Posted in Travel sparks

Celebrating our 21st, Camino-style

After a good night’s sleep (my first for this trip) in Leon, we walked along an extremely mind-numbing and slightly depressing part of the Way to Villadangos del Paramo. Walking alongside the highway in the hot sun, with no real landmarks along the way, I was hit with a new physical challenge: a crippling pain in my right shin that was so intense it stopped me from taking a step on a few occasions.
As I lagged far behind the rest of the group and there was no one in sight – ahead or behind – I switched between anger and sadness and disappointment at my new malady. I don’t recall ever experiencing pain like it (although I’m sure it can’t compare on the pain scale, it did make think of the amazing mothers out there). I may have even started shouting like a mad woman, but as there were no witnesses, it doesn’t count. I’m not used to my body letting me down (but, of course, my body is not used to me trying to kill it by walking across Spain), so I’m still a bit shocked by it all. But then after a short rest and a painkiller, I just focussed on one step at a time. And with that, I got to our destination. An albergue atop a grassy knoll alongside a major highway.
Dave and Andy made us another delicious lunch and we spent the afternoon chillaxing on the front lawn, watching the cars and trucks go past. Yes, really. It was not a happening town, especially on a Sunday. But Chris had some amazing Lindt dark chocolate with strawberry and that made everything seem alright.
I wasn’t sure how my leg would go on our 21st day of walking, but after a night’s rest, it seemed ok and we set off for Astorga. I had decided to take a rest day in Astorga, as it sounded like a nice town of around 12,000 peeps. Oh, and apparently it’s the chocolate capital of Spain. Andy had picked up a tummy bug, so he was happy to stop too, as were Chris and Steph. Sadly, Dave decided to push on, so our group is down to four…for now, anyway!
After a tough walking day, we picked a great place to stop – a lovely town with a beautiful square, pilgrims a-plenty…and a 4 star spa hotel, where we spent our 21st night on the Camino in style. It’s amazing how we have become so used to having so little – our eyes were wide as we checked out our palace and enjoyed the town, knowing that a 10pm curfew, snoring, a 5.45am wake up and the rustling of plastic bags weren’t on the agenda. It was magical.
We slept in and this morning enjoyed our breakfast buffet. ALL of the breakfast buffet. So nice to just relax and enjoy each other’s company and the little luxuries that we’ve not had these past weeks. 4 star pilgrims, baby!
Today we have spent day 22 here in Astorga, enjoying a leisurely morning wandering around the busy markets that took over the town (lots of different food stalls & trucks, plus clothes, curtains and the usual range of crappy crap that must be sold at every market around the world), then a late lunchtime picnic in the park, followed by a visit to the incredible Palacio designed by Gaudi and the cathedral (which was impressive, but the Gaudi was AMAZING).
We have tried a small amount of the chocolate that the area is famous for – tried to work out if we could leave clothes from our packs to take more chocolate for the road, but guess that doesn’t make much sense. OR DOES IT?
Anyways, onwards and upwards for this gang of four tomorrow (literally, as we’re approaching the highest point of our journey) – we’re feeling very relaxed and I’m so glad we took a day out here to really enjoy it. To help us ‘flash-packers’ transition from the hotel, at least we have our own four person room in this dorm. Four persons – and hopefully no biting bugs. (After munching on only me in our group til this point, they have now taken a shine to Andy and started chomping his fine German skin – luckily my pack is now full of all the medicines we’ll ever need!)

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And with that, goodbye from Astorga!

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Posted in Travel sparks

Day 19 on the Camino

Day 19 saw us walk about 24km through to the bustling city of Leon. It was hard going, mostly flat and boring scenery as we walked alongside busy roads. Leaving Reliegos, we passed the statues of the Weary Pilgrims. We felt their pain, I tell you.
It was nice to see some of our Camino mates again in Leon – Shane is here, Maria from Hungary (fortunately feeling much better now), plus the fabulous Bev and Nicole from Queensland. It’s amazing how excited we all get to see familiar faces – greeting these 2 week old friends as if they’re family. It’s lovely.
We girls decided to stay in a smaller albergue with private rooms in Leon, mostly so that I could finally get a good sleep, without worrying about bugs! It’s actually university quarters, so I am in a dorm room. It’s not as cool as what I’ve seen in movies (and there are no sororities to join), but it is nice to have some private space to recover a bit. And they have very funky wallpaper in the foyer (close-up pic below).

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Posted in Travel sparks

Camino Days 17 & 18 – This was NOT in the guide book

I had hoped that the previous post would be the first and last tale of illness on the Camino. Fortunately (I guess), this part of the Way is very boring scenery – long, flat plains and endless fields – so this illness is a bit of a focus! I woke on Day 17 with even more bites on me – I will spare you the graphic details, but they were horrific: clearly, whatever is biting me does not agree with my system. There were now around 15 angry bites on my feet, 8 on each elbow and one each on my face and neck. Imagine a normal mosquito bite, now multiply the size by five, the puffiness by 1000 and the redness by 10000 and the itchiness by one bzillion. And that is what I am riddled with, my friends. Oh, and just for extra points, some of the bites have become hideous blistered messes as I have walked on – no foot modeling in my future, dammit.
The swollen left foot was at least a little better after the painful ice & boiled water technique, followed by the chopped potato bandage overnight (thanks to the incredible Bev, the 66 year old hockey player/tax accountant/yoga instructor/natural therapies whiz from Queensland, walking the camino after winning Hockey gold at the World Masters in Turin).
But, advice from my medical consultant on the other side of the world (shout out to my brother Tony, responding to photos and messages with excellent real-time support and guidance) was to rest up. So we only walked around 12km to the town of Sahagun (officially halfway to Santiago) after stopping for coffee at a German cafe/albergue along the way. We arrived very early – around 10.30am – and it was a good day for walking, with the temperature and cloud cover all looking great. Shane walked on, figuring that we’ll meet again when he needs a shorter day himself down the track, so our group was back to six.
The day actually passed quickly in the quiet town and I was glad to be able to rest and ice my foot. A delicious banana from the local supermarket served a dual purpose as I used its skin in a bandage to reduce the swelling even further.
Day 18 saw my foot a lot less swollen, which was great. But I had about a dozen new giant bites on my hands, leg and neck. My foot felt the best it had in days though, so I was well able to hike the 31km to Reliegos with the gang. The weather was great – a bit cooler and overcast for most of our walk and we arrived in time to choose a nice albergue. One of the key criteria was a kitchen so that we could boil all of my clothes, like witches of old, in case they were hiding any bugs. Steph and Susana led the cooking and the water was certainly an interesting colour after we were done.
As the afternoon progressed, I was starting to feel a bit sickly and my feet were getting redder and itching and there were a few worrying marks appearing. So Steph and Susana took me to the hospital where I was seen straight away. God bless Susana’s fluent Spanish, which translated the clucking and tsk-ing of the doctor and nurse as they issued terse instructions. They bandaged some of my bites, popped some of the creepy bite-blisters and then whacked two painful injections in my butt. With some antibiotics and cortisone coursing through me and a script for more from the pharmacy, along with insect repellant, I am hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day.
The lovely staff were very direct – I was crying with Susana and the lady apparently asked, ‘Why is she crying?’ as if to suggest I was a bit too silly for her. But then when she finished the injections and gave me a whack, I turned around to check if she’d done one or both already. When she gestured that it was two, I said ‘awesome, high five!’ as I was so relieved. She indulged me in an awkward high five, bless her. And then they didn’t charge me anything – so so nice and a world apart from the last doctor. They said I could definitely keep walking as long as I looked after everything, so onwards and upwards tomorrow. Thanks so much for your words of support and encouragement here, on Facebook and by messages – it really has meant a lot to me and I’m very grateful. And, of course, MVP awards to my angels Susana and Steph for looking after me so well. Bitten, but blessed, so I am.

