Orchestral ASMR: Intense ASMR Experiences where I’d Least Expected them.


ASMR: a sensory experience so personal, private and internal that it hadn’t been documented as an experience or sensation in any language that I know of. I’m not even sure I’d ever heard it described in literature or song – even obliquely, but in 2009 when I searched “relaxing voice” I became a passive member of a community which had described a sensation and it’s triggers through the medium of short film.

It remains a private experience, on mobiles and computers, usually in bedrooms, late at night. I really thought that it was something that everyone experiences – and to some extent wonder if it could be a more widespread phenomenon, with some people having lower thresholds for triggering it than others. But, in particular among those who haven’t experienced this profound relaxation, there is scepticism. For them, ASMR viewers are enjoying (or are even titillated by) the particular attentions of beautiful women.

And I can understand their scepticism, similar to that voiced for now well investigated sensory phenomena such as synesthesia, or more concretely the sensations associated with the syndrome of “low pressure headache”, described, but controversial, l before the era of MRI revealed “physical evidence” for this.

There is nowhere less sexy than an albergue. It’s a low cost dormitory offered to walkers following the Camino de Santiago*. After walking some 20-40 kilometres (on average) peregrinos pay a minimal sum for a mattress (on the floor or a bunk bed) and retire early (usually) ready for walking early the next morning, before the midday sun.

This summer I walked just shy of 900 kilometres, on the coastal “Camino del Norte”, spending most of my nights in this kind of accommodation.

I have simply never experienced more intensive ASMR, in this most unlikely of places.

The lights in the albergue go out at around 10 or 10.30pm, but for a peak ASMR experience, I’d recommend slipping into your sleeping sack (or sheets) at around 9.30pm.

There’s a bit of visual stuff. People are carefully folding clothes and items for the next day. They move slowly and softly (the walkers are usually very respectful of those who have already gone to sleep), they smooth out their sheets.

But the audio is where the albergue really comes into it’s own. The volume until 9pm can be rowdy or chatty, with little respect for any very early sleepers, but almost like a gradual dimming of the lights in preparation for a performance, the volume drops.

This drop from normal speech amplitudes gives way to a staccato silence punctuated initially by the clicking whispers of the various nationalities on the camino. There might be a crescendo type performance from a chorus of Polish walkers with incomplete plans for the next days’ walking. One of them may break into normal speech by accident. The very fragile nature of unintentional (or as I like to call it “found” ASMR) is part of it’s beauty, and generally a hiss to suggest a return to whispering follows.

These ensembles give way to “soloists”: the late bag packer: carefully clicking, opening, closing bag buckles, the rustler: trying to minimise their plastic bag noise, the walker: low frequency muffled footsteps across a wooden or linoleum floor and the reader: still flicking though the pages of their guide, consulting the next day’s route. There can be special performances: in one albergue a girl methodically detangled her curly hair with a brush, making for a glorious background sound.

In the same way that the enjoyment of the music of an orchestra or band does not rely on the physical attractiveness of that group of people, the source of these soft sounds and movements is very much secondary to their nature.

As others search to experience exhilaration or terror on a roller coaster or go to see a comedian to laugh and be entertained, I seek out the ASMR artists and their well timed soft, tapping and clicking noises for the sensation they create. Something which seems to mainline my central nervous system, producing a profound relaxation, and a sensation which I’d hesitate to call tingling  (but I can see why others would use that word) in my back and neck.

Silence, or worse, snoring drown out the orchestra at usually 10.30-11pm. Despite “hanging on” for the tingling, I was generally asleep by that point anyway.

* Medieval pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela

Guernica and the plague of Bedbugs

Bedbugs. In Guernica, but the Albergue are sorting it. Involving a full scale shutdown of the place.

The famous bed race of the camino francès isn’t often seen on the Ruta Jacobea but there was a bit of scrambling around the city, and some busing onto other sites.

In a €15 per night albergue, I got what I paid for. Sharing a room with 2 other walkers, the spainard noted ‘huele del tigre aqui’. While in English a tiger conjures no specific smell, for spaniards it is perhaps the odour teenage boys hope to mask with Lynx body spray, rather than actual washing.

Mostly, Guernica is a delightful city, it would be very easy to spend a few nights here, so I wouldn’t let the bedbugs put you off.

