Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Final two days in Finisterre

Crazy winding bus trip to Finisterre, nice lodgings & some time to get ready to reenter the non-Camino world. One beautiful day of sunshine, followed by a delightfully restful day of rain when I sat out on the terrazzo drinking cafe con leche, reading a novel, and then found great Australian massage woman. I wanted to end the travel part of this blog with some photos of Finisterre, a charming fishing village that was once considered the end of the world.

Rocky Atlantic coast

Finisterre village life

Dusk as I wander back from my massage to the beach

Sunset at the edge of the world

And goodbye to the Camino & the life of the pilgrim. What a fabulous experience it all has been. Feels like another Camino may await me in the not to distant future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sept. 21 - Last Day on the Camino

In total I walked 272.1 kms or 169.1 miles!
Well, it's almost exactly 24 hours after I picked up my Compostela after answering a variety of questions including whether I walked the entire time (e.g. Did I take a bus or taxi? Do you want to take a look at my feet?) and what were my reasons for doing the Camino (pilgrim press has it that stating non-spiritual reasons my get one denied the Compostela). I said "meditation" & apparently, I passed. I was also fortunate that I showed up only minutes before the office closed so I only stood in line for about 20 minutes in contrast to the more timely pilgrims who waited up to more than two hours! I did not go into the Catedral as i did not have another two hours to wait in line!

Before I return to the subject of completing the Camino, I want to say that I am staying in a really nice hotel in Finisterre (or Fisterra in Gallego, the language of Galicia) with a FULL SIZE bed (as opposed to the top bunk in a room full of bunk beds!) with apparently unlimited hot water (rather than showers that have to be restarted every 30 seconds by pushing a button & sinks--for washing faces & clothing--with only cold water. And I can turn the lights on whenever I like--all for the amazing price of €35 (about $43) including breakfast. It seems a bit steep after paying €5 to€10/night, but the accommodations are significantly superior.

Back to finishing the Camino. I think all worked out exactly as was best. I really could not have walked another day--in fact would not have walked the final day were it not exactly that. The day before, I started having a lot of pain from a probably strained muscle in the front of my left calf which became very inflamed and swollen. I am now taking prednisone, so the swelling is diminishing, but it's still quite painful. So that was really all I could do. Also, I am glad that I had visited Santiago on the front end of my trip because it felt huge & overwhelming after being in so many small villages and never getting lost (I got lost going home to the too expensive albergue last night & lost the entry code so I thought I might be sleeping outdoors). Also, listening to others reports of climbing the Pyranees in the unrelenting rain, going straight up for hours with nowhere to rest or walking the Meseta for seven straight days (think Texas panhandle in August with no trees at all!)--all made me realize that starting in Astorga was truly brilliant as most days had variety, and we had fabulous weather (only rain was when I was on the train & a bit my first day walking).

That said, it is strange not to be walking, especially as I see other pilgrims arrive here in Finisterre. This was a totally unique experience, unlike anything I have done previously and surprisingly challenging. The one thing everyone I spoke with said was that it was harder than they expected. For me, I don't think I appreciated how hard it was going to be walking everyday with blisters that never had a chance to heal and for which no amount of padding could prevent ongoing aggravation. The heat and the hills (many, many way longer than Far West!) were not actually particularly difficult for me since I trained in the heat & my blisters were less painful going uphill! As it turned out, I had to walk more slowly (and I am already slow) so I generally walked most of the day alone, walking for a while with others, but eventually needing to slow down. In the end, I think this was good: I really enjoyed the sense of quiet, a chance just to let my thoughts flow freely. I was aware of many things for which I am appreciative: that I have the time, money and opportunity to make such a special "pilgrimage"--still not sure exactly how that term applies to me, but to have this time is certainly a blessing; that, in spite of having a fair amount of physical distress during the walk, it was all due to "overuse" & would heal quickly when I stopped stressing my body; my relationship with my camera which allows me to move beyond my tendency to live in my mind, and connects me with the physical world in a way I love; that I had the physical health and tenacity to finish (I actually would have predicted that I would have taken other transportation at times when I was so sore & tired, but did not want to do that); that at the moments when I really needed help, assistance was available; and that I would have the chance to share this experience with other people who may not ever be able to have an experience like this.

