Saturday, February 28, 2009

Feb 27th - The Wizard of the Camino

My foot has been getting worse. And it seems that every time we aim for an albergue, it's closed and we have to limp to the next one. Yesterday we were slowly making our way to what we hoped was an open one, when the Camino Wizard came up behind us. I could tell he was a wizard because he had a pointy black wizard hat with crecent moons on it. He pointed at me and said 'injured?' I said 'Si!' and pointed at my foot. He said 'I am a doctor. Would you like me to look?' With nothing to lose, and with Gill looking very hesitant, I said 'SI!' and whipped off my boot. He hummed a bit while squeezing my heel and saying 'hurt?' but I was unconcerned by the pain because I was certain that some serious magic was going on. He put my foot down and said 'Tendonitis!' I nodded in awe. He said 'Achilles. I think this word is universal no?' Clever wizard. I believe it is.

He then told me to do short walks and to take asprin. He then picked up his walking staffs and strolled off into the hills, no doubt to bring medical assistance to other pilgrims.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Clarification on the last hysterical post – starting again at Pamplona

We’ll start at the start. We caught a bus at Pamplona. It went to Vitoria, then we were to catch a train to Leon. Only we didn’t get off at Vitoria. Noooooooooooooo. We stayed on, gawking at the town wondering ‘do we get off?’ only to find that YES WE BLOODY WELL DO GET OFF. Ahem. Anyway, we went to Bilbao, where there were no trains or buses to Leon. So after dealing with the worst and rudest customer service woman in the world, we caught the bus to Burgos then managed to get another bus to Leon. I have to say, Bilbao is an ugly city. It was a shock to view it after seeing so much beauty. Of course, it was made worse by the nasty piece of work at the bus transit place. Anyway, after that, we arrived at Leon. Leon was perfection. It was amazing and wonderful and I loved it. I especially loved the albergue. The women who ushered us in and explained things were so kind I felt soothed. There is a book swap shelf, but there was no point in me swapping ‘The Pilgrimage’ because none of the books were in English. So I just left it there in the hope that someone else will enjoy it and that instead of reading I’d do some writing for once. The room was heated which great and slightly unusual. I got to wash some clothes safe in the knowledge they would dry. And breakfast was provided! All this for… A donation. We weren’t sure of the etiquette surrounding donations. Other places that were way worse had been 3 to 8 euros. We threw in 20 because we figured that was roughly correct. We were vindicated when we stayed for a second night (it’s not usually allowed, but it wasn’t exactly peak season) and were charged 6 euros. On our day off we got to see Leon a bit. The cathedral was amazing. I was a bit overcome by how huge and beautiful it was. We then went to what I now consider the highlight of my trip. Yes, it even tops the elephants, tigers and snakes. At San Isidoro I saw the tombs of the Kings of Leon. I can’t say I like the band much so please don’t let your thought process go there. It is a 4 euro charge but this place is worthy of the kind of awe that I rarely get to feel. It floored me. It was the most beautiful and heart-stopping place I have ever seen. It was small but amazing. I don’t think pictures could do it justice. I won’t say more because words are not helping me.
After that we were taken upstairs to the museum and library. The museum was ok, but the library shocked me. And not in the good way. I don’t know much about the preservation of books, but I suspect that this collection would be better off in a state run museum. Again, I won’t say more because I’m actually still really upset over this.
Anyway, overall Leon is the kind of place that makes me wish I could speak fluent Spanish (as if there is a time when I wouldn’t want this) so that I could move there.
We slept again – this time I noticed that the beds are actually really noisy, but who cares. I still appreciated the warm room.
We then set out to Villadangos. There was an unpleasant throbbing in my foot, but nothing major. Or so I thought.
*cue dramatic music*
My foot got worse and worse. But suddenly, there we were! Villadangos. And there were bright shiny yellow arrows which were screaming ‘it’s ok! The albergue is right here!’ It was closed. We rang the number listed and were told to press on to San Martin. So we did. We once again saw a glistening new albergue. 3 euros a night and the signs all looked promising. Again it was closed. I sat down in the dust and ate a honey sandwich. It seemed like the only thing to do. Gill ran around like a mad chook, quite certain that I’d flip out.
But eventually I got up and we continued. I was almost in tears by this stage wondering what I would do. And amazingly, there was an open albergue, not more than 400m after the closed one. I was saved!

