT TIP : Even if you think banana skins and orange peel are organic, they actually take two or three years to decompose so it is still litter and leaves a lasting blot on the beautiful landscape.  Take a bag and carry your rubbish.

I had many other problems including my encounter with a bed-bug, my blisters, and the tendinitis that eventually stopped my walk.  I felt very emotional a lot of the time and had days when I laughed, cried and sang in quick succession. In my memory though the strongest thing that stays with me is the feeling of incredible happiness to be walking, to be free, to be out in nature, and to be doing something that I have dreamt of for so many years.

Camino
What I remember is joy

 

 

 

Live from Camino

Hello friends – I hope this shows up correctly. Not so easy doing it on the phone.

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We arrived early at our albergue so for the first time I have time to write a little here about the journey so far.

I have been walking for 11 days and had one day off to rest my legs and feet and to explore Burgos. I am not sure how far I have come but it is over 200 km. We set off from Pamplona today have reached Rabé de las Calzadas, the last village before entering the mystical (or tedious depending on how you see it) Meseta.

I am looking forward to it. Flat plains mean huge skies. ‘Like a bowl’

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They forecast rain tomorrow which means I can dig out the rain cape Tiffany lent me from it’s home at the very bottom of my bag.

What has it been like so far?

Like nothing else I have ever done. It is very satisfying to walk in one direction, especially when that direction is west. The yellow signs are sometimes arrows and sometimes scallop shells and they are always there, leading you in the right direction. I imagine the people who created them like angels or guides who know the way and want to share this with us. In what other part of life do we receive this much help?

Along the way there are cafés and hostels, again as if by magic they provide us with food and a home for the night. All I need to do is walk. I can amuse myself as I wish, chatting or meditating, munching snacks, singing, listening to music, staring blankly at the path, or letting thoughts float through me.

I haven’t experienced a miracle, nor had great insights into my life but I feel lighter and happier here, just eating sleeping and walking and carrying my own things. Life is simpler and while it is not easy walking every day, it is much easier than life off the camino.

Here I know what my task is.

Someone said to me that when we prepare to walk the Camino we also pack our fears.

What fears did I pack?

I brought my Kindle to avoid times alone at night feeling awkward or lonely. It has never been used. I brought 3 inhalers and have hardly used one. But apart from that, the fears I felt before setting off have melted away with each step.

Why I want to walk the Camino de Santiago

It is a wet Wednesday evening and I am sitting wrapped in a blanket beside a log fire, wondering why on earth I decided to walk the Camino at this time of year. If it is cold and wet here then imagine how it will be up on the Atlantic side of the peninsula.  There is still snow near Roncesvalles where we hope to start.

camino de santiago
La route est dure mais je suis forte. Mon âme est sûre, la peur est morte. Je sais quoi faire avec la vie Quand toute la terre sera affranchie.

Reasons behind it

For years I have wanted to do it. I wanted to have time – a lot of time – to think and to review my life so far. I like walking and I always find that the action of putting one foot in front of the other, shifting weight from right leg to left, letting my hips loosen in their sockets, with my arms swinging by my side, this movement when repeated over and over again in a natural landscape can bring a kind of clarity in mind and spirit that is difficult to find in other ways.

I’ve read Shirley Maclaine’s book about the Camino and heard other people talk about transformations in their lives after walking it. I’ve seen the film, The Way and although this wasn’t a true representation of what it would be like, it made the idea more real.

When Bonnie was alive I looked into walking the Camino with a dog but soon realised that it would be hard – for her and for me. Many hostels don’t accept dogs and after reading Spanish Steps by Tim Moore it seems that a donkey would be more welcome along the way.

One day I will have another dog and as I can’t imagine going for a 5 week walk and leaving him behind, now is the time.

I also want to go somewhere I can practise Spanish.

Preparing

The period before setting off on the Camino is quite powerful. Remember this is not just a very long walk – it is a pilgrimage and whether you see yourself as religious or spiritual or not, something internal starts shifting, well before you set a foot on the road. There are all the preparations of backpacks and clothes and boots and sleeping bags and for a while my mind was only focused on questions like ‘should I take a raincoat or a cape?’    No room for indecision – you can’t throw everything in ‘just in case’.  Everything you take you will carry and so my fuzzy brain has had to be honed to a sharp incisive decision-making tool. This process alone has deeply unsettled me.

I gaily invited other friends to join me along the way but I was also confident that time alone would be good. I like walking alone – or preferably with a dog. Two people have had to drop out and I now have a journey which starts in company – the first week with Pep and another friend, the second week with my sister Caroline. Then, there is a huge expanse of time and space that either I will walk through by myself or I will chicken out and go back home before I finish.

‘Don’t look at the map!’

The scale of it is terrifying.  From Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella is 759 kilometers or 472 miles.

It doesn’t matter how often I repeat

1. It will be fine.  It will be more than that – it will be beautiful.

2. There are always other people around to help

3. I can stop if I want to and return another year to finish it with a friend

There is an undeniable knot of fear in my stomach almost all the time now and I have to skirt around it in order to continue preparing my bag. I don’t want other people to reassure me. I know it is normal to feel like this and probably centuries of pilgrims have felt the same way.  However most of them with better reason – there were bandits, wild dogs and wolves; they didn’t have extra-light sleeping bags or technical quick-dry trousers and iphones.

