Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wait, you're taking the baby?

Today's post has to do with the above question, which is the first one we get when we tell people we're walking the Camino de Santiago--and usually the second question ... and the last question. What is great about said question is the intonation people use. Either it's asked with a tone of "Awesome! Way to involve kids in an adventure!" or with a tone "I knew there was a reason I kept the number for DFCS on my speed dial...and that reason is the Kennedys."

So, allow me to ruin the suspense: yes, we are taking the baby. How is that going to work? We're not 100% sure, but I can tell you what we HAVE done to prepare ourselves and Kepa for this trip--because, apparently, people are curious. Actually, they are really more enraged, terrified, and dumbfounded, but "curious" sounds nicer, doesn't it?

Before I tell you how we're bringing the baby, I feel I should include a note on why we're so comfortable bringing Kepa. I don't think ANYONE would be interested in this trip if we didn't have such a chill baby. From the moment he came home, people have asked "Is he like that all the time? ...Damn." Even his nurses in the NICU commented on how chill he was. I didn't actually hear him cry until he was a month old (mainly because, in fairness, preemies don't cry a lot as they try to keep their stimuli to a minimum). He never has demanded a set schedule per se, and he really only asks that he not be allowed to go hungry (yes, he's our kid). He'll get overwhelmed in crowded situations sometimes, and he can melt down when he is REALLY tired. But, those moments are few and far between. We know. We are stupid lucky.

Once we decided Kepa would be fine on this trip, we were fairly surprised to discover that there is a HUGE amount of crap out there that is geared toward containing, clothing, and feeding a baby in a "hiking" environment. REI has a baby section. It's kind of insane.

The first component of this venture is the pack. There are actually a lot of these packs on the market, and we chose the Deuter Kid Comfort II. We chose it for a variety of reasons, basically cost and weight. I must say, I've worn it for 10-mile training walks, Mardi Gras, and, most recently, Jazz Fest. We tried on a LOT of these packs. We considered taking our BOB stroller (the Pyrenees would eat it, we decided). We considered taking our ERGO carrier (experimented with it on longer hikes and found it lacked support). A LOT of time and energy has gone into researching child-containment devices, and I think we picked the best option for the Camino.
Festin' hard.
There have been a few items that we have needed to add to the pack to make it a little more camino-friendly. You'll notice the yellow strap to secure toys, pacifiers, etc. Also, through the wonderful world of Etsy, we had a lady custom make some strap covers for the sides because Kepa was falling asleep on the straps instead of the front, causing his chin to get a little irritated. The lady was very nice about making them shorter for us than for normal, carseat strap covers. The big pouch underneath will hold diapers, wipes, a splat mat for changing diapers, letting him sit on the ground. It has a pretty good capacity--about a six-pack of beers worth with room for a diaper and package of wipes (I'm totally guessing on that, obviously.  We didn't use that to sneak beer into French Quarter Fest or anything.  Not us.). There are other, smaller pockets that are also pretty roomy and accessible. We have not used the hydration bladder feature, but are thinking about it for next weekend at Jazz Fest.

You'll also notice Kepa's big sun hat, which has SPF 50 protection (the noise-canceling headphones are Jazz-Fest specific, though you'll notice they are in a beautiful Tulane blue). He also has a wardrobe of dry-wicking fabric shorts and shirts as well as little zip-off convertible pants. Our favorite, however, are his little Keen sandals in Tulane colors!

When these arrived in the mail, I thought,
 "I have seen cuteness...I can die now."
The next question tends to come when people see my 5-foot-1 self carrying tubby Kepa (he's actually in the 50th percentile for weight despite his husky appearance). The plan, which others who have hiked the Camino have done, is for Todd to carry the bulk of our stuff and for Mary Ann and I to trade off between Kepa and a lighter pack. The idea is Todd can take sustained weight, but we really can't. I've been training with Kepa on my back for a while now, and I can honestly say that some days it's hard and some days I don't notice it. I've had more of the latter days lately than the former. When we first did long walks with him, I'd wake up the next morning in serious pain. Now, I don't. I am not saying it's easy. My shoulder currently hurts from Jazz Fest yesterday, but one does get used to it.  I think the fact that I can do 9-10 mile walks with few breaks is a really good sign, considering that is more than half the distance we'll ever traverse in a day (and I'll be sharing with Mary Ann), and meanwhile the Camino is all about breaks.

