As I have said before, I highly recommend FiveFingers as a hiking option on the Camino. But leaving it at that is like recommending a dog as a good fetching/cuddling option – it completely ignores the high level of required maintenance behind said fetching/cuddling technology.
And while both Fidos and FiveFingers are well worth the investment, I owe it to my readers to divulge the stinky truth: halfway through the pilgrimage my girlfriend could hardly walk behind me without gagging at the smell produced by my FiveFingers.
On the Camino I had only running water and my peppermint Dr. Bronner’s soap to work with. While Dr. Bronner’s is impressively versatile and a perfect solution for pilgrims, it lacks the industrial strength needed to tame the near-visible stink lines emanating from my shoes. Instead of relief, I got peppermint-scented foot odor.
Had I found the FiveFingers’ weakness? Was there any way stop my shoes from smelling like a skunk with gangrene had died in them?
The research began when I returned home. As I expected, the smell immediately improved once I stopped wearing my FiveFingers ALL DAY EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH. But this wasn’t enough; the smell had been downgraded to a non-gangrenous, dying skunk, but that left them still smelling like a dying skunk.
Running them through the wash made the smell somewhat more tolerable still, but had the unwanted side effect of making the rest of the clothes in the washing machine smell like they were in the vicinity of a slightly under-the-weather skunk.
I was on the verge of giving up hope. I guessed I’d have to deal with my FiveFingers being the most fun, natural, stanktacular footwear I’d ever owned.
Then, on a day not unlike any other, @VibramFiveFingers tweeted something so crazy I thought it just might work:
For those of you unfamiliar with Efferdent, it’s a denture cleansing tablet: you put your dentures in a glass of water, throw an Efferdent tablet in there and plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is (that I still have teeth and only need Efferdent for my shoes)!
I bought the Efferdent at Walmart (I figured they’re used to unusual purchases), returned home and filled the kitchen sink with water. After dunking the FiveFingers I dropped in four tablets and watched as the water turned a bubbly blue soda pop.
After fifteen minutes of soaking I removed the shoes and gave them a smell from 10 inches away. Nothing! I moved my nose closer. Still nothing! Finally I went in for a real close-encounter sniff. Skunk!
Still, I was impressed. This was a skunk that minded its manners, and the smell was something I (and my girlfriend) could live with.
And that, my friends, is how I became a regular customer of Efferdent denture cleansing tablets.
For a more thorough and detailed look at eliminating the funk from your VFFs, check out The Definitive Guide to Cleaning Vibram Five Fingers.
The Hollywood Reporter reviewed “The Way,” starring Martin Sheen and directed by son Emilio Estevez, and for the most part reviewer Kurt Honeycutt’s response to the Camino-based film is a big, fat yawn.
In the byline, Honeycutt complains that the movie is “A spiritual journey that comes off more as a travelogue without much drama.”
Watch the trailer at the official website, or check out the Youtube version dubbed over in Espanol:
This is certainly a disappointment to anyone who’s walked the Camino, but there is a silver lining – the review gives major props for the way “The Way” captures the beauty of the ancient pilgrims route: “Estevez’s crew does nothing to spoil the scenery or snap-shots of life along the Camino de Santiago.”
The lack of drama and long running time (129 minutes) may unfortunately keep “The Way” from a wide-release in the U.S., where blockbuster movies require robot velociraptors to tackle helicopters every five seconds in order to keep the audience’s attention (you’d totally watch that, admit it), but the star power of Sheen and Estevez alone should spark at least some interest.
At the very least, I’ll be watching “The Way” to get a healthy dose of Caimino nostalgia through a high-quality camera lens. Besides, by the time “The Way” actually arrives to DVD, it might be the only movie that can be watched without 3D glasses.
I can’t find the ticket counter.
On top of that, I’ve slept for maybe forty-five minutes in the last thirty hours. Forget finding a ticket counter, I can barely find my hands.
My girlfriend, Stephanie, and I are lying on a concrete bench in the Austerlitz Train Station in Paris, or as Steph calls it, “Auschwitz” Train Station. Getting this far has been tough – lost luggage, a missed train – but Steph’s accidental rechristening of the train station reminds me things can always be worse.
I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical vacation. When Stephanie approached me about walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage crossing northern Spain, I had more questions than I could count, not the least of which was “Why on earth would I want to do that?”
The Pyrenees and Julie Andrews
“Traveling is just hurrying to get to the next place you have to wait.”
Or so says the burly German pilgrim (with equally burly nose pores). The Pyrenees, with their rolling green peaks, look as though they’re straight out of The Sound of Music. Inspired, Steph does her best Julie Andrews impression: “The hills are ali-i-i-i-ve with the sound of mewzi-i-i-i-k.”
We reach Roncesvalles after seven hours of walking. The small village contains only a handful of buildings surrounded by trees and mountains as far as the eye can see.
At some point we crossed the border into Spain, I never saw a border marker of any sort, and I feel slightly ripped off. Where’s the border crossing photo op? Where’s the sign warning you of the photo op? Where’s the photo-op information center? Already Spain is proving to be very un-American.
“Why does my foot hurt?”
That’s the question asked by Christoper McDougall’s book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.
But my foot doesn’t hurt: my knee does.
Five months prior to walking the Camino de Santiago, I had microfracture surgery on my right knee. My surgeon cleared me to walk, but warned me to wear
good hiking boots with ¾ insoles to protect my freshly repaired appendage.
Then I read Born to Run. McDougall’s simple question of “Why does my foot hurt?” leads him into Mexico’s Copper Canyon, where a tribe of natives called the Tarahumara manages to run distances that make marathons look like a trip to your mailbox. Not only that, but they often do it after an all-night drinking binge.
