2 06 2011

Yesterday, we traveled to Buffalo.  It was a long day.

An early breakfast in Madrid, a ride during rush hour on the Metro (Madrid’s subway system), and good-byes at the airport as we head to a different terminal.

Saying the final good-bye was difficult.  These were the people we had spent three weeks with; we had developed community.  They all live far enough away that keeping in contact with them requires an effort, whether or not it happens, they will always have a special place in my heart.

In our rush to pack, the jack knife which we carried for the last three weeks was dropped into our carry on bag.  Busted!!! The knife remains in Spain.

After nine hours in the airplane, a slower flight, and a long time circling because of busy air traffic, we emerge in Newark, New Jersey.  We had to go through customs, claim and recheck our packs and go through security.  Busted, again!!

I did not empty my pockets completely, and had some gravol in my back pocket.  An absolute no-no.  Resulted in a pat down (Yuck!) and my hands being swabbed.  I guess getting motion sick qualifies as a dangerous activity in the States.

We arrived in Buffalo about 9 pm (3 am Madrid time), and collapsed into bed.  Today we actually arrive home.


My Camino Story: As Told By My Feet

2 06 2011

I’ve tried to avoid talking a lot about my feet, but now that the walk is over I feel ready to share.  Part of the reason for this is to remind myself in future years what the Camino walk was really like.  We’ve come across many other pilgrims who tell us it takes awhile for your feet to adjust–time frame seems to be anywhere from 1-3 weeks.  Well, our trip is only 3 weeks long.

If you are a bit squeamish, you may not want to read further.

Before the trip began, I thought I was well prepared.  I had a good set of boots, well worn and I thought very comfy.  I had thick hiking socks and even bought new ones for maximum fluff.  I bought liner socks to reduce friction and wick moisture away from my feet.  It was all in vain.

Day 1 & 2: Arrive in Madrid and explore city.  Feet are happy.

Day 3: Train to Burgos and explore city, feet are happy.

Day 4: Burgos to Hornillos del Camino, 20 km.  Feet are still OK but tired.

Day 5: to Castrojeriz, 20 km.  Baby toes become blistered, weight of pack, combined with baby toes that want to curl under other toes.  Drain blisters and try to protect toes with “toe sleeves”.

Day 6: to Fromista, 25 km. Baby toes causing a great deal of pain.  Toe protection making boots too tight and causing more pain.  Travel by train to Leon.

Day7: Buy good walking sandals in Leon.  Feet breathe a sigh of relief.  Travel to Ponferrada by bus.

Day 8: to Villafrance del Bierzo, 23 km. Sandals are better than the boots, but blisters begin to develop on the balls of the feet.  Tried wearing just liner socks with sandals.

Day 9: to Vega de Valcarce, 16 km. Baby toes are feeling better, but blisters on balls of feet causing difficulty.  I buy my first “compeed” and a set of gel pads for the balls of my feet.

Day 10: to O Cebreiro, 12 km (straight up). “Compeed, I love you!”

Compeed is not available in Canada, it is a plasticy, sticky type of stuff which acts as a 2nd skin, cushions sore areas and has some healing ingredients.  I used the compeed on the balls of my feet.  It made the climb possible.  Some of the others in the group have chosen to either take a taxi or send their baggage using luggage transport. I refuse to give in.

Day 11: to Triacastella, 21.6 km.  Feet are very sore.  Blisters on balls of feet are beginning to ooze out the edges of the compeed.  I develop new blisters on the underside of my feet at the base of my toes.  Can’t do much for them as they are in an awkward place.  Tape will not stick.  As long as I don’t stop moving, I’m OK, but downhills are slow and painful.

Day 12: to Sarria, 17.5 km.  Small blister on instep of right foot begins to cause trouble. I thread it for the second time in the evening.  Buy more compeed, two different shapes.  Stuff is wonderful but very expensive.

Day 13: rest day in Sarria.  I am not using any compeed.  You have to be careful peeling it off so the skin doesn’t come with it.  Hard to walk unless I’m wearing sandals and gel pads.

Day 14: to Portomarin, 22.5 km.  I wore my boots today, there’s very little support in the sandals and although they’re softer, I’m missing the support of the boots.  I started with my thick socks but switched to thin liner socks part way through to allow for swollen feet.  I’m noticing considerable swelling in my feet, it’s making it difficult to bend my toes.  Probably caused by the heat.

Day 15: to Palais de Rei, 24 km. Wore 6-8€ of compeed on my feet, but nothing is worse and I made it.  Feet are very swollen.

Day 16: to Melide, 15 km.  Feet still swollen in morning but because the walk was shorter it was probably one of the best walking days since the beginning.  Using liner socks and gel pads.

Day 17: to Arzua, 15 km.  Shorter walk and cooler day, and we met some other Canadians.  Talking made the km fly by, however, the faster pace  caused a new new blister on heel of left foot.  Missing the thick socks on the heels, but still can only use liner socks for toes and balls of feet.

