By , June 21, 2012 8:16 am

We can now say that we have walked to the end of the earth together. And what an incredible journey it has been!

Kilometre 0... Nowhere Left to Walk

Kilometre 0… Nowhere Left to Walk

When we arrived in Santiago, we knew we weren’t finished walking yet. We didn’t feel any sense of finality as we sat in the Cathedral for the pilgrim’s mass – probably because we knew the path continued on for another 90 km to the coast. So we kept walking. The Camino de Santiago or Way of St. James has always been about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to see the remains of St. James, one of the twelve disciples. But, pilgrims would often make the one week round trip to the coast to see what was once believed to literally be the end of the earth. And, though we know there’s a little something beyond that point (like the Americas!), it is still tradition for pilgrims to carry on past the city to stand on the rocks overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The last three days were a little bit challenging and stunningly beautiful. We finally felt a completeness to the journey when we arrived at the ocean. We are also happy to report that we raised another $170 for the Canadian Diabetes Association in the last three days! A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who donated money to the cause. If you meant to, but didn’t get around to it, you haven’t missed out. You can still donate by clicking here.

The last week and a half has been a time of celebrations for us… we walked our longest days, pushed ourselves farther than we knew we could, had a fabulous potluck dinner with our favourite Japanese Camino friends, feasted on pizza after our arrival in Santiago (our only meal out all Camino!), and continued to make new friends as we walked to the end of the earth.

Now, we’ve arrived back in Santiago (what took us three days to walk took two hours on a bus… though we much preferred the journey by foot!) and we’re about to catch a flight to Barcelona. There, we have our second chance of this trip to sleep on the cold and oh so comfortable airport floor, before hopping on a plane to Vienna, Austria. Why Austria? We’ve found an apartment that fits our budget, where we will be kicking up our heels and relaxing for the next month or so.

But… we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Here’s the numbers summary from the last week and a half, and our final reflections about the Camino. If you’re looking for more stats, the cost of the Camino, and our advice, stayed tuned – those posts are coming.

And for everyone that took our Camino personal challenge, we want to hear your results in the comments below!

Camino Summary:

Days Walked: 37 (plus one rest day)
Total Distance Walked: 897 km (798 km to Santiago, and 99 km to the end of the earth)
Total Money Raised for the Canadian Diabetes Association: $730

Summary of Weeks 5 & 6:

Day 29: Vega de Valcarce – Triacastelos (34.8 km)
Day 30: Triacastelos – Sarria (24 km)
Day 31: Sarria – Portomarin (22 km)
Day 32: Portomarin – Palas de Rei (26 km)
Day 33: Palas de Rei – Arzua (30 km)
Day 34: Arzua – Santiago de Compostela (40 km)
Day 35: Rest day – pilgrim’s mass at Santiago Cathedral

Day 36: Santiago de Compostela – Negreira (22+2 km)
Day 37: Negreira – Olveiroa (35 km)
Day 38: Olveiroa – Fisterra/Finisterre & Faro (33 km + 7 km roundtrip to Faro)

Santiago Cathedral

Santiago Cathedral

Mike’s Camino

So that’s it. We are at the end of the earth. We can’t walk any further west. Without floating shoes that is, but even if we had them, I doubt we’d make it much farther. It’s over. And it feels good. Somehow seeing the Atlantic Ocean allowed my brain to accept the finality of it all, something that I just didn’t get from seeing the Cathedral in Santiago. But I feel it here. And it feels good.

This last week and a half of the Camino has been my favourite. Then again, I seem to say something like that every time I sit down to write about the Camino. Perhaps I’m suffering from the recency effect where everything you’ve just seen or done somehow seems better than anything else you’ve ever seen or done. Then again, perhaps this really has been one of the best things I’ve ever seen or done, and the last bit of it really has been the best part. It’s so hard to tell sometimes…

I think my favourite part of this last leg of our Camino revolved around a Japanese couple that we have been crossing paths with, almost daily, since before Burgos (just before the half-way point). Some time ago, they asked if they could interview us for a novel they intend to write about the Camino. We were very touched at the thought of being asked and quickly accepted.

As we made our way closer to our destination, Ashley and I booked an apartment in Vienna, and airfare to go with it. Because of the pricing schedule the airlines have come up with that offers cheaper fares Tuesday through Thursday, we ended up booking a flight a little earlier in the week than we would have liked, and had to boogie if we were going to walk all the way out to the end of the world. That change in pace was enough that we were no longer going to be in Santiago at the same time as our favourite Japanese couple. We thought that we would have to cancel our interview, or just touch base over email.

We crossed paths that day on the Camino and told them our newest planes and time line. We were already planning to walk further than they were this day, and it didn’t look like we would run into each other again. We took some photos of each other, exchanged contact information, said goodbye, and kept walking.

