Day One – Santander 12/05/13

Me no hablo espanol

Flying into Santander definitely leaves an impression. The plane’s wheels skim the water of the bay and out the window are lush green hills. Santander itself doesn’t disappoint. Food is hard to come by in the center, but that’s fine because every second shop is an ice cream parlour. You definitely get the impression that the Spanish are very social beings-you can hardly walk a block without coming upon a new plaza or park, and everyone just seems very relaxed and unharried (although this may just have appeared to be the case given that they’d just come off a 3 hour lunchtime siesta). I’m sure all of the vitamin D has something to do with it.

Speaking of the people, they are EXTREMELY friendly. I had so many people stop me to give directions that I had to specifically look up how to explain that I actually knew where I was going and didn’t require any help- can’t say I’ve encountered that kind of language barrier dilemma before.

Settling into the albergue (9 ruamayor) was a similarly interesting experience. Not a hint of English anywhere in sight, let’s just say that after this trip I will kick all of your asses in charades. Luckily a-you guessed it-Irish lad! with sliiiightly more passable English came along and between the two of us we were able to figure out the credentials situation. The albergue was nice enough, and had WiFi in bed! (I know, I’m so western). I realize it sounds entitled but I was a bit disappointed that other than Ireland and I no one spoke any English (or anything other than Spanish, really). I enjoy figuring out ways to communicate with people from other places, but when there’s no middle ground it’s hard to get past anything but the absolute basics.

Basically spent the night figuring out where to go next before turning in around midnight. Slept like a log though, thanks sleep dep?

Bag is Packed!

Bag is Packed!

It’s kind of obnoxious for the camino, but that’s what you get when you tackle 3 very different treks at once. I’ve got my chocolate and my salami so I’m happy. Just need to pick up a foam sleeping pad and a bowl and I’m set to go! (Maybe a compression sack too…everything fits inside should it start raining etc but it’s like playing tetris). A lot of the volume comes from the most badass first aid/survival kit known to man. But hey, better to be safe than sorry! 

For those of you who don’t know me, I stand at a bitty 5’2″ and 56 kilos. This bag is 20 kilos. Should be interesting. I’m counting on the beasty Millar-genes to get me through!

Also you have my dad to thank for that shiny piece on top. Giant Harley Davidson logo — suits me perfectly! :p

Change of Plans…Again.

Hola amigos!

…aaand that’s about the extent of my Spanish. This next month should go well.

So some of you may have noticed that this blog’s undergone a name change! Trying to navigate the waters of independence while still very much being part of a family unit is hard. Which is to say that the famjamily weren’t terribly impressed by my summer plans.

I will admit that the trip I was planning on taking (and will do! someday!) was pretty ambitious. I’ve also been away from home for a long time and am getting to the point where I’m excited for this summer’s treks, but I’m equally excited about getting to laze around the house for a month AFTER these treks (especially now that we have a hot tub! My feet are excited). The culmination of these two factors is that rather than finding my own way through Iceland, I’m going to do slightly more well-established hikes in Spain, Norway, and Iceland.

My journey begins on El Camino. The St. Frances pilgrimage is one of the most well-known long distance treks in the world, stretching horizontally across Spain for hundreds of kilometers before arriving in Santiago de Compostela. It’s busy though — which is why I’m not going to do it! Instead I’ll be doing a lesser known Camino, El Camino del Norte, the North route. This trek has a number of advantages over its Southern counterpart. It’s less well-known, which means that fewer people will be doing it and it will be easier to find places to inconspicuously camp when the mood takes me. It’s also more challenging, which means that anyone doing it will be there for similar purposes as me. And, decisively, it winds it’s way primarily along/near the coast, unlike St. Frances which sticks to the interior. For being born far inland and having an intense fear of oceans, I definitely have water (coastlines?) in my blood. Being near the shore is invigorating. Technically in order to get your Pilgrim’s Passport you have to be doing the trek for spiritual/religious purposes. Obviously religion is out, but walking beside the sea is about as spiritual as I will ever get. So that’s the first part! I’m still undecided as to whether I will stop in Santiago or continue on to Finisterre (once believed to be ‘the end of the world’– which is funny and so wrong, it’s not even the point that’s furthest West in Spain) before doubling back to catch my flight. I’ll let you know! Either way this leg will be 3 1/2 weeks – 4 weeks.

After that I’ll be doing a little R&R in my home away from home, Belgium. I was thinking of throwing the TMB in Switzerland/France in here instead, but honestly after a month of walking in the Spanish heat it’s almost 100% guaranteed I’ll be burned out (literally). What better than some family, food, and fun (although french…merp) to bring up the spirits! .

Side note: Lien and Maya! My lovely roomies! Turns out I’ll be close to you after all – let’s catch-up and maybe go to that bar you were always talking about and try the gazillion beers and the gin that’s not actually gin!

The good thing about stopping in Belgium is that I’ll be able to stock up on trail food for the next leg, because I love Norway but it has one of the highest standards of living in the world which is reflected in their prices. After a week recuperating in Belgium then I’ll fly into Oslo, where I might chill for a day or two before working my way up to Jotunheimen national park (and wherever else I decide). There’s no definite plan here yet. I’m sure Norwegians themselves have a much better grasp on what’s worth doing/how it can be done, so I’ll just be taking things as they come. Norway has FANTASTIC wild camping laws. Norway, Sweden, Scotland, and with a few restrictions Iceland are essentially the only countries where it’s legal to camp wherever you want, provided you respect the land and respect people’s privacy. There’s a good chance I’ll just wind up wandering around a national park and camping wherever I see fit for a week or two (especially because I’ll have food supplies). Maybe if I get a chance I’ll be a typical tourist and go and tour some of their prisons (because I’m pretty much just always in awe of their prison system. It’s one of my favourite topics of conversation. Norway, man…they’ve got their shit together). After about two, two and a half weeks it will be on to the final (and most exciting) leg – Iceland!

