Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The world without us

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
This is a shot taken approaching Ages. I am posting this because it is striking how quiet these remote villages are. When we walk through them there is no sign of life. All is quite. The wind funneling between buildings and the rustling of leaves is all one hears. It is as if these villages have been evacuated. One might expect to see a kid kicking a ball or something but nothing absolutely nothing. This can be a scary experience to pilgrims entering a deserted village looking for a warm place to stay. I had this experience with a German girl coming into Belorado alone around 4:00 PM. She was just about in tears when we encountered her. We were able to arrange a bed at the pension where we were staying but someone else might not be so lucky.

In the forest en route to San Juan de Ortega

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Ascending out of Villa Franca Monte de Oca

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Robin and I had a nice stay at the municipal albergue in Villafranca. We set out early for Atapuerca in freezing temperatures (seems to be the norm these days) and quickly warmed up with another steep ascent right out of the village. The sunrise was spectacular as we climbed up towards San Juan de Ortega. As we headed up into the forest the snow cover inceased but never rerally amounted to more than a few inches. The ice on the path was more of a concern as we picked our way through many frozen thaws. Robin and I sometimes walk side by side and sometimes in tandem. It just depends on the width of the camino and our mood at the time. We have found we both need time to reflect and pray as the cadence of our footfalls marks our time towards Santiago. The balance of reflection and prayer seems to have something to do with the difficulty of the terrain and the weather. Upon arrival in San Juan de Ortega we were very pleasantly surprised to find a bar right by the church open for business. Cafe con leche for me and tea for Robin. The sun was shining strongly and actually had some warmth in it, so this little mountain top break was indeed a treat. We descended down towards Ages and eventually arrived in Atapuerca in the early afternoon. We had made a reservation at the casa rural Papasol. It was the only place open in the village. We checked in and got settled and then toook a brief walk around as it still was early. Not much to report just cold and desolate. We pushed off early the next morning and arrived in Burgos at 1:30. We are now at the brand new municipal albergue and it is fantastic. Not sure whether we will stay an extra day or not. We will attend the 7:30 pilgrims mass at the cathedral tonight. Next u is our first crack at the meseta as we head off to Hornillos del Camino.

Leaving Belorado

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

Are we there yet?

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Winter scenes heading west

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Climbing towards the Meseta

Today Robin and I are holding up in Villafranca Montes De Oca. We are trying to allow a large group of scouts to move on up the camino ahead of us. We will leave tomorrow for Ages and then on to Burgos after that. Our plan now is to spend a couple of days in Burgos before continuing on. We have struggled with photo uploading and internet service these last few days but hopefully the photo upload will get sorted out soon. These days since Najera have been great walking days with cold temps, occasional snow showers and gusty winds. We walked into Santo Domingo De Calzada on December 24th after a very cold  walk only to find the albergue closed (just for that day). This was not a good scene. Fortunately we were able to convince someone to make a phone call and the doors were opened to our shivering group. We were eight pilgrims from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Korea, and the USA. We spent Christmas eve around a communal dinner table and had a truly marvelous evening. On Christmas day we made our way to Belorado where we also found the albergue that was supposed to be opened, closed. Luckily we discovered a pension nearby and booked three rooms there for what was now a group of five moving along the camino together. The days have passed filled with great walking weather (cold but nice) and warm beds at the end of each day (much luck there). Today with our decision to hold up at Villafranca we have separated from our group. They were all great companions on the Way, but now we have to adjust our schedule a bit to match our own timetable. We are not in a rush to complete the camino. We just want to move at a reasonable pace and enjoy our time together on this remarkable journey. I will add some photos as soon as I can find a computer that will allow me to do that (always blame the computer). Robin and I remain healthy with sound feet and legs (thank God) ready to continue our journey westward. Weather reports indicate a warming trend in the Burgos area over the next few days. We will see what that does to the walking conditions (mud?). Hopefully another post tomorrow from Ages. Bye for now.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Constant vigil

