Thursday, February 23, 2012

Welcome to the journey of a lifetime


Hello and welcome
On 6 September 2006, I began an 800-kilometre walk along a medieval pilgrimage trail to the tomb of St James the Apostle. Starting from St Jean Pied de Port in France, I followed the Camino francés route and crossed the Pyrenees and Northern Spain to reach Santiago de Compostela.

This tough physical journey was accompanied by an interior - often quite solitary - journey. But having walked part of this route in 2003, I also knew that there would be a lot to share.

Back in 2003, I related my experiences to friends and family in a series of email anecdotes. For my second Camino, I decided to create this blog to share my Camino experiences with a wider audience in the hope of inspiring others to make the journey.

To many people, both religious and not, the popularity of the Camino de Santiago lies in the fact that it mirrors the journey of our lives. The joys, the challenges faced and overcome, the acceptance of our limitations, the help we receive from others along the way and the slow realization that the journey is as important, if not more so, than the eventual destination.

And if all that's not enough, there's the breathtaking scenery and beautiful cultures and history of France and Spain to take in.

As the journey continues to be an immense source of creative and spiritual inspiration for me, I will continue to post images and writings on this site which convey some of the magic and beauty I experienced on the Camino.

Visit the quick guide if you'd like to see what you can find on this blog.

I hope you'll visit every now and again to see what's new. If you wish, you can request to be automatically notified when there are updates.

Please feel free to write to me if you're interested in learning more about the Camino and the pilgrimage experience.

I truly hope you enjoy your visit.
¡Buen camino!
John

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Blog update alerts

I've just discovered to my dismay that the Feedblitz site update emails, which a number of readers have subscribed to, now come with ads. I have consequently moved the service over to Feedburner (and will cancel the old service). 
Anyone wishing to continue to receive updates (minus the annoying ads) can insert their email address in the new subscription box in the sidebar to the right.

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On the way to Santiago rebooted

It's been a while but On the way to Santiago is back onlineIn the interests of this blog once again serving as a resource for past and future Camino pilgrims and walkers, I've updated all the links in the sidebar to other websites and blogs. Over the next few weeks I'll be undertaking a thorough review of the entire blog to ensure all links in the various posts are updated and that any out-of-date material is either removed or brought up to speed.
In your wanderings through this blog, if you come across any material of particular interest that you'd like me to update as a priority, use the comments section below to drop me a line. 

Till then, enjoy your visit and ¡Buen camino!

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

photos moved

As Yahoo! Photos is about to close, I've taken the opportunity to reorganise my Camino photo albums and moved them over to Picasa. The photos can now be reached either by clicking the updated album links in the sidebar on the right (under the heading "Images") or by clicking here for the 2003 and 2006 Camino albums.
 
Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know what you think or if you encounter any problems.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pilgrim art

Almost exactly a year ago, I had the pleasure of meeting North American pilgrim Melissa West at a refuge in Pamplona. I remember sharing some interesting conversations with her regarding, among other things, the pagan and Christian origins of the Camino francés route.

As happens with so many people you meet on the Camino, I left Melissa behind to walk on to my next etapa, while she stayed on in Pamplona. I did not meet her again on that Camino but I did hear about her progress from other pilgrims I came across who knew or had met her. Something about our brief meeting stayed with me and we've kept in touch ever since via the occasional email.
It was wonderful to receive an email from her yesterday announcing two exhibitions of linoleum block prints by Melissa inspired by her adventures on the Camino.

As well as displaying her talent, Melissa's prints reveal great observation and insight and I'm sure her images will strike a chord with past and future pilgrims.

Those interested in seeing her Camino-inspired (and other) artwork should take a look at her website or visit the exhibitions which will be held in Oakland (Sept 29) and Santa Cruz (Oct 7).

