10 May: El Real to Monesterio

Por favor. Please. Could you do something before reading? Today’s update really would be best read in the shower. Turn it on to cold and fairly steady. Every so often increase the pressure to maximum. Twice you can almost turn it off for three seconds. At this moment…

And this…

So remember, everything you read is to be seen through the lens of constant raindrops. Because, yes, it rained all day…again! The fifth day in a row, and there are two more to come. Still no one has complained. But today we did start dreaming. We designed The Ideal Bar. It would have a large reception area to take off wet gear, hang up jackets, little machines to insert shoes into to dry them magically. A welcoming host would repeatedly assure patrons that the dripping water was no problem and he would issue us with blankets to wrap ourselves in after drying off with big fluffy towels, and there would be sheepskin boots for our feet. We would transfer into “the salon” where we would drink hot chocolate or have a big mug of pumpkin soup with fresh hot bread. A few kilometers later the kids were adding a spa pool, heated floors and clothes driers that would work in half an hour.

In reality, the only bar we came across had a tiny vestibule where we piled up our wet gear. The inside was heated and so we were happy. The host was exceptionally gracious about the puddles we left on the floor and gave us hot milk and a container of Cola Cao to help ourselves from. The other patrons were well-heeled folks with dyed hair and fancy clothes who arrived in cars with silver symbols on the front. They handed over more than sixty euros for a platter of the famous (expensive) black pig ham and a few glasses of wine. 

We realised our ideal bar would have to have a time limit or pilgrims would never leave. We had to go back out into the fray, back into our own little bubbles of miserableness. When you are walking with a hood on and head down you don’t see so much, you don’t chat so much with those around you. You become intently focused on the orb of water gathering on the edge of your visor and you can’t help but measure how long it takes to drop off and the next one to start forming. Even when you don’t want it to, that blob just in your peripheral vision dominates your thoughts!

Then you hear a cuckoo. As you get closer, its call becomes louder. You pass and it fades. You think about the bucolic pastoral scenes you are walking through. If it weren’t for the rain, you just know that a young maiden in a flowing dress could come frolicking out of the flower-filled meadow with Don Quixote in tow. His poor horse Rocinante would be waiting patiently under a cork tree. If it weren’t for the rain, those cork trees could be sheltering Ferdinand the bull, who didn’t like fighting. But not today.

And so the day passes, from the beginning….oh yes, let me tell you about the beginning. Are you still in the shower? Are you cold yet? At the beginning of this section of the walk is a river crossing. Yesterday some people tried to do it, strong tall people. They got not even a quarter of the way across and the water was up to their mid-thighs and flowing fast. They turned back. It rained all night so we were not too hopeful that it would be better today. But we were keen to not take the alternative route at 12km farther! So even though a middle-aged man in the last house in the village came out to tell us “No passali”, we decided to go and see for ourselves. Besides, we had agreed to meet Sabina, the Polish lady and her Italian husband there to help each other across if possible……it was hard to believe it had been so high yesterday. It was not even mid-calf deep today! YAY!!! 

 Ella-Rose didn’t bother taking her shoes off – they were still completely sodden – but the rest of us went barefoot. Oh my! Was that water cold! Now if you’re in the shower, bend over, balancing your pack on your back and try to put your socks back on. Remember these are not any old socks – they have individual toes. Laugh.

Having kept his feet dry, Micaiah decided to try to not get wet feet all day. He took flying leaps at streams flowing across the path. He picked his way carefully through water courses that were too wide to jump over. He succeeded for quite a few kilometers while the rest of us went splashing like ducks through ankle deep crossings. And then there was the one that defeated him. It was a good three meters across and well over ankle deep. No detour was possible. I heard the moment Micki went through it. He had not understood why the rest of us were commenting on numb toes, but now he did. And he squealed like a black pig! Yes, it really was cold!

Shortly thereafter, the first “issue” occurred. For some reason the youngest of each gender found it necessary to splash each other and to take offense at it, in spite of being completely saturated anyway. I walked between them and peace reigned again. Five consecutive days of rain and only one issue, no complaining or grizzling or tantrums or sulking. I’m impressed and enjoying the peace, but the cost is great!

We thought of refugees today. They walk in the same rain. They trudge through the same mud. They have less food. And they don’t have a bed or shower (even a cold one like we got today) at the end of the day. They may not even have shelter. They are not carrying a set of dry clothes in their backpacks. Our walking clothes may be wet each day, but we have a spare set, including thermals which we have been most grateful for (actually, to be honest, the youngest has run out of dry underwear – all three pairs of undies are wet – but she’s got long johns!) 