This is our 8th day on the camino. J and I have walked many cities and towns. If I am to summarize my experience so far, I will tell you with smile that I am incredibly happy. Though, finding ways to one´s inner self can sometimes be a tricky thing. For instance, we find ourselves completely relying on camino way markings, especially those arrows marked by fellow pilgrims who have walked before us. Sure, there are many official markings to direct us but in between those, I am convinced one can get lost without unofficial markings. It gets even harder in the big cities to maintain your focus (go figure) and find markings you need, as they are obscured by many traffic signs, business signs, etc. So we need to be vigilant. This not only applies to finding one´s way but also to other aspects of this experience. While I am not 100% clear on the reason for this camino, I do not wish it only to be a physical experience. I felt a welling of sadness when I started out from St. John on the first day. In my haste to leave, I forgot to sit and dedicate the day. How easy it is to ignore the really important part of the experience! Also, an aching body is a constant companion on the camino, especially, for me, those days with 15 miles or more. I was at the end of my limit this afternoon. The bodily pain feels so real and so urgent! Of course, you do everything that everybody tells you; drinking lots of water, take care that you sleep well, or, take a day off if you feel pushed, etc. I knew that the issue of bodily pain would be there until we reach Santiago; it is not a matter of choice but you just have to find ways to deal with it. I thought about what St. Paul had to say. He heard Jesus said ¨My Grace is sufficient for you´´ (2 Corinthians 12:9) upon asking his bodily infirmity to release him. I also thought about what Thomas Merton said that we should not reduce our identity only to our 5 bodily sensory system. So for now, this is how I deal with my aching body. I tell mysel that I am not just my body. As Jesus suggested to me that I shouldn´t get all worked up by it because a body is just a body. Instead, I wish to keep a constant vigil that I may hear God regardless on my bodily condition.
.....speak to me Lord, your servant is listening.....

Approaching Navarette

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
We got underway from Logrono at 8:00 and worked our way through the city as dawn struggled to find its way through the scudding clouds racing over the city. Gusty winds and temps in the high 30´s encouraged a brisk pace. There is a good little climb right out of Logrono so body temps were soon rising. The balance of the day stayed pretty much the same weather wise. We stoped in Navarette and in Ventosa for coffee and lunch respectively. Robin and I are not feeling quite so strong today. Not sure why, but it required more focus to push onward at times during the day. Today was a pretty long stage at 29 kms. We were flying on one engine as we shuffled into Najera. We are in the municipal albergue, and it is great. You could boil pasta in the shower the water is so hot, no complaints. Our plan is to spend Christmas eve in Santo Domingo de Calzada, only a 21km stage. Hope were are feeling a bit more road worthy tomorrow. I´ll let you know how that works out. Now it is off to find a very cold beer. Cheers.

The way to Logrono

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
We left Los Arcos on Wednesday and walked into what is becoming a common weather pattern of light rain and gusty winds with temperatures in the mid 40´s. Still walking with t shirts, t neck base layers, gloves, and ponchos. Are feet are holding up well. Yes, they are sore at the end of the day along with many other body parts, but our merry band of pilgrims is still in very good spirits. This journey makes its demands on you in a variety of ways. Part of the accommodation process is to find your peace with those demands. What Robin and I are discovering is that it is a process and only time will tell what your personal relationship with the camino will be. Arrived in Logrono about 3:00 on Wednesday and settled into a private albergue as the municipal was closed. It was just fine. We had a walk through the downtown area and enjoyed a few drinks and dinner before callng it quits. We will be trying to get to Najera on Thursday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Robin leading us into Los Arcos

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Hit a bad patch of mud

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A roman built well on the road to Los Arcos

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The water tap is the one on the right.. not used much

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We broke out the ponchos today