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I hurt myself and I don't know how. My achilles is all painful and I'm limping around like a muppet. We only managed 7km today, and it took FOREVER. This is not good. However, I did just have an excellent meal, and a hot cup of tea. I'm easily satisfied these days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Feb 16th - A major change

Yesterday Gill and I came to a decision because we are (I am) running out of money. We had planned for roughly 5 weeks of sleeping in albergues and eating the heavily discounted pilgrims meals. Instead we find ourselves mostly sleeping in hotels/private lodging and eating out every night. All the helpful pilgrim places don’t open until April. No way can we afford to stay in hotels for 5 weeks. The race to the next town isn’t about securing a bed ahead of other pilgrims, it’s about finding a bed full stop. And an affordable one! Today we are paying about 45 euros because the accommodation guide we were given was old, and after trooping around Pamplona for ages, we gave up and said yes to the first place we found.
So we are catching a bus to Leon. I’m pretty happy about this. I’m sad that money (and therefore time) is such an issue, but in a way I’m happy that now I can also spend more time looking at things along the way, and making detours, rather than racing to complete 28km because to stop at 20 would mean paying for private accommodation. But I’m also sad, because part of me feels that I won’t have completed the Camino. Still, I suppose it shouldn’t be about the distance, but about what I get out of it. I think I’ve changed a lot. I’m less fussy about what I eat and where I sleep. If a slab of hard, cold concrete is flat and broad, after walking 15km, it suddenly looks like heaven. And I eat almost everything now. I finally understand how fussy I have been. Actually, I’m discovering a lot of my faults. I wish I’d done this years ago – I would have done a lot of things differently. Said what should have been said, and done what should have been done. But it’s never too late to change. There is still a long way to go. To complete the Camino you have to do the last 100km, and I think we’re doing about 400 and something all up. Not the 800 I’d set out to do, but enough. Who knows, I might get to return one day – cashed up and with time to spend.

Feb 15th Zubiri to Villava (16km)

Today we were meant to only walk a tiny distance. We agreed that we’d go the 6km to the next hostel so I could rest. Instead we ended up walking about 16km to Villava. It was fairly tough, but thankfully a great deal of it was flat. And after our last few shortcuts, we stuck to the road.
I had a lovely moment when we got confused about where we were and thought we had longer to go to get to Villava, only to discover that we were already there! Excellent! We stayed at a hostel where this old Spanish man called Raoul explained the rules in Spanish. The main one was that we had to be back by 9:30pm. Of course, we then discovered that in Spain dinner isn’t eaten until roughly 9 or 10pm. The place that usually served pilgrim meals was closed as it was a Sunday, as was the supermarket. So after trying to get fed, we returned early to the freezing cold albergue where we explained to Raoul we were cold. He kindly turned on the heater for us. An Irish man arrived, totally exhausted from his trip. It was fairly dark by this time, and it turned out that he’d walked about 40km all up because the previous town was closed. Poor bugger was wrecked. We confirmed the rules with him and explained about dinner arrangements before Gill and I dashed out to eat, thinking only of our stomachs. We ate at a brilliant pub where a lovely man explained Spanish meal times to us, then showed us the paintings made out of sugar on the walls. It was a good meal and he was a very kind fellow. Then back to our bunks for a much needed sleep.

Feb 14th Roncesvalles to Zubiri (22.6km)