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Posted in Travel sparks

Days 15 & 16 – the Camino kicks my ass

Apologies for the title, if that kind of thing bothers you. I actually hesitated about whether to write this post at all, especially since most of my Camino experience so far has been super-positive. But, this is my blog and my travel diary – and as incredible as the Camino has been, as much fun as we are having, these past two days have presented my ‘Camino moment’.
I had read of this happening – a true physical and psychological test that pushes a pilgrim to their limits. For some, it’s blisters (which have been affecting Steph from Day 1); for others, it’s knee/ankle pain (which nearly ended Dave’s Camino prematurely). For me, it was freakin’ insect bites.
I can only guess that I was attacked in that free range albergue a couple of nights ago. As we walked on Day 14, I could feel some itchiness and when the day ended and my shoes came off, there were maybe 8 massive bites on my left foot, 5 on my right foot, and around 4 on each of my elbow areas. Itchy and annoying enough to take me to the pharmacy in Fromista with translator Dave, where the nice pharmacist suggested some paint for bites, which smelled a bit like nail polish remover. Painted it on liberally, but by the time it came to head out on Tuesday morning, the bites were looking angry and starting to hurt. Walked another boring, flat stretch of the Meseta, fortunately limited to about 20km due to the gaps between villages. We arrived in the pretty little town of Carrion de los Condes before 12pm and once we were settled in our hostel, my left foot started to swell and redden quite dramatically from the bites.
It was so painful and swollen that I worried it might be infected.
Our lovely friend & translator Dave took me to the medical centre / emergency department in the village, where for 73 euros, a doctor and nurse looked me over super-quickly and spoke in Spanish super-quickly to Dave. I actually started crying at that point – not because I thought I heard them say ‘amputate’ or anything that dramatic, but because I was tired & broken & this was totally out of my control and not at all what I had envisaged for my Camino. And – for someone as independent as me in my normal world – I was completely dependent on Dave as he managed all of the discussions with the doctor. They spoke no English and my extremely limited Spanish clearly does not extend to this type of situation. I felt pathetic – like a small child who couldn’t communicate or understand what was happening. They think it’s mosquito bites & a very severe reaction from my non-European system.
Dave’s kindness in looking after me was unbelievable: ‘that’s what friends are for’, he said. And that’s the intensity of this experience – forging such strong friendships in only two weeks – it really is a unique pressure cooker!
Dave went to get the prescribed treats from the pharmacy and also a big bag of ice – note the brand, so appropriate for this injury! Steph & the gang really looked after me as I had to sit with my feet up under the bag of ice for hours.
No rest for the wicked – mostly due to my snoring neighbours in the big dorm room – and Day 16 was around 27km along the Meseta. The injury plus the heat plus the incredibly boring terrain made this a tough day all round. And, as I suspected, the walk was not kind to my feet. But we’re relaxing at the albergue now.
All of our Camino mates were so caring and considerate as I hobbled past them in the albergue – Maria the Hungarian who went to school at Cremorne High in Sydney, who we met on the first crazy day out of St Jean, has her own tummy troubles but was more concerned for me; Kieran & Mary from Ireland think Kieran has cellulitis in his leg (well, that OR an insect bite OR tendinitis, the doctor helpfully deduced), but wanted to talk only about how I am going. Lovely Bev from Queensland helped me with an ice foot bath & bandage with potato skins to draw out the poison or something. Lots of starers in the common area as they observed the weirdo with the giant foot. Steph & Susana have been so great at looking after me – it’s no fun being a sad hobbling patient, but I’m so lucky to be part of this incredible community of friends and other wounded warriors heading for Santiago.
Anyways, waa waa waa – I didn’t want this to be a whingey post to get sympathy, but it is what’s happening on the Camino for me right now! Hopefully I’ll be much improved tomorrow, with a heightened appreciation for the fantastic people around me, my usual good health, and a bit to think about re my life in the real world too maybe… And today marks the halfway point of our adventure – we’re all justifiably proud!

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Posted in Travel sparks

14 Days on the Camino

Today was our 14th day of walking the Camino. The albergue that we stayed at last night was great, but lacked doors. On our room, on the bathrooms, on the kitchen – it was pretty much a free range hostel. Which would have been fine, but for a group of French ladies who decided that 4am was a good time for their breakfast in the kitchen (the room next to ours).
Now, whilst we aren’t always the first ones up when we wake at 5.45am, this morning’s shenanigans took early starts to a whole new level. And rather than enjoying their ‘petit dejeuner’ in silence out of respect for sleeping albergue- mates, these ladies chatted loudly and made good use of all of the plastic bags in the vicinity.
My instinct was to get up and say bonjour – and maybe BE QUIET – but then I thought that this might be a Camino test (you know, to enhance my personal growth & development), so I lay in my bed listening to the commotion until they left at about 5.30am. I did not feel at all Zen-like, I gotta tell you.
Anyways, after we had our breakfast, we headed off by moonlight and soon came to the steepest hill that we have climbed in a while – 12% incline…followed by the inevitable decline of 18%…but although it was tough, it wasn’t quite as bad as the early days – proof that our fitness must be improving. The rest of the day passed uneventfully as we walked the long and flat Meseta. It wasn’t anywhere near as intimidating as we’d expected after what we’d read about this part of the Camino. Many people see it as a tough mental challenge – trudging through the boredom and sameness of the terrain. But with good company like our walking group, it was another day spent chatting about a whole range of topics, or walking along quietly, as the kilometres ticked over.
We arrived at our destination – Fromista – at around 12.30pm and we’re staying in another great albergue here. As I type this, we are relaxing in the beautiful garden after our pilgrims’ lunch. This siesta idea is pure genius!

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