Monday, September 9th
We encounter our first known fellow pilgrims as we enter the train station in Bayonne. Others begin to emerge. One thing is clear. We win the award for biggest packs. The award would be won by an even larger margin if one considered body weight to pack weight ratio. And thus our backpack wish is this: that we didn't have them. As we were standing at the train platform I asked Annette how she felt about backpacking. Her response: "I hate it." How did I just now learn this?
Next observation, it appears as though the average age of the typical pilgrim is 65. One of two things can happen given this scenario. Day one will be a very humbling experience as we get schooled by the more, je ne sais pas, more seasoned traveler. Or... Youthful legs will handle the heavier loads and we decide if these folks can do it, we've got this in the bag... a very large bag.
But we have already determined that we have two questions once we get to the St. Jean Pied de Port Pilgrim Information Center: Where is the best cheap/free place to stay? And how much does it cost to ship our excess baggage ahead to our likely finish at Burgos? I have decided that 40 euro would be my spending limit for this service. Annette capped it at 80.
Thursday, September 12
This the view I have as I type this blog
That would be my legs up in the air attempting to let the lactic acid drain from my feet. It's bringing back memories of cross country practice. But I've never had a cross country practice quite like this. So far I've walked about 70km ascended about 1400 meters and descended about 1000 meters. (I've vowed to learn the metric system in my time abroad but until then, my Units Plus App tells me thats 43 miles traveled, 4,593 feet up and 3,280 feet down.) Additionally, I have a large blister that I earned within 2 hours of this trek. I'll spare you the picture but it is the reason I sent my pack on ahead and walked the 25k today in my flip flops. It actually wasn't too bad. (P.S. These are the same boots I wore for my week long backpacking trip with my Young Life girls with very few feet problems. It's not supposed to work this way. It maybe its because I wore nothing but flip flops from the end if that trip until the beginning of this one. Major bummer.)
And now I'm in Pamplona... City of the Running of the Bulls. Only missed it by a couple of months. We found another post office to lighten our load even more than the box we sent from St. Jean Pied de Port. Then ventured out for "pixtos", the northern Spain equivilant of tapas. 1 euro for a glass of wine and 1 euro for each tapa. Yes, please! I've decided this is going to be the place of my rest day. I've been torn in deciding to do this as I've LOVED the people we've walked with so far and I'm sad to be saying goodbye and fearful I won't meet as fun of a group when the next wave of peregrinos (pilgrims) hits the city. But, then again, they could be just as fun and then I will have met twice as many fun friends! Here's hoping!
So let me tell you about these friends... Starting in the order we have met them.
First we have Zoltar from Hungary. He sat next to us on the train to St. Jean. Then he was in the bunk next to us atthe first albuerge (hostel for pilgrims). Then we would leap frog with him all day on Day 1. Until Pamplona we knew nothing about him. He became the International Man of Mystery. He was short-ish, athletic, tan, had good calves and barely talked. I was pegging him as Bulgarian on Day 1. Others were picking up Uruguay-ian. I decided the mystery needed to be solved. My ice breaking tactic: offer him the best candy in the world. I learned about this candy when traveling to Spain with Jules in 2005 and enjoyed it just as much with Gretchen in 2011. Interestingly enough, this candy plays a roll in some of my best travel stories I have such as the game Jules and I invented called Vienna Splits in which I promised to give Jules one piece of Red Rope (that's my name for it but its a red licorice with a white filling and sweet/sour sugar coating) for each couple walking down the street that she managed to walk between or "split" in Vienna. The game lives on. And the story with Gretchen ends with me buying my first pair of skinny jeans... I'll leave it at that. Back to the International Man of Mystery... We had just entered Pamplona and passed him and the 3 South Korean students he was walking with when I stopped to offer them my first purchase of Red Rope. He declined, I insisted, and when he took a piece he formed it into a smile and said "happy!" Awesome. Turns out Zoltar began his Camino in Pamplona in August, made it to Santiago and on to Finisterre (city on the sea 3 days beyond Santiago), took a train back to St. Jean (where we met him) and had now closed the circuit. Glad we got the story today otherwise we never would have seen him and he would live on as the International Man of Mystery (which is fun to say... but so is Zoltar).
Next group of friends: we have a Ron Weasley look-a-like whose real name is Sebastian but friends in Dresden, Germany call him Basti. He's a student taking two weeks to do the Camino. Basti slept in the bunk above Annette in Roncevilles. At 6:15 Annette wakes up and hears from his bunk, "I don't understand!" Annette asks what he's referring to. "I don't understand why all these people must get up before the sun comes up." Oh sweet, Basti.
Betty is a nurse from Peru who has been living in Milano, Italy for the last 10 years. She's super sweet and has given good counsel, and some bandages, for my blisters. She turned 40 this year and isn't interested in settling down unless the guy wants to travel the world with her.
