Going with the Group ~ Yes, it’s still adventure travel!

I never tired of views like this.

I never tired of views like this.

First things first.  I am not now, and probably never will be, a tour bus kind of traveler.  I’m way too independent and not really a very good group participant. I am not one of those lucky people who meets up with a bunch of strangers and leaves a few hours later with five new BFF’s.  I’m more of a go-it-aloner.  And I’m really good with that.

I am pretty sure, however, that if I had not stumbled on the website for Marly Tours last year, there’s a 99% chance that my boots would not have gathered all that dust walking the Camino de Santiago.

So, why the change of heart?   In my opinion, Marly provided just the level of support to give us the confidence we needed to step a tiny bit beyond our comfort zone.   And, for the most part, we weren’t part of the “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium” mentality of a larger tour.  We had a lot of freedom and a little more piece of mind.  We were able to dip our toes into the water of adventure travel without fear of falling off the bank.

If you are newly-minted adventurers like hubs and I, a first-time-single traveler, or even well-seasoned world travelers who are ready to take it a little easier, the Marly approach might be just what you are looking for.  As the designated family travel agent and tour guide, I can honestly say that once I had the basics in place – air reservations, hotels in Madrid, post-Camino itinerary, I didn’t have to worry about anything.  I actually got to relax and enjoy the entire trip.  Since this was the first two week vacation I have taken in 20 years, it was a gift to sit back, settle in, and enjoy the journey.  Marly had my back.

There are a variety of ways people choose to experience the Camino. caminomarlywalkers Some load up their backpacks and head out from St. Jean Pied de Port in France, hike over the Pyrenees and walk across Spain stopping at a variety of albergues that are set up just for Pilgrims to eat, sleep, shower and sometimes do laundry.  Albergues come in all sizes and with varying levels of comfort.  All require the ability to exist in close quarters with strangers and most require the ability to sleep nose to nose with people you’ve never met, many of whom snore.  Not my cup of tea!  So, while I had the Camino on my bucket list, if that was the only way to walk The Way, it probably wasn’t going to happen.   A lot of folks go the Albergue route and love it.  I am in awe of those folks and still believe that they get a much richer experience and the true understanding of the spirit of the Camino.

Typical albergue on the camino

Typical albergue on the camino

Some people do the Camino as vacation allows.  Walking a few weeks each year.  A few  even choose to do the Camino on horseback.  This can make for very interesting walking along some of the narrow dirt paths.  Between the cows and the horses, we called it poop camino on more than one occasion.  Some people bike the Camino.  This is becoming more popular and almost dangerous at times as flocks of bright yellow spandex sneek up from behind and whizz by on narrow roads and paths causing walkers to jump back into the unknown of the tall grass and bushes.   Some walkers choose to make their own route, stay in either small B&B’s or Albergues and have their backpacks/bags transported from place to place.

By deciding to go with Marly Tours for our first long walking experience, here’s what we chose:

1.  A small group of no more than fourteen.  Usually with a mix of ages and nationalities, Ours was all over 45 and from North America.  Side note:  There was a lovely Canadian couple, Ange and Laura, in our group.  When we introduced ourselves, Laura and I found out that we had gone to the same elementary school (Ionview) and high school (Winston Churchill) at the same time.  It is a very small world.

2.  A small but comfortable support van with a driver and a tour guide/spiritual guide/cheerleader/medic who were there when we needed them but gave us plenty of space if we didn’t.

A friendly smile, a high five, a hug and a bottle of cold water.  Support just when we needed it.  Perfecto!

A friendly smile, a high five, a hug and a bottle of cold water. Support just when we needed it. Perfecto!

3.  Lots of first hand and interesting information about the Camino, the history of the churches and buildings we passed each day and points of interest along the route.  Much of this information we would probably not have learned if we were on our own, weighed down by packs, worrying about where we were going to sleep that night.

4.  The knowledge that if we needed them, Victor and Jose Luis were only a phone call away and it was OK to ride in the bus if you had to.  We didn’t.  But it was good to know that if one of us fell or fell ill, we didn’t have to limp for miles and miles to get to civilization.

Calling Dr. Jose Luis!

Calling Dr. Jose Luis!

We passed many people with problems, but one young woman truly touched my heart. Hubs and I were in the last half of a very long, very hot, uphill walk to Monte de Gozo and I spotted her up ahead.  She was shuffling so slowly, using her walking stick, bent over from the weight of her pack, that she was barely moving.  When we came alongside, I could see the pain on her face and in her eyes.  I stopped to ask if I could help her in any way.  She was French but spoke some English.  Tendonitis she said.  She asked how far to the next stop and we talked a bit.  She thanked me for stopping and said she didn’t need help.  I wanted to call Victor to come and give her a short ride on the bus, but it was her Camino, not mine, and she had to walk it – every painful, shuffling step.

