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. 

And struggle in the darkness troubling my eyes

This left foot has been giving me trouble for days

Well, my week on the Camino de Santiago has sadly come to an end. I know I’ve gone on and on about my feet, but that’s what people on a pilgrimage talk about. It’s rather important, to be fair. 

poppies along The Way

This was one of the nicer photos from my last day of walking, and just looking at it makes me want to rearrange my flight from Bilbao and keep walking toward Santiago

waking with the roosters

If you get up with most of the other pilgrims, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeting the sun. Yet because you’re generally walking westwards, the sunlight is shining on your back. 

a selfie with me caring for my feet

Most days begin and end with obsessive foot maintenance. It’s on the mind of nearly everyone on the Camino. And a helpful tip for how to care for your doggies is on the tip of almost every pilgrim’s tongue. 

still one of my favourite shots of my time on the Camino

I can’t believe so much has happened in such a short week. The thought of continuing on all the way to Santiago makes me so envious of my fellow pilgrims who I’ve been walking with the last days. 

I’m reminded of one of Joni Mitchell‘s songs in which she ponders some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while pilgrimming.  

Hoping and hoping

As if by my weak faith

The spirit of this world

Would heal and rise

Vast are the shadows

That straddle and strafe

And struggle in the darkness

Troubling my eyes

From the song Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Getting your Credencial del Peregrino stamped and rolling with the punches

looking out across the Spanish landscape

Here’s a riddle for you:

What do call a false noodle?

Let me get one thing straight. I’m not walking the whole Camino de Santiago this time. I’d love to, but I only had a week. Making the most of my week, but this is a kind of a snapshot of what one might expect of this pilgrimage

Because I joined later on in the pilgrimage and am not walking all the way to Santiago, I’ve had to get over some feelings of being an imposter on this journey. One way I’ve done this is to simply immerse myself in each day of walking. 

People come on and get off the Camino all the time. Nobody’s got the time or wherewithal to judge what you’re doing, anyway. Too much else to busy one’s self with anyway. 

You get in from a day of walking and often by the time you’ve hand washed your sweaty clothes and figured out what to eat, you collapse on your bunk. 

For everyone who’s been here, the next part is now second nature, but for those of you following at home? I’d like to introduce you to the world of albergues

tonight’s albergue: Cuatro Cantones in Belorado

While you can call ahead and reserve a room in a hostel or even a hotel along the way – again: no judgement if that’s the way you choose to do this – however, most pilgrims choose to stay at an albergue.

Some are run by the municipal government in the villages along the way, while others are housed within the town’s monastery or a convent. 

In Santo Domingo de la Calzada last night, we slept with the nuns. Don’t take that the wrong way, though, because it’s the Cistercian nuns who run that albergue.

How do you get a bed at one of these places?

here’s my Credencial del Peregrino

First you’ve got to have a Credencial del Peregrino, which is a little passport like booklet each pilgrim starts out with. Upon arriving, and it’s a first come, first served basis (no reservations taken), you get your Credencial stamped with a decorative stamp. 

How do you know you have a bed in the next town before you get there? Well if you’re staying in albergues, you don’t. It’s possible you try a few places and finally a bed is available. If everything’s full, you might be walking on to the next village. Hasn’t happened to me so far, but I’ve heard plenty of stories of woe. 

a few nights ago in Nájera

It might sound a bit too improvisational for your taste. Here’s the thing, though: part of this whole experience is that there are some things quite simply out of your control. How one rolls with the punches could determine the quality of one’s entire journey.

Oh, back to how I started: 

What do call a false noodle?

An im-pasta!

Update: for reasons of factual accuracy, I feel I need to make it clearer about the different types of albergue

Here’s how a friend described it: 

The deal is this: there are municipal albergues, parochial albergues and private ones. Only at the private ones can you reserve in advance which some people do but it takes away from the spirit of the Camino which is essentially to walk as long as you can on any given day and then check in where you end up at the end of your walking day. That, of course, depends on what kind of condition you’re in and how far you can walk, which is something you can not necessarily predict in advance.

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?

Walking down the road…or getting ready to

Camino symbol

When I first started hiking here in the German Alps, I kept seeing that symbol above. ‘What is that?‘ I’d ask.

Oh, it’s the Jakobsweg.

Huh? What’s the Jakobsweg?

You know, it’s a pilgrimage. One of the oldest ones in Europe, I think. Many people walk it.

Now that I know a bit more about it, I can tell you: some English names for it are The CaminoThe Road to Santiago, The Way of St James or St James’s Way depending on your preference.

The long and short of it is that I’ve said for years, ‘I want to go do that someday.‘ There was a German bestseller about walking the route (the name of the book I won’t bother mentioning), and although the Jakobsweg was already very popular hereabouts, it suddenly became even more so.

Then I saw the Emilio Estevez movie ‘The Way‘ (starring his father Martin Sheen), and not long after that I was asked if I wanted to come along and do some Walking Down the Road. Yes, I did.

I still do.

There’s a lot that goes into planning such a thing, and the more I read about it, the more out of my depths it seems I am. However, there seem to be plenty of folk who do this and they seem to do it and even make it back somehow.

To be clear up front: I’m not even planning on walking the whole thing. My intention is to get a taste for it, and from what I understand: once I do, I’ll definitely want to go again.

I’ve been alternating between obsessing about which shoes I’ll wear and imagining how delicious the Tapas in Logroño are. Already, I’ve decided I’ll be documenting as much of it here as I can.

Not just the actual walking of The Camino, but I intend to blather on about the preparation and I suspect I might find myself contemplating what it meant to me long after I get back home.

Like I said, I’ve still got to decide on footwear. Here’s a photo of me taking one pair out for a test drive. I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing plenty more of this sort of thing in the foreseeable future. Something tells me you can hardly wait.

Camino prep stuff