Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Thursday, April 12, 2018

What's Annie Up To?

Hello folks.

My mother took a bad fall about 4 weeks ago and I've been caring for her.

Unfortunately, this has meant I haven't had time to train for my upcoming Camino, so I guess I'll be a tortoise on this walk, unless I can get in some training this next month.

Mom's doing well enough for me to leave her in the care of my niece next few days, and I'm heading back to Portland, Oregon for the month.

I leave for Madrid on May 15 to walk the Best of Both from SJPP to Santiago with a group of ladies, and then a SLOW Camino from Sarria to Santiago backing up to that.

I'll do my best to post photos and blog as I go.

My MCS is flaring up because mom smokes like a smokestack. I've been sleeping out in my van, but still feel the affects. Hopefully, a week or two camping once I leave here will clear out my system, and if not, the Camino will cure me. As many of you know, my doctor prescribed long distance walking to chelate the chemicals my body refuses to let go of, which is why I began walking the Camino in the beginning.

I guess that's it.
Please stay tuned.

Also, I have a Facebook Group here if you're planning to walk:

It will help you sort out these post and find the information you are looking for.

Buen Camino!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Pushwalla and Horseshoe Palms Oasis

Yesterday, we took about a 7.5 mile hike to Pushwalla Oasis near Thousand Palms, California.  The weather was beautiful, a cool 75 degrees, and it was a tough but worthwhile hike.

Here are some photos:

Easy climb

Some nice flat walking

Down a steep hill past a 40's truck that didn't make it

Well-deserved rest


The beautiful Pushwalla Oasis is hidden in a tiny canyon

Pool of water

The water runs all the way through the oasis

Mr. Crow watches us

The trail back. Joe lifting his hat and being silly.  lol!

You never would have known the oasis was there!

We spot Horseshoe Palm Oasis from the trail

Some huge barrel cacti

Between Pushwalla and Horshoe Palm trails, we figure we walked between 7 and 8 miles ( 11-12.87 kilometers). It took us 3 hours. That sounds about right, because on the Camino I usually take about 6 hours to walk 20-25 kilometers.  A healthy distance. Much of the time the walking was in gently rolling terrain and sandy washes, but the dives into the canyons and the climbs out were difficult for me. I need to get into better shape.

Today, there is a new 5 mile trail opening near us, off Corkhill Road. We're going to give it a try before the heat sets in.

Happy Training!


Monday, March 05, 2018

Training for the 2018 Camino

Well, it's March, which means it's time to begin serious training for the 2018 Camino. I always say it's best to begin slow then add distance as you gain strength. Sometimes I train while on the Camino - just depends on how life goes.

Thursday, March 1, I took a nice hike up nearly to the edge of the cone of Saddle Mountain, looking for fire agates. 

Today I walked up to the toe of the nearby mountains in Desert Hot Springs. The desert is beginning to blossom, and I was excited to see several plants and cacti in bloom.

Things were blooming in the resort too...

The walk was no more than 2 miles in the sand, and was pretty easy. I'll rest a day tomorrow - maybe just walk the streets of the resort - then take a longer hike on Wednesday.

My ankle hasn't been bothering me too much this year, though every now and then it complains.

How about you?
Are you doing any training?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

An Umbrella for the Camino 2018

Here's a photo to show you my top loading pack.
Can you see the straps on the side?
That's where I stuck the umbrella
There is some discussion about umbrellas on the Camino today and my vote is YES! 
By all means, carry one!

Up until last year, I thought it was funny to see people with umbrellas on the Camino.
Then last year, on a very hot day, I bought one.

And now, I'm addicted.
It's one of my favorite pieces of Camino gear.

First of all, I bought a bright purple one last year, 
so the color was cheerful on dark rainy days.

Second, when it DID rain, I stayed absolutely dry.

Last, on hot days, I bet it was 20 degrees cooler under that umbrella.
The sun would be baking other pilgrims,
who would be sweating and sucking down water.
I would be walking under cool shade,
very comfortable.

