Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Post Camino R & R

R & R, rest and relaxation, may be too mild a term for what is needed after walking almost 900kms. A more expansive expression is necessary; rest and relaxation plus rehabilitation, rehydration, relief, respite, recovery and then repatriation home. Fortunately we had allowed ourselves lots of extra time to indulge in as much R & R & R & R as we wanted. Having finished our Camino to Santiago in 31 days and, after one wonderful day of rest and visiting with Camino friends in Santiago and then completing the added 3 days Camino to Fisterre, we still had 10 days left over before our flight back to Canada. What to do, what to do?

Spending the first three days of our overtime in Fisterre was a quick, no-brainer decision. Fisterre won us over with its charming harbour, beaches and numerous cafes and restaurants.
It was a perfect spot to dump the backpacks in the hotel, hobble around the small village, sit on the cafe patios and share stories with other camino grads, hobble to the beach and soak sore feet in the cooling (cold) Atlantic water. Nothing to do and all day and night to do it. Perfect.

We had considered several other small villages or cities to visit, Muros or Ponteverde but at the last minute we decided the quick and easy two hour bus ride north to O Coruna was the way to go. As promised, getting to O Coruna was quick and easy and cheap, only 14 Euros. Unfortunately, once there we had to don those *&$%#@ backpacks again and plod through the busy streets to an information centre. We had no idea what O Coruna had to offer. First impressions were that it was a bigger city than expected, hectic, lots of construction and not so obviously charming. We learned that it did have a few beaches and, by accident or design, as we searched haphazardly (hobbled - there is a recurring theme here) through the busy streets I recognized a sign from one of the tourist books: Hotel Riazor. Turns out they had a room, 53 Euros without a view, 65 Euros plus tax with an oceanview. Throwing financial caution to the wind we took the oceanview. Good choice. Our lovely big room looked out over Riazor Beach - a topless beach. Because we were more comfortable with watching than participating in the 'topless' concept, we first headed out to shop for bathing suits. In the end, I just used a sports bra and my sleep boxer shorts rather than spend 40 to 80 Euros on a bathing suit, an ugly, poor fitting bathing suit.

Walking in the sand on the beach was brutal on my ankle and, while the cold Atlantic water felt great, by evening it was obvious it needed treatment. Off we went to a private hospital where, after consultation with a doctor, Xrays, ultrasound and 250Euros, we got a diagnosis of tendinitis and the usual presciption: rest, elevation, ice and anti-inflammatories. Nothing we hadn't already self-diagnosed but now it was official. The real rest wouldn't come until home though. I can't say we did much in O Coruna. Even the little bit of walking the sight seeing entailed was too much but flopping down on a beach towel or the hotel bed was enough to satisfy us. I revelled in hot water and a real shower and shaving my legs ( TMI - too much information?) Dayton revelled in not carry a 16kg backpack everywhere.

In O Coruna, we availed ourselves of a very helpful travel agent who helped us book bus tickets for a 7 hour bus ride to Salamanca, a reservation at the Hotel Monterrey near the Playa Mayor in Salamanca and then train tickets for later to Madrid.

The seven hour bus ride to Salamanca was not as bad as expected. We had a huge tour bus and only 7 passengers. However, this did not mean you could sit anywhere. Seats were assigned when we purchased the tickets and that's where we were to sit, even if the front row seats where empty or there were empty seats to sprawl out in right across from us.
The Hotel Monterrey was a very old hotel, again ideally located but no more carting backpacks, we were now into taxis. We enjoyed sitting at the cafe tables that edged the Playa Mayor, sipping wine and watching the tourists go by. The Playa Mayor was a happening place and there was a late night concert featuring a couple of 'boy bands'. We managed to stick around for only the first song of the first set. A super late night on the Camino might have been 10pm max. and we were still happy with that schedule. Our hotel was hosting a seniors' tour group and as the seniors left the hotel and filed ever so slowly onto their tour bus, obliviously blocking the hotel exit and the sidewalk, all I could think of was "next year that's us"?

Salamanca is a lovely university town and, surprisingly we ran into some James Madison University students who were starting a 6 week intensive course studying Spanish and partying - for 9 college credits. JMU is in Harrisonburg in Virginia just north of Dayton's home town.

