The Camino de Santiago. A personal journey.
On August 6th Bev and her husband George who also (first separately, then together) walked the walk will be giving an informal talk and sharing their photographs and experiences.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a seat.
This is Bev Missing’s journal (updated every day) of her journey on the Camino de Santiago (Latin: Peregrinatio Compostellana, “Pilgrimage of Compostela”; Galician: O Camiño de Santiago). Known in English as the Way of Saint James among other names, the Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrims’ ways serving pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many follow its routes as a form of spiritual path or retreat for their spiritual growth.This is an ongoing journal and appears in reverse order, so to read Bev’s story from the beginning you need to scroll down to Day 1 and work your way upwards.
From Bev, in response to followers on her Facebook: ” I really do want to say a huge THANK YOU for all the prayers and encouragement – I don’t feel alone in this. But please hear my heart when I say this – I don’t want applause . Encouragement and motivating yes please –but not praise . This is a character building time for me and while I do appreciate all the admiration and the kindness with which it is given – it is not good for building humility. I think you know what I mean . I am not sharing this journey to impress and earn kudos . My motivation is to share my photos ( which I love taking ) and my thoughts and insights and hopefully inspire introspection or revelation and maybe even inspire others to do this walk . I enjoy your enjoyment of the journey simple as that.
Day 38 and 39 THE LAST POST
How does one begin to describe all the emotions of the past two days – there simply are no words.
Tears have ebbed and flowed
Emotions have brimmed just beneath the surface as we have been reunited with Camino family arriving during this time – precious people with whom we have been strangely and strongly bonded through tough challenges and through openness , honesty and vulnerability. A bond that forms only by doing something epic and life altering together .
We have sat quietly on the square in front of the Cathedral watching pilgrims arrive and breakdown and sob , fall to their knees , lie prostrate on the flagstones.
George watched a lone middle aged lady arrive all on her own. She was bewildered and overwhelmed. He went over to offer to take photo of her with her phone and she just started sobbing . He hugged her and hugged her. Gave her his hankie like a true gentleman …. she still has it !
I always said that the two public places where you can witness raw human emotion is at a hospital and an airport, but sitting on the square in Santiago ticks all the boxes too.
Santiago is a beautiful city layered and patinated by centuries of pilgrims. The city was built around the revered remains of the disciple and apostle James and so the pilgrims came to pay homage then and still do today.
Everything was built around the pilgrims.
We had two laughter filled entertaining dinners with Camino family and some of them will remain friends for life.
Some pilgrims continue walking on to Finisterre ( end of earth ). This is 90km from Santiago and a three – four day walk. We don’t have the time to walk there sadly , so we went by bus today .
It is the most westerly point of Europe and the ancients believed it was the end of the world.
And to people who believed the world was flat – it was the precipice – the edge of the end . The finish ( Finis ) of the earth ( terre).
Pilgrims would go onto Finisterre to fetch a scallop shell from the beach ( the pilgrim symbol ) to take back home to prove they had indeed completed their pilgrimage . All the pilgrim scallop shells come from this place.
It is pilgrim tradition and custom to finally throw something into the sea – off the edge of the world so to speak , or to burn something on the rocks .
I brought a stone from the southernmost tip of Africa – even waded into the sea at Cape Agulhas to make sure it was as far south as I could reach.
I wanted this stone to represent my prayers for all the people that I know who have cancer. As it was too small to write everyone’s names on – I wrote the names on a hand embroidered handkerchief which the nuns in Fort Cochin India had made , and I tied the stone into it .
We prayed and threw it into the sea.
Symbolically threw this terrible disease over the edge of the earth.
The bus round trip to Finisterre took five hours and because the bus was slow and late , we were left with a mere half an hour to complete our end of Camino ceremony at the end of the earth.
Sadly we did not get to the lighthouse or the beach to pick up a scallop shell, or get a photo with the the 0km marker . We felt a bit sad about this unfinished business – but have now resolved to rectify this by doing the Portuguese Camino next time ( we just did the French one – the way French pilgrims walked to Santiago, so the Portuguese one is the route the Portuguese pilgrims took to get to Santo ago ) …..and then walking on to Finisterre.
We’ve been told “ once a pilgrim , always a pilgrim “. I think we are hooked
When we have had time to fully digest what we have gained by doing this walk and can saliently articulate it without getting choked up , and mushy – I will do a post Camino refletion in a week or so .
Now for two days in Barcelona visiting Gaudi buildings
Day 37 Saint Irene to Santiago de Compostella
After 37 days and 825km , we have arrived at our destination – the Field of Stars – Santiago de Compostella.
God is GOOD
Serenaded by a Galician bagpipe player as we passed through the stone archway entrance to the main square in front of the majestic Cathedral of Santiago.
We had seen the towering spires from five kilometers away where two large statues of peregrinos stand pointing into the valley at the steeples – the final destination of all peregrinos.
Feelings are running high as we look back on our journey with immense gratitude and a deep but humble sense of accomplishment .
We marvel at the fact that our very own footprints have been imprinted on this land from France all the way across the entire breadth of Spain. One point three million of them !
Footsteps that echo millions of pilgrims from centuries before us , footsteps of Roman soldiers , monks ,priests ,artisans ,merchants , scholars.
We have seen the intimate details of the path , the nooks and quiet places to sit and rest , the secret forests , the private streams and vistas where no tourist busses can reach, the fields of flowers only visible to those who walk.
We can say that we are privileged to KNOW this part of Spain – in intimate intricate exquisite detail. A special bonded relationship hard earned with every footstep.
The people have been kind to us , offering their generosity , their kindness , their hospitality, their gifts . Blessing us as we walk with their greetings – Buen Camino . Giving that bit extra – just to bless.
We have received our official Compostela – our certificates attesting to our pilgrimage from the Pilgrim Office who interview us individually and check our pilgrim’s passports for the stamps which record our daily journey.
We are officially endorsed and recognised by the church .
It is a good feeling. A sense of achievement. A recognition of time and effort.
I am so proud of my body and so grateful that it never let me down . That my knees have each bent more than 650 000 times without fail , my ankles have coped with rocks , stones, mud , sand , steps, mostly uneven terrain. My back and shoulders have carried all my worldly goods ( 9kg ) , plus my body weight , every step of the way . My head has remained focused and positive and steered the ship unwaveringly. So many pilgrims younger and fitter than me gave up , took public transport for the tough bits , sent their packs on each day to ease their loads.
I am also so impressed with my Saloman shoes – they cost a fortune , but I have realized you pay for technology . They did not fail me.
George has been such a blessing to travel with . He has encouraged , supported and loved me every step of the way , providing regular “ kiss stops “ . We have made lifelong memories every day .
And to you all who have travelled alongside and quietly prayed , encouraged , cheered – we are so grateful . Thank you for your love and support
I am still reflecting on the lessons learnt and what I have gained by doing this pilgrimage . I will share those as soon as I have processed everything.
We are off to attend the pilgrim’s mass now .
Day 36 Boente to Saint Irene
Only 22km left to go …….
Don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The emotions are brimming over and I am struggling to process them all.
It is like a bowl of spaghetti – all sorts of strands mixed up .
Been close to tears all day today – definitely happy tears , but there is a deep well of them bubbling just beneath the surface . A young lady overtaking me on an incline just whispered “Buen Camino “ to me this afternoon with a look of deep understanding of what this journey has taken , and the tears started flowing.
Today we were blessed abundantly on two accounts – firstly we had soft mist and fresh coolth to walk in all day , and secondly , we are spending tonight in the most darling little place – an unexpected surprise – a mini hostel in an old house in the country which feels more like a B&B. It is a loving home filled with charm and antiques . We have proper sheets and blankets – no sleeping bags tonight ! And proper towels too – heavenly. Only 13 euro. We are up in the loft with our two precious Camino friends from Missouri USA – Gary and Beverley – just the four of us .
We all threw ourselves into our beds and creaked , whimpered and moaned with delight for a good half hour before anyone could move their bones to a shower
Amazing how much pleasure one gets from such seemingly small blessings .
The owner Tamara is cooking dinner for us in her charming kitchen , and we are totally happy.
We have been forewarned that the 22km walk into Santiago is ugly , noisy urban industrial sprawl with airport and some heavy hills and it seems to never end ! So not looking forward to that bit at all.
There are two pilgrim masses held in the Cathedral every day 12 noon and 7.30 with in excess of 1000 -1500 pilgrims per service.
We desperately want to see the Botifumeiro swing . This is a massive heavy cauldron of incense which takes six monks to swing on the massive ropes . It does not swing at every mass as it is apparently expensive to burn so much incense at one shot. Apparently 300 dollars per shot . Sometimes people pay to have it swung. Big groups – so perhaps we will benefit from the tour groups after all ! We are praying to see it !
In the ancient times it is said to have been swung to disguise the smell of the dirty pilgrims and sanitize the air from disease ! Suspect it won’t be too far off doing the same job today !
As we are arriving a day earlier than planned , we will have two days to explore Santiago (which is apparently a fascinating place – layered with the patinas of centuries of pilgrims . And we will have a few chances to attend the mass. So hopefully we will be privileged to see the Botifumeiro swing.
Some pilgrims continue walking on to Finisterre ( end of earth ). This is 90km from Santiago and a three day walk. We won’t have the time to walk there but will go by bus .
I will tell you about the pilgrim rituals performed in Finisterre and the scallop shell when we go there on Thursday.
Day 35 Palais de Rei to Boente
ONLY 47km to go !
Glorious day hiking in cool green mossy forests , playing in streams and picnicking under the oaks.
Things were all on track for a perfect day – and completely sin free too …..until I had an altercation with a waiter at lunch. There was nothing vegetarian on the menu . I requested the tuna salad without the tuna – lettuce , tomato and grated carrot and asked for some cheese in place of the tuna . He refused and confirmed that I would be paying 6.50 euro for a tuna -less tuna salad. I told him he could keep his salad thank you and left.
Next door was mini supermarket . We bought fresh bread , butter, local cow ‘s milk cheese , Parma ham ,a fat red tomato , olives, nectarines, oranges and nuts and drinks – all for 8 euros. Found a huge shady tree on the edge of town on someone’s farmland – and had a picnic followed by a delicious afternoon snooze.
It is 30 degrees C today with a real feel of 35 and extremely high humidity.
We are leaking perspiration from every pore .
So much for Galicia where it rains 360 days of the year. I am certainly not complaining – rather have sun than rain any day .
We cooled off in a crystal clear stream along the way .
We passed through a village where the older ladies ( the mommas and grannies ) were decorating the street with flowers and leaves all the way from the stone cross in the village square to the door of the church. Apparently it is a public holiday to honour John the Baptist.
We sat for a while in the cool simple church and I lit a candle for my mamma – to thank her for all that she does for us ( her covering for George at Arumvale for 33 days enabled him to do the Camino with me ) . I am so grateful to her – she is a huge support to us.
Being Sunday , the churches are open and it is precious time spent sitting in the cool dark whispered interiors with the fragrance of lit candles and soft Gregorian chant playing in the background.
We are only two days’ walk from The Field of Stars ( which is what Compostella means ) – Santiago de Compostella – 47km to be exact.
It is enormously exciting – the culmination of a long long walk. I can barely believe that I have done this . The reality is starting to dawn .
Day 34 Mercadoiro to Palais de Rei
68 km left to go !
We will be walking into Santiago a day earlier than planned – on 26th – next Tuesday
Today brings me to a second of the Seven Deadly Sins – anger. And I am guilty as charged. And I would like to state that my anger did nothing to help me or edify me .
We had planned our daily distances to get to Santiago and planned to sleep tonight at a village called Ligonde – a 24km day – quite enough in this heat.
On arriving at Ligonde, we found that the alberque has been fully booked out by day trippers – their bus was standing outside. Day trippers – wannabee pilgrims whose little bus waits for them at each village in case they are too tired to continue.
I was indignant. Surely such beds should first go to serious pilgrims who have worked serious distance and are deeply weary ? I was angry . It seemed so unfair , so wrong.
It meant we had to walk further to the next village to find a bed and guess what – the Albergue there was closed . Yes – shut. No one there .
We were mortified. You can’t imagine how demoralizing it is to face another whole lot of extra kilometers when you are exhausted.
You have to psych yourself up to handle every day , every kilometer and each obstacle and knowing the measure of the challenge really goes a long way to helping you cope. When unexpected extra challenges are thrown at you when you are already weary and on your limits , it can break you .
We then had to keep walking further and found two casa rurales – 60 euro and 70 euro – just not in our budget no matter how desperate .
So we had to walk even further – ending up over ten kilometers more than our target distance …….and in the baking sun after a 24km day of hills (including an 8km climb). It was tough to put it mildly.
Ten kilometers just never ends when you are exhausted.
Then , the very first place we could find was a rather sterile characterless regional hostel with horror of horrors – open communal showers – no doors , no curtains , no privacy
For me a crisis. I never had siblings or children, and not even my mom sees me naked – so you can imagine my trauma – and after a long sweaty hot day.
And all because of the day trippers taking up pilgrim beds. Anger .
But at the end of the day , I made it to a bed and a shower for the princely sum of six euros and I survived the challenges albeit with not the most pilgrim -like of attitudes.
We have met some wonderful people and sharing a meal with them this evening and talking deeply and meaningfully about matters and things that really count in life puts everything back into perspective.
Perhaps it would all have been very different had we got to stay where we had planned to stay.
Everything has a reason .
We passed the girls in the wheelchairs again today – they are such an inspiration.
Day 33 San Mamed del Camino to Mercadoiro
97km to Santiago
Today ‘s emotions and experience can only be compared to a washing machine . Turmoil . Churning . Conflict . Confrontation. And finally reflection and self reproach .
