Camino de Compostella de Santiago
OUR CAMINO – A SHORT STORY OF A LONG JOURNEY
Thursday 20th May, 2010
London bustling, bright, bombastic. And did I say commercial? At any glance, sideways, straight ahead, and behind, there is an opportunity to buy something. Ironic then, that is where we begin one of the oldest pilgrimages in the world. A walk to look inward, to honor the spirit and put aside the “things ” we think we need and want.
Friday 21st May, 2010
St Jean Pied de Port – France
Today we arrive in France….. its been 20 years since I was here. I love the French accent and language and my ears are on full alert for every opportunity to catch the lilting tones. Flying into Biarritz, we are greeted by Laura and two other pilgrims from Norway for our one-hour transfer to St Jean Pied de Port.
St Jean is a very pretty town. It’s the ancient capital of the Basque region; classic, old, rural French in architecture and lane ways. It’s a hilly town, set around the river Nive. A word of warning, watch your feet as you walk. Cobblestones roads and footpaths are certainly not graced with evenness, small steps seem to jut out of everywhere. It’s also wise to be watching for irregular sprinklings of evidence that the French love their puppy-dogs !!!!!!!
We easily found the hostel L’Esprit du Chemin with the welcoming fixture of backpack and poles leaning against the front door. The hostel is superb in every way. I can now smell the dinner cooking and my mouth is watering.
After settling in to our hostel room (only 4 beds – this is a good start!) we headed off to “check in” at the Pilgrims office directly across from L’Esprit. As pilgrims we need at least two vital items. One is our Pilgrim Passport or “Credential del Peregrino” which becomes our “passport” to accommodation at the Hostels along the walk. Proof that we are bonafied walkers or “seekers.” Each evening the hostel we stay at will place their stamp in the allocated spot. Every stamp is different and elaborate. This simple booklet becomes a unique souvenir and an interesting account of our travels. A wide variety of stamps are available at many places along the Camino and many Pilgrims make stamp collecting part of their journey.
The other essential item to “Pilgrimize” ourselves is the Scallop Shell. Just incase the walking shoes, backpack and foreign accents are not enough to identify us as Pilgrims, a scallop shell is given on registration to attach to our backpacks as an early visual symbol of our status. The Scallop Shell is a traditional and entrenched part of the Camino and all along the Path the Scallop Shell symbol is evident. The story goes that at the end of their journey to Santiago, the early Pilgrims would continue on to Finistere which was considered the end of the earth. Washed up on the beach, they would find a Scallop Shell to take back to their homes. This provided proof that they had completed the whole journey.
The Camino de Santiago de Compostella is an Ancient Pathway, around 800 kms long if started at St Jean Pied de Port. It is said that the Camino began in the 9th century when a hermit came upon some bones in a cave. Much to the Catholic churches good luck or good management, the bones were pronounced those of St James. St James, I have since learned, was close to Jesus and this gave “the discovery” some legs. Religious relics were sought after by the church (often invented) and the closer the relic was to Jesus, the more “profitable” it could be. James was the 4th apostle and is now the patron saint of Spain. Santiago (St James) being one of the most common boys name in Spain, up there along side “Maria” for girls.
If the Catholic church needed a boost in Spain, (I understand they did at the time) the bones of an real and original apostle settled somewhere under the milky way, provided a compelling point of interest, a reason to stop, think and give to the church. In return, the pilgrim reward was to have all their accumulated sins annulled. It is thought, at its height in the 12th century, nearly 1,000,000 million people would walk the Camino. The Council of Europe christened the Camino its first Cultural Route and remarked “The Compostella pilgrimage is considered the biggest mass movement of the Middle Ages.”
Aside from becoming sin free, it was commonly believed that miracles could result from “doing the walk!” Illness’s might be cured, even pestilence or weather turmoil in your village could disappear. Interestingly, and perhaps in a clever ploy by the Catholic church, the Pope decreed that the sins would be resolved of whose ever name was on the “Compostella” (certificate of completion) at the end of the journey. This allowed the more affluent of the time to fund the journey of a minion (as already mentioned it did not cost much), have his (the affluent ones) name on the paperwork at the end and reap the benefits. A very happy ever after, after life!
We have chosen a Guide Book by John Brierley. If we travel by his suggested route we have 33 days walking ahead of us, more if we take rest days. The shortest day outlined is 18.6 kilometers, the longest, 30.7. All is ahead and Sunday we will begin. Today and tomorrow though, we will relax, breath deeply and settle into this part of Europe.
Transfers to St Jean – $17E each, Accomm L’Esprit du Chemin
Euro passport – 2E each.
Saturday 22nd May, 2010
St Jean Pied de Port
We have rested well and are ready to explore St Jean and the start of the journey we begin tomorrow morning. Heading out along the Camino Pathway, the day begins with a sharp climb. Hills are not my strong suit. Tony has streaked ahead but I choose to take my time. It is a superb French morning and as this is just a practice run, an informal reconnaissance, I can go slow and stop and write. The day will be hot, but for now I feel a cool breeze on my skin. The bird song is beautiful. I am standing on the edge of St Jean a few houses are sprinkled within the hilly paddocks. I am intrigued and a little envious of someone’s vegetable garden as I try to discreetly stand on one leg, lean lopsided and peek over their fence. Their small hedge of thyme could be 100 years old, who knows maybe more.
So far I have been alone on the path meeting only one local woman passing with a friendly “Bon jour”. Now I hear the voices of some pilgrims coming behind. There is an orchestra of accents and languages amongst this group, some I do not recognize. They are ahead now, and the rhythm of this walk is clear. It is a walk. A one-foot in front of the other kind of walk. Not a run, a jog, a ride or a drive. I have the privilege of indulging for the next 4 – 5 weeks at this pace. A walk, a very long walk. A walk embarked upon by millions of pilgrims over hundreds of years. A wonderful, interesting, historical daily walk.
I cannot imagine a better place to begin the Camino than L’Esprit du Chemin Hostel in St Jean Pied de Port. From the classical meditative music in the evening to the morning wake up Gregorian Chanting. L’Esprit is quiet, clean, pretty and warm. Our dinner began with brief introductions from 22 guests from 4 continents. Some translating was required and thankfully our host speaks at least 5 languages. The guests also included two honeymoon couples – yours truly and a sweet young Japanese couple. A miniature bride and groom statue was presented to each of us with dessert and sparklers. Dinner, largely vegetarian affair was nourishing and delicious.
……………… Did I mention honeymoon! We do know that the Camino is not deemed a popular choice for honeymooners; not because of walking every day or even the 24/7 companionship nature of the trip including sharing mandatory hardships, hot or wet weather, sore feet and blisters. Not even the fact that 90% of the time your bed is a single bunk. No, the real oddity for honeymooners is that on any given evening you may be sharing your bedroom with anything from 2 to 98 other pilgrims!!!!!!!!!! Fortunately, we had not been saving ourselves for our wedding night!
Sunday 23rd May, 2010
St Jean – Burguete
I’m having a conversation with my feet now. “How are you feet? Left foot, you feel strong. Right, you are a little tired in the arch and toe. Let’s move to the other side of the road.” This walk is steep yes, and stunning. Green rolling hills, peaceful, sunny weather. It could not be more perfect as 9 motorcycles come up behind and pass. Noisy things motorbikes!! All I see is green grass and blue sky. To think it was covered in snow two weeks ago. Of course Tony wants some credit for predicting this weather but I just think he’s lucky.
Why thousands of people are drawn to a pilgrimage like this is a question that is often asked. The dictionary definition: “Pilgrim: a person who travels a long distance to a shrine, etc. as an act of devotion.” The Spanish term for a Pilgrim is Peregrino. A more secular definition then comes from the latin “per agrum” which means “through the field.”
Certainly, the idea of Pilgrim does not appeal to everyone. Walking 800 kms, with all you have in a pack on your back, is not everyones idea of fun. Mention the word “pilgrim” and many faces almost cringe and get a glazed expression that kind of look straight past me. I guess the closest experience most of us have had to a “Pilgrim” these days is the politically incorrect Monty Python version; a religious zealot, good hearted and a little simple minded, probably a bit smelly, definitely living on next to nothing. At worst wearing sackcloth and sandals, at best someone likely to take a mile if you offered a inch.
I began to consider what was it, then, that appeals to me about “being a pilgrim.” Life will surely be simple. Paired down to only a few material belongings, choices would be simple: just follow the yellow arrows (there really is only one main way, in one direction-West), eat the 3 course Peregrino “menu di dias” . Let someone else make the beds and do the housework. All the while spending each day building the body, nourishing the soul, indulging the mind, whilst still maintaining the budget. If you stick to “the program” I’m told the Camino could certainly be billed as one of the worlds cheapest holidays. Even eating out every night at the 3-course pilgrim dinner including bread, water and wine, you can “do” the Camino for around $45 Aus per day. This can expand of course if you want to take a taxi or bus part of the way, eat a real meal off a real menu, stay in small pensionnes enroute, or need lots of pharmacy products ie “Voltaran” cream, gel or tablets, paracetamol, inner soles, knee, ankle or leg compression bandages, blister treatment, lipstick!! You get the picture.