A life size ceramic reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica can be seen in the city. This journal page shows a fragment. It’s a disturbing piece of work all right.

El camino (del norte) sin miedo or 10 pre-camino fears debunked!

Here are 10 questions I asked my Andaluz students (the initially confident salesmen turned ill-informed instigators of this travel plan), prior to embarking on the Camino del Norte.

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’d prefer something more informative than “¿Yo qué sé?” or  “¿En serio, te vas?”, so the answers are now my own.

  1. ¿Como voy a saber a donde ir?

I know, I know, I know: the yellow arrows. The question how to know where to go is one of confidence. You WILL know where to go, but until you experience it for yourself, you may not believe it (certainly my own experience). You’ve got a smart phone (probably), you can say at least “¿el camino de santiago por favor?”, and you may have a guide book. You are not going to get lost. Well not very often. And not at first at any rate.

If you’re starting from Irun or San Sebastian, and you’re walking with the Atlantic on your right hand side, you are  probably going the right way, and this holds true for a good majority of the walk.

The temptation is to walk on the promenades “not to miss an arrow”, but PLEASE release your feet from their sweaty bindings. Walking in the wet sand where the sea meets the shore is considerably less taxing than pushing through dry sand, and the sea and salt will soothe and strengthen your feet: nature’s natural blister remedy –  right where you need it most! One caveat: wash and dry your feet thoroughly at the many showering stations on any beach. Time taken looking after feet on this path is a sound investment. Remaining sand and moist feet will turn your socks into sandpaper and your feet into tender meat.

2. ¿Necesito una guia?

If you’re a nervy sort, then yes: you are going to need a guidebook. It is perfectly possible to do the camino without, although I think Spanish speakers would be in a stronger position. My students told me that it would be “muy facil compar una guía en San Sebastian”. And it was, very easy to buy A GUIDE IN CASTELLANO, in my native language, or indeed my pretty strong French: NADA.

The shopkeeper in Elkar pointed me towards a very neat, smaller than A5 volume, published by Rother. And it was an excellent recommendation. I had since written to the publisher suggesting they consider a French and English version in their next update, but Rother have sadly informed me that their only update in 2016 will be the German version.

3. ¿Que llevo conmigo?

Ah. The question which launched a thousand posts. Not to mention video blogs and forum questions. The ultimate guide on what to bring on the camino, is as elusive as it is searched for. The truth: as in so much in life, no one solution fits all. These guys have an excellent stab at it:

My personal favourite: Andrew Suzuki’s “Don’t stop walking”

Also commendable are Lindsey Cowie’s heavier, but probably comfier recommendations and a retrospective run down by the couple from “See you soon mom”.

Like the rest of the internet (!) I’ll be compiling a list of what I brought and what I would take next time. The main selling point of my list is that it was ultra cheap – having, as I did, a budget of around 150€ to prepare (including rucksack purchase!).

4. ¿Como es el clima en la costa en verano?

In theory the answer to this is: “it doesn’t really matter what the weather’s like, if you’ve got the right stuff”. In practice, even the for the ultra-high-spec-gear walkers, the major enemy of the peregrinos is the damp.

In my thirty days from San Sebastian to Santiago in June, I experienced 2 days of heavy downpour and 2 days of cloudiness with occasional light showers. The temperature seldom dipped below 18 degrees during the day, and although I saw a few of late afternoons with temperatures of over 30 degrees, the temperatures for walking were mostly closer to 25 degrees.

Things get pretty sweaty inside a waterproof, and bag straps can rub on skin. This is where your high tech fabrics wicking the sweat away from your the skin surface may have an advantage. I’ve mentioned damp feet, and on one day I actually stopped to dry my feet and change my socks before continuing onwards. Aim to pick up some sheets of newspaper at a bar prior to arriving at the albergue on a wet day: stuffing your shoes will help you avoid the misery of a cold, damp boot in the morning.

5. ¿Y si no quiero dormir abajo de las estrellas, podré encontrar sitio para dormir, sí?

Claro que sí.

There are more albergues on the ruta del Norte every year, although, you may have to walk further to get one than one might expect on the Camino Francés.

