Canadians on the Camino, Day 29: Technology on The Way 

Connected on the trail
Connected on the trail

(October 2)

John Brierley’s guidebook is ubiquitous here and seems to poke out of every backpack and sit on every lunch and dinner table, at least among English speakers. It is small enough that it fits into the front pocket of my hiking pants and I refer to it multiple times a day. It is packed with information, and simple maps, about each day’s walk and the trails and landmarks you will encounter as you walk along.

Smart phones in hand

On at least one score, however, Brierley is whistling into the wind. He advises his readers to leave their cameras and mobile phones at home. “Break the dependency and taste the freedom,” he writes. In my experience, few people have taken that advice. They have their smart phones in hand at every turn — in the lobbies and even in their bunks at albergues, on the tables in restaurants, bars and rest stops.  I see people using earphones to listen to music as they walk and occasionally I see someone, as I did today, reading from her screen while walking down quite a steep trail.

Today when we checked into our albergue, I asked the friendly woman if they have Wi-Fi (they pronounce it as wee-fee here). “Si, si ,”she said. Then I inquired if everyone asks that. “Todos,” she replied. Everyone.

Almost every establishment you visit, whether an albergue, hostel, hotel, bar or restaurant, advertises that it has Wi-Fi. They do but often it doesn’t work, or it may work in the reception area but not in your room. In one hostel the landlady’s teen-aged daughter instructed us to stand in the stairwell outside of the locked office door, which Martha did – and it worked.

iPad, SIMM card, data plan

Martha brought her Mini iPad to Spain and relies on Wi-Fi for email and web surfing. She has quite often been frustrated by the spotty Wi-Fi service but usually she gets by. She also uses the device to take pictures and it does a nice job.

I purchased a smartphone a few months ago in Canada and had a SIMM card installed in Spain. So far I have placed 40 Euros on it. That allows me to make phone calls within the country and has been invaluable in booking accommodation. I can also receive calls from anywhere. The phone plan also provides me with one Gigabite of data for each of two months so that I can send and receive messages, and surf the web from pretty well anywhere. That has allowed me, for example, to make Facebook posts from almost every stop along the way.

I have also used the phone’s camera for taking pictures and they have been of a surprisingly good quality. I have a simple photo editing program on the device that allows me to crop photos and to enhance them somewhat.

Martha and I are in a hybrid stage with technology, as are many people of our age. For example, I still carry a small moleskin notebook (a gift from my sister) and I use it to keep track of our accommodation bookings, our finances, and to jot down other notes. Younger people mostly use their smart phones to keep such records or to record their diaries.

KOBO and Scrabble on line

We brought our miniature Scrabble game with us to Spain, although we left it in Madrid so that we would not have to carry it while walking. We have found that we can use the mini iPad to play on line as long as Martha has access to Wi-Fi, although by the time evening arrives we are usually too tired for word games.

Also, I brought my KOBO reader to Spain but similarly left it in Madrid so that I would not have to carry it while hiking. Now I find that I can log into my KOBO account from my smartphone. It is certainly possible to read eBooks on the phone, but the screen is too small for that to be a pleasant experience. In any event, we are too tired on most evenings to read, no matter what the format.

Does all of this technology make us wiser or more observant pilgrims than in the past? I doubt it. I know, too, that somewhere clever people are writing theses and books about how information technology is changing how our brains are wired. Whatever their conclusions will be, I know that my phone has been a useful tool on the Camino.

Nothing to do but walk

Now back to pilgrim land. Today we walked 23 kilometres beginning in our albergue which is carved out of a farm pasture near a village called Ribadiso. This evening we are in the town of O Pedrouzo, population 5,000. Our albergue is located behind a gas station beside the main highway to Santiago de Compostela.

The walk today was mainly through shaded paths under eucalyptus and other trees and for the most part away from the busy roads. The songbirds are chirpy and from time to time we came upon a profusion of flowers carefully tended in front of homes or just along roadsides.

Today, as in all days for the past month, we have had nothing to do but walk. The terrain has not been difficult in most of Galicia. The trail is pleasant and the sloping valleys in the countryside are green and lovely. Time has seemed to stand still if only for a few days. We have only 20 kilometres remaining on our walk to Santiago and will be in the city tomorrow.

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament