Odd Poles & Baggy Trousers on the Camino de Santiago by Paula Rooney

My Camino was unique, just as everyone’s Camino is unique.

We all follow the yellow arrows, the brass shells on the floor and the stone waymarkers.

Yet, we all have a different experience on our Camino. We all experience laughter, pain, hunger, camaraderie, sleepless nights, joy, and pride.

There is just enough pain on the Camino to remind you that you are not on holiday and enough joy for you to realize that the experience goes beyond anything a holiday could give you.

My first night in St Jean Pied de Port was a very real introduction to the fact that this was not a holiday. My hostess insisted we arrive at breakfast at 6.30 a.m., ate the slices of baguette and left. She told us very loudly in French that this was not a holiday and practically threw us out on the street. I think she wanted to go back to bed.

The book that I wrote about my Camino journey is called ‘Odd Poles and Baggy Trousers on the Camino de Santiago.‘ It’s the French lady’s fault that I had odd walking poles for the whole journey.

In the haste of leaving her house at 7:00 a.m. in the dark, I extended my poles in a hurry and broke one of them. Every time I walked it shrunk and eventually it stopped retracting and I ventured off in the direction of the Pyrenees with odd walking poles.

When I spoke to people later in the trip, I heard stories of being blessed that morning before their walk began. Some held hands and had a prayer to help them on their way.

And so the individuality of everyone’s Camino continues for the 500 miles. Even if you stop in the same town as a fellow pilgrim, you might be in a different hostel. Even in the same hostel, you are in a different bunk with different people around you. It’s always unique.

I met Emma along my way, we walked together occasionally but both wanted to walk the majority of it on our own. One day, we parted company and went to our different hostels. Hers was lovely and welcoming and there was a great meal. She was very happy and comfortable.

In my hostel, I wasn’t offered food, and then everyone left to go to dinner, maybe I was too late. But it gave me time to work out how on earth I was going to get up to my top bunk without a ladder. Not one bunk bed in the room had a ladder to help you get to the top.

Being five foot nothing with itsy bitsy legs, this was going to be a challenge. Some of the men had long legs and managed to swing up by using both beds as leverage. The bunk beds were very close together so this was ideal.

I contemplated bringing the mattress down to the floor but I would have blocked the entrance to the toilet. I considered sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag, but the tiles looked very cold and harsh.

Emma messaged me with a gif of someone bouncing on a trampoline up and down, it was amusing and cheered me up.

So, I put my feet on the post at the bottom of the bottom bunk, then my next foot on another bit of wood and climbed up the end of the bunk bed, with huge difficulty and a little bit of pain in regions that I don’t want to discuss.

I unrolled my sleeping bag and got into it. I hate being on the top bunk as there are no safety rails and nowhere to put your clothes. I took my clothes off and put them at the bottom of the sleeping bag, along with my phone that I needed as an alarm clock and I put my glasses in my knickers.

Then I tried really hard to get to sleep. Sleep luckily comes easily on the Camino, even if suspended in the air on a top bunk with your glasses in your knickers or surrounded by snorers, because we are all exhausted from a day of walking.

My bladder was too scared to need a wee in the night, and so I stayed there all night and in the morning, carefully got dressed, and rolled my sleeping bag up. Then I got down in reverse, on all fours with my bum pointing towards the end of the bed, I put one foot down and tried to find a foothold on the frame of the bottom bunk. My little legs searched and eventually found a secure spot. I then got my other leg down, got back to the floor of the dormitory and got out of there as fast as I could into the blackness of the morning.

The Camino is full of friendly pilgrims and each of us has a story to share. I technically travelled solo but you get to know people, share meals, chat in the dormitories, and walk a section with someone. What I loved most was catching up with friendly faces and hearing all about their bunk beds, blisters, meals and experiences.

It’s quite incredible to think there can be so many variations on what is essentially one long walk.

If you enjoyed my Camino story, check out my book, Old Poles & Baggy Trousers on the Camino de Santiago or follow me on Social Media.

I’m a Camino de Santiago Guide who inspires people from all over the world to live a more adventurous life.
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