The background is as follows :
The city of Sarria is a major starting point for many pilgrims who only walk the minimum 100km that is necessary to gain a Compostella in Santiago . Perhaps this is a typical Catholic penance “distance “ – I surmise.
Hence ,there is a huge swelling of pilgrim numbers at this point . The nature and atmosphere of the Camino changes dramatically . There are large groups of walkers , day trippers, school kids , tourists etc. All wannabee pilgrims . ( note the judgemental tone in my description).
I think you get the picture.
Of course this is a huge assault on the seasoned pilgrims who have trudged 700 km up and down mountain ranges , been through thunder storms , rain , extreme heat. Traversed rivers , farmlands , valleys , forests, city fringes . Endured , persisted .
It is noisy , busy. People chattering , laughing , irreverent. Squeaky clean pilgrims with fancy blow dried hairstyles , brand new kit, spotless shoes , aftershave leaving an olfactory trail behind them.
And they are disrespectful and insensitive . They play music, smoke , bump you as they rush past, chatter in their cellphones , litter, mess up my photos.
They are an unwelcome intrusion into “our Camino “.
And so the emotions brewed.
Fellow pilgrim family pulled faces, rolled eyes, raised eyebrows. Whispered complaints.
We put in earphones to drown out the intrusion with music. To try to cope with the onslaught.
The Camino guidebook had warned of being mindful of ones attitudes to new pilgrims – not to be judgemental and condescending . Not to think of oneself as superior .
To realise that each one has their own journey , limitations and reasons. To let people be.
True and wise words .
Once again the Camino has held a mirror up to my face .
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins – and considering oneself more highly than another is nothing short of pride.
Then , as if to fully rebuke any sense of superiority which had been brewing and raising its ugly head , we ran into four extraordinary girls.
Two severely handicapped and in wheelchairs , and their two “normal “ best friends . They had saved and planned for two years , flown from California ( their first time ever out of the USA ) and were tackling this 100km stretch to Santiago . These handicapped girls have to be lifted and carried to the toilet, they have to be fed, dressed , washed . Every need attended to from brushing hair out of their eyes, to putting water pipes into their mouths to drink. Their friends were doing this for them as a team effort.
There were also two young pilgrim men who had been helping carry the wheelchairs over the rocky section . All of them true heroes and all of them “just“ doing the 100km section. Were they also to be categorized by my scale of judgement as wannabee pilgrims ?
God certainly has a spectacular way of humbling the proud and knocking you back down to size. Who am I to judge ? Who am I to compare ? These pilgrims had obvious highly visible challenges . What about others who perhaps had financial or emotional challenges ? So many possibilities . I am rebuked and humbled in every shape and form .
Passed a doggie who was crying and pleading to be let out
He desperately wanted to go walking with me . There are Camino dogs who roam and who leave home to walk the trail with their pilgrim of choice , returning home on their own days or weeks later.
Made me miss Hannah
Day 32 Fonfria to San Mamed del Camino
Only 117km to go !
We are due to walk into Santiago de Compostella ( Field of Stars ) on Wednesday 27 June next week – 6 days from now !
What a glorious section we walked today .The scenery was spectacular and if this is an indication of what Galicia has to offer … then I am in love
We slept in a village just below the top of the mountain, so , at sunrise when we began walking , the views were superlative with the clouds blanketing the valleys beneath us. The photos don’t do the scenes justice .
We descended through the clouds into lush forests of giant moss covered oak and chestnut trees, with carpets of bracken , ferns and lupins . Moss and lichen covered stone walls and wild ivy climbing the trees.
It was like walking through a children’s magical storybook.
Galicia is a poorer province than some we have walked through and this is patently evident in the size and simplicity of the village churches .
The first two provinces we passed through had a massive opulent ornate cathedral at the centre of every little town – complete overkill.
Now the little stone churches don’t take central place in the village , they are run down and have tiny bells if any .
Is this a symptom of economy or of spiritual poverty ?
We had some more climbs around midday ( apparently there is no flat part of Galicia – so you go up and down a lot ! ) and we rested next to trickling stream – cold on the feet but so restful. It is hot , but we are grateful for no rain .
We passed a kind of hippie commune who had a table with all sorts of goodies – raisin, dates , oat cookies ( at least that’s what they looked like – but who knows ! ) , fruit, juices , boiled eggs- all donativo . They had some wise sayings written up on slasto tiles . My favourite was the clock which just had the words NOW at every position – see photo , and then one which said :
“ a journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step “.
Our hostel is on a farm facing the fields. We have been watching storks arrive from all around to follow the tractor which is ploughing . I wonder where they are nesting in this area as there are no cathedrals or church steeples . It is humbling to think that they fly all the way on their own annual pilgrimage to our area around Swellendam.
Afternoon spent in the hammocks they have suspended in the trees right next to the pilgrim path . Great fun hearing weary pilgrims passing by – so wishing they could stop !
It is difficult to think about normal daily routine back home and getting back to stress and pressure , daily demands and problem solving.
But I am not going to worry about that now
Day 31 Las Herrerias to Fonfria
Walked 22km 90% uphill
Steep climbs bring out the very worst in me . I get grumpy and despondent as my body struggles to rise to the demands being placed on it , but I do soooooo love the views and the feelings of achievement afterwards . A love hate relationship .
Today was very challenging . George – my super hero actually barreling up behind me and pushing me up the last steepest almost vertical section as my legs would not move one more step ! I am sure my science teacher had a formula for this – when an external force connects with an immovable object – said immovable object is forced to move or fall on face !
This is the final high mountain range to be conquered on the Camino Frances and here we are on the top of the mountain with beautiful scenery all around a dramatic thunderstorm brewing . These mountains are the very first barrier for winds and clouds after 5000km of open Atlantic Ocean – so the weather here changes fast and frequently
Galicia as mentioned , is the last province and we heard Galician music at breakfast – strangely Irish /Gaelic lilts .
Steep descent all the way down to the valley floor tomorrow .
This morning’s breakfast of toast , freshly squeezed orange juice and cafe con leche was interrupted by a herd of very sturdy dairy cows passing right by our table – a mini bull/cow run. These beasts look substantial and tough with legs like tree trunks , not dainty and fragile like the Jersey herd who are our neighbours at home .
Yesterday I saw a young lady pilgrim who had lost all her hair . It brought into stark remembrance my cancer journey ( one which I have shoved way back in the archives of my mind , not be be thought of or viewed again ) .
It made me once again take stock of the life I have – post cancer treatment – that everyday is a gift from God – no matter how difficult it is and not ever ever to be taken for granted .
A day gone can never be regained – no amount of wealth and status can buy time – time stands still for no one .
I am seizing the day – ‘Carpe Diem’. I urge you to do the same .
Day 30 Pieros to Las Herrerias
We are at the foot of the last range of mountains which have been looming . It amazes me that despite each footstep and each stride being so small in the big scheme of things …… we still get there !
Tomorrow is a very steep climb – 8.1km of steep steep uphill. There are horses as an option but ….. no. Apparently they are thin – don’t want to see that.
We enter the province of Galicia tomorrow – a wet cool green province of Celtic culture interestingly , an ancient form of Spanish language , Celtic symbols on the walls of homes and churches , even bagpipes .
At last night’s communal meal, I suggested we say Grace and the response was non existent. Blank faces , no comment . Sad ! Truly sad
So I read them the Camino grace which is lovely but very generic .
It still needs the parts where we thank our Lord for our daily bread
It goes as follows:
The silver rain, the shining sun ,
The fields where scarlet poppies run
And all the ripples in the wheat
Are in the food that I do eat
So when I sit for every meal
And say a grace , I always feel
That I am eating rain and sun
And fields where scarlet poppies run
Lots of sun and heat for sure , but I am loathe to complain after so much rain in the first three weeks , and it is said that it rains 365 days a year in Galicia province which we enter tomorrow . One is highly vulnerable to the elements – so our solution is an early start – before sunrise and try to get the bulk of the day’s walk done by one or two. From eleven it is already baking hot .
At the end of a day’s walk – you find an alberque – almost every village has at least one. Some are special – offering a communal meal , or group prayer , or massage , or feet washing , or singing , or mass with pilgrim’s blessing, and then some are just a bed and a shower.
You stand exhausted in front of the hospitalero asking for a bed He/she checks your pilgrim passport , stamps and dates it , takes your 5-10 euro and allocates you a bed or a room where you can choose your bed, hands you a disposable fitted sheet and pillow case and tells you to be out by eight am.
Bottom bunk near a window and not near the bathroom is prime real estate .
You dress your bed , shower and wash hair , then wash the clothes you have just worn – usually at a porcelain wash trough outside somewhere .
All a lot of effort when you are already exhausted !
After the “chores” are done – you have some choices – find a quiet place to nap ( under a tree , a hammock , by the river) , write your diary , find a little tienda ( shop) to buy bananas and snacks for the morning, explore the village , read , read up on tomorrow’s route – the history or sights of importance , chat to other pilgrims , find a cafe to have an icecream or a glass of wine, clean your shoes , watch your laundry dry – moving it to get maximum sun (least favourite option which kicks in with inclement weather ).
Currently sitting next to an icy crystal stream watching what looks like a kind of wagtail bird – catch little water insects in the swift torrent. Pretty deft and not getting itself drowned !
Somebody named Bridget has made a little garden under the trees by the river at the entrance to the village with a “ dream tree “ – write down your dreams and tie them to a tree. She also offers an area where you can paint and draw – she supplies the materials – donativo . You can also use her kitchen to cook your meal . Precious .
By the way , on the wildlife side – lots and lots of baby bunnies on the early morning – pretty tame , an irritated noisy goose , a dead hedgehog ( a few days ago ) , another bounding buck which George also saw , cows, goats and a dead fox . Heard the foxes one night too !
A sweet old lady had a basket of cherries this morning and said we should help ourselves – huge delicious deep red cherries. She got kisses on the cheek from both of us !
Day 29 Molinaseca to Pieros
What a lovely walk today . Through Ponferrada which has a splendid intact Knights Templar Castle and then through a series of little villages with small farms growing veggies. Lots of old people working these small holdings doing manual labour in the hot sun. And it is a hot 30 degrees today and not a cloud to be seen . I think it all rained out in our first three weeks !
We were walking through one of the little villages when an old lady opened her gate and beckoned to George to enter her garden and come and pick cherries. The trees were laden.
Other pilgrims behind us joined too and we picked while she kept urging to take more.
There were also wild cherry trees everywhere and so we have gorged ourselves on cherries today .
The summer pilgrims will be getting figs , apples , pears , grapes – all of which are not yet ripe for us .
The Spanish are a very generous people – always giving something extra. The other day we sat down at a street cafe and ordered a coffee and a juice . After bringing our order , she returned from the kitchen with a piece of cake for me and a slice of bread with Parma ham on it for George .
George was trying to buy an orange and someone came past and put the money down for his orange and left .
The scenery today looked so much like the Cape Winelands …….apart from the proliferation of cherry trees.
It was baking hot today and after many kilometers we entered a little poplar forest with a gurgling stream . To our intense delight , in this forest we came across a 1970’s restored caravan with lounge suit and tables and chairs set up under the trees . A pop up “food truck “ type restaurant with the BEST food we have had on the Camino. We had cashew banana smoothies, dark brown crusty artisanal bread with goats cheese , olive oil and caramelised peppers and Parma ham . Then a warm brownie cake with real vanilla bean icecream and chocolate sauce . It was superb. We must have lingered there for at least an hour or more .
The last few kilometers of the day were hell in the intense sun and uphill to boot.
We are staying at a tranquil little village with large rural plots – in a semi crumbling farmhouse . Charming in its hippyish delapidation , the early forties spanish lady owner also runs a vegetarian cafe up next to the road which is completely donativo – by donation.
After washing clothes , we have been lazing on a huge mattress in the cool shade , watching birds , drifting in and out of sleep. Not much beats the complete and total relaxation you enter into at the end of a day of high physical exertion.
We are between mountain ranges now – tomorrow will bring us to the foot of the steepest incline climb on the Camino – roughly 10km of UPHILL ! Steep uphill .
It makes me think of a quote from Nelson Mandela :
“But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back at the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment , for with freedom comes responsibilities , and I dare not linger , for my long walk is not ended – Nelson Mandela
Day 28 Foncebaden to Molinaseca
By contrast today was glorious. I realized that I was totally exhausted and the tough part of the day came after already covering twenty kilometers in baking heat. It was all too much .
Such a sweet young Austrian man named Bernie saw me crying yesterday and came to comfort me . Precious.
We were up and out of the dreadful dungeon at dawn in order to be at the Cruz de Fero by sunrise .
It was less of a “ moment “ than I expected – I suppose I was emotionally spent from yesterday .
Pilgrims bring a stone from their homes all over the globe and place it symbolically at the foot of this cross which is at the highest point of the Camino.
There are millions of stones with writing on them – placed meaningfully at the foot of the cross.
We crossed the mountain range which had been looming for the past four days – such a good feeling . We were above the clouds !
The rest of the walk was very steeply down the mountain for about 12km to the villages below blanketed by cloud.
Some really quaint villages along the way where we breakfasted and and socialized with pilgrim family .
In the middle of nowhere and not accessible by car , was a gazebo with a table of juices , fruit , nuts , snacks . And an honesty box . No one mans it – the money is there for anyone to steal and more than anything I just think about the person who sets this up and carries everything everyday . Complete trust and selfless service .The mind boggles .
The wild flowers have to be seen to be believed . The photos frustratingly do them no justice at all.
Our overnight stop today makes up for yesterday’s dump.
We are in a gorgeous riverside village called Molinaseca. Being Sunday the locals are all out sunbathing on the banks of the river ( not much modesty or decorum ) , swimming in the river , playing games or lunching at the riverside cafe’s . I think the entire population of the village is enjoying the weather and the river .
