Since Kevin and I are not exactly experienced in the world of outdoor activity, pretty much everything we are bringing on our trip is something that we have had to buy brand new. We’re not people that have trekking backpacks, walking poles, quick-dry wicking t-shirts, buffs, gore-tex rain jackets, or anything of the sort. We barely even have running shoes, so we most certainly did not have any hiking boots.
As any experienced hiker will tell you, the absolute most important thing when it comes to preparing for a hiking/walking trip is your shoes. Good shoes and you’ll be prancing along happily like Joanna Rohrback. Bad shoes and you’ll be limping in pain after one day and cursing the world.
Because I’ve done an exorbitant amount of research leading up to this trip, I was incredibly worried that I wasn’t going to find the right shoes. Because let me tell you, the bad shoe horror stories that I have read about on the Camino message boards are plain out terrifying. Stories about huge bloody blisters and plantar fasciitis and collapsed arches and all sorts of other horrifying things I’d never heard of before. Just from walking.
And then there are all of these shoe “rules” to follow, like buying shoes a size too big so that your feet have plenty of room to swell, but making sure they are not so big that your feet will move around and get blisters. Or getting insoles that are extra cushioned but still tough enough to be supportive, but not too supportive because then your arches get messed up. Or that in addition to wearing sock liners with your wool socks (and god forbid you wear the wrong socks!), you need to cover your feet with vaselin each morning and then line your shoes with a panty liner for extra padding (I’m serious – lots of people do this!). Not to mention that you’re supposed to get your shoes as early as possible, so that you have months and months to break them in.
So all of this is to say, having the right shoes is important.
And I was very paranoid that I wasn’t going to find them.
The first time we went to REI, I was not that impressed with the selection. I tried on many pairs but nothing felt “perfect” so I went home and did some online research. And after reading review after review after review and getting even more confused, I said “eff it” and just ordered every single one that I thought might be a contender. Which came out to be 14 different pairs.
And so a couple of days later, Kevin arrived home to this:
Thank god for the Zappos return policy.
And okay, I admit I might have gone a little overboard, but this way I was able to try them on and walk around and compare and take as long as I wanted and not feel like the REI people were getting annoyed with me. And in that pile of 14, I found my shoes. (Go me!)
Kevin made fun of me about this to no end, but a few weeks later, after a third REI visit in which he still hadn’t been able to find any shoes that felt right (and whining about it constantly), I decided to take matters into my own hands…
I can only imagine what UPS must think of us…
And you know what? It worked.
He finally found the perfect hiking shoes, all thanks to my online shopping hiking shoe research wizardry.
Through this process of camino research and online shipping, I’ve become a pseudo-expert in the world of ultralight outdoor gear (which is hilarious if you know me). Lightest windbreaker? That would be the Patagonia houdini. Possible shin splint prevention? Check out some compression calf sleeves. Best leak proof hydration reservoir? Try the Platypus Big Zip. Want non-synthetic clothing that doesn’t smell but wicks well? Welcome to the world of merino wool.
And being able to buy pretty much everything we need for the Camino without having to step foot into an outdoor sporting store has been awesome.
But here’s the problem…
I’ve now become a bit, er, obsessed, with the online shopping.
Particularly with Zappos. I mean, FREE one-day shipping? FREE returns? What’s not to love.
But it’s started to get a bit out of control, because on almost any random night, this is what our apartment looks like:
I never knew a pair of socks could bring me so much joy…
I now buy pretty much everything online. Everything. Dish soap, toiletries, underwear, electronics, clothes. It’s like I have forgotten real-life physical stores actually exist.
When I come home from work I think to myself “ohhhh I wonder what will be awaiting me tonight!” and excitedly check the mail. And if nothing is there, I get sad.
Oh friends. My name is Serena, and I am an online shopping addict.
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve at least heard of the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. My guess is that most of you have probably read it.
In my experience, people seem to have a “love it or hate it” relationship with this book. I happen to fall in the “love it” camp (although I will admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of the film). I know a lot of people out there found Elizabeth Gilbert to be an annoyingly self-absorbed narcissist, and though I do understand why people thought that, I myself never did. I loved the book and I loved her. I thought it was such a wonderful story about self-discovery and travel and life and love.