To our surprise, that afternoon, they turned up at our albergue. They decided among themselves to put in a longer day of walking to catch up with us and take us out for a meal. Again we were very touched. As we had already purchased our groceries for the day, we refused their offer to buy us supper, and instead invited them to join us for a meal in.

Celebrating with Yoshihiro and Miyoko

Celebrating with Yoshihiro and Miyoko

It was fantastic. We shared sandwiches, wine, cheese, and a lot of information about Canada and Japan. Suffice it to say, it was probably my favourite night on the Camino, and we’re currently trying to figure out how we can get to Japan (and afford to live there for a while). Has anyone had any luck teaching English there?

At the end of the earth

At the end of the earth

Ashley’s Camino

I truly think that the Camino is one of the best things I have ever done. Walking nearly 900 km, all the while carrying everything I need on my back, is one of my proudest accomplishments. It was challenging, easy, complex, simple, social, and personal all at once. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, I am a different person today than I was six weeks ago. And I have the Camino to thank for that.

Take Day 29, for example. We started the day with a rough plan of climbing the mountain, and staying at the top – unless it was cold at the top, then we would descend and stay at a lower and hopefully warmer location. This meant between 20 and 26 km of walking. Ten minutes into the walk, it started to rain. Within an hour, we were soaked. After about 15 km, our shoes were so far past saturated, they had their own puddles inside of them. And still we walked. After climbing over the mountain, we decided it was cold and wet enough at the top to keep walking (besides, we couldn’t possibly get any wetter at that point). After descending a little ways, we hit our lower elevation target village, which was called Fonfria. The fact that it had the word “fria” or “cold” in its name combined with the chilly weather was enough to convince us to walk 9 km more through the rain to the next place (making it our longest day at that point). And if the wet and cold weren’t enough, we even found ourselves slogging through a river of cow shit, which I’m pretty sure was once a road made of cow shit. Despite what would be called miserable conditions by many, I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of the day. You couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face – I was walking in beautiful mountains, with the man I love, and the rain didn’t damper my spirits one bit. Six weeks ago, it would have been a different story. If you had put me in that situation, I would have been grumpy, miserable, and spitting venom if anyone tried to talk to me. I expect I would have been picking fights with Mike about nothing, and I definitely would have made us stop after less than 20 km. And I would have missed out on so much.

Mountains in the rain

Mountains in the rain

I could go on and on about all the positive changes I see in myself and my relationship with Mike, but I already feel a little like I’m rambling. So instead, I’ll just end with this…

For now and forever, I am part of the Camino and the Camino is part of me. If you ever have the opportunity to do something like this, don’t turn it down. It just may change your life.

Scarecrow in the morning fog

Scarecrow in the morning fog

Sunrise over Sarria

Sunrise over Sarria

Santiago Cathedral

Santiago Cathedral

Leaving Santiago

Leaving Santiago

Between Santiago and Fisterra

Between Santiago and Fisterra

Walking to the end of the earth

Walking to the end of the earth

On the way to Fisterra

On the way to Fisterra

Windmills

Windmills

Happy cows

Happy cows

Between Santiago and Fisterra

Between Santiago and Fisterra

Walking to Cee

Walking to Cee

Pilgram statue at Fisterra

Pilgram statue at Fisterra

A Little Camino Love...

A Little Camino Love…

Want to read more about our Camino?  Check it out…

Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week  1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!

By , June 18, 2012 10:44 am

We did it! We put in our biggest week of walking yet (and did it in only six days, to boot) to arrive in Santiago de Compostela on Saturday – a full day earlier than we had been planning on.

Santiago Cathedral

Arriving at the Santiago Cathedral

We walked 177 km this week, but unfortunately did not raise any more money for the Canadian Diabetes Association. We were really hoping to reach our goal of $800 by the time we arrived and, since we didn’t, we have decided… to keep walking! That’s right – our Camino is not finished yet. After a day of rest on Sunday in Santiago, we will lace up our walking shoes once again to start walking to the end of the earth. Literally. We will tackle another 90 km to Finisterra.

We can’t wait to tell you all about our final Camino experiences, but first… we need a little help. We’ll be busy walking for the next few days, so we need you to tweet this article, share it on Facebook, and email it to your family, friends, and coworkers to try and get the word out and the money raised, we would be forever grateful. Then, in three days time, when we reach the end of the earth, we’ll update you on our final Camino stats and reflections, celebrate the fact that we’ve met our fundraising goal (wink, wink), and you can share with us the outcomes of your personal efforts in our Camino challenge to you.

We look forward to hearing your stories and sharing our own. Buen Camino!

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the donation page.

Want to read more about our Camino?  Check it out…

Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week 1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!
Camino de Santiago by the Numbers – Our Budget and Stats
Guide to the Camino de Santiago

 

By , June 15, 2012 9:51 am

Paris took me by surprise. I always thought I’d love it when I finally got there, but I never realized just how much I would LOVE it.

Eiffel Tower

Paris is the first city I have ever traveled to that I have always wanted to visit. While I love New Zealand and Central America to death, I knew very little about these countries before I visited them. I definitely never dreamed about traveling to New Zealand or Guatemala or El Salvador when I was a little girl. Hell, I didn’t even really know where they were.

But Paris…. Paris is another story. I have dreamed of going to Paris for as long as I can remember. I wrote a grossly long ten page paper – in French! – on Paris as a travel destination for my Grade 12 French class (sadly, the process of writing a paper that long in a language I hardly grasped was so traumatic, my brain’s defense mechanisms have left me with zero ability to converse in French). I dreamed of sipping coffee at a corner cafe, eating French pastries, wandering through the Louvre, and strolling under the Eiffel Tower.

The Louvre

The Louvre

So when I realized that we could make a little sidetrip to Paris before starting the Camino de Santiago in southern France, I knew we had to do it. Mike knew how much it meant to me, so he readily agreed to spend the extra cash (about 60 Euro/$80 CAD per person) to travel there.

My expectations were high heading into Paris and, I must say, it did not disappoint. It has been the most expensive city we’ve ever visited (blowing our budget at a whopping $107.16 per day, twice what we were spending in Barcelona), but that didn’t damper our enjoyment of it one bit. In fact, we left wanting more. Of course, we saw all the major sites… the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Cathedral de Notre-Dame, Sacre-Couer, and Versailles, just to name a few. But our favourite moments were spent walking the streets, kissing on every bridge we crossed (thanks, Jennie, for putting this into our heads), picnicing in the parks, kissing every time we saw the Eiffel Tower, and just taking in the Paris atmosphere. Oh, and did I mention kissing on the streets of Paris? The mostly chilly, cloudy, and rainy weather couldn’t even ruin our time here…. though it certainly seemed to be trying to.

People taking pictures of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre

People taking pictures of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre

We didn’t spend much money on the sights (with the exception of Versailles, which cost 25 Euros each), as we didn’t feel we really needed to. The experiences we loved the most didn’t cost a cent. And we easily could have spent more time everywhere in Paris. We went to the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay in the same day (they were both free on the first Sunday of the month, so we took advantage of that) – we sure didn’t see everything, but we got a nice taste of each. We toured the Notre-Dame Cathedral, but decided to forego the bell tower tour that would have meant at least an hour waiting in line. We spent ample time admiring the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but didn’t feel the need to fork out the cash to climb them (and, again, wait in line).

In the Musee d'Orsay

In the Musee d'Orsay

Our hostel included a French breakfast and a Korean dinner (the owners were Korean), so we splurged on lunches of French baguettes, pastries, cheeses, chocolate, and wine. It wasn’t exactly the healthiest way to go, but it sure was delicious! Every day we tried a new item or two (or three!) from the bakery… pain au chocolat, croissants, all kinds of baguettes and breads, pomme tartelette, macarons, eclairs, flan, and pain raisin (in the draft of this post, I called it some sort of delicious bready custardy raisin thing that probably has a cool French name, but I don’t know what it is – then I looked it up and found out it was… pain raisin).

All in all, Paris has been one of my favourite cities of all time and I expect it will be hard to beat.

Gardens at Versaille

Gardens at Versailles

Showing some pyramid love at the Louvre

Showing some pyramid love at the Louvre

Thousands of locks locked to a Paris bridge by couples in love

Thousands of locks locked to a Paris bridge by couples in love

Inside the Palace of Versailles

Inside the Palace of Versailles

Gardens in Paris

Gardens in Paris

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral

Louvre pyramid at night

Louvre pyramid at night

Gardens at Versailles

Gardens at Versailles

Inside Musee d'Orsay

Inside Musee d'Orsay

Sacre Couer

Sacre Couer
Metro station

Metro station

By , June 12, 2012 9:37 am

Week 4 Map

This week, we have found ourselves walking through the plains, wheat fields, forests, foothills, mountains, vineyards, and cherry orchards full of trees drooping with ripe fruit. We walked a total of 167 kilometres this week, putting in our longest day to date (33.5 km). We also got a lot closer to our goal of raising $800 for the Canadian Diabetes Association, with $265 in donations. We’ve only got one week left until we reach Santiago, so if you’ve been thinking of donating, now’s the time!