Many have also inquired about eating and sleeping. In true Kennedy fashion, Kepa eats just about anything and is big on the pig, meaning he should do just fine in Spain. He drinks cow's milk now, but we are currently working on drinking only from a sippy cup, meaning I don't know what kind of drinking receptacle we're going to take for him. He's been informed that we will only be taking one kind. I will hike his ass across Spain, but I will NOT hike 5 different types of cups and bottles. He will eat from grocery stores and restaurants with us, and since he stays up fairly late now, the Spanish eating schedule should not be a problem. 

People often ask about sleeping arrangements, which has been a question for us as well. I should be honest in saying that co-sleeping has never appealed to us because we both have got the jimmy legs. I have always been terrified I'd roll over on him as Todd and I have smacked each other around more than once in our sleep. But, between hotels and albergues, co-sleeping will be done in some form by all three of us. Now that Kepa is almost a toddler, I am mostly convinced I won't murder my child in my sleep  a little better about it. He will likely be given his own bed a lot of places, and while not the aspect most are looking forward to, it's something we think will work. Luckily, Kepa sleeps very well and does not move in his sleep (I often find him in the same position I put him to bed in the next morning). He has slept through the night without major waking since three months old.  He usually stays down 8-9 hours and even when he wakes up he often plays happily with himself for an hour or two more (those of you with small children: please don't stab us on our next meeting). 

As you can all see, MUCH planning and consideration has gone into this. Does that make us confident? Yes and no. There are some things we're worried about and things we've done to hedge out bets. I have immense travel anxiety about the airplane (and have waited to take the pacifier away until after the trip). I have NO idea if Spanish restaurants have high chairs (been to Spain a TON but never noticed because I never had a kid). I am worried about the attention (both positive and negative) we are going to receive. I should note that the Spanish are kind of obsessed with babies--as a culture. Even Richard Wright wrote in his 1950s travelogue Pagan Spain:

"Perhaps their making of the cult of the child stems from their feeling for the Virgin and the Child: I don't know. In any case, all Spanish children are, to their families as well as to outsiders, guapos, that is, good lookers. They are pinched, patted, tickled, indulged, stared at, waited on, kissed, fondled, worshipped, dangled, crooned over, hugged and generally made to feel that they are the center of the world. At an extremely early age, Spanish children love to preen, to strut, to feel that they deserve attention, caresses, and admiration" (180). 

I would like to point out that this quote comes from a black man in a fascist, white country, and he noticed that when given the option to stare at him or children, the Spanish chose children. Yea, we're screwed. If Kepa learns to walk on the camino, it's likely he'll learn to strut as well. Meanwhile, I'm sure some old biddy is going to judge us and say something--because babies and judgement go together like peas and carrots. It's a simple fact of life
Spaniards are going to pinch my cheeks
until they fall off. Because I am guapo--
Richard Wright said so.
When people ask if planning has been hard, I can't really say yes. The market economy has made a ton of shit to make it easier. What has been the most challenging is having to plan these things so last minute. We couldn't buy clothes too far ahead because we didn't know how big he'd be. I don't know if he'll be drinking a bottle. For a woman who likes the plan things, it's been challenging. But Kepa, from his early arrival to this current adventure, has always just gone along with whatever we've thrown at him. And, man oh man, are we banking on that. 

Diapers and milk should be readily available on the camino.....we'll pack a few days of diapers at a time, as well as a bit of toddler formula just in case. The other big concern we had/have was how to get him around town in the evening. He is a bit big to be carried in our arms for long periods of time and if you think Mary Ann or I are going to put him back in that pack 25 kilometers later.......So we are bringing this nifty lightweight sling that is even more comfortable than the pack and, more than anything else, feels entirely different for both him and us:

Mom's been practicing with the sling since
St. Patty's Day. I think it makes me look like a girl.
So in the end, we've spent more time planning for Kepa on the trip than we have the rest of the trip together. We are still bat-shit crazy, but at least we are well-planned crazy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Things We'll See, The Places We'll Walk

So, the first thing you have to understand about Spain is that you can't understand Spain. We've gotten lots of emails asking if we are doing this because we "love Spain." And, in a way, that is absolutely correct. We do love Spain. And that is a large part of what draws us to the Camino de Santiago. Brittany studied abroad there, and traveled around, in college, Mary Ann and Todd visited San Sebastián twice, Brittany and Todd spent most of their honeymoon touring the northern half of Spain, and a good chunk of Todd and Brittany's French trip actually began by exploring Asturias and the Basque coast. See Brittany in front of the symbol of Madrid on our honeymoon:

But part of what we love most about "Spain" is that there really isn't a single "Spain."