Sin embargo:

There is one particular area of “patchiness” in the Camino del Norte: depending on the distances covered and route: after Aviles, until and including Ribadeo. I stayed in more guest houses and private albergues in this part of the route than in any other.

Muros de Nalon:   Casa Carmina (Private Albergue, highly recommended – 15€, but some distance from any bars or shops)

Ballota: Casa Fernando (Low price hotel, shared room with 2 other walkers, to the tune of 23€ each)

Luarca: the closest I came to homelessness – on the wettest day of my camino. This stunning fishing village is a draw for travellers of every type, so it’s best to aim to arrive early  in the day. I found out to my cost : 45€, by far my priciest accommodation at the Hotel Baltico.

Arboces (La Caridad): this was a €5 albergue, seriously basic and quite isolated from any kind of provisions (which the owner took full advantage of: offering a free lift to his own restaurant in the town…)

Ribadeo: with only 12 beds, I didn’t manage to get into the Albergue de Ribadeo either. Another €20 down and I stayed in a retro-from-the-first-time-round, impeccably clean 70’s style hotel: Hostal Orol.

6. ¿Hay muchas fuentes en el norte?

Or otherwise worded “I have a 1.5litre SIGG bottle, will there be enough public water to keep this topped up during the day, or do I need another water bottle?”

I kept an additional 500ml bottle topped up, but only ended up using it on the following days:

Deba to Markina Xemein

Markina Xemein to Gernika

Castro Urdiales to Laredo

Ribadesella – Sebrayo

Lourenzá – Gontán (a particularly “dry” stage in my opinion)

Baamonde – Sobrado Dos Monxes

7. ¿Cuanto me costera, en tu opinion?

I had 800€ to last the month.

It was enough. With about 40€ to spare.

But I’ll admit to having had a more frugal camino than most. My eating requirements are irritatingly complex, but didn’t have to be expensive.  I mainly drank (free) water, bought food in local shops and supermarkets, and stayed in municipal albergues where possible.

8. ¿Es peligroso andar sola como mujer?

When I announced my intentions to walk the camino, a concerned friend forwarded me information on Denise Thiem, at that time missing, now known to have been murdered on the Camino Francés.

It was news which unsurprisingly devastated the camino community, and has had a lasting impact on the solo peregrina. Safety is something that you should take very seriously, although I do believe that it would be a terrible shame not to undertake the walk for this reason.

On one occasion, a still drunk from the night before Spaniard tried to strike up a slightly leery conversation.

Other than that I can really say that I had no problems at all. I was glad to be walking with a stick, which did help me feel that I’d be able to whack any approaching wrongdoer. Some other walkers had whistles, and even simply to alarm anyone approaching, I think this is a great idea, and I’ll certainly be taking one on any future walks!

9. ¿Que voy a comer?

I’m vegetarian, I don’t eat gluten (secondary to bad acne breakouts). No bread on the camino is an inconvenience and an expense! It also renders a menu del día pretty inedible.

The provision of fridges in albergues is variable, and there may be a good few items stuffed into these shelves by the time you arrive. Don’t count on them, that’s what I’m saying.

I carried a small knife, a vegetable peeler, and to the amusement of many other walkers, a miniature colander clipped to the side of my bag.

What I ate on the camino:

Bananas – by the truckload. 6 bananas in one day? easy.

Other fruit and veg: paraguayos (I called them “flat peaches” translating directly from French before discovering they are more exotically named “saturn peaches” in English), plums, carrots, cucumbers, peppers (the occasional treat of an avocado or even a mango) anything not requiring cooking really.

Five hundred gram jars of chickpeas or haricot beans cost about 50 cents, and can be washed at any drinking fountain with your handy colander! I added a can of “pisto” (a Spanish relative of ratatouille), cold of course. I would say that this was a staple lunch.

I would sometimes push the boat out with a can, or packet of “espinacas con garbanzos” (spinach with chickpeas).

Cheese didn’t travel well, and was relatively expensive so unless I bought it with someone for immediate sharing, it wasn’t high on the comestibles list.

Initially, I managed to avoid chocolate and crisps, as I would usually try to keep to a healthier diet: but the calorific demands of the camino would not be satisfied by the pure veg that I had time to prepare!

My camino indulgence was an expresso with a slice of spanish tortilla. Having since found out how this is made (with A LOT more olive oil, potatoes and eggs than you’d think), it’s unsurprising that I was unable to resist it come 10 or 11am.

10. ¿Necesito estar en forme?

Not really.

The real question is how much time and how big a budget do you have? The camino del Norte involves quite a bit of “up and down” and some official stretches  can be long, but by taking it slow at the start I think that most people could work themselves up to it during the walk.

If you don’t have the time or money for that, get out walking for at least a few weekends before. For the sake of your feet if not your fitness!



Reading, investigation and preparation are all part of the camino journey, but ultimately, the questions we ask ourselves can best be answered though experience and reflection: on camino as in life 🙂


keys handed in. 

1 hour to spare, me and my rucksack (again, I think there will be a theme) and a quick sketch.

Downsizing also in ambition because I  traded my A4 book for a more manageable A5 size. The reality of sketching on the road won out!



The life affirming magic of putting stuff into bags*

IMG_2141   (this is not my camino packing)

I’m a natural hoarder like my dad.

I feel sad for the waste of disposal.

I’ll admit to having kept a collection of receipts as a child. But as an adult, I’ve never stayed in one place for too long and have spent an unusual proportion of my twenties in “hospital accommodation”, choosing cheaper bricks and mortar in exchange for better city locations. As such I do have less physical possessions than most of my peers. I know one more thing bought is just one more thing carried.

But I always feel that an object in my hand might be useful one day.

And I’m reminded of my mother who would throw out my dad’s possessions without him realising, and that woman who bangs on about the objects that bring you joy*.

But I still loathe the moving/packing/cleaning process. It seems to take me longer than anyone else I know (and I’ve had a fair bit more experience with it).

I move around my flat in ever decreasing circles, until I’m left with the batteries, keys and paperclips.

Some items continue to be “in use” right until the last moment (cutlery – which I only have one set of, cup – ditto). Recognising this to be the case, I often just surrender to other activities (my old friend procrastination back again 😉 !) Today: buying bus tickets, recycling (WORTHY procrastination, ideal), speaking to my mum (ditto the worthy but she also always has good chat, so it’s not such a one sided deal) and writing this post!

My main items (pictured half filling suitcase above) will be stored with friends and my camino gear will, of course, come on my back!

My sketchbook is indulgently large (A4 Leuchtturm 180grms) and I’m taking a few sheets of watercolour paper, my watercolour palette and a pencil case with a couple of pens and pencils (I do mean a couple). So I’ll have to think about how to save weight otherwise. I’d be interested to hear from anyone doing the camino now – in the summer – what do you have on your feet? Are you ever wearing boots? I have a lot of conflict about taking something heavier than my teva sandals…

*I’ve not read this book, but I will, not least because it seems incredibly divisive!

A Posting Experiment: What is this Camino anyway?

  Many thanks for your comments and suggestions regarding my camino experience! I have some more queries that I am hoping some of you might have some thoughts on :-). The experiment part of this post is to do it entirely from my phone to see how long that will take :-)!! But first, in response to Karen’s question “what is the camino anyway?” (She put it more elegantly!). Veterans please skip to “questions for the veterans” :-)!

The Saint James Way

Often Spoken of in the singular, these are a collection of medieval pilgrimage trails (some pre dating this) leading from various sites in Europe (as far as northern France and Austria) to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.

St James (Santiago) is a big deal in Spain, he brought the message of Christianity to the Iberian peninsula. The Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to him on a pillar while he was preaching here (explaining popular Spanish female first name “Pilar”).

After that, he made the unwise decision to return to Judea and was promptly decapitated.  But his remains ended up in “the field of stars” (possibly via people, possibly via angels, the exact story is debated), now Santiago de Compostela.

While many still make the journey motivated by religion, it has become a popular way to see a beautiful variety of Spanish landscapes, while throwing off the trappings and luxuries of daily life. All you own (for the duration of the trip), you carry.


The routes which I am considering are in the north of Spain and thus benefit from the proximity of the Atlantic, and are significantly cooler than the “Via de plata” from Seville, or the camino de Madrid. The “camino Portuguese” is the second most popular trail in the Iberian peninsula, but I’m keen to stay in Spain, so it’s not a route I’ve considered in detail

Camino Francés

The distance and duration depend on your starting point. By far the most popular is the “Camino Francés”, with some …. Pilgrims completing the trail in 2014. It takes around 4 weeks and covers ….km (miles). It is well serviced, with villages, or at least rest stops every few kilometres.