No breakfast, because apparently if something says it will open at 8am, it’s a lie. A cruel and horrible LIE! And we couldn’t afford to wait around. So off we went in the hope that the next town could offer something. We scored a croissant in Burguete. Yummo. With our new Swiss acquaintance trailing us, we stormed the first few km until we stopped for lunch. I will never understand this obsession everyone here has with baguettes. You cannot get any other form of bread. Or if something else is available, then you are so confused by the range of bread sticks that you simply cannot look beyond them. Still, I quite enjoyed my omelet which was smushed into a baguette. Tasty and massive. Then, once we moved on, we decided that in the spirit of adventure, we would leave the road in favour of the little Camino path. All I can say is that despite the agony, I regret nothing. It was beautiful. Amazingly beautiful. Snow was everywhere. Thankfully, people had been before us and had made imprints for us to step in which stopped us sinking too far into the snow. Still, it was quite a long and hard slog. I will admit to feeling a little bit nervous about the weather, as I was painfully aware that if it snowed heavily we would be fairly screwed. But everything was fine. At some stages I was bounding along through the snow, unable to stop myself as my pack was pushing me forward and I was literally tripping into the next footprint. Gill, being heavier, was struggling a little bit in the snow, so we reverted back to the road as soon as we could. Which is where I conked out. Although I did perk up at the graffiti we saw which said ‘ Miki Vampire Warriors’. Who doesn’t love vampire warriors. But by the end I was practically crawling along. The path kept going and I had a rather severe blister on my heel which was slapping me around. On finally limping into Zubiri I was horrified to discover that nothing was open. The Albergue was closed, and there seemed to be no other accommodation. The thought of walking another 3 or 4 km into the next town was not something I could entertain. Thankfully, a kind bartender called her friend who came and let us into some rather expensive but lovely accommodation. I don’t think I’ve ever slept as soundly. I also had an strangely flat but excellent steak for my dinner.

Feb 13th St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles (27.5km)

The trip started off in St Jean with me snuffling from a cold. Whooo.

That morning, we were told off by the French woman whose hostel we were staying at. Our crime was getting up at 7 instead of 7:30. My year 10 French hadn’t been cutting it the night before when the instructions had been given out, and some Portuguese tourists tried to translate for us. From average French, to Portuguese, to rather poor English. So you can see how the instructions got fumbled. Our host just couldn’t seem to comprehend that we didn’t speak French, and kept making long speeches to us before looking at me in disappointment. I picked out the words Friday and breakfast, and felt secure that not ALL of my school French lessons had gone to waste. We were so desperate to leave her behind that we ate a less than adequate breakfast before venturing out into the freezing cold. And I really mean freezing. Snow was everywhere. The main Camino path was closed due to snow, so we had been instructed to take another route. Marking the entire way are small blue and yellow Camino signs, yellow arrows, and red and white markers. It’s very easy to find the correct way to go. We walked through a few small towns, stopping every so often to get a cup of tea and warm up. Then we followed the Camino map we had been given and plunged into a short cut. It was very rocky and slippery due to the weather, but nothing too dreadful. By this stage we had done maybe 14km, and my feet were getting very very sore. We emerged out onto the road again and trudged along a bit further until we got to the second short cut. It was impossible to say no to it. The road winded on forever, while the short cut just zapped from A to B. What a colossal mistake that was. After a little while, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by thorns. Too tired to turn back, we pressed on. The thorns got thicker and totally obscured the path. We continued. The thorns grew to at least a quarter of my height, so it was almost impossible to stand on them. Then we realized we hadn’t seen a Camino sign for a while. We saw another fellow, Nino, behind us, struggling on as well which made me feel better. Eventually we made it past the evil thorn grove to see the blue and yellow sign glowing at us. And BANG. We walked straight into the snow. Nino pressed on ahead of us, which made life easier because we could then stand straight in his footprints. Still, it was a slippery and arduous uphill climb. When we got to the road, I ripped my boots off to find two newly formed blisters and some semi-frozen stumps where my feet had been. Plus, it was at this stage that I realized I had drunk my 3L of water. But it was all so pretty! And the sun was finally out, so I couldn’t be too glum. We shuffled on, ignoring a sign for a third shortcut. I was moving at a pathetic pace, so we stuck our thumbs out. After a 4WD sailed past us, a Spanish guy pulled over and gave us a lift. Turns out we were less than 3km away from the hostel – we had done 27km uphill out of 30. Roncesvalles was beautiful. It was a lovely mountain town covered in snow. We ate a wonderful and massive dinner with Nino before retiring to our bunk beds with about 12 others. We made a new Swiss friend who seemed to find my sore legs very amusing. I however, did not. Still, it was a difficult and most excellent first day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Trouble at home

When I left Melbourne, I was a little bit scared that at some point on my trip I would come to harm. Now, Victoria is burning and I'm safe as houses half a world away. I know my family is safe at the moment - although fires came kind of close a few years ago, my parents live on the border of an urban area. But it would be fair to say that almost everyone in Victoria knows someone who lives in or near the areas that have been ravaged. I have people I really love who live in the middle of dry and isolated country areas. It's terrifying not knowing where the fires are or what's going on. I'm in a house with three Australians at the moment and new numbers have been continually popping up. 40 dead. 75 dead. Over 100. More bodies found. I've been checking The Age as often as possible, but we're still so far away it just doesn't seem real.