We too, are gingerly putting feet into the icy mountain water and lying on the grass relaxing and people watching .
There is another mountain range which is now looming on the horizon and needs to be climbed and traversed . We will take two days to get to the foothills and then comes a day of majorly steep climb . I am anxious already .
Day 27 Castrillo to Foncebaden
230km to go
Two kilometers from the geographically highest point on the Camino , I reached my very lowest emotional point . I haven’t cried so much from the pit of my being , in a very very long time . I am struggling to understand why I have sobbed so heavily and so deeply today .
It was a physically challenging tough day as it involved climbing the mountain range that has been looming for the past four days …… but then one would have thought that after 26 days of walking and 560km under my belt – I would be fitter and more able to cope with ascending. It is much easier than the first two days – so it defies explanation
I don’t know why , but I found it really tough today – tougher than the Pyrenees and I am so deeply gut wrenchingly disappointed that I struggled .
Have I got fitter or wearier ?
I have no explanation as it should have been way easier than the Pyrenees given that the ascent back then (26 days ago) was three times what it was today and I was still green then. Was it Adrenalin that carried me then?
I should have coped better today , I am after all supposed to be much fitter than I was when I started …. or at least I should be after walking over 550km. Or am I now deeply weary ? I just don’t know what to think
The intense disappointment at my huge struggle today has completely overwhelmed me . It was a physical and emotional meltdown and I am ashamed to say that I have no logical explanations for either the physical or emotional struggle which ensued after the climb today. I should have felt elation , relief , excitement . But no – I felt a complete failure. Intense disappointment in my ability to cope with the physical challenge of today. It blindsided me – it was unexpected and unwelcome. It completely swamped every coping mechanism in me.
I also experienced two instances of deja vu today . Those feelings of having been in a place or circumstance before – reliving a moment . Pretty unsettling.
The scenery today was beautiful – I counted at least 20 different kinds of wild flowers . The little villages we passed through were quaint and picturesque . We also made it all the way to the mountains we saw in the far distance three and a half days ago .
I should have had wings today .
We are now in the dreadful little delapidated hamlet of Foncebadon – 2km from the Cruz de Fero – the iron cross which sits at the highest point of the Camino . We aim to be there at sunrise tomorrow morning. Staying at a truly dreadful hostel in the dungeon .
Tomorrow is another day
Day 26 Hospital de Orbigo to Castrillo de Los Polvazares
We loved the medieval town of Hospital de Orbigo and our very eclectic home from home stay. We were up long before everyone else and headed off through the farm lands. A lovely interesting walk of hills , little woods, lots of baby rabbits , calves and sweet villages.
Morning coffee in Villares de Orbigo for Chris van Niekerk as we were unable to sleep there as he had suggested.
Along the way to Astorga , up on a high place , is a man named David who lives next to the path and has done so for 12 years – he has no water and electricity – walks 2km to fetch water. He has made a beautiful garden and rest place for pilgrims. He sets out platters of fresh fruit for you to help yourself, he has dozens of herbal teas and various vegetarian items. He is insistent that you enjoy what he offers. There is a donation box but money is completely unimportant to him. He delights in blessing, serving and seeing your pleasure. He is motivated entirely by giving and sharing – these are his drivers. It is so refreshing to see and makes an impact and impression on one.
We sat in the shade eating cool watermelon, oranges, apricots and cherries.
Further on we came to a stone cross above Astorga – erected for a bishop who was excommunicated and who fell to his knees there as he looked back on his home for the last time.
The mountains of Leon are drawing closer with every step we take. It seems incredible to tangibly see the distances we are covering.
Astorga is a delightful medieval walled city with 400 artisanal chocolate factories. We went to the chocolate museum – worthwhile , and then , as siesta approached and we still wanted to see the Gaudi cathedral and the pilgrim museum , we found a shady park and lay under a tree for two hours till they opened at four.
Gaudi cathedral was well worth waiting for , after which loaded up on icecream and then set out in baking sun and 27 degree heat to walk a further 7km to a gorgeous little village all made of stone called Castrillo.
The 8 bed Albergue had only four of us staying. Washed clothes and showered and then went to dinner at a charming little bed and breakfast. Their only guest was a South African lady named Joanne living in California . We had a scrumptious home cooked meal under the fruit trees – it was like a scene from Peter Mayle ‘s book – A Year in Provence .
Plump flavorsome red sun ripened tomatoes dressed with olive oil , fresh green asparagus , a tossed salad , artisanal bread , couscous and a moist white fish . Desert was sliced green apple with walnuts , thick green yoghurt and honey .
Joanne had done voluntary work for the Camino in the pilgrim office in Santiago where the pilgrims arrive and receive their final Compostella. She told us of the amazing stories of people and that dogs had arrived wearing special shoes , a blind man , children etc.
She had me in tears recounting the story of a man with Lou Garings Disease who was completely wheel chair bound . He was watching the Martín Sheen movie called The Way which is a true story about the Camino.
The wheelchair bound man expressed a desire to do it and his male nurse said – I’ll push you . Which he did – for 800km . Carrying him , washing him , feeding him. She was on duty in the office the day they arrived . She asked them to come to the front of the queue as it can take two hours – they refused . The entire office and all the pilgrims just clapped and cheered them. Apparently there is a documentary somewhere called – I’ll push you .
What a journey !
Day 25 Leon to Hospital de Orbigo
Started today with a bit of a head cold – didn’t think I would make it the long haul to Hospital de Orbigo where I really wanted to sleep at Alberque Verde. It had come highly recommended on numerous occasions so despite the extra distance , I wanted to sleep there.
I did make it ( with the help of Dispirins and Panado …. and the hostel did not disappoint at all .
A very non- hostel hostel on the fringe of the medieval city. The sign says “ welcome home” and “ welcome to the present”.
You pay 11 euro for the bed and then food is all by donation. Tonight’s donations make the meal for the pilgrims tomorrow – that is how it works .
Vegetarian food , hammocks under the cherry trees, puppies , organic home grown veggies and salad , and best of all singing ! We have been singing till 11pm . One of the pilgrims is a fabulous singer with all the dance moves and the cook plays the guitar by ear , the owner plays drums – so an impromptu band and the evening was made . Only 6 pilgrims and five volunteers. They made us carrot pate , salad and a sublime paella with apple cake to end . They serenaded us and spoilt us rotten .
Oh and there was a yoga stretch class this afternoon on the lawn too.
Memories were made here
And we are 35km closer to that mountain range
Day 24 Mansilla de las Mulas To Leon
Walked 19.1 km
My grandpa used to say that to eat an elephant , you just take one mouthful at a time .
When we approached the end of the Meseta and the beautiful city of Leon ( our last big city we walk through till Santiago ) – we could see a range of mountains way in the distance – with patches of snow still evident. Well , we still have to walk all the way to those mountains , and then over them and onward to Santiago
Still 310km to go.
It feels a little overwhelming to be honest . One has momentary panic attack and then one thinks back to the almost 500km already done – and that was achieved by putting one foot in front of the other over and over again .
Quite a powerful lesson in the fact that small steps matter hugely .
In whatever your mountain appears to be – small , repeated consistent steps will get you to where you want to be no matter how big that metaphorical mountain is .
Leon is a gorgeous city filled with windy old streets , quaint little speciality shops, tapas bars , and history. We were welcomed into the city at the end of the bridge by volunteers who had warm smiles , a bowl of boiled sweets , advice and maps of the town . Delightful !
Saw an Appletiser advert and felt a twang of homesickness .
Most pilgrims stay in Leon for two days to take it all in . Sadly we don’t have time , but we got here early today and so had a delightful afternoon meeting up with so many of our pilgrim family and seeing the sights .
Early start tomorrow – a long 30km day lies ahead
Day 23 Bercianos del Real Camino to Mansilla de las Mulas
Dominee Thomas told me that in the first third of the Camino people talk a lot , in the second third , they speak more deeply and in the last third they are quiet.
Yesterday evening was our first deep personal conversation with three total strangers . A handsome tanned retired fifty- something American named Jim, a lovely gentle school teacher ( also in her early fifties ) from Michigan named Lyn – she wears her heart on her sleeve and who George says “ leaks “ easily ! (He offered her his hankie a few times ) and a very tall long legged black man from Paris named Laddice who was walking fifty kilometers per day – – with a heavy pack – he was carrying real books – loco as they say in Spanish . Those Central African genes are tailor made for long distance – and he is fully vegan !
We spoke meaningfully and deeply about why we are doing the Camino and in some cases the reasons are painful and deep, difficult to express but liberating when you have the freedom to do so in a safe unthreatening environment.
We are only five days away from the Cruz de Fero – the giant iron cross high on a mountain.
Tradition is that you bring a stone from your home and you write on it all the things you want to leave at the foot of the cross .
Of course I have my stone which I have carried from home and whose weight I have borne every day of this pilgrimage – but the intangible abstract weights which I want to leave behind with the symbolic stone are heavy within me and I have been avoiding confronting them so as not to spoil my liberating walk.
But last night ‘s frank discussion , pricked a hole in that septic bag and today I was forced to begin dealing with the unwelcome thoughts and struggles which I will have to fully face at that cross when I lay down my stone – in under a week from now.
The Camino is a parallel for life – if you carry unnecessary weight, you will struggle and labour, you will be weary and burdened , dragged down – you won’t have the freedom to dance , to skip , to run , to jump. You won’t have wings to fly .
And of course abstract weight comes in many forms and guises- things like unforgiveness , bitterness , regrets, guilt, shame , sin , disobedience, rebellion, the unbridled tongue , a critical spirit, selfishness, lack of faith, omissions, fear etc etc.
I am not about to confess my weights to you all – but one thing I can say with complete certainty, is that I do not have any regrets.
I do know that God says if we are heavily laden, we should come to Him and He will give us rest. I have and do experience the peace and liberation of laying my burdens down at the foot of His cross and am anxious to spend time doing this at the Cruz de Fero .
On the more practical mundane side of things – We stayed at a dreadful alberque last night with something mechanical switching on and off all night – could not wait to leave this morning . Their very best asset was a pregnant Siamese named Tiffany .
This morning brought sun – YAY – but icy cold strong headwind which made the 26km extra long and drawn out as every step used extra energy and physical resources against the wind. The terrain was monotonous and repetitive – so photos are few .
We have only 18km to go to the end of the Meseta – I have enjoyed it and think I can say that I have survived the mentally taxing second act of the Camino . Tomorrow we enter the beautiful city of León.
Day 22 Ledigos to Bercianos del Real Camino
The sun graced us with her presence this morning , lifting our spirits and adding spring to our steps. Being born under the African sun has meant that we are powered by solar energy. We navigate by the sun , we rise each morning by the sun and our moods are dictated by the sun. Perhaps we have become used to large daily doses of vitamin D and so, after days of grey skies , we feel depleted and morose. Prone to depression and lethargy
Today was bathed in golden sunlight and we were happy. The world appeared friendlier and brighter and we had energy.
We had morning coffee at a delightful little cafe on a small village square flanked by a church. Flowers bloomed , great music was playing , and we bumped into pilgrim family to loud happy hellos and comparing of notes.
Passed some bodegas which are little hand dug caves into the hillsides where the locals store their wine and cheeses and hams.
We collected our halfway Compostella in Sahagún – a beautiful Spanish document scribed in calligraphy – I am hoping someone can translate it for me. We have seen a lot of calligraphy on this journey and I am inspired to relearn the art which I learnt forty years ago at high school.
Today the Camino held a mirror to my face through two separate unrelated knee incidents. And I did not like what I saw .
Two days ago at the nunnery hostel , George and I were sitting on our upper bunks when an ugly-as-sin scowling German lady came into our dorm looking troubled. I asked her what was wrong and she answered roughly that she wanted a bottom bunk and someone must swop with her as she has a bad knee. No one volunteered and she left snorting and cursing the word “sheet”.
I disliked her instantly and my feelings were further reinforced the next morning when she came gliding past us , striding out with no signs of any limp or knee trouble. Was she hoping to manipulate our sympathies ?
Our paths have leapfrogged over the past two days and she has managed to invade my personal space twice in two days coming and smoking right next to me. The urge to be rude to her has been soooo intense and I have been forced to hold my tongue – a real lessen in self control for me.
The second knee incident involved a sweet young German girl of 23 who entered the hostel yesterday and told anyone who would listen about her intense inexplicable intense knee pains. Initially everyone doled out sympathy , advice , medicines, unguents , braces , cautions etc. She was inundated with help and attention. This was all good and well , but it went on for hours with nothing else spoken about in the dorm but her knee – and then again this morning. I was getting extremely irritated by what I perceived to be her extreme “ milking “ of the situation. Again manipulation of sympathy . What was my issue ? Was I jealous of the attention she received ? No . Did I feel that my sympathy was being exploited ? My reaction was not Christlike and I had to put myself in check – if I had nothing kind to say – hold my tongue and give her the benefit of the doubt.
A high speed RENFE train rushed past during the last few kilometers this afternoon and I stopped to wave at the passengers. After it had passed , I felt suddenly weepy as the realization hit me that in 17 days time just such a train would whisk us out of the Camino bubble and off to Barcelona – back to fast busy lives . I am not sure that I am ready . The prospect is bewildering and overwhelming. Urban legend says that if you do something for 21 days – it becomes a habit. Well this seems to have become a habit . A new routine , a new pace – walking as though I am kissing the earth with my feet.
Day 21 Carrión de Los Condes to Ledigos
PASSED THE HALFWAY MARK
Sunday morning and it took all my willpower and powers of persuasion to get myself to step into the cold and rain and start trudging 17km to the next village. I could think of better things to do on a cold rainy Sunday morning – not all of which could be mentioned here.
But walk we must.
On we go
If we don’t have the rain – we won’t appreciate the sun.
The 2000 year old Roman road -led us past two decommissioned monasteries/abbeys. One of which is now a luxury hotel.
I would love to have the opportunity to own an ancient monastery and cathedral and turn it into a luxury hotel.
This same Roman road led us past the halfway mark to arrive at Ledigos with a sign stating that we only have 373.87km to go to Santiago! Yipppeee
The 17km stretch before a first coffee was mentally tough – just endless mud puddles, drizzle or threatening drizzle and few bushes where one could wee in privacy.
All modesty and decorum was abandoned as one pilgrim after the other squatted down behind scant wheat or wild flowers – in fairly full view of other pilgrims – who generously averted their eyes .
After George tired of my camping songs, marching songs, and misquoted poetry ,I plugged in an audio book and he opted for classical music and we had wings .
Mid morning found pilgrims huddled under a tiny roof shelter out of the spitting rain to grab an energy giving snack – we had carried avo, cheese, bread , olives, chorizo and cherry tomatoes. I had had visions of reclining under a shady tree with our picnic – but it was not to be . Does this place ever have a rain free day ?
I had forgotten to mention my new best friend – condensed milk in a tube – made by Nestle. Liquid energy like milk from a baby ‘s bottle . There was something subliminally reassuring sucking this sweet nectar from a tube – it has the power to add spring to my step and voomah to my mood.
I had also forgotten to mention a delightful hour I spent yesterday afternoon in the village square waiting for the supermarket to open after siesta. I was watching two little boys of about five trying to manage, negotiate with and control their large willful cocker spaniel named Pueblo.
The dog was managing them and it took both of them flat on their bottoms holding onto the leash which Pueblo was pulling – to keep the dog from running off to the nearest tree – all he wanted was a decent spot to have a pee. I was in stitches watching them for a good forty five minutes. I laughed good and hard for a second time retelling the scene to George.
Ledigos delivered a delightful new spotless private alberque and we began to feel human again. Giggling as other pilgrims arrived all creaking and groaning with sore feet, aching muscles, failing knees and so on.
Somehow , a challenge brings people closer together – everyone is on the same road, experiencing the same challenges and obstacles , the same failures and fears .
Everyone is equal – there is no status , no trappings of wealth , no signs of education or position . Everyone is the same. You could be chatting to a multimillionaire or a pauper , an award winner or a cashier. You just don’t know . But the journey is the same, the aches and pains are the same , the destinations and goals are the same .
Day 20 Boadilla del Camino to Carrión de Los Condes
At a recent shared meal , a German pilgrim told how she had had a terribly long hard day mostly in the rain. On arriving in a village , she sat down in the doorway of a closed shop to consult her guidebook. A Spanish lady came out of her house across the way and invited the dry wet bedraggled German lady to join them for a hot meal. She was taken aback but followed the lady who proceeded to put all her wet clothes into the drier and then they sat down to a meal together. The Spanish lady said it is common for families to set a place setting for Jesus. And she is always on the lookout for someone needy to sit at that place.
That provoked a great deal of thought regarding the concept of hospitality. Along the Camino , there are many ancient hospitals and these were not merely for medical care. Ancient pilgrims would be given hospitality which included warmth, shelter, food , treatment, rest. Even today the caretakers of the hostels are called hospitaleros .
It begs the question – do we show hospitality and how do we show it and to whom ? Do we just gather friends around us who enrich us and entertain us or make us feel empowered , or do we offer hospitality as an act of selfless service to others ? Does our hospitality come with a price tag or strings attached or ulterior motives – or is it pure and genuine and given without prejudice or judgement ?
A lot to sift through while walking those 33 000 steps ! Eina questions to be sure .
A very flat section today through cereal crops with the pathway running along a languid river . Later we arrived at a series of inoperational river locks , after which the pathway drifted away from the river but continued to be lined with endless combinations of wild flowers .
Muddy sections again and then six kilometers in the rain . Fortunately not heavy downpour but enough to get your extremes pretty wet.
We are staying at Santa Maria hostel run by young nuns from Panama, Hungary and Spain . They had a meaningful sing along this evening. The one nun plays the guitar and sings too beautifully – angelic is the only word which comes to mind . The four who led the singing seemed so pure and untainted . We sang Amazing Grace and Alleluia and there was hardly a dry eye .
Attended a free classical guitar concert in the cathedral followed by dinner . The Spanish are not at all creative or imaginative with vegetarian food . Omelettes is all they know – so needless to say I am having an overdose of omelette .
Tired body , tired mind . 26km for tomorrow with likely rain – again ! So it’s bed time .
Day 19 San Anton to Boadilla del Camino
The wild flowers in this area could rival Namaqualand. Breathtaking ! And a huge variety . Fields of pink lupins spreading up the hillsides . Fields of poppies , cornflowers, wild artichokes, fennel and even wild lavender.
We met a Frenchman named Serge last night who is riding the Camino on this weird bicycle contraption – essentially lying in a reclining position. He is a serious diabetic having got to the stage where he has a permanent gadget attached to his stomach delivering intravenous insulin. His condition would make it impossible to walk – and so he cycles !
This morning en route to Castrojeriz- we met a man with his dog and donkey called Marina. Marina had her raincoat on and was pulling a little buggy in which her master sleeps next to the road .They had travelled from Bilbao in Spain to Santiago and were in their way back – in excess of 1000km !
We had a very steep uphill today of a 12 percent incline over 1050 meters followed by a very steep decline of 18 percent .
This was followed by a long dreadfully muddy section which required concentration and continual cautious navigation leaving buildups if gluey mud under the shoes .
Met up with some Camino family along the way.
Would have loved to have stayed the night at St Nicholas – see picture – where they wash your feet in a special service – but it only opened two hours later and we could not wait.
George and I struggled to find our rhythm walking together. He has been powering along at speed and he just gallops up the hills without stopping to admire the scenery or catch his breath. He is a machine . I just can’t keep up . It stressed me out today and I was frustrated . I over pushed myself and landed up exhausted and spent.
We had a lovely fresh sprinkling of cool refreshing rain just when our ( my ) energy was waning and arrived at the village at around 3pm.
Treated ourselves to a private room in the casa rural – the little hotel . Treated ourselves even further by handing over all our washing to be done by the housekeeper.
Our room looks out over the main stone church – the roof home to six stork nests. We can hear them clack clacking. Also hear the church bells chiming.
And now off to a dinner with my man
Day 18 San Bol to San Anton
AND WAITED FOR MY MAN
We woke around five and by six the Brazilians had once again set out their food rations to share with us – orange segments , half a crusty loaf with some jam from a yoghurt tub, and coffee.
After bear hugs and double cheek kisses – they left. I was left with the South African lady who lives in London .
She was making overtures to walk with me and I was having none of it . Trying hard not to be critical myself , I found her to be highly critical and negative and did not to spend the next five kilometers to the next village hearing negativity. So I bolted . Waved cheerio and before she had time to put on her little day pack ( she shipped her pack forward everyday via a service company who charges about R90 a day to take your pack to the next destination ) – I was gone – up the dirt road – leaving her all alone to lock up the little building and leave the key under the mat .
I felt lousy for having been so mean as to desert her despite her victim mentality.
But it was done and could not be undone. I briefly saw her at a cafe ten kilometers away while I waited for George , and she greeted me warmly – so perhaps she had seen it differently.
En route I passed through a village with a precious church . They had green tea – help yourself . Blankets in case you got cold praying. And Bibles in fourteen languages laid out with the country’s flag on the cover. All under a blown up image if Mother Theresa side by side with our very own Arch – Desmond Tutu.
I lit a candle and prayed here for Aida Oosthuizen
My meeting point with George could not have been more iconic and symbolic than the arches of the ruins of the Hospital and church of San Anton where we would stay the night.
This is the image used most to depict the Camino Frances . It is a place with fascinating history and ancient allure which I will explain shortly.
To see my Georgie come marching down that road under the arches ,was a moment of pure elation and delight . At long long last ! Together !
We put my sarong into the grass and lay in the church ruins with our legs up to drain the lymphs. We chatted and caught up on adventures along the way and told of the characters we had met. Compared wounds and battle scars ! Took a stroll through the wheat fields to a small village with a picnic of cheese, crackers and olives which we ate sitting on the stone wall of the convent’s vegetable gardens .
The church , hospital and monastery are ruins today and their imposing arches span across the Camino road.
This was a very pivotal point in pilgrimage history. Pilgrims lived on bread and wine (symbolic in itself ) and there was a plaque in the Middle Ages called St Anthony’s fire which was caused by cereal ergot tot in the rye . So the bread was killing the people . The symptoms were nausea and hallucinations followed by blackening if the limbs then gangrene and death. San Anton’s hospital was the one place which had managed to cure those who were not too badly affected. They became expert at amputations and severed limbs were hung on the walls of the hospital as a kind of talisman . Hundred of thousands of people are thought to be buried in the fields around these ruins – so it is in effect a huge graveyard.
There is a tiny hostel built into these ruins which sleeps only 12. There is no electricity – only candlelight and of course no WiFi. No hot water either. AAAARGH . I loathe cold water !
We spent the night in the haunting ruins of this ancient place – it is not every day you get to sleep with your bed against the ancient stones of a medieval church. It was magical .
On the roof were three baby owls – they were pretty huge at around 40cm tall but still fluffy with baby feathers. Evidently they fly off on their maiden flight in about a month’s time. In the meantime mom and dad owls bring rabbits for them after dark
The hospitaleros were volunteers from Mexico – Fernando and Belinda. Such warm kind hospitable people . They welcome us with open arms and cooked us the most delicious pilgrims dinner of salad , vegetarian stew , bread , spanish omelette and cinnamon custard .
As volunteer hospitaleros , they have to stay there for two weeks …… no hot water , no electricity and share a bathroom daily with 12 unwashed pilgrims …. and they do it as a selfless act of service because they say that the Camino gave them so much and they want to give back .
The twelve residents from five continents , dined together and afterwards , two chaps from Uruguay played their guitars and sang for us.
A local named Angel joined us ( see man with badges on his waistcoat ) and it was a cosy special memorable evening in the ruins .
Day 17 Burgos to San Bol (posted June 7th 2018)
SORRY NO INTERNET LAST NIGHT !
First day of the Meseta and I loved it . Wide open spaces allowed my mind to soar like a kite and observe my little snail frame way below slowing making incremental progress one footstep at a time .
This morning started with another surprise act of kindness by a Brazilian man named Eli who just offered to make me a coffee out of the blue in a hostel if about 400 people. I had not even seen him on the walk or met him.
He then invited me to sit down and share in the bowl of pears which he and his three walking partners were having for breakfast . So much open kindness to me – a total stranger
More wildlife – saw a buck yesterday and one the another this morning – a kind of a Bambi which jumps a lot . Seen some beautiful seed eating birds and pheasants or partridges too – which will remain unidentified.the morning birdsong is delightful – it is as if I am walking down the aisle to a bridal salute .
At Hornillos, a lovely pilgrim village , I lay on a bench on the pavement for a nap and to air my hot sore feet. The street was narrow and a large truck came through loaded with sweet smelling newly harvested hay bales . It had to wait for ten to fifteen minutes blocking the entire main road through the village while someone went to find the person whose car was parked just enough to make the little road Impassable for a lofty – they had to come and move their parked car before the lorry could proceed down the narrow road. All done with quiet calm and patience .
I felt tired and was developing hotspots on my feet. Needed to wash clothes, so I stopped at an ancient medicinal spring – nestled in a grove of lichen covered poplar trees – a place called San Bol – just 12 beds in an old stone building – between towns 5km in either direction . Until recently it had no electricity – now it has a wood fired stove , solar panels and no cell reception or WiFi. See photos .
In order to wash my clothes , I had to take a plastic bowl and walk down to the spring . Felt like a maiden of old pounding my washing on the stones among the daisies in the shade of the poplar trees.
There were only 6 of us staying there – four retired brothers and sisters from Brazil who had already walked 600km from Lourdes in France and a South African lady living in London. The Brazilians took over the kitchen , told the hospitalero Lourdes – that she need not cook us paella for dinner and then made us a delicious garlic pasta . We sat together and shared the cheese , biscuits and artichokes which I had brought and had a lovely communal meal together.
One of the Brazilian men – was the selfsame man who had offered me a cup of coffee this morning and invited me to share their pears.
I now have an invitation to go and stay with them in Brazil . Such generous kind people .
It is chilly and the clouds are hanging dark and low. The little stone building has under floor heating – there is a cellar underneath in which a fire is burning and it has made the room very toasty .
Today I pondered heavily on the subject of gratitude. Not basic bottom line please and thank you – which is essentially just good manners – and we are taught to say it as a courtesy whether we mean it or not – it is the right thing to do . As an aside I have always had a problem with the Lords Prayer as it simple says “ give us this day our daily bread “ – no please and no thank you . It has never felt right to me .
Gratitude is something different – it comes from the heart – it is deep and rich and wells up like a fountain inside of you . The majority of my tearful moments on this Camino have sprung from this well – an intense feeling of being blessed , undeservedly , and the rich spontaneous gratitude which unavoidably manifests itself in tears . Other outward forms of expression of gratitude which essentially must cross language barriers has been bowing my head humbly and placing my hands together in a prayerful gesture which the Thai people called The Wai.. How else do you show sincere deep gratitude .
Being grateful is demonstrating gratitude. And I am GRATEFUL.
Grateful that my bones, my limbs,my organs can carry me and do this pilgrimage. Grateful for my marriage , my home , my family , my friends, my faith, my abilities.
Soooo much that it overwhelms me – especially when I walk into these cool dark majestic cathedrals – I just want to place my heart on the altar as the biggest offering that I could ever make in return for all the blessings which I have .
