Magic on the Camino

IMG_2232Suddenly my feet had no traction and I was beginning to fall. My hiking pole bent nearly ninety degrees and I almost went down when a young man from Turkey grabbed my arm and saved me from landing in the mud. Such is the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Whether it be the thousands of small acts of kindness or the synchronicities that line up, there is no doubt that there is a ‘flow’ about this place.

Climbing the Pyrennes, in the fog and the rain, wishing I had packed gloves, I thought that I had started to hallucinate when I thought that I could smell coffee. This was highly unlikely on an unpopulated trail almost 1500 metres above sea level.

I had just passed a flock of sheep that hurried over to the side of the trail. They appeared astonished and acutely interested in me as I walked by. I could see a truck with a makeshift enclosure up ahead. Could it be a coffee mirage? Was I experiencing the type of illusion common to people traveling across the desert? Would I lose my way in search of a phantom caffeine fix? I assumed that the vehicle was associated with the sheep in some way, but I was wrong. It was coffee.

Everyone that I have met along the way can tell at least one story about exactly what they needed coming into their possession just when they wanted it. A taxi appears just as the decision is made to call one; a stand selling hats opens right next to your table, right after you’ve lost your hat; or someone simply picks up your hiking poles for you. No small thing when you have a full pack on your back and muscles sore enough to discourage movement of any kind.

Dropping the timetable and deadlines has a way of allowing things to happen that becomes clear when all you can focus on is getting to the next rock large enough to sit on without too much effort.

And on we go down the Camino. Day six and counting…..

100 KM Loop

Meseta

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino 

Camino de Santiago

www.wendypowell.ca

Hiking Poles for the Camino

IMG_5190Snapping my hiking pole into place and having the segments line up and become rock hard is only part of the thrill of using two poles. The rhythmic arm movements force you to twist across your abdomen using muscles that are not normally worked while walking and give a feeling of great power. The power to conquer not only the groomed path on the way to work, but possibly a much steeper ascent. I admit that I had a romantic notion that I would be able to take a single walking stick. This all came to pass when I bought my knapsack.

Knapsacks are quite complicated. With the help of a woman that had some idea of what I might need in a knapsack I tried on several, all in the 50 – 60 litre range. That apparently is how much space you need to carry just the basics. Enough clothing to wash some while you wear some, sleepwear, sleeping bag and toiletries. Other than my iPhone, hat, raincoat and jackknife, I pretty well did not need anything else, other than perhaps a second pair of shoes.

The knapsacks are all adjustable to the extreme. Once we found one that fit me with the right combination of pockets, clips and supports, the woman from MEC put 25 pounds into the sac and both my knees gave way.

It wasn’t all that surprising to have my left knee wobble a bit under new weight. It has been unstable for over three decades and numerous doctors have strongly recommended surgery. I have found that if I keep the muscles around the knee strong, through regular exercise, I experience little discomfort, so why bother with surgery that is not going to be discomfort free? What shocked me was that my good knee shifted with the extra weight as well.

The beauty, and the selling point for me, of having two poles is that you can carry thirty percent of your weight on your upper body. Wobbly knees…two poles. What I was unprepared for was the impact it would have on the actual experience of hiking. The rhythm, the sound of the poles hitting the ground, the extra focus as I made sure that my foot and the pole had somewhere solid to land, was invigorating.

It made me sad to lose the romance of carrying a stick that I had found in a wooded area near my place. The white birch was only the third branch that I touched and it seemed to be waiting there for me. Birch is a symbol of taking a positive step forward. It combines male and female energy and is associated with growth, adaptability and exploration. From a practical perspective, it is virtually imperishable, strong, light and has a natural resonance that will amplify energy. This sounded more appealing to me personally than, “it will fold up and go into your suitcase”, but I didn’t know that I might need two poles to increase my chances of making the trip successful.

Camino de Santiago

Meseta

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Magic on the Camino

Camino de Santiago

www.wendypowell.ca

Camino de Santiago

IMG_1281I am amazed at how many different aspects there are to the allure of the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain. Many religious figures and celebrities have travelled this route, across the top of Spain, and been buried along the way  — the religious figures, not the celebrities. In addition to that, it was once considered a path to the end of the world. For Europeans, before the discovery of the new world, this trek took you to the Western most aspect of the continent, literally the end of the world as it was known at the time.

There is also the athletic perspective. As an outdoors adventure, this trail is designed so that you can “rough” it in the outdoors without having to carry tents and cooking equipment, unless you want to, and for that there is camping available.

The hike itself is almost 800 kilometers or 480 miles long. It goes through mountainous areas, open fields and cities. Great discussions are currently being held in various chat rooms about what distance can be covered each day, how demanding the trip is, how to prepare for this type of physical exertion and what to eat to enhance your performance.

Cultural visitors can visit rustic small towns and city centers all by travelling this path. The pilgrim is exposed to what it means to be truly Spanish, even if authentically it means that you cannot get service in the middle of the afternoon.

Spirituality beckons many a traveler and most of the people, other than the uber- athletes, do not know why they have a desire to walk this route other than the fact that they know that they want to do it. Initially affiliated with Christianity, the call of the Camino now goes out to people of various spiritual and religious perspectives.

A lesser-mentioned aspect of this journey is that the way is marked in the heavens themselves. This particular trek is directly under the Milky Way. If you were going to design a message or a marker that would not get lost through time, would not be subject to language and could be understood by anyone, isn’t that how you would mark it?

It has been brought to my attention that a walking stick is essential for this journey. This, of course, is another personal decision. I spoke to people about the most modern types of sticks. Some are fully collapsible, feather light, designed to absorb shocks and allow you to let go of the handle while the stick holds onto your hand.

I took the advice of a friend that said, “Go out into the woods and find one.” At this stage of the journey, I’m glad that I did. There is always the possibility that I will regret this later because I will see the benefit of all of the upgrades to the newer ones and recognize that I could’ve used some 21st century help on my walk.

But, the romantic in me liked the idea of going into the woods and finding a stick. The stick that I found was only the third branch that I touched. It seemed to be waiting there for me. In my mind’s eye I had envisioned a stick with a bend. The natural position that I would like to hold my hand in, while holding the stick and hiking, required a bend. The stick I picked up had that bend. It was also the right diameter, not excessive, but sturdy enough to hold my weight and the right length. I tested this out by forcing my entire weight down on the branch. It did not give at all.

Unfamiliar with the various species of trees, I had to ask for help. The help came in the form of an email from the TreeCanada website.  This group advocates planting trees and provides resources to that end. The man that answered my email said that it was definitely a birch branch and probably a white birch. To be fair to him, the photo I sent him illustrated a branch that had been lying on the ground for at least part of the winter and much of the bark was damaged or missing.

Birch has significance in many cultures. Apparently, it is a symbol of new beginnings and of taking a positive step forward. It is both male and female in a single tree. It is associated with growth and adaptability and is considered a pioneer. From a practical perspective, it is virtually imperishable, strong, light and has a natural resonance that will amplify energy. This sounds more appealing to me personally than it will fold up and go into your suitcase, but I may find that that is more important than I realize at this point.

For whatever reason, and I have to admit I am part of the group that does not know why I want to do this, just that I do, increasing numbers of people are making this journey, that in an of itself makes it interesting.

100 KM Loop

Meseta

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino 

Camino de Santiago