Friday, March 13, 2009

Things I'd take on the Camino

I made some epic mistakes when I was packing. I took too much, and there were a few items I would have loved to have with me.

Basic gear: jocks, socks and bras x2, lightweight walking pants (quick dry), one thermal top, a jumper, a wind/rain-proof jacket, scarf, gloves and beanie/hat. This is for winter. It gets bloody cold.
A watch with an alarm - Once I woke up and everyone else had left. A loud ringing noise in my ear would have been quite handy.
Earplugs - People snore and rustle and for some reason some Spanish men like to play their radio all night long, tormenting the other pilgrims
Sleeping bag
First aid kit
Walking poles!!! WHY DIDN’T I BUY THESE?
Hand sanitizer - I love this stuff, and unlike others on the Camino, I didn't get sick.
A poncho – I was especially pleased with mine because I’d put some extra buttons on to stop it flying off me in windy weather. Hi5 to me. It's also nice to have something to sit on when it's lunch time on the road.
Tea - Because I like to be soothed.
Honey - for the bread I seem to attract
Nuts - Nuts in Spain are so expensive it’s absurd, but they are so damn tasty
Small Camino map - I like to see where I am and where I’ve been. Makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere.
My grooming pack - I don’t care if it took up room. Sometimes after a rough day it’s nice to be washed. Things aren't so nice when you look like a dirty bridge troll for weeks on end.

Extra t-shirts and similar stuff - I didn’t need them, there’s ample opportunity to wash clothes in sinks
My massive 3L camelback - A smaller one would have done fine – there are a million places to get water along the way, and while people might say ‘you don’t have to fill it up’ it still takes up room.
My mobile phone – I’ve been out of credit for ages, and it just took up space and added weight. So did my charger.

22nd Feb – Villafranca

The albergue at Villafranca is pretty great. The people who staff it provide the warmest welcome, and the place itself is more like a community than a sterile pilgrim centre. It’s gorgeous to look at, as is the town itself. We took a bus from Astorga to Villafranca in the hope of getting to Sierra to walk the last 100km (slow and steady), but the bus only went so far. I’m so glad of that now. Tomorrow we’ll see about transport and worry about my foot. It was a tad better this morning – I’ve been walking very carefully and slowly. Unfortunately, the very beautiful town of Villafranca is also mighty hilly. Up and down and up and then down. Not gentle rolling hills either, but violent, plunging ones. I took a few quite well then felt a searing pain on one and swore like a true Ballarat girl. I was glad nobody was around to hear me. Not my best moment.
Overall, I adore Spain. It’s everything I could have wanted. And it seems the closer we get to Santiago de Compostela, the friendlier the people get. They encourage my few badly pronounced Spanish words and always make an effort in English. Actually, today I used my first successful Spanish sentence. I asked a woman for jam and she understood the first time around. It was a pretty great moment for me.

21st Feb - Astorga

We just arrived in Astorga. My foot is totally ruined. It took us about 4.5 hours to do 10km. For those of you who have no idea how long that should take, I usually do about 4-4.5km per hour. That’s a fairly steady and gentle pace. But at the moment I’m limping along in the most pathetic manner possible. The walk was ok. It was largely uphill - which interestingly was easier on my foot – and quite boring.
A few km in, Gill told me to keep walking and disappeared into the bushes. I thought he was taking a toilet stop so I kept going. A little while later I turned around to see him moving towards me with a stick and a very wide grin. He’d managed to find a branch to make a walking stick out of. So now I look like a real pilgrim, strolling along with my staff. It’s quite fun really. My pace improved a lot after that. I’m so grateful. Before that we’d discussed the idea of me quitting the Camino. But now that I can manage a slightly quicker pace, we’ve decided to take one more bus a little bit closer and do 10km bite size pieces per day. I can definitely suffer through 10km. I don’t care how much it hurts or how long it takes. It may seem silly not to stop, but I just can’t. I don’t want to give up. This has meant more to me than anything else I’ve done.
I wish I’d brought walking poles with me. I suspect that the damage was done in the snow, and I can’t help but feel that the extra assistance would have helped a lot. Still, the stick is great and I am happy.
Our albergue today has a kitchen and a washing machine. That was bliss. I’ve washed all my smelly gross clothes properly and we’ve been to the supermarket to get some dinner stuff. Life here is so different. It’s easier in that I don’t need to worry about work or housemates or ‘real world problems’, but it’s harder because I’m now worried about the basics - food, shelter and the easing of physical pain.
Astorga is really quite a pretty town. They have the remains of an ancient Roman villa cordoned off in an area right near the albergue. A part of the mosaic is still intact, and I got rather excited about it. Gill called me a nerd. It’s a fairly accurate assessment really.

20th Feb – Hospital de Orbigo

I'm now posting things I wrote while I was on the Camino, so forgive me because they are all jumbled and out of date. I'm in London now, and missing the Camino a lot.

I’m injured, cold, homesick and snuffly. But I’m still happy. It says a lot for Spain and the Camino if I can be in a rotten state and still be happy. A tiny walk today and it took us forever. I couldn’t walk far despite my foot being strapped. Thankfully, the next town was very close.
I’m sitting in the kitchen of our albergue in Hospital de Orbigo. We just got kidnapped by our fellow pilgrims who had cooked too much food and so we sat and ate first dinner with them. We’d already bought food, so Gill is now making second dinner so that our food doesn’t go to waste. As I am the hurt member of our little party, I am sitting down and providing helpful encouragement. I will also make sure I eat second dinner while mumbling my appreciation.
There is a lovely American woman here called Anna. I call her ‘master-painter Anna’ – silently of course. She showed us one of her water colours today. I was amazed, then I was impressed, then I was consumed with envy mixed with respect. Of course, she doesn’t think she’s as good as she actually is.
This albergue is lovely. Freezing cold, and the water in the showers is warm rather than the steaming hot you actually need in this weather, but it’s nice. Plus, as Anna worked out, there is a little heater you can set up in the bedroom. I’m a fool – I took one look at it, thought ‘air-con’ and walked past. The bathrooms are quite nice, and most importantly, there is a kitchen. It’s not much at first glance, but it is wonderfully functional. Nothing quite like being able to eat after a day of walking.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I'm not dead, I'm in Madrid!

I know I haven't posted in a while. I have quite a few days to post but I'm in Madrid and I'm exhausted, poor, hungry and slightly fearful of the fact that I'll be looking for a job and somewhere to live in London in a few days. I'm in a tizz and a panic and I shall update the camino details soon.

Just quickly - the freaking albergues in Santiago were closed! WTF??? I was furious. We had to hike backwards on the camino in order to get a bed at the previous place. Not happy Jan.