Another Night on the Camino

IMG_2284A kilometer, it turns out, is not a very good measure of a walk. It does not account for incline or decline, footing, stairs, wind, weather and unfortunately distance.

On the Camino, one of the first things that you realize is that all distances are “as the bird flies” and do not take into consideration how many bends there are in the path or even if the path bends back on itself.

The first time that it takes over an hour to walk less than a kilometer the uselessness of this measurement becomes apparent.

The truth about kilometers is second only in importance to having a place to sleep when you are finished for the day. In July, it turns out, this can be quite tricky. There are way more pilgrims than there are albergue beds.

This long winded explanation is really just my way of explaining why I have ended up without a ‘camma’ or bed in an albergue, not to be confused with a place to sleep, on a few nights already. Much to my dismay I ended up sleeping on a cement floored area designed for handball and futsal, considered the purest form of football, but I digress.

I slept with several men last night (and several women) in sleeping bags outside on a cement pad. Such is the Camino.

100 KM Loop

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino

Camino de Santiago

Meseta

http://www.wendypowell.ca

Sent from my iPhone

Meseta

IMG_2325Pilgrims are dropping like flies. The stretch of the Camino that precedes Leon is a long straight path that runs beside the highway. The heat, sun and monotonous flatness is seen by some as meditative.

The cold reality (or hot!) is that a couple of people have been hospitalized for heat stroke, many more have suffered headaches and illness and some have chosen public transport.

There is little to see on this piece of the Camino that can take several days to cross on foot. No one said that it would be easy.

100 KM Loop

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

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

Via Francigena

IMG_2278The day that I lost my will to live, is one of my favourite Camino de Santiago stories. My feet were blistered, making walking painful, and every time that I entered a small town it was “closed”. This is an admirable way of life, I mean the Spanish way, not the fact that I was walking with blisters. Unlike North America where people will do anything to make a sale, including staying up all night, providing drive throughs so that you don’t even have to get out of your car and home delivery that is just a click of the mouse or phone call away; the Spanish put more priority on quality of life.

The coffee shop does not open really early in the morning because the proprietor must first get up and have some breakfast and then open the shop. Also, the shop does not stay open all day because the afternoons have traditionally been too hot to work, so everyone goes home. This was a huge adjustment for me, a Canadian, who is only inconvenienced by distance, or perhaps price, if I want something NOW, at any time of day.

So, my morning began at an Albergue, or Refugio, that did not include breakfast. This was just as common as those that did include breakfast and it was not expected that there would be anyone at the Albergue awake or serving breakfast if you left early, or late for that matter. I set off knowing full well that I was going to walk through a couple of small towns that day and I was not worried much about it.

When I arrived at the first town, there was a coffee shop that had not yet opened. Most shops, I have found, do not have their hours of operation posted on the door or near the entranceway. There was no way to know if this particular place would be open in a few minutes, an hour or if by chance the owners were away on vacation. No way to tell. So, I trudged on.

The next town had been “open” just before I arrived, but it had now closed for the afternoon. I had several kilometers before I hit the next town so it was difficult to force myself to keep walking. I had not had my customary caffeine and I was developing a “caffeine headache” and lethargy. I considered seeing if there was room at the Albergue in this town, but I suspected that I would not be able to get anyone to answer the door, in the middle of the afternoon, so I kept walking.

The only thing that kept me going that day was the decision to go home and spend the rest of my time off there. I was home sick. I missed my bed, my pool, my privacy and I was aware of the fact that I would have the place to myself with no obligations at all. I promised myself that I would close my website, end my life coaching business, draw into myself completely and curl up in a ball in my bedroom. This decision gave me the will to continue walking.

I envisioned getting on a plane, flying home, hiding out and consoling myself. There was a symbol on the map, which I had come to recognize as a travel kiosk, in the next town. I knew that if I made it to there, I would be able to arrange a flight home. I could get home right away. I could throw in the towel, admit that the Camino had kicked my ass and go home. I did not have to encounter any of my family or friends for a while and I could lick my wounds, feel sorry for myself and hide.

When I arrived in the town, the travel kiosk was a historical museum that had nothing to do with booking flights. There was a medic, who had a side business tending to the feet of the pilgrims, working in one of the Albergues. He said that my heel was infected and that it was dangerous to use the compotes (a type of bandage) in Spain. This was something that I had personally realized by this time. The blister had been about 3/4 of an inch across initially and was now closer to two inches. I guessed from the pain that it was infected.

The gentle man cleaned up my feet, drained and bandaged my blisters and gave me the sense that all was OK with my world. I had a nice meal, some coffee, and a nap. The next morning, refreshed, caffeinated and bandaged, I set off once again across Spain.

I had learned how key of a role coffee plays in my life. I had also gained a respect for kindness, comfort and the value of a nap. I can’t wait to go on my next walk across Italy. I am planning to do the Via Francigena this fall. Have any of you done this walk? I’d love to hear about it.

The Juice of Life

IMG_2313While watching Ben Saunders describe walking across the frozen Arctic Ocean in a TED talk, I understood something I had not been able to articulate before. He likened his love of adventure to having a crack habit. He admitted that all of his money got sucked into his endeavors and that it had caused the destruction of all of his relationships.

