Leon to Sevilla


Tuesday March 24th, 2015
Leon is certainly a pleasant city, but I was unable to find a rental bike and so, as is typical in travel, it’s time to change and adapt the plan. It’s been very chilly, so, seems like heading south would be nice.  Got a train ticket to Sevilla, which is pretty much an all day trip of about 7 hours from Leon.  No need to change trains though, so that part is easy.  Being from the USA we forget how great a good train system is, and Spain does have a good system.  Spent a frustrating amount of time trying to get an Airbnb apartment in Seville.  The part that really bothered me was that everything was done and then they wanted further verification steps after charging the card.  Unable to do them, unable to reach anyone really helpful and left in limbo with a message that the reservation would be cancelled if they weren’t done, I ended up canceling them on my own so that at least I knew where I was.  Found the apartment listed on the agencies website, so we’ll see if I can get it that way.  It has a private terrace and is just across the river in the Triana neighborhood, alleged to be where Flamenco started.  Weather in Seville should get into the 70s this week, so that’s promising.

Been thinking a lot about a Richard Branson quote I read which was something to the effect of “If your dreams don’t scare you a bit then you’re not dreaming big enough.”  Definitely an interesting thought about when to play it safe and when to take risks.  Failure is also something I think about a lot, but it is the flip side of success.  Also, it may just be a result, the term “failure” being a value judgement that we assign to a result.  In some ways I feel that I’ve “Failed” at everything I’ve done, but in other ways I know that I lead an enviable lifestyle and have done many interesting things that I wouldn’t have done if I had “successfully” stayed in one job.  Not being able to finish even this modest part of the camino brings up all of the failure scrips for me.  On the other hand, it’s a self imposed goal, so what does it matter?  Maybe the learning is in the flexibility and the letting go of the preconceived goal.  I know that plenty of people push on through the pain, but to me, the short term achievement would not be worth causing possible lasting injury.  Eg. always better to retire from a battle you can’t win, so that you can do it on another day.   Is “failure” sometimes a better result than success?  Probably falls into the “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” area.



Sunday March 22, 2015
Bohdan was right, Leon is tapas madness at a whole new level!  Thousands of people out last night!  I think I may have found a way to continue this thing.  Bicycle shop in Leon that rents bikes.  Not open today as it is Sunday, but fingers crossed that it will work out for tomorrow.


Saint Jean Pied de Port

Orisson 8km first day

Date: 09/21/2014

Today was the first day of walking.  Managed to lighten my pack by sending stuff ahead with a duffle bag, but still had about 16-17lbs. on board.  Today’s walk was relatively short, but a very steep 8km.  Weather was lovely and the scenery can’t be beat.  Vertical profile was something like 2,000′ of elevation gain in 8km, so it really was steep.  I found my pace pretty well and just cranked it out, with the walk done in 3 hours.  The hostel has a fabulous deck overlooking the mountains and generally seems well organized.  Bunch of French motorcyclists showed up for lunch and seem to be enjoying it too.  The rooms here hold 6 people, and seem clean an airy.  Did the usual pilgrim routine:  claim a bunk, take a shower, wash all of your clothes and hang them up to dry.  So far, boots seem to be fine, so that’s a huge relief.  Anyway, so far so good, although I’m pretty clear that I’ll have to reduce weight in Pamplona because I’d prefer not to forward a bag everyday.

Hanging out in St Jean Pied de Port.

Date: 09/20/2014

St. Jean Pied de Port is the traditional start of the Camino Frances, the French route of the Camino.  As such it’s pretty much crawling with people wearing large, new, heavy looking backpacks.  There is a pilgrims office on the main drag that starts people off with a stamp, some information and a general welcome.  I’ve had two full days here, so that I could meet Nancy who is guiding a group for the first 4 days.  At this point, the group is just one other person, a Californian from Bakersfield, Nancy and myself.  Nancy has been doing this for quite awhile and is wealth of the kind of inside info that I like to have.  For example we will go over the whole trip and get the scoop on which places are great to stay in and which are best avoided.   The initial B&B, Errecaldia, is very pleasant and consists of just 3 guest rooms, which fits our gang of 3.  Nancy has plans to send a bag along by car for the first few days, so my pack, which mysteriously gained a few pounds during the departure, can be lightened enough to be able to be carried.
The first walking day, tomorrow, is only about 8km, but, the vertical profile is essentially straight up for the whole walk.  The following day has more straight up and then some down.  Well, at least with the bag transport, I can take some weight off and delay either mailing or getting rid of some stuff.
The Basque countryside is beautiful with some fairly big hills and lots of green.  Also, lots of little rivers.  I found a lovely cafe, Cafe Ttipia, right along the river with a lovely shaded patio.  I’ve made this my headquarters for hanging out.  While SJPP is clearly a town that caters to pilgrims and tourists, it seems to do so in a very gracious and friendly manner.  I’ve been repeatedly complemented on my French, so that’s been nice, and of course useful for getting things done.
The local wine is called Irouleguy and seems to be a blend of Tannat and cab franc with cabernet.  Tasty and goes well with the Basque dishes.
I’m looking forward to starting the actual walking tomorrow.  Bought some of the local salami, some GF bread, and a few bottles of wine to send ahead.  The first stop at Orisson is apparently very scenic, but basically a hostel that serves dinner and breakfast, and that’s all that is there.  At this point, I’m surprised at how hot and humid it is here.  The good news is that the boots I finally ended up with seem to be fine.  Because they are waterproof, they are a touch warm on the hot days, but I’m assured that went it rains, I’ll be glad for them.  Nancy has us all booked in a Pension in Pamplona, private rooms, bathroom down the hall, that she likes and is near the center and very reasonably priced.  I’m planning a full day off there to explore because I’m not sure when I’ll get back that way.

