Thursday, 26 February 2009

Moving up a notch

I have completed the first six weeks of training, and this week it gets a bit tougher. I am now doing two one-hour walks during the week, and shall be doing a four-hour one at the weekend. All of them of course faithfully accompanied by The Beast. The walking does not bother me too much although I have yet to see how I feel after four hours.

I know my weak point is hills, especially the 'ups', so I have decided that every time I go for a walk I won´t use the lift. Since I live on the eighth floor that means I shall walk up and down eight flights of stairs (each flight has 15 steps, as a matter of interest) fully loaded at least three times a week. Later I intend to increase this as my building has fourteen flights altogether. I did something similar to prepare for the Inca Trail.

Now, all of the above I can cope with, even if I have to occasionally grit my teeth to keep going. What I really can´t stand are all the set exercises for stretching and strengthening the muscles, I find them excruciatingly boring. At this stage there is an hour´s worth after every walk and I find them a real pain in the proverbial. I can walk ´til the cows come home, but gym in any shape or form drives me nuts. I know it´s an essential part of my training, so it is no good whinging on about it, I´ll just have to find a way of making it more enjoyable. I thought of music, but since I´m counting most of the time that might make me lose track of where I´m up to (having to go back to the beginning again doesn't bear thinking about). The same goes for television. I think I´ll try some music next time, anyway, maybe a compilation of hits from the sixty´s and seventy´s and see how it goes. I must find a solution. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Essential bits and bobs

My 'first-aid kit' can hardly be called that, it is so basic. There are chemists in the towns and villages, so I don´t feel the need to carry a load of stuff I may (hopefully) not need. What I am taking is a small roll of plaster, some gauze squares, a tube of antiseptic, needle and thread for blisters (that also counts as my sewing kit!), a small pair of scissors, paracetamol, tablets for muscular pain, regular medication, and last but not least a pair of tweezers.

The tweezers are one of those gadgety things I normally wouldn´t carry. They come in a little case slightly larger than a lipstick, with a narrow strip of mirror inside. The tweezers themselves tweeze very well and actually have a little light you can switch on between the pincers which shines on what you are tweezing. Good for removing splinters or whatever in a dimly lit hostel.

I saw an identical pair being used when they came in very handy indeed. A few posts back I mentioned that I spent New Year with some friends on an island which is a nature reserve. I have been there several times as it is a truly wonderful place to stay. It takes several hours to get there by boat, and there are no roads, no cars, no electricity. Fishermen live there in a couple of clusters of simple houses, and you stay with them. The rest of the island is deserted, with empty beaches over 20km long, and waterfalls to visit in the hills. A corner of Paradise perfect for long relaxing walks.

Anyway, one evening during dinner a member of our group suddenly choked, and it turned out she had a fish bone stuck in the back of her throat. By sheer good luck one of our group was a doctor, not only that but she was an ENT specialist. In the dim light from the generator she was really struggling to try and remove the fish bone which was firmly embedded in the poor victim. Lo and behold, when the tweezers were produced (several of us had been given them as a Christmas gift) the problem was quickly solved, much to the poor patient´s relief. Two very fortuitous coincidences as we were a long way from anywhere, on New Years Eve.

Now, I don´t expect a similar dramatic need for my tweezers on the Camino, but I´m taking them anyway, you never know...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Guides, maps and books

I have been trying to decide for some time about the best guidebook and/or map to take with me. I don´t plan to take any other books to read because of the weight. I´ll really miss them as I am a voracious reader. As soon as I have finished one book I immediately start another, and I always read in bed at night before going to sleep - I´m hoping I´ll be so tired I wont miss my nightly 'fix'!

Anyway, I finally decided I didn´t want a conventional guide book, partly again because of the weight, but also because I think too much information can distract you, like when you are so busy trying to capture it all on camera that you are not really looking at the scenery. Apparently the route is so well marked with yellow arrows that you don´t actually need a map. Despite this I opted for a book of maps and also a practical pilgrim guide for the Camino Frances which gives brief details of the route and full details of distances, accommodation, what shops there are, etc.

The pilgrim guide is from the Confraternity of St James, in London, and is updated annually. It looks as if it will prove to be extremely useful for the day-to-day information as you go along, especially for choosing where to stay, and it also has a central section full of good tips and advice which can be removed after reading.

