Friday, August 31, 2007

What day is it today?

What day is it today? We have lost count but I think it is day 10 for us.

Logrono was quite a large city with a new town - wide avenues, smart shops, fountains etc and then the old town with narrow cobbled streets and old stone buildings. We went shopping in the new town for my sandals and I found a pair at Desportes Ferrar a smart sport shop something like Total Sports. They cost me 42 euro but I have been able to walk more comfortably than in the Crocs. We couldn't find a place that serves dinner before 8pm so we sat outside a bar with an assortment of tappas - patata tortilla, a salad (which the guy assured me had NO fish or meat but was full of tuna) and a plate of olives.

The refuge was in a large municipal building and we were allotted beds in a tiny cubicle with 2 double bunks. We had a snorer in our cubicle and a sleep talker close by so we didn't get much sleep.

The pilgrims starting rustling plastic bags at about 5am so we were up and gone by 6h30 yesterday. We walked through the quiet city streets for about an hour before finding ourselves on a runner's path (a bit like the beach walk in Cape Town) that led around the outskirts of the city into a forest. We walked in moonlight - 98% illumination according to my list - and we took photos of a truly beautiful sunrise on the way through the forest. The forests borders a fairly large recreational lake and the path follows it around the edges where we saw cormorants, geese, ducks and a few Moorhens. There are little 3-sided shelters scattered about so we chose one and had digestive biscuits, black chocolate and water for our breakfast break. The last 3-sided hut before one exists the forest has been appropriated by a very famous pilgrim - Marcileno - who has walked numerous caminos and has written 5 books. He has a long beard, wears a medieval pilgrim's robe festooned with scallop shells including a large white shell on the upturned brim of his pilgrim hat. He has signs attached to the hut offering help to pilgrims, biscuits, figs, apples and nuts - for free. He has a 'visitors' book and in it I wrote that he is the male equivalent of a Felisa who offered 'higos-agua-amor' (figs-water-love). He read it and started to cry and hug me. Very emotional man! When he heard that we were from South Africa he wanted a photo with all of us and got emotional all over again.

On the way to Ventosa we passed a timber yard with a high diamond mesh fence between the path and the main highway. Pilgrims have pushed small and large pieces of wood between the mesh to make crosses. We all added our twig crosses and continued walking past thousands of simple crosses pushed into the fence. Some are quite artistic with bows of straw tied in the middle or flowers, berries etc.

We arrived at Ventosa before 1pm (short day at the office!) and waited outside for the refuge to open. As we sat there, I had a feeling of de-ja-vu and told Marion and Anneliese that I thought it was one of the refuges I'd stayed in when I walked with Clare and Georgie in 2004. At that time the hospitalero was a young man with long hair, an Indian shirt and lots of chains and crosses around his neck. Georgette was convinced that he was a priest but I suggested that he was a hippie! The volunteer hospitalero this time was a young woman from Austria and when we entered the refuge I knew that I had been there before. As in 2004 there was incense burning and soft music floating through the small building. We bought salad ingredients from her small supply room and after having a lovely hot shower and treating our feet, we made a salad and had bread and cheese and salad for lunch.

We had a really good sleep - no snorers - and started walking at 7h30 this morning. Anneliese had a German on top of her, Marion had a Fin and I had an Austrian - no snorers thank heavens! We are now in Najera, a fairly large town on our way to Azofra where we will spend the night.

We stopped here for a coffee and then sat in the park where Anneliese was able to re-plaster the blisters on her feet. We are both wearing sandals instead of boots and just hope that the weather holds long enough for our blisters to heal so that we don't have to wear boots too soon.

We are truly in wine country and every day walk through acres and acres of vineyards.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It was very hot so we all slept on top of the bed cover

We are in Lorgono - capital of the La Rioja region of Spain, the major wine-growing region. It was an easy 20kms here but we hardly slept last night because we had the snorer of all snorers in our tiny 6-person room - three double bunks squashed into a room the size of our spare bedroom.

It was very hot so we all slept on top of the bed cover, out of our sleeping bags. Sunrise is only at about 7.30 but the full moon gives sufficient light to start walking before sun-up. Today the camino path was described as "sharply rising, very hard climb on rough earthen tracks". Because of my bandaged, raw heels, my dear peregrina amigas (pilgrim friends) agreed to walk with me on the tarred road. We saw that the camino path roughly followed the tarred road all the way to Viana and it was a pleasure to walk on the tar for most of the way. Viana is a small town with a population of about 3,500 - not so Logrono, which has a population of over 125000.

Those of you who have read the Blog will know that I was carrying a little brag book photo album with photos of Felisa Rodriguez a well-known personality on the camino who died in Oct 2002 at the age of 92. Felisa sat at a trestle table outside her ramshackle farmhouse on the road into Logrono. Her table was under an enormous fig tree and her sign read, "Higos-Agua-Amor" (figs - water - love). When she died her daughter replaced her mother at the table and most pilgrims stop at the "Felisa" table for a stamp in their pilgrim passports.

When I saw the familiar ramshackle farmhouse and the woman sitting at the table under an old striped umbrella I got a lump in my throat. When I gave the little book to the elderly woman sitting there, she cried out, "Mi madre! Oh, oh, mi Madre!" It was a very emotional moment and she kept thanking me and hugging me. We bought a cold drink each and sat opposite her table whilst other pilgrims came down the track and stopped for a 'sello' (stamp) but as soon as they moved on she turned the pages of the photo album and kept wiping her tears. We took a few photos of me with her and with us as a group and I have promised to send them to her. As Anneliese said, Maria probably doesn't have many photos of her mother and now she has a small album full.

We are staying in a large refuge that sleeps 80 people - 4 to a cubicle. It is runhe Amigos of La Rioja and costs 3 euro. We have all had a shower and washed our clothes and will go into town to find food. It is now 4pm and the sun won't go down until about 8.30pm. We want to find the church of Santa Maria (another one with that name!!) where there is a huge statue of Santiago as Matamoros - the Moor Slayer.

I told Anneliese today that she is no longer a pilgrim - virgin! That is because today, when we stopped for a break in Vianna, it was the first time that she hasn't said, "Why can't we just stop here? We don't have to walk more today do we?" Every day we walk about 3 hours, then stop for a coffee and a snack and each day Anneliese has been reluctant to move on. Today there wasn't even a peep of protest when we got up, paid for our food, lugged the packs back onto our backs and moved off into the sun.

Will try to mail again soon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day 6: Villamayor de Monjardin to Torres del Rio

On Day 5 we walked from Lorca to Villamayor de Monjardin. It was a beautiful morning so we set off in shorts and t-shirts. I practically bandaged my blisters using a special plaster and then some of Marion´s strapping, then pieces of the sponge we were using for our shoulders, and then more strapping on top. I did not think that I would get my boots over all that protection but they slipped on and after a while my feet settled into marching along. The terrain was quite difficult, especially outside Estella and it soon reached over 35oC. Once again we were blessed with wild fruits along the way as well as a fountain that offered water or wine! I didn't have the wine but Anneliese and Marion said it was quite pleasant.

The refuge in Lorca was quite big and for the first time I had the top of a double bunk. The walk to Villamayor went off well until the last km or so which was up a narrow, rutted train with lots of stones and dried mud. Heaven knows what it must be like in the rain! We arrived at the first albergue (there are two) greeted by a lovely Spanish couple that do volunteer refuge work every year. His name was Jon and she was Sara. They told us that we are the first South African pilgrims to stay at their albergue so we gave them a flag and a pin and gave them each a dinky Amarula liquer. We had a pilgrim dinner with other peregrinos - all around one table - and there was a United Nations conversation going on with many hand signals to fill in the gaps. Our beds were mattresses on a platform - about 6 in a row with four ladies and two men sleeping in one room. The refuge offered breakfast of fruit, cheese, bread and coffee - very welcome!

I had to bandage my poor raw heels again this morning but it was agony walking with the boots rubbing up and down so I took them off and have walked all day in my R59 pseudo Crocs from Bata in the Pav. They were very comfortable and as the paths were fairly flat and wide, I had no problem walking the 20kms to Torres del Rio. There are 6 in our room and I have the top bunk again today.

Marion is the only pilgrim who is injury free. Anneleise has a couple of blisters under her toes and although I am absolutely fine from the feet up, my heels are raw meat from sticky Compeed pulling the blisters off with my socks!

Tomorrow should be cooler and we will walk another 20km to Logrono - a bigish town where I will visit a ´medico´to see if I need antibiotics for my raw wounded heels!

The next day is to Ventosa which is only 18.4kms from Lorgono.

The peregrinos are fine - tired and hot today but strong in spirit!

Love to you all,

Sunday, August 26, 2007

We Woke To Wet Streets and Heavy Rain

We last used an Internet in Pamplona, which seems like weeks ago but was only 2 days! We had a very nice supper at a pavement cafe in the Plaza del Castillo ( Joy will remember it ) and I went to have a look at the Hotel La Perla where we stayed in 2002 and 2004 - now a 5 star establishment with prices to match - from 210 euro to 450 euro per night!

We stayed in a little pension, which must’ve been above the most popular bar in Navarra because there was raucous laughing, shouting, singing and music all night! We hardly slept and then at about 4am the street cleaning trucks came with their loud revving and machines: after which the dirt bin collectors came with their shouts, clanking and crashing of bins.

The weather report was for 29oC and blue skies but we woke to wet streets and heavy rain. So, it was mud, mud and more mud! Trying to climb up to the Alto del Perdon was excruciating. At one stage we took it in turns to help each other up a particularly steep and sludgy section. It was fairly clear at the top but the view would have been better if it wasn’t quite so misty. The path down was ankle snapping - a riverbed of round boulders with slush in between! We finally made it to Uterga where we stopped for lunch. The sun came out so we took off our rain suits and tried to dig some of the mud off the bottom of our boots. Then we walked in sunshine to the Eunate church - about 3km off the camino path - where we intended spending the night. After waiting over an hour for the refuge to open a wedding party arrived and a woman told us that the refuge is closed and we would have to walk onto the next village. We could have cried! Anneliese asked the woman to phone for a taxi but there was no reply so we shouldered on up the hill to Obanos - arriving there after 6pm but luckily finding a bed in the refuge.

Today we woke to beautiful sunshine and donned our shorts and t-shirts for the first time. It has been a difficult day with a climb through terrain that looks like the Sierra Nevada! The villages are all on top of hills and the camino takes one up tortuous paths and down equally uneven slopes. The scenery has been gorgeous and we have sampled the fruits of Navarra along the way - blackberries, figs, Merlot grapes. We have walked through olive groves, vineyards, apple orchards and fields of sunflowers.

Just before Maneru we stopped to catch our breath and two guys caught up to us. “We know someone from South Africa” they said, “and she is walking the camino now - her name is Sil.” AHH!!! I couldn’t believe it - it was Javier Martin who is famous on the camino and is a member of the Santiago-today forum that I belong to. We chatted along the way till we got to Maneru where we had a group photo taken.

It was about 5km from there to Lorca and along the way I could feel the Compeed plaster on my heel rubbing up and down, when I took my sock off I was horrified to find that the plaster had stuck to my sock and has pulled all the skin off my heel. What a mess! When we booked into the refuge I had to peel as much of the plaster off as I could and have covered it in Mercurochrome. I don’t really know how I am going to walk 20km up and down these hills tomorrow.

We decided a couple of days ago to record one thing each day that we are grateful for so here goes.

  • Day 1:
    We were supposed to stop at Zubiri but missed the turn and went on a further 5km to Larrasoana, we learned the next day that there were bed bugs at the Zubiri refuge so we were SO grateful that we did not stay there!

  • Day 2:
    We were really grateful for a private room with a small bath - even though we hardly slept that night.

  • Day 3:
    Even though we had hoped to stay at Eunate, we were really grateful to have found beds in Obanos. Many refuges fill up quickly and there was a chance that we would not have found on there.

  • Day 4:
    A shorter walk with sunny skies, gifts of wild fruits all along the route and a nice hot shower today.

Will try to email again further down the path.

The peregrinas are fine - tired and a little muscle weary but getting stronger every day.

Much love,

S, A & M

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday, August 24 - Waterlogged!!

To say that we have had a camino baptism is an understatement! But this was not a baptism of fire – a baptism of water and mud!

We arrived in Roncesvalles in rain, it rained all day and there was torrential rain all through the night. We had a very nice menu del peregrino for 8 euro – soup, trout and chips and yoghurt. (I had a salad instead). I am sure the rivers will soon run out of trout if they continue to feed so many pilgrims day after day – unless there is another miracle with fish and bread! There had to be 2 sittings because there are so many pilgrims. The collegiate church is simple but beautiful with a wonderful statue of St James as a pilgrim. This is the 3rd time I've been to the church and I was looking forward to the pilgrim's mass which was at 8pm. It was heart –stopping when the old Father mentioned “peregrinos dall SudAfrika”. At the end of the mass all the pilgrims go up to the front and he gives a special blessing.

The refuge sleeps 120 pilgrims in double bunks, pushed together two-by-two and we managed to get lower bunks. We had to put our wet boots onto shelves at the entrance and all our walking poles into a large container. I don't know how anyone knows which is which in the morning!

I slept next to Anneliese but Marion had a man next to her. I told Anneliese that when she gives talks about her camino she can now say, "On my first night on the camino I had a Danish man on top of me and Marion had a Frenchman next to her."

When we woke in the morning, the rain was pelting down. The paths were torrents of mud and slush and we struggled through narrow torrent courses with deep mud almost sucking the boots off our feet! We had taken a black garbage bag, cut a head hole and armholes in it and used it like a poncho, but still the water found its way into our backpacks and into our clothes. Thank heavens we had all our clothes in zip-lock bags otherwise everything would have been soaked. Anneliese said that she thought I was mad to suggest that we keep all our clothes in plastic bags but was very grateful when she found her clothing quite dry but the inside of her bag wet.

We intending spending the first night at Zubiri but somehow we missed the turn over a bridge into the town and only realised our mistake 2km past the town. It was a hard slog up steep, slippery gravel paths and down slushy, mushy muddy tracks to Larrasoana. Luckily we managed to get beds in the refuge there. The 4 showers and 2 toilets were in a portable shed – unisex nog al! When Anneliese and I went into the shed to shower there was man in all his naked glory sorting out his clothes on a chair. A woman came out from behind the curtain also naked as a baby! We ended up showering and changing with naked men and women tiredly going on with their ablutions.

Luckily we haven’t had too many snorers and have had fairly good nights. We got us this morning to a very misty drizzle but it cleared as we walked. Walked is a misnomer, skidded, slipped and slushed is more like it. The paths were horrendous: narrow, slushy, muddy with loose rocks and in parts, steep stone steps leading down that were as slippery (if not more so) than the mud paths on either side. We decided to find a hotel in Pamplona instead of staying in a refuge so that we could unpack our packs, sort out wet and dry clothing and take stock of blisters and hot spots on toes and heels. Our shoulders are all sore so we will do a mutual back and shoulders massage tonight. The sun came out just before Trinidad de Arre (yay!) so we hung our wet fleeces on the back of our packs to dry.

We are staying on the 4th floor of a little fonda (inn) not far from the Plaza del Castillo and this Internet café. There are 3 beds and the bathroom is down the hall with sit-in baths. They don’t provide plugs but we are savvy pilgrims and brought international plugs with us so we were able to have a bath!

The main Correos (post office) was one street down from our road so I managed to post 4 envelopes home with little books, brochures and leaflets. We are now just around the corner from The Plaza del Castillo – where the old La Perla hotel is (now renovated to 5 star status). We will find somewhere to eat, try to visit the cathedral and then go back to our room.

Hasta leugo,

Syl, Anneliese & Marion

Monday, August 20, 2007

Tomorrow ... tomorrow .... we're leaving tomorrow

I've been singing "My bags are packed and I'm ready to go...."
Will be in Roncesvalles on Wednesday and will start walking Thursday morning.
I have no lofty expectations of this camino. No search for the Holy Grail, no burning angst, no unresolved issues. I just want to 'be' so that (as in an ancient Hasidic prayer) I can feel the 'Holy Fire' from all that surrounds me.
I have a couple of really pleasant duties this time. I will be delivering a brag book photo albumn to Maria Theodora (Felisa Rodriguez' daughter) filled with photos of her mother taken by pilgrims before she passed away in 2002 at the age of 92.
I also have an albumn for Tomas at Manjarin as well as a wooden Tau made by a community workshop at a monastery near my home.
I have a photograph of a pilgrim taken next to a huge old tree on the way up to O'Cebreiro which he wants placed under a large rock in the photograph.
I have a memorial photograph of a special peregrino which I will be nailing to a post outside Carrion de Los Condes.
This time we will do a tour of Roncesvalles - stay at the Eunate albergue - visit Santo Domingo de Silos - climb up to the castle at Castrojeriz - stay up until mid-night when they switch the lights on inside the cathedral at Leon - visit the relics at Oviedo - and do a nocturnal tour of Santiago.
Machi - I would love to 'massage mother earth' with my bare feet but I am not brave enough to try!
Dios les bendiga,

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Here are my tips for packing a really light backpack.

Backpackers Rule No 1: Your backpack should weigh about 10-15% of your bodyweight.
(Yeah - well, no-body listens to this one!)

My fully packed backpack weighs just under 5kg but when I start walking I will have to add another 500mls water and perhaps another 500gr for fruit, nuts, bread etc. So along the trail it will vary between 5kg and 6 kg. So, how can you keep your pack down to between 5kg and 7 kg?

The big secret is to Weigh everything! Use a digital kitchen scale to weigh everything - including the backpack you buy. You don't need a 75L backpack to walk the camino. My recommendation is a 30L backpack for women and a 35L pack for men. (OK - if you are walking in winter you might need 5L extra space to cater for warm jackets, gloves, woolen hats etc., but in summer you will need less, lightweight clothing.) My 30L Pro-lite back pack weighs about 650gr - 23 ounces. A canvas type backpack will weigh twice that much. If you carry only 5 - 7 kg you do not need a thickly padded hip belt - a comfortable strap will hold the backpack in position. Some backpacks are for short people whilst others are for people with long torsos. It is important that you try the pack on, adjust the straps in the shop, ensure that the waist belt fits comfortably.

What is in my backpack?
2 t-shirts, 1 vest top, 1 long sleeve top, 1 fleece jacket, a parachute jacket.
2 shorts, 1 long pants, parachute pants, a rain suit.
3 lycra panties, 2 bikini tops, 3 pairs socks, 2 sock liners.
Croc sandals.
Everything should be multi purpose - this means don't pack sleeping shorts that can't be worn for walking, or nighties that can't double up as a shirt. Ladies - black lycra pants and bra tops can double as swim wear. Choose the lightest shorts you can buy. Running shorts from a sports shop are good. Jeep make lightweight shorts that can fold up into their back pocket. Find lightweight, wicking t-shirts and if this means taking your scale into a store when buying stuff, so be it. If your t-shirts are unnecessarily long, cut them shorter. This will reduce their weight even further. Cut the labels off your clothes - I'm serious - they will only irritate you anyway. An ultra-light fleece pullover can double up as a jacket if you convert it by putting a plastic zip into it. I use a black rainsuit rather than a poncho. The trousers can be used as over trousers in the mornings if it is cold and in the evenings when I go out. The jacket can also be worn when it is cold. Parachute jackets - the ones runners wear - are an excellent chill cheater and fold up into a little ball. You can also have parachute 'sweat' trousers made of the same lightweight material - mine weigh 95gr - 3.35oz.
Sleeping bags: For spring to early summer a lightweight mummy bag will do. First Ascent have bags that weigh 340gr - 12.5oz. (Take your scale with you to the store just in case they don't have the weight listed on them). In summer you can get by with an inner liner or silk liner. Mine was from the Silk Sleeping Bag Company in the UK and weighs 230gr - 8.2oz and cost £23. So, the combined weight of my backpack and sleeping bag is 880gr - 31 oz.

Take a pair of lightweight sandals - Crocs are excellent - to wear in the shower and when relaxing in the refuge. I wear socks with my Nile Crocs and can wear them all day and they only weigh 210gr - 7.5oz.
Take a minimum of toiletries. You are going to a first world country where there are more farmacias than bars - so, take a sample bottle of shampoo, a tiny bar of soap, the smallest toothpaste you can find. You can replace everything and anything when it starts to run out.
I have miniature versions of everything. A child's toothbrush is smaller and weigh less than an adult's toothbrush; a travel nailbrush is a diddly little thing; a baby's face cloth is smaller than a normal face cloth; a camping towel weighs half of what a normal towel weighs. Those little plastic clips that hold a bread packet closed make excellent pegs. Collect a dozen or so and you won't have to take pegs. 8 nappy pins make ideal pegs to hang washing and can also be used to pin wet socks etc to your backpack whilst walking.
My best advice is - Don't believe anyone who suggests an item you should take and says, " doesn't weigh anything." Everything weighs something! You don't need that little black jacket for an evening out (wear your black rain jacket). You don't need those two-in-one shorts / trousers that zip off at the knee. You don't need that sarong from Bali that hardly weighs anything.

If you can't bear to leave out your favourite things and find that your pack is too heavy after all don’t despair because you can post stuff onto yourself Lista Correos (Poste Restante) to Santiago. You won't have to dump your excess stuff on the edge of the road! (The most common thing pilgrims dump on the side of the road are tents!) Most post offices sell special pilgrim boxes – some big enough to take a 20kg suitcase - and address labels to send stuff onto Santiago. The Post Office in Santiago will hold your parcel for up to two months. When you arrive in Santiago, take your parcel ticket and your ID or passport to the Post Office and collect your parcel. It is close to the Cathedral and is open until 7pm.