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Archive for June 2017

Camino, two weeks in

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Rest day in Burgos, because it is also my birthday and some sort of festival here, which has involved teams of marching bands roaming through the town and people parading in giant costumes and huge explosions of confetti in the main square. My friends have dubbed it Jesstival and it is therefore the best.

As of yesterday’s arrival in Burgos, I had walked 286km, with 492.5km to go, and I am officially 36.74% of the way through. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet, because I am a colossal nerd.) I hadn’t planned to take a rest day here but checked into a reasonably decent hotel  as a pre-birthday treat and promptly washed all my clothes in the bathtub before realising that they weren’t going to be dry in time for a 6am departure. And then I went for a little wander around Burgos and it turned out to be absolutely lovely; I had been inwardly bracing myself for an unpleasant re-entry into urban life after a week or so of village to village walking post Logroño, but it’s been much more pleasant than I had expected. Had to do a bit of work to repress my internal sergeant major, which was bellowing at me the REST IS FOR THE WEAK, YOU MUST MARCH 31K INTO THE MESETA AT DAWN, but I managed to wrestle it into submission and thus here I am. And I will march 31k into the Meseta at dawn tomorrow, instead.

I am – obviously – not quite halfway through; I’m estimating another three weeks to go, and will obviously need to pick up the pace somewhat, but I’m feeling stronger by the day and more able to go longer and longer distances. I’ve also had a couple of mishaps in the past couple of weeks that have required me to do shorter days – one possibly-infected blister in Logroño that caused my foot to swell up so much I could barely put my shoe on; and one twisted ankle (and skinned knee) after literally falling out of a bar in Grañon. As long as I avoid such mishaps in future, I should still be on track to arrive in Santiago somewhere around the 13th or 14th of July.

Camino thoughts, two weeks in:

  • Here is a piece of advice I have not seen anywhere else: be careful in choosing what shoes you bring to change into once you’re done walking for the day. I chose to bring a trusty (OR SO I THOUGHT) pair of Ipanema flipflops which I’ve had for years, and which promptly gave me blisters between my toes, which were then exacerbated by the walking and caused me to be hobbled in Logroño. I’d never had any trouble with them before but assume that the skin on my feet is more sensitive after I’ve walked 25km than it would normally be.
  • I may have said this before, but oh my god silicone earplugs are an absolute GODSEND and I couldn’t do without them. They block out street noise as effectively as they block snoring, and helped me to sleep until the grand old hour of 9am this morning.
  • Choosing the right listening material is an art. I find myself a little too emotionally raw while walking for all but the most austere music, and as such have been listening to a lot of Tallis and Palestrina and their ilk. I’ve also finally – FINALLY  – been getting into podcasts – mostly The Moth, and various Guardian podcasts, including the books podcast, which caused me to squat down under a tree in the middle of an industrial area yesterday afternoon and immediately purchase about £30-worth of ebooks. So there is danger here, too.
  • I am finding the social aspect of the Camino, frankly, a little hard to handle. This walk is an essentially solitary experience for me, as for many others; for some, however, it seems to be very social, and I have seen a number of tight groups springing up along the way as people band together to walk. I would, honestly, be quite happy with my own decision to walk alone, socialise in albergues, form fleeting connections with people I spend a couple of hours with and never see again, and so on, if I didn’t have the creeping sensation that I am Doing It Wrong and should be fully bonded into a Camino Family by now. ‘Twas ever thus.

Written by Jess

June 24, 2017 at 1:23 pm

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Camino de Santiago: Six days in

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I didn’t intend to take a rest day this early on, but I have a massive backlog of freelance work and wasn’t making immense amounts of progress while typing frantically in dim dorm rooms surrounded by people napping, so I decided this morning to stay in Puente la Reina, where I have a very comfortable single room, and lock myself in until my To Do list is decimated (in the figurative rather than literal sense – a 10% reduction would not be great progress). Which means that I may end up sleeping remarkably little tonight, but then tomorrow all I have to do is walk 22km or so to Estella in the morning, and once I am there I can nap with an easy heart because I will have nothing hanging over me. Which sounds blissful. And at least in Navarra there is a regular supply of coffee vendors along the route.

Anyway! I am six days into the Camino de Santiago; the day of the UK election (and what a farrago that has been) I got up early to vote, taxi’d to Glasgow airport, flew to Paris, got the bus to Montparnasse and the train to Bayonne through flickering lightning (six days ago – feels like about six months), and the next day I got the train to St Jean Pied de Port and started walking. So far I have walked 91.5km, shortly under 160,000 steps; I have crossed one mountain range and one national border; I have slept in five different places (Orisson, Roncesvalles, Larranoaña, Pamplona and here) and drunk bucketloads of coffee and red table wine. So far I have only lost two items: a hat, in a forest between Linzoain and Zubiri; and a fleece, yesterday, because I neglected to consider that something that is very securely strapped to one’s pack when said pack contains a Platypus with 3l of water becomes much less secure when said you’ve drunk pretty much all your water. Going to have to buy a replacement hat because it is scorchio; the fleece feels much less necessary right now but no doubt in a week or two I will be chilled to the bone and bemoaning its lack. The loss of two items is not bad going by my standards, though when considered as a proportion of the items I have with me it is … less good.

According to my semi-obsessive spreadsheet I am only 11.75% done, so it is very early days, but some observations so far:

  • My body is coping much, much better than I thought it would. I had been expecting problems with my right ankle*, right knee and hips, as they’re the bits that generally start to feel creaky after a strenuous hike, but they’ve all been absolutely fine. Likewise my feet – gallingly enough, I only have a single blister, and it’s from the flipflops I brought to change into once my walking is done for the day. Ipanemas, how can you betray me like this?!
  • I’m also coping much better than expected with having to carry my pack. It’s somewhere between 8 and 9kg I think, so more or less 10% of my body weight, as advised, but I still thought I would struggle. But no! I have had occasionally achy shoulders at the end of a day’s walk, and sporadically twingey back muscles, but otherwise I’m totally fine. (Famous last words, probably.)
  • I am coping about as well as expected (i.e. not at all) with the heat. The temperature up until about midday is pretty perfect, but afternoons can be brutal, peaking around 3pm when the earth feels like it’s radiating all the heat it’s been absorbing right back up at you. Yesterday’s walk from Pamplona to Puente la Reina was almost exactly the opposite to how I’d expected in terms of difficulty: I normally hate relentless uphill slogs, and so had expected to find the stretch from Pamplona to Alto del Pérdon really tough; instead, it was a breeze – I strode up to the top of the hill much faster and more happily than I would have dreamed, and then really suffered through the downhill stretch – 8km or so, should have taken me two hours, but ended up being more like three and a half because I had to stop and lie down and recover from the heat at every given opportunity. It’s supposed to be cooler tomorrow for a couple of days, but I’m getting up earlier and earlier to try and beat hte heat, and may end up entirely nocturnal at this rate.
  • I’m not reading nearly as much as I thought I would, which is a bit sad; I blame my prolific journalling (which isn’t going to change) and my backlog of work (which hopefully is). In Bayonne I started reading The Ethical Carnivore by Louise Grey, on a friend’s recommendation, which I then put aside in Orisson in favour of Obabakoak by Bernardo Atxaga, on the basis that I should really read a Basque author in the Basque country, which I then put aside in Pamplona in favour of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, because obviously. All three are great and I should (and will) finish them, but right now I’ve been distracted by VE Schwab’s Our Dark Duet, which came out yesterday.
  • Items that I am most thankful for so far: Smartwool socks; my new 25l Berghaus backpack; my Platypus hydration system; the John Brierley Camino guide.

Highlights so far:

  • Waking up to a valley full of mist in Orisson, and hiking across the Pyrenees (Day 2).

P1010057 View from Orisson

  • Early morning walk through the witchwoods between Roncesvalles and Buergete (Day 3)…


  • Walking out of Pamplona yesterday morning (Day 5) under a stunning dawn sky, followed by…


  • Breakfast at Zariquiegui, after an uphill hike, sat on the side of the road under a wall of roses, followed by…


  • The pilgrim monument at Alto del Pérdon, set amidst wind turbines (one of my all-time favourite things), and then…


  • Honestly I just really like this photo, taken somewhere between Uterga and Óbanos yesterday afternoon, while I was dying of heat.


*Sprained in ten years ago when, while emotionally elevated, I fell off a step in a nightclub and continued to dance for hours, and it’s returned to trouble me in my old age. The follies of youth.

Written by Jess

June 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm

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Another election eve post…

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…but I don’t have anything particularly profound to say, having had my heart repeatedly smashed to pieces by first the 2015 General Election, then Brexit, then the US Election over the past two and a bit years. The other day I permitted myself about five minutes of roseate fantasy of May defeated and the left victorious, and was surprised by how wistful it made me feel. Perhaps I have a tiny vestige of hope remaining inside me after all?

But irrespective of tomorrow’s results, today marks the end of a small, personal era, as my last day of full-time work with the company I’ve been working for over the past three years. It has been truly brilliant, and has given me many, many amazing opportunities – but I am constitutionally unsuited to full-time employment, and it is more than time for a break. So a break I am having, followed by a change. I hope both will be revitalising.

More soon. In the meantime:


(From Porto, where I was a month ago.)

Written by Jess

June 7, 2017 at 11:25 pm

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