Camino Week 2 & 3 -> Quick Update
Hello earthlings! I know it’s been a while and I’m so sorry to have left you hanging for so long, I really am.
It’s been over 350km (> 210 miles) and almost three weeks since I last blogged, a distance that’s taken me HALF WAY to my destination, a number I can barely believe myself.
Yes I’m really half way there!!!!
So much has happened and I truly have so many stories to tell, but as much as I’ve tried it’s just been too hard to get a proper blog post out.
Between walking, food, laundry, rest and sleep the days just seem to fly away. My pilgrimage has become a routine that has taken on a life of its own, and the groove has been so good that I literally haven’t take a full rest day since Pamplona.
Well until now….
I’m On A Few Days of Forced Rest
A few nights ago I had a small, but rather dramatic mishap related to those death trap bunk beds I told you about in my last post.
As I stepped down from one in the late afternoon the hold handle (a wooden one in this particular case) came loose and so I hurtled through the air and landed on my bum rather than my feet. The crushed discs in my back did not appreciate the move, so I’ve been on forced rest for a few days waiting it out to see how it goes.
Yes, it was a typical Nina moment.
On the positive side this little repose gives me some hours to hang around coffee shops and blog. It won’t be an in-depth day-by-day post like my last one, but I do have enough time to give you all a quick update on my trip so far.
I’m Doing Well Overall
Apart from the recent silly bed incident, I’ve been doing great.
My feet are in good shape and my shoe/sock combo is holding up exceptionally well (touch wood). Plus my pack and pack weight have been perfectly fine. I haven’t had to ship any of my weight ahead (so far…although that’s likely to change now with my back issue).
In fact the whole physical experience has been rather miraculous. I never cease to be amazed that I can walk 22km and end the day hobbling along on throbbing feet, yet somehow be ready to do it all again the next morning.
The human body is an incredible machine, even the 50+ model that I’ve got. And one thing you really learn on the Camino is that you’re capable of far more than you think.
It’s a pretty cool discovery.
I Love (Love, Love) My Umbrella
Umbrella has been a star.
In fact he’s elicited so many comments and compliments that I’ve had to give him a identity of his own. Olaf, as I’ve named him, now accompanies me daily and has kept both rain and sun at bay through almost every step of my Camino. “ Idea number one” as a Korean guy proclaimed just a few days ago when he saw Olaf under the hot sun. He certainly is…
I’ve had people ask for pictures with him, and pilgrims who recognize me uniquely for the head-saucer-look he gives me when he’s deployed. We’ve got a Camino reputation now.
I’m so glad I bought him along.
I Am Traveling With Friends
One of the real gifts I’ve had on the pilgrimage is that I’m I am no longer traveling alone.
Remember the two Camino Angels (Jessica and Suzie) that helped me down the big slope to Zubiri on Day 3? Well the next day we decided to walk together again, then we went a bit further, and then we did that over and over until the three of us just naturally morphed into a happy trio (in fact, a fourth gal just joined us a few days ago).
It’s been so very nice to travel amongst friends, and we mesh so well that we can now no longer imagine traveling apart.
We go slow, stop often to rest our feet, drift apart when we feel like it and walk together when we want to chat. Most importantly we never pass up a chance for second breakfast (or third) and always pose for silly photo ops at all the statues and murals along the way. It’s been a most perfect match.
The Trail Has Been An Adventure
As for the trail itself?
I’ve walked from mountain tops to valleys, through vineyards and mud, crossed infinite barren landscapes and weathered rain and hot sun. Sometimes I see multiple landscapes in the space of a single day, and it’s always a discovery. I never can quite predict what it will be like.
The Camino is gorgeous, but it’s also not always pretty.
Many paths have been lovely, but there have been days we just walked beside the road, or trudged through industrial areas to get into the bigger cities. In fact a surprisingly large portion of the Camino Francés (290km or more than a third of the total!) is on asphalt.
For that reason I’m even more thankful I decided on trail runners rather than hiking boots. The extra cushion really comes in handy.
However when the Camino does get “wild” it really is incredible. There are moments you feel you’re walking through a fairytale far from the things of man, and yet there’s invariably always a cafe just a few km down the way.
Plus the towns you do pass through are visit-worthy in themselves with a rich history, fabulous churches and lots of places to eat. Which is a good thing, because us pilgrims think about food…a lot!
This is a luxury hike really, of physical steps interwoven with food and wine. Truly it is a joy to experience.
The Camino Is Easy To Follow
For those of you curious about how we actually follow the Camino Francés, it’s a well-marked trail that’s indicated by shells and yellow arrows everywhere you go (and of course we also have phone maps).
