Friday, November 20, 2009

Santiago to Fisterra 08-the 'Prequel' to our Camino Frances in 09

I did this 'bit' in 2008 but it makes 'geographic sense' to put it here I think.

Walking from Santiago to Fisterra was a teaser for me as I reckoned if I could do 100km in 3 days I might at least have a chance of attempting the Camino Frances next year in 09, and keeping a promise I made over 30 years ago.
With the exception of Joyce, who walked from Sarria to Santiago last Sept, we are all virgin pilgrims. So by default she has become our 'Camino mammy' and provides great reassurance.

Leaving Santiago for Fisterra 2008 Joyce, Catherine, Mary and Nell- 'pilgrims all'.
1 old hand and 3 newbies

Santiago to Negreira-Day one: So exciting to set off this morning but also scary walking across the square and down to the river-scary and wonderful.  Mary and I were paranoid about missing the markers and we kept on course as a result, the other two, being more experienced and relaxed, chattered away and missed the one of the markers so had to loop back.
Its a great walk out of the city up through groves of eucalyptus, and the view back towards the towers of the Cathedral silhouetted against the morning sun is unforgetable. This is the vista that Irish pilgrims, making their way east from the coast, would have seen of the city and its an impressive one.
There was a lovely little private hostal and bar on the river at Puente de Maceira- it must be new as its not mentioned in Brierley. If we'd known we would have elected to stay there rather than the Hotel Tamara .
On the far side of the bridge huge carved family crests dwarf the houses they decorate-with the result that the buildings look like a very posh gingerbread houses- presumably not the effect they were going for.

Catherine catching the rays day one Puenta de Maceira
Further 'nattering' means that Joyce and Catherine miss another turn off so not only do they miss a wonderful walk through lush river meadows into Negreira, they also end up playing 'pilgrim chicken' (not to be recommended) with articulated lorries on the soaring concrete flyovers into the town. As both were wearing shorts they thought the drivers were sounding their horns in appreciation but soon realised that the gestures and 'beep beeps' really meant 'get off the bloody road before you're killed!".
So Mary and I arrive into hotel Tamara, which is 'deeply seventies', expecting 'the gals' to be there with our drinks ready but there's no sign of them. Neither of us can really believe we've arrived first until, having had a shower and rest, we're sitting in the car park (the Hotel Tamara doesn't mess around with decking or arbours!) having a gin and tonic and we actually witness the two 'hares' late arrival via the main road (I have to admit I take a wee bit of pleasure in this!)
Having 'Day One' down without loss of limb or major accident is something to celebrate so the four of us sit in sun with our feet propped on the chairs we've carried out from the bar, sipping G & T''s and sampling the local crisps/nibblets. One could get used to this.......
Head up town to 'scope out' our departure route for the next morning and to grab a bite. Not everywhere is open and we opt to eat in a little bar. Get a great meal, the fact that a key soccer match is being watched ;very loudly; by the locals in the bar at the 'front of house' somehow adds to the charm. Catherine, a vegetarian, orders salad which comes with a pile of unidentifiable slivers, beige on one side and white on the other, having sampled one she thinks they're mushrooms....I taste one and have my doubts- its awfully meaty in texture but I 'keep stumm'
Walk back to the Tamara and I'm asleep as soon my head touches the pillow

