Sunday, December 18, 2011

From Here to Where?

St Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland, Oregon
A year ago this past week Robin and I set out from St Mary's on our first pilgrimage down the Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, and then on to Finisterre, and Muxia. Much has transpired since that pilgrimage. It is hard to categorize all the changes, but there are plenty. On the strictly physical side we are now almost always walking. Daily walks of 5 to 10 miles are now the norm. On the spiritual side the benefit of the time spent in reflection and contemplation while walking the Camino cannot be overstated. It was a true blessing, and a gift from God to have that quiet time. Thoughts of our community of fellow pilgrims, and the many welcoming hospitaleros we encountered, continue to warm our hearts as we reflect on their kindness and generosity (not to mention their wisdom). Now at home we find ourselves probing more deeply the issues of faith, purpose, and spiritual direction. It is as though that part of our lives caught fire, and we are now always discussing some facet of that inquiry. With Christmas just around the corner, Robin and I fondly recall the joy of sharing last Christmas Eve with our fellow pilgrims in the upper rooms of the albergue in Santo Domingo de Calzada. Daniel, a Canadian friend from the Camino, texted us the other day to simply say hello on this very special anniversary. A simple kindness that was much appreciated.

Whether on the Camino or just living our lives at home, we continue to sense that we are all connected, and we are thankful for that. But, with this realization come new responsibilities. Understanding that what one does affects everyone else, shifts our thinking regarding all people and all things. We sell ourselves short, and diminish our lives, if we feel that we can get through life by simply doing no harm. Doing no harm is a start, but we are called to do something more, perhaps much more. In other words, we have to be active, even bold, in our faith or whatever you choose to call that inner yearning that causes us to seek the Oneness of our beginning. What that means for each of us is what I feel we are all trying to discover, and respond to. We do know that all human activity can be improved with love, charity and a joyful heart. These powerful virtues can, and should be, trusted to safely light the way for the inner journey that beckons all of us.

Reaching Santiago was, in a sense, both an end, and a beginning. The pilgrimage physically came to a close, but at the same time we sensed that in some way it hadn't (the Holy Spirit is always at work). There was something yet to be done. Now far from the Camino our spiritual journey continues to lead us we know not where, but wherever that might be we are now anxious to follow. Perhaps, in the end, this will prove to be the greatest gift of our Camino.

Gracias a Dios

The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela

One Fine Day

Columbia River looking east to Mount Hood

We here in the Pacific Northwest have been enjoying unseasonably dry weather the last couple of weeks as you can see in the attached pictures. Our daily walks (5 to 10 miles) have been a delight as the pleasant sounds of skittering leaves have lingered on long after their usual expiration date. But, we know this clement interlude will surely pass. But, for now we are outside, enjoying life (waterproofs still hanging on the peg in the garage, yes!).

Same day, now almost home

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Change of Latitude... A Change of Attitude?

A friend sent me an email not too long ago and this picture of Fanning Island came with it. This is not Camino related per se, but please indulge me an occasional digression. I had visited this island (actually more of an atoll) back in the mid 70's aboard Kialoa as we made our way back to the States from racing in Australia and New Zealand. This picture seems a perfect antidote to the gloom of a Pacific Northwest winter, which I am about to step out into for a 16 km walk (Camino related after all...well sort of). So close your eyes, let your minds wander to warmer climes, and see if you too can hear the surf breaking on the reef, and smell the tang of salt air. I have a feeling I will be revisiting this post from time to time in the months ahead. Enjoy, and don't forget the sunblock!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Suffering is Optional

Toenails courtesy of the Parador (not Camino standard)
Looking back at Robin's bout of tendinitis (ankle), which halted our Camino in Leon for a few days, I continue to be amazed at her approach to dealing with it. Prior to walking the Camino, in various conversations, Robin would say that pain might be there, but suffering is optional. I listened, but did not truly understand what she was telling me. How can one not "suffer" under the burden of pain? I just couldn't work that out. People who deal with chronic pain must live in a world defaulted to suffering (just my assumption). So, how does one counter that assumption if suffering is not acceptable? How does the physicality of pain coexist within a mind/body that has other plans? This is where Robin enters. She had all the physical symptoms of classic tendinitis (confirmed by an ER doctor in Leon). She was told to rest and not to walk for 5-7 days. She had her ankle taped up and we slogged and hobbled, through a downpour, back to the Parador (our albergue in Leon). We settled in with a bottle of wine, lost in our own thoughts, our moods as somber as the blanket of nimbus hanging low over Leon. As we gazed unfocused on the rain slanting across the garden below, we basically wondered if our Camino had just come to a screeching halt (at least that is what was going through my mind). Robin's mind was working differently (no surprise if you know her). While I was conjuring up schemes involving taxis, and buses to somehow get us to Santiago, Robin was girding herself with a quiet determination to carry on. We spent three nights in Leon. As our stay drew to its end Robin announced she would continue walking. I offered her all the assurances I could that we could break the journey, and come back again, but no, we were bound for Santiago, and would leave the following morning.

Daylight came, we shouldered our packs and walked out onto a Camino freshly scrubbed, glistening with sunlight, and brimming with promise. Robin had removed the tape from her ankle before we left, and walked without any visible limp. In two days time we walked, seemingly without incident, into Astorga. I was simply in awe of how Robin did not seem to be affected by her tendinitis. We walked at our normal pace, and she made no mention of the pain she surely must have been feeling. The next day, as we walked out of Astorga, I could see she was struggling a bit. We paused for her to take some Ibuprofen. After that she closed her eyes and just rolled her bad ankle around a bit as if trying to realign something. In a few brief moments she said she was ready to go on, and so we did eventually arriving in Foncebadon late that afternoon. That evening she shared with me that she had posed a question to herself, "What would happen if I just melted into the pain?" I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but it became evident that Robin had decided that although she was experiencing pain, she was not going to allow that pain to become suffering. Without the limitations of a mindset geared to suffering she was free to reach an accommodation with her pain (Ibuprofen helped), and continue her Camino. The astonishing part is that she never mentioned it again. She walked with me stride for stride, not limping, not stopping early, not asking for any help at all. Of course I was asking her all the time if she wanted me to help, but no she was fine. This, it is important to note, was not her playing the martyr so I could continue my Camino. She honestly was fine, not pain free by any means, but fine. I still don't understand it, but that is what it was. We continued walking to Santiago without any problems and then, still feeling fine, continued further on to Finisterre and Muxia. Many weeks later, sharing a glass of wine at home, she confided to me that her bout with tendinitis had been a great learning experience for her, a much cherished Camino moment. She discovered (these are my words) some elemental connection between mind and body, a pathway mostly left obscured, had revealed itself to her, for whatever reason, just when she needed it most. I called it a Camino miracle (thank you Holy Spirit), but Robin just smiled.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Month of Remembrance

It is in the Catholic tradition to view the month of November from the Feast of All Saints until the beginning of Advent as a month of remembrance for all the departed souls. I find this to be a particularly healing season as we reflect and offer our prayers for all those family members and friends who have left this world. As I was driving home last Sunday, across the Columbia River, I was flippng through the radio channels and I heard this song, The Last Port of Call. It just seemed to speak to this season and I guess to me. It is now particularly moving for me as I have learned just this week of the loss of a good friend and shipmate, from Tasmania, to cancer. So, for Nick...

...Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell;
When I embark:

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

From Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Crossing the Bar

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Daylight is struggling to shift the morning mists to a paler shade of grey. Portland to the south, shrouded in fog, is lost from view. The nearest trees are just vague dark smudges, hardly silhouettes. Robin, got a lead on me today as she rose early to prepare her music for an ordination mass this morning. I followed an hour later, gathering a bit of breakfast and some tea (Bamboo Mountain) along the way. As the trilling of scales upstairs signaled no conversation was forthcoming I reached out for the book nearest at hand. It was John Brierley's Camino Guide. A few days earler, Robin and I, had been caught in a Camino moment (again), and dug out John's book to clarify a name. It has since been close at hand (why bother to put it away). Some, as I have read, feel John's writing is a bit too reflective. They just want the practical bits. But, I thoroughly connect with him, and enjoy his inner musings. The Camino for Robin, and I, presented many of the same challenges that John relates in his guide. After all, don't we all share the same human weaknesses? It is clearly important to have a full understanding of the route, the equipment you will need, the terrain, and the weather, but it is also became clear as we walked along that there was an inner journey that emerged which we had not fully considered or prepared for. Of course, I don't know how one prepares for that sort of thing, but that companion journey turned out to be more compelling than the physical one. I guess I would just simply say to be aware for the blessing of silence and the freedom from distraction. What that enables on your Camino will be your personal discovery, and joy. For us, it was in those many quiet moments, as we made our way down the Camino in December and January, where our faith awakened, and a connection to the Camino was forged forever. Robin often refers to this experience as a love letter from God. She just might be on to something.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

There is a longing in my heart

Robin and I saw the movie "The Way" yesterday and found ourselves dealing with a cascade of emotion as we were brought back to our time on the Camino. I particularly was drawn to a comment in the film that said no one walks the Camino by accident. I believe that is true. Yes, admittedly it is hard to understand just how all this would work when people walk the Camino for so many different reasons, but are those reasons really so different. Therein lies the mystery. Perhaps there is a connective thread of sorts that weaves its way through the many pilgrims and their personal journeys to and along the Camino. We have a Canadian friend, Daniel, who we met on the Camino, who would say that, regarding the Camino, we all start as walkers but finish as pilgrims. After his three Caminos I trust his wisdom on the subject. It is almost as though the prayers of all the saints and all the pilgrims past transform us as we make pilgrimage to Santiago. For people who have other views (or none) of religion or spirituality they try to resist this feeling because it is such an alien concept. But, with All Saints Day just around the corner I feel particularly connected to those who have proceeded us in this life especially those who, over the past thousand years, have made their way along the Camino. Whatever mindset you bring to the Camino the prayers of those many pilgrims past will be your constant companion and comforter even if you choose to believe that the many wonders of the Camino are just a bit of good luck.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The story continues

I have long been absent from this blog as business and other distractions have competed (and prevailed) for my time. I know it is not fair to anyone's readers to just depart from the story without explanation, but in the blog world this just seems to happen. I must admit it is a strange etiquette that we sadly get accustomed to. Perhaps it is because bloggers are at once both intimate with and yet distant from our readers that we grant ourselves permission to behave differently (perhaps even badly). My apologies.

To the story...much has happened since my last post. Robin and I, looking at our finances and making an accounting of what we might do in the time we are gifted with, have decided to opt for retirement. This seemed like a straight forward decision, but as the months have passed my mind has been flooded with the consideration of the consequences (both intended and unintended) of walking away from a career. This I have found is a separation process that simply requires working through. It is not as though I am bailing out early. I will be 65 in November and that just seemed like enough time devoted to the comings and goings of life at the office. So now what? In the short term it is completing the separation process, getting our finances settled down, and simply enjoy walking in the autumnal glory of the Pacific Northwest. It is interesting to note that since returning from the Camino last February Robin and I have hardly missed a day walking. We seem to do at least five miles a day (after work) and the ten miles on a Saturday and Sunday as events allow. It is just what we now do. I also cannot deny the impacts that future Caminos have on our walking schedule. Let's just say we are trying to stay "Camino ready."

The Arles route still has its strong calling. We had hoped to be able to start this coming winter but a March pilgrimage to the Holy Land has intervened and it now looks as though the earliest we could start will be October 2012. That would give us the time to continue on to Santiago and Finisterre and perhaps on to Muxia again before returning home for Christmas. Another option, offered by a friend, is to walk Cadiz, Seville, Santiago, Ferrol. We will get our plans in order this winter as we settle into retirement and just see how things work out. One way or another we will be back on the Camino just as soon we can. In the meantime we will fully enjoy each day that comes our way.

A few weeks back Robin and I climbed a local mountain, Larch Mountain, with our Camino packs (17 and 20 pounds respectively). It was great to feel the weight of our packs and to enjoy the challenge of crossing the Pyrenees in Portland once again. Left at 8:45 and found ourselves in the base lodge bar at 4:45 after 14 miles (roundtrip) and 8000 feet of elevation change (4000 up and 4000 back). A cold beer never tasted so good. Knees hurt like hell for two days, but loved every minute of it.

Columbia River from the summit

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Arles Route

Click to enlarge

I am starting to research this route to identify what times of the year when risk outweighs reward. Robin and I would love to do it in the fall or early winter. We were very lucky with our Camino Frances this past winter as the weather was unusually clement. I suspect that bit of luck has now run its course and we therefore must expect, and plan for, a mountain winter with lots of snow and cold temps. The question is always how much snow and just how cold? One thing that I am realizing is that weather in these mountain ranges is absolutely unpredictable. We just want to be as sure as possible that the weather extremes at the time of year we travel will be survivable. No fools us. We are attracted to the road less traveled and I notice that this route seems to fit that bill. This can also be a point of concern as one might ask the question why that is the case. I need to better understand that. This route ends at Puente la Reina, but we would hope to continue on to Santiago and Finisterre as well. We shall see. We are in the early stages of our planning, but already I sense a growing restlessness to be back on the Camino. So for now I am enjoying the pre-camino planning, dreaming, and preparing that I find so compelling and encouraging. It is this interim of anticipation that gives us time to gather our strength, relish our dreams, and smile at the challenges. We shall see what reality comes later. But for now, we are beckoned, and at the end of each day, a prayer is offered that soon we will feel the good earth of the camino under our hiking boots once again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

감사합니다! (greetings to Korean Pilgrims)

카미노여행중 가장놀라왔던것중의 하나는 많은 한국인들이 이순례자의길을 알고있고 또 참여하고있다는것이었다. 내가 한국을 떠난지 26년이 지났고 그동안 많은것이 변했지만 여행중에, 특히 이 먼순례자의길에서 모국인들은 만난다는것은 기쁜일이 아닐수없다. 더많은 세월이 지나기전에 남편과 함께 다시한번 카미노순례를 하기원하며 또 그때에는 Hospitalero서 봉사하는것도 계획하는중이다. 그때 만날 모국인들을 위하여 내가할수있는일이 무엇인가를 늘 생각하고 있으며, 작은것이라도 도움을 줄수있기를 기대한다.
카미노에서 만났던 모국인들, 그리고 지금까지 우리블락을 읽어주신 모든 분들에게 감사드리며, Buen Camino!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Once and future pilgrims

A few short months have passed since our return from the Camino, but in a sense we never left it. Each day we talk, to some degree or another, about its impact on us. We nibble around the edges of a variety of scenarios that all lead us back to Spain to that unique fulfillment that the Camino experience provides. Hospitalero training and volunteering, longer routes, shorter routes, no established routes all are in orbit as possibilities as we consider the next step in our relationship with the Camino and the community of travelers it embraces. Time and money are the two practical matters that loom ever present. Sometimes those matters are in the foreground but mostly in the background as we don't want constraints on our dreams. In our experience audacious plans have always found a pathway to fruition. Why shackle one's imagination. Life really is too short to undershoot or sell short what your heart calls you to do. Sure there will be trade offs and sacrifices but dreams can become reality and should. Caution, security, and stability all have a place in our lives, but these concerns should be tempered so as not to be allowed to limit our lives, cripple our imaginations, and strip us of hope.