You pay close attention to them at the start, but then you find yourself automatically seeing them and even mindlessly following them after a few weeks (a habit, I’ve been told, that can stick with you long after you’ve finished).
The distances you walk are up to you, although there are “recommended” stages (personally I think they’re far too long). Our little trio prefers shorter trips that allow for slow walking and plenty of food and rest stops (second breakfast is key), so we started with 15-16km (9-10 miles) days in the first week, and then ramped it up to 20-25km (12-15 miles) over time as our pace and stamina improved.
Jessica is our “master planner” and she’s done an outstanding job, keeping our feet (and stomachs) happy throughout.
That said we can’t always plan the exact distance we want simply because there are not always towns where we want them. So, some days we go shorter (or longer) than we’d like because it’s our only choice. It’s just the Camino way.
But We Have To Book Ahead
One thing I didn’t really expect before I came here was how much planning was involved.
There are many more pilgrims than I envisioned, and also less Albergues (places to stay). The last few years of COVID have hurt the supply side quite a bit and it’s not yet recovered. That combined with a new trend of “full service” booking companies that snap up a lot of the private rooms and hotels, have made “doing the bed run” a real thing.
Almost every pilgrim I meet this year has been talking and lamenting about it.
We started booking a few days ahead in the beginning, but now we’re having to look a week out and word has it the very last stretch from Sarria onwards is going to be even crazier (many pilgrims just do the last 100-200km).
It forces more structure than I’d hoped (e.g. we can’t just walk until we feel like stopping), but that’s just the way things are right now. At this point I’ve only met a few pilgrims who are not booking and they’re usually 20-somethings that are either willing to walk an extra 10-15km if they need, or simply sleep on the floor (we see them every night).
This particular aspect of the Camino is a newer phenomenon, but with popularity ever-rising I think it may be here to stay for a while.
My Personal Journey Has Been Interesting
My own personal journey has been very interesting, although I’m not sure I can articulate it all yet.
There have been the expected physical challenges of long-distance walking of course (aches, pains etc.) but there’s been sickness too (the dreaded Camino Flu* raced through pretty much everyone on the trail a few weeks ago) and I’ve had days where emotionally I was riding on a high followed by others where I cried and broke down for seemingly no reason at all.
I guess going on a long trek like this brings up “stuff”, or at least it has for me. And I’m not sure I’ll understand it all until much later?
*Was it COVID? I can’t rule it out. It could have been a simple head cold or one of the newer strains. We all had two bad days, but then it passed and almost everyone was sick with the same symptoms around us. In communal dorms, you catch it all.
The Social Side Has Been Awesome
The people side of this journey have been one of the best parts of it all.
I’ve met so many from all over, and shared so many interesting and moving moments. We’ve met 22 Danish people (we’re everywhere!), lots of Americans and Germans, Koreans (in big groups) plus a spattering of other nationalities. Everyone is open to sharing their story, chatting and hanging out, so it’s a very social environment.
Often we’ll “lose” people as folks walk different distances or stop at different towns, but then incredibly we often find each other again down the way. And when we do it’s a big celebration that feels like we’re meeting old friends again. It’s really nice.
Injuries Do Happen, But So Does Healing
You never really know how your Camino is going to go.
We know some older folks who were hospitalized a few weeks ago (they’re ok now), and multiple others who either fell or injured themselves and couldn’t continue. We even heard of a pilgrim who had to be evacuated by helicopter due to a snake bite (yikes!).
Accidents do happen and the further along you get on the Camino the more you hear about them.
There’s also many folks who simply push it too hard, especially in the first week. They get small injuries that they then try to “walk through” and invariably end up with much more serious injuries that sometimes shut down their Camino entirely. If there’s one thing I’ve really learned it’s to start slower, listen to your body and rest or skip days when you need to.
That said most people do make it, even those that are injured (if they take the proper time to rest!) and also those that may not seem that fit or able. It’s actually really interesting how much of the Camino is a mental thing, especially the further you go along it.
The key is this a pilgrimage, not a race and the more you’re able to let go of preconceptions (e.g I must make a certain number of km each day, or I must carry my full pack weight, or I must keep going etc.) the more enjoyable and achievable your journey becomes. I really believe that.
So That’s Where I Am Today
This is my pilgrimage so far, at least the short version of it.
I do have more, so much more that I hope to share at some point, but it will all have to wait until I’m not lying in a bunk bed exhausted from the day.
Half way done, half way to go. See you down the trail.