Shoes

“I’m missing my breakfast updates!” I’m surprised just how many people have said this to us in the week we’ve been back. I’ve been missing writing too. And taking photos. And lots of walking.

Which brings me to shoes. Or more precisely, sandals.

 When we left New Zealand my sandals were green. When we returned they had taken on a distinct orangey-brownish tint. I had intended to scrub them in Santiago, but it wasn’t warm enough for them to dry so I just made a point of declaring them on the bio-security-hazards part of the arrivals card. In the past, our newly-cleaned hiking gear has been given a disinfectant treatment. This time the bio security guys didn’t even look at them. Go figure!

But today’s story – concocted especially for those of you who are missing the morning updates – is not about my green sandals. It’s about a pair of brown sandals.

When I was seventeen I was given the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious girls’ schools in Auckland. My family wasn’t really into prestige or keeping up with the Jones-es, but they did value education. 

On the first day I bowled up wearing the uniform that had probably cost my parents more than they would usually spend on our whole wardrobe for an entire year.  There were no regulation shoes; the only stipulation was that they be brown. At the beginning of summer I had bought myself a pair of brown sandals from an op shop. I’d worn them every day and I intended to wear them to school for the summer term.

One of the first conversations I had in the Hallowed Seventh Form Common Room began, “When are you going to buy your school shoes?” My sandals…..just a wide band of leather across the foot and a strap around the ankle…..were nothing like the slip-ons-with-a-dangly-tassel-on-the-front that everyone else was wearing. I saw a pair of shoes like that the other day, which reminded me of this.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m no rhinoceros with extra-thick skin. I wanted to be liked. Don’t we all? But I didn’t want to be like the girl for whom the most important thing was what kind of shoes I was wearing. I wanted to be liked by them, but I didn’t want to be like them.

I drove in their daddies’ cars with leather seats, I went to the ball, I sat in the common room…..but I never belonged. I wore the wrong sandals.

Looking back, I can see perhaps it was a significant step (no pun intended, but hard to avoid) in my journey. I learnt that it was OK to be different. 

Perhaps wearing that pair of sandals gave me courage to get married at twenty. To go and live in Poland. To apply to do a post-graduate diploma before acquiring a degree. To homeschool. Eight kids. On one income. To travel a decent portion of the world with them for fifteen months. We couldn’t have done it if I’d needed new shoes like everyone else. I guess I also learnt that buying secondhand is ultimately empowering.

Now I need to go and scrub my green sandals.

29 June: To Guangzhou 

 Three flights down and one to go!

The pilot of the last one had a great sense of hum our: “This is your pilot speaking. The good news is we have one of the strongest tail winds ever and flight time will be forty minutes shorter than usual. The bad news is right now the control tower staff are on strike so we will have to sit here on the tarmac for forty minutes. So basically there is no news.”

He went on to deliver a very smooth flight until landing time. He warned us we were about to enter a thunderstorm and even when we were only meters from the ground the plane was being buffered from side to side and when we touched down it felt like we were swerving to avoid pandas or something on the runway. Once the passengers were confident we were going to arrive in one piece, most of them started clapping!

Now we’re off to our favourite spot on the floor to have a lying-down-sleep for a few hours before the last leg. Hopefully the thunderstorm will blow itself out. Can’t wait to get home now!

2 June: Salamanca to Calzada de Valdunciel

The train took Daddy to Madrid…..there were no tears.

The taxi took Grandpa and Uncle to their bus which will whisk them to Santiago in a heartbeat. (Two rounds of good-byes are harder than one).

The rest of us took the slog through a maze of roundabouts out of Salamanca. After quite a stretch of walking by the road with lots of honks and toots and waves from passing motorists, the route turned on to a dirt road.

Wild flowers were everywhere. 


In one little village we were busy following our yellow markers when a little lady with a watering can called us from up the street. She insisted we were going the wrong way and grabbed my arm to drag us in the right direction. I explained there were two routes and we did not want the alternative. Little lady thumped me on the arm and shuffled further up the road, enlisting the help of a teenaged girl to convince us about her route. We kept repeating the same things at each other, I consulted googlemaps which confirmed we did not want to go through the lady’s detour village, and we tried to look busy while she wandered back to the church to finish the flowers. After a respectable time we snuck down the back of the church, trying to avoid detection. We backtracked to check the sign:

 Yes, definitely a yellow one to go straight ahead. We followed it! Soon we were crossing the motorway Uncle and Grandpa would soon be driving along.

