Ode to a Pair of Shoes

The second day after

One advantage to the unexpected extra day in Santiago is that I get to see a few more folks and bid fond farewells to so many new friends – some that I’ll see again, some that I won’t.  We are all bound by this amazing experience and challenge of walking the Camino.  It’s early yet today after a decent sleep, but not to early to write this.

Today was filled with changing hotels and wandering about town.  It’s Monday so museums are closed.  Still should be plenty to do.  And I will hang out a bit in the plaza to look for other familiar faces arriving today that are still arriving. I moved hotels to begin the transition back to real life and take advantage of a reward pints deal.  And because I couldn’t make it to Finisterre.  The new hotel is very nice even though I only have one night there.

One museum was open – the cathedral – so I visited. It was worth it, and over an hour spent.

As I put my stuff back in the pack, I realized it seemed lighter after a day off and the completion of the walk  lightening  the load.

I spent about an hour in the plaza watching folks arrive from their Caminos and smiled as I watched the joy and some of their tears from being overwhelmed.  As I stood there, a woman approached and said she was from Guatamala and had seen me since Pamplona and that we never talked, so we chatted a bit.

But the other thing that is clear is that I can never replicate either my Camino nor my joy on arriving into the plaza the first time with friends and sharing the arrival of my friends.  The trip was unique, special, and a once in a lifetime experience.  Even if I do a Camino again it will never be the same.  And the same holds true for everyone else.

The whole thing was an amazing, wonderful experience.  Awesome. I have new friends – ones that I will see again and ones I will never see again.  Things happen for a reason though we may not know what it is.

Most of my friends have left and I’m on my own now – much the way I started the journey.   For any of my new friends who happen to read this, I wish you all the best and hope that we connect in the future.  You each have been a huge part of my experience.  Thank you

I’m also in the process of seeing what will go home with me.  Those familiar with aviation and aerospace will understand the term SWaP, or Size, Weight and Power.  It’s been a balance all trek for those of us that carried everything on our persons, and it’s time to see what stays and what goes home to reduce size and weight even more.  For example, I carried a ball of string and a sharp knife that I got in St. Jean – the knife came in useful several times…. The string only a couple of times.  I already gave my hiking poles to a friend that lost his because he was planning on going to Finisterre, and he promised to give them away to another pilgrim if he didn’t need them.  They weren’t expensive, but they made the trip so much better for me.

My Hoka shoes, though, are not going home nor to anyone else.  There isn’t much that’s more important than a good pair of shoes, and this pair was comfortable and served well across all the challenges.  I had to patch them once, but the patch is still going strong.  They are, however, pretty close to worn out: the tread is wearing, the padding is worn through in a couple of places, and parts are threadbare.  They would have made it to Finisterre and Muxia had I had enough time, but I didn’t.  And they’re worn enough to not be very useful at home.  “They” say that 800 km is about the life of a shoe in this kind of use, so they did well and served honorably.  A few blisters but most were due to my feet, not the shoes… but make no mistake that shoes are a very personal thing.

To my shoes: thank you for protecting my feet and making the journey possible.  I’ll leave you here so that I can remember the good you did for me.

So what would I do differently next time?

  1.  I’d plan and book ahead even more than I did for private rooms and even consider it for albergues. The Camino is getting crowded and often the desired accommodations are booked early.  Some folks book a year out, others use tour operators that suck up all the rooms.
  2. I’d allow more time.  A couple of extra days would have let me continue to Finisterre and Muxia, which is supposed to be nice.  Because of crowded and sold out transportation services, I won’t be able to either walk or take a bus this trip.  And there are things to see in each of the other cities that I walked through and I’ll have to come back to see, so I will add those two places to the list.
  3. Allow a few rest days along the way.  Burgos, Leon, Pamplona, and a few others are worthy of more time.  And the pack seems lighter after a rest day – meaning that a few more rest days would be beneficial.
  4. For some parts, I might consider the Sherpa service that transports your pack to the next town.  And I am still smiling about my friends that took horses up one of the steep mountains.

What did I bring that I’m glad I brought?

