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Virtually walking….St Jean Pied de Port – 2014

It’s been 14 days since isolation kicked in and 2 days since lock-in. With so much negativity, it is unhealthy for the mind. I have been scouring YouTube for Camino-related videos and with the recommendation of Linda at Somewhereslowly, I have signed up to Babbel at a specially reduced rate. These days indoors are the perfect time to learn a new language, and dust down a new one (I’m looking at you, Spanish!). It also has podcasts to tune your ear, so it’s all good.

Ok, back to the subject matter of the post. I can’t believe it’s nearly 6 years since I last walked from St Jean Pied de Port. I had been planning to walk from there ever since I arrived home from Leon in June 2013. I had done quite a bit of research and I actually had planned to meet a few Camino forum members in St Jean when I arrived. For someone who has not walked a Camino, it might seem a bit daunting but if you do the right research, it is quite easy. Once you know the days you are free and you have booked your flights, that is half the battle. You just arrive and then walk! I booked a flight with Ryanair to Biarritz. The next step was to find somewhere to stay in St Jean Pied de Port. Generally, accommodation fills up quick during peak season. I found a great place after looking on Gronze.com, Gite Ultreia. It offered B&B for €15 – practically nothing at today’s prices. I met Jason from South Korea there and we bumped into each other on and off until I finished in Belorado.

September arrived with much anticipation. The weather looked good in the North East of Spain. I got on the flight and before I knew it I had arrived. I met a pilgrim friend, Andrea in Biarritz. We had met on a forum and we were going to walk from the off. After a quick shuttle to Bayonne and a bus to St Jean, we had arrived.

One thing I remember however is how busy the town was. It was full of pilgrims and we arrived in the middle of rush hour. People are dining, viewing the sites and basically wandering around. Oh, do you remember the book “I’m Off Then” by Hape Kerkeling? Well, I am probably the only pilgrim to have not read it yet. BUT…it was made into a film in 2014, and many of the scenes were shot on the Camino. As I was going to my B&B, I was asked to stay put by part of the film crew while a scene was being shot.

The next day proved to be one of the toughest but most rewarding days on the Camino. I was in no hurry. There was no prize. It took nearly 8 hours to reach the monastery in the woods in Roncesvalles but I was glad to see a bunk bed on arrival.

I didn’t have any wine until I had my meal later that evening but it didn’t matter. I was already drunk with the scenery from the day. I was lucky enough to receive a blessing in the chapel beside the monastery after the meal before thinking about the next day.

I keep thinking if I will be walking from St Jean any time soon. I would certainly love to as my love for that part of the world has not gone away. Let’s see when all this madness goes away first.

14 days…#keepwriting

Let me take you back to Saturday, March the 14th. Coronavirus was in the news here in Ireland however we were free to travel and see folks (oh I miss those days!). I went to the Camino Information Centre for the day and walked back to the centre of town to catch my train. At the time, there were a number of flights cancelled but there was no talk of lock-downs or restrictions. There were 90 cases of Covid-19 located in Ireland. The following day, I travelled to my parents house as I normally do for a Sunday. It was such a strange thing taking the train, it was actually empty for once. Sunday was fun but I had seen Italy and Spain had imposed restrictions to control the virus. I knew that I wouldn’t see my folks again for quite some time. And I was right.

Jump ahead to the next morning. I wake up with a thumping headache and a temperature of 37.5c. Ok, it’s not quite a fever but, considering the advice given from the HSE, I decided to call my GP and lay low. At that time, the HSE were looking to test anyone who displayed flu-like symptoms. It is quite an ambitious approach but it will have a huge waiting list. I called my GP and to my surprise, he asked me to self-isolate for 7 days and he would arrange a test for me. Now, the important thing to remember here was that I felt fine, I had no cough (yet) although I was aware that it is possible to be not have any symptoms to have this virus. I gave my GP the benefit of the doubt and looked forward for the test.

Four days passed and I heard nothing. I had been taking my temperature every day and it had remained normal. By the end of the 4th day, I had developed a dry cough, but I put this down to being indoors and having no fresh air. The cough is not persistent. I ring the GP to discuss this with him. Again, he said it was best to relax, and I should receive a call soon from the HSE.

