Most of this week I felt like a cartoon character – the one with the big cloud over my head with rain pouring down just on me. However, instead of one cloud following me wherever I went along the Camino, there were multiple clouds all lined up and circling like planes at O’Hare airport trying to get their ‘ok’ to land. I could see them all off in the distance eyeing me and sometimes even taunting me. I imagined Mother Nature with a headset on sitting up in the air traffic controller’s booth communicating with each rain cloud. One after the other would come in for a landing leaving me soaked, cold, and frustrated.
Week 2 of the Camino (view my update from Week 1) has yielded another 99 miles (159 km) which brings me to a total of 189 miles completed out of the 441 mile total. A little sobering to realize that I’m not even half way yet – but I can only go as fast as these two feet will take me!
Week two was a weather,elements, and gear battle on a mass scale for me. Yes, I know it’s just a little rain and I don’t melt – but tell that to my soaked feet cramped in squishy socks and shoes rubbing against blisters for 8 hours a day. You know how you look when you stay in the bathtub too long and your skin wrinkles – well imagine that on your feet after WAAAAYYY too long in the bathtub. Suffice it to say there were many, many expletives screamed at the top of my lungs this week in the middle of the countryside in Spain. There was a time where I was close to tears until Katherine turned around and handed me a huge chocolate bar right at my tear breaking point. I halted the pending tears and took the chocolate and sucked on it like a baby with a pacifier.
But – here’s the good news – I survived. I can still walk. I still have all of my toes (and partial skin on my heels). It wasn’t the end of the world. The Camino makes you stronger. It makes you realize that you can get through anything – even when you think you cannot. You can push your body and mind to new limits – and that’s exactly why I’m here.
There’s really no where to run from the weather on the Camino. If you are lucky, you may be in a village when a storm passes through – but that happened only once for me. The rest of the time you just watch it come your way over the scenic rolling hills and brace yourself. We had rain, wind, cold, and the byproduct of all of this weather was mud – deep, clay-like mud.
The good news is that with the right gear you can combat some of these weather elements. The bad news is that I don’t really have the right gear much of the time. Since this is part of a longer trip around Europe in general for 5 months, I made the decision to hike the Camino in Saucony trail running shoes. They are perfect 75% of the time – they are light, flexible, and they keep cooler than boots. However in rain and mud they are not the right kind of shoes. In a downpour it doesn’t take long at all for them to get soaked through and my feet are squishing away in my socks. I have wool socks I’m using which are great as they dry quickly and withstand odor, but even they can’t stay dry in rain. In the deep mud the shoes are so light they about get pulled off my feet and I wobble around with no ankle support. The shoes have taken a massive beating, and I don’t know if they will last me the whole 450 miles, but they have survived so far. And on the plus side – they dry out super fast with a few newspapers inside of them. On dry days they are perfect – so I’m not sure that I made a wrong decision – most of the time the Saucony trail runners are good.
My rain poncho tore midway through the week and luckily a nearby village had a shop with expensive (unfortunately for my pocket book) ponchos. Supply and demand…what can you do? The store also had wool socks which I stocked up on since I have learned to carry about 3 pairs of dry socks with me in my day pack.
My body tingles at night when I sleep as my system is at work trying to repair all of the damage I’m doing during the day. Because of that I’m not getting great sleep, but overall, my body is adapting to the physical demands of walking every day. I start off each morning feeling pretty good and then the last 4 to 10k I tend to fall apart. Muscles hurt, my feet are in pain, and if I stop it’s worse to start up again. However I do feel stronger overall, and I have a voracious appetite which I hope I can curb at the end of this journey!
My blisters were getting better until the soggy rain – and now they continue to turn up all over in new spots and I continue to try to combat them. In fact my heel blisters, Jack and Jill, have decided to have children…blisters within blisters. The big key is to try to get your feet and blisters dried out over night well. Every 2 hours I stop and take off my shoes and socks to let my feet breath and dry. Then I slather on Vaseline and take off again. I use more Vaseline than any human should. I have even started putting thread through my blisters in an attempt to keep them open, draining, and dried out. This photo isn’t for the squeamish.
This week has been a roller coaster of mental. On the tough days I have felt very mentally tough. As if I were in a war with Mother Nature I felt strong taking her on. And then, at the very last minute at a time when I wasn’t expecting it she would throw me a curve and it would make me mentally crumble. On the day we were walking 30k to Hontanas it was particularly brutal. We were up on a plain as the rain pelted us so hard it felt like pins on my flesh. But I was joyous, I felt invincible – listening to my ipod, singing, feeling stronger than ever. Until the last 4 k when the rain had stopped and there in front of us was a field of mud for the next 4k. This slowed me down to a snails pace and the mud was like clay on my shoes. It would build up around it and add about 2 pounds to each foot and you couldn’t shake it off. I felt like I was growing clowns feet. And this is what broke me mentally. By the time I arrived in Hontanas to a cute little albergue I was pissed off. Pissed at mother nature, but mainly pissed at myself that I couldn’t hold it together.
The next day something similar happened, and I have vowed that the thing I need to work on is to try to arrive at my destination in a better mood. No one likes to see an angry, pissed off pilgrim showing up at their albergue.