If I was to pinpoint a purpose for “My Camino” other than the pure joy of walking and only walking everyday, it’s to contemplate my true vocation. As children my mother often suggested we include in our prayers a wish that we might find our true vocations ie what I could do of greatest value that my unique being could bring to and leave with the world. I always liked to wonder about this as a child, but also held a slight fear it might mean at least one of us children would enter the “vocation” of a nun or a priest. Thankfully one of my sisters explored the possibility, which took the obligation right off my shoulders.
As much as I like to consider my purpose is my own spiritual contemplations, a test of physical endurance, an experience just to travel “through the field!”, one cannot travel everyday towards the burial place of a great Saint and not expect to be confronted with the issue of the elephant in the room ……………………………. GOD! This is a religious pilgrimage and I was raised a Catholic. I’m not sure how religious this walk will be. If “God” will be pushed upon us so to speak or subtly included? I intend to keep my eyes open for our own personal religious experiences. I’m really not sure I’ll relate to the packaged ones. Don’t get me wrong. As a child I could be very reverent. For at least one month of May, Mary’s (mother of god) month, I remember setting up a little alter for prayer (asking for special favors) complete with a small statue of Mary, doily, candle and fresh flowers.
I’m not sure how often I lit the candle or if I ever changed the flowers but I really did believe in the power of prayer and considering I mostly prayed for a horse (and for a brief time, due to some pretty good television ads – a Giggles doll.) I now, maybe, thanks to prayer and definitely thanks to Tony, have 3 horses. I do not mean to disrespect anybody’s view of religion and truly believe God is big enough for many millions of definitions. It’s just funny I sit at the foot of my first real religious relic of the Camino – a statue of Mary and Infant, set upon the hill here on the Pyrenees pass, just before the border into Spain.
It’s a beautiful walk today, and I feel privileged to get such perfect weather. Just two weeks ago our “training” friend, Jo, started the Camino and sent me a photo of her first day. She was dripping wet and standing in snow!!! The pass was closed and they had to take the lower route. Bad weather can mean no visibility; people do get lost and die.
Today, though we have sunshine, a gently breeze. ¾ of the day is up hill through a lightly lined, but well worn path. Mostly we have beautiful views, clear paddocks of rolling green; small, sturdy, mountain horses freely grazing.
My feet are getting sore though and begin to slow me down. Roberta at the hostel was concerned our Camino spirit was off kilt this morning as Tony and I were chomping at the bit to start our walk at 6.30am. We decided to skip the breakfast and it was all we could do to wait for our homemade lunch. I’m now very glad we waited for that!
At last we can see the village of Roncesvelles. We have decided to visit the ancient monastery today, but only to have our passports stamped. The dormitory here sleeps 100 and we have heard too many bad stories about sleeping amongst that many very tired pilgrims. Rather than throw ourselves into the deep end of pilgrimage on our first complete day, we will push on to the next village and get a private room.
Burguete Jaundeaburre Hostel 27e per private room, Breakfast 3e pp
Walked 8.5 hours inc some stops. Dinner 20e for 2 Inc glass of wine.
Monday 24th May 2010
Burguete – Larrasoana
I feel like an EverReady battery this morning. A good breakfast, sleep and cool air on my skin, I am marching at a great pace. The other pilgrims want to know if I plan to reach Santiago today ………… “What’s my hurry?” they ask. I defensively think “Why do you ask me to slow down? Do I ask you to hurry up?”
Wildflowers and those little Dandelions you could blow as a child line the path. I stop to take a picture – (who says I’m not smelling the roses!!)
Hills, hills are my friend. They work and stretch muscles that are other wise taking a break on the flat and they slow me down, keeping the “go slower” pilgrims off my back!!!
So far has been the perfect walking conditions but it’s tough steep and rocky. I contemplate. We had a little miracle today. Being sensible well-prepared pilgrims I bought the safety pins to attach still wet clothing to our packs after washing the night before. On the path, Antonio came to some clothing tied to a fence and on close inspection discovered it was his!! How on earth something that fell off his back ended up on a fence ahead of him we will never know.
We had a lovely lunch stop at Zubiri and felt fantastic with what was just over 5 km to go to our destination. Little did I know how hard another 5 km could be. It was ALL uphill. I tried to view it positively, you know, considering the hills as just obstacles that will pass, a test of my strength and character, but all I could really think was “I just don’t like hills!” What made things worse was thinking the pretty town we saw when we reached the top of the hill was our destination. Not so, we still had a long way with more rises, to go.
Tonight we stay in a dormitory. It looks ok but who can tell as I scour the faces of fellow pilgrims trying to detect the pilgrims’ biggest enemy. A snorer! Believe me they are hard to pick. It’s not just those hairy nosed big bellied middle-aged men that do it. I’ve seen grandmothers that can do it.
7 hrs Inc lunch
Refugio 6 e pp
Pilgrim dinner 12.50 pp
Tuesday 25th May, 2010
Larrasoana – Pamplona
And it’s a more suitable pilgrims pace today although pack on and out the door at 6.30am to beat the heat. Wild roses and a plant that looks like pink kangaroo paw adorn the sides of the path. Pretty good going so far “touch wood”. We have seen frogs, horses, plenty of big shiny black slugs and a half a small snake. Tony thought it might be a viper.!!! Scarey stuff huh.
I admit that I might not be all that religious, but I am certainly communicating with my inner self. Today was TOUGH PLUS! My boots have no cushioning and for the last 5 km I felt like I was walking on a bed of nails. It was really painful. A burning, pin prickling pain. Added to that, we had to detour around road works entering Pamplona and got lost. Probably added another 4 or 5 km to our day. I entered the first medieval walled city of the Camino too exhausted to give the mossy ancient arch more than a sideways grimace.
When we finally found a Pensionne I crashed and had the deepest sleep of my life. Pamplona is the city, famous for the “Running of the Bulls” and this event was due to happen some weeks after our arrival. How was it then, that when I awoke I felt like I had just been trampled and gored by them?
When the going has been tough over the past couple of days, and even leading into the trip, I have always reassured my “innerself” with the mantra “There’s always the bus.” “No thankyou” my inner self would reply, quietly but not feebly, so I’d carry on walking. Waking as I did, I spoke my mantra to “innerself” again. “There is always the bus.” “Ok” I heard. I swiveled my inner head to face my inner self and asked again. “The bus?” “Yes Please” came the answer!! So tomorrow -it’s the bus. “Not very Camino spirit” is the comment Antonio makes!! At least he has the sense of humor to smile when I suggest my bus might pass him on the road and he can watch me wave at him out the window!!!!!!!!
The decision, though, does bring on a religious experience! Guilt! I’m sure every Catholic would remember that one from childhood. I have since heard the bus option described as “the bus of shame!!!!” I’m doubting my decision and agonizing over whether I have “spoiled my Camino.” Questioning if I will not now have suffered right and miss some spiritual growth? Hope not! I do though, have a plan to deal with the guilt. It’s a pilgrim thing when you see a big flat rock you pick up a small stone in the vicinity and place it on top. This represents some pain or shame or guilt and you can leave it behind. Grudgingly, I might give it a go.
Decision made, we set out to explore a little of Pamplona and find me a bus ticket. Great success. Not only have we located the bus station and now have said bus ticket in my hand, we have also found an English newspaper, Wi Fi, and a Spanish translator Application downloaded to the iphone.
Did I mention the iphone. I mean to say, I know this Camino walk is really, really old, but who could do it today without technology?? I booked our flights on the Internet. Confirmed accommodation and bus transfers by email. I wear specially treated socks and “thin” air gel inner soles in my shoes. Backpacks have alloy frames, walking poles are made from carbon for lightness and strength. Not to mention power bars and energy drinks. To top it off I use my iPhone as a language translator, a currency converter, an international time check, a camera, a video, an mp3 player AND I’m using it to write my journal right now! Makes you wonder how any one ever did it with little more than a pair of sandals and a big stick !!!
After our successes we made the mistake of finding and visiting the main hostel that, in my exhausted state, we completely missed on arrival into Pamplona. It is fantastic, and even the shared dormitory was cleaner, brighter and cheerier than the sad little hotel room we found. I would have been happy to even risk snorers there. Big recommendation for fellow pilgrims.
Municipal Hostel – EXCELLENT 6e PP.
Pensionne Eslava – AWFUL – 15e pp
Wednesday 26th May, 2010
Pamplona – Puente La Reina
I caught the bus!
(Still walked about 15 kms)
Antonio 22 km
Catching the “bus of shame” worked for me! The alternative would have been a day in Pamplona and it just feels too early in the trip to take a day off. Antonio would have been chomping at the bit as well. As it happened I made good time to our next town, left my pack, and walked out to meet Tony. Unfortunately I took a wrong path (there were two Camino ways) and I missed him by about 15 minutes, returning to town after him! It was a very pretty walk though, more beautiful countryside, ancient towns and buildings, and a lovely hostel at the end, to refresh in.
Thursday 27th May 2010
Puente La Reina – Estella
Yesterday was a restorative day and the little bit of guilt I burdened myself with was worth it. I still walked about 15 km in my failed attempt to meet Antonio but without pack it was very good. We each had a glorious massage for 20 minutes, give or take 20 minutes for 10 euro! The buffet dinner was amazing and our accommodation was a cubicle to ourselves in the dormitory, tastefully sectioned off with bamboo blinds. We shared dinner with a beautiful Italian girl who had been educated at an American school and spoke excellent English, and Spanish and French. She came down from the Italian Alps to walk and think. Her life was beginning to change. Her husband seemed discontent; her children were becoming more independent. She needed to reflect and find peace of mind.
