I suppose it would have been naïve to believe that because his backpack weighed 20 percent more than mine, that my son Ollee’s walking pace along the Camino would be slowed to something akin to mine.
His usually weighed about six kilograms while mine was about five, a vital consideration, along with the dread of blistering our feet, which partly dominated our ambition to cover about 250km of the northern coastal Camino in Spain in 11 days.
The reality of the trip was that Ollee walked quite comfortably at the rate of about five kilometres an hour while I was pretty well stuck on four. But then he is less than half my age and the 40 year difference, kept me pretty comfortable with the fact that I lagged behind most of the time.
In both our cases it meant walking in our hiking boots for some distance several weeks before we started on the Camino and paying attention to the socks we wore. In my case I think I walked only 15km or so before we started and I didn’t even have a backpack on.
But my boots were fine. No pre walk signs of blisters. As well, retailer Paddy Pallin advised using quite fluffy US made Wigwam socks, at $20 to $25 a pair. I bought two pairs and because I didn’t get blisters I reckon they worked brilliantly.
Towards the end of our walk, we met a young Lithuanian woman who had been stuck at an albuerque for three days, because she couldn’t proceed on her pilgrimage due to a number of well developed blisters on her feet. Fortunately my sister had given me a Scholl product, which apparently is the bees knees for keeping the pain of blisters at bay, while enabling the user to continue walking. Indeed our Lithuanian friend applied the blister fighters and in fact was able to accompany Ollee and I on most of the next day’s 20 plus kilometre walk.
The disparity between Ollee and my walking speeds, meant we became separated on several occasions and usually took different versions of the Camino or no version at all.
Marking of the Camino was usually pretty good, with yellow arrows and scallop symbols, delineating the way to go at fairly regular intervals. Sometimes they inexplicably ceased although if we were together, Ollee consulted Google Maps on his Spanish SIM card equipped phone and it usually pointed us in the right direction.
Apart from taking photographs, I barely used my phone because of the anticipated expense and because I was not turning off the camera after taking shots, I was running the battery down to nothing by about early afternoon most days.
That led me to acquire from Ollee, the phrase “Puerdo cargar mi telephono por favor?” This enabled me to have my phone charged up at bars and in one case a farmhouse, when we became separated and me lost.
One of those times was when the Camino went off into the hills to the south of Bilbao which was the mid-point of our trip. Ollee and I had walked flat suburban streets of Bilbao together for several kilometres that morning – I could more or less keep up with him on the flat - before the hills intervened. (The flat streets were such unchallenging walking, that Ollee was on his phone, investigating baby alarms on the Choice magazine website in Australia).
Anyway, we separated in the hills and although I met up with a couple of fellow pilgrims in the old part of the city, there was no sign of Ollee. I continued walking until I had gone quite a way from the city centre, a fact I noted from the large number of African refugees living in the area.
So I backtracked, tried to recharge my phone – it stubbornly refused to do so - and then wondered how I was going to find Ollee.
The problem was that we were not that night due to stay at one of the pilgrim albuerques, but at a smart hotel he’d booked in the middle of the city and I didn’t know the name of it.
Eventually I found a visitor centre and much to my relief, one of the English speaking staff, undertook to ring the city’s hotels to find where Ollee had booked us in. After ringing 10 she was successful and I made my way to the one that mattered. I booked in and saw that Ollee had already done so but was no longer there.
After a shower I walked to the nearby famous Guggenheim modern art museum and spent a couple of hours looking at the art on display inside.
Afterwards I spent maybe three quarters of an hour listening to variously talented pianists, who emerged from the crowd one after another, to play a grand piano stationed on the forecourt of the museum.
Suddenly Ollee appeared saying “I thought I might find you here.”
So in retrospect I hadn’t needed to plague the woman at the visitor’s centre. But it would have been a bit of a drag hauling my five kilogram backpack around for another three hours or so.
In all we walked about 250km from San Sebastian to Santander climbing and descending more than 4000m in 11 days. Santiago de Compostela, the ultimate pilgrimage destination, was still about 500km away close to the north western corner of Spain.
Another time maybe.