Day two Joyce demonstrating some of her 'moves'
Negreira to Oleviroa-day two.
So much for planning: Mary and I had arranged to leave the Hotel at 6.00am and crept down like mice to the front door only to find it firmly locked. There was no way out of the building and, though we were as cross as a wet cat, neither of us was quite ready to set an alarm off by using the emergency exit (well I was but Mary's good sense prevailed).
We tried calling the hotel on our mobiles to see if some sort of 'night staff' were hidden away in the depths-but the only phone that sounded was in the Marie Celeste like reception area. All dressed up with no where to go! Today's walk was over 30 km so we tortoises had both wanted to a good head start.
The 'Negreira two' were only 'let out' at 7.10- and as it turned out this was a good thing as we were still walking in the dark- Mary leading as she had a head torch on (they are such handy little yokes) Every time she turned to talk to me though I felt as startled as a torched deer.
It's cool,damp and dark with lots of muddy climbs gaining ascent. The two Spanish guys we first met heading up the hill out of Santiago kindly waited for us to make sure we made the right turning for Xas-nice little place with a lovely chapel.
Fairly hard muddy going to A Pena but through wonderful woods (mixture of Eucalyptus and oak) so it doesn't seem a 'slog'. There was a great bar at 'the top' of the town and, in view of the walking distance, we had a good breakfast. Meet up with swiss party so perfectly kitted out we feel more than a little scruffy.I made a mistake and told Mary we only had 13km to go but it was closer to 20km.... mea culpa mea maxima culpa!
Passed by a group of Irish women and when we asked if they had seen Joyce and Catherine the leader said "oh yes they're real walkers" I guess we've been written off and by one of our own to which is hard! Down in Santa Marina we saw that our compatriots had 'gone astray' so they ended up walking behind us, but being good pilgrims said nothing (we were smiling on the inside though-well I was).
Everyone congregated in the bar Casa Victoriano and I was quite surprised when half of the group ended up taking taxis from there to Oleviroa as if that were the norm- maybe it is?
Mary felt pretty tired but wanted to soldier on to Monte Alto. There was a lot of road walking and a 'diverseo' meant even more road -so hard on Mary who has award winning blisters. I feel every stinging step she takes but my goodness she is one tough cookie.
JJ and CM press ahead while we make snails pace....... it may be 13 hours after leaving Negreira but Mary and I arrive into Oleviroa under our own steam.
Joyce and Catherine have the largest gin and tonics I've ever seen waiting for us-I thought they had set them up as a joke-one could bath a small child in the bucket sized glass I'm given-but apparently these are the 'regular' size. Mary made the walk today but at a cost -her feet are so bad that her G & T qualifies as medicinal.
All the pilgrims seem to eat at the little hotel here and there's a great 'pilgrim centered' vibe about the place. Once I showered and ate the thought of the long walk tomorrow is not as scary as I thought it would be, and if Mary needs a break I'm fine with the idea of walking on my own.

Day two A Pena The first coffee break of the day-nothing tops it
Open country en route to Oleviroa day two