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
We left the albergue in Estella around 8:00 and set off prepared for the wet weather that was forecasted last night. We all wore t shirts and turtle neck mid layers, but no vests and no jackets, only ponchos over the lot. Robin and I used the Altus and they worked fine especially in the gusty winds. No flapping all over the place. We were a bit cold starting out (temps were around 40 F) but as always we quickly warmed up as our daily up and down interval training continued. We made our way through the darkened streets of Estella and onto the camino bound for Los Arcos (21 kms). Light rain was falling and the wind was cold and gusty. Then it just got worse. We made the obligatory stop at the wine fountain at Irache, had a small taste and moved on. Our intermediate stop was to be in Villamayor de Monjardin, where we hoped to find a bar open for a coffee. No such luck. As we crested the town the wind was realy picking up and very cold. This was poncho snapping wind with a chill rain as a perfect accompaniment. We had another 11.5 kms to go to Los Arcos and nothing in between. No nada. So we could only carry on coffee less and cold. As we descended down from Monjardin the mist shrouding the nearby hills crept down into the valley to envelop us in a continuous light to moderate rain. We pushed on with no complaints. We were all thankful we were capable of doing the work ahead (at least we were today). The rain made the camino muddy in a few spots but were able to find good footing most of the way. I can´t imagine what it would be like if it was solid mud the whole way. The one section we hit made it very difficult to maintain traction (even with good boots). One step forward and a half step sliding back. Ugh!! Despite all of this we arrived safely in Los Arcos at 1:40. We are now bedded down in the Casa Alberdi (private hostel). We are now washing and drying clothes and gear in expectations of similar weather tomorrow. Everyone in our group is doing well. No injuries or blisters. Spirits remain high. Fet stayed dry. The camino just amazes me. A final note, I apologize for not being able to respond to the comments and encouragements we have recieved so far. We are very thankful for them and will certainly need them as our journey continues. Stay tuned and thank you all.

Our communal dinner

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

The albergue in Estella

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The afternoon was a lot more hospitable

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Approaching Cirauqui our coffee stop

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Frosted fields near Puente La Reina

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

Morning muster outside the albergue

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Leaving Puente La Reina

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
We rose early and Robin, Daniel, our new Canadian friend, and I walked out of the albergue into freezing temperatures and a frost covered landscape. We walked briskly towards the bridge to build up some heat in our bodies. We were all wearing t shirts, mid layers and vests (also light gloves). No jackets. We stopped for a quick photo of the bridge and then headed off on the camino for Cirauqui where we planned to stop for coffee. Shortly after leaving town we encountered a pretty steep ascent that proved to be an early morning heat generator and calorie burner. But we survived and continued with the usual ups and downs of hill walking. The day warmed nicelyb and by the time we reached Cirauqui the frosts had retreated and we enjoyed spring like weather under partly cloudy skies. The day passed uneventfully as we kept a decent pace and simply enjoyed the walk. We found ourselves walking into Estella, our destination for the day, at about 1:30. We found lodging in the albergue run by the catholic church. It was fantastic. The hospitellera (Alma) provided a very nice dinner and a simple breakfast. We provided the bread and wine (very catholic). We have teamed up with a spaniard from Valencia and a young Korean girl traveling on her own (courage?). We attended the 7:00 mass at the church across the street. The priest gives a very special blessing to all pilgrims walking the camino. Our communal meal was a big success and three bottles of wine later sleep finally captured us. A very special day made even more so by the incredible hospitality we found at the albergue. Off to Los Arcos in the morning.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The road rose up ahead of us

We left Cizur Menor, ay 9:00, under cloudy skies and temperatures around 40 F. It being a Sunday there was a rather large group of day hikers on the camino. We all got it in gear and started the long climg up to Alto de Perdon. The cool temps made the climb a lot easier to deal with. It is a long climb over a stony path that has some steep sections to challenge you. We kept at it and a bit under two hours later we were at the summit. Now the fun began trying to negotiate the decent. The trail down is covered with round rock that makes it hard to establish good footing. But, we got through without injury (thank God) and continued on towards Puente La Reina, our stop for the night. At a small village, Muruzabal, we took a detour to see a slendid octagonal church at Eunate associated with the Knights Templar. We arrived in Eunate under slendid partly cloudy skies and temps approaching 50. It felt like an early fall day. We took some great pictures of the church and as soon as I can figure out how to upload them, I´ll post them. We arrived in Puente La Reina at 2:30 and are now ensconced in the albergue run by the Padres Reparadores. It is well equipped and very clean. Robin and I will attend the 7:00 mass tonight. We have much to give thanks for and not just for this splendid day walking, but for all the blessings of this trip. We have been truly fortunate. Off to Estella tomorrow (21.9 kms). I´ll try to post again tomorrow.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Work´s over for today

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

Crossing into Trinadad de Arre this afternoon

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My candidate for peregrina of the month

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An early start to Pamplona

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Our now group of four gathered around the breakfast table on Friday morning as we finished our eggs and gathered our thoughts for the days walk. Zavier was bound for Roncesvalles and Daniel, Robin, and I headed off down to Pamplona and probably Cizur Menor where there is a very good albergue that we know is open. The day was challenging as we set a good pace early and kept it all day. We covered about 26 kilometers in beautiful sunny weather. The temperature actually got up close to 50 F at one point (too hot for this crowd). We are now in the Roncal albergue in Cizur Menor sipping some wine and trying to ease the pain in our feet. Off to dinner here shortly and then tomorrow we do it all over again as we run (walk) down our westing towards Santiago. All is well. Bodies and feet are still in the game. This is great experience (understatement). I will try and update as frequently as I can. Thanks for checking in on us.

Bound for Zubiri

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
Robin and I arev traveling wityh a new companion, Daniel from Quebec. He is on his 3rd camino. We left together from Roncesvalles on Wednesday and had a glorious descent through rural Navarre in light to moderate snow until we arrived in Zubiri. As wee approached the town we met a young man ascending the camino but without a pack. He was a young French guy on his way back from Compostela to Grenoble. He was making a round trip of it and had been on the camino since August. He was out checking his departure route for the next day. We all went down into Zubiri together and our new French friend, Xavier, arranged bunks for us at the pension where he as staying (Pension Usoa). and that was that. We were very fortunate to encounter him as many albergues are closed or on reservation status only. This means call and the hospitelara will decide if it is worth opening for you. Xavier had this problem in Larrasoana where they would not open just for him alone. Had a great communal meal at the pension, a couple of bottles of wine, and made plans for our departure the next morning. Had a great sleep after a gorgeous days walking in the snow.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Robin rising to the challenge

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

Still smiling

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

At Ibaneta looking towards Roncesvalles

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820

Descent to Roncesvalles

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Above the snow line

Originally uploaded by johnpigott0820
We spent last night in Valcarlos after a beautiful day hiking up the valley. Clear skies and temperatures right around freezing made for good walking weather. We arrived in the mid afternoon, cooked our own dinner at the albergue, which only had one other guest a young Spaniard traveling on horseback from Catalonia to the Bay of Biscay. We were sound asleep at 8:30 and awoke at 7:30 for today´s walk to Roncesvalles. The weather again was cooperative and the early kilometers slipped past under partly cloudy skies and freezing temperatures. The valley walk is picutre perfect. Stunning scenery abounds. As Robin and I climbed up to the summit the snow started to fall. It was light and only dusted the landscape. We descended down into Roncesvalles (pop. 100), checked in at the Pilgrim office and got our bunks in the albergue. We did some washing and are now in La Posada, a bar/restaurant near the albergue, enjoying a well earned glass of wine or two. We will attend the pilgrim mass at the church tonight and call it quits. Hope to reach Zubiri tomorrow. All is well. Feet are holding up. No blisters. Our gear is well matched for the weather so no problems there. All in all, much to be thankful for.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Le jeu son fait