And finally, on the 25th of March, the HSE changed their criteria. Now they were looking to test people with two symptoms. I immediately rang my GP and he said I didn’t need a test. I am now back at work, although working at home. Apparently, over 40,000 people were waiting for a test while 94% of those testing were negative. This is only a good move.

I took my first walk since the 15th of March on Thursday. We luckily have a large park beside my house where I can go to stretch my legs during lunch and during the weekend. A few weeks without seeing my family can be sacrificed. The party will only be huge when this is over.

I look forward to the day when I can hug my parents. I look forward to the day I can go for a walk through a packed Dublin city. Even walking through the hills of Galicia is a dream for me right now. But it is nice to dream. Keep hoping. It keeps a light on in the dark times.

But all I do right now is sit and wait. It is the best we can do to help. While I am not working, and while I am indoors, I will be good to #keepwriting. The Camino keeps me happy, naturally enough so I will post some of my favourite memories from years gone by every day.

Take care and stay safe!

When darkness falls, we keep hoping, we keeping dreaming…

With the ever evolving situation in Spain, France and Portugal, many pilgrims are putting their Caminos on hold until Covid-19 subsides. When that will be is difficult to say but many qualified people are saying, we should be over the worst by June. Until then, we need to wait. The Camino has seen darker days and I am sure it will see days like this again but the sun will shine, I can be sure of that.

For those of us who are at home, please follow the advice of your own health authorities. Wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing and if you feel symptoms, self-isolate. The WHO has great information on what to do.

The current situation:

  • The government of Spain has declared a State of Emergency for the next two weeks.
  • The government of Portugal has declared a State of Alert until April 9th
  • FICS is asking all to cooperate in telling all pilgrims currently on Camino to return home
  • All bars and restaurants are closed for the next two weeks.
  • Santiago Cathedral is closed and all church services have been suspended
  • All municipal albergues in Galicia are closed and in most other Camino routes.
  • The Pilgrim Office is closed
  • Pilgrim House is closed

Please read the Department of Foreign Affairs travel advice for Irish citizens travelling to Spain

The ones who will be hit the most from Covid-19 are the people who help pilgrims on the Way, the volunteers and the owners of cafes and albergues. They depend on pilgrims walking through their towns. But as I said before, the Camino has seen tougher times. We must think positively and work together to ensure that Covid-19 is slowed down and stopped.

Let’s talk about Coronavirus

Ok..since my last post, there have been more developments. And I have a feeling that will be the case for the next few months. Yesterday, we learned that our lord and saviour President Trump has placed a travel ban on flights from Europe (excluding UK and Ireland). Now, I’m not medically qualified, but this is highly unlikely to contain the virus. The only thing it has done has made some bad friends in Europe and made some US travellers very concerned.

But, enough of the politics. Here in Ireland, schools, colleges and public institutions will be closed until March 29th in the hope that it will delay the virus. On a personal level, it won’t be long before I will be working remotely and I look forward to it. I don’t feel any symptoms but it is only a matter of time. Here, we have 70 cases in Ireland but I believe we have far more.

https://www.elcaminoconcorreos.com/es/blog/el-camino-de-santiago-ante-el-coronavirus

And then there is Spain. First of all, no case of coronavirus has been detected on the Camino de Santiago. No pilgrim or hospitalero has tested positive for the virus. Until now, the main infectious areas in Spain remain concentrated in three points: the Community of Madrid, Vitoria and La Rioja. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has advised against non essential travel to these areas. For those with trips planned to the Camino, it may mean postponing for a few months (or next year). Coupled with that, some albergues are closing or curtailing beds due to coronavirus prevention.

I am still hoping to walk in September. Six months is a long time in dog years. In the meantime, let’s try and get together and look out for the more vulnerable in society. If I am unable to travel in September, the Camino isn’t going away anytime soon!

On the subject of YouTube..

I may as well give a little plug to my own YouTube channel that is in its infancy. I hope to record a few shots while walking and upload it for you to see. I’m comfortable with the Dji osmo pocket that I bought before Christmas. It is so tiny you can fit it in your pocket.

