Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The ALTUS Poncho

If you hang around Camino forums for very long, 
you'll hear people talking about the ALTUS poncho. 

What the heck IS an ALTUS poncho?

The ALTUS poncho is a rain poncho
but better.

The ALTUS has a large "hump" on the back 
that completely covers your backpack.
When you're not using that "hump,"
it snaps neatly down to the poncho,
making the back flat.

The ALTUS also has sleeves,
unlike other ponchos,
and the sleeves have elasticized cuffs,
so your arms stay completely dry.

Here you can see the coverage with Linda and Patty's ALTUS
The ALTUS both zips up the front,
and snaps up the front,
so a strong wind won't blow it up or off of you.
In fact, it makes a very good windbreaker
for those cold, windy days.

The ALTUS has a large hood,
which fits comfortably over your hat,
whether it is a baseball cap style,
or a Tilley hat with a larger brim.
In fact, though the ALTUS hood has a brim,
I find it better to wear it over my hat,
for stability and better vision.
In other words,
the hat keep the brim of the ALTUS 
from flapping around in the wind,
and keeps it stabilized.
It also keeps the hood up in a way 
that keeps the rain from hitting your face and neck.

The ALTUS is so good at keeping your warm
that I've literally used it
as a blanket at Roncesvalles,
when one of the pilgrims in my group 
didn't bring a sleeping bag, 
and I gave her my own.
I simply put on my longjohns 
and slept with the ALTUS over me
and it kept me toasty warm.

People have asked if it keeps you dry?
It keeps me dry as a bone.
like any other gear, 
you must learn to use it.

You must vent the Altus properly.
in order to stay dry.
Because you are walking and sweating,
the ALTUS will collect condensation,
like any other rain gear,
and you will get soaked by your own sweat.

To keep that from happening,
I always leave the top several inches of the ALTUS open
when I'm walking in rain,
so the heat can escape.
And though you can't help but get a little damp
from condensation of your own body heat,
you do not get soaked if it's vented properly,
and you do stay warm.

If I'm walking on a day where it rains, then stops,
then rains, the stops,
between rains I simply unzip the poncho
take my arms out of the sleeves,
and let it hang loose from my pack.
It stays (unless of course it's  too windy,
in which case I'd wear it to block the wind).
It doesn't come off because of the neck of the poncho.
And then when the rain starts again,
I slip my arms in, zip it up, and off I go!

At the time of this writing (Feb 2016)
the  ALTUS cannot yet be purchased in the United States.
There are several places you can purchase it
at the beginning of your Camino.

In St. Jean Pied de Port, 
Boutique du Pelerin carries the ALTUS poncho
as well as other pilgrim needs.
If you email Pierre, and ask nicely,
he will hold a poncho for you.
You can pick it up and pay for it on the day you arrive.
Just be sure to give him your name, size, color, and date of arrival.
Here is his website link:

In Zubiri, there is a sports shop called Planeta Agua.
It is on the main street of the village.
Here is their website link:
In the past, they have carried the ALTUS,
and I see they take Paypal.
So you may be able to order ahead, pay,
and pick up your poncho when you reach Zubiri.
This might be your best bet if you are 
starting out in Roncesvalles
and did not get your poncho in Pamplona

In Pamplona, Caminoteca is the place to go.
Located in Old Town, they also carry the ALTUS poncho
as well as other pilgrim gear.
The last time I checked, 
the prices for the ALTUS were less here,
so if you're starting by flying into Pamplona
it would be worth a stop to get your poncho.
I'm not sure if they'll hold one for you.
I'm emailing them today to ask if they take Paypal
or if they'll hold a poncho (or sticks)
so come back in a day or two and I will post their answer.

Of course, you can take regular rain gear.
On my first Camino I wore a rain jacket and rain pants.
But the weight put me off and I needed something more lightweight
that would cover my legs and hips.

The ALTUS keeps my feet dry.
I am 5'3" and usually start the Camino weighing around 155.
So I should by most calculations wear a SMALL.
However, I buy a large,
because I like the way the large covers me 
halfway down my legs, 
keeping the rain off my feet.

Also, if you were to be injured or get lost,
the ALTUS can make a very good shelter,
using your walking sticks.
You could cover up with it 
to shelter you from the elements.

Ralph and Toni Marie, from Las Vegas, spent the night on the mountain!
I did meet one couple in 2014
who got stuck all night
on the pass between Orisson and Roncesvalles
because they started too late in the day
and were caught in the dark in a snowstorm.
They snuggled under a bush
praying the Rosary to stay awake,
until it was light enough to see the trail and walk down.
They were lucky they didn't freeze to death!
I've kept in touch with them,
and they did make it to Santiago.
If they'd had an ALTUS poncho,
or two,
they would have had a much more comfortable night!