The area that constitutes the majority of the Iberian peninsula, which we now think of as "Spain," wasn't really thought of as a single "nation" until the Moors were driven from the peninsula in the late 15th century (you know, Ferdinand & Isabella, Columbus sailing the ocean blue, and all that jazz). And even then, the unification was via monarchy not culture, and even that unification by kingdom was not complete. The Basque provence of Navarra continued as a semi-autonomous Kingdom for several centuries, the "Spanish" monarchs were mostly French, the south of Spain remained heavily influenced by Moorish culture, and northern Spain included--and still includes to this day--multiple cultures all of which speak their own language, such as Castillian (which is the "Spanish" your 9th grade teacher taught you), Euskara (Basque), Catalan (the language of Catalunya, think Barcelona), and Gallego (Galician). Throw in a civil war in the 1930s that was at least as divisive as ours, followed by a dictatorship that insisted on pushing a unified notion of "Spain" down everyone's throats (see Berlanga's classic film Bienvenido Mr. Marshall), and it shouldn't be surprising that you aren't dealing with a single culture, a single idea of identity. In fact, one rarely ever saw Spanish flags flown outside of Madrid until the unifying moments of the March 11 bombings in 2004 and Spain's victory in World Cup 2010. Even now, given a straight up or down vote, it is highly likely that at least the Basque Country, Galicia, and Catalunya would opt for independence from Spain if given the choice. And I haven't even yet mentioned the Romas (or gypsies) that dot the southern landscape. In short, there are many Spains. By walking across the north, we'll be walking across a fair share of them.

Here is a helpful side by side map of the Camino de Santiago and the regions of Spain:

The Basque Country  The first two regions we walk through make up part of the Basque country, and this blog mentions the Basques to an obnoxious degree, so I thought it was worth taking a moment to actually explain what "Basque" is. The Basques are an ancient people who live in the Pyrenees on both sides of the modern French/Spanish border. Their language is a "language isolate," sometimes called "original language." In other words, a language with no known origins and no known similar languages. In my holler speak: It ain't got nothing in common with no other languages. It is that old, and that unique. Think lots of x's and q's. For instance, kaixo is how you say hello. The Basques managed to maintain their cultural independence for centuries, using pacts with the Romans and then the Castillians, as well as their geographic isolation, to maintain a unique language, culture, and cuisine. They are food obsessed. The cultural capital, Donostia (or San Sebastián), has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world, including Paris. Bilbo (or Bilbao), their commercial center, is home to the most controversial and famous example of postmodern architecture, the Guggenheim museum. Famously nationalistic, the Basques on the Spanish side of the border had their own nation (with a consulate in D.C.) in the 1930s and 40s, and Basques were present at D-Day. But the Basques wound up on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War (see Picasso's Guernica), and independence came to an end. Basque independence movements have remained central to Basque political life ever since, and at times, have led to terrorism (see the great Basque film director Julio Medem's The Basque Ball). The Basques invented pelota (jai alai in North America), which is the national sport. If you ever want to gain 50 pounds, you should probably do it in the Basque region, maybe, partially, by dropping more money than you ever should on a meal at Arzak (or like us, salivate over the online menu weekly). More than anything, they are a fascinating, unique culture. And there aren't enough of those left in the world. San Sebastián is one of the few places we might prefer to live than New Orleans:

Now, finally, onto our specific route on the Camino de Santiago.

