Category Archives: Camino Francés

Running the Camino: An Interview with Jenny Anderson


[Jenny Anderson]

Jenny Anderson, preparing for the Camino.
Photo courtesy Jenny Anderson.

Jenny Biondi Anderson, a Spanish teacher from Virginia, will start the Camino Francés in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on February 27. She hopes to arrive in Santiago de Compostela, nearly 800 kilometres away, ten days later.

She’ll do the whole distance on foot—running. Her goal is to beat the World Speed Record of twelve days for the route.

Jenny recently answered my questions about her upcoming trip by e-mail.

* * *

Anna-Marie: What made you decide to do this trip? Why the Camino Francés in particular?

Jenny: I love 1) “long trails” 2) challenges 3) Spain and Latin America, and 4) the idea of doing a Pilgrimage. I have heard from several people about the Camino Francés over the years and so I have had it on my radar for a while.

In the summer of 2009, I did a long trail endeavor in North Carolina for a speed record and I used that time to gauge my fitness level, emotions, and mental toughness for attempting another another long trail endeavor at record speed. I found myself dreaming about El Camino de Santiago much of the time.

I finally committed to the idea in the fall of 2010.

Have you looked into the pilgrimage aspect of the route? Do you see yourself as a pilgrim on this journey?

I absolutely see myself as a pilgrim on this journey. Some might say, “Well, you are not slowing down and really having the experience of meeting the people.” I can answer that by saying, “True; and someday I will return and take my time on the Camino. But this pilgrimage is about speed and spending some long tough days on my own putting one foot in front of the other—day after day until I reach Santiago.”

I will have to dig deep into myself and my faith as I endure some hard days. In the end, I will be a different person. This experience will change me.

What made you decide to do this without a support vehicle?

Well … I have backed off from that idea. Normally, I would absolutely do this run without support and I might come back someday and attempt this endeavor unsupported. The trail lends itself to not needing a lot of support because of the frequency it comes into town.

Recently, however, I have been alerted to the fact that the time of year that I am going (weather and low tourist volume) is not conducive to attempting this run without support. I have realized that most of the “albergues” (hostels) along the trail do not have heat and are too damp to dry your clothing. Cold and wet conditions are going to set me up for failure.

Additionally, I have discovered that many albergues are closed during the time I am going because of the weather and/or because of Spain’s current economic challenges.

Lastly, albergues close early for the evening and so if I come into town at 8 pm looking for a room, I will be out of luck without my crew holding a spot for me somewhere.

Therefore, I am sad to say, I am decided to move this run to a supported endeavor. My mom, stepfather, and one of my daughters will be there for me at the end of each day. I will be on my own throughout the day and I will even sleep in a completely separate town from my family but I will see them for about two hours each evening as I finish.

[Janny Anderson]

Jenny Anderson, on a previous run.
Photo courtesy Jenny Anderson.

You’ll be trying to average more than seventy-three kilometres per day. How many hours will you be running in an average day? How does that compare to long-distance runs you’ve done in the past?

In the past, I have mostly done ultra-races (50k to 100 miles); however, I accomplished the SB6K program in the summer of 2009, which entailed summiting forty of North Carolina’s 6,000-foot peaks some of which were off trail. This 280 mile (450.6 kilometre) endeavor was completed in less than a week with the equivalent amount of climbing as summiting Mt. Everest twice. We covered approximately forty miles (sixty-four kilometres) a day on some pretty mountainous terrain. We averaged about fifteen hours a day. I say “we” because I did this with two other female friends.

I anticipate covering seventy-five to eighty-three kilometres a day on the the Camino Francés (averaging eighty kilometres [fifty miles] a day). I hope to average about four miles (6.4 kilometres) an hour which would be about thirteen to sixteen hours a day depending on the degree of elevation. I will need to be very patient but steadfast.

You plan to carry a five-pound (2.3-kilogram) backpack. What will you take in it?

