19th May 2010Journal
Leaving Le Puy now. Cleaner at the cathedral asked me if my water bottle was a respirator!
The preparations for the Camino took months. I was overdue a sabbatical in any case – I’d missed the previous opportunity because I could foresee that any progress we’d made in moving forward would be utterly undermined by a small conservative faction in the congregation who still thought my job was to chaplain the status quo.
Looking back, I was preparing for a pilgrimage that never was, never would be on offer. Pilgrimages were the package tours of the middle ages. They were fuelled by the fear of hell and the sheer difficulty of forgiveness; and the USP was the odd idea that kissing or touching a gold reliquary containing a dubiously authentic body part – let’s say the foreskin of the martyred St Superfluous – would confer bankable spiritual benefits. The early church must have been populated with a great number of genetically strange saints with a dozen hearts, twenty five fingers and innumerable other dangly and easily removed bits for sale on the open relic market. I’ll come back to what my motivation was further down the road; but rest assured that relic reverencing wasn’t part of the plan.
Anyway, moving on rapidly, the 21st century pilgrim can call upon a well resourced network of comfortable overnight stops and small cafes, not to mention the Transit vans which – for a tidy sum – will carry your luggage; transport you over the hard bits and even meet you with a picnic lunch.
Our budget, on the other hand, was 30 euros a day to cover everything – and as the journey unfolded we quickly realized that this wasn’t remotely enough. We had planned to carry everything we needed; tent, sleeping bags, bivvy mats, clothes, cooker – kitchen sink etc. Being completely self contained would mean we could wild camp with occasional nights in a campsite to grab a shower. Having spent the night at the youth hostel in Le Puy en Velay we set out to buy gas for our hideously expensive skeletal titanium cooker. I’d been assured by the good folk at Snow and Rock that suitable gas canisters were universally available across Europe. It seemed, after a fruitless trudge around Le Puy, that this was not the case. Before we had taken a single step along the Camino we had to accept that there would be no cooker; no warmed-up tins of soup or early morning brew ups. That was the first disappointment.
At the cathedral, where we needed to get our pilgrim records stamped, a friendly nun asked my companion if he was my carer and the cleaner expressed interest in my respirator (drinking water bladder). With that cursory medical out of the way, we staggered down the long flight of steps with much heavier rucksacks than were sustainable for some of the days we had planned. If that was a portent we ignored it, fiddled about with the straps – as if that made any difference – and set off, followed with quizzical regard by the locals who obviously thought we were rather odd. Within a couple of hundred yards we were slogging up a steep hill having learned our first pilgrim lessons. France is not wild; you shouldn’t believe everything they tell you in camping shops; and this was going to be painfully hard. Our first glimpse of La France Profonde was a small industrial estate where one of the units made paté. It smelt like Brain’s pie factory from my childhood.
Tomorrow I’ll perhaps write a bit more about the kit as we tackle our first really hard day.