  1.  Lightweight fleece pants.  It gets cool in the evening and they’re comfortable.  More than one friend wished they had some. Yeah, they took up a bit of space, but were oh, so useful.
  2. The dry bag
  3. A pair of thin, extra socks for the evening
  4. The GoreTex jacket.  It does a respectable job in the wind and cold & does well in light rain when I use the backpack cover.
  5. Ibuprofen.  And yes, you can get it at pharmacies here.  Invaluable.
  6. Compeed for blisters.  And like ibuprofen, get more here.
  7. The Brierley book as an ebook on the phone.  Brierley is the “bible” and has maps and info on each town.  Worth it to not carry the paperback.
  8. Light, small canvas shoes for the evening.  Most folks wear sandals, and they are fine, but on cooler nights and rougher places I like the shoes.  YMMV.

What did I bring that I really didn’t need?

  1.  A third pair of walking pants – the convertible ones.  I’d use the space for the other stuff I have.  The pants are a size too big and I’ve lost weight.  They also need a belt (which I din’t have or want to carry).  And I didn’t need shorts for my trip though others are glad they had theirs.
  2. Mixed feelings on the sleeping bag liner & pillow case.  If you end up in an albergue shared room then you’ll want it.  I only ended up in that situation once and it was a shared private room.  I used them both, but only once, so I probably didn’t  need to bring them, especially if I had been able to book private rooms everywhere.
  3. Also mixed feelings on the (new) good camera.  The iPhone did a pretty good job, but really isn’t the same quality.  It is, however, very convenient – the better camera is harder to access quickly.  I’ve used it, but not as much as I thought.  It is my preferred option for the really good stuff, but for landscapes, etc, less so.  In the end I’ll be glad I brought it, I think.  Certainly I’ve used it.

What did I get locally that was important or helpful

  1. Compeed.  And lots of it.  Bring some to start, but you can get it a LOT of places along the way.  Get it a day ahead of when you think you’ll need it as some villages have no stores of any kind.
  2. Hiking poles.  I got 2 in St. Jean for about €11 each.  I’m glad I got two – they’re easier to use that way & more helpful.  I gave them away in the end but I am 100% convinced of their need.  And they do make it easier on hips and knees.
  3. A hat.  Ok, this is my fault for leaving my good hat in the hotel room, but this cheap one does the job just fine.  It’s just not for use in the rain.
  4. Silicon caulk.  Really.  They saved the day with the Hoka shoes when they got a hole. 
  5. The second pair of walking shoes.  Ok, I only wore them one day because the patch on the Hokas held – so I ended up carrying them on the pack.  They would be a good candidate to ship ahead in my IKEA bag along with a couple of other heavier items.  They’ll be the shoes I wear home.
  6. The poncho.  The one I got (Altus) has been great.  Thin, lightweight, rip stop fabric. 
  7. Laundry detergent either as tablets or in a tube for washing clothes in the room sinks.  Most laundromats and laundry machines supply detergent, but sink-washing is necessary in a lot of places.
  8. Lip balm. I don’t usually use it, but early in the walk I really needed it.
  9. And a local/Spain SIM card in the second phone.  160 GB of data in 28 days is many times what I get with the US cell plan.
  10. Sunscreen
  11. Bathing suit for a couple of places that had spas or pools.  They would have doubled as short if I needed shorts.

What do I wish I had that I didn’t?

  1. Tape. Preferably medical tape, but it can do double duty if you need it for something else.  It can secure the edges of Compeed or bandages.
  2. Sunglasses
  3. Some insole pads for the new shoes to make them more comfortable.
  4. A small plastic ziplock for my passport and pilgrim credential to keep perspiration from dampening them.
  5. Sink stopper.  Really.  Once I got into Galicia I didn’t stay in a place with sink stoppers.  Yes, you’ll want to wash or rinse clothes in a sink.  They will get dusty and dirty in a day.
  6. More time.

I really didn’t need much else… and if I did, there are plenty of places to get it (well, OK, except for time).

One note on credit cards: many places prefer cash, some require it.  And most places that carer to the pilgrims don’t take American Express.  So bring a Mastercard or Visa to use.  And always choose Euros if you are prompted to choose Euro or Dollar. If you want to know why, look up “DCC Scam” for more info. And you’ll find ATMs in many places along the way so you don’t need to carry excessive amounts of cash – just bring the ATM card.

I think that’ll do it for now.  I’m planning a peaceful, solo dinner somewhere and may try to catch another museum in the morning before I leave.