It's dreadful to hear of people who stayed just a fraction too long at their houses. Or people that stayed because they didn't have insurance and thought they could defend their homes. Or people who just couldn't outrun the flames. I remember watching the glow from the fires in Linton once. It was just that to us - a glow - but it was frightening enough. I never had any doubt that if fires came close we'd just leave. We'd never be able to defend our house, we're next to a park and there is just too much vegetation around. We have no water pumps, just a small tank and a hose. But which way would we go? Where would we head? We'd have to check that our Aunt was ok. The thought of all the choices and decisions that would need to be made in such a pressurised situation is awful.

So, with no real idea of what's going on at home, I hope that the news doesn't get worse and I hope the people I love are safe.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cold cold cold

London is FREEZING. I quite seriously go outside wrapped up like a mad thing. Since I don't exactly have a massive range of clothes to choose from, I'm just wearing everything I own. I look stupid. But aside from the rubbish weather, I love it here. It's wonderful. I keep seeing lovely things that just make me so happy. For starters, when I arrived, there was snow on top of all the buildings! And all the houses are smushed up together like biscuits. There are also these creepy little side streets that make me feel like I'm in the 18th century. It's all just so damn English and absolutely fantastic.

I have to say that I love the public transport here. This Oyster card thing is brilliant. I'm in love with it. I hope the new ticketing system is in place and working when I get home because it blows my mind. Stupid Connex and stupid transport department.

I miss home a lot though (aside from the weather). 2 years in England may have been a tad ambitious. It's not very colourful here. And not many people smile. I hate not having my own place to live in. I think that in this place, having a safe and happy sanctuary is even more important to me. I want to do home-type things. I miss Richmond. I've been day-dreaming about Bridge road. Who would have thought. I badly want a steak from Boheme. They are massive and tasty and are always cooked the way you request. Not like asking for medium and ending up with a slab of charcoal. And I want to go to my market. I want to walk around with a massive shopping list and come home with three punnets of blueberries. I really miss my old life. I think I now understand that it wasn't dull and constricted, it was just gentle. Which is quite nice really.

It's my birthday tomorrow. I'll be 25 years old. Quarter of a century or, as a friend that I hate reminded me (you know who you are xoxo), half-way to 50. What I want most of all is to sit in my old apartment, get some DVDs and order a ridiculous amount of food. Instead I'm going to brave the cold and go to the British Museum. Which is exactly what I'd wish I was doing if I was at home in Richmond. Funny that.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tigers, snakes and caves

My flight to London has been delayed and now I am trapped in Bangkok until early tomorrow morning. Bleh.

In the time that has passed since the last post, I have seen and patted some tigers, seen a snake show and had one wrapped around my neck and I have gone into a massive (to me) cave system that has some pretty special legends attached to them.

I miss home terribly. It's strange, but adventuring is quite a lonely sport. I don't regret leaving, but right now a tube of vegemite is one of my favourite possessions.

Back to the tigers. They were wonderful. Soft, but hard underneath all that fur. I got to lay my head down on the belly of one and my heart stepped up it's pace until I could feel the blood thumping through my head. I was terrified. But that was nothing compared to having a huge python wrapped around my neck. It's massive head was a little too close to my face for comfort - although I did manage to get a good photo of it. From that, nobody would know that I was actually shaking like a leaf. At one stage the snake handlers reached into the snake 'box' and flung one straight at me (I was an obvious choice as I was clearly the most frightened). Naturally, I screamed and went mental only to find them all laughing at me, and a piece of rope on the ground. I am such an easy target sometimes.

The caves at Chiang Dao were very impressive. My imagination went wild down there. There were random passages, bats, and little alters all over the place. Water dripped down everywhere, and the smell of the guide's lamp made it all the more suffocating. It was fantastic and a very good way to confront a lot of my fears. The dark, small places and being underground.

Lastly, I finally managed to see a fortune teller. She told me some things that I was happy with, and other things that I am VERY unhappy about. I don't think that people should live their lives by things like that, but it can be a good reminder of what to avoid. Hopefully I'll manage to see one fortune teller and see one cave system in every country.