Friday 4 September 2009

Last photos

With Kari

With Sandi

Santiago Cathedral

Prazo Obradoiro with pilgrims gathering for the mass

St James and the Tree of Jesse

Faithful companions

The end of the road

My Compostela

Santiago and Finisterre (or Fisterra)

So, my pilgrimage was over. I wanted to spend the day in Santiago then go to Finisterre the following day before leaving for Madrid and England and the long-awaited visit to my son and his family for ten days, before finally returning to my home in Brazil after a seven week absence.

The albergue I was staying in allowed pilgrims to remain for a second night, so I sorted my stuff out then left my rucksack on a bunk in order to reserve it. Not the one I´d slept in the previous night as the bunk next to mine had been a bit too close for comfort. After a coffee I walked into town, still limping but not quite as much since I was no longer carrying my rucksack. I went to the Camino Travel Centre run by Ivar, the same chap who runs the pilgrim forum I belong to, and sorted out my travel arrangements. Jan turned up there and also finalised his plans and by coincidence we actually ended up travelling to England together.

Then it was time for the pilgrim mass at the the cathedral where we met up with the rest of our little group. The service is held for the pilgrims every day at twelve, and I found it very moving. The number of pilgrims who´d arrived that day and their country of origin was mentioned and a nun sang beautifully. The cathedral was packed with pilgrims and other visitors and we´d been lucky to get seats. Unfortunately the "botafumeiro" did not swing that day. It is a massive incense burner hanging from the roof, swung like a pendulum clear across the aisles by six men. It is said to be an impressive sight.

After the mass I joined a queue to go up behind the altar and hug the figure of St James and murmur my thanks, and I also sneaked a quick touch of the Tree of Jesse, a pilgrim tradition down the centuries, although now there is a barrier and a security guard nearby. I took my chance when he was distracted by an elderly lady, a pilgrim I believe, who crawled through the barrier on her knees to touch her forehead against the base of the statue. Then off I went to the pilgrim office to get my Compostela - a certificate with my name in Latin stating I had completed the Camino. I had to produce my pilgrim passport as proof of my journey and I was proud to see how many stamps I had accumulated over the previous weeks.

After all this I had something to eat then a look around the old quarter, fascinating with its narrow streets and old buildings. I was very glad to bump into Kari and Sandi while I was doing this, as we managed a final goodbye. The city was full of pilgrims and I saw quite a few familiar faces, including Mike and his wife and managed to speak to some of them. I was feeling very tired by this time and my leg was hurting so I walked slowly back to the albergue in a very hot sun and spent the rest of the day writing my notes, doing washing and finally relaxing. I´d turned down an invitation to join the group again for dinner as I couldn´t face the long traipse in and back again. They´d all left the albergue to stay in places nearer the cathedral and were planning a meal out in the old quarter. We were meeting the next day to go to Finisterre by bus, anyway.

I felt that my pilgrimage ended in Santiago, but some pilgrims carry on to Finisterre (also known as Fisterra) on the coast, either walking the 89km or by bus. It is the furthest point west you can get, the "end of the world" in medieval times. I had decided to join the others as it would make a nice trip to round things off and also I could symbolically bathe my feet in the ocean. We met up at the bus station the next morning and after a couple of hours drive arrived in Finisterre, a small fishing village. Here the rest set off to the lighthouse and cliffs at the furthest point but since several kilometres of walking were involved I decided not to go. My leg was still quite swollen and painful and I was once again carrying my rucksack as I was going straight on to Madrid after. Also I was more interested in going to the beach which was nearby. It was a sunny day but there was a strong cold wind blowing so I had a brief look round the village then made my way down to the sandy beach. I took my sandals off and walked into the cold water and stood there while tears filled my eyes at the thought that it was all over. It was too chilly to stand there for long though, so I waded out and was shortly joined by the others. After a drink we were glad to get out of the wind and onto the bus back to Santiago. And that´s the end of it really...