We highly recommend Albergue Jakue. A pearler of a stay.
To build on my day of restoration I sent my pack on with the “Mochilla” Service. The “Mochilla Man” is definitely an invention not shared by the ancient pilgrims. Some enterprising Spaniards who own cars, (the only real requisite for the job) will leave an envelope to put your money (around 7e) and your destination hostel address, attached to your pack. They then pick said pack up and have it delivered to your destination by the time you arrive. It’s such a popular service I didn’t think twice about the safety of my pack arriving and certainly never had any problems. Of course, there is a word of warning regarding leaving your pack for Mochilla Man and should perhaps be highlighted on the little envelope. “WARNING This Service can create Guilt!” But if you can cope with that, and the sometimes condescending glares of fellow, pack ridden pilgrims, it’s a great service. I guess at the end of the day, it’s a toss up – to be pack ridden, or guilt ridden …. Pack ridden, guilt ridden??? Perhaps, since I had already committed the most cardinal sin of “the bus”, it wasn’t so hard to then commit the sin of “passing my pack on!”
Alas, no pack and a couple of Panadol later, the walk today is truly a pleasure. Great cool sunny weather, beautiful rural landscape and the most classic Spanish villages. More fennel, tulips, wild roses and every now and then, the scent of Wild Jasmine.
My feet are even ok enough to take me exploring to the center of our destination town, Estella, after settling in to our hostel. I have found fresh food if we want it, the tourist office, a bus timetable to Logrono and I am seated in the square, waiting for my Paella luncheon.
Life is Good.
Albergue Jakue 9e pp
Superb Buffet dinner – 11e pp
Backpack transport to next destination 7e
Friday 28th May, 2010
Estella on Bus to Leon via Logrono
It’s not even been a week on the walk and it feels like 3. I am getting much more accustomed to this lifestyle. How to get the food I want. How to get by with little language.
We are part of a number of communities. The biggest one being the millions of Pilgrims that have gone before us. Then all those doing it this “Holy” year. Then there is “Our group of Amigos” we constantly come up behind or find ourselves ahead of. Meeting up in cafes or hostels or at the “Peregrino” dinners. Friends from Canada, Austria, Italy, France and South Africa.
We have two rest days ahead. We are going forward in the bus to meet our beautiful friend from Australia. Jo has taken a deep breath and undertaken the Camino on her own. She is two weeks ahead of us and was our walking training partner at home. She must be the best person to be doing a holiday with. Her enthusiasm about the Camino before the walk was continuously infectious and what she did not research or learn in the lead up to the walk was not worth knowing. We are looking forward to seeing her for one night, then coming back to Estella to continue our walk.
FOR now, we are waiting for a connecting bus in Logrono. The time table did not give us the full picture and we cannot move on for about 4 hours. Hense, I see an opportunity!! I know I’m not a very good pilgrim. I’m not religious and avoid churches. I catch the bus some of the way and I am tempted to count the number of sleeps before it ends. I don’t like putting the stones on rocks and I often cannot be bothered with the camaraderie of making small talk with gestures and one syllable words. And now, can you imagine! I am in a hairdressers reading a glossy magazine, having my roots touched up.!!
Saturday 29th May, 2010
Leon back to Estella via Logrono!
Our visit with Jo was lovely. Just when you think you have met all the special friends you will have in your life, along comes someone like Jo. She is motivated, successful, heaps of fun, loyal and a great listener. So far she is enjoying her adventures of her Camino (most of the time.) She escorted us around Leon Like a local. The hotel she had booked was sweet and friendly. 50€ per room inc our own bathroom. That was a treat!! It was sad to say goodbye and leave her to her journey on her own. But she has given us a new friend. A very colorful toy Parrot – a gift at the bus station on arrival in Leon, in lieu of the “bells and whistles” she would have liked to provide.!!!
We are looking forward to getting underway again tomorrow, and I am looking forward to the possibility of no sore feet. Jo has GIVEN me a pair of her trainers to wear and I have mailed my boots on to Santiago. The kindness of this gesture may be hard to understand if you have not been a pilgrim. But, when all you own or have to use in your life is included in less than 10kg’s you are wearing on your back, to “give up” something as important as shoes is a mighty act. I really hope this (and pain killers if needed) helps my feet survive the daily grind.
Buoyed on by Jo’s enthusiasm and a visit to the beautiful Leon Cathedral (our first church visit – see, bad pilgrims), I resolve to make more of a religious effort on my Camino and contemplate more often, the symbolic references my Catholic childhood endowed me with. Unfortunately this resolution did not last long – as we were leaving Leon I spot a current Saturday edition of London’s Weekend Telegraph! This provided the ideal diversion and traveling companion for our 6 hour bus journey back to Estella.
Sunday 30th May, 2010
Estella – Los Arcos
Back to it and perfect walking conditions. We left at 6 am to ensure that. My shoes are lighter airier and cushioned. So far so much better. May the Camino angels bless you Jo.
We had a lovely night back at Estella Albergue Paroquial. Dinner was served outside, around one big table for the guests. We discussed charity and religions with some young men. A young, handsome, charismatic Muslim guy had visited the Catholic Church and found a sign that asked non-Catholics not to attend mass. It went on to explain the reason was because the church believes the mass truly turned bread into the flesh of Jesus. He was surprised and a little offended. I was a little embarrassed. I’m not sure exactly how the sign said that, but it sounded pretty close. Even as a raised catholic I’m pretty taken back by that.
Appropriate then to just now hear a cuckoo!!
Our path and scenery is mostly glorious and quite easy today. The only disturbance has been a lot of Camino Cyclists. They are the snowboarders of the Camino!! They come up behind you with a lot of noise, sometimes making me jump. Then they fly past and are out of sight before you know it. And yes I do admit to a little two-wheeler envy. Especially their GEAR. Most is TRES cool and very tidy. I definitely have Panier envy and imagine the contents of my backpack neatly packed inside, carried on the bike, not on my back.
It’s noon in Los Arcos when we arrive, and my feet are pain free!!! The church bells are peeling loudly. Slowly the townsfolk pass the Peligrinos sitting in the sun having coffee, rolls and beer. Two at a time, sometimes more, well dressed women and children slowly approach and enter the church. (The men must be at work?) The bar opposite is playing pop music. Not competing, just contrasting.
We later visit the church as I had looked at a brochure in the hostel and I could not believe what I saw. What looks on the outside like a fairly plain building in a very small town is extremely elaborate. Almost Gothic. The second thing I notice after the detail inside the building, are the candles. Less Catholics have made the Catholic Church economize many of its processes. We used to pay to light a real candle. Now your coin will switch on a short term, tiny electric light that is meant to look like a candle. If that seems sad, there’s more. A small group of parishioners were attending prayers. The prayers were not read by the Priest on the Pulpit BUT from a taped played over a loud speaker, complete with priest voice leading the prayer and a taped congregation responding!!
Los Arcos Municipal hostel – VG 4e pp
Leg and foot massage – Average for 15e pp
3 course pilgrim dinner – EXCELLENT 12e pp
Monday 31st May, 2010
Los Arcos – Viana
I slept well again. Only 4 in our room, one being a very light snorer. The young charismatic Turkish boy joined us for dinner. He is actually early 30’s and was sketching in the square. It turns out he is an architect and most recently was the lead architect on a major project in Moscow directly reporting to President Putin. His first love and choice for a career, would be to compose Classical music but he agrees with his parents. This could not be his career as success would be very hard to come by.
We shared an excellent pilgrim 3 course dinner 12e pp.
Leaving early again at 6.30am, we have made the shorter 21 km journey to Viana. I am very pleased that we have not gone all the way to Logrono as I still very much feel I am getting my body seasoned to this walking long distance business. I started with sore hamstrings. Moved on to extra sore soles of feet. Now those gripes are gone, I seem to have developed extremely sore shins and don’t want this to get worse. Will stick to about 20 km for the next 3 days and really hope I have walked out the worst if it.
Viana is a truly lovely town and a great place to stop. The municipal Albergue is very well run, spotlessly clean, big kitchen and divided off rooms. We do though have 3 lots of 3 high bunks to negotiate. As Tony tends to need to get up about 3 times each night he claims the bottom bunk !!! I feel like I need to be a contortionist to get in and off these beds. The little ladders never seem to be in the right place to climb up and especially difficult to climb down.
Our roommates are a delightful young couple. She is French and lives in Paris and works in publishing. (tough huh) and he is a divine young man. Only 19 years old from Newcastle in England. He did the Camino about 4 years ago with his family and has come back to do it on his own. He took a year off in Sth America when finishing school to teach English and has just finished his first year of University in Edinburgh, studying philosophy, Spanish and world religions on the side!!
What also makes a town a pleasant stay, is the food. Today we had a restaurant lunch!! 10e inc wine, water, bread and dessert. Entree was a big bowl of peas with bits of ham and delicious or big bowl of lentils that had been cooked with a hock. For main, a codfish type casserole and Tony had a pork one. Great value and Most delicious.
