Sunday, 29 March 2009

What, no poncho?

I went to the university yesterday to try my first six hour walk. The day was overcast but dry, so I opted to take an umbrella instead of my poncho because of the weight. What with food, water, cell phone etc. I would have been over my seven kilo maximum with the poncho. Naturally this won´t apply on the Camino as I shall not be carrying a five kilo bag of rice!

I followed a variety of routes for about five hours, and was feeling the strain a bit, especially because the sun had come out and it was about 30C. I took three short breaks of about ten minutes each to drink some water and have a snack. I found that the short breaks really helped but within an hour I was ready for the next one. Hopefully I´ll be able to walk for longer without a break on the Camino or else it is going to take me forever to get anywhere.

Anyway, after my last break I knew I´d be able to carry on for another hour or so and complete my six hours, although it would be tough, but the decision was taken out of my hands. The sky suddenly went very dark and within minutes I was caught in a tropical downpour. There were no buildings to shelter in and the wind was driving the rain sideways. My little umbrella wasn´t much use, so I also stood under a tree trying to shelter behind the trunk. As the thunder rumbled overhead I tried to work out what was safest, under a tree or out in the open with a metal umbrella in my hand like a lightening rod. I opted for the tree as there were lots of others around, some much taller, and hoped for the best.

After a while the rain eased up a bit, but obviously wasn´t going to stop any time soon, so I decided to call it a day and trudged off to get my train. I arrived home soaking wet and squelched up my eight flights of stairs. Even the bag of rice was wet, but thankfully it is polythene so no harm done. I´ve decided to open it and take out one kilo of rice as from now on I shan´t leave home without my poncho!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Poles versus staff

I have been following a debate in a pilgrim forum on the pros and cons between walking poles or a staff. Some people feel they don´t need either, but personally I feel happier with something to help me keep my balance going up and down hill on rough or muddy surfaces.

Walking poles are light, can be folded away when not needed, and checked in at airports. On the other hand the tapping noise they make every time the tips strike a hard surface is supposed to be extremely irritating, especially for the other walkers. There are rubber tips you can use but they don´t seem to last. Poles were also apparently originally designed for ski training, for speed, not for long-distance walks. A bit of an expensive fashion accessory, I feel.

A pilgrim´s staff sounds right for the job, but has the disadvantage of weight. I would dearly love to take the staff I used on the Inca Trail, for practical as well as sentimental reasons. Since it is made of bamboo it is hollow, therefore pretty light but also strong. The problem is that it is over five feet long. There is no way I would be allowed to take it on board as hand luggage, and if I checked it in I can´t imagine how it would reappear at the other end. I have visions of it jamming up conveyor belts and causing general chaos, as well as the risk of it breaking, so reluctantly I´ve decided not to take it.

This leaves me the option of buying a staff in Spain. You can get them quite cheaply there, I´ve heard, although I doubt they will be as light as my bamboo friend. There appears to be a thriving cottage industry of walking sticks and staffs in the villages along the way, so I´ve decided to pick one up there. At least it shouldn´t be too noisy.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Back to the grindstone

Well, a full week of no training sucks, but at least the pennies will come in useful! Yesterday I tried something different for my four hour stint. Edna, a friend of mine, is a runner and she offered me a lift to the university where she (amongst hundreds of other athletes) does her training. She very kindly gave up her run to walk with me and show me round. The grounds are very large, full of shady trees and a variety of circuits up to 10km long. Best of all, there is a hill, a fairly long steady climb which is just what I need for my training. I feel I´ve slipped back a few notches as I was quite tired and my feet ached when I eventually got home.

I can get there fairly easily by train, so I think that´s where I´ll be going for the longer walks from now on, especially when they go up to six and eight hours at a time. The only thing you have to watch out for are the packs of helmeted cyclist whizzing past all the time, mere walkers beware!

I´ve been checking my equipment list (again), and virtually all that´s missing now are batteries for my camera. I usually use rechargeable ones but that would involve taking two sets of batteries, charger and plug adapter - more weight and bulk. Alkaline AA batteries, which I have used before now in an emergency, don´t last very long at all in my camera, but I have heard lithium batteries are excellent. Unfortunately they don´t appear to be available here so I will have to wait until I get to Spain, where I´m told you may buy them. I only hope the information is correct, otherwise I shall be stuck.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Historical background

I have become so involved with all things Camino-related over the last few months that I tend to assume most people know all about it. For those who don´t, here are a few facts.

For over 1000 years pilgrims have been making their way across Spain to the city of Santiago, to visit the shrine of St James in the cathedral. This pilgrimage is called the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or in English the Way of St James. St James was one of the twelve apostles and brother of John. Sant Iago (Santiago) means St James, and he is supposed to be buried in the cathedral.

