Tag Archives: Camino

Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncevaux

Chapter 9 – Getting to Roncesvalles (Day 1 of Camino)

Early morning we could see the early morning mist blanketed over the Pyrenees like it was waiting for the sunlight to unveil it.

I set my temp Basel to -50% (reduced the Basel insulin (slow acting insulin) to a temporary setting to -50% for a set time in my insulin pump) since the whole day will be “one long physical activity”. I set it for 12 hours as we heard it would take minimum 8 hours to reach Roncesvalles from the tourist office. I estimated from speaking to many people and Camino Forum it that would be minimum 10 hours – I just wanted the extra two hours for meal and blood sugar testing breaks. The full dosage of Basel insulin per hour would result in many low sugars and it could get dangerous to walk the mountain with the strenuous activity of climbing without proper training, snacks etc. This is what my whole training in Toronto was all about and this Basel setting has helped me knowing “my numbers” as Sebastien Sasseville talked about.

IMG_1799We stepped out of the hotel like warriors armed with our packs and walking poles like we were ready to tackle the mountain – totally exciting feeling. As we walked out of SJPP we could hear the church bell ringing 8 times as it was waving goodbye to us. We walked through the medieval “Gate of Spain” towards our “Route de Napoleon” and it really helped that we had walked few hundred meters yesterday so we were familiar with our path. Right away we could tell that it wasn’t going to be easy, within 400 meters out of town we climbed a steep hill that was so vertical it took us by surprise and we were out of breath. We found ourselves quickly out of town and walking by many farms. Our focus was to get to Orisson 11 km and if we could get there in 3 hours (giving us 3 hrs per km) as the climb was quite steep and hard.  We passed many pilgrims along the way and met a whole group of Canadians and many students from Europe all with big backpacks as we sported our small day packs.

Orisson

Orisson

Mountain view

Mountain view

Manech sheep

Manech sheep

 

 

 

 

If the Pyrenees could talk …

The climb was hard and invigorating in many ways; we stopped frequently to take a sip of water and Gatorade (to replace salt, carb and electrolytes) and snacked on fig-newtons (prescribed by many athletes as a snack of choice).  As we climbed the scenery kept getting grander and beautiful, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The only down side was that we had to keep climbing but we took few moments to enjoy the breathtaking view of the mountains and cows roaming the field as we could see SJPP disappear.  We met so many travelers at the water fountain after the village of Hunto as we all exchanged stories and wished Buen Camino to each other and climbed the mountain.  We anticipated how Orisson would look like? To our surprise Orisson snuck into us quite as a mouse, two buildings on the middle of the mountain road, that’s it – wow! We made it less than 3 hours to Orisson and we shouted in joy as we knew we were going to conquer the Pyrenees by end of the evening, no problem.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes ― Marcel Proust

Like seasoned traveler we unloaded our pack on the eating area and filled our water bottles, made more Gatorade (we took Gatorade crystals) and packed on Bocadillo Chorizo (Spanish sausage sandwich) and said hello to few pilgrims and high tailed to the mountain as we knew we had a hard day head of us as we were only finished 1/3 of the climb.

Pyreneean chamois

Pyreneean chamois

Glorious lunch spot

Glorious lunch spot

Roland's Fountain

Roland’s Fountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyone reading this blog and wants to do the Camino there is no question, you must try the Route de Napoleon – the mountain and the view is incredible. Flocks of Griffon Vultures, Hawks and Falcons soared over hot air pockets looking for easy preys along the mountains as it was midday. You could see flocks of black faced sheep roaming the high pasture as they are called Manech for their exquisite milk producing Ossau Iraty cheese in Navarre. Many kinds of flora along the way – too many to mention and took pictures as we could as they blanketed the mountains. As we were in higher elevation about 1200m (about 15 km) we decided to take a lunch break in one of the prettiest spot along the road. We passed many pilgrims but none were close to each other as we were only one at this area and it was our castle for the time being. We sat on the rock and watched the sheep calling each other from one mountain to the other as they were singing. We could see at a distance Pyreneean chamois (wild horse) grazing the mountain pasture. I gave 50% bolus insulin for my lunch since the sandwich was so heavy in carb (so much bread).

Border France & Spain

Border France & Spain

Birch forest

Birch forest

Mistry mountain climb

Misty mountain climb

 

 

 

 

 

 

We could totally see us coming back to this climb once more in our life time as the serenity, the magic, the beauty in this mountain that I’ve never seen anywhere before. We packed up and walked toward to the summit as we still had another 5km to climb. The climb was harder than we thought as it became rocky with big boulders and you had to watch every step forward. Closer to 3pm still no sight of the summit as we didn’t see anyone for quite some time except at the distance the young Korean woman that we had met earlier who was walking slow and steady.

