Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 80 - Navigating the Camino...

Navigating has always been one of my stronger points. That is, if I'm equipped with a good map and speak the language of the country that I'm travelling in. Reading what Tony Kevin has to say on the topic of navigating the Camino in his book, 'Walking the Camino - a modern pilgrimage to Santiago' I've realised that my skills are going to be put to the test in this department!

I suspect that my two biggest challenges are going to be, firstly, yo no hablo español and secondly - the trusty yellow arrows and waymakers aren't exactly around every single corner on the route, especially out in the countryside...  

This is how Tony, in his delightful manner, puts it:

' This might be a good moment to pull together some thoughts about navigation. This is an important practical question for non-Spanish speaking pilgrims. If you do not have enough confidence in Spanish to ask directions and understand the answers, how do you avoid getting seriously lost? Asking directions can be a problem even for good Spanish speakers: quite often, a local will say 'a la izquierda' (to the left) while waving to the right with his right hand, or 'a la derecha' (to the right) while his left hand points to the left. It is hard to decide whether to believe the words or the hands!'

'The camino, like a Roman or medieval road,tries to avoid serious detours from the most direct, shortest line of walk. So it goes straight up and over the top of hills that are in the way, rather than curving around them as do motor roads. Sometimes, in rough terrain with sheep or goat tracks meandering aimlessly around, it can be hard to stay on the right path. You have to put all your trust in the directions indicated by the yellow waymarks. They are a metaphor for spiritual guidance in life,in that they are always correct (they never misdirect) and sometimes easily visible, but at other times quite hard to see. On the camino that I walked, they were painted in the oddest and most obscure places - mostly on wayside rocks or trees, but also on fence posts or lamp posts, at the corner of buildings, on street signs, even in treeless wheatfields on drain culverts at one's feet. Sometimes there are too few of them - in some places the local Friends seem to have decided to not make it too easy for pilgrims, to make them work at finding the next arrow, which may be several kilometres ahead. In other areas there are yellow arrows everywhere. But that is all part of the fun of navigation - and there is the delight and relief when you spy the next yellow arrow and realise you haven't lost the track. Sometimes there are yellow crosses, warning not to take a particular road. Sometimes there are puzzlingly bent arrows pointing upwards and then off to the right or left - what do they mean?'

I keep reminding myself that I'm not going to be the only one walking the route and if I do get lost, surely there will always be someone to steer me in the right direction again. Perhaps part of the fun is going to be exactly that - losing the way (or should I say 'plot'...) every now and again!

When I lived in Portugal for a few months a couple of years ago, losing my way, be it direction or language related, sometimes led me to the best of friends! The fact that one is prepared to try, even if it means making a complete fool of oneself, somehow seems to bring out the positive in  most people. Some of the mistakes I made still make me smile today. The Portuguese language is a complicated one and filled with words that sound so similar but yet have meanings that are totally unrelated.

A good example: mordamos = to bite; moramos = to live. So imagine the looks I got when I answered: 'I bite in Villamoura' when asked where I live. And trust me, I did this a couple of times!

As for navigating - the only time I've really been off the mark was when certain roads actually catered for one way traffic only and this was not indicated on my map. In heavy city traffic in places like Paris or London this can be a costly mistake! We once drove in Amsterdam with our hired camper van (great fun touring that way!) and I didn't realise that the roads become too narrow in certain parts of the city for such large vehicles. So needless to say, with my luck, we ended up (quite unintentionally, I assure you!) in the red light district, trapped in a narrow little side street with our huge bus! Traffic officers (who were kind enough not to issue us a ticket because they felt so sorry for us - what a sight for sore eyes we must have been - a bunch of red-faced foreigners out on a sightseeing trip in a camper van in the red light district!) diverted traffic so that we could back up and then led us out of the disaster zone in one piece.

I remember almost being able to touch the ladies sitting in the display windows alongside the road. I know you can place a take-away order from your car at the MacDonald's drive-thru, but I don't think that's quite the way it worked  in the red light district... :)

I started this post by proclaiming the fact that I regard myself as a good navigator. By sharing the above (and I'm not sure how or why that all poured out, but somehow one admission just led to the next!) you've probably lost all confidence in my ability to successfully navigate my way on a 780km walk with only a map, a guidebook, three Spanish words and a backpack.

Can't say I blame you!

All of the above said, I think I'll be OK. One of my other good attributes is that I always stay extremely calm when disaster strikes. But before I prove that statement to be yet another figment of my imagination, I'd better refrain from spilling too many of my beans...

Just to prove that I'm not alone - I thought I'd share this little gem I found on a fellow blogger's site. She has kindly allowed me to share the following with you. Thanks Anna-Marie!

My friend and I were really curious about this sign that we found along the river after Villafranca del Bierzo. All I could make out was something about freedom without death. I asked a Spanish friend about it later. It turned out to be about releasing fish after catching them! 

I found this just as charming:

'It’s possible to survive walking the Chemin de Saint-Jacques from Le Puy-en-Velay if you speak next to no French. I met two Austrian students who walked part of the route, and gleefully got by snorting like pigs to order pork in a restaurant, and miming their ailments in a pharmacy. I also walked for a day with a Korean woman who spoke no French apart from the tiny amount she’d picked up while walking. She made it all the way to Santiago.'

I think there might be hope for me!

(Anna-Marie walked the Camino de Santiago two years ago - her blog is filled with wonderful stories and facts on the Camino - Thank you also to Tony Kevin, author of 'Walking the Camino', for allowing me to quote from his wonderful book. Lastly - a big thank you to my friend Rodney for sending me the photograph of the curved sign at the beginning of this post.)


  1. Emilene, the Spanish people are among the nicest and friendliest on this earth. If you make an attempt to speak Spanish, they will be so eager to help you. Just remember to be kind, smile a lot, and say "Gracías" when they help. And you don't have to speak in complete sentences to be understood. I think you will get along very well.

  2. emilene: I feel much better after reading your reply to my comments to your previous post. I only want to be positive and encouraging, but the Google Map info from your sidebar seemed to indicate 6 days or so. I knew that was not realistic. 30 days should be fine. You want to enjoy yourself along the way. What a magnificent trip. I passed my big birthday a couple of years ago, and I did something special as well. My wife and I purchased Eurail passes and backpacked through nine European countries. We rode the rail, day hiked, enjoyed some of the good life in the big cities, and then got back on the train to the next country. I wonder what I will do on the next big one - perhaps, your trip will give me a hint.

  3. Sun at your back in the ya face in the afternoon! Easy Peasy!! You'll do just fine!

  4. Margaret - You're right - 'gracias' certainly goes a long way, no matter where you are in the world!

    JJ - Yay! I'm very happy that you might be tempted to walk the camino as well. I'm not sure where it says that the walk will take 6 days...will have a look. Anyway, you can really walk as long and as far as you like, as long as you actually walk the last 100km to Santiago, you will get your 'official' certificate. I have chosen to do the Camino Frances, which is 780km from St Jean-Pied-du-Port to Santiago de Compostela. It starts in France and heads over the Pyrenees - I like that prospect! We followed the tour de France cycling race in a camper van a couple of years ago and stayed overnight in a make-shift camp with a crowd of spectators in the Pyreneess - fantastic stuff!

  5. You'll be fine! Even if you get lost a few times, that's just part of the adventure.

    And I suspect there are now more yellow arrows (and other signs) on the Camino than when Tony Kevin walked it (though I don't know when that was). That said, two years ago there were a few long arrow-less stretches when I was sure I'd missed a sign.

    I realize in retrospect that I often got lost leaving cities, because there weren't always arrows. In most cases, I could have saved myself the trouble if I'd actually read my guidebook.

    Then there were other times I tried to leave the Camino to go to a store or something, and had local people try to stop me because they thought I was accidentally leaving the Camino.

    Anyway, I'm glad you've found my blog helpful. Happy New Year!

  6. A.Maz.Ing. I can't believe you are going to do this treck. WOW, super WOW. What an adventure. I think I would be a little chicken to try a new country. I could walk and walk but the whole New language, new country thing would intimidate me.

    I can't wait to follow this adventure you will be on. I will experience it vicariously with you ok.

    thanks for stopping by my blog. See, now I have a whole new experience to enjoy this next year, just cause you stopped by.

    which is kinda like your quote on your sidebar from Hebrews. LOVE THAT. I am writing it down so I can look at it daily.

  7. also a class of 2012-as ksam says you are following the sun to Santiago-the arrows are always there you get used to noticing them plus nearly always another pilgrim in line of site-the Camino has loads of truisms one is you are never lost wherever you are is your Camino.
    my blog sagalouts

  8. Hi Emilene,

    Thanks for your recent visit to my blog - I have now linked it to yours and will continue to follow.

    No problems if you want to pass ideas past me - will be glad to assist.

    As you have probably seen in my blog I am a keen long distance walker as well as a cyclist so I am quite well placed in terms of experience of this kind of trek.
    You will see from my 18Dec2010 posting headed 'Events' that I plan to cycle back to the UK from Gibraltar in September this year, so will cover the entire length of Spain and France. I have already cycled and walked part of the route that you will probably be following.

    My longest Trek was the entire length of South America following sections of the Andes. I have also walked in the Himalayas as well as covering most of the long distance routes in the UK.

    You will really enjoy the Trek along this well established pilgrimage route- life is always best when you have a challenge to aim for.

    You certainly sound like 'my kind of person' and I look forward to reading about all your plans and the Trek itself here.
    Kindest regards

  9. Hi Emilene, Where are you? Already following all those arrows? Servaas

  10. My dear blogging friends - just to let you know that I'm still alive and kicking! Just very busy with my friend visiting and babysitting my little grandson until his school starts again...

    I'm hoping to start blogging full blast again by this weekend, would like to post more than just a line or two at a time - so have decided if I can't do it properly, it has to wait till I have enough time again.

    Will say, I am SO ready to pack my bags and head of to St Jean - we'll have to see how long I can contain myself.

    I miss the interaction with my blogging buddies but have left a comment here and there - Servaas, you can send me updates if you have, you must be counting the days till the start of your camino my friend!

    Hoping to hear all about Jeremiah's walk as well - he arrived back in the States today, elated as can be!!

    Speak soon!

  11. I'm glad to see you're alive and kicking!

    I just stopped by to pass on a link: You've got to see the sign: "Caution! Chicken nests."

  12. Ah.... glad you replied to a post ... had begun to wonder what part of the journey you were travelling!!! Look forward to the next blog.

  13. Emilene, all I can do is parrot what every other pilgrim has told you... "You'll be fine!"

    The Camino has a life of its own, and its job is showing you the way to yourself.

    Leave your worries behind with the other excess baggage and just go walk... you'll be fine!


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment, I welcome your input!