Last Thoughts

Like many others I think I have come back from my Camino a different person. Living day-to-day with all your possessions reduced to an absolute minimum changes the way you look at things. You discover how little you need, how irrelevant some of your major preocupations are, how important people are. I dreamt vividly about my Camino every night for well over a month after I got home and still do so frequently. It is almost like an addiction and there are times when I really long to be there again.

This blog, which has helped me to re-live an amazing experience, was never meant to be an exciting or humorous tale of my adventures and misadventures. I am not a writer. I read several enjoyable and entertaining blogs during the months leading up to my journey, but I felt that sometimes I would have liked some more information. This was why I decided to write a factual account of my preparation and pilgrimage. I wanted to start from the very beginning and include all the training and preparation, telling it from the point of view of a first-time pilgrim, who didn´t know what to expect. I wanted to include all the daily details and facts of the journey so as to give a true picture of what it was like to walk 790km in 35 days through all temperatures and weathers with all your worldly goods on your back. I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings in such an unusual situation and try to give an accurate "warts and all" picture of what it was like for me, not just dwell on the highlights. My hope was that this blog would be of interest and use to some future pilgrims who may be reading it. I would like to reassure them that while there were good days and bad days, it was never so bad that I considered giving up. So if that is what you want to do then go for it - and Buen Camino to you. Although be warned, it can become addictive...the Camino Portugues is beginning to beckon to me next...

Thursday 3 September 2009

Day 35 - Photos

My fellow sufferer the Danish pilgrim

The end of the airport runway

More abandoned boots

The little chapel at Monte del Gozo
Resting in Monte del Gozo before the final stretch

The shrine of St James (San Tiago) in the cathedral crypt

Day 35 - Arca do Pino to Santiago - 21km

Well, this was it, my final day of walking. I had very mixed feelings as I set off, but mostly I was concerned about how my leg was going to bear up. I applied gel, took tablets and had breakfast with friends before leaving Arca. It was very misty and nice and cool in the thick pine woods during the first part of the walk. The path was good underfoot, occasionally joining quiet side roads and at one point going round the end of the runway for Santiago airport.

I walked slowly in order to savour my last day and also to try and spare my leg. The pain was bearable although the swelling was worse, and I couldn´t help limping despite my stick. The path went through several small villages and I stopped for coffee breaks in a couple of them where once again I kept bumping into my fellow struggling pilgrim, the Danish lady. There were a lot of people on the Camino now, including a large group of very noisy students which it took a while to get away from.

As the morning went on the mist cleared and it became another very hot day. There were some long steep climbs up towards Monte del Gozo, tiring in the sun as the woods were left behind. At Monte del Gozo (Mount of Joy), 5km from Santiago, there is a little chapel where many pilgrims give thanks and I sat in there quietly for a while, as did my Danish friend. This spot was celebrated as the place from which pilgrims caught their first glimpse of the towers of the Cathdral but now the view is obscured by trees. I knew that nothing could stop me now and although I felt relieved it was nearly over I also felt very sad that I was coming to the end of such a special experience.

After a welcome rest I set off on the last stretch, which like many approaches to large cities included dual carriageways and suburbs, a bit of a letdown. I found my albergue down a very long flight of stone steps on the outskirts and dumped my stuff before climbing up the wretched steps again to visit the cathedral. It was a long hot walk into town, much further than I expected. If I´d realised I might have tried to find somewhere nearer. I saw my Danish friend on the way in, lost and looking for her guest house in the old quarter near the cathedral so I took her with me and we arrived together.

The cathedral is very large and very impressive, inside and out. I sat there in the cool and quiet and gave thanks for my safe arrival with a lump in my throat. There were quite a number of pilgrims sitting there and we were a motley crew, but part of a long line that stretched back over a thousand years. I was proud to be one of them.

