third day on the Camino & a return to where I started last year…back to the future, because I’ll definitely be here again


This bridge means a lot to me, and it’ll take some explaining for it to make sense. 

Arrived here in Logroño last year to begin my journey. Meeting all the pilgrims with their injuries that day, I felt like such an imposter calling myself a pilgrim already. Little did I know – everyone walks his own Camino. Where you start is immaterial. Just start. 

Then I looked back over this bridge from the other side and could only imagine what the path from Pamplona to here was like. Now that I’ve gone back and done that exact stretch, I found myself looking on this bridge with a sense of accomplishment. 


The day before, I’d walked through Villamayor de Monjardín, which is nearly as pretty a village as this flower. Needed to keep moving, but I could’ve enjoyed a siesta there. Next time. 


As you’ve probably gathered if you’ve either followed my travels here, or know anything about the Camino de Santiago, these markers are found all along The Way. Even in my hikes back in the Bavarian Alps, you sometimes see these signs for Der Jakobsweg, which always make me long to get back on the Camino


The morning ‘magic hour‘ is beautiful enough to make you want to leap out of your bunk in the albergue. There’s no such thing as sleeping in when you’re a pilgrim, but it’s moments like this that make early mornings so worthwhile. 


Think this was from my first day, when I was coming out of Pamplona, but I can’t remember. What I do remember is the sweet, delicious smell of these guys. I’m sure those of you who know flowers can tell me what these are. Anyone?

Definitely from day one, coming down off the Alto del Perdón – no idea the significance of this wooden statue in Obanos, but I loved the juxtaposition of east and west. 


In case you needed any encouragement: Don’t  stop walking!


And not too much looking back, either. This is from the bridge in Puenta la Reina glancing from whence I came. Not much time for reflection about the road behind me while focused on the path ahead, but I liked this shot. It’s been well received elsewhere. Hope you like!

Don’t stop walking with or without knowing exactly where you’re going to sleep…or what you’re going to sleep on

There’s this exhilarating moment when you arrive at the albergue after the day’s walk, and you drop your things. This is where you know you’re going to spend the rest of your day and your evening, yet there’s a good chance you’re so tired that you’ll sleep through most of one or the other. 

Suddenly you’re faced with a most pressing dilemma: do you take a shower or first lie down for a short while? That short while can become a long one if you aren’t careful. Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ll feel so much better if you clean up right away, then you remember, ‘Oh, wait! I need to clean my clothes, as well.

In a weird state of singular focus where simple tasks take most, if not all, of what’s left of your depleted energy. Sometimes the decision is made for you in the event that there’s not a shower available when you arrive. If you’ve arrived at the same time as a lot of other pilgrims, getting into the shower first can be an issue. 

Remember, in that state of ‘I just want to refresh myself and lie down‘, every moment seems to count. However, now that I say that, there’s an eerie sense of acceptance that tends to overcome you when you’re that tired. 

‘There’s no shower? Ok, then I’ll just go hand wash my clothes…wait, you say now there’s no one in the showers anymore? Wonderful. Then I’ll go there now.

It was just these sorts of simple decisions I was making when I dropped my pack on my bunk in a room full of twenty or so other pilgrims. As I started pulling my things out, I realised, ‘Wait, where’s my sleeping bag?

No wonder I’d inexplicably had more space in my pack that morning. In a split second I replayed my early morning, remembered stuffing my bedding deep inside its cover, but I must’ve left it sitting next to my bed back in last night’s albergue. Damn! 

What was I going to do?

Luckily, the place I’d just arrived had sheets on their beds, which can be quite a luxury under the best of circumstances when you’ve been in your sleeping bag night after night for weeks on end. In this case, having sheets was fortuitous beyond description. 

This reminds me of something you hear again from pilgrims: 

The Camino provides…’ in that moment of hopelessness, where you simply don’t know what to do next…in exactly that seemingly hopeless situation, something or somebody magically shows up with an answer. 

Or you do without that thing that even a few moments ago seemed essential. In this case, I didn’t even need to go without. I was going to be sleeping in regal comfort on these sheets — real sheets with a pillow and everything. 

Called the woman at the previous night’s albergue and she assured me she’d not only seen my sleeping bag, but she’d decided she would go ahead and wash it. This she a) didn’t have to do – that was undeniably kind, but b) a very clean sleeping bag 30+ km behind me wasn’t going to do me much good. 

Thankfully, there’s a cottage industry of services along the Camino to carry one’s bags when a pilgrim has been injured. Or even to carry pilgrims to hospitals or the nearest town if the injury is serious enough that it needs medical attention. 

She asked me where I’d be the next night and assured me she could send it along via one of these services, but all I needed to do was call the number she gave me and arrange it with them. 

Ok, got it. 

Called the number and what he said was such a tremendous relief. Yes, he could take my bedding from last night’s to tomorrow’s place, but it’d set me back a cool €10. That’s roughly how much you pay per night to stay in one of the albergues, so one might think that’s pretty steep, but trust me…as a pilgrim, you need a sleeping bag. 

