May 8, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain, Video

Only about a week ago did I finally check my camera to see if I actually had any Camino video. Sure enough, I discovered a bunch of clips that brought the memories rushing back in (albeit bumpily and blurrily). Paired with pictures, and the sound of (very redundant) bagpipes next to the Santiago Cathedral, it captures some of the mood from the trip. While it may not be my most impressive video to date (by a longshot), the sights and sounds are special, so I thought it was worth sharing!

You can also see more photos (including those of my recent trip to Prague) by visiting the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page.

May 1, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

Sure most of you may not be hitting the Camino trail any time soon, but you never know when you might want to grab your backpack and start hiking. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my Camino packing list and all its 7 kilos of glory.

1. Full sleeping bag – I heard horror stories about bed bugs in the albergues (hostels), so it was recommended to bring a sleeping bag that extended to the head. Also, most of the albergues are reasonably warm (if not hot), so don’t bother bringing anything too heavy-duty.
2. Expandable shopping bag to carry valuable items, such as your camera and wallet, should you want to leave the albergue during the evenings. Think of it as a collapsible purse (or murse, for you gentlemen).
3. Swiss Army knife for important Spanish tasks like chopping chorizo and uncorking a bottle of wine.
4. Ear plugs because you will inevitably be sleeping in the vicinity of one extremely loud snorer every single night of your journey.
5. Essential documents like your passport and Camino credential (which you can get at most larger albergues when you start the trek).

The pilgrim credential, which you get stamped along the way. Eventually, you present it in Santiago to demonstrate where your Camino began.

6. Plastic zip-lock bag to store your documents (including those mentioned above, but eventually also your certificate) so that they are protected, especially if it rains. You might even want one that can go around your neck, like Ana below, as you will want easy access to your Camino credential at all stops along the way (albergues, bars, churches, etc).
7. Three pairs of socks so that you always have at least one clean, DRY, pair. Even better, if you can find yourself some quick-dry socks that don’t take at least two days to dry like mine did (in which case, just hang them on your backpack and hope for the best).
8. Two sets of clothes – one for day and one for night. My advice is to ideally have interchangeable day and night outfits on the off chance that your day outfit is too wet or dirty to wear (as was the case for me in the picture below). For hiking, I brought a dry-fit t-shirt, hoody and pair of pants. Then, for the evenings I had a cotton tee and extra-light Zara pants, which were totally wearable on the trail as well.
9. An extra layer depending on the time of year. I brought an additional cotton hoody (with pockets!) and am so glad I did. It was small enough to pack away, but provided extra warmth both during the day and at night.

10. A scarf because it’s fashionable and functional. Enough said.
11. Trail shoes, but there is some debate about which kind. Given the uncertainty, I decided I was too cheap to invest in a possibly unnecessary pair of shoes, and instead opted to use my sneakers. The sneaker benefit: they’re light, dry quickly, and I didn’t need to break them in. The downside: they didn’t provide much support in the toe area, thus the blisters and other issues. I also heard that proper hiking boots aren’t appropriate as they are too stiff. It sounds like the ideal shoe is something in between, which provides support, but doesn’t go overboard.
12. Flip flops for showering, and because at the end of the day you’ll want to wear anything but your day shoes.
13. Quick-dry towel for the very necessary end-of-day shower.
14. Crummy-weather gear such as gloves, a rain poncho and pants, a backpack rain cover (very important!) and even a hat. I sported a dry-fit baseball cap, which was great at keeping the rain out of my face, and also drying quickly.

Me rocking my rain gear while West Coast representing. And yes, I randomly came across that garage tag in the middle of nowhere. California love, yo.


15. Thread, iodine and a sterile sewing needle – and this is where things get gnarly. If you get blisters, word on the Camino is that you should thread a needle, then puncture the blister, leaving the thread running through the blister and cut at both ends. Finish it by dousing it in a little iodine. Supposedly this keeps the blister from getting any larger. After attempts on a few of my seven blisters, I’m still uncertain whether it worked, but desperate times called for desperate measures, so why not?
16. Travel-sized clothing detergent – I might have been a touch neurotic about washing my clothes, but somehow knowing that I had clean gear waiting for me in the morning made waking up and hitting the trail a whole lot easier.
17. Other first aid items such as band aids, ibuprofen and even an ace bandage (that is, if you start with an already messed-up ankle like I did).
18. Other obvious items: toothbrush, shampoo, pijamas, camera, sunscreen, a few pairs of underwear, phone and chargers (assuming you want to stay connected like I did).

The certificate I received in Santiago de Compostela, verifying that I completed the Camino.

Finally, I’m including the trailer to the movie The Way. It’s not an especially stellar film, but it does an exceptionally good job at capturing the sentiment behind the experience. Anyone remotely interested (or not so remotely) will surely become more motivated to do so after seeing the flick.

