Walking El Camino de Santiago: The Complete Notes.
The complete notes include a brief how it came about and walking from Estella to the Atlantic then to London for a visit and back again to France then through the Pyrrennes to where I came in. The notes are written by two different people from two very different walks of life.
See my article “Planning Your Pilgrimage, Tips For Walking The Camino De Santiago In Spain” for information on planning your trip.
How the adventure came about and off to Spain.
A NON-PILGRIMS, PILGRIMAGE.
A WALK ACROSS SPAIN, FROM TWO DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW
The complete Camino Notes, available on www.adventureman1.com, have 101 photos and pencil sketches by Larry R. Miller.
Life is like a bus ride: we can focus on who we think we are and where we think we’re going, we can transfer and seek a different destination or we can simply fill a space and continue to the end of the line. Our bus ride experience through life is up to us; no one can walk our path for us, carry our bags or think our thoughts. We have to decide if we’re going to be a participant or a spectator, live or just exist. Adventures like the Camino can give us answers.
Where and when did this part of my life begin? In order even for me to understand how I got here, it’s necessary to go back to the year 2000.
Celinda, my wife, and I’d been the caregivers for my mom the last ten years she was alive. She suffered from Alzheimer’s, or senile dementia, advanced osteoporosis and possibly breast cancer. The last four years were the most difficult for all of us. When you’re a family caregiver, you can’t go home at 5:00, and your involvement is much more than just physical, with family/emotional ties.
A lot of things happened in 2000, one of which was a four month odyssey that included hiking, biking and kayaking 4000 miles through seven western states that produced my first person book, Yol Bolsun--May There Be A Road. Later that year Celinda took a trip to Hawaii to visit friends and relatives.
My odyssey and subsequent book, indirectly lead to meeting Norm and Nan Dove who own Echo Valley Ranch and Spa in British Columbia. Both Celinda and I spent some time there during the summer of 2002.
During our stay at EVR I spent a lot of time fly fishing. I love to fly fish and for something to do, I helped others learn the art. Most people spent about 15 minutes then walked away in disgust or believed they had it mastered. Only occasionally, did anyone take it more seriously. No one I’ve ever met took it as seriously as James Coveyduck. James is a young businessman from London, England, or was at that time.
I’d had time in the morning to show him the basics and that afternoon James spent hours out on the lawn perfecting his fly casting technique. I saw a possible fishing companion, even if our age differences were quite large. At the time I was 62 and James was 26, almost young enough to be my grandson. Or, maybe I was almost old enough to be his grandfather. Whatever the case, we hit it off well from our first meeting.
We fished the close lakes but it was late September and the water was warm. There was a lot of algae in the water and the fish tasted like the algae they lived in. The warm water also took away most of their fight. I’d heard that there was a small lake about 20 miles away where one was almost assured of catching fish, but they’d be small. Lots of small, fighting fish were better than what we were catching, so we gave it a try. We decided to see who could catch the most fish and when we met at Echo Valley Ranch again, three years later, we resiumed counting where we’d left off.
In 2005, I had the opportunity to go back to EVR in June, so I e-mailed James and told him I’d be there. He booked in and showed up a couple of days after I did. Typical James, he’d stopped at a fishing supply and when he arrived at EVR he had a car full of fishing gear that needed to be unloaded and assembled.
Our main objective was to catch lots of fish. We did. We found some new and productive fishing spots and, on our drives back and forth, we talked about things we’d like to do, adventures we’d like to take. We discussed the possibility of meeting at EVR again in September, modified that to James flying into El Paso, TX and the two of us driving and fishing our way back up to British Columbia.
Another plan was to meet in Vancouver, BC and then head north and do some salmon fishing. All of the plans sounded great, but not the challenge that we both felt was trying to present itself. Then came the final plan, which we both agreed stood head and shoulders above all the rest.
James said, "Let's do the El Camino de Santiago in Spain!" My response was, "Sure, great, what is it?" James had a friend who’d done Camino, and from James’s description it sounded like something I could really get into. I looked it up on the Internet and the more I found out, the more it piqued my interest.
When we went fishing, we discussed the possibilities and problems. First, I had to get a passport, which both Celinda and I had been putting off because it hadn’t been a high priority. Now, a passport was much more important than just something to have that would satisfy the government(s) for entering and exiting Mexico to buy cement or other minor purchases or traveling to Canada.
A training program would need to be put in place. And that would probably be one of the more difficult parts for James. Exercise has always been a high priority for me and walking, hiking and cycling were part of my daily life.
Exercise wasn't a high point in James's life and he would be in a city/office work atmosphere, living and commuting in London and not having easy access to healthful foods.
At that point in the plan, it all boiled down to bureaucracy for me and self-discipline for James.