Day 18:  to Arca, 19 km.  Blister on heel causing issues, but rest of feet seem to be doing better.

Day 19: to Santiago, 21 km.  Blister on heel still painful.  Had to shake out sock at edge of Santiago, thought it was a pebble, but after later inspection, it was a baby toe nail.  Feet feel like they’ve been beaten with a stick.

Day 20: day in Santiago, feet still sore and still swollen.  Visit pharmacy where I’m sold some anti-inflammatory cream to relieve swelling and the itching that goes with it.

Day 21: day in Madrid.  Feet feeling better, large pieces slough off in the bathtub.  Told you it was gross!  Cream worked well.

The trip wasn’t all about the feet, but sometimes it was hard to remember that.  There are all kinds of theories as to why I had so much trouble, some make sense, some don’t.  I have to admit at the beginning of the trip, I thought the walk would be easy–I have been humbled.

The Omega and the Alpha

31 05 2011

The omega and the alpha.  Sounds backwards doesn’t it? We found this symbol (one of about a thousand or more) on the church and said “Hmm, that’s backwards”.  When you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense for pilgrims.

We’ve reached our omega, the end of our journey.  We must now look towards our alpha, the rest of our lives.

Did we find this a deeply spiritual journey? Not really.

Did we find the answers of what we should do with the rest of our lives? No.

Did we build a community, both with those of our group and others we walked with?  Definitely!

Did we have an adventure, feel part of history, have a few moments of insight and inspiration? Absolutely!

We ended our time in Santiago with a pilgrim mass.  Watching the censor swing back and forth, emitting clouds of smoke was an awesome sight.  Touring the cathedral filled our brains with more facts than we can possibly remember.  Looking at some of the books in the archive brought home the long history of the Camino. (Admittance to the archive was another perk of being part of a theology course.)

We left Santiago on an overnight train to Madrid.  It felt like a rolling albergue, but with the help of gravol, and ibuprofen I had a good sleep.

Today we transitioned to a different life as we spent time shopping in Madrid.  I’ll call the shopping trip a success since I’m not going home in the clothes I walked in!

Tomorrow we leave Madrid, fly to Newark, New Jersey, then on to Buffalo.  An overnight stay in a hotel, a drive to Toronto to pick up the dog and finally home.  I’m looking forward to it and hope everything goes smoothly.

We Put Down Our Packs

30 05 2011

We’ve reached Santiago.

It felt rather anti-climatic.  We veered off the path to drop our packs off in our rooms at the Hotel La Salle.  Our intention was to drop them off and finish the last few hundred metres of our walk, but the shower was too inviting and the bed called to us.

It was not until a few hours later, after we got our certificates saying we had completed our pilgrimage that it dawned on us–we don’t have to carry our packs any further.  We were finished.

One of the advantages of a group walk is some of the group things we can do together.  We had a wonderful meal, we had a birthday party, we shared a celebratory evening.  The highlight of our time together as a group came this morning, when we were able to share a service, including communion, with just our group in the crypt of St. James.  Before the church was open to the public, we were able to celebrate our pilgrimage, our time together, and the grace of God, in a place millions of Christians believe is one of the holiest.  It was an honour.

The last couple of days of walking were so long, and especially the last 5 km, so tedious.  We are grateful for having been able to finish, our feet our thankful too.  Not everyone was able to finish.  One of our group got sick on the second last day, another chose not to carry on, the professor was not able to start because of a basketball injury.  It only shows us how fragile our plans can be.

We are also thankful for the people we met along the way, conversation and support from other pilgrims is invaluable.

It was an experience we’ll never forget. There will be a few more blog posts yet, as we conclude our thoughts on the Camino.

Rescue in the Night

29 05 2011

Crash! Thump! What happened?

I’m sure someone has fallen out of the top bunk.  I wake up (kind of) and don’t hear any groaning or cries for help, roll over and try to sleep again.  As I toss and turn, I notice a fellow pilgrim sitting in her bunk.  I doze off, but reawaken shortly after, my friend is still sitting in her bunk.

“Janice, are you OK?”

“I’ve lost my ladder”.

Huh?  How does someone lose their ladder?  I crawl out of bed, I’ve got a bottom bunk, and try to find her ladder.  It really is not attached to her bed.  A blinding light appears, actually just a flashlight, and I see a ladder on the floor.  It landed on some extra blankets and didn’t make a real loud noise when it hit the floor.  If it had, all 50 people in the room would have awoken.  I reattach the ladder.

“Oh, thank you!  I was trying to tell myself I didn’t have to go to the bathroom, but it wasn’t working”

Glad I could help.

This was our last night in a large albergue.  I was dreading the next night.  It had been described as “rustic”.  Did this mean cold showers and squat toilets?  I was pleasantly surprised to find a converted barn, beds with sheets!, clean towels, a lovely meal and a comfortable yard to spend the afternoon.  As an albergue it was awesome, but I’m not sorry to leave the albergue experience behind me.

(This was written a day later than I expected.  Rustic albergues have no internet access.)



