Walking El Camino de Santiago
Former nzherald.co.nz news editor Simon Winter takes on the 775-kilometre Spanish Pilgrim Trail

Spain: The culling begins

On the trail between Roncesvalles and Zubiri. Photo / Simon Winter
On the trail between Roncesvalles and Zubiri. Photo / Simon Winter

Here's some news New Zealand, we don't have the world's worst internet. In fact it's in Zubiri, in a small Spanish village right here at the foot of the Pyrenees.

After ninety minutes of head-butting the computer trying to send emails and blogs I'm a muttering wreck.

Back "home" Lisa is cooking my socks in the oven to dry them out. Nice.

And apparently I need a haircut - cue the Swiss Army Knife.

Welcome to my new life, it's not like the old one.

In this life, we have two changes of clothes instead of a wardrobe full; and we hand-wash them in the shower instead of in a machine.

We've swapped the office for the road and seven hours' sleep for 10 - it's golden.

We should be sleeping with at least 10 other strangers each night: dorms or albergues are only €5-8, but that's our one financial concession on this trip - for now.

Instead, we're living in pensions and gites, habitacions and hostels - private rooms of some description, some with showers, some with kitchens, with or without heating, with or without Wifi, some snug, some cold and uninviting - you never quite know.

Lisa pulls out the Swiss Army Knife's scissors and goes to work. It's another lesson for me in simply letting go.

"Honestly Si, it's the best haircut you've ever had."

I look like a hedgehog, but what the hell. I'll have a hat on for most of the time anyway, the temperatures are still hovering around 10 degrees. Thirty-three days from now, no one will tell the difference.

I let her plough on.

After the opening day's debacle, today's mostly downhill 22 kilometres from Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees to Zubiri (a 424-metre descent) was a relief.

Yes, a record was set - 49km, the furthest I've hiked. Only 726kms to go.

But already the cull is on.

At the French train station in Bayonne, the last stop for most pilgrims before the start line, we noticed one thing - our packs are bigger than most. Problem (and panic!).

Most pilgrim packs weigh 7-10 kilograms, ours weigh at least 15.

We're carrying a tent and stove and the plan was to camp. But it's still too cold and now we're stuck.

So half our medical kit, books, shoes and at least three pairs of underwear won't see better days. They're gone and polyprop, shorts and more books are next on the list.

We loved our material life in NZ but in this one we're owning less and less, 20+ kilometres a day will do that.

The beautiful walled city of Pamplona awaits.

Route marker: 49km down, 726 to go.

* Simon Winter is a former nzherald.co.nz news editor. He and partner Lisa are following the sun through Europe. They're finding the weather somewhat colder than expected.

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