I believe that one reason James and I got along so well from the beginning was, we're both Jacks of all trades and master of many. The Camino notes were written by the two of us, from two very different perspectives and lifestyle backgrounds.
Chapter 1: Camino Day 1
Well, I’ve just collapsed over the finishing line of the first day’s walk - an allegedly not too difficult 27 kilometer trek from the small village called Roncesvalles on the southern edge of the Pyrenees at the Spanish and French border, to a small town called Zubirri. I call it a town, but it is actually more of a one-horse town without the horse - nothing to do except sleep and drink red wine, which is about the limit of my ambitions right now!
On the train up from Madrid, some helpful Spanish dude showed me a very impressive, ultra modern, colour, graphically illustrated book on the various stages of the Camino. This piece of literature, which completely put my own black and white version to shame, seemed to indicate a nice relaxing meander through the Spanish countryside, all of which was downhill, for a simple and not too taxing entry stage to being a true pilgrimage. All I can say is that, if I could speak Spanish and had an ounce of energy in my body, I would sue the editors for all they have! This was serious walking today and if it had been any harder I would have had to have called for a taxi! My feet hurt, my knees hurt, my back hurts and my soul hurts at the thought of getting up at 5.00 am tomorrow to repeat the whole process all over again.
Whining aside, the Camino is amazing - or at least the first 24 hours of it have been.
We arrived in Roncesvalles, the spiritual starting point of the Camino, at 6 pm yesterday evening after a 4 hour train journey from Madrid to Pamplona and a low flying white knuckle ride (Spanish taxi) to our final destination.
We managed to get the last 2 spaces in a dormitory of 120 beds, and after I’d convinced Alain, my traveling partner, that he risked orphaning his children if he made me sleep above him on the top bunk, we went to find dinner. Well, at least that was the idea but you learn quick as a pilgrim and we learnt last night that you need to sort your dinner reservations earlier than 7.00 pm! We ended up shoved in a corner of a bar, eating soup made from boiled car tyres and bread made from cardboard, trying to remain inconspicuous as half of the town screamed and frothed at the football on the TV. When your local lingo is limited, it's amazing how many times you can grin vacantly at some mad, inbred local and say "Beckham - molto goodo!!!"
Eventually we gave up and went to bed.
Over the next 6 hours I was subjected to the worst bout of snoring I’ve ever experienced. Jean Paul, the French prick, as I’ve since nicknamed him, was an out and out professional! I mean a true, earth quakingly, soul breakingly, appalling snorer! The man had some balls to spend the night amongst 120 potential assassins, given he must have known how bad his problem was - his wife was right next to him!!!!
I was still wondering if it was in the spirit of the pilgrim way to smother the fat bastard as he lay 2 bunks down when dawn came! Needless to say, I limited my response to a devastating stare first thing (I’d shaved my head for the trip and so can look impressively evil when required!) and prepared for my day! I guess this is what I have ahead of me over the next month in the name of rediscovering my adventurous side!
Tomorrow we head off for Pamplona which is allegedly a nice easy 30 kilometer hike - all I can say is "meanwhile back at the ranch!!!"
Adios Amigos or as they say on pilgrimage......
It’s 5:30 AM, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005 and the phone beside the bed rings. Behind me Celinda says, “Ill bet it’s James.” Her suspicion is confirmed, after a short silence while voices bounce off satellites around the world.
I'd been up late the night before and, "Hello" in a sleep shrouded voice was all I could muster.
James is excited, “We just finished our first day. We walked 25 kilometers. Last night we slept in a thousand year old monastery with 120 other people. It was made of stone. The vaulted ceilings were very high. What time is it there? It’s 1:30 PM here”
I answer, “About 5:30 AM.” I was upright, sitting on the side of the bed and rubbing my eyes to get into the here and now of the day. I continued, “Not so bad. I thought it was the middle of the night!”
James says, “We were up and on the road here at 5:30. Your last e-mail said you could get the airline tickets OK. When are you supposed to be here?” The questions were so rapid-fire, he was on to the next subject before I had time to answer.
“We, Alain and I, think the best thing for you to do is when you get to Madrid, you did say you’d probably be here on Wednesday morning didn’t you?” I guess I had, but didn’t have time to answer. “When you get, there, go to Astocha station--A-S-T-O-C-H-A, catch the train to where we can rendezvous. No sense you trying to catch up, it would be too hard to get together. I’m sure glad this all worked out. I have my cell phone and Alain has a map. We’ll figure out where we’ll be and I’ll call tomorrow morning and let you know so you can meet us there. When you die you old bugger, if you do this walk, you’ll die a happy man.” Not everyone gets to call me an old bugger.