I will carry a five-pound pack and I have been training with five pounds since October. In fact, I haven’t run a step without it. I have been putting in 90 to 125 mile (144 to 201 kilometre) weeks with the pack. I will carry the Delorme GPS and SPOT check locator. I will carry my micro-spikes for the snowy and icy mountain passes. Additionally, I will carry a camera, lots of layers of clothing in case it gets cold or wet, as well as food and water.

Will you be blogging along the way?

I will send text messages using the Delorme SPOT check and locator. I can send these messages via satellite throughout the day to my friends and family at home. Additionally, my mom and stepdad will email and call home for me to give updates. My husband will update my blog and Facebook page daily.

You say on your blog: “My pilgrimage is nothing in comparison to the life and death journey others are facing daily around the world. I will run for them and their individual stories.”

Can you tell me a bit about the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and what made you decide to fundraise for them? How is the fundraising going?

When originally looking for “the cause” that I wanted to promote and bring to light, I thought of two things: 1) I want something or someone that will truly “move” me when the going gets particularly tough in Spain, and 2) I want to help an organization that has credibility financially and logistically.

There are a lot of organizations out there that do not utilize their funds efficiently and there are several charity watchdogs that pick up on this. I turned to the American Philanthropy Association when looking to find a worthwhile organization. Several charity watchdogs have given The IRC an “A+” (the highest rating) for efficiency and use of funds. Ninety percent of all their money goes directly to refugees.

The IRC has videos all over YouTube that express and depict the impact this incredible organization has had around the world. The IRC was started by Albert Einstein over seventy-five years ago and so it carries further credibility through its longevity.

Additionally, I love the fact that this organization helps those that are on very tough journeys. These people are enduring hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles to escape persecution and death.

They inspire me. They will be the ones that keep me going when I feel like I can’t take another step. To think of their endurance, courage, and spirit is the most moving and motivating thing I can imagine.

My fundraising goal is $2000. My campaign will end during the third week of March. I have $300 more to go and I have no doubt that I will reach my goal. $2000 will feed 400 refugee children for a month.

It’s a start.

[Update: Since writing this, Jenny announced that she’s already reached her fundraising goal.]

You wrote in your blog: “I must honestly say that I do have fear for the amount of pain I will endure. I have fear of how my emotions and perspective will alter as the suffering deepens and I run though very dark and lonely hours. Nonetheless, this is part of the journey. I would have it no other way. It will make the end that much more beautiful and worthwhile. Fear. Pain. Suffering. These are not the enemy. The enemy is using them as an excuse to not meet a goal or attempt a challenge.”

You’ve done some long runs before. How did you deal with the fear and pain then?

I have always been the type of person to subscribe to the philosophy that enduring life’s toughest moments is the only thing that truly builds character. Each difficult moment in my life has taught me the most significant lessons. I view challenges as stepping stones to great lessons and so I never run from them.

Endurance is the greatest gift I could pass on to my children. Enduring the difficult, the painful, the uncomfortable, and the impossible can be our saving grace. I think about this philosophy when times get tough.

Other things that get me through the lonely and dark moments are: 1) my abiding faith in God; 2) knowing that others are enduring a much tougher road than I so it is important to suck it up; and 3) “this is who I am and what I do.”

Is there anything else about the trip that you’d like to mention?

1) Support the IRC!

2) There is no such thing as impossible.

* * *

To learn more about Jenny—and follow her run after February 27—visit her blog, Jenny’s Journey.

You can learn more about the IRC at the International Rescue Committee website. If you’d like to make a donation through Jenny’s campaign, visit her iRESCUE page.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:37 pm
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High School Students Prepare for the Camino


[Sabrina and Adriana E.]

Sabrina E. and her twin sister Adriana are two of four Springfield High School students who will be walking the Camino Francés this summer.
Photo courtesy James March.

Springfield High School student Sabrina E. isn’t completely sure why she’s going to be walking the Camino Francés this summer, but she knows she’s going to get something out of the experience.

“I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be, but I feel like it’s going to be something good,” she tells me as we chat over Skype.

But she’s scared, too.

“It’s a large step, from being at home all summer long to being away from my mom for forty days,” she says.