At the moment, I have two videos, one talking about my gear and another uploaded recently from the Waterford Greenway. In time I will upload more. It will not detract from this page however.

Weekend Watch #68 – The Journey

When I discovered the Camino de Santiago nearly 10 years ago, this was one of the first videos on YouTube I found and I was enthralled by the photos. This slideshow was created by a Belfast man who walked the Camino Frances in 2007. The music is apt, considering we are approaching March 17th.

It’s Saturday & Some News I need to talk about…

First of all I need to apologise for the delay in posting. With my time dedicated to work from Monday to Friday, I don’t have a lot of time for writing however I do try to write during the weekends or during the evenings. Last week, I had a nice easy walk, nothing too strenuous, but it was enjoyable. I would love to venture out again in the near future, this time with a pack. I have a 3 day pilgrimage coming up in May (2 months away). However, with the news of Covid-19 and with the lack of any positive outcome, it’s difficult to predict if I will walk this or not. At the time of writing, 18 people have contracted the virus in Ireland and a number of schools are closed. A few weeks ago, I didn’t think that it would cause us much disruption but I am willing to take that back now. Each and every morning, I go to work and hear people coughing. You can only imagine how unsettling that feels. But to be honest, I can see this getting worse. I feel for the vulnerable, I feel for the elderly, I feel for the people with existing conditions.

Ok, so the question remains what you do if you are planning to walk a Camino in Portugal or Spain in the near future? Do you go ahead or cancel? I see many pilgrims on social media already on the Camino in photos. So why not, is the answer to that. But I answer with a caveat!

You must firstly follow your own Government’s advice. If you are advised not to travel to an area where there is a spread, please do not travel. Otherwise, it is safe to travel.

On the Camino or anywhere for that matter, how can you stay safe from corunavirus:

There is as yet no vaccine for coronavirus so Spanish health officials are advising people to practice good basic hygiene to keep themselves protected.

  • Wash hands your thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating or it you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the Metro
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.
  • They insist that protective face masks are not necessary unless you have symptoms or are treating someone who has symptoms.

At this moment in time, I am travelling to Porto in September. I will wait and see how this develops before making a decision on whether to travel.

Some handy links:

Walking the Waterford Greenway – Another walk

Yesterday was my 3rd walk of the year. I took a trip to Kilmeadan, Co. Waterford to walk some of the Waterford Greenway with Camino Society Ireland. The weather forecast wasn’t great but the skies were clear when we left Dublin and we had a pleasant walk. It was 11 km in total from Kilmeadan back to Waterford City, and to honest, it is a very easy walk. If you cycle, it is possible to hire a bike a cycle from Dungarvan to Waterford which is 46 kms in length. This greenway rests along the River Suir and is a former railway. It is a flat right walk into Waterford.

It is primarily a cycle route and can be used as a good starting point for Camino preparation. But if you are looking for something more challenging, you might need to look elsewhere. It was nice to be in that part of the world all the same and away from “the big smoke”. I brought along my Osmo Pocket and recorded a little video of the day, before the heavens opened.

Weekend Watch #67 – Another great video

I’m watching more and more videos, more from last year but there are some new ones coming through. This one is from last year. If you have walked before, this will make you want to book your flights!

2020 Packing List

If you are thinking of walking one of the many Caminos de Santiago this year, now would be a good time to get your kit and bits and pieces in check. As Roy Keane once said “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” and I would agree with him to a extent. Even I, after my many Caminos, am continuously looking to improve my kit.

Last week, Camino Society Ireland hosted it’s annual Information event in Dublin (You can read about it here). Lots of information was provided about the specific routes, the background, and the history of the Camino however there was good practical information provided on what to bring and what not to bring in your pack. What you bring is your own personal choice but the rule of thumb is you will be looking after your kit for the length of your Camino so try to keep it to a minimum.

So in this post, I am just going to go through my kit for my upcoming Kerry Camino in May and my Portuguese Camino in September and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me at clearskiescamino@gmail.com.