I have tried the Sea to Summit
and the Bluefield Poncho,
both of which can be purchased on Amazon.
I hated both.
The reason was because they did not zip up the front,
and I about had a heat stroke 
just sitting in my living room with the danged things on.
See my review of the Bluefield here:

And remember,
if you wear rain pants and rain jacket,
you'll need a pack cover,
which you do NOT need if you're using an ALTUS.

those are all the reasons I love the ALTUS poncho.
If you have any questions, please list them below.

Buen Camino!

Need help planning your Camino? 
Don't want to walk alone? 
Don't want to race for a bed?
Walk with us in a small group or alone.
Booked lodging!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Don't Break the Bank and DIY Money Pockets. Part 2.

For men, not breaking the bank means simply bringing lightweight walking trousers or shorts. In summer, bring tee shirts or tank tops. In June, July, and August, you'll have plenty of time to dry them out.  And as I said in my previous blogpost, most albergues have washing machines these days.

Regarding wash:  Ten years ago everything I took had to be hand washed in a cold water tub provide at the albergue.  Today, with more and more pilgrims walking, many albergues furnish a washing machine and even a dryer. ***Be aware that Spanish washers use VERY hot water and can ruin your clothes if you aren't careful.***

If you prefer to use washing machines along the way, you do NOT have to take soap. It is provided with the machine.

If you prefer to have your laundry done for you, many private albergues will provide that service for a small fee of €3 to €6. Well worth not having to carry laundry soap. Be aware that Spanish laundry soap is highly scented so if you are allergic, this may not be a good option for you.

In the shoulder seasons, as I told the ladies, just take clothes you can layer.  A warm base layer, a short sleeved shirt over that, and a merino wool or fleece over that is all you will need unless it's snowing!

Unless you are walking a winter Camino, you do not need a heavy jacket on the Camino. A merino wool sweater or fleece is good enough. You may start off with it in the morning, and will peel it off within 20 minutes, I promise.

I always take a set of long johns. Silk is good, as is bamboo and merino wool. Women can get Cuddleduds, which are lightweight and warm. Joe uses polypropylene.  These are great for sleeping in as well.

Scarves:  An extra large, but featherweight, scarf is really handy for keeping the wind and sun off of you. It can also be used going to/from the bathroom at night or as a dress while you're washing your clothes.

Towel:  There is no reason to carry a high-tech travel towel. In fact, I hate those things. They just smear the water all around.  Instead, check your grandma's linen closet for a worn out threadbare terrycloth bath towel. Then rip it in half and share with a friend.  You just need something that will dry you fast and that will dry itself fast.  If the towel isn't dry by morning, it's too thick. Test it at home before you take it as with all your Camino gear.

Umbrella:  For years, I laughed at people carrying umbrellas. Then I tried it. I'm now hooked and never walk the Camino without an umbrella. This is something I do not take from home because there are very sturdy, inexpensive umbrellas all along the route. I have never paid more than €8 for an umbrella in Spain. I use a STICK umbrella because they won't go inside out in the wind. I stay dry in downpours and probably 20% cooler in the sun than those without umbrellas. It's like walking in the shade. You can also use it as a walking stick. Try it.

Pockets.  You are going to want some pockets. Just be sure they velcro or snap closed and keep nothing of value in them in the big cities.

Secret Pockets and money belts.  Over the years, I've tried various ways of keeping my money, credit cards, passport, and cash secure. Here are my thoughts...

Money belts. I really do not like wearing money belts. They bind me and twist, but it is NEVER safe to keep your valuables in your backpack. Never. Keep these items in a money belt around your waist. You can find money belts at REI, in travel shops or online in the Steve Ricks' website store.  They look like this:

You NEVER take this off except to shower and then, you carry it into the shower with you in a ziplock bag you bring from home.

I do not like neck money pockets. They drag on my neck and give me a headache and they're too easy to cut and run with. Pickpockets know them well.

Secret Pockets.

I'm a big fan of secret pockets.  These can be as simple as a sock safety pinned to the inside of your pants or skirt, but be careful, as safety pins can come loose!  If I were going to use this method, I'd double pin it.

Here are some instructions for a variety of secret pockets:

A hidden travel pocket like this one can be purchased online or at a travel store.
It hangs from your belt, tucked inside your trousers.
This type is easy to make and I've added a pattern for a very simplified version.

