Archives for category: Camino

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With just a couple of days to go before I start my camino in Le Puy on the 7th April, the time has come to start packing up everything I’ll need for the walk – and no more!  Of course, I’m sure my final ‘list’ of items will change quite a bit throughout the course of my journey, depending on what turns out to be useful, and what the weather is like.  I thought it would be quite fun, therefore, to show you what I’m bringing to start with and why, and I’ll be sure to let you know whether I was on the right track with my preparation in a couple of months’ time!

So here goes:

First of all: THE BIG STUFF

  • Rucksack: Osprey Women’s Kyte 36 Rucksack (my Christmas present!) – this is a 36 litre rucksack, with lots of pockets and zips for stashing away those essentials that I might need to access quickly on the walk. As it’s a women’s rucksack, it’s supposed to suit the female shape and minimise any damage to the back and shoulders. Also, as it’s not mahoosive, I’m hoping it will deter me from carrying far too much (!) As a relatively petite person, I can’t afford to carry more than I should.
  • Walking boots: Asolo Stynger (Women’s) These are boots that I had fitted at Cotswold, as they suit narrower feet. So far, they have fared well on the walks that I’ve done, although I’ve yet to wear them alongside my full rucksack so we shall see! I’d highly recommend Cotsworld for boot fittings, as they know exactly which shoes suit both your gait, and shoe size (unlike some stores, which simply ask “which shoes do you like the look of?” *shakes head in dismay*)
  • Platypus-style water pouch: This fits nicely into my rucksack back pocket, and with easy access I won’t be tempted to forgo a regular sip of water.
  • Silk sleeping bag liner: Small, lightweight, and will hopefully keep out the bedbugs (we shall see!)  I am not bringing a full-on sleeping back, as the weather will start to get warmer (plus, I can always opt to pay for extra sheets in hostels if need be).
  • Lunchbox: For those days in remoter sections when I’ll need to prepare some food the night before.  Hopefully will soon contain lots of nice cheese, bread and saucisson.
  • Passport and money: for obvious reasons! I’ve opted for one of those travel cards onto which I’ve put a bit of money, but am also bringing a credit card just in case.
  • EHIC health card: Just in case!
  • Personal alarm: Not sure whether these are useful or not, but good to have in remote areas for peace of mind.

CLOTHING
I got most of my clothing from Sports Direct in their winter sale, and managed to bag some great bargains.

  • Poncho: Incase of rain… and also, as The Mighty Boosh say:

Poncho

  • Karrimor walking sandals: Lightweight, comfy and less than £25 – perfect for wearing on an evening or in the shower block.
  • Convertible trousers/shorts X 2 pairs: My boyfriend laughed when he saw these, but needs must! If they’re lightweight and comfortable, then that’s all good.
  • Short-sleeved wicking tops X 2
  • Long-sleeved wicking top X 1
  • Lightweight fleece X 1
  • Lightweight rain jacket X 1
  • Gloves and hat X 1
  • Gaiters X 1
  • Walking socks X 3 pairs
  • Pyjamas/chill-out clothes: harem pants + cotton long-sleeved teeshirt
  • Underwear X 3 pairs
  • Sports bras X 2

TOILETRIES

  • Lightweight microfibre towel: this should be fun to use! Let’s hope it’s bigger than a teatowel.
  • Bar of soap + shower gel (for hair washing and clothes washing)
  • Toothbrush and mini toothpaste
  • Mini Deoderant + mini moisturiser
  • Makeup: MINIMAL makeup, I hasten to add! I’ve brought some mascara and BB cream as a bit of a crutch, but hoping I’ll end up chucking these in the bin once I get going (!)
  • Medi-kit: suncream, paracetamol, Compeed, couple of plasters, hand-warmers, rehydration powder and  insect-repellant
  • Lip balm

BOOKS + MAPS, with the main ones being:

NON-ESSENTIAL ESSENTIALS

  • Earplugs: I am a very light sleeper, so hopefully these will help me get to sleep in a big dormitory.
  • Notebook: Ever the diary-keeper, I want to keep a journal of the route.
  • Mobile phone: just in case!
  • Coquille St Jacques  pilgrim’s shell: I’ve heard that traditionally Pilgrim’s wore this once they’d already completed the Camino, however, I will bring it along anyhow – especially since it was a gift from my parents.

To get to this fairly select bunch of items, I’ve done a bit of research both online and in books – with this particular book being a nice source of both humour and information (thanks to my boyfriend for picking it out for me!). It’s not the book for the seasoned walker, but rather one aimed at people who are doing the chemin for the first time ever, and probably leans more towards women at that. It reads like a blog, or a magazine, with plenty of jokes and quizzes (how to spot a camino snorer//what your camino hat says about you etc – you get the picture), which is a nice counterbalance to some of the other camino literature out there – although the fluffy tone isn’t for everyone, though, granted!

Chemins

So there you have it, my camino pack is now ready!  I’ll be setting off to Paris tomorrow to spend a final weekend with Léo, my boyfriend, before getting the train down to St Etienne and Le Puy on Easter Monday.  The next time I see him, it may be in Santiago – who knows?

I’d love to know what your one *essential* camino item was, or would be? What couldn’t you live without for a few months?  Let me know in the comments below!

As well as poring over Miam Miam Dodo, and Brierley’s guide to the camino, I’ve been reading some more narrative accounts of people’s pilgrimages. Here are three that I’ve read so far, and what I thought:

Immortelle Randonnée by Jean-Christophe Rufin

Jean-Christophe Rufin is a renowned French writer in his own right, and it shows. His account of the Camino del norte is deeply entertaining, brutally honest and unexpectedly poignant. Whilst I’m not walking the camino del norte myself, much of what Rufin experiences and learns about himself is universal – so it doesn’t matter if you are following (or intending to follow) the same route as him, or if indeed to want to do the camino at all. Rufin’s conclusion (if you could call it that) is interesting: “the camino is a Buddhist pilgrimage”, he says. As a non-religious -but yet open-minded- pilgrim, Rufin recognises that the walk refines him, like a diamond in rough: crushed and polished until it reaches perfection and simplicity.  His airs and graces (well-established over years as an award-winning writer, and ambassador) are swiftly discarded as he begins to recognise that he occupies a solitary and sometimes invisible role in this new order – that of a lowly pilgrim. He neither rejoices in this fact, nor does he refute it: it just is.

I enjoyed following Rufin on his journey, and would encourage any French speakers to give Immortelle Randonnée a go.

I’m Off Then by Hape Kerkeling

Hape Kerkeling (for those that don’t know – I certainly didn’t!) is a famous German comedian – a fact that he mentions more than once in his account of the Camino Francés. At first I didn’t really know what to make of this book: Hape himself seemed a little self-important, and only funny in that cringy Eurovision way (I suspect that this is just the translation, though, which is a little wooden in places).  Not only this, but he doesn’t actually walk the whole camino. He takes the train at some points. But you know what, I grew to love this book, and Hape himself. After all, who am I to criticise? I, who have yet to walk a single step of the camino.  I loved this book, because Hape is so honest and actually quite self-disparaging  – he took the train, and he couldn’t bring himself to stay in dowdy refugios (preferring nice hotels and good food), but at least he admits it.  His warts-and-all self-portrayal is about as comical and fecund as his descriptions of his fellow pilgrims that he meets along the way, which read like comedy sketches, and are just as engrossing.

This one is available in English, and don’t let the translation put you off – it gets better, I promise!

The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

Before I tell you about the book, let me say this: It is my suspicion that a ‘Coelho’ gene exists, enabling some lucky few to find profundity and spiritual solace in his works. I do not possess this gene.  When picking up The Pilgrimage, I was hoping for an account of the journey that Paulo himself made, in all its mundane detail – after all, what is not mundane about putting one foot in front of the other, day after day?  I like mundaneness, for that’s what life is about, and that’s what came across in both Rufin’s and Kerkeling’s books. Coelho’s was different: he takes a more mystical approach to the Camino, to the extent that the journey recounted seems to have occurred on some dreamlike plane very far away from everyday Spain. There are actual devils and quasi-magical people on this dreamlike plane.  This, for me, made it very difficult to connect with. That’s not to say that I’m not a spiritual person – I am. I just didn’t feel as if I possessed the ‘key’ to unlock this book. Whereas Hape and Jean-Christophe handed it to me, and guided me along, Paulo Coelho left me in the dark.  I am still none the wiser.

Have you read any of these books, and what did you think of them?

Which Camino-themed books would you recommend? I am looking for something else to read, and would welcome any suggestions.

The things you used to own, now they own you. – Fight Club

Apologies for starting this with a quote from Fight Club – a quote that probably adorned my angst-ridden diary as a teenager. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of a more succinct way to express what I’ve learnt over the past few weeks whilst beginning to prepare for the Camino.

Basically, I have too much, well, STUFF… junk… bits and bobs… whatever you want to call it. It sits in my cupboards, it gathers dust on a shelf and lies dormant under the bed, like the monolithic head in Prometheus.

It doesn’t particularly bother me, in fact it’s probably quite comforting in way, to be surrounded by things you’ve bought, things you’ve been given as gifts, things you have, just in case. After all, it’s human instinct – to accumulate shiny things, useful things, things for building a home- just like the Neanderthals must have done. We live in a consumer society, we work to consume.  This, here, is everything I’ve consumed.

And then there’s the Camino.  This is an experience which is enhanced not by the amount of stuff you have, but rather the amount of stuff you don’t have – travelling light, paring everything down to the essentials is key (or so I am told). It is the antithesis of the modern world in which we live: on the Camino, clothes and useless items are thrown or given away, or posted back home to empty houses. Nothing is accumulated, everything has its use. One teeshirt is worn, whilst another one dries, ready for the next day (this, at least, is how I’ll be doing it).

And you know what, I am looking forward to this liberation – not to be defined by what I own, what I’m wearing or what music I’m listening to. Without this everyday armour, I don’t actually know what will define me, or how I’ll be perceived by other pilgrims I meet – but I am looking forward to finding out.

I’ve just read Immortelle randonnée by Jean-Christophe Rufin, a French writer who walked the Camino not long ago (it’s been translated into several different languages, but English isn’t one of them, unfortunately).  Towards the end of his journey, Rufin finally manages to attain rucksack perfection – pure, enlightened frugality – and carries just a few essential items, which have been recognised as such, after weeks of honing and tempering.  When his wife joins him to walk the final few days by his side, the contrast is clear: much to his amusement, she has hastily stuffed a bulging makeup bag into her rucksack, along with a plethora of other odds and ends that she threw in there at the last minute. It all weighs a ton, and Rufin cannot fathom her recklessness in preparing for such a journey.  How was she to know?

That’s probably precisely the point. How do we know what may be useful, and what won’t? We don’t. Which is why we accumulate things, carry too much (you should see my daily handbag), reassessing our needs only once in a while.

I won’t go in to what exactly it is that I’ll be carrying on the Camino – this can be for another post, but I will share one way in which I’m preparing for it: by selling some of the ‘stuff’ that I no longer need.

I’m selling things for practical reasons more than anything – like it or not, the Camino is going to cost money to walk, and I need to save enough to know that I can walk it comfortably and allow for any unforeseen situations. And then there’s the menu del día that I’ve been reading about – don’t want to miss out on those for the sake of a few coins.  So until April, I’ll be unloading my own everyday ‘backpack’ of stuff, and deciding what it is that I really need to keep or throw away.

Already I’ve recognised an attachment to some things I own, even though I clearly don’t need or use them anymore.  Some things I’ve stuffed in a bin liner, ready to put on Ebay, only to take them out again with a twinge of regret. Such things include my two Blythe dolls that I received as birthday presents when I was thirteen or fourteen. They are dolls, with plastic faces, plastic eyes… synthetic hair. I don’t play with them, and they mostly sit in my cupboard. Yet I feel attached to them and can’t bring myself to throw them away. But they are made of plastic! It defies logic, really.

I suppose it’s the memories associated with such things – the joy and excitement I felt upon receiving the cellotaped brown box, flown all the way from Japan. My mum’s expectant face as I unwrapped them with glee. That’s what I miss. That’s what I don’t want to throw away.  Try as I might, I still find it hard to pull apart the memory and the object associated with it – even though it’s necessary sometimes.

Some things, I have to accept, are too hard to throw away – no matter how much I may wish to save money, or de-clutter. But how will I know what they are, unless I try?

And so I continue! Did you make any sacrifices to prepare for the Camino? I’d love to hear your stories – whether you spent years preparing, or decided to walk it on a whim.