Santiago’s Restaurant Menus – 1

Yesterday I introduced this thread: finding, analyzing and discussing Spanish food terms on menus in Spain. So today I’ll continue with the restaurant I mentioned yesterday:  O Curro da Parra.

Now first I want to introduce the idea of finding human translations. In my earlier work I usually used Google Translate to translate the Spanish and then did additional research to try to improve translations. Now that I’ve learned a bit of Spanish I can do that better, but there are many reasons why the Google Translate is wrong and/or may not be that helpful which I’ll point out with a few examples in this post.

But in terms of learning to read Spanish getting human translations is interesting. To supplement my study on Duolingo I’ve found as many stories as I can with human translation to compare to Google Translate and my own stumbling attempts to translate.

So in terms of the main topic of menus, some like O Curro da Parra do have human translation, which, of course, might be wrong too. But my first point is also that sometimes they can be tricky to find. Some websites, like a couple others I tried in Santiago detect your location and, for me, automatically switch to English. Sometimes it takes a little hacking of the URLs to find both the English and Spanish or sometimes there is something in the UI (often flags to click) to pick your language. Of course there is no guarantee the English version will just be a translation of the Spanish version so you need to compare these carefully.

In general (and this specific case) the URL is likely to contain /es or /en in the URL. Sometimes you can just manually change the URL for which language you want. But for this restaurant they added an extra trick. Their standard URL for Spanish version of the a la carte menu is https://www.ocurrodaparra.com/es/carta, Replacing the /es with /en doesn’t work since they also translated carta in the URL to its English equivalent thus producing the URL https://www.ocurrodaparra.com/en/menu.

Seeing carta and menú on webpages (or perhaps the printed menu) deserves a little explanation. carta, which Google literally translates to ‘letter’,  as in escribo muchas cartas a mis amigos (I wrote that myself, see I’ve learned a little), but in the case of a restaurant it does, usually, refer to the a la carte menu or just menu as commonly used in USA. Seeing ‘letter’ originally confused me but I had to learn words may have multiple translations. While Google Translate does use some “context” (not just literal word-by-word) I’ve learned GT pays little attention to the broader notion of “context” (or discourse) and thus seems to usually pick the most common translation. And menú often refers to some special offer, like menú del día, (menu of the day, common in small restaurants along the Camino) or even more specifically menú de peregrino (the pilgrim’s menu) or sometimes menú degustación (the tasting menu). IOW, these are particular selections essentially equivalent to prix fixe, which is, of course, French for fixed price. So one of the first things to know about reading menus is which section to look for and so I hope this helps.

So onto a few interesting things about this menu. First we’ll start with the section on the Carta, EMPEZAMOS. Now actually this is a bit surprising since the more common section you’ll see is ENTRANTES, literally ‘entrances’ but probably what would be called appetizers in USA. But  is fun for me because just recently I’ve been doing Duolingo drills of variations of the verb empezar (to begin, to start). So empezamos is actually the first personal plural conjugation in indicative mood present tense, so big surprise that GT translated this as ‘we start’ which would be correct in the right context. But here it just means (and its human translation at the website) ‘starters’. But the way empezar is one of the Spanish verbs that is somewhat irregular known as a stem changing verb so empiezo is ‘I start’ (I don’t know when I named this blog that subject pronoun are usually omitted to the to (I) is not typically used since person can be deduced from the conjugation. So for you Dear Reader I can also use the familiar conjugation, just as empiezas for ‘you start’. I realize including Spanish lessons in my posts may be tedious, but relax, I’m just bragging.

Second, under the “main” course part of the carta (in this case labeled PESCADOS Y CARNES, fishes and meats) one finds Media ración/Ración. This was a tiny mystery until seeing, for each item, 11,5/22. That’s the price, in euros I presume and note the /. ración is repeated with media in front of one instance. It would be a mistake to assume that’s a cognate and thus “medium” (or worse, ‘media’ itself). In fact it’s the word for ‘half’, which in the case of a time, a las cinco y media, means “half past” (AKA 5:30).  ración  can get confusing; it’s literal meaning is ‘helping’, ‘portion’ or ‘serving’. It’s most commonly used where tapas or pinchos might also be available. Instead of just a serving for one bit usually it means a larger quantity, sometimes also described as al centro (to the center), IOW, it’s a portion that potentially gets shared. Given it appears in the main courses I would assume the full portion might be for sharing (two diners trying two different dishes (platos) which can be fun) and the half portion is for an individual diner (comensal).

