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
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 - http://www.pilgrimroads.com/. 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.)