Tuesday 1st June 2010
Viana – Navarette – Ventosa
Me, Taxi from Logrono to Navarette, Taxi to Ventosa
Antonio 29 kms
Today I’m plain annoyed. My theory on pain is rest and repair. Tony’s is walk through it. I really want to walk so I took a pain killer and focused on doing the 11 or so km to Logrono. Arriving here we happened to walk along side a local couple and began to chat. She is a physio! Her suggestion for my painful shins – at least one days rest. Alas for now, the painkiller is wearing off and the shin pain is worse than starting so I’m going to bus from here and Tony will continue to walk. I am really upset and so I find myself in a taxi in tears.
Antonio is on fire. I don’t mean to be ageist BUT I am 50 and he is 67. Wouldn’t you think we would at least be evenly matched? No! I have gone from pilgrim to pilgrim backup. As Tony was feeling so fit and active arriving at Navarette, we decided to go on to Ventosa – him walk, me taxi.
Tony arrived at Ventosa and still could have continued. Amazing!!
We have though settled into a stella Albergue, privately run and reasonably priced. It’s almost as good as l’Esprit du Chemin. We recommend it. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at a small local restaurant, made up a group with a German father and son, a Japanese and Swiss girl, Tony and I. Esther the Swiss girl was particularly lovely and we know we will see her again.
Tony thinks he can do around 30 km tomorrow so that’s the plan for him. For me, a day to rest my shins. An early taxi to Najera, then bus to Santo Domingo.
Taxi Logrono to Navarette 18e – Navarette to Ventosa 10e
Private Albergue San Saturino 9e EXCELLENT
Wednesday 2nd June, 3010
Ventosa – via Najera to Santo Domingo de Calzada
Me taxi – Najera, Bus – Santo Domingo
Tony 30 km
I have the biggest lump in my throat watching Tony walk up the road. How I love that man and wish I was walking beside him, in his company for another day. I feel sad, left behind, missing out. I want to share his journey and have him share mine. My shadow is not the same without his beside me.
The day I was blessed with meeting Antonio, fate deemed I would have an interesting life. I thank my lucky stars or some other divine intervention (perhaps good timing) that I accepted the dinner invitation given to me by Tony. I had been single for some time and frustrated by not meeting anyone decided to register on an Internet match-making site. Tony had been single since May of that year, and let’s just say he had already done some shopping around. !! I went to dinner with someone I expected to be a warm and charming man and met so much more than that.
He is a wonderful partner for me. An Italian born Australian, he is a conservative man who has led an unconservative life; (he has now 4 marriages and 4 children. His oldest child is 44, the youngest 3½ !!)
Full of youthful vigor and adventure, he is kind and understanding (most of the time). He is extremely outgoing and talks to everyone, and seems to know everyone’s language! Often the center of attention in these multi cultural gatherings we find ourselves in, but in a warm and friendly way.
At home he is the main cook. If we don’t have meat in the fridge, he can go outside, pick a chook, kill, pluck and cook it.
Most inspiring is his strength of mind, a steely determination. Even with a swollen ankle he easily walks 30 km a day. If he asked his body to do another 10, it would. He is also my protector, and chillingly, could kill if he had to.
There are many stories to tell regarding our partnership, but the memory I cherish of our first date was when I was discussing with him my plan to revamp my garden to be exclusively edible plants and to get some chooks. He offered to lend me his incubator so I could hatch my own chickens. Where in the world do you find a man that can lend you an incubator??? From that moment I was sold. Once he came home from a pre booked one month cruise in Sth America we have barely been apart. And here I sit in a village in northern Spain pining for him and eagerly awaiting our reunion this evening.
This morning, we met by chance on the path. The taxi dropped me in Najera to await the bus. I thought that Tony may not have walked through this town yet and kept my eye on the Camino path, half expecting I would have missed him. I found a newsagency and hoped for an English paper to pass my time. As I walked out the shop door I virtually bumped into Tony. It was wonderful to see him and surprised us both. We had a coffee together and he continued on his way.
We chose the wrong Albergue today. It was described as a “delightfully cool and peaceful hostel” – don’t be fooled, NOT NICE. Best bet stick to Casa del Santo – they even had a free foot doctor available!! Better still, spoil yourself! Santo Domingo has a 5 star Parador Hotel.
Thursday 3rd June, 2010
Santo Domingo De Calzada – Belorado
On the bus again today. With Shin aching during the night I figured one more day of rest will be good. Dinner was enjoyed with lovely American fellow his 14 year old son and a young girl from Finland traveling on her own. She has very good English and told me a lovely story how she was walking with a Spanish and a German girl. They did not have a common language between them but one of them started to sing a song and they all recognized the tune and each sang along in their own languages. Music the common denominator or universal language. A special and happy moment shared.
I am waiting for the bus with another of the walking wounded. Cristiana from Italy near Milan. Her husband, Antonio as well, dropped her at the bus and together we are working out our options using my limited Italian picked up from Antonio and the Spanish translated in my iPhone which is definitely the handier of the tools. I wonder what I am missing today on the Path.
Catching a bus is never simple in Spain, and its freezing here. What looked like a 7.30 am bus, isn’t. It should arrive around 9. We stomp our feet and huddle to keep warm.
Arriving quite early at Belorado, its wonderful to find an Albergue that will let us check in. Its clean, peaceful and even has smiling faces. A very, very clean, great bathroom, garden with lawn and a washing machine facility.
El Caminante 5e pp EXCELLENT PLUS
Pilgrim dinner EXCELLENT 9e
Friday 4th June, 2010
Belorado – St Juan de Ortega
We have a moon, stars and that constant chirping of busy birds at the break of day. It’s 5.30 am and today I test my repairs. It’s a hilly stretch and my shin issue seems to go better on hills. I’m just rapt to be walking.
I can hardly believe I’m a pilgrim and I say this but this morning I feel decadent. I have all I need and more. It is a beautiful morning, the countryside of wheat fields are a luscious green. The air is fresh. I have clean water; I’ve eaten a banana and some delicious grapes. All I have to do is walk and contemplate and ruminate and enjoy as another classic Spanish town steeple pops it’s head up just beyond the rise. Idyllic and decadent.
Later that day my contemplations are different. Lets just say I have everything going on today. I have paracetamol, anti inflammatory cream on my shins and anti inflammatory capsules. New gel inner sole arch supports. A pack as light as possible. Perfect walking conditions and dissolvable magnesium in my water. Compression stocking on my shin. I’m walking but I have a dilemma. Is it best to walk the Camino, even drugged up, or should rest and repair be my priority! It’s a constant preoccupying dilemma. AND I feel like a loser. My injury is apparent even before I speak to people and becomes the first thing discussed. I’m over talking about it, but it hard to do otherwise.
The day evolved into a crazy long desolate stretch and it’s hot. I’m stocked up on painkillers I have just run out of water and I have no food. Tony is ahead and had done this without water as he gave me his expecting to draw water from one of two fonts that I certainly have not seen. Thankfully my arch and shin are coping ok, hopefully without damage. We will see tonight. I just wish I knew how much further I had to go ……………… or maybe it’s better I don’t.
Not much longer after that, Antonio appeared walking towards me!! I did not like the look of this town on approach and my impression has not improved. I had a rest on arrival and felt confident to move on to the next town, 3 km down the road. But as I took a few steps the stabbing pain in shins began and all I could do was burst into tears, AGAIN!
We had to stay! The dormitory and facilities are the worst we have come across. The service awful. Apparently the owner of the only cafe, come shop, come restaurant, is also the “boss of the town. ” He would be the rudest or unhappiest Spaniard I have met. He appears “pilgrimed out” already and it’s not yet the height of the season. He refuses to speak English or try to comprehend that the only public phone has just eaten up 3 of my euro !!!
A couple of hints from today. Make sure you stock up on food and water for the day at the latest Villfranca Montes de Oca. If you are not sure how you are coping, try and bus from there as there is NO alternative until San Juan. If possible, do not stop at San Juan. I don’t know what Ages is like but it must be better than here.
Thankyou to the hosteliero who eventually became helpful and arranged a taxi for me next morning.
Accommodation 10e VERY POOR
Saturday 5th June, 2010
St Juan de Ortega – Burgos
Antonio 25.6 km
I am in the Cathedral in Burgos and it makes me feel sad. The grandeur, the tourism. When did religion become a business? It’s 5e to enter, a further 5e if you want a taped explanation. I know this will offend a large portion of the population and I do not mean it as an attack but a genuine question to be answered. It is a mystery to me how millions of people all over the world, believe the fantastical story of one man in history!! I cannot understand how and why this story got so big and remains so. We attended the church in San Juan last night. The pilgrims blessing is traditionally followed by a garlic bread soup and we wanted to try it! The reading was something about goats and sheep and I think I am a goat. The sheep were saved, and whilst it did not say what happened to the goats, it must not have been good. The church was a lovely classic stone building unadorned by gilt and pomp. The singing was real and beautiful and I wanted to dwell in the cool peacefulness there. But I just could not relate to the dogma …………the prescribed “story!”. I want a church that can celebrate human beings. I believe people are good, kind and honest most of the time, just because they want to be. Not because they are worried about “being left out of the inheritance of Heaven.” I want a church that can praise and acknowledge that wonderful things can happen to us, because that’s life; not because the bones of a person long gone has interceded on our behalf. I want a church who loves life as it is, not lives on hopes and promises for an afterlife that no living soul can verify. To me the Catholic Church has nothing of substance to attract me. It does not relate to me. Grandeur, gold, hierarchy, statues and rituals, leave me cold. I see only superstitions, parables and threats. And it makes me feel sad.