Vineyards

Vineyards

Camino Summary to Date:

Days Walked: 28
Distance Walked: 621 km
Money Raised for the Canadian Diabetes Association: $560

Summary of Week 4:

Day 22: Mansilla de las Mulas – Leon (20.4 km)
Day 23: Leon – Mazarife (24 km)
Day 24: Mazarife – Astorga (29 km)
Day 25: Astorga – Rabanal del Camino (20 km)
Day 26: Rabanal del Camino – Ponferrada (33.5 km)
Day 27: Ponferrada – Cacabelos (16 km)
Day 28: Cacabelos – Vega de Valcarce (24 km)

Castle Ruins at Vega de Valcarce

Castle Ruins at Vega de Valcarce

Ashley’s Camino

This has really been a great week. My blisters are pretty much healed, I’ve been able to pack up my knee brace (even when we hit the mountains), and the cold/flu I was fighting is gone. My body, mind, and spirit feel stronger and healthier than ever before.

Last week, I talked about two of the most challenging days for me yet. This week, I thought I’d talk about two of the best. First of all, Day 26 was a fantastic day. It was our longest attempted distance yet, and included a 400 m ascent and a nearly 1000 m descent. We reached the highest point on the Camino (1515 m). I was a little worried how my body would respond, but I shouldn’t have been. When we finally arrived at our destination, nearly eight hours after we left, I could have actually kept walking. The ascent was invigorating… I feel energized everytime I find myself climbing a hill (or in this case, a mountain). And we didn’t pull out our iPods once – the scenery was too breathtaking and the conversations too interesting to distract ourselves. Because we ended in a small city, we were able to buy some great whole wheat bread and pasta (whole grains can be tough to find in this land of white bread) and toasted our success with a bottle of vino tinto.

In contrast, Day 27 was one of our shortest days yet. We purposely planned to stop short because our guidebook promised an albergue with two beds per room. After nearly four weeks of sleeping in bunk beds with between four and fifty other pilgrims in the room, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for some privacy. This was the first time we knowingly stopped somewhere without a kitchen, but it was worthwhile. As we arrived in the town of Cacobelos, still fresh from the short distance, we took a tip from our guidebook and stopped in one of the local restaurants. We asked them “Tiene un poquito vino por un peregrino que esta muriendo de sed? (Do you have a little wine for a pilgrim who is dying of thirst?)” and received free wine and tapas. Not a bad way to enter a town!

Free wine and tapas

Free wine and tapas

At the albergue, the rooms were arranged in a semicircle around a church, and consisted of just two twin beds, a closet (a luxury in itself!) and plywood walls that were just taller than us (but didn’t reach the roof). It wasn’t the most private of rooms (we knew our closest five neighbours snored and had gas that evening), but it was leaps and bounds above typical pilgrim accommodation. We did a little furniture rearranging to make a double bed, and shut ourselves in from the abnormally cold day, emerging only to eat meals (sheep cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread, spinach salad, and homemade hummus… not too shabby for not having a kitchen!).

Castle ruins at Vega de Valcarce

Castle ruins at Vega de Valcarce

Mike’s Camino

What can I say, this week has been nearly the perfect week. No blisters, my cold is gone, the weather has been good. I don’t have anything to complain about. Walking this week has just been bliss. And I mean it. I’ve really grown to love walking. It feels so natural (as in the human body was designed for walking, not as in we are walking through untouched wilderness natural, because we’re not, though it’s pretty just the same). I find it amazing how truly enjoyable and entertaining walking can be. I never get bored of it, even after 6 hours. Not once have I wished to flag down a car, or climb on a bus. Nor have I wished to be somewhere else, doing something else entirely. I just love walking. It’s hard to pinpoint why, I just do.

It helps that the Camino does such a good job of making the walk enjoyable. It goes beyond the camaraderie with other pilgrims, and the stunning landscapes. Just as important are the reasonably priced places to sleep in more or less every town. These albergues come with complete kitchens, laundry facilities, and warm showers (if you find the good ones). Each town seems to be strategically located between 1 and 5 kms apart, giving you ample choice on how far to walk each day. It all adds up to very comfortable, stress free, walking. If the whole world were developed this way, I might just try to walk everywhere.

Nothing to do but walk

Nothing to do but walk

One thing that was unforeseen when I started walking almost a month ago was the possibility that I would gain weight. And not the muscular kind. As I can now attest, even walking 20-30km a day, I still have to watch how much I eat, because I`ve been steadily putting on a bit of chub all this week. I started counting calories to figure out what the problem is, and descovered that I`ve been consuming in excess of 3,200 calories per day. A little bit too much.