It was sheer good fortune that I had sheets at this place. There was no telling how things would be at the next place, but I didn’t want to risk it. 

How would I get the money to him, though? I’m not actually *at* the next place, where he’ll be dropping it off. Here’s where the story gets good, from my perspective: 

This courier would be coming through this place where I was staying tonight, but he wouldn’t be here till sometime mid morning. That’s exactly when I’d be out walking, so? What to do? How would we make this work? 

Simple, he assured me. I should give the woman where I was staying that night the money. She put it in an envelope for him, which he’d pick up as he swung by in the course of his day. 

And I’d keep walking, which was the whole point to begin with. Don’t. Stop. Walking. No matter what. 

a lapsed Quaker walking…I’m relatively sure you’ll get what I’m trying to say at some point


Ok, I told you about the dog I met the first day and how I was missing my dogs, so there’s that. The whole dog thing. I’ve even started Dog Spotting pretty obsessively, which is something I always did, yet now I’m taking photos and adding whimsical captions and/or stories. We’ll see what comes of that. 

I deliberated for some time about whether I wanted to go into more detail about walking the Camino de Santiago, and once I’ve gotten over the whole ‘imposter syndrome‘ thing, I think I’ve got some ideas about how I can present it. 

Here’s what I’ve decided: assuming you’ve come here to hear my take on things and you know I’ve been walking on and off across northern Spain the last few years, you just have to expect that at some point I’m going to rattle on about the pilgrimage. 

Now first of all, I can imagine some of you saying, ‘I don’t give a damn about some ridiculous pilgrimage. It’s the 21st century and anyone worth his or her salt, at this point, is either atheist or at the bare minimum agnostic, so why stumble along some ancient path with a bunch of other dogooders?’

For one thing, I’ll get to my affiliation and perspective on all of that in a moment, but I’ll quickly point out that what’s now called The French Way (Camino Francés) is actually a pre Christian pilgrimage, or whatever those heathens called such a thing before they had the word ‘pilgrimage‘. 

It’s something I read at the airport last year, while waiting for my flight home. Starting somewhere in modern day Italy, or perhaps in what we used to call Yugoslavia, there was a path cut across northern Italy, the south of France, the Pyrenees (including St. Jean Pied de Port and Roncesvalles in the foothills), Pamplona and ultimately Santiago

Who cares? Why are you even still reading at this point?

My reasoning is that because you’ve never been on the Camino and likely wouldn’t make such a journey, this is the ultimate travel writing opportunity. I’ll try giving you a feel for walking this thing, while fully aware that you might never entertain the idea of doing so yourself. You’ll go about your daily life and every once in a while, if I’ve done my job right, you sigh and think to yourself, ‘All that’s well and good for that kind of person…’ or perhaps even, ‘Maybe someday…’

If I can give you an impression of taking the pilgrimage without even leaving your armchair, then I’ve done something worthwhile. Let me be your Bilbo Baggins, and taking that analogy to its logical conclusion, go ahead and ask yourself, ‘Who’s his Smog?

Or better yet: 

What Ring is he holding onto and might he eventually hurl into the smoldering abyss?’

Good questions and I’ll get to them in due time. As for my above mentioned affiliation, I’m not walking the Camino for religious reasons. Not per se, anyway. That’s not to say I’m an unbeliever. Far from it. 

Not a Roman Catholic, though. Although I’m in awe of the Church and the beauty that it’s either inspired or sponsored, there’s no part of me that wants to walk to Rome or Canterbury or any such preposterous locale. If that’s your thing, more power to you. Just not for me. 

We humans need labels, so I’ll just put this out there, and you can categorise me as you see fit. I’m a kind of a lapsed Quaker…walking The Way trying to get a better understanding of why we keep doing all of this. 

One of my favourite bumper stickers I saw in Austin years back was:

Don’t believe everything you think.’

I like to think I’ve taken that one to heart. Oh, and if you’re a pilgrim or once we’re and are reading this thinking, ‘What an imposter!‘, just keep walking. I’m relatively sure you’ll get what I’m trying to say at some point. 

Back to the Future…Camino style


Remember these shoes from last year? I walked a whole week on the Camino, and bombarded my feed with photos and waxed philosophic about what it all meant and laughed at myself at the preposterousness of my thinking I even had a clue. 

Most people take a month to six weeks to walk the whole Way of St. James. Others take longer, or do it in smaller chunks. But they eventually do it. Somehow. 

The way I’m doing it seems to be rather convoluted and I’ll briefly tell you why: the whole time I was walking into little Spanish villages and their monasteries and/or churches last year, I kept saying to myself, ‘I wish my mom could see this. Wish she could experience what this whole thing is like.’

My friend Nathan even mentioned having biked the route with his mother, and I thought, ‘That cheating bastard…you can’t be a pilgrim on a brand new shiny bicycle.’ 

I’m here to tell you I was wrong. I’ve slowly come round to the philosophy that however you transverse the damned thing is really your business. 