Think back on any work environment and see what becomes of youth after a career of sacrifice, caution, and dreams denied. It is pretty chilling. Obviously, work careers are not always that bleak, but frequently enough, they are. Enough of that, as we each know where our particular balance point between acknowledging our responsibilities and converting hope to action lies. My point being (at last) that our peace will never be discovered on a field of trepidation. Find the courage to dream large and stop living in the future as the present is all we truly have and can count on.

So, taking our own words of advice Robin and I will be looking to return to the Camino next year. Our hope is that we can have a plan in place by next summer to walk the Arles route into Spain, via the Somport pass, and then continue down the Camino Frances to Santiago and on to Finisterre. This is a longer route (about a 1000 miles total) and a bit more rigorous as there is a fair amount of mountain walking, but courage mes amis, along with the prayers of pilgrims past will win the day. Our preference would be to start in the fall so as to arrive at Finisterre by mid December and allow time to be home at Christmas. Robin promised her choir director that she would not jump ship over Christmas again. Some constraints, as we see, are simply there.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thoughts on a friend's wife passing

As Robin and I returned from a friend's memorial service this afternoon, for his recently departed wife, we could not help but reflect on the fleeting nature of our time in this life and the complexities of reconciling life and death. I would guess that we all have a spiritual relationship that usually hides quietly, for some, behind an artifice that screens our true feelings. This is not a revelation but simply a recognition of how guarded we are when it comes to talking about the inner journey we all experience. Organized religions compete for our pastoral care and our contributions, but when one really drills down, how different are we? My guess is that the answer is not much. To that point Robin reminded me of two transcendent Native American poems that capture eloquently that sense of universal loss, hope, and reconciliation that we all struggle to embrace as those we love depart.

A Native American Prayer

Do not stand at my grave and weep. 
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the softly falling snow,
I am the gentle showers of rain, I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am the morning hush. I am the graceful rush of beautiful birds in circling flight.

I am the star shine of the night, 
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room,
I am in the birds that sing, I am in each lovely thing.

Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there,
I do not die.

A Lakota Prayer

Oh, great Spirit

Whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear Me ! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. 

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy, myself.

Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes. 
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, 
my spirit may come to you without shame.

As you reflect on these words let us be reminded that we are all travelers on this earth each sharing a piece of the universal truth of why we are here and what we are meant to do. Our charge is to find the language that allows us all to converse and share, as eloquently as we can, about how each of us effects change in the hearts of those we encounter.

Peace be with you...

Friday, April 29, 2011


One of the remarkable things we discovered on the Camino is the way people suddenly come into your life with a purpose and a message. At first it seemed as though these encounters were just the usual passing acquaintances we experience in everyday life. But when we had a moment to reflect further they seemed almost scripted, set in place, as signposts, to lead us somewhere. We all meet people throughout our lives but the Camino seems to shine a spotlight on these encounters. Perhaps it is because there are so few distractions. In the end it is just eating, sleeping and walking. Pretty simple life, right. Let's see.

As I was warming in the flickering glow of the fireplace this morning (spring here in the Pacific northwest is still unseasonably cold and wet) thinking about this post I thought of a satellite looking down on the Camino tracking all of the many pilgrims unaware of its presence. But patterns could be discerned as tiny figures inched towards meeting places and each other. This thought of people from all corners of the earth and all walks of life moving inexorably towards some place where their lives were going to intersect and somehow be changed was striking. Robin and I met several people while we were on the Camino and we realized that from each of those encounters a message was passed and wisdom was gained. All we had to do was put our story on hold and listen. And listen we did. A Spanish pilgrim who emerged out of nowhere and disappeared again but not before passing on his message of the importance of kindness to others and sharing while on the Camino. Was this meant for us specifically? Who could know, but the message holds universal truth and deserves to be passed along even as a reminder. Thank you, mysterious pilgrim.

Another encounter was with a Japanese man living in a small Spanish village. He saw us in a bar and pursued us with kindness (sharing food and drink) and eventually pulled a chair up to our table. He had a tale to tell and it could not be contained. His story centered on a woman back in Japan who he was in love with but his need to get free from the constraints of the Japanese culture caused him to flee to rural Spain leaving a heartbroken women behind. She begged him to return, he would not answer her letters. She sent him airline tickets. He sold them to cover his bar tab. In short he erased her from his life. Now almost forty years later he is haunted with guilt for the way he treated this woman. He never reconciled with her and she eventually died. His sadness was visible and his need to get this story out was palpable. Why us and why now? We were just pilgrims sitting in a bar. Again, who knows but his message was clear. Always reconcile the many differences we experience in life. The burden, if you don't, is simply crushing. Wow.

Another memorable encounter was with a young South African man, Derick, in Ruitelan. We met walking but shared much more over a couple of glasses of beer in a bar on the flanks of O'Cebreiro. The fading afternoon light had brought a chill to the mountain air but inside this small bar our worlds warmly comingled as our messages were passed along. This was like a transfusion of energy and purpose as we worked through the why of our meeting and the impact on the way ahead. I always find these situations fascinating and intriguing. And I can't help but wonder why they happened?

A final thought. One afternoon, as we walked through occasional rain showers on the road to Muxia, we hailed a passing car and asked for directions. The driver, an elderly farmer, told us to go the "cruz " and turn left. Well in Spanish the word for cross is also the word for intersection. Perhaps this symbol, the cross, which for centuries has been a source of spirtual comfort and guidance for beleaguered pilgrims also reminds us that, whenever our lives intersect (cross) with others, we form a community of seekers looking to one another for help with our journey while sharing the hope of  finding healing, wisdom, and grace. The cross always beckons, but it's mystery is only unlocked when we choose to respond.

Buen camino

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Amazing grace

 I apologize for my infrequent posting but work has set me upon the road attending a variety of meetings in various parts of this very large country. So, rather than doing what I enjoy most (writing about the Camino), I have of late found myself compressed into economy class, with my Kindle for companionship, crossing time zones surviving on cold sandwiches and little bottles of red wine. But now I'm back along with the echoes of gravel crunching under my boots, and fond memories of the freedom of spirit that so characterized our camino. The story resumes on the southern flanks of the Pyrenees with our bodies adjusting to this new line of work and our minds awash in the magnificence of this moment. But, wherein  lies the "why" in all this? Let's get to that.

We are restless beings, always on the move, seemingly never satisfied. Where are we headed? On the Camino after Zubiri is it Cizur Menor? And after that, now where? What guides us onward? What is our true destination? Does arrival in Santiago put us finally at rest. Physically, perhaps, but is that the essential purpose of this pilgrimage? Who could know? Does the restlessness disappear? Does this pilgrim road ever end? Is it meant to? Are you okay with that? Yikes, I just thought I was going for a walk albeit a bit of a long one.

