My daughter’s gift

The Way (Caitlin Foster)

My daughter wrote and performed this song for me on my return last year from my Camino in memory of my brother John. It is a beautiful song which she has just recorded for me today. I think it was too close to her heart to do it any sooner.

Thank you my love.

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Marie Curie Donation

The Closing Chapter
After our wonderful walk we have finally got to the point where I can close off one of the important parts of the process.
Ann-Marie hosted a great Camino party for family and friends at the end of October 2015 at which everyone paid for a selection of fantastic Spanish tapas.
The money raised on that evening was for Marie Curie and, today, Ann-Marie and I went up to give the proceeds to their fundraising people.
It was emotional going back to that place, the place where John left us, the place where our family reduced in number but increased in love.

Donation to Marie Currie NI

For John

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I have put the complete story in its order on a page of its own.

You can access it in the menu bar at the top of this page.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support and wonderful comments throughout this blog.

If you feel like you want your ear bent about my journey – try to stop me.

CJ (El Sopa) Foster

PS – Here is Ann-Marie’s recording of the sounds of the Camino:-

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The Bridge into Santiago

This is a physical bridge but it was also a mental bridge. This was the point where you should know why you did El Camino or, if not know, at least have an idea. I had my reasons, I had my excuses, I still had doubts. I could give you a few reasons. I could make them up for the sake of writing or telling. I know that on more than one occasion I had thought I had found the answer. Really it doesn’t have to be a reason – it has to be whatever you take out of El Camino, not what you went in with.

My Camino began nearly two years ago. It was one of those lightning moments that hits when you are not expecting it. It happened at a Spanish class at the Technical College in Bangor.

This was not a great time for me so I have to say it could have been anything that triggered the feeling that I had to do something. I could have been anywhere and the trigger could have been the wrong one, god knows I’ve had a few of those in my days.

The film we were watching was “The Way” with Martin Sheen and his son Emillio Estevez and while on the Camino I met lots of people, mostly Americans I have to say, who had also been touched by this film.

It’s not particularly spectacular or action-packed and it could be said it was a little bit cheesy but to me the idea was stronger than the actual story itself.

The instant the light went on in my head the butterflies started. I knew this was the thing to do. I have never been that certain of anything in my life, never. This was more down to where I was in my head at this moment than me being sure this would actually work.

As the months turned to weeks and then days my certainty of decision only grew stronger even though my heart and my stomach were not exactly confirming this my head was forcing me on.

I was pinning a lot on this, it had to work. I’ll have to wait to finish this summary to be able to say whether it has or not. You’ll have to be patient with me. I don’t fully know the answer myself yet.

The leaving of my girls and my beautiful AM was tearing me apart. Surely something so good should not make you feel so bad. This feeling was proving to me even more how much I needed to do this. I don’t believe anything important in your life happens easily. You need an element of doubt, trepidation, even fear to understand the importance. The easy decisions I have made before have nearly always been for the simple things in my life, the ones that don’t have an alternative.

My heart was ripped out of my chest as I watched AM stand at the front of the hotel in Dublin as I got the bus to the airport. I didn’t even think I could make this short part of the journey. She disappeared all too quickly and I was alone, really alone amongst hundreds of people in the airport.

At the airport I switched into automatic and tried to concentrate on my flight to stop me dwelling on what I was leaving behind and switch into peregrino mode. Not easy to do as I had nothing to judge by, I was travelling into a completely alien world.

This was the point when I knew this was a different sort of journey. I was in control of everything I was going to do for the next month and, good or bad, it was all up to me.

I think the very fact that I was being “selfish” was a major part of what I believe doing something like this about.

I was being totally selfish and I knew this from minute one. You can’t decide to leave your responsibilities on hold for a month and not be selfish.

I had to do this. There was no real choice. It was for me. There would not have been a me for much longer had I not done this.

When people have said before they were going to find themselves on a journey in their life I am not sure they actually mean themselves. I believe they already know themselves and are just seeking confirmation. Someone who has already made that decision in some way knows they are using that part of their being which is the selfish part. That’s ok.

The selfishness in me was changed by the Camino. Yes, I was being selfish in going in the first place but when you get there everything changes. There are people everywhere that give of themselves. The talking, the sharing and the warmth of strangers re-enforced my belief in humanity. That sounds insincere when I type this but it comes from my heart.