I'll never go without one again.

I don't take my umbrella with me.
I will buy one in Spain.
I bought the last one for 8 euros.
And not a folding one.
Those will break in the wind.
Nope.. a sturdy regular old umbrella.
Stood up the entire route.
I left it in Santiago when I came home.
Didn't want to mess with checking it on the plane.

Walking the Madrid route, I had shade all the way.

This is how I store it when I am not using it.

I have a top loading pack, so I stuck the umbrella in the side straps on one side,
and my bread or walking sticks on the other side.
It was great.
I could just reach back when I needed it.

Another photo of my backpack.
See where I have my walking stick in this photo?
That's where I put my umbrella.
So.. think about it.
You don't have to decide until you reach Pamplona.
There will be plenty of places to pick up an umbrella there.
Buen Camino!

PS: In Spain it is called a "paraguas"
para-aguas = for rain
as opposed to a
para-sol = for sun

I love Spanish!

Toileting on the Camino 2018

Ok.. we have to talk about this. I can't post on this topic too many times.

One question I get asked more than any other is "where do we use the toilet while on the Camino?" The answer is, "It depends."

I suggest you start training your body now to do your morning BM early, so you can get that done in the albergue before ever leaving. If you can't manage, then you've got a couple of choices. You can go off the trail - far but not far enough to get lost - find a bush, DIG A HOLE, and leave your offering there.

If you absolutely can't wait and you MUST do this, PLEASE CARRY OUT YOUR TOILET PAPER IN A DOGGIE BAG. Most TP takes years to degrade and animals will dig it up. So just be a good citizen and carry out your own poop, just like you would your dog's.

Please do not do this!

If you can wait, most bars will allow you to use their toilet. Some may ask you for a 50 cent fee or even €1 fee. Pay it.  Those bars have very old plumbing. They are not on public sewer systems and you can imagine the strain it puts on their systems when 500 pilgrims each day want to use their toilet!  There is also the cost of toilet paper to consider.  So if you must use a bar toilet, please buy something.  A beer. A packet of gum. A bocadillo.  This is only good manners.

For urinating on the WAY, just go off the trail a way and find a tree to use or squat by. Wearing a hiking skirt makes this easier for woman. At first, it feels awkward or embarrassing to some, but you get used to it, and believe me, nobody cares ... they're all in the same boat.

Again, WOMEN, listen up!  DO NOT LEAVE YOUR TOILET PAPER ALONG THE CAMINO ROUTE. Carry it out with you and dispose of it at the next trash can you find.  Carry some doggie bags with you. They're cheap. Or carry a ziplock just for that purpose.  

Or better yet, buy yourself a bandana that you only use for toileting and just wash it out each night with the rest of your laundry.

Sadly, it IS women who leave the biggest mess along the route. I've seen it all, from piles of nasty paper to tampons to panty liners.

One year, we stopped in this lovely shaded tree stump to take a rest and surprise!

Speaking of panty liners, some women wear them, do not wipe after urinating, then dispose of the liners in the next bathroom.  That personally doesn't appeal to me, but it's an option.

Be sure and ALWAYS carry toilet paper with you. Often, you can find a toilet in a bar, but paper will not be supplied. I don't carry an entire roll, but buy small travel packets of kleenex along the way and always carry one of those.

There have been years I have tried various feminine urination devices like the She-Wee, Go Girl, and others. But in the end, they were more trouble than they were worth and at best, I ended up peeing down my leg.  

Now I just do what thousands of years of ancestral women have done before.
I squat in the bushes.

Why fix what isn't broken?

Just please, PLEASE pick up after yourself. 
Leave NO trace.
And if you see others breaking this rule, I think it's just fine to remind them!

Buen Camino!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Finding and Carrying Water on the Camino - 2018

Three common questions I get about the Camino Frances are about water:

1) Is the fountain water safe to drink?
2) Should I carry a bottle or a bladder?
3) Should I buy water along the route?