So let’s move on to a couple of items. I’m going to show these in three columns: the original Spanish, the human translation at the website and the Google Translation.

Brevas, queso del Cebreiro y foie Figs, Cebreiro cheese and foie Brevas, Cebreiro cheese and foie gras

I’m not sure why GT missed the translation of brevas to figs, except perhaps that the more usual word for fig is higo and breva refers to a particular fig, often called ‘early fig’.  But my point for this item is Cebreiro which is not translated by either human or AI. And this is common (you are getting the ‘cheese’ clue in both translations, which is not in the literal Spanish) as some words just don’t have English translations. Cebreiro is a local cheese (PDO), Galician in origin. There are numerous sources for quesos de espana but take it from me, it’s fairly hard to learn them all.

Moving on

Sardina, pan de maíz tostado, mayonesa de laurel y Padrón Sardine, toasted corn bread, bay maho and Padrón peppers Sardine, toasted cornbread, laurel mayonnaise and Padrón

Interestingly GT does a bit better job with mayonesa (really is) so I’m not quite sure why the human translation calls it maho, other than perhaps having seen ‘mayo’ in English sources and assuming the phonetic spelling in English would be maho. In the Spanish, Padrón is sufficient because anyone would know what these are (we even have some growing in our garden in Nebraska, not even too hard to find the plant stock). These are very popular peppers, usually toasted in oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. They’re partly popular because while they’re usually mild, one might be hot, so while I forget the term (read it somewhere) sometimes they’re referred to as Spanish lottery. They’re smaller than a Jalapeno with more wrinkles but otherwise look similar.

Moving on

Canelón de gallo de corral, bechamel de foie e shimeji Rooster cannellone, foie bechamel and shimeji mushrooms Cannelloni with poultry, bechamel with foie e shimeji

This one is fun because it demonstrates it is global world with food terms from France, Italy and Japan all combined with Spanish. In this case the GT translation is better (sorry for my critique to whoever did the translation).  I’ve encountered de corral before and while a literal translation could be ‘of the farmyard’, we’d probably call this “free range” in USA. But using gallo (instead of pollo) is interesting.  pollo is the generic name for chicken, well known in USA due to heavy use on Mexican menus. In fact, pollo is even masculine (gender is such a thrill learning in a language) and so gallina would be a likely term for ‘hen’ and so gallo is indeed rooster, but a little stranger because roosters are much less commonly eaten than hens. I assume they note this because most likely gallo would probably have a stronger flavor. Canelón is cannelloni  but as Italian is fairly particular about the last vowel in words, cannellone might be confusing.

And wrapping up (there are more items but this is enough for this post)

Helado de tarta de Santiago, cremoso de chocolate y bizcocho cítrico Almond ice-cream, chocolate mousse and citrus sponge cake Ice cream cake of Santiago, creamy chocolate and citrus cake

tarta de Santiago is very common (usually dusted with powdered sugar) so they must have used similar ingredients to make an ice cream and I’d bet GT’s translation of ‘ice cream cake’ is not likely to be correct. But here’s a good example of why I (eventually) decided to learn Spanish, this is an item were the menu description is probably less than you’d like to know so a little conversation with your camarero might be in order. GT is probably wrong on cremoso  just being ‘creamy’ (which it literally is) but the human translation as mousse is more likely. Then GT omitted ‘sponge’ in the translation of bizcocho cítrico (bizcocho is usually translated as sponge cake) and reading this, as a diner, I’d think citrus sponge cake and just citrus cake were two different things.

So wrapping this one up: 1) don’t trust any translation source completely, 2) they are often terms that can’t be translated so you just have to know what they are (or ask), and, 3) if you’re really interested in knowing what these items are you’re probably going to have to be able to speak and hear some Spanish, even though I’d bet a top-rated restaurant in a popular tourist destination probably has someone to explain it to you in English, figuring it out in Spanish is more fun.

