THE FULL STORY

Sitting in the same bus station in Bilbao that I sat in on the day I went to San Sebastian on our “Cultural Trip”.
That seems like a long time ago.
Late plane, missed connection, late bus.
Should arrive in Logroño around 9:30 tonight.
Looking forward to not relying on anyone else to get places.
Bring it on.

ACTUALLY ON EL CAMINO

Can hardly believe it, I’m really on the Camino.

ALBERGUE SATURNINO

Just arrived at Albergue Saturnino in a little village called Ventosa, outside Najera.

Did 12 miles (18 km) today. That’s enough for the first day.

No blisters yet. Hope my toe holds out. Will try trainers tomorrow.

Passed through the vineyards of the Rioja region, pinched a few grapes off the vine, the sweetest thing I’ve tasted since kissing my wife goodbye yesterday. Oooops, That maybe didn’t sound the way I meant it.

RELAXING TIME

Lunch, or dinner, or supper – not sure which, but it is lovely to sit and relax for a while.

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Carbonara, not a patch on Ann-Marie’s

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NAJERA

Not much to speak about other than the blisters and chafing.
Chafing, that’s one thing that isn’t spoken about to much in the blogs or books on the Camino, maybe it’s just something people of a certain size suffer. I can’t believe that for a start. I think you can spot those with the same affliction. I call it the Camino shuffle. My wife once told me about a similar shuffle she noticed in the maternity wing.

It’s not like I wasn’t expecting this but boy I wish I could sit in a bucket of ice water.

The blisters aren’t that bad, just one toe giving me gip.

Just about to sit down (gingerly) and sort myself out.

Didn’t get too far today. Walked from Ventosa to Najera, just over 10 miles (16 km), but I knew there was going to be days like this.

When I got up this morning to the sound of Gregorian chanting at 6:00 am I felt fine, legs seemed ok. Put some cream on my feet, checked the blister padding on my toe and set off.

Very rocky and muddy at some parts along the way and some steep climbs into Najera. Spurred on by some grapes, courtesy of the Rioja wine makers I tramped on.

Didn’t get too much time there, just enough to Skype home. Quick bite to eat as breakfast and tidy up feet, then on.

Struggled on the hills up out of Najera. It seems that everywhere here as hills up into them and then, curiously, hills up out again. I know that’s not possible all the way but it seems like that. Maybe at some point it’ll be downhill the whole way.

Stopped at Azofra for the rest of the day. Hopefully the rest will do me good.

Anyway, going to sign off for today as I have to “shuffle” up to the supermarket and café to feed the mortal part of me. The spirit has taken a bit of a knock but I’ll be grand as we say.

Never know who you’ll meet…..

Just sat down for dinner and the lady beside me was a teacher in Gransha Boys High in the 90s and lived in Victoria Road.

AZOFRA UPDATE

Stayed in albergue in Azofra which was great, paid a bit extra and got a room to myself, they have doubles but I paid 15 Euro for myself which was ok.

Went to café bar and had a great 3 course meal for 10 Euro which included a half bottle of beautiful Rioja.

Set of around 7:30 with feet killing me. Arrived in Santo Domingo and had to see doctor. Bad blister between toes. Luckily I had sent my bag on ahead to the village further on – Grañon. Won’t be staying. Moving on the Burgos to hole up there for 2 or 3 days until My foot heals a bit.
And so it goes.

BURGOS

Picked totally the wrong place to stay. It’s like an American motel attached to a filling station about 3 miles out of the centre. Still much needed recovery time means I wouldn’t be doing much sight-seeing anyway.

Will hopefully pick up the trail on Monday.

Feeling sorry for myself and even resorted to listening to Ann-Marie reading the news on BBC iPlayer.

She’s got a lovely voice you know.

Just about to listen to her reading the 6:00 o’clock. Sad isn’t it but I love the woman.

BURGOS – DAY 2

Well still here at Bates Motel.

Have decided to move on from this place, not good for the soul being away from the rest of the peregrinos.

Am staying here tonight but moving on to an albergue on the Camino where I can stay tomorrow night and have my rucksack taken ahead to the next albergue.

I am hoping, on Monday, to move on to a place called Hornillos del Camino, a mere 21 km walk.

It is fairly level going with just a bit of a climb before descending down into the town.

There are two possible stopping points along the way, one at 10 and the other at 12 km so if my foot is not quite ready I can rest for a while here.

Wish me luck that my toe is up to the punishment.

Buen Camino, the phrase everyone says as they pass you by. I am having a Buen Camino, despite the toe problems and all. I am anxious now to get back out there and just walk.

Hasta mañana mis amigos.

CAFÉ BABIA – 10/10

Could almost cry with joy

Just left the hotel from hell. Got a refund at least for the night I cancelled.

Five minute taxi drive and have already met the real people of Spain again.

Walked into little café across the road from the albergue I will be staying at tonight and instantly was greeted by a pleasant smiling girl who asked what I wanted. I nearly broke down with emotion, honestly.

Beautiful little café, chilled music, very cool, great atmosphere, this has lifted my spirit again. You would love it Ann-Marie.

Will walk up to photograph the Cathedral in a minute – just want to soak this up for a while.

The caballero is playing some cracker music and he has already, with me just being in for five minutes, offered to put his music selection onto my phone.

Will be back in a while, just want to enjoy for a while.

By the way they’re just playing the original Ca pas por moi – well there’s a change!!!!

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The cool staff Alvaro and Laura in Café Babia

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos Cathedral

THE REAL BURGOS

This is the real Burgos.

I have found the real Burgos. It was here right under my nose.

It reminds me a little of Palma. The town houses with their windowed balconies. The Plazas at every corner. Very trendy looking people.

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Met a lovely couple who listened to me talking for ages.

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Had some beautiful pinchos in Café Babia and Alvaro and Laura were fantastic.

https://www.facebook.com/babiadeburgos

Alvaro downloaded a lot of his playlists from the bar.

Would come back to this city again. If it was up to the likes of the staff at Hotel Las Terrazas to promote this city it would have closed down years ago.

Going to put my head down for a while and rest for tomorrow.

Hasta luego.

BURGOS III – THIS TIME …….

Well, tackled the first part of the Meseta today.
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Set off from Burgos municipal albergue at 7:00 a.m. to deliver my rucksack down to the Hotel Nortes y Londres for transportation to Hornillos del Camino.
Hadn’t taken three steps when I thought “this is the end”.
My, supposedly healed, toe was agony. I was crippled with pain.
I queried whether to send the bag on or not. I didn’t know what to do.
I decided to send it on and wait until the shops opened to buy another pair of walking shoes or sandals.
Went back up to Café Babia to think things through. Had a coffee and croissant and a zumo naranja.
Decided to try to modify my trainers by cutting the area where it was hurting my toe the most.
Bandaged myself up and stood up. “Bloody hell”, I thought, “Cobblers, who needs them”.
So I set off in, what I thought was a 15km stage through the Meseta bit which turned out to be 21km.
Only the most feared place on earth, according to Robert the Canadian.
“No shade, unbearable heat, no people except lonely shepherds” he said.

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Well it did get a bit hot but I managed to find shade. But my toe started again.
Walked though some lovely countryside, through Tarjados and Rabé de les Calzados and onward to Hornilllos.

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Shifting my weight (sizeable as it is) only brought on pain in my other foot. Blisters started burning. I needed to sit down and tend to these.
As I came to the top of the shallow but long incline coming into Hornillos I could see it looming what seemed miles away. I started down the steep stoney hill and nearly gave up.
I sat down and took off my shoes and socks and, halfway down the hill, again tended to my feet. About 1 hour later I struggled up and was shuffling down the hill when Ann-Marie phoned me.
Honestly, her voice at that moment distracted me enough to hobble on down the hill, eventually after I had to tell her I couldn’t hold the phone and my walking sticks and concentrate, we hung up and I managed to limp wearily into this small village. Found a bar, sat and had fantastic chat with group of Canadians, Americans, French and English peregrinos.
Left a little wobbly from the beers and retired for the night to my albergue.

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Met two guys from Brazil and one from Uruguay who gave me some bread and wine to have with the soup I made.
We chatted and then I met Pat and his wife Trish who was originally from Newry. After talking to them for a while I went to my room and Skyped my family and told them how much I loved and missed them – and I do.
The End.

LEON

I am now in Leon. Wow! I hear you say, that was one quick walk.