I’ve thought about cutting this back a bit, and even tried unsuccessfully for a few days, but the food in Spain is just too good. Everything has so much flavour. I’m talking about the vegetables, the bread, the cheese, the chocolate, and the less than 1 Euro bottles of wine. We cook every meal, and have yet to have more than a tapas plate in a restaurant, so we’ve had lots of opportunities to get in touch with the foods available in the supermarkets. Our biggest concern has been finding a good supply of whole grains. Most larger centers carry a decent selection of whole grain breads, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain rice. The smaller stores in the smaller towns… not so much. Fortunately legumes are easy to find, and even come pre-cooked in jars. Perfect for us pilgrims who have to share a three burner stove with up to 50 other roommates.

So… so what if I’m eating too much? I’m enjoying the walk, I’m enjoying the food, and I’m probably not going to slow down until I’m finished. Even if it does mean a diet afterwords.

The plains in Spain

The plains in Spain

Typical stone buildings

Typical stone buildings

Black clouds and yellow bushes

Black clouds and yellow bushes

A quiet moment in the early morning streets of Leon

A quiet moment in the early morning streets of Leon

Pretty lighting

Pretty lighting

Castle in Ponferrada

Castle in Ponferrada

Camino scenery

Camino scenery

Leon Cathedral

Leon Cathedral

Camino scenery

Camino scenery

Walking through the mountains

Walking through the mountains

Want to read more about our Camino?  Check it out…

Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week 1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!
Camino de Santiago by the Numbers – Our Budget and Stats
Guide to the Camino de Santiago

 

By , June 4, 2012 10:48 am

We’ve just finished our third week of the Camino and, while our bodies are a little battered, we couldn’t be in a better headspace.  As with the other weeks, this one has brought it’s share of challenges, but also it’s share of amazing experiences.  Distance-wise, we walked 163 km and we passed the halfway point (in our typical non-ceremonial fashion. We didn’t realize it until we crunched the numbers that night).  We also raised an additional $45 for the Canadian Diabetes Association.  Thanks donors!

Taking a Much Needed Break

Taking a much needed break

Camino Summary to Date:

Days Walked: 21
Distance Walked: 454 km
Money Raised for the Canadian Diabetes Association:  $295

Summary of Week 3:

Day 15: Burgos – Hornillos del Camino (20 km)
Day 16: Hornillos del Camino – Castrojeriz (20.5 km)
Day 17: Castrojeriz – Fromista (25.5 km)
Day 18: Fromista – Carrion de los Condes (20.9 km)
Day 19: Carrion de los Condes – Ledigos (23 km)
Day 20: Ledigos – Calzadilla de los Hermanillos (29 km)
Day 21: Calzadilla de los Hermanillos – Mansilla de las Mulas (24 km)

Feeling a little religious

Feeling a little religious

Mike’s Camino

I didn’t need to wake up on the first morning of this week because I didn’t sleep. My throat started to get a little scratchy the night before whilst we were walking around the Cathedral in Burgos, and by morning I had a runny nose, cough, and joint pain to go along with the sore throat. I’m not sure what I could have possibly done, said, or thought in that Cathedral that was so bad as to deserve this cold, but here it is. I’m starting to get a feeling that these trials and tribulations are all just a part of pilgrammage.

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos Cathedral

Including contracting the flu in the Burgos Cathedral, this has actually been the first week where I felt like this pilgrammage has had anything to do with religion. Before I stepped foot on the Camino, I figured that most of the pilgrims would be on the trail for religious reasons, and that most of the albergues would be run by churches and staffed by religious do-gooders. That hasn’t been true at all. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find a cross on a wall, or around someone’s neck most of the time.

Sure, there have been a few miraculous stories told around the supper table. For example, there was a couple that started the pilgrimmage in Poland because they felt a calling.  That distance is impressive enough, but it gets better.  They had tried for years to have kids, but were told by doctors that it would be impossible.  Along the way, she miraculously got pregnant (half the miracle is how they found the privacy in dormitories). She returned home to have the child, while the man is continuing on to Santiago at a feverish pace of 50 km a day to pay homage to the Saint who blessed them with child, and make it home before the baby is born.

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos Cathedral

Another similar story of saintly intervention in everyday life revolved around a man who had run out of money, could not afford a place to stay. Miraculously, his bank card was cured of its ailment, cash flowed from an ATM and he continued his journey to Santiago. He returned to the Camino to volunteer at an Albergue a few years ago, and is once again walking the Camino.

Thanks to a group of nuns who run an albergue in a town called Carrion de los Condes we were reminded that the origin of the pilgrammage to Santiago de Compostela is rooted in Christianity. The nuns sang to us, took us to church where we were blessed, gave us symbolic paper stars, and shared supper and stories with us. We found out that one of the sisters, from Hungary, became a nun after walking the Camino just so she could work at this hostel and help fellow pilgrams. It took her 3 years of apprenticeship to get her position in the Albergue, and she seems genuinely happy with how things have worked out for her. These nuns were amazing, kind, generous, and caring.