This pattern is from the book "The People's Guide to Mexico."
It is a cylinder inspired by Papillon, the French convict-turned-writer.
It will easily hold a passport, and at night you can simply take it to bed with you.
A belt, cord, or stout string inserted through the top loop allows it to be worn hanging from the waist inside your clothing.   
Variations are possible. 

Use a durable but lightweight material.
Plain dark colors that match your belt are best.
It's more important that it is safe and sturdy rather than pretty.

The material can be cut in a long strip, 6 inches by 32 inches.
If you like, finish the two short ends with seam tape or zigzag.
Fold it double to 6 x 16.
Leave 2 inches at the fold for the belt loop.
Now sew down one side, across the bottom and back up for about 6 inches.
The remaining gap is for inserting your passport and money.
Leave an opening large enough to easily insert and remove valuables but not so large they may work their way out.
Remember, the pocket goes INSIDE your clothing, not out!!

I hope this has inspired you to look through your closet
to see what you may already have!

Buen Camino!

Need help planning your Camino? 
Don't want to walk alone? 
Don't want to race for a bed?
Walk with us in a small group or alone.
Booked lodging!

Don't Break the Bank for the Camino. Part 1.

Though I've posted ideas about gear on this blog, 
it's possible to walk on a budget.

There's really no need to break the bank on clothes 
when walking the Camino. 

Use clothes you already have! 

In the summer, shorts or a skirt and teeshirts are fine. 
They'll dry in the summer with no problem. 

I love my Macabi skirts,
but they are a bit spendy.
Hiking in a skirt is sooooo comfortable.
The skirt keeps your legs from being burned in the sun,
and protects them from the wind and rain in the cold.
But any comfortable skirt will do, really.

Lightweight clothing like yoga leggings 
with a long cotton shirt (that covers your butt if it looks like mine!) 
might be good.
The leggings or shorts or boy cut underwear are good
so your thighs don't chafe when you sweat. 
I like cotton broomstick skirts because they are lightweight and comfortable.

You can often find hiking skirts on Ebay 
or on my Used Camino Gear website.

Skorts are good.
They are a pair of shorts with a skirt over.
We wore them a lot in the 60's.
They're especially nice if the shorts have a pocket.

Feel free to wear the underwear and bra you wear at home. 
There is no need for technical gear. 
Underwire bras may be irritating but any good regular bra will be fine.
Look for inexpensive sports bras at Walgreens 
or other drugstores where they sell those tv ad goods.

Instead of an expensive fleece, 
just buy a men's soft, lightweight, large merino wool sweater
and felt it in the washing machine and dryer. 
You can find instructions online
for felting wool,
and I will post a blog on it once I'm back home. 

Unless you are walking in shoulder season in the snow, 
you really do not need a jacket. 
Just wear layers. 
You warm up quick when you walk.

In early Spring, or Autumn, 
take clothes you can layer, 
including a soft shell layer or featherweight jacket. 
I wear a long sleeved shirt, with a short sleeved tee over it. 
I put a fleece over that, 
and I'm peeling clothes off after half an hour, 
even in the coldest weather. 

Here are some layering ideas:

I take a featherweight wind breaker, 
but your rain gear can double as a windbreaker if it's stormy.

Quick drying clothes are no longer really necessary as many albergues along the way now have washers and dryers.  If you are staying in private lodgings, they'll almost always do your laundry for a small fee of €3-6.

Yes, I buy merino wool tees, but I walk every year more than once. 
I also prefer merino wool to synthetics, which begin to stink after a few weeks.
For a one-time Camino, you really don't need all that. 

If you live in the USA, go to your local Goodwill. They have an ActiveWear section where I've found fantastic buys! I've found brand new zip-off hiking pants there for under $10, and a large assortment of quick-dry shirts.

Take a hat that will shield your eyes from the hot sun as well as the rain. 
A chinstrap is good for windy days on the meseta. 
I love my Tilley hat, but any hat with a peak will do.

Rain gear will be necessary, especially in Galicia. I love my ALTUS poncho, and you can often pick these up used. It covers me and my pack and keeps me toasty warm as well, and I've used it as a blanket in albergues where there are no blankets to keep me warm at night.  I've also walked in rain jacket and pants, in which case you'll need a pack cover. 

I don't like regular ponchos without sleeves because they will blow like crazy. If you wear one, consider a belt to hold it down.

Socks can be any comfortable sock.
If you wear through them,
there are plenty of places to buy inexpensive socks on the Camino.
I love SmartWool socks.
They are comfortable and they wear well.
Make sure your socks do not have seams inside.
They will cause blisters.