We got to the fountain of Roland and ran into a German traveler where he had been walking since April from Frankfurt by foot. It was quite inspiring to hear his story. After 2km we could reach the summit where there were many pilgrims resting and enjoying a snack. We fell to the ground in joy. We asked ourselves, where did all these pilgrims come from as most didn’t pass us? This was my first successful mountain climb to the summit the feeling was indescribable.  We met other travelers and exchanged stories as the German traveler said in all his journey climbing the Pyrenees was the longest and toughest. His comment somehow made us feel good as we thought it was only us who thought it was a tough climb taking 8 hrs to climb it.

Roman ruin (Mesala & Agrippa's win 27-38 BC)

Roman ruin (Mesala & Agrippa’s win 27-38 BC)

Bunker from 1936-39 Spanish Civil War

Bunker from 1936-39 Spanish Civil War

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a choice in descend paths as well as we were advised to take the steep 5 km path down to Roncesvalles rather than through a thistle path which was dangerous.  I am not sure which was dangerous but our path was straight down with large boulders and stones and every step had to be cautious, one false move could result in injury or falling forward.  The descend down was arduous and steep as well as we were going through thick forest and not knowing how far we had come down. Finally we could hear people, church bells not far away, as usual Roncesvalles at 950m snuck into us so quickly it was anticlimactic. It took us in total 10 hours from beginning to end including our breaks, not bad I thought, it was the longest day in our week journey.

Top of the summit  at 1450m

Top of the summit at 1450m

Our hotel was right on the path of the Camino and our suitcases were waiting. We got our second stamp and unloaded our packs as we were very curious to the famous church in town before it closed at 8pm.

Roncesvalles is a small town filled with a Romanesque church, a monetary and couple of albergues and a hotel, nothing more, not even a grocery shop or shop of any kind. So bring extra supplies until you hit the next town. We were happy to meet other travelers at the bar of our hotel which was quite famous (the only one) and exchanged stories while having a beer.

Church of Santiago 13thC

Church of Santiago 13thC

Monastery

Monastery

New church & Alburge

New church & Alburge

 

 

 

 

 

 

It felt like everyone knew each other. We were introduced to other Canadians who walked that day as people got the wind that we were from Canada and that we might know each other. It’s quite funny actually but it was nice to connect and hear everyone’s stories.

Roasted piquillo peppers

Roasted piquillo peppers

Cordero al chilindron

Cordero al chilindron

Cod with potato

Cod with potato

 

 

 

 

 

 

For dinner we had the regional food from Navarra which was exquisite and had the same wine Irouleguy that we had in SJPP. If you are in Navarra you must try the cordero al chilindron (Lamb stew), its outstanding made with local wine. After dinner we passed out in bliss contemplating how our next day’s long trek to Zubri was going to go.

Thought of the day: I can really do this!

Buen Camino!

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Camino Santiago Passports, Stamps & Symbols

Chapter 6 – Camino Santiago Symbols, what are they about?

Travel brings power and love back into your life – Rumi

I’ve talked about much of my preparation for the Camino but I haven’t really talked about the process of the Camino, how one walks the Camino path. When I heard about the Camino I started to research about it – I could find tons of website and blogs and there was a symbol that kept showing up over and over again – it was the scallop shell. The scallop shell signifies rebirth and it’s the symbol of Camino and the apostle Saint James and the French call it Coquilles Saint Jacques (Scallops of Saint James/Jacob)

Legend of the Santiago de Compostela

Who was Saint James? Why did so many of his followers or pilgrims take the road to Compostela as early as year 1000? According to the bible James the Greater was one of Christ’s first apostles who died in Jerusalem in the year 44 AD. He said to be been beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa, who was apposed to the new religion. Legend has it two disciples brought his body back by boat to Galicia where the tomb was discovered by 9th century by a hermit who was led to it by a star. Relic worship was widespread at the time and the site rapidly took on its vocation as a major pilgrimage center comparable with Jerusalem and Rome. Campus Stellae or “filed of stars” became Santiago de Compostela and this town tip of Galicia soon built a Romanesque church that was to become one of the most imposing Gothic Cathedrals in Europe.

IMG_2694IMG_2010IMG_1873

 

 

 

 

 

From all the pictures of the Camino the directional sign to Santiago were all directed by the shell using it as a walkway symbol or a yellow arrow sign pointing to a direction to walk ahead. From my trip I’ve seen the yellow arrow on rocks, roads, trees and trust me you will be happy to see it on your path so that you don’t miss your path. The scallop shell is also modified like a sunburst used sideways signifying many paths around Europe leading to one meeting point, Santiago! How cool is that!

When the pilgrims start the Camino everyone gets a passport called “credentials” from the tourist office at the starting point (in my case at St. Jean PP) a passport where each pilgrim will register their personal information. Once a pilgrim obtains a passport then they can collect stamps to indicate that they have passed the proper Camino path through various villages. The passport is used as a credential to get accommodations at albergues (Hostel, Pension). When you reach Santiago, to get the Compostela (the Camino certificate) the passport is examined at the Tourist office to make sure all the necessary stamps,  the last 100 km have been walked by the pilgrim. So these stamps are given out in most albergues, churches and municipal offices – they are unique to each place. But all the stamps are verified and the certificates are given out to everyone who walks the Camino to Santiago.

My passport, my first stamp from SJPP and Camino Shell

My passport, my first stamp from SJPP and Camino Shell

You are also asked a question at the Tourist office why you walked the Camino – this is not a test question that one must pass but to let one reflect on the whole journey and answer why they did the walk and then you are given the certificate. I have a degree in Computer Science, Diploma for Culinary Arts, many awards and certificates but I think this one will be very special to me. This certificate is not easy to get – and it’s not about how fast or how many days it took to finish rather how one did the walk and the quality of it. This is truly a reflection of oneself how you want to do the Camino walk.

Santiago de Compostela for me!

I’ve given permission to myself to do something totally different where my body and soul hope to work in synch without being too hard and judgemental about myself. I also hope to find a balance in my life, balance my blood sugar with the heavy physical activity and to achieve a taste/test of walking close to 880 km where I’ve done this similar distance by plans, trains and automobiles but never by foot and that’s some achievement I can do and be proud of. Especially with type1 diabetes (T1D), I’ve never challenged myself to long physical activity where I can really speak to so many others challenged by diabetes who limit themselves to travel or long distance physical activity that they can with proper planning and training.

Buen Camino!

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Camino Fitness Notes from Bodensee

Chapter 4 – Diabetes Blood-glucose planning from Germany

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao Tzu

While I was describing the beauty of Singen Hohentwiel in chapter 2 I forgot to talk about my diabetes blood sugar prep work for my hike for the hilly 23 km walk. There is a lot of prep work involved before taking such task as walking for more than 4 hours since blood sugar really depends on the energy available, insulin taken and the difficulty of the path (hilly terrain).

Wild forest

Wild forest

I had a good German breakfast – muesli w/ low fat milk (complex carb) cold cuts, cheese and a boiled egg (protein, fat) and low fat yogurt – about 60 g CHO (carb) and I Bolused for 50% of CHO and set temp Basel for 8 hrs in case I run out as I have in the past. Average walk for me is about 5 km for an hour and 23 km shouldn’t take me long but then again we are talking about walking around Hohentwiel with steep hills and the beauty of the wild forest and the native animals that come to say hello, so it took longer.

We started at 10 am and we got back at 4pm – that’s 6 hrs and we took two long breaks each being over 30 min plus stopping to take pictures, just stopping to enjoy the beauty of the land. So 6 hours for as predicted.

Many snails crossing

Many snails crossing

Young Deer

Young Deer

Rabbit enjoying grass

Rabbit enjoying grass

 

 

 

 

 

 

My blood sugar was perfect the whole trip as I sipped mostly Gatorade and water every half hour as I was sweating a lot to replenish my salt (electrolytes) and hydration. I also found fruit bars in Singen as they didn’t have granola bars and they were good without too much sugar as each piece was about 6g CHO. Gatorade, fruit bars substituted as my fuel for every hour – since there were few parts of the path that were very steep and challenging. Bigger snack – here it goes pretzel broken into 4 pieces and I ate it throughout, couple of apples, and a sandwich filled with ham and cheese. So all in all it was a true Camino training walk – walking through the forest covered in mosquitos, ticks, snails, deers, rabbits and wild birds – beauty all around.