Arrived at the beginning

Date: 09/18/2014

After a very long day I made it to St. Jean Pied de Port.  Basically, a 10 hour flight to Paris CDG, then a long and winding transfer with two separate trips through security to get to an EasyJet flight to Biarritz, then a bus to the Bayonne train station, then a train to Cambo Les Bain and then another bus to SJPP.  All in all came through it pretty well.  Interesting note that my walking poles made it through security as carry on in Seattle with no comment and twice in Paris with no comment.  SJPP is an old fortress town up in the Pyrenees and has lots of character.  It caters fairly well to pilgrims as many start here.  The bus and train from Bayonne was full of people with various sizes of backpacks and other gear, clearly planning to do the Camino.  I’m lucky to have a full rest day tomorrow, and probably only a partial day on Saturday.  I do need to slim my pack as although I was aiming for about 20lbs, it magically gained weight and is probably around 25lbs. now.  I think Nancy will be having stuff portered for the first few days, so I plan to get around it that way.  As an aside, I still find that one of the hardest parts of any trip is getting out the door and onto the plane.  After that you’re pretty much on it. Ok, I’m pretty tired but going to attempt to stay up until at least 9:00pm tonight to help my jet lag.

Bohdan:  Weather warm and sunny for now.  B&B:  http://www.errecaldia.com/index.php/en/

Camino de Santiago


Boot solution

Date: 09/17/2014

Postcript on the boot thing:  My Reflexologist did careful feet measurement and it seems that a 14 and a half or 15 is in order.  I found a pair of Keen Targhee in 15 at REI Alderwood and managed one training walk before departure.  I think they’re going to be fine, but wow that was cutting it close.  I returned at least four of the other pairs in the picture.

Date: 09/12/2014

I’m now on my fifth pair of hiking boots, and I think I’ve found something that works.  These are slightly heavier old style hiking boots made by Lowa in Germany.  Unfortunately the insoles were way too flexible and were climbing my heels, leaving a gap in front.  Got some too small Superfeet Carbons, and now a set of the right size Superfeet Black.  I’m carrying loaded pack with about 18lbs. around Greenlake every morning, about 3+ miles and adding ascents of the bleachers each day, this morning I made 5 trips up the double steps of the bleachers.  Test of the newest inserts with boots tomorrow morning!
This being a pilgrimage, there is a spirit level to the enterprise, that distinguishes it from just a really long walk.  I hope to spend more time thinking and writing about that, but for now I’m mired in the logistics.  Tomorrow, I’ll pack all my intended things in the pack and see how far over my target 20lbs. that I am.  Then I’ll have to start cutting things.  A preliminary thumbnail:
Pack 3.8 lbs
Sleeping bag 2.6 lbs
Clothes 4lbs
IPad mini 1.4 lbs
Chargers electronics?
Rain gear?
Spare shoes .75lbs
Puffy North Face vest?
As you can see, it adds up really fast!  I’ve got a kitchen scale and luggage scale, so I can weigh each item fairly accurately.   OK, back to organizing!

Date: 09/08/2014

The first I heard of the Camino was from an acupuncture school classmate, Colleen, in 2002.  It was clear that it had been a life changing experience for her.  I started looking into it a few years ago and decided that it would be too crowded for me and found an alternate pilgrimage, the Via Francigena.  It was much, much longer and much less supported.  I bought a bicycle figuring that it would make it more approachable and started training on that.  Various things intervened, and a friend, Bohdan, ended up doing the Camino and coming back with great comments.  So started the preparations, and they continue.  As I struggled to find an itinerary that worked and didn’t involve 35 hour layovers in Dallas, my friend Rich gave me the miles to make the flight part easy and allow me to meet up with a small group going out of St. Jean Pied de Port.  The goal for carrying your stuff is to have less than 20lbs including the pack.  That part seems doable to me, especially with lightweight wool Icebreaker stuff that I have.  Right now, I’m having an especially hard time finding boots that I can even pretend are comfortable.  I’ve been wearing Keen Voyageurs for years, but they seem to change factories and the fit changes constantly.  Several pairs have not fit and I’m now onto some Merrell Venitlators and another type of Keens.  With 9 days till departure, I’m pretty concerned about this.  If my boots aren’t somewhat comfortable I’ll suffer the whole 750km.
I’m fortunate to have found Nancy Reynolds, who has a website called “The Camino Experience” and a program called “Just get Me Started.”  She gets you going, oriented and walks from St. Jean Pied de Port to Pamplona with you, before turning you loose.  I’m finding her emailed advice and general info to be invaluable.
Somewhere I read that a heavy backpack is representative of carrying all of your fears with you.  I think by doing a pilgrimage in the fall, the orientation is towards letting go of things.  To borrow from the 5 element model, the fall or metal energy is about letting go, just as the leaves fall from the trees.