I think the most important "creed" of the Camino is that everyone does his or her "own Camino" and that there is no room for judgement whether someone goes fast or slow, skips stages, carries their pack or sends it ahead, that everyone is doing this for their own reasons and needs support. Therefore, everyone is always wishing others a "Buen Camino". I have other thoughts about this experience, but now I will share some photos from the last day on the Camino Frances de Santiago.

More pastoral countryside

Followed by signs of fall in the woods

Goodbye to the ever-present and good-natured cyclists

On Monte del Gozo before heading into the city

Top of the Catedral at dusk

And a final Jacobean cat!

I hope this has provided my patient readers with a picture of life on the Camino & that it may inspire someone to take the trip themselves. I appreciate all the support!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 13 - Arzua to Arco do Pino (20.2 kms)

Since beginning this Camino walk on September 8th, I have walked 252 kms. or in American, 156.3 miles - no buses, taxis, horses or trains! And not a day without blisters (it's not that I get new ones, just that the original ones never get a chance to heal because I keep aggravating them!). Only 20.1 kilometers to go and though I think I am really going to miss the walking, it will be great to give my feet & legs a break.

This day started as do they all: pack up in the dark, go for cafe con leche & toast, and then walk for a couple of hours before the morning coffee & snack break. Each day there are more pilgrims & I need to call ahead to guarantee I will have a place to sleep.

morning in the woods

afternoons in the rural meadows

accompanied by many peregrinos from all over the world and of all ages (yesterday there was an 82 year old man whom has done the Camino every year for the past 20 years!)

The one unfortunate event of the day was that I tripped just walking across the street (!) and skinned my knee and hands, but also hit my head on the paved road and have a big bump/bruise. After all the difficult to navigate ascents covered with rocks, i can hardly believe that I fell on a smooth, level surface. Luckily, I was walking with two women celebrating their 50th birthdays by doing the Camino & they helped bandage me up since I had run out of my supply of gauze & medical tape. I am actually off right now to be treated at the local Red Cross where I have had excellent service earlier on this trip. Then, as always, the search for nourishment.

Day #12 - Palas de Rei to Arzua (28.4 kms/ >17 miles)

I decided to bite the bullet & put in an extra long day in hopes of getting to Santiago by September 21st so that I have time to go to Finisterre. The walk today was long, with the last 5kms pretty much constantly uphill. The upside was that I was up early to see the early morning light:

and still walking as the day slowed down in early evening:

The walk was mainly through farms and woodlands

but there is less time walking in solitude since reaching Sarria marks the 100 kms required walking to earn the Compostela. I am very glad that I chose to begin earlier on the walk as I have particularly treasured those hours of quiet contemplation.

Only two more days until I reach the end & can give my hard-worked feet the rest they deserve.

Location:Carretera Santiago-Guntín,O Pino,Spain

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day #11 - Gonzar to Palas de Rei (17.9 kms - 5 hrs)

Today seemed extraordinarily short & easy: blisters improving with new shoes, more level trail, and a chance to walk for a while with two other English-speaking peregrinas, one from Evanston (!) and the other from Toronto. They had done the whole Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port in France & their description of a 30+ kms over the Pyranees in the rain as their first day walk (I have spoken with others who quit after this first stage) made me feel like my struggles have been nothing. Anyhow, now I am struggling with whether to push myself to finish in three days (which would allow me two days in Finisterre at the ocean) or stick with my "no more than 20 kms/ day" rule. I can decide tomorrow.

For now some photos from today's walk.

Morning leaving Morgade.

Colorful fields of heather.

Love on the camino.

Reminding us of where we are headed.

And, of course, more kitties.
Off to search for pizza.
Posted using BlogPress from Dusty's iPad.