Oleviroa to Fisterra-Day three. Mary took a bit of a well earned break today and met us in Fisterra, so for the first time I really walked solo. Settled into my pace and could stop and savour the scenery, which was gorgeous. Outside Olverioa the turquoise and gold water of the stream was so enticing-if the day had been shorter one I would have gone for a dip for sure.
The walk from Olveiroa to Cee is spectacular and, once past Hospital, the walking is truly amazing across high open country on trackway with just a minor road or two to cross. To the south is a range of steep, black serrated mountains very different from the gently rounded tops the Camino itself crosses and it makes me wonder about the geography-I'll have lots of reading up to do back home.
Once beyond Hospital I only saw (and on this high ground you can see far ahead and far behind you) two other pilgrims, the two Spanish teachers. I met them at a beautiful little chapel sunk in a valley and one of them said to me "ah now you're walking your camino".
There was a Marian shrine attached to the chapel with a statue was so worn and weathered it seemed more xoanon than Madonna.
We'd heard these guys singing on the previous two days but always when they were apart never when together, and today I asked them why? They explained that as they walk together a lot they have developed a 'diplomatic' system so when one wants a bit of 'space' he starts to sing - that's a signal for the other to slow down or speed up- giving the singer 'space'- when the singing stops (and these guy had very big voices and a large repertoire of Galician folk songs) that's a sign for them to walk together. Well its worked for them for over 20 years so there must be something in it.
Steep climb out of the valley up and up. Long lone distances -high sun, silence and, far far away, the indistinguishable blue of sea and sky
It was very hot and I had used all my water by the time I passed the 'summer only' Albergue-the guide said there was a fountain off track up by a little chapel of San Pedro de Martir so I went up to fill my bottles. Presuming the chapel would be closed I was surprised to hear noises inside. I pushed the door open a little and the next moment hundreds (well at least 20 or 30) "baaing" lambs streamed out past me-what on earth were they doing in there? and who had put them in the first place? Was this an improvised fold for some local shepherd? Fearing I had just undone his hard work I bolted out of there it as fast as I could- but the lambs seemed happy.
At a marker for Nercia I took my last look back over the high ground before descending into Cee the track was completely deserted-slight thrill of being the 'last pilgrim down'. I don't know whats happened to all the other walkers today perhaps they took the Muxia route? At this point there's a tantalising view of the lighthouse at Fisterra-gosh it seemed a long way off but that view drew me forward.
The final descent into Cee is tricky (a complete bugger actually)- a compacted and steep surface which, even with walking poles and heavy duty knee braces, is punishing. I know my knees will be knackered tomorrow The combination of steep descent, rock hard surface and blisters is something I wouldn't like to repeat.
Find myself sounding like the old ladies at home doing 'the rounds' in bare feet, but in their case every expletive they utter of "Jesus Christ" or "Holy Mother" is turned into the start of a prayer-I'm afraid with me it was just the expletives.
Arriving into Cee I was fairly stunned to see Joyce and Catherine sitting in the sun at a cafe on the square in- just finishing off some tortilla. Couldn't believe I was so close behind them -we reckoned only about 25 minutes in the difference- as they said they had 'legged it' to get in as much time as possible on the coast. It was great to by be the sea at Cee and turn right to head up the coast to Fisterra.
Met up with a rested looking Mary at Fisterra and treated ourselves by staying at a wonderful little hotel just over the road from the beach.
Staggered into the sea decrepit knackered pilgrims and staggered out merely happy pilgrims- I have never experienced such a an immediate therapeutic result in my life-bliss I could walk with a gait that was vaguely humanoid.

V for victory-we made it day three
Put on clean clothes and light shoes/sandals for the walk up to the lighthouse and made it up in good time for the sunset- though the girls say I did swear (under my breath but I was breathing heavily) every step of the way. Fantastic feeling to have made it and I'm really feeling so much more positive about walking from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago next year with Frances. I keep telling myself "that's only what we've done in the last 3 days X 8.... no problem!

Joyce & Nell letting 'those at home' know our news

Sunset at Fisterra May 2008
The rewards of pilgrimage-enjoying the beach at Fisterra day three & four

Mary and I stay on for a few days and enjoying the beach, which is glorious the hotel which is wonderful and walking barefoot which is blissful.
We get a taxi back to Santiago the journey takes an good hour and a half in a fast taxi on a good road. We both look at the landscape we walked through whizzing past calling out "we walked over those hills", "did we pass that village?" etc ;
At the airport I do a bit of window shopping and spot jars of the mysterious beige and white slivers of 'mushroom' that vegetarian Catherine had in her salad in Negreira.... turns out they're elvers-baby eels! I'll bet there's some sort of  formal dispensation for any innocent vegetarians becoming 'inadvertent carnivores' on the Camino? Anyway I'm pretty sure Santiago will forgive, not only Catherine, but all of us for any en route errors (mea culpa!).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Feast or Famine? In Santiago its definitely a Feast

Thats my little lobster

Often on the English version pilgrim menus we would see the in the option 'small cow chop' and 'Big cow chop' I sampled the 'small cow chop' a good few times and they were good but now I was ready to take on the Big Cow Chop option so thats what I ordered. They presented me with a wooden board and well..... a picture paints a thousand words. Of course it was delicious and the others having laughed like hyenas when it first came out suffered severe plate/board envy once they tasted it. But it is a once a quarter sort of order.