Fountain Water.
In answer to whether or not fountain water is safe, the answer is "almost always." Most of the fountain water comes from springs that are deep in the ground, fresh, and pure. The water in the fountains is tested often by the government since not only pilgrims drink it, but people in the villages still drink it.

There are two occasions when you may want to buy bottled water or get water from a municipal tap.

a. When it is raining so hard that the streams are muddy, I would buy water. This is because you are walking in agricultural land, and there is a lot of cow and horse and pig manure on the land. If the rain is so hard that it's causing a lot of runoff, then the springs could be temporarily contaminated for a few days until fresh water flushes them out.

If the water looks muddy like this, I would not use local fountains.

b. During a heat wave.  A heat wave may cause bacteria to grow in what normally would be good water.

Otherwise, I have never had a problem drinking directly from the fountains.

One time, by mistake, Joe drank from a fountain clearly marked "Non-Potable" which means the water was NOT safe.  We immediately hit a bar where he ordered a couple shots of whiskey to kill any bacteria and he never had a problem!

Bottle or Bladder?
This is really just a matter of preference.

I prefer a bottle. I carry ONE 8 ounce bottle when I walk the Camino Frances.

Why do I prefer a bottle over a bladder?  First of all, it is lightweight and fits in my Macabi skirt pocket, so it's easily accessible.

Second, there are running fountains all along the Camino Frances, and so I drink my fill at the fountain, fill my bottle, and I'm off. It means less weight for me to carry.  The one exception is if I'm walking from Orisson to Roncesvalles in the summer months. Then I'd carry two bottles if I asked at the Pilgrim Office and learned Roland's Fountain on the border is not running.

Third, a bottle is more easily washed out each night so bacteria doesn't grow.

Joe carries a bladder.

He just prefers it.
He does have to wash it out each night (a pain in the kazoo to me).
I've heard people say, "You don't have to fill it."

Well, true.  However, the thing about a bladder is it would be too inconvenient to take off and fill at each fountain, so you're carrying the weight of all that water, when it is not necessary. And water is heavy!  Pick up a couple of 2 liter Pepsi bottles and you'll see how heavy they can be!

Purchased Water.
Purchased water is cheap and available all along the Camino Frances. That just seems wasteful to me. All those empty bottles that need to be recycled, and sadly, I see a LOT of discarded bottles all along the path.

The water in Spain is as safe or safer than the water in the United States.
It is NOT a third world country like Mexico.
Their infrastructure puts much of ours to shame.

Other Camino Routes

Other Camino Routes may require you carrying more water. On the Via de la Plata, for instance, the stages are longer and in the summer months, many of the fountains are dry. On the Aragones, the Madrid, the Norte, the Portuguese, and walking from Lourdes, I never carried more than one bottle of water.

However, every pilgrim is different. So, as with shoes or boots, how you carry your water is a choice you need to make for yourself.

What Terrain To Expect on the Camino? 2018

This will be a very long, photo heavy post.
Most of the photos are of the track you'll be walking on,
and not much else.

People often get the idea that the Camino is a mountain climbing trip with really rough trail. That couldn't be further from the truth. While there are a few steep and/or rocky places, most of the track is flat to rolling hills and in very good condition.  

Let me show you some photos of what you might be up against.  

Realize, of course, that there are ALWAYS going to be exceptions 
- storms, super crazy rainy stretches, 
places where bicycles tear up the trail - 
here is what you can expect. 

SJPP to Orisson 
For MOST of this stretch from SJPP to Orisson,
 you will be walking on paved road.
It is a very steep 8 kilometers.
In that 8 kilometers,
the elevation gain is over 3,100 feet.