We meet a lovely Belgium man last night who is traveling with a young lad of 17. It seems he was involved on a youth program that determined certain conditions for them. The tall smiling lad had perhaps been in some trouble. They had already done 1000 km from the Marseille area of France. They had to carry 20 kg on their back including all camping and cooking gear and had only 15e a day to spend. It was virtually impossible to do in France without camping but on the Spanish Camino it was easier. Even after 1000 km Yve had developed shin splints. I offered them a ride to the next destination in my taxi, but it was also part of their conditions that they were not to catch a train or bus or taxi.
There is something about Burgos I really love, but it’s also the worst for me emotionally. I feel stuck! As if all my options are thwarted. I’m not game to start walking again in these shoes and today the shops are shut so I can’t buy new shoes. Tomorrow is Sunday – shops shut again. I thought about busing directly to Leon to rest for 6 days until Antonio gets there, but that’s too long for me without him. Tomorrow we begin “The Meseta” and I hear that buses and taxis are hard to find. I’m worried I’ll find myself halfway through the day, stuck, in pain, unable to walk on. If I could speak this Spanish language I could attempt to get more help to resolve my issues and seek out the options. My lack of language skills bind me. I think a bike could be a good option for me, at least I’d be on the path, but bike shops are not easy to find and certainly not until Monday! I’m overwhelmed and the worst part, I’m in this beautiful Spanish town and all I can be is a BIG SOOK!!!
Albergue La Casa del Cubo EXCELLENT
Sunday 6th June, 2010
Burgos – Hontanas
Me walk 20 km, Taxi 11 km
Antonio 31 km
Last night I decided to leave the stress of my dilemma in the Albergue and go and enjoy dinner with my husband. We had the best dinner of the Caminio in Burgos. We accidentally discovered this restaurant with great service, a birds eye view of the promenading of Burgos locals and visitors and parades. We had a linen tablecloth, good wine (I’m told) and a delicious meal. A meal that Antonio had waited and looked forward to repeating from 10 years ago. He was not disappointed. Roasted Baby Lamb. The Spanish keep sheep for milk, hence a constant supply of baby lambs. Not dwelling on the size of the animal, the lamb was tender and well cooked. Antonio was in his element.
We start a new phase today. The Meseta “for men, not for babies” our German companion informed me last night. After hours of agonizing, assessing my options and connecting with my shin I have decided to retest myself, with drugs, and see how I go.
It’s a funny thing this Camino. You honestly have no idea what to expect next. Albergues and helpfulness of people varies soooo much and high and low can be the difference between a smile or a scowl.
I walked 20 km today. It was wonderful to reach our suggested destination. My full of beans husband was keen to go on so I said I’d be happy to continue if I could get a lift. 20 k today was all I wanted to push my shins and arches. A ride arrived with a happy chap and without a common language between us I have him picking up my backpack tomorrow and then picking me up 20 k down the road at noon, so Antonio can continue if he wants.
I’ve now checked in to a delightful and spotless albergue for 10e for two with our own room and an icy cold foot bath in the terrace. How good is that.
We had a drink today with a young German man; shaved head, suntanned, bright blue eyes. He was on a high after his days walk in the Meseta. I think I missed a stunning bit of countryside. He loved walking through the waist high wheat and said he felt like he was a boat, bobbing along in a green ocean of wheat, gently swaying in the breeze.
For dinner we met up with two of our very original community of pilgrims who started the walk the same day from L’Esprit. Our paths have crossed numerous times. This is one of the unique and lovely aspects of this walk. Building relationships slowly you get to know people quite well. Tony always says it’s a wonderful thing to do if you are single and I can see what he means, as it’s a great way to meet and get to know other single people. Our new friends are mother and daughter and I imagine doing the Camino will create a bond between them you could not get in any other way. Grace and her husband own a small law firm near Boston and Cristina’s future (at only 24) is set with a fully paid scholarship to do a Phd in Economics.
Monday 7th June, 2010
Hontanas – Fromista
Me 20 km
Antonio 35.5 km
And now I feel like lady muck. My “Mochilla” man arrived on time, on schedule and has delivered me to the door of the next Albergue. I am not a “good sufferer” and love that I get to walk the most beautiful part of the day, the early mornings, and leave Antonio to walk as the day gets hot. The perfect compromise as he can go at his preferred rate and I get the best from my legs. I also get to secure us a “good possie” in the Albergue.
Tuesday 8th June, 2010
Fromista – Carrion de Los Condes
There is very little I have to say about Fromista. The most bland of all towns so far. We happily left there at 6.30am and 20 km later arrive in Carrion. It was a flat, flat day of walking and I loved it. I was deeply deep in thought, virtually meditating most of the long stretch. It certainly made me realize I am missing the “Camino” experience by not walking the whole way, and will just have to do it again one day. Today I felt the spiritual side of the journey and realize it’s the walking that strengthens that most. I have noticed change within myself, a softening in my heart. Out of the blue, my cynical hard-edged view of the Catholic church has softened. I feel somehow that what’s been the norm has been right. Right for the landscape of the world as we know it. Somehow it is important and valuable that the Catholic church has and does provide something sacred and important to millions of people. These little towns may seem dominated and repressed financially by the church, but I cannot imagine what they would have without the church. Somehow it gives back as much as it is given. Now that’s a big shift in my thinking and I’m surprised. Whilst I don’t believe in the churches position, I accept and understand it.
Today is our first day of rain and my shin ended pretty swollen and inflamed yesterday, so I had already opted for a bus day AND I have bought new shoes !!!! A cross between what I had and what Jo generously gave me The Goldilocks shoes – hopefully not too hard and not to soft. I know it’s an extremely risky business changing shoes at this point and I may just create a whole new set of problems BUT I am hoping they will help my shin get better and I might still be able to indulge in a large chunk of this contemplative walk I wish to do. Tonight marks the halfway point. Fingers crossed I can put stopping behind me.
Wednesday 9th June, 2010
Carrion de Los Condes – Terradillos de Templarios
Having waited for the bus! I arrived at the village of Terradillos after Tony and saw him waiting at the bus stop for me. It is a dreary, drizzling, rainy kind of day. He led me into the Albergue café and the contrast was stark. The café was full of chatter, and warm with the full house of guests having lunch.
We fluked the luxury of a room to ourselves with a heater to dry things. Cristina and Grace were staying at the other hostel so we went to visit, and Grace, speaking fluent Spanish with gusto, helped me to book the “Mochilla Man” to carry my pack the next day. I am determined to walk.
Town – VERY UNattractive – Albergues – both very good. Jacque de Moley more traditional and great.
Thursday 10th June, 2010
Terradillos de Templarios – Calzadilla de los Hermanillos
I may not have walked the whole way but I certainly earned my Camino stripes today. It has been a 24 km walk in the cold rain and I am rapt as my shin was no problem, my feet only minor. We reached the Albergue around noon to a warm welcome, hot shower and clothes in the dryer. A French lady has taken me under her wing and offered me risotto, apple and wild thyme tea. We saw the thyme along the path as well as new wildflowers of pink and purple with just the odd old friend, the red poppy. This Albergue is being run by a Canadian girl called Daphne and is donation only. It’s very basic but warm and dry and now full of guests. There is very little else in this town except a special and unique store, with a gorgeous, classic little fat Spanish store keeper. Well worth a visit and a stock up on bread, salami, cheese – the walking pilgrims lunch.
WEATHER REPORT: We got wet today. My lulu lemon jacket worked really well 8.5 out of 10. The 5e poncho helped ESP with the wind chill factor say 3 out of 10. My $75 Australian dollars waterproof socks – UTTER DUDS. Sopping!!
More rain tomorrow and a 17km isolated stretch – no cafe, no nothing!!
Friday 11th June, 2010
Calzadilla de los Hermanillos – Mansilla de las Mulas
I look like a Muslim woman today except that my Burka is bright red and PVC. The rain protector of the pilgrim.!! We took the isolated route today along an original Roman road. Our guide describes this route; “we will encounter no asphalt roads, no sendas, no town, no village, no farmyard, no houses, no water fonts and few trees and therefore little shade. We will though, traverse the most perfect extant stretch of Roman road left in Spain today”, and so we did. It’s impossible to imagine this road being built and used centuries before. The history is almost verbal as we walk upon it, yet no other signs, no glorification. If it was not for our guide book alerting us, we could have missed it, yet it is original, and still functional.
We persevered; both traveled well despite the constant rain, and enjoyed a coffee at Reliegos before the final stretch to Mansilla de las Mulas.