The yellow arrows continued and then lo and behold they pointed off towards the village the Bossy Little Lady had tried to steer us towards. We make a point of following arrows and not using googlemaps, but this time we took a look. The village was a detour. The main road would take us straight to Our Village. Some things make no sense. We took the detour.
After a week of the temperatures not being the highest, we were reluctant to complain about the heat, BUT boy was it hot!

When we were about an hour away Daddy messaged us with the news he had finished his wanderings around Madrid and was heading to the airport. The race was on: who would arrive first? Despite the heat, the kids changed gear, and we just made it to the village before he got to the airport.


At the albergue was a fair dinkum Aussie named Digger (ex-army) with whom we bantered for a while, sharing stories and history. 

There was also a Spanish guy, Pedro, who is riding his horse who goes by the name of Peregrin! Then a typically expressive Italian who speaks with his hands turned up and the place was full. Lingua Franca is Spanish and we’re having a laugh a minute. Mr Italiano loved the kids immediately and bought them food. He’s their friend already!

Distance: 17.1km Total distance: 439km

25 May: Caceres 9:30am

As we walked along the street the aroma of fried dough wafted on the air. A solid round man stepped out of the fly-screened doorway clutching a large paper bag. 

“Buen Dia” everyone chorused (swallowing the correct Spanish word endings) as we entered the gentlemen’s club.

One of the two young dark men behind the counter rushed to rearrange the furniture and make a table big enough for us. While everyone else
piled  backpacks in a corner and sat down I went to order. Eight chocolates (and a cafe solo for Uncle to mix his own mochacino with) and two churros per person please. “No hay churros”

Aaagghh!

“We’ve only got porres.”

No problem! We’ll take 16 of them thanks. It doesn’t matter to us whether the dough is straight or curly! (Not that I said all of that in Spanish!!)

 

Our table fell into silence as we savoured the sweetness. All around us voices babbled louder and louder, more and more men (and one lady) came in, took a seat or stood at the counter adding to the commotion, sipping, munching, laughing, chattering.  We couldn’t have heard ourselves unless we were also shouting….but we were too busy eating anyway.Well nourished, we headed for the bus station where we found all the women of the town, equally noisy and without exception, smoking. They were all off to Caceres – for work or shopping, we presume. They chatted as noisily as the men in the churreria – everyone knew everyone else and they engaged us as well, a very inclusive friendly community.

In ten minutes the bus had covered the ground we walked yesterday!

13 May: Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros

One of the still-in-NZ-kids sent a particularly thoughtful message yesterday:

mum i just caught up on the blog, question, are you enjoying the trip so far? coz it looks miserable with all the rain and cold weather…. would totally understand if you weren’t… but just wondering

My answer: “It IS miserable and demanding and challenging. No denying that. But it is also great. Fun people, yummy food, relaxing-ish, exercise, kids getting on well, lots of Polish and German speaking, beautiful vistas, amazing wild flowers and birds. Yeah, it’s good.”



Today we got all our walking in before the rain, and it has to be said that it is much more pleasant walking in non-rain! But at the same time, things are not bad or even necessarily unenjoyable simply because they are hard. There is satisfaction that can come only from achieving something challenging, and that is positive. We have now had a week of such moments!

Mixed in with the difficulty have been a whole lot of lovely sights and experiences too: 


 (The church whose bells play the opening bars of Beethoven’s ninth symphony at nine in the morning – I wondered if there’s a different tune for every hour, but we couldn’t hang around to find out)


Last night we wandered around Zafra, bumping into fellow pilgrims, enjoying the architecture of the town, looking for a place that would serve food before 8:30, having a few laughs with Bruce and Jenny, who we were going to have dinner with. It was simply pleasant and we eventually (at nine o’clock) had a tasty dinner together including the best olives ever (and chicken giblets for Ella-Rose, who was told only the first word – chicken! No-one tried Bruce’s oxtail).

We all set out at the same time this morning, and although it was not planned that way, Jenny and I (somewhat unusually) strode out ahead and (not unusually if the past couple of days are anything to go by) shared stimulating inspirational conversation until 17km later! Bruce, meanwhile, walked with his companions, who he challenged with questions as he urged them to think about their surroundings.

Yes, we’re having a good time! 

Except when we passed this pig farm… There were more pigs than we could count; some eating, some wallowing in the mud, some sheltering in a shed, some climbing over others,some lying on top of each other. All of them S.T.I.N.K.I.N.G. The smell was not unlike a rubbish dump with a chemistry experiment gone wrong aftertaste to it. It’s not often you taste a smell, but this was one of those times and it was not pleasant. Neither was it the first time we have passed one of these farms. 