As far as I was concerned, the Tarahmara were the perfect role models for a twenty-something male like myself.
But more pertinent to my predicament was that they did it next to barefoot, and they never got hurt. The arches of their feet didn’t implode, their shins didn’t splint, and their knees… well, I’m pretty sure the average Tarahumaran has no idea what microfracture surgery entails.
Best of all, Born to Run provided the science to explain how this was possible, and it all boiled down to one thing: the human foot is not broken.
The book essentially pitted millions of years of evolution against a few decades of Nike research and marketing, and declared evolution the winner.
My mind was officially blown. I had to learn more. There was no way I was going to walk across a country without the best footwear option available.
Unable to find the contact info for the book’s author, Christopher MacDougall, I turned my search to two of the prominent, and almost mythical, figures from Born to Run: Caballo Blanco and Barefoot Ted.
I emailed Barefoot Ted first, mentioning I had just brought some swanky Solomon running shoes from REI (where I had practically been living over the summer as I gathered supplies for my long trek):
“Should I take them back?” I asked Barefoot Ted.
“Take the shoes back!!!” he replied. Three exclamation points. You can’t get much more adamant than three exclamation points. “I would go with huarache sandals if I were you. Or with FiveFingers… or barefoot… I know one Chilean doctor who did it barefoot!”
But I’m not Chilean. Or a doctor. Or crazy. Caballo Blanco gave me much simpler advice: “Put one foot in front of the other and have fun – :]”
The smiley face didn’t make the message any less cryptic, but maybe I was worrying too much. Maybe just going for it in a pair of sandals or FiveFingers would be fine. If a doctor walked the Camino sans sneakers, then doing so is practically doctor prescribed, right? One out of one doctors surveyed agrees!
But I’ve never been much of a wraparound sandals kind of guy; too many years of seeing Birkenstocks paired with socks on the mean streets of Seattle and Eugene has permanently turned me off to the idea. So I went with the only remaining option given to me by Barefoot Ted, and one week later I was the proud owner of a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.
The science of going barefoot may be compelling, but I wondered if it was sound to take that science and applying it to 500 miles of walking – post-knee surgery – after only a few weeks of training in my new barely-there shoes.
At first the FiveFingers were difficult just to put on. It felt strange having my toes separated into individual sheaths of “thin, abrasion-resistant stretch polyamide fabric.” But one week later I was running comfortably for the first time since my surgery – and not just running, having fun running.
I could feel every change of running surface – dirt to grass to pavement – and my movements adjusted accordingly. I could feel what I was running on, without the pain of being entirely barefoot.
I was lighter on my feet, something Born To Run had suggested would come naturally, and my knee could tell the difference. Two weeks before the pilgrimage I was convinced; I would bring only the FiveFingers and a pair of flip-flops. At the very least, my minimal footwear decision would cut down on weight and space in my backpack. Besides, I had three persuasive exclamation points backed up my decision.
Did the shoes work? In short, yes. The long answer is a bit more complicated (and painful).
During my trek, did I ever have to ask myself why my foot hurts? Most definitely. That kind of mileage doesn’t come without some pain, no matter what’s on your feet.
But after each and every mile I walked, one important question never once crossed my mind:
“Why does my knee hurt?”
In my last post, I selfishly mapped out the 29 nationalities I met on the Camino. This time around, I took the complete and official stats on all pilgrims that walk the Camino from the Archibishops office in Santiago, applying them to a distribution map. Here are the results from 2009:
The key on the left represents the number of pilgrims (duh), with each country displaying a corresponding color. Countries in gray sent less than 10 pilgrims to the Camino, and therefore weren’t counted.
As the map shows, the Camino is still relatively Euro-centric. Over half of the 145,877 pilgrims from 2009 were Spanish (79,007), and about 90% of all pilgrims hailed from Europe. Here’s a different version of the map to give an idea just how wide the gap is between countries like France and Peru:
Western and Spanish speaking countries are obviously well represented due to a larger Catholic population and the fact that Spanish is the primary language along the Camino. In the east, South Koreans seem to travel relatively well (1079) pilgrims, and of course there’s the always travel-ready Australians (1015).
Only 4 Malaysians walked in 2009, making the Malaysian woman I met the most unlikely nationality I talked to during my pilgrimage last September/October. So rare, Malaysia didn’t even meet my “over 10” criteria. There I go being all selfish again.
In 32 days of walking the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, I met people from 29 different countries. That’s nearly 1 new nationality per day (or 1 every 17 miles).
The list of countries: United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, England, Spain, Argentina, Malaysia, South Korea, France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Holland, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Brazil, Portugal, Norway, Scotland, Latvia, Austria, Hungary
That’s 5 North and South American countries, 6 from Asian and Australasian, and 18 European countries.
And these are only the people I talked to enough to learn their nationality; the total number of nationalities I encountered is probably closer to 50.
Complete statistics on the number of pilgrims walking the Camino as broken down by nationality are kept by the Archbishops office in Santiago de Compostela. If I can defeat my overwhelming laziness, maybe I’ll create a more detailed infographic map based on the official statistics…
You’re tired, your feet are sore, and a long hill climb is coming… and then it happens. You’ve heard rumors about it, but you never quite believed it, yet there it is: a fountain of wine. A free fountain of wine. You dump your water, replace it with wine, and know that this day on the Camino is going to be a good day.
About an hour past Estella, next to the Museo del Vino, the wine fountain lies in plain site next to the path on the Camino Frances route. Is the wine good? Not particularly. But it is wine, and that was good enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, free alcohol makes the Fuente de Vino a Can’t Miss Camino Sight. Pics below.
The wine museum itself was closed, but Spain is chock-full of random gastrointestinal museums. See for yourself…