Well, toe tell you the truth……

No honestly, after struggling again yesterday with my toe, I decided to move on again, this time to the beautiful city of Leon.

I say beautiful but that’s just going by the taxi ride from the train station to the albergue, right in the heart of the action.

Maybe it’s the name Leon but looking down on the street from the balcony of my room I am reminded of another balcony, in another time in Paris. Street sounds rising, laughter from a girl in a café somewhere, the sort of background sounds that Tati would have loved.

I haven’t actually been out in the city yet but I can feel it’s activity calling me.

“Come down to play with us Campbell, you’ll love it.”

On the boring side I have to wait until my trousers dry, slight accident in the bathroom. NO, not that sort of accident. It was the exploding washing liquid sachet for my clothes, but you try explaining that when you’re as chic as I am walking into that café downstairs with a perfectly positioned stain. Fairy Liquid I hear them say, “No, and just because I am wearing bright red trousers and a luminous yellow shirt there’s no need to cast homophobic insults around”.

Just got to go now cause wife on Skype.

Will be back later.

Back again. Just walked a little bit round the area close to the albergue looking for replacement shoes for starting walking again. Found a pair that seemed to suit. Bought them and walked round the corner to find the very shop I had been looking for, for days. Found another, better pair, bought them and asked the lady if she thought I could get a refund from the first shop, she said something I didn’t understand but worked out it was “good luck”. Went back to the first shop and argued my case. When they said it was against the “reglas” – rules. I said it wasn’t against the policia rules. Well what do you know – got a refund. Paddy Barr’s style of negotiating seems to work.

Am sitting people watching with two friends – cerveza y limon.

Am moving now to buy some tapas or pinchos, whatever they call them here.

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Good night all. Will blog tomorrow with some pics of Leon when I get a chance to look around.

ADIÓS LEON

Time to leave Leon.
Well, rested and ready to move on. Waiting at bus station for bus to Villar del Mazarife.

Met a lovely couple from France who were on their fourth Camino and talked as if we had known each other for years. Really wonderful the way that happens here.

Stayed at a great albergue right in the heart of the city. It was in an old townhouse and was very clean and well run.

The guys who ran it basically left you to yourself, with free tea, coffee, WiFi and computer access. I went for the individual room for the extra privacy and, apart from the bed collapsing a couple of times it was perfect.

The guys were really helpful and spoke perfect English, which helped when trying to explain about the bed. It wasn’t me, it had happened before. Once when a circus was in town and the other when a troop of Russian lady shotputters were staying apparently.

I went to see the Catedral de Santa Maria on the first night when it was lit up against an electric-blue, starless sky.

One of the peregrinos I had spoken to before Leon had recommended doing a night-time walk as the skies out in the wilderness are supposed to be breathtaking. As I need every breath I have I will decline this offer for now, but maybe someday.

Sat watching the chic people promenading at night like peacocks. You get the same in every city. You know the sort, yellow slip-on shoes, silk socks, pale pink or green, or even yellow trousers, contrasting shirt with jacket and the sunglasses and watch which probably cost as much as everything I possessed in the world at this moment in time.

Wandered round the dingier back streets and came across tiny little squares, hidden away as if the city was ashamed of them. Shame on them, this is the life blood of any city, not the fake Armani wearing strutters who probably don’t even know these places exist. I love these places.

Sat and had a pizza and a couple of beers and spotted a girl, obviously peregrino, ordering by herself, a few tables away. I indicated to her my scallop shell (now there’s a novel way to pick girls up) and she nodded. I asked her to join me and she did. Wow! I’ve still got it.

We shared our Camino stories and compared blisters, I used all my best lines, she was camphorated Vaseline in my hands.

Her name was Summer. Quick as a flash I said “we don’t see much of you in Ireland”. Biff!!! another ace line. I was on form.

Then I told her that my beautiful wife was joining me in Sarria. Any other man would have known when to shut up. Not me. Babbled on about Ann-Marie and we got to discussing religion. Well you all know how religious I am, so the conversation just turned into a rant by me.

It ended with me telling her she must watch Father Ted, which she had never seen and she noted it down. Again, a lesser mortal would have exchanged telephone nos. or email addresses, not me.

We wished each other Buen Camino and went our separate ways – honestly Ann-Marie, that’s what happened, I swear.

The next morning I did some sightseeing and generally missed the peregrinos I had met and bonded so well with.

I will temporarily stop here as my bus is coming but will finish this later and add pics.

MARVELLOUS MAZARIFE

Post Leon
Left Leon with two emotions and some opinions of El Camino.

I am a peregrino, I have discovered, who doesn’t like non-peregrinos.

I love cities when on holiday for short stays, for the buzz of everything that goes on. You look around anywhere and there are people, people who are doing their own thing, at their pace, with not too much attention to anyone else.
Cities are the places where you people watch, not people meet.

There have been a very few times in my life when there has been an instant love of strangers. It’s so hard to explain.

As I climbed onto the bus the Frenchman shouted, “You will know what to do for your brother”, a lump swoll in my throat and I had to fight back the tears – not so successful with that one.

I had been talking to him about Finisterre and how the American girl Summer and I had been talking about the piling of the stones along the way. She and I discussed the best place to leave the stone for my brother John.

I told him that I was wondering what to actually do with this memento and this is what led him later to call out to me as I stepped onto the bus.

Makes you wonder, with all the crap that is going on in the world, why a total stranger would feel the need to give me his advice, advice he meant from his heart to mine. Hit hard that did as I clambered aboard the bus. I sat mid-way up the bus and he and his wife were still watching and gave a simple wave as the bus pulled out.

The next town was only 35 minutes away and, as I looked out of the window, I could see peregrinos on the long, long walk up the arrow-straight road leading to Vilar de Mazarife with the sun beating down relentlessly on them. This was one of the routes to take to Mazarife, this was the one the peregrino who was doing it for penance would take I think.

I arrived in Mazarife around 4:15 pm and was dropped at the other side of the village from the albergue I had pre-booked.

When I arrived at albergue San Antonio de Padua I felt part of the family again.

As I walked through the beautiful garden where peregrinos where relaxing in the sun I almost got a wolf-whistle for my kilt. I may have to start wearing this for good. Would shock the punters in George’s bar back home. Still, who cares, they wouldn’t get it.

Back later, dinner calls ……

THE FIELDS OF MAZARIFE

What an albergue!
After the arduous journey I had taken to get to Mazarife (ok, by bus) is it any wonder I was in need of some refreshments. I got it in spades.

As if the welcome that I got from the French lady and the Korean girl, when they got a glimpse of this fine figure of a man, strolling past them and up onto the veranda with the kilt a swinging wasn’t enough, the place was beautiful.

The house was on two levels. When you went in through the door to the sleeping area on the ground floor, there were about twenty or so bunk beds well laid out. Of course I wasn’t staying there with all the snoring and farting – it wouldn’t have been fair to put them through all that. No I had pre-booked my SOLO room. Basically a double room which, if you pay extra, means you can have all to yourself. Luxury, I hear the four Yorkshiremen say – bloody right I say.

Not that I don’t love my fellow peregrinos, but there are some things I like to keep private – although I am about to tell you now what goes on behind those closed doors to the solo room so that doesn’t count.

The sheer relief of being able to take all your clothes off and scratch the parts that even that fine beer wouldn’t dare go, take of your socks and examine what is left of the soles of your feet – yes I know I came by bus today, but let’s pretend I have walked 15km today for the sake of the story.

I’m telling you I may be scum, but I’m considerate scum. I’m saving the peregrinos from having to watch all that and then burn their eyes out with red hot pokers. Just as an aside, when I try to type scum into may mobile, it changes it to Scunthorpe

Anyway, I digress. My room was on the lower floor of this stepped house. About eight rooms in all down there and lovely they were too.

Didn’t even take time to scratch, scrub up, or even break wind, there were real people up their to talk to.

Up to the garden, bottle of beer and can of lemon Kas in hand, the cocktail known as Cerveza con Limon, or Shandy, as we call it at home.

Let the show begin.

As the veranda was, obviously, slightly higher than the garden, I did forget my Debrett’s method of sitting on its floor. French/Korean war 1866 relived. Martine representing the French and Henna representing the Korean.

Managed to save my dignity before they had lost theirs.

