Ashes to Ashes

Last night I watched, ‘The Way’, with Martin Sheen, directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. I hadn’t heard of this film until I started researching the Camino walk. I’m a little ‘off the grid’ when it comes to film these days, a turn around for the books, as 15 years ago I managed an Art House Cinema and saw everything.

The film was an enjoyable road movie, with a cast of quirky characters, strangely, not unlike ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Martin Sheen plays a middle aged, middle class doctor who receives a rather shocking phone call while playing a game of golf, that his estranged son has died walking the Camino. He flies to France to collect the remains, and ends up continuing his son’s journey, walking the Camino with his son’s ashes.

What struck me most was the beautiful scenery – It was artfully shot, and every frame had me drooling for that landscape. I found it touching and unpretentious. Thankfully it held back from being overly sentimental. It could be too slow for some viewers, but I can happily sit through a four hour film shot in real time (this isn’t however)… but it is almost 2 hours long. If you are planning to walk The Camino, it really is a must see. If you’re in the mood for a pleasant rainy day, not too challenging film, this also fits the bill.

There are several scenes in the film when Martin Sheen’s character leaves little deposits of his son’s ashes in poignant places, this reminded me of a passenger I had on a trip – She bought along the ashes of her recently deceased mother, to scatter in places she thought her mother would have enjoyed. At the top of Mt Bromo, an active volcano in Java, Indonesia, she proclaimed, “Mum would have liked this”, as she grabbed a handful of ashes. Scattering them into the volcano, she suddenly retracted, saying “Oh no, Mum didn’t like heights”. With that statement, a sudden gust of wind blew the ashes back towards another passenger, who was covered in them. Thankfully they stopped what could have been a very embarrassing situation, and calmly brushed them off, asking, “what was your mothers name again?… Nice to meet you!”

After my Dad was cremated, as my Mother was handed his remains at the crematorium, they asked, “Was your husband a big man?”. He hadn’t been, but his ashes didn’t fit in the standard urn, so she was handed two boxes. Mum decided to take the ‘leftovers’ on a ‘sentimental journey’ depositing his ashes in places around country New South Wales where they had spent time together. The ‘standard sized box’ she interred in the whiskey cabinet, I think Dad would be happy with that.

A few years later, Mum came on one of my trips. One of my other passengers was a woman whose husband had died the same month as my father. They quickly bonded and Mum asked “What did you do with your husband?”, “Well,” she began, “I don’t know exactly where he is… When I was given the ashes I had wondered what to do with them. My husband had always been good at fixing the car, and it had been playing up, so I decided he could ‘live’ in the car, and anytime I had a breakdown, I’d just call on him to help.” Time passed, and she moved overseas, leaving her son in charge of things back home. One day she received a call from her son “Mum, I’ve sold the car, you weren’t using it and I got a good deal.” Pause. “What did you do with your Father?” Silence.


Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Today I learned to change a bike tyre! I’ve never had a flat on my bike …and hope I haven’t jinxed myself for writing this. The roads here in Bali aren’t the smoothest, but miraculously since I’ve had my bike (7 or so years), I’ve never had to change a tyre. If I did happen to get a puncture, I wouldn’t have far to go for a ‘benkel’ (mecanic), as they’re pretty much in every village. It’s really not a skill I need here, however… riding my bike in France… I’d better be prepared!.

This week I’m on a training refresher week at work, just updating my skills and learning or reinforcing our safety and policy procedures. As we offer bike rides to our groups, we had a run though on our safety checks and briefings. This usually doesn’t include changing a tyre, as we have a bike mechanic in a support vehicle to do this if needed, but I had mentioned to our trainer that I’d like to learn. After he had run through our safety check he turned the bike upside down and gave us a tyre changing lesson. For some reason, this task had seemed rather daunting, and I had been very apprehensive about it, worrying about what I would do if I had a puncture in France. I had had images of being in the middle of the French countryside and trying to watch YourTube instructional videos on bike maintenance on my phone, but it’s really not that hard after all – here’s a link that explains how to change a bike tyre.

I also learnt about the ‘M’ check, a simple way to remember to check all the parts of a bike before a ride – a ‘visual mnemonic’, I guess. Follow the ‘M’ of the bike and check all the relevant parts.

So now, armed with my new skills (feeling calm and Zen-like), I’m ready to face any obstacles (or nails or broken glass) those French roads throw at me.

Pack like a photon (traveling light)

Carrying everything I need either on my bike or on my back for approximately 8-9 weeks means I’d better lighten up. I live out of a backpack for my job, so am used to packing and unpacking, however over the years my bag has become heavier and heavier. I’m not on holidays, it’s my life, so I like the comforts of home with me. I usually don’t need to actually carry it far, in fact in recent years have upgraded to a backpack with wheels, and more often than not use them. My bag can sometimes grow to 30kg on a trip… it can be a bit of a joke with my groups, as we recommend that they carry no more than 10kg.

I have some equipment already, but have ordered some new lightweight bits and bobs online to replace some that are about to expire. I’ll endeavour to review the newer, and perhaps some of the older items on this blog later. A lot of companies don’t ship to Indonesia and some outdoor brands have restrictions on sending internationally, due to distribution deals. Luckily I have a network of friends around the world who have helped me overcome these obstacles.

Yay! I’ve just had a message from a friend that my shipment has arrived! I ordered online in the US, and sent to a friend there, who sent it to a friend in Singapore. My friend from Bali has, in turn, picked it up, as she was visiting Singapore… and it’s on it’s way! (I didn’t send it here, as sometimes things take an extraordinarily long time to pass customs, or simply never arrive… still waiting for my French street atlas). Tomorrow will be like Christmas!

There are lots of packing lists both for the Camino and hiking in general online, so I will add mine to the list eventually when all is compiled. Ten percent of your body weight is what is recommended for the Camino. Oh dear, when I hike I sometimes carry 15kg… or more. I don’t weigh 150kg. I can either lighten my bag of fatten my body… But think the former is the wiser choice (see I am becoming wiser in my old age).

A few years ago a knowledgable friend who hikes said very sagely “nothing weighs nothing” – this will have to be my new mantra.


Bahasa… It’s just language to some

I spent today doing a refresher first aid course conducted in ‘Bahasa Indonesia’, the official name of the Indonesian language. Indonesian is my second language, and honestly my level is only conversational. I felt confident that I was able to understand 95% of the class and passed the exam. I learnt something new, and had fun. It’s taken a while to get to this level – I’m a bit slow and, although I love when I learn languages, it doesn’t come naturally to me.

When I arrived Home, I started panicking that I know NO French and NO Spanish, and I’ve only got two months to learn. I learnt the French children’s song ‘Alouette’ when I was a kid, but I can’t spend my time saying to all I meet “Je te plumerai la tête” (I will pluck your head).  I sometimes overheard my father wishing his friends “Bonne f***ing soirée”. For years I thought f***ing was a French word. I know less Spanish. Perhaps I know a few food words in both languages, they are important after all.

I’ve travelled places in Asia where English isn’t wildly understood, and have managed a few phrases in the local language, but I look different, and have found people very patient and forgiving. In Europe, I’ll blend in a bit more… Until I open my mouth.

I will endeavour to download some language apps… and hopefully find time to learn some basics. But I wonder if I can get away with “Minta ma’af, saya tidak berbicara bahasa Perancis atau Spanyol” (I’m sorry I don’t speak French or Spanish). No?

Planning the Way

So now I am in the planning stage… The bike route, is actually the less travelled pilgrimage route on my trip, and for me the most daunting part. My bike is my car, but I only ride the streets and back lanes of Bali. Okay, in the crazy traffic of Bali, but I’m generally the fastest moving vehicle. I’ve never had a puncture, and don’t know how to change a tyre. I am however used to riding 70 or so kilometres a day… sometimes. I own a mountain bike, it’s the only kind I’ve ridden since I had my Malvern Star Dragster when I was ten. My bike can’t fit racks for touring, and probably is too much of an inconvenience to take to France anyway (well to get it back again). I don’t need the latest fanciest bike, I don’t need to go that fast, but I would like to be able to carry my stuff comfortably. I’ve tossed this back and forth, and It seems buying a bike in Paris (secondhand?), then hopefully selling it at St Jean, looks a less expensive option than hiring one. I am hoping there are people wishing to buy a bike to travel the Camino Frances to Santiago, as for that part of my journey I would like to walk. Anyone reading this around the third or fourth week of October 2014, want to buy a bike in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port?

There is a Camino that starts in Paris ‘The Tours Route’. This is the path I wish to take. I like the idea of following a medieval pilgrimage, and feasibly my course can replicate that path. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of information in English about this particular way. The main source seems to be out of print and, at least on my searches, unattainable. However I have managed to scrounge from the web, a list of towns that the Tours Way follows, so will probably rely mostly on Google Maps to get me there. I have ordered a French street atlas online, but that was months ago, and I’m still waiting for delivery. Everything takes longer than anticipated in Indonesia. Hopefully it will arrive with time for me to plan.

