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

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

IMG_2363A church bell is sounding off the time of day while a dog barks and a flurry of swallows chirp and dive in the plaza. Every small town has the same assortment of wild cats, often of a Siamese or calico descent. A rooster just crowed to remind me that this constant reminder of the rural nature of the towns is ever present. Most of the dogs move along free of a leash and often free of an owner.

The Camino takes travelers through town after town, open fields and cities. The towns are living evidence of how life was lived hundreds of years ago and the cities still reflect the architecture while adding modern touches. Often the view of a small town will bring a sense of relief that is quickly thwarted by the fact that they are usually an uphill climb away. The older cities are surrounded by walls that were used to protect the inhabitants. On the same note, they were placed up on a hill so that invaders could be seen coming from a distance. As you enter the Meseta this character slowly changes. The ground becomes flatter and the towns become more sprawling. The challenge of the steep climbs and fast descents gives way to the extreme heat. Temperatures in the 30s and 40sC make travel in the afternoon very difficult. One difficulty is replaced by another and on it goes…such is the Camino.

100 KM Loop

Meseta

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino 

Camino de Santiago

www.wendypowell.ca

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.

I’m Back

IMG_2278If you have ever used a hammer to open a walnut, you know how the force it takes to break through the hard shell sends the soft, edible bits flying in many directions. (This was originally posted October 2012.) Walking the Camino did this to me. I have spent the last several weeks collecting up the soft bits and trying to reassemble them into my life.

The routines, patterns and generally robotic aspects of my life were difficult to break through and recognize while I was still engaged in them. Fly across an ocean with only the essentials you need to survive and walk for weeks in a country that you are unfamiliar with, that speaks another language and it throws your routine into disarray.

This was necessary for me to see myself more clearly. It is so easy to go through the motions of life without ever actually questioning your participation. Focusing on the abstract, the distant and the trivial instead of paying attention to the most important thing which is the present — your actual life — is like a societal obsession.

It has taken me weeks to get back to that familiar feeling of being in my own life and even though I have acquired that now, I must admit that my connection to this life is tenuous and unstructured. I’m back, but I am fundamentally different. No, that’s not true. I’m more myself. I have reclaimed the lost bits and I am willing to take them with me wherever I go.

Gone are the routines like coffee, shower, breakfast and work. Well, the coffee stayed of course… But every aspect of my life has been taken out, brushed off and examined. Parts of my who I am that I have not experienced for a while like my love of solitude, romance and politics are being welcomed back into my everyday existance.

I haven’t been writing because I haven’t had anything coherent to say. Like wading through thick mud that is hindering your movement and blocking your view, I’ve tried to carry on as I was before my trip and I’ve found it exhausting and unfamiliar.

I have realized that the price of being safe, conservative and following the rules are too high for me. This is a one time opportunity, this life, and I’m going to experience all that I can and engage in my life today, not some time in the future, not when I get a chance, not when I retire or win the lottery — now.  Wish me luck.

www.wendypowell.ca

Changing Landscapes of the Camino

IMG_2363A church bell is sounding off the time of day while a dog barks and a flurry of swallows chirp and dive in the plaza. Every small town has the same assortment of wild cats, often of a Siamese or calico descent. A rooster just crowed to remind me that this constant reminder of the rural nature of the towns is ever present. Most of the dogs move along free of a leash and often free of an owner.

The Camino takes travelers through town after town, open fields and cities. The towns are living evidence of how life was lived hundreds of years ago and the cities still reflect the architecture while adding modern touches. Often the view of a small town will bring a sense of relief that is quickly thwarted by the fact that they are usually an uphill climb away. The older cities are surrounded by walls that were used to protect the inhabitants. On the same note, they were placed up on a hill so that invaders could be seen coming from a distance. As you enter the Meseta this character slowly changes. The ground becomes flatter and the towns become more sprawling. The challenge of the steep climbs and fast descents gives way to the extreme heat. Temperatures in the 30s and 40sC make travel in the afternoon very difficult. One difficulty is replaced by another and on it goes…such is the Camino.

100 KM Loop

Meseta

Albergue? 

The Camino Walk

Another Night on the Camino

Magic on the Camino

Hiking Poles for the Camino 

Camino de Santiago

www.wendypowell.ca

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