Location:Calle de Huertas,Palas de Rei,Spain

Day #10 - Morgade to Gonzar (19.1 kms)

Before I discuss today's walk, I want to report that I had my very first weird/negative interaction with anyone on this Camino trek. I was staying in a friendly, home-like albergue with only 6 or 7 beds in the hostel & some private rooms as well. I have been trying, when available, to stay in these private albergues, even tho they are slightly more expensive (€8 to €10 rather than €4 or €5 for the public/municipal hostels) because they have a less barracks-like feel & frequently offer dinner for €8 or so euros. Anyhow, i got in early since I had a short walk & was hanging out when i saw that there was some filming going on and, snoop that I am, went to check it out. A guy from Australia was being interviewed & filmed, but I coiled not hear what was being said. Another guy approached me, saying that he was part of the documentary being made, that it was the completion of a project that had been started a few years back. The story was that the person giving the interview had taken six (?) recovering addicts to do the Camino and make a film about the process. Apparently, the guy giving me info (whose name may have been Richard--I am horrible with names) did finish the Camino (told me he got "sick of it") and had returned to complete it. All very interesting to me. We talked a bit more & he sort of annoyed me by making sweeping statements about Americans (e.g. "why should the government bail people out who made stupid decisions about borrowing?" and "what do you think about these Mexicans coming and taking jobs from Americans?). I tried to respond by giving him my view on the situation, that in felt that the immigration panic was not truly about Americans losing their jobs (doing lawn work?) to undocumented immigrants, etc. Then we all went to have dinner with four people at the table with me: the two "recovering" Australians & a guy from Ireland. Richard said something about not wanting to be doing the Camino, that he just was not into it. I responded that I thought it must be hard to do it if one didn't really want to since it was quite demanding & difficult. He said something nasty about Americans always wanting things their way, wanting to plan everything, and then got up and changed tables. Too weird. But then later as everyone was preparing for bed, he sort of yelled at me for walking around & making noise (although it was only 9:40 & it's supposed to be quiet beginning at 10:00). The next morning the Irish guy said something about the Australian having the wrong attitude for the Camino. I agree. It was just so strange to have someone be so irritable and quarrelsome in this atmosphere where everyone is friendly & respectful.

So I was thinking about all the people I have met since beginning this walk & where they were from. In a general order of frequency, I have met many people from all parts of Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Malaga, Sevilla, Granada& more), France (many), England, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway (had dinner with three women from Norway this evening, two who have walked the Camino several times with one being 72!), Italy, Canada, U.S. (2), Australia, Poland & Ireland. That's pretty impressive considering the ages range from early 20s to 70s. And everyone seems able to get along even sleeping in close, at times crowded quarters. If only this reflected the wider society.

Now for a few photos from the day. This was the entrance of an attractive albergue, but I cannot remember where. Many of these are located in tiny villages which may have a population of well below 100 people.

These crosses found all along the Camino and it seems like pilgrims add to them as they pass by.

And I am always on the lookout for the local kitties (of which there are many, especially in the small rural villages).

Just a pretty village home that caught my attention. It seems that having flowers & gardens is important no matter the size of the house or the wealth of the owner. I like that.

Off for tonight. Feet feel better than they have for a while so I am looking forward to a relatively pain-free day tomorrow. Only five more days to reach Santiago if I want to make the trip by bus to the sea at Finisterre.

Hasta mañana.

Posted using BlogPress from Dusty's iPad.

Day #9 - Sarria to Morgade - 12 kms.

Today's highlight was the discovery of a Peregrino Outfitter store where I was able to purchase ANOTHER pair of shoes: this time some closed-toe Tevas that, so far, are not aggravating my current set of blisters (the worst being those on the underside of both heels: turns out that it's difficult to walk without touching the bottoms of one's feet) or creating new ones. But I am hesitant to get too optimistic since I walked such a short distance. I have decided that I am NOT going to do any walks that exceed 20 kms. even tho that means relinquishing the hope of walking to Finisterre (will just go by bus).

Mural on church in Sarria showing portraits of pilgrims in varying states of distress.