'Big Cow Chop'

On post Camino reflection I wouldn't be without my:- Sprayway 'Compact jacket' (cotton effect Gortex easily squashed into pack), Pac Lite over trousers (brilliant light fold into tiny space-don't lose them!), Jack Murphy poncho, 'Trekmates' gloves, Northface Tech jerkin, Spayway 'Whisper 1665' light front zipping fleece, Columbia 'Titanium' Tech walking pants with lots of pockets (great for sello etc), Pull on 'neck tubes' one in tech material for sun and sweat & fleecy one for warmth, Bridgedale 'Trek' socks & Bridgedale Liner socks, Berghaus 'Tech T' teeshirts with throat zip and collar (for sun), Brasher 'Towa GTX' boots (thick spongy soles absorb road shock and protect heals etc),Source 'X strap' sandals (spongy soles, light and waterproof for showers etc), M & S sunhat with soft adjustable chin strap, Elastoplast heavy duty adjustable knee straps (velcro fasteners) & smaller strap knee braces (for after dinner wear!), Compeed sticks/vaseline/vicks vapour rub(all for feet) & Compeed plasters, Black Diamond Sychro walking poles with 'Flicklock' fasteners, Lowe Alpine 'Air Zone Centro' 45+10 pack (ladies version).

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos

" No really I'd like to see your pilgims menu please......"

"you're certain you only have fresh vegtables and absolutely no chips........"

What's she looking at.......


Stephen and Nell

Chris and Frances.....
getting the giggles
and many hours later........

It's sleep Stephen but not as you know it......

Reunions with some "brave companions of the road"

We made it!

Jozefien (1st met walking out of Astorga last seen Villafranca), Anne Matte (1st seen Estella 1st met Villafranca last seen Palas de Rei), Nell and Frances

Anne Matte now

Jozefien now....

Anne Matte, Nell, Frances, Vis and Viana aks the 'Galloping Grannies' (1st met outside Leon last seen Palas de Rei)

Sung Hi (1st seen at Burgette or Zubiri 1st met at Puente La Reina last seen at Rua Dos Concheiros!)
....then (15 minutes ago!)

Mr and Mrs Trolleyman. He started walking last October in Rome and walked all the way (1st seen outside Belorado last met at Ribadiso)
...then .

Kate Rutherford aka Kwik kate (1st met on the road to San Juan de Ortega last seen Castrojerez)



Arco do Pino to Santiago de Compostella

Its the last time I tell the early morning lie "get up Frances its 8 O'clock" This essential devise has served us well for over a month, letting us get the early starts whilst allowing Frances to hang onto the fantasy that she's not a crazy pilgrim getting up at sparrow fart (God knows its little enough of an indulgence).
I share my wicked midnight plans with her and she stuns me be saying she was a whisker away from suggesting we leg it as well but thought that I would 'veto' such heresy! I can't believe it 5 hours ago we were so close to folding.... phew!
Leave do Pino in the dark and its still grey at Lavacolla. Pleasantly surprised by the walk up to Monte del Gozo we had been prepared for a dull trudge but it's a nice walk actually.

We arrive at the monument from which you have the first view of Santiago. Well of course its our usual 'metaphorical view' as its misty, but who cares-I think I can smell tartes baking and pulpo simmering and Frances discerns a shadow in the mist that could be a towered building - & that's good enough for us.
Besides we now have another shot to add to the snow/mist/rainout section of our photos this contains such luminaries as the view towards the Col de Leopolder, the Cruz de Ferro & O'Ceibreiro. Thinking about it we could just use blank A4 sheet for the section but that may be a bit 'Tate Modern'?

Frances breaks out the last piece of Camino chocolate but we don't take the boots off or hang around this time as something seems to be 'reeling us in' and we quicken in response to the pull of that current. Walk for a bit with a retired french couple who have walked from Le Puy-they both look immaculate and it turns out they crossed the Pyrenees a few days ahead of us-but my goodness are they fit.

