Sixteen Miles and one blister — welcome back to pilgrim life

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Pilgrim chic — road ready at 6:45 a.m.

When I got up this morning I wasn’t really sure I wanted to leave my bed, it being a national holiday and all that. But I’d already told Graciella and Luigi that I’d be heading out at 6:30 and I knew they’d think I was a slacker if I didn’t go. So…..out the door I went at about 6:45 for a day of adventure.

Today’s goal, of course, was to research this pilgrimage walking stage — Perugia to Assisi — for my upcoming book. That meant that I’d be walking and dictating in my iPhone while taking photographs and trying not to get lost.

Matter of fact, I didn’t get lost at all, mostly thanks to my GPS. I did discover, though, that I have much more to learn before I’ll be able to figure out the intricacies of this amazing little device. A big thanks to the folks at First Church Seattle who gave this to me as a going away present. I learned too that it’s a different way of walking when you’re walking as a pilgrim guidebook author rather than simply a pilgrim.

Anyway, I made it to Assisi by about 3:00. It’s a great town, truly beautiful. I’ll be back in mid-July to research and write my chapter on Assisi, so for now it was just get some photos and get back home.

Rather than entrust myself to the train schedule on a national holiday I opted to take a spendy ride back to Perugia by cab. As I was driven back to my temporary Perugian home I had time to reflect on the difference between walking 16 miles and riding the same distance in a car. The walk to Assisi was about smells and colors and discoveries and miniature hardships and thoughts of St. Francis who walked this way 800 years ago. The trip back to Perugia by car was mindless. And completely insulated from the world, which I sped through while gazing out the window.

Below: Photos of today’s walk

New Camino del Norte Guidebook Fills Unmet Pilgrim Need

You may know that I help moderate an Internet Camino forum. It’s a great way to keep abreast of developments in all things Camino. A couple of months ago I found myself gently corrected when I made a bold statement, “There is no good Camino del Norte guidebook in English.”

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Gérard du Camino’s French guidebook to the Camino del Norte.

I’d shared the results of research in this topic in an article entitled, The Hunt for a Good Camino del Norte Guidebook, in which I compared English, Spanish and French guidebooks. In advance of my 2012 Camino del Norte, after comparing what was available in languages I might understand, I dusted off my 5 years of high school French and bought Le Chemin du Nord, by Gérard du Camino. It proved to be a great choice — very thorough directions, maps, and accommodation info.

The problem, of course, is: what if you’re an English speaker who doesn’t understand any French?

Enter a new book, The Northern Caminos, by Dave Whitson and Laura Perazzoli. It was Whitson who noticed my Camino Forum post and alerted me to his new creation. After reviewing this new guide, I’m pleased to say a pressing need has been met. Whitson and Perazzoli have created a guidebook that will be a big help to English readers who choose the Northern caminos of the del Norte, Primitivo, and Inglés. The guide offers real to-scale maps (hear us, O John Brierley), good historical and cultural background, and a warm and readable style that quietly assures pilgrims that they’re in good hands.

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Whitson and Perazzoli’s new guidebook to the Northern pilgrimage routes to Santiago.

That’s not to say I fell in love with this guidebook. There are a few details that I hope will be amended in a second edition. One of the most helpful planning tools a guidebook can offer is a chart of each day’s elevation profile. It’s a big help to know when you’re just about to reach an 800 meter climb, or when you’ve finished your ascent and can rest and prepare for the climb down. Unfortunately, this guide offers scant elevation help, giving only total ascent and total descent stats for each day.

The authors’ descriptions can be so sparse as to be unhelpful. The Ribadesella to Sebrayo stage, a 31.5 km march that ends disturbingly at the Sebrayo albergue that has no grocery store or restaurant nearby, is a good example. A word of warning about this important detail at the beginning of the chapter could be very helpful for pilgrims. Instead, we learn in the chapter’s last phrase: “Sebrayo: Albergue de Peregrinos …. but no food of any kind.” In contrast, the French guide warns upfront that “revitaillement” (resupply) must happen at Ribadesella.

(In truth, I discovered in 2012 that there’s a grocery truck that stops by the Sebrayo albergue each evening to provide pilgrims necessary ingredients for assembling dinner in the albergue’s kitchen. Also, after a walk of about 1.5 km across a small valley to the road behind the albergue pilgrims will find a bar/cafe happy to serve a simple meal.)

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Lots of blank space on many pages.

A mildly annoying feature of this new guide is the rather generous use of white space. When a person is carting a camino guidebook across hundreds of miles it’s great to know it’s jam-packed with as much info as possible per kilogram. Hopefully the next edition will ditch the artsy white space and fill it instead with other helpful content  that pilgrims would rather carry.

There are a few other quibbles. I’m not sure why the book’s La Caridad to Ribadeo Stage (p. 168 ff) recommends a southerly route through Brul rather than a route to Tapia that would follow the scenic coastline through Santa Gadea toward Ribadeo. Whitson and Perazzoli suggest that the waymarking is not sufficient, but their book could provide a detailed description that would adequately guide a pilgrim even without excellent way marks through an uncomplicated coastal walk. On this stage I’d certainly take the Tapia option and then follow the coastline toward the Ribadeo bridge.

Flaws? Well, sure. But these guidebooks are often revised in subsequent editions, and they become better and better over time. What we have now is a very good start, and Whitson and Perazzoli are to be commended — and thanked — for a great contribution to the needs of English-only del Norte pilgrims.

A True Pleasure to Meet Msr. Gérard du Camino

Msr. Gerard du Camino's pilgrim center near Paris.

In a previous post I lamented how difficult it is to find a good guidebook to my upcoming Camino del Norte, along Spain’s northern coast. A kind fellow pilgrim named Ron Joy recommended the French camino guidebooks of one Gérard du Camino. My French is better than my Spanish, so I thought I’d give it a try. I found Msr. Camino’s website and ordered his guidebook of the Camino del Norte.

What a treat to receive a personal email a few hours later from Monsieur Gérard Rousse, a.k.a. Gérard du Camino, sending his greetings, announcing the mailing of the guide I ordered, and inviting me and all pilgrims to come to the pilgrim center he has created at Montrouge (near Paris) to talk about the camino. He gave the address of his pilgrim center, its hours, and asked that I call before I drop in.

Assuming a good experience with his guidebook I think next time I’m in Paris I’ll take him up on his offer. Thanks, Monsieur Camino, for your prompt reply and for your hospitality. What a nice example of pilgrim hospitality.