The Basque country is actually divided into seven provinces:

We'll be walking through two of them. Plus three more regions of traditional Spain (see map at top of this post):

Zuberoa  We begin in St. Jean Pied de Port, which is the capital of the French Basque region of Zuberoa, called "Lower Navarra" by the French government. The primary language is French, but many people do speak Basque, although not as many as in Spanish Basqueland--because the French government was more successful in taking it out of schools. The area is known for its red pepper spice, piment d'Espelette, and fresh goat cheeses. They like to drink the Basque white wine, txakoli, mostly imported from the coastal Basque regions. Basque cuisine is unique in most ways, and they may well be most famous for their pintxos. Pintxos are similar to what we think of when we think of Spanish tapas, but a pintxo is usually a more complete, composed dish, only tiny in size, rather than the bites of bar food usually associated with tapas. The region is mountainous, green, and pretty. As in the rest of the Basque country, many old men wear a Basque beret, often misidentified as a symbol of France.

Navarra The very first day of the Camino we cross into Navarra, which has Pamplona as its capital.  Navarra is famous both for being its own kingdom for centuries (not part of Spain for a very long time), and for being the largest provence of the Basque country. The people in this region are are almost entirely of Basque heritage, and that can be seen in their culture/food/facial features/customs. But the people of Navarra are less politically and nationalistically Basque than elsewhere in the Basque region. Even if the Basque country got independence, Navarra would likely vote to either rejoin Spain or go it on their own. This is, in part, because while always tied culturally to the Basques they had their own kingdom for a very long time.  Spanish is the dominant language, but many people speak Basque----moreso than in French Basqueland, but not nearly as much as in the other Spanish Basque provinces where Basque is often the dominant language. Navarra is known both for its red wine, second only to La Rioja (and maybe Catalunya), and for its cured meats, such as chorizo. The terrain levels out from the foothills of the mountains to a major, semi arrid plateau, to a semi-arid plain. Much greener than we'll see later in the trip, but not as green as Zuberoa.

La Rioja  One of Spain's smallest regions, with Logroño as its capital. The region was originally inhabited by Basques and nomads before the Romans came, but the population is more Castillian now--though Basque influences on architecture, food, and social customs remain, but far less so than in the actual Basque regions. The region centers around the famous Ebro river which keeps this region more moist than much of Spain, about on par with Navarra, though slightly more fertile.  This is, far and away, the most famous wine region in Spain, rivaling the best regions of France or Italy. Known most for red wine. The terrain is similar to Navarra but add on more and more vineyards. At the Catedral de Santo Domingo de la Calzada we'll see the church that miraculously houses live chickens. I'm not kidding.

Castilla y León In many ways the most "Spanish" region of Spain.  The language we call Spanish is actually "Castillian." Along with Castilla la Mancha, this region came to dominate the culture of the peninsula, and when you think of things that you think of as "Spanish" you are likely thinking of Castilla y León. This is the home of King Ferdinand (of Isabella and Ferdinand). It is mostly a dry/arid mesa, incredibly flat and incredibly repetitive. Therefore, many claim that this is thus the most mundane and boring stretch of the Camino, though many others claim it as their favorite because you get to see the most rural, most medieval of Spain, often sans tourists (other than other peregrinos). The capital is, essentially, Valladolid, but culturally the region is really divided between Valladolid, Burgos, León, Salamanca, Ávila, and Segovia. It is Spain's largest region, and the largest region we will be walking through. It is known for its cured meats (think chorizo), lamb, and beef. In Astorga we will see the palacio Gaudi, one of several buildings along the Camino designed by famous modernist architect Antonio Guadí, himself a Catalan. At the Basilica de San Isidiro, in León, we'll see incredibly famous 12th century murals and a 9th century mosaic Bible. Yeah. That's old.

Galicia Semi-mountainous, wet, green, ancient, lush, and did I say wet?  Settled by the Celts, the primary language is Gallego, which is a cross between Celtic, Portuguese, and Castillian. The region's second language is split between Castillian and Portuguese. The capital is Santiago de Compostella, our destination. This is an ancient region that, until recently, had limited contact with the rest of Europe.  Hence very traditional, etc.  They are known for their young, "green" wines, cheeses, and seafood. Unlike the Basque country and Catalunya, each of which are known for their distinctive style of preparing seafood, Galicia prefers to prepare their seafood incredibly simply, emphasizing its freshness. There are bagpipes everywhere. The first influence is clearly Celtic, and next comes Portuguese.  Castillian influence is third.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Things We'll Carry

