So far, I'm pretty happy with the state of my body. My feet are in dire shape, but the rest of me is holding up surprisingly well. I've been able to save most of my ibuprofen for the morning ritual of slipping my torn feet back into my boots, and haven't had to take any meds for sore muscles or joints. So far so good.
Quick disclaimer : I'm not a vulgar person but my vocabulary can be colourful. My life is R-rated and my website occasionally reflects that. Be aware of some frank language. All my photos are PG, but please read blogs before sharing with kids.
Day 6 - ESTELLA to LOS ARCOS
21 kms - 370m in elevation gain, then 400m in elevation loss
Today’s walk leads us through rows of vineyards and serene olive groves; a beautiful and relatively non-eventful day stretches ahead. An absolutely brilliant family who owns a local vineyard has installed a pilgrim's fountain next to the path, which serves fresh drinking water along with a nice, peppery red wine. Let’s just say there is a bit of a traffic jam here despite the early hour. I am nauseated just thinking about having more than a sip or two - it is 6 am and already 30 degrees!
I had expected the repetitive walking motion to be difficult on my joints, but the constant up-and-down of the rugged Spanish terrain doesn't impose a sustained repetition of the same movement. And besides, the human body is genetically designed to walk long distances, right? Right. I am very aware that my walking sticks are of great help and I would never consider doing the Camino without a pair. And to top things off, I am sleeping very well, as all that effort in the oppressive 35+ degree heat is fatiguing.
Day 6 slider below (4 photos) :
A fellow pilgrim stocks up on some vino (perhaps exaggeratedly). Day 6 was mostly rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves.
Vegetarians beware! Your resolve may be tested in Spain. Spaniards have little understanding (or patience) for vegan or vegetarian demands.
Left: Micheal's plate of lamb legs (gelatinous meat) and blood pudding squares. The texture was apparently difficult to overcome. (Honestly, this was the least appetizing supper I saw on the entire Camino).
My albergue in Los Arcos, Casa de la Abuela, is great. Meaning Grandma’s House, the cozy kitchen is a quiet spot to chill out (few pilgrims cook their own food) and they offer laundry services for .50 euros. For a small fee, they’ll even pack you a picnic lunch for the next day. I have no idea why I didn't partake on that last bit...
I am surprised to witness how incredibly prevalent injuries are along the Camino. (Interestingly, by the end of the month, only two people I encountered (TWO!) had had no feet/knee/hip issues). That afternoon, I meet a couple in their early 30s who are both triathletes. These people are in serious shape. She is upset that they must fly back to the US; she is having major (and new) problems with her knee, and his blisters are so nasty he doesn’t think he can continue. Claire from France is limping from her newly messed-up hip and has to rearrange her Camino, as she can't walk more than 10 kms a day. Megan from Australia has been told that she has tendonitis in her knee and is seriously contemplating quitting. All after 6 days on the Camino. It’s shocking. These are all able-bodied adults, athletes who came to walk for a month. Aren't our human bodies fundamentally made for walking ? Apparently not. Again, I won't ever underestimate how debilitating blisters can be, and I am certainly grateful that they have been my only problem thus far. To each their own boo-boos. Fingers crossed.
And so, injuries become something to laugh about. In my previous travels, when meeting someone new, we would always ask each other, «So, where are you from?» On the Camino, it’s always «So, how are your feet/knees ?»
A new, slightly humorous issue has just sprung up: I have a pinched nerve in my hip from my backpack strap squeezing it, which thankfully doesn't hurt. But it causes my left leg to go quite numb. This is a problem when you need to LIFT your leg in order to walk, yes? I have ridiculous visions of myself manually tugging my left leg up and over with every step, Robin Williams-style.
Is it all worth it? Up to this point, absolutely!
My biggest expense so far? Scandalously, it's not hostels. Not food. Not wine either. It’s pharmaceutical products. Necessities like Compeed plasters, ibuprofen, medical tape and antiseptic sprays. Up to now, they’ve cost me more than accommodations and food/wine combined. Not kidding.
Day 7 - LOS ARCOS to VIANA
19 kms - 300m elevation gain (several short, steep ascents, one sharp descent)
This morning, I say goodbye to Emma who is returning to Australia; a herniated disk is shooting pain down her leg, a new affliction that started on her 4th day. I feel bad for her; she is weeping with discouragement. That’s a long way to come, only to fly back a few days later.
I'll be walking without my backpack today; it only weighs 13-14 lbs but without that extra weight, I won't need ankle support and can wear flip-flops. Sandals will allow my Achilles tendons, and my double-blistered baby toe, to « breathe ». Both feet are still heavily bandaged but without the compression of my boots, they feel light as feathers. What a difference! I spend the day walking relatively pain-free (without popping ibuprofen every 3 hours) in the beautiful sunshine; it is 35 degrees today. I have sent my backpack ahead of me to Albergue Izar, where I plan to sleep tonight (such delivery services are offered by a few companies here).
