exactly a year ago

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Look where we were…. (it’s the tenth now in NZ, but it’s still only the 9th in Spain and it’s wonderful to remember our Most Favourite Day on the Camino del Salvador)……https://charitywalking.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/9-june-poladura-to-pajares/

And tomorrow we will have a hard day walking 17km on a muesli bar or two each before we find substantial food (and continue walking of course) and there will be a pre-dawn fall and a grueling downhill and Mama-tears and icecreams…..https://charitywalking.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/10-june-pajares-to-pola-de-lena/

Then the following we will end up walking over 37km without one grizzle despite the searing heat….and the hospitalero will not be able to contain his disbelief and we will plan on having a pilgrim meal to celebrate but have to be satisfied with microwaved ready-made supermarket fare…..https://charitywalking.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/11-june-pola-de-lena-to-oviedo/

11 June: Pola de Lena to Oviedo

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The hospitalero looked dubious when we said we had come from Pola de Lena today. He opened our credencials, which confirmed we had not simply forgotten which town we stayed in last night. He looked up, admiration in his eyes and he honored us by switching into English, “That’s thirty-five kilometres!”
Actually, according to the GPS, it was 37 – we did do a good wander through a supermercado en route and visited the cathedral in Oviedo before finding the albergue.
And you know what? It was an aniseedy-proudy-daddy-day. There was not one grizzle. Not when we had a somewhat monotonous (apart from the cars and busses that came screaming round tight corners) fourteen or fifteen kilometres trudging on asphalt with a train track on one side and a main highway just over the river on the other. Not when the hills which I had promised were just little ones turned out to be significant. Not even when food was requested and denied. Not when the sun came out fiercely – although observations were made about the heat and our sweaty backs. Not when we ran out of water.
“I feel like grizzling,” Ella-Rose commented at one stage. But she decided not to. This is quite some achievement for an eight-year-old.
After 21km she remarked, “It doesn’t really seem like we’ve walked that far.” She wouldn’t have said that three weeks ago – there is no denying that we have all got stronger. But we were surprised to discover we were walking uphill (that crazy hill out of Mieres for anyone who has done this walk) at more than 5km/hr. That used to be our “on the flat” speed. We’re all growing.
The growth is mental as well as physical. We were sitting in a spot of shade at the bottom of what was to be the steepest climb. As I dished out melting chocolate biscuits, I explained our predicament: we were about to embark on the steepest climb, we were hot, we had run out of water, I did not expect anyone to get excited about the Roman road we were about to walk on, we had already covered thirty kilometres and it was about to get tough. “What can we do to stay positive?” I enquired.
Ella-Rose proposed one answer and then wondered aloud, “What’s positive anyway?”
There were some good strategies:
Walk at your own pace.
Ask for a rest if you need one.
Sing.
Tell stories.
Play eye spy or “guess the person I’m thinking of”.
Smile.
Tell yourself being grumpy doesn’t help (astute observation from an 8yo!)
Think of things to be thankful for.

This last trick worked wonders.
“I’m thankful for….,” began each statement.
being in Spain * shade * that our water bottles are empty because they’re light * that we can walk * mud * that we can help people * donkeys * the snake mum spotted this morning * the breeze * God answering my prayer to give us people to talk to about charity: water * the man who shouted at us to cross the bridge and not take the path * downhills * our Salvador camino family * chocolate croissants * the man in the bar*

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Oh yes, let me tell you about this man.
We had got to the top of the biggest hill and We Were Hot. At the end of the hamlet we spied a cider bar which looked open judging by the old men sitting under an umbrella outside. As we approached they commented that the sun was shining. Ah – so it wasn’t just us feeling the heat then!
I zipped into the bar and peeked into the icecream freezer. Empty.
I walked up to the counter and asked for orange juice. I really wanted to buy something, because we wanted to use the toilet (and I have this thing about not using the loo without purchasing something) and I wanted to plug the phone into a socket in the wall for a few minutes to boost the charge enough to measure our journey to Oviedo).
But this is not the Camino Frances where there is freshly-squeezed orange juice in every bar, and there was none.
Water? Cold water?
Yes, the barman could oblige. He disappeared and then resurfaced holding a bottle of Coke. Believe it or not, I managed to put aside my aversion to the poison and gratefully agreed to buy some. But no! This barman was not taking any money! What’s more, he brought a plate of tuna tapas…..and even then, was not finished. While I used the bathroom, he brought two bowls of chips and nuts!! And still he would not accept one euro cent. Mucias gracias has never felt so inadequate!

Just after someone mentioned this man’s generosity, we met another angel. She was leaning out her second-storey window as we emerged from the forested path onto a narrow road. I whispered to Tessa that if she had been downstairs I would have asked her for water.
“Mum, slow down,” Tessa called. “She’s coming downstairs!” And so she was. But I never got to ask for agua potable because she led us to a fountain with clear cold water! We drank and drank. The kids filled their hats and tipped them on their heads. They splashed and drank some more! The angel looked as pleased as we were. Of course, our conversation turned to why we are walking, what it must be like to not have fresh water.
And before we knew it, we were standing in front of the cathedral, the San Salvador route completed in five days.
No pics. A certain Little Person was exhausted and I wanted to do all I could to ensure a positive ending. She had walked the whole route without a grizzle, every single day an aniseedy-proudy-daddy-day.
The only complaint came from Micaiah: I haven’t grizzled either, not in nearly 900km and no one tells me that’s great!
Ah but it is!

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Destination: Oviedo
Distance: 37.1km
Cumulative Distance: 875km
125km to go to 1,000
Weather: oh so stinkin’ hot – official temperature 24 degrees
Dinner: meant to be pilgrim meal, but everything was closed- so spinach and tomatoes with microwaved tortilla de patatas and pizza
Cobra count: one squashed one

10 June: Pajares to Pola de Lena

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They say everyone cries on a long camino and seeing as the girls have made the 500km mark, I think that constitutes a long walk. Tessa’s tears were prompted over a week ago by beastly sibling banter. Ella-Rose’s fell today when she did. She took a tumble on the steep stony path into San Miguel, but recovered her composure remarkably quickly, even if her tail is taking longer 😉

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It is no secret that Micaiah cried bucketfulls over a couple of days when Daddy went home. Levi claims to have had tears at that point, but he hasn’t cried;-)
My tears arrived unexpectedly today and it was all over a pair of socks. Actually, not even a pair, but two unmatching ones.
We had got up just after five (and no, we were not *those* pilgrims – through careful planning the night before, all five of us managed to sneak away without disturbing anyone) and were standing outside looking over the valley watching dark silhouettes of mountains appear out of the blackness that was night. Dogs barked and a cluster of lights twinkled far away, suggesting a village.

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We were expecting a dramatic sunrise, but the sky just slowly lightened, indistinct blobs turned into cows, the mountains sprouted trees and the dogs kept barking.
The sky took on the faintest of pink hues for a few moments before turning pale blue. A few clouds were tinged with pale peach for a little longer. There was nothing dramatic. It was all very gentle.
And so was the walking. Well, that is to say, after yesterday’s rugged aggressive rocky mountains, today’s paths in contrast wound their way mostly through leafy glades.

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Yes, there were climbs (and no, they were not gentle!), but the overall feeling was one of peace and tranquility. Except for the rumbling tummies. We had shared food we were carrying with a pilgrim who was less well prepared and this meant we were left with just a couple of muesli bars each to get us the 17km to the next town with a supermercado. This is not where the socks come in!
The walking was pleasant and at one stage the sun broke through the clouds and spread rays across a distant valley.

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The walking went on, the tummies rumbled, but no one grumbled. Even better, they had clearly taken on board a spontaneous teachable moment lesson I had given yesterday – one that went along the lines of: being a leader is not about being the first to find the arrow, the first to arrive at the destination. A leader will look after his team, stop to see that the weakest members are going strong – or at least keeping up. A leader will show compassion and not have to be first. This was happening today.

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We all knew there would be a steep downhill that would take us to the food village. We kept thinking *this must be it*, but there was never a village at the end of it!
Eventually there was a downhill like no other, even more steep than the one that had taken Ella-Rose down. And there was a village. We had been discussing what we would like to buy at the supermarket – potato salad, empanada, icecreams, brie, croissants! But the supermarket turned out to be just a tienda, a modest grocer’s shop. The kids filed in to make their choices – and out again immediately with the verdict: there’s nothing! So I went in and found bread, butter, ham, salami and cream-filled pastries 😉
Just as we finished eating one of the children confessed that he had lost two socks that had been drying on his pack. Not a pair, but one of his liner socks and one took-me-forever-and-a-day-to-handknit long hiking socks.
The reason they had disappeared was largely because he had insisted on attaching them to his pack *his* way and not the way I had advised.
I did not cry at this point. We tried to determine when they may have fallen. The last known sighting was about ten kilometres back.
I backtracked to the tienda, but found nothing on the street.
I moved the children to a shady bus stop, dropped my pack and poles, and headed back towards that downhill like no other. Only this time, of course, I had to go up it. Actually, I fumed my way up, maybe even raged. I composed a few choice phrases to use after my descent, because I just knew I was embarking on a fruitless exercise and this was going to become another teachable moment.
Then a conversation started.
*This is what love does, it goes in search of the lost.
*But I’m not loving, I’m caring more about *stuff* right now.
*You love him, you are going because you don’t want him to be without the socks – you know he needs them.
*He sure does, seeing as he ruined his spare pair – and that was through refusing to do what I said too.
*That’s what grace is all about, isn’t it?
*Yes, but he disobeyed, I wouldn’t be storming up this mountain if he’d just done what I said.
*I know. Disobedience is ugly, that’s what grace is all about. That’s why you need grace.
*And he left my brand new shampoo in the shower and it walked. And there was the lost towel and disappearing nail clippers, which admittedly may not have been him.
*Hardly seventy times seven.
*He just will not listen or learn.
*Grace. It’s never deserved.

And then I realised……
I am just the same. I do things my own way, and You willingly walked up a hill for me.
I love, because you loved me first.

At that point I glimpsed bright blue hanging in the thorn bush with a pin still attached. Nearby, somewhat camouflaged, was a long greeny handmade-with-love sock. As I unhooked them from the brambles, I cried. Not because I found them, but because God dealt gently with me and let me walk back up a mountain to hear His voice.

On the way back down, I saw again that I still need to learn the lesson I had been trying to teach the children. Lead with compassion. My words will be hollow if they are not accompanied by action.

I hurried slowly down the downhill like no other. I was glad I had taken the bumbag off and was not carrying the phone with the GPS – I did not want to measure the extra distance I had walked. Grace keeps no record, and I had taken a journey that could not be measured anyway.

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When I got to the bottom I headed straight back to the tienda. This called for a celebration: five icecreams.

“These are celebration icecreams, guys. I learnt an important lesson up the hill and I want you to remember it so I’m doing something to help you remember.”
“But you said we’d wait til Pola de Lena for icecreams coz they only had expensive ones.”
“I tell you, I want you to remember this day.”
“So what was the lesson?”
“I’m going to write it on the blog and I’ll read it to you.”
“You sure know how to make suspense, Mum.”

And now I need to go and read to the kids I love.

Destination: Pola de Lena
Distance: 26.8km and then some
Cumulative Distance: 838km
162km to go to 1,000
Weather: overcast, sunny, cool, warm
Dinner: ham and salad roll with cherry tomatoes, then strawberries and cream pastries shared with the other pilgrims in the albergue tonight (the same ones as the last two nights)
Cobra count: two today, both dead

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9 June: Poladura to Pajares

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The Camino San Salvador is the ideal kids’ camino. Big statement that, particularly seeing as I received a number of caring concerned messages from people who had walked it when I proposed doing this route with kids on an online forum. So I’ll qualify that. The camino San Salvador today was the ideal camino for my kids!
The weather was perfect – overcast and cool (to positively cold!) For a good portion of the day the wind was a howling gale. There was mud. There were tadpoles who allowed themselves to be caught and removed momentarily from the icy streams. There were rocks to clamber over and be the setting for an imaginative game. There were horses, cows, chickens, goats, sheep – all with babies. There were meadows full of flowers. There was even one slope carpeted in wild thyme that smelt divine as we trod on it. And there was a holly forest. The way was indistinct enough to feel adventurous, but well-enough-marked that the kids could lead. I tell you, the Salvador in the spring is the stuff kids dream of. More than once they said, “I wish we could do this all day!”

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Destination: Pajares
Distance: 15km (plus running up and down the rocks!)
Cumulative Distance: 811km (we forgot to do our hundred marker pics and we’re not going back, no matter how good a day it was. In fact, when we arrived – quite late due to all the playing and wildlife-watching – our pilgrim family greeted us with cheers of congratulation; those that weren’t asleep, that is. This was especially nice because they had all planned to walk further than us today and so we expected to be alone. But they found the climbs to be so demanding that they decided to stop here!)
189km to go
Weather: cool and cloudy
Dinner: it was meant to be our dehydrated dinner but we were not allowed to use the kitchen…..so off to the bar we went…..only to be told it was a great problem because we had not made a reservation, but she would cook us some things we didn’t want for 10euros a head….so we tripped back down the cobbled street to the albergue and begged the hospitalera for some hot water and she unlocked the kitchen for us! Chicken curry soup with lots of vegetables – delish!
Disappointment of the day: strava cut out so we can’t see the elevations

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Photo of the stage details from the albergue notice board.

8 June: La Robla to Poladura

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After 14 flat kilometres I was wondering whether we should stop. There was an albergue, we were carrying extra food, and ahead of us was the first real climb for the girls. The smallest child had spent the previous couple of kilometres asking every fifteen seconds how far it would be to the town where we were about to eat lunch. She seemed on the verge of possibly not coping.

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We pressed on and were met with Emotion. Joy. Gratitude. Wonder. Adventure. Splendour.

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Soon after reaching the top that smallest almost-had-been-struggling person was overheard saying, “I really like this kind of walking.”
She spoke for us all. Uphill might be harder work, but oh the rewards.
It’s funny to think that Daddy’s last piece of advice as he’d hopped on the bus had been, “Don’t be afraid of just sticking to the Frances if it’s all too hard.” My hopes that the mountain routes would be inherently more interesting from a child’s perspective have ended up well-founded.

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Destination: Poladura (and an albergue that has everyone commenting about hopes that there will be no bedbugs and complaining good-naturedly about cold showers!!)
Distance: 24km
Cumulative Distance: 796km
204km to go
Weather: cloudy, somewhat windy, high of 19 degrees – very pleasant walking weather
Dinner: one of the dehydrated meals we had made at home and carried a ridiculous distance – spaghetti, meat sauce and veges (with an old baguette and cheese and packet of completely uninteresting biscuits)…..oh how good it all tasted

7 June: Leon to La Robla

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“Get it, get it, over this way, no, ah it’s sinking, no it’s floating away, quickly!”
It was just like the scene in the movie, The Way, when Martin Sheen’s backpack falls in the river and floats away downstream – well, just like it, but with a few differences. Firstly, our real life episode thankfully involved a hat and not a backpack. And instead of disappearing downstream, it snagged on a partially submerged branch and stayed there long enough for us to consider our options. The water was too deep for wading and pretty fast-flowing, besides. The two Spaniards on the bridge were most concerned and full of vocal cautions when I went down to the water’s edge. But rather than going in (there’s no way I was going to do a Martin and jump in!), I was considering extending the hiking poles and fishing it out; unfortunately that hat was well out of reach. Fishing! Now there was a thought! With our washing line and a pin, we tried valiantly to hook a catch, and indeed got very close. It was all very dramatic with the Spaniards calling instructions and the mother calling out the translation and the older brother insisting he could do it better and the owner of the hat generally flapping around and the fisherman just doing his own thing. Then just like in a movie, the catastrophic event worsened and off the hat floated. I dashed under the bridge, hoping to catch it, the older man jumped down from the bridge and grabbed a long stick – but we couldn’t even see it – it vanished in the bushes! With uncharacteristic courage, I stepped out into the torrent onto some rocks and the man disappeared into the bushes upstream to try to find the thing and dislodge it with another stick. Nada. Eventually we had to face the reality that we were not in a movie, Martin Sheen was not going to rescue us and while the Spanish man was trying his best, there was no happy ending in sight.
“Well that gives my journalling some adventure,” Micaiah concluded as we walked dejectedly away.
Even without the high drama, Ella-Rose had already declared, “This is the best day on the camino.” I probed for explanation and her answer came quickly: there’s more than wheat to look at, it’s not straight and it’s mostly downhill. She was right on two counts, and I decided not to disillusion her about the mostly downhill. Our strava reading tells a different story:

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However, it was not hard walking. The climbs were gentle and short – easier than any of the hikes we do in the ranges at home.

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When the path went *around* the hill, the kids chose the high road and went over. The potential problem today was the distance, but judiciously chosen moments to make food appear allayed any further drama and it was an aniseedy-proudy-daddy day.
Actually, Daddy would not only have been proud; he just might be jealous when he sees the pictures: lavender-covered hillsides, quaint villages and mountain vistas.

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Not that it always looked so promising. We set off in drizzle and 9 degrees.

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Destination: La Robla
Distance: 30.7km
Cumulative Distance: 772km
228km to go….hopefully we won’t quite crack the 800 tomorrow!
Weather: drizzle…..then the wind got up

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Eventually the sun came out and the temperature hit 20 degrees, although perhaps it was the wind that prevented us from believing the thermometer we saw
Dinner: cheese on toast with soup, which doesn’t sound like much after a long walk, but we ate all day – muesli and yoghurt, hot chocolates with magdalenas, filled ciabatta rolls, chocolate, icecreams….and there was a big attraction that banished the hunger pangs right next to our albergue

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