So it seems that every camino blog has an obligatory post on a packing list (we'll save the actual packing list for the end of this post so you can more easily skip it). Apparently Camino-holics actually surf the internet looking for such lists. Really. I'm not kidding. Oh that I were. 12-step program people! So, I guess, if we are to be a "real" Camino blog we have to follow suit. Our subject title is taken from a Tim O'Brien novel about Viet Nam---a novel I was supposed to read both in college, when the author came to campus, and again in graduate school. Sadly, I abandoned the novel halfway through both times (in fairness, I did adore his In the Lake of the Woods)......I'm certain my undergraduate professor, who reads this blog, has never forgiven me. Oh well, I'm walkin' the Camino, you are a medievalist, and in the Middle Ages people said it led to absolution. So there. Nah.

While this is not a camping adventure (see FAQ post), and we therefore do not have to carry hiking equipment, we do have to carry everything we want to take---from clothing to toiletries to journals to diapers. Yay us. So a lot of time, thought, planning, and mula has gone into being able to pack light. The good news is that some of the quick-drying, super light-weight clothes we have bought should survive the Camino, and will be with us in years to come. We are taking one really big backpack (which Todd will carry), Kepa's backpack (which Mary Ann and Brittany will share), and a smaller backpack (which M.A. and B will also share). Kepa is a freeloader. He carries nothing. Boo. We'll have a separate post in the future about how we plan to do this with a baby (so few details provided here). Meanwhile, the stuff we'll carry looks like this:

That is Todd, Brittany, and Kepa's stuff on the left (weighing a total of 33 pounds) and Mary Ann's stuff on the right (weighing a total of 11 pounds). Kepa currently weighs 23 pounds 4 oz.

Here is what the adult packs look like (Todd's on the left and the girls' on the right):

Because he likes it, Kepa has been using his backpack for most walks since October, and all walks since late December--when we decided for sure to do the Camino, and Bri wanted to start training. Kepa loves it. Laughs hysterically, takes naps, looks around. We have to force him out of it. At Mardi Gras he was a huge hit. It looks like this:

As it is we are carrying a (lot) more weight than we desire, so it doesn't leave much room for individuality. Really only three categories: pack patches, hats, and a single t-shirt per person. T-shirts are cotton, hence not quick drying and heavier than the other clothing we'll take, hence a luxury.

The patches serve the primary purpose of making our packs distinguishable from other peregrinos, making it harder for pack confusion or theft. Ours look like this:

The left is Todd's. It is the Basque flag. I'll explain more about the Basques in a future "places we'll go" post, but it is representative of our extreme affinity for the Basque people, cuisine, culture, and history. The middle is for Kepa's pack. It is a tiny elephant. Elephants have kind of been a special animal for the family ever since Kepa's premature birth, highlighted by an awesome birth card our good friends (and fellow Tulane tailgaters!) Steve and Lisa gave to us with a small, strong elephant and a quote from E.E. Cummings. The card now hangs in his room. The patch on the right we had made for Brittany and Mary Ann's pack, borrowing from this year's promotional design for Hogs for the Cause. While Hogs for the Cause is a great NOLA event, and while they have been great to the band Mississippi Rail Company (whose frontman is a former student of Todd and Brittany), neither of those are the reasons that we chose it. Bourbon flags often hang around New Orleans, an indication both of the city's French heritage and of the ambivalent relationship this city has had with the rest of the U.S.A. for two hundred years. Meanwhile, we are all obsessed with pigs. We'll eat em any way you'll cook em. We particularly liked them cooked the way they cook them herehere, here, and here. So we thought a Bourbon pig would be the best symbol of our sinking city that we love.

T-Shirts were easier:

Todd's is a Dave Rawlings Machine t-shirt. While our son's legal first name was in honor of Bob Dylan (Kepa, which is now his name, is officially his middle name), the other musical entity that has changed our collective lives is the duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. One part folk, one part bluegrass, one part rock, Welch and Rawlings have a sound that is unique to them and a lyricism that elevates music to new heights. Below the guitar the shirt reads ceci n'est pas une 1935 Epiphone Olympic ("This is not a 1935 Olympic Epiphone"). I like that it is in French, another homage to NOLA in my view. Bri's shirt borrows from a famous Tennessee Williams quote that reads "America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland." Apologies to readers from Cleveland. Sort of :) Mary Ann's is an Euskatel Euskadi t-shirt, which is an homage to the Basque racing team sponsored by the Basque telephone company. My mother has lost well over a hundred pounds twice in the last decade. Somewhere in there she developed an obsession for the Tour de France. The Basque obsession we share.

