Final preparation for the Camino

The sky purpled darkly as we set off up the hill, packs loaded as though for the journey — plus a bit. The hard part now, is not the packs, but the mind. We have trained physically, walking and increasing distance steadily, the next part was to get used to the packs, then walking with fully loaded packs.

But now, as we prepare to package the packs for the flight, the heavy part is the mind. The long-range weather forecasts are not good, and already the forthcoming French rail strike has changed our mode of travel from train to bus. And to cap it all off, much of Spain and the Pyrenees is still under snow.

But to paraphrase the novel Dune, fear is the mind killer. There is a Camino saying that the weight of your pack is the sum of your fears. It is easy to overthink and try to prepare for every eventuality. This only results in an overloaded pack. It is time to get back to basics — It is time to travel mindfully.

Our basic physical needs are simple: 2 changes of tops, 1 fleecy, 1 pair of trekking pants (the other is to wear), a lightweight Goretex jacket for the wind and rain, and rain pants in case it gets really stormy. 3 pairs of undies (one to wear), 3 pairs of socks (1 to wear) and the same with sock liners. A lightweight sleeping bag a few toiletries and your choice of tech – I recommend at least a phone – for emergencies or to make a booking ahead or to communicate with family. It can double as your camera too.

It is better to pack a bit light and then add along the way if you really need something. For most normal medical requirements there are chemists/farmacia in most towns, and the larger centres will be able to supply any gear shortfalls – including backpacks, poles, fleecies etc. Even the hamlets often have vending machines with blister care and pain relief products, so for these kinds of things, just carry enough for a day or two, and buy more as and when you need them.

But the main thing to pack is your mindful appreciation for those who have gone before and for those who walk with us on our journey, both inner and outer. I call this packing a lighter mind – leave anxieties, judgemental attitudes and enmities behind, and find the world as you encounter it.

Everyone walks their own Camino, and remember, real pilgrims don’t judge other pilgrims. The only requirement of a real pilgrim is to be registered and to walk the last 100kms. The rest is entirely up to you -Buen Camino! 🙂

People of the Camino

At a small Fiesta in Puenta de Orbigo on the Camino de Santiago, we saw this young woman playing the bagpipes. Her face was a study in concentration as her fingers moved skillfully over the chanter. Life did not appear to be easy in these towns.

Hospital de Orbigo

It is said that the weight of your pack is the sum of your fears. Sometimes the way people carry their pack expresses much about the kind of life they’ve had – and the inventive ways to deal with carrying a pack if your back is no longer as strong as it once was. I wondered how the trolley handled some of the rockier or muddier paths. But, by suspending it from his waist, this walker is able to keep his hands free to assist with the effort of walking itself.

pack on trolley

Beside the road the chestnut gatherers laboured to reap the harvest while dodging the falling chestnuts, ignoring the steady stream of pilgrims passing through.

Chestnut gatherer

Marcelino the hermit and self-styled ‘trainee pilgrim’ (peregrino pasante) ran a donativo stall. He was dressed in traditional medieval pilgrim robes and shared his wisdom and provisions with any pilgrims who stopped to chat.

 

Ermita del peregrino pasante

In Burgos, we encountered these hard-working cafe staff setting out tables and chairs ready for the evening trade. The cafes are an essential supply line for the pilgrims and for the locals who exchange stories and observations on the passing parade of tourists and peregrinos.

Cafe workers

We were serenaded by this accordion player in Logroño, who moved from table to table sharing his cheer and Spanish ballads. He was a delight and reminded me of my early faltering start on my road to being a professional musician. I began by busking – and in the process learned a lot about the art of entertaining, irrespective of any skills on the instrument itself. I have seen many performers play skilful music, but in such a deadpan way that they fail to engage the audience. This guy lit up the square with his joyful music and singing.

street performer, Logroño

 

In Madrid there was a festival of Santa Maria, patron saint of Madrid. The statue of the Virgin was paraded around the town accompanied by a huge procession of people from various community and local groups. I was captivated by the characterful faces in the procession.

 

This woman was carrying her young son, and she gave me a huge smile as she saw me lift the camera towards her.

Smiling Woman with child

Some took their Dowager role very seriously

Dowager

While others perhaps mourned for loved ones lost

Matriarch

A father’s love

Man and child

For some, there is always a better way

Gossip

Or contained their thoughts

containing her thoughts

There is a real strength in these people – and a sense of community – of people bound together despite day-to-day trials. And a genuine warmth, yet a distance from strangers. It was a privilege to walk among them.

Holy procession

Camino de Santiago (French route) – The complete index

Camino de Santiago
Our journey from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela
20 Sept – 1 Nov 2016

The Complete Index

There is something undeniably special about walking the Camino de Santiago. As one of the great medieval pilgrimage routes it draws people from all over the world – irrespective of religious belief or lack thereof – to do something extraordinary. To walk in the footsteps of a thousand years of pilgrims is a way to touch a deep cultural history – something we rarely get to do in a busy life. Scroll down to find links to all the posts about our 2016 Camino.

 

Camino - Don't stop walking

The Camino, like most travel, is at least three journeys in one. It is a physical journey, in which you discover what distance can be covered in a day’s walk, and the strange feeling of walking across an entire country. It is also an inner journey of the mind, as your perspective changes, your assumptions are challenged, and you have an opportunity to spend time out from a busy schedule to gain a new perspective on life. Thirdly, it is a cultural journey spanning a thousand years of history. As UNESCO has stated: “Europe was built on the pilgrim road to Santiago.” Buen Camino!

Compostelas with shells

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INDEX to the Camino posts

I have collected here links to the story of our journey to Santiago de Compostela in 2016 – feel free to dive in at any point, or to follow the story sequentially.

Camino training

Trekking pole tripod – camera mount

Camino training – a lighthearted look

Packing for the Camino de Santiago

Camino Credential from Notre Dame Paris

Paris – the final pack for the Camino

Paris to St Jean Pied de Port

Camino Frances: St Jean-Orisson

Roncesvalles and the Witches Wood

Espinal to Zubiri: A sketch and a close call

Abbey of Eskirotz and Ilarratz – a hidden gem

A Bell before Pamplona

Pamplona rest day and a moment with Heidegger

Zariquiegui and on to the Mount of Forgiveness

On to Puenta la Reina

Magic House at Villatuerte

The Wine Fountain then on to Villamayor de Montjardin

Villamayor de Jardin to Los Arcos – and a special sunrise

Viana and a micro-fiesta

Logroño – city of farewells

Logroño to Ventosa

Ventosa to Azofra via NĂ jera

Azofra to Santo de Domingo de la Calzada

On to Villamayor del Rio – and some thoughts on the Camino

On to Villafranca Montes de Oca

Camino Frances: Haven’t seen you in Agés…

Atapuerca and on to Burgos

Burgos – And a Museum of Human Evolution

Burgos – A Cathedral, a Prince and a Toy Train

Leon – Stained glass to rival Chartres

Leon – Hogworts, a museum, and the weight of history

Hobbit houses, then on to Villar de Mazariffe

A long bridge and a fiesta – Puente de Orbigo

Passing Astorga

Tex Mex on the Camino

Cruz de Ferro – a poignant moment

The descent, then on to Ponferrada

Villafranca del Bierzo – and a Camino angel

To O Cebreiro – Gateway to Galicia!

O Cebreiro to Fonfria

Sarria – Beginning of the final leg

Sarria to Morgade

Portomarin – and a moving church

Off to Hospital – and an encounter with Spanish plumbing

Palas de Rei

Camino – Casanova scammers and on to Melide

Melide to Arzua and an encounter with raspberries

Arzua to Pedrouza

Pedrouzo to Santiago – Arrival at last!

Santiago moments, and an encounter with the Botafumeiro

Camino Kilometre Zero at Finisterre and on to Muxia

Encounter with the Secret Pilgrim

Lessons learned on the Camino

Santiago cathedral

bronze Camino shell