These entries document my June-July 2014 Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in order, for easy reading. You can type the title of the post into the search box to see the original, which allows comments, questions, likes or shares. Have fun. I loved writing these.
Where a Pilgrim Begins
I called my niece Rachel Welsh, who is, conveniently enough, a scholar of the Middle Ages, to ask her advice on this crazed idea I had to walk the length of the Camino de Santiago. She said, “You’ve already started your pilgrimage.”
In the Middle Ages, you started from your own front door, or perhaps from the steps of your local cathedral. Rich or poor, doing penance for sins or seeking your fortune, man, woman or child– you started where you are. And so here is my own front door on this bright September day in Northern California, the wind whipping the rain clouds and the first reluctant leaves along the pavement. A little glitch of the light entered— a protective travel spirit? It is the first day of fall. Or this might be the real start, the chair in the living room.
I want to do a private public journal for you, and for me, dear reader and traveler. This is my real and imaginary Camino.
Well, I joined the 21st century this month and got an Iphone. I decided to leave the camera behind for several reasons. It’s not really a photo-documentary trip, as I want to sketch far more than photograph. I don’t want to be tied to a camera, and a camera is heavy and bulky forbackpacking.
I’m now blogging from my Iphone, with photos taken by it. I’m looking forward to doing illustrated travel journaling. I’m carrying a Hand Book journal with around 5 by 8 inches. It has lots of pages of buff paper for a longer journey, and takes watercolor well. Here’s a sample drawing from Aroma cafe.
We all get obsessed with supplies for such a trip. I decided to literally ditch the camera for a journal. I am taking a folding keyboard, as typing a blog on my phone would kill both me and the writing. Goal: fewer photos, more drawings, journals, poetry. We’ll see. Enjoy some recent illustrated journaling attempts below.
Hola from the extremely slow pilgrim. Today I didn’t walk 12.8 km. I’m between Pamplona and Puente de la Reina. That’s all you need to know. And I’m in a little gem of an albergue, drinking white wine on a red tablecloth in the late afternoon and writing you, dear reader.
This giant baguette filled with chorizo will last me for 2 more days. The soda and sandwich cost 2.70 E. It could have been beer, no extra charge. I get a full course dinner for wine and desert here, my first meal with other pilgrims. I slept like a baby last night in a room full of elderly Frenchmen; apparently I was in a French “wave”. Today I ran into- not literally, thank goodness– herds of the not-rare-enough species MAMILS– Middle Aged Men in Lycra, normally on bicycles, sending their luggage, include colognes, ahead. Not all of them, of course.. everyone has been sweet and polite, the way life should be. And I am a MAWILC, a middle aged woman in loose clothing. We are the only ones wearing long sleeved shirts and pants. Ah, those limb-exposing, sleek youngsters are lovely.
Got up at a respectable 6:30 and the whole albergue was leaving. Everyone leaves at once, but the waves soon vanish, especially if you’re hiking slowly. And I stop, I confess, to photograph and sketch. It”s my Grand Tour, after all; I choose to be Ruskin-esque and enter the world through my pen. But it takes TIIIIIIIME.Time to see the wheat and smell the poppies. If I stopped to smell every rose in Spain, you’d never see me again.
Tip: I tear out pages with maps from the Brierley guidebook and carry them in my pocket. It’s helped me several times when I’ve had to ask directions: nothing like a hard copy. And my small compass mounted right on the chin strap of my backpack is really invaluable. I feel like a child with an address label sewn in. Do they even do that anymore?
Since you read this far, I enclose the abstract photo of roses blowing in the wind. Ultreia!
Wednesday, June 18
Just words, I think, for now, no images. Whew! I just escaped teeming Dorm Land, no place for me or my phone to recharge. Am in a delightful small nowhere bar, sitting on a chair near an electrical outlet. I have no table– there are outlets near tables but none of them work. They were cheerful, though, and directed me proudly to the random outlets that did work. My “table” is a bar stool. I am nursing some kind of tart rose. Thank you, Bar La Oca, for the smiles. I find Spain enormously welcoming.
