Tag Archives: Camino Francés

Walking with a Donkey: An Interview with Roland Garin

[Roland Garin and Praline]

Roland Garin and Praline. Photo courtesy Roland Garin.

I photographed a donkey in Santiago’s pilgrim office when I was there at the end of May. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Sarah De Martín (thanks, Sarah!), I discovered that the donkey was named Praline. She walked some 1,900 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago—from her home in France to Finisterre—with Roland Garin.

Roland was kind enough to answer my questions about walking with Praline. Thanks also to Aude Verbeke, a friend from my first Camino, for editing my translation from the French. (Ici est la version française.)

Anna-Marie: Was this your first time walking the Camino?

Roland: I walked previously on the Camino de Santiago from Lyon to Le Puy to train myself. The first time was with two donkeys. Praline was accompanied by her friend Amandin. The second time with Praline alone, and then we did the GR-70. It’s also called “The Stevenson” in memory of Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer, the author of the adventure novel Treasure Island.

Where did you begin your walk?

We left from Saint-Pierre-la-Palud, a village of 2,500. It’s 25 kilometres from Lyon, in a region that we call here “les monts du Lyonnais.” We took the following route: Saint Pierre to Le Puy to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela to Muxia to Fisterra. It was around 1,900 kilometres in 77 days of walking.

Why did you decide to walk with Praline?

Why with Praline? That’s a good question! Some people go alone, with a friend, with their wife…. Me, I like donkeys. (There are four at my house.) Praline is my walking partner and since we’ve been walking together we’ve made a good couple. Between us there is a complicity and an affection that only donkey owners can understand.

[Roland Garin and Praline]

Roland Garin and Praline. Photo courtesy Roland Garin.

What was the best part of walking with a donkey?

As I told you already, when there’s complicity between the man and the animal, it’s a true pleasure. Praline regulates the walk: it’s not the man who guides the donkey! The man walks in the footsteps of the donkey. I must confess that I’m lucky to have an exceptional animal. I talk to her all day and even if some people are skeptical about this, I know she listens and understands every word … to the right … to the left … straight ahead. Sometimes she follows the marks on the way before I have the time to tell her! I am very lucky.

The worst part?

There’s no worst part with a donkey! It’s a question of education … the donkey is a very intelligent animal. Some say that it’s one of the most intelligent species of animal in the world. Unlike a horse, you don’t train a donkey: you educate him.

All is complicity, sweetness and patience … you don’t impose your will on a donkey! Some say that the donkey is stubborn. That’s not true; he thinks … he analyzes the road, the danger, the sounds. When a donkey doesn’t want to advance, it’s up to the man to understand why. And when the man becomes as intelligent as the donkey, all goes well!

Where did Praline sleep?

At night I slept in a tent and Praline slept beside it. Donkeys sleep very little and they use the night to eat. Praline felt secure to know that I was next to her. Sometimes I slept in gîtes d’étapes … she was very unhappy and that caused problems because she didn’t stop braying all night. The other pilgrims didn’t always appreciate that!

Did she need special food while walking?

Above all, don’t supplement a donkey’s diet. The donkey is a rustic animal; he is happy with grass and hay. And fresh water … and, as a reward for working all day, a fruit or a crust of stale bread. If you really want to make him happy, a handful of crushed barley…. But he himself needs to carry it … so….

Did you have any difficulties walking through cities?

Walking in a city isn’t always easy. The man with a steering wheel in his hands thinks he’s master of the world, so he often becomes the worst of the boors and cretins. I’ve never had a problem going through big cities (Pamplona, Burgos, Léon and Santiago). Praline is used to cars and they don’t bother her.

I was especially afraid of being stopped by the Guardia Civil, because some guides specified that donkeys and horses were forbidden to pass through cities. But I never had any problems. On the contrary, representatives of the police force made me feel very welcome. I even took some photos with them. The biggest difficulty was crossing certain metal bridges. Praline didn’t want to! So we had to avoid them … and all went well.

The most dangerous thing wasn’t the cities, it was when we had to walk along national roads with heavy traffic. The trucks were fast and made a lot of noise, so any animal could have been scared…. I had to stay close to Praline to give her confidence. The worst is when people honk their horns … but I can’t blame them: it comes from a good sentiment. They want to say hello to us.

How far did you walk each day?

That depended on the road, on the place: we walked better in the forests than in the cities. It also depended on the altitude of the stage. As I told you already, it’s not the master who commands; it’s the donkey who controls the speed on the path. It depends on whether the road is rugged or easy. We did some 20-kilometre stages, but also some stages of almost 40 kilometres. But our average walking was 25 kilometres per day.

Do you have a favourite story about Praline on the Camino?


Praline joins the pilgrim throngs outside the pilgrims' office in Santiago de Compostela.

There are hundreds of stories about Praline. In fact, she’s started to write her memoirs…. The book should be 600 pages! We work every day to write this work. Praline dictates her impressions to me and I transcribe them on the keyboard. It’s not fast, because she is very, very demanding and often the work from Monday goes in the garbage on Tuesday. But we have done the Camino together … so we also write together.

The most fantastic story is that not a single day went by in Spain without someone wanting to buy Praline from me. Someone even tried to steal her! Each time someone asked me “Se vende? se vende?” I answered no, obviously. But the people insisted, so I said: “Okay, 30,000 euros … 50,000 euros with the equipment.” The exorbitant price discouraged the buyers. But I confess I would have been very annoyed if someone had accepted, because I wouldn’t be separated from my Praline for all the gold in the world.

Where is Praline now? Does she live with you?

Praline is in her meadow, next to the house in the village of Saint-Pierre-la-Palud. She is with Cadine, Florentine and Kakao. She rests, waiting to go out on another journey … maybe at the end of the month of September we’ll go on a fifteen-day hike in the centre of France. Sometimes on Sundays, we go on walks through villages, and meet people who are interested in the Camino de Santiago. We speak of the association “Le Chemin Pour Tous” (The Camino for All) which takes some people with disabilities to Santiago every year.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Other things that I want to talk about…. I’m going to write about them mainly so that others may benefit from my experience on the Camino. I want to tell them about the beauty, the hazards, the fantastic events but also, because nothing should be concealed, about the hardships of the road.

It’s the road of stars … but you know, both roses and brambles have thorns.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 12:33 pm
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The Codex Calixtinus—Stolen

[Codex Calixtinus]

Part of a page from the Codex Calixtinus. Photo is in the public domain.

The Codex Calixtinus is a twelfth-century illuminated (illustrated) manuscript with a collection of works related to Saint James and the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It includes sermons, music, stories about miracles performed by Saint James, and the earliest guidebook to the pilgrimage routes from France.

The best-conserved version of the manuscript (not the only copy), was kept at the Santiago Cathedral.

It’s not there any more. Its absence was first noticed on July 5, 2011, but it may have been stolen any time in the previous week. The manuscript, described as “priceless,” was not insured, since the insurance cost had been estimated at six million euros.

You can read more about the robbery in the Guardian and The Olive Press. There’s also a more recent article from El Correo Gallego in Spanish, that describes how researchers generally used a photographic reproduction of the text, and only consulted the original when they couldn’t make out a subtle but historically and linguistically important detail.

To learn more about the manuscript itself, there’s a helpful Wikipedia article. You can also read the Pilgrim’s Guide section of the manuscript on-line.

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 2:48 pm
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This Week in Pilgrimage: The Final (For Now) Edition

[Eau potable on the Chemin du Puy]

Photo of the Week
This looks rather spring-y, but I actually took it in late summer, in Rochegude on the Chemin du Puy.

-it’s april(yes,april;my darling)it’s spring!
—e. e. cummings

Okay, so it’s not April. And it’s not actually spring here, either. The only leaves on the trees are dead ones from last year and there’s no sign of the season’s other harbingers: road construction crews and robins.

But it’s coming. It felt positively warm on Wednesday, without even a hint of winter chill.

Apparently if I hit just the right pace, I can keep up with spring all the way from Sevilla to Santiago. Though since I have no intention of walking thirty kilometres per day (just over twenty is more my style), summer is likely to just barely beat me to Galicia.

As of next week I’m going to be scaling down to two posts per week, with no weekly summary. I just don’t have time: I have approximately one million (give or take a few hundred thousand) things to do before I leave in less than a month (!).

But I will still post interesting links to the Pilgrim Roads Facebook page and will try to do more on Twitter, so please do join me there.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish is a long way from perfect.

  • The Roman Vía de la Plata is going to be unburied and restored where it passes through Aldeanueva del Camino in the province of Cáceres. Once the project begins, it’ll take about fourteen months to finish.
  • The first guidebook to the Camino de Inviero was recently published. Apparently there’s a serious lack of signage and albergues on the route. .
  • Representatives of seven municipalities in the province of Málaga recently visited Galicia. They hope to import some of the Camino Francés infrastructure to their branch of the Camino Mozárabe.
  • An old pilgrim hospital (lodging house) in Undués de Lerda on the Camino Aragonés is going to be restored and converted into an albergue and museum.
  • The board of directors of Abraham’s Path/Masar Ibrahim al Khalil is currently walking the entire Palestinian section of the route. You can follow along (they have tons of wonderful photos) on their blog and/or Facebook.
  • The Camino Documentary is holding a benefit in San Francisco on March 14, and is looking for pilgrims in that area to help out.
  • Robert Ward (author of All the Good Pilgrims) has started blogging about his reconnaissance trip along the Via Francigena. He wasn’t actually walking—he hopes to do that later this year—but he has some great stories. You can also keep track of what he’s up to on his brand new Facebook page.
  • The Confraternity of Pilgrims to Jerusalem, which meets on Facebook, has been busy lately. If you’re thinking about a walking trip to Jerusalem, it’s a great place to learn more about the trip.
  • Five municipalities in Castilla y León are asking for a million euros to improve the Camino in their area in a number of ways in order to attract more tourists. .
  • Two Spanish journalists recently walked the Camino Francés with a donkey. The story is in Spanish, but you can get the gist of it through an on-line translator. There’s even a blog, written from the donkey’s perspective.

Ultreïa, everyone, and I hope you all have wonderful weekends!

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 4:37 pm
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This Week in Pilgrimage: The Way (Movie) is Coming to Theatres

[O Cebreiro]

Photo of the Week
The gorgeous view from O Cebreiro when I was there in November 2008.
Submit your photo for Photo of the Week.

This week … it’s been cold out, and I haven’t been walking much. You’d never guess I grew up in Winnipeg, which is renowned in Canada for its -40 degree weather.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish is a long way from perfect.

  • The Way, that Martin Sheen/Emilio Estevez movie that’s set on the Camino Francés, will be out in cinemas in the UK, Ireland and Malta on April 15, and in the USA on September 30. (via Little Green Tracs)
  • A new albergue has just opened on the Camino de Madrid in the Peña Sacra hermitage in Manzanares El Real. The hermitage is two kilometres from the city centre.
  • A national ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) committee has expressed serious concern about the way Oviedo is failing to protect its heritage buildings. It seems that if the situation doesn’t improve, the Camino del Norte might fail to get UNESCO status as a World Heritage Site.
  • The restoration of the monastery at San Juan de Ortega will begin this summer. The monastery will be turned into a cultural centre and the pilgrims’ albergue will be improved. The work should be finished by 2013.
  • The sanctuary of the Virgin de la Barca in Muxía, has been deteriorating, at least partly because of sea water. However, it’s soon going to be restored at a cost of close to half a million euros. Another church in Muxía, the Moraime Church, also needs urgent restoration work, not for the building itself, but for its murals.
  • The City of Burgos plans to build a rest area for pilgrims. The project will include cleaning and providing lights for a pilgrim tunnel that passes under a railway line, a fountain with a place to wash feet, synthetic rubber pavement that will be nice for pilgrim feet, a bench, a table, a canopy for shade, and a bicycle parking area.
  • The new iPilgrim Podcast has two episodes out already. So far, it’s provided a lot of great basic Camino information, and its founders plan to cover a lot more ground.
  • An exhibition in Talavera, Spain, aims to bring the medieval Camino de Santiago to life.
  • The Asociación de Amigos del Camino de Santiago en Ávila is running a writing contest. Participants write (fictional) letters on Camino-related subjects—in Spanish, of course.