[The image in this post is of a linoleum block print entitled Crossing the Meseta and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the artist and copyright holder, Melissa West]

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Camino songlines

If you're a fan of choral polyphony and Gregorian chant and are looking for some music to take with you on the Camino, then check out the magnificent CD by the Monteverdi Choir entitled Pilgrimage to Santiago.
In 2004, in its 40th anniversary year, the choir undertook the Camino de Santiago starting from Le Puy in France. Along the way, the choir performed in many ancient churches and cathedrals...

The album's liner notes speak of the inspiration for the journey as being the notion that:

...Music, from its Gregorian roots to the great flowering of a cappella polyphony in the fifteenth, sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, has the power to re-ignite these churches, to recharge batteries flattened by over-use and the seeping away of cumulative prayer...*

The recording was made after the choir's journey and was conceived as an "an opportunity to share our experience of living inside the music along the route".*

The album includes interpretations of chants from the twelfth-century Codex Calixtinus or Liber Sancti Jacobi (‘Book of St James’) which once served as the pilgrim's guide to the way to Santiago and included music for St James' feast day on 25 July.

You can listen to a sample of the album's tracks and download the album liner notes on this page.

The tracklisting of the album is:

Music from the twelfth-century Codex Calixtinus:
Dum pater familias
Congaudeant Catholici
Alma perpetui
Psallat chorus celestium
O Venerande Apostoli
O lux et decus Hispaniae

from the Llibre Vermell:
O virgo splendens

and by composers

Tomás Luis de Victoria:
Missa O Quam Gloriosum
Motet O Quam Gloriosum
Vadam et Circuibo

Jacobus Clemens non Papa:
O Maria vernans rosa
Sanctus

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina:
Jesu Rex admirabilis

Guillaume Dufay:
Rite majorem

Cristobal Morales:
Parce mihi Domine

Orlande de Lassus:
Iustorum animae

and Jean Mouton:
Nesciens mater

Thanks to fellow pilgrim Melissa for bringing this beautiful recording to my attention!

[*Quotes from the liner notes to the album "Pilgrimage to Santiago", © 2006 Tess Knighton]

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"Wayfaring" - an album inspired by the Camino

Washington DC folk-rock band one left has released its fourth album entitled Wayfaring.

Wayfaring was inspired by the Camino de Santiago, which singer-songwriter Rick Rowland has been on several times.

You can listen to tracks from Wayfaring here as well as purchase a copy of the album from this page.

Reproduced below are the album's sleeve notes:

Wayfaring

...on the age-old Camino de Santiago, over the French Pyrenees and across the mountains and plains of Spain to the very ends of the earth itself...

...on the road to Santiago.

Where wonders are experienced, insights are gained and a wanderer’s heart finds solace and loss. The road is long and hard and sometimes even treacherous.

The journey begins with a sacred call. A call from above, heard amidst the frenzied urban riffs of Heaven Calling, through the ever-encroaching tidal wave of global rule, fading cultures and life signs measured by a click or two. There’s a full sense here of the urgency of responding to the call, and so our traveller embarks, without further ado,

...on the road to Santiago.

When next we come across him he is on his way with a spring in his step, accompanied by a Girl from Monreal. Her presence seems to ease the wanderer’s burden of long days spent alone on the road, re-routing his journey away from the soul towards a soul-mate. But just how long will she stay by his side? How off-course will this diversion take him? The road is long and life passes by and by...

Soon enough, the road itself fills our traveller’s mind. A country ease creeps into his song and step. The call has been heeded and his mind now turns to the many many miles ahead. As autumn fades and winter grips his soul, the wanderer asks - if not the end of the road, what might there be Around the Bend,

...on The road to Santiago?

Bounding along to a spirited Knoppfler-esque walker’s anthem, we find our pilgrim scurrying along red Rioja soil, his goal firmly planted in his and our minds. The journey has its mecca, James the Greater’s tomb, and we follow the wayfarer’s purposeful progress through fragrant forests of blooming chestnut, oak and eucalypt - forests as varied as life’s fickle fates.

