49 Days, but Who’s Counting?

Good Old Brierley

Two hundred and fifty kilometres from Porto to Santiago de Compostela… nothing, right? Certainly nothing much compared to the Camino Frances at almost 800 km. After I finish the Portuguese Camino I plan to walk to the coast and back and that should take a week or so. Suddenly I’ve started to count the days. I’m anxious to enjoy the packing, the preparation, the route. It starts to feel real.

All those cliches about how the Camino gets under your skin, how it haunts you, calls you back again and again are true. There are other cliches that I reject” The Camino Provides” when I walked in 2021 I provided for myself. For the scatterbrain that I am, I did fine in keeping all my belongings together, not getting robbed, not getting too seriously lost. Well, there was that time in Zubiri when I was shell shocked from the hellish descent and there was no place to sleep and somebody found me a private room and the owner of the place hugged me like I was her long-lost sister and…. Or that time in Leon when I was sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe with three of the most incompatible ( for me) people I could imagine and this charming guy whom I had met in Zubiri, in fact, came sauntering down the street and I jumped up and ran and hugged him and whispered in his ear “ save me, save me from these people!” and he did. ..Or the time I fell and smashed my knee as I gazed up at some ceiling paintings in a cathedral and I was sure the Camino was over for me, but then I remembered some PCV cream I had bought for the outrageous sum of 50 euros in Pamplona and I dug it out of the depths of my pack and smeared it on and the next day my knee was just fine….Or the time I got to the Cruz de Fer where you are supposed to have a stone that you bring from home to leave at the cross as a symbol of leaving your burdens except that I didn’t believe in such things until I got to the Cruz de Fer and all of a sudden there was a crystal at my feet and right beside it a wild flower that bore the name of the woman who, we’ll never mind about that, but I picked the flower and put it with the crystal and part of what needed to be left behind was left there. But I don’t really believe that the Camino provides.

Before I walk I will do two weeks as “ hospitalera” in an albergue in Porto. I don’t even know what I will be required to do. Not cook… I told them I can’t cook. I suppose I will greet them, stamp their documents, change beds, clean toilets.., all in English or French since a couple of weeks of Duolingo Portugese has embedded about twenty words in my brain along with the conviction that Portugese operates under a deranged pronunciation code. I only just found out that Duolingo teaches Brazilian Portuguese so my twenty words will come across in a South Wales valley sing-song.

I walk in the gym and today for the first time in ages I walked in the big park very near my home. The sun was strong and some enormous icicles, built up ( or down) during a vicious cold spell, came crashing down with a roar like thunder.

So this is how I count down the days. These days are precious and interesting too. Count with me.

Camino Souvenir Book

Many many thanks to my dear friend Masha Schmemann Tkachuk for putting this together. Shutterfly has a great service which allows smart people like her to create actual books from photos and text.

Beauty of Galicia

As you can see Masha did a great editing job . The material was taken from last fall’s blog posts that chronicled my walk along the Camino Frances. I did blog entries every day because I know how easy it is for individual experiences during a long journey to blend into a general impression. Of course I still have access to the blog posts but I am old-fashioned enough to be thrilled to have a “ real” book in my hands.

It has been a long, difficult winter that still drags on. Receiving this book in the mail lifted my spirits. The day before I found another happy surprise in my mailbox… the Brierley guidebook for the Portuguese Camino. Hmm, I’m thinking September.

Many thanks to Masha and looking forward to working on the next one!

OK it’s official

I have post Camino blues. Negotiating the red tape and Covid details of getting into Canada was distracting but, let’s face it, shopping for food and going through the mail is boring. My body misses the long routine of walking, walking, climbing up slopes, stopping to rest or drink cafe con leche.

The far horizon, the wind, the smell of things cannot be found nearby

I have no initiative to go out, to write, to cook. The weather was brilliant today but…well, as the Stoics would say, “ If a thing can be endured, endure it”. Funny, during the last few days in Europe, I was so anxious to come home and yet, there is something flat about being here.

Today is all saints day. Tomorrow I will climb up the mountain and visit my mother’s grave. I think that will fulfill the need to walk a long way and the need to connect with this place again.

One of her favorite flowers

Last Sleep

I did my Covid test today. Well within the 72 hrs by my calculations. Now fingers crossed for a negative result! I feel fine and tramp around the city for hours. I must say I have never blown my nose so much since I walked into Galicia! People say allergies or the very damp climate. Let us hope so.

Today I visited the museum of the cathedral . Good heavens! I could hear my Methodist grandmother‘S voice, “It’s a long way from Bethlehem”! Simplicity and poverty were not much in evidence. The amount of gold,silver and ( very interesting to me) tapestry and vestments on display was astounding.

The metal cape of the statue of St James

Because of Covid people are no longer allowed to climb up behind the altar and embrace the statue of the saint as was the custom. This is the cloak he wore to protect the statue from wearing away. I am very fond of opals and so admired the three up under the collar. I was eavesdropping on a guide who said people used to steal some jewels and swallow them to avoid detection. Then they would “ retrieve them somehow” ….so tactful! Anyway the whole place was dripping with gold, silver and beautiful paintings.