And on we walked. A fairly steady uphill. We cheered a couple of cyclists on as they passed us, and smiled when one got off to push his bike! We smiled when a farmer gave us a big wave and wide grin from the comfort of his closed tractor cab. We were spurred on by a honk and wave or a honk and quizzical look that said “you poor wet sods, I really do feel for you”. Honks. Honks from cars. Yes, we were walking along the road. After the bar we had seen a roadside sign declaring Monasterio was 10km away. By our calculations it was meant to be 9km by the proper Camino route. We had set out from the warmth of the bar with Oma Gertrud, and together we decided it was worth taking the road in the hopes that it would be easier walking. We watched the Camino go up and down dale, while we plodded steadily on up into the clouds. Estupendo! Within two hours we were dripping and dropping everything in the ablutions block of the Municipal Albergue.

Another day done. You can get out of the shower now! Wait on cold tiles while six other people use the two showers (for fifty people) and then hop back in and have a cold shower to freshen up. 

Distance: 22.5km Total distance: 124km


8 May: Castilblanco to Almaden

I am So So So Very Proud of the four could-have-been drowned rats today. They walked a marathon (literally – and accidentally), and really struggled at the end, but never once complained. Not one murmur.

But before I tell you how it all happened, please allow me to introduce another principle character: Oma Gertrud. Born during the war in Poland to German parents, she is now 74 years old. Just after the war her family was forced to flee Poland – refugees! She has been walking ever since. She’s done all the Camino trails, plus many more in France, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Usually by herself. She is strong and fast. Her husband has been “under the ground” seven or eight years and her two sons are grown.

But back to the story. We knew it was going to be a long day – 29km. We knew there would be about 16km of walking on the road and then we would have the option to enter a natural park. The park would have beautiful views, but a steep and slippery climb. We were erring towards staying on the road, but reserved the final decision for when we arrived at the park entrance.

The weather forecast was 90-100% chance of rain all day. Let’s keep the story short – it didn’t stop, not for one minute of the ten and a half hours we were walking. The main problem with rain is that it makes everything wet! There is nowhere dry to take a break, nowhere to sit down and rest your feet.

We were trudging on up a hill early in the day, cold enough to have stopped to put gloves on, but in good spirits, when we felt pounding on the asphalt. It was Bruce from Hamilton, New Zealand, and as he has just spent three months walking the length of the South Island, he is walking fit. We chatted, a mixture of seriousness and Kiwi sarcasm. He and his wife, Jenny, who have done lots of walking and have been caught in a thunderstorm in Armenia and spent the night with smelly nomadic shepherds, were planning on taking the road. A thick fog was blanketing the park and it seemed pointless to go that way. But, lo and behold, when we reached the entrance they were deciding to abandon the road and take the pretty route.

There is a tiny concrete structure beside the gate with a small seat in it. We huddled inside to open our packs and prepare lunch. More people came so we vacated the puddled but sheltered spot quickly for them, having not sat down and with a roll in our hands. Oma was just arriving and she too was changing her mind and deciding to traverse the park. What’s more, she’d done it before and was confident it would be OK. We were already 17.3km down and everyone was feeling good, and the youngest really wanted to go through the park, so…….

We were chilled through, but we were thankful to get off the road. It really was most beautiful and was mostly downhill. The sun almost came out (even though it kept drizzling) and we stopped for a few moments, perching on the side of a low-walled concrete bridge to rest the feet. Oma caught us up, explained the differences in tree plantings from ten years ago and walked on. We followed and were surprised to soon see her in the distance going nowhere. She mimed swimming. She was here, at the only photo we took all day:

¬†Those lovely big rocks were not submerged, but they were placed too far apart for the girls to have a foot on two at the same time. They would have to jump. The longer we stood there, the harder it rained and the rocks were slippery. It had been pouring all night – so much rain across the whole country that later we would see it on the television news broadcast. The river was running fast. I whispered a prayer for wisdom and immediately Oma, who is short, said (in German), “We cannot do this. It’s impossible. It is too dangerous for the children. If they slip they will be swept away and you couldn’t do anything.” I stepped up onto one rock to try it out. She was right.

“Let’s walk up the river and see if there’s a better place to cross,” she suggested. Really? Why don’t we just turn around now? We couldn’t leave her climbing the bank on her own so we followed again. She found a spot with lots of greenery in the river, which she thought we could hold on to, but we had climbed higher up the hill and could see on the other side of the bushes there were a couple of meters of fast-flowing water. We took her up the hill and she was convinced. But she was also adamant that around the corner it had to be better. I offered for the kids to sit down and wait on the rocks while I would walk on with Oma. If we found somewhere I’d come back for them, if not we’d both come back and return to the road all together. Showing Naomi-like devotion, the kids insisted we stay together. Even with the details of numbers of kilometers laid out, they were certain it was right to choose the hard way. They also agreed we couldn’t leave 74-year-old Oma to go off crossing the river by herself, so we went on. Eventually Oma found a nice quiet spot. But her walking pole almost submerged completely when she tested it. This time it took no convincing that this was not the ideal crossing place. I had run out of hope that there would be anything better, the rain was starting to get heavier and so we made plans. We got her surname to add to the first name we already knew, and agreed to notify someone if she did not arrive at Almaden tonight. And we turned back.

It was all uphill. In driving rain. And we were shivering cold.

We walked and walked and it was looking like we would arrive by 4pm, which really wasn’t shabby. But with 10 to go (i.e. after 31km) the girls started hobbling due to sore ankles and sore feet and Levi was limping, but couldn’t identify what was hurting! The pace slowed, the rain became torrential and then cleared a bit, but never actually stopped.

We talked about the blog post’s opening sentence. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for complaining! But they didn’t.

We talked about not really being happy, but not grizzling. We decided it was OK to be sad and to acknowledge hurts, but that these things were not license to complain. We decided gratitude is the antidote, it brings healing. Not happy-clappy-manufacture-a-false-emotion, but gratefulness. We know by heart “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Tessa and Micki had recently read about Corrie ten Boom, so they had more examples to share.

With three kilometers to go I looked back. A tear was rolling with the raindrops down Ella-Rose’s face. Her feet were hurting, her calves were burning, her hip was aching and it was raining. I took her hand. Ella-Rose does not like holding anyone’s hand, but she gripped it tightly. She let go only when a car approached and we had to walk in single file. She sobbed quietly, she refused to let anyone take her pack because she wanted to do it herself, she did not complain. Throughout the day Micaiah had walked with her, offering encouragement and warming her cold, wet, white wrinkly hands in his dry, warm pocket.

By the time the town came in sight, Ella-Rose could hardly move and it was clear we would not be arriving before 6pm. We had already turned the phone off, because we were almost out of battery. The boys were gutted that there would not be proof that they had walked 42km! (41 on the way and another kilometer later)

Levi and Tessa had found a second wind. I sent them off ahead to see if they could get beds for us, aware that cyclists get given beds from 6 onwards. When we reached the town, a man approached and asked if we wanted the Municipal Albergue or a restaurant. Was it just him, or does everyone in the south slur their words together in a mumble like no other? We explained we were going to the albergue and he promptly turned us around and showed us a shortcut. I was a little concerned for the two who would be following signs, but I was more concerned for Ella-Rose, who was by now completely sodden and shaking with cold as we were shuffling so slowly. I figured I could go back and find the others once she was in the shower! As it turned out, they passed the end of the shortcut street as we were walking along it. They had also been stopped by the same man, but had not understood him, so simply followed the signs.

Soon after arriving, who should turn up, but Oma! She was staying in a private residence, but wanted to check we had arrived and let us know she was OK. She had scrambled along the riverbank for another half hour. She found a favorable crossing, took off her boots and trousers and waded across! Go Grandma!!

Back at the albergue the showers were hot. A Belgian lad, who spent three months volunteering in Togo and is now into his fourth month of cycling home gave the sorest two a professional massage. We went out for a hilarious and delicious dinner. Josiah called. We tumbled into bed at 10:40, and now two hours later I’m lying in my bunk, a snoring man on either side, and I am amazed. What a day!


5 May: Sevilla

“If I ever have kids I want them to be behaved like yours. I haven’t heard them bicker, I saw them do their washing and cook dinner and do the dishes. I couldn’t cook when I left home, let alone at their age. But it’s how polite they are that I really want. My Mom always yelled at me, but you haven’t yelled at them at all.”