I have found we are drawn Home to the Oneness, the peace/love, that was our issue at the beginning. That, to my way of thinking, is where Robin and I (and I suspect everyone else) hopefully are bound. All of our lives are pilgrim journeys, always afoot, always seeking the grace that we, at our very core, must reconnect with. All the rest is dross. Distractions from the main event. Whatever your religious beliefs are, or are not, I would offer that the times in your lives when everything just seems right have nothing to do with things or accomplishments (the sense of satisfaction is fleeting, isn't it?), but everything to do with accepting the hand of the One who guides us. Pure joy is found in these precious humble moments of insight (ah! hah!) when we discover the Way we are meant to follow. That is what led Robin and I to the Camino. It was an unscripted response to a sense that it was time to walk this particular leg of our journey Home. We felt something to be learned awaited us as we unconsciously prepared by peeling away distractions (shedding unnecessary weight), airing out our minds, and embracing contemplation and prayer. In that spiritual freedom our daily camino stages were transformed into walking meditations which I surprisingly enjoyed. It was the last thing I expected. It wasn't my plan, but it was the one I walked, and that made all the difference.

We search for the bread that once partaken forever satisfies our hunger, and the cup that once consumed forever satisfies our thirst. Is it just up ahead? Is it further down the Camino? Will it be on our way home? Not to worry, just keep walking (Ultreia!). Find and follow your Way.  Your heart will lead you on a truly peaceful journey and even if we get lost...grace will lead us Home.

Buen camino

Monday, March 28, 2011

We seekers

Day began in the pre-dawn half light, stretched out in front of the fireplace, the heat warming the stiffness from my body, watching the steam curl up from a small pot of tea, while gathering my thoughts for this blog. It is another typical Pacific Northwest early spring morning with a quilt of dove grey clouds hanging low over the valley with a few peaks to the east nestled into its soft underside. A sliver of pale light is struggling in vain to separate valley and cloud. This, for me, is the golden time when my mind, unfettered, tends to embrace all the possibilities of another new day. It seems, these days, I find myself winging back across the Atlantic and onto the Camino. I don't want to obsess on the experience but it certainly has gripped (perhaps embraced is a better word) both Robin and I in a way that we can't (or don't want to) let go of.

Why did we go? To some it might seem reckless to run off to a foreign country and set out to walk across a good portion of it. What about this, and what about that? Have you ever done anything like this before came the questions from well meaning friends. Of course, we had no experiences to match up with what we proposed to do, but we also had a sense that all would be well (hubris or faith?). Is this the way others set out? Who could know, but in one sense it didn't matter for once we were there it became obvious that we would simply walk our own camino. After all, there is no standard to follow. Just follow the markers and your heart. We all have a point of departure and a point of arrival in mind when we travel. It frames the journey and provides context for the time and effort spent to get to our destination. Plus, as part of our human legacy, we are more comfortable with known limits. Our journey started out in a somewhat similar fashion. Get to the point of departure, join the camino, set a goal for each day and walk that plan until you arrive in Santiago. Seemed easy enough. Oh, also be open minded enough to realize that all plans are subject to change (hmmm...). We got it (we thought), and were ready to go.

After one night in St. Jean we started up the valley route to Roncesvalles. That first day was exhilarating as we engaged the pitch of the pass adjusting our steps to the cadence of our upbeat mood. Everything just felt right for both Robin and I. We were finally walking the Camino. We were still bone tired from the trip to St. Jean, but with perfect weather for our ascent our fatigue slipped away, and as we climbed we realized a joy unlike any other we could remember.  A call had been answered and we were on the Camino and underway at last. But, what about the "why" of the journey? I haven't forgotten.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


We have been home now for about a month and a half and I finally feel ready to start posting some reflections on our Camino. We have put up all the information about gear and accommodations (the outer journey) but the story of the inner journey is much on my mind these days and looking for a way out. Let's see where this takes us. Welcome aboard.

 When Robin and I set out on the Camino we were reasonably fit, felt we had the right gear and a pack weight we could carry to Santiago. Those were the basics. Beyond that there was, let's call it, a feeling that something else was looming in our future. We simply knew that this would be more than a long, interesting walk. Of course, we had read a great deal about the Camino including many personal accounts of how pilgrims were impacted by the journey. For some it was a unfortunate litany of physical ailments (tendonitis, blisters, muscle aches, illness, etc), for others it was a grand adventure, a physical accomplishment, and then there were the more compelling tales (for me) of providence found along the Way. In truth, I thought our trip might be a sampling of all the above. It just seemed logical that there would be some challenges (daily distances to cover, aching or damaged body parts, steepness of grade, cold/wet weather), and it was certainly going to an adventure. The providence part well, who could say for sure what that might be. Our minds were open, we were excited, but we harbored a certain wariness of the unknown as well. What we did not appreciate until much later was the why of this journey. In truth we did look forward to being able to say, "We did it." What we did not foresee is what it did to us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Winter Camino Slide Show

J took more than 2,000 photos from our Camino and these are some of my favorites. I am not very keen on taking pictures when we travel but I am so glad he is! If you've walked the Camino I hope this will take you back to those wonderful moments. I believe there are seasons for everything and perhaps, and only if you desire, let this be an invitation for you to seek your own Camino. Wherever you are, enjoy the journey. Buen Camino!

p.s.) Unfortunately, this video is currently blocked in Germany due to a copyright law that I am not familiar with. I have joined 4 tracks of songs into one track in order to upload .mov file slide show (which is generated from my iPhoto) onto the Youtube without loosing the audio. YouTube only picks up the first audio track of .mov file and the rest of the video is mute.

You may view this video directly from YouTube for a slightly larger viewing size. Google "Caminoat6450" and there you should find all three videos in this blog.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Sunday walk in the pouring rain...waterproof jacket or poncho?

Our walk started out all right with cloudy skies and light winds and just a few veils of showers coming over the west hills in Portland. It was a Sunday walk just to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Everything we had on we wore on the Camino. Today it was waterproof jackets and pants. No ponchos. Off we went down past Fort Vancouver, across the land bridge that leads you to a walking path along the Columbia River where we turned east. The first 8K was fine and our pace was steady and brisk. We were really enjoying ourselves. At Tidewater Cove, where we doubled back, I could see heavier showers approaching. No worries lets see how all this gear holds up. It was shortly thereafter when the first drops greeted us and the trees started moving to the rhythm of the gusting winds. We shortly were being pelted by driving rain and much stronger winds. Sheets of water ran off our jackets and pants down over our boots. The older trees were shedding smaller limbs. We were effectively underwater. We actually never had any rain like this on the Camino so I thought this will be a perfect test. We slogged on towards home doing constant mental body scans seeking out possible wet spots beneath the hard shell, soft shell, Gore tex, and whatever. I got the first hit. Left foot upper part definitely damp. These were the same brand and model boots I wore successfully on the Camino but not the same pair (that pair presented no problems fording streams in Spain). These will go back to REI next week. Then I noticed a dampness running down my right arm, below the elbow. This was then followed by dampness in the front of my pants. Robin fared much better and arrived home without much complaint in her hard shell outfit. My soft shell jacket and pants were advertised as waterproof, but I guess one could add, up to a point. Today's weather must have moved just beyond that point. We finished our walk. Had a wonderful day of it and learned something valuable. Even the best gear can leak so it is still wise to carry a poncho (for us it's the Altus). You will never know when you might need it, and it covers your pack as well. Our "swim" home was followed by a couple of  cold Believer Double Red Ales (from Ninkasi Brewery) in front of the fireplace. As we sat warming and drying ourselves by the fire, and enjoying our well deserved ale, I must admit my thoughts drifted far from home, to some rural part of northern Spain, where Robin and I were still inching westward.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What have we missed?