I was thinking last night about thought. We know it is “an energy” and have begun to use that energy for paraplegics to operate technology. The Camino has a real lot of thought going on! Many people choose to walk when they are in a transitional phase of life from work or relationships. Lots of issues are getting “nutted out” on this path, as has probably been the case for hundreds of years. So I wondered if all that thought energy somehow stays around this atmosphere, very subtly like an ozone layer. Tony often says that everyone doing the Camino is looking for something and if they didn’t think they are, they will still find something. Perhaps its because, at some level, we are all tapping into this thick ozone level drawn under the Milky Way of the collective thought from the millions of pilgrims who have walked the same path in the same direction over the past hundreds of years. The Balinese have a statue of one monkey jumping off the shoulders of another representing how previous generations help the next, giving them a springboard forward. Perhaps previous pilgrim thoughts give us a springboard to change and to grow our hearts and sort through our choices for the future.
The Mansilla Albergue is very good. Quite a lot of beds and rooms and we have a pretty spot, in bunks of course, near a window with a windowsill and pots of red petunia. The weather has cleared marginally but rain is expected to continue for the next week. Nothing could dampen my enthusiasm. We have banana, melon, muesli, milk and yoghurt for breakfast, just like home. Tomorrow is a short walk – just 18 k to the Albergue in Leon. There we will have one night in the Albergue and 2 luxurious nights in a “flash hotel.” We will be dusting off our pilgrim wear and hanging out in some modern luxury.
Mansilla Albergue 5e pp
Saturday 12th June, 2010
Mansilla de Las Mulas – LEON
We have a history here. That’s why one of the young hospitaliers recognized Antonio when he arrived and asked to see Rackel. 10 years earlier, a younger version of Antonio Mazzon arrived at the same Albergue in Leon and was greeted by a young Norwegian girl called Katrina! Despite the difference in age, there was chemistry there! Not one to miss an opportunity, Antonio spent some time talking to this young girl and gave her an option. She could continue to live in the Albergue and work with the Camino visitors and nuns, or at the end of his trip, he could return to collect her and take her for an extended journey around Europe in a Campervan. A few weeks later, and after much deliberation on her part, Katrina decided to take up the offer. They went on to fall in love and return to Australia together to settle. There is a longer story here that may be told another time, but after 6 years together and a new born baby boy, Noah, Katrina decided she could no longer be away from her homeland and needed to concentrate solely on raising her boy there. She packed up and left Antonio. Her leaving, broke his heart. Taking the boy – shattered it.
Antonio is a marvelous healer! His strong mind set the direction for his heart and body to heal and repair – taking the necessary steps to get there. He now has me. We are married, and we are in love, and we see Noah as often as possible and Noah loves his time with Papa and Neicy. We are all a very special part of each other’s lives.
Back to current day Leon. This is what I call a holiday from the holiday.
Sunday 13th June, 2010
We have left the Albergue and arrived at the hotel. It’s modern and fresh and could be in the middle of Melbourne. We lay in the Spa on banana lounges in fluffy white robes. It’s private and after 3 weeks of sharing bedrooms, bathrooms and toilet facilities it seems surreal to have all this space to ourselves and it’s divine.
At home we are not water people. We live within cooee of beautiful beaches and rarely visit them, even in summer. We have a perfectly respectable spa bath that gets a run maybe twice a year, only after a rigorous week horseriding. Yet somehow we have managed to wile away 3 hours here at the Spa in our hotel in Leon. It’s the “modernness” I love. Feeling thoroughly clean. Something that’s hard to feel as a pilgrim. The warm water and strong jets are soothing to all my tired leg muscles. The steam room, sauna and at least 6 different spa and jet options placed around and within the heated pool are all good. I’m just waiting to be called to our room – a private room with a double bed, clean sheets, no need to use the sleeping bag. We will have our own bathroom and maybe, even, complimentary toiletries.
Monday 14th June, 2010
Tuesday 15th June, 2010
Leon – Villar de Mazarife
We walk again! Today I have a new pace. Slowly. I am stopping for rests and stretches and I am concentrating on “relaxing my toes.”
Getting out of Leon is a drag. If I had known, I would have caught the bus on this bit, with or without sore shins. Its suburbs, asphalt and industry for an hour before we finally greet some of our old friends – wildflowers, bird chirps, even a Cookoo.
I have slowed my pace right down and foot and shin seem to appreciate it. It’s somewhere between a stroll and a doddle with lots of mini stops if I wish. A new found attitude as a result of a visit to Joachim!!!
Now we have indulged in a few massages on our journey so far and techniques would have to range from fair to worrying (ESP the two girl experience in Estella neck cracking included), so it was with some trepidation I followed Joachim, dressed in surgical white pants and top, down the long corridors of the monastery to the treatment room. Instantly I knew I was in the hands of a master and with Reflexology you know that will mean pain!!
It began with a foot soak in VERY cold water. I queried if the water solution had added Epsom salts – apparently not! It was a mixture of no less than 5 ingredients including, all the English we could muster, lavender and lemon……………. Well that’s a good start. Then the massage began. As I wiggled and squirmed in pain – good pain I tried to convey – he stopped a moment to turn the classical music up a bit. “Not to put off waiting patients” he quipped humorously! His advice was to “respirator profoundly.” The English version of course, breath deeply!!! “Respirator profoundly” he kept repeating!!!
Joachim was a master Reflexologist and worked for an hour on my sore shins and calves. He tried to convey a story and bought up Moses. Hands and fingers outstretched, I joined in the charade – commandments I questioned! Yes, Then holding up one finger, First commandment my reply. Correct. The first commandment to help me and my shins along the walk – “Relax my toes!” Finishing with some advice on stretches, my visit was only 20 euro. Not only is Joachim tall, handsome and kind, a practicing theologian and monk, he is also a living Angel. Thankyou Joachim.
When a Spanish village isn’t pretty it really isn’t pretty. Windows are often shuttered and there is very little life in the street. No treescape or front gardens to speak of. Little shops if you are lucky, hidden behind dark facades operating on Spanish time (very hard to find them open.) A town like Mazarrife. It so much more then a surprise and delight when you find a hostel like San Antonio de Padua here. With an open fire in the dining room and the best food I have eaten in Spain. Dinner was prepared and cooked by our host – a vegetarian. I enjoyed the best and freshest salad I had seen in Spain, a delicious potato and cauliflower soup. This was followed by a great vegetable paella and real flan with kiwi and orange.
Wednesday 16th June, 2010
Villar de Mazarife – Hospital de Orbigo
The path. Today is flat and I have shared it with Randy and Patsy from Texas. Horses, adventures and eagles have been our topics.
We are trying a short day today to nurse my shin and have stopped at Hospital de Orbigo. Tony is chomping at the bit and finds it hard to settle. There are a number of things I know can pacify Tony when he is restless. A town market is a great one and we do have one here. Unfortunately we are here very early and the visit to the market takes very little time. Another is Sudoko but we do not have a book at the moment, another is cooking, but the kitchen facilities leave a lot to be desired.
Fortunately there was a football game which entertained us for 90 minutes. Spain had their first go at the world cup and lost this match – 1 love. (They later one the series!!)
To be honest, we are both restless here. Tony as he does not feel he has worked hard enough and does not like to sit around all day. Me because I don’t like the Albergue. It does not feel clean. Our dormitory room is dark, dirty and depressing big time. But we have committed to stay the night, will eat as early as possible tonight, rise early and get the hell out.
HOSTEL Santa Maria – I would avoid it!
Thursday 17th June, 2010
Hospital de Orbigo – Murias de Rechivaldo
We are enjoying another divine morning and the walk starts with a long and steady climb. My shin condition rather likes the climbs, it’s the flat they seems to object to most. We arrive at our destination, perfect timing to see the hospitaliero open the Albergue. Its nice, small and French feeling. We virtually have our own room!!”
Albergue VERY GOOD 4e
Friday 18th June, 2010
Murias de Rechivaldo – Foncebadon
It’s amazing how 5 extremely different nationalities with sprinklings of each other’s language can have such a enjoyable dinner. We became a new family last night. Japan, Serbia, Italy, Belgium and Australia. We ate meat, a BBQ dinner in a café “the Boys” had organized. Lots of meat meat meat and meat and also some lambs fry, kidney and liver (All variations of meat if you ask me!)
The plan today to walk to Foncebadon. My shins are irritated but coping with regular doses of Anti Inflammatories, and I really want to be walking. It’s a beautiful walk and I come across a town I’d like to revisit – Santa Catalina de Somoza. Very pretty, well equipped cafés.
As I walk, I am remembering on day 2 of the Camino, how I was scooting along at a trot. A fellow pilgrim commented on my pace and christened me Speedy Gonzales. I’ve since made a friend of this Austrian, who turns out he knew a little what he was talking about. Franze, is on his 9th Camino and part of his journey is helping heal pilgrims who go too fast in the beginning!! I’m not sure how much his short massage and hands on healing technique in Leon worked for me, but I eat the humble pie and thank him for his kindness.
On the Path into Rabanal del Camino, there was a wire fence at least one km long. Pilgrims had made crosses from twigs and branches. I’m not sure what the cross must symbolize to them all. To me the cross signifies burden, pain, sacrifice and death. I find it hard to put a positive slant on the image of “the cross!” but perhaps it can symbolize new life. I would genuinely like to understand what the pilgrims see as the symbols of the crosses they make and place on the fence. Is there a reason, or is it just done as a way to mark their spot on the way? I’d love to know. I do wonder if one has the unique stamp of our friend Jo. I will ask her.