I found myself remembering how long it took me to get back to “normal” after my walk down the Camino in Spain. At the time, I described it as having my view of my life shattered, but his words made sense. To break out of our routines, to leave your comfort zone and to live a different life — if only for a while — gives us a taste of “the juice that we can suck out of our hours and days.” remarked Ben. Adding, “There is something addictive about tasting life at the edge of what is humanely possibly.”

Now, he was risking life and limb, literally, to walk across the Arctic Ocean and, of course, I was never more than a few hours away from a warm bed and some fresh coffee, but I get it. I still long for it. I still find my day-to-day life unsatisfying and somehow unfulfilling. We are here to dance, not sleep walk through life.

Once you have broken out of your routine, experienced the possible textures, twists and nuances of needing to pay attention to your life, it is difficult to conform to an everyday existence. The fact that even my morning routine, an almost immutable thing while I am at home, was disrupted by my changing surroundings, made me realize that I normally go through so much of my life without paying attention.

Have you ever driven to work and forgotten your drive? Have you ever realized that you’ve done nothing out of the ordinary for weeks? Is your vacation the only time you see new scenery and do new things? Just thoughts, but they are at the core a truth I am trying to discern.

Meseta

IMG_2325Pilgrims are dropping like flies. The stretch of the Camino that precedes Leon is a long straight path that runs beside the highway. The heat, sun and monotonous flatness is seen by some as meditative.

The cold reality (or hot!) is that a couple of people have been hospitalized for heat stroke, many more have suffered headaches and illness and some have chosen public transport.

There is little to see on this piece of the Camino that can take several days to cross on foot. No one said that it would be easy.

100 KM Loop

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

Albergue?

IMG_2307He opened the main doors to show me where the beds were in this particular albergue. The large open space had once been a garage, perhaps for farm equipment, and still sported two rectangular doors that could be rolled up and out of the way to let trucks in or out. Now, it was a huge open space with painted floors, multiple bunk beds, some plastic chairs and a couple of tables. The albergues are as different as they could possibly be. Last night I stayed in an ancient home that had been built originally from rocks and cement and had been located beside a natural spring. There was no electricity and dinner was eaten by candlelight and the remains of the twilight before the sun set. In a broad way the albergues can be divided into three categories: municipal, private and religious. The religious ones are often found in ancient structures and might be run by nuns with strict curfew times and times before which you are not allowed to leave in the morning. Most of the municipal ones are large, newer and have extra amenities like individual outlets to charge your personal phones and cameras. The private ones are as individual as the people that run the places, varying from private museum-like spaces to elaborately decorated artsy places. It is always a gamble. The descriptions in the guidebooks do not account for these types of qualities and focus on quantifiable things like the number of beds, availability of services and classification i.e. private. So, tonight will be spent in a large garage with the possibility of forty other pilgrims all sharing the space. I hope that there are not many that snore…

100 KM Loop

 

Meseta

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino 

Camino de Santiago

Another Night on the Camino

IMG_2284A kilometer, it turns out, is not a very good measure of a walk. It does not account for incline or decline, footing, stairs, wind, weather and unfortunately distance.

On the Camino, one of the first things that you realize is that all distances are “as the bird flies” and do not take into consideration how many bends there are in the path or even if the path bends back on itself.

The first time that it takes over an hour to walk less than a kilometer the uselessness of this measurement becomes apparent.

The truth about kilometers is second only in importance to having a place to sleep when you are finished for the day. In July, it turns out, this can be quite tricky. There are way more pilgrims than there are albergue beds.

This long winded explanation is really just my way of explaining why I have ended up without a ‘camma’ or bed in an albergue, not to be confused with a place to sleep, on a few nights already. Much to my dismay I ended up sleeping on a cement floored area designed for handball and futsal, considered the purest form of football, but I digress.

I slept with several men last night (and several women) in sleeping bags outside on a cement pad. Such is the Camino.

100 KM Loop

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino

Camino de Santiago

Meseta

http://www.wendypowell.ca

Sent from my iPhone

Another Night on the Camino

IMG_2284A kilometer, it turns out, is not a very good measure of a walk. It does not account for incline or decline, footing, stairs, wind, weather and unfortunately distance.

On the Camino, one of the first things that you realize is that all distances are “as the bird flies” and do not take into consideration how many bends there are in the path or even if the path bends back on itself.

The first time that it takes over an hour to walk less than a kilometer the uselessness of this measurement becomes apparent.

The truth about kilometers is second only in importance to having a place to sleep when you are finished for the day. In July, it turns out, this can be quite tricky. There are way more pilgrims than there are albergue beds.

This long winded explanation is really just my way of explaining why I have ended up without a ‘camma’ or bed in an albergue, not to be confused with a place to sleep, on a few nights already. Much to my dismay I ended up sleeping on a cement floored area designed for handball and futsal, considered the purest form of football, but I digress.

I slept with several men last night (and several women) in sleeping bags outside on a cement pad. Such is the Camino.

100 KM Loop

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino

Camino de Santiago

Meseta

http://www.wendypowell.ca

Sent from my iPhone

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