This week was about experiencing some great lodging along the trail. When you are a pilgrim walking the trail you can stay at pilgrim albergues for low prices (from 4 to 10 Euros). After walking all day you simply want a place where you can sleep, eat, and get cleaned up…and have a beer or 3. That’s pretty much all the albergues offer – it’s very minimal. Sometimes you are sleeping in a room with 30 other people on bunkbeds. Sometimes you are sleeping with only 6 other people (those are the good nights). For some unknown reason there are never any chairs near the bunkbeds – which really annoys me (the angry pilgrim). There is usually very little space to lay your backpack and there is a symphony of snoring that you can only combat by wearing ear plugs (I highly recommend the silicon ear plugs – they are the best). Sometimes the bunkbeds can be 3 high and you are literally 12 inches from the bunk bed next to you. Men and women are thrown together and generally you share shower and bathroom facilities (normally about 5 showers per 30 people). The good news is that I have always at least had hot water showers and I have confirmed the stereotype that Germans have no nudity issues like the rest of us.
However – a few places have been able to stand out among the minimalism of albergues.
Belorado Albergue Caminante – this was a typical albergue with 30 people crammed in a little space – but the owners made up for it in other ways. They were so nice, helpful and made a HUGE meal that you could easily overlook the cramped space. It was clean and the owners (a sister and brother) helped you in every way possible. They even had a warm fire in the common room and provided plenty of cold beer – a great atmosphere.
Ages Albergue San Rafael – was a maybe my favorite private albergue so far. It was also run by the cutest brother and sister team ever. The rooms were small – only 4 beds to a room which was a blessing. The brother and sister made an amazing meal and were constantly joking around with you. This is a must stop place if you go through Ages. And if you don’t stop in Ages – then I suggest that you organize your schedule to do so. Pass up the crowded municiple albergue of San Juan Ortega and go the extra 5k to San Rafael in Ages.
Hontanas Albergue Santa Brigada – was also a small, private albergue that provided you ample space. Instead of cramming 30 beds into a space, they only put 6 in a space that could fit 30. It was only 3 years old and very modern and nicely designed with Pilgrims in mind. They had a full service snack bar and store too. The only complaint – one bathroom for about 25 people, but the showers were absolutely lovely with ample room to set things and even a chair – bliss!
Boadilla Albergue en el Camino – was huge, cramped, chaotic – but once again the people there made the stay. The food was great, and the people I was crammed in a room with were even better. They put up with my original arrival pissy mood and seriously changed my whole attitude.
Welcome to the Pilgrim’s menu – this is a 3 course meal served with bottomless wine (note, no water…which is really annoying) all for about 7 to 10 euro. Every night restaurants and albergues offer a pilgrim’s menu at 7PM and the hungry pilgrims stuff their face. The choices are normally pretty basic (however some of the albergues I mentioned above had amazing choices and food which is what make them stand out). First course is soup or salad or pasta. Second course is always a variety of meat/fish and fries. Third course is ice cream, fruit, yogurt, or pudding. The quality ranges – and I normally expect pretty bland basic stuff – but for the price you can’t beat it. And as someone who is walking 25k a day – you don’t really care – you just want food.
During the day while I’m hiking I am constantly stuffing my face with bread, tortilla (sort of like egg and potato quiche), cans of tuna (to get a needed dose of protein), fruit, chocolate, and mixed nuts. You can always buy this food along the way at bars and shops in villages – unless of course when it’s Sunday and everything is closed.
By taking a rest day, I’ve met a whole new group of people who amaze me and make me laugh every night. This week I’ve met wonderful people from Hungary, Philippines, Brazil, Holland, Denmark, Canada, Germany, and Poland. I even met a couple in a room with 8 other people on bunkbeds who were honeymooning. They had been married 7 days and chose this as a honeymoon – very cool. By meeting these international pilgrims, I not only feel like I’m traveling through Spain, but I’m traveling through various countries as you meet this international crowd and learn about their lives and countries. This is the beauty of the Camino and travel in general I believe.
Katherine and I have continued to journey together this week through the elements. We each have our good moments and bad moments – luckily never at the same time as the other. So even though we many times walk separately at our own pace depending on how we feel during the day – it’s a blessing to know that someone has your back. We ebb and flow throughout the day and eat together and pump each other up – and we laugh…brilliant laughter. And sharing table with her and a gin and tonic are my highlights of the day!
My support team of Rayo Travel has been amazing this week – solving little problems for me along the way and providing encouragement. I’ve used their iphone app to find the great albergues I listed above as they came recommended. In addition, every morning my back thanks the JacoTrans luggage transport team who is transporting my bigger (very heavy) backpack from location to location daily. By utilizing JacoTrans it’s saving my feet and back…and mental attitude! They are invisible to me except via sms messages, as I leave my bag in the lobby each day when I leave and it turns up at the next destination like clockwork. They are an essential part of my Camino.
Onward to week 3!
Once again – after this journey is finished, I will be writing in more detail about gear, the trail, and experiences – so stay tuned!
If you are one of the wonderful people I met this week and gave my card to – please make sure you leave a comment below and say hello!
You can follow my journey along in ‘real time’ on my Facebook page – OttsworldTravel
Please leave comments and questions as your support as I walk is greatly appreciated and just knowing people are out there following me keeps me going!
Photography from Week 2 Camino: