Last month I was invited to speak on Radio New Zealand’s series, Our Own Odysseys. Friends and followers would have laughed out loud at the title of my show, The Camino Limp.
Anzac Day 2014…
Posting on Anzac Day is symbolic, given it was two years ago I reluctantly watched the movie The Way. The previous week I’d been at a close friends house for dinner, where the main topic of conversation was her mother, June, impending trip to walk the Camino Francés. While living in England, I had seen clips of people walking on dusty tracks alongside main roads. Watching them walk up winding pathways towards a town, all I could think of was what a crazy way to spend precious holiday time. I simply couldn’t fathom why June planning to walk 790km from France to Spain, hence when Ollie handed me The Way DVD saying, “this is what Mum is going to do”, my first reaction is “damn, I have to watch it now.”
I never expected to be enthralled by the Camino, let alone called to walk the Camino de Santiago. Perhaps this will sound corny to some people; however, there is no other way to describe this deep pull towards the Compostela de Santiago. Especially as physically I was not in great shape and had never backpacked in my life. Epiphany’s, however, are not meant to be logical.
The movie…The Way
Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, along with three other main actors, capture elements of the scenery and their interwoven quests portrayed the essence of walking the Camino. This essence is like a perfume scent, evoking different emotions and desires for each of us.
The Way acts as a catalyst to awaken people from a deep sleep and a desire to walk its trails. But, of course, there are many different psychological, spiritual and emotional reasons people roam the dusty and often wet plains of Spain.
Rewatching the movie still brings about a longing to be walking the tracks of the Camino Francés. It’s the most popular route and is often referred to as, The Camino Way, The Way of St James, Compostela Santiago, Camino de Santiago or Camino Compostela.
The Camino Francés – France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain
The Camino Francés begins in the small French village of St Jean Pied-de-Port (200m above sea level). The recommended Route de Napoléon is a mountain walk, which peaks at Col de Lepoeder, 1450m above sea level. Then descends to Roncesvalles on a steep track, challenging tired muscles. Around the 1200m mark, cellphones began to bleep; we have crossed from France into Spain.
It’s a massive first day. As such, I’m really grateful I ported my backpack to Roncesvalles and walked with a daypack.
As we continued on this route, we encountered people who treated the 790m journey as an endurance event determined to smash it out of the park in a few days as humanely possible. But, generally, the consensus from those on pilgrimage or a personal guest was “it’s just wrong!”
Walking and injuries…
Injuries were commonplace; some like mine signalled the end, others continued at a snail’s pace.
If you are not used to exercising every day, the body needs time to adjust to walking day after day. At the end of our seventh day on the Camino Francés, we had walked 163.6 km over the Pyrenees, up and down hills on terrain varying from concrete footpaths to earth tracks often littered with loose boulders. Pharmacies do a roaring trade in this part of Spain, so no need to bring a sizeable medical kit. Voltaren emugel and magnesium are everybody’s saviour and thankfully readily available.
My own recovery…
It has been a long road. Last May, I re-injured myself and had to restart my rehab program. In the back of my mind was Daniel Carter’s quote about his 2014 injury, “It’s a minor setback; it’s not a serious injury or changing my goals.”
Not that I’m comparing myself to Dan. To be honest, I never really got the point of exercise, especially as I got an injury every time I got fit. In retrospect, they were minor wear and tear incidents that just required me to understand my body and how it relates to pain.
Committing to walk the Camino Portugués required a new attitude to fitness. One I attribute to my friend Rand who talks about exercise in terms of an approach to old age, assisting in avoiding health struggles and giving us more enjoyable years. I finally got it. In Mid-November 2015, I felt strong enough to start walking from my then place of work, Newmarket, into the bottom of Auckland CBD (depending on the route 4.5-5.2kms). I loaded my work day pack with shoes, lunch box and books (average 7 kilos). At first, my body moaned and groaned; there was pain but no tears. I enjoyed the daily walk across town, slowly stretching myself by taking hilly routes.
Late last year, my outlook on exercise and food changed again as a hip x-ray revealed I had early stages of osteoarthritis. As a result, I adopted the Wholefood LCHF (low carb/high fat) diet and balanced my exercise program with the addition of yoga, exercycle bike, and strengthening exercises.
In September, my goal is to walk the Camino Portugués route with the original team Anzac, plus my cousin Chrissy, and reach Santiago de Compostela (without any personal injuries).
Camino Portugués – Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela – 614.1kms
Compared to the French Way, this is a flat walk with some hills thrown in every few days to keep it interesting. It is steeped in Roman, Christian, and Knights Templar history, remaining “a powerful route today, mystical allure still intact…aiding its rediscovery” (John Brierley).