Robin and I are very close to posting our slide show and are continuing to work on some further reflections on our recent "Christmas Camino", but in the meantime it would be helpful if any reader has a question please leave a comment with your request and we shall attempt to answer it. I must restate that we are very sorry that we were not able to respond to the many kind and thoughtful comments posted while we were walking. Now that we are home we will be more responsive to comments and questions posted on this blog. You, our readers, have given us much encouragement and we are truly thankful for your willingness to share our journey and our enthusiasm for the Camino. We will be continuing to keep this site active as we look forward to our return to Spain and our next winter camino (summers are definitely out).


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Our Christmas Eve on the Camino...almost no room at the inn

On December 24th, Daniel, our fleet afoot French Canadian friend, and Good Shepherd, was talking to a couple of women in the plaza front of the albergue when we arrived in Santo Domingo. J and I both looked at each other and said "this does not look good!". The albergue was supposed to be open, but was closed and there were no other places available for us, now growing colder, pilgrims. A local young lady assured us that she would try to find someone to help us. I sat down on a cold stone bench and started to pray; "Hail Mary, you gave birth to Jesus this night, please be the mother of us all." The young lady did find someone, an elderly gentleman who possessed the key to our deliverance.  But he said that he did not have the authority to open the door unless it was approved by the hospitalero. We informed them there will be more pilgrims coming this way who will also need a place to stay. He should expect a total of 8 pilgrims. He then made a call and a few minutes later opened the door of the albergue, and fired up the heat. As we were taking off our boots the hospitalera arrived. During the registration she said that the door will be locked and no one will be allowed to leave the building once all 8 pilgrims have arrived. This meant no Midnight Mass for this Christmas Eve! My heart sank but there was nothing I could do other than be thankful that we found shelter on this now very cold night. When we finally claimed our beds, after climbing three flights of stairs, another urgent thought came to my mind. What about dinner? There were no restaurants open. We hurriedly cleaned up and set out looking for a store to buy food for dinner.  After a few disheartening moments we did find a supermarket that was still open. I cannot even begin to tell you how happy I was at that moment! Yes, we were disappointed that we couldn't attend the Midnight Mass but we were determined to make this is a special night. In the end we decided to purchase and prepare dinner for our fellow pilgrims. I made leek soup (using a plate as a cutting board and with a table knife), pasta bolognaise and an array of canned and jarred side dishes, cheeses and meats, and of course, a few bottles of wine. There were J and I, Daniel from Canada, Rox and his mom Grace from Mexico, Haelee from South Korea, Susanne from Germany, Ken from Tennessee. The room was filled with laughter, and the table abundant, as we each introduced ourselves and shared the reason for our presence here at that moment. After about ten thousand 'saluds' Rox offered to sing a Mexican song, as his Christmas gift to all of us (see video from my i phone above). It was indeed a memorable night in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. A group of strangers whose lives happened to intersect in an unfamiliar town, found shelter with help from other strangers, became friends, shared a Christmas Eve meal together, and laughed until we couldn't anymore. I wondered about a common saying that I often hear; "we are all so different". Are we really, and are we really strangers? I now wonder...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our daily progress and accommodations

J and I started walking our Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port on December 15, 2010. This posting provides our daily progress, and accommodations through to Muxia which we reached on January 28, 2011. Comments on albergues are personal observations and should simply be regarded as such. Numbered days are days actually walked and do not include lay days (we took two of those in Leon). The numbers following the numbered days reflect the kilometers and miles walked for that day, and the miles walked that day adjusted for climbing (using the John Brierley formula). So each is described according to the format in bold below. Day 0 was our arrival day in St. Jean (no walking). Day 1 is our first day walking the Camino.

Day / Date / Destination / Km / Ml / Adj Ml* / Albergue / Comments
*Adjusted for climb
Total Walking Days: 41
Total Distance: 914.6 Km / 570.8 Mls / 611.8 Adj. Mls
Daily Average Distance: 22.3 Km / 13.9 Mls / 14.9 Adj. Mls   
Day 0 / Dec. 14 / St. Jean / 0 / 0 / 0 / Alberge de Pelerin / Municipal albergue located just a couple blocks from the pilgrim office. Jeanine, an elderly, and very kind, third generation hospitalera waited on us! Small but clean. Simple breakfast (coffee, tea, toast), donativo. Well heated.
Albergue in St. Jean

Day 1 / Dec. 15 / Valcarlos / 12.6 / 7.9 / 10 / Luzaideko Aterpea / Municipal albergue, located right at the end of a steep (50 ft?) concrete paved uphill section of the Camino path at the entrance of town. Small, clean, has a full kitchen and dining room, no washer&dryer (W&D). Well heated.

Albergue in Roncesvalles
Day 2 / Dec. 16 / Roncesvalles / 11.8 / 7.4 / 9.4 / Alberuge Collegiate Church / Very small town. In the winter they use a small section of the albergue on the ground floor as this is a huge facility. Relatively warm. W&D. No kitchen or common area. Small personal light came in handy as the access hallways were poorly lit. The only place to eat and get warm, when we were there, was the restaurant (also has hostal La Posada but closed for winter) just downhill from the seminary grounds. Loved their fireplace! Restaurant has internet.

Day 3 / Dec. 17 / Zubiri / 22.2 / 13.9/ 14.5 / Pension Usoa (628-05-80-48; / Very nice 3 bdr & 2 bath apartment, has kitchen, dining, living room. One bathroom has bathtub! W/D, well heated. You can prepare your meals here. Internet.

Ablergue Roncal
Day 4 / Dec. 18 / Cizur Menor / 27 / 16.9 / 18.4 / Roncal  / Private albergue. Located just up and to the right from the crossroad as you enter the town. Relatively warm. Clean. Kitchen & Dining Rms. W&D in separate building. We were in winter quarters so only one shower & toilet. Internet.

Albergue Padres Reparadores
Day 5 / Dec. 19 / Puente la Reina / 19.6 / 12.2 / 13.3 / Padres Reparadores / Seminary run albergue. Poorly heated. Kitchen & Dining Rms. W&D. Nice and clean but cold.

Day 6 / Dec. 20 / Estella / 21.1 / 13.1 / 14.1 / Iglesia Parroquial de St Miguel Arcangel / Parish run albergue. Hospitalera prepared dinner. You may contribute wine or bread. Clean and well heated. W&D. Separate shower & toilets for men & women. Donativo. Nice and welcoming. Internet in parish community center next to church.
Iglesia Parroquial de St. Miguel Arcangel
Day 7 / Dec. 21 / Los Arcos / 21.7 / 13.5 / 14.7 / Casa Alberdi / Private albergue. Poorly heated. Everything in the facility seemed old and unclean. Kitchen & Dining rooms in separate building but they were unheated (very cold) Laundry done by the owner at fee (but make sure your clothes are dry). Internet.

Albergue Puerta del Revellin
Day 8 / Dec. 22 / Logrono / 27.8 / 17.3 / 18.3 / Puerta del Revellin / Private albergue, located in the middle of the new town (opposite direction from municipal albergue in old town) and in a large apartment complex. New, very clean, and well heated. Laundry done by the owner at fee. No kitchen but small common area.

Day 9 / Dec. 23 / Najera / 29.4 / 18.3 / 19.3 / Municipal / Old but well kept. Donativo. Operated by volunteer hospitaleros who are eager to help you. Laundry done by the hospitalero at fee. Kitchen & Dining room. Internet. Close to the old town.
Albergue in Najera

Day 10 / Dec. 24 / Santo Domingo de la Calzada / 21 / 13 / 14 / Casa del Santo / Association run albergue in the middle of town. Donativo. Kitchen & dining room. No W&D. Well heated. Albergue located 3 flights up the stairs. There is a new section but that was closed for the winter. We spent our Christmas Eve with 6 other pilgrims.

Day 11 / Dec. 25 / Belorado / 23.9 / 14.9 / 16 / Pension Toni / Small rooms but clean and well heated. Laundry done by the owner at fee.

Day 12 / Dec. 26 / Villafranca Montes de Oca / 11.9 / 7.4 / 8.1 / Municipal / Clean. Relatively warm. Kitchen & Dining rooms. No W&D but extensive washing area. Internet (it wasn't working).

Pension Papasol
Day 13 / Dec. 27 / Atapuerca / 18.4 / 11.5 / 12.3 / Papasol / Small pension & restaurant, bar. Relatively warm. No W&D. The entire town was closed so our only option was to stay and eat here. Not bad.

Day 14 / Dec. 28 / Burgos / 18.2 / 11.4 / 12 / La Casa del Cubo / Association (Amigos del Camino de Santiago) run, newly remodeled huge albergue. Very modern, clean, private lighting and plug, well heated, walls between bunk beds for privacy, W&D, internet. Kitchen, Dining and common areas. One of the nicest on the Camino.

 Dormitory in Burgos
 Dining Room in Burgos
 Dormitory in Burgos
Day 15 / Dec. 29 / Hornillos del Camino / 20.5 / 12.7 / 13.3 / Municipal / Small albergue next to church. Some remodeling done in the shower & toilets. Kitchen & Dining room. No W&D. The only heat was a fireplace in the kitchen which we weren't allowed to touch until hospitalera's husband, who happens to be a head administrator of the town, awoke from his siesta (while we froze). They also own a bar which was closed but she opened it so we could purchase some food and wine. The fire was lit around 7 p.m. Thank God! But, alas, it went out long before we awoke the next morning. It was close to 50 F when we woke up.

Day 16 / Dec. 30 / Castrojeriz / 21.2 / 13.2 / 14 / San Esteban / Municipal albergue, located on the highest point of the town. Donativo. Nice view. Run by township volunteers, usually one of the local shop or restaurant owners. Very clean, relatively warm, small kitchen & dining area, no W&D. Internet.

Day 17 / Dec. 31 / Fromista / 25.5/ 15.8 / 16.6 / Hostal Camino de Santiago / Located near church, small but clean and well heated. Include self-service breakfast (coffee, tea, toast) in the dining room. No W&D.

Day 18 / Jan. 1 / Carrion de los Condes / 20.1 / 12.5 / 12.7 / Espiritu Santo / Convent run albergue located downtown. Very clean and relatively warm. Small kitchen & dining room, separate shower & toilets for men & women, donativo internet. Nuns have to open the door each time you want to go out and when you return.

Peaceable Kingdom
Day 19 / Jan. 2 / Moratinos / 30.1 / 18.8 / 19 / Tiera de Campos or better known as Peaceable Kingdom (34-979-061-016, / Private home modified to serve a few and lucky pilgrims at a time. Owned by expat-American and Irish journalists (Rebekah and Patrick). Very hospitable, clean, warm. Lodging, W&D, and dinner are all donativo.  Contact them in advance to check availability.

Keeping warm at the albergue El Burgo Ranero
Day 20 / Jan. 3 / El Burgo Ranero / 23.6 / 14.8 / 14.8 / Domenico Laffi / Municipal, run by very friendly hospitalero. Small and very clean but no heat other than fireplace in the dining room. But our conversations with the hospitalero via my iPhone based Google Translator made for a memorable evening. Has a very clean kitchen & dining room. Internet.

Day 21 / Jan. 4 / Viliarente / 25.8 / 16.2 / 16.6 / Hostal La Montana / Located in the middle of town by the main road, if you managed to get there without getting hit by cars when you cross the very narrow bridge into the town! Rooms located upstairs of the bar & restaurant. No W&D.

Hostal San Marcos Parador
Day 22 / Jan. 5 / Leon / 15.9 / 10 / 10.5 / Parador Hostal De San Marcos / Oh, you must try it yourself. We stayed two extra nights for my upcoming 50th birthday and to let my sore ankle rest.

Trying to stay warm at San Martin
Day 23 / Jan. 8 / San Martin / 27.5 / 17.2 / 18 / Albergue Ana / Private albergue & restaurant and bar on the main road. They told us very frankly that there is no heat in the dormitory but they will turn on heat for private rooms. We paid for a private room but I went to bed, fully dressed with a hat! No W&D. Internet.

Albergue in Astorga
Day 24 / Jan. 9 / Astorga / 25.7 / 16 / 17 / Siervas de Maria / Association run albergue located in the Plaza San Francisco. Donativo. Very clean, modern, kitchen, dining, deck. Hospitalero does laundry at fee and he was eager to help. In fact, he gave us information about which albergue is open for our next three destinations. Internet.

Day 25 / Jan. 10 / Foncebadon / 27.2 / 17 / 18.9 / Monte Irago / Association run albergue in the semi-ruined town. Optional dinner & breakfast at fee. Relatively warm. Hospitaleros are very friendly. Lobby area serves as dining and common area with fireplace (which was a saving grace!). No W&D but you can practice yoga the next morning with Filipe, the hospitalero. Be sure to eat before you leave for the long and arduous descent to Ponferrada.

On a side note, you can stay and eat at Rabanal del Camino, a town 6 Km before Foncebadon. Also, on your way to Ponferrada, be sure to stop at what looks like a hut in Manjarin. That is the entire town! You will meet a group of habitants with Knights Templar costumes who love to serve you. I wouldn't eat, drink, or stay there (it's pretty rough). But get a stamp on your credential for your future trip down memory lane.

Albergue in Ponferrada, facing the courtyard
Day 26 / Jan. 11 / Ponferrada / 26 / 16.25 / 18.75 / San Nicolas De Flue / Municipal albergue at donativo. Clean and well kept with beautiful chapel across the court yard. I was delighted to meet the same hospitalero whom we had pleasure meeting in Najera. Hospitalero does laundry at fee. He gave us a private room! Well, a room with two bunk beds but just is as private as you can get.

Day 27 / Jan. 12 / Villafranca del Bierzo / 26 / 16.3 / 17 / Parador / We were going to stay at private albergue called Ave Fenix since the municipal albergue was closed. But we were struck by the funkiness of the place and opted to move on. There are many pensions and hostals in town but most of them, if not all, were closed. So, we went to the Parador, a new modern business hotel. Gosh, it was a very difficult choice to make....