French, Italian, Hungarian, Dutch, German, Irish and Scotsmen and women were all represented in that little patch of pure green among the sun-bleached fields of Mazarife.

The United Nations couldn’t have organised it better.

We talked, we sat in silence, we sighed and we laughed together on that field of green.

Bottles of wine were being ordered and then served by our host. A lovely man who, for some reason, I forgot to get his name.

Henna the Korean girl was really excited about the dinner we were about to have. Knowing now what we had she had every right to be excited. We all sat downstairs at the communal table and dined on great food cooked by our very own chef. Muy Bien.

Six o’clock came all too early, but up, washed, packed, bag organised for transport, dressed and out – still dark, so head light switched on and off into the early morning darkness like someone who has stayed out too late and is sneaking home from somewhere they shouldn’t have been. So I’ve been told.

Fifteen kilometres today to do. No problem this time, BBC Radio iPlayer tuned in to Radio Ulster and Ann-Marie’s hourly news reading to keep me company, and it was easy. I wish she was beside me and I then wouldn’t even bother switching on Keith Burnside.

Have to leave this now as I’m really tired. Catch you tomorrow.

HAD TO GO TO HOSPITAL

On my way to Hospital
Mazarife still in my mind, I was on my way to Hospital. Hospital de Orbigo to be exact.

The road from Mazarife was pretty boring, with a straight road for 6 km which, as I said in my last post, was helped by Radio Ulster and their wonderful newsreaders.

It really is quite nice walking in the early morning darkness. Ahead of me I could vaguely see another peregrino, their head light bobbing along the road, occasionally, darting to one side to try to see what the rustling was among the corn fields.

My light was doing the same, now and then it would sweep right round to see another peregrino, way in the distance, no head light but I’m sure he saw mine brighten. I don’t know how he did that, walk in the dark, I was paranoid about stepping in a pothole or on a stone and twisting my ankle. I have my mother’s ankles apparently.

Luckily I have my mother’s good looks which gets me by. She is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. She has done more than one Camino in her life. St. James take note.

Villavante comes up quickly after the long straight road and into Santa Lucia store. “Hola!” screams a voice from a cage. No not some sort of Camino sex slave waiting to serve your every need – a parrot. Only word the bloody thing new apparently. Couldn’t get my order in for café cortado for “Hola”, freaking “Hola”. You tend to want to answer when you hear “Hola”.

Quick repairs to feet, fleece drying over the roundabout sign – had the good sense to use the back of the sign, not that thick. Don, one of the Scotsmen who was driving their sections of the Camino – don’t ask – arrived to park and have a coffee before walking back to meet his three friends and walk in with them.

Everywhere in the world you have them. You know, no sooner have you parked in an empty space when someone comes up to tell you that you can’t park there. There wasn’t another car in the whole village but no, I think he actually had a pot of yellow paint up his coat for that very occasion.

Don moved his car, had his coffee and set off, back down the Camino I had just come up. Talked to him later and he said it was odd, people passing him going the wrong direction wishing them “Buen Camino”. Weird these Scots you know.

Villavante to Hospital was a quite easy, if boring again, 4.5km. Found the pension I was staying at, dumped the gear in the room and set off to find the elusive peregrinos who were secreted around this smallish town.

Couldn’t find anyone so settled myself in the best vantage point to see everyone come in across the spectacular bridge – the terrace of an albergue with a great view of the bridge.

The Bridge at Hospital

The Bridge at Hospital

People found me sitting in the shade with my usual companion who we will furthermore call C&L.

Canadians first, then the four Scotsmen. A few beers later and we had to split up to go to our respective accommodation. The Canadian husband and wife finished their lunch – a bottle of wine – and headed off to finish their 45km section. Yes, 45km. They were doing the whole thing for the fourth time in 27 days. Wow!

Went back across the bridge to my pension and had the most fantastic peregrino menú del dia for 9 euros, met Stefan, a German, who had begun his Camino from his front door 6 years ago. Had done different sections throughout the years and was so enthusiastic he reminded me of the Danish girl, Trine, who I had met in Leon and had done the Cathedral tour along with me. She was nearly bursting with excitement on her first day of El Camino she just had to run up to someone to tell them “I’m on the Camino”. Ah! That first time.

Chatted for a while then off to my room to prepare for the next leg.
Just typed “leg” and predictive text put “keg” – how clever is that?

I’ll leave it there for now. More updates tomorrow.

Good night.

OUT OF HOSPITAL

Great night’s sleep in Hospital.

The guy who runs the albergue I stayed in got up at 6:30 to make me sandwiches, fruit and water for my journey. I told him to just give me fruit and water and I’d be fine. Couple of somethings, could have been a sort of peach, and a frozen bottle of water packed into my bag and I was off.

Still dark and some spots of rain as I came through the town on my way out. Prepared my poncho for its first outing but the rain was going so I didn’t bother.

Saw two young girls coming out of an albergue on the outskirts of the town and the thought crossed my mind, how safe are young girls on their own on the Camino. Hadn’t heard any of the news at this point and as I walked along the lanes with ditches on either side I thought how easy it could be to be dumped in those ditches and never be seen.

The news later of the discovery a female body in the next area I was going to, shocked me. I could see the helicopters flying around but didn’t think anything of it.

It was the American girl who had been missing since April. She had been murdered by a local man from Astorga, my next stop. I only learned all this when I had arrived in Astorga.

The route was a very gentle climb of around 125 metres through some fields and a wooded area. Quite pleasant in the early morning.

I arrived at the most surreal place at the top of the climb where a hippy couple had set up home and were providing refreshments donitivo – by contribution.

They had all sorts of herbal teas and cartons of different juices and pieces of fruit. You just gave what you wanted.

Their “home” was the ruins of, what looked like an old adobe finca which had fallen down. Three walls were about one metre high and the back wall, presumably where a fireplace had been, were all that was left.

The couple, only around thirty or thirty-five, had transformed the inside of this shell into a peaceful garden-like area. White stones, like you would see in a garden centre show area, surrounded small clumps of flowers and there were two mattresses where you could rest, one just inside where the front door might have been and the other against the back wall under a small canopy.

Outside the front area, in a little outhouse, the girl was tending to a pot-belly stove, heating water for the tea. He was bare-foot with dreadlocks, she was tall and slender with a long hippy skirt. Both had the most contented look I have ever seen on their faces.

They had apparently been living there for the past six years, summer and winter. Exposed, save for the left-over mud bricks and no roof.

Didn’t take anything there and, thinking back, forgot to give them something for the pleasure of seeing such joy and contentment at just being there, helping peregrinos on their quest for that same contentment that they had, together up that hill.

A little further on came across a Cruceiro (cross) – de Santo Toribio. This was one of the types of places my memento for John might be placed. Not here though, didn’t get the feeling. That feeling that, as that Frenchman in Leon said – “You will know when it is right”.

Walked on. Gave a Euro to a guitar playing, scooter riding (not at the same time), guy who seemed to be trying to guess your nationality and then trying to start a conversation about your home. Norn Iron left him looking bemused. He asked me for a souvenir – seemed a bit odd. He pointed at a survival bracelet my daughter Bronagh had given me some time ago. That wasn’t happening.

Set off down the hill, bumped into Karel from The Netherlands again and we walked into Astorga together.

We commented on the steel bridge over the railway line that zig-zaged back and forth to get you up and over the track. Bloody GPS was going mad.

As with most cities, you think you have arrived, only to find there is another two or three kilometres to go before you actually get to the centre. Astorga was no exception. Just as a final punishment we had to climb a really steep street which wound its way up to the first of the albergues in the city. Every peregrino used their own swearword from their country on seeing this.

Slowly we all stepped, trudging, bending, straining under our backpacks until we reached the top.

I couldn’t resist it. I am not ashamed. I have no guilt. When I got to the top of that hill the breeze beckoned me. I stood, with my legs apart, kilt spread, allowing the breeze to caress, nay pleasure me. I did actually let out a loud sigh to which my fellow peregrinos laughed and the locals stood, open-mouthed.

Apologies St. James.

Wandered around for a bit, met the Danish girl again, had two grande C&Ls, bought a phone charger (which is why I don’t have any photos of journey in), found a great peregrino menu in quite a plush looking hotel for ten Euro, which was a three course meal with a full bottle of wine.