Typical scene of walk through woods.

Cool tree with cycle of peregrino.

I reached the current albergue early & have had time to read and rest. Usually, I am arriving so late that there is hardly time to eat before they turn out the lights & lock the door. I am now off to try to call the taxista about a ride for my mochila tomorrow. Nice to have an easy day.

Location:Calle del Mercado,Palas de Rei,Spain

Day #8 - Triacastela to Sarria - 25 kms/15.5miles (8 hours)

Here's a map of today's walk:

Although this was too far a walk for me, it was a gorgeous one: through small hamlets, following along the Rio Oribio for most of the day. I met my second American, a woman from Oregon, who said that the landscape looked a lot like where she walks near Eugene.

It was the perfect day for Velvia film, 400 speed, with endless variations in the color green.

Until the last 5 miles, my feet felt like they were pretty much recovered from the abuse they have suffered, but too much walking led to something of a relapse. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day for walking and enjoying the lush landscape.

About halfway to Sarria, I reached the Monasterio de Samos, apparently the oldest monastery in the western world. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a tour (everything is always closed in the afternoon), but it was nevertheless quite impressive.

I ended up at a great albergue, small with lots of personal attention & finally had a fantastic pizza--real food! My good mood has returned.

Have planned a short day for tomorrow with the hope of foot recovery in the near future.

Passing over the river on a bridge with the ever present scallop shell design.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Intermediary post from computer

It´s Thursday, September 16th & I have posts & photos on my iPad ready for uploading, but its probable that I won´t have wifi for a few days more since I am staying in smaller hostels outside of the primary locations at the end of the usual "stages" since those are longer than I feel comfortable doing (usually 25 to 30 kms).  I can no longer use the option of skipping a stage & taking the bus if I want to get a Compostela at the end.  Since leaving Sarria (yesterday), a person has to walk the rest of the way--the final 100 kms to get the certificate & i kind of want it after all these blisters.  Also, I am enjoying staying in smaller albergues as they often provide meals and generally have a more homelike atmosphere (as opposed to the albergue in Cebreiro which has more than 100 beds in a huge dormitory with places to charge batteries at the end of each section!) Very tech savvy.  So the short version is that I am feeling better, still struggling with blisters (new ones!) but have been able to keep track of my mochila & have made arrangements for tomorrow by phone with the current taxista.  So hopefully, all will continue to go reasonably smoothly.  More photos to follow soon (looks a bit like Ireland or the US northwest).  I appreciate any comments--helps with feeling connected.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day #7 - Cebreiro to Triacastela - 20.7 kms/12.9 miles

Since Astorga, I have walked 129.8 kms/70.7 miles & have 142.3 /88.4 miles to Santiago de Compostela!

I was going to write that today was not very good, but a more accurate description was that it sucked. It was hot with a rocky path that descended for nearly the entire day with little variation in scenery. I was more tired physically than I have been (perhaps a function of my nearly protein-free diet-I would starve if I lived here), but was hanging in there with the help of Lucinda, Robert Earl Keen & Gypsy Kings until my iPod battery expired. The only people going slower than me had either genetic disabilities or had more serious Camino-related injuries. I arrived in Triacastela exhausted & with a burning sun rash on the back of my legs only
to discover that my mochila was not in the albergue as arranged & the taxista responsible for transporting it had his phone disconnected. AND there were no beds to be found due to camino overload. They say that the Camino causes everyone to be reduced to tears & this was apparently my day! I was on the phone with the guy who owns the cafe/bar where I left it, with a friend of the taxista, Jesus, and everyone had a bunch of ideas--none of them at all helpful. I finally called my guardian angel from Madrid, Jose Luis, who used up the battery of his phone (mine was already gone with no charger available without my backpack). After several hours of detective work (of which my Spanish was not capable) we checked another albergue on the other side of town & Gracias a Dios, it was there!! 9:30 at night & I can finally take a shower & get out of my sweaty clothes. I don't think I will add any illustrations, but I am sure that without my friend's assistance, I would not be able to complete this walk. Today's lesson is that I can't do it all alone. Time for bed and hopes for a better day.