Backpack – Lowe Alpine 35 litre Trail

I have used this for a number of Caminos. Lowe Alpine backpacks have served me well but that doesn’t mean that this will be the best fit for you. 35 litres is plenty of space for me and it gives me a rain cover. That said, there are many different brands out there – Osprey being the most popular. The right thing to do is to speak to someone in an outdoor store and get fitted. Never buy online!

Shoes – Salomon X Ultra GTX / Crocs Men’s Swiftwater River Sandal

Probably the second most important box to tick, in my opinion. We will get to the sandals in a second. I have walked with Salomon for 4 years now and love them. Some pilgrims like mid-ankle shoes, some pilgrims like sandals, some pilgrims prefer to walk with no shoes! Whatever your inclination, make sure you have a comfortable shoe before you go or else you will not enjoy yourself. Ensure that water doesn’t get into them or stones for that matter. The sandals are to wear after walking and to let your feet rest. You might not want to spend a whole lot of money on them. It might also be an idea to have waterproof sandals to bring into the shower.

Rain Gear – Helly Hansen Rain Jacket / Columbia Rain Trousers

I could count on one hand the amount of days I have encountered rain during my 10 Caminos. It won’t stop me bringing rain gear however. For every time I enter Galicia, I have an irrational fear that the skies will burst open, even if the sun is out. But it is not only Galicia. You may also encounter rain, hail or snow in April/May or Sept/October in most parts of Northern Spain. So it is worthwhile bringing along some king of rain protection. Then we have the poncho v rain jacket debate…which I won’t get into. I wore a poncho in 2012 and the wind blew it off me. That was the end of that. The great thing about the rain jacket is you can wear it for every day use during the year also.

Clothes

  • Craghoppers NosiLife Zip off Trousers – perfect when it gets warm or when it gets cold.
  • Craghoppers NosiLife Long-Sleeved Shirt
  • Colombia Short Sleeve T-shirt
  • RAB Micro Fleece – good to have a fleece to have an extra bit of protection in the morning or in the evenings.
  • 2 pairs of Under Armour boxers & 2 pair of Bridgedale Sock – lightweight, quick dry – having 2 pairs means I will be washing each night.
  • Jack Wolfskin Baseball cap – to keep the rays from the head!

Water Bottle – Contigo 720ml bottle

There are tonnes of ways to carry your water on the Camino. You can buy your water in stores as you walk thereby helping the local economy, you could carry a platypus, there are many pilgrims carrying nothing but 500ml bottles and refilling them in the fuentes. Now, I am not saying any of these are the right way but be sure you have enough water with you at all times. For me, I carry the above bottle and it just about works. On the French Way there are plenty of fountains and places to refill and on the Portuguese Way, the same applies.

Sleeping Bag – Sea to Summit Silk Stretch Liner – Mummy

Again, when it comes to sleeping bags, there are so many options. Your choice of sleeping bag will depend on the time of year. If you are walking in the summer months, a liner will be fine, however if you are walking in the winter months, a sleeping bag might be needed. Don’t forget, some private albergues will provide blankets if it is cold, some at an extra cost.

Wash kit – Microfibre Travel Towel / All Purpose Soap

The towel is 130cm x 70cm and is really light and fast drying. You hang it on the end of your bunk when you are done in the shower and in a few hours it will be dry. I used to use Dr. Bronner’s soap but I found it really messy. So I changed to Lifeventure. This soap covers all the bases – hair, clothes, body and you can bring it on the plane.

Others – anything I have left out

  • Buff
  • Several safety pins for hanging laundry – you can even hang the safety pins on your back
  • Earplugs – for the albergue
  • Cream for feet – I was recommended Gehwol by a Podiatrist and I haven’t looked back since.
  • Blister kit
  • Mobile phone, plug and charging cable
  • Fitbit and charging cable
  • Credencial from Camino Society Ireland
  • Passport
  • I carry a small over-the-shoulder bag which includes my credencial, passport, a small amount of money, debit card and phone.
  • In my backpack, I have a clear plastic pocket envelope which contains the important things – copy of a prescription, boarding pass, contact details if my phone is lost/stolen

Download my packing list with links that may help you. For more tips, see my preparation page.