As I sit in the late afternoon sun listening to the birds and the wheat rustle in the breeze , and writing my diary – I keep glancing up the dirt track hoping to see my Georgie walking down it towards me . I am uncertain exactly where he is as I have no phone network . If he doesn’t arrive tonight , our paths will meet up tomorrow and for that I am SOOOOOOO excited and SOOOOOOOO grateful .
Day 16 Ages to Burgos
I was welcomed into Burgos by Charlize Theron – on billboards everywhere advertising J’Adore perfume. The final sight of the magnificent cathedral was so welcome – it had been another mentally difficult day .
Caught in a rain storm six kilometers out and took shelter in the tiny old doorway of a seemingly abandoned house which was the local pissoir and was literally 2 meters from the moving tyres of the eighteen wheelers coming past . I was eye level with their wheels huddled in the portal and all that separated me and them was a piece of crash barrier. Their wheels occasionally hit the pooled water and add splashed me .
It was miserable
As a pilgrim one feels safe and secure following the yellow arrows and the scallop shell signs as they lead you gently across Spain. However it becomes very unsettling even frightening not to know where you are and where to go – especially when you are exhausted and the last thing you need is a wrong turn and extra steps .
Burgos is one of the largest cities along the Camino and local businesses continually vandalize the signs to drive foot traffic past their doors . There are numerous red herrings and one has to be alert and savvy. I spent an unnecessary hour trying to find my way to the pilgrim hostel , then the tourist office etc. wanted to give up and stay in a two star hotel – also calling itself a hostal. They quoted me 50 euro. I graciously declined and persisted in trying to find the pilgrim hostel . Eventually my efforts were rewarded with a five euro price tag ! Peregrinos only .
There was a fantastic free concert tonight in the cathedral – the Yale University choir singing modern compositions for the pilgrims – it was superlative . One man with the highest pitched voice I have ever heard – must be a castrati.
Bumped into the two Oz girls who had sheltered with me in the hut . They are good fun and we laugh a lot . They had got caught in the terrible hail storm I mentioned a few days ago – they were wearing shorts and their legs were badly stung . They had a video . They waded mid calf deep on the flooded paths to the next town – soooooo awful . Had I not taken the detour to San Milan I would have been caught in that too .
The Camino is said to be like an Opera divided into three acts .
Act One is from St Jean to Burgos and because the terrain is tough , it is all about your body . The aches , the pains , the injuries , the blisters.
It seems I have survived this part ok .
Act Two is from Burgos to Leon ( starting tomorrow ) and it is about the mind . Tomorrow starts the wide open spaces – the bread basket of Spain – much like the Free State – monotonous and boring . It is said to play on your mind and make you crazy . There is no shelter – just open nothingness . It can be freezing cold or blazing hot – no half measures . Now in spring there are crops , but once those are harvested it is brown and brown and brown. Many pilgrim miss this section and catch the bus to Leon.
Act Three is from Leon to Santiago – the Spirit as it ascends up into the mountains and the end point.
Funny piece of useless information talking about the body section I have just survived……
My best physical asset – well I have two – my eyes and my nails. My nails are incredibly strong and healthy and even the chemotherapy did not affect them which is exceptional. However , they are showing signs of stress – cracking , breaking and two baby toenails even turning black
I am wondering why this is ? Does the body decide – ok now the bones need more calcium , let’s borrow from the nails for now !
Ok – enough waffling – lights out
Day 15 Tosantos to Ages
Not one of my favourite days thus far. Having a real emotional low.
Only done about one third in two weeks – officially covered 275km in Spain – this excludes the section from St Jean in France ( without the detours etc etc ) with 515km to go
So technically I have done over 300km !
It feels overwhelming to still walk the 515km
Missing George sooo much – he is about 110km from me , which is 3-4 days walk if I was stationary – but as I have to keep moving or I won’t finish by our last date , it will take him 8-9 days to catch up . That makes me even sadder
The first bit today was nice , passing through a few little villages in quick succession – but then a nasty chilly head wind started up and I had to walk with windbreaker hood on to stop the earache . It has been a downright chilly day – all the time threatening another deluge ( possibly hail if the temperature is anything to go by ).
There was some steep climbing to do today and then a seemingly endless stretch of 12km through a depressing pine forest of sorts ( not pretty – no photos ) with lots of mud and rivulets running down the paths.
Apparently many people feel that this particular section just does not want to end.
In medieval times it was a prime highjacking hotspot for pilgrims to be robbed ( like the bridges in Navarre province ). Perhaps that oppressive negative vibe affected me today – I was not happy .
Had to keep giving myself pep talks . The conversations with my head went as follows –
“ Beverley – you are not wet, you are not hungry , you are not thirsty , you are not sore anywhere , you had enough sleep and you are not freezing cold – so buck up and move your bones “.
Just over halfway through , a kind of free spirited lady had set up some totem poles and apparently on a sunny day – some hammocks in the forest and she and her border collie man a table of fruit and cakes / biscuits etc with flasks of hot tea or coffee and cooler boxes with drinks . All by donation .
I gave her 1.30 euro for a tea as that is the going price and she promptly handed me a chocolate coated shortbread for free !
I am continually amazed at how generous and “ungreedy” these people are . They are not materialistic – just want to make a little something and be of service to pilgrims . It is profoundly humbling.
While sitting drinking my tea ( somehow hot tea has the power to fix everything ! ) , I met Nick – a British ex soldier who is walking to raise money for brain cancer research. His six year old grandson has brain cancer and the operations to remove the tumors has left him severely handicapped . He walked with me briskly for the next five kilometers to San Juanand while we spoke politics and Brexit and generally boring stuff , the time passed pretty quickly.
At San Juan ( a monastery in the middle of nowhere ) , I decided to push for the next village 3.6km away – which turned out to be a prettier section.( or was I just in a better frame of mind ?)
Ages is an extremely quaint – arty little village with most dwellings wattle and daub – the Spanish equivalent of Stratford on Avon except all in an earthy clayey muddy colour palette .
I have a charming little alberque with a non bunk bed bed -in a shared room and a proper bathroom .
Dinner will be pumpkin soup , vegetable paella , salad and something for dessert .
They are doing my washing and drying for six euros for me too
Got my shoes and walking pole nicely washed and fresh and now just relaxing the old bones , editing photos and writing diary . Seems I am going to be alone in the five bed dorm – no one else has arrived as yet and it is getting late . Hoping …..
Day 14 Santo Domingo de la Calzada to Tosantos
The nuns unlock the hostel at 6.15 and you are free to go . I was the first one out and was blessed with a spectacular sunrise on leaving the town . I so enjoy the storks with their enormous nests on any high point they can find.
The first village had a most welcome sight – a food truck serving breakfast – one’s heart literally leaps at the prospect of sitting down , eating something and having a cup of coffee.
They had a little area where you can take what you need and leave for other pilgrims what you no longer want or need . Very precious . – see photo
Today’s long hot walk went through endless fields of barley , wheat and oats with absolutely no shade to be had – and it was scorching hot . I felt as though my energy was being sucked from me like nectar by a giant sunbird dipping it’s scimitar beak into my head . I passed through four villages each with decaying charm ,a welcome pilgrim fountain of cool water- and a bench to rest the weary bones.
These smaller villages are pretty poor with no economies as such and declining populations. I wouldn’t be surprised if property prices are very cheap in some of these places.
Before Belorado ( a lovely town ) , having walked 23km in the baking sun , a small car came driving up the Camino path giving every pilgrim an ice cold bottle of mineral water.
I simply cannot articulate what that meant to me at that moment .
It made me sob from the pit of my stomach for a full few minutes . I can’t say why – it is difficult to understand. I was even surprised by my reaction.
I think one is very vulnerable on this walk . Plus it is stretching you mentally and physically – and your emotions are just below the surface .A small random act of kindness like this means sooooo much and the sense of undeservedness and gratitude is overwhelming.
I had promised myself a cool crisp salad and an icecream when I reached this town , so found a little bar and had just that for lunch . While eating , the thunder started .
The heat brought on an afternoon thunderstorm and I sat tight in the little cafe waiting for it to pass. Still had five km to go before I could “uitspan”.
Eventually ventured out into the soft lacey rain and it was pretty pleasant – a great deal cooler than the rest of the day .
My hostel is something very interesting and different . It is an ancient little building owned by the St Francis of Assisi order. Made with wattle and daub like the houses of Shakespeare ‘s time in Stratford on Avon. – see photo . My room was in the attic under the very rustic beams . Because of the weight loading , beds are not possible , so all you get is a double gym mat on the floor . No pillows , no chairs – zip zero zilch
Mercifully there was hot water !
It is a Paroquial donativo which means you put a donation in the box . Whatever you feel to give . You also put into the Donativo box your prayer requests and after dinner , there is a small service in the little chapel where the requests are prayed over individually for a period of 3 weeks. The hospitalero ‘s name is Santiago and he takes his role as head of the house seriously .
Everyone helped prepare dinner – a kind of potato stew – really tasty , with bread and a salad followed by nectarines and apricots . Prior to eating we said grace . After dinner we went to the little chapel ( sat in darkness for two minutes of silence , read Psalm 121 in five languages, and then each person was given a prayer request paper in their language to read aloud . We were then told that you would be woken at 6 to eat breakfast at 6.30. Lights will go out at 10.30 and then there is to be silence .
It was very meaningful .
There is a church built into a cave up the hill – took a walk to have a look but it was locked .
Heavy rain clouds about again
Day 13 San Millan de Cogella to Santo Domingo de la Calzada
My route from these remote monasteries back to the Camino meant walking along the tarred road as there is no official Camino path. For 14km and 3 hours , I walked through farming country without seeing a human other than the drivers of about 8 vehicles which passed me and eventually two cyclists ! I just marched and sang at the top of my voice – all sorts of songs like Blowing in the Wind and Leaving on a Jet Plane . It was bliss . Happiness in every footstep .
There was nothing buy to eat or drink along the way except for what the hotel had packed for me – a cheese sandwich, pound cake and an energy bar . Morning coffee came really late today .
There had been an enormous hail storm along the way – the hail stones lay thick along the path and I really thanked God that it had missed me as there was NO shelter to be had anywhere . The crops had been badly damaged and the path had eroded heavily due to water run off exposing loose ankle twisting stones . The poor pilgrims who had got caught in that storm . Oh my !. My right ankle is not happy at all after that part.
The town I am staying at Santo Domingo has some lovely stories and is precious to pilgrims. The founder – a chap called Domingo had wanted to be a monk at San Millan but they rejected him because he was illiterate. So in 1019 , he became a hermit and watched how pilgrims struggled to cross the river on their journey – so he built a bridge for them . Then he built a pilgrim hospital ( which today is a five star hotel where I am indulging in afternoon tea and the hugest slice of apple cake I have ever seen – see photos ….. while it rains outside ! ) and he also built pilgrim roads and a church. His body was buried in the middle of the main pilgrim road and later a cathedral was built over it when he became a saint.
This cathedral has two live chickens at all times in a beautiful cage . They stay for a month at a time and then rotate with fresh chickens from the abbey where I am staying .
Why you may well ask ?
The story goes as follows – “around the eleventh century a mom , dad and their son were on pilgrimage from Germany. They stopped at Santa Domingo to regain their strength and a local maiden fell in love with the son. He was disinterested and she was bitter so she hid a silver goblet among his belongings and then reported him. He was hanged for the crime of theft . Poor fellow – seems excessive . Anyway , his parents saw that he was had not died from the hanging , and so asked the magistrate to cut him down . The magistrate was about to tuck into his Sunday roast chicken and stated that their son was about as alive as the chicken on his plate. At which point the chicken lunch took wings and so to this day centuries later , live chickens are kept in the cathedral as a reminder of this miracle ( you can hear them call – so strange ) and pilgrims in medieval times , used to search for white feathers for good luck !”
So, on entering the town, I was really anxious to see the chickens and , as things always close at inopportune times in Spain – I headed straight for the tower wasting no time at all . The man at the desk spoke no English and I tried to ask where the chickens were . Natalie is correct in saying I need some practice at charades – as I proceeded to mimic an impressive cockadoodledooo and flap my elbows to indicate chickens . The man gave me the thumbs up , said “ si “ and charged me 2 euros to climb up the tower – all 132 stairs – only to find ….. NO chickens
Beautiful bells and views but no chickens .
Turns out they are inside the actual cathedral which was out of bounds for an hour while there was a wedding – imagine them crowing during the vows !
See some of the wedding fashions below .
Anyway , the wait for the cathedral to open was well rewarded as it is a magnificent cathedral , chickens and tomb of Domingo plus a museum .
I went up the other tower to the roof section and on coming down , found I had been locked into the tower !! The door was firmly locked. I started banging and calling for someone to let me out . Fortunately a tourist from New Zealand heard me and went to find someone to let me out. I had an audience when he opened the door ! I could have spent the night in there . The caretaker said he had locked it because of the rain!
I am staying at a pilgrim hostel dating from 1610 owned and run by Ciscerene Nuns . The floors are at all angles and it has a huge amount of character ( read – needs renovation). They don’t speak a word of English – just offer smiles with dreadfully bad teeth. Decided to attend the cloister’s Vespers at 6.30. It was positively dreadful – one could not see the nuns – just hear them – there must have been 8 or 10. The singing was so discordant I had to sneak out .
Salad for supper – 8 euro (R126.00 ) for some iceberg lettuce , quarter tomato , HALF an egg , one onion ring and three olives ! Still hungry .
Georgie is going well – at Puente Le Reine , a bit stiff and sleepy. I don’t think he is eating properly .
Tomorrow is a long uphill section – hope my ankle is fine – there were no small or medium size ankle supports to be had in town . Soooo many people limping .