But apart from the smell of the piggy farms, we’re having a great time.

Distance: 20.2km Total distance: 195km

12 May: Fuente de Cantos to Zafra

Seven hours on the road……

7:30am

 
Waiting by the church while Micki puts plasters on his feet – but I can’t complain about him forgetting because soon I will be running back to the hostal to fetch my hiking pole that I forgot.

8:30am 

9:30am 

10:30am 

 Yep, road-walking. The Camino does not actually follow the road, but we were advised to take this detour to avoid two complicated river crossings. We saw Polish Pani Sabina and her Italian husband, Benedict, ahead of us not taking the detour. Despite walking more than 2km further than them, we reached the spot where the two routes intersected a good twenty minutes sooner. They had had a terrible time wading through water above their knees on unstable stones covering a riverbed that dropped unexpectedly and caught them unawares a number of times. Oma Gertrud took the same route and even fell in the water! We were so pleased to have gone the long way.

11:30 lunch break 

Approaching 12:30 (by 12:30 we were right under The Black Cloud in a howling gale being Dumped On) 

1:10pm

 

1:30pm 

 Warming up before the last 4km.

2:10pm (just before town) 


2:20pm (just in town) 


2:30pm 

From across the street Antonio waved and smiled at us. “The family is here!” He ushered us upstairs, called his wife to begin the stamping procedure, poured glasses of juice, handed out shells, told us last night’s host (also Antonio) had told him we were coming so he reserved a room “for the family” (which we will end up sharing with Oma because she understandably does not want to share with Don Roncador/Snorer, who is otherwise a lovely guy!)….he handed out towels and insisted we have our washing done for free and by 4:30pm a brand new drier would be delivered and – of course – our family’s clothes should go in first!!! What an amazing welcome. Another day’s walking done. 

Distance: 28km (actually it was 28.9km for me, but you can’t count forgetful backtracking!) Total distance: 175km

11 May: Monesterio to Fuente de Cantos

Look who joined us today:

 Yes, that would be a shadow, which means there was (for five minutes anyway) some sun!!! #mamatakesaselfie

Come walk with us (it’s a great day for walking, started off at 8 degrees at 7:30am, so set a cracking pace to keep warm)…














 Cold feet!!







Then we came to another puddle, it really wasn’t so bad, but a farmer drove down from his farm and offered to ferry us across it. Would you have refused? 

And very soon we were arriving on the outskirts of town. A old battered car drew up and I explained to the kids someone would hop out and try to solicit our business. It just so happened to be for the place we actually wanted to stay tonight, so we were certainly happy to oblige. I insisted we wanted to stay in the dormitory, rather than the double rooms in the house. Agreed. When we arrived the father-and-son team exchanged a few words. The upshot was that we were shown the house and convinced of how wonderful it was. And it was. There was heat. There were two people per room. There were fluffy white towels on the beds. There was a bath in the bathroom. There was a well-equipped kitchen. Then we were shown the freezing unheated bleak-looking dormitory and told we could stay in the house for the same price as the dorm. Deal done!

We raced out to the supermarket before it closed for the whole afternoon and soon enough a tasty chorizo and vegetable sauce with half a carton of 59-cents-a-litre red wine was simmering on the stove. 

The last room was taken by Bruce and Jenny from Hamilton, NZ so it’s a veritable Kiwi house tonight! English conversation is a welcome break from the linguistic stimulation of the last week….but that’s a story for another day.

Distance 21.9km Total distance: 146km

9 May: Almaden to El Real de la Jara

This really is Quite. The. Adventure! Day two was mud, yesterday was long and today was cold water. Speaking of cold, here we are at the end of the day – clothes and packs drying by a fire.

It’s a funny wee place we’re in – the roofs are curved and the doorways short and deep.

Having rained again all night, there were puddles everywhere and the air was heavy with moisture as we set out past the small village’s bull ring.
John from Montana, who does cross country ski-ing in winter and is currently walking from Gibraltar to Santiago, came striding up behind us. He has slept in his tent the last two nights and was heartily rejoicing at the fabulous weather for walking. His enthusiasm was a ray of sunshine.
It was a day of bucolic pastoral scenes full of cork trees, black pigs, goats and babbling brooks.  


Those babbling brooks….a word or two about them. At first we tried to stay dry. 

 But there were so many rivulets everywhere that the shortest legs gave up trying. 

 It’s not like our shoes were dry to start with – nothing had dried last night and we had pulled on damp clothes at the last minute before leaving this morning. 