Afterwards I did some shopping and went back to the albergue as I was very tired and my leg was pretty sore, even without my rucksack. While I was resting on my bunk Jan and the group turned up, an unexpected pleasure as I thought they were staying nearer the centre. We arranged to go out to dinner together and that really rounded the day off nicely. An excellent meal with good company on my last day´s walking. The restaurant was in the old quarter and by the time we´d walked back from town again my leg was pretty bad, but by then it didn´t really matter because I´d made it!

Last entry tomorrow...

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Day 34 - Photo

Dinner in Arca de Pino with Jan and friends - Jan looks considerably thinner than when I first met him 34 days ago!

Day 34 - Ribadiso to Arca do Pino - 22km

I was off nice and early in a very misty morning. I stopped for my first coffee in Arzua after a gentle climb and then followed the path through attractive pine forests. There were a series of hamlets along the way and I stopped in several to give my leg a rest as it was getting steadily more painful and a swelling had appeared halfway up my shin. The day was also getting hotter and hotter as the mist cleared, although in the shady forests it was pleasant. Luckily there were only three shallow river valleys to cross, so there was a bit less up and downhill to put added strain on my leg. Thank goodness I had my pilgrim´s staff to lean on, it really did make a difference.

Also hobbling along was my Danish pilgrim with the poorly knees (unfortunately I never knew her name). We tried to encourage each other to keep going, motivated by the fact that Santiago was only a couple of days away. My biggest fear was that I would be unable to complete my pilgrimage. Having to stop two days before Santiago after having walked 750km didn´t bear thinking about. I was determined to get there under my own steam even if I had to crawl. I was having to stop fairly frequently by now, even if there was nowhere to sit just standing still with most of my weight on the other leg helped a little.

By the time I´d covered about 15km I was limping badly and wondering if I´d make it to the next village, let alone the next albergue a further 5km away. I sat on a bench by the road and rubbed more gel on my swollen leg and took some paracetamol to try and ease the pain. I had wanted to reach Arca that day but now would have been happy to have made it to a small private refuge in the nearer Sta Irene. After a rest it felt a little better and I managed to struggle into the next village where I sat in the shade outside a bar and wondered what to do next. I was joined by my Danish friend and we sat there taking it easy for quite a while. She had also decided to stop at Sta Irene, and when a bakers van came to make a delivery we tried, half seriously, to cadge a lift in the back, but to no avail.

When I set off again the long rest had helped and I think the paracetamol had kicked in as I managed to get along fairly well and even changed my mind about the detour to Sta Irene. By the time I reached Arca though I was really struggling again and headed for the municipal albergue regardless of the open mixed showers. There I was told they only had upper bunks available and since I knew it would be very difficult to climb up and down in my present state I decided to carry on slowly to a private albergue further on. Good choice! It was very nice and modern, even having a water feature in one area, and I got a bottom bunk. A nice surprise was that my friend Jan was also staying there.

I was very hot, perspiring, tired and in pain when I arrived but after a refreshing shower and a rest with my leg up I felt able to do my usual chores. Jan was now part of a little group which included a nurse. She said I had tendinitis and gave me some ibuprofen to take for a couple of days. Ideally I should have taken time out as well, but that was out of the question at this point. I later went out for a nice pilgrim dinner with the group and kept my leg up as much as possible the rest of the time. Tomorrow was to be the BIG day when I would hopefully make it to Santiago. Unsurprisingly I had taken no photographs during the day so all I have to record my last-but-one day´s walking is a group photo taken at dinner.

Monday 31 August 2009

Day 33 - Photos

Pilgrim statue on the way out of Palas de Rei

Spot the dog!

I´m not sure what this is, but it was in the middle of a little village

Crossing one of the six rivers

Another curious cow

My dorm at Ribadiso

Ancient bridge over the Rio Iso - how many pilgrims have passed this way in the last thousand years?

Pilgrims sitting by the river

Day 33 - Palas de Rei to Ribadiso - 27km

I was woken early, about sixish, by pilgrims (there´s no escaping them!) leaving the albergue over the road. After enjoying a little lie-in I went over for a coffee, came back and packed in a leisurely manner and was still on my way before eight despite there being no chucking-out time for my room. I guess old habits die hard. All my washing had dried except for my fleece which was still a little damp, but luckily it looked as if it wasn´t going to be needed that day.

Most of the route ahead would be paths through woods while crossing six river valleys, so I knew it was going to be rather demanding with lots of up and downhill walking. I started off slowly as there were a couple of lads ahead of me listening to a radio as they went along, which I found irritating. The path was good underfoot and the surroundings were very pleasant although the steep bits were steep. After a while I felt a twinge in my left shin halfway between ankle and knee, a niggling little pain as if I´d banged it against something. I slowed down and it wore off.

There were a lot of little villages along the way, in one of which I caught up with Kari and Sandi and we had some coffee and cake together. Somehow, without planning, we seemed to meet up at every break for the rest of the day although we all walked at a different pace. In Melide I decided not to try the spiced octopus in wine as my stomach was still a little queasy from my meal the previous evening. This was a shame because the town is famous for this dish and I had meant to try it.

By the time I reached Boente my leg was becoming quite painful and I stopped for a tonic and to rub on some of the gel I had bought for my foot. I also had my credential stamped by the priest in the church there (he stamped the wrong page!) as from Sarria onwards you need two stamps per day in order to qualify for your compostela, not just the one from the albergue where you sleep. I think this is for the church authorities to ensure you are a genuine pilgrim. The gel seemed to ease the pain somewhat, and I came to the conclusion that the steep hills the previous day must have strained something. If this were the case I was in for it as the hills today seemed even worse.

I set off from there with Kari, where we foolishly ignored the advice of an old lady and went down the road instead of detouring round the houses in the village. On my map it looked as if the path crossed the road shortly afterwards. What we didn´t realise was the road was a busy highway with no footpath and after going down and round a long steep bend on the hard shoulder there was no sign of our path, while the highway went over a long bridge. We didn´t fancy struggling back up the hill and were wondering what to do when Kari thought she saw an overgrown path the other side of the highway. We scooted across, ploughed down through some bushes and she was right, we came out on the Camino again. Relief all round!

By this time my back was hurting as well as my leg, and the sun was hot. I carried on slowly while Kari went ahead as she had further to go, having arranged to meet Sandi in Arzúa while I intended to stop a couple of kilometres before in Ribadiso. This proved to be an excellent choice on my part as Ribadiso was a delightful spot. I still had some steep bits to negotiate before arriving, though, and it was a hot tired pilgrim who eventually got there.

Ribadiso is a tiny hamlet and the albergue is in a converted medieval pilgrim hospital by a river. The old stone buildings have been made into comfortable dorms, toilets and shower blocks surrounded by lawns. Nearby were fields where I could see a kestrel hovering and swooping over a newly mown area. To one side flows the Rio Iso where you can swim or sit on steps leading down to the water and soak your feet. There were people sunbathing on the grass, sitting with their feet in the water or paddling, and generally relaxing after a good day´s walk. I think this was one of my favourite albergues, especially as there was a good restaurant next door where I went for Santiago tart and later had an excellent pilgrim dinner (salad, eggs, bacon and chips followed by ice cream - very Spanish!) and plenty of wine to ease the pain in my leg...

Marcel and the Danish lady with the sore knees were here, but no other familiar faces. We had a companionable moan about our aches and pains and I tried to rest my leg as much as possible after applying more gel in the hope it would be back to normal next day. I sat by the river and watched what looked like a butterfly mating dance over the crystal clear water, and then saw a snake swimming towards the opposite bank with a six-inch fish in its mouth. I tried to get a photo but it swam away too quickly. After dinner it was such a pleasant evening that I sat on the steps by the river again and had a nice long chat with a German pilgrim. Tomorrow I hope to reach Arca do Pino although I don´t really want to stay in the municipal albergue there. According to my guidebook it has mixed showers in open cubicles - not my idea of fun!

Sunday 30 August 2009

Day 32 - Photo

My lovely peaceful room

Day 32 - Portomarin to Palas de Rei - 26km

I was part of a busy Pilgrim March out of town when I set off as there were now more and more people on the Camino as we drew near to Santiago. The path started by crossing the river and then there was a long steep climb up through some woods. The day was overcast and misty, and very close as if there were a storm coming. It was two hours to the first cafe where I stopped for a much-needed break. In the cafe I saw loads of familiar faces including the German chap Marcel whom I´d left behind long ago nursing his poorly feet in the albergue on doctor´s orders. It was great to see he had actually recovered enough to continue his Camino. He said his feet were fine now after buying new footwear, and he must have been going fairly well to have caught me up.

Amongst the familiar faces was Wilma, a Canadian, and her daughter. Wilma had suffered a nasty accident some time previously and cut a tendon in her hand, which had involved a hospital stay, but she was still soldiering on, cast and all. With them was another Canadian, a nurse who worked with the Inuit. The fascinating thing about the Camino is that you meet people from all over the world, all ages and from the most varied backgrounds and occupations. My German friend was also there and we had a coffee together before I set off again.

The route followed the road for most of the day and there were rather a lot of ascents and descents. By now I could cope with these fairly well as my legs felt pretty strong and I marched up and down the hills with scarcely a pause. Maybe I should have paused more, although I didn´t know it I was about to start having problems. I passed the Danish lady with the knee supports from the previous day and also saw Sandi when I stopped for a bikkie break, but Kari was behind somewhere and never caught me up. The day continued muggy as well as misty until early afternoon and by the time I reached Palas de Rei I was pretty tired.

After the crowded albergue and stale air from the previous night I decided I deserved a break. For the first and only time I treated myself to a room with private bath in a hostal. This was unimagined luxury, a room with no-one else in it, my own bathroom, sheets, towels and endless hot water! After a quick snack for lunch I had a wonderful long shower then washed virtually all the clothes I had with me except those I was wearing. When I finished my lovely bathroom looked like a Chinese laundry.

I had a nice long snooze, reorganized my rucksack as I finally had enough space to spread everything out, then went out to dinner. I had originally planned to have a hamburger for a change but saw a place which had a nice-sounding pilgrim menu so I went there instead. The meal was the worst I had the entire trip. The famous Galician soup which I finally decided to try was like a watery and tasteless cabbage soup (I´m sure it´s really good elsewhere) while the casseroled lamb was very dry and accompanied by cold greasy chips. I left most of it but couldn´t face the hassle of complaining, what little I did eat sat uneasily for the rest of the night.

I went back to my room and had a pleasant quiet time doing sudoku in bed before a peaceful night - no snoring, no wind breakers, no creaking bunk beds. In fact it was so quiet I kept waking up. I probably missed all the noise and the cosy confinement of my sleeping bag.

Friday 28 August 2009

Day 31 - Photos

Leaving Barbadelo in the morning mist

My favourite photo

Reunion with Gunter at the 100km milestone

Heading upstream via these slabs was a little tricky

An "hórreo" near Portomarin

Curious cow

The town of Portomarin and the bridge leading to it

A steep flight of steps at the end of the bridge over the reservoir

The new and very large albergue in Portomarin

Day 31 - Barbadelo to Portomarin - 19km

I took my time in the morning, having a leisurely coffee and apple tart in the catering caravan and chatting to an American, Kevin and his wife before leaving. I was planning on a shorter day and according to my map the route sounded ideal, being on quiet country roads, through woods and then on natural pathways. I knew my Camino was coming to an end, just a few days to go, and I wanted to appreciate every minute of it. By hanging back until the albergue was empty I avoided both having company and walking near chattering couples so that I could enjoy the birdsong and beautiful surroundings in peace.

It was misty and cool when I finally set off just before 8 and the half-visible trees looked wonderful and mysterious. I took what turned out to be my favourite picture of the whole trip there. It was a beautiful walk through fields and woods and I savoured every minute of it. After a break for coffee and Santiago tart in a spic and span modern cafe (nice change) I carried on, now enjoying great views as the mist had burnt off. The track was good underfoot and although undulated, not strenuous. What with the birds singing and passing through such lovely countryside it was a real joy to be walking.

I stopped to take a photo at the celebrated 100km milestone (only 100km to go!), and to my surprise and delight my friend Gunter turned up. It was great to see him again, but a pity he´d lost touch with Annette. That is what happens on the Camino, though. Our paths kept crossing for the rest of the day which was nice. I was walking slower than usual and pausing frequently to look around, and I couldn´t help noticing an elderly rather overweight gentleman who seemed to be really struggling to get along. I assumed he must have started in Sarria, and therefore was a "new" pilgrim going through the initial difficulties. I felt somewhat concerned as he looked like the ideal candidate for a heart attack. He plodded slowly along, grim faced, as we kept passing and re passing each other, and that night when I saw him at the albergue I was relieved to see he had made it. The route was getting rather crowded now as the early morning starters from Sarria caught me up but I still managed to walk alone most of the time, hanging back to allow noisy groups of teenagers pass out of earshot.

The path was very attractive with features such as stepping stones to cross streams and at one point going up a stream where you step on stone slabs to keep out of the water, a bit of a balancing act but having a stick helped. The day was heating up by then but there were plenty of shady trees along the way, except for the last downhill part which was a long hot road walk. I met a Danish lady using knee supports who was having a hard time and we walked together for a while. She´d been photographing one of the strange little buildings which I´d noticed in quite a few gardens and farms and I´d stopped to ask if she knew what they were. Apparently they are called "horreos" and are for drying and storing grain out of reach of rodents.

The road went past and through farms where curious cows came to watch me having a quick break in what little shade I could find, then in the distance I eventually caught sight of the reservoir and bridge I would have to cross to reach Portomarin. At the end of the bridge there was a long steep flight of steps up to the road, just what I didn´t need at that point, followed by a steep walk up into town. I found the albergue, and a long queue to get in but managed my usual bottom bunk. The albergue was new and very large (160 beds) and very busy. The town is also new as it was built when the old one was covered by the reservoir. The church of St Nicolás in the main square is of the original stone, dismantled and rebuilt in its present spot.

After dumping my stuff I went out for a tonic and a pizza for lunch and saw several familiar faces, including my German friend with whom I chatted for a while. She is in the same albergue but a different dorm. After a short snooze I was going to go shopping when I spotted my long-lost Canadian friends, Kari and Sandi, across the square just as they spotted me. After much shouting, waving and hugs we sat and caught up with each other´s news. It was so good to see them again after such a long time. Kari had been laid up with foot problems and they´d been behind me by a couple of days. They were with a Spanish friend and invited me to join them for a tour and dinner but I reluctantly decided not to go as the albergue closed at 10 and I didn´t want to make them shorten their evening just because I had a curfew. It was a great day for meeting old friends as later while shopping I also saw Mark and Shana who had given me the soap and we had dinner in the albergue.

My dorm must have had 50 or more people in it and I knew it was probably going to be a noisy night. I went to bed about 9:30 but didn´t get off to sleep for ages due to all the activity around me. I woke about 5:30 in the morning because of the snoring and decided to get up and see if I could get out and check on the weather as it had looked like a change was on the way. I went out of the sleeping albergue and sat outside for a bit, admiring the night sky and hoping the clouds didn´t signify rain for the following day. When I went back into my dorm the smell of stale air nearly bowled me over. It was as if there was no more oxygen left and there was an underlying odour of dirty socks and too many bodies. Luckily the cafe over the way had just switched its lights on and I went over for a coffee, their first customer, before returning to pack up and set off.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Day 30 - Photos