Before he knows it, the ebbs and flows of time and tide have overtaken the walker’s life. Storms are brewing just over the horizon and the wayfarer finds - like his seafaring mates - that the sailing is never smooth boys. Trouble looms with Magdeline by the Sea, for every port brings its exotic enticements and every traveller, at some time in his life, has given in to a wanderlust.

One more romantic interlude - a Nordic detour with You Scandinavian Girl - before he moves on to a riskier wayside flirtation, this time of the Faustian kind. With The Devil in Red, Satan crosses our pilgrim’s path, as happened so often to wandering Mississippi Delta bluesmen of old. With more than a passing nod to the likes of Wall of Voodoo, we enter a world peopled by scoundrels and liars and the journey to the holy of holies in Santiago begins to take a sinister turn - a headlong rush into the jaws of judgement.

Beware, O pilgrim, the perils that may beset you, even

...on the road to Santiago.

With Gypsy Roses, we’re ushered into an enchanted cantina with the suggestive languor of an Eagles-style intro. The music is as lush as the air of the gypsy-temptress’ parlour is perfumed. To the tune of the sitar-sounding bridge, the pilgrim’s last resistance is melted away. The assault on the helpless pilgrim’s senses will linger on, long after his encounter with the scented flamenco princess is but a memory...

A subsequent tangle with French Marie has more than a touch of military precision about it, but its heavy nostalgia for a love sadly lost appears to haunt the weary traveller, threatening to halt his progress ahead. Now the fatigue of the many miles traversed has begun to take its toll

...on the road to Santiago.

The weight of every step is felt in the next etapa’s plodding pace. But with his weariness comes the dawning of wisdom. The towers of Santiago’s cathedral are now well within sight and the pilgrim begins to make his final reckoning. A sense of perspective is finally gained - an awareness of the ripples in life that are caused With Every Step we take.

The Pilgrim's Way leads us into the very heart of Celtic Galicia, a land of enchantment and witchery, where one journey ends and another begins. The road ahead is unmapped and not as generously populated with the helpful yellow arrows that have guided the traveller safely to James’ hallowed tomb.

The joy of arriving is mixed with the sorrow of leaving, as the wayfarer bids farewell to Santiago’s fair way...

And so, 800 kilometres on, having covered a vast stretch of emotional, mystical and spiritual terrain, Wayfaring leaves the acoustic pilgrim with a burning question.

Is the rich and varied musical landscape glimpsed along the way (spanning country, folk and rock) inspired by sensations and experiences on the Camino in Spain? Or are the album’s myriad of sensory inflections and soulful introspections a masterful reinterpretation of the journey to Santiago in a fluent North American musical vernacular?

As is often the case with that complex tapestry woven between life and imagination, the answer lies somewhere intriguingly in between...

© 2007 John Mifsud


Original post: 22 January 2007
Post updated: 30 April 2007

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

moBlogging the Camino #4 - In the palm of your hand

Just in from David Russell, pilgrim blogger at Mendocino Camino, is his anticipated guest post on moBlogging the Camino using a PDA device, or PalmPilot.

Over at Wikipedia, they describe a PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, as a handheld computer originally designed as a personal organizer but which has become much more versatile in recent years.


David tells us how, almost of its own accord, his PDA found its way into his Camino packing list and made itself mighty useful along the way...

________________________

I am a bit of a geek...

My first inkling of the Camino came when my father asked if I wanted to go for a bicycle ride. Oh yes, a 500 mile bike ride...in Spain. He neglects the details sometimes...

Since he was buying the airfare, I said heck yes. My two-wheel experience has mostly been on BMW models, the kind with a throttle. I have bicycled occasionally, but Dad is a real nut. My sister Ann, her husband Brian, and 11-year-old Tom also came along.

At first I thought of going cold turkey, no technology at all...then, a camera had to come, then, some way of checking email...oh...and backing up the digital camera chips.

So, my PalmPilot snuck on board as well. I have a Palm Lifedrive*.

