Backpacking Teacher

Travel, teaching and things in between. Saigon is the focus for now.

Archive for June 2011

Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles. Toughest day in the Pyrenees

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What a tough grinding day our first day on the Camino was. The weather started out ok but rapidly turned to drizzle and then rain. Soon the wind began to pick up and we were freezing cold. Temperatures were just below 10C but with the wind chill factor actual temperatures must have been closer to zero.

We hadn’t preparedfor this. Last time I was here I was sweating like a pig and it was exceptionally hot on the mountain. We had no cold weather gear and just had to suck it up. Cheeky had a long hard day as she was especially feeling the cold and with the arduous nature of the mountain hike she found it really, really hard going. But this woman whom I love just stuck with it. Despite feeling extremely cold and sore she just persevered and trudged along one step after another. I cannot express how much I admired her stoicism in such daunting conditions.

At the 12 km mark we felt close to giving in. We were wet, freezing cold, our hands were numb and I was seriously concerned about the possibility of hypothermia setting in. This was by far the toughest day I’ve spent on the Camino and that’s counting the 31 days I spent doing it two years ago. Then just as our wills were being sapped we find around the corner a man in a van all rugged up and selling coffee.
With numbed fingers and faces we hold the coffee to our extremities more to warm up than drink it. Cheeky takes a break in the van seat. It’s a hard spot we find ourselves in. The weather is still bleak but we know we’re halfway there (roughly) and so we push on.
For some reason the walk gets a bit better. The food and coffee gives us energy, the wind dies down and then the rain so while it is still very cold we can begin to feel our hands and faces.

We trudge along. There is not much to see as low clouds cover all the views. We know this is one of those Camino days we have to endure. And endure it we did. We eventually arrive in Roncesvalles 9 1/2 hours after we left. We made it and it feels grand to have faced the elements and our own willpower head on and come out triumphant.
Now in Roncesvalles our bodies hurt but our spirits soar.

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June 30, 2011 at 3:37 am

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Arrival in St Jean Pied de Port – D-Day Minus One

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And so we arrive in St Jean Pied de Port. 36 hours of so of travelling and we are walking zombies. Luckily we’d already booked ahead at L Esprit du Chemin a small albergue/Refugio (place only those people on the Camino can stay at). L Esprit may be small but it’s a legendary albergue for it’s warmth and hospitality.

Our stay was no exception. Greeted out in the street before we’d even arrived we were given a glass of port and invited to sit down. 20 or so other peregrinos (people who walk the camino ie. pilgrims) were already seated. Everyone took turns to introduce themselves and explain why they were on the camino. Some people had already been travelling for two or more months. At least one couple had walked this far from Holland!

We then had dinner which created a gezzelig (Dutch word for friendly, warm, welcoming atmosphere) place that did the Dutch volunteers running the place proud. After dinner we popped across the road to get our Compostela card. It’s kind of a passport for the road in which we will get stamps to prove our journey and which will eventually result in gaining our Compostela issued by the Catholic Church. The kind lady there gave us some useful bits of planning material but warned the weather had turned a bit and it had been drizzling all day.

Then back across the road for quick showers and a hop into bed. Tomorrow it all starts with an arduous 27 km hike over the Pyrenees. “What are we doing here”, I think before I fall asleep.

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June 30, 2011 at 3:17 am

CDG waiting on the TGV – destination SJPP

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Clean, fast and efficient. CDG is a decent airport to arrive at in Europe. Cheeky and I are both quite tired after the long flight from Ho Chi Minh City via Guanzhou but happy to have arrived at Paris.

Still three train trips to take before we arrive at today’s destination and the start of our Camino de Santiago. A TGV to Bordeaux then an hour wait until another TGV to Bayonne.

From Bayonne we need to take a smaller train into the Pyrenees. The train usually leaves after the TGV arrives and, if it does, we should be having our first evening meal with fellow peregrinos by eight o’clock. Right now that seems a long time from now. We both just want to nap đŸ™‚ Tomorrow we’ll start walking – jetlag and all.

— Posted from my phone

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June 30, 2011 at 2:37 am

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Guanzhou airport – how much again?

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Seriously? $9.50 an iced tea? C’mon now. Guanzhou airport you suck đŸ˜¦

Ok … the airport is kinda nice but the prices are out of this world. How they expect good press when they rip people off like this is beyond me.

Of course i’m just venting because i’m annoyed that I ordered the iced tea without checking how much it was. Of course now that I’ve blogged about it I find it a bit amusing. Everytime Cheeky and I have iced tea from now on i’m sure our minds will turn to the now already infamous Guanzhou Iced Tea đŸ™‚

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June 30, 2011 at 2:32 am

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“Go and ask the thawing land, go and ask the thawing river”

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The line from the poet Ai Qing grabbed me as it so clearly articulates the way I feel as I move further from Vietnam and towards the start of the Camino.

I saw the quote as part of speech given by Wen Jiabao, China’s Prime Minister, in an article discussing the release of Ai Qing’s son, Ai Weiwei, the Chinese activist. I can’t imagine a similar speech these days in the face of China’s current concern about a Jasmine revolution.

But it’s not revolution on my mind it’s this wonderful line of poetry that describes happiness as a gradual state that slowly comes to life. I’m certainly not unhappy, in fact I’m generally a happy person but I see how easily these two lines of poetry could apply to the idea of calmness. I can feel a calmness and peace spreading over me as the Camino draws near. I can feel my near empty batteries beginning to recharge. I may be on a plane, eating dodgy plane food, wishing the overly loud Chinese bloke behind me would shut up but I can most certainly feel the land & river thawing.

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June 30, 2011 at 1:52 am

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Another coffee and a plug for caminoguide.net

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My favourite airport, a good, but horrendously priced coffee and some route planning. Cheeky and I are at Saigon’s small but efficient airport waiting on our flights. Why I chose to fly via Guanzhou i’m still not sure but hey, no real travel should be painless because if it is, it’s also storyless.
So here I am looking at our walk for the first couple of days. I’m using the camino guide which I used back in 2009. It’s succinct but filled with the info you need. I remember last time round it proved more useful and up to date than many others’ fancy guidebooks.
This version is just as succinct but gas been updated with new albergues. I’m using this and some route maps as my major planning docs. With them the first two days become clear. First day will be St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles and day two onto Pamplona (if rooms are available in the busy city).
… and that’s it for planning… part of the Camino is about taking it as it comes so I’ve no desire to over plan or over prepare. Bring on the long walk.

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June 27, 2011 at 5:34 pm

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All the best walks start with good coffee (or in this case ca phe)

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All the best walks start with good coffee. In this case that good coffee is from a local chain store called Highlands which, appropriately enough, gets it’s coffee from the Highlands of Vietnam. The ca phe sua da (iced coffee) is sweet and robust which is a good way to describe our upcoming walk. Only we’re likely to feel the robust part before the sweet part.

As our flight draws nearer I’m feeling surprisingly apprehensive. I’m wandering if this really is a good choice of holidays. We could have been in Bali instead. Oh well, I have faith in my previous experience and, having travelled a bit, know that this travel nervousness is normal. It’ll dissapear the first day we step out onto the pyrenees.

Our sweet but robust journey is about to begin.

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June 27, 2011 at 1:50 pm

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