I think the furthest I’ve gone without my mom was to Idaho, and that’s only eight hours away. So this is huge compared to that.

But that’s not going to stop her, or any of the three other students from Springfield, Oregon who are preparing to walk from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago or Finisterre (they’re not quite sure where they’ll finish) this summer with two teachers.

History teacher James March said he chose the four students—all girls—for the trip from their response to his questions.

[James March]

Springfield history teacher James March, during last summer's bike trip along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
Photo courtesy James March.

He would ask, “What are you doing this summer? Do you want to do a trip?”

“And they would say yes before they thought about it,” he says.

They said yes from a gut feeling…. That was my litmus test.

James is a veteran of the Pacific Crest Trail and other long hikes. After he began teaching at Springfield High School, he decided to involve students in his trips.

“I figured it was about time to share that experience with students, that long distance sort of ‘get to know yourself’ sort of trip,” he explains.

And so last summer, he and four students cycled 5,340 kilometres (3,318 miles) on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

As soon as he returned to school last autumn, students started asking about the next trip. James selected the four students, and gave them a choice: the Camino Francés, or the 88 Temple pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku, Japan.

Sabrina and the other three students researched the two pilgrimage routes. Even though James was pushing to go to Japan, they chose Spain.

Why the Camino Francés?

For Sabrina, looking at pictures helped her decide.

I think it honestly was … just the views of everything. And I’ve watched so many movies with Spain in it that I thought it’d be great just to actually see what was there.

She’s especially excited to see the cathedrals, as it’ll be a great experience to see the buildings she’s learned so much about.

[Deija]

Deija Z. (Grade 10).
Photo courtesy James March.

In a brochure the students are creating to give to friends and family, Grade 10 student Deija Z. writes that she’s always wanted to go to Europe.

“I know [the Camino] will be hard,” she continues, “but I am going to try my best.”

Auna G. writes in the same brochure that she dreams of travelling the world.

And as for the Camino: “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for me and I could not pass it up!”

The students—and their teachers—have been doing their research, and already have a good idea of what they’re preparing for.

Because of the timing of their holidays, they’ll have to walk in summer. At first, James was a little worried about the pilgrim crowds.

“I’ve done trips like this completely alone, where you don’t see people for three days,” he says.

And I know this is going to be a completely different experience. But I think it’ll be good, too. Because I think part of what we’ll all get is that cultural experience of staying at hostels and meeting people from all around the world. Having that sort of experience is something I’m looking forward to just for myself, not only for [the students].

James figures they’ll tackle the Pyrenees in a single day, as long as he’s sure they won’t hurt themselves.

“I think it’d be fun for them to get the idea of it physically right off the bat,” he says.

I think it’s kind of nice to [have] a big eye-opening experience on the first day. This is going to be our body and mind trip, and we’ll get the body thing done right away.

James outlines more of his philosophy as a teacher/chaperone on the trip in an e-mail he sends me after our chat. He aims, he writes, to have the students make the daily logistical decisions throughout their Camino.

I hope they are successful at it, but I also want them to screw up a bit and I’m perfectly fine letting them do so. Of course, if they are risking life and limb, I will offer my humble advice, but I want them to own this experience. Basically, I want the opposite of a strict itinerary, where they can follow their noses, rest when they feel appropriate, push when they feel good, and, like you said, stay in Santiago for a couple of days because they just want to.

I did the same thing [on the cycling trip] last year and if I think back, one of my favourite moments of the trip was realizing in the middle of nowhere Montana that I didn’t necessarily need to be there for them to successfully get home.

The pilgrim students and teachers have just solidified their plans, and there’ll be time for physical training later. The focus now is on fundraising.

[Auna]

Auna G. (Grade 10).
Photo courtesy James March.

The students are from what James describes as “a poor school, a poor district, a high-needs community.” The school district won’t be funding any of the trip.

So the prospective pilgrims will be asking friends and families for help, and are looking into bake sales and other fundraising opportunities.