Now, I’m not an overly religious person, but given what I was experiencing, I dedicated a lot of this week’s thinking to figuring out what I believe. I’m starting to piece together something that is working well for me. And that’s the point. Having a belief is all about improving your life in a meaningful way during the day-to-day. I thought about jotting some of my thoughts down in this post but I don’t think anyone really wants to read about it, or do they? Either way, if you have never taken the time to critically look at what’s important to you, your spirituality, morality, and other such things… it’s worth doing. Once you start to figure out where you stand, you can use that information to shape the way you look at life, and make decisions that you are proud of.

Poppies, poppies, everywhere!

Poppies, poppies, everywhere!

Ashley’s Camino

This week involved a lot of FLAT walking.  I’m talking (almost) Saskatchewan flat.  So needless to say, I spent a lot of time thinking of home.  I really miss the family and friends we left behind.  I think it’s been extra hard for me on the Camino due to the lack of reliable internet, the 8 hour time difference from home, and the pilgrim schedules (early to rise, early to bed) – it’s nearly impossible to squeeze in a Skype call with family and scheduling something in advance is basically out of the question.  I’m also starting to miss the very concept of home – being settled somewhere, even if only for a little while.  While walking from place to place each day has been an incredible journey, it’s tough sleeping in a different bed, surrounded by different people each night.

Just like home

Just like home

The small towns we’ve encountered have reminded of how I’m truely a small town girl at heart (my hometown in Saskatchewan has a population of roughly 200 people).  I love the tiny towns we encounter along the Camino (and there are lots of them, many of which must still exist only because of the Camino).  I think I prefer them to the cities, which I often find depressingly loud, busy, and full of concrete.  To give you an idea of how small some of the towns can be… one of the towns we stayed in, Ledigos, only had three businesses : an albergue, a bar, and a store – all of which were in the same building.  After checking into the albergue, we walked out of the bar to find the store.  We quickly realized that we could see both the entrance and exit of the town from where we were standing.  So we asked the locals sitting outside the bar where the store was.  They pointed into the bar.  Asking at the bar, we were told to go back to the albergue.  At the albergue, we were told to go to the bar.  Finally, after walking across the courtyard between the two a few times, we found “the man with the moustache” that could open the nondescript locked door that housed the store for us.  A lot of pilgrims would have found this tedious and would have complained about the size of the store, but I couldn’t help but smile about the “small-townness” of it all.

Wheat fields

Wheat fields

Despite the flatness of the path, this week has brought some of the most challenging days for me thus far.  The week started with a cold (that Mike so kindly passed on to me), continued with some crazy pains in my ankle/shin muscles, and ended with some new nasty blisters.  Days 19 and 20 were particularly difficult.  On Day 19, we only encountered two towns – one after 17 km of walking, and then another 6 km past that.  Both towns were hidden behind curves and small hills in such a way that you could only see them about 1/2 a kilometre before you were there.  And it was a hot hot day.  By 9:00 we were already commenting on the heat, and it was 32 degrees Celcius before noon – with no shade on the path and no clouds in the sky.  I found I couldn’t possibly drink enough water to combat my thirst and, of course, developed a migraine from the heat.  The heat and “hidden” towns played head games with me and it was a mental struggle to get to our destination.  The next day, Day 20, was a Saturday.  Typically, stores are all shut down on Sundays, so Saturdays mean stocking up on food to carry with us the next day.  Along the way, we’ve discovered that many small towns shut down on Saturday afternoons as well, so we decided to beat the clock and arrive at our destination, Calzadilla de los Hermanillos, before the store closed for siesta (and, quite probably, for the weekend) at 2:00.  This meant that we walked 29 km in just over six hours, with only one 20 minute rest.  It was our longest distance of walking yet and since we chose an alternate path along an old Roman road instead of the primary one along the highway, we were walking the last part on a coarse gravel road.  The muscles in my right ankle/shin were screaming with each step.  My feet didn’t appreciate the gravel, the distance, or the lack of breaks and rewarded me with my worst blisters yet.

But, while the challenges were many, the rewards were even more numerous.  I surprised myself with how well I overcame the obstacles (for example, Mike didn’t even know I had a migraine until I told him… normally anyone that knows me can guess when I’ve got one by the shortness of my temper).  Even with a sore throat, runny nose, blistered feet, and aching muscles, it doesn’t take much to make me happy on the road.  In fact, it only takes three things  – a full belly, an empty bladder, and dry feet.  An extra good day requires only a couple of extras at the albergue – a kitchen and a blanket.  We carry silk sleeping bag liners with us, instead of full sleeping bags.  It gets a lot chillier at night than we expected, and the silk liners don’t provide much warmth, which can mean sleeping in long underwear tops and bottoms, pants, wool socks, wool sweaters, and our fleeces when there is no blanket available.  The last day of this week was particularly awesome… even though I was walking on freshly threaded blisters that hurt with each step, and we had to walk the first 18 km on gravel roads without a town to rest in, the day was one of my favourites to date.  The scenery was beautiful and familiar (flat wheat fields), I had great Canadian music to listen to on my iPod, Mike held my hand as we started out after each stop until the pain of my blisters started fading, we had a nice long break with coffee (the first of my Camino!) and sheep cheese, and we made the final 6 km fly by with a refreshingly productive conversation about our future plans.

Camino landscape

Camino landscape

Sunrise on the Camino

Sunrise on the Camino

More wheat fields

More wheat fields

Can't escape the poppies!

Can’t escape the poppies!

Our shadows in the early morning

Our shadows in the early morning

Want to read more about our Camino?  Check it out…

Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week 1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!
Camino de Santiago by the Numbers – Our Budget and Stats
Guide to the Camino de Santiago

 

By , June 1, 2012 12:24 pm

We were wandering down the streets of Barcelona one day, when we came across an interesting deli. They specialized in international cuisine. Specifically, the shelves were divided up into sections by country or larger geographical region. Each section was filled with gourmet items (at least they had gourmet prices) that reflect the local cuisines of the regions.

For example, the Greek shelves were lined with olives and olive oils. Spain had tapenades. Japan had nori, sushi rice, and wasabi. Thailand had spring roll wrappers and fish sauce. India had curries. Morocco had couscous. You get the point. In each case, the foods stacked on the shelves gave you a good picture of what the countries known for. You didn’t even need to look at the signs to know what region you were looking at. And, in general, the foods were whole, wholesome, and healthy foods.

And then there was North America. What do we have?

Corn syrup and a ton of pre-mixed, processed, ready-to-make items.

Sugary Cereals, Corn Syrup,Cake Mixes, Canned Icing…

We were not allowed to take photos in the shop, but I managed to snap this one just as the sales lady wagged her disapproving finger at me and I shoved my camera back in my bag. While I think the items in the snapshot above are an honest and accurate reflection of North American “cuisine,” it doesn’t stop me from being ashamed of that fact. Hopefully, the picture of North American food will change for the better and soon. Our lives just may depend on it.

By , May 29, 2012 6:31 am
Our Route - Week 2

Distance traveled in Week 2

Week 2 has been a week of healing, new pains, and settling into the routine of walking for us. We walked a total of 153.5 km this week, putting in bigger days than last week. We are still mesmerized by the beauty that surrounds us each day (except for the concrete city days… those can’t really be described as beautiful).

Vineyards

We walked through miles and miles of vineyards this week

Don’t forget about our camino challenge for you! Keep challenging yourself to be a little healthier each day. We have raised $170 for the Canadian Diabetes Association this week and would like to see the total continue to increase as we continue to walk.

Poppies

We’ve walked past millions of poppies (literally) in the last few weeks

Camino Summary to Date:

Days Walked: 14
Distance Walked: 290.5 km
Money Raised for the Canadian Diabetes Association: $250

Summary of Week 2:

Day 8: Los Arcos – Viana (19.5 km)
Day 9: Viana – Navarrete (21.5 km)
Day 10: Navarrete – Azofra (22.5 km)
Day 11: Azofra – Redecilla del Camino (27 km)
Day 12: Redecilla del Camino – Villafranca Montes de Oca (25 km)
Day 13: Villafranca Montes de Oca – Atapuerca (19 km)
Day 14: Atapuerca – Burgos (19 km)

Church at Villafranca Montes de Oca

Hanging out by the church in Villafranca Montes de Oca

Ashley’s Camino

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing my Week 1 reflection, and here we are… finished Week 2! Time is really flying by for us on the Camino. Each day actually feels longer than usual (between the walking portion and the resting portion of our day, it feels like we live two days for each day gone by) and yet, somehow, when you put them all together they are gone in a flash.

Physically, this has been a slightly more challenging week for me. While each day of walking gets easier and easier (20 km feels like a short, easy day for me now), my knee has been acting up more than I would like. What started as a slow ache became a sharp pain each step I took (particularly when trodding downhill). Happily, through ample rest in the afternoons and the purchase of a knee brace, it’s been improving little by little.

Mentally, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a better place than I am right now. First and foremost, I am so full of joy. And, over the past couple of weeks, I have really come to understand what it means to truely experience each moment, without taking anything for granted. Many people that walk the Camino talk about how much thinking gets done, but I’ve found that just taking in my surroundings consumes most of my attention most of the time. For me, the thinking and reflection part comes with the rest times after walking. As someone who can have a short temper at times (especially when I’m hungry or uncomfortable… just ask Mike), I feel like I’m really learning to get past immediate annoyances and just focus on enjoying the moment.