And as your homework assignment you figure this one one:

Cerdo pibil, crema de maíz y pico de gallo Pibil style Galician pork belly, corn purée and pico de gallo salad Pig pibil, corn cream and pico de gallo

and what does gallo have to do with a relish? And why ‘belly’ is missing in the Spanish and whether that would matter to you in choosing whether to order this or not.

 

 

 

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Reading menus in Spain

scroll down to the bottom of this post to see Spanish terms for food allergens.

I started this blog to document work I was doing to collect a large corpus of Spanish terms found on menus (focused on Spain, not Latin America) and from that develop an application to aid in reading menus. You might think this already exists with one of the AI translation systems but those make many mistakes with food.

Anyway that was over a year ago and I’ve gotten side-tracked on various things. It was suggested I should just learn Spanish but I always felt that was too difficult (I’d tried unsuccessfully before) and also menu terms are more specific than more generic Spanish classes. My notion, as a software type, is my application is simply a question of manipulating symbols. Sure reading literature or poetry does required knowing the language and very well at that, but cooking and cuisine and food are a specialized vocabulary with minimal need for understanding grammar or conjugation or what is usually taught in language classes.

Well, in the end I gave in. It turns out reading a menu is one thing, actually being able to ask questions (preguntas) about it and understand the answer is another. My early research demonstrated that what is written on menus, often, is inadequate to actually know what dish you’re getting, what’s in it and how it’s prepared.

So 186 consecutive days later I have been learning Spanish from a very good online site, Duolingo. According to them I’m up to 1526 lexemes (about 1/3rd through their course). But while that’s been very helpful: a) that course doesn’t have much about food or cooking (I have phrases for how to order though and two words for waiter, camarero and mesero and why sometimes it should be an ‘a’ instead of ‘o’ at the end), and, b) even just for reading (like restaurants often have prose descriptions of themselves and their culinary approach on the menu) is not entirely aided by the types of drills common to language learning programs.

IOW, it has helped and is helping, but it’s not enough. So, in fact, my original notion is still fairly valid, focus on menus and how to read them.

Now in order to find menus I do this silly thing of converting miles I put in on a treadmill in the basement to a GPS track of the Camino de Santiago. Then using Google Maps I’ve explored all sorts of restaurants along the Camino. Now most are simple mom-and-pops with fairly limited menu but every now and then you get to a large city where the cuisine can be considerably more sophisticated. And as I mentioned in a recent post I’ve “reached” Santiago de Compostela which attracts lots of tourists and partly as a consequence has 571 restaurants at just one rating site. IOW, lots of rough material to study.

In addition, with help of some Spanish (Spain) cookbooks, lots of exploring menus, that in additional to cuisine in Spain having many regional variations there are also regional languages to deal with. When you start the Camino you see a lot of terms from the Basque language and when you end in Galicia you see Galego which I learned is more related to Portuguese than Castilian. Since I’m casually exploring Portuguese at Duolingo one quickly learns why A and O appear so often in Galicia, being the equivalent of the la and el the’s of Spainish.

So I’m now digging through menus in Santiago and expect to have a number of posts from that work. But just to put a little meat in this post I’ll describe one interesting thing I just saw. The restaurant O Curro da Parra is my first menu I’ll describe but I wanted to discuss this bit. For example we see an item:

Helado de tarta de Santiago, cremoso de chocolate y bizcocho cítrico6

(A: leche, huevo, gluten, frutos secos)

At first I thought the bit in parenthesis was ingredient but then realized (not explained on website) the A: probably stands for alérgeno (allergen) or alergia (allergy). Isn’t that nice of them to provide information, about the dish, for people with food allergies or sensitivities. So I’ve collected this list from the entire menu:

apio celery
crustáceos crustaceans
frutos de cáscara fruit peels 
gluten gluten
huevo egg
leche milk
moluscos mollusks
mostaza mustard
pescado fish
sésamo sesame
soja soy 
sulfitos sulfites
frutos secos nuts