Frog crossing sign (during migration)

Frog crossing sign (during migration)

When I finished my walk my blood sugar was 7.2 mmol – perfect and my temp Basel was almost running out. I had to be careful that I wouldn’t have a low sugar within the next hour so it was important for me to have a protein, sugar drink after I got back to the room so had something similar to Boost. I had a lake pickerel with roast potatoes and a large salad and I Bolused only 90% and my blood sugar was perfect before bed as it was 7.6

Awesome day indeed and looking forward to the Camino doing this every day and hope my blood sugar will be okay as it was this day but testing is key for every hour if possible and not push but taking the time. Camino is not about how quick you can do the walk but the quality of the walk – indeed it’s the Camino after all.

Buen Camino!

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The Camino Training with Type1 Diabetes

Chapter 2 – My Camino started 3 months ago

In my previous post I had talked about the history of the Camino de Santiago and why I decided to take the challenge and in this post I will discuss how I got my training started.

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires great strength to decide on what to do” – Elbert Hubbard

It’s easier to make a decision to do anything but where it gets challenging is the execution of it. I had no idea how to start the training. Having type1 diabetes (T1D) I have insulin sensitivity, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) these are all common symptoms in my body on a regular basis. My biggest fear is low blood sugar. My legs become like noodle and unable to do anything until my body is recovered with glucose. I carry glucose tablets everywhere I go along with juice and snacks. Walking 30+ km a day is about 6 to 7 hours (5 km per 1 hr. estimating on flat surface, no hills) plus lunch and breaks. It’s a long day for the body to be put through that type of fitness regime if you haven’t done it before.

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How do Athletes train?

I asked my friend Michael who does marathons and Ironman and how he trains for it, his answer was “you don’t think about the whole race, you think about the next km and the next and so on and let the training guide you”. Motivational speaker, super athlete Sebastian Sasseville with T1D (climbed Mr. Everest summit and ran 250 km Sahara race) and Endocrinologist Dr. Perkins and the team from Mt. Sinai Diabetes Education Centre have been a huge help providing their insight and telling me to figure out “my numbers” before I get to Spain.

Sasseville said “figure out all your numbers before you get to Spain including plan A, plan B and plan C so that you are prepared for every kind of emergency and you go on autopilot when you get there”. Great advise because that’s exactly what I have to do, figure out my basel insulin setting (slow acting insulin intake) for the entire day including hourly intake during the walk.

Its all Numbers

I started my walk with 6km around my neighbourhood using an iPhone app called “MapMyWalk” which is great for walking (training) – and will keep track of your steps, km and calories burned plus the map of your path so you can save it for future use, tweet it/ facebook it for bragging rights. I started my walk every other day in early March, it was so cold and raining and I got sick. It took me 4 weeks to recover – recovering from cold/fever with diabetes takes longer. Then started training again in April – every other day and slowly increasing to 10, 12 14 km  … and eventually walking every day. By mid June I was walking 30 km with no problems. Hiking training few weekends with my husband was a huge payoff –  including going to Rattlesnake Point and Bruce Trail really helped with me the rough terrain, uneven surface plus it mimicked some parts of the Camino.

Its been tricky and hard to walk a full day of training with a major renovation going on in my house for the last 3 months and ignoring my personal life –  but I had to put my training as priority as I had committed to the Camino and booked the ticket. In some ways it was good to have a target and train for it and sticking to my commitment as it helped me to focus. Part of it was due to being just scared as I didn’t want to get into trouble in during my climb if I ran into trouble.

 “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide” Napoleon Bonaparte

As I said on my earlier post about the first day of Camino is to trek from St. Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles 20 km straight up the Pyrenees and decent 5 km to Roncesvalles. The ancient Napoleon path goes through the middle of the mountain as there are other options of taking gravel roads with less strain. But the whole idea to train was to see the summit on top and to find out about my body.

Climbing straight up for 20 km on a tough terrain to maintain healthy blood sugar without having too high or too low sugar (chances are low sugar) as it’s a tough exercise is a challenge. So my training had to be 99.9% figuring out numbers (how much insulin to take for the day and during meals).

During my trainings I reduced my insulin to 40% to 50% during exercise and during rough terrain even reduced more and no insulin during meals which kept my blood sugar perfect. Of course I had many low sugars but it was all part of the training to tweak the numbers.

Here is a video from my hike at Rattlesnake point

The Plan, the plan

Well I think I have my numbers figured as I will post them later. In terms of snacks and energy Dr. Perkins, my dietitian and nurse at the hospital agree that I should be having a good snack and replenishing my fluids every hour.

