Where my thinking is worked out, often in real time…
Our Own Camino Santiago
I’ve been largely out of WordPress touch since the last week of April, when Anita and I flew to France to begin our first Camino Santiago. We chose the Camino Frances, which is the most popular. We also chose not to walk all of the 780 kilometers (485 miles) from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela near the NW coast of Spain.
We walked some of the most difficult stages, such as the first stage from France through the Cize Passes to Roncesvalles, following the route taken by Charlemagne in the 8th C and Napoleon Bonaparte in the 19th. Not counting sightseeing we walked almost 200 km in about 15 different bits.
We chose to do it this way because, as a couple, we have physical limitations that would have put our long-term fitness at risk if we had walked the whole way and because we wanted to have the energy to sight-see primarily in Pamplona, Estella, Burgos and León along the way. I joke that there were three in our party: Anita, my camera and I. A total love for Spain and its incomparably rich and crazy history was a major inspiration for me.
I will admit right away that this is not the “purest” way of doing the Camino Frances. Some will argue that one must do Le Chemin de Saint-Jacques in its totality, walking every inch and carrying all one’s necessities all the way. Some take no photos. Some take one photo at the beginning and one at the end. A few whip their backs in penance carrying a cross as they trudge the Way of Saint James (we didn’t see any of this particularly tiny subgroup). I respect each individual’s camino. There are as many camino choices as there are pilgrims. If you choose to judge ours… so be it.
We happen to think that ours was everything we hoped for and more. A thorough itinerary of our trip, including our chosen refugios, pensións, casa rurales, hotels, public buses taken, walk lengths will follow soon. We were on the camino from April 25 until May 16, when we arrived at the pilgrim office in Santiago de Compostela to be congratulated and get our Compostelas, the documents that certify that one has completed the pilgrimage on foot. We traveled the last 113 kilometers across Galícia from Sarria to Santiago completely on foot and, by so doing, qualified for our Compostelas. We added 4 nights in Santiago and three nights in Bilbao to the trip, flying home from the latter on May 23.
I share this stuff with you in the hope that you will find something useful or inspiring here.
Wednesday, April 24 and Thursday, April 25:
Friday, April 26 (Scary Day Two):
We set out at 7:30 AM from Orisson in bad weather. We were told by 0ur hostess at Orisson that the weather would be rainy. Had we leftSaint-Jeanon this very April 26 we would have been warned not to take the Cize Passes, but to take the safer, lower road instead, but we were already committed to the high route. We walked in constant rain and fog. The temperature was not much above freezing. Just before the steep, wet, rocky, 5 km decent through old beech forest into Roncesvalles we gazed with trepidation at a yellow arrow pointing what seemed like straight down in two feet of snow until a couple we met who had done this part a few times showed us a safer piece. An Italian woman died from hypothermia on the high route this year. We were prepared for -7 Celsius just in case but, after a lonely hour without being passed on the descent in windy snow using everything we’ve learned about safe hiking in Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park, we began to worry a trifle about what would happen if either of us fell and got injured. The 17.5 walk took us 10 hours. We passed no one. (Aside: we had been passed shortly after noon by a young German woman who had walked all the way from Saint-Jean!) There was only one small, crowded, concrete, open shelter along the route near the Col de Lepoeder – the highest point on our Pyrenee walk at 1427 metres (4700 feet). I have no photos of the last 7.5 hours because it was so wet that I feared my Sony NEX-5N would be ruined. I turned it off at 10:10 and put it in a plastic bag with my handkerchief in my large, Tilley vest pocket under my rain jacket.
One of the first “travel guides” ever written was written in Latin in the 1100’s – the Codex Calixtinus, a beautiful illuminated manuscript in five volumes attributed to Pope Callixtus II. Since this wouldn’t have fit in my 28 litre pack – or even in Anita’s ultralight 38 L pack – I ordered John Brierley’s slim and very useful guidebook on the Internet. No guidebook is perfect and we found some minor editing errors in this one. More importantly, the pain in our feet disagreed violently with Brierley’s distances, especially during the grueling, wet, mystical descent into Molinaseca after walking there all the way from Foncebadón.
Anita chose this difficult walk so that she might drop a stone and pray at the Cruz de Ferro. We took our stones from the Nive River in Saint-Jean on April 24, the day before we hiked toward Spain. We deposited them at the Cruz de Ferro on May 6.
Back to our April 26 Pyrenees hike: Sorry about the above digression… When we got to the lovely Hotel Roncesvalles (€ 70) I went off in search of a handful of rice. The camera, showing considerable condensation when we arrived, spent a suspenseful night in a sealed plastic bag with the rice to dry it out completely. Rice is a great desiccant for damp electronics.
As the following photo shows, the NEX-5N survived!
Later that day the NEX-5N survived being dropped on the beautiful, but bumpy, stone floor in the lobby – from waist level. It landed lens down and the polarizing filter rim bent slightly, cushioning the blow. That may well go down on the List of Miracles of the Camino Santiago – if they ever create one…
Our room at the Hotel had a huge shower anteroom, perfect for washing off our boots and rain pants. It also had two or three large radiators – perfect for drying our washed items quickly.
We said adios to Anita’s red poncho, purchased in Saigon in 2008. It didn’t seem to keep her dry very well any more. We still have my grey Saigon poncho. I just used my MEC rain jacket. It wasn’t Goretex, and neither was it fully waterproof, but it served well enough. As I said before – soon a post will have our summarized day by day itinerary. Stay tuned…