BrieleyLuckily my guidebook for the Camino Frances has already arrived, ‘The Brierley’, as it gets reverently referred to in Camino circles. I’m told it’s good, but I’ll probably just walk until I get tired or hungry. I believe it’s good for spotting English speaking pilgrims. I wish more were available as ebooks, as for me it’s not just a stroll to the local bookstore. I did find and read a recent account on foot by a South African Pilgrim who follows the Tours way, but it’s not a guidebook as such.

For me, Europe will probably seem incredibly expensive as I work in South East Asia. When I return to Australia I constantly annoy my friends and family by exclaiming in shock “You want how much for that?”. Ok, I do it here too, but it’s part of the regular bargaining process. I have saved some cash, and hopefully will be enough, as I’ve booked and paid for my flight. I found this handy Camino Calculator If I sleep under a bridge, eat sunshine and moonlight and don’t wash, it will cost me nothing! It seems that the Camino Frances can be done on as little as €25-35 a day, as there are pilgrims hostels (albergues), and set menú del día, available for very low prices. However, France will be a lot more expensive. I was rather shocked to see hostel beds for €50 – that’s a 3 star hotel here! I am taking my tent. I love camping, so that’s a good option for me. I will also take advantage of I’ve been a member for a while, and actually love playing host, so hopefully I may get to be hosted along the way. I think it’s a great way to find the secret locations of an area, and truly hang out with the locals.

Once complete, I’ll share my planned route.

18,262 good days

“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” Unknown

This year I will turn 50, and by my birthday will have lived eighteen thousand, two hundred and sixty two days. Good days. I’ve long had a dream to drink champagne in sight of the Eiffel Tower for my fiftieth birthday. As that date is approaching I have began to think about making it a reality.

I’ve never been to Europe! I know, I know, I’m Australian… That’s what we do when we leave school… I even work in the travel industry (yes, I know…), but Europe is a place I thought I could go when I’m old, after all there are many wonderful and amazing places in this wide world, some of which I’ve actually been lucky enough to travel to. I figured at 50, I’m probably official ‘old’, well middle aged as I plan to live until 100, so time for Europe.

Paris, well it’s in France, which is near Spain. The Camino de Santiago goes through Spain. This is another of my dreams, albeit a more recent one. I think I first heard about the Camino maybe ten years ago – I recall reading about in in a book, but don’t recall the book. The author had started in France, which at that time apparently wasn’t a popular place to start. As I work as a tour leader in South East Asia, I get to meet many well travelled folk, some who have travelled the Camino. The first guests to tell me of their trip, a French and Canadian couple, enthralled me with their stories, I was hooked… I wanted to do it! Over the years (I’ve been in Asia ten years), I had more and more guests who had walked the Camino, but the clincher came last year when one mentioned that there was a town in Spain with free wine for pilgrims. I like wine.

‘Pilgrims’ or peregrino(a), in Spanish, is what people who follow el Camino de Santiago are called, as it’s a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the place said to house the remains of St James the Great (San Iago), Jesus’s mate and patron saint of Spain. Apparently a grumpy fisherman before he became a fisher of men. El Camino de Santiago translates as ‘the way of St James’, of which there are many routes, all ending at the Cathedral in Santiago. This Christian pilgrimage has been followed since Medieval times. Some do it as a religious pilgrimage, some for other spiritual reasons, some for the culture, some for sport, and some for just a nice walk.

Earlier this year I had a Spanish guest who had done part of the Camino as a teenager, who said, if you’re going to do the Camino, you must visit Finisterre, ‘the end of the world’, well at least it was, back when the world was flat. That certainly sounded a romantic notion to me, yes, that will be included on my trip!

As a trip to Paris had originally been the main agenda for the trip, I planned to fly in and out of Paris. The Camino I wanted to walk (there are many routes), is the most popular (hopefully for a reason), it’s what’s known as ‘the French Way’ or ‘Camino Frances’, however it starts in the South of France, at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass), not near Paris. As I always say, anywhere is walking distance, it can just take a bit longer.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really think I had ‘a bit longer’, and started to research trains, planes and ways to St Jean. My friend Steven Herrick wrote a book about cycling in France, which I read and enjoyed. It got me dreaming. I like riding bikes. I could ride a bike from Paris to St Jean, and have a nice cycling holiday in France too. So that is my plan.

Please join me on my journey on my blog.

A lovely old map of Paris