I’ve tried to live and structure my life in such a way, that even if I didn’t do the walk I’d die happy.This will just make me happier. A long time ago I decided what I wanted on my tombstone, “Gone to a new adventure!” Besides trying to catch up had seemed a little difficult but there was also the “could I or couldn’t I” challenge involved.
“We’re going to go find something to eat. I’ll contact you with the information tomorrow. Got to go.” I said I’d see him in a few days and, click, he was gone.
My mind began to roll into the day. I knew I had to wash my face, brush my teeth, put on some clothes and shoes and get ready to hit the road. I did a slow stretch using the T’ai Chi form I created, then grabbed the gear that wasn’t packed and headed out the door.
I figured if I could match the distances James and Alain walked on the Camino before I got to Spain, I should be in approximately the same shape they were upon my arrival. I needed to put 25 kilometers behind me before it got too hot.
I was glad I’d factored in a few extra days on my return trip from Spain. Because if I was going to meet them along the way I’d need the extra time. I intended to go back and walk the parts I’d miss.
During the next four hours I thought about the coming adventure and remembered where I’d put some of the names and addresses of people who wanted to be on my update list. I’d e-mailed them about being part of our walk. If they walked everyday they would be able to better relate to our adventure. I stopped at the house after making the second five mile loop to see if Celinda wanted to walk the last miles with me.
I knew that some people on my update list were going to Italy, Mexico, Hawaii and other places around the world. I knew of at least one who'd been wandering up and down roads most of the summer. I thought, "Wouldn’t it be interesting if they shared their experiences with everyone else on the update list?" Who knows maybe we’d have “Chicken Soup For The Wanderer.”
Tuesday I’d be on a plane and Wednesday on a train. By walking today and tomorrow I’d only be 30 or so miles behind James and Alain. My miles had been mostly on the flats and theirs sounded like they were in the mountains. I had no close mountains to go to, and hoped the walking I’d been doing would provide me with a walking bank account. No matter the outcome, my intentions were to go back and walk what I’d miss.
I had no idea how accessible the Internet would be in Spain, especially in thousand year old monasteries, but I was taking a note pad. Norm had given me the notepad when I was in Canada so James and I could keep score concerning who caught the most fish. We’re all seeking something. Writing about our travels and insights might provide exactly the information someone else has been searching for.
Tomorrow will be the same five mile loops with the familiar smells, the barking dogs and the cacti; the next day will be the beginning of a new adventure.
I’d planned to name all the updates “napkin notes from Spain” but I forgot. Just getting them on the internet proved an almost insurmountable task at times. The name, "Napkin Notes" came about from a note I received from a friend, written on a napkin, when I left Echo Valley Ranch. The note was very complimentary and napkin notes was coined. I had my notepad but I planned to write some of the updates on napkins just to keep the goodwill and upbeat tone of the original note to me.
Camino â€“ Day 2
Day two of the Camino started at an ungodly 6:30 am this morning as Alain and I staggered out of our pension (small hostel) in Zubirri whilst it was still pitch black.
To be fair, I was in pretty high spirits and this was largely due to 2 things. Firstly, Alain was in far worse shape than me after the first day’s walk. It cannot be underestimated the level of satisfaction a fat person feels when someone thinner and fitter than him struggles with similar aches and pains! Although this may sound a little uncharitable, the bottom line is that I am the weak link here and I know it! To have the spotlight taken off me for a while was a definite and welcome relief!
The second reason for high spirits was the fact that I now felt well and truly one of God’s holy pilgrims - evidently He is not too discerning in his choices. At Roncesvalles, where we started, I was a Camino virgin, full of energy and feeling like a total fraud for hanging around these battle hardened soldiers of the French pilgrimage! Those frankly mad individuals who had walked from Paris, Toulouse and, in one woman's case, DENMARK! Now I felt the aches and pains of a day’s hard trekking with a London bus on my back! Life was hurting as it should - life felt good!
God decided in His omnipotent wisdom to introduce the elements of rain and, therefore, inevitably mud into the equation today. Not sheeting rain, but the type of spitting rain that has formula one commentators constantly debating whether drivers should switch to wet tyres, in our case waterproofs, or whether they should stay on slicks (not putting on waterproofs) in order to save time. I decided to risk it and avoided putting on spandex-like rain gear - this was largely a good call and I spent the rest of the morning overtaking fellow pilgrims who were less prepared to risk a Spanish soaking!
We walked for 5 kms before stopping for breakfast in a little village called Larrasoaña. We ate in a small bar which is typical of the types of places you find on the Camino (I speak as a veteran now). The Camino is an industry and these places are all run by one Spanish man who has been cloned as many times as necessary. None of them appreciate having to get up early to serve the pilgrims who are their only customers and most of them were sick the day God ran His customer services seminar! I got shouted at for helping myself to butter and sugar, and when I started to eat a muesli bar before I’d paid for it, I thought he was going to explode!