Every night, I would take the three cameras we brought and, by inserting the cameras' chips into the PDA, back up our photos on the device and its memory chip.

I carried it in the handlebar bag, along with my camera, for easy access. Coming down the hill off the Pyrenees into Roncesvalles, I went over the bars, flew quite aways, but the gear was fine. It handled a large amount of jiggling without any issues. I was worried about charging it, but shouldn't have - there were electrical outlets in all of the albergues and hotels. I never came close to not having enough juice.

To blog, I used a program (purchased separately from Normsoft for USD$15) called Hblogger. It lets you compose your posts offline and also post photos. The software does not resize photos physically, but I can tell it to scale the photo down and the resolution remains the same.

You can save a post as a draft, so it will not be sent until specified. Kinda like an email program. Once I find an internet connection (via built-in WiFi), I open Hblogger and choose send. It logs into my previously setup account at blogspot.com and sends all saved posts. It supports other popular blogging platforms too, like MovableType and TypePad.

Posting by email is also possible, but Hblogger allows you to customise your post and photos a lot better. A big plus of using either Hblogger or email to post is that logging into your blog and posting that way requires you to be connected to the internet while you're writing the post, which drains the battery life big-time. Email posts and Hblogger allow you to write offline.

In various spots, I'd pull over and do a posting while waiting for the others, or while lying down in the evenings. At one pension, I noticed a man working wirelessly, so checked to see if it was unlocked and accessible. Bingo! My first free internet connection in Spain....but most of them, at least 75%, were secured. This means that there is an access password required to use the wireless connection. For me, posting was not that much of an urgent priority, so I waited for an unsecured one.

The bigger cities had more wireless signals available. In Burgos, I got a connection from the hotel window, in other towns I had to walk around a bit, looking. I had another software package called WiFi-Where, which quickly tells me what is available and what is locked. I could have found a cafe with secured WiFi and paid money but I prefer to find free! I had about 4 posts by the time I got to Burgos. After dinner, once I found a free, unlocked access point, I blasted them all out to my blog.

I typed my posts using the on-screen keyboard, not terribly easy, but not that hard, either.

All in all, it worked very well. The French>English dictionary saved the day several times, and the Spanish>English dictionary kept me at least slightly informed as to what my sister was saying...she speaks Spanish fluently. I also had all my ebooks with me for reading....but the Camino is about the surrounding experiences, so that was more important.

We stopped in Fromista and started cycling south towards Madrid along the canals. We decided to stay on the pilgrim's path, no matter how long it took, and stop when we ran out of time....and Fromista was where we ran out of time.

But we'll be returning to finish our Camino next fall. That's my family, me and the Palm LifeDrive...

Buen Camino!David
Mendocino Camino

*I did hack my Palm LifeDrive a little bit. Instead of the onboard 4 gigabyte microdrive hard drive, I switched to a 4gb compact flash disk. This greatly increased battery life and reliability. It also has a 4gb SD card for backups. Another modification was a 2500mha battery. These enhancements cost me a further USD$200

In summary:

Pros

  • 24 hour access to write posts/emails when you please
  • No need to find an internet cafe to blog
  • Nice size screen to work on
  • Easy way to back up your digital camera's photos
  • It is possible to add photos to blog posts
  • Email-sending, HTML net browser and Hblogger software means you can choose between emailing posts (see Part 1 in this series), posting by logging in to your blog in the browser or letting Hblogger do the work
  • Easy-to-read screen/legible typed characters
  • Device easier-to-use than your average laptop
  • Similar size to a cell phone - just a little wider
  • Includes MP3 player for music
  • Software available includes ebooks, travel guides and language/translation aid
  • Cost: out of production now, but available on eBay and other places for about USD$200
Cons

  • Touch screen keyboard with stylus, not as comfortable as a normal keyboard
  • A little tech know-how is needed to optimize the device
  • If unsecured WiFi connection not available, can be expensive to post via paid connection
  • No camera - photos must be transferred to PDA from camera for blog posting
  • No GPS or cell phone

__________________

[The abovementioned features are those that come with the Palm LifeDrive. David advises that his is a model not commercially available anymore but which can still be purchased at eBay and other places. Other PalmPilots and PDAs may come with different features. This post is intended as a general suggestion of PDA devices as a possible solution for pilgrims who wish to blog more easily from the Camino. It is not an endorsement of any particular product or its manufacturers. Other products on the market may be just as good or even better than the one mentioned here. If you're interested in comparing other PDAs or PalmPilots, have a look at sites such as: howstuffworks.com.