The custom of making this pilgrimage nearly died out, but has revived over the last 20-30 years to the extent that it is now extremely popular. There are several official routes, amongst them the Camino Frances which I am doing. During 2008 nearly 100,000 pilgrims walked the Camino Frances, and next year, a Holy Year, the numbers are expected to be much higher.

The traditional symbol of the pilgrim is a shell, a scallop shell, often carried on a staff or attached to the rucksack. Some people look on the pilgrimage as a religious experience, others may be seeking enlightenment or a physical challenge. Your religious beliefs or motive are very personal and everyone has their own reason for doing their Camino, you don´t have to be of any particular faith.

I am not sure why I am doing mine. All I know is that there is something drawing me very strongly towards my Camino and I am very excited about the whole thing.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Turkey wattles

There is a house I pass on my training walks which has a most peculiar plant in the garden. At first I thought it was a tree, but on closer inspection it proved to be some sort of creeper. It is so unusual that I took my camera along today to take some pictures of it. The bud is a large kidney-shaped bladder. When it opens the flower is shaped like a butterfly the size of a dinner plate, with a green fruit attached.
The lady of the house came out while I was messing about, and told me the plant is called "papo de peru" or turkey wattle. It has climbed all over the telegraph pole and is now venturing out along the wires. Most interesting.

I am managing to stick to my training this week and the weather is a little cooler but not much. On Sunday when I did my four hours I decided to catch a bus to Ibirapuera, the large park and do them there, but I had problems getting a bus back afterward and ended up walking nearly five hours altogether, by early afternoon when I got home it was 31C. I won´t try that again, the Sunday service leaves a lot to be desired.

While I was out today I went sprawling in a most undignified fashion. Unfortunately I´m one of those clumsy people who can trip over a pattern in the carpet, so from time to time I take a tumble. This time it was a crack in the pavement and with The Beast on my back I didn´t stand a chance. Thank goodness I got away with just a grazed knee, although I think I´ll be a bit stiff tomorrow. I must try and be more careful, having to give up my Camino because of a broken leg or whatever doesn´t bear thinking about.

Next week I can´t see how I´m going to fit in any training as I shall be at work all week and when I get home in the evening my father´s carer leaves, so I can´t go out again. This weekend also looks a washout since I have social engagements Saturday and Sunday during the day and I don´t see how I can squeeze in a four-hour walk. Ah me... the trials and tribulations of preparing to follow The Way of St James.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Three breaks...

I was going to call this post "And the heat goes on...", but thank goodness overnight we have had a break in the weather. It has been between 33C and 34C all week, very tiring, difficult to sleep and impossible to keep cool. Despite this I did do my two one-hour walks with rucksack, stair climbing and exercises, so I´m feeling pretty virtuous. Today the temperature is 24C, overcast and trying halfheartedly to drizzle - ideal for a walk but unfortunately I´ve too many other things to do. I´m just hoping it will be the same for when I go out for my four hours tomorrow.

Should it rain tomorrow I could test my Altus poncho, which has eventually arrived after much hassle. I tried to buy it over the internet from Spain, but neither my credit card nor Paypal would work from here for some reason, so I asked my daughter-in-law in England to order it, which she kindly did. A friend who went to England was going to bring it back for me, but things got screwed up and it nearly went astray in the post. Luckily my son and family were due out for a visit so eventually I got it delivered personally yesterday, a great relief.

My other lucky break was that I heard today I finally have a night carer for my father, who lives with me. He will be 90 this month, is frail and blind. I have daily help as he can´t be left on his own, but I take over when she leaves at five. Once a year when I go away I need to find someone to sleep in, which isn´t always easy. When I bought my ticket for Spain it was an act of faith since I hadn´t found anyone yet, and I have been quietly chewing my nails ever since, so thank goodness that is sorted.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Hot, hot, hot.

Before I started my four-hour walk on Saturday I took Toby out as usual at eight in the morning. The temperature was already 28C at that time, with blue skies and strong sunshine. Shortly after, I set off and walked to a large park a fair distance away, walked in the park for an hour then headed back home. The sun was really strong and I tried to walk in the shade as much as possible.

I was pleased to note that The Beast didn´t really trouble me too much, and a ten-minute break for a drink of water and some fruit halfway through made quite a difference. But the day got hotter and hotter and by the beginning of the fourth hour I began to struggle, feeling the strain in my legs and my feet started aching. I hadn´t expected this since I´d thought the rucksack would be the problem. By the time I got home at one in the afternoon the temperature had soared to 34C and I was whacked. I had to sit down for five minutes before I could face attempting the eight flights of stairs.

I imagine my legs were aching because of the weight, and I suppose the heat didn´t help, either. After some stretching exercises, a nice cool shower and some food I felt pretty good though, so maybe the training I´m doing helps me to bounce back more quickly. Today I feel fine and could have gone out and done it all again, which is what I suppose you need for the Camino. I only walked about 14km, not much compared to the 20 to 30km I expect to do in Spain, but it is a start and I am quite pleased with myself (also for not getting sunstroke!).