I am on a lunch break in a delightful courtyard bar and have fluked a ham and cheese toasted sandwich. I wanted to rest, so Tony has pressed on. The shin and leg are not perfect but coping ok.
Rabanal intrigues me. We will come back and explore another time. I really want to experience the monks at 7 pm in the chapel, Gregorian chanting. It’s amazing how quickly you make friendships on the Camino. Last night after our family dinner of 9, we all toasted to a reunion in 10 years time. Today I checked our email and we already have emails from Switzerland and Italy wishing our continued Camino well and invitations to visit in our campervan next year. People open up quickly about their lives and the thing they are most contemplating, a change or a problem or a grief. A Japanese woman today, out of the blue, shared her personal experience of 7 years ago in Rabanal when she was in the church and experienced a healing. As she sat she began to cry and cry. Rabanal has a big place in her heart after this moving experience and this time she visited the church, she felt only joy. We had only just met and she shared this in less time than it takes to eat a ham and cheese sandwich. She then asked me to write my name on a piece of paper and proceeded to make a small origami gift of a Crane with a fan. The Crane is for freedom and the fan for joy. A beautiful and treasured gift.
This after lunch terrain is really testing my legs. It’s steep and rocky. As I walk the hill I think mostly of the Joachim advice. “Relax The Toes” It reminds me of a conversation with my brother Chris. “Relax the eyes.” He would say. The point being that we tend to use our eyes to look hard or at things. We really don’t need to try at all. Our eyes work. So long as our eyelids are open, our eyes will work, automatically. In fact you cannot stop them from working. It is there to see, whether we try to see or not!
And so I go – “relax the toes” “relax the eyes” “relax the toes …….
Saturday 19th June, 2010
Foncebadon – Molenaseca – Ponferrada
Me Walk 20 km, Taxi 7 km
Tony 27 km
I really miss Tony when he is not around but it does also add to the adventure. Something about this little town intrigues me or perhaps it’s just this particular Albergue. Unfortunately we missed it last night and stayed in another one that was first on the path. Its amazing how one decision of a direction can change your experience of the Camino. It effects who you meet, what you eat, how well you sleep. It’s a shame we missed this one. We did pop our heads in here last night and by the look of the home cooked meal that was being served I think we both new this was a better Albergue, but we had already settled into the other. I have come back for breakfast and am so tempted to stay another day and enjoy it. Tony has walked on and I do have the option of notifying him at the next stop that I will be spending the day here and catch up with him the next day. BUT I would miss him too much. So, here I sit to enjoy for a moment. The sun is shining birds are chirping. The loveliest morning music is quietly playing and I am eating cereal with banana and delicious home made yoghurt, made yesterday from the pet goats. If I was to stay a day I could attend the two hour yoga class at 9am, and learn, not only to make this delicious Goats yoghurt, but also learn to milk a Goat! My inner Heidi is in her element and will come back.
Albergue: Mt Irago.
It’s an interesting path today. A steep descent and rocky. Quite suits my ailments and I’m going well but hard work for some, especially those with knee and ankle issues. I have just walked through over an acre of wild lavender and found a shady swing on which to sit for no reason and eat a banana. I am having a lovely contemplative day – as I imagined the Camino would be.
Later that day, I know, I am a cheating pilgrim and I’d feel bad if I wasn’t so happy. I have done my 20 km of walking and am in a TAXI heading to a real hotel, with a real bed and shower, and best of all, to my waiting husband.
Hotel Los templarios 53e per night.
Sunday 20th June, 2010
Ponferrada – VillaFranca del Bierzo
Me 17.5 Taxi 6 km
Antonio 23 km
I liked Ponferrada. The hotel was great, dinner good, a couple of very nice squares to sit and watch.
Today on the trail I am feeling sad. I was tempted to catch a taxi first thing today, but really wanted to walk so gave it a go. I had finished the anti inflamatorys and wanted to test my shins, hoping they were better. Unfortunately, after about 15 km, they began to really play up again so I slowed my pace, took a break and let Antonio go on. I was on the look out for a cab, and after 17.5 km I found one.
I stopped on the way, to check our email at an internet cafe and had advice from my yoga faring friend Vivianne. She suggested slowing my walk so I could be aware of how my foot was falling – her thought being that stepping on the inner heel first and rolling into the toe might help. I concentrated on that and think it may have helped but not wanting to risk a flare up without anti inflammatory (it’s Sunday and all is shut) I declined the hilly walk into Villa Franca and met a very nice taxi driver called Juan who delivered me to the hostel door for 10e. Antonio arrived not long after and agreed the last bit was tough – it’s also getting hot out there.
We settled into the Albergue. 8 beds in the room but French doors opening onto a lovely balcony. We also made a visit to the alternative Albergue – Ave Fenix. A wonderful young physiotherapist was giving massage there and they have a Mochilla service up the hill to O’Cebreiro tomorrow. Not only will they take my Mochilla – they will take me!!
Municipal Hostel in Villa Franca – VERY GOOD 6 pp
Monday 21st June, 2010
Villa Franca del Bierzo – O’Cebreiro
Me – I got a lift from Jesus!!
Antonio 30 km
Today I wait. It’s Spanish time. I was asked to be here no later than 8.15 to be ready for the transfer to O’Cebreiro. I was early, of course, and it’s now 9am and I can see no signs of any bags or people being loaded for the journey. Spanish time has a flexibility rate of an hour or two it seems sometimes. Then again I’m a “peregrino” and I do have all day. I probably would not mind so much if there was decent coffee here or if I knew I had time to go and get one, or if I could speak the language and get a little more information about an expected time of departure.
…………… Now I wish I had just caught the bus, at least I’d be moving. Perhaps I’ll make the 4.30 pm one!!
……………..Villa Franca is very pretty and cold today but sunny. I think, with a smudge of envy of Antonio striding out along the path. He would probably be half way there by now. Sheltered from the sun by the valley sides, if he is half way now, in another 5 km he will begin the climb. I’m not sure what will be stronger then, the altitude’s coolness or the sun’s heat…….. Certainly Antonio won’t mind.
…………My new revised goal is to walk the last 7 days into Santiago. A rest today, an excellent massage last night, more anti inflammatory gel and tablets, I’ll be right.
………..This albergue is old school pilgrim. You are not invited in if your trip to Santiago is for tourism. The fellow that owns this Albergue is called Jesus. I don’t know if it’s just because I don’t speak English but no one else seems to know when Jesus will pick up the car keys, load the bags and get out arses up the hill. Antonio will surely make it before me. I have no control over events and whilst I am getting better at being calm about this often occurring situation, it does go against my grain to sit, and wait, and wait!
……………..Now I think he is deliberately doing my head in. I see him standing by the bags, the keys are in his hand, he walks inside …….. And suggests we all have coffee. That’s the bad coffee I previously mentioned. It’s now 10.32 am !!
……………11.20 loading the bags, at last, was a relief, and interesting. A small truck load of rubbish was emptied out of the back of the little van first. One box, then another. A small scythe was found so Jesus thought it was the right time to see if it worked and proceeded to “chop” a few weeds around the place.
Finally loaded to the hilt with backpacks and bags, we passengers jump in and are off. Jesus, an 85 year old French couple, about 20 backpacks and me. Fingers crossed what might happen next.
……………Wouldn’t you know it, Jesus has decided now is a good time to go fast. I can’t believe the little van has the horsepower to pass another van and these narrow roads and bends, at speed, cannot be good for the nearly bald tyres.
………….Turns out Jesus is a very good driver and knows exactly what speed he and his little van can take around the hairpin bends. At this point I’m pretty happy with that. I just want to get there, to perhaps a ham and cheese toasted sandwich (I’ve discovered how to order one) and hopefully a decent coffee.
…………..I have arrived!!!! By the look of it I’m really glad I did not walk today. The road looks very uninspiring, a long day and a long climb. I’m very happy to be here and the view is amazing.
It feels like we are on top of the world. Welcome to Galacia. The view is truly stunning – wide expanses, miles deep. You could look for an hour and not see everything. This is the final stage (province) of our journey and things feel different here somehow. The first noticeable difference is that this town feels like it has money. It’s a popular starting point for many thousands of time poor pilgrims who just want to do the last section – one week. It’s also the first I have seen of real tourist shops selling quality souvenirs and trinkets. Perhaps because the stunning views also attract a Spanish day tripping clientele bringing money into the town. There’s something about it and I like it. Not that I’m particularly materialistic, but it does remind me more of home.
Another difference now, as Antonio pointed out for me, is that we follow the river downstream. Until now we have been going along the river, upstream. We are still heading west of course, and perhaps there is some Fung Shui influence coming from going in the direction of the river. We are with it, not agin it!
Tuesday 22nd June, 2010
O’Cebreiro – Triacastela
Today I spent some time walking with a lovely French lady, Marie. She had a beautiful face, not free of wrinkles or endowed with particularly good features. Just a wide and open face that looked like it smiled a lot. We were discussing giving up alcohol and cigarettes.
She told me the story of how she gave up cigarettes. Her husband and 3 year old son were living in Africa. There were very few toys available and wanting to get her son something special for Christmas she asked him what he would most like to receive.