David is a South African (born to a European and Israeli who are now living in New York) but he has been an investment banker in London for the last 8 years. After the camino he plans to return to Capetown to enroll in a masters program on Sustainable Development. He's probably the one I've talked with the most on the Camino. We walked up hill, through the rain on Day 1 until I "Buen Caminoed" him (a verb which means... It's been nice talking to you but I'm moving on). It really wasn't like that. I just didn't want to stand in the smelly crowded tiny hut on the top of the mountain he stopped at to warm up.
All of us were side by side in bunks on night one, had dinner together in Roncevilles and walked together many times throughout the last few days. Great people indeed.
The three of them picked up a third... Nolan from North Carolina. When I first saw him on Day 1, he was charging up the hill with army style pack and boots, a box of OJ in one hand and a liter of water in the other. I met him on the road to Zubiri when I had stopped for a bocadillo (French bread with a slice of prosciutto). He has been traveling North and South America after a stint of teaching English in Japan. His travels include hitchhiking through Wyoming and getting picked up by a caretaker of a nearby ranch which led to a free 2 week stay (as opposed to the truck stops he had been staying in) and subsequently a month at a dairy farm in Nicaragua, family members of the caretaker. He may continue south down the eastern coast of Africa after this or venture east to Russia and on to China. Or maybe a job fair.
Are you beginning to see why this is the coolest way to spend your day, or 2 weeks or a month. And those are just a few of the hundreds walking the same path with us each day. Imagine the stories there are to tell!!!
We also met Brainard and Brainard Junior or (B1 and B2 as they said to call them). They are from Dublin. This is B2's 4th Camino and his dad's first. He proposed to his wife on his 2nd and they honeymooned on his 3rd. The amount of information I have gleaned from B2 cannot be contained in the space provided. At first I found it annoying but have since come to appreciate his expertise. Although he has told us much about himself including entering the Irish military at age 16, I'm pretty sure I'm not the first to write a blog post about this legendary Camino pilgrim. His dad on the other hand, I can't understand a single word of his Irish English he has spoken to me. Lots of smiling and nodding.
Speaking of the Irish. They can't get enough of this Camino stuff. They are everywhere. Mike from Dublin slept in the bunk across from me (Frito-Lay shout out little bro: He works for PepsiCo in the Dublin warehouse!). He met up with Greg from Dublin on the train. And last night we had dinner with sisters Liz and Marie from Cork, Ireland. They are walking to celebrate Liz's 30th birthday. Liz is in the bunk next to me tonight and Marie above. We enjoyed pixtos on the town tonight together. Super great girls. And... Liz SAVED me by giving me one of her Compeed patches to cover my blister. This may be the sole reason I can continue on. In the bunks next to us are 3 more middle-aged Irish women and you hear the brogue everywhere! Love it!
I also shared bunk space with two brothers, Valentine and Benedict from Germany. Last name: Arnold. That's right folks, Benedict Arnold slept in the bunk above me! I asked if their parents were funny. They said their dad had a sense of humor. No kidding! They were a trip. Valentine wants to teach English...of which he knows more slang than I do from watching the Family Guy and other shows. Their one question: how is it possible that the conservative Fox News network also airs a show such as the Family Guy on Fox. I tried I explain the difference. The knowledge of the rest of the world on American politics and pop culture is astounding. But when they asked me to name capitals of various European countries I didn't do to bad...
And then we met our 3 favorite girls from the States. We first saw them at our very first pit stop on Day 1. I overheard Ande mention to some others she was from Colorado. I decided to postpone making the connection until later on the trail. Sure enough, I had my chance with about 6km left on Day 1. I told her I heard she was from Colorado. She said she was a raft guide in Buena Vista this summer but is moving to Vail to work for CME when the Camino is over. For real?? Love this. Vail peeps: Super cool chick might need a place to live next month. If you need a renter, I'll connect you guys. She's the bomb.com. She's camino-ing with her step-sister Lauren from San Luis Obispo, who just finished her nursing degree (and also helped with the carnage of my heal). She is a lovely human being! There is talk of them meeting up with us in Cuba in May. I love that they started talking about this within 5 minutes of meeting me! They are doing the whole Camino with their mom/step-mom, Deborah from Phoenix. I would venture to say that Deborah is the most gorgeous woman on the Camino. And she is just as beautiful on the inside. She's been so sweet in making sure I'm taking care of myself. And, she got MAJOR bonus points from Annette when she divulged that she worked for USAA, an amazing insurance company that I'm just now being educated about. They are continuing on but will take a rest day soon and I'm hoping to meet up with them again.
You can catch a glimpse of the experience from this clip:
Ok... I know this is long. But, I just wanted to introduce you to all my friends. And I know there are some I'm forgetting. So now you can see why I'm sad to stay behind and lose them. But I'm also considering this day off, a Day of Solitude, which I've vowed to have every month but haven't had since April. Deep breath... And sigh.
Ciao for now!