James has also set up a project on the DonorsChoose.org website, where people around the world can pitch in to help buy the students’ backpacks.

“I wanted them to get something that was nice, and something to be proud of,” he explains.

There have been a number of donors so far, but there’s still US $480.45 to go. James says if they don’t quite reach the $745.45 goal, he’ll pitch in a few hundred dollars to make up the complete amount.

One of the reasons for the Camino trip is to represent Springfield High School.

Last year’s bike journey got the school positive press, James says.

We want to do something similar again, and keep showing that our school is doing really interesting and fun things. That’s the main motivating factor behind this.

“And the experience itself, pretty much,” Sabrina adds.

Just being able to get out there and not sit at home all summer long doing nothing. We’re actually going to do something worthwhile.

* * *

The students are going to blog about their journey, and have already started blogging about their preparations. Check out the Millers on the Way to learn what they’re up to.

You can learn more about their trip—and/or make a donation to help with their backpacks— at the DonorsChoose.org website.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:28 pm
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Camino Documentary Needs Pilgrims’ Help


[Interviewing pilgrims for The Camino Documentary]

A Camino Documentary crew interviews Hanns, Paul and Uschi in the Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

You could say The Camino Documentary was born in May 2008 in León.

Lydia Smith, tired from a day’s walking on the Camino Francés, was having a massage and telling the masseur about her life in the film industry.

He said, why not make a documentary about the Camino?

“And I [said], oh no, I can’t do that,” Lydia tells me over the phone, more than two years into the making of the documentary. “I didn’t really think … I could capture it. It was so sacred and beautiful. It felt like too big of a deal.”

It didn’t make sense for her to do it since it would be too hard to raise the money, she decided. She had, after all, only produced one film independently and had sworn never to do it again. Her other films had been contracted by companies that already had funding in place.

But back home in Portland, Oregon, Lydia found she couldn’t get the idea of a Camino documentary out of her mind. And the more she thought about it, she says, the more she realized this was what she was supposed to be doing.

I do value [the Camino] as so sacred, and respect it. I’m bilingual—I lived in Spain for six years—so that gave me a huge plus, being able to interview all the hospitaleros and the experts on the Camino. So I decided to do it after I got home.

She chose to trust that the Camino and its pilgrims would help her find funding, and set to work.

And a year after the conversation that started it all, she interviewed David Casado Medina, the masseur who suggested the documentary, about physical side of walking.

Returning to the Camino

Filming morning fog in the Pyrenees.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

Lydia went back to the Camino in spring 2009, this time as director of a documentary with a multi-national film crew in tow.

There were two main crews of four or more people that each kept track of about six pilgrims, and one cameraman who worked on his own. The pilgrims were given cell phones, but sometimes they weren’t sure which town they were in, so meeting up could be tricky.

Organizing and keeping track of everyone and everything was much more difficult than just walking the Camino, Lydia says.

[I had] the challenges of co-ordinating and being in charge of twelve people and trying to get free food and lodging, and not having very much money. It was really hard, and it made me really ache to be on the Camino myself.

She did get to walk part of the time, though. Her crew would usually find one of the pilgrims they were documenting in the morning, and walk with and interview the pilgrim. Then they would do the same thing with another pilgrim in the afternoon.

There were other ways that making the documentary reminded Lydia of walking the Camino herself.

I felt like everything was intensified on the Camino. When I was happy, I was super happy. When I was sad, I was super sad. And doing this film is like that.

And for Lydia, making the documentary, like walking the Camino, is all about the people she met along the way.

Filming Pilgrims

[Camino Documentary still]

A still from The Camino Documentary's trailer.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

So how did pilgrims react to the documentary crew?

“Most people were really into it,” Lydia says. Twelve pilgrims agreed to be part of the documentary, and only one person she asked said no.

Having been a pilgrim herself, Lydia was careful to let the pilgrims have unfilmed experiences. The crews didn’t follow every pilgrim every day.

And, Lydia says, being followed by the documentary crews enhanced some of the pilgrims’ Camino experience.