Met up with Norbert from Germany and Mike from Surrey again who joined me at my table. We talked for ages while I waited for my bus time to Ponferrada. Mel from London joined us just before I had to leave and the four Scotsmen came to the same restaurant and we hurled abuse at each other. Celts together.

Said my goodbyes to Mel and went for the bus.

Astorga, like most cities my kilt has been to, haven’t really got the whole thing of a man in a skirt.

One older lady actually stopped, looked me up and down before saying “embarazoso”. Think she was saying I was embarrassing. No accounting for taste.

Just to finish, while sitting with the Danish girl, a German lady and an Englishman (not a joke), a local lady, who was pretending to have her photo taken with a huge stuffed bull, after she had it taken, pretended to take a photo of her boyfriend, who was behind me. When I looked round at him and then quickly back to her, she had her camera down below knee height trying to capture my under kilt status. That’s one picture going on Instagram.

I’ll give you a break now. Talk soon.

HASTA LUEGO ASTORGA

Astorga, forever marred by the dreadful news of the murder of that poor American lady.

The terrible coincidence of me being in that town at the time they found her body will remain as one of the not so nice memories of this journey that sometimes I may omit in the relating.

It has to be said though, people are talking all the time about the safety of the peregrinos. I remember talking to a lady from America, I think it was Texas, who said a policeman friend of hers advised her to bring a tazer with her as she was travelling alone. I believe the Americans were all aware of the story of the missing lady and this may have been why he was giving her such drastic advice.

It’s odd to think that there are such people who could take advantage of someone on a pilgrimage, whether religious or spiritual.

As I left Astorga by bus I tried to get back into the mood. I found that trying to work out the small screen display in front of me took up a lot of time. The caballero beside me was watching The Big Bang Theory, obviously in Spanish and I found it on my display.

You’d think in this day and age there would be a better way to do this. I understand translations have to be done using people from the country the programme is being shown in but really, Sheldon Cooper with a voice like Barry White? You’re the first, you’re the last, Bazinga.

By the time I had worked out that I couldn’t get English subtitles we were almost halfway to Ponferrada. I put on my daughter Caitlin’s little set from Garry’s Barber Shop and listened to a proper accent, my accent – if a little sweeter.

Must say I had a little bit of a tear in my eye listening to her beautiful voice. I drifted into a little sleep with her lyrics whispering in my earphones.

Ponferrada came up earlier than I expected – got the mileage wrong again. Kilometres, miles. Spent the last few minutes dividing things by eight and multiplying by five. Did you know that the Proclaimers would walk 800 kilometres. Doesn’t quite scan though does it.

Ponferrada estación de autobus is as dull as most other bus stations in the world I’m sure. Didn’t even go inside. Jumped into a taxi and on to my hotel for the night.

Had decided to take one of those rest days again. It’s a luxury to have a bathroom you know. It’s very emotional when you arrive and see the bathroom IN the same room. Bidet!!! Feet can be soaked while supping C&L – another tear begins. Sorry Caitlin, I cry at anything now apparently. Bloody Camino!

Feet soaking in hot water with a few drops of Tea Tree oil – AMs idea. She says it disinfects. Who am I to argue. I know that I could actually smell something else other than myself.

It’s odd you know. You’d think that after a long sweaty walk you’d love a good shower. It doesn’t seem to work like that for me.

First I get my C&L, then I lie speadeagle on the bed – even if it’s only a single bed. I must confess I like a good scratch. I have found myself scratching to near ecstasy, you know like when you see a dog scratch behind his ear to the point it looks like he’s going to tear it off.

Scratching finished, some blogging done. Take advantage of the Wi-Fi – that’s another thing, just watch peregrinos put up with everything else but don’t take away our Wi-Fi, it’s like the second most important thing in the place you are staying next to the quantity of loo roll. Damn, there’s only three sheets left and there’s nowhere for another 5 km.

Settle down for an early night, not moving on tomorrow so alarm set for a bit later – 8:00.

When the alarm goes off I need to see the world again. Open the window and as I breath in the fresh Spanish morning I hear “Oh, I just wanna finish my jam, I love jam”, coming from beneath a tree below my window.

This was the voice of a peregrino who has been out in the sun too long the day before and had stolen all the little cartons of jam from the albergue she was staying at.

I listen for a while from my first floor window. I can’t see who it is yet but I know they’re sheltering from the early morning rain beneath a tree just below me, sounds like two of them. And they’re Irish.

After a bit I decided to shout down to them. “Is that an Irish accent I hear down there?”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph”, came the reply -“Irish indeed”, says I. Sorry started to sound like Michaeleen O’Flynn there for a second.

“No”, I said, “it’s just me up here on the first floor”.

“We can’t see you”, says one. “Come out from under that tree with your jammy hands” I shouted.

“How much were you listening to”, said one. “Enough”, I said.

“Move from under the tree towards the road, I’m up above you”, I said.

When they came out they were like two kids who had been caught doing something really naughty, all sheepish. Turns out they were from Enniskillen – that great jamless town in the west.

I wished them Buen Camino and they set off on their hunt for Jam Nirvana, or as its otherwise known Santiago de Compotela – did you see what I did there. True story.

As it was Sunday and I wasn’t for walking I decided to sit downstairs in the café, have I bite to eat and watch the MotoGP. What were you thinking Vale?

After that I put my coat on and ordered a taxi to the centre of town. Taxi came, charged me 11 Euro for the privilege if you don’t mind – it was 6 out. I queried it and he said because he had to come out to the hotel to pick me up the cost was more. Frantically looked for the word “Bollocks” on Google translate. “Cojones” is what it comes back with but that wasn’t quite the meaning I meant.

I had asked him to take me to the centre of the city, but again something must have got lost in translation. Dumped me at the first roundabout he came to. If you think that was dead, you should have seen the rest of the place.

After walking around in this ghost town for a while. Standing in the Plaza Major totally alone I sought out my two friends C&L. They never let me down. Found a great café, had a menú del dia for 10 Euro with a bottle of wine. Food was great. Weather was a bit chilly but I sat outside and updated my blog.

Finished around 8:00 and headed back to hotel to prepare for the next day.

Buenas noches mis amigos.

PONFERRADA

My feet are remarkably ok when I get up, the bandages and plasters were still on from the previous day, well why waste a good bandage.

Up at 6:00, check feet, wash, brush teeth and out for 6:45. The Camino as I have said before was right past the Hotel Novo where I was staying. Nipped around the back and I was on the path to Camponaraya, a good ten kilometres I had worked out. Wrong.

I made my way through the countryside, again in the darkness, really actually enjoying the walk. I had felt like I had crossed some sort of threshold. Taking my time to enjoy the scenery and taking more in than before.

About half an hour in I came across the strangest little café at a crossroads leading to what seemed to be some sort of industrial area. I only say that because it was only a very small road but at the crossroads there seemed to be a lot of traffic coming behind me and all turning left down the same road. I couldn’t actually see any factory or anything but I imagined there must be some sort of early start for these people 7:30 – 8:00 or so.

I went into the café for a quick coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, everywhere has these amazing juicers. The style may change slightly but the result is the same – beautifully sweet juice which had no preservatives or sugars in it.

I was really amazed to find two elderly gents sitting at the bar/counter drinking coffee while a young man was getting cigarettes from a machine. Four Euro fifty for twenty for those addicts who always want to know the prices. Around 2 Euro fifty for a pint of C&L. Not too bad I would say.

Finish my coffee and juice, backpack on and off on my walk again.

Just outside this little village I came across a walled off area with a gate cutting off one of the corners. I could see through the gates, which were locked, glass doors with flowers hanging from them. The size of the doors, around 3 ft. wide by about 2 ft. deep, and the flowers gave away the fact this was a graveyard. These windowed accommodations went down one side of this enclosed block and on the other side were box-like structures which resembled beach-huts, except in stone.

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As I walked on past this weird looking place I was reminded of Jacque Tati in the scene from Monsoir Hulot’s Holiday where he mistakenly goes to a funeral – but only for the front gates of this place.

The road went down the side of the graveyard and the backs of the beach-huts for the deceased were just the concrete wall with the peaks of the roofs creating a jagged top. It almost looked like a community dumping area in the outskirts of a town at home.

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As I said before, I cajoned-up. Camponaraya jumped out at me from around a corner, six kilometres registered on my Runkeeper app. By the time I reached the B&B I was going to be staying at I had worked out that I could walk about 1.5 kilometres extra, turn around and walk back to the B&B and that would make up around 10 km.

Headed out the road which I would be taking the next morning for a bit and found a dirt path heading off up a hill into a wooded area above the town. This would suit to clock up the extra kms.

Walked up about 1 km and came across, what looked like, an abandoned building built into the hillside. It had a flat circular roof and the place was fenced off, although part of the fence was broken down. I went in and climbed up on the roof, only about a 2 ft. high step up from the back of the building. It gave a good view down over Camponaraya and I took some photos.

It was still only around 9 o’clock in the morning as I headed back down the hill.

Just on the outskirts of the town was the bottling and sales part of the local vineyard co-operative Viñas del Bierzo.

Wine sample and pincho €1.50. Well, even at 9:00 o’clock, you still have to go for it. Free grapes and a lovely sobrano ham pincho washed down with the white was really quite nice.

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Got back into the town when I heard an American accent I recognised shouting “Hey there Campbell”. It was Brad, from Fort Worth and is friend Liz from New York. I joined them for a coffee and we started talking again like we were the oldest friends.

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That’s what this thing does to you, I’ve got dozens of new friends who all know the same pains and pleasures we have found along the way.

I know that if I ever meet them again, no matter where in the world, we could instantly re-bond, instantly take up the route, instantly be transported to damp albergues in the mountains or warm sunshine at cafés where we all slumped down into plastic chairs, creaking at the weight of us and our rucksacks, walking poles rested against the wall taking their own, well-deserved break.

Brad and Liz headed onward and I went to my B&B.

OOOPS! CAMPONARAYA

Had a good night’s sleep, ate breakfast alone and set off out of Camponaraya feeling great.

The walk was through the vineyards of the Bierzo region and, as I walked along picking grapes and apples and marvelling at the technology of the vine harvester, I was smiling as I walked.

The vines seemed to be planted two different ways. I presume there were some which were planted for mechanical harvesting and others looked as though a machine could not pick the grapes off as the vines were fairly randomly spaced, not like the neat rows on the other side of the road.

This was turning out to be a beautiful walk. I seemed to not even notice the kms. drop away.

In my happiness I remember thinking, “I could really do this you know”. Then as if someone had sent just a little annoyance down to let me know you always have to be on guard.

Can’t remember where I was but I spotted him a mile away. As I walked towards this crossroads I could see this guy get out of a car, cross the road to my side and stand waiting, tracts in hand. Can’t understand who he was trying to convert or to what religion but I wasn’t having any of it. Kept my head down, no eye contact and mutter the words “no entiendo”. Maybe I should try this at home.

Kept wondering when Villafranca would appear as I couldn’t see it anywhere in the mountains. Then, as I rounded a corner, there it was, sunken into the valley between two mountains, as if it didn’t want to be found.

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It was a really lovely town spread over many different levels of cobbled streets with a couple of different plazas.

Unfortunately didn’t get too much time to look around as the rain was bouncing off the streets. Got really soaked and had to try took dry off in a café where I had my peregrino menú del dia with the usual side of C&L.

Bottle of red wine with the meal had to be shared with a couple from Canada and then on to find my accommodation for the night – La Casa de Leo.

Got settled in, chatted with the new peregrinos, mostly cyclists and then retired for the evening.

Tomorrow is another way.

LAGUNA de CASTILLA

This next stage started really boringly, we peregrinos were competing with the huge road system which was carved out of the mountains.

They criss-crossed over our heads and towered above us for most of the way out if Villafranca.

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It rained again just after I had set out but I had planned to have my bag sent on to La Portela de Valcarce, a sort of truckers pit stop area where I stopped and met with Trina again. We had a bite to eat and then decided to share a taxi on to Laguna de Castila.
This was a bit of a cop-out but the climb up to O’Cebreiro looked quite difficult and, with the rain would not have been pleasant.
Norbert, our German friend was also having a meal and he had suggested, instead of going to O’Cebreiro, we should stop at Laguna as O’Cebreiro was always very busy. We decided to take his advice and booked our taxi.
I say taxi but it just looked like a guy who was taking his father out for a drive and we were just petrol money for him.
We jumped in the taxi and immediately the old guy started to try to talk to me. Have no idea what he was saying but got the impression he was making some comment about me and Trina getting up to things along the way. His son was constantly trying to tell him to be quiet. I think Trina got a bit embarrassed, she said later on that she got the same impression.
The guy driving had obviously been given the wrong information by the girl in the pit stop but as we were pulling into O’Cebreiro I said we were supposed to be going to Laguna. As we were already there we decided to check for accommodation anyway.
The film “The Way” has really boosted the Camino all of a sudden. The numbers of Americans and Canadians who are here this year has apparently grown dramatically.
This purpose-built village was thronged with people.
If you can imagine a slate stone built village, immaculately designed to look ancient. There is an hotel, a pension and an albergue. All were full to bursting. Some people had even resorted to pitching a tent in a little bus-shelter like nook.
We headed back down the mountain to hopefully get a bed for the night. We were in luck. Hung our soaking wet coats and ponchos in a garage across from the albergue and ran through the rain to get our gear into the dorm.
The albergue in Laguna was built with the same stone and was quite nice inside. They had a fantastic washing and drying facility. Leave your washing and they will have it set on your bunk in two hours, dry and folded. Luxury.
I settled in for a jar and watched as the late peregrinos tried to get a bed for the night. They were tired and soaked to the skin. As they got turned away I felt really sorry for them having to go another 2 kms. or more to try to find accommodation just to get refused again. The next stops after that were another 3 and 5 kms. further on. I couldn’t have coped with that after climbing such a long climb up to the top of that hill.
Met Brian from Dublin who kept saying he had to go but then changed his mind and was actually there to the death, after meeting Norbert from Germany again and also Piers and Alfonso, a couple of guys who would remind you of the odd couple. We all had a great peregrino meal finished off with tarta almendra. Alfonso, from Santander, via Madrid introduced us to the delights of the drizzling on of a liquor akin to raki which was fantastic.
Had great discussions and sorted the world’s problems before wishing all a Buen Camino and retiring for the night.
Slumped into the bottom bunk in the 5 bed dorm after sorting my rucksack for transportation the following morning. This task is crucial and you also have to make sure you have enough change to put into the envelope for the payment of around €7 for 15 km.
Onwards and hopefully downwards.

FONFRIA

Leaving Laguna with a slight hangover but with the early morning sun beginning to come up.

Left the albergue feeling a little fragile but it doesn’t take long for the fresh mountain air to take over, fill your lungs as you climb through the last of the steep climbs, and force out the last remnants of alcohol which may be left in your body. The sweat from your forehead must have some proof left in it.

Up and up and then, as the muscles begin to ease, you know you’re levelling off and then begin to descend.

The views are breathtaking. The sun, which is always on your back or left-hand side of your face, lights up the green fields and forests and my thoughts go back to home. Though we are in the mountains I get the feeling that I’ve been here before, it’s an odd feeling of peace and relaxation even though I’m working hard.
Photos don’t do this place justice.

When you set off to your next stopover you have no idea what you’re going to get. I know some people put things on blogs or on Facebook telling of their experiences but, much like Tripadvisor you can’t always rely on the third-hand review being accurate.

Believe me now when I say. STOP AT FONFRIA. Albergue Reboleira is outstanding. The albergue itself is beautiful but wait until you join in the communal peregrino meal.

“WOW!” is the only word you hear as each person enters the huge roundhouse where dinner will be served. Everyone uses that word, no matter the nationality, it is just “Wow!”.

The woodwork is magnificent, the woodburner very welcoming and the table – here comes that word again. The table, which holds around 50, curves around the back of the building in the perfect arc mirroring the outer wall of this, slightly African-looking house.

Tall pointed roof rises up, huge beams supporting a form of thatch. It’s just beautiful. Slate brickwork everywhere, huge pieces of wooden furniture and the warmth of the fire make it instantly welcoming.

We all take our places with our mouths and eyes wide open. Heads tilted back to look at the majesty of something so simple yet as intricate as the cathedrals I have seen. The cathedrals win in terms of being in awe of the man hours and fine detail taken to construct but this eating house wins in terms of bringing you back to basics. Two elements, stone and wood, brought together to create something which can match any cathedral in terms of honour to be given to the craftsmen.

The meal began with huge silver soup tureens filled with Galician soup – a sort of peasant style vegetable soup.

