The Universe is telling me something!

I booked the flights for the Camino this morning, which came in at $4,194. (economy airfares for myself and my wife, who will come over to meet up with me at the end.)

I checked my bank account this evening and out of the blue, I’d received $4,392 today in royalties from a past film. Completely unexpected. I cannot believe it. The extra $200 will cover taxis and incidentals in transit.

If you follow your intuitive path, then everything will be okay.

What I’m Taking

What you take on your Camino walk is one of the most important decisions you’ll make – because you’ll have to haul it all on your back, or on your person, for 800+ kms.

I’ve given a lot of thought to it, and I’ve done a lot of reading on blogs and forums, and what I’ve come to learn is that the two most crucial pieces of gear are your boots and your backpack.

BOOTS: I’m going with a pair of Asolo Moran Gortex hiking boots. I’ve tried various Timberland and Scarpa boots, but the Asolo seem to be the most comfortable for me. They’re Italian, although made in Romania, and I’m using inner soles (Superfeet) to give me more cushioning for my back. (I have two metal plates screwed into my lower spine, thanks to a car accident many years ago.)

A tip on boots – don’t buy them online, you have to get them fitted, and preferably with the socks you’ll be wearing, and any sock liners too. Then you have to allow some serious wriggle room, because your feet will swell with continuous day-after-day walking. You’ll find you’ll need at least half a size, and more probably a full size bigger than normal. Also, make sure you have plenty of toe room, because when you’re walking down steep slopes, particularly with a load on your back, your toes tend to jam into the end of your boots. You’ll find that you quickly lose toe-nails if you don’t have sufficient room.

Another tip on boots: wear them in! Allow enough time to wear them in over a variety of conditions; on the road, on bush tracks, up and down hills and mountains. Do about 150-200 kms in them before you hit the Camino. If you’re going to get blisters, it’s best to get them before you leave home, that way you can work out why, and fix the problem.

BACKPACK: I’ve decided on an Osprey 38L Kestral backpack. I’ve gone through various reviews, and it seems that 38L will be all I’ll need, and the Osprey has a great reputation. I went in to Paddy Pallin in Sydney (the best hiking place, I reckon) and I got one of the staff to personally fit it – because different packs fit different backs. This one fitted fine. It’s relatively heavy – 1.44kgs – but it seems well made and very comfortable.

I’ve given thought to getting a hydration pack for the backpack – that’s basically a 2L water bladder that fits inside your backpack, with a tube that allows you to drink while you walk. I’ve decided against this – I’m going to carry two bottles of water (600ml) in the side pouches of the backpack, with a 300ml smaller bottle of water in the front pouch which I can access easily. I’ll periodically refill the smaller bottle from the two larger bottles during the day. Why do it this way? Because I don’t like the idea of sucking on a teat.

CAMERA: The choice of a camera is a critical one for me. I’m a film director but also a photographer (accredited with the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers), and so imagery is very important to me. But on this trip, so is weight!

The lightest option (other than not taking a camera at all) is the iPhone, at 135gms. I have an iPhone 5 and it’s pretty nifty with imaging, particularly with some of the apps that can really enhance a shot. However it’s a fixed lens camera, the sensor is very small, and even though I can use the panoramic function, the lens isn’t wide enough for me.

The camera I’d like to take is a Nikon D3200 – a small light entry-level DSLR with a 24MP sensor. But even with a 12-24mm f4 lens, charger and batteries, the weight comes in at 1.35kgs. Too heavy.

So I’m taking a small Fujifilm x10. I love this little camera. It has a 2/3″ CMOS sensor and a 28-112mm f2.0-2.8 lens which is sharp as a tack. Useable ISO up to 1600. With batteries and charger it comes in at 700gms. It’s a good compromise.