The two older guys, Jack and Wayne, they talked a lot about how much they appreciated [being filmed], because every couple of days we’d check in with them, and say, ‘What are you doing? How are you doing?’ It made it much more of a reflective experience. They were really thinking, ‘Okay, how is this really affecting me? What is happening?’

And the rest of the pilgrims who participated?

“I think all of them really liked being part of it for sure,” Lydia says. “That part I felt really good about.”

Hospitaleros and More

One advantage to filming, as opposed to walking, the Camino is that it gave Lydia an opportunity to have good conversations with a lot of the people who really make the Camino work.

She spoke with the hospitaleros and other Camino experts, who make up what she calls the film’s “chorus.” In the finished film, they will provide information that comments on and helps to explain the experiences of the (likely six) featured pilgrims.

Hospitaleros don’t always have time to chat with every pilgrim who passes through, but many of them spoke on film with Lydia. A lot of them, she said, have given up their lives in other parts of Spain to devote their lives to the Camino.

There’s the famous people on the Camino, Tomás from Manjarin and Jato [from Villafranca del Bierzo]. But the thing is there’s so many more people that really have the soul of the Camino in their heart, and nobody really knows that much about them.

The Film Crew on the Camino

[The Camino Documentary crew]

The Camino Documentary crew in front of the Santiago Cathedral.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

Lydia didn’t just interview people directly connected with the Camino. She also regularly interviewed her crew, and hopes to be able to produce a thirty-minute behind-the-scenes glimpse of what filming the Camino was like for them.

The crew, Lydia says, was made up of “really high-level professional people in the film industry” who agreed to a rate of just US $100 per day. Apart from Lydia, only one other crew member had walked the Camino, but the others either wanted to walk it, or just felt that the experience of being there would make up for the low wages.

Lydia says that walking the Camino and making a film about it are two entirely different experiences.

But [filming] it still touched people. You still get to touch some of what the Camino has to offer, [just] not in the same way.

Pedro Valenzuela, the director of photography, raved about the Camino after returning home to Chile. After hearing him talk about it and seeing the 23-minute version of the film, his wife left him with the kids and set off to Spain for her own two-week pilgrimage.

And as for the rest of the crew, Lydia says they got a lot out of it, too.

Most of them, they’ve said to me it was such a wonderful, amazing experience. And it was really important to me to try and create that for them.

[Camino Documentary director Lydia Smith and Cyrian]

Camino Documentary director Lydia Smith shows Cyrian, the youngest pilgrim the documentary makers followed, how the camera works.
Photo courtesy Future Educational Films, Inc.

Documentary Vision

When Lydia got home from her Camino, she had the same problem as many of us the rest of us: there’s no way to really explain the experience to friends and family. They just don’t get it.

But Lydia says The Camino Documentary has already helped pilgrims in that respect.

What people have told me is now with the [documentary] trailer, it’s something people can show, and say, ‘This is kind of what it’s like.’ You know that whole thing of people being so much kinder and generous with each other. It’s so hard to describe. But my intention is to be able to have a film that pilgrims can say to their family, ‘Look at this. This is what I experienced.’

Even more important for Lydia is what she hopes the documentary, which shows people of a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, says about living a life.

We each have to follow our own way, and have the courage to do that. Because it’s not always the easiest road. … And so my intention is really to create a film that inspires people to follow their hearts, and to really do what they feel their life’s purpose is.

And also my intention with this film is to really show that we each can do things in our own way. And just because you have a different way of doing something doesn’t make your way right or my way wrong or vice versa. [We need to] really learn to respect each other’s way of doing things, and not have to insist that we all do things the same way.

The Struggle for Funding

There are currently two versions of the film: the six-minute trailer you can see on the website, and a 23-minute version. But Lydia is struggling to raise enough money to produce a complete one-hour documentary.

The day I talk with her, she’s feeling discouraged. She’s just found out that the large grant she was really hoping for hasn’t come through.

Grant-wise, she explains, the project is in a funding hole. Foundations generally want to support documentaries on social issues, while corporations don’t want to be involved in anything that has spiritual elements.

