I’m back in Canada, and not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m busy sorting my photos, which I will soon add to my blog posts. In the meantime, I thought I’d cover a topic close to my heart: how to get a wooden walking stick home from Santiago.
I’m not going to enter the Great Stick Debate over whether to have a walking stick and what kind of stick(s) to get if you do have one. I’ll just say that I, for reasons that have more to do with the romance of the thing than with practical considerations (although it is very useful), like to carry a single wooden walking stick on my pilgrimages.
On my first Camino, I bought one in Le Puy-en-Velay before setting out. On my Via de la Plata trip, I looked for one in Sevilla but couldn’t find any. I ended up picking up a stick from a pile of wood by the side of the road on my third day of walking, and a week or so later a friend shaped it into a proper walking stick for me.
There’s something about a walking stick.
You—or at least I—can get more attached to it than to any other item of gear. My sticks were right there beside me over vast numbers of kilometres, and if I walked off without one, I always turned back within a few steps. I felt naked with a pack on my back and no stick in my hand.
A lot of pilgrims seem to leave their wooden walking sticks behind in Santiago, or hurl them into the sea at Finisterre. On both my Caminos, I thought about leaving my sticks behind. But each time I decided it was worth trying to bring them home.
And it worked. I brought both of my sticks safely to Canada on a total of four airlines.
I can’t speak for every airline, of course, but I’ll tell you how it worked in the case of my walking sticks so you have some idea what to expect if you try to get yours home.
My first stick was relatively easy to get home. I took it with me on the night bus to the Madrid Airport, where I had a flight—I think it was with British Airways. In the Madrid Airport they had a machine that could plastic wrap your backpack for you, and I was told that if I plastic wrapped my stick to my bag, the whole thing could be oversized luggage.
I did so, and didn’t see my stick again until we both arrived safely at Vancouver Airport.
My second stick was more of a problem, not because of anything inherent in the stick, but because I had three totally unrelated flights. I didn’t think there was much chance that my stick would be allowed on all of them, but decided to try anyway.
I left from the Santiago Airport on a Ryanair flight to London. Since I’d only paid for one piece of checked luggage, and Ryanair is known to be very sticky about its regulations, I didn’t have much hope for my stick. But I guess in Santiago they’re used to dealing with these things. I was allowed to check my stick for free.
Then, of course, I had to sit around in the oversized luggage area of Stansted Airport for ages after my backpack had appeared. The lost luggage guy didn’t hold out much hope of my stick turning up, but it did eventually appear.
My second flight was from London to Toronto with Air Transat, a Canadian charter company. I was told I could take my stick onto the plane, but it might be taken away from me and kept with the strollers. As it turned out, no one looked twice at me as I walked onto the plane with the stick, and I ended up stowing it in a very large overhead bin.
Then, of course, I had to check off “wood products” on the declaration form for entering Canada, which worried me. I was convinced my stick would be confiscated—maybe Spain had some terrible tree disease that my poor stick might be bringing into Canada.
But the customs guy actually asked fewer questions than usual, hardly looked at my stick, and let me back into the country within 30 seconds of first glancing at my passport.
My third and fourth flights were with Air Canada, to Vancouver, and then on to Kamloops. The check-in woman in Toronto told me I could pay $20 for extra luggage, and check my stick. Thinking of my first stick, I asked if I could attach my stick to my bag and check the whole thing as oversized luggage. She said that I could and gave me some very sticky airline tape.
Friends who met me at the Toronto Airport helped me firmly tape the stick to my pack. Relatively firmly, anyway. As I watched the whole thing disappear down the oversized luggage conveyor belt—stick first—I had serious misgivings about the whole thing. It wasn’t nearly as securely attached as my first stick had been, and this stick was a little bent and seemed likely to snag on something and crack.
My flight out of Toronto was an hour late, so I only made it to the plane that would take me to Kamloops 15 minutes before it took off. I was reasonably certain my pack with its hopefully-still-attached stick had missed the flight and I wouldn’t learn its fate until the next day.
But then the conveyor belt at the Kamloops Airport started up, and my pack was one of the first to appear. To my surprise, the tape held up and the stick was still attached.
My walking stick had one final journey in the trunk of my sister’s car before arriving home.
It’ll stay here for a while, now, in a corner of my bedroom, reminding me of my last trip and waiting for another adventure.