The angels I have spoken about throughout my blogs are part of this humanity, they are real. I know they are real because at every point that I had some sort of issue I experienced a change in me. This is not a sort of religious lecture. This is an explanation of my experience. I can’t say it any other way than it was. It was a changing of me.

I hope that I was someone’s angel. I hope that I had an effect in any sort of a way on someone’s journey. That was what I learned. Be someone’s angel if even just once in your life and you will come away a better person. It’s a win-win scenario.

You don’t have to call them angels and there don’t have to be only seven of them and you don’t have to even believe in the stories I have told. I know I believe in the idea. I don’t pretend to believe that a kitten is an angel but I do know that something changed in an instant for me at that time. So I can call it what I want, I can pretend it was anything I want. I know that when I had these experiences I changed.

I have lots of angels in my life now. Some of them I have had around me for a long time and didn’t really appreciate. Some I have just met and some, I hope, I will meet in the future.

I have changed my life at least three times that I know of. Family, close friends and my recent angels know some of my changes. If I was to believe that there are only seven angels you will meet on your journey then I think that would only leave me a few for the rest of my days. No, there are angels everywhere. You need to look for them by looking at yourself.

I have often said, to the annoyance of some, that I know myself totally. I have said that I know my thoughts and the reason for those thoughts. I know why I do things.

The one thing that proves me wrong is meeting angels. They can totally change your perception of things and can actually change you.

So, I have come to the end. I have come to my reason. I have come to the point of the Camino and of me.

This has been the hardest blog to write because it is not about the things I have done over the course of the last couple of months but it has been about my life in total.

The Camino for me was a way to look into my heart and make decisions and make changes.

My Camino is my Camino. I’m sorry I can’t put that into words that will mean anything to you.

I don’t have “a” reason, I have hundreds of reasons.

I can’t give you a get out, I’m sorry.

As I type this while waiting for the rugby to start the Johnny Cash song “Hurt” is being played. Love that song. The last few lines are sort of apt:-
If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way.

I have found my way – I wish you to find yours.

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Soy una peregrina

That means I’m a pilgrim.writes Ann-Marie

It’s come as something of a surprise as I’d never been drawn to other pilgrimages throughout my life. No Croagh Patrick, no Lough Derg, no Lourdes, not even that most modern one-off journey to see John Paul II.

I couldn’t quite believe it when I found myself at the bus station in Santiago waiting to go to Sarria.

I couldn’t quite believe it when I found myself walking through the darkness on the misty Spanish mornings.

I couldn’t quite believe it when I found myself in Santiago, in front of the cathedral of St James.

The journey was a mixture of old and new. We could book our alberque stays on the internet, but the paths to reach them were medieval at times. Pilgrims talked about how much they’d spent on their shoes, but many used simple wooden staves as aids up and down the hills.

The hills….best walked in the dark so you couldn’t see how persistent they were, but by the end of the five days, I’d found my pace and just kept walking.

Galicians love their rain ....

Galicians love their rain ….

Gallicia is a stunning part of Spain. It rains in Santiago on average 142 days of the year – but that’s why the countryside is so green. At times I could have been in Tolymore Forest Park, or on the North Down coastal path (without the sea, of course). Actually I came home with a pilgrim’s tan – my left arm browner than the right because when you walk the Camino the sun is always to your left. Into the West.

There are fields of maize in the autumn and dark green cabbage patches. Beige cattle watch as you go past and sweet chestnuts fall so thickly that they hide the path. It’s a deep, luscious green countryside, completely different from the fragile greens of the olive trees in the hot south. The Gallician people are as sturdy as their land – they laugh a lot. They’re getting over Franco.

And their spirit is infectious. They welcome the walkers from all over the world – literally – who stay and eat and drink and move on. The communal meals at some alberques become mini United Nations summits – except everyone is equal.

And all the way, by my side, the brave and beautiful boy.

He’s written so gloriously about his experiences and explained so much of why he – and then I – kept putting one foot in front of the other I don’t need to add anything more.
But thank-you Campbell, for giving me a joyous uplifting, perfect ten days that I’ll never forget.

Honestly x x x x

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As I lay trying to get over my schoolboy error those words kept me awake.