And so Lydia sold her house back at the beginning of the project and has been working without pay for over two years. What funding there’s been has come from what she and her business partner have contributed, a few small grants, fundraising events, and many individual contributions.

About a dozen people are working for free, and just two people get paid—at a minimal $10 per hour.

There’s great footage, Lydia says, and a lot of people are really enthusiastic about the project. It’s the financial side that’s been causing the problems.

I do feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s really awakened in me my purpose. I guess I just never dreamed it was going to be this hard.

The struggle reminds her of Annie, one of the pilgrims she followed on the Camino.

She had all these fears of what was going to be hard for her. And what [she thought would be] hard turned out to be easy, and what she thought was going to be easy was hard.

Lydia herself didn’t have too many physical difficulties, but suffered at night, listening to the snoring in dorm rooms.

“So I think we all have different challenges,” she says.

For me, making the film itself has not been [the challenge]—I have great material. It’s just getting the money so I can pay people to help me put it together [that] has been the challenge.

Looking to Pilgrims for Help

[The Camino Documentary Cover]

The cover of The Camino Documentary's 23-minute fundraising trailer DVD.
Designed by Deb Jones of Garris Jones Design.

The documentary has gone as far as it has, Lydia says, in large part because of pilgrims’ contributions.

There’s the German pilgrim who decided the six-minute trailer needed German subtitles, and volunteered to do the translation himself.

There’s the Mexican woman living in Spain who is determined to help raise funds.

And there are many more pilgrims who have volunteered their time to transcribe and translate footage.

“It’s people and fellow pilgrims that really give me the inspiration to go on,” Lydia says.

Because there’s times when I feel like I just can’t keep doing this. But it’s other people, it’s the pilgrims that give me the encouragement to keep moving forward.

Now, Lydia is asking for help in a more structured way. Yesterday, she and her team launched the Power of One campaign to ask for donations.

Anyone can donate any amount, and different levels of donation will have different benefits. (Check out The Camino Documentary‘s website for complete information.)

For example, for a US $25 donation, donors will get instant access to the 23-minute film, which introduces the pilgrims’ stories, and has some gorgeous Camino footage. $50 or more will let donors see the completed film upon its release.

Five percent of the money raised will be “given back” to the Camino, half of that to an albergue or other Camino non-profit, and half, through a video contest, to a pilgrim who wouldn’t otherwise be able to walk the Camino.

“If I can get 10,000 people to donate,” Lydia says, “then I’ll be able to make a film.”

Money Matters

Lydia figures she needs US $50,000 to $75,000 to get to a rough cut of a 60-minute documentary—and that’s with her continuing to work for free.

At the rough cut point, it will be basically a watchable film, but will still need work, like colour correction and proper sound. But with a nearly completed film, it should be easier to find a distributor who will pay for the film to be finished.

Then, Lydia hopes, the film will be available on DVD, and shown on various TV stations around the world.

Any money the film makes after its release will go toward paying the people who have been working for free, and then paying the film crew “a living wage, which [the amount they were paid] wasn’t.”

Learn More or Donate

Visit The Camino Documentary‘s website to learn more, watch the six-minute trailer, and/or donate to the project.

You can also check out the Facebook page. Its many comments from pilgrims attest to the immense support the documentary has already received. And by “liking” the page, you can help Lydia show potential backers that lots of people (myself definitely included) are eager to see the finished film.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 9:45 pm
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A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide to the Camino for an Appalachian Trail Hiker (by Gerald Kelly)


And now for something completely different. I came across a post on a Camino forum the other day and couldn’t stop laughing. I contacted the author, Gerald Kelly, and he kindly gave me permission to post it here, in slightly edited form.

[Gerald Kelly]

Gerald Kelly, the author of this piece, at Finisterre (kilometre zero).
Photo courtesy Gerald Kelly.

I haven’t walked the Appalachian Trail but I have read that book by Bill Bryson, so I feel qualified to comment on the differences between the Camino de Santiago and the Appalachian Trail.