There is one short section that goes off the road,
up and over a hill that can be very muddy.
If it is raining and muddy, just stick to the road.
It is an easier and drier way to go
 - you'll stay on paved road -
the views are just as fantastic.
Here are a few photos of this first stretch.
As you can see, it is all on paved road,
and though steep, it is very doable:


The problem most people have on this first day
is trying to go too far (to Roncesvalles),
pushing themselves too hard,
and carrying too much weight.

If you aren't quite sure what too much weight is,
think about carrying two 5 pound bags of potatoes
up an 8 kilometer (5 mile) flight of stairs!
That's 10 pounds.
The weight most experienced pilgrims suggest
is 10% of your body weight.
I weigh about 160 this year.
I won't let my pack get over 15 pounds,
water included.
That is THREE 5 pound bags of potatoes!!!

Soon you are Orisson and can rest.
Grab a beer or a coffee and pat yourself on the back.
Sit and watch the weary pilgrims coming in to Orisson.
Some look half dead and others look sooooo happy!  

I love this photo of Patty Moak "coming in!"
Patty is in her 70's - she did great!

Here is a photo of the muddy section from SJPP to Orisson
which is no more than 1 kilometer in length:


If it is foggy, you might hear the cowbells
before you see the cows!
Don't worry, they won't hurt you,
they're used to pilgrims.
Just don't walk up behind them or try to touch them,
or you could get kicked!

Here is a photo of the side road
(if you choose to stay on the road and not take the muddy path).
The road goes around the "other side" of the hill.
This way is no longer than the other one,
and hooks up with the regular road.
You can see it on Brierley's map between Hunto and Orisson.
This is the path I prefer and the one I always take.
The views, as you can see, are gorgeous!

Please don't get the idea that you can easily do
St. Jean to Roncesvalles in one day.
The 8 kilometer walk up to Orisson
is something that most people are never prepared for.
It is VERY steep,
and unless you are in exceptional shape,
I highly suggest you take this stage from SJPP to Roncesvalles

Orisson to Roncesvalles:
Here are some photos going up to the summit and over.
You often get up above the clouds,
so even if it's foggy down below you end up with sunny skies.

Near the summit you will go off onto a well-maintained dirt trail:

Then gravel

And finally into the Beech forest.
This is the tricky part.
If it is dry, no problem.
If it has been raining, the wet rotting leaves on the large rocks
can be slick as snot!

The issue isn't so much that it is steep going down,
although there are a few steep sections,
but that it is VERY slippery when wet.
You need to go slow, use your walking sticks, and watch your step.
This is where some pilgrims are injured.
Don't rush. There are plenty of beds.
Take it slow and easy.

If you have Brierley's maps,
you can see this section is from Col de Lepoeder
down down down in to the Valley of the Thorns (Roncesvalles)
and is not a very long section - just a few kilometers.

Soon you will see Roncesvalles!  HOORAY!

Roncesvalles to Zubiri
Next day is Day 2 of the roughest days on the Camino, in my book.
The walk begins on flat track through a few villages
with forested or park-like terrain in between.
Be VERY careful when you leave the village of Burguete (Auritz).
You are not yet used to watching for the yellow flechas (arrows),
and right after the village,
the arrows are on the PAVEMENT
and lead off to the right,
off the main highway and onto dirt track.
Many pilgrims miss this turn,
and end up walking the busy highway,
adding kilometers to their total for the day.
The highway will eventually hook up to the Camino
in Espinal, if you do miss the turn.

I can't recall if this is before or after Zubiri
The last stretch of this day is, again,
on large flat rocks that can be covered with rotting leaves
and it can be VERY slippery if wet.
So once again, go slow on those stretches.

The steepest section begins after you pass this intersection
of highway at the summit of Alto de Erro.
There is usually a little trailer here where you can buy snacks.

If you look at Brierley's map of Stage 2,
the only really steep sections are from Alto de Mezuiriz
down the side of that little hill you see on the map
and from Alto de Erro down to the Puente de la Rabia of Zubiri.
So it's not like the entire stage is steep and rocky.
Only two places of maybe 2 kilometers each.
So just take it easy on those two stages, walk slow,
watch your feet, not the scenery,
use your sticks, and you will be fine.
If it's dry, no problem. 