The 90 person dorm room tonight will pose a challenge to my mild claustrophobia. It’s now a dangerous maze of packs in the tiny walkways. Paranoid, adult thought: hope there’s not a fire. The hip young have ruthlessly taken over all the communal tables for complex, delicious dinners…. I never cooked like that in a hostel. The albergue is donativo, free. My own dinner was a melon with some Serrano ham strewn over it and eaten in front of the shallow river. I guess I managed to download some photos after all. All are at the end of the post.
I know that before I walked I wanted to know some details. Just to say, I did walk 17 km today, about 11 miles, going very slowly for my feet. It was mostly through vineyards and the paths were either gravel or paved. Weather has been perfect the whole trip, in the 50s at night and warming during the day, not dissimilar to Santa Rosa. Here are some practical details for you.
Showers are complex because you have to stay decent before you step in, and carry all your valuables, as well as your toiletries and the clothes you change into, with you. So you are jamming and balancing. Everything of any value comes into the shower with you. The tile floors are uniformly slippery. Then you get in and press a knob like the controlled flow knobs in sinks in public restrooms, and 10 seconds of either freezing, lukewarm, or scalding water comes out, then cuts off. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!
American’s packs are too big. The Europeans are cruising along with packs about the size of a daypack. I have lightened mine up some… never mind what. But I have pack envy. There are no silk sleep sheets. Everyone has an ultralight bag about the size of a football or a bottle of water. They have a tiny lining, very similar to my Marmot Nano 55, which has worked great for me.
Girls, my most prized outfit is a loose tank and a running skort with shorts under it. I use it for after hiking, swimming, and to sleep. The all purpose wardrobe! Dress it up with a scarf!
My day: wake up at 5 AM. Take my roll of clothing and toiletries out of the dorm, to a restroom or kitchen, to dress. Drag pack out. Drag sleeping bag off bed and stuff in other room. Rearrange pack, sometimes for a half hour or more. Wash. Wish for coffee, but drink a liter of water if I can choke it down. Other people are up, tripping over each other. Tend to feet for the day with whatever combo of fixups you have: tape, moleskin, compeed, bandaids, antibiotic cream, anti friction cream, what have you. Put on shoes. This isn’t easy, as you aren’t allowed to keep your shoes with you, but must put them on a shelf in another room. Same thing for poles. When you get your shoes on, marvel how good they feel without a pack on.
Then lurch out and start your day. Stop for a coffee at the first bar and sneak eat your yoghurt, then walk on. Sun’s getting warmer now… stop on trail, pee, put on hat and sunglasses. And walk.
Today I met some beautiful people, and it was just like the films where you have soulful talks while walking through lush vineyards. Oliver, French, was great: we discussed mind-body issues and how the brain can’t interpret where pain originates. He’s in the straw hat. Then Billy, an American college student I’d seen twice, struck up a series of questions about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and Joseph Campbell’s mythology. “Have you heard of Joseph Campbell?” he asked politely. He made a beautiful metaphor…. he said that he thinks the Camino is, for him, a coming out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur, following the golden thread. And the golden thread is just one step in front of the other, and you don’t know where you’re going, but he trusts it.
I probably won’t ever see them again, but that statement lacks the high drama it might have in other contexts. You just never know. You spent some good time, and that’s enough. I talked to some women, as well, but none of them would allow me to take her photo because we all, er, don’t exactly look our best. I, for example, resemble a plump nun while walking, completely covered head to foot with long loose pants, long loose shirt, and one of those dorko cover-everything hats with a wimple, I mean flap, in back. In purple. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I just wanted to say, I have never felt in danger this whole trip. I have felt cared for and protected the entire time.
I usually stop walking around 12 or 1. I learned a lesson about pushing too hard. You can read the story below
This took place last Sunday and Monday, after realizing I had really wrecked my feet– and my aplomb– with the fabled 21k day.
I took a taxi to Logrono today for another rest day and checked into another pilgrim dorm. My mood was low. There are several kinds of dorms, municipal– run, perhaps for hundreds of years, by the city, parochial, run by the church, and private dorms which have sprung up everywhere. I chose a private dorm, and it wasn’t a good choice. I’m finding out that often the better bet for true hospitality can come in institutional packages, from people who’ve been housing pilgrims for a couple centuries or so. The dorm I chose was a private one, which can be great, but can also be oriented more to the tidal wave of pilgrim dough than the pilgrim. They can be sloppy about hygiene.
I unloaded my stuff, had a shower with soap I bought from the Euro version of a dollar store. The shower was not pleasant, with a dirty floor and warmish water. Then I went for a walk. When I returned,the room had that body smell, which unfortunately was a stinky redux of the night before.
I’m finding out that a disturbing night has a real impact. The night before, it was the awful body odor, like unwashed clothes of the homeless, emanating from the towel and pack of a man across from me. The Italian guy in the bunk directly over was grossed out too. Luckily my bed was by a window. We asked the manager of the albergue to talk to the guy about moving his pack outside, but he never did. The Italian guy’s girlfriend offered me some Vicks to rub under my nose, the same thing the coroner uses for examining corpses. I should have taken it.
I don’t know how much I want to write about a bad mood or event. They happen in travel and in life. But my feeling of oppression increased in the Logrono dorm I had chosen . By chance, I was the only woman in the room and it felt, not dangerous, but just too much. I was filled with regret about not just waiting around for a few hours for the normal church dorms to open. My impatience tripped me up, just like it did with the 21 km day. Hmmmmmm…. could there possibly be a lesson there?
My mood darkened, dangerously so. When you travel alone, you have only yourself to rely on, and a bad mood poses a real handicap. My feet were really hurting– I could feel an infection starting in the sole of my foot, the same sole that would have to step into public showers. So when I saw a hotel, I just walked up and checked in, then walked back to the albergue and picked my stuff up.
Scott had to talk me down. I stayed off my feet in a sterile business hotel, with deep bathtub. It took two days for my feet to heal up. I felt guilty, impatient, grateful, sad, stuck in sterility when life just teemed outside. And it was a hundred percent my own bad decision.
I am so lucky I have the bucks to take a hotel when I want or need to. But it still feels like a tiny bit of defeat. Strange, I meet many people who feel defeated if they can’t do 30 to 40 km, 20-plus miles, a day! We all have our points of pride.
I think that 30 Km is a very long day even for the twenty somethings. People are really getting injured going that far. In my own mind, which is still full of judgement, I call them “The New Penitents,” punishing themselves through painful walking. I’m sure they think of me as a dilettante. By the way, all the “recommended” divisions of the Camino are 20 to 30 km. I have so enjoyed going more slowly.
I think I’m really more of a wanderer than a trekker. I’m considering visiting the one of the oldest monastery sites in Europe tomorrow, back to the 6th century. It wanders off the beaten path. But then, so do I. Buen Camino, Suzanne
When I get my Pilgrim Passport stamped, I also have them put their stamp somewhere on a blank page of my travel sketchbook. This starts a painted travel collage-sketch of that place. I do one or more most days, another reason why I enjoy shorter hiking days.
This painted sketch of apples in a basket got me a jar of garden flowers and a free glass of wine from a Basque grandma. I am not above making sure that when I bring out my notebook at check in time– my Pilgrim Passport is stored in it– that the person sees the paintings. I’ve gotten some special treatment from it, I think: a slightly better bed and so on. They are really just for me, a sensory-rich artifact of that fleeting time.
Turtles in an ancient pond in the middle of a walled garden, orchids on the counter of the Kind Albergue Keeper Jose, a gargoyle from an octagonal Templar chapel— all were drawn from life. My little travel kit is always close at hand. People want to watch me sketching and photograph me; I’m an oddball pilgrim. These are no masterpieces, but they are expressive and unify me with the place for a brief moment.
I am reading The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton on my Kindle app. It’s marvelous. He provides brief meditations on famous travelers, then links them to a travel experience of his own. I live on Humboldt Street, named after the amazing traveler and scientist, Alexander von Humboldt. De Botton tells a story of Humboldt’s travels, then concludes with this remark.
Instead of bringing back 16,000 new plant species, we might return from our journey with a collection of small, unfeted but life-enhancing thoughts.
That’s the travel sketchbook. Buen Camino, Suzanne