*Check back next week as I will be posting a video from the trail, and hopefully some pictures on Facebook to go along with it.

April 24, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Spain, Travel, Travels in Europe, Travels in Spain

I didn’t plan to write about the Camino – I hoped for it to be an opportunity to just spend time with myself, taking in all that I could from the experience. I didn’t take notes and I didn’t bring my fancy camera. I just brought an open mind and an eagerness to challenge myself in ways I’d never been challenged before.

But then I had the most amazing and magical experience of my life.

Never have I gone through something so trying both physically and mentally. If I learned one thing, though, it was that anything is possible. And because of this, I feel compelled to share the experience with all of you.

About the Camino
The Camino de Santiago consists of a web of trails across Spain and beyond, all leading to one very special city in Galicia: Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that the remains of Saint James rest there, thus the motivation behind the pilgrimage’s creation. The most popular trail in existence is the Camino Francés, which stretches 800 kilometers from the border of France to Santiago in Spain. Some do the trip for religious reasons, but most probably embark on the journey for a variety of other purposes – from soul-searching reflection, to tackling the physical challenge.

While many travel the entire 800km from France (taking about a month to do so), to officially “complete” the Camino (i.e. get the fancy certificate) you must only walk at least 100km (or more if you go by bike or horse). As such, many people – especially Spaniards – begin their journey in Sarria, which is a three-to-four-day’s walk away from Santiago. I decided to begin my trek in Ponferrada – eight days, countless yellow arrows, and 200km away from my destination.

Perhaps the most peculiar part of the Camino, for me anyway, was that it felt like a parallel universe – one in which time stopped and everyday life slipped away and didn’t seem to exist. Taking in the world around me one step at a time allowed me to experience my surroundings on a much richer level. A day felt like an eternity of memories filled with sounds, sights and thoughts. There was something refreshing about not obsessing so intensely on the long-term goal, but rather focusing on each step as it came. I suppose that was my first takeaway from the experience.

The physical
The walk itself isn’t necessarily the most difficult of treks. It’s not easy, that’s for sure, but in terms of hikes, it’s not exceptionally hard either (I’m not a major hiker, or even a hiker at all for that matter, but scaling the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls was definitely strenuous on a massively different level). In my opinion, what makes the pilgrimage physically difficult is the quantity of walking. Trekking 25km a day (and up to 35!), one day after the next, while carrying all of my goods on my back, took a major toll on my body. This meant that basic walking often became very tiring and even painful. By the end of the trip, I had (and still basically have) seven blisters, swollen ankles and a messed up a knee.

Despite the discomfort, though, every morning, I’d rise from my albergue (hostel) bunk bed, limp around and eventually hit the trail. The first half hour was often slow and even hurt a bit, but soon the pain would disappear. How? Well, that brings me to my next realizations and the deeper meaning that I discovered behind my Camino.

The people
I realized quickly that the Camino was largely possible due to the people I was with and the strength that they gave me. I’d never met any of them before, as our meeting was just a matter of our coinciding journeys (and I do mean that in the physical sense, I think…). But they became like family, and knowing that we were all going through the same pains, joys and triumphs subconsciously reinforced that my goal was attainable. Suddenly, because everyone thought it to be possible, it just seemed possible – whether it felt like it or not. It just never occurred to me that I would stop. Why would I? We were all it in it together, and if they could continue, then surely so could I.

In the last years, I’ve learned that my attitude changes EVERYTHING. I don’t want to get all preachy about remaining positive, but it just seems true that if you believe you can, then you will….and conversely, if you don’t, then – surprise – you just won’t. On the Camino, this was reinforced at the ultimate level. Because WE ALL believed we could, we did. And every day, as pain and blisters tempted to distract me, I just believed and told myself that I could and I would.

Sure enough, I did. Then, like clockwork, when I arrived in Santiago, my mind gave in and the pain started to reveal itself. A day later and I was nearly immobile, certain that I could never have gone a kilometer farther. But you know what, if there were another day, I bet I would have been able to…because the mind is funny that way.

I am SO grateful for the experience and for the family I gained along the Way. Just the thought of each of their faces greeting me at an unexpected café along the Camino, or at an albergue at the end of a long day, or in Santiago’s main plaza after 200km walked, gave me so much comfort. I’m especially grateful to my friend Candace, who sparked the idea of going on the journey. She initiated me into the world of backpacking, albergues and creative dining (it seems anything is possible with a baguette, some chorizo and a Swiss Army knife…and maybe some wine).

I encourage anyone with the ability to get to Spain, to take this journey for a few days, weeks or even a month. I can say that, without a doubt, it was the single most moving experience of my life, and nothing short of magical. And if I can do it – if my new 65-year-old spunky Australian friend John can do it – then you can too (Dad 😉 ).

*Stayed tuned for a future post about what I suggest you bring and not bring on your journey.