So when my friend Julie told me that Elizabeth Gilbert had recently wrote an article about a walking trip she took through Provence, France, and sent me a link to it, I eagerly clicked over to read it. I devoured every single word.
And I fell in love with Ms. Gilbert all over again.
Because it captures so perfectly why it is that I am so excited for this trip that Kevin and I are embarking on. This walking tour of Spain. This pilgrimage. This journey. This whatever it is that you want to call it.
She writes about luxurious dinners of foie gras and escargots, and lunches of camembert and wine under olive trees, and nights spent in fourteenth-century sheep farms, and stopping in a teeny tiny village and purchasing the best cheese she’s ever tasted from a woman in a teeny tiny market, and how having your days consist of walking and eating and drinking made her feel like each day had “the exact right number of hours in it.”
But what she really captures is just how amazing it is to arrive somewhere by foot:
Despite our navigational challenges, we promptly realized how much we loved this. Because moving through a country at the pace of a walk is an incredibly intimate way to experience a place. What we encountered during our six-hour hike was simply…everything. Every single iris blossom, all the inquisitive local dragonflies and dogs, the chickens who crossed the road nervously, like characters in a joke. We smelled everything, too—the cow pastures, the mustard fields, the wild rosemary and thyme that grew thick in the hills….
There is something about entering an ancient town on foot that’s radically different from entering the same place by car. Keep in mind that these old French towns were all designed by people on foot for people on foot. So when you walk in, you’re approaching the place as it was intended to be approached—slowly and naturally, the way Dorothy came upon Oz (spires rising in the distance, a sense of mounting mystery: What kind of city will this be?). When paved roads were introduced about a thousand years after these towns were built, the macadam sliced artificially across the landscape, stabbing fast into these old parishes at the most convenient (for cars) angles. We, on the other hand, walked there high and alone across the mountains. Then the mountains turned into fields, the fields morphed into a cherry orchard, and the orchard gently spilled us toward Gordes—a city on a hill that, cinematically, we approached from above, from an even higher hill. From the moment we first saw the distant church spires until we stood upon those church steps, we walked for almost two hours, as evening approached and the town unfolded its gorgeousness before us. We arrived there the way people were always meant to arrive: awed, tired, grateful.
The view walking into Gordes
And it is because of experiences like that that put me over-the-edge with excitement about what this trip has in store for us. About what it will be like for Kevin and me to walk into teeny tiny villages and stay in monasteries and take siestas under trees and gorge ourselves on paella and wine and conversation.
So please, if you have any interest in travel or food or France, I urge you to click over and read it for yourself. All seven pages of it. Devour it. Because it’s that good. She writes in a way that, quite simply, makes my heart happy. Which shouldn’t surprise me, considering that she is, as Julie called her, a “writer beast.”
And with that, I wish you a very happy Thursday.
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As soon as Kevin and I started telling people that we were going to walk the Camino de Santiago, a slew of questions flooded in, most of which revolved around how exactly one “does” this. For example:
Is this something you have to sign up for?
Is this a tour?
Do you do it with a group?
Is there a schedule you have to follow?
Where do you stay?
Have you already booked your hotels?
Are you walking for a cause?
The answer to all of these questions is, very simply, no.
You don’t have to sign up for anything. We are not doing a tour, though there are some tour companies out there that will organize it for you, should you be so inclined. We’re not walking with any sort of group, though we certainly hope to meet others along the way. There’s no schedule to follow. You stay in what are called albergues, which are basically hostels that are only available for pilgrims (those walking the way). We haven’t booked a single hotel except for our first two nights in Pamplona. We’re not walking for any cause – this isn’t like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer - we are walking just for us, for the experience.
Basically, the plan is that there is no plan. There is a route that you follow, and a list of places that pilgrims can stay along the way, but other than that, you just show up, get your Pilgrim’s Passport, and start walking.