We walked on and it has to be said that the country was beautiful. Rolling hills, unbelievably green and abundant with little villages, cattle hung with bells and Spanish men sitting around doing bugger all as their women graft away.
Alain has assured me that once we leave Pamplona things will change and we will be burnt to a crisp on the arid plains of northern Spain, so I am trying to enjoy the scenery as much as possible!
The pathways have been carefully preserved and everything is marked to avoid you getting lost. The symbols of the Camino are the yellow arrows, which are omnipresent and which show you the way, and the scallop shell which is the symbol of the walk itself.
We arrived in Pamplona about lunchtime, and were alarmed to see our French snoring buddy, subsequently renamed Cleuso by Alain, checking into the hostel. Only time will tell if he is to haunt me again!
The hostel is a large one with about 90 beds, split into dormitories of about 12. The showers are pretty awful and I have yet to try the toilet facilities - 2 toilets for 90 people does not bode well!
I did my laundry, with the gentle help and patience of a young English girl called Mary - my first time I explained, feeling not at all disposed to tell her about my housekeeper back home! At the end of the day, the Camino is not a place for city slickers to strut their stuff and women here would be far more impressed with a quiet word on how to find a meal for under 5 euros!
As I finish this journal, Alain and I are sitting on the main square of Pamplona's ancient quarter.
Alain has just had a Bacardi and coke that would have knocked out a large horse and I am attempting to consume a carafe of industrial strength Sangria. You can't beat this, you simply can't!! Life is good as one of God’s chosen foot soldiers and for now, the trials ahead are softened by the alcohol that has warmed the hearts of pilgrims for more than 900 years!!
Adios amigos and buen Camino!!!!
6:00 AM, September 12, 2005, four years and a day after events changed the world as we knew it. I was ready to hit the road, teeth brushed, hair combed, clothes and shoes on, stretching complete but no phone call.
My instincts, after many times of getting up and doing another long day of hiking, biking or kayaking, was that James’ adrenaline rush was wearing off and reality, in Spain, was setting in. I knew I might be experiencing the same thing in a couple of days. Jet lag and wearing the rest of my gear, which was packed, would undoubtedly take a toll on my strength and enthusiasm. The one advantage I had was experience; been there, done that.
Hiking or walking long distances day after day after day would be somewhat new, but I couldn’t imagine it being all that much different than kayaking into the wind for weeks on the Columbia River, sailing shorthanded across the Pacific or cycling 100 mile days, one after the other for thousands of miles. Many years prior, the awareness that it takes more than physical strength had been infused in my brain. Could I still do it? Time would tell.
I felt ready but the adrenaline rush from straightening out the passport fiasco could still be in the driver’s seat. Jet lag is a problem for me, but I was going to try a few new things I’d learned in the areas of breath control, T’ai Chi, traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the Thai Yoga called Rue Sri Dut Ton I’d learned during the summer.
If we know our blood type, dominant gland and some TCM we can grasp the necessary
concepts concerning foods that will work best for us and the individuals we are, physically and mentally, at the cellular level. It can all seem very complicated, but with the right guide to help you, the rewards are many.
Once we’ve made health our #1 priority we realize without our health we have nothing. Without our health we live a life that’s less than the best. Without our health we can only get glimpses of what life can really be, all the time. Without our health money is irrelevant. If we can’t afford the time to get and stay healthy, how do we have time to sit in a doctor’s office, lie in a hospital bed or live a half-life at half-speed?
6:30 AM. It was almost light enough to walk without worry of stepping on something that might bite back, but no phone call yet. I thought I might have to do my day’s walk in two segments. There was some business in town best taken care of before I left. I hoped to be through walking by 10:00 at the latest. My day’s schedule was already like a juggler with three balls in the air and now, with waiting for James’s phone call, a fourth ball had been thrown in. I would have to change the scheduled sequence in order to get it all done.
7:30 AM, the clock was ticking, the phone wasn’t ringing; it was very likely reality time in Spain.
By 9:05, it was too late and too hot to walk. When training for distance races, marathons, cycling, etc., it had been necessary to taper off a few days before the race. Pacing the floor told me that I was still operating in the adrenaline mode. I knew this wasn’t a race but it might be best if I treated like one. In order for the adrenaline high not to burn me out, I needed to switch from physical to mental. If the day was seen as the first tapering off day, I could better prepare myself for the task ahead.
Come on phone, ring! Apparently, work still needed to be done on the adrenaline part.
1:54 PM. No call yet, but I’ve purchased the second airline ticket. The second one wasn’t going to go the way of the first. With a return date of October 17th and the departure date on September 14, I’d have almost five weeks in Spain. I figured as long as I was there, I might as well go for a walk.
Tags: Camino , Trekking , Walking , Adventure
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