Monday, August 25, 2008

Camino Uno

The camino de Santiago is a hike across northern Spain, technically beginning in Roncesvalles, and ending in Santiago de Compostella. For centuries, the route has been a significant Christian pilgrimage, but has evolved into a popular destination for lovers of hiking, culture, and spirituality alike.

I reached Roncesvalles, a village no larger than 3 football fields in the middle of the Pyrennes, on August 22 in a bus full of other hikers. This village, and many of the subsequent pueblos I have since encountered, subsist solely on what I will call "camino income". That is to say, the economic benefits for locals to accomodate hikers, provide them with internet (like me!), hot water, showers, beds, etc, has definitely hardwired "camino income" into northern Spain's economic landscape.

Analysis aside, the hike has been fantastic so far. I have reached day 3, having hiked about 70km, and feel pretty confident about reahcing Santiago de Compostela by October 1, the day of my flight to Italy for my sister's wedding.

I was surprised by the average age of the camino hiker. They are certainly an older bunch and make me feel like I am fresh out of diapers. I have heard horror stories about broken legs, blisters, dislocated hips, on and on. This got me very worried as I was lugging around a pretty heavy rucksack of about 30 pounds, which REALLY takes a toll on one's body after a day of walking 29 km through the Pyrennes. A hiker should carry 1/10th of their body weight on their backs. 30 pounds is just about double for me, so a change was really needed.

Two days ago, in Cizur Mayor, I shipped my large rucksack off to Santiago, leaving with a pack of the bare essentials which have made hiking so much more pleasant. Before, the sack included all sorts of unnecessary nonsense that was marginally useful in past situations: iPod, 4 pairs of socks and underwear, a bulky raincoat, bottles and bottles of pills and Flinstones vitamins, Checkhov short stories (I'll miss this one), etc. All that remains is one single change of clothes, my travel documents, my notebooks with my writing, toiletries, and foot cream(cheese?). My posessions are very few at the moment.

A few (odd) things I have noticed while hiking so far:
1. Some people have terrible nutritional habits. I'm sorry, but if you are going to hike 800km, you need to eat right the majority of the time. Apricot jam on a piece of toast won't cut it. Eat the actual apricot. Breakfast consisting only of coffee? Cheese, cheese, and more cheese?
2. Why do so many people carry so much crap? Since getting rid of my big rucksack, walking has been so much more pleasant. Nevertheless, it is still challenging, and there is still pain here and there, but I cannot imagine how much worse it would be if my bag was heavier.
3. Stretch, people. When people stop walking at the end of the day, or just to take a break, they just sit down and sigh. This is an absolutely critical moment for stretching. On the camino, we are asking much of our muscles, and if we don't tone and relax them with stretches and some massage, then they will just get tighter and tighter, and make life miserable.
4. Starting before the crack down is a little over the top, if you ask me. Waking up at 6:00am is fine to avoid the high noon sun, but 5:15, or even 5am is really overdoing it.
5. Walking and talking is great.

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