After 33 hours of travel we arrived safely, if somewhat weary, in St. Jean Pied de Port. During the train journey south we stared out at a rictus of hoar frosted fields and frozen ponds flashing past as the TGV sped towards Bordeaux. Our thoughts drifted to the Pyrenees and the cold climb ahead of us. But, as the kilometers clicked off the weather moderated and our spirits climbed with the thermometer. Upon arrival in St. John we departed the train station into a dark empty town. It was right around freezing but calm as we climbed the steep narrow streets searching for the Pilgrim Office. A well practiced Kabuki of gestures augmented my high school French and miraculously we were led through the shadows by kind strangers to an iron gate which in turn led to the only visible pool of light along the stone wall of what turned out to be the Pilgrim Office. A knock on the door ushered us into the presence of two very kind men who registered us and gave us our pilgrim credentials. Antoine then took us up to the municipal albergue where we were to spend the night. He also walked us down to a bar where he arranged a meal for us. The kindness of people in this town is remarkable. It is as though they keep a silent vigil, awaiting the next pilgrim to wander in off the road, anxious to answer their needs. It is now Wednesday and we are off to Valcarlos under a clear cold sky. The Port D'Espagne, our exit from the town, awaits us. Very soon the crunch of gravel under our feet will mark the start of our camino. What an experience so far and it has only just begun.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On our way

Le grand sausage
We awoke this morning at 2:00 AM to attend to the last minute details associated with leaving our home for two months. Last loads of bedding, and towels are currently circulating in the dryer, and the tea is kettle huffing on the stove ( this always equates to hope in the morning around here). We managed (just) to get our two Aarn Peak Aspiration packs with balance pockets (detached), our boots and Pacer poles all into an REI pack duffel ( le grand sausage) that is perfect for this trip. We gave up the notion of trying to carry everything on the flight. Our packs are not heavy, but bulky enough to challenge an overhead bin and the patience of fellow travelers (what were they thinking). A taxi will pick us up at 5:00 for the trip to the Portland airport. Our itinerary has us leaving PDX for Dulles (Washington DC) at 7:25 and then on to Paris at 5:30 PM. We are scheduled to arrive in Paris at 7:00 AM. We will figure out how to get le grand sausage through customs and immigration and down to the CDG TGV 2 station in time for the 9:10 departure for Bordeaux (change trains) and then on to Bayonne. We will arrive in Bayonne shortly after 3:00 PM. We expect to catch a 6:18 PM departure for St. Jean Pied de Port which should have Robin and I (avec le grand sausage) expiring at the Pilgrim Office door a couple of hours later. Wish us luck. We are on our way.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In the gathering light

This morning, with life restoring pots of tea at hand, Robin and I talked in the shifting shadows before the fireplace, and yes the subject was the camino (what a shock..I know), I reflected back to a previous conversation we had about letting go. In short the associated vision is a large old house with many rooms. These rooms represent the various places in our mind where we have placed our life's baggage. Perhaps we have done this to avoid an unpleasantness, delay a confrontation, because we lack the knowledge of what to do, because we fear the unknown, or maybe we are just procrastinators. Whatever the reason this is our house, the place where we dwell. These rooms contain all the constraints and limitations we have placed upon ourselves. These are the things that encumber life's essential freedom (to be). The realization that whatever is entombed in this labyrinth of passageways impedes our journey, limits our happiness and denies what is possible, should give us the courage to approach each door, confront its contents, reconcile or remove what is within, and then move on. Yes, I know it is a lot harder to actually do. As we approach D-Day (departure day for St.Jean) Robin and I have a shared commitment to use our time on the camino to throw open those doors (and a few windows too) and let the scouring winds of the Meseta help us clean house.

Friday, December 10, 2010


My yoga teacher recently gave me a beautiful card. In it, was an excerpt from a poem by John O'Donohue, "For the traveler". I thought I would share with whoever is reading our blog for it contains blessings for everyone, especially those who are about to take a journey, of any kind; journey through an illness, loss of loved ones, journey of finding a new job, journey of raising children, journey of preparing to leave your body, and journey of finding who you really are.

