Righty-o... Clearly not going to manage to keep up the day by day updates... Not enough internet access, not to mention brain space. So i thought I´d tell you a bit about how a typical day on the Camino works...
Each night I stay in one of the Albergues (pron. Albergays) which are essentially Pilgrim hostels. The Albergues are manned by volunteers who have to have walked the Camino themselves. The level of empathy for fellow pilgrims varies from place to place and a warm welcome can make all the difference, even if the place itself is less than comfortbale.
Albergues vary wildly in size, quality and facilities. The most flash I´ve stayed in (in Santo Domingo) had a lounge full of leather sofas (total luxury people), internet access, a fully equipped kitchen, awesome showers, great clothes washing facilites and relatively comfortable bed. The Hospitaleros (as the hosts are called) were a touch grumpy, but frankly I can overlook that in a place with sofas. Although I was one of the last to go to bed, because I planned on resting the next day... I haven´t been chased to bed by a middle aged woman in my life EVER... and it is not something I hope to experience again until I am also middle aged and said woman is joining me in that bed. This was not that occassion.
There hasn´t been a low point, accommodation-wise yet. There are some very basic places where you´re essentially in a barn-sized room of twenty bunk beds and you wash your clothes in the shower with you, but noweher has yet been so atrocious that I have been compelled to leave. I´ve heard talk of them, but so far I´ve not been in one.
So, I stay the night in one of these places and endure whatever snoring/sleep apnoeia/coughing might be going on before the first people start to stir at about 5/5.30am. I´ve adopted my own timescales over the last couple of weeks and they´ve made all the difference to how I feel for the rest of the day. I don´t get up until about 7am, by which time most of the high-speed eager beavers have upped and left, so i have more space to fossick around with my belongings and get my proverbial shit together to go out the door. In some albergues they provide breakfast, sometimes I buy it the day before and eat before I leave. Like a good English girl I have a stash of tea bags so I always have a cuppa before I head off.
I won´t take you through my full preparation regime, because, as any runners amongst you will appreciate, it involves liberal applications of anti-chaffing matter... best left alone, I think.
By about 8am I´m on the road. I´ve stopped wearing my watch in the day, though because I was working to time scales instead of what my body needed. So i leave when I´m ready... and I walk... Up to 25kms over about 6-7hrs depending on the terrain. Sometimes the Camino passes through villages with little bars that serve tea and coffee and sandwiches, so i might stopp at those and chill for a bit. Or I´ll find a hill to sit on and watch the fields around me and the passing pilgrims. For most of the day I tend to walk alone, but I can often see people ahead of or behind me. Sometimes, though, I´ll fall into step with someone else and we might chat for a while before one of us needs to stop or move faster.
At the moment I´m passing through the most amazing patchwork quilts of agriculture and crops - fields of every shade of green and gold (hello Australia!) with corn, wheat, barley, canola/rape seed. And the path itself is lined with bright red poppies, deep blue cornflowers and sprays of yellow and white wild flowers. The Camino path has been a white gravel for a long time, but we´ve come into red earth today, which looks stunning, but sticks like glue when wet, so you can see Pilgrims balancing on the dry sides of the paths to avoid making their boots like dead weights.
I carry fruit and sandwich stuff for the day and I stop every now and then to rest my feet and fuel myself for the next stretch of walking.
By about 1-2pm I´ve reached my destination for the day and I find the Albergue Municipal (the official one for the town or village) or equivalent and book myself in. I dump my gear, have a hot shower, wash my clothes and stretch my body in the hopes it won´t hurt the next day and then I chill. Sometimes I sit and write, or catch up with other people to see how their day on the Camino has gone.
inevitably we talk blisters and foot/leg injuries - these are as standard and unflinching as conversations among travellers about stool consistency in third world countries. ´People litterally hobble about in the afternoons. Every sit down results in an inevitable seize-up and you can almost hear them creak as they stand. One man I met suggested that the Camino´s purpose is to teach us all what it will be like to old... And then an 80yr old will pass you at pace the next day and you realise that old age is what you make it!
In the evenings some people make food if there is a kitchen. Otherwise there are always a handful of restaurants that offer a Pilgrim´s Menu - three courses with bread and wine for about €10... Standard stuff of varying quality.
So those are my days... I think, plan, sing and talk to myself as I walk. I stop to take a million pictures of mind-blowing scenery. I wonder what the people I love are doing (feel free to write and tell me!) and I breathe in the experience around me. I had a thought the other day: I love myself for bringing me here. It´s such an incredible journey in every sense (and you know I love a journey).
After the last post I found myself walking with a group who´s core was made up of an English woman, an Italian man and an American man. We became really close as a little group and picked up extras here and there along the way. It´s interesting, though (look away if you don´t do deep shit), I believe that people come into your life for a reason. You learn from each other and they may stay or they may pass through. These people taught me a huge amount in a short time, both about myself and about the Camino and they provided a very safe space to move in. And when I didn´t need the safety anymore, I stepped out of the group. I stayed in Santo Domingo and they went on to Grañon. I may well catch them down the line, but for now, I´m back on my own.
Having said that, in the town just before Santo Domingo I met two Aussie girls and we hung out together in Santo Domingo for a day and a couple of nights... Just qietly it was SO good to be able to Aussie it up for 48hrs - lots of slang and local jokes and awesome fun. Those girls were soul food for me and were key in helping me shift the way I was walking my Camino. This isn´t a race. I set off each day with no destination in mind and I use my gut and listen to my body to decide when to rest and where to stop. It´s funny how something so simple can make all the difference!
One last thing... As a huge fan of symbolism I have two walking tops that are hugely symbolic and special to this trip. I walk in my Berry Street running top (that´s who i work for, in case people aren´t sure), because it has the tagline "we never give up", which seemed appropriate (and I like the splash of yellow across it!). And I also walk in the top I was given for my London Marathon training. It says "Fox in training for London 2011"... The fox is me, in case you weren´t sure. I am one, let´s be honest. Anyway, people ask me about it all the time so it´s nice to have a story to tell.
Actually here´s the last thing... Things I have come to LOVE as a long-distance walker:
1. My sticks. I carry two that were a gift. They actually rock in the biggest way and make a huge difference to my walking day.
2. My water bladder. There is nothing more nerd-cool than that blue tube hanging over my shoulder and the knowledge that I can take a sip of water without fossicking for a bottle!
3. My boots. Truly. No blisters yet. ´Nuff said.
I´m in San Juan de Ortega for anyone wanting to track my progress. Heading to Burgo tomorrow. I hope you´re all looking after yourselves ´cos I love youse.
ps. for your laughing pleasure, today i went for a woodland wee (I binned the shewee on day 3 after a nightmare incident on the first day) and I chose a slight slope, forgetting the added weight of my bag... I had a small incident with a pile of brambles. Dignity only saved by the absence of any passing pilgrims since for sometime I was trapped with my bum hanging out as i tried to regain my balance and prevent myself from rolling down a hill. I have bramble cuts. Ouch.