One of many very muddy stretches

Nice spot for some water and chocolate biscuits

Going through Sarria, note the house sign on the right

The Xunta albergue in Barbadelo

View from the albergue patio

Day 30 - Samos to Barbadelo - 23km

The dorm was noisy with snorers during the night so it wasn´t difficult to be up and off by the specified time. Luckily the bar over the road from the monastery was open and by 7:30 I was enjoying coffee and a snack. The route out of Samos followed the road initially then was signposted up a steep track, which did not agree with my map where the route continued along the road then followed a river. I decided to trust the yellow arrows while my German friend intended to stick to the road.

There then followed a strenuous and tiring stretch where the track wound up and down steeply past little farms and sheds where it was very muddy and full of cow dung. The places I passed through were not on my map although yellow arrows continued to appear and I saw the occasional confused pilgrim ahead of or behind me. Eventually the path improved after a very bewildering stretch and headed down to the river. I was following two Spanish pilgrims at this point, hoping they knew where they were going, and it appeared we were now on the right track. We found this out by stepping into the middle of the road in a small village to stop a bakers van and ask where we were. Although the path underfoot was now much improved there were still some very stiff climbs in and out of tiny hamlets where there was not a soul in sight as usual and there were large dogs loose, but thankfully no problem.

I stopped for a break perching on a tree stump, where I had some water and biscuits, then set off again. While swinging The Beast onto my back I managed somehow to rick my neck, which was a nuisance as I had to keep stretching it to stop it from stiffening up. The path eventually came out at a small cafe in a village 3km away from where it should have been (the path, not the village!). Here I enjoyed a much needed coffee and saw several familiar faces including my German friend. How she got there by a different route I don´t know. The rest of the way to Sarria followed the road, thank goodness and was very straightforward. I now had company for the rest of the day, a change as I preferred to walk alone at my own pace, but I tried to feel positive about it.

Sarria is the traditional town where many pilgrims start their pilgrimage. This is because in order to qualify for a "compostela" you must walk at least 100km to Santiago and Sarria is 117km away. This makes it a favourite starting point for people with less time, school parties and groups. This also means that there is a lot of competition for beds at the albergues from then on, the Camino is busier and some of the peace and tranquillity lost.

In Sarria I found a cyber cafe and checked that all was well on the home front (father OK but dog crying a lot - I´ll have to make it up to him when I get back) before continuing into town for my favourite toasted "mixto" and a tonic while my friend had the local speciality of Galician soup. I decided to carry on through town to a village 5km further on as it was still fairly early. The path was good but there were some more steep climbs and it was now also very hot. The albergue was in the countryside just past a small village, in a delightful setting with a nice view. It was my first official Xunta albergue, where they hand out disposable pillow and mattress covers and only charge 3 euros per night. It was small (22 beds) and clean, but the hot water had been used up so I had to have a cold shower.

There was a stationary catering caravan nearby under some magnificent trees and a marquee where you could sit in the shade so after my chores I enjoyed an ice-cream there before some sightseeing. Actually there wasn´t much to see apart from an old church dedicated to Santiago which was shut, so I went back to the albergue and had a snooze before having an evening snack in the caravan. I was accompanied the whole time and while trying to be charitable I was beginning to feel a bit cramped while at the same time I was feeling mean about my reaction to the situation. Having a stiff neck didn´t help so an early night seemed the order for the day.

Monday 24 August 2009

Day 29 - Photos

A lovely view after the mist had cleared

Not quite the bull run in Pamplona, but it felt like it from where I was standing

The Benedictine monastery at Samos

The beautifully decorated dorm at Samos

These bunk beds mean you could sleep cheek by jowl with a total stranger

Did medieval pilgrims bathe their feet in this idyllic spot?