Now most of these are straightforward but there are a couple of mysteries. First is soia which the restaurants website translates as ‘soy’. But that doesn’t match anything I find in references since soy is usually soja (in Spain) and soya (in Latin American) so I assume that’s some regional spelling difference (and Google Translate thinks it’s ‘soy’).  And frutos de cáscara continues to be a mystery. It’s mentioned for a dessert and translated at the website as ‘nuts’, but the websites also lists another item frutos secos  which is the more common translation of ‘nuts’.  cáscara by itself is ‘rind’ or ‘shell’ so my guess is this is actually a reference to ‘peel’ of a fruit (and probably lime since that is included in the name of the dessert). So even with dictionaries and AI translations and even human translations you might still not be able to figure these out exactly and if you do have allergies you probably need to know for certain, so hablo con el cameraro.

More coming, stay tuned.

 

Next virtual trek – my plan didn’t work out

I know this sequence of posts is way off the primary topic of this blog but this will be the last one (on this topic, at least for a while).

When I last left you hanging I described the method I was going to use to acquire an accurate table of distances, fairly closely space (e.g. 3-6km) along the Via Podiensis so I could spend the next year or so on treadmill piling up miles to then “take” a virtual trek. My plan was to use a couple of GPS tracks I found online to get an accurate distance along the entire trail and then pick intermediate spots for my table and know their distances.

Since the software I have on my PC only covers the USA my only available tool (at least in initial plan) was Google Maps (or later tried Google Earth which has more features).  I quickly learned two things: 1) the high resolutions (4000 waypoints) GPS track was very tedious to enter (all manually) into Google Directions which has a limit of 10 points along a route and thus I was getting less than 1km of trail for 5 minutes or so of work, 2) every now and then, but in minor ways Google didn’t want to generate precisely the same route as I could see on the map where I could display the entire track (but not get any distances).

So I switched to the lower resolution track (only 500 points, visually on the maps it’s a bunch of line segments that don’t precisely follow the road/street/path/trail). But I figured I could find the flaws in that and patch in bits of the high resolution data.

Now in some ways I’m really being OCDish about this. What difference does it make to be highly accurate. Well, consider this, a real walk has to go where the path goes, not in straight lines across country or through someone’s house or yard. And most of the backroads where the Camino goes are not straight super highways but meandering paths. Now if you’ve ever hiked in the real world you know your actual path can be a lot longer than just a compass line on a maps. All those zigs and zags add up. The small set of straight line segments would probably be off, in total distance, by hundreds of kilometers. IOW, not much use for accurately converting treadmill miles to a location on the ground in France.

But not to worry, Google knows this and so it actually follows the road between two points on the road. And while it does a bit of rounding in the distance that’s still going to be fairly accurate.

So other than being a tedious process my preliminary results showed, at the cost of more time than I’d hoped, I could get a fairly accurate route.

WRONG!

I was manually entered a set of points, having worked out a record keeping procedure for doing all this and everything was fine and, then, the next point, probably only 50m from the previous with a road showing in map mode and even clearer in satellite photo mode and Google routes this round-about path, about a kilometer that was essentially a giant U-turn to reach that point from the other direction!

No sometimes, at least here doing geodashing in the midwest, that’s exactly what one has to do. Yes there is a road on the map and yes you can see it in the satellite photos and NO you can’t go that way because there is a gate or a damaged bridge or whatever. But presumably the GPS track I’m using means that person who recorded the track DID go that way so it’s possible.

After more experimenting I eventually discovered that what I’m seeing is gaps in the Google underlying database, i.e. some abstracted mathematical description of all the possible roads/paths/trails they know. And in that database you can’t get from point A to point B, at least not just going forward.

So after reading manuals and searching online I eventually discovered (I think) there is no way to solve this. So electronic mapping systems let you manually enter “vias”, i.e. some line segment that connects two bits of road together. That software is letting you use your knowledge (you can go that way) to override their database that can’t allow you to go that way.

But Google isn’t designed for complex routing issues. It’s designed for ordinary users to do simple things and thus doesn’t clutter up its UI with all sorts of advanced features. I encountered this with my standard USA mapping application (now defunct as the company was bought out and their products dropped; I won’t mention the name). That program was for “pros”, people who had complex navigation problems. For a while it was the only car-based solution but gradually the dashboard GPS came out and also, of course, Google Maps on smartphones. Those solutions are generally much easier to use, but they are “dumbed-down” relative to people with complex navigation requirements, which of course is a very tiny fraction of the market that they can afford to ignore.

So after searching for other solutions (there are a few other online mapping systems, but most have even less data than Google) it appears, like my route on the map, I just can’t get there.

As someone so often says, “SAD”.

So that means I have to use the one other data source I have which has two problems: 1) the distances between the 34 overnight stops are rounded off and add up to about 50km less than the known distance of the route (which, often, there are multiple answers to that to be found, but all the distances are greater), and, 2) there are just the 34 waypoints which will takes weeks for me to reach each (yes, the trekkers do them in a day, but I couldn’t imagine doing 20 miles / 6 hours on the treadmill in a day).

Plus my purpose in all this is a “virtual” trek. I did learn that Google has lots of detailed data at short distance intervals, restaurants, hotels, gîtes (the French equivalent of alburgues) and other points of interest. So I need all that detail to “see” what the trek would look like. It turns out that only doing relatively short daily distances on treadmill allowed me to follow (where available) the entire streetview (so literally walk into a town and look around). I have lots of experience looking at satellite photos (though mostly in plains and midwest US which doesn’t look much like France, or even Spain) but online satphotos aren’t the high resolution spy photos so often you can’t “see” very much. And looking at the roof of a house or building is much less interesting than looking at it at ground level.

So while I can use the table I did find, just for statistical purposes, I’m going to have to really guess (from zooming in on GPS track displayed in Google Earth, unless I can figure out how to load KML files into Google Maps) where I am. It’s not going to be pretty and that’s a bummer that make take too much “fun” out of my virtual trek to just bother.

At least one thing, though, is I can take a look at some French restaurants and while I’m not interesting in trying to build a translation app for that at least I can see lots of pretty pictures of food (already seen some, first course in France seems to routinely be pâté not cured meats as in Spain).

So with all this discussion out of the way I can get back to my regular topic, menus in Spain, since Santiago has a ton of restaurants, some with online menus I can decode.

Next virtual trek

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had completed my virtual trek of the Camino de Santiago. That is, I take mileage I accumulate on my treadmill in the basement and convert it to locations along the Camino. Google Maps and Streetviews then provide a good “look” at the route.

Why do I do this? First, I want to actually learn as much as I can about walking the Camino and my relatively low daily distances on the treadmill are easy to follow on Google Maps, also allowing me to find restaurants and albergues along the Camino and study their photos and menus to learn more about food, or generally something about what walking the Camino would be like. Second, using a treadmill is boring so I need some sort of incentive – knowing I’m just a short distance, along the route of my virtual trek, to a particular POI (Point of Interest) on a map gives me motivation to do a bit more on the treadmill.

So now that I’ve “finished” the Camino what do I do?

Now I put “finished” in quotes because the data I have for the Camino’s route (and thus distances along the route) is somewhat uncertain. I found a Google Earth GPS track of the Camino and used that for while, but whoever set that up didn’t renew their Google license (for embedded maps in webpages) and it failed. So I found another route. And guess what, they’re not the same.

There’s an old joke that a man who has just one watch “knows” what time it is, but a man with two watches isn’t sure, i.e. different sources of data almost always disagree. Also, until my latest exercise I didn’t try to get distances along the Camino directly from the GPS data but instead from a table I found on the Net. I did enough analysis to confirm that table seemed relatively accurate and so used that data to declare I had “finished” the Camino.

But two new items for me. While I had learned that “Camino” itself is a vague term (there are many routes of the Camino) I didn’t realize that the Camino Frances (the most popular route) doesn’t actually start in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port; that’s just the most popular starting point resulting in about an 800km walk. Instead that particular Camino really can start various places in France, but most commonly in Le Puy-en-Velay France (and then that segment goes by the name, Via Podiensis). Adding that segment (and also going past Santiago to Fisterra) turns the walk into a 1000 mile trek, not just the <500 miles of the conventional route.