As I kept reliving the beautiful day I had with AM at Muxia and Finisterre my heart began to beat faster and harder.

I could hear what I thought was the wind outside our window. That wind that stole a moment for me.

The torture grew in me as the sound grew louder and ever louder. Each increase in level made my heart pound in my chest even more. My skin began to chill and sweat at the same time. My spine tingled, not in a good way, and my mouth dried.

I was being haunted by a street washing machine cleaning the streets below our balcony as it happened but in my head it was the wind taunting my failure.

It is 4:00 am and I have to take this down or this won’t be the end of the nightmare. When I hear the wind howl through the night I will hear it goad me with this phrase. Laughing at my efforts. Putting me in my place again.

I had spent no time at all preparing for this moment. The one moment that should have meant the end of a chapter in this story. The moment that I had to record for others to see and hear. I failed. I don’t say that looking for pity or as an excuse. It’s just a fact.

I have said many times that I hate those words that management say when they balls up – “we are where we are”. This usually means they can use this expression but woe betide you if you tried to use it when you ballsed up.

But it seems such an apt expression for my balls up. We are where we are.

I was where I was, with the people I loved. AM, John, the peregrinos and those who knew what I was doing and why and who couldn’t be beside me.

I will try to remember exactly what I said – no I won’t. I can’t remember. Unfortunately your heart can’t remember words. It can remember love, it can remember pain, but it can’t remember words.
My love and my pain, I will remember.

I’ve told this part of the story before in another post (Marvellous Mazarife) but it has become significant again so I need to elaborate a bit more and fit it into Finisterre.

I went to Finisterre because of two people. The first was a girl called Summer, from Colorado and the second was a French man who I didn’t ask his name (this is unlike me).

I met Summer in Leon and during the course of our conversation we discussed the leaving of stones at the crosses along the Camino.

She thought that the leaving of stones at crosses meant you were trying to cast off something or leave this burden behind at the cross. When I explained what I was going to do she felt that this wasn’t really what I might be looking for and told me about Finisterre.

She said that when the Romans reached the western most point of their lands they looked out over the Atlantic and thought that this was the end if the earth. They knew nothing of the other side, or even if there was one. Finis Terrae (Latin) – end of the earth became Finisterre.

Whether this was factual or not it set me wondering what to do with John’s stone.

On my way out of Leon, by bus, I met the French man and his wife. He saw I was a peregrino and we chatted, he and his wife had just completed the Camino Frances and were heading home.

When I told him my story and how Summer had made me wonder what to do he just smiled at me, he cared about me and my story, I could see it in his eyes, it could have been his story.

We finished our chat, no more than 5 minutes in all, and our respective buses came along – we were parting ways.

As I was boarding the bus I looked around to wave goodbye and he looked at me and smiled a gentle smile and said “You will know what to do for your brother”.

I have had a few occasions in my life when I have been absolutely and completely floored by someone’s words. This was one of those times. This man had seen inside my heart, had listened to a total stranger and had felt my story.

I slumped down into my seat on the bus and wept at this man’s empathy and love for a fellow peregrino.

I had done my Camino with my love AM beside me from Sarria. I am so proud of her effort. She stepped off the plane on Tuesday, travelling for over 8 hours by plane and bus and started walking at 8:45 am the next morning completing 28 kms. She jokingly says she trained on gin and cigarettes – it seemed to work for her.

We were now at this place to finish our journey.

The Romans looked out to sea and didn’t know what was out there.

This was, no is, the right place for John’s stone. The ending of one part, looking out into the unknown – though some may argue they know what is out there.

The sea is the Atlantic Ocean, it touches the shores of home as well. I don’t have to go far to dip my hand into the sea at home and am joined with these shores.

The rock I have has come from my shore. It joins us. If you feel the need, find a piece of shore and dip your hand into it, the waters around the world are mixed, you will be touching this place.

To all those who loved John I hope I did him proud. I feel I did my best. The shores that you have, and all your family has, will also join with this place.

It is a beautiful place. It holds a special place in my heart and it holds a piece of my heart.

I threw the stone as far into the unknown as I could. The ripples joined with others out there. May they spread around the world and find a friendly shore.

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The wind-down in Santiago

When we arrived in Santiago we had planned to stay at an apartment we had booked on AirBnB.