The diners were of multi nations.
The people opposite me were Italian, the Danish girl sat beside me. Oh forgot to tell you. On the Camino you say goodbye to people many times. Just like that episode of Father Ted when he gets trapped saying goodbye the a lady over and over again, I walked out of my room earlier and there she was, sitting with her feet up in the lounge area. Anyway, back to the table. On my left, an older German lady seemed to think I needed looking after. She ladled my soup for me, broke some bread and gave it to me. She topped up my soup and spoke in German.

Although I didn’t understand the words it felt like she was saying “come on, eat up your vegetables or you won’t grow up big and strong”. I missed my mum at that moment. I smiled at her and could almost see my mum’s face there in this stranger. I say stranger but I have heard many people say “my Camino brother” or “my Camino mother”. I think at that moment I found my Camino mother. Haven’t found my Camino brother yet – don’t think I will though.

As we all sat talking, as if in tongues, we all knew what each was saying. I hope I was that lady’s Camino son, if only for a moment of closeness to someone who wasn’t with her.

The night swept by all too quickly, the food was eaten with masses of gratitude to the cook/owner and her helpers.

One of the American ladies stood up and asked for a volunteer to go down and bring the staff up to show our appreciation.

She nodded at me and I was only too willing to make an idiot of myself as usual – I really don’t care though. These were my family at that moment and I have made a bigger fool of myself with my real family to worry about this.

The sound of the applause rose into the thatch but it couldn’t soak it in. Great cheers and whoops went up from everyone. It was indeed a memorable meal. I’ll not forget it for sure.

Like a warm Christmas party breaking up we all walked back up the hill to the albergue and off to bed to sleep with a smile on our lips, good food in our stomachs and hearts gladdened by the closeness of strangers.

Fonfria is in my heart.

EL BESO

El Beso – The Kiss.

Said my goodbyes, again, and set off, renewed.

The morning was stunning. We were still relatively high in the mountains.

The morning sun came out strong, burnt off most if the early mist and warmed my back. When I had to round corners in the shadows it was still quite cold, but as I have always said, I would rather be too cold than too hot.

The welcome chill meant the effort of walking wasn’t causing me to sweat. It really is difficult to pick what to wear in these mornings. The fleece I had has, on numerous occasions, ended up absolutely soaked through my efforts while under the rainproof layer, whether coat or poncho.

This morning wasn’t too bad. I had the chance early on to bag my waterproof coat and, at times, open my fleece.

The mountains around rose out of the low cloud level as if slashing through a white silk sheet. The cloud level was a few hundred feet below me as I walked the dirt and stone paths, occasionally having to meet the modern world’s tarmac and cross like a fox moving from one part of its territory to another.

Quick check for traffic, break cover, cross without being seen and disappear into the undergrowth at the other side. The SAS survival training kicking in.

This was a beautiful section of the Camino. Not that the other parts hadn’t had their form of beauty but, again, this reminded me of home.

Small groups of buildings would crop up every now and again. I suppose we would call them hamlets or something like that. Dogs, mainly German shepherds, would invariably slink up to you, sniff you out for food, then turn and slink off again. These are big dogs, generally trying to hump every other dog in the village. I’m glad they were only sniffing me for food – I think.

Came across this huge chestnut tree. Looked as though it had been split many times by lightning and reformed itself into this grotesque mal-formed creature.

knarled looking thing

knarled looking thing

I looked at it as I walked past before hearing a voice coming from the tree, as I thought. Kinga, the Hungarian who I had met before appeared from behind the tree. “Aren’t you going to look at the tree?” It’s a badly formed tree with a plaque on it, I thought. “Ok”, I said. “Let’s have a look and see what’s so special”, I said. As I thought – nothing. The plaque told us all about chestnut trees but nothing about this particular tree.

Kinga and I decided to walk together, there was a small village coming up and we both need refreshment and some cash.

Don’t ever get the impression you can get by without cash up here. You could actually get turned away from an albergue if you only had a credit card. Wonder if St. James found this? Maybe he had the same problem with “his Mastercard” – I know, I stretched that one a bit too far.

We sat and had a late breakfast together, walked to the end of the village and went our separate ways. Trina, who had had a problem with her knee, had limped into the village late, joined us for a while and then decided to stay the night there.

My next stop was an eco albergue. Generally that meant, hippies. I wasn’t wrong, but I was surprised. Surprised that I had such a wonderful time and didn’t eat meat for my stay there at all. Normally I would say “I didn’t climb to the top of the evolutionary tree to become a vegetarian”, but I was in the right place with the right people.

I had arrived first, taken my bunk, settled down with a bottle of organic cider – lovely, sit in an obviously reclaimed chair from an old three-piece suite someone had thrown out and chilled – man:-).

More peregrinos arrived, Chris, a German lady, Denise and Laurence, a French/Canadian mother and daughter and then, a sight for sore eyes – Mike, the English guy I had met a few times before.

We all sat at a rickety wooden table in the garden and then two more peregrinos arrived, Susie, a young German girl and Nirvana, an Australian girl.

We all chatted, ate apples from the trees, shared walnuts that Denise had foraged and generally got to know each other.

After a while I went up to an area above the house they called the terrace.

Here comes that word again – Wow!

It was like finding a secret garden. There was a huge piece of slate, about 7 feet long by about 4 feet wide, roughly shaped which was the table. This and the benches were propped up by old tree stumps or any bit of wood that fitted.

The view from here was stunning.

The late afternoon sun had warmed the slate and, when one of our hosts asked did we want to eat up there no-one refused.

We had a wonderful vegetarian meal, drank lots of organic wine and laughed with, and at, each other.

When the sun went down behind the mountain it was time to turn in.

I have to use this blog to apologise to Mike for taking two blankets and leaving him with none. It was Baltic that night. Sorry Mike.

Early start being set off with yoghurt and muesli. Hope the vegetables don’t kick in later up a mountain.

THE SORROWS OF SARRIA

Into Sarria where my heart will be.

I’ve had some time off, I’ve moved ahead when necessary and I’ve taken time to recover, but this last stage means a lot to me.

I may be a few days early but the butterflies are starting again. The need to share this experience with AM is powerful.

They say you all do your own Camino. If you’re on your own, with a partner, or in a group of people. No two people can have the same experiences. We all may see the same thing, or be in the same place but everyone takes out of the Camino, or life for that matter, what is closest to them. Their heart tells them what that simple thing means to them. Could be a place our a person or a view.

I think you need to know yourself well to understand why these things mean so much to you. I have learned to know myself very well. I know every spark of a thought that flashes in my mind and its reason for being there. Sounds untrue? No.

Not sure if that is good or bad, but it is what it is.

The walk into Sarria is almost a sprint. Well as much of a sprint as I can muster.

The start of the day is as beautiful as any day. The early mountain dew, the chill in the air and the sun trying to burn holes in the tissue paper that is the veil of mist, like that pub game you used to be able to play when you smoked indoors. You know, you put a tissue stretched over a glass and put a coin on top of it and each person takes turns to burn a hole in it with their cigarette until finally the coin drops into the glass.

The mist lingers longer each day as the days of summer slip away.

As with the previous day I am still above the clouds drifting in the valleys below and I’m still bloody climbing. How can that be? I don’t seem to have descended as much as I’ve climbed.

Steep, rocky lanes lead away from A Balsa, the village where El Beso is. Dark, tree covered alley ways in the edge of hillside forests.

These paths are treacherous when wet and around every corner there seems to be another incline. If I can make it to the top of this one I’ll be fine – I kid myself. Round a bend and more again. More than one rest break required here.

Eventually I break out into open countryside again. On the side of a hill still in the shade.

The colours of the forest and fields across on the other mountain are of the same palette as at home.

Gone are the dry, burnt colours of The Meseta, around Leon. These are vegetable soup mix colours.

Some boring bits beside the road and then, in the distance, Sarria.

You’d think by the way I was talking I was coming into Santiago de Compostela. This means maybe more than Santiago to me. My heart aches for AM. This is where I begin again.

If I had to put a stone on every cruceiro along the way so far for the things I wanted to leave behind and forget, I’m not sure my rucksack would be big enough. So I carry just one stone with me. But it’s a big stone – not in size or weight, there is no way to measure this one.

So Sarria beckons.