Day 12 Ventosa to Najeera
With a detour off the main Camino to San Millán
Today was something very different – I was a tourist not a pilgrim . I am currently in an area with extremely beautiful ancient monasteries and two of them are at San Millán ( Yuso and Suso ) – a world heritage site and the birthplace of the Spanish language – two days walk there and back. I badly want to see them, so I am catching a bus there and walking the 18km back as I don’t have two days to spare.
So excited to do this , I was up early and walked the 11.3km to the next town Najeera from where the bus departs . As the only bus to San Millan is at 13.25 , I had time to eat an indecent plate of potato chips with mayo , and visit another fascinating Franciscan monastery in Najeera itself – built around a cave in the hillside.
The story of the Santa Maria la Real Monastery goes as follows :
“In 1044 a certain Don Garcia ( a king ) went hunting for partridge in the area . He sent his falcon after a partridge and the two birds entered a cave in the mountain. The king followed them into the cave and deep inside he saw an image of the Virgin Mary ,a bell , a lamp and white lilies. He built a church on this site and the cave is still part of the church and monastery with a rather ugly 13th century Virgin , bell ,candle and flowers.” It is very beautiful. , especially the cloisters , and it is currently an active Franciscan monastery .
Met a South African man from Fish Hoek named Brian and an elderly couple from Port Alfred . They are both overweight and carrying heavy packs and seem to be struggling – but they are doing it – very determined . Kudos to them
Yesterday I was absolutely busting for a wee when I reached Ventosa , but the hostel only opened in 30 minutes time. I spied an elderly Spanish man in his doorway and went to beg to use his loo … he just looked at me blankly . No English
. So , out came the phone with Google Translate – I quickly typed the phrase , he could not read it without his glasses.
So I tried to read it to him – again blank looks . My pronunciation was clearly not up to scratch .
Then I had the app vocalize the phrase for me – and still “ non comprehendo “ ! By now I was cross eyed and cross legged . I then made gestures of holding a waving hose around my crotch area while I whistled and put a relieved expression on my face .
How else do you demonstrate a wee to a man ?????
He still did not get it .
Unbelievable . I was forced to hop around for the following 20 minutes till the hospitalero opened the hostel and had one desperate pilgrim charging through the beaded curtains for the WC sign !
So, got on the bus and have to admire the drivers who engineer these huge busses through tiny streets with buildings leaning and corners tight. Twice we had to reverse to get the correct angle !
No wonder the busses are always late !
He dropped me at the edge of the village and told me the monastery was a further twenty minute walk ! Then as I got there it closed for siesta ! Then I discovered that the rural hotel I was staying at ( no pilgrim hostels here ! ) was a further 2km walk out the other side of the village. Arrived and rang the bell at reception – no one came ! An hour I waited – no human in sight ! Eventually I found their phone number and the man came within five minutes .
My room is delightful overlooking the beautiful valley and in the distance , mountains with snow on them still ! And wait – luxury of luxuries – I have a BATH
Walked back into the village to do the tour of the two monasteries – everything in Spanish . Not a word of English ! The entrance ticket was half price for pilgrims but I had left my backpack at the hotel with my pilgrims passport – needed as proof / so I offered to show her my feet – and she quickly gave me the discounted ticket
Very interesting monasteries one dating from 500AD. I was fascinated by the unusual organ in the second one and also the MASSIVE hand written and decorated manuscripts of Gregorian Chant – written with wine and herbs onto calf skin and still beautiful 1500 years later. Each book weighs 60kg ! Twenty five of them if only Gregorian Chant. The poor monks having to learn all that !
Dinner was chips ( again ) and two eggs . The very sweet restaurant owner then offered to drive me back to the hotel as it was raining . I don’t know how she knew where I was staying as she doesn’t speak English but it is s small village and I guess they know everything . Sooo thoughtful and kind. I was extremely grateful.
Missing my George and my Camino family but really enjoyed today .
Day 11 Logrono to Ventosa
Walked 18.4km No rain today!
It threatened most of the day – everyone walked with rain gear as it looked imminent , but mercifully nothing. This area is La Rioja – the wine growing province with delectable red clay which clings to your shoes like a leech.
Logrono marked the boundary between the Navarre province – a Basque area and La Rioja.
Woke to the sound of the storks on the church steeple – they make a click clack sound. And the man in the room next door snoring ! Yes through the walls !
So I packed and left before sunrise as it is lovely and fresh to start early.
Took about half an hour to reach the end of Logrono -and enter the vineyards. Saw so many struggling pilgrims today – hips , knees , feet. One lady I met said she was recuperating in Logrono for four days ! I wish I had two months to do this as my body feels weary.
Stopped for a coffee overlooking the lake with swans – more wildlife – a couple of brown squirrels too
Passed some pottery factories owing to the fabulous clay in the area .
The next town roughly 9km away was Navarette – not a prosperous town but with a massive ornate cathedral. I had my earphones in playing hymns and as I walked in the door of the church the song was came up was :
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Have you trials and temptations
Is there trouble everywhere
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Are you weak and heavy laden
Cumbered with a load of care
Jesus only is our refuge
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Well , that had me on the floor on my knees weeping. I just could not help myself . It all came gushing out in that beautiful tranquil church.
I realized that carrying a physical burden in the form of my backpack slows me down on my way and is heavy and hard and makes my shoulders sore , but the burdens of life that weigh me down are equally heavy along the journey of life. And I am so guilty of taking them to the Lord in prayer and then taking them back again and again. Did I walk all this way to be so graphically reminded of this simple truth ?
I lit a candle for Miranda Hillman and prayed for her.
Keep bumping into Jack – the chap I told you about whose girlfriend had committed suicide and who was completely estranged from his parents. The one whose USA friends had filled up a paypal account for needy pilgrims. Day before yesterday , he was drunk . He almost fell into me with joy at seeing me and started loudly showering me with praise and saying how lucky he was to be doing the Camino with me . Asking random pilgrims if they knew me and telling how awesome I am. It was awful – I have no experience in dealing with drunk people at all . I just know this poor man is such a lost soul and he is trying to make sense of his life through alcohol. Told me a won 100 dollars at the hotel gambling machine . I have enormous pity and empathy for him because he is searching for meaning in his life and it is right in front of his eyes .
Yesterday when he was sober , he said he had physically prepared for this walk by training with his pack on , but nothing had prepared him for how kind and nice people are . It blows his mind !
Well he is staying at the same hostel again and again tonight he is sozzled and saying the same things . He needs help . I have tried to talk to him , so all I can do now is be loving and kind.
Found a delightful little hostel with a tranquil garden , trickling fountain and lots of cheerful flowers. Hit my bed at 2pm and woke after five.
My grumbling tummy woke me !
Went to find food and had a plate of olives and a vegetable paella. After paying , the owner brought me a magnum ice cream as a gift . These people are too precious.
The two ladies my age from Australia who shared my hut in the storm arrived and we sat and chatted for another hour and a half- lots of laughter as they have the same sense of humour. We walked up the hill to see the views from the church . It is still light at 9.30pm
There are no farm houses as such. The farmers all live in the little villages and each village is perched on a hill with a grand church at the top . There are also no laborers in the fields – so odd.
Georgie is in Zubiri – he has done in two days what I did in three , so he has gained a day on me. He is also tired with sore foot. Waded in the river for a while and that helped him . At least we both have Spanish sims now and talk a few times during the day.
Anyway , time to sleep….. again
Day 10: Viana to Logrono
I am ashamed to say that it took me two hours of negotiation between my head and my feet this morning to get me out of the cosy cafe and into the spitting rain and mud . I felt like a stubborn mule – refusing to move . I didn’t want to get rained on again and the predictions for today is more rain and lots of it
Anyway , after some in -depth persuasion , my head won and I stepped out onto the Way.
Speaking of my head – it is still very tender where I bashed it and visibly swollen over quite a large area. I am surprised I never had a headache from that bash- perhaps my standard two teacher was correct after all in telling me my head was full of cotton wool !
My friend Elsabe had some wise words to say about the fact that we set ourselves daily goals and when we don’t achieve them , we are disappointed with ourselves and we beat ourselves up , and as was the case with me – then try too hard to catch up . I only did 7.5 the day before and so I didn’t listen to common sense but chose to push too hard to do 32km the next day ( it was 32 not 31 – I calculated again – just saying ). This is not smart .
My thoughts today have continually been with George who started his Camino today – the most difficult section over the Pyrenees ….. in the rain ! And he is doing in one day what I did in two days .
From grim experience I can tell you categorically that the Rain in Spain does Not stay mainly on the plain !
Georgie had some troubles yesterday on arrival in St Jean ( without his efficient organized secretary – me ! ). He had thrown away papers which told him where he had booked and paid to stay . He could not remember and walked all over getting lost in the rain. Got soaked through . Was very dejected when I spoke to him last night .
So , back to me – I overdid things yesterday and today I am paying the price . Sore feet and knee and shoulders . Way too much strain on the body. I hobbled to the next town which is a big city called Logrono only 11.2 km away and decided to rest . Saw many motivational signs in the form of graffiti on the underpasses and then on the outskirts of the city , I went past a delightful old Spanish lady with an open friendly face sitting with her dog outside her small cottage – see photo. Pots of blooming geraniums everywhere. She puts a stamp in your pilgrim passport from her little kitchen table in her cottage. No English , but her demeanor and facial impressions showed warmth, kindness and that she was impressed I was South African .
I left her feeling tangibly buoyed up by her warmth and a few tears welled up . I felt so much gratitude for being here – despite the pain .
The Camino enters town past the cemetery and then right past the door of the crematorium. The incinerators were on full throttle – you could hear them firing , and the smell of burning humans hung heavily in the air. I am very familiar with what burning bodies smell like as I have been at the cremation ghats in Varanasi India. Once again an exceedingly graphic reminder that this body is merely a vehicle intended for temporary use while we live our seventy years in earth. They do wear out and run into mechanical problems , but in eternity we will have imperishable incorruptible bodies which won’t break down or perish. A reminder that we are ashes and dust and that it is our spirit that will live on .
Logrono has a pilgrim office just to help pilgrims and it is situated right next to the route . When you enter – they offer you vitamin C sweets and are extremely warm and kind. One starts to feel precious and valued . The Spanish take this pilgrimage very seriously and total strangers wish you Buen Camino all the time.
I found a pension – a room all to myself – so much luxury . And it has a little balcony overlooking the main cathedral with storks nesting on the roof – see photo. I can hear the bells . Too lovely. I immediately stripped and handed all my clothes to the proprietress to launder for me. There were two days of wet things in plastic bags . I dived into the bed and slept for two hours . Later I got fresh smelling bone dry laundry back which is such a luxury . Hand washing in cold water just doesn’t seem to really clean stuff .
Talked to my man and he loved today despite a lot of mist and mud and some rain. He took 7 hours from St Jean to Roncesvalles. He is a happy and tired pilgrim- my Superman hero
There are thunderstorms forecast for tomorrow AGAIN – I wish it would get finished now .
Day 9: Azqueta to Viana
Took me 11.5 hours ! Today was epic !
But first things first – last night’s pilgrims dinner was fabulous – squash soup , croutons , baguettes, caprese salad , Spanish potato tortilla, lettuce , garlic mushrooms , endless wine and then the most delicious little pot of homemade lemony yoghurt pudding . I offered to wash the dishes for an extra one but the host Peter did not bite ! Small group of us – so we had quality conversation. The couple facing the photo met last year on the Camino – he lives in Canada and she in Holland . They were the very first pilgrims I met – I met them in Paris station boarding the TGV.
We all had to say what we are grateful for – it was special. Slept well despite the one Frenchman snoring , coughing sneezing – he was sick – generously spreading his germs around.
Up early , had a hearty muesli yoghurt banana breakfast and a cereal bowl of coffee . Left at 6.30 just before sunrise. The raw oats proved to be excellent fuel as I was mightily powered and made excellent progress all morning covering roughly 20km by 12. The cloud cover made it cool and I was sailing along at a cracking pace.
Passed an ancient pilgrim bath , an abandoned Knights Templar castle way up on the spitskop ( too far to walk to take a peek ) , and even saw some wildlife – a rabbit , a lizard and a dead mole. Much birdsong and yet another cuckoo.
Endless wild flowers – have to stop myself from continually taking photos – they are too exquisite.
I had thought about who maintains these pilgrim routes as I had seen an old man high up on the path with his gloves and secateurs pruning away the brambles- then I happened upon some chaps weed eating the path – chopping down the wild flowers . The silent heroes of the Camino path
I found some wooden benches nestled in a field of wild flowers and lay there in the sun staring up at the clouds gathering and rolling in .
It made me think of Job who lost everything – his family, his health, his wealth , his friends , his respect , his dignity- and he complained so much to God saying he was a good man and why did he deserve to lose everything . And I just love God’s answer – he asks Job “ have you ever travelled to where the snow is made , or visited the arsenal where hail is stored ? Can you find your way to where the lightning is launched or to the place from which the wind blows ? Etc “ . In others words …..
I decided to stop day dreaming and get going as it started to look possible that it may rain later on and I still had pretty far to go .
Arrived at the charming little medieval pilgrim town where I had planned on sleeping and went to the only little general supply shop. The old man said he will make me a sandwich. He did so next to the cash register , with spare change, scissors and general cash desk debris lying there. He did some sales handling money with his grubby hands and then to crown it all l, he proceeded to lick his fingers between each slice of cheese he put on my roll, but I was so hungry I ate it anyway ! With a packet of local green olives .
Rested my feet and as it was still so early – I decided to press on to the next town …… which was 10.2km away !
It was crazy to walk so far but I really felt I could do it and I had lost time the day before – so I headed out of town.
Big mistake .