For those who have stayed up all night wondering about it, this is what pilgrims eat on the Camino :
Breakfast is usually offered in each albergue for 3-4 euros and consists of coffee and bread/toast, maybe with jam or honey. In one rare instance, I had Nutella with my bread. No American-style eggs and bacon here; typical Spanish breakfasts usually consist of coffee and cigarettes (I'm not joking).
Lunch is usually a jamón con queso sandwich or a tortilla (omelette), washed down with a cold beer or freshly-squeezed orange juice (a big thing here). I stop in little markets along the way to pick up fruit for snacks, and I have nuts or power bars in my bag.
For supper, Pilgrim's Menus are offered in albergues for 10-13 euros; usually a baguette, a bottle of red wine, a first and second course, then dessert. For the price, it's quite generous and restorative, and often served at round tables to encourage merriment and chatter amongst pilgrims. It’s not exactly fine dining, but I’m not a picky eater and after a full day’s walk in that heat, I’d eat my socks.
Despite all that walking, the availability of red wine and bread has ensured that my shorts do NOT fit much looser than Day 1. Thankfully, they're not any tighter either. ; )
Day 8 - VIANA to LOGRONO
10 kms - Mostly downhill
It’ll be a relatively short walk today. Galina, Micheal and I met two fun ladies at Albergue Izar last night; Bridgette from San Francisco and Pam from North Carolina. We all decided to sleep in Logroño tonight (and not in Ventosa, as planned) in order to explore this small, vibrant city. With the exception of Pamplona, I’ve seen plenty of rural areas, so the energetic vibe of a city will be a welcome change.
I am hiking with my backpack today, but still in my flip-flops (to keep my baby toenail free). See, the more I wrap it, the tighter it becomes inside my boot, and the consequent swelling of the blisters is somehow raising my toe bed.
Speaking of ouchies, another woman has gone home this morning because of a bad back. She's an über-athlete, so I suggest that she simply send her backpack ahead of her and walk without it, like I did yesterday. But her first week has simply done her in. Wow. If she can’t do it, how on Earth will I make it to Santiago? Every day, this questions pops in my head.
It is a rather uneventful 10k to Logroño. Within city limits, the yellow Camino arrows compete with the frenzy of a million other city colours and are difficult to spot. We amuse ourselves running everywhere trying to find the next one.
Some albergues are cozier than others. La Bilbaina is large and is actually more hotel than hostel ; pilgrims who present their Camino Passport get a sizeable discount here. I remember this bed being super cozy, which isn’t always the case in albergues.
Logroño is a fun little place; I remember the street art and graffiti being really vibrant and cool. Galina and I dine at Café Moderno’s sidewalk terrace and meet fellow pilgrims Reiner (from Norway) and Janko (from Austria). We all instantly hit it off and decide to walk tomorrow’s stretch together.
Back home, it had been somewhat tricky getting ready for the Camino. The general rule is that one’s full backpack should weigh around 10 lbs, before adding your day's food and water. In terms of daily clothing, I brought two quick-dry t-shirts for the walk, which I alternated daily.
For instance: After arriving in my albergue after the walk, I wash the shirt I wore that day (let’s call it Shirt A) in the provided basins, then hang it to dry. I’ll wear Shirt B the next day and wash/dry it that evening. Then Shirt A is worn again on the 3rd day, and so on. Same thing with shorts (2 pairs), undies (4 pairs), bras (3) and socks (4 pairs). Believe me, you'll happily wash everything, as your clothes will be soaked and stinking to high Heaven upon arriving (especially if you do the Camino in Aug-Sept, as I did).
I packed an extra top and pants to wear in the afternoon/evening after I’ve showered (which doubled as PJs). Many people choose not to bring PJs, but sleep in the clothes they'll be wearing the following day. You can imagine sleeping in a dorm with 30+ beds; there are wet clothes hanging everywhere! (Thankfully, stinky boots and shoes are usually banished to a separate room in albergues). I also brought one long-sleeved shirt, a rain jacket, a sturdy poncho, walking sticks, toiletries, flip-flops and a ball cap.
Day 9 - LOGRONO to VENTOSA
20 kms - 250 m (slow elevation gain)
A pleasant and uneventful day - our newly-formed gang walks the gentle hills together towards Ventosa. The pathways turn from yellow dust to red-orange clay as we slowly make our way into the famous wine-producing area of La Rioja. I happily recognize this name from wine bottle labels back home.
Alas, there are no pilgrim wine fountains to be found here.
Interestingly, the province of Catalonia (where Barcelona is located) has recently banned bullfighting and has «dropped the bull» as its sacred symbol. They've adopted the donkey as their new mascot.