Brittany and Mary Ann are going to share a big-brimmed sunhat (whoever is not wearing Kepa, who pulls on big hats) and a ballcap (when carrying Kepa). Todd is going in a ballcap. Here are the ballcaps:

Brittany's is for the Tulane Green Wave, whose losing antics we follow very closely. Whoever thought we'd be hard-corps tailgaters and season ticket holders for a college football team that is a collective  17-56 over our time back in New Orleans?!?!?  But we've already admitted we are crazy. Looking forward to some good Spanish-themed inspiration for this fall's tailgate season. Roll Wave! Todd's hat is for the local restaurant Cochon. If there is one restaurant that might supplant the four mentioned above for cooking pork, this is it. Meanwhile, their entire approach to re-thinking Cajun cooking and bringing bare-bones, down-home ideas to modern food culture is truly inspirational. I can think of few places I'd rather represent while abroad. They "Defend New Orleans" with every cracklin' they fry. Their watermelon pickles, rabbit n dumplins, moonshine, and cochon (slow-roasted pig) are all heavenly.

We also have embedded meaning into the four rocks we will each carry in order to leave at the foot of the Cruz de Ferro in Galicia. The term means "Iron Cross" in the Gallego language. 2/3 of the way through the Camino Francés a peregrino leaves a stone at the foot of a tall iron pole, symbolic of having lost a bit of the emotional "baggage" or "weight" you have been carrying on the camino. The rock pile is famously huge. Kepa's stone will come from our backyard. Todd's from the mountains of his native Virginia. Brittany's from the Mississippi River bed (fetched from The Fly in NOLA). Mary Ann's is a gift from a cadet several years back.

Besides that, the things we'll carry are mostly pretty boring. Here is the basic list. Each adult gets 2 short sleeve base layers, 1 long sleeve base layer, a fleece, a water-proof jacket, 3 pairs of underwear, 5 pairs of socks, a swimsuit, one t-shirt (see above), hiking boots, and a second pair of shoes for the evenings (Tevas for the girls, Keens for Todd). Todd will take two pairs of zip-off convertible pants/shorts. Mary Ann one pair of zip-off convertible pants/shorts, yoga pants, and an extra pair of khaki shorts. Brittany will take two hiking skorts and a pair of yoga pants. Todd will take a quick-dry polo shirt (for the evenings) and the ladies will each take a quick-dry dress (also for the evenings). Kepa gets a sun hat, a jacket, pajamas, hiking sandals (baby Keens in Tulane blue and green!), evening sandals, convertible pants, shorts (x2), t-shirt (x2), bibs (x2), sippy cup, and a nice, reversible outfit for the evening. As a group, we will also carry a play/changing mat for Kepa, journals and pens (x2), cameras (x2), limited medicine, limited toiletries, sunscreen, diapers, two guidebooks, one ipod touch (with additional guidebooks downloaded on it), sunglasses (x3), hats (x3), a spork (x2), a pocket knife, nail scissors, tweezers, and a portable clothesline.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Introduction and Frequently Asked Questions

Who are "we"?
We are Todd (35 years old, a film and literature professor at a small, state college near New Orleans Louisiana), Brittany (31, Todd's wife and a Spanish professor at a mid-size private university in New Orleans), Kepa (1, Todd and Brittany's son, born April 2012), and Mary Ann (60, Todd's mom and a nurse at a small, state university in western Virginia).