The two items you will want to spend the most money on 
are your backpack and your shoes.

And if you have to choose between them, choose shoes.

You MUST have well-fitting shoes, whether you choose boots or trail runners.

This guy wore the wrong boots!

I prefer trail runners myself, as I've said.
You should not have to "break in" shoes.
They should fit walking out the store.
If you have to break them in, they are the wrong shoes.
I spend about $150 for my shoes each year.

A good pack will set you back $100 or more.
If you are carrying your pack, do NOT buy one online.
You need a well-fitting pack and not all packs are created equal.
If you are using pack transport, it doesn't matter.

And please,
don't go buying a HUGE pack.
The bigger pack you buy the more you will fill it.
Mine is a 30L pack and it's plenty big.
I promise, if you carry much more than the 
10% of your body weight 
suggested by experienced Camino walkers,
you will either be dumping gear the 3d day
or paying lots of $$$ to mail it home.

Whatever you buy,
try it out on the trail BEFORE you go.
Finding out that your pack straps cause a blister
where they rub on your bra strap adjuster,
is just a bummer once you've left home.

If you can afford it, it's fun to buy new gear.
But it is absolutely not necessary.
Just wear what you have in your closet and don't break the bank.
The Camino isn't a fashion show.
Just be comfie!

And please,
if you have ideas for inexpensive gear on the Camino,
feel free to post a comment below.

Buen Camino!

Need help planning your Camino? 
Don't want to walk alone? 
Don't want to race for a bed?
Walk with us in a small group or alone.
Booked lodging!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Camino Madrid 2016

Well, my plans are made for walking the Camino Madrid this year. Just two months until departure!

As those of you who follow know, I got as far as Cigñuela in 2014, then ran out of time and had to get to Pamplona to pick up my group.  This year I've given myself plenty of time to walk the entire route.

I put a note up on Facebook asking if anyone would like to walk with me, and got a response from a gal named Claudette, who has never walked the Camino.  We will meet up in Madrid and start walking on the 18th.

I'll blog as I go, whenever I have wifi. I'll add photos when I can, but will probably have to flesh out the posts once I'm home, as I'm not taking a tablet, only my iPhone.

Here is our tentative schedule with notes, in case you'd like to follow along. The lodging prices are what we expect. I will post actual lodging costs as we walk.

The first few stages to Segovia, we have booked lodging in hotels where I have been able to email ahead and ask for fragrance free rooms. Though it's expensive on these first few days, once we leave Segovia, there are albergues available that are all under €10.  In fact, there is an albergue in Segovia, but we preferred to split the cost of a room and take a 2 day rest here.

* * *


14 April :  Leave Portland
15 May: Arrive Madrid

15- 17-Apr: Madrid 
I've booked at Hostal Alonso. Rooms here, if booked well in advance, run around €30 per night for a private room with shared bathroom.  

Claudette flies in on the 16th, I believe. I may walk the section directly out of Madrid before she arrives, if I'm not too zonkered.   

I usually give myself a few days when I arrive in Spain, because I'm usually very sick from the exposure to perfumes and chemicals on the flight. It generally takes me 2-4 days to recover. So whether or not I start walking early depends on how I feel. 

The Cercanius train is easy to catch on the first couple of stages, and the trail runs nearby. A good plan is to walk, then catch the train back to Madrid, where you can book inexpensive lodging. To break it up and "train" a bit, I would walk to Golosco, then train back. Next day I'd take the train to Golosco and walk to Tres Cantos, then train back.

18-Apr Train to Tres Cantos and walk to Colmenar Viejo.  12k
We will begin our walk by taking the train to Tres Cantos and walking to Colmenar Viejo. 

I have booked lodging in Colmenar at Gran Hostal El Chiscon. Rooms here are not inexpensive, €60 for a doble. 

19-Apr Walk to Manzanares el Real 14.2k
Here, we are taking a chance with lodging and trusting the Camino to provide. We understand there is a Sra. Elena who has beds in Manzanares. We will look for her. There is also supposedly an elderly man who rents beds for €10,  Someone else said though the hotel is closed, if you call the number on the door, they will rent you a room. And lastly, if all fails, I will go back to El Yelmo Hotel. It is more expensive, but we stayed there last time and it was lovely. Claudette and I could share a doble there.

