This is my post camino write-up, it will be lengthy…. with pictures tho.. pretty ones and a sloth is involved … so keep reading… also all pictures and text copyrighted to me unless otherwise stated, feel free to ask if you can use them..
addendum: it will also be in several parts, once all written up… I will combine all parts into one monstrosity of a post…. but for now… enjoy the short intro and day one and two…
I’ll try to write down as much of my experience as I can and convey it as best I can… But as always there is no substitute for experiencing it yourself, I highly recommend walking the Camino Frances, if you think you would like it, even if not… do it. It is like nothing else, no hike or walk in the wilderness can substitute it, it may give you an indication of the physical aspect of walking but not the experience actually walking it. Trust me, I am Norwegian I have hiked in mountains quite a bit… the camino was very different. But enough about this.
The metrics, boring but all the same let us get them out-of-the-way;
Me, M&F in St. Jean starting out
I started in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and walked all the way to Santiago de Compostela, no bus, no taxi and no shipping of backpack. This puts the distance at ~800km (+walking around towns sightseeing) it took me 31 days, some days I walked too far, others I took it easy. Longest distance walked in a day ~50km, not out of necessity more due to stubbornness.. shortest distance 5km and a 10km day.
On the distance thing, for me in the beginning I had a sense of I have to walk as much as possible everyday because 800km is a long way and I might not have enough time, this made me push harder than necessary in the beginning on some days. I spent the first week or so finding my groove when it came to pace and distance.
My backpack, a Fjällräven Kajpak 38L
Backpack; mine weighed in at 15kg with a 3L supply of water most will tell you that 10% of your bodyweight is the max recommended, however much like the pirates code it is more like a guideline rather than an actual rule. If you have a well fitted backpack and know how to wear it properly this will aid you in being able to carry it with much more ease regardless of weight. How much you are comfortable carrying is individual, I weighed 110kg (before the camino) and tested walking with a 10kg backpack for a few weeks without issue.. the added 5kg was of some concern to me but in the end when I walked the camino with it I was completely comfortable. I even ended up carrying more at times (carried someone else’s backpack in addition to mine on two occasions, more on this later on)
The road leading to the pilgrims office and on to the Camino
So we begin our adventure in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, day one… rumoured to be the hardest day of the camino due to the fact that you walk up into the Pyrenees mountain range, sounds difficult… for me it was both difficult and not at the same time. Difficult not for the reasons you may think, the physical I was fairly comfortable with… that is not to say that I did not get short of breath at times or that I was sprinting up the mountainside. It was difficult because M&F and G&T later who joined us (or we them..) walked at a much slower pace than me and I was straining to get going on our adventure… we had miles (or to be metric about it, kilometers) to walk before we could sleep…. and not to mention many many before we reached Santiago de Compostela…
But I have mentioned M&F and G&T so some introductions are in order;
M&F: M is Marie a very good friend who I had asked if wanted to walk the camino with me 3 years ago, she said yes… then there is F short for Francesco her fiance… collectively referred to as M&F hereafter.
Then there is G&T: Georgia & Thomas, we met them a few hours into our first day. I was a head of M&F and saw to people sitting by the road taking a break… I decided to engage them in conversation while waiting for M&F to catch up. They eventually did and started talking to them as well, all of us getting along swimmingly… after a few minutes of M&F joining the discourse… a big guy popped his head around a tree… “Guys there is a coffee shop up here” .. he was not 30 meters from where we had sat down by the side of the road.
We joined Andy at the coffee shop and had some coffee and chatted more, Andy was a brit who a while back had moved to Denmark… his Danish so fluid that I would never have guessed it.
Georgia & Marie + Donut
After a bit we continued upwards, the fog appeared and became thicker the nearer we got to the top. Thomas was constantly reminded of the presence of the fog by Georgia as they had faced the decision to either go up and over or around (the two routes you can choose out of St. Jean to Roncesvalles) I am quoting Georgia here, according to her this was the argument Thomas made to take the up-and-over route “We have to go up, the view is going to be amazing” …
this was the view as we headed further up…
(Front left: Thomas, Right: Francesco. Rear left: Georgia, Right: Marie)
It was pretty much the view all the way up, nothing really exciting happened, except when someone went for a toilet break in the wilderness and was ambushed by a horse…which was a considerable achievement by the horse considering they all were wearing cowbells. The only clue the rest of us had that something had occurred was a high-pitched squeal and someone re-appearing rapidly out of the fog….
after a few hours or so of walking, Thomas was however vindicated on choosing the up-and-over route
The fog cleared and we got some astonishingly beautiful views on the last leg up before we had to head down on the other side, towards Roncesvalles; we arrived late around 9-ish which was not good considering that the albergue closes its doors at 22:00 (10pm for you nuts who do not use the 24hr clock) We stumbled into the first restaurant we found which also happened to be a hotel. We needed food, after ~12 hours of walking with only a light lunch since breakfast and some snacks in between you bet we needed food.