There are many different routes that lead to Santiago, but the most popular one (and the one depicted in the film The Way) is the Camino Frances. There is no “official” start to it, but most people start in St Jean Pied de Port, a small town in France, right in the Pyrenees. Originally Kevin and I were planning on starting there too, but since we really wanted to try to keep our walking to 30 days, we decided to start from Pamplona, which will cut out the first three days (and also save us from the trek over the Pyrenees) and should keep us within our goal of making it to Santiago within four weeks.
When we get to Pamplona we’ll have to pick up our pilgrim passports, and once we have those, we’re pretty much good to go. The pilgrim’s passport is the document issued by the cathedral authorities in Santiago, and is needed as proof of your pilgrimage. It needs to get stamped at least once a day, and in order “to prevent abuse of the 1000-year old spirit of hospitality of the pilgrimage, access to the refugios is restricted to those carrying such evidence of their pilgrim status.”
Albergues (sometimes called refugios), are basically hostels for pilgrims only. I have no idea what they will really be like, but I call them “old-people hostels.” You show up, show your pilgrim’s passport, and then stay in a room filled with other walkers. They usually cost between €5 -€10 a night. A family style meal is usually offered, in which you eat and drink and dine with your fellow pilgrims, and you’re only allowed to stay one night. Sometimes the albergues are located within monasteries, like the below:
Other times they are in newly remodeled buildings, like this one:
Casa de Abuela in Los Arcos
Our tentative plan is to stay at a hotel every third or fourth night, so that we can have some privacy and be able to catch up on personal hygiene stuff, among other things. You know, things like leg shaving and bed sharing and what not. I don’t know about you, but I am an incredibly slow leg shaver, so there’s no way that I’m going to be able to do that in a communally shared shower space. I also like to take luxuriously long hot showers, which isn’t really hostel etiquette.
Nor is walking around in your underwear, which is another thing I quite enjoy.
For the most part, there’s an albergue or hotel at least every three miles, so how long you walk and where you stop is entirely up to you. Most people walk an average of 13 miles a day, and that’s our plan as well.
However, we’re also allowing ourselves the freedom to just do what works for us. Which means that maybe one day we’ll only feel like walking five miles. And maybe another we’ll feel like walking 18. And if it’s pouring rain all day and after about two miles we’re tired of being muddy and cold and wet, we have no problem calling it a day and taking a taxi to the closest town.
Since neither of us have ever done a trip like this before, we really won’t know what it’s actually going to be like until we start. Our “training” has consisted of some weekend hikes, the longest of which has been seven miles, so it might take our bodies some time to adjust to being able to walk 14 miles a day consistently. And we’re okay with that.
So like I said before, our plan is that we don’t really have a plan.
And that is kind of the most exciting part about it all.
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First of all, no, I’m not pregnant.
I had a feeling that people that were going to think that, but no, my big news has nothing to do with growing a small human being. Plus, I can assure you that if/when that time comes, I won’t be posting teasers about it on my blog. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but that’s just not my style. More likely an announcement of that sort would come in the form of a photo of myself cradling bottles of wine while sobbing hysterically, with the caption “see you in nine months lovers.”
So, no, again, not pregnant.
But anyway, remember that 500 miles song by the Proclaimers? It used to be one of my absolute favorite songs when I was younger. I would drive my mom crazy by listening to it over and over and over again. I loooooooooved it. And even today, as a pseudo-grownup, I still do.
So it’s kind of funny to think that in less than one month I will actually walk 500 miles.
Well, 472 to be exact, but hey, I think that’s close enough to count!
Yes. You read that right. Me, someone who up until a few months ago had never done a real hike in her life, will be hiking almost 500 miles. With Kevin. Across Spain.
Confused? Let me back up.
For as long as I’ve been with Kevin, we have wanted to do some sort of big trip together. A “last hurrah” before we settle down and have kids type of thing, but we could never agree on what this big trip would be. And then about a year ago we started learning more about this little thing called the Camino de Santiago, and suddenly, it all kind of fell into place.