I’m going to show a bit of it to my mom. She can’t walk it, but she’ll come along with me, and we’ll see some of those things I wanted to share with her last year. If there’s time, I might even take her to Santiago

That’s not cool, though. Right? You can’t just go to the end of a pilgrimage without having made the pilgrimage? Sure you can, and we just might. 

Here’s what I intend to do: write about it. Before during and after. I met people last year who’d fantasized about going on the Camino de Santiago for decades. They finally made their way and fulfilled a longtime dream. 

My friend Casey made noises about joining me someday, so I’m going to extend this invitation to her and anyone else who’s so inclined. 

First of all, join one of the groups of pilgrims – there’s a private Facebook group just for women that I’ve heard is quite extraordinary. 

Secondly, read about their experiences, watch that Martin Sheen movie or one of the many documentaries about the Camino, or talk to me. Leave a comment below if you want to hear my take on this. Anything, really. 
Finally, like last year, it’s pretty much all I’ll be talking about the next few weeks. If nothing else, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the photos. 

For the heathens among you, I’ll say hello to God on your behalf

follow the little man in the funny hat

Arrived yesterday, but didn’t feel comfortable talking about the Camino de Santiago, because I’d not even started it. Standing on the main square in front of the cathedral in Logroño

right in the middle of the middle of La Rioja


…listening to the pilgrims grinningly go on about their myriad of ailments, I felt so out of place. On the outside looking in, as it were. Many of them had been at this for upwards of a week or more. They were hobbling into town regaling one another with the status of their injuries, while I was chipper and ready to go.

While waiting impatiently for my start the following morning, I strolled around the capital of Rioja and mindfully appreciated my fresh and unchallenged legs and feet. ‘Enjoy this while you can,’ I reminded myself. ‘Soon enough you’ll have your own well-earned philosophies of proper foot care on the Camino.’

breakfast in Navarette

At an ungodly hour, I was out the door of the albergue and far from the only pilgrim already on the streets out of town. By leaving that early, there were few, if any, options for breakfast. Hoofing it the twelve kilometres to Navarette was certainly sweetened by the thought of a café con leche and pretty much anything they were offering in the way of food.

It might be a cliché that you appreciate the smallest things on such a trip, but there was nothing cliché about the taste of that coffee.

There was a church there, too, and if you’re one who gets easily bored of pictures of churches, you might consider not reading this blog for the next little while.

It’s pretty much guaranteed to be a mix between a lot of sweaty hikers and Spanish religious architecture from here on out. You’ve been adequately warned.

churchin’ it up in Navararette

For the heathens among you, I’ll say hello to God on your behalf.

Just waiting to go

packed and ready to go

The last blogpost about leaving for the Camino resulted in so much interest from both people on social media and folk with whom I interact in my daily life. I was thrilled by comments from people who’ve been on a pilgrimage or those who were curious what it was all about.

Some insisted that they wouldn’t feel safe walking alone, and my assurance that you’re never really alone on such a trip was met with incomprehension.

There are plenty of things I’ve read and heard about how people are protected and provided for as they’re walking the Camino. It all sounds a bit unbelievable at this point, but I’m doing my best to suspend disbelief and see what it’s like with my own eyes.

That’s the funny thing: I’ve read everything I can get my hands on. I’ve watched documentaries about pilgrimages in general and the Camino de Santiago in particular, but there’s one thing left that I’ve not done.

I’m packed.

The dogs have gone to the sitter.

I’ve cleaned out my fridge, so I don’t have to throw away any food upon my return.

There’s just one thing left that I haven’t done. I’ve not actually left yet. That’s it. I’m just waiting to go.

With all of this Vorfreude, which is this German word that means something like ‘the joy of anticipation‘. That’s exactly where I am now.

Just waiting to go.

heed that guy’s warning, would you?

 

getting geared up

 
I’ll admit it – I’m a little nervous about my feet. 

Blogs and online forums and even a few old-fashioned books I’ve been poring over have adequately warned me how important foot maintenance is when it comes to the kind of long-distance walking I’ll soon be doing. For those of you not hanging on my every word over here, I’ll catch you up quickly:

I’m soon leaving for Spain, where I’m walking a bit of the Camino de Santiago. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not walking the whole thing. I’m getting a taste for this pilgrimage and then, in all likelihood, I’ll be back at some future date for more of the same. 

The photo above is what I’ve already amassed in hopes of decent care of my hind paws. Again and again I hear and read about how the time you spend while on the Camino: you’re either walking or taking care of your feet. I’m sure I’ll  appreciate the scenery and the comeraderie of the other pilgrims, but right now I can only think of one thing: I’ve got this picture in my head of me coming home missing toenails and reminiscing fondly of a time back when I could still fully feel my extremities. 
You likely assume I’m exaggerating, and I’ve been accused of that sort of thing before. Comes with the territory, I suppose. Come back and talk to me in a few weeks, though, and we’ll see. I’ll be the old-timer hobbling along wagging his finger ominously. ‘Proper foot care, m’boy. It’s all about taking care of those five-toed wonders at the end of your legs.’ 

Somebody heed that guy’s warning, would you?