All other concerns could wait, me and G&T even had a backup plan for sleeping outside should it come to that. We were shown to a table and got a menu, we all chose the pilgrims menu. a basic cheap 3 course meal… the pasta starter came… and was gone so quickly that the waiter just asked if we wanted some more… I think she sensed our collective hunger, either that or we looked like cave dwellers who just spotted some freshly killed animal after a week of starvation…. and she might have thought it best to keep us fed so that we stayed at our table and not starting an all out war in the dining room fighting the other patrons for their food.
The first bowl of pasta, gone in minutes
After our hunger had been sated, thoughts of where to sleep surfaced and M&F asked the staff how much a room at the hotel would cost, their prices in any other circumstance would be more than reasonable for me but I was in for a long haul and wanted to keep expenses down as much as possible. This was also the first day and I wanted to get into the groove of the camino and that meant staying at an albergue not a hotel… G&T was also of the opinion that the hotel was too expensive so we teamed up and went hunting for the albergue. M&F stayed behind, the prospect of walking when there was beds and showers right here proved too daunting to them.
Me and G&T went looking for the albergue, my camino app had a map function with gps… which in this instance was of no help… time was running out it was now about 21:54 and we found Café Sabine which also had rooms and beds… we surrendered and walked to it and Thomas the multilingual asked if they had beds available .. they did not… all were taken… but the proprietor looked funnily at us and asked why we did not go to the municipal albergue .. he figuratively shoved us out the door and pointed us in the right direction shouting “Rapido!” at us as we ran towards the municipal albergue..
We arrived, just in time.. the hospitaleras (the volunteers that work at albergues) joked a bit with us and teased us since we arrived just as they were closing up… we got there at 21:59, one minute to spare… according to my watch. After presenting our credentials and getting my second sella .. we were ushered outside towards the “private” 8 bed cabins .. presumably the hospitaleras did not want us waking up everyone in the big dormitory so late, so we got to stay in a cabin for the same price… which was nice.
We was guided to it, and after a few instructions .. “showers there, toilets there” we was left in the cabin… we shared it with some Argentinians who fortunately did not seem to have plans to go to bed for a while, we did our laundry, showered and then I used my paracord to string up an improvised clothesline so we did not have to walk all the way back up to the main building to find the “proper” clothesline / racks….
As we prepared to go to sleep the Argentinians asked when we planned to get up, we had no idea. All I knew was that G&T wanted to have their breakfast at the hotel, it was included in the price, and it was served from 07:30… the Argentinians said “We get up early tomorrow. It is going to be very hot, must start early” we did not object.. we could start early if needed and let M&F catch up later… we went to bed…
There is some noise in the cabin, I remove my earplugs and rub the sleep out of my eyes, it is 05:00 (5am) I look across the room and Thomas is just gaining consciousness himself… we look at each other then at the Argentinians packing and organising…. then as I recall their words from last night “… it is going to be hot… get up at 5… early start” I tilt my head and look out the door… it is raining… I look at Thomas, we roll our eyes in unison and I have no intention of getting out of bed… despite the fact that I am quite awake… it was a matter of principle.. (and comfort) …
After a while, we all got up and started our own organising, packing and “where did I leave that” … “did I pack that already” … “better unpack and repack to make sure” after getting ready and packing our wet laundry… yes you remember.. we did laundry, strung it up outside to dry… it was now wetter than it was when we initially hung it up… we went in search of breakfast, we ended up at Café Sabine and had a small breakfast consisting of toast w/ jam and tea and coffee.. After breakfast I got a hold of M&F and they had not yet gotten up judging by their groggy voices… it was now somewhere past eight in the morning me and G&T took our time at Café Sabine and then walked back to the hotel. Since it was raining there was no big rush to get started as early as possible, but as we arrived and minutes ticked away “be down in a few” the text from M had said… after about 15 minutes after that I went up to their room and we had a spat, a tiff and argument… our first one since we became friends as far as I can recall. I was basically pissed because breakfast at the hotel was served from 07:30 so they had plenty of time to sleep and get up to eat at that time… but had obviously elected to sleep in a bit and because “be down in a few” does not mean 15-20 minutes… We had our argument M&Fs side of it was that they had said last night that we could just go ahead without them and then catch up later, and that M needed 8 hours of sleep. Nothing else was said, I went back downstairs and said that they’d soon be ready… a few minutes later M&F joined us and we stacked up on a few snack items at the hotel bar… and I snapped this picture…
Martin Sheen, in his “The Way” attire..