Even the footbridges have a scallop shell motif

Day 29 - Alto de Poio to Samos - 22km

I was on my way in the morning by 7:30 after a quick coffee, to find I was walking in thick mist with occasional glimpses of the sun. The first 3km were by road which was just as well under those conditions as at least I couldn't get lost. When I did eventually leave the road the path was good underfoot and the mist was lifting. I managed to reach an albergue just before it closed and had a quick coffee. If I'd carried on for another hour the previous day this is where I would have stayed, a much nicer option I later heard.

As the mist cleared there were lovely views since I was still quite high up, reminding me once again of the Lake District in England where I cut my eyeteeth as a walker in another lifetime. The path was now dropping down but thankfully not as steeply as I had feared. It went through several small villages where the mud on the track was enriched with cow pats, making a nice gooey mixture you had to plod through for yards at a time while inhaling the farmyard odours. The mire stuck to my trainers and in the worst parts was deep enough to seep in and wet my socks. In one hamlet just before Triacastela I saw a cow coming towards me rather quickly down the very narrow street and managed to step into a doorway just in time as it was followed by the rest of the herd all moving at a fast trot, horns waving! While on the subject of animals, many villages and farms had large dogs wandering loose, a cause for some concern as they were big. My stick gave me confidence, but I always approached carefully walking slowly but steadily, as far away from their territory as space allowed, and I never looked them in the eye or looked back. This seemed to work as I didn't have any trouble despite a few hairy moments. I heard of other pilgrims who fared worse.

At Triacastela I decided to take the Samos route to Sarria as I fancied staying in an albergue in a monastery. This route was longer but sounded much nicer as it followed a river valley all the way. Before leaving Triacastela I chatted with a German pilgrim who had been in the next bunk to mine the previous night and she said she was also heading to Samos. I should have stopped to eat something there as I was feeling hungry, but there was a cafe further on according to my map so I thought I'd wait. It was a very pleasant 12km walk by the River Ouribio although the path tended to join the road now and then up and down some very steep stretches. The miserable weather from the previous day had vanished as if it had never been and it was sunny and getting quite hot as I went along.

I reached the cafe I was aiming for, but it was so grubby I didn't dare have a coffee let alone eat anything, so I settled for a lukewarm tonic water. The German lady and I kept passing each other during the afternoon as one or the other took a break and I could see she was really feeling the heat. For the last kilometre I decided to stick to the road as the climbs up and down seemed rather pointless and I was also getting tired at this point. The albergue was nearly empty when I arrived and I got my usual bottom bunk in a wonderfully decorated dormitory, with all sorts of figures painted on the walls. I dumped my stuff and went for a bite to eat before the usual chores including washing my smelly socks. The washing line was over the other side of a busy road which made for interesting trips with dripping clothes.

The Benedictine monastery in Samos is one of the oldest in Spain. It is an impressive sight, enormous and imposing in its setting by the river. There are half hour tours but I didn't go on one and later heard that you didn't get to see that much of it. Instead I went shopping and bought some much-needed deodorant to replace the one I'd inadvertently left behind in Cacabelos. When I got back to the albergue the German pilgrim had arrived and also an elderly gentleman who kept trying to have long conversations with me in German despite my efforts to convince him I didn't speak the language. I escaped over the road for a pilgrim dinner which started with such a large seafood salad I couldn't finish it all, followed by some skewered meat and chips and rounded off with Santiago tart ( a delicious almond tart with the Santiago cross dusted onto it in sugar). I was also given a bottle of wine, all for eight euros. After consuming that lot (I didn't finish the bottle of wine!) and saying goodbye to the Swiss couple I'd been chatting to, I went for a stroll in a lovely area by the river before having an early night as at this albergue we had be packed and out by 7:30 in the morning.

Friday 21 August 2009

Day 28 - Photos

Approaching O´Cebreiro - I think the face says it all...

You can see enough to wish for more

Clearest view of the day

The mist comes down again

The Posada Alto do Poio, barely visible