His answer was simple “Mummy, for you to give up smoking!” She was floored as it was the last thing she expected to hear, and how could she deny him that. She asked if he could wait until the first of January, as she could not imagine Christmas and New Year without a cigarette. He agreed and as of the January 1, she has never smoked again. He saved my life she said!
Triacastela – not a bad town, not great.
Wednesday 23rd June, 2010
Triacastela – Via Samos – Sarria
Too pleasant for words. We have just walked for three hours and I feel like I’ve only just got up. Jo had recommended the walk to Samos as her best and so it was. We encountered ferns, moss, a path that followed beside the river, a sprinkling of very old little cow towns (plenty of evidence of that on the town roads). We are now having banana on toast and coffee in front of the lovely old monastery.
We checked in and were shown to our “room!!” It was the most crowded of any room we have seen and in an attic – boiling hot. If that was not bad enough the sheets and the bathroom was dirty already. I could not stay there, and Antonio left to seek alternative accommodation. We forfeited our 5e! and left.
The next hostel, just a few doors up the road, was superb.
Albergue Internacional EXCELLENT
Thursday 24th June, 2010
Sarria – Portomarin – Gonzar
Me – to Protomarin 22.9 Taxi 8.2
The Camino draws to a close. We passed the 100 km marker today so it’s all down hill from here! I have stopped at a treasure and would definitely like to come back here to stay. It’s busy. The café is like a bought one!! One from home I mean. The menu looks varied, tasty, interesting and healthy. I have a lentil and vegetable soup. Not because its lunch time, but just because I can. I have done about 18 km today to get to Mercadoiro and feel good. As I want my legs to go on for the long run now, I’m going to save them from the steep 5 km decent into Portomarin and take a taxi to Gonzar.
I arrive early at the hostel and am very pleased. It’s clean and we could book!
We cannot believe we only have 3 nights on the Camino to go. It feels as if it is coming to a crashing finale. The beginning is fresh in our minds, but everything else between here and there is a blur.
Tony and I had another cosmic link up today. I had arrived at the Albergue which is excellent, clean, internally quite modern and comfortable. It was early and I thought I might just read my book but decided to go and find a tree to sit under to read until my husband crossed my path. I went out to join the main road and who do you think I bumped into ……….. Antonio. I could not believe he had made such good time, and neither could he. He was as surprised to see me as I him and he would have actually walked straight through Gonzar if he had not seen me. There was very little signage to the town and he could not believe he was there already.
Albergue – Casa Garcia 10e pp
Albergue prices have gone up, Mochilla man gone down – only 3e per stage now.
Friday 25th June, 2010
Gonzar – Melide
Me 15 km and taxi
Antonio 32 km
An early start, first out of the block, and lovely walking today again. I have done my old trick, walked 15 and then cab. It’s working well. Antonio has been looking forward to our destination for as long as he waited for the lamb – 10 years. Melide is the home of the Octopus! If you ever talk to Tony about the Camino he will tell you about this restaurant and even where to find it. The Octopus is taken out of the boiling vat, put on a board, chopped, drizzled in oil and served to your table with bread and wine.
I had checked into our hotel, which we had booked blindly and happened to be only one long block away from where we had arranged to meet. I had also accidentally ran into our American mother and daughter friends, Grace and Cristina. We were seated in the restaurant and Antonio appeared. It had been a hot 30 plus Km and he looked stuffed! He was surprised to have us all greet him and sat eagerly anticipating one of his long awaited Camino rewards. He was not disappointed and the white wine went down like lemonade. Never have I seen him drink so much alcohol!
He was delighted to learn I was lying when I said our hotel was the other side of town, and after lunch, saying goodbye to our friends continuing on after that lunch! We went and had a well earned siesta.
Hotel Xaneiro 11 30e private room, good bathroom down the hall. VERY GOOD
Saturday 26th June, 2010
Melide – Santa Irene
Me – Taxi 11 km Walk 15 km
Antonio 26 km
Today I lopsided. I caught the bus the first part to pick up the end of the trail into our last evening. Santa Irene.
Amazingly ran into Antonio again. I figured he would be on the path somewhere behind me. No idea where. I picked up my pace and just walked. At one point I needed a break and stopped at a makeshift café on a corner with a portable loo. I was only a minute or two taking a break, walked out the door of the loo, and looked at Antonio as he looked at me as he was about to go past. Truly incredible timing again. We were so happy to see each other and have the last section of the second last day to share.
Its also a funny thing, apparently any “Pilgrim” that does the last 100 km of the Camino gets a reward, an incentive if you like, probably introduced as the Camino numbers slowed one year, the cynical side of me thinks!!!
Walking the last 100 km entitles you to a ‘certificate!” I’m still not clear that having walked 600 km, but not the entire end of the 100 km, whether I am entitled to the certificate – not that I mind.
BUT, the walk has changed as many of the “100 km Pilgrims” could more be referred to as “Glamgrims!” Quaffed hair, leisure suits with Anchor motives! Does not seem right to be walking beside me in one or another of the only two changes of clothes I have had for the past month.
It also means there is more pressure on accommodation so we need to be booking ahead which can be problematic when you don’t speak Spanish. Still with help we have done well and our last night is spent in one of the best Albergues of our journey. Its cute, clean, and interesting with a home cooked meal around a central table. A lovely way to finish.
Tomorrow I will walk all day with pack again
And our camino will end.
We can hardly believe it.
I’ve learned a little about the pilgrim state on my travels and the most generic aspect of the Pilgrim seems to be a longing to feel something or find something deeper to live. I guess for me, there was a part of me that was open to having some pearls of wisdom emerge as I walked contemplatively but I was not going to be surprised if I still found pleasure in something as shallow as photos of the rich and famous in Hola magazine. At this stage of my life, unlike my early 20’s, I’m really not too bothered about understanding the deeper side to the mysteries of life. I’m very content with my lot and accept my level.
Still, I have been completely enriched by the journey. The beautiful mosaic in my memory of faces, scenery, historic villages, Albergues and food. I have definitely mellowed within and am no longer upset if the first cafe of the day is closed and denies me my anticipated “café con letche.” I am stronger and fitter and relaxed. Most of all I am grateful for the gift of myself, Antonio and this life we now lead.
Sunday 27th June, 2010
Santa Irene – Santiago de Compostela
We began in a lovely way at l’Esprit and we end in a lovely way as well. We arrived at the church in Santiago, exactly as the NOON bells peeled. My legs held up well and the walk was easier than I expected. I felt emotional when I first saw Santiago from the distance and I cried when we actually sat at the Cathedral and the bells rang.
There is a real sense of completion. We have received our certificate. We have met here pilgrims who shared different parts of our journey. We share the reward of being here and congratulate each other. Apparently walking 590 km is ok. I was given a Certificate. We are at the Pilgrims mass. For all my cynicism and doubt I will still take communion and am happy to mark the end of our pilgrimage in this way. Its soothing, the community in the church. There is some beauty in the ritual. It is certainly a very impressive church.
The end of the trip is also rewarded with a divine hotel. Open only 3 months, its ancient façade hides a modern fresh and groovy interior. Pretty well everything we had missed over the past 35 days.
The low point of my journey has definitely been my shins and associated problems. It has made me preoccupied, and sometimes just miserable. I don’t know what the cause was. There are plenty of theories. My shoes, my early fast pace, the long distances in the beginning, the way I roll my foot, not enough water as I walked or perhaps I just needed to “relax my toes.” !!! There seems to be no rhyme or reason. I saw the tiniest Japanese girl with a very heavy pack zooming along on her day 23 and having no problem at all. Blisters and tendonitis seem to be the main causes of discomfort or despair. Most tendonitis sufferers are advised by local doctors to go home. Antonio’s remedy is just take painkillers and keep walking. Hey it worked for him.
Without an official survey my observations suggest most pilgrims make it, sure some with sore feet, calves, or other muscles they did not know they had. ….. But I think most would make the whole walk. I take my hat off and congratulate them. I can also imagine their absolute sense of achievement at the end. I may not have their well deserved badge of honor but I have walked ………..and definitely earned my Camino stripes in the process.
I am very fortunate. I did not have blisters or sore shoulders or any tummy upset or other form of bad health. I certainly had the energy to walk and enjoyed the 5.30am rises. I slept incredibly well and really enjoyed the communal Albergue life. This sense of community I will miss.
Would I do it again? Most definitely and I would be better prepared psychologically. As Marie, the beautiful French woman said of her 4th Camino. It’s like a virus and gets into your blood in a wonderful way. It’s her alternative to a vacation at a health resort. Physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It really is the whole package and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to endure this fantastic adventure.
The high points have been many and varied moments of feeling invigorated, inspired, euphoric, deeply contemplative or of just plain fun. Meeting someone you really like, using a whole sentence in Spanish to ask for something and being completely understood. Being spellbound by a beautiful scene, sunlight fog or the sound of a Cuckoo call.
I’d like to thank Spain for hosting and maintaining such a great adventure and to the many kind and friendly Spanish faces that helped us find our way. Thankyou to John Brierley for his guide book, and to the men or women who have so diligently marked our path with those yellow arrows that were always so wonderful to see.
And I’d like to thank Antonio. For the most part he was very understanding. He is a gregarious, positive, cheeky and strong companion. He always meant to help and with kindness. I could not ask for a better husband, traveling companion and best friend.