The book of maps I also bought through the Confraternity (excellent service, by the way, I received them within a week of ordering over the internet). The book is by John Brierley and has maps of the daily stages, profile maps and route information. I may not need it to find the way, but I like to know what awaits me before setting off walking in the morning . There is nothing more disheartening than thinking you have three hills to climb, staggering up the third and finding there are two more ahead before you can call it a day. If it is going to be a tough stretch I´d rather know and get psyched up for it before setting off, as well as being able to pace myself properly.

Both books are light, together they weigh 266g which I think is fine considering how useful I´m sure they will be.

Monday, 16 February 2009

A bit more equipment

After much thought I have decided to add another item to my list. In Brazil we call it a "canga", in English I´m not sure - maybe a sarong or a beach wrap? Since I am nearly 750g under my maximum weight, I thought my canga would be worth its weight of 230g as a useful addition. I can wrap myself in it in the unisex bathrooms, use it as a shower curtain, or a bunk curtain should I feel the need for a little privacy, use it as a bed sheet or a shawl, or even as a picnic cloth - the possibilities seem endless - so it is definitely going. I have just bought a new one as my last one disintegrated from too much sun and sea. The lightest one I could find (I took my kitchen scales to the shopping mall - beware the mad Englishwoman!) was a bright red/pink/black/purple (I know). I only hope the colours are fast as I don´t fancy coming out of the shower with a multicoloured skin!

I did my usual two hours training walk with The Beast yesterday morning. It wasn´t much fun as it was drizzling most of the time, but very warm. I wore a showerproof jacket and got soaked with perspiration. On the Camino I shall wear a poncho which goes over the rucksack, so that shouldn´t be a problem. I also don´t think the temperature will be around 30C in Spain in May. In the evening my legs felt rather stiff. God help me if that is how I am going to feel after just two hours walking on the flat. On the Camino I should be aiming for three times that every day, up hill and down dale...

Unfortunately I live in the middle of a very large city. It is extremely flat around here and I have to walk in the streets or parks. There is no hilly countryside nearby that I can get to, so I have to just do the best I can. As my training starts to build up I intend to start using the stairs every day as I live on the eighth floor. I´d love to be training in the real countryside as it is rather boring this way, but I don´t really have a choice. I try and focus on the reason for it all and that keeps me going.

Friday, 13 February 2009


This is my rucksack, also known as The Beast. It weighs 1.6kg, too heavy, I know... it has a removable rain cover weighing 100g which I shall do without as I am taking a coverall poncho. Its capacity is 40 + 0.5L which should be ample. I know some people think if you have extra space you will fill it, but I don´t think that will be a problem for me as I intend to stick very strictly to my packing list.
ve tried putting everything in it out of curiosity, and there doesn´t seem to be that much room to spare, anyway.

The "towel" I am taking is actually 3 baby nappies, the cotton gauze type. I was given this tip by a travel guide. They are very light, absorbent and dry quickly. I´ve actually tested them after a shower, and they really work. I managed to dry myself with two, including my hair, and a couple of hours later they were bone dry. They can also be used as a scarf if you´re chilly, or to protect the back of your neck from the sun, or as padding if something is rubbing, or wrapped round a pillow if it looks grubby. A friend of mine stitched two together, but I think they are more versatile separate.

This is my complete list:

Rucksack 1500g
Bumbag 141g
Sleeping bag 650g
1 pr trousers 245g
1 pr bermuda trousers 356g
2 short sleeve T-shirts 210g
1 long sleeve T-shirt 149g
Fleece 259g
3 sets underwear 252g
2 prs liner socks 46g
3 prs outer socks 230g
Trainers 740g
Sandals 445g
Shower/windproof jacket 235g
Altus poncho 500g
Gloves 32g
Sun hat 76g
Warm hat 57g
Medication and 1st aid 142g
Toiletries 300g
Towel 142g
Torch + batteries 65g
Camera + batteries 309g
Camera bits 50g
Ear plugs -
Notebook and pen 108g
Glasses and spares 56g
Sunglasses 88g
Penknife w/ corkscrew 49g
Guidebook 135g
Map book 150g
Water and snacks 1200g
Purse, passport and docs 60g
Whistle -
Plastic cup 34g