- Posted using BlogPress from Dusty's iPad.

Location:Calle de Leoncio Codorniga,Triacastela,Spain

Day #6 - Ruetilan to O Cebreiro - 11 kms/5 hours

Very peaceful & contemplative day walking alone on the route which winds thru pastoral lands & then wooded paths, all generally uphill as I leave the province of Leon & enter Galicia.

Today I notice more about both the changes that happen every day here, but also the shifts within each day itself, both within myself & around me. I notice that I tend to feel quiet and thoughtful for the first couple of hours, feeling very tuned into the sounds and visual stimuli in my environment, and not anxious to interact much. Later, I find myself chatting more, enjoying the company of other pilgrims and speaking with the people in the villages. And for the last hour or two, i like listening to music and enjoying my thoughts. Each day of the Camino feels entirely different from the last, bit because the scenery changes, but the people change as all as everyone mocha forward at their own pace. Interestingly, I have met only one other American & he is also from AUSTIN! He is traveling with his girlfriend or wife from Colombia who has previously done this walk, this time in his company.

The mornings are quite cold (could see my breath his morning) and by midday, it's time for shorts & sunscreen, at times almost as warm as Texas. Also seems that I am watching the coming of fall.

And finally we reach Galicia & immediately hear the bagpipes characteristic of all Celtic lands. Tomorrow I head for Tricastela.

I hope there will be some wifi in the next couple of days so I will be able to post these photos.

Location:Calle de Leoncio Codorniga,Triacastela,Spain

Day #5 - Villafranca to Ruitelan - 22 kms / 5.5 hours

Leaving the beautiful town of Villafranca with it's gardens & ancient bridges:

Pretty easy day with generally flat terrain & the company of delightful Madrileño who assists me all day with my Spanish & later with the search for my apparently misplaced mochila. It ended up being at a different albergue than myself, so shortly before sunset, I had to walk a bit further up the road to reconnect with it. But it turned out to be a special albergue called Pequeña Portala and was run by persons who appeared to be Buddhists with photos of the Dalai Lama in the walls. They had the fantastic rule of no noise before 6am (meaning that there would be no noisy packing at 4:30 in the morning!). Instead we has a wonderful dinner of pesto pasta, garlic & veggie soup, tomato & mozzarella salad shares amounts all the residents (where French was the common language) & were awoken at 6 am with music beginning with Ave Maria followed by more soothing music. However, I did get reprimanded for reading too late with my iPad sending off too much light.

The photo of my feet everyone has been awaiting. Since changing to only sandals, they are slowly improving.

Day # 4 - Ponferrada to Villafranca - 25 kms/ 8 hours

Today was the day I had been awaiting- truly the "Buen camino" that is the ubiquitous greeting both amongst the "peregrinos" as well as the village folk we pass. In part, this was the result of me listening to my intuition & deciding to have my mochila carried by auto bus to the next stop, freeing me to stop, take photos & enjoy the walk. Also, the Camino passed thru numerous small villages with fincas (small farms), vineyards, orchards & beautiful cottages.

I had the chance to speak with villagers along the way & experienced the euphoria I associate with the best travel. Here is a photo of a woman who insisted on giving me tomatoes she picked from her garden (& as the song goes: "only two things that money can't buy: true love & home grown tomatoes")- unbelievably delicious.

This woman was over 90 years old & told me she was "fea" but was actually incredibly beautiful as she stood outside the small church.

I finally arrived at the albergue in Villafranca ( after buying some new walking sandals) at about 6:30 & shared in a meal prepared by the hospitalera of (especially for me, veggie pasta) and spent the rest of the evening drinking red wine with a bunch of Spanish guys (uno muy guapo) doing the Camino por bicicleta while they tried to improve my Spanish without much success. Muy divertido. Up too late, but well worth the missed sleep. Off towards Cebreiro tomorrow.

And a little girl who wanted to pose with her puppy: