A Travellerspoint blog

An idea of the road that I will be walking next week!

Only one week away ----

The path from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela
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Looking at the first day's walk in profile, I can see why those who started in Saint Jean Pied de Port, on the 'wrong' side of the Pyrenees, rather than in Roncesvalles from where the worst uphill is behind you, feel a little proud and special!

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Posted by Lalinde 07:37 Comments (0)

On being prepared : The devil is in the detail

1. ………and the train ticket to Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port, my starting block, is booked, bought and paid for. C’est parti

-17 °C

The dye is cast and the numbers read 9 and 2 and the big red cross is noted on my calendar – last night I bought my train ticket to Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port online. It was actually quite a dramatic little moment in the build-up to the pilgrimage to which I am now completed committed. I have bought hundreds of plane and train tickets on the internet over the last twenty years; tickets that took me around the world to destinations that were sometimes exotic, sometimes hum-drum, where journeys of adventure or discovery –or duty and work awaited me, where I thrilled at the anticipation of meeting people, or dreaded the confrontation with those I would rather not have crossed the paths of my life. We don’t even think twice anymore about it: open the website, look for the cheapest (and not necessarily the most convenient!) fare and route, type in our details, our credit card number, note the date on our on-line calendar , and voila! -- we then forget about it until a day or two before the journey when we have to pack and get ready.

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So it was interesting for me to find that my fingers actually hovered over the keys before committing to the letters that spelled out the date and time and place of departure and desired destination. I first did it all in my usual rushed, impulsive and haphazard way – continuing on to page two and then page three to fill in the payment details. Then, suddenly, as a stillness, a calmness descended around me, I slowed down and reflected. The mood changed. I felt the gravitas of the moment. I was about to click on the point of no return. Even though I had been training walking for the last two months, even though I have been reading and doing research like I have not done for any project for a very long time, even though I have spent days looking for and buying everything I need for the walk, and a whole day of packing, unpacking, packing and weighing my rucksack, even though my route is planned and my calendar blocked out for the next two months, clicking on the last Suivant> on the last page of the process in buying a single, one-way, €31,30 train ticket from Bergerac (24) to Saint Jean Pied de Port (64), caused me a full moment of hesitation. It was almost as if the train ticket was the final proof of commitment, the point of no return --- and that for a second class, two-stop-and-change train ticket, and one that is changeable and refundable to boot!

BERGERAC - ST JEAN PIED DE PORT 1 passager 31.30 €
Aller : 11h29 - BERGERAC
12h45 - 12h45> 13h14 via BORDEAUX ST JEAN
65749 2e classe Sans réservation
13h14 - BORDEAUX ST JEAN
14h54 - 14h54> 15h06 via BAYONNE
08515 2e classe Non fumeur Place(s) assise(s)
15h06 - BAYONNE
16h19 - 16h19> Null via ST JEAN PIED DE PORT
67335 2e classe Sans réservation
Samedi 09 Février
1e Passager (26 à 59 ans) Tarif normal Billet échangeable et remboursable soumis à conditions.
Loisir Service d'échange et de remboursement gratuit jusqu'à la veille du départ, avec retenue de 10€ le jour du départ, non échangeable et non remboursable après départ.
Voiture 15 - Place 25 Salle basse - Fenêtre - Duo côte à côte
Tarif normal Billet échangeable et remboursable soumis à conditions.

But – it is done --- as I said, the dye is cast. I leave on Saturday 9 February 2008 from Bergerac and arrive in Saint Jean-Pied-de-Port at 4:20 in the afternoon. Because it is so late in the day, I have decided to spend a full day to give myself enough time to look around, drink in the atmosphere, pick up my Pilgrim Passport, and make doubly sure that I am well acquainted with Napoleon’s Route, the way across the Pyrenees which I will be walking, starting Monday 11 February. carte-deta..an-port.gif

Posted by Lalinde 03:27 Comments (0)

Starting to count the sleeps .....

(the ones that are left in a comfortable bed!!) and still looking for a 'hook' for my book about the Camino.........


Another day of reading about another thousand people’s experiences on the Camino…..
I know – not quite a thousand – but the lists of books and the entries on the internet do seem endless.

A few websites brighten up my day with their weird and wonderful translations from every language imaginable -- such as " after all of these years it [the website -sic] developed, includings all the importants informations to the pilgrims who wishes to cross the way by feet, by contributions of a great number of pilgrims that assimilated the spirit of the Camino de Santiago: "helping each others", --- or the Confraternity of St James who inform their readers that "The office computer, stolen during the night of 11-12 January 2008, has now been replaced, and e-mails should be reaching us again. "

There are many sites and blogs with excellent hints and tips, but after conscientiously studying these and memorising such life saving important bits as

" 1. Cemeteries in France are not kept locked, and nearly all have a tap of drinking water near the gate (in case anyone is overcome during a funeral). Spanish cemeteries are kept locked, and probably don't have a water supply anyway. (truly helpful, that one!)

2. Make your broad-brimmed hat a fabric one which you can dunk in streams: there's nothing to beat the impromptu shower this gives you. (At temperatures of minus freezing? I don't think so, but thanks!)

3. Chuck your laundry into the shower-base as you undress, then trample on it while you shampoo and soap. It will be half-washed by the time you emerge. (Has this man ever looked down at the shower-base of a public shower? Yuck!)

4. If you're cooking for yourself, and find it difficult to shop for one, look out for what previous pilgrims have left in the store cupboard, and leave behind for later comers what you can't carry away. (Reminds me of a reluctantly single male friend of mine who looks for a shopping trolley at the super market that has a grocery list in it that had been left behind. He had been told to always have a grocery list when he goes shopping, but cannot be bothered to write one, so he buys his groceries off other shopping people's lists! Make for interesting purchases.)

5. If you're walking westwards on a busy road early in the morning, remember that the on-coming drivers have the rising sun in their eyes and may find it hard to see you: take extra care. " and so on and so on, I was soon reminded of the days before my first child was born and I was bombarded by well-meaning friends and family members who came laden with books of every shape and size pontificating on how the baby should be washed, fed, clothed, spoken to, sung to, carried.......... I very quickly realised that I could choose to go mad with the overload of conflicting information and make a miserable mess of raising my new-born, or I could do what all the strong and wise women in my family who came before me did, and follow my natural instinct.

And then, every now and then I come across a book or an internet entry that keeps me mesmerised for hours – I want to read every sentence on every page and learn what I can from their experience. Beautiful descriptions of the route, funny little stories about people they met along the way, experiences in the refuges, spiritual awakenings along the route.

One such discovery I made that had me stop in my tracks for a few quiet moments today was the writing of another woman who had walked the Way on her own, Susan Kenney -- in particular it was the lovely little story she had picked up along the way about picking up stones and putting them on the cairns on the side of the road, that appealed to me. You see, I am such a stone collector myself -- and the thought has fleetingly crossed my mind a (ridiculous) number of times, leaving a niggling little reminder every time, that I would have to address the potentially 'heavy' problem and make a decision before I leave on how I am going to discipline myself and not succumb to this (weight collecting) compulsive habit of mine. I loved her little story and will take it with me, because it means I can indulge in my weakness, but make it count for all those very special people in my life who will be with me in spirit on my journey. -- Have a look at the story, and tell me if you agree that it is lovely --

Stone by Stone

The next day I left in the stillness of the winter morning to walk 34 kilometers alone. It was a gorgeous sunny day. The terrain was easy with only one a small mountain range to challenge me. For some reason on this day I noticed neat piles of stones placed on the edge of the path or piled on top of the concrete markers that were decorated with a blue tile imbedded with a scallop shell symbol indicating the way to Santiago. I assumed the piles of stones were placed by the pilgrims before me and wanting to be a part of a historic ritual, I added a stone of my own. Even though I didn’t understand why I did this, I felt like I was a part of something very special.
Around 3:00 p.m. I arrived in the city of Estella, which means star in Spanish. Located at the point where the Camino Frances meets with the Camino Arles route joining the two paths to Santiago, it brings pilgrims from different routes together.
Later that afternoon, I arrived at the refugio and introduced myself to the others who had journeyed from the four corners of the world. They were gathered here from Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Holland, Switzerland and Madrid. The refugio had no cooking facilities available so some of us decided to go out together for a pilgrim’s meal at a local restaurant.
Everyone was from a different country and so the conversation was a feast of many languages. Luckily for me, someone was always able to translate what was being said into English. During a lull in the conversation, I asked if anyone at the table knew the reasons for the piles of stones left along the way. Sitting directly across from me, Andreas, a young German pilgrim smiled with anticipation and told me he knew a story about the stones. Speaking slowly, he explained. "It is said, if you pick up a stone and put some of your sorrow into it, when you place the stone down you leave some of your sorrow behind.”
I was moved. The story resonated with me. If I could leave my sorrow on the Camino, surely it would create more space in my heart for love. The next day, as soon as I went outside to begin walking, the first thing I did was to pick up a stone. I wasn’t sure how to put my sorrow into a stone, so I just imagined I could. Holding the stone in my hand as I walked, I caressed the smooth edges with my fingers like I was rubbing the sorrow into it. After a few minutes, I carefully set the stone down on the side of the path, letting go of my sorrow with it. Almost immediately, my heart opened up for more love and it felt so good that I wanted to pick up another stone right away. So I did, but this time I thought about putting the sorrow of my daughters into the stone. Seeing a small round stone, I picked it up for my oldest daughter Tara. I held it for a while as I walked, putting her sorrow into it and then I placed it down on the path. The next stone I picked up was for middle daughter Meghan. I held the stone close to my heart imagining her sorrow was moving into the stone, and then I gently placed it down too. Finally, I picked up a stone for Simone, my youngest daughter. With intention, I put her sorrow into the stone too. Never at any time did I suppose I knew exactly what their sorrow was, I only knew they possessed it. This was my secret gift to them. It was perfect. This would soon become a daily ritual for me.
Two weeks later and having picked up supplies for the journey to climb O’Cebreiro, I returned to the refugio in Villa Franca. When I opened the door to go inside, sitting there at the table was the German pilgrim, Andreas who had told me the story of the sorrow stones. The first thing I mentioned to him was the profound impact his story had on me. I was shocked when he said, “I don’t actually believe in sorrow stones." I was so stunned by this comment, I couldn’t speak. “It’s just a story a friend told me that I was sharing with you.” For me, the ritual of leaving my own sorrow and the sorrow of others along the Camino had changed my life. Hearing this, I came to a full realization of the true power of believing in something. It was my faith in the possibility that I could put sorrow into a stone, that had made it real for me. Now I knew that it didn’t matter if Andreas believed in the stones or not. In the end, what’s important is whatever I believe.

Ah! But then I wade through the next thirty books and entries of drivel – stories about extra terrestrial visits and conversations with the spirits abound (– one of the most famous of these probably Shirley McLain’s book, The Camino) a popular best seller whose only merit I can see -- so far, is that it is by a well –known actress who is known for her dabbling in the supernatural; or detailed accounts of every step, every blister, every fallen leaf along the way that have me yawning after ten minutes; – or even worse– the juvenile gushings about the joy, the liberation, the enlightenment, the visions, oooooooooooh! My Gosh! One gusher -- who has actually had a book published about her experiences along the Camino, writes:

“Le Chemin de Saint Jacques is the way of life, the way of space, the way of infinity. No room for sadness, no rooms for narrow mindedness, for rigid hearts and minds, or pettiness, or rancour or envy. It is the moment of adventure, of the launch of ecstasy, rupture with the past, entry into the new, from this stage in your life where you will always be pushed to go a little further, , a little higher, a little better a little purer, clearer, more beautiful. It is an immense fortune to light the flame which had been sleeping for so long. It is the road of life, of love and infinity. It is the way of my love for you --- and all my life I have dreamed of meeting this love”………

One of the main reasons the original pilgrims walked to Santiago de Compostela, was to obtain indulgences from the church -- to shorten their time in purgatory after their death and on their way to eternal life. This started in 1189 when Pope Alexander III declared Santiago de Compostela a Holy City, along with Jerusalem and Rome. According to his edit the pilgrims who made the pilgrimage and reached Santiago, were assured of having halved their time in purgatory and those who accomplished it in a Holy Year, could actually bypass purgatory altogether. I am dreading arriving at a refuge late in the afternoon, just before the sunset, when my legs will no more, and my feet are crying out for a rest, cold and wet and tired, and finding only one other person in the dormitory of the refuge and it turns out to be a gusher. Surely that would count for at least ten years reprieve from Purgatory -- or would that in fact be an early dress rehearsal for Purgatory itself? I have to admit I would rather not find out!

I realise that to have a book published in a market that is so saturated with books and publications, I might have to either sell my soul and devise some gimmick that will let the book stand out in a sea of clones, or I will have to stumble across a brilliant angle that no one has noticed before.

Many thousands have done the pilgrimage and continue to do it every year. Over the years the numbers grow exponentially and at a rampant rate. I would need to confirm the numbers, but they are phenomenal. From about 7 000 in the beginning of the 90's, the figures have shot off the page, and by 2007 they exceeded 25 000 people who had walked the last 100km of the pilgrimage. (One only has to complete the last 100km to Santiago de Compostela in order to be acknowledged as having 'done it'! Not nearly as many as that walk the entire 'official' Camino, namely from Saint Jean-Pied-du-Port). These days more people complete the pilgrimage on bicycle than on foot. Then there are the Harley pilgrims, the grey nomads in their camper vans and the gap year youngsters with their i-pods plugged in and thumbs tapping a running commentary on their mobile phones every step of the way, the Japanese tourists who follow the little yellow flag of their guide and the Americans with their support teams racing ahead to prepare the meals and the beds, the English who come across the channel in ferries and the Belgians who race down the highways from the grey low skies of the north. They come from every corner of the world to walk the Way of St James. Every religion, every faith, every colour and every language – and just about one in every ten, it seems, goes back home and writes a book or a website or a blog on their own personal pilgrimage.

I never thought about that when I listened to my heart telling me the time was right to finally take the road this year and more particularly, right now. I did not think twice about the time of year in which I am going to do the walk – but had I thought about it, I would have most certainly chosen exactly the same date that I have – 11 February -- even after reading all the many horror stories about the loneliness, the mist, the wind, the rain, the snow, the cold, the deaths of pilgrims who get lost in the mountains at this time of the year. Perhaps the ‘theme’ for my book -- the theme which will make my book stand out in the plethora of printed Camino stories out there, will come to me in the same way – out of nowhere, from a deep subconscious gut feel, an instinctive notion, a revelation in a vivid dream, a passing remark by a friend – yes, I am ready and waiting -- perhaps that answer will come to me any day now.

Posted by Lalinde 13:46 Archived in Spain Tagged foot Comments (0)

A glimpse of what to expect?

The is exciting -- but scary stuff!

I spent my usual two hours today studying more websites and books written about the Camino and specifically planning the day to day stages that I will do. This way I can get a better idea of how long I will be away and also get a better picture of the refuges available to me on the way.

There is so much written about the refuges -- and yet almost all the information is about lice in the beds, the lack of heating -- and the snoring of other pilgrims!

And then -- I came across an excellent detailed account of a pilgrim who had made the pilgrimage in winter..........

All of a sudden I am starting to shiver in my boots!
Instead of these idyllic pictures of pathways and refuges, dusty roads and warm sunshine..........

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I realised that I am much more likely to see these scenes!

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Stories of walkers getting lost in the mist, literally getting blown off course on the highest peaks, being warned against walking alone, freezing to death (the last case as recent as April 2007!) or slipping on the snow and breaking ankles and having to be rescued by search parties, had me feeling a little nervous..............

Posted by Lalinde 10:12 Comments (0)

The Shell of the Camino Pilgrim

Some interesting observations from the Net about the Scallop Shell - the symbol of the Camino

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The Myth
As with many myths, the details change depending on who is telling the story, but here’s the one I’m going to tell you.
James, the brother of Jesus, was killed in Jerusalem for his convictions about his brother. James had spent some time preaching on the Iberian Peninsula, and after his death, his bones were mysteriously transported by a ship with no crew back to the Iberian Peninsula to the Northwestern province of Galicia in Spain.
A wedding was taking place along the shore as James’ ship approached land. The young bridegroom was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, his horse got spooked, and the horse and rider plunged into the sea.
Through miraculous intervention, the horse and rider emerged from the water, covered in seashells, and galloped off into the distance.
To this day, the scallop shell, typically found on the shores in Galicia, remains the symbol of the Camino de Santiago.
The Metaphor
The scallop shell also acts as a metaphor. The grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes pilgrims traveled, eventually arriving at a single destination, the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.
The scallop shell is also a metaphor for the pilgrim. As the waves of the ocean washed scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guided the pilgrims to Santiago.
The Practicality
The scallop shell served practical purposes for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago as well. The shell was just the right size for gathering water to drink or for eating out of as a makeshift bowl.
Also, because the scallop shell is native to the shores of Galicia, the shell functioned as proof of completion. By having a scallop shell, a pilgrim could almost certainly prove that he or she had finished the pilgrimage and had actually seen the “end of the world”—which at that point in history was the Western coast of Spain.

Posted by Lalinde 14:02 Comments (0)

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