So said one of the twenty-something girl at the hostel last night. If only the story stopped here! I told the kids about the conversation this morning and suggested they live up to their reputations. Indeed, they did cook and wash clothes and do dishes and journal and play cards and walk 15km and do the navigating with a map….unfortunately, they also bickered….in the largest Gothic cathedral of the world, no less. One tried to push another off a pew and gave him a boot when he shifted. One grumbled and muttered under her breath how boring it was – despite seeing Christopher Columbus’ tomb and a gold altar that was 30 meters high and an 800 year old hand-stitched flag and a 500 year old illuminated manuscript book. Another argued with everything that was said. All day. At least I didn’t yell;-)

Acually most of the day was OK! We wandered the city, climbed the Giralda Tower, visited the aforementioned cathedral and also popped inside the church that was in the Orange Trees Picture yesterday.


4 May: Sevilla

The second day in a place is always more relaxing. You know there’s a little supermarket just up the road and you know where everything is in it, you know what facilities are at the hostel, and when you turn a corner in the late afternoon and realise you’re right where the bus dropped you off yesterday, you feel  quite at home.

Today, the first day without a plane trip, had as its main focus some housekeeping. Find an Orange store and sort out a phone issue. Find the Camino Association and get our credentials. Find a place to photocopy our passports. This would mean venturing a little farther afield from the little area we have wandered in son far, and eventually we would head for the Plaza de Espana as well.

Work may have been the objective, but we enjoyed the journey as we went. We marveled at orange trees (and ginormous buildings)…

We happened upon an unimposing-looking church facade on a street corner and were lured inside by the sounds coming out and a beggar who invited us to enter. 

What an unexpected shock. The whole front altar from floor to ceiling, which incidentally seemed pretty high once you were inside, was gold on gold on gold. The walls were covered with paintings all framed with thick gold. Welcome to extreme Baroque! We had things to do, but we had time to stop, so we stayed for the Lord’s Prayer, the passing of the peace, the Eucharist….and then we slipped out the heavy wooden door, noting that it is unusual in our experience that at 10:20 on a Wednesday morning a church should have a couple of dozen people in it celebrating their faith.

On the way to get our credentials we saw our first arrow. It’s starting to feel like we’re going to do a walk!

 Rafael in the office was so welcoming. He filled us with excitement for what is ahead. He made us speak Spanish. He questioned everyone, making no exception for the kids. He urged them to fill out their own Spanish forms. He had a special word for each child. I was reminded that I LOVE this about the Camino – the kids get treated as PEOPLE.
But we have more time in Sevilla before we start to walk, so we headed for Plaza de Espana. Micaiah had researched Sevilla before we came and so along the way he gave a running commentary, “Dear friends to our left we have the famous Bull ring, and coming up on our right is the Torro del Oro, which you can go up, but we’re going to save our money and go up the Giralda Tower, which is higher, another day.” 

We spent a few hours at the Plaza. It’s an impressive massive semi-circular brick and tiled affair. It is an experience to be devoured. On this particular day the sun blazed down at 33 degrees, a gentle breeze provided welcome cooling, as did the spray from the central fountain. Roses in all shades of pink provided visual interest to supplement the pictures of Iberian cities and patterns in the tiles. Sounds were layered on top of each other – maracas, horses clip-clopping on the cobblestones, birds tweeting, the fountain swooshing, drums beating. Later in the afternoon a number of music styles competed with each other as various performers danced and trumpeted and spun in an oversized hula hoop and acrobated on a high frame. There was a sophisticated carnival atmosphere. 

More mundane activities rounded out the day. Hand washing, making dinner, checking budget…and the favourites – icecream eating, journaling and blogging (one of which, I pointed out today, will NOT become a daily event!)

Dinner: tomato and onion salad on a bed of lettuce, red cabbage and carrot, topped with flaked fish, olives and peppers. Olive oil drizzled over all. Cheese and bread on the side. Baked cheesecake for dessert. 

3 May: Meet Chen (Madrid to Seville)

Let me introduce Chen. He was in Bunk “I” last night, but had taken the bedding from Bunk “J” (mine) and stored some of his gear in my locker too. The rest was spread across the floor and piled up in front of the kids’ lockers.