Four kilometers out of town, the thunder and lightning started . This section comprised a few bad kilometers called the Knee Cracker section – steep steep up and downs . I did not want to be stuck with slippery steep muddy slopes so I almost trotted to get through the worst of the slopes. I quickly got all my rain gear out and within fifteen minutes the heaven opened – AGAIN – on me !
There was a small corbelled stone hut close by which I had to get on my hands and knees to crawl into . I sat there watching the storm . Fairly soon , two girls who had spent last night at the same place came past and asked if they could join me .
All was fine for half an hour until the force of the storm caused the hut to start leaking . They sat with their umbrellas up inside and I just got wetter and wetter from underneath.
Everything was muddy from having to crawl back out.
Then I cracked my skull on the stones trying to get out – almost passed out from the blow. Blood flowed and I now have an egg on my right forehead . I am sure it will bruise . Pretty darn sore .
Anyway , eventually the inside of the hut became as wet as outside , so we had to abandon our shelter and head out. Six more kilometers in the rain which did not stop . The paths were rivers . Our shoes got soaked . Luckily my new rain gear kept my torso dry.
All three of us were totally exhausted by the time we got to the village . I had carried my pack for about nine hours out of my 11.5 hour day ! Everything was sore and screamed at me .
The alberque we found is not great at all – I think we got the last three beds as a couple who arrived behind us slept on the floor under the stairwell . It is pretty dirty and the dorm is all tiled – feels like an ex kitchen. But the shower was boiling hot and I have never been so grateful for a hot shower in my life .
George is in St Jean ready to start his Camino tomorrow. It was so good talking to him .
Now for bed – ahhhh
Day 8: Estella to Azqueta
To my horror I discovered that my very expensive rain gear is not waterproof AT ALL .
Left Estella this morning in constant drizzle – fully expecting my rain jacket and poncho to protect me . This was not the torrential downpour driving rain which I had experienced two days ago , so I had forgiven the gear for failing me due to the severity of the cloud burst on that occasion . However …… today was soft drizzle and yet again I was drenched to the bone ! No no no no ! I had invested a lot of money in rain gear fully anticipating rain.
The poncho was expensive some years ago when I bought it but it seems it has perished with time . Yes – when I held it up to the light , there are definite streaks of porous areas – who would have thought that it could perish?
And worse than this – the brand new Cape Union Mart KWay brand FULLY waterproof jacket is utter RUBBISH . It was as wet on the inside as on the outside . I am spitting mad. Have written them a not too friendly email and will expect a full refund . What a breach of trust.
And so , my day is abruptly cut short again by rain . Found a quaint alberque in the first village I came to – Azqueta – called the black pearl . La Perla Negra. Delightful little place run by the owners – my first night in a normal bed – no bunks ! The rooms are up in the loft with huge wooden rustic rafters. Sharing with two French men who have been walking from way back in France for a month already ! Respect ! My plan was to catch a bus back to Estella to buy proper rain gear. But the next bus was only in four hours time ! The kind hostess offered me a lift back to Estella at midday when she went to visit her mother . and I will return to the village by bus . A whole day effectively wasted . Feeling hugely frustrated as I had prepared so well .
In the meantime , the host and hostess locked the alberque so that they could clean up and have a bit of a break – so I had to pass the time in the local cafe.
There was one lady in the cafe doing absolutely everything from cooking to cleaning to serving etc etc – phew she works hard. Don’t know how she copes . Pilgrims poured in out of the rain for a warm drink or hot breakfast and the tables were laden with dirty crockery and debris. She was drowning . I started helping her clean up the tables , stack dirty crockery and wash tables , rearrange chairs , etc. she was surprised and grateful – and for me – a bit of a lesson in servanthood.
Apparently the people come thick and fast all over a short period of time and then no one for hours . So there is not enough continual business and income to hire help .
By the way , en route here , the path passes a winery who have a wine fountain – free red wine on tap for pilgrims . It is such a lovely gesture – good marketing tool too ! See photos .
A pilgrim from Kentucky named Jack came into the cafe and offered to give me his rain gear ! When I refused , he wanted to buy me breakfast . Said his friends in the USA had formed a paypal account for him to use to help pilgrims – precious ! I did not feel needy enough to deserve charity . He said he would just buy beer with it ! I urged him to look for pilgrims who really were needy and gave him some examples I had read of people who had saved for years to do the pilgrimage – one lady doing it on 7 euros a day by working for her bed and meals . He was astounded that there could be such people – it never ever occurred to him. He said it had opened his eyes !
He then went on to share very deeply about his loss of his first love who committed suicide and since then he had become a man-whore ( his words ). His father was a reverend and yet he was totally estranged from both parents – did not even know where they lived. He became very emotional , tears welling up in his eyes and him trying to choke them back . I had a chance to encourage him to get back to God ( as he said he had tried religion but it didn’t work for him ) . But clearly what he was trying since then was not working either !
Had further opportunity to encourage two others who needed it and so I now understand why God delayed me today . I had asked Him to use me on this trip and four people needed something from me today .
So , I bought some new rain gear – not the brands or quality I was after but those are likely to be found in cities only . Let’s hold thumbs
Not many pics from today sadly
But what I really do want to say is a huge THANK YOU for all the prayers and encouragement – I don’t feel alone in this.
But please hear my heart when I say this – I don’t want applause . Encouragement and motivating yes please – but not praise . This is a character building time for me and while I do appreciate all the admiration and the kindness with which it is given – it is not good for building humility. I think you know what I mean . I am not sharing this journey to impress and earn kudos . My motivation is to share my photos ( which I love taking ) and my thoughts and insights and hopefully inspire introspection or revelation and maybe even inspire others to do this walk . I enjoy your enjoyment of the journey simple as that .
Day 7: Puente la Reine to Estella
Last night’s acapella choir in the old stone church was phenomenal . It was free and was prepared with pilgrims in mind – so the thirty person choir spread themselves in a large circle around the pews to embrace the audience . The songs were all ancient pilgrim pieces and then guess what ? They sang Nkosi Sikelele Africa – God Bless Africa. I was deeply moved and felt a pang of homesickness .
It was worth the rain storm which delayed my onward journey to attend that concert.
Turns out all the pilgrims walking from Pamplona also got caught in the thunderstorm and arrived drenched. There were shoes drying everywhere – even down the pavement on the street . There were fights over the tumble drier and the wash lines were filled to capacity .
Today was a glorious day – cool and overcast for the first few hours and then the sun blazed down , sapping energy .
The paths are strewn with wild flowers and fields of red poppies abound. Wild fennel too. There are some intensely fragrant flowers – honeysuckle and orange flowers but I can’t identify the others.
On a few occasions , I heard a cuckoo – the kind that lives in Swiss clocks . Exactly that call ! So strange.
In an old olive grove was a couple who had a table of goodies out and fresh pineapple and watermelon. It was free offering – donation only. See photo . Plus they had made these relaxing little spaces under the olive trees just for pilgrims to sit and rest – no charge.
Such is the Camino – it is another world of trust , giving and openness . People share freely – last night while I was sitting charging my phone , a complete total stranger just brought me a cup of coffee! People make themselves vulnerable too , as there is no threat – no judging . You will never see them again so they talk openly and freely. It is therapeutic in that way.
Stopped mid morning at an old water mill for a Spanish potato tortilla , a coffee and a freshly squeezed orange juice . Delicious ( despite the man’s filthy finger nails!)
Met a man from California who had lost his wife and only daughter. They had broken down next to the highway in their VW and had the bonnet open to see if they could notice anything when an 18 wheeler truck driver who was texting from his phone ploughed into them and killed them instantly . Too tragic for words .
The route today passed through four small villages – each one charming with their own characters . You don’t pass someone without greeting Hola or buenos dias. Locals wish you a good pilgrimage . Pilgrims walking all greet each other with the words Buen Camino .
Also passed some original Roman stone roads and bridges . At the penultimate one I had run out of water and it was extremely hot with little shade for about seven kilometers . On entering the village there was a grassy area with trees and a water fountain. Filled up greedily with cool water and then lay on the grass to air my feet. Along came two South African ladies – from George and Bonnievale ! It was good to speak Afrikaans again. They are only doing part of the route due to leave constraints.
Estella is a gorgeous town with old stone churches on all the hills . A huge rushing river too . My hostel cost six euros and my dorm has sixteen people . Last night I was blessed to have a dorm of seven women and not one snorer !
Did my washing and no sooner was the stuff on the line , down came a rain shower which had been scheduled for three hours earlier !
Two euros for the tumble drier again !
Went to find a supermarket to buy food and the very sweet hospitalero offered me an umbrella . Bought her a slab of chocolate to say thank you . The hospitalero are usually volunteers .
Bought salad , crackers ,tomatoes, bananas and yoghurt. This alberque has a nice kitchen , so made my salad and sat in the garden to eat.
Being Sunday today everything looks firmly shut.
George ‘s flight to Madrid leaves tonight at six and he will start his Camino on Wednesday. I cannot wait to have him closer to me and to see the gap between us diminish daily .
Day 6: Uterga to Puente le Reine via Eunate
This morning was no picnic . Set out in fine drizzle , but feeling upbeat and good …..and missed the pilgrim signs . Wondered why no one was walking . Suddenly noticed the silhouettes of some pilgrims up on the ridge . Tried to cut through a vineyard to get back on the path but the rain had made the muddy slope impassable and I almost fell . Decided to keep going on the road to the next town.
There is a 3.1km detour to a special twelfth century church in the middle of nowhere called Eunate – meaning 100 gates.
I really wanted to see it but the signage was confusing and I didn’t want any more wrong turns. Tried to find a human in the village to ask but there was no one to be seen – surreal actually . Rang the doorbell of a house with a tile of Jesus over the door – no answer . Even the church was locked . I was starting to get desperate when I spotted a legible sign and headed out into the wheat fields . There was no one in sight in every direction – just wheat , oats and asparagus fields.
After half an hour of seeing absolutely no one , a small panel van came along very slowly with a man at the wheel . He passed me a bit too slowly and then pulled in at an abandoned farmhouse and just sat there in his vehicle .
All of a sudden I felt extremely vulnerable . Lone man in a panel van , abandoned house , no one in sight for miles . All my money on me .
My African instincts kicked into red alert and I began to pray and pick up pace . Passed him subduing my desire to run. Walked as fast as I could with a backpack on and kept looking back to make sure he was not following me. About a kilometer further I hit the tarred road . Relief at the higher visibility afforded by a busier road ! It is amazing how long it feels to walk a kilometer under such circumstances .
Eunate Church , built in 1170 was unusual , beautiful and serene sitting all alone in the fields. It is uncertain what it was built to be , as the architecture is very unusual for a church. Some theories ( due to the scallop shells and bones discovered in the crypts ) are that it was a pilgrim hospital and cemetery . Some say it was a funeral chapel for pilgrims and others say it was built by the Knights Templar who traditionally patrolled the Camino as a kind of protective force to keep pilgrims safe in medieval times .
There was a camper van waiting in the parking area and I knocked on their door to ask for boiling water. Made some Nomu hot chocolate while waiting for the church to open . Yum !
A huge dramatic thunderstorm was brewing and there was absolutely no shelter to be had . So I decided not to wait the hour till opening but to try to get to the next town before the storm broke .
Dark clouds with thunder and lightning all around me . About 2 km from the town , an enormous cloud burst right on top of me . Driving downpour and wind. Had all my rain protective gear on and still I got drenched to the skin. Wet underwear , wet squelchy shoes – downright completely soaked
If you had dipped me into a farm dam – you would have had the same result – drenched through .
The paths fast became muddy rivers and I trudged and sludged along able to see only about two meters ahead of me . Could not even take a photo to prove the ordeal !
Those two kilometers to the next town took forever and ever !
Arrived in Puente Le Reine village and headed for the church alberque only to be told that the doors only open in two hours time ! Turned away in my time of need .
Headed for a private alberque down the road only to have that door closed in my face – the unfriendly lady saying – “ no alberque “ – when the sign on the very door she was closing clearly said “ alberque “.
I contemplated the hotel as the next option but common sense prevailed as the price of five euros in two hours time versus 60 euros immediately was weighed up.
I felt such a sense of rejection at a time when I really needed pity and help and this experience will certainly make me more sensitive to people’s needs in future . I was longing for a Good Samaritan .
Sat on the stone steps of the alberque cold , wet , dejected . Was so tempted to cry as that seemed to be the obvious thing to do under the circumstances , but pulled my wet self together and went and found a warm comforting little bakery .
Had a coffee and a cheese baguette and dripped water all over the floor and chair as I drowned my sorrows in caffeine and food . Waited till the alberque opened its doors and was the first one in. Five euros !
Had a tepid shower to warm up ( sic) and at least got out of the wet clothes and shoes . The kind hospitalero gave me a sympathetic smile and handed me some newspapers to stuff into my shoes to dry them out . Everything wet apart from me , got tossed into the coin operated tumble drier .
I regrouped and started to cheer up- beating myself up for being such a wimp . It is only water after all .
The sun came out mid afternoon and I explored the village and bought some picnic provisions for tomorrow.
The little town has a splendid medieval bridge – hence the name of the town. Also two beautiful churches. One hugely ornate and one exceedingly simple with a black Jesus. I prefer the simple one and plan to go to a choir recital there this evening.
Sat in the church gardens eating some local asparagus and a magnum ice cream , and was thrilled to catch my first glimpse of European Storks – three pairs building nests on the church steeple . They have just flown in from Southern Africa -all that way for them and I quickly gripe and groan about mere kilometers !
There are plenty of storks in our area all summer. I wonder where exactly these pairs live when they migrate ? Maybe even Swellendam
I have not walked enough kilometers today and my Camino family ( people I have met in the past week and repeatedly bumped into as we were in sync with days and distances ) have now all gone on ahead and it feels a bit sad and lonely not knowing anyone and possibly not meeting up with any of them again .
Saw one Spanish lady I sat next to at dinner in Orrison five days ago who speaks no English and I don’t even know her name . We shared smiles and thumbs up during the past few days . She ends her Camino here today and was quite emotional . Hugged and kissed me and wanted a photo of wet bedraggled me to remember !
Have greeted a few other pilgrims but it is not the same .
Weather predictions are really dodgy for the next week – so I pray I will grow from this experience and cope better next time
Day 5: Pamplona to Uterga
Walked 7.5 hours
EAT PRAY WALK – an apt title for this journey.
It was raining last night in Pamplona and this morning when I left. So I sadly did not see the Bull Ring. Was mildly curious to know if I would be able to sense the suffering of the animals there the way you can tangibly feel the human suffering in Bergen Belsen and Auschwitz. Odd I know.
Stayed in the fortified old walled section of the citadel . Pamplona is a charming city.
Headed straight for the main square to the famous ice cream shop for a double scoop of their bestsellers Nougat and Straciatelle. I had earned it !
Visited the impressive Cathedral and then rain delayed play ! Too tired to find supper – I went to bed with only ice cream in my tummy
The alberque was fine – modern neat and clean and the beds had little curtains like you get on the trains. So a bit of privacy which was nice .
The routine is that you arrive exhausted and then shower and wash your clothes . Hopefully there is a bottom bunk and hot water – that is a bit like hitting jackpot twice !
Then rest a bit with feet up to drain the lymphs and then you read or write diary or explore .
Due to the rain , had to pay the hostess five euro for a fifty minute whirl of the tumble drier to get my clothes dry .
Decided to start later than normal but as there was no sign of the rain abating , I geared up with pack cover and rain jacket and headed out.
Found an open bakery and bought a still warm Chelsea bun . Heaven !
Took me forty minutes to walk through town to the bridge where pilgrims traditionally exited the town. It has a stone cross as a pilgrim blessing ( same as when you enter the town on the opposite side )
I loved today .
Despite the soft rain and mist it was cool and fresh . Made me realise just how energy sapping the heat is.
The path was a steep ascent out of Pamplona to the top of the Mountain of Pardon ( Forgiveness ) – something we all need every day – and once past the urban edge , it went through lush wheat fields with patches of canola and the odd sprinkling of red poppies .
I decided to play my music today – I had made a Camino playlist of favourite hymns , praise and worship songs and classics. My spirit soared as I walked – I was deeply lost in worship , so much so that the rain just did not feature – I barely noticed the steep incline too as my feet fell into the rhythm of the music.
Stopped for a coffee at a tiny hamlet – this time a friendly old man who had a giggle at my Spanish giving me a Grande coffee.
Then before the steepest section at another small village called Zariquiegui- had an exceptionally delicious thick hot vegetable soup and a banana. My lack of dinner was starting to show in a drop in energy level as my resources waned .
This tiny village has a quaint little church which was featured in the Martin Sheen movie The Way .
Met up with the Irish folks again – they are super fun . See photo of the four of them .
The summit of the mountain has wind generators all along the ridge which were visible from about noon yesterday ( 25km away ) and I kept thinking – oh my , I have to go all the way there ! This point marked roughly 100km done on The Way !
There is also an interesting pilgrim sculpture on the mountain entitled “Where the route of the wind crosses that of the stars “ .
The descent down the other side was brutal – loose large stones on a long steep incline just threatening to twist your ankle ! I attach a photo just for the record.
At the first village called Uterga – I decided to call it a day .
Super little home stay – 22 beds only , little garden with hammocks , a tiny private chapel and charming host young Christopher who presented me with ice cold water – so good it could have been the R15000 Bollinger I saw in Paris , and a saucer of peanuts ( yeah protein ! ) on my arrival , urging me to sit down and rest and then proceeded to carry my pack for me to my bed.
20 euros for bed , a dinner of salad , chips , rice vegetables and creme caramel , and a breakfast of coffee , juice cereal and toast with honey – all offered with a lot of love and care. It would seem to be a calling that these locals have to minister to the needs of weary pilgrims at minimal profit.
Very rural peaceful setting – there are only nine other pilgrims staying here , so it will be a quiet night without the chorus of snorers .
Feet are up in the hammock as I write this watching my laundry dry on the line !
Day 4: Zubiri to Pamplona
Eight hours 45 minutes
The day started off well – woke at five after sleeping well in a dorm of eight people – Swedes, Danes, Taiwanese and Italians with a lovely well behaved dog ! ( freezing cold shower as the geyser was broken) but the sweet hostess Maria felt so bad she bought everyone chocolate croissants to say sorry. Had a blister on baby toe , but I got some sheeps wool off the barbed wire fence and applied it was a lanolin pad as I have no proper plasters . The expensive imported German ones the chemist ordered for me are useless – don’t stick . Think it is old stock – expired !
Left pre sunrise for Pamplona – to walk the path alone when all the birds are out singing and the fragrances hang fresh on the air .
Five kilometers along I entered a little village to find a coffee – NOTHING ! Everyone still sleeping.
The entrance to the village is over the Arga river and a lovely medieval stone bridge called the Bridge of Bandits ! Medieval pilgrims would regularly get hijacked on their journey – particularly at bridges . We are so blessed today to walk alone in complete safety.
So , disappointed at no coffee , I trudged a further 6km and a very dangerous slippery section , before finding a charming little riverside cafe with pilgrims basking in the early morning sun over coffee and breakfast . Friendly chickens and a lovely Siamese cat made me miss my Molly .
Sat with four Irish – a priest who had been Parish father in Kenya with the Masai Mara for 17 years , two lady doctors ( who later helped me doctor my blisters ) and a very likeable gent called Noel who has worked wherever there is war ! Great sense of humor the Irish have- when you can understand their accents !
I saw a snail crossing the road and reflected on the fast crazy pace of my life . Zip here , flit there, push , drive , achieve , be busy . Now everything is dialed back to the extreme opposite – the simple pace of my natural stride . I take a whole fifteen minutes to pass a village and not thirty seconds in my car ! It is quite an adjustment I must say . Patience is not my strength – I like things to happen and to happen fast . My staff mock me about this very thing . Everything must happen yesterday . So this is a whole new experience for me.
Started getting hot spots on my left foot – could swear my feet have shrunk – worn down a little over the past kilometers – as suddenly it felt as though there was movement in my shoe. Sat down next to the path to rip off my socks and air my hot feet , do foot inspection , and had at least six people stop to offer plasters and help !
Further along the route I came upon a lovely stone tranquil little church where I sat in the cool dark interior for a while to pray .
Next up was a large city called Arre where I stopped to buy plasters – R267 ! Sooo many pharmacies here – must be a roaring trade !
I am ashamed to say that I had a bit of a meltdown in Arre , started crying for no rhyme or reason . Just felt exhausted and depleted and overwhelmed . Had a pity party – feeling sore everywhere and it is just so hard ! More difficult than I expected .
I am fine with 12-15km but then the last 7 or 8 kilometers with the backpack just never seem to end and it was all too much for me. Sat on a bench and had a good cry.
Decided to eat my crackers and cheese to cheer myself up and phoned George for some moral support.
Then came a Camino Moment. After feeling so sorry for myself , within fifteen minutes , I saw a lady with a walker and a nurse aide , two different men on crutches struggling to walk , one man in a wheel chair , and one with leg guards waddling awkwardly along.
I felt suddenly so deeply humbled and ashamed at my silliness and my stupid groanings. At least I can WALK ! And what a blessing that is.
The last 4.8km to Pamplona went pretty fast as I was chatting to a fellow pilgrim from Oz. He was hugely overweight and really struggling – told me about his divorce and estrangement from his daughter. And before I knew it – there was the famous Pilgrims Bridge with stone crosses at both ends to bless the pilgrims as they came and went. Millions of pilgrims have walked these paths and it is special to be one of them entering the citadel through the gate of French pilgrims .
Clothes are washed , hot shower done , feet rested – now time to explore Pamplona .
Day 3: Roncesvalles to Zubiri
Roncesvalles is the official start of the Spanish Camino so the number of pilgrims swell with many Spanish peregrinos joining at this point. This Catholic collegiate has a church and many beds – run by volunteers from the Netherlands.
There was a special pilgrim’s mass to bless all peregrinos. Beautiful church modeled on Notre Dame in Paris. Service all in Spanish with Latin singing , and there were 25 nationalities present. Afterwards the very sweet priest showed us the cloisters and crypt and told us the very interesting history .
Dinner was so so – soup , chips and ratatouille and a yoghurt .
I slept well . There are about 100 beds on our floor alone but very clean , well run and neat .
One of the Dutch volunteers walked up and down the aisles at six singing hymns to wake everyone up ! I had been up since five thirty anyway getting ready to go. Left without breakfast – so beautiful to see the sunrise and have the route to myself.
Walked through the witches’ forest where nine witches were burnt at the stake .
Then some tiny hamlets and more forests.
The first village peeping out of the forest in a little valley promised a much needed coffee. I ordered in my best Spanish – “ Por favor uno cafe con leche gracias “ I proudly pronounced . The cafe owner was so rude to me – completely burst my bubble . Told me to hurry up – he had things to do in the kitchen
Almost spoilt my day !
After a lousy coffee from a grumpy old man , I proceeded to miss the signs for the turnoff and walked about a kilometer out of town before a kind Spanish man stopped and waved his finger at me shaking his head saying non non . Gesticulating flamboyantly and pointing back the way I had come . He saved me a lot of extra steps ! An angel in a red car !
Then the cloud formation overhead gathered and formed a perfect Camino scallop shell pointing exactly West – the direction of Santiago . See photo .
I had Psalm 23 on my lips today – His promises are so true . Yesterday I almost had a bad fall on a slippery steep section and then twisted my ankle painfully at the monastery on a step . But miraculously no pain or actual injuries ! I know that I do not walk alone .
Been reflecting on how I hate to fail and how competitive I really am . Not very Christlike traits – this character needs work
Walked for eight hours today . I am so stiff and sore that , after throwing my pack down and collapsing on my bed for half an hour I can now barely move without crying out in pain ! Shoulders especially !
Anyone coming near me is enveloped in a haze of Deep Heat . Longing for that massage from Anne ! Cost 25 euro for 30 mins here – just not in the budget when a bed for the entire night costs only 10 euro !
Day 2: Orisson to Roncesvalles
What a tough two days . The scenery is breathtaking . Left early skipping breakfast as I wanted to walk alone. Yesterday’s uphill was only half of the full incline to get over the mountains into Spain. Today took me 6.5 hours – mostly uphill with 4km of flat and 4km of very very steep downhill – tough on the knees . Everything hurts Shoulders knees feet legs . Eina ! But the worst is done so I am told .
Left Orisson to the sound of so many cow and sheep bells – these sheep have enormous amounts of lush green grass to eat unlike their poor South African cousins .
Giant slugs – a distant relative of the cape fur seal all over the route munching wild flowers .
Walked through the most beautiful and largest Beechwood Forest in Europe. The cattle grid is the Spanish French border !
Met an amazing man from Brazil – Walter
He is jogging the entire Camino . Not walking it – running it. He told me his story. Eleven years ago his wife was pregnant and the doctor said his unborn baby had Spina Bifida. Not a religious man , he was forced to ask God for help. He made an oath to God – said that if God would make his child normal, he would do ten Caminos. Needless to say , he did not know much about the Camino other than that it was a spiritual pilgrimage. His child was miraculously healed in the womb and so he had kept his promise to God . This is his tenth and last Camino . He runs with so little – not even bedding – see his tiny backpack. It takes him ten days .
Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Orisson
Distance only 7.8km but seriously steep climb !
This is the steepest climb/ incline on the entire Camino in order to traverse the Pyrenees. I had underestimated just how steep it is , so I am super relieved that I managed it with my backpack.
I attended a Basque Choir concert last night. Forty singers and pipe organ. Enjoyed it. A total stranger sitting next to me who lives in the area gave me her cell number and told me that as I am traveling alone , I must call her if I have any need and she will come to help me ! So precious.
Slept poorly purely due to excitement .Only four of us in the dorm – one Italian and Koreans.
I walked down the ancient cobbled street in the light mist and out of the medieval stone gates and bridge over the river. A statue of Mary was there to watch over the departing pilgrims. The road veered steeply upward and stayed in varied stages of incline for 7.8km.
The sun pushed through the mist to reveal the most exquisite scenery. Lush pastures of long grass , wild flowers , ponies , alpine cows with bells , chickens and rolling green mountains.
Tough climb for me , but the scenery , Adrenalin and peanut M&M”s pushed me up that mountain !
I was blessed to see four Griffin Vultures riding the thermals above and beneath me – what a privilege.
The scripture that came to mind was – they that WAIT upon the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles , shall run and not grow weary , shall walk and not faint.
The sight of Orison – a tiny alberque was a beacon of hope – rest and replenishment. The sign said No WiFi – talk to each other !
A pilgrim came past with his dog , the dog had saddlebags holding his food .
A thunderstorm with hail broke an hour later and the temperature plummeted.
Dinner was a cosy affair with three long tables for the 46 pilgrims overnighting. Everyone had to stand and introduce themselves . There were people from Taiwan, Canada, Las Vegas, Reunion Islands, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Italy , Spain , Korea .
The pilgrims meal was abundant and filling- Lentil soup , bread , tortilla and lettuce and rice pudding with a large glass flask of red wine .
In a room with ten pilgrims – one man very smelly – smelt the same before and after his shower ! Luckily I was next to a window which I kept open all night despite the cold .
Had a bowl of coffee ( literally served in a cereal bowl, skipped breakfast and left half an hour before everyone else for Day 2