MAPS ETC: To save on weight, I’m digitising my maps and guidebooks, including the Camino standard – John Brierley’s Guidebook. I can view these on my iPad or iPhone. This way, I have the added advantage of being able to magnify the text with the zoom function, so I won’t need to take my reading glasses out of my pack all the time.

PACKING LIST: This is what I’m taking – with the weight of each item:

(The total backpack weight, without food and water, comes in at 8.46kgs. Food and 1.5lts of water will add another 2kgs. This is too heavy for my body weight – but right at the moment I can’t figure out what to drop from this list, given that at times it’s going to be very wet and cold.)

What I’m wearing –

Asolo boots – 1320gms
Icebreaker hiking merino socks (thick) – 118gms
Nike track pants – tech, fast drying – 350gms
Icebreaker short sleeve t-shirt – merino – 175gms
Icebreaker long sleeve top – merino – 315gms
Windbreaker softshell jacket – 560gms
Scarf – wool – 96gms
Cap (Australian Cricket cap) – 95gms
Bonds tech undies – 65gms
Sunglasses (prescription) – 95gms

What’s in the pack:

Camping:
Backpack – Osprey Kestral 38L – 1440gms
Sleeping Bag – Western Mountaineering – 568gms
Knife – Opinel – 100gms
Headlamp Princeton Tek – 96gms
Towel – Katmandu – 121gms
Toilet paper – 25gms
Sellic 15 (anti-blister cream) x1 – 170gms
Day Pack – Sea to Summit sling bag – 30 gms
Ziplocs (extra bags) – 30gms

Clothing:
Rain Jacket – Gortex – Katmandu – 620gms
Rain pants (long) – North Face – 215gms
Katmandu Windstopper vest – 280gms
Reflective Safety vest – 220gms
2nd Nike tech track pants – 350gs
Sneakers (Rivers Barefoot lite) – 430gms
2nd Icebreaker t-shirt – merino – 175gms
2nd Icebreaker long sleeve top – merino – 315gms
Thermal top – Icebreaker merino – 220gms
2nd pair Icebreaker socks (thick) – 118gms
1 pair Icebreaker socks (medium) – 85gms
Sock Liners x 2 (Wigwam) – 50gms
2 x Bonds undies – 130 gms
Gloves – Katmandu windstoppers – 66gms
Beanie Icebreaker merino – 33gms
Glasses + case (distance + readers) – 85gms
Extra boot laces – 10gms

Personal:
Sunscreen – 85gms
Aspirin / Codral – 50gms
Vitamin C powder – 50gms
Betadine small tube – 25gms
Earplugs / Eyeshades – 15gms
Soap – 50gms
Razor – 45gms
Deodorant (Dove 50ml) – 84gms
Shampoo (small) – 50gms
6 plastic clothes pegs – 24gms
6 large safety pins – 24gms
Laundry bag – 20gms
Compeed (for blisters) x 8 – 40gms
Knee bandage – 96gms
Toothbrush – 15gms
Toothpaste – 45gms
Hairbrush – 20gms
Passports – 75gms
Credit cards + Drivers License – 25gms
Money belt – mesh – 150gms
Scallop Shell – 75gms
St. Christopher medallion – 40gms
A small stone, from home, to put at base of Iron Cross. – 50gms

Tech:
iPod – 31gms
iPhone – 137gms
iPad – 613gms
Sim card remover – 3gms
Apple Charger (for iPhone, iPod + iPad) – 98gms
Nokia phone -85gms (for local calls + texts)
Nokia charger – 45gms
iPad SD card reader – 35gms
Camera – Fujifilm x10 – 700gms
(includes charger and 3 extra batteries)
SD cards 16GB x 2 – 50gms
Power adapter – 47gms

NOTE: A week out from departing, I have done a cull, and removed some of the above items. I’ve had to ask myself – Is this REALLY necessary? Here are the things that I’ve taken out of the pack –

Reflective Safety vest – 220gms
1 x Sellic 15 (anti-blister cream) – 85gms
Reading glasses – 40gms
Extra boot laces – 10gms
Sunscreen – 85gms
Deodorant (Dove 50ml) – 84gms
6 plastic clothes pegs – 24gms
Laundry bag – 20gms
Hairbrush – 20gms

Individually, some of the items don’t weigh much, (a hairbrush at 20 gms? Seriously?) but cumulatively it saves more than 600gms, which is significant. The only item I’m not sure about leaving behind is the reflective vest, however I figure if I really need it, I can buy one over in Spain.

Most importantly though, with this culling I’ve now managed to bring the weight of the backpack, without food or water, down to 7.75 kgs. I’m not sure I can reduce it much further.

Today I booked the flights

Today I booked the flights to Spain. Well, actually not to Spain, to Paris. Because from there I can fly to Biarritz, and from there to St. Jean Pied de Port, which is where I’ll start my journey.

I’m not sure how I’ll get from Biarritz to St. Jean Pied de Port, but it’s only about 60kms so if I get the urge, I can walk. But after 26hrs traveling from Australia, it might be easier to get a train!

I’m very excited though about actually booking a ticket and fixing a date – April 10 will be when I arrive in France. It will still be cold. Early spring. It should be beautiful.

Early preparations

In contemplating walking nearly 1000kms over the space of four or five weeks, there are certain things you have to ask yourself:

  1. Will I physically be able to make it?  
  2. What will I take, because I’ll be carrying it all on my back.
  3. What plans should I make?
  4. Why the hell am I doing this?

Let’s leave the last one for a while because that’s not easy to answer.

As for #1, I’ve been walking for a while now – a few years – but I got more serious about it when I came back from Spain with the crazed notion of walking the Camino. For those of you who like the gritty detail, I have been walking about 4-5 times a week, doing either a 8km walk or a 14km walk. I do them fast – averaging about 6.5km per hr – to get my aerobic fitness up.

Lately I’ve been doing the walks with a backpack, weighted to 7.5kg, and that slows me down! Yesterday for instance I did a 34km walk with the backpack between two country towns, to try and simulate as much as possible what I’ll be facing day to day on the Camino. It was hard. It took me 6 hours and I averaged 5.4km/hr. Slow for me. But I had pain in my right knee from an old running injury, and that concerned me. What concerned me more though was the prospect of doing that same walk thirty days in a row!

Will I be able to do it? Thousands do, each year – many older than me, and not as fit. So as long as my knee holds out, then yes, I’ll be able to do it.

What to take: This is a big one, and in checking various forums on the Camino, there are packing lists everywhere, and advice on what to bring and what to leave behind. The one thing that everyone says though is that you should not carry more than 10% of your body weight. For me, that’s about 7.5kg. When I travel for business, I usually check in with no less than 24kg and hand luggage weighing about 12kgs. (laptop, cameras, books etc.) So getting everything I need for 5 weeks away down to a measly 7.5kg will be the first major life challenge for me!

The second challenge will be social. I am by nature a solitary person – other than the relationship I have with my wife, immediate family and a few friends. (Facebook friends don’t count!) I’ll have to sleep in pilgrim dormitories, called albergues, which are mixed bunk like accommodation with shared toilet and bathroom facilities. Some of these places are infested with bed bugs, and some are pretty scungy, from all accounts. But they cost bugger all, about €7-€10 per night, and walking the Camino is all about stripping back (no pun intended) and putting yourself into situations that will at times be confronting.

The last time I slept in dorm accommodation was when I was 10 years old, on a school excursion. Even then I hated it.

I am doing this walk alone, and I have no desire or intention to make it a social occasion. When I walk here at home, I listen to audiobooks on my iPod. I won’t be doing that on the Camino. I want to be alone with my thoughts. I want to allow whatever might bubble up to bubble up, without any interference or distraction.

Having said I’m solitary, I’m also fascinated by other people, and I’m sure I’ll get chatting to pilgrims along the way, to find out their story and learn whatever lessons they’ve been sent to impart to me. I know that sounds whacky but that’s what I believe – that people cross your path to teach you lessons.

I want though to walk this ancient route at my own rhythm, at my own pace, and be open to whatever might present itself. Like I said at the outset, I don’t know why I’m walking 800+ kms – but I think I’ll know when I finish.

 

A Particular Need

I have a particular need to walk the Camino. And yet, I’m not sure what that need is.

The Camino, or The Way of St.James, is an ancient pilgrimage route ending at Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain. Lately it’s become popular with walkers who make the journey to Santiago for a variety of reasons, not necessarily religious.

The Way of St. James

Last year in 2012, nearly 200,000 people walked the Camino.There are various routes you can take – some starting in Portugal, others in Seville in the south of Spain, but the majority walk what’s called The Camino Frances, which traditionally starts on the French side of the Pyrenees, in a small town called St. Jean Pied de Port. From there to Santiago is about 800km.

That’s the route I intend to take, although I want to go all the way through to Cape Finisterre – “the End of the World” as the pagans called it, because they believed it was the western most point of Europe.

For me, that walk will be near on 1000kms.

My particular need started nearly two years ago now when I visited Spain with my wife and son, to spend time with our daughter in Galicia. She was writing a book, now published and called Only in Spain. My wife Jennifer needed to be with her to script edit.

For three months we stayed in a small and very beautiful stone cottage near the sea, close to Viviero – about 155 kms from Santiago de Compostela.

From the track

We’d arrived in April 2011, and in May we drove to the Cannes Film Festival. I am a feature film producer and director, and attending Cannes each year is almost a prerequisite in my job. On the way there, we stopped at a small town in the Basque region, which must have been on the northern route of the Camino, called Camino Del Norte.

My wife and I sat outside a pretty shaded cafe for a morning coffee, and sitting nearby were several pilgrims. I could tell by their scallop shells on their backpacks. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, dating back to ancient times, and is used to mark the route.

images

After coffee, I went walking around the town, and found myself in a small mercado, or market. There were several walking staffs on sale, the kind the pilgrims were using. I bought myself one. I don’t know why. I just felt I had to buy it. It was nobbled and cut from a branch, not a pre-fabriated staff, and it felt right in my hand. It cost me €7.

Bill with stick

On the way back from Cannes I structured our journey so that we could follow the Camino as much as possible. We went to Burgos, Leon, Ponferrada, and many small villages on the way to Santiago de Compostela. On the summer equinox, we also drove to Cape Finisterre. We sat on the headland and watched the sun go down on the longest day of the year – a ritual that has been followed for millennia. The headland was full of pilgrims who’d walked hundreds of miles to be there for the event.

Pilgrims celebrating longest day at End of the World*

We arrived back at the cottage in Galicia and I began walking each day, taking the staff I’d bought on 12-15km walks through some of the most spectacular country in Spain. Out to a lighthouse on a lonely headland, through ancient stone villages, past ruined churches, dodging around huge barking dogs, walking in amongst tall stands of eucalypts so reminiscent of my home in Australia.

Belltower

I told my wife and daughter that I would come back one day and walk the Camino. They both laughed. It seemed crazy. I’m not a Catholic. This is not a religious thing. Yes, I will soon be making a film on intuition, and so my leanings are spiritual. But I don’t necessarily see my walking the Camino as something spiritual. But perhaps it will be. I don’t know. I’ll probably only know when I walk into the square in front of the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

In the meantime, I’m making preparations. I’m getting fit, buying gear, getting my backpack and boots ready, and I feel something building inside me. I’m fortunate to have a very tolerant and understanding wife in Jennifer. She is a wise soul.

I will dedicate the walk to her.

Scallop shell showing the way in Leon.

Scallop shell showing the way in Leon. I wanted to step off onto that path and keep walking.