5.  We had charming private rooms in absolutely stunning old homes (with lots of history of their own) that have been converted into posadas.  Warm showers, free flowing wine, tasty traditional food, a good night’s sleep and breakfast were waiting for us at every stop.  The evening ritual included getting to know our fellow Pilgrims, swapping tales of the road and Jose Luis tenderly taking care of blisters.  Our bags were waiting for us when we arrived.  A couple of us enjoyed a massage.  Two of our posadas had pools and one even did our laundry.  Washed and line dried. caminomarlytourshotel caminomarlyhotel1 Looking back, I’m glad we went this route.  I know we’ll do it again.

I also know that I’m already looking for our next walking adventure and while we still can do it physically, I think we’ll push ourselves a little bit more next time.   I’m thinking maybe we’ll try the pre-planned but unsupported route.   Where?  Who knows, but the options are endless…

Finesterre - Once considered the end of the world by the Romans.

Finesterre – Once considered the end of the world by the Romans.

It truly is about the journey.  And for us, this one was just about perfect.

See you on the road.

Nancy

Walking the Camino de Santiago ~ unexpected challenges

caminodesantiagoMarlyTours2 “Few people know how to take a walk.  The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, and eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much…”     Ralph Waldo Emerson

My heel hurts!

It started a week ago.  Of course it did.  Because, in exactly one week, hubs and I will be starting the first day of our Camino de Santiago walk.  We’ve been walking pretty much every day since last May.  Some days only a couple of miles (3 times around the mall if its raining) and on weekends longer, hillier, harder walks that topped out at 12.5 miles.  Hubs overcame a toe problem and a back problem and he’s fine.  Me.  I had nothing – until now. 

Really though, we both feel great!  Strong, healthy and ready to go.

Except for the heel.  What the heck?!  I’ve been resting it this week and doing a lot of stretching because I’ve self diagnosed it (I do have some experience here) as  plantar fascitis.  Beyond that, there is really nothing I can do at this point.  It’s out of my control.

Except to trust.   And do the best I can.  And…wait for it… know that it’s okay if I have to ride in the sag wagon.  But I won’t.  I’ll make hubs carry me.

One of the priorities of the Camino is finding your own rhythm.  It’s been said that “We don’t do the Camino we want to do, we do the Camino we are able to do.”  A lot like Life.

I don’t know how my heel’s going to react to the long daily walks, but here’s what I do know for sure.  This walk is not about how I do it or how long it takes or how fast I finish.  It is all about marking a milestone moment in my life and I intend to savor every minute, including the pain if there is any.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the twinges in my heel are reminding me to slow down.  Pay attention.  Be fully present on this journey.  And trust that it will be perfect and just the way it was meant to be.

One step at a time, I’m ready to walk my Camino.

If you are a walker or runner, here’s some great information about the care and feeding of feet I found on the WOW (Wonders of Walking) website.

See you on the road.

Cheers,

Nancy

 

Booked it Danno!

I am so excited I can hardly contain myself!   If I’m dreaming, please do not pinch me.

I have been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago for a while now.  But, in my heart, I knew I was way past that stage in my life where I wanted to walk all day and then sleep on the ground or in a hostel with the smelly, partying masses of young folk. Not to mention carrying all my belongings on my back. Don’t get me wrong – I love young people.  I used to be one.  Truly, some of my best friends are young.  And, I still like a good party!   I do not think of myself as old and crotchety, no matter what my kids might tell you.  But, when it comes to SLEEP.  Now that’s a different matter entirely.  Let it be known here that I am not nice (and might even be considered cranky if not downright crotchety) when I don’t get my full eight hours – preferably in comfort and relative silence.  So, I wasn’t sure how to make this particular dream a reality.  It was definitely a conundrum.

I firmly believe that there is always a way and a brilliant solution came to me in the form of an article written by a woman who had completed what I like to call the “relatively civilized, not too hard but still challenging, with support if and when you need it” version of walking the Camino.   Marly Tours was our answer!  This discovery made it all seem do-able.  All we needed was a little time, a moderate amount of money and good walking shoes.  As it turned out, I mentioned our idea to a few friends and now we are a party of six.  Hubs, me, my sis and three women friends.  It’s a big year too – my 65th birthday, my sister’s “something that ends in a zero” birthday, hubs and my 10th anniversary.  Definitely a year worth marking in a big way.  We’ll  walk about 10-12 miles a day at our own pace  and meet up along the way. Then we’ll gather together every evening for wine, dinner and story-telling before bed.  We’ll be a small group of no more than 14 Pilgrims + our Marly “wranglers” who will make sure we don’t get lost, carry our luggage, provide snacks, first aid and sag wagon support if needed.

So… we’re off.  Well not until next September.  Exactly twelve months from this week.    Call me a light weight, call me soft, call me old, but do not call me between September 17 and 24, because I won’t be home.  I’ll be in Spain, crossing one more item off my bucket list – walking at least a small portion of the Camino de Santiago.

Staying in small hotels like this… Sleeping in a comfy bed like this… Sleeping in a comfy bed like this… Walking along roads and paths like this… Walking along roads and paths like this… Now, I just need to find a home exchange so we can stay an extra week to explore the rest of Spain.  I’m working on that too.