"A journey can become a sacred thing: make sure, before you go, to take the time to bless your going forth, to free your heart of ballast. So that the compass of your soul might direct you toward the territories of spirit. Where you will discover more of your hidden life, and the urgencies that deserve to claim you. May you travel in an awakened way, gathered wisely into your inner ground; that you may not waste the invitations, which wait along the way to transform you. May you travel safely, arrive refreshed, and live your time away to its fullest; Return home more enriched, and free to balance the gift of days which call you."

J has packed his back pack tonight and I am about to pack mine. It is time, to leave behind what is comfortable to us and travel into the unknown where everything will be shaped by the openness of our hearts. My friend D told me that every step I go forward will take me closer to the heart of Christ. So I repose, in thanksgiving for all the possibilities that reside in me.

"Hail Mary, full of grace, bless the journey, bless the place we go to and we leave." Pilgrim Prayer

Thursday, December 9, 2010

John drops the "F" bomb

A local path along the Columbia River
In the hope of providing some context to this pilgrimage I think it is important for me to talk about faith (F bomb incoming!!!). Faith (a complete trust or confidence) is a subject most people keep close to their hearts and are reluctant to share outwardly with strangers. But, for me this time on the camino is indeed about faith. This is a rare chance to work through some of the more difficult accents, switchbacks and declivities of life. Wherever we start from, whatever the troubles we carry, there is always an opportunity to transform that load into a more gentle burden. The camino I'm guessing, as a first timer, isn't meant to be a panacea. The magic seems unlikely to be on the path but rather in the minds and hearts of those who follow it. Sometimes it is only a matter of separation from the distractions around us that opens us to the healing silence of own grace.

Mt. Hood from a viewpoint near our home
It's late, tomorrow is my last day at work (for 2 months), so many thoughts reeling through my mind, lots of questions, but few answers as I head off to some much needed rest...but, on Monday we're off..Yes!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The lightness of being

The organizational efforts of the past many months have devolved into a home office floor strewn with all sorts of odd bits and pieces essential to life on the Camino. It is almost embarrassing to see the random jumble of sporks, clotheslines, gloves, underwear, layering pieces, socks and liners, headlamps, guide books, hats, buffs, ear plugs (snorers in hostels), sleeping bags, gaiters, hikers wool (blister prevention), euros, trash bags (bed bug prevention for packs), and various stuff sacks. All this is scattered in a most random manner across our floor awaiting a critical eye and hand to place them each in their proper place in their respective backpacks. This marks, in some crazy way, the beginning of our separation from the comfort and security of our lives that we have grown accustomed to. Going forward the lightness of being will be our hallmark and perhaps, with luck, a bit of acquired wisdom will, some many days hence, follow us home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just say no?

In effort to maintain my pack weight at minimum, I have packed, unpacked and repacked many times already. I mean, I intellectually understood that the weight should be kept light (sounds logical, anyway) but I didn't realize how deeply I am attached to those little things as if my survival would depend on them. I have never been an outdoor person. I used to joke that my idea of camping would be to stay at the five star hotels. So it has been already a very interesting journey, to just pack my pack! For instance, I am not yet convinced that I can live without a stick of lip balm, Q-Tips, Kleenex tissues, etc. But as I, almost brutally, under the watchful eyes of J that is, list every single thing on the paper and weigh them, it is unreal how everything adds up so quickly to an intolerable number! Finally, I arrived at the point where negotiating isn't even an option. I just had to learn how to say no. I cut my hair short as I had to say no to the traveling size shampoo (for my dry scalp), conditioner, all make-up items, etc. I even said no to the neti-pot....  Well, I will just have to leave my allergies at home, won't I?. No to vitamins, and basically no to any and all things that have contributed to the comfort of my life. I am carrying with me two sets of base layers to keep me warm underneath the water-proof outer shells, three pairs of undies and sox, a very thin and rather small towel to dry my body (I am concerned about this...), one soap which will be used as shampoo, facial cleanser, body wash, and laundry detergent. Well, you get the idea.  It is strange, though. I feel so happy about this. I am so excited that it is possible that I could be absolutely comfortable with how I might look without the help of all these things. I tell you, if nothing else, this Camino will be one heck of a stripped down wellness program!