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At the outskirts of the town there is a sign, not an ornate sign, nothing religious our even spiritual. Under the name Sarria is an ad for a restaurant. Pizzas, bocodillos etc. – bit disappointing but I pose for a photo, taken for me by a Polish father and daughter. I have to reciprocate with their iPhones.

Everything now needs a photo.

I haven’t really taken a lot of pics but then I don’t need to. I can see every image when I close my eyes.

The beginning of the end.

BARBADELO – THE LONG WAIT

Waiting in Barbadelo is driving me nuts.

I’ve been holed up here for 3 days now, basically sitting watching the peregrinos walk past.

I sit like all the old local people you see at crossroads in all the villages you have been in while on holiday.

I envy some if those peregrinos. The ones who have walked 4 kms. out of Sarria and already look exhausted. I envy the fact that it will get worse for them for some time and then, almost as suddenly as you feel the relief when you remove that splinter of wood from your finger, you realise you have just walked twice that distance and feel ok.

Things start to get better and you feel bad when you don’t get to do your walk for the day.

I sit in a plastic chair looking back down the track at the steady stream of peregrinos, some novices only starting out on their Sarria to Santiago pilgrimage, others, seasoned veterans who started their Camino way back. For some this isn’t their first Camino either.

Pilgrims progress

Pilgrims progress

As I watch I try to decide which is which, how long will it take me, will they give themselves away easily our will they look like veterans only to make the schoolboy error of forgetting to look for the arrow showing them the way.

I sit like a wiseman, wishing Buen Camino and trying to trace the nationality. Abdul, in the little tienda across the road is a master at this.
He listens carefully as they come up the hill. Watches their movements, looks for the weakness.

Like a tiger he pounces. “Guten morgen!” Ooops, got it wrong there Abdul. Quick adjust, “Goedemorgen!” – Spot on, they fall like deer into the jaws of his shop. Once inside it’s a slaughter. Every trick in the book is used to extract the dinero from their purses. It’s bloody and brutal but it’s nature.

Occasionally he doesn’t even have to try. I call them the lesser spotted American Tiendanistas. You know the sort, husband alongside carrying the rucksack full of cash or cards. She spots the sign. “Oh my, look Stan, a quaint little shop with just the loveliest plastic gord which looks vaguely rude”.

Sorry, got a bit carried away with the old stereotyping there. They’re not all like that of course. I have met some fantastic, warm, funny Americans along my way. I wish they were here now to help me while away the last few hours while waiting to meet AM.

There were the ones who always gave the name of their town or city and the state – Austin Texas and there were others who just gave the state – Texas. When I spoke to Sabi from Austin Texas she told me only people from Austin do this because they think they are better than people from the rest of Texas. Funnily enough Brad from Texas agreed so I had to ask whereabouts he was from and he said Fort Worth.

The number of peregrinos is dwindling now as the morning moves into afternoon. It’s quiet, save for the multi-national music being used as another lure tactic by Abdul.

It’s still too early to go to the bus station to meet AM.

I’m wishing the day away.

Hopefully the next blog post I write will have a piece from her as an introduction to her Camino.

Rodar sobre ocho de esta noche.

SHE’S ALMOST HERE

This day seems like a week.

I’ve waited so long to see her and now the minutes seem frozen.

I’ve done my peregrino watch from 7:30 am. Watched them come up the hill, wished them Buen Camino, watched them nip to the shop for that last minute scallop shell and photo opportunity, lose the yellow arrow, again, and disappear round the corner having been whistled at like I was herding sheep with a dog. “Come-bye, Shep” – That one nearly got away.

Check watch again. “What do you mean it’s only 10 seconds after the last time you looked”.

God this is killing me. Have another cup of coffee courtesy of the kind cleaner of the pension I’m staying at – 108 to Santiago. Named as it stands opposite the 108 km. marker to Santiago.

These markers would become our friends and our drill sergeants. “Only another 2 km. to go before lunch” or “Come on you horrible man, you’ve been on this hill for hours”. I hate the hills. Not all, but the ones you can see ahead of you, endlessly narrowing to the horizon.

Anyway, that’s killed only another 10 seconds.

The peregrinos begin to dwindle and I think to myself, how am I going to punch in the next 7 hours.

A couple of hours later and I’m chewing my toenails. Then Carlos, the pension owner, says he’s going into Sarria and would I like a lift.

It’s only around 2:30 pm but I can’t contain myself any longer. I say ok and we head off into the town.

Marcos stops at the bus station where AM will come in and wishes me well as he drives on to do his messages.

I need to check out the alberques in the area so AM can get her first stamp in Sarria.

I wander through a pretty desolate part of the town, can’t find any albergues here so decide to sit down for a while with a little drink and maybe a snack.

AM and I had decided on the phone earlier that we should wait to eat in Barbadelo when she arrived instead of Sarria. So I picked a little café/bar around the corner from the bus station.

Cape Canaveral, this is Sarria, begin countdown – T minus 3 hours.

I sat inside and asked the lady for some sort of savoury snack, Empańada de Atun washed down with sidre, the local stuff. Tasted beautiful. Got a piece of Tarta de Almendra.

They have a custom in Galicia of putting a little spirit on top if this almond sponge cake. “Spirit?” I hear you say, never touches my lips. They prick the cake with a fork and drizzle Aguardente, a strong clear spirit which tastes a little like poteen, over the top – perfecto.

I take the cake outside to sit at a table to have a smoke. Only smoke while doing caminos you know.

About 10 minutes go by and a young guy passes by. “Hola!” he says. “Hola!” I reply. He pauses at my table and turns and says “I recognise that accent, your Irish aren’t you”. For the purpose of the Camino and actually in my heart there is only one answer.

He asks to join me and I’m only too glad to have someone while away some time with me.

I’ve been told about the Camino angels before. I don’t mean in a religious way, necessarily, just at times when you’re at your lowest people say you will come across someone, or something that will help you. They say you can meet seven of these angels. Peter, from Dublin was one of my angels, I have had two already, Summer and the Frenchman. Peter would not be the last.

I can’t explain how it works. I can’t put in words how total strangers, you might call them, can meet you and in seconds share with you and you share with them the things in our lives that have brought us to this point.

It’s so open. It feels almost surreal.

We talked solidly for 3 hours. We shared, we cried, we laughed and we drank. This is an odd friendship. The time is irrelevant. Three hours, three years or thirty years, I couldn’t have been closer to another human being than at that moment. Peter, from Dublin you were one of my angels.

Before I knew it I had five minutes before AM would arrive. I had to say goodbye to an old friend. We hugged, after a little whiskey for the road, and shared our wishes for each other. I hope we meet again Peter.

Ran to the bus station for the eight o’clock arrival of my love.

Bus was late. Closer to 8:45 pm before the bus rounded the corner. Eagles soared in my heart this time, not butterflies.

Then she was there. Running down the steps of the bus and into my arms.

I’ve cried a lot on this Camino. Not bad tears, good emotional floods of tears. I wept in her arms while my head rested on her shoulder.

The Camino just got better.

GOING TO GONZAR

We’re on our way.

The nerves that were with me yesterday for AM’s arrival have changed to nerves of anticipation that she will experience even just a fraction of what I have experienced.

Our joint Camino began around 8:30 am with a breakfast shared with a couple of Irish girls and an English girl who were also starting their Camino. I gave them some tips which I had gleaned during my past three weeks from other peregrinos and from my own experiences. You do tend to sound like a bit of an expert when talking to newbies but really there are no experts on this adventure. I haven’t seen anyone who has all the answers to all occasions.

We picked up our rucksack for the day having sent the main bags on to our next destination and opened the door to one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen since the beginning of my Camino. I did tell AM I had organised it just for her but not sure she fell for that one. It was a great sign of things to come.

AMAG0273

I had to introduce AM to Abdul in the tienda across the road so she could purchase walking poles. I had found these sticks invaluable even though they did take a little getting used to. When you are on unsafe, rocky or muddy slopes, either uphill or downhill, these can really make you feel a lot safer and can prevent ankle injuries due to slipping or tripping.

We took some obligatory photos of the start of AM’s Camino at the 108 km marker and we were away.

AM and I have a very similar pace when walking which is a great help. I have seen some couples with dramatically different paces who either tend to split up and have to wait for one another or try to change their paces which tends to tire you even quicker than normal.