Camino Week 2

How can you not be totally absorbed in scenery like this?

I can’t reflect on this week without mentioning the amazing people we’ve met along the way. Walking the Camino would not be the same without the other pelegrinos (pilgrims) that surround us. I’m not just talking about the snorers that interrupt my sleep in the dorm rooms, but I mean the people that you make connections with, whether you share a common language or not. We met a 74 year old French woman, Marie, that is walking the Camino by herself (and typically outpacing us each day). Even though she doesn’t speak a word of English and we don’t speak more than a few very basic words of French (merci and bonjour are basically the extent of it), she has taken us under her wing. She finds me each night in my dorm bed to rub some of her ointment into my sore knee, and, through a lot of pointing, gesturing, and smiling, asks about Mike’s feet each day. She literally applauds us when we meet her in a new town, happy to see our injuries haven’t kept us back. She is just one of the inspiring people we have met on the Camino that make each day special.

Mike as a Pilgrim

Looking like a pilgrim

Mike’s Camino

It’s been a good week.

First of all, it’s been a week of culinary discovery for us. Early in the week, when the weather was cool and wet (we walked three days through continuous rain), I made some onion and leek soup. It was just the right thing at just the right time. It hit the spot perfectly, and I expect we’ll be eating it again soon. We have also tried out a delicious blue cheese cream sauce recipe for pasta that we learned from a pair of French cyclists. And we’ve discovered sheep’s cheese, which is just so darn good.

And what goes better with food than wine? We discovered our new favourite (and most expensive, at 3 Euros a bottle) Spanish wine. It’s a Crianza from the Rioja region. It’s a special red. Special because of the way it’s made. The wine in this area is first aged for one year in oak barrels, and then aged another year in the bottle giving it a unique, well blended taste. If you want to try it at home, I wish you the best of luck finding it. I think all of the Crianza from the Rioja region is going to be good, just watch out for the bottles that say “joven” (young). They won’t have gone through the aging process.

On the walking front, my blisters healed up. They were only really really painful for about four days (~100km). Now I hardly notice them, and that makes a world of difference.

Vineyards

Vineyards and a typical small Spanish pueblo

With mostly healed feet, I’ve had a bit better luck thinking while I walk. When I started in on the Camino, I expected to have more time than I could ever want to just think. To my surprise, this hasn’t quite been the case. At first, everything was so beautiful that it took just about all of my attention just to look around and appreciate it. Then, when it was so quiet, I was re-discovering music on my MP3 player. That too demanded a large chunk of my mental attention. Then came the blisters who were by far the worst offenders, making every step a painful distraction. But this week, I’ve been able to think.

I really do appreciate how lucky I am to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, with the love of my life, Ashley. In fact this whole last week I’ve been unable to stop thinking “Wow. I love my life”.

Miles and miles to think

Miles and miles to think

I’ve also been thinking a lot about home. I’m really starting to miss everyone, karate, board games, our cat… Those precious thoughts of home inevitably lead me to thinking about what the heck I’m going to do with myself when this trip is all over, if it ever does end. And so far I’ve come to the conclusion that I still don’t have a clue. I’ve been entertaining ideas of organic farming, becoming a baker, teaching English in a foreign country, instructing SCUBA, writing, building off-grid recycled housing – and those are just the ones I’m still interested in. I’ve already been able to cross off traditional forms of engineering and computer programming from the list on this trip.

There’s also the more immediate questions of where do we go after Santiago? Do we keep walking? I hear you can take any of the camino routes in reverse. Rent an apartment in Portugal or Morocco? WWOOF in Austria, Switzerland, Egypt, or Turkey? Tour through the major tourist cities like Rome, Venice, Berlin, and Amsterdam? Summer in Croatia, Serbia, or Macedonia? It’s so confusing!

Walking is simple, that’s why I think I like it so much. As far as travel is concerned, it’s relatively stress free. I always know ahead of time where I’m going to end up. I don’t have to plan a thing, just read a couple of paragraphs from our guide book and walk. I guess it’s a good thing we still have three weeks or so of the Camino for me to think things through…

Wheat fields

Wheat fields

Camino scenery

Camino scenery

Church at sunrise

Church at sunrise

Want to read more about our Camino?  Check it out…

Our Camino, Your Camino… Our Challenge to You
Camino de Santiago Week 1 – Beautiful Landscapes & Unexpected Challenges
Camino de Santiago Week 2 – Getting Past the Pain
Camino de Santiago Week 3 – Feels a Lot Like Home
Camino de Santiago Week 4 – Easy Walking
Camino de Santiago – We Made It to Santiago, But We’re Not Finished Yet!
Camino de Santiago by the Numbers – Our Budget and Stats
Guide to the Camino de Santiago