We didn’t actually see Chen, because we were asleep when he came in just after “lights out and silence time”. But we heard him; he was chatting loudly with his mate across the other side of the room. He was rustling plastic bags. He was dragging something across the floor. We could have seen *what* – he had turned on the lights, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that five people were already sleeping. I stuck my head under my pillow in silent objection and denial at such insensitivity. I simultaneously started an internal monologue with hostel-goers in general and Chen in particular. I ended up suggesting to him (in my head) that if he didn’t strew his stuff all over the SHARED space he would not need a light to avoid tripping over it. I was certain he would extinguish the light and quieten down, and indeed he must have, because at 1am the dark silence was broken abruptly. On went the light. On went Chen’s flip flops and somehow – I’m not quite sure how he achieved this – he both stomped AND scuffed his way out of the room. Of course, he left the light on. I’m guessing he still didn’t want to trip over his things which he had not tidied up before retiring. I reminded myself we *chose* to stay in a hostel.

Chen returned to bed, turned out the light and infuriatingly dropped straight off to sleep. Very soon he was both farting and snoring. He even slept through the phone notifications that started dinging and whooshing and popping on his phone. By this stage I considered failing to put his phone on silent was pretty consistent with the rest of his behaviour. But I was still a little surprised when, having been roused by one particularly annoying ping, he decided to reply to the message. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap – every letter typed could be heard in the otherwise stillness. 

At about the 70th ding something happened. There is something about that number. Seventy. Seventy times seven, Seventy-seven times. It brought to mind (somewhat annoyingly I might add) some teaching we try to live by. Something about forgiveness. If a brother sins against you forgive him up to….how many times was that? Now, I was counting dings and we were getting close. But the point of that number is not its finiteness, but the exact opposite. Keep on forgiving. What is faith if it is not expressed in action? Forgive. Forgive even inconsiderate, think-only-of-himself, irritating, frustrating, unbelievable Chen.

It was time (2am to be precise by now) to let it go. It was time to banish thoughts of revenge. It was time to decide to walk in integrity. We would get up extremely quietly in the dark and tip-toe around at 5am. We would not turn on the light gleefully. We would not think it served him right that we would bang about when he wanted to sleep and “accidentally” trip over his stuff scattered around the room.

Fine intentions. And they were to be tested one last time. At 3am the phone rang. It woke me first, Chen second. When he realised it was his phone he sat up and answered it. Yes, at 3am he took a phone call there in the room with eleven other people, not considering the possibility that he might take it out into the hall. Who knows what the person on the other end said? All I know is it prompted Chen to tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap some messages which went with a decisive whoosh….and a few minutes later the replies started coming. Ding Ping Tap Whoosh.

I didn’t go back to sleep.

We got up quietly soon after 5. I suspect Chen didn’t even hear us.

We were on the first train of the day to the airport. We were going to Seville.

It was a short flight. We were barely up in the air and we were coming down again. There was just time to compare the scenery of yesterday’s   European flight (snow-capped mountains and swathes of cultivated fields in all shades of greens and browns) with today’s Spanish fields – lots of dusty browns. We were grateful the trip was so short because we were acutely aware that we would soon be WALKING the whole length of the flight and then some. It never fails to scare me to look out of a plane window and realise that we are going to walk farther than we can see.

But today was just a short walk. It seemed apt to head straight for the city centre and then cathedral, which will be our starting point for our official walk. After the shenanigans of last night, I had to smile at this (do read the sign):

We circumnavigated the cathedral and went inside. Tessa commented that the vaults were intentionally made so high to inspire awe. That they certainly did, even today in an age of skyscrapers.

If we’d realised that it was going to get so hot and that our chosen spot in the shade would remain shaded for only quarter of an hour, we might have decided to draw something inside. But we all wanted to do the Giralda Tower, so we melted in the thirty degrees.

Aware that everyone was still tired, I made the call to keep the day short (and buy icecreams), and so we wandered back to the hostel. Even that little trip was full of interesting surprises….teeny tiny lanes suitable only for pedestrians, open plazas with tables and tapas, doors opening directly off the street revealing leafy internal courtyards, blue-and-white tiled undersides of balconies providing a visual feast for those standing below, beauty everywhere. (It was a pleasant contrast to the uninspiring concrete and brick apartment blocks that lined the road from the airport to city centre).

Thus ended the first day in Seville.

2 May: Amsterdam to Madrid

The dream of actually contributing to the refugee crisis in a practical way came to fruition. We staggered into the arrivals hall into the open (literally) and welcoming arms of an Australian Spaniard who had borrowed a car to come and collect the gear. Our encounter was short, but heartfelt. Mission accomplished.

Here we were in Madrid, new and yet familiar. Returning to a place previously visited is quite different to being there for the first time. There were lots of “ah, that’s right, I’d forgotten that” moments and reconnecting with old friends, both the real people variety as well as statues and buildings and other things familiar.

Ah that’s right, the driver’s seat is on the left.

Ah that’s right, you stand on the right if you’re not walking up an escalator.

Ah that’s right, this is the gay district, where today we saw more same-sex couples strolling down the street in five minutes than we’ve seen in New Zealand…ever.

Ah that’s right, people are friendly and go out of their way to be helpful on the street.

Ah that’s right it’s spring and strawberries are cheap.

Yes, I’d forgotten just how well-dressed everyone is. Everything matches, lots of  scarf accessorising, men in buttoned shirts and jumpers with the cuffs folded up, funky coloured shoes everywhere.

I’d forgotten the buzz, the vibe that is Madrid.

There’s the statue that Jesus sent us to find.

There’s the spot where we listened to street musicians until midnight. 

There’s  the wool shop where I made a purchase. Remember how So-and-So got grumpy walking there?

There are those majestic stately buildings that wowed us the first time we saw them, and are just as grand today.

It feels surreal after 40+ hours of travelling to be plopped here in this humming city for a fleeting visit. It was a delightful re-encounter, but it is already all but over. By 7pm the kids were in bed and all fell asleep immediately. I suspect they would not have lasted that long if we had not met up with a friend from a previous camino. A couple of hours of reminiscing pushed them all to the edge of Staying-Awake-Ability; hopefully our body clocks will adjust quickly as we valiantly attempt to adopt the new time zone. A six o’clock start tomorrow means there won’t be any sleeping late!

1 May: from Auckland to Amsterdam

The best kind of flight is an unmemorable one. We were making memories before we’d even left! It started with Ella-Rose forgetting to pick up her backpack. Not a big deal, but it DID contain Every Single Thing she’ll need for the next two months. And it would turn out to be foreshadowing of things to come! Once we’d got through customs – with five packs – the kids started clamouring to hold their own passports and boarding passes. How unreasonable a request is that when we’re already in the departure lounge and only need to wait a few minutes? Those moments passed and we joined the queue. Standing quietly together, Ella-Rose noticed we were holding passports and she wasn’t. It wasn’t in her backpack (which this time she had remembered to pick up), it wasn’t anywhere along the short route we had just walked, it wasn’t where we had been sitting. Serious concern was written all over her face, her voice was quivering and I was chiding myself when a loud voice called out, “Would you be looking for this?” He was waving a little black book with silver insignia on the front and a white boarding pass was poking out from it. In the relief of that moment I decided that I would hold all documents from now on and the kids’ responsibilities would be limited to navigating us around the airports. We made it to Guangzhou and they found toilets and boiling water so we could make cup-a-soup for our eight hour layover, so we’ll clock that up as a success.

As it was fast approaching midnight NZ time and we had been up since just after five, I suggested we find somewhere to sleep the wait away. The seats were non-sleepable, being well endowed with hard metal immovable arms. I found a choice spot on the floor – carpeted, out of the path of traffic, in fact, you could even call it secluded, but Micaiah objected, “I have my pride Mum”.  Thankfully he also had reason and in a few moments everyone was lying down, even if they were grumbling. Soon a number of other people had joined us and it made me think of refugees finding whatever spot they can to bunk down at night, never safe, rarely properly asleep, on constant alert. And vulnerable – it was at the last minute that I thought about that. When there was only an hour left until boarding I decided to set an alarm just in case I dropped off. When the buzzing roused me from a scarily deep sleep considering the circumstances, it struck me just how vulnerable an exhausted refugee is, especially a parent who is travelling alone with children. At some point you do have to sleep and will not be able to be Protector. But there was no time for further contemplation – there were four even-more-deeply-asleep-than-me children to rouse. All rolled over and kept sleeping when I shook them, but to their credit as soon as they grasped the situation they bounded into action – Tessa even picked up Ella-Rose’s pack for her and E-R was ungrumpy enough to be thankful.

On to leg two to Amsterdam, twenty minutes longer than the first at eleven hours forty minutes.   More memories! Two sets of kids each stuck in the middle of a row of four, one of the pairs three rows ahead of me. Me wedged in the middle of a three seat row with a big guy on one side and a mum and toddler on the other. Our row was movie-less (first world problem), but we had inflight entertainment in the form of a pretty bumpy ride – at first we were told to fasten seat belts and hold on if we were in the lavatory. Eventually we were forbidden from using the loos for a time – which I considered my punning friends would think is no different to “holding on”! I guess I was a bit tired by this point;-)

Mercifully, the toddler slept most of the flight, the Big Guy got up for frequent walks and the bumps smoothed out so Tessa could put her sick bag away unused and the toilets were back in action! In short, it was mostly an unmemorable flight.

Arrived Amsterdam as the sun was rising. Predictably, the view was all flat agricultural land, canals, mostly bare trees and a few pink blossoms. Oh, and tulips…

Why Spain again?

We’ve been asked this more than once, usually along with, “How many times HAVE you done this?”
Here’s the answer to the second question:
Camino Routes 2012 to 2016

We all – as in all eight kids, Mum and Dad and Grandpa all did the blue route in 2012, partly as a “probably our last trip together as a family”, partly to see if we liked long distance walking (and if it turned out we didn’t it was only two weeks sandwiched in between weeks in Paris and London, which we knew we’d love). Turns out all of us enjoyed it at the time and some liked it enough to continue.
The four youngest and Mum did the red route in 2014 – a 1,500km fundraising walk for charity: water. We enjoyed it, but that does not mean there were no hard times. Days on end slogging through rain and mud, and the occasional times with Youngest Child screaming along the trail come to mind.But it wasn’t meant to be easy. It was meant to be sacrifice as we thought about those without access to clean water every day we walked.
Last year Rob and I did that little green route in Portugal to celebrate 25 years of marriage.
And now, God-willing, we are about to hit the purple one.

Why do we go back to Spain? Why not trek in the Himalayas or do some hikes in England or Scotland?
You can only walk one trial at a time. I’d LOVE to walk them all, I really would. Right now the Camino calls as it is an easy option – easy in the sense that there is very little planning to do ahead of time as there are reasonably frequent and inexpensive accommodations along a usually well-marked trail and scrummy food to boot. It’s also good for practising Spanish, and this trip in particular will be an educational field trip with a special focus on architectural history.
Even the youngest kids are probably strong enough now to manage enforced long days (40km or more) that seem to be part and parcel of less structured hikes, so maybe Canterbury to Rome along the Via Francigena or Rome to Jerusalem – or even Canterbury to Jerusalem could be on the cards next. Or the Iron Curtain Trail, 7,000km along the border that started disintegrating nearly 30 years ago (I’ve got my sights on that one for a thirtieth wedding anniversary adventure – back to the place we started our newly-wed adventure!) Or the Himalayas…or South America…or North America…or Africa to visit our sponsored children…or the Great Walks of New Zealand. There are lots of places to walk.


Via de la Plata Map links

VdlP mapMy Mum and Dad like to follow along vicariously on our journey so I put together a quick little map for them. It’s always tricky because we generally don’t know for certain when we’ll be where. However, this time is a little different, because we have Daddy, Grandpa and Uncle coming to join us partway through so we have a definite timeline for their arrival and departure dates at least. Click here if you’d like to take a squiz at the map¬† – see if you can spot the bit where we hop on a bus. The purist in me doesn’t like taking busses and skipping sections, but The Men who are joining us have only a limited time with us and we’d like for them to be able to see both Merida and Salamanca and so we’ll do what we need to do to make it work for them. At the end of the day, relationship is more important than Walking-The-Whole-Way-Every-Step-Of-The-Way!

If you are interested in even more detail – or if you just like maps because maps are cool, there’s a really funky website with zoomy maps that you’ll love to have a look at. Click right here to see what I mean. Each stage (or Etapa in Spanish) has its own map below the main one – click on the place names in bold orange and you’ll be in for a real treat. (Go on, do it, even just once!) That link takes you to the first part of the route, the Via de la Plata. If you get become khooked and want to follow the whole way, you’ll need to CLICK HERE for the last part, the Camino Sanabres. If you’re thinking of walking yourself, you’ll find the site to be most useful. There is information about the route and accommodation and services along the way. It’s in Spanish, but you’ll work it out, and if not, then googletranslate is your friend. The gronze site is similar; again in Spanish, but with much lower tech maps and some people find it easier to navigate. If you prefer English, German, French, Italian, Portuguese or Japanese then mundicamino is the site for you.