We had no idea where this apartment actually was. As it happened it was quite a bit out of the main city centre. In fact it was beside the very large Albergue Seminario Menor which is over 1 km from the Cathedral.

“1 km” I hear you say, “that’s not far”. It was far enough considering we had just walked in to the Cathedral and then had to make our way in and out again to this apartment for the two days we had booked it.

Anyway, we went out to check it out and it wasn’t suitable. I could not have stayed in it so we let the owner know by text message and found another pension in the centre, beside the cathedral, for not much more money.

Our rucksack had been sent on to the Seminario Menor albergue so we walked round to it and collected our bag and ordered a taxi to take us back to our new accommodation.

While waiting for the taxi Susie, the lovely German girl who I had met at El Beso, bounced over to us, I threw my arms around her and we hugged like old friends. I introduced her to AM and we talked about our plans for Santiago. It was lovely to see her there and was sad again to say goodbye when our taxi came.

When we arrived at our pension I couldn’t have been happier. It was in a little square about 100 metres from the Cathedral. This square had a fountain in it and had cafés on two sides of it – perfect.

The pension was lovely and the staff were fantastic, helping us settle in for the two-day break. After these 2 days we would be moving to AMs surprise accommodation for me.

We settled in to the pension and then went across the road to the café opposite – Gin and Tonics were called for – lovely.

We had been into the cathedral when we had arrived at first so we just had to actually go and get our Compostelas, the certificate you get from the official pilgrims office in Santiago.

We walked around to the office and, as it was very busy, decided to sit at a table in front of a hotel right opposite.

Peregrinos waiting

Peregrinos waiting

We sat watching the new peregrinos queue and come out with their little coloured tubes containing their Compostelas.

Peregrinos kept arriving, seeing others they had met along the way, hug and relate their stories to each other before collecting their certificates.

As we sat we were just relaxing, smiling at all the warmth and enjoying a glass of wine and a C&L when AM realised that this was the hotel where she had booked our final two days. It was beautiful, I could hardly wait.

We had arranged to hire a car for the next day to go to Muxia and Finisterre where I had planned the final part of our Camino task and, when we had finished our drinks, we headed back to the pension before heading out for a meal.

We walked through some of the maze of old streets in the city and found a superb tapas bar. We sat at the bar and drooled at the mouth-watering choice of tapas and pinxos. Crab salad, Pulpo (octopus), small chorizo sausages, peppers de padron (tiny deep-fried peppers) and a bottle of Albariño wine – a Galician feast.

An Australian couple were trying to decide what to have while behind us at the bar and they then joined us while we gave them our opinion of the things they had to try. We talked while we ate and discussed our journeys.

Meal over, friends met and left and back to the pension. We stopped for one last drink in the café opposite our pension and then retired for the night, the taste of the food and wine still on our lips and the glow of the alcohol made it easy to drift off to sleep that night.

Up for breakfast the next morning and bagged up some laundry to leave in for cleaning as the laundrette was in the same direction as the train station where I had to pick up the hire-car.

When we found the launderette we realised we had to do the washing and drying ourselves, this was ok as we had plenty of time before picking up the car.

AM used this opportunity to record some sounds for her package that she was hoping to produce for Radio Ulster.

I haven’t really spoken about this before but she was trying to record sounds and interviews along the way which would give people a flavour of the Camino.

In the towns and villages we had stopped at along the way AM had been recording the sound of our footsteps in the gravel, peregrinos wishing “Buen Camino” and interviews with people who had some sort of insight into the Camino. They would tell their own personal stories and the stories which we had all heard on the Camino Radio – the fictional radio station which would travel as fast as the peregrinos along the way. These stories, most factual, some pure myth were transmitted via peregrinos from one group to the next at the evening meals and lunch breaks as friendships were being formed.

There was the woman with the donkey and three kids, 4, 6 and 8 years of age, who had walked from Belgium and then across the Camino Frances (fact – I had met her myself).
I had heard about the guy who was running the full length of this route.
There was, apparently, a mad Irishman in a kilt called “El Sopa” (The Soup) – that’s the man, not the kilt.
The one person I had been told about by Peter in Sarria was the saddest story I had heard and my heart went out to him.

This guy had lost his daughter in a car-crash, she was 8 years old, don’t know the circumstances but according to Peter he had met him on one of his many journeys on the Camino.

He had done 24 journeys one way and 25 the other, he just kept walking, turning round and walking back the path he had just come.

I wished that man peace. I hoped that on some day, at some random place along the way, he would stop dead in his tracks and forgive himself or whoever had caused such grief in his life.

Mind you that may be his comfort, not his punishment. I know that meeting peregrinos every day of your life would be such a wonderful experience you could forget everything else.

I remember walking one day with AM and a woman walking past us. She got level with me and, in her Irish accent, said “Are you El Sopa?” I was gob-smacked and I looked at her and said “yes”, but how did she know me? She said she had been talking to someone who had met me further back along the route and had described me with my kilt.

I think I’ll get a tee-shirt with “El Sopa” on it someday.

Back to the recordings. AM would interview these peregrinos anywhere she came across them. She could maybe find an unusual angle in their story which could enhance the piece.

Therapy Dog

Therapy Dog

In the launderette (remember that part of the story) we had met an Irish guy with his collie dog which had a jacket on it with “Therapy Dog” on it.

AM asked him to explain what this meant and she recorded what he said. I won’t go into what he said as, hopefully, the package she is doing will be on radio soon and, when it is, I will record or direct people to the podcast.

As the time was coming close for my appointment I left AM waiting for our laundry and interviewing the Irish guy and also an older Swiss lady in her 80s who was also on the Camino.

Picked up the car and arranged for AM to meet me close to the launderette so I could stop briefly to pick her up. Managed to navigate the one-way systems of the city and pulled over to wait for her.

When she came she jumped in and we were off. Off to Muxia and Finisterre. The day was beautiful, the sun was shining brightly and the sky was cloudless. I couldn’t have painted a better picture of a day, let alone plan it.

The journey to Muxia was around one and a half hours. The roads were easy, though I wouldn’t like to have to walk them, which is what a lot of peregrinos do to finish their Caminos.

As we neared Muxia I could smell the sea. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this smell or the sight of the sea. I kept rounding corners expecting to see it only to be disappointed over and over again and then …… there it was. I could see it. I don’t really need to tell you how I reacted, do I? Yep. I was a wreck at the sea.
Muxia is a beautiful town\village with a beach and a harbour. Picture postcard beauty. Cafès lined the seafront and in the parallel street behind.

We picked our lunchtime seats in the shade of an umbrella at a table outside one of these establishments and ordered razor clams and peppers de padron – AM really liked the clams and she always likes the peppers.

Razor Clams at Muxia

Razor Clams at Muxia

We chilled with a glass of Albariño with our food and, when finished, climbed back into the car for our last task.

We wound our way through the roads to Finisterre. On the outskirts we stopped for some photos of the incredible views across the bays and on to the golden sands of the beaches leading the Finisterre.

We drove on through the little town of Finisterre and out along the coast road to the lighthouse on the cliffs which was our destination.

I had lots of emotion going on here. My stomach was turning over and over, and it is doing it again as I type.

AM and I walked, slowly towards to lighthouse, past the tourist shops and past the “0.0” marker which denotes the very end of the Camino. Some peregrinos, not us, would argue that you have to walk to here to finish the Camino, not Santiago.

I looked around, waited for some sort of sign, something which would mean I didn’t have to choose and make the wrong decision.

In a place like this the signs are everywhere. We walked on past the lighthouse and, after a bit of a climb down to find a suitably private spot I prepared for the only part of the whole trip that seemed to matter at that moment.

That’s not to say all the other stuff was not spectacular and AM being with me was not the most wonderful thing but I had to do this thing right.

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This is the last leg of our Camino, not the last of our journey though.

This is another of those moments of nervous anticipation when something important in your life is about to happen. As I write this post nearly two weeks after the event my butterflies are back and my heart aches.

I haven’t left it for two weeks deliberately, being back at work has sucked some of the warmth in my heart for our journey. That’s not so say I wouldn’t rather be there now, walking with my friends. No, the part of my life which is work makes me miss the Camino all the more.

I have found being back at work I haven’t really wanted to share too much with my colleagues. I can’t explain it really but it’s almost like they are a reminder of what I now am missing and I want to keep them separate from the great part of what I have done. I want to share but I don’t, does that make sense?

Anyway, I will share with all those people who have followed my blog and those who have just started to read it. I hope the new followers have patience with my writing as I am a novice who seems to love this writing lark. It’s not that difficult, I just write the stuff that makes me cry first, then the stuff that makes me laugh, then I use the stuff that really warms my heart about the humanity and throw in some stuff about the wonderful people I’ve met and, before I know it, I’m pouring my heart out to total strangers, family and friends.

So, we’re in O Pedrouzo, it’s 7:00 am and we’re walking out of the pension we were staying at. Closing the door, leaving our rucksack to be picked up to be taken on to our final stop in Santiago. We check we have got everything using my particular OCD method – check, re-check and check that we have checked. OK, it’s safe to close the door – we can’t get back in again if we have forgotten anything.

We set off to the edge of the town to find our trail, the road to San Anton, it’s still dark so we have to use my head-torch once we get off the main road. Other specks of light begin to appear as we approach the main camino path. Our pension was off the main camino in the main street of the town.

We linked in with the other starlights walking along the twisting tree lined path. Our world was good, we were walking with a definite spring in our steps this time.

We stopped for breakfast at a little café at the foot of a small hill leading out of Cimadevila. This was to keep us going to lunchtime at a planned stop at Camping San Marcos.

We left the café and soon got into our uphill pace, this hill was no problem to walkers like us. Biff! One climb defeated by our steady rhythmic step. Bash! Another incline left behind in our wake. This was easy. I think we agreed that the adrenaline had kicked in and nothing was going to stop us now. This was one of the most enjoyable walks we had been on for the ease of the walking.

As we climbed the hills, through the forests we still commented on how much like home this place was, the only difference being the Sweet Chestnut trees casting off their tribble-like casings. In case no-one knows what a tribble is, they were little balls of fur animals which took over the Enterprise in the original Star Trek – long time ago. The other difference was the abundance of Eucalyptus trees, arrow-straight, tall and with the strong smell that was heady in the morning’s crisp air.

Bosh! Another kilometre down, this was a slaughter.

As if someone had decided the peregrinos were just a nuisance we came across a perfect 90 degree right-hand turn. It was the fence surrounding the airfield of Lavacolla Aeropuerto. This airport was set on the heights overlooking Santiago and was adding extra distance to our walk. This wasn’t particularly attractive in walking terms but it did mean we were getting close.

A taxi driver in Santiago explained that Lavacolla was the place where the pilgrims would wash themselves in preparation of entering Santiago. There are other theories but I liked this one so this is the one which I will stick to and pass on to you.

As we came to the fence at the end of the runway we saw that people had put little crosses of twigs in the fence, hundreds of them. Not sure what the significance of this was but I had seen it before in a fence around a wood-chipping plant at the beginning of my walk.

Coffee and C&L were nipping at our thoughts and, when we came across a little café at Villamajor we took the opportunity to have a quick 5 minute break. Coffee, C&L taken, dry tee-shirt on and we were off again.

I would have to say there was definitely something in the adrenaline theory about our last walk because we were not for stopping.

After walking past TVG, the TV station of Galicia, we came to a horrible, huge site at Camping San Marcos, still I stopped at their shop to buy a lemon ice-lolly, really refreshing at this stage.

As we walked on we were both surprised to come across Monte do Gozo. We had expected more of a climb but no, we found ourselves walking through the village to the huge monument which commemorated the visit in 1989 of Pope John Paul II. There was a huge albergue here which holds 500 people. This was the mountain where the first pilgrims got their first view of the cathedral spires of Santiago. To us it was the place where another hurdle was put in our way.

As we came to the monument car-park we saw hundreds of yellow-capped Spanish people dis-embark from coaches and gather right across our path. It was a charity walk from here into Santiago. I told AM to keep her head down, follow me and just keep saying “perdóname” – excuse me. We had to push our way through and, as they had already started to make their way down the hill, had to physically fight our way past the throng to ensure we weren’t caught up in their slow, lumbering walk.

I’m afraid on more than one occasion I was so engrossed in weaving through them that I might have lost AM who was probably not being as rude as I was. Honestly though if you have ever been in an airport with me you would understand, queues and the rush for the gate are a bit of a warped pleasure of mine. I believe you were given elbows for a reason. No really though this charity walk could have held us back for an hour or more and I was not going to get lost in this movement down the hill into Santiago with the flow and colour of custard.

We powered through and, before we knew it, there was the bridge into Santiago. Here we go again. As I got onto the bridge I wasn’t the only person who had tears rolling down my cheeks. I will take this opportunity to fully apologise to AM. I was only concentrating on myself as I stepped towards the final goal. My head was spinning with every emotion that I had in me.

I had joy and sadness in equal amounts in those tears. I had fear and yet, at the same time, I was the calmest I had been for a long time. My heart was turning somersaults. What was going to happen next? How was I going to use this experience? Would it affect my life? Had I done ALL I could? Would I be able to make it across the bridge?

I’ll write more about this later, for now let’s get back to the actual walk.

We got across the bridge and, as in most cities, as I have said before, you don’t actually get to the centre for a long time. In our case it was going to be close to an hour before we would even see the spires of the cathedral. We were walking through the not so pretty parts, everywhere has these types of areas. You know, where the real people live. Unattractive blocks with not too many amenities close at hand.

If you are doing the Portuguese Way apparently you come into the city from another direction which takes you through the old city giving you views of the cathedral spires for most of the way. For us it was like walking in a maze. Following the roads skirting the old town area like they were teasing you. Keeping the views hidden behind concrete and steel until, finally, you start to see the stonework and buildings that tell you that you’re almost there. Hold out, just a little longer.

Boom! You’re first peek of a spire sends your heart racing. It was just down that narrow street, round this corner, across this square and …….. there it is. The feelings are coming back as I sit here and write. The ache comes to my heart. The tears are making it hard to type.

We arrived at about 11:50 am. The mid-day mass in the cathedral was just about to start. Like they were waiting for just me.

As we went to the doors to go in we had to leave our rucksacks outside and, as peregrinos, we could go in for free without queueing.

As I have said before, I am not religious but I do understand people’s need for belief. I have beliefs, not in gods or religions but my beliefs are as strong as any religion and they are mine. I don’t feel the need to share them too much. If you ask enough I might explain to you but, like the Camino, in the telling you change, you re-evaluate, you strengthen. My beliefs have become stronger because of the Camino.

As we enter the cathedral I felt a bit in awe of it all, although it looked a bit commercial as the other people stood outside queueing to pay to get in. Even though there were hundreds inside it was really quiet. The mass started and, as I stood looking around at the splendour of the building I broke down again. I felt so drained. I couldn’t take it all in. I had no thought of the people around me watching me cry. It wasn’t embarrassing. It wasn’t planned. It was enough that I had come to this place and got to this point. We didn’t stay for the full mass. We were exhausted, we had just walked 22 km, were really thirsty and, as the mass was not part of our plan, had done what we had planned to do.

We had 4 days of relaxation in this beautiful city. Tell you all about it next time.

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Excitement is building.

I can’t help feeling the excitement of the thought that we are going to do this. We are going to finish this task of mine. I don’t think it was Ann-Marie’s task until she got here. I think she has taken it on, she has felt the warmth of the peregrinos. She is a peregrino.

We are two stages away from Santiago. You can feel the mood of the other peregrinos changing as they are nearing their goal. Some, the ones who have done this before, know exactly where they are and what lies ahead. For us it is new land, new paths, new sites.

Today we leave Ribadiso in the early hours of the morning, darkness broken by many starlight torches bobbing through the trees and the dark winding lanes.

We stop a couple of kilometers from Ribadiso for breakfast. My mind dwells on my feet, quick kick against the ground – there’s still life in them. Toe pain seems to be just a constant, which is ok – it’s not getting any worse at least.

We don’t linger long after our coffee and croissants with more of the lovely freshly squeezed orange juice. Quick smoke and we’re off. Climbing into the twisting lanes. We have mastered the rhythm of the hills. We stomp in perfect harmony, neither of us looking at each other, just marching our way up and up. Then, as if we had been carried up that last hill, we were levelling off. Our legs started to ese and we started to enjoy our walk again.

We walked through tree lined paths, eucalyptus trees on both sides. Wooded areas gave us plenty of cool shade. It wasn’t particularly hot but I find it a lot easier to walk when it is cool.