So now I have an obvious extension to the Camino to use as my new virtual trek, the entire 1000 mile distance which will give me something to do on my treadmill for another year. So that gives me a new project, figure out the distances along the Via Podiensis. Right away (and I’ll describe this in more detail in a followon post) I found several GPS tracks but all of those have some “issues” as to figuring out distances and milestone waypoints. I also found, at a website that does escorted walks, a table of distances between the 34 overnight stops they make. But that route is: a) not exactly the detailed route of the Via Podiensis, and, b) the distances are round numbers whose sum of all the segments is about 80km less than various sources claim is the total distance.

Now people actually walking the Via Podiensis could care less about all this; they’ll find the route (possibly with some misdirection) and get to their destination. But I need as accurate as I can create route and table of distances to do my conversion from miles on the treadmill to locations in France.  And so that’s what I’m working on now and will report in a short while.

Fortunately I have plotted about the first 40km and as I’m now only (on cumulative treadmill distances) about 2km past Santiago I can restart my virtual trek for at least a couple of weeks while I figure the rest out from the multiple sources I have (and perhaps even more I might find).

Now how do I do this?

I have a long history with GPS and GPS tracks and I’ll bore you, Dear Reader (and record for myself) some details.

I first learned about GPS when I was working at a small startup in Silicon Valley and one of the engineers was recruited to go work at a new startup, Trimble. I’d never heard of this (or GPS) but learned an ex-HPer, named Trimble, had started the company and was recruiting colleagues he’d known at HP (now in the diaspora of former HP employees populating all the other startups). At that time GPS was a military technology and had a hugely expensive system (in nuclear submarines) but Trimble believed this could be re-engineered for a consumer (albeit only professionals) technology. Later, in another company I used to ride my bike to work and I often noticed people with huge backpacks and an attached 6′ long stick with electronics  on top. I didn’t know it at the time but these engineers were testing the early Trimble prototypes.

So fast forward about a decade and when I first moved to Nebraska I was going crazy in the winters (having been spoiled by California) and so just set out driving south, eventually ending up in Big Bend National Park. Driving solo and trying to read a paper map was nearly impossible so I was in the market for a better alternative. A bit of research revealed that GPSr (the ‘r’ is for ‘receiver’) had truly been reduced to consumer (affordable) level and so I bought my first laptop and the DeLorme GPSr and its software. The world of automated navigation was opened to me.

While the laptop worked fine in the car (I had to also discover “inverters”, then uncommon to power the laptop) but was useless for walking. That led me to discover handheld GPSr’s, in particular the early Garmin eTrek models which I bought at the original Cabellas (in Sydney Nebraska) and used for the first time hiking in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, learning an important first lesson, use the GPSr to record the location of your car so you can get back to it.

All this led me to the world of geodashing, one of the various geo-xxx “sports” in the earliest days of consumer GPS where they were still rare and so enthusiasts would find a way to make a game of using a GPS. Over time I learned more about mapping and especially the early satphotos to use to study a place one might go, where despite roads being shown on the electronic maps (the data was crummy back then) might not really exist. Over the years I got better and better at using these tools, which eventually led me to my first “virtual” trek.

Now raw GPS tracks are usually pretty messy data. For instance, here’s a set of tracks, made over multiple days (since time affects GPS accuracy) of a corner near my house.

or even this set of tracks including the driveway of my house (the red lines are actual paths of the streets as taken from a surveyed map) – note all the scatter in the data, this will come up as an issue in my next post.

Each GPS has various options for recording data and as you can see in this image (I recorded the maximum data) there is a lot of variability. IOW, early on, with my own experiments I came to look at GPS tracks with a bit of skepticism. So tracks I found on the Net I know are not quite right.

So with all this practice and knowledge I set out to create my first virtual trek, the Pacific Crest Trail (which, btw, I did “finish”, as in do the necessary distance on my treadmill). This was years ago and I don’t remember the details but I remember writing my own code to convert the KML (Google Earth) file I’d found into Delorme “route” info. I quickly learned that Delorme couldn’t handle the entire PCT as a single “route” so I had to break it in pieces.

BUT, the key thing was Delorme could convert the waypoints (fortunately closely spaced) to distances. Given the PCT doesn’t follow any “roads” the routing within Delorme itself was useless, but I found a way to get distances from the GPS track and from that I could then convert my cumulative treadmill distances to location. Of course I used Google Earth to “view” the PCT, but: a) at that time Google hadn’t done Streetview yet, and, b) the PCT is a wilderness trail that doesn’t follow any “roads” in the Delorme database. But Delorme was designed to use (the Topo) version for people doing outdoor recreations and thus was happy to have routes that didn’t follow any known paths in their database and still get distances.

So all of this led to where I am now. I hoped to repeat the process but knowing: a) there is a lot more and newer information, mostly from Google, and, b) Delorme only has detailed maps for the USA. So now I had to find a new way to replicate the process I used for the PCT and apply it to the Via Podiensis.

And I’ll end this post with this, to be continued with the explanation of the process I am discovering (still having to experiment some) for Via Podiensis which eventually means I’ll have what I need: a fairly precise table of distances (at roughly 10km intervals) that actually follows the roads, paths and even off-road trails (not known to Google, but I can guess some). It’s a tedious process but for me, with my weird obsessions, an interesting exercise in itself with the ultimate outcome (still a hope but fairly sure I can do it) to create what I need for another ~750km of virtual trek.

 

Santiago is only the destination

I’ve been busy, mostly doing lots of actual learning of Spanish (instead of my original goal of just translating menus in Spain) but I’ve kept up my exercise, both bicycle and treadmill. I translate my distance on the treadmill to distance along the Camino de Santiago. Since I only do a short mileage per day I can follow, in detail, on Google Maps the route. I have a list of distances along the Camino (presumably correct, but after all I found it on the Net which makes it a bit suspect for accuracy) and so now I can announce that I’ve created the trip from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago de Compostela, 494.86 miles, just under 800km (the road sign at the start of the movie The Way showed 800km).

Now a “virtual” trek along the Camino may sound silly, but here’s my point: 1) I’m not in Spain so I can’t actually do the Camino, 2) I need a reason to pound out exercise miles in my basement (with the “hope” that being in shape means I could do a real walk) and converting miles to locations along the Camino provides an incentive, and, 3) if nothing else I can at least see what I might encounter along the way, as poor a substitute that satellite photos, human geotagged photos and Google StreetView might provide. But as Joost says, “a man can dream!”.

So now I’ve “seen” everything along the Camino, or did I? Like most people I thought the Camino was just that 800km from French border to NW Spain. Yes, I learned there are numerous Camino routes. When Spain was under Moorish conquest the route became the Camino del Norte, a more rugged (and frankly more interesting,to me) route. But why is the route just Spain? Sure in theory it’s to reach St. James but there are lots of routes pilgrims can take.

Now just a bit more on my stats. As the movie says “I started my pilgrimage” on 22Nov2017 (rather that’s when I started with my current file of records, I’d actually done 42.2 miles before then). And you might say, awfully slow there old chap. Yep, my average daily distance is a tiny fraction of what a real trek requires. All I can say in defense is that I’ve also done 10435.9 miles on my stationary bike at the same time, a bit more impressive 25.3 miles a day since starting my virtual Camino. IOW, I could have done the Camino about 20 times (or 10 there and back) on my back in the same time it took me to “walk” it.

But why did I label my post as I did?

It turns out I’ve been reading a fun little Kindle book “The Journey in Between” by Keith Foskett. Of the various stories (movies, documentaries) I’ve seen about the Camino this one was interesting. It’s the personal story of a young Brit who since a young age just loves walking. The Camino had none of the usual interest to him, just a good walking route. And as I’ve now learned he started another 740 km (various measures of the distance exist) Before St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in Le Puy France. He has an interesting story of his personal journey so I’ll let you read that for yourself, but I just want to include two tidbits:

relative to the idea that “Santiago is only the destination”

There is no defining event, no sudden enlightenment. I needed to live in the moment, enjoy the journey.

and

The text summarized my journey. My mindset at the beginning was simple: El Camino had a start and an end. Begin at Le Puy en Velay, finish in Santiago, and complete the challenge. But I realized that the answers lay between those points; neither end mattered.

I’ve wondered why I’ve become so fascinated with the Camino and probably until I try to do it I won’t know. But like Keith (Fozzie) I too have liked to walk my entire life. I grew up in Montana where at least at a kid level I could take long walks. In high school I read of Hemingway talking about hiking near Red Lodge Montana and wanted to go (my parents were not so accommodating on my impulses). I climbed Mt. Washington in bad weather once I started college in Boston. I did my first backpacking trip in the middle of a hurricane. I gradually got better equipment and more skill and have tested myself against the Sierra, the Cascades and the Rockies.

Backpacking or even just wilderness hiking is way different than the Camino. But both emphasize self-sufficiency and rising to cope with whatever comes your way. The Camino (or other long walks in Europe) are oriented to frequent stops in towns and lots of encounters with people whereas the long walks in the USA (Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail – I’ve done segments of each) are more remote, with fewer creature comforts. Albergues in Spain (or Gîtes in France as I’ve just learned from Fozzie’s book) may be a bit rough but it’s not quite the same as really sleeping on the ground.

But what is it about walking? Sure, lots of people do the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons, the original reason. But today most do it for some other purpose. It’s not as crazy as the mobs on Everest now with a few dying due to overcrowding, but somehow we humans like to get out and move around, and push ourselves into more difficult efforts than we thought we could do. But again, why?

I think the real think about walking, even the short hikes I do on a couple of local trails is just our sense of time and space and, most important, of ourselves changes from the life we normally lead. A good walk may take 6 hours in a distance a car moves in 15 minutes, but how different is the experience. Humans evolved to react to our environment at the pace of walking, not cars or planes, or even bicycles. Somehow the rhythmic thing of one foot in front of another changes us.

And time changes. The constant hurry of our normal world is now replaced by a loss of sense of time. Time is measured by when scenery changes, when someone else is on the path, approaching in the distance, getting larger and larger, then saying hello, and then gone, all in more time than the typical business meeting. Time is when I reach the bend I can see ahead. And time is a lot, hours of walking, more of a single thing than we normally do. And mostly solitary. Even if walking with companions talking is only some of the time. We spend more time with just ourselves than we do in any other event, except perhaps sleeping.

And then somehow physical exertion, being very aware of our bodies (especially aches and pains), the slow passing of time, the building of fatigue (or hunger or thirst or needing to pee) just become our focus. The other stuff falls away.

So the most meaningless part of my “virtual” Camino is not disconnecting with normal life and connecting with life on the road. I’ve known this well enough, in my multi-day backpacks and bikepacks, to understand what it means. And somehow it is compelling.

The Camino, for me, is not as enticing as it was before I did my “virtual” version of it. I’ve looked at enough of the path (often a gravel path right next to a highway with lots of traffic and no shade,  I have a place nearby, called the Cowboy Trail, that can provide that) to reduce the glamour. I’ve read enough accounts, books and online diaries, to see some of the bad, or just the mundane, along with the good. My illusions are less, my enthusiasm is less.

But the wanderlust is still there. One point of the Camino, for someone who does just want to take a long walk, is all the accommodations for pilgrims. Being able to stop at night, find food along the way, etc. fits my age better than my backpacking days. When I did my first bike camping trip, along the California coast, I quickly saw some advantages over backpacking. I had to stay at campgrounds (not just on any piece of ground) and those are near towns. So forget lugging food. Unpack the gear from the bike, set up the tent, and head to town, not just for heavy (none of the freeze dried nearly inedible stuff) food but also a nice bottle of wine, unthinkable to carry on a multiday backpack. So the idea of carrying even less, as in trekking on the Camino, sounds pretty good. Sleeping in a bad bunk bed in a dormitory, not so much.

So I still haven’t found my dream (and also, at this point in my life, “bucket list”) walk, but I’ll keep looking. The people who do the Camino have a letdown when they’re done, often finding an excuse to go further (or perhaps reverse course and go back where they started). Because the destination is not a place, it’s a state of mind, and it’s not a time, it’s forever. The geodashing I do has a slogan “getting there is all the fun”. Anyone on the Camino would understand this.