About Me

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Author of Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town http://tinyurl.com/owdwvrp I write about travel and adventure from my home in California and from Africa. I've sailed a catamaran from California to Hawaii, trekked in the Himalayas, worked as a construction manager on a bridge project in Zambia, hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, (http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/) and traveled in over 100 countries and all seven continents. Indie Book Award Winner for Best Memoir of 2012, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Travelers Tales Solas Award for Best Travel Writing Honorable Mention for My Gambian Husband. Indie Book Award Finalist - Best Travel Book 2013. BOTYA Honorable Mention 2013 - Travel Essay. Member of The Explorers Club since 2013 You can follow my current 2013-2014 expedition across Africa, this time in a 1973 Land Rover Series III 109 on http://teresaokane.blogspot.com/ and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/safarijema

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bon Camino, Madam! - On the Camino de Santiago

Correction: Not all the accommodation on the Camino (Albergues or Refugios) are spotlessly clean. I am now officially a flea-bitten Pilgrim.

Many of the Refugios on the Camino are in stone buildings, old drafty monasteries, or farmhouses. The floors are so cold that Scott uses them to chill a can of beer, or keep our breakfast yogurt cold and free from anything but the "healthy" bacteria we paid for.
To prevent Pilgrims from catching pneumonia at night, there is always a stack of heavy wool blankets in the dormitories. Only, fleas need a warm place to sleep at night too, and Spanish fleas seem to favor wool. My down sleeping bag is plenty warm, but one particularly cold night I decided to throw a blanket over my bag. I was toasty warm - and the fleas were well fed.

Usually our only option when sleeping in a refugio is a bunk in a 20, or 30, or 100 bed dormitory. It’s actually fun and part of the Peregrino (pilgrim) experience.
One rainy afternoon in a crowded dorm room, Tia from Finland, sat on a top bunk bed tending to her many blisters. A Frenchman across from her began offering blister care advice. He seemed to know everything there was to know about blisters. Then an Italian girl crossed the room while gesturing passionately to Tia's foot. "Sbagliato!" she said. "If you do as the Frenchman says, you will lose your foot!" Soon Tia was the center of an animated debate in Spanish, French, German, Finnish, Slovenian, Korean, Italian, and English on whether to puncture the blister, or leave it alone. I listened intently to the advice since I had a blister the size of a cherry tomato brewing on my own big toe.

Later, I learned that certain songs penetrate all borders when a Slovenian woman joined me at the bathroom sink and announced, “I just love The Macarena!” A Spanish woman at the next basin began singing the lyrics while we all danced in unison, me with a toothbrush in my mouth.

It’s always entertaining staying in what the Spanish call a dormitorio, but whenever it’s available we always ask for a matrimonio, the quaint term for a room with one bed, or un quarto con dos camas, solimente, a small room with only two beds. We’ve been lucky. One time, we stayed at a monastery in a small room with 3 beds and, because it was so late in the day when we arrived, we had the room to ourselves. In another village with a population of 80, we were initially shown a bunk bed in large dorm, as usual. I pleaded with the  hospitaliar (the name given to the owners or volunteers running the refugios), “Es possible, Senor, un quarto con dos camas solimente, or un matrimonio?”
“Ah. Come with me,” he said, and led us up three flights of stairs to the attic. Under a skylight were two single beds and one bunk bed. There was also an ab-buster exercise machine, a desk, a fold-a-bed, and forgotten toys. Obviously, it was a combination overflow accommodation for Pilgrims during the busy summer season, and storeroom for the owner. We loved it. "All for you. Todo por dos,” he said with a smile and a wink. As he watched us slowly remove our boots and coats he added gravely, "Feel free to use the ab-buster."

We did our laundry (a daily hand wash obligation when on the Camino –wear one, wash one) strung a clothesline under the skylight, and pushed the two beds together.

Something one should know ahead of time about a refugio is that there are no locks on the doors. It is not uncommon to see a sleep deprived Pilgrim, driven out of his bed by snoring bunk mates, walking the halls and opening random doors looking for a quieter room to sleep in. We knew there was a slight risk that someone would try to join us in our quiet little room at the top of stairs, but since we were three flights up, and I had positioned a big red umbrella, open, at the top of the stairs, I felt pretty confident that no one would wander in to the room in the middle of the night.

I can’t tell you exactly how many times the door opened during the night, but the last time the door opened was, let’s say, particularly bad timing. “Oh! Pardon!” a Frenchman exclaimed before retreating. The lights were out and I had quickly thrown a sleeping bag over Scott and me so I thought the man didn’t see anything more than the silhouettes of our laundry hanging on the line.

The next morning, as we chatted with other Peregrinos over breakfast of cafĂ© con leche and croissants in the refugio dining room, a Frenchman announced, “Buen Camino!” (Good walk!) as everyone says to one another before they set off on the trail for the day. As he crossed the room his eyes settled on me with sudden recognition. He looked me right in the eye, winked and said, “Et, Bon Camino a vous, Madam!”

Scott and Tris
On the Camino Francais