If you are familiar with any alternative PDA or moBlogging devices that you think would be useful for intending pilgrim bloggers, feel free to leave a comment below.
]


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

moBlogging the Camino #3 - The Pocketmail Way

In this third instalment of an unusually practical series of posts for On the way to Santiago, veteran pilgrim and WanderingTheWorld blogger, Jim Damico, guest posts on another moBlogging option: Pocketmail*.

[* Update 24 February 2012: This post has been deleted as it appears Pocketmail has gone out of business - see Wikipedia among many sources on the web to that effect]

The next post in this series will focus on moBlogging the Camino using a PDA or PalmPilot and will be a guest post by David Russell, author of the Mendocino Camino blog.

If you are familiar with any alternative moblogging devices that you think would be useful for intending pilgrim bloggers, feel free to leave a comment below or email me if you're interested in guest-posting on the topic.


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Monday, March 12, 2007

moBlogging the Camino #2 - Using a smartphone

In the second post in this series on moBlogging the Camino, I take a look at the pros and cons of using a smartphone to blog as you walk.

A smartphone, according to the Wikipedia definition, is "a full-featured mobile phone with personal computer like functionality". There are quite a few products which fit the bill and would meet the requirements of travelling pilgrims. By way of example only, I will speak of the Nokia E70* - the phone I recently bought precisely so I could moBlog.

The phone comes with many features but I will only outline those which a Camino moBlogger would find most useful.

Firstly, as you can see from the photos, the E70 folds out from its mobile phone form into a full QWERTY keyboard, which makes typing your posts a lot more comfortable than it would be on a normal mobile keypad! Effectively, this means you have 24-hour access to a "computer-in-your-pocket" to compose your posts as and when you please.

Secondly, the smartphone can access the internet via your mobile phone company's network or by connecting to any wireless networks available in the area ("wifi"). This means that if you can find free wifi internet hotspots, you'll be able to publish to your blog (as well as send emails and surf the net) for free. Given that some internet access points on the Camino francés were charging 4 euro an hour in 2006, this can represent a significant saving in costs over the 4 to 5 weeks of your trip.

It is worth bearing in mind mendodave's comment on an earlier post where he noted that it was difficult to find unsecured (i.e. unpassworded) wireless connections in Spain. The solution may be to get a Spanish SIM card and publish your posts via a paid mobile network (which could be pricey on a prepaid service).

Next, the E70 comes with an HTML internet browser similar to what you have on your PC. This means that you are not restricted to viewing only those websites which have been optimized for viewing on a mobile phone. So you can directly log into your blog and post as you normally would at home (without needing to set up the "posting by email" feature I mentioned in Part 1 of this series). You can even preview your post to see how it will look.

Other features that come with this particular smartphone include:
  • a 2 megapixel digital camera with zoom (but keep in mind this is a fixed focus camera without flash and will not give you the quality of photos that a normal digital camera can)
  • a GPS navigator program to help you find your way if you lose sight of those yellow Camino waymarkers (but this needs to be paired with a GPS device, sold separately, to receive satellite signals)
  • an MP3 player to listen to music
  • a voice recorder (handy to record your thoughts quickly as you walk for inclusion in your blog posts later)
Some practical considerations to bear in mind (not just with the E70, but with most smartphones):
  • they tend to chew up batteries pretty quickly so you need to make sure you take your battery recharger with you.
  • smartphones can still be quite pricey so it pays to shop around. For instance, the Nokia E70 currently retails for around USD570. While you might be willing to invest this sum in a phone that acts as your walkman, digital camera, compass and internet access point all-in-one, you will need to be security conscious about where you leave the phone and careful about treating it roughly or knocking it. Travel insurance covering your valuables against theft might be a wise idea.
  • for most of us, it's not a good idea to just pack the phone thinking you'll learn how to use it along the way. At least at the beginning, there is a learning curve. It would be best to have a play around with the phone before leaving for the Camino and setting a few things up before you go (for example, you can bookmark your blog's log-in page in the browser or even publish a test moblog post).
In summary:

Pros
  • A full, thumb-style backlit keyboard to type comfortably (even in the dark)
  • 24-hour access to a computer - write when you please
  • Email-sending and HTML net browsing (so you can email posts to your blog or post by logging in to your blog - see Part 1 in this series)
  • Comes with a digital camera
  • GPS navigation (in case you get lost!)
  • It doubles as an MP3 player
  • Not much bigger/heavier than a standard mobile phone
  • If you take photos with the phone, you're not reliant on access to a PC with a USB connection to upload photos to your posts
Cons
  • Price can be high (shop around and insure against theft)
  • Some tech knowhow is needed to set the device up before leaving home
  • If free unsecured wifi is not available, it can be expensive to connect to the internet abroad
  • Battery consumption - rapid depletion with feature-rich phones
  • Not a lot you can do to manipulate photos before posting them to your blog
  • The size of the text on the screen is small making (at least the E70) inappropriate for people who don't have keen vision
The next post in this series will be a guest post by Jim from WanderingTheWorld.com on moBlogging with the simple-to-use Pocketmail device.

[* The abovementioned features are those that come with the Nokia E70. Other smartphones may come with different features.
This post is intended as a review of the Nokia E70 as a possible solution for pilgrims who wish to blog more easily from the Camino. It is not an endorsement of Nokia or its E70 phone. Other products on the market may be just as good or even better. If you're interested in comparing other smartphones, have a look at sites such as: cnet.com.au.

If you are familiar with any alternative smartphone or moblogging devices that you think would be useful for intending pilgrim bloggers, feel free to leave a comment below or email me if you're interested in guest-posting on the topic.
]

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

moBlogging the Camino #1 - An Introduction

Among the pilgrims heading out to walk the Camino in the coming months, some will be eagerly looking forward to detaching themselves completely from their everyday life back at home. Others, however, will want to keep in regular contact with folks back at home or maybe even share the amazing experience they are about to have with the world at large.

Thankfully, for those wanting to share their experiences as they unfold, living in the 21st century brings many advantages for the modern-day pilgrim. Today's pilgrim has a number of powerful communication tools at his/her disposal - and I don't just mean mobile phones and email.

Quite a few pilgrims I met on the road last year kept blogs of their journeys as they walked the Camino - some of them open for everyone to read and others restricted to a circle of family and friends.

Blogs lend themselves ideally to journal-style travelogues, also allowing you to easily upload and share photos for those moments that perhaps words alone may fail to describe. One quick post keeps people up-to-date with your progress and insights from your Camino that you may want to share without having to write numerous individual emails or make expensive international phone calls.

For the intending pilgrim blogger, there is a wealth of blogging platforms (e.g. Blogger, Wordpress etc.) to choose from and loads of information online to help you choose the platform that suits you.

In this series of posts on "moBlogging the Camino", I will explore some of the ways you can comfortably maintain your blog from the Camino.

How can I blog from the Camino?

Traditional blogging: This involves either writing your posts in advance (long hand) and then transcribing them to your blog when next you come across an internet access point or typing and publishing your posts all in one hit when you have computer access. This is the method I used last year to post to this blog from the Camino.