20-Apr Walk to Cercedilla 22k
As you can see, I'm gradually increasing our distances each day, mostly because this is my training. Like others, I have the best of intentions regarding training, but the truth is, I generally train on the Camino.  In Cercedilla, we have booked private rooms at Hostal Aribel Longinos (€30-35) However, we have also written Villa Castora, a youth hostel, to see about getting beds there. I stayed at Aribel last time, and it is nice, but makes for a long trek over the mountain the next day.  Staying at Villa Castora will give us a 3-4 kilometer break, and if we cannot get lodging there, I may just taxi up to that point next morning. This time I will NOT take the detour to Navacerrada.

21-Apr Next day walk to Valsain and bus to La Granja Ildefonso 26k
I well remember this walk to Valsain as the longest day of the route. Even though we were walking downhill, it seemed we would never reach Valsain.  This time, we will catch a bus the last few kilometers to La Granja and I have booked lodging for us in THE PARADOR!  Ta-da!  At €85 for a doble, it will be a god time to pamper ourselves.  I want to see the Royal Palace there.

Royal Palace

The Parador

22-Apr Walk to Segovia  13k
We believe we will be entering Segovia during a food festival. We have booked an apartment for 2 nights, Apartamentos Trinidad, for €80 each. This will give us the opportunity to see the Alcazare, the Cathedral, and the Aquaduct, as well as to rest up, get a hot soak, and eat some great food.

24-Apr Bus to Los Huertos then walk to Sta Maria del Nieva 19k
I don't really care to walk in the city, so we will take a 15 minute bus ride to Los Huertos and begin walking there. We will stay at the Albergue. €6.  Bar has "jarras" of cervesa.

25-Apr Walk to Nava de la Asuncion 15k
Here, we will again stay in the Albergue (€7) after we stop to see Margarita at the Pasteleria. We'll have dinner again at Cocina de la Abuela! It is important to buy food here for the next 2 days, as there is always a chance the bar at Vilaguillo, the ONLY place for food, will not be open. 

26-Apr Vilaguillo 15k
Here we stop to pay the mayor and stay in the little Albergue (€7). If the bar is open, it has good food. No tienda.

27-Apr Alcazaran - 19k
Here, be sure to see Iglesia de Santiago Apostól where frescoes were found hidden behind the old retablo. Good albergue here for €8. Alcazaran has a tienda and a bar, but they close for siesta.

28-Apr Puente Duero 26k
Lat time, we made the mistake of following the yellow arrows into the forest after the bridge at Valdestillas. This time, we'll turn left after the bridge and follow the highway to the Albergue €6.  I remember this town as having two tiny markets AFTER the albergue.

29-Apr Ciguñuela 26k
Sweet little village that you can see for miles in the distance before you arrive. Eat at Meson Mielga. Stay at the cool albergue with the schoolmaster's hand handle for €6.  There was a great kitchen here, but no gas to run the stove. This was my last night in 2014 so I'm anxious to continue. The rest of the notes are from Joe, who finished the route.

30-Apr Castromonte 24k
After taking a tourist stop in Wamba (about an hour up the trail) we will walk to Castromonte, where there was an albergue in an old schoolhouse. If it is not open, get key at bar. Big with lots of beds. €6 Two bars, a restaurant, carneceria where you can get bocadillo meat. If it is closed, you can ring the bell and they'll come. Kitchen but no gas. 

1-May Medina de RioSeco HOLIDAY  16k
At Medina, we'll stay at the convent €7.  Good clean simple. The town has everything you need. Lots of restaurants, bars, supermercados.  

2-May Cuenca 22k
Cuenca has a good albergue €5. You must call the hospitalero. Number on the door.  Lots of beds. Kitchen but no gas. Bars, restaurants, mercado in main square on the right as you walk into town on the dirt track that goes off to the left (not the main road).

3-May Santervas de Campos 22k
Follow Camino to church, where you will see the Santer Bar to get key €7. Bar has tienda, eat in bar.

4-May Sahagun 20k
Here, I'll stay at my favorite, Pension Pacho for €15-20.  This is a modest place, but clean and the owners are precious.

Here, Claudette and I will say adios, and I will go by train the next day to Pamplona to rest a few days and meet up with my pilgrims.

I hope you'll follow along!

Buen Camino,

Need help planning your Camino? 
Don't want to walk alone? 
Don't want to race for a bed?
Walk with us in a small group or alone.
Booked lodging!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Garbage Bag Rain Skirt for Males or Females

I just ran across this great blog post by Crow, and thought I'd share it.
If you're on a budget, this could be a perfect solution to the rain gear issue.
And an easy one to replace on the trail.
Just cut it to length!

Check it out here:

Garbage Bag Rain Skirt