Day 28 / Jan. 13 / Ruitelan / 17.2 / 10.8 / 13 / Pequeno Potala / Municipal, optional dinner & breakfast at fee. Hospitalero does laundry at fee. Relatively clean & warm.

Albergue in O'Cebreiro
Day 29 / Jan. 14 / O'Cebreiro / 9.5 / 6 / 7 / Xunta* / Modern, clean, warm, separate shower & toilets for men & women. W&D. Great view!

*Municipal albergues in Galicia are Xunta, regional government owned & operated. Most of them are modern, clean and very well heated. Most of them have kitchen & dining but with very limited cooking wears. None of the ones we stayed at had Internet.

Approaching albergue in Triacastela
Day 30 / Jan. 15 / Triacastela / 20.7 / 12.9 / 13.5 / Xunta / We had a room with two bunk beds, almost private. No common room, kitchen, dining, W&D in this facility. You will need ear plugs if you want to sleep as all doors are swinging doors without latches and as there is no common room people converse in the hallways.

Day 31 / Jan. 16 / Sarria / 26 / 16.25 / 17 / Xunta / Located in the middle of town. Somewhat small but well maintained. Well heated. Women's showers & toilets are located on the 3rd floor. If you are going to stay at this albergue (as there are many private albergues, pensions and hostals in town) plan to arrive early as it fills up rather early.

Day 32 / Jan. 17 / Portomarin / 23 / 14.4 / 15.4 / Albergue Ultreia / Pension style private albergue, clean, kitchen & dinning room. Options for dormitory or private rooms. Owner does laundry or prepare dinner at fee. We opted to stay here for quietude. There are many private albergues, pensions & hostals by the lake and with great views. They were all closed for the winter.

Day 33 / Jan. 18 / Palas de Rei / 26.1 / 16.2 / 17.6 / Xunta / Somewhat neglected but opted to stay for its convenient location. Only two shower stalls & toilets for the dormitory where we slept and the shower stalls did not have doors or curtains so some negotiation was necessary with fellow pilgrims to avoid unwanted exposure. It worked out fine. The building has more dormitories but only one was open due to small number of pilgrims in the winter. There is another Xunta albergue at the entrance of town which is relatively new and larger than the one where we stayed.

Albergue in Arzua
Day 34 / Jan. 19 / Arzua / 26.4 / 16.4/ 17 / Xunta / Located just block off of the main street, modern, clean and warm. Many restaurants and bars on the main street have Internet.

Albergue in Arca do Pino
Day 35 / Jan. 20 / Arca do Pino / 22.2 / 13.8 / 14.3 / Xunta / Follow the "albergues" sign once you reached the main road. Otherwise you will loop around this town in the woods! We did... Xunta albergue is located in the entrance of the town, on your left on the down slope just off the main road. An old school building renovated into an albergue, clean, warm.

Cathedral of Santiago from a skylight
at Pension Badalada
Day 36 / Jan. 21 / Santiago / 20.1 / 12.8 / 13.2 / Pension Badalada (981-572-618;; / Many pilgrims stay at Xunta albergue at Monte del Gozo (about 5 Km before Santiago Cathedral) which is a huge facility where you can stay up to 4 days with credentials. We opted to go to Santiago and stayed at Badalada for 3 days. Small inn just behind the cathedral. Very hospitable, reasonably priced, clean and warm. No W&D. They can also receive packages on your behalf at fee (around $25.00/month) if you have reservation. The owner, Manuel speaks perfect English.

Day 37 / Jan. 24 / Negreira / 22.4 / 13.9 / 15.9 / Xunta / Located 1 Km outside of town, slightly neglected but warm and even the kitchen has array of utensils. If you would like to shop, drink or eat do them before reaching the albergue. Otherwise you will have to walk back 1 Km into the town.

Pension Casa Loncho
Day 38 / Jan. 25 / Olveiroa / 33.1 / 20.5 / 22.2 / Casa Loncho / New pension located just off the main road as you enter this small town (Xunta albergue is located two blocks behind this facility. We opted to stay at this place as the albergue seems to have a separate building for dormitory away from showers and toilets). Very hospitable and the room was relatively warm. Dinner & breakfast offered at fee.

Day 39 / Jan. 26 / Cee / 18 / 11.25 / 12.25 / Camino das Estrelas / Private albergue owned by the hotel next door. Modern, clean and laundry is done by the hotel staff at fee. We were the only pilgrims staying in the dormitory and the heat was on just a few hours in the evening. The front door and even the lighting in the dormitory are controlled by the staff who are located  in the hotel, next door. We had to call someone to turn off the light to go to bed and also the next morning to turn on the light so we could get ourselves ready to leave. Kind of weird.

Day 40 / Jan. 27 / 18.2 / 11.4 / 12.4 / Finisterre (Faro) / Xunta / We checked in after visiting the light house. Small albergue located just off the harbor and next to the supermarket, clean, warm and very hospitable place. If you plan to return to Santiago by bus the station is right front of the albergue.

Pension La Cruz
Day 41 / Jan. 28 / Muxia / 30 / 18.75 / 19.5 / Pension La Cruz / Pension, restaurant and bar. We opted to stay at this pension due to a fellow pilgrim we met earlier reported a possibility of bedbugs in Xunta albergue. Located just off the harbor on the main street, clean, warm and very hospitable. Dinner at fee. No W&D. You can use free Internet at Casa Cultura (stamp & certificate are issued there also). It also serves as a library/community center for locals.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A few words about equipment and clothing

People choose all kinds of equipment and clothing for their camino. It is hard to say what one should or shouldn't carry, or what type or manufacturer is best. As we are all so different, everyone's camino is viewed through a unique prism. We can only relate our own experiences and let the buyer beware.

Let's start with our packs. Robin and I both used the Aarn Peak Aspiration. this is a 45L pack with attachable balance pockets that add another 16L to the carrying volume. The system is well thought out, and well constructed, with the waterproof liners for both pack and pockets it weighs in at just around 4 lbs. For some this is just a bit too heavy. It is important to note it carried beautifully and nothing broke. You put it on and forget about it. I had absolutely no shoulder, back or hip pain as a result of walking with this pack. Robin's waist belt became a bit too long (ran out of adjustment) as she shed some weight and that caused the belt to bunch up in some areas, a less than optimal fit, but the pack still worked as advertised. The balance pockets keep a variety of useful items right at your disposal, very convenient. It struck me at the outset that this amount of volume would be excessive. It wasn't. Our packs weighed right around 17 pounds, with food and water. The packs never looked half empty. The space available always seemed to be the space needed. Never pulled a compression cord once. We would use these same packs again. Great product.

What about our feet? My boots were high top Solomons and Robin's were mid height Zamberlans. Both had Gore Tex liners, and worked very well with no leaks and no blisters. We both used a two sock system with the liner being a 5 toe Injinji sock and a Smartwool mid-weight outer hiking sock. In used a light coat of vaseline on my feet, Robin didn't. We also used Hikers Wool, a New Zealand product we purchased through Aarn USA. It works great to guard against hot spots and chafe in your boots. As I said, no blisters.

We both used Pacer walking poles and found them invaluable. There is a lot of uneven terrain you will be walking over and the poles provide something to catch your fall if you slip or trip. But most importantly, and why poles are so important (IMHO), is that they allow you to walk faster using less energy. Robin and I both agree we would not dream of doing any long distance hike without them. The Pacer design is very comfortable and easy on your wrists. We used the aluminum model fearing the carbon fiber model might not survive all the mishaps we conjured up. Highly recommended.