We headed out from Roncesvalles…
Thomas expresses surprise at the distance left ;)
790km to Santiago de Compostela by road…
It kept raining for most of the day, but it was the kind of light annoying rain were you think you don’t need rain gear because it is not really raining but then you get soaked because you are walking for hours in it. I was wise to this though and kept my rain gear for the most part…
Our goal for this day was Zubiri about ~22km to walk from Roncesvalles but with a few climbs here and there…. I was struggling a bit with our pace and eventually Georgia asked me flat-out “are we slowing you much…?” and I answered honestly “Yes, but the company and conversations more than make up for it and if I need to I’ll just let you know I’ll be headed off” Because people walk at different paces and also have different fitness levels. I was then (nor I am now) “fit” I am however hiking-fit … meaning I can walk long distances w/ backpack without much issue… so I had a head start on getting used to the physical aspect of the camino but I was more than happy to slow down and stay with both M&F and G&T while they got used to it and found their groove.
After a small but steep incline M’s knee started acting up a bit… and after F was out of earshot I broke through her stubbornness and took her backpack as we headed down to take the load off her knee so that it would have less cause to continue acting up… as we walked others jogged past… day hikers I think… they wanted a picture of the silly Norwegian with two backpacks and a sloth-plushie (Donut) on strapped to his own.
We caught up with F after he had taken a waiting-for-the-others break and I continued walking with M’s backpack, for a time but loaded with close to 25kg on my back I really needed to keep my own pace so that I did not change my stride and strain a muscle by accident, so I walked at my pace and ended up quite a bit ahead… then I took an extended break waiting for the others… it took a while.. F came first and he took M’s backpack I continued walking at my own pace for the rest of the day as it felt quite good doing so.. also we were getting close to Zubiri, but due to our many breaks and collective slow pace.. we had taken quite a bit of time to get this close. We called ahead to the municipal albergue to verify that they had beds, which they did, but as it was a municipal one we could not make reservations..
I walked at my pace with the intention of getting there as quickly as I could so I could get beds for all of us, if possible… Shortly after the 5,5km marker… F sped past me, running!?!
It turned out his stomach had gotten upset about the kinds of food he was eating and he was not willing to answer the call of nature in, well, nature….. He arrived in Zubiri before me and also made it in time to enjoy a porcelain toilet rather than thorny bushes. We got the beds for the rest as well, and made our way over to the bar which was the only thing still open at the time, we arrived at around seven I think…
(in this picture is Donut the Sloth, more on him later.. check #donutthesloth on instagram)
Showers, laundry was done… we enjoyed some food (pizza).. this was also where I ran into Jørgen from Sweden for the first time, he will reappear in my adventure later. As we had done the chores and it was time for bed, I started arranging my stuff, putting things in their pack bags and those again in the backpack so that all I had to do in the morning was to pack my sleeping bag and then the stuff that would go on top of it, making it quick to get from walking up to walking… the less obstacles between bed and walking the less time your brain has time to contemplate what is about to happen…
The state of the M&F’s gear was, well it was all over the floor and bed. M asked me “How do you still have energy to do this…” I simply replied that it was not so much that I had the energy but that I knew that if I did this now I would not have to do it when half awake in the morning, and this is true. It was also that I actually enjoy walking on the camino so that anything that gets me back on it quicker is a good thing and also that when hiking having your stuff organised and always as ready to go is a good thing in case you need to bolt quickly …. also lessens the risk of leaving something behind.
We also discussed plans for the following day, I wanted an early 5-6am start just so that we could get where we planned to go before things closed. This was a non-starter for the others and I basically decided that I would break from the group for the next stage and we would catch up later. M&F only had three weeks to spend on the camino so at some point they would have to take a bus anyway and if I was further ahead they could catch up that way. So I planned my day and they then planned theirs. My plan was to go to Uterga which was ~37km from Zubiri… the plan was both successful and not… but before that. Me and G&T exchanged contact details to stay in touch, and then we went to bed…. for some glorious sleep.
to be continued…