This is the roughest of the track on Day 2

Zubiri to Pamplona 

Easy peasy.
Good track.
And the type of track you see on this stage is what you can expect
on MOST of the Camino.
I'm not talking about elevation
or hills here,
I'm talking about the track itself.
There will be hills,
but no tough mountains.

Flat and sandy

Flat and dirt
Some walking beside the road

A few stairs

When you approach Pamplona,
there is a tunnel you walk through
that takes you across a very busy highway.
Please do not attempt to cross the highway itself.
Spanish drivers will NOT stop for you.
Pilgrims get hit by cars every year.
Use the tunnel!

Pamplona to Puente la Reina

This is the last "mountain" you're going to climb for a while.
You will go up only 790 meters,
a gentle climb up very good trail,
to the top of Alto del Perdon.
Listen to the "whoosh" as you walk under the giant windmills.
It's pretty much flat up until the foot of the hill itself.
And soon you face the one REALLY rocky place
that everyone worries about.

It's funny to me how one person can yell "Fire!"
and everybody gets scared.
To me, this is not a difficult descent,
just one where you can't shuffle down,
but need to watch your step.

Coming down from Alto del Perdon into Uterga,
the track is covered with loose rocks,
and you really do have to pay attention.
Watch your FEET, not the scenery and you will be fine.
It's a VERY short distance,
I'd say less than 1 kilometer of rocky trail,
and not so much steep - just loose rocks.
You can easily find terra firma if you watch your step.
 Once you are down the hill,
it's flat walking on good track and road.

Leaving Pamplona you will meander through city and neighborhoods

Nice track through a park
A very small hill up ahead - see it? Alto del Perdon - not so scary
It is a gentle climb
Almost at the top - take your time - no hurry
At the top - the obligatory photo
Once you reach the top, take photos and rest.
There are often snack trucks and taxis here.
The downhill part into Uterga freaks everyone out.
They've heard it is really difficult.
But it is not.
I'm 64 years old, chunky, and if I can do it, anyone can do it.

The rocky descent is maybe 1 kilometer long and is not that steep.
The locals have put loose rocks here because the rain washed out the trail.
Yes, you COULD turn an ankle if you weren't careful.
But 2 or 3, or even 15 kilometers of rough trail
out of a 790 kilometer walk just doesn't warrant boots,
for me personally.

Just be careful on these few sections,
and trail runners might be something you want to consider
instead of heavy hiking boots!

This is what everyone is afraid of.
If you aren't too tired, 
take the cut-off to Eunate.
It's definitely worth a visit,
and an easy return to the Camino.
In Spring/Summer, you will walk through fields of sunflowers!

Flat from Eunate to Puente la Reina

Following are some photos of the track typical
to that you'll see all the way to Stage 8, Logroño.
These are not necessarily in order.

Paved track

There is at least one stretch of Roman Road in here:

From here until you reach Astorga,
you'll see a variety of track
that looks like these photos.

Except for one hill, Alto Mostelares,
which is only 900 meters tall,
the track is pretty much flat.

A few bumpy places, but not very many.

Flat and sandy - small pebbles but you can avoid them

It was so hot this day, I had to lay down and rest right where I was!
Be sure and take rests when you need them.
Take your shoes and socks off,
air out your feet,
close your eyes for a few minutes.
A short rest will go far in helping you complete the stages.

The climb over Mt. Mostelares ( a hill really) is flat and sandy and brown in AUTUMN

Soft dirt

Rolling hills, nice track - sticky when wet though

Flat and sandy

Road walking
Occasional forested track

Some red clay- sticky when wet

Here are some photos of the same stages in the Spring weather:

The climb up Mostelares in the Spring - early summer - still green!