The above comes to 9.011kg. My bumbag and contents will be around 750g, and I´ll be wearing around 2kg (including footwear) at any one time, so my rucksack should weigh 6.260kg altogether, 740g under the 7kg maximum I have allowed myself. In fact I keep wondering if I´ve left out anything essential as it all weighs less than I expected!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Just a quickie!
Myself (third from right in a turquoise T-shirt) with some friends. We went away for a few days walking over the New Year. We´re having a well-deserved rest on a 20k walk along a beautiful deserted beach . The photo was taken on Kareen´s camera, but I don´t remember by whom. She´s in the picture in the red T-shirt.
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When I first decided to write this blog, I didn´t expect more than a couple of people, if any, to visit it. I must confess I´m enjoying finding new visitors every time I log on, so I would like to say "welcome, and thank you for taking the time to have a look at my jottings".

Last weekend I did my two-hour walk on Saturday instead of Sunday because there was a family BBQ on Sunday to celebrate the birthdays of two of my granddaughters; Barbara, lovely at fourteen, and Stephanie, sweet at three. A good time was had by all despite a heavy downpour part way through. Some of us were wet from swimming anyway, so it didn´t matter.

So, Saturday, I still struggled a bit with the pack, getting sharp pains in my right shoulder after about an hour and a half. I fiddled with the straps, tried walking swinging that arm, and also hooking my thumb through a strap for support. Eventually it eased off. Could there be such a thing as getting a second wind for carrying a rucksack? It was a hot day again, 31C, and again I returned home with a purple countenance, as well as perspiring madly. I suppose I should say "glowing". According to the old Victorian saying, "Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies merely glow," but that wouldn´t be an accurate description of my condition, believe me.

While I was walking along I saw a small truck coming towards me with what looked like an upright wooden sentry box strapped on the back. It had a rounded top and as it drew nearer I could see some olive curtains swaying and dipping as it lurched over the uneven asphalt. I realized that what I was looking at was a confessional. Now, the question I ask myself is why was it being transported? Surely churches have built-in confessionals in sufficient number for the size of their congregations. Had there been a sudden increase in demand, an influx of sinners resulting in the need to rush an extra confessional over? Had someone trashed a confessional in an excess of emotion? Maybe it had been eaten by termites (they are a real problem here). I´ll never know the answer of course, but it is amusing to speculate.

I know the above doesn´t have much to do with the Camino, I do tend to wander off the subject from time to time, but that is how my mind works. My next post will be strictly about equipment and weight, I promise!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Hopes and fears

Well, I´ve got my return ticket now, so barring accidents it´s all systems go. I shall leave Brazil on May 11th, flying to Madrid, where I will arrive late morning the next day. From Madrid I plan to get a coach to Pamplona, where I shall stay overnight. I´ll have most of the following day to explore Pamplona as the bus to Roncesvalles, my Camino starting point, does not leave until early evening. In Roncesvalles I shall spend the night in the pilgrim hostel, and set off finally the next day, which should be 14th of May, a Thursday, by which time I should be well over my jet-lag. I´m hoping to avoid the weekend 'bulge' of pilgrims when the hostels will be more crowded as most people set off on weekends, and I am also avoiding the Spanish holidays at the beginning of May. After I set off it is anybody´s guess when and where I´ll be as I am not making any firm plans or arrangements - I´ll walk as far as I feel able each day without trying to meet any targets, letting my body say when it has had enough.

So... time to pause and reflect a little. I´ve been wondering what this Camino is going to mean to me, what my expectations are and what I´m afraid of. Looking at the negative side first, I´m not afraid of being on my own. I´m quite looking forward to it, in fact. Also I´ve heard and read enough to know that people make lots of friends they tend to keep meeting up with along the way, so you only have to be alone if you want to be. I´m a little concerned about dogs, but imagine my walking stick will be sufficient protection. Since I am not a fast walker I am also a bit concerned about arriving after the hostel has filled up for the night. There´s not much I can do about that, so I´ll just have to cope with it if and when it happens. I think my worst fear is about not being up to it physically. Either finding the hills too much or my pack too heavy. I´m trying my best to get my body prepared for the demands I shall be making on it, I only hope it will be enough. The other negative aspects I´ve read about, such as crowded hostels, loud snorers, lack of hot showers, mud and pouring rain, don´t really worry me. I think they will all add up to making the experience richer.

On the positive side, I think I am going to enjoy the challenge of living outside my comfort zone. I have always had a fantasy about surviving alone on a desert island. As a child I used to daydream about how I would set about making tools, building a shelter, making a fire and getting food. Now I will be finding out how much I can do without, as everything I need has to be carried, all day, every day. I am also looking forward to the close contact I shall have with nature. I think nowadays we are too sealed off from the elements and the landscape. Finally, I think I am really going to enjoy escaping the daily demands and routines of home life for a bit.

It is going to be interesting to look back on the above after I have finished my Camino, and see how wide of the mark I have been in my fears and hopes. Am I really going to regard being cold and wet and tired part of an enriching experience? Here´s hoping I am!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

My dog Toby

Toby, my one-year-old Yorkie, has become my regular training partner on my brisk half hour morning walks. It doesn´t always work out because he is a sociable little chap and if he sees another dog he wants to pause and say hello. He signals this by stopping dead in his tracks, front legs rigid, and won´t walk another step. Because he is small and appealing, if I try and coax him along or pull on the lead I get looks from passers by as if I were mistreating him. My solution is to walk him round the streets in the morning, where usually we can avoid other dogs, and take him for a socializing stroll in the park in the afternoon.

Today he missed out on his exercise, though. For some reason he loves accompanying us to the bathroom, whether to shower, shave or whatever. Today when I was ready to go out he had sneaked in to watch my father shave. Rather than disturb them I went out without him.

While I was out I saw a sad sight which is still with me. Some of the people living on the streets here try to earn money by collecting cardboard, etc for recycling. They pull laden carts around the streets picking up whatever they can find. One of these poor men was pulling his cart along when he must have started having some sort of fit. He was lying twitching in the road with the traffic stopped around him and a crowd gathering. I couldn´t do anything to help as all I had with me were my keys, no money or cell phone, so I just kept going. The shame of it was that I had seen him a couple of weeks ago, sitting in our park recovering from a fit while someone tried to get an ambulance to take him to hospital. He wouldn´t go, though, because he had two young dogs in his cart and he didn´t want to leave them. When he was feeling better he had let them out for a little run then popped them back in the cart again. He was obviously very fond of them and they looked fairly well cared for considering their living conditions. I do wish I had been able to help in some way.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Balls and sockets...

I went for my two-hour, full pack walk today, trying to remember and adjust all the straps as instructed. It is a sunny day, for once, in fact the temperature is about 30C and I arrived home with a purple face. I wasn´t walking fast, just maintaining a steady rhythm, but I do tend to overheat easily. Walking in the heat must be good training for the Camino, I´m lucky since I guess everyone doesn´t get that opportunity. My pack was more comfortable, I must admit, although one shoulder did trouble me for the last half hour despite trying different adjustments. Now I am wondering if it could be from an old injury.

More or less fifteen years ago, when I lived in England, I used to go for an annual narrowboat canal holiday with friends. This particular year I had an accident and hurt my shoulder. The boat was in a full lock, waiting for it to empty, when I went to step off the boat onto the lockside. Somehow I missed the side and stepped into space, plunging into the water between the boat and the wall of the lock chamber. Luckily my friends, experienced boaters, saw what had happened and rushed to push the boat away from the side as it was swinging in and going to crush me underwater against the wall. A stone wall and a sixtyfive foot steel hull you don´t mess with. Anyway, they hauled me out when I surfaced and although I noticed one of my arms seemed a bit floppy I was more concerned about my camera, which I had been holding when I went in (a total loss, by the way). My shoulder was a bit sore so I thought I must have wrenched it somehow. I carried on for the final three days of the holiday using an improvised sling. It was only when I got home and a friend insisted on taking me to Casualty that I discovered I had broken the ball of my shoulder ball and socket joint in three places! I guess I must have struck my outstretched arm against the lockside as I went in.

So, could that be the reason for my current aches? The trouble is, after all this time I can´t remember which shoulder it was! I do remember two months of physiotherapy, and being told I´d never be able to raise that arm above shoulder height (not true, it´s fine now), but for the life of me can´t remember whether it was left or right. Hopefully if I keep on tweaking the straps I´ll get it sorted.