This was a hot topic at the time of writing, as bullfighting had long been Spain's national sport, along with the fact that Catalonia wants to separate from the rest of Spain (as does Basque Country.)
Despite the chilled-out day, Ventosa couldn’t have shown its face at a more opportune time; I'm back in my boots today and both my feet (mostly my little toe) are absolutely screaming.
A lovely little place by the name of Albergue San Saturnino calls out to us. This wonderful home has been turned into a warm and welcoming pilgrim's hostel and is run by a delightful man named Enrique. I am very glad to be in his care.
At this point, Micheal has chosen to walk on - his feet are in great condition and we simply can't keep up with his flamingo legs (he's a born walking machine!). I'm quite saddened to say goodbye, as I've very much enjoyed his company over the last 9 days. Goodbye, my friend. Hope we meet again over a glass of wine. Or three!
* * *
One thing I'm continually shocked at (or perhaps laughing my ass off about) is the propensity for older (mostly European) men to walk freely around the albergue wearing only their underwear. And I don't mean boxers. And I don't mean walking from the shower to their rooms. No, they will meet downstairs in the kitchen to prepare their supper or have a beer with their buddies. In their TIGHTY WHITIES. No t-shirt, no tank top, no shorts. Just tight, white underwear, socks and sandals. What.The.Fuck.
I've respectfully spared you any photos, not that I’ve taken any. I can't tell you how often I turn a corner or look up to find a 70-year-old man in his skivvies just wandering around looking inexplicably at ease. I remember writing to friends and family years ago --in complete despair-- about Italian men and their love of Speedos at the beach; clearly, my bafflement concerning tiny cover-ups has not changed.
Day 10 - VENTOSA to AZOFRA
15 kms - 50m elevation loss (mostly undulating farmland)
This morning, I have hit the proverbial Camino Wall. I’ve always heard of it, and I should have seen it coming. I am a complete wreck from the minute I wake up.
Overnight, three red angry blisters have caused my left baby toe to go from painful to insanely swollen (I hadn't realized there was room on my baby toe for 3 blisters). Enrique (the sweetest albergue owner ever) stares wide-eyed at my unbandaged toe and suggests that I quit walking, full-stop. No chance, man. But I am considering hiking today's 15 kms in my flip-flops again, rather than squeeze my foot into my boot. It’s too late to send my bag ahead, so I’ll have to carry it without the ankle support of my boots. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but... Somehow, I have run out of Compeed medicated gel bandages without noticing.
SHIT. That was dumb.
For extra good measure, I drop my camera on the concrete outside (it thankfully did not break), I accidentally spray red iodine solution all over the bathroom wall of this lovely, lovely hostel and I am completely disorganized and lost when packing my bag. I just don't feel like myself. I watch a few pilgrims gather their belongings and clutch their walking sticks, ready to tackle the trail. Suddenly, I really really miss my friends, my family and the comfort of my home.
All this crap surges up, before having had coffee and breakfast.
I'm not superstitious, but I feel that this is the Camino testing me. But I am tenacious and will suck it up. Or maybe I just need to eat (that's usually the problem).
After listening to a few pick-me-up songs (thank you, David Bowie), I head downstairs to the kitchen to find that good ol' Enrique has thoughtfully prepared a North American breakfast of eggs, toast and coffee for me, simply out of kindness. I am very touched, and I burst into tears. God bless him and his little moustache; this dear man has restored my faith.
I have a low-elevation walk ahead of me so I choose my flip-flops, carefully wrap my toe in normal band-aids (as opposed to the miraculous Compeeds), and head out the door after kissing Enrique on the cheek.
Gracias, little man. You friggin' ROCK !
What?!? My walking partner (Galina) and I only had 576 kms to go yesterday - it seems a few kms have piled on overnight. Today, we are accompanied by Reiner and Janko, whom we had met on a sidewalk café back in Logroño.
These inaccuracies are everywhere, but I actually don't care. The road goes where the road goes, and I will get to Santiago de Compostela when I get there.
We are slowly nearing the Meseta, the flat and open plains of Central Spain. Next week’s walking will be completed entirely through farmland and fields. But before you dismiss this as boring and uneventful, know that some of my deepest thinking and most profound realizations (Watch out, Buddha! ) occurred in the Meseta, where there is nothing to look at but dry grass and big sky, nothing to hear but my footsteps, no exertion or mountainous terrain to steal my focus or distract my thoughts. As much as I loved the beauty of the Pyrénées and the foothills of Spain, I am looking forward to the Meseta and to the undisturbed hush it will (hopefully) grant me.
Read the next bit ! Walk This Way: Camino de Santiago, Part 3
Photo collection : Camino de Santiago