All I can think is that these people had faith and I am standing on the very edge of a great abyss. It is right in my centre where my faith should be.  My faith in myself.

camino de santiago
I can fly – I hope!

So I suppose this is why I want to walk the Camino.

I am tired of being too frightened to live fully, tired of how often I avoid something scary  rather than face it, tired of a constant niggling fear that what could go wrong, will.   So I am throwing myself on the mercies of the Camino and hoping that I will emerge stronger and able to trust myself and Life more.

That is the terrified pilgrim that I am.

There is another pilgrim inside me too.

She is looking forward to getting out there and seeing what happens next. She is not so vocal as terrified pilgrim but she is there and she is the one who has got me to this moment, a few days before setting off. She has packed my bag, researched the route, gone out on training walks. I am so glad that she is coming too and I think I can trust her to take it all in her stride.

The most important steps for me will be those first ones  I take when I am alone. If I stop before I reach Santiago de Compostela then that is fine, I only need to face this fear of walking by myself, carrying my own pack, making my own decisions and finding my own way.

Have you ever felt scared to do something but done it anyway? What helped you to face the terror and was it worth it in the end?

I will be away from my computer for the next few weeks but still in contact by phone. I hope to send photos and updates along the way. Meanwhile my interviews with people who made the decision to move to Catalunya will be posting here each week.

If you want to know how it all goes….join me on the Facebook Page or sign up to receive posts straight into your inbox.

Buen Camino!

 

Jumping bird     Photo credit: Andysam / Foter / CC BY
Romanic bridge Photo credit: alepheli / Foter / CC BY-SA 

 

The migration of birds helps me understand my life

Starlings over Marazion Marshes

I promised myself I would write here today and although it is late at night I want to keep to that promise.

Now that I have this brand new beautiful blog I feel shy about writing unless it is worthwhile, interesting, wonderful and perfect.

Impossible expectations of myself only freeze my creativity.

So here I am writing just an ordinary post, hoping at least to capture something of the moment that I am living through right now.

I am back in Cornwall yet again.

I arrived about three weeks ago and tomorrow night I leave Penzance on the sleeper train to London. On Saturday I will fly to Barcelona and then travel on by train to Granollers.

It is the first time in years that I have been back in Cornwall in November and  I have loved it.  The weather has been pretty good and I’ve been able to walk along the deserted coast path and on the empty beaches. The winter birds have arrived and the summer tourists have gone.

The roads are quiet and the streets of Penzance have been returned to the locals.

Starlings going home to roost

But I found myself aware that I am no longer a local.   I am not a tourist but am definitely a visitor. Some people in my village of Lamorna didn’t recognise me.  Others are surprised to see me at this time of year and every day someone is asking,  ” How long are you here this time?”  and  “When do you go off again?”         It is perfectly natural for people to want to know these things.  There is something disturbing about someone who comes and goes, someone who used to live here and be part of the fabric of life but who suddenly upped and went off to live in Spain.  I hear an element of accusation in the questions, a hint of annoyance as if I decided to go because Cornwall wasn’t good enough for me.

Being a migrant means I am expected at certain times of the year and am seen as a strange occurance at others.  As if I have flown off course.

This makes me sad and makes me long to settle down and stay again, to be a year round resident.

And yet…..

I feel the call of the south.   I want to go  where the sun shines with more warmth.  There is something – and  someone who is calling me.  And in the spring I will start to dream of Cornish cliffs and of my country cabin.

I don’t like feeling like a transient visitor when I come to Cornwall but somehow this is now my reality.

I have always felt drawn to birds and known a link between their lives and mine.

It helps me understand my life now when I think about migration

 

Delicious Scottish food

When I arrived in Glasgow I got a message from an old friend who spends most of the year in Brazil. She said she would be passing through Glasgow Queen Street station and could we meet?

I was so excited at the idea of seeing her after about 4 years absence that I went down there and waited, and waited,  only after half an hour realising that the ‘ thu’ in her message meant Thursday!
So I am off there again today!
But I had a good time in the town centre anyway, shopping and looking at all the amazing buildings

Headed straight for Greggs the baker for an empire biscuit – the ones with cherries on top

Watched a handsome highland piper

Here is the street scene…..as you see the sun does shine in Glasgow and people sit outside drinking in cafes

There was a chill wind so I had on a borrowed coat from my niece but there were plenty of brave Scottish biddies in tee shirts or vests.

Came home on the wee shoogle….. the Glasgow metro which is small and intimate and cosy

The sky was intense blue and it was quite hard to see in front of me as the light in Scotland is so bright and clear

Later in the evening we went for a wonderful curry in Akbar’s, a famous restaurant which started in Bradford

I have never seen a Naan mountain before. That is my gorgeous niece hiding behind it – hope she doesn’t mind appearing here!   Thank you both for such a fabulous dinner. I dream of curry when I am in Catalunya.