We were in another of those good places where we didn’t really feel hungry so we didn’t want to stop for lunch just for the sake of it. We walked around 13 km and then decided to stop at a roadside café at a place called Salceda. Another Tuna bocadillo between us and a couple of cervezas. While I was sitting drinking a real proper pilgrim passed by. It was a young monk, in full heavy woolen habit in dark brown. I really felt for him as it was getting pretty hot in the early afternoon sun.

We were off again. It seemed we both had slotted into our pace fairly quickly after lunch and, before we knew it, we were coming into Perdouzo, our last overnight stay of our walk.

We walked up through the town past the cafés, already tending to the peregrinos who were already there. We bumped into David, the Scots/Canadian with the short attention span and the fondness for cats.

Our albergue was right at the end of the town. This was ok as it meant that tomorrow we would have slightly less to walk. Funny how you fool yourself with this sort of stupid logic.

The albergue had a bath. I think AM nearly cried. The thought of relaxing in a bath at home never really appeals to either of us but here – stand aside, I’m going in.

Being the perfect gentleman I decided to test the size and comfort of this bath before AM. If fitted perfectly. One of those little half-baths but I must say it was lovely.

When I had finished I must say it took a bit of effort to remove the line that appeared in the bath from somewhere. Surely that wasn’t all me was it.

AM followed me and, as far as I know there must have been the same sort of ring around the bath. You do tend to get rather dusty and dirty just walking. She said she absolutely loved it. We hoped our hotel in Santiago had a bath as well.

I met a couple of Irish ladies who, again, were as obsessed as the other female peregrinos with my kilt and the under apparel. I felt used and just like a piece of meat. Still I kept my dignity and gave nothing away.

I must say I might have missed some sleep that night. Like a kid waiting for Santa, tomorrow was going to be a special day.

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Not looking like a great day

The next morning we took our bags over to the dining room for breakfast. I could barely hold back my emotions as I watched the peregrinos who had stayed for the night prepare themselves for their next stage and the others who were using the albergue as a breakfast stop.

The activity was swamping me. I felt they were all looking at me with a mixture of pity and ridicule – obviously neither of these things was true but at that moment I was a wreck again. The tears were beginning to run down my cheeks. AM could sense this and tried to comfort me. I needed an angel now, more than any time. I even asked for one. Don’t know who I asked – I’m a non-believer, but I asked.

Through my tears I could see a little kitten – looked exactly like our little cat, Lilly – at my feet. It was scrounging for food. It simply jumped up in front of me on the long table and looked at me. This sounds ridiculous I know but it looked AT me. In that instant I changed my mind. I asked AM if she thought we could still get the bags sent on. She told me to ask the hostelier. He said we could and in a matter of seconds I had my kilt unpacked and put on outside while people were having their breakfast. Rucksack labelled, AM ready to go and we were off. My foot didn’t matter or even hurt.

I will call this kitten my fourth angel. I don’t care what you think, it was this kitten that got me up, wiped my tears, made me smile and set me on the road again, I don’t know why.

AM, as is her way, stood by me again. I had just switched from an emotional wreck to a peregrino again and she just went along with me. What a woman.

Melide was the first main town that we would hit that morning, 11 km. I never felt a twinge in my toe. We stopped for a C&L and a coffee but there was nothing we fancied to eat, we weren’t even hungry – let’s walk on. A further 6 km later and it was time to eat.

We stopped at a little café and sat in the garden. We had the biggest Tuna bocadillo between us washed down with more C&L and coffee. Some of the schoolkids had already made it there – very noisy bunch. As we sat eating more schoolkids arrived. One was carrying a wooden cross bedecked with coloured ribbons. Not sure what it meant though.

Boy with a Cross

Boy with a Cross

We ate and then moved on towards Ribadiso de Baixo, a small village straddling a river. As AM and I arrived on the top of the bridge all the young boys and girls who were swimming in the river began cheering us. “Bravo peregrinos.” It was very welcoming after the long walk. “Brava the Lady.” I felt obliged to give them a twirl of my kilt which raised a cheer again.

We met the Canadians we had met on day one with AM and we checked into our albergue before returning for some food and liquid refreshment.

We met a wonderful Scottish/Canadian guy who had obviously been using some special herbal remedies for his blisters. Mid-sentence he broke off his train of thought to say “Oh look! A Cat” only to return without hesitation to the original. The slightest thing can distract you I believe.

We’ve crossed the river.

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