As the day wore on and more rain fell, this time much heavier than yesterday (colonies of great big fat cold raindrops), the streams got louder and louder until they sounded ferocious. They were rising quickly and seemed threatening! 

 At the bottom of this little hill was a wee crossing (number 793 perhaps), and then soon after came the crossing we’ll never forget. As we approached we saw Gentleman John sheltering under a cork tree on the other side.  He knew we would be coming and he had waited to help us across. He could have walked on, he certainly didn’t need immersion in the cold water twice! We will be forever grateful to him. 
That was the excitement for the day. After that it was just uphill slog followed by the torrential downpour accompanied by thunder and a strong desire TO ARRIVE!


After the obligatory showers on arrival and eating our lunch at 3pm because we hadn’t wanted to stop in the rain, we took a wee wander up to the castle, but were so cold we headed for the supermarket to buy food for Micki to “cook” and zipped back home to crawl into bed in the hopes of warming up. 


A pleasant day’s walking is on order for tomorrow – without adventures! The kids had even suggested we just take the road, but at 32km instead of twenty through the park, it doesn’t sound so much easier after all! However, we may have no choice; today people couldn’t get across the river in the park route – tomorrow may be the same.

6 May: Sevilla to Guillena


“So much has happened today!” Quite a statement from Micaiah before 11 in the morning, but quite true.

Walking day at last. 

  We set out in drizzle, taking to heart Grandpa’s advice that it is always better to choose to be happy. Off in the distance was a really dark cloud and we were headed straight for it. Happily! Laughter rang out when a car splashed through a kerbside puddle showering me with mud! Happy! Approaching the extra dark cloud, the rain got heavier and heavier until we were right under it and in nothing short of a deluge. Then we were out the other side, looking back at it sitting there. 

 All day the rain would play with us, on and off, more on than off.  It was the kind of day that sensible people stay tucked up inside!

When we got to Camas the next exciting thing happened. 

 
 Happy!
That is churros and chocolate for two. It fed five easily! And if it hadn’t, the ladies at the next table offered us their leftovers! They were not the only friendly Camas-residents. Leaving the centre, the yellow arrows seemed to be pointing towards the motorway, so we headed back to go around the roundabout on the footpath. Two old men sitting under a rotunda signaled that we should continue towards the motorway onramps. It seemed strange, but they were so friendly and insistent that this was right. Next thing we knew we were meeting two more friendly Camas-residents. Policemen this time. They pulled up in their patrol car and stopped traffic  while talking to us! Were we doing the Camino? Did we want to go to Samtiponce next? Did we realise we were heading towards the motorway and really couldn’t go around this side of the roundabout? Go back and cross over there and walk past those two men and take the next road. That will be much safer. Do you understand? All good?

The walk from Camas to Santiponce is uninspiring at best, through an industrial area along a dead straight road. The memory of churros  put smiles on our faces the whole way.

And that was when Micki’s comment about so much happening escaped his lips.  More was to come!

 We saw a sign for the place Grandpa and Daddy will join us in. We have just over a week to get there!
Then I saw my retirement home: 

 More happy!!!!

And even more….

The big event of the day was visiting the ruins of Italica. This was the biggest Roman city in Hispania, thriving there two hundred years before Christ….abandoned and then rediscovered six hundred years ago. These are time frames difficult for Kiwis with a one hundred year history to comprehend!  

 
After Italica it was back to road walking. Even that provided some HAPPY:  And soon we were onto truly happy walking – off the main road, away from traffic, through a small glade of trees and onto a rural road. 

More rain fell. Much more. The road turned to mud. Mud is another word for happiness for the kids. Again laughter rang out as Mama slipped and skidded along. Then they started sliding too (except Ella-Rose, she would like you to know!) and happiness was in the air. It might not be right, but there was more laughter when we saw some cyclists turn back. It seemed especially funny because they got over halfway through the bad bit before turning around.

Then there was an enormous happiness. The girls have never witnessed the likes of what happened. I overheard one of the ladies at the albergue telling another that she was Polish. I spoke to her in Polish, just a couple of sentences and she came running across the room, hugged me tightly, kissed me well and truly more times than the standard three and exclaimed over and over how amazing it was to meet a Kiwi Pole! Time to brush up on the Polskiego.

Sevilla – Guillena, from albergue door to albergue door distance was 27.1km (this included the wanderings at Italica)…and when we arrived we went out for a couple more walks and then because they weren’t tired enough, the kids played handball on the courts at the place where we are staying.