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This Camino Thing

I didn't think I could do it.

Well, I sort of did believe I could. I'm reasonably fit, and the doc says the old ticker is in fine condition. But still.

And yet, I've just finished walking ONE THOUSAND KILOMETERS, all in one go. Yes, I've walked the Camino de Compostela.

We'd been planning this Camino thing for just on a year, after returning triumphantly from that mother of southern African hikes, the Naukluft Hiking Trail in central Namibia. When we started thinking about the Camino, doing another walk that would add a zero to the 120km of the Naukluft seemed like a logical progression. After surviving on rations and clambering over rocks the size of houses for more than a week in the bone-dry, desolate Namibian mountains, the Camino's congenial albergues, and user-friendly pathways seemed like a cinch.

Which is why I hardly did any physical preparation before I tackled the Camino de Santiago. Me and Adeline did a few five kilometer walks in a local park, climbed the five storey staircase at Sandton Gautrain station, that sort of thing. But no stretches, sit-ups, push-ups, or any other ups of any kind. I hate physical exercise. I was the baby who refused to kick a ball, or later on, was the one hiding in the washroom when it was sport time at school. Sport, gyms, that sort of sweaty stuff, ain't me.

Rather, I'm an information junkie and Adeline a compulsive planner. That is why by the time we were at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg in late April 2015, ready to leave for Spain, our backpacks and their contents were so optimally optimised for the Camino you can travel to Mars with  them. I had an iPhone filled with every app, map, and notes-to-take-note-of to ensure we don't  get lost, or, god forbid, have to roll out our sleeping back inners under a bridge somewhere because we can't find a decent bed for the night.

We were carrying slightly more than the recommended backpack weight. The check-in weight digital display showed Adeline's  backpack barely touching on 10kg and mine at about 12kg, both without water, which would add another kilo or two. A tad on the heavy side, but hardly overloaded.

The plan was fairly elaborate, as the Camino de Santiago goes. We would start in Lourdes, a modern-day pilgrim destination. We'd visited the town a few years ago, and the religious tourism in its finest form we saw there fascinated me, perhaps more so because I'm a lapsed Calvinist Protestant who grew up with fire-and-brimstone warnings against Catholicism. I bought a mid-sized plastic madonna holy water bottle from one of the countless souvenir shops that line the streets of Lourdes and promised myself I'd return someday to investigate further. Little did I know my return would be to start walking the Camino, on a pilgrimage away from Saint Bernadette's statue in front of the cathedral.

The route we were to follow took us high up the Ossau valley, on a pilgrim route to Santiago that fell out of favour after the opening of the Somport pass to pilgrim traffic during the Middle Ages. We would cross into Spain at Portalet, via a footpath route over the Pyrenees,  then take about four days to walk to Jaca, from where we embark on the seven-day Camino de Aragonés, which in turn joins the Camino Frances at Puente la Reina. Here we would be joining about twenty thousand other pilgrims on their way to Santiago. From there it's a seven hundred kilometer trundle to Santiago on what seems to be, judging by the photos on Pinterest, a very well-trodden path. The envisaged total distance came to about 960km, but with variations it'll probably reach four figures.

We would stay at a mix of albergues, casa rurals and hotels, and give ourselves one rest day per week. We did a few bookings at strategic places, but for most of the way, we'd just be winging it.

Why do we do it?

There's nothing dramatic about us doing the Camino. I'm not weighed down by anything heavy, like Martin Sheen carrying his son's ashes in his Hollywoodified Camino Road trip movie.I've no big decisions to make, no emotional baggage to deal with. The Camino is simply an adventure, an opportunity to take in medieval architecture and history, and hopefully discover a few good places to eat and drink at (rumours say that's nigh impossible on the Camino, but we'll see. We have a talent for sniffing out gourmet food in unlikely places).

Which I guess makes our big adventure slightly undramatically boring.That said, according to most records, no-one goes home after walking the Camino exactly the same person they were before. How I'll change, I didn't know.

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