Camino del Norte

I’m tempted by the camino del Norte, running right along the coast, starting at San Sebastián. The distances between the allergies (or albergues without the spellcheck!) are greater and it’s less well marked. Less pilgrims choose this route, and I wonder if it’s slightly quieter reputation would suit me better.


The albergues are very basic hostels, which commonly cost very little (€7-10) per night for communal sleeping areas. My understanding is that these could be more expensive on the camino del Norte.


I’d welcome any advice on the following issues:

1. Do you know anyone who has done the “camino del Norte”? How easy is it to keep to the route

2. Will I be able to buy a silk sleep sheet on the route? I’m worried about the bed bugs!

3. Has anyone been sketching or drawing on the route? Any advice about this?

4. What is the availability of wifi on the camino DSL Norte? Ps experiment took quite a long time. Less words from the road I think!

Evaluation of the post writing on the mobile platform:

it’s possible but the nature of a small keyboard makes it more time consuming.

An autocorrect has changed my “albergues” to allergies without me noticing.

For uploading some pictures, and short commentaries, it should be ok.

Early preparations for the Camino


I think that for most people, a countdown of 17 days would not be labelled “early preparations”, but I remind you dear reader, that I am the queen of procrastination, and as such this is positively premature as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve spent the weekend watching some camino videos on the various internet video platforms.

My favourite is from Andrew Suzuki, concise, helpful and entertaining. The thoughts overall are “pack light” and remember that Spain is not a third world country and you will probably be able to pick stuff up along the way.

Jaén has a tiny outdoors shop “Campingmania” near San Ildefonso.

I’ve got a ridiculously low budget for doing the whole thing – this summer probably has to come in under €1000, and I’ll be sharing my purchases and expenses here, partly to keep myself in check. I agree that probably some time spent crawling the internet and online ordering could have saved me some cash, but I prefer to support local shops (and er, I haven’t really left myself that much time…).

I’m using my sketchbook to help me plan!

I do have some good quality gear from other adventures to kick me off (phew):

1. 1 pair TIVA walking sandals (broken-in in India 🙂 )

I’ve added this link because they’ve got quite a nice Instagram photo competition on the go for the photographers out there 🙂

2. Goretex Waterproof

3. Trusty Sigg waterbottle

and today I added to this:

4. Ferrino 36l backpack  €86

5. Ferrino XL travel towel €22

Additionally, I’m going to get a whistle, light, hat, knife and walking poles. I’ll get to my local pharmacy as well to stock up on some first aid items :-).

I don’t think I need much else, equipment-wise, but any thoughts from seasoned walkers would be interesting.

I’ll have my Spanish mobile with me, rather than my computer, and I’ve downloaded wordpress to my mobile. I doubt I’ll be posting lengthy reflections, but hopefully I’ll get some pictures up!

Decluttering in Space, and Time

Minimalism is having a moment.

And my brother was ahead of the game.

When he was at university, he had a philosophy of only trying to accomplish “one thing” in a day, for example a “thing” might be going to the post office.

Eating, sleeping playing the guitar and watching TV seen as “core tasks”, which he enjoyed, or were necessary.  Other activities (studying, administrative items) were seen as intrusions to the schedule and were minimised.

This wasn’t amazing for his degree, but he plays the guitar very well, and has an innate understanding of media and storytelling and this is where he now works despite the lack of qualifications.

Many people have written about how routine can “declutter” our lives and lead to us accomplishing more. I’m certainly a person who can live, and prefers to live without many objects. I’ve been able to fit my life into two suitcases for the past five years, however I have sometimes felt that I allow things which are not important to me to “clutter” my time.

But for one month this summer, I will be privileged to be able to spend 4 weeks on 4 main tasks:

walking, sleeping eating and drawing on the Camino de Santiago.

(From what I’ve read, there’s a possibility that “foot care” may become an intrusive item.)

I’m looking forward to this sparse schedule, but the exact choice of camino is likely to significantly impact this experience. It’s something I’ll be giving consideration to in the next few days.