On March 16th, 2010, I was busy loading my backpack (one pair boots, 2 pair socks, 2 pair hiking pants, 2 t-shirts, rain gear and, last but not least, ear plugs) for a 6-week trek in Spain when Scott said, “What if we travel to Spain by sea instead of by air?” By the 17th I was trying to fit cruise attire into my backpack. By the 20th, Brazilians (we boarded in Sao Paolo) were handing Scott their cameras and asking him to take their photo.
We didn’t manage to fit much cruise wear into our packs after all, so I think they mistook him for crew. (This has happened to us before). Scott played along, cheerfully arranging everyone and putting them in the best light. “Smile! Say queso!” he said, which wasn’t even right since the Portuguese don’t say, “cheese” before taking a photo. If they did it would sound more like “kejzo” anyway. But queso or kejzo, it didn’t matter. Both end in an “O", so a few Brazilians who mistook Scott for crew have photos of themselves looking like they've just been goosed.
We occupied our days at sea by finding creative ways to make hiking gear passable on “formal” nights (impossible), and by reading, playing trivia, and talking to nice people, especially those from Holland and America. Most afternoons found Scott in the library, where he learned to play Bridge from a patient teacher who just happened to be the doppelganger for my wonderful brother Mike. That was nice...
After one such rotation I noticed that my boot was baring its sole all over the promenade deck - insulation was flying everywhere. Soon, the entire boot bottom was flopping around after me like a spatula stuck to my foot. I needed appropriate shoes for the hike in Spain, but our favorite outdoor store, REI, was an ocean away. But I was in luck! The island of Tenerife, off the coast of Africa, is a duty-free shoppers paradise that specializes in electronics. They also sell footwear such as Nike, Puma and Solomon.
At the first shoe store, the saleswoman said with disbelief, “Size 9 and a half! Are you kidding me?” Then, she announced it over the P.A. system. The other customers in the store pointed at me and stared, waiting to see what would happen next. I know they were thinking, ‘Big foot! It’s not a myth!’
The shop clerk gave me a look of pity as I left, shoeless: How ever did you get this nice man to marry you with feet the size of tennis rackets? her eyes said.
We began the hike in Pamplona, home of the running of the bulls and occasional hangout for the late Ernest Hemingway. In Pamplona you can find signs such as, ‘Hemingway slept here’, ‘Hemingway wrote here’, ‘Hemingway drank here’, and random shops simply called 'The Hemingway'. We didn’t stay at the Hotel Hemingway near the bullring because it was 200 euros per night, but as we stood in the lobby soaking up the aura of the notorious adventurer, a hotel guest noted our hiking apparel and said, “You must be Peregrinos. You should stay at the Refugio!” He walked us there, pointing out the places where Hemingway had a cigar and took a lover.
In Pamplona, for 6 euros each, we were assigned a bunk in a 100-bed dormitory that was housed in an ancient monastery. We were numbers 92 and 93 to sign in.
Most refugios on the Camino have at least 30 beds in one room. “Sounds smelly!” you might be thinking, and you would be right. Hundreds of years ago, a monk or priest would walk through the Refugio swinging a smoking incense ball to dull the odiferous funk of the pilgrims as they slept. Modern day Refugios have hot showers, laundry machines, Internet, and kitchens. Still, that first night in Pamplona, I thought a few passes with an incense ball wouldn’t hurt. Two hundred sweaty boots smell like a wet cow. No worse than that - like a wet cow with bad breath that snores with its mouth open.
It’s not that bad. I brought lots of earplugs with me, the refugios are spotless, and a slight smear of Vicks under the nose works wonders. If it weren’t for all the Germans who get up at 5 a.m. to use up all the hot water and race to the next Refugio for the best bunk (the German half of me really wants to do that too), the refugio experience would be great.
So far, all the refugios are co-ed. Even the dorms and the bathrooms aren’t divided by sex. It’s like living in a house with a hundred brothers and sisters from all over the world. We’ve met Estonisan, Dutch, German, Irish, English, Canadian, and lots of Spanish peregrinos. On rare occasions we get a double room to ourselves, and that is muy bien. So far, we haven’t met any other Americans but we probably will meet one or two over the next 40+ days of the hike.
One is supposed to be on a spiritual or cultural quest to hike The Camino. If we see it as a spiritual quest, and make it to Santiago, where the bones of St. James rest in peace, we will be awarded an indulgence. An actual indulgence! That means if I complete the Way of St. James, as the Camino is called, I will earn an indulgence and all my sins will be instantaneously wiped clean. Poof! Permanent record erased. Then, if I were to get hit by a car or something before I have a chance to sin again, I would go straight to Heaven. The chances that I wouldn't sin again shortly after leaving the compostela office by, say, taking the Lord's name in vain,"Gosh darn! That is one beautiful Cathedral!" (only it wouldn't be "gosh"), or coveting chocolate or beer or woman's boots is pretty remote. The "express to Heaven" reward was more significant before the Pope did away with purgatory anyway. But still, I will be walking a little lighter after I gain the indulgence, at least for a few moments.
Strange to say if you know me, but I do feel spiritual while walking the Camino. At least that's how I interpret the vibe. I feel just so darn happy all the time. I have long thought nature is my religion and I feel closest to my Maker when I am out in it.
Scott says his intention is a cultural quest, which I don’t mind one bit, because he has been giving me history lessons everyday. Whether it be details about an old Roman road we are walking on, or tidbits regarding Spanish or Portuguese explorers, it is always interesting and takes my mind off my aches and pains.
Mid-May will find us in Cairo, where we will join an overland truck for a ten week journey up the Nile that will take us through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.
Bridge: A footbridge, that is, in Zambia. We will work with a non-profit called Bridges to Prosperity. Learn more about how we became connected with this organization at: www.firstgiving.com/teresaokane
Torres del Rio, where Hemingway, as far as I know, didn’t sleep.
Haiku (sort of) for the day:
The hills were green