Once again there’s very little plan for Iceland, because it’s something you kind of have to experience in the moment. I’ll be spending a few nights in or around Reykjavik (checking out the hot springs) before heading out onto the Laugavegur trail. This guy’s quite famous, so parents rest assured that I’ll be in good human company in case anything happens. In case you were wondering, this trail takes you right to the foot of that volcano that erupted in 2010 that no one can pronounce or spell and that I’m too lazy to google right now. Ahh, it’ll be glorious. Have a few links: http://www.adventure-journal.com/2011/11/made-in-iceland-chronicles-one-womans-beautiful-month-long-hike/ ; http://www.fi.is/en/hiking-trails/ ; http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/iceland-expedition-feet/ . The trek’s just under a week long, so I can either catch a ride back to Reykjavik and then decide on another hike to do, or, as will probably happen, I’ll double back and do the trail in reverse (so that I’m familiar with it and can really appreciate it). I definitely want to check out Reyk and the other towns as well. It’s pretty easy to catch a plane/train/automobile up north to near Akuryeri, so that might happen as well. The week in Belgium will be spent sorting this out, and most importantly how I’m going to get food up there without breaking the bank.

And then finally in late July I’ll be coming home for the first time in a year where I will proceed to buy out Timmies and then eat my weight’s worth of Gwenny-cooking just in one sitting. Pretty excited, won’t lie.

 

By the way, from tomorrow on I’ll be posting from my tablet which means no pictures:( I’ll try to find PCs to upload some along the way though.

Links – people who’ve done the trek

Andrew hiked the Traverse East-West. His site gives a moderately detailed description of his route, has some handy tips and info, provides a gear list, links to maps, and lists some other useful resources. Caution: His E-W route is rather challenging. You come across a number of glaciers and have to ford many rivers. Probably not the best route for a solo hike; fairly dangerous at parts.

Jonathan and his friend Dave hiked North-South. He provides a quite detailed description of his route and provides some very interesting tips. He invites you to get in touch with him. His route is ultimately shorter and less rugged, but safer from what I can tell. Sticks more to tracks and F-roads where available. Most challenging obstacle appears to be traversing the lava flows (interesting!).

Klara took a rather winding route through different parts of the island. Her post is not the most useful for planning your own trip, but her video is stunning and really puts the fire in your heart to get out there and do it!

Book about a man’s journey across Iceland. Might be a bit outdated. I have yet to read it but I’ve heard it’s quite useful.

Broken English but some references to maps and direction.

 

Preparing for the Unknown

If you’ve even been struck with the sudden desire to walk across a virtually uninhabited country like Iceland on your own, you’ll probably know that it is one of the hardest things to plan for. Not many people have done it. Even fewer have shared their experiences on the world wide web. Generally when venturing into a new place with nothing but a tent, a bit of food, and my own stubborn determination, I like to have a clear idea of where I’m going, how I’m going to get there, and what I can expect along the way. If I don’t have that I at least like to have the odd person who hopefully speaks my language, or at the very least has a good understanding of flailing arm charades, and who is able to tell me where I am and where I need to go.

Venturing into Iceland I will have maps. Probably not even very accurate ones. There will also be no people.

The interior of Iceland, even during the ‘busy’ tourist season, is essentially devoid of people and roads. There’s the occasional two-track or F-road and if you hit an unfordable river there’s a good chance that somewhere, at least, there is a bridge you can use to cross it. But in terms of human presence there’s not much else, and that’s what’s so glorious about it. The diversity and barrenness of much of the landscape means that distance is hard to gauge.  Topography maps aren’t particularly useful when the land is flat, volcanic rock as far as the eye can see. It’s disorienting to be walking past the same mountain for hours on end, never feeling like you’re getting anywhere. I really have no idea what to expect on this journey. I will be investing a great deal of faith in my compass, my (as yet unowned) GPS, and my own intuition. It will be an exercise in trust. Trust in myself, trust in my capabilities.

That being said, I’m thinking that it’s going to go fairly well. The main advantage of choosing a country like Iceland happens to coincide directly with the most basic of human needs: water. The abundance of streams and glacial run-offs means that I will probably be getting fairly wet fairly often, but it also means that I’ll almost never be more than a few hours walk from a good water source. A good portion of the landscape is essentially devoid of viable life, and even if it weren’t I’m not familiar enough with the flora of Iceland to trust myself to ‘live off the land’. If I run low on food than I’m low on food until I hit the next store where I can resupply. Running low on food, though, is like a walk in the park compared to what happens when you run low on water. I will take a three week over a three day grace period any day, thank you very much. As long as I stay away from the lava deserts (real thing) than I should be grand.

Another major safety advantage of choosing Iceland is that the most dangerous animal I will probably come in contact with is an arctic tern. Damn birds are known for dive-bombing people, but they don’t exactly make me terribly concerned for my safety. Somehow the idea of stumbling across a little arctic fox just isn’t as intimidating as the thought of waking up with a full-grown bear outside your tent. Shocking, I know. There aren’t even mosquitoes to bite you. I’ve been told midge flies can be a nuisance, but they’re dealt with pretty effectively with a head net. If something does happen it will be due to my own stupidity, not the wildlife.

Arctic Fox