Pilgrim Roads

Coming up: Wayne Emde on the 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan.

March is almost here, and I’m off to Spain in early April. I haven’t figured this out yet, but I might be scaling this blog back over the next month, as I have a bunch of things to do pre-Vía de la Plata.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll leave you with a discussion on The Way (the movie).

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 11:00 am
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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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This Week in Pilgrimage: A Pilgrim Blessing in Seville


Photo of the Week
Paddy Burke took this photo at Clavijo, which he describes as 'a short steep cycle south of Logroño.' Santiago Matamoros is said to have led the Christian troops against a Muslim army at the Battle of Clavijo, which was supposedly fought in 844. Historians now doubt the battle actually occurred.
Submit your photo for Photo of the Week.

This week … I’m breaking in my hiking boots. Whether the boots will adapt to my feet or my feet will adapt to the boots is still an open question.

In the meantime, there’s more news.

The usual disclaimer: I’ve done the best I can to ensure accuracy, but a lot of this information comes from Spanish sites and my Spanish is a long way from perfect.

Pilgrimage Bits and Pieces

  • Pilgrims starting the Vía de la Plata in Seville will now have a chance to receive a blessing before they (or rather, we!) set out. If there are pilgrims at the 8:30 a.m. mass in the Capilla Mayor of the Seville cathedral, they will be given a special blessing.
  • In Yesa reservoir news, it seems the president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Spain agrees with the Camino groups that asked UNESCO to include the Camino on its World Heritage in Danger list, and opposes the growth of the reservoir. She also says that any new Camino Aragonés route would have to be an authentic historical route.
  • A workshop on pilgrimage studies begins today. The two-day workshop will involve scholars from more than thirty American and Canadian universities that are putting together a consortium that will give students a chance to participate in summer pilgrimage studies seminars in Santiago de Compostela.
  • The Ministry for Rural affairs recently burned a stretch of forest along the Vía de la Plata in the province of Ourense. A spokesperson for the ministry says this is meant to prevent forest fires. Environmental groups and forestry workers are unhappy, as there are protected species in the area and forest fires lead to erosion, river pollution, and other problems.
  • The webcam at the Fuente del Vino at the Irache Monastery is working again. (via falcon269)
  • Apparently, in the latest issue of the Spanish pilgrim magazine Camino de Santiago Revista Peregrina, Antón Pombo looks at whether the Camino might succumb to a tourist exploitation that doesn’t respect pilgrim values. This would seem to be part of a continuing Camino discussion in Spain that I wish I could explain, but really don’t understand well enough.
  • The American high school students I wrote about last month got enough donations to buy new backpacks, and are now blogging about their preparations. Be sure to check out Sabrina’s hilarious post about their first hike. The students will be updating the blog regularly when they start walking the Camino in June.
  • A new (Spanish) book, Las cocinas del camino (The Kitchens of the Camino), provides a gastronomic overview of many different Camino routes in Spain. Judging by the photo, this looks like the sort of big, beautiful book you wouldn’t want to carry in your backpack, but if food is important to you—and you can read Spanish—it could help you plan what to eat where.
  • The Camino Documentary will be holding a benefit and screening of the 23-minute trailer this Sunday in Washington, DC. Everyone is welcome.
  • Cycling from St. Petersburg, Russia to Santiago de Compostela is apparently “a dream for many.” And French groups are, according to the article, slowly making this feat possible.
  • The town council of Nájera is hoping to make some improvements to the town’s historic centre, including a new fountain for the Plaza de San Miguel.

Pilgrim Roads

I promised you history last week and didn’t deliver—I’m sorry. It’ll be coming soon.

Next week, I’ll have an interview with Jenny Anderson, who will soon attempt to break a World Speed Record by running the Camino Francés from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in fewer than twelve days.

Jenny writes:

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.”

Posted by Anna-Marie Krahn at 1:57 pm
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