The beautiful sunrise looked like a great omen for the journey even though AM’s induction on her very first day was a massive 28 km walk. We had discussed this and we were fairly sure we could manage this. We were splitting this into two parts. The first part would be a 13 km walk before stopping for a lunch break and then the remaining after lunch.

The morning walk was fantastic, we strode out sucking in all the beauty of the countryside and the fresh morning air. I picked apples from the trees, we took photos and we talked of my previous week’s walks. This was what I was looking forward to for so long. We were sharing the experience. I was really happy.

Along the way we stopped at a little café for a coffee and another stamp for our peregrino passports. You have to get a least two of these stamps a day from different places, three would be better. AM had got her first stamp in Sarria at the bus station café and her second at the little bar/café where I had met Peter from Dublin the day before. For today she had one from 108 to Santiago, one from Abdul in the tienda and now a third from this café. You can get as many as you like after the two compulsory ones.

This café was very popular, there was quite a crowd in the small shop and peregrinos were adjusting their footwear and stocking up with water and snacks.

I fought my way in and ordered two café con leches, coffee made with half water and half hot milk and a piece of tarta de almendra, my favourite almond cake.

We sat outside and had our coffee, AM got her passport stamped and we just chilled for a moment or two.

A couple of minutes went by and I could hear a muffled voice shouting something but couldn’t make out what was being said. We sat on chatting and then I heard the voice again. This time I heard it say, in a Spanish accent “Campbell Joseph, Campbell Joseph”. I asked AM had she heard someone calling my name and she said it was a guy standing at the front door of the shop calling “Campbell Joseph” and holding a wallet in the air. Ooops! I had left my wallet on the counter when I carried the coffees outside. I thanked the guy very much and he shared a smile with his friends at my kilt. I was heartened by the honesty of a fellow peregrino, wouldn’t have expected anything less really.

We finished our break and set off again.

The countryside was changing as we were heading west along the trail. The laneways and the pathways led through scenery which could have been from home. The atmosphere was definitely Irish, the colours came from the same palette, the people were my people.

As we came down from one of these lanes we came across a beautiful walled garden which hosted a little café and an albergue off to the side with a stunning view down a valley. We were stopping here for lunch. Empanada de atún for me – a kind of tuna pie and AM had a piece of Tortilla. I had the compulsory C&L, AM had a coffee.

We had taken our shoes off as it is a good idea to allow your feet to cool down as much as possible. I walked across the courtyard to the grassy field sloping down towards to valley. The ground was spongey beneath my feet and I curled my toes into the grass and enjoyed the coolness.

On again after about half an hour towards Portomarín, the next bigish town along the way. We weren’t stopping here though but heading on another 8 km to Gonzar.

The way into Portomarín was a major challenge for AM. A very high and long bridge with the walkway not particularly well closed in. She doesn’t really like heights so walked the complete length of the bridge with her hand over her eyes.

She made it to the other side and I could see the relief on her face. I had just walked in front of her and hadn’t realised she was having such a problem.

We didn’t go into Portomarín, we could skirt round the outside of it to continue on to Gonzar, which would save us a climb up the steep steps into the city.

The way out of Portomarín was exhausting. A steep climb at first then out onto a path beside the main road. Around 5 km of slow, hot exposed climb. At one point I think AM and I were ready to sit down and not get up again. It was very difficult, especially as AM’s first day and in the heat of the afternoon sun. It seemed never ending, tarmac hell that kept teasing you at each bend in the road.

Eventually we found Gonzar. One of the most welcoming albergues I think I had come across for a long time. It looked relatively new and had a marvellous bar area in the courtyard at the back. Three pints of C&L went down in quick succession. One almost instantly. Poor AM was suffering quite a bit but, after a drink and a sit down, we recovered enough to sit with some new peregrinos, have dinner and then sit talking to around 10:30 pm, laughing and exchanging stories and ailments.

These peregrinos we would meet again along the way and at the end of our journey.

Despite the agony of that last few kilometres to get here I think AM’s first day was spectacular and I hope she enjoyed the first chance to meet peregrinos in their natural habitat.

Goodbye Gonzar.

SAN XULIAN

First day for us both over, will our legs work again?

It’s hard to describe how we felt after completing 28 kms the day before. I do know we didn’t bound out of bed and set off with a spring in our steps.

The next stage started, again, climbing for about 5 kms. We left the comfort of the albergue at around 8 am. We used what I called “the Camino Shuffle” for the first few hundred yards before our legs got the circulation going again.

It’s funny but after a while the muscles seem to remember how to work again. The stiffness gives way and the legs begin to get into a pace. This pace needs to be learned on steep slopes. In my head I had a rhythm which seemed to be locked in for flat walking but when you got to steep laneways you had to change the tune.

I tried to convince AM that after 3 days it starts to get easier to recover in the mornings but I’m not sure she believed me.

She did great though, day two and she was back on the pace with me. We walked again for another 11 km or so for the first stage of the day.

We were coming across more and more Spanish schoolkids who seemed to be doing sections of the Camino with their teachers. We came across a few groups who were dropped off by coach at a couple of sections and they would really annoy us by running up hills while singing or even dancing as they went. Don’t you just hate young, fit people.

Our lunch break was at Portas, no more than a couple of buildings and a café. The café had some pretty modern sculptures of giant ants holding up the pergola structure. We had a welcome socks-off break and some food and drinks before setting off. I made a valiant effort to run alongside some of the youngsters. Gave up after a few steps. No point in embarrassing them with my agility.

The walk was taking its toll on my feet. Not so much blisters, although they were still needing treatment, but I have a problem with neuromas which are causing severe stabbing pains in my toes. I was taking painkillers but they were beginning to have no effect really. This problem has been the reason for my breaks and for me not tackling some of the tougher stages. I was starting to get worried. I wasn’t sure I could complete the walk. Depression was beginning to set in. Not clinical depression but a sort of depression for the fact that I would miss the peregrinos and also let AM down.

We walked into Palas De Rei, passing a football academy. When we got down the hill from here into the town my foot was killing me. AM convinced me to see a doctor. We asked the waitress where the nearest doctor was and she told us it was back up the hill at the football academy. I couldn’t make it back up there. We got a taxi.

The medical centre at this place was odd, very quiet, no patients in waiting rooms, although there was one lady in with the doctor.

The doctor was accompanied by, what looked like, a trainee and a lovely lady nurse – Olga. Their treatment and concern for me was wonderful. We had some problems with language but they did a great job. “No walking for a day or so” was the advice. I couldn’t really afford this break. AM and I had plans for the end of our trip.

San Xulian albergue hats

San Xulian albergue hats

We got a taxi on to our albergue in San Xulian after getting bandaged up and getting some antibiotics and more painkillers. The albergue was beautiful, weird, but beautiful. But my heart wasn’t really in it. Even after meeting Sabi, my Texan friend as we walked into the large dining area, my heart was sinking with every minute.

We had a drink before walking over to our accommodation – a renovated watermill. When I say walk over, I mean we had to walk through a field with cows in it to get to the room, but it was worth it.

We rested for a while before going back over to the dining room for our communal meal.
This as one of those meals where we all sat together and shared in whatever the hostelier had prepared. We weren’t disappointed. Three different soups, salad, spaghetti with meatballs and a creamy cake dessert along with wine. Over 30 people sat and talked and enjoyed the warmth of the other peregrinos. I tried my best but tomorrow was lingering on my mind. What was I going to do?

I tried my best to relax and enjoy. We met some lovely people. There was nothing I could do – I wasn’t going to be able to finish, was what was going through my head.

We finished our meal. I felt bad for AM that she wasn’t getting the best out of this meal. We walked back to the watermill.

We hadn’t planned transporting our rucksacks the next day as we had decided to move on by bus or taxi for a couple of days. I was gutted.

Not a great night’s sleep that night.

RIBADISO

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.

PEDROUZO

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.

SANTIAGO de COMPOSTELA

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.

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.

FAILURE TO PREPARE …….

….. IS PREPARING TO FAIL.

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.

SUMMARY

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 has 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 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.

4 Responses to THE FULL STORY

  1. mark hogg says:

    That came from the heart,john would be proud of you,I think you should make the pictures into a calendar for cancer research,I am proud to know you,and yes Annemarie has a lovely voice…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lindsay Allen says:

    Fascinating CJ. I was talking to AM and she gave e your blog address. Thanks for taking the time to do the blog. My wife and I are hoping to do the Camino ourselves next year and we found it helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

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