The Camino is very different from the Appalachian Trail, and a lot easier. However, I wouldn’t like you to be lulled into a false sense of security, so I’ve put together this short list of “Camino Dangers” which I hope you and all new pilgrims will study with care.

Bears

There are no bears on the Camino however you have to be constantly on the watch out for impromptu bear hugs! (Especially from Lederhosen-clad Bavarians.)
 

Food

You don’t need to carry much food on the Camino. In fact you can spend your whole time stuffing your face with delicious pinchos/tapas and all the other regional delicacies you find along the way, to such an extent that putting on weight is a real danger. Think of the embarrassment if you went home with the dreaded “Camino paunch.” (Quite apart from the fact that your family, friends, workmates will find it hard to believe that you walked 700 kilometres and put on 10 kilograms!)

Liquid Refreshment

[Beer sign]

A beer advertisement with the distance to Santiago.

You don’t need to carry much water since “liquid refreshment” is readily available in every Camino village. In fact dying of thirst is not something you need to worry about at all.

Dying of alcohol poisoning is another kettle of fish. If you’re not careful and don’t set reasonable limits (for reference mine are: no beer before 10 a.m. and no more than one bottle of wine with dinner) you could end up with your Camino turning into a drunken fiasco with village blurring into village and one sacred relic indistinguishable from another.

I’ve seen these sorry creatures with my own eyes staggering into Santiago disorientated and bedraggled, parched lips mouthing the words “¿A que hora abren los bares?” Or sneaking out of Mass half way through because the smell of the alter wine is driving them demented.

Women

Finally. If you are a single gentleman (and I’m assuming here that you are indeed a gentleman) you may skip this section. Otherwise it’s best that you be warned: the Camino Francés (especially in summer) is crawling with beautiful women.

Literally crawling with them. At every turn of the road, behind every bush, in every confessional. There will be times when your head will be spinning and all thoughts of the sacred will be far away.

And as if that wasn’t enough, let me conclude by saying that the scorching heat of the Spanish plains isn’t a climate conducive to “modest attire.” You must resist with all your forbearing because, as my maths teacher from school used to say as he flicked his leather strap above our cowering heads, “the flesh is weak, the flesh is weak!”

So, you have been warned!

The Camino may not have grizzlies or vipers or hornets nests but its dangers are many and varied, and many’s the pilgrim has fallen foul to them down the centuries.

* * *

Gerald Kelly is the author of the Camino Guide, a free on-line guide to several Camino de Santiago routes: the Camino Francés, the Via de la Plata, and the Camino Aragonés. Visit the Camino Guide website at www.CaminoGuide.net.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:30 pm
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Starting the Camino Francés a Few Days Before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port


[Three days before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Chemin du Puy]

Three days before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Chemin du Puy.

I like to encourage everyone who’s planning to start walking in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to think about starting a few days earlier. In fact, I may occasionally be a little obsessive on this point.

I admit to being somewhat biased. I walked to Santiago from Le Puy-en-Velay, and for various reasons, walking through Basque country in the the Pyrenees foothills was one of my favourite parts of the journey.

But there are good reasons beyond my own wonderful experiences—if you can afford the time and money—to walk in France for a few days before you arrive in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

 

  1. Practice: You can get used to days full of walking in the foothills before you cross the Pyrenees—and can take it in relatively small stages, if you like.
  2. France: You can experience a wonderful part of France—and French food—before getting to Spain. (See my comparison of walking in the two countries.)
  3. A relatively luxurious start: You can start your walking in a bit more luxury than you tend to find in Spain, since the budget food and accommodation in France is generally more luxurious (although, admittedly, more expensive).
  4. Walking through the foothills: Walking up to the Pyrenees, knowing you’re going to walk over them, is a wonderful experience. I’ll never forget a little old Basque woman pointing out Honto to me the day before I got to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and telling me I’d walk through there the following day.
[Near Ostabat]

A cross near Ostabat. See my Leaping Over Small Hills post for more photos from that day.