This nativity scene appealed to me

Seeing everything involved a lot of climbing up and down the most uneven and winding stairs. I hung onto the substantial railings which were always just a little too short so that the last bits involved a sort of “ leap of faith”. I have managed to survive unscathed and thought it would be a shame to spoil my record.

A banner from the Battle of Lepanto!

A modern note that somehow cheered me up was a loud demonstration in Cathedral Square in support of the rights of bus drivers going to the airport. My firm pro-workers’ rights position was tinged with a little worry in case I should not be able to get to that destination myself tomorrow. However, I must take the tough with the smooth not only on Camino pathways it seems. I am well and truly ready to come home and be with all my darlings for the winter. How wonderful it will be to sleep in my own bed again!

At the sea , at the sky, at the rocks

Sitting at the end…the beginning of the world

When I came into the Cathedral square on Sunday afternoon I was wet and cold. The sky was grey. The baroque roof line of the cathedral looked like an unfamiliar jumble to me. My Camino was over yet all I wanted to do was get into a warm shower and put on dry clothes. To ad insult to injury I got diverted by some traffic divisors (shades of Montreal) and came in through an alternate entry, completely missing the famous bagpiper.

Yesterday made up for that however. My friend, Chris welcomed me at the albergue and asked if I would like to come with her the next day on a bus tour to the coast. Now, some stalwarts walk another three days but we were both quite ready to put ourselves in the hands of a commercial tour guide and see the sights in comfort.

We stopped at this pretty village
The sky kept changing with new beauty from moment to moment
The sun came out for Finisterre
We stopped here, where a waterfall tumbled into the sea

But for me the wonder of the day was Muxia where ancient Celtic legends merge with stories of St. James. The turquoise underplay of waves, the sound of surf, the huge rocks, many with local beliefs of healing properties all made me want to stay. At last I felt the satisfaction of having walked day after day to reach my goal. I remembered the kindness and fellowship of fellow pilgrims and looked far out to the horizon, realizing that I could keep this wonder with me forever,

Many faces from along the Camino

I’ll walk in again!

The day started well enough walking in pitch dark led by a Spanish family whose dad had a head lantern. He led the way and they could have been going to Santiago or New York for all I knew or cared as we stumbled through the dark wood. Dawn came of course as it does

One of the high points of the day

It soon began to rain off and on and I was pleased to have decided to carry the dreaded poncho.

As the different routes converged more and more pilgrims crowded the roads

It was gratifying to see the numbers on the milestones go down but…. The fog and rain were so thick that it was impossible to see the famous sight of the cathedral from the hill of Monte de Gonzo.

Anyway I soldiered on and arrived around the back of the cathedral instead of making the traditional descent accompanied by the bagpiper. Really there was a lot of roadwork going on and only Google maps allowed me to stumble onto my albergue where ( yay!) my friend was already ensconced.

I have resolved to do the whole thing over again tomorrow so I can get the full emotional “ high” . Well, I admit to a tear in the eye when I finally found the piper.

Tomorrow Santiago?

If all goes well I will walk 20 km into Santiago tomorrow. All during this walk, pilgrimage, endeavour, hike, I have never said I was going to Santiago. I know that stuff happens. Ankles get twisted, passports get lost, pilgrims get sick or discouraged. I took it one or two days at a time. I walked with wonderful people, banal people, mentally disturbed people, lovable people, boring people, people I could trust and want to stay friends. And I walked a lot by myself and with myself.

Here are some things I saw today

Starting off
Can you see the yellow inside? There really is corn in there
A friend came to say hello
Well, not impossible!

Today in Arzua

There was an octopus festival. It was a civic holiday and curiously that meant that until 3 pm the restaurant kitchens were closed. The sidewalk tables were full of people drinking but nary a morsel was to be had for a poor pilgrim. So I trudged on, having bought two horrid peaches and a large bar of chocolate …on and on through the woodland paths where my app showed no sign of human habitation until, at last, Heidi’s albergue appeared.

A warm smile and a welcome

A towel for my shower! Washing my clothes as part of the price of my bed! Dinner at Seven! It was all worth it

Perhaps the last roses before Santiago

A short day tomorrow to the town just before my goal.

Galicia did its thing

Typical Galician corn crib

Pouring rain to start off and mists over the fields. Well, that’s Galicia. Can’t be green without rain. Ponchos are a pain . They protect you from the wet but they retain body heat and the next stop is stripping off a few layers to stay comfortable.

However by the time we had walked 5 or 6 km the sun came out over Portomarin and we were rewarded by vivid rainbows. The Spanish word is “arc iris” Hope I spelled that right! We climbed up to open heights where the sun and wind played to create a beautiful sky

We could have taken the pot of gold!
Here the wind started to pick up

I was lucky to walk with Anetta a seasoned Camino walker who set a steady pace that helped me get back up to covering the necessary kilometres. It was good to walk in silence and to share ideas, I found as I spoke to her the reason I was called to do the Camino. I owe her a lot.

On to another stage of my journey tomorrow

And here too pumpkins!