A Taste of the Camino

27 05 2011

One of the fun parts of travelling to different parts of the world is tasting the local food.  I have to say, in this trip, results have been mixed.

When I get home, I’m going to look for a recipe for “Tarte de Santiago”.  It’s a dense almond cake, perhaps even flourless, made with almond meal or ground almonds.  It’s something that turns up frequently on the dessert menu here and I quite like it.  Traditionally, it comes sprinkled with icing sugar, with a design of a sword of the Templar Knights.  The templar knights were charged with protecting the pilgrims from harm during the middle ages.

Tasty as this cake is, I’m thinking I might even be able to do a better job than what we’ve had here.  After the first couple of servings, I realised every cafe purchases the cake ready-made, quite possibly all from the same company.

A typical restaurant breakfast here is coffee and toast with butter and jam.  A more expensive meal would include a glass of orange juice.  We’ve begun to search out the local grocery stores to find  something for breakfast, perhaps granola bars or croissants, a piece of fruit and some fruit juice.  This way we can walk for a while when we’re packed and ready to go and later stop on a bench for a peaceful bite.  We do try to stop at a cafe sometime in the morning for a “cola-cao” or hot chocolate made with steamed milk and powdered chocolate.

Lunch is sometimes a bit difficult.  We’re finding we’re getting tired of prepared food and are happy to find something in a grocery store.  But…we’re ready for lunch after the day’s walk, we’ve had a shower and our clothes are drying, usually about 2 pm.  All the grocery stores close from 2-4.  In fact, most of the stores close in the afternoon and reopen in the early evening.  Sometimes, our choice is to wait until 4 pm to eat lunch or try a sandwich in a cafe.  I’m rather sick of Spanish sandwiches–eggs, stringy ham, bread so tough it’s hard to chew, no mayo, no veggies or lettuce.

A late lunch is not so bad, supper doesn’t happen until later in the evening.  Most kitchens don’t open until 7 at the earliest, sometimes as late as 8:30 pm.  Kind of tough on us poor pilgrims who are ready for bed by 9 (or earlier).

Pilgrim menus are very popular.  A starter, a main course and dessert, including bread and wine (water is extra).  They are reasonably priced at 9-10 €, but the menu tends to be the same no matter where you go.  A few meals stick out as being exceptionally tasty, but none of them were actually part of a pilgrim menu.  I was even so brave as to try “pulpo” or octopus.  It was surprisingly good, but I won’t go out of my way to look for it at home.  Much of the food seems to be somewhat plain, the Spanish are not big on condiments and even asking for ketchup for french fries is a big deal.  By the way, the favourite side dish here is french fries, I’ve eaten more of them in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years.

Surprisingly, fruits and vegetables are not big on the menu.  The theory is that the Spanish eat their veggies at home, not in restaurants.  Sounds good, but there is more room dedicated to chocolate in the grocery stores than there is to produce.  Go figure!

Alcohol is very inexpensive here.  I’m rather sad we’re limited to four bottles of wine to take home with us.  I’ve discovered Spanish “sidra” or cider, a nice alternative to wine and at 4% alcohol not too intoxicating.

We spent last night in a municipal albergue, the worst kind, with over 50 in the room.  It was clean, the mattresses were comfy, but sleep was minimal.  Tonight might not be much better, 50 in this room.  Oh well, this is our second last night in an albergue, Santiago we get a hotel room.

Two more days of walking.

Bits & Pieces

26 05 2011

We’re getting closer to the end of our trip.  Most of us in the group are looking forward to reaching the end of our “stroll in Spain”.

Yesterday was a tough day.  25 km. Hot sun.  We were glad to reach our albergue and be done for the day.

Today was easier. 15 km. Mild, almost cool temperatures.  Had enough energy left to wander through the town.

There were a few sights worth commenting on.  Remember how I said the Camino was getting busier.  A busier Camino makes for some interesting sights.

The man who chose to walk in his briefs.  I think they were his briefs, they might have been his swim suit.  In any case, they were droopy in the back.  I’m glad I didn’t have a front view.

The woman (without a pack) wearing her bra and shorts.  This was not a young woman, and not a particularly fit woman.  Yuck!

The man who is walking the Camino bare foot.  I’m totally amazed.

We’ve seen a few people on horseback heading to Santiago.  I’m afraid that today’s sight made me feel somewhat ill.  A large man, on an average size horse.  The man was wearing spurs, the horse’s side was bloody.  I’m OK with humans using animals, I’m not a vegetarian, but I really hate seeing animals mis-used.  We passed a farmer at about the same time, I could tell from the expression on his face, he was not amused either.

Tonight we are in another municipal albergue.  This means lots of people in a small space.  We have the privilege of sharing our immediate space with a group of 12 high school students.  One of their teachers is a young man from New Brunswick, spending a year teaching English as a second language.  We’ve suggested to him that he purchase some good ear plugs.  Tonight will be interesting.

We were, however, able to do a load of wash in a machine and even use a dryer, so almost everything is now clean and dry.  We take joy in the small things.