The Potential Downside

If you’re seriously limited by time or money, this option isn’t for you. It obviously adds a few days to your trip, and eating and sleeping in France is more expensive than in Spain.

Where to Start

Three of the four main routes of the Chemin de Saint-Jacques come together in Ostabat, a day’s walk before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, so you could start on any of these: the route from Paris/Tours, the Voie de Vézelay, or the Chemin du Puy.

I can only speak for the Chemin du Puy, where there are no major towns within several days’ walk of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, so getting to where you want to start using public transportation could be a little tricky. However, check out this thread on the Camino de Santiago Forum for a suggestion by bjorgts on where to start if you want to walk four days on the Chemin du Puy before Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

If anyone else has any experiences or suggestions, please share them in the comments.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 1:17 pm
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Chemin to Camino Culture Shock


[Saint-Jean Sign]

A sign that told me I was a few hours from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.

I went out for a walk today and just wanted to keep walking. I suppose I could have done it, too, but eventually I would have had to turn around. Walking around home is fine—I try to do it every day—but it’s not exactly the same as being on the Camino.

So I was feeling a little melancholy as I headed home, and I guess that’s why I started thinking about the transition between walking the Chemin du Puy in France and the Camino Francés in Spain. Mentally, it ended up being one of the most difficult parts of my journey.

Before I started walking, I basically saw the Chemin du Puy as an extension of the Camino Francés, which I’d read so much about I thought of as the real Camino. I walked from Le Puy because the 780 or so kilometres from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port didn’t seem like far enough.

Of course, all that had changed by the time I actually reached Spain. After almost six weeks in France, I appreciated the Chemin in its own right.

My last few days in France were particularly wonderful. I met some great people, and began, more or less, to leap small hills in a single bound. But I was still excited to reach Saint-Jean. I didn’t see it as the real start of my Camino any more, but I knew it would mark the beginning of something new.

What I’d forgotten was how difficult transitions can be. On the Chemin du Puy by the end of September, the fairly large number of walkers had slowed to a trickle. But crossing the Pyrenees, I was suddenly surrounded by pilgrim hordes, so many that it was hard to talk to any one person.

And there were so many other contrasts between the Chemin in France and the Camino in Spain. In retrospect, I can’t say I preferred one of the other, but rather enjoyed them both—sometimes in different ways. But for a few days after starting the Camino Francés, I really missed France.

I missed the cleanliness and the beautiful gîtes d’étapes that didn’t make me sleep right next to strangers. I missed the open churches where I used to stop and think. I missed the red and white waymarks of the GR-65 and rather resented the yellow arrows that had replaced them.

And it seemed like I had just grown used to speaking French when I had to make the transition to Spanish. My second night in Spain, I wrote:

My speaking is a mess. I try to speak Spanish, I know I know the words, but French comes out. I hadn’t realized how … not fluent, but at least how used to French I’d become…. I speak in this weird mélange that more or less works for now, but I have to train myself to automatically say “gracias” and “si” instead of “merci” and “oui.”

At the time, I’d also lost track of all my Chemin friends (I did catch up to some of them just after Pamplona), and I missed them. On most of the Chemin du Puy, I’d shared a common background with the other walkers, even if we’d never met. Now, I had no one to talk to about past experiences. I couldn’t say, “The Pyrenees weren’t as bad as the road out of Conques,” to the new pilgrims without sounding arrogant and irritating.

It was also strange to be at a different stage of my Camino than most of the people around me. I was at the halfway point, and beginning to really think about the experience and what it had meant so far. Everyone else was just starting out. It was such a relief to have someone to talk to about all this when a Frenchwoman I’d met once on Chemin du Puy walked into the refuge at Zubiri.

Of course, I soon got used to the Camino in Spain, and learned to love it—and its yellow arrows—too. I made more friends, most of whom had started in Saint-Jean, and we soon had a Camino history in common, too.

The biggest culture shock of all came when the Camino ended. The transition from France to Spain was from one part of the Camino to another, but going home meant returning to another world.


Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 3:51 pm
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