Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Guide to the Camino: General Information and Advice, Part Two

Conversions—Some measurements you convert to quickly and easily. A 20 kilometer day is fairly easy. Your bag is 14 kilos, which everyone considers too heavy, but you get by. Dinner is 10 euros. But Celsius takes longer to figure out. Everyone exclaims about how hot it is one day when it reaches 40 C. It doesn´t feel that hot to you. The Danish girl you are walking with asks why you aren´t complaining about the heat, and at first you tell her it´s because you´re a pilgrim and you´ll take whatever the Lord sees fit to send you, and then you tell her you do Bikram yoga in rooms hotter than this.
Eventually you´ll figure out a way to gauge Celsius: you ask an Irish woman what the average human body temperature is. She says it´s 37.5 C.

Heat wave—It´ll hit a day or two before you reach Pamplona and continue a few days after. In Pamplona, you´ll settle down on a bench in a plaza to wait out siesta and the heat. You´ll be able to see a sign that blinks the time and the temperature. It´s about 35 C when you sit down. You wait, and watch. 36 C. 37 C. 38 C. Afternoon is turning into evening and you have five more kilometers to go. 39 C. 40 C. Will it never get any cooler? 41 C. 42 C. 43 C. 44 C. Finally at 6:30 you wade out into the heat. 44 C, 111 F. The Spaniards tell you you´re crazy for walking in this heat. But as long as you don´t have your pack on, you love it.

Santa Claus lives in Finland—Duh. Everyone knows this except the Americans.

Everyone´s a blister expert—You will hear all sorts of theories on how to prevent and treat blisters. Each person will speak with great conviction. One will swear up and down that Compeed is the best; it´s just like a second skin. Another will swear that Compeed ruins your feet. It´s best just to listen politely, then treat your blisters in your own preferred fashion when they aren´t looking.

Luxury—You will quickly learn to appreciate small luxuries. Four beds in a room. Showers that have somewhere to put your clothes so they won´t get wet. Bathrooms with toilet paper.

Gratitude—Small favors will come to mean a lot. A bartender will give you an extra cookie for dessert one day, and you won´t know if it´s standard at that bar or if it´s because she can tell you´re having a bad day, but you´ll appreciate it with your whole heart. When an hospitalero carries your backpack the few steps to your bed for you after you´ve walked 20 kilometers, it will seem the nicest thing anyone´s ever done for you.

The Mesetas—The Mesetas are the desert. You reach the Mesetas in the middle of your trip. The middle is hard. The middle is when it becomes a single routine of walk, siesta, eat, sleep. Sometimes you can´t remember what town you woke up in. The middle is when you reach the plateau of your learning curve. The middle is when you can no longer remember what it feels like to have feet that don´t hurt. The middle is when menu del peregrino stops tasting good. The middle is when everything stops being new and exciting.  The middle is when all the friends you´ve made manage to get either a day ahead or a day behind you. The middle is when Nutella becomes boring. The middle is when the churches with their giant gold altar pieces and statues and paintings stop being impressive. The middle is when you start wondering if you´re achieving everything you´re supposed to achieve on a pilgrimage. The middle is when leaving your best friends´ phone numbers at home seems a ridiculously bad idea. The middle is when you catch a cold. The middle is when you leave the Belgian. But even in the middle you know there´s nowhere else you´d rather be.

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