Road walking - these are the ruins of San Anton - a great place to stay!

Leaving Logroño heading to Navarette

Flat and gorgeous!

Road Walking
Once you're in Astorga, you begin to climb
up and over the highest point of the Camino.
There is a gentle climb to Rabanal
where you walk on flat track beside the road.

The next day, Stage 24, you go up and over the pass of Irago. Much of the walking is on a very good dirt track. There is some road walking. The worst part of this stage is the descent into Acebo and Molinaseca down a short but very steep hill. Again, if it is wet or windy, take special care to go slow.
It is no more than 1/4 kilometer, but can be difficult if you're out of shape.
However, MOST pilgrims, by now, are in great shape.
So just watch your step.

The next stages are a lot of road walking,
gentle hills on dirt track.

When you reach Valcarce,
you begin to climb again, up and over O'Cebreiro.
This is a long, hard climb, 
but again, just take it slow.
I suggest sleeping in La Faba or Laguna de Castillo.
That way you take the worst part of the hill the next morning
when you're fresh,
and you can go OVER the hill and stay  on the other side.
Stop in O'Cebreiro to be a tourist, for sure!
See the beautiful little church, 
and the tiny museum.
Have breakfast, 
then continue on.

The track up to O'Cebreiro is mostly good track and road.
There are a few sections that are rough and rocky, 
but they are short. 
These photos are from 2009.
When I last walked it, in 2013,
it was much smoother.
There is an option to rent horses to take you up and over,
if that interests you.

The roughest section had washed out in a storm.
I did not see much of this in 2013.
However, there is a bit of rough trail here.

Most of the walk up to O Cebreiro was track like this or road.
See the angle my body is at in the photo above?
This is similar to what you'll face walking up to Orisson,
a steep, steady climb.

Now you're in Galicia!

From O Cebreiro, you will drop down into Triacastela
and from this point on, the track is sweet.
Once you are in Sarria, 
it is the last 100 kilometers,
 it is VERY well kept up.

From Tricastela,
I personally prefer to walk through Samos,
and then walk to Sarria from there.
To me, it is a much prettier walk, 
and I just love it.
But the regular Camino trail is also beautiful.

Here are some photos of the last sections, 
in no particular order,
just so you can see the type of track you will be 
walking on:

A beautiful, but rocky section - not too long. Maybe 20 minutes walking?
Woodland walking

Nice walking next to ancient walls.
Some road side, river side walking

A bit of dirt track
Village walking
Eucalyptus forest walking
Gravel road walking
Add caption

That's pretty much it, all the way to Santiago. 
As you near Santiago, the walking is rolling hills on firm gravel track.

I hope this has given you a better idea of what you're facing.
As you can see, MOST of the track is good, well-maintained, and fairly flat.

The Camino is not a mountain climbing expedition.
It is a long, slow trek.

Yes, there are a few rough places,
but to me, not enough of those to warrant hiking boots, 
unless, of course, you have weak ankles,
or unless you're one of those folks who grew up in hiking boots.

Hiking boots will protect your ankles and perhaps the soles of your feet,
but they will cause their own set of problems.
The soles are not as flexible,
they can be HOT in the summer
and they can be COLD in the winter, 
or when your feet get wet and you have to put on
wet, cold boots next morning.

Trail runners will dry overnight, even if they're soaked.
If you can stuff them with newspaper,
they'll dry even faster.

Spend the money for a good pair of shoes, 
whether you decide on boots or trail runners.
It is your FEET that will carry you to Santiago,
so don't skimp.
I spend around $150 each year for my shoes.
I have no regrets -
I LOVE my New Balance trail runners!

Take care of those tootsies!
And don't forget to give them a good soak at night.
Cold water with a handful of salt
will go a long way to toughen them up.
This is something you can start BEFORE your Camino,
toughening up your feet.

Buen Camino!

Soaking our feet in Estella

Soaking my feet in Ligonde