Pull in for breakfast at the huge 'Alberguearama' that can accomadate hundreds. Its fantastically organised and signed-though pretty its not. The two of us share a dining room the size of a airplane hanger with a small group of lively Spanish school kids. Its the last cafe con leche/Colacao of the road, a poignant but happy moment. I also know I am Camino crazy as I actually really like this place and wish we had taken a lead from Anne Matte and pushed on here yesterday evening. Though we guess she will probably have made an early start we still keep checking out for her.
Leaving the cafeteria we see some pilgrims descending a flight of steep steps leading down to the main plaza and one girl trips and falls down, hurting herself so badly she won't be finishing her Camino today or any day soon! The thought of this is so traumatic that we morph from the nonchalant randonneurs of this morning with their confident stroll into a pair of fearful octogenarians cautiously shuffling along.
There is terrific signage all through the complex but right at the end as you are leaving it to head onto public road again the signage stops.......where are the multilingual interpretive boards now?....just how do we get out of the place? to get lost now would be killing........then Frances spots it just ahead and to our right, daubed low down on a bit of kerbing, A HAND PAINTED YELLOW ARROW! From high tech to no tech in an instant and we laugh out loud-this is either the most emotionally intelligent signage ever or Camino serendipity working its magic once again.

'King David' from the sculptors garden wall on the way out of the complex

To get into the city we have to walk over some sort of fly over and as the pavement is made of slats you can see bits of the road flashing below you What with the traffic below us and the traffic flying along beside us, we got dizzy and disorientated. It sounds pathetic but it was scary and we crawled along as if on the flimsiest of rope bridges-at one point even holding hands. So much for our image of being tough 'camino veterans'.
Walking up through the modern suburb I stop to retie my laces and as I am bent over a young pilgrim on a bike thinking I am about to pass out kindly stops, pats my back and says "Ultreia we are nearly there"- Well bugger that for a bunch of monkeys my last bastion of prejudice- my hatred for cyclists- is snatched from me within an asses roar of the blooming Cathedral and 15 minutes before my Camino ends.
I see a flash of pink and purple ahead and wonder can it be 'Purple girl' (AKA Sung Hi a korean who has been part of our daily 'walking pack' a good few times since I think just beyond Burgette or Zubiri but who we haven't seen since O'Cebrieiro) It is and I am happy to be walking in along side of someone from the early days. We see the first glimpse of the cathedral towers and I'm off like a shot

Sung Hi and Nell catching the first glimpse of the cathedral
On the Azabacheria we pass a mime group of girls and they are not only talking at a rate of knots they are talking so loud-maybe they need to let off steam before being silenced for the length of their performance!

When planning our journey back home we had agreed that we might want to go into the square separately or together on our arrival and had decided that we would do what felt right in the moment. Despite being excited as we approached we all spontaneously slowed up to 'go in' together-it just seemed right.

So happy to be here - as well as the shared outward expressions of relief/satisfaction at our successful Camino I feel a quiet, intense, almost secret joy at having completed my individual journey.

The icing on the cake is that Anne Matte has come on the off chance she would find us and she does! She had stayed in Gozo and arrived in at 8 with the square to herself. She walked us to the pilgrims office and we will meet up again later for a celebratory meal. The word is Jozefien is due in tomorrow but no one has heard of Gudweg, Liz and John, Steve, Emily and Sean, Johannas, Kate or Gunta for a while.

Anne Matte, Nell and Sung Hi

Nell, Anne Matte and Frances 07.05.09

Well here we are having kept our promise. I am so proud of my Compostela I may get a copy of it tatooed on my back!

After picking up our certs I phone Stephen and arrange to 'meet the boys before mass' (now there's a phrase from my youth I didn't expect to use again) Giddy as schoolgirls at the thought of meeting our partners of decades we try and doll ourselves up before they arrive-but there really isn't that much that can be done with soap and water. They arrive and we jump them - gosh stephen smells good and I nearly choke him with a hug of hugs.

Mr Brierley was right (of course) the front group of pews is reserved for pilgrims and, following his instructions, we boldly walk around the blue barrier and get the best seats in the house. Craning my neck to check out who's here and, oddly, its the 13 faces from that first pilgrims meal at Roncevalles that I find myself looking for-I am puzzled as as I've walked with other pilgrims for far longer and know them better than most in that group yet its still those others I seek out first.

The best seats in the house

The singing nun (well one of them)

Happy Pilgrims!
Mass over there's only one thing left to do................

.........give Noamh Seamus a hug and a pogue!