We left Salamanca on Saturday, June 6th and took the train to Madrid. The train was easy and comfortable and the Metro was easy to navigate. Since I had booked us a room at an airport hotel, we took the Metro to the airport and then got our hotel shuttle to take us to the Hotel Clemente Baranjas which turned out to be another pleasant bonus; a very new and modern hotel. The Metro took us back into the centre of Madrid, an easy 50 minute trip and we immediately got tickets for the Madrid Vision double-decker sightseeing buses. I was disappointed that now they just hand out ear phones and you plug them into the language of your choice outlet. I had expected a real live tour guide. I think a tour guide would have given more information and extra tidbits about the places we were seeing. When we went back into Madrid again on Sunday we discovered a big 'tapas' market just outside and to the west of the Plaza Mayor. The market had many different tapas counters, wine and vermouth bars, an oyster bar, panadarias and it was definitely 'the place to be'. This is our style of touristing, food and wine.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Final Thoughts on the Camino

The Camino Frances de Santiago de Compostela

It´s definitely a misnomer to title this final thoughts as I know I will be thinking about this Camino journey for a long time to come and I´m sure my impressions and memories will be enhanced when I have more time to reflect on this experience. However, here are some initial final thoughts. Ha!

It is what it is and it is what you make of it.

Wanderlust or pilgrims´quest, it is what you make of it. It can be as spiritual, as solitary, as communal, as cultural or as physical as you choose it to be. For me, it became an exceptional physical challenge as early on I developed tendinitis in my left ankle (probably because of the weight of carrying a backpack and overstriding to keep up with the others). We chose to walk every day, to push ourselves (although at the time I did not think of it as pushing myself as much as just keeping at it), to not take rest days, to walk more than 25kms most days and so the physicality of it all seemed to dominate. Actually, it wasn't so much that we chose to push ourselves but that one just gets caught up in the momentum and then you just get up and go each day.

While dealing with tendinitis emphasized the physical toll the camino took on me, the most impressive aspect of the camino was the people we met and the friendships we made. I know we will meet up with so many of these people again sometime in our life.

Arthur Boer noted several affirmations to think about on the Camino and I amended them for myself:

I am where I want to be.
I am doing what I want to do.
I am enjoying who I am with.
I will remember this.

Arthur Boer also started his book with "I once walked 500 miles to go to church".
I´m starting my book with "I once walked 500 miles to lose .3kg". Unfortunately that weight loss was short lived as I quickly regained that .3kg three days after that I quit walking.

Was it what I expected?

It took more of a physical toll than I expected. I never anticipated an insidiuous injury I couldn´t just tough out.

I don´t know at what point you can define something as spiritual so I can´t say if it was as spiritual as I expected. I certainly had many moments of zen when I was at peace with and in awe of my surroundings. The first three days walking the Meseta were particularly zen-like, so vast, green, serene, still and endless.

The community of pilgrims met my expectations. Wonderful, enjoyable and fun.

The scenery, the culture, the people of Spain and the pilgrims we met, were all as wonderful as I had expected and hoped.

It was more expensive than I thought it would be but that´s our economic style anyway. We always spend more than we planned but at the same time we didn´t spend on anything but food and wine. Well, there was one little 18carat gold shell pendant but that was planned before we left Canada.

Communal Living

I enjoyed the Camino community of pilgrims. I enjoyed the comaraderie and fellowship of meeting and sharing stories and life experiences, of eating together and walking together. I never got to the point of enjoying the communal living in terms of sharing dormitories or communal washrooms or showers.

I toughed out a lot of walks, toughed out carrying probably too much weight, toughed out being a vegetarian in a meatarian society but couldn´t get around toughing out cold showers or lack of toilet paper. Come on!

Things I´m Grateful For

That I did this with Dayton. He´s a great map reader and path finder. He was patient with my slower walking pace ( he didn't adjust his pace to it but he did wait patiently for me to catch up) and with carrying some of my stuff; sleeping and shower gear and my Keens.

I'm grateful for the alternative routes and the detours which he suggested and which we took: Bercianos, Samos, the high route out of Villafranca del Bierzo. Each one turned out to be a delightful surprise.

Would I Do it Again

I would definitely like to do a Camino again but would most likely try some of the other Caminos such as Le Puy on Velay through France and, maybe later, the Camino Via Plata from Seville, or the Camino Portuguese or Camino Arles. I would probably try to be less of a purist (if that´s the correct word I´m searching for) about it, taking some time off instead of making it a marathon, treating and resting the injuries instead of pushing through them and making them worse. Well that would be my intent anyway, whether it would evolve that way is another question. And I might investigate more private alberques or pensionnes. And like all pilgrims, I would pledge to be more ruthless about the weight in my pack and carry less. Ha!

Admiration and Respect

I admire and respect and am in awe of those who undertake this Camino on their own, especially the women. I know I would worry or second guess myself all the time wondering if I was following the right path, especially early in the morning.

Personal Goals

Did I live up to my personal goals? I think so.

Did I whine? I had set a goal to not whine and I don´t think I did although Dayton will note that I did mention my bad left ankle more than a couple of times. Even on the days when we had to add a few extra or even 15kms to our walk I didn´t voice my inner whines.

Did I live in the moment? Maybe. I enjoyed the moment but confess I was often thinking ahead to the next village, the next alberque, the next caf√© stop or the next pilgrims´meal.
Did I pay attention? Definitely. I learned on the Wainwright Coast to Coast that all I was seeing were my boots so this time I was determined to pay attention and remember where I was, what I saw and, with the help of my journals and blogs, I think I will remember so much more about the Camino.
Did I let things irritate me? Nope, I was pretty good about accepting things. A couple of times the snorers and the pushy people kind of put me off my camino feelings of zen. The most irritating things on the camino were the cold showers and the lack of toilet paper.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda?

What do I wish we had done differently? Taken less (like everyone else). Stayed one more day in Santiago. Planned four days to get to Fisterre and then maybe added Muxia.

Camino Stats

  1. Number of days walking Karen: 33 Dayton: 34
  2. Total kms walked Karen: 856.5 Dayton: 892
  3. Average kms per day 26.2
  4. Kms walked with tendinitis Karen: 531.5
  5. Number of alberques: 32
  6. Average cost of alberques: €7
  7. Number of sellos (stamps): 52
  8. Average € per day: €50 for two people. Obviously too many bocadillos and cafe con leches
  9. Countries represented by Pilgrims we met: 27
  10. Longest Walk: Villafranca Montes de Oca to Burgos: 40.5+ kms
  11. Shortest Walk: St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson: 7.5kms
  12. Toughest Walk: Dayton - Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro + Olveiroa to Fisterre
  13. Toughest Walk: Karen - Orisson to Roncesvalles + Arca to Santiago
  14. Meanest Weather: Orisson to Roncesvalles (blizzard) + Arca to Santiago (rainstorm)
  15. Most beautiful walk: Foncebadón to Molineseca
  16. Most spectacular walk: Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro
  17. Most serene walk: Castrojeriz to Fromista - magnificent
  18. Best meal/alberque experience: Bercianos Real Camino
  19. Best vegetarian meal: Manzarife and Bercianos Real Camino (made vegetarian for Karen)
  20. Worst meal experience: Redicilla del Camino (mean restauranteurs)
  21. Glasses of wine: 112 each - at least
  22. Number of beer: Dayton- 56 at least, Karen - 12 at least
  23. Amount of Mefix used: 4 metres of 5" Mefix
  24. Mgs of painkillers used: 37,050mgs at least and counting
  25. Number of marital spats: ZERO
  26. Easiest walk: NONE
  27. Number of pictures taken: 1838 and counting
  28. Best Village/Town: Fisterre + Villafranca del Bierzo
  29. Best City: Astorga
  30. Number of nights ruined by snorers (roncquistadors): 3
  31. Best Dining Experience: Beachside restaurant in Fisterre
  32. Amount of gas charged to Shell while we´ve been WALKING the Camino: $335.33 -Hmm?
  33. Number of Masses attended - Roncesvalles, Carrion de Condes, Santiago, Samos, and Bercianos del Real: 5
  34. Amount of weight lost: 31.6 lbs. - Dayton at least 20, John 11, Me .6 lbs. Yes that´s not even one full pound actually by the scale it was .3kg. Aaaaaaargh.
  35. Cost of having 10 days left over: the same as the first 35 Camino and Fisterre days = a lot!