What is the Camino de Santiago?
The Camino de Santiago, sometimes referred to as "The Way of St. James," began as a religious pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. 9th century Catholic priests claimed to have found the remains of St. James the Apostle in remote northwest Spain, near the present day city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. While the authenticity of that discovery remains doubtful, and may well have simply been propagated to increase support for the Catholic reconquest of Spain in the 15th century, the Middle Ages saw Santiago become the most popular of all Christian pilgrimages, viewed as second in importance only to Jerusalem. For a few centuries popes declared that successful pilgrimage to Santiago would lead to absolution from previous sin, and the route became so popular that at least one French king attempted to outlaw the pilgrimage because too much of France's wealth was making its way into northern Spain. The pilgrimage's popularity waned after the Middle Ages, but became popular again after the 1960s when the cultural revolution caused hippie backpackers (as well as Christians) to re-visit the ancient pilgrimage.  It is now one of the most popular "hikes" (it is really more of a really long walk) in the world, with an infrastructure of hotels, restaurants, and transportation that plays a large, large part of the economy of rural northern Spain.

So why are we doing the Camino?  Are we uber-Christians or are we hippie backpackers?
Funny you should ask, because we really aren't either one (although we have great respect for either/or). Brittany is a Spanish professor who works on 20th Century peninsular Spain (literature and film), and she has wanted to walk the Camino since visiting Santiago in college. Todd once laughed at her because he wanted to know why anyone would "waste a trip to Europe walking across it"--a position for which he now feels stupid. This particular trip actually originated when Mary Ann decided she wanted to do the camino, began planning, and after a long story made short, we all decided to go together. All of us love the culture, cuisine, architecture, history, and people of northern Spain (especially Euskadi, the Basque country). I mean we are food obsessed, how could we not love France and Spain? Meanwhile, the past year + has seen a trying premature birth of Kepa (totally healthy, and fine now, but 6 weeks in the NICU when born), relatively major hurricane damage to our house (resulting in difficult and mentally taxing repairs), all while holding down hectic, stressful, and time-consuming jobs (especially Todd's and Mary Ann's at universities facing massive budget cuts). There is nothing we feel we need more right now than time away. Away from cell phones (which we won't be carrying), tv news, and our hectic day-to-day lives. The first year of our child's life has flown by. We want to slow down for a bit and get to spend time truly together, away from the routines that make us always rush so much. And what better place to do it than in northern Spain on a route that has led to soul searching and contemplation for centuries?

Wait.  We have a baby?  How is that going to work?  Are we crazy?
Yes. We are crazy. Just ask any of our friends. Plus 3/4 of us are from New Orleans (and would probably never want to live anywhere else). That proves we are crazy. Certifiable. But the baby part ain't actually gonna be all that bad. As we said before, this is more of a long walk than a hike. And we walk every day at home anyway. Always have, always will. Except for the first day, the camino is mostly relatively flat. A peregrino (or pilgrim) is rarely more than a few kilometers from the next town, and the infrastructure is such that one has relatively easy access to doctors, groceries, restaurants, hotels, etc. We can buy a few days worth of diapers at a time, food is always readily available (and Kepa eats, and loves, everything), and we won't, essentially, be out in the middle of nowhere.  In other words, this ain't the Appalachian trail. Thank God. No offense, but Todd grew up 5 miles from it and knows all about it. He also went to military college. Suffice it to say, camping is not for us. Back to the topic at hand, it will also help that there will be three adults rather than two, as well as the fact that my mother is a nurse. Since one has to carry all of one's clothes, journals, et al, 3 people carrying for 3 1/2 is much easier than 2 carrying for 2 1/2. Meanwhile, we are more than prepared to sit out a day, have one of us take the baby by bus to the next town, or even abandon the camino altogether if necessary--but we don't think it will be. More than anything, it will help that we hit the baby lottery and have (so far) the happiest, chillest baby in the world. He slept through the night at 2 1/2 months. He almost never cries except when he is hungry, even when he is teething. And his favorite thing in the world other than food is being carried in a backpack. Seriously. It is insane. But so are we, so we accept him one of us! It also won't hurt that Brittany speaks fluent Spanish, very conversational French, and knows a bit of Basque/Euskara.

Didn't I see a movie about this?
Yes. Probably. The Way (Emelio Estevez 2010) was fairly popular and that is how a lot of Americans know about it.

Is that why we are all are going?
Absolutely not. See reasons discussed above. To be honest, while the movie is somewhat entertaining, and offers amazing vistas of the Camino de Santiago, it is actually a very "predictable" movie that overly-romanticizes the experience while overly de-romanticizing some things that happen to the main characters in order to create drama. Really, exaggeration by Hollywood? I'm shocked. Shocked I tell you. Don't get me wrong, it is a very good movie in a lot of ways, and well worth seeing. But it is far from the reason we are going. In honesty, while we are talking movies, as a film, Todd and Brittany slightly prefer the French movie Mecque (Keep Walkin') (Coline Serreau 2005)--although the dream sequences in that movie are both ridiculously poorly conceived and poorly executed. Oh well, can't have your cake and eat it too.