On October 2nd, Kevin and I will be flying into Pamplona, Spain, and from there we will spend the next 30 (+/-) days walking (yes, walking) to Santiago. For those of you that have never heard about the Camino de Santiago, you’re not alone. While the Camino is very popular in Europe, it’s still not that well known among Americans.
The Camino de Santiago is a 1200 year old pilgrimage that leads to Santiago de Compostela, in western Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of Saint James are buried. In medieval times it was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages one could make. Today, it’s become a very popular modern pilgrimage, drawing people from all over the world for all sorts of reasons, be it for the adventure, the cultural experience, to become closer to God, or sometimes just for the food and wine. Last year, almost 200,000 people walked the way.
Though many people do it for religious reasons, there are also a lot of people who do it for non-religious purposes, like us. Both Kevin and I are agnostic (agnostic theists, if you will), so while we’re definitely open to having a spiritual journey along the Camino, it’s certainly not the driving force behind it.
Kevin first learned about the Camino de Santiago when he was in high school, and he’s wanted to do it ever since. For me? Well, I first learned about it years ago when I read Paolo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage,” but because his journey was very religious and spiritual and included things like camping and sleeping outside, it didn’t really appeal to me. Kevin and I had talked about it briefly but it was never something we seriously considered doing.
Then about a year ago Kevin and I saw movie The Way. While watching it I looked over at Kevin and said “wait a second… you don’t have to camp? You just walk through the beautiful Spanish countryside and then eat and drink wine and hang out with new people?” And when he said yes, I said “sign me up!” Because eating and drinking and hanging out with people? That I can do! That right there is my forte.
And so our plan was born.
The walk from Pamplona to Santiago should take about a month, and from there we’re giving ourselves another two weeks to do whatever our hearts desire. Our tentative plan is to spend a few days in Portugal and then head over to Morocco, but we’re taking a “go with the flow” approach and not really committing to anything in case we change our mind along the way.
I’ve wanted to write about this for so long but I’ve had to keep it secret, because taking a six-week trip kind of means that you have to sacrifice other things. Things like your job. Which means in order for me to do this trip, I will have to leave my job, and I couldn’t really write about that until I’d shared this information with my work. But now that the cat is out of the bag, I can blog about it to my hearts content!
And probably drive you crazy in the process.
Fortunately, Kevin’s job is awesome and is allowing him to take six weeks off, so thankfully only one of us will be unemployed upon our return.
As for what I’ll do what I get back? I have no idea. Quitting your job for the great unknown is equally as exciting as it is scary, and while the thought of coming back to San Francisco jobless does give me some anxiety, the thought of not doing this trip gives me so much more.
So there you have it, friends. My “big news.” Considering the number of real life friends that already knew my “big news” but that after reading my blog called or emailed me to ask just what my “big news” was, I fear I may have hyped it up a bit too much. I am sorry if that is the case, but to me, it’s pretty big.
I sincerely hope that you’ll bear with me as my blog temporarily morphs into that of a Camino de Santiago travel blog. I promise to try my best to keep you entertained, and hopefully my adventures in Spain will be a little more exciting than my life in San Francisco has been lately.
I do hope you’ll stick around.
(every time I write that I think of the pretty woman shopping scene)
Well hello there! Long time no talk, am I right?
I kind of sort of took a blog sabbatical without meaning to.
Over two weeks without a post!?!
That’s the longest I’ve ever gone without blogging
since I started on this little blogging adventure.
But I am back!
And as the title will suggest,
I’ve got some big news to share with you all!
However, I’m not going to tell you today.
Which I know is so incredibly annoying.
I hate when bloggers do that, and yet here I am, doing it.
Feel free to cyber punch me in the face.
(I know you want to)
But trust me,
I have my reasons.
So until next time,
I am going to do the ultimate of blogger cliches,
and welcome you to take a guess.
P.S. And because I don’t like posts without pictures,
here is a picture of me a couple weeks ago at Fairyland for Grownups
(which was awesome!).
The sign says it all.
While this photo has nothing to do with anything,
you’ve gotta laugh at a pussy in a well.