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,


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Flying the botafumeiro at the Cathedral in Santiago

We were lucky enough to witness the botafumeiro in action on our arrival date, January 21, 2011. This was captured on my iPhone so the quality of the video is not the best but here it is. We left Santiago for Finisterre / Muxia on January 24th and returned again on the 29th and stayed until February 5th. This was the only time we were able to watch the botafumeiro in action. Just one footnote, as some might be wondering how this unique censor fits into the celebration of the mass. The catholic mass has long history of incorporating incense as a form of blessing and purification. The botafumeiro would certainly have been used in this context however it also served a more practical purpose. In times long ago (some might also say today as well) pilgrims, arriving in the Cathedral, were a bit fragrant (a little too much eau de camino). The incense in the botafumeiro was a way to help cope with that problem as well.