So where, exactly, will we be walking?
There are more than 17 official routes that make up the "Way of St. James." We will be taking the most popular route--the Camino Francés--which begins in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port (in the Basque country of Southwest France) and runs 780 kilometers to Santiago de Compestella. You can really start most anywhere, but St. Jean, near the Spanish border, is the most traditional starting point because it is the spot where pilgrims from across Europe (especially France) historically gathered before crossing the pass through the Pyranees into Spain. Other popular routes include the Camino del Norte (which follows the Basque coast before joining the Francés) and Camino Portugues (which begins in Portugal).

Who walks the Camino?
Everybody. 192,000 people a year. Not kidding. Ranging in age from 1 to 80. Some people claim that it is most common to run into people under 25 or over 65 because it is hard to get enough time off from work, but it is really made up of people of all age ranges, all religions, all socio-economic backgrounds, and all nationalities. According to the 2012 statistics, about 49.5% of peregrinos are Spanish (not surprising). After that it follows German (8%), Italian (6%), Portuguese (5%), French (4%), and USA (4%). In total, 130 nationalities walk it every year. Last year, there were even 11 people from Iran and 1 from Jamaica. It truly is an international event. 41% claim to walk exclusively for religious purposes and 70% take the Camino Francés. 12% begin in St. Jean-Pied-de-Port.

When will we be going?
We fly from Washington D.C. to Madrid on May 15. We step foot out of St. Jean on May 19 (Todd and Bri's anniversary!!). It typically takes 28-32 days to walk the Francés, but we are allowing ourselves 39 because of the baby. That way we have time to slow down and/or rest up if necessary. If we finish early, oh well, more time to visit the Basque country before flying back!!!

How are we getting time off from work?  How can we afford this?
We are blessed to all work jobs at universities, and while this almost never means we get the summers "off" (heck, we don't even get weekends off during the school year, and usually work pretty much all summer between research and summer school) it does mean we have more control over our time. This year, we have decided to reserve a far bigger block than ever for ourselves in order to spend it doing the camino with our son. If we don't do this now, we never will....and we'll always regret it. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we are going to take it. Carrying a 25 pound one year old is tough.  Carrying a 35+ pound two year old is out of the question. And by the time he is a teenager, G-Mom will be 75. The time is now. As for money, the camino is surprisingly reasonable once you get there (and Kepa still flies free). Hotels, pensions, and hostels are all cheaper along the Camino than anywhere else in Europe (anywhere from 3 to 30 euros a night) because the local governments want to encourage people to do the camino in order to fuel the economy.  Most restaurants also offer pilgrim's meals at discounted rates. Then, when we return, Todd is teaching two sections of summer school and an extra online class this fall. There is always a price to pay later for time off now, but we think it is well worth it.

What will this blog be?
The title, el pequeño peregrino, means "The Little Pilgrim" in Spanish---a tribute to Kepa. He probably won't be the littleist pilgrim on the camino--though not exactly typical, he is far, far from the first baby to do this--but considering he may well take his first steps on the camino, we thought the title was more than fair. Between now and May 15 we'll add a few posts about what we are carrying, how we are carrying it, how we plan to handle the baby, and what we'll be seeing, etc. Once we step off we don't know how often or how much we'll be able to blog. But because we won't have cell phones, and email contact will be sporadic at best we are going to try to post brief updates and pictures when we have computer access along the way, not just to document our journey, but to allow our friends and family to know we are safe and progressing well. Hopefully we will be able to update it often enough that those of you who are so inclined can enjoy and feel like you are following along. It'll be a virtual reality camino! OK. That was way too much of an embrace of postmodern culture. We need to go beg forgiveness from Hemingway and Chanel. That is done now. Above all, we promise that after this post, all pictures will have been taken by us. No more stealing from the internet! Plagiarism is not good kids. It just ain't.

Look for our next post, and until then, ¡buen camino!