Snack = .5 g of Carb (CHO) x total body weight in km for every hour

During my training I ate trail mix and drank coconut water (carb, salt – great electrolytes) but my dietitian indicated that nuts are great for day hikes but not for everyday 30 km hike, so I need to skip the nuts and go straight for the sugar and carb combo since it will give me more energy like Fig Newtons . And it would be difficult to find coconut water in Spain so I will settle for Gatorade (as I plan to carry Gatorade crystals and make them as I need them).

I am so eager to put all my training and things that I just learned the last few months into production as the days are getting closer to our trek, like my friend Melinda said “my training started 3 months ago here in Toronto”.

I am so excited to be sharing this with you and I hope you’ll join me on my journey as I will try to post our progress (internet permitting) of course!

Buen Camino!

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My Camino Way

camino2Chapter 1 – Brief History of Camino de Santiago

For some time I’ve been thinking about doing the Camino de Santiago  (long walking trek over 800 km)  – an ancient pathway to pilgrims, even Napoleon took this path to visit the large cathedral of Saint James in the ancient city of Santiago in Galicia, Spain. Ancient time they thought Finisterre (Atlantic coast of Galicia) was ‘end of the world’ (costa de morte) – where there was no landmass, leaving civilization at the edge of Atlantic Ocean until the new world was discovered in 1492.

“People tend to forget the word “history” contains the word “story” – Ken Burns

There are many routes to get there within Europe. I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer faith and spirituality people have in achieving this massive goal by walking approximately 25+ km each day – walking through tough terrains, mountains, foot hills and valleys and sleeping in albergues, monasteries and eating what is available along way.

Why the Camino for me?

Not being an athlete or a religious person I wanted to undertake the Camino to learn about myself and my body as I haven’t pushed myself to do anything challenging after being diagnosed with type1 diabetes (November 14, 2005 – ironically its World Diabetes Day). Having type1 diabetes (T1D) has its challenges, to maintain healthy blood glucose (blood sugar) throughout this trip, eating what is available and walking 25+ km a day (exercise and tons of it) is an enormous challenge without proper planning and training.

camino5March of this year I decided to take this challenge and to train for it. Walking is something I can do as I’ve tried running many times but it didn’t click for me, neither did biking. But walking 25+ km each and every day for 32+ (approximate days to walk 800 km) days? – Well it has a good ring to it. It’s like training for anything, all I had to do was to step out of my house (my comfort zone) and walk on the sidewalk and viola I could do 6 km for an hour, wow I can do this Camino!

Well not so fast – I will talk about my training on my next entry but just wanted to talk a bit more about the Camino.  My first day’s journey at the Camino would start at St. Jean Pied de Port (SJPP), France at the foothills of Pyrenees where you climb 1500 meters straight up the mountain for about 20 km and descend to 900 meters, 5 km to Roncesvalles, Spain. After 10 km from SJPP on the mountain there is no stopping as there are no hostels or huts to stay as its a rough terrain, only the mountain.  So this is the challenge that really pushed my training to figure out how to get ready for this challenging climb and descend and keeping up energy for 25+ km for each day.

Did I mention that I will be doing the 1st segment of the Camino with my husband John – he will be my coach to remind me to take my snacks, test my blood sugar every hour and cheering me on as he has done many challenging climbs in his earlier days including the Kilimanjaro.

We will start our journey from SJPP (France) to Logrono (Rioja, Spain) approximately 200 km to be completed in 8 days. I am also thinking of starting my 2nd journey from where I leave off at Logrono, Rioja to Finisterre, Galicia about 700 km across northern Spain over a month later this summer.

Talk about exciting, I am thrilled. Not only it will be a huge challenge but being a cook exposed to this amazing culinary journey across northern Spain, eating, walking, doing a fitness holiday, meeting travelers from all over the world along the way and breathtaking scenery and history to boot? Why not? This is sounding amazing already and I can’t wait to get there!

Check out the film The Way directed by Emilio Estevez starring Martin Sheen (plays on screen father too) – a powerful story that takes place in the Camino trail where life’s questions, quests are questioned or answered as you’ll meet interesting characters along the path of the movie. Very uplifting and moving film which I really enjoy myself at TIFF few years ago and had the opportunity to talk to both Estevez and Sheen about their journey in the Camino and how it was to play onscreen father and son about life’s existential crisis. They were so happy to share their stories.

I plan to blog about my trip while on the Camino – hopefully the internet connection will cooperate so that I can share my experiences and the culinary journey with you guys and I hope you’ll join me along the way to cheer me on send me positive vibes with your feedback.

Buen Camino!

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