We both used Altus ponchos and were satisfied with the results. The rain jacket/pants versus poncho debate will rage on forever with devotees on both sides. I believe the rain jacket/pants would be fine if it were not for the packs which I believe would sooner or later start taking on water, even with a good pack cover, if the rain was heavy enough and lasted long enough. Water just has a way of finding openings to get through. I haven't field tested that assumption but that is how it strikes me. The poncho covers all (pack included) and you will likely see some condensation inside the poncho as you exert yourself but you, and your pack, will be well protected from the rain and you from the wind. They are not perfect (the downside is they weigh one pound) but we would use them again.

In the underwear department we both used Patagoina (Capilene 2) T-shirts and Ex Officio bottoms. These were washed daily and always dried overnight. We wore one set and carried one spare set. They are both superb products. Over these we dressed according to the weather. Most of the time, for me, it was a pair of REI Taku waterproof pants, and a Patagonia Capilene 3 quarter zip turtle neck. I had a pair of Patagoina Capilene 3 long johns but wore them only once (unseasonably mild weather). I would also wear, on colder days, a buff and a Patagonia R2 fleece vest. I carried a Marmot Genesis soft shell jacket but usually only wore it after walking. It was great, warm, and waterproof. Robin, who feels the cold more, wore her long underwear frequently. She also wore her Arctyrx hard shell jacket a lot especially if it was windy. Her waterproof walking pants were by North Face. She also carried a Patagonia ultra light down vest which was worn mostly on cold mornings as we started out and it wasn't windy enough to warrant using the jacket.

We wore Outdoor Research (OR) gaiters the whole way. They were especially good early on when it was colder (keep your lower legs warm), but proved to be a bit warm when we made it into Galicia and the temperatures moderated. Still the ability to keep mud off your pants tipped the scale and we wore them. I would bring gaiters again but might look for a lighter pair. The OR ones were bullet proof and we could have gotten by with something less stout. They had velcro you could tow a car with, but showed no signs of wear after 39 days of walking.

Our gloves were a two part system. The outer (and waterproof ones) were Marmot Precip. They worked fine and kept hands warm and dry. We also carried a stretchy liner with a rubber palm grip (by Under Amour) that we wore most of the time and they generally were all that we needed as the weather hardly ever got as cold as we expected. One reality with waterproof gloves is that the glove tends to get a bit damp as you will take them off to do something, then your hands get wet, and then you slip them back on. No real good answer to that problem unless you carry something to dry your hands with (too much hassle for us).

After walking you need some more clothes to stay warm so I wore a T-shirt, quarter zip power stretch fleece turtle neck (Mountain Hardwear), my fleece vest and the Marmot jacket. I would also change from the REI Taku pants into a pair of Marmot Scree soft shell pants. Robin similarly wore a T-shirt, fleece T neck, down vest, her jacket, and a pair of fleece pants. Gloves and a woolly hat for me, and a merino wool buff turned beanie for Robin rounded out the evening wear.

In the sleeping bag department we went a little crazy looking for warmth and lightness, but wound up with a very good product. There is a small company here in Washington (Nunatak) that makes down sleeping bags. We purchased a product called the Back Country Blanket. It is essentially a quilt with a full length velcro closure (no zip) with a draw cord encircling each end. When you want to use it as a bag you draw the bottom end (the quilt has a slight taper towards the bottom) together and there you are. If it is warmer leave the velcro undone and use it as a blanket. They worked great and weigh 1.5 pounds each. Advertised to be good down to 20 F. We never got to test that range (thank God) as the albergue temps never seemed to get too much below 50 F. We had also carried silk liners, expecting much colder weather, and soon shipped those off.

All this gear we packed into a single REI duffle bag and checked it at the airport. It was under the 50 pound weight restriction, so no worries. Away it went and, with good fortune on our side, it turned up in Paris, admittedly after a few nail biting moments. We mailed the duffle from St. Jean to Santiago and  used the same bag to ship everything back home. Painless.

The one lesson we took away with regard to gear is that you generally will bring more than you need. We had a warmer and drier camino than we expected so we were somewhat over rigged early on. We made adjustments and mailed the surplus items along to Santiago. Maybe that is the safe way to play it? You can always get rid of things you don't need. We started out pretty lean, in my estimation, but we still found things to shed. One thing does come to mind, my Kindle (.6 pounds with case). I never seemed to find time to read so off it went to Santiago as well. We had a room booked at the Pension Badalada in Santiago and Manuel, the owner and a very nice guy, was kind enough to receive all our parcels and hold them for our arrival.

So, that is the equipment review. Hopefully, some will find it useful. We will also be posting a list of the places we stayed along the Way, and we will eventually compile a slide show and get that up as well. For now Robin and I are already thinking of returning to the Camino. So, that tells you something about our experience. Keep the dream alive, and

Buen camino

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A few observations from our camino

Robin and I finally returned home on Feb 8th. We are still very much in the processing mode from our camino but a few things come to mind that some might find helpful or at least interesting.

The weather (Dec-Jan) was milder than I expected with temps averaging 30-55 F and sometimes hitting the 60's. It was also much drier than expected. We wore ponchos (all day) only a couple of times and probably broke them out maybe 5-6 times during the entire camino.

We took the valley route up from St. Jean and stayed the night in Valcarlos. This was a very wise move. We had been traveling for 33 hours when we arrived in St. Jean and although we probably could have made it to the top, why? The jet lag, fatigue etc, made stopping in Valcarlos a great choice. I would recommend this to whoever has to to travel a great distance to get to the Camino. The Route Napoleon was not recommended when we departed but I found the valley route to very scenic and a beautiful climb.

No bedbugs while we were on the Camino.

A light pack makes for happy feet and a happy pilgrim. A pack should never exceed 20 pounds and hopefully it weighs a bit less. Remember, there might be times when a jacket and things you always think you will be wearing will wind up in the pack (more added weight). Plan and pack accordingly.

Spend money on good boots, a good pack and perhaps a good sleeping bag ( a light one).

Don't take more than two of anything.

A buff was essential.

Take a headlamp. There will be days when an early start is necessary and you can easily get lost (on some parts of the Camino) in that half hour or so of pre-dawn darkness. Either that or just plan on waiting for daylight.

A little red LED light (from REI) on a coiled elastic key chain worn around my wrist at night was perfect for those late night trips to the bathroom in the albergues.

The municipal albergue system is great. The services and accommodations were more than I expected, and in some cases much more. I think of the one at O'Cebreiro (brand new with a spectacular view). The one by the Cathedral in Burgos was also terrific. There were many others as well.

Bring ear plugs for the albergues. Even with just a few people they can help ensure a good night's sleep.

Be kind to people and they will be kind to you. We found the Spanish people we encountered to be very kind and helpful (even though we don't speak their language).

Don't be selfish. The Camino provides as long as pilgrims are willing to help one another (and most do).

The Camino is not a race to Santiago. Pace yourself so that you can enjoy the experience. You might only get this one chance. Be the experience.

The Camino experience is unique in that it frees your mind from all the usual distractions of work and perhaps even family. Be ready for that feeling of openness and the delight at what might fill that space.

Be a good listener. You will learn things that just might change your life.

And finally express your joy for this incredible opportunity. You are blessed and your happiness will be contagious.

Peace and buen camino,