It is a possible option, especially as there are a number of internet cafés en route and some refugios also have internet access. It also has simplicity to commend it. However, as a prolific blogger, I encountered many technical and practical problems in using this method, which I described in an earlier post, A blogger's guide to the Camino, which you may wish to consider before opting for traditional blogging.

moBlogging (or mobile blogging): This method requires a little technical savoir faire but is the ideal solution for those who want to be able to blog regularly without being limited to the often outdated or limited technology/software available at internet cafés and without being restricted to blogging only when there are internet acesss points around.

Basically it involves using a "portable mobile device" to write and publish your posts. By moBlogging, you can compose your posts while resting in bed at the albergue, in a field of poppies on the meseta or wherever you like!

With moBlogging, you have two options as to how to post on the go:
  • email posting: you can send a post to your blog as an email, without even needing to visit or log in to your blog. A number of blogging platforms now allow you to do this. (For help on this see, for instance, Blogger and Wordpress). All you need is a mobile device that is also able to send emails. Just compose your email post, attach any photos and send the email
  • normal posting: if your mobile device comes with an HTML browser (not just a WAP one), you can easily visit your blog, log in and post directly from there as you normally would at home on a PC
What exactly is a portable mobile device?

There are various devices you can use to moBlog. They include using a PDA/Palmpilot, a smartphone and a device called Pocketmail.

Over the coming week or so, I'll be looking at each of these devices as a possible solution for Camino moBloggers. My first post will explore the "smartphone" option.

[* The observations in this series of posts are based on my experiences walking in Spain on the Camino francés route. Other more isolated routes (such as the Via de la Plata) may present different issues (e.g. lack of internet facilities or even absence of a mobile phone signal). Anyone who has walked other Camino routes and can add some thoughts on blogging from them is welcome to share their experiences in the comments section below.]

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

A new pilgrimage season begins...

I'm back in Rome and with all the birds chirping away in the morning outside my window there's no mistaking spring is in the air.

The weather is fining up and after the Christmas/New Year lull, there's a buzz of excitement building on Camino forums and blogs around the world as we head into a fresh new pilgrimage season.

A whole new wave of pilgrims is eagerly posting questions on message boards and making preparations to undertake the journey to Santiago de Compostela.

But some veteran pilgrims also have plans underway for a return to Santiago over the coming months and have some valuable insights to share.

Over at Amawalker.blogspot.com, South African pilgrim Sil is busy making practical and personal preparations for her return to the Camino francés in September of this year. Her recent post entitled Adding new footsteps alongside the old ones explores why a pilgrim would walk the same route again (see also my previous post On "doing" the Camino). Her reflections on how her approach to this second camino has changed from that of her first pilgrimage make for very thoughtful reading.

And in a post entitled The Triple Gem, returning pilgrim Jim at WanderingTheWorld.com discusses his upcoming six-month hike which will take in the pilgrimage routes to Santiago, Canterbury and Rome. He plans to start walking in May this year.

In response to the question put to him as to why he would undertake such an epic journey, Jim, a practising buddhist, concluded that for him it is about "opening up myself to the 'unknown' and to let the world come to me as I walk every day... trusting life to unfold as it's going to unfold."

Personally, as I may soon be moving away from Rome to live in a small village in Umbria, I am still debating whether I will return to walk the Camino de Santiago this year. I had thought to walk the Camino portugués later in the year but time may be short. An alternative might be to walk the much shorter Cammino di Francesco (or Way of St Francis) in Umbria itself.

Time alone will tell what my plans will be, but one thing is clear: my experiences on the Camino de Santiago remain an ever-present element in my life. Perhaps the words of fantasy novelist Philip Pullman in the second book of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, The Subtle Knife, aptly describe the legacy in one's life of the pilgrimage experience.

In the novel, there is a scene where a character named "Serafina" encounters a group of angels paying homage to a chosen child:

"And then Serafina understood something for which [her people] had no word: it was the idea of pilgrimage. She understood why these beings would wait for thousands of years and travel vast distances in order to be close to something important, and how they would feel differently for the rest of time, having been briefly in its presence..."

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