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.

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Home

 We’ve been home a week. 

 We no longer need to go to bed at 7pm.
We are reading every day.

We still go walking.

 It is just as cold as many of the days we started out in Spain. Which is to say it is freezing. There will not, however, be heatwaves in the high thirties!But there are blue skies and water underfoot.

We are still climbing hills.

 We are still fascinated by shadows (and loving being with friends).

 We are loving having Daddy around. 

 We are still seeing sunrises (but at 7:30 instead of 5:30!!)

 We are eating Santiago tart….

 (….and olives and cheeses and pimientos and membrillo and thick hot chocolate with family and friends)

And we are grateful.

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!

28 June: Madrid to Paris

 Sleep in.

Pack bags.
Breakfast.

Supermarket trip.

Stagger to train station. Last hot walk!

Airport. Food and clothes that need washing checked through to Auckland.

Homeward bound.

By the way, we didn’t buy frozen chicken at the supermarket! But there is a story behind the picture. We wanted to take cheese home, and in order to keep it cool we like to freeze a bottle of water. Problem: not enough time in Madrid for it to freeze. Solution: ask friend to do it for us ahead of time. Problem: he/we forgot about it last night. Solution: we bought a plastic cocoa container, emptied it, refilled it with chunks of ice and some chilled water, and super taped it…….then hoofed it to the supermarket. While Tessa hid our freezer pack under the chicken we disappeared to choose cheese! Having  picked out chunks to fill our scavenged polystyrene box, we bought ourselves an extra hour by asking if our cheeses could be put in the cooler while we completed our shopping (olives, chocolate drink mix, salted sunflower seeds – the kids have picked up the Spanish addiction! – snacks for our Chinese layover, lunch, dinner). This sounds a simple enough request, but it led to all kinds of misunderstandings about wanting to buy meat and leaving it on the shelf for four hours and  in the end the very helpful fish counter man found someone who spoke English!  She took me straight to the walk-in cooler and our box chilled out there while we bought and packed everything else. Eventually we had to rescue the cocoa container and were delighted to discover it was solid!! We were less than delighted two hours later to find the box getting soggy at one corner, but we just popped it in another scavenged bag, taped it up, checked it through and are hoping for the best!

27 June: Santiago to Madrid

After churros with Giuliano we said our final Camino farewell.
Then we started for home….on foot 

 …by bus….

 ….by plane….

 ….by train…..

 34 degrees in Madrid. YAY. We realised this Camino will be remembered as a wet and cold one (a quarter of the walking days were wet, most days started between 7 and 12 degrees which is nippy enough for gloves) with a handful of uncomfortably hot days thrown in. The time The Guys spent with us was the most settled weather and we were pleased for them! 

 We spent a rich hour in the Prado. I only had to send one huffing sighing have-you-seen-enough-yet-mum child to stand by a pillar so I could enjoy without the background performance! 
 Heading to the hostel….Madrid is such a grand city.

 We threw together a salad and our old friend Alberto from the Camino Primitivo, who lives just around the corner, brought tabouli and tortilla de patatas that he had made. With a celebratory Santiago tart, it made a great last dinner.
Last night in a dormitory. But we can feel we are getting closer to home – there are sheets on the bunks!

26 June: Santiago with 101 others

When we booked in to the albergue and said we wanted to stay four nights there was a problem with the last night. A school group from Seviila  – 80 kids and 21 teachers/leaders – had booked the whole place. The Hospitalero decided we might be good for the group and contacted their leader to see if an exception could be made. Not only did they allow us to stay, but they invited us to join them for dinner and to take part in their activities. The boys played football and the girls made friends.


When it was time for dinner – not a moment before 9pm! – we all paraded up to a local mall with an Italian buffet. The buffet was at least twenty meters long and that didn’t include the dessert bar or drinks station (which the kids were surprised to see included beer and wine on tap!) We could have lingered here and enjoyed the food immensely, but none of us got to eat much because we were all being plied with so many questions.

 

I did my own questioning too of a couple of the leaders and was highly impressed at this trip they had organised. I have watched other school groups bounce along the Camino in their own little bubble almost oblivious to the experience apart from taking selfies to post on social media. These groups have also tended to be loud and inconsiderate of other pilgrims. (Harsh, but true). This group was so different. The leaders were very organised – kids were allocated to dormitories and even the showers were numbered and a roster for who could use which shower was taped to the wall. It might sound excessive, but it meant they functioned like a well-oiled machine.

A lot of thought had gone in to making this experience more than “just a tourist trip”. There were three primary goals, and not goals you would necessarily usually associate with a group of mainly 15-16 year olds. Reflection, silence and sharing. Every day the students were required to keep a diary. Some prompts were given for those who needed ideas. Each evening the group would gather together and some of the students would share their observations from the day. We arrived back at the albergue at 11pm and there was no talk of it being too late to do the discussion ( which we were invited to and attended, but understood hardly anything!!)

After the kids’ reflections there was a half hour lecture about the Camino delivered by a local priest who talked about the Camino being a metaphor for life. They also had creative activities to participate in – taking photographs on a particular theme and a group art workshop.As far as the silence goal went, no-one was allowed to use music devices while walking. The teachers really wanted the kids to hear birdsong, streams trickling, wind whistling. Then they went one step further. One morning they set out in silence. Absolute complete silence. Both of these initiatives were initially unpopular with most of the kids, but became favourite experiences for some of them. So much so that they were telling us all about it!

Sharing manifested itself in a number of ways. Obviously sharing dorms and bathrooms. But also this was a group not from one school, but three schools collaborating together.  Sharing reflections in the evenings. Additionally there were sharing-focused activities. Each student had to interview a Spanish pilgrim and non-Spanish-speaking pilgrim. They were provided with questions – what is your name? Where are you from? Where did you walk from? Why are you walking? What advice can you give about the Camino? About life? The teachers were particularly interested in encouraging cross-generational sharing and were delighted at how well this worked. I imagine the kids may have been less delighted at having to write up the results of their interviews! But such is school I suppose when proof of engagement in a task is required.

It was interesting to me to reflect that our own pilgrimage achieved all the same aims, just in a more informal organic way. And it was great to see that even a large group could have a similar experience, packed into just five days of walking (plus a few days gof visiting historical monuments to bring alive some of their history).

The Spanish kids were awed that we (and especially Ella-Rose ) had walked from Sevilla – they thought it was a long way on the bus! They were amazed that we had walked for seven weeks and were not suffering – I explained the first week is the hardest, then it gets easier and they only got hard walking!! Interestingly, a lot of them are now keen to walk another Camino and some were going home to ask their parents if they could walk as a family! Some of them have fathers who walk frequently, but never take the kids – that might be about to change!!

26 June: Santiago and Two Men and a Lady

 Italian Guiliano is the first. He is crazy! He took a liking to our wee family and was disappointed when we walked one shorter day and he went on. But that’s not the crazy bit. He’s crazy, because he walked 55km in one day in order to see us again. He was supposed to arrive back in Santiago tomorrow after walking to Finisterre, but he combined two stages so he could get back today as we leave tomorrow. Guiliano does not speak a word of English and our Italian is limited to musical phrases, so we have to speak Spanish together which means we can give each other directions to follow and order food! We have actually been able to converse much more than this, because Alessia, another Italian, who speaks fabulous English was often with us and translated tirelessly. Alessia has also acted as our go-between via email and once we heard of his mammoth effort to see us we had arranged to meet Giuliano tomorrow at the Churreria (where else?) for breakfast. 
Today we were sitting quietly with half a dozen other pilgrims in the servants’ entrance to the five star Parador (more on that later), when one certain Italian man passed the open double green doors.

 He stopped. He grinned. “Oooooiiii,” he cried and he ran to gather us all in one big hug. With the help of a lot of hand signals (he *is* Italian, remember!!), we chattered about his crazy walk, his feet, Alessia, walking, congratulations, breakfast tomorrow, beauty and happiness). We would bump into him a couple more times over the course of the day, and each time he beamed joy.

Now what were we doing at the Parador? You may recall Micaiah went in to one to enquire about room rates a couple of weeks ago at one of the others. Nothing came of that excursion. Today we were waiting for lunch. Yes, really.

 That’s not the lunch we got. That’s just a courtyard we were ushered through quickly after passing this sign:

 Which actually meant we shouldn’t be there!

In 1499 the Catholic queen and king gave orders for a hospital to be built in Santiago to attend to the needs of pilgrims. Any pilgrim arriving in Santiago could get food and board at this place for three days (before heading for home again – no return flights in under 40 hours). Even though the building has been turned into one of the most expensive places to stay in the country, the original purpose is still honoured by a token of hospitality offered to the first ten Compostela-carrying pilgrims who turn up for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. They get to eat for free. They don’t get to eat with paying guests, but there is a dining room dedicated especially to them:

It is not a big room, but it does have tablecloths and medieval-styled Camino art work on the walls. It does not have waiters, but at least twenty staff must have passed the room in the hour we were allowed in there and they all wished us “Buen provechor!” To get your food, you walk down a white-tiled corridor that is somewhat reminiscent of public toilets rather than the swish hotel that it is.

 (Sorry, blurry photo, we were being hurried along)

You then collect a tray, glass and cutlery and are handed two plates. For us, one had salad and the other rice and the most amazingly tender juicy flavour-filled ribs that fell off the bone (oh, and had a little bit of crunch to the outside-just perfect). We were also given water, wine and enormous apples. But that is not all. 

 You can see about a quarter of it in that photo. There were fried eggs and omelette, bacon, three types of hot sausages, a dozen shaved meats, salmon, half a dozen types of bread, cheeses, membrillo, Padron peppers, croissants, cakes….all for ten people. We helped ourselves and retired to the dining room.

 Thinking it sociable to make conversation while we ate, I asked our table mate where he was from (in Spanish). Turns out he didn’t speak Spanish, but he made his meaning to me very clear. No talk. Only eat. 

 And he did eat.His tray was piled so high I felt embarrassed for him and he scoffed it all before I had even finished my rice. When Micki had to lean back and admit defeat, leaving a succulent rib on his plate, this guy asked for it. He then took whatever else was offered from other people’s plates too.

When the meal was over I tried again. He hadn’t joined in on the Italian conversation during the meal, so I guessed he probably wasn’t Italian (although he wasn’t going to speak to anyone so that was perhaps faulty logic!).

“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?,” I enquired. And suddenly I had a new friend. We walked around the Parador together…

…he pointed out the pilgrim statue…
 …and we all went out to sit in the square together to continue our discussion. He left Germany three years and two months ago, and has been walking ever since. He is on a mission to help people he meets to calm their lives (they’d do well not to eat with him, because it would kinda undermine his message). He is taking a rest in Santiago and will then walk out to Finisterre, where he will begin his next journey. He’ll be walking to Jerusalem. I admire his tenacity, but at the same time I resented the way he was ripping off the system. Pilgrims are entitled to meals for three days, and if someone who has not had one yet arrives, they are supposed to get precedence over those who have already eaten. Herr Billing was on day twenty. If he had not been there, Giuliano could have eaten with us and I’m sure he would have chatted as we ate! Herr Billing informed us you can get away with turning up multiple times at lunchtime because they don’t check your compostelas (and indeed they hadn’t), but at dinner they do. All the same, he disguises himself with a different hat or jacket each day. You meet all sorts!

The kids have decided if we return to Santiago as pilgrims, this should be a new tradition to include in our post-walk activities!

And the lady. She works in a shop that sells Santiago tart. We went in the other day to check opening times and told her we would be back today. When we walked in she giggled….and after serving us divulged her secret. She saw us uptown the other morning. In the churreria. She was there too. We told her we leave Santiago tomorrow to go to Madrid and we’ll have churros one more time. She said she won’t, she’ll be working!

All packed up in a box and double-bagged ready to go home. (Last year when Rob and I went to the same shop we had a bit of a job miming that we wanted two bags coz we really had no language skills. Today it was so nice to be able to say, “Is it possible to have a box? Can we have two bags please?”)

Distance: 10km

25 June: Santiago holiday

There is something delicious about holidays – complete relaxation mixed with the possibility a little adventure might happen. 

 We’ll only be in Spain for a few more days so after a delightful sleep-in past sunrise we started the day with churros.

Wandering in to town we noticed a church we have often passed was open. Inside were some very descriptive 3-D sculpture-paintings of the crucifixion story:

 We lingered.

 We wandered on, and stopped to chat with Keef from South London who has been walking Europe since October 2011. He claims to have covered at least 47,000km so far and if the black lines on his map are anything to go by, he is surely telling the truth.
 
We met another man. Don’t know his name, but he was sharpening knives so I had my Opinel renewed for the princely sum of a euro.


The next man we met was Juan.

 He came bounding up the street with his trademark grin as we were sitting by a fountain listening to some beautiful busking. We had walked a few days with him and shared a few meals and a lot of laughs. He just arrived in Santiago this morning and was overjoyed to see us – two kisses on each cheek and a hug sort of overjoyed! 

 We did a spot of sketching too – Cervantes for me today.

And a spot of shopping. There will be another Camino blanket, this time based on the colours of the wildflowers of the Via de la Plata, made with recycled cotton, a bargain at one euro a ball.

We even did a spot of dumpster-diving! We need a cardboard box to put our scavenged polystyrene chilly bin in for transporting to Madrid and then home. Repurposing rocks!

Lunch was the highlight for the kids. I tried to convince them we could try a different eatery, but they wanted to maintain our tradition of going to Casa Manolo. So we did.

 Seafood chowder (because noodles with clams was not available today).

 Cute, yes? 

 Adult choice.

 Ribs!

Dinner would be a much more modest affair:

 Summer fruit and yoghurt.

We spent an informative and interesting couple of hours at the ethnographic museum. It is housed in an ex-monastery and has the world’s only triple ramped spiral staircase.

 We got lost on it!!

The exhibits covered everything from social organisation to architecture, from music to book binding, from basket-making to nude paintings. 

 And a peek of the cathedral from the top of the stairs:

Tomorrow there will be more adventures, but don’t expect a blogpost at the usual time, because our invitation to adventure starts with dinner at 9pm!!! The blog post will be necessarily late!

Distance walked today: 15.7km

24 June: Santiago

Official business today. Like getting our compostelas and returning to the cathedral to see if we could find someone to take a non-blurry picture of all of us that included the cathedral.
Official business like farewelling Vincent (who we started walking with the day The Men joined us – so it is no small miracle that we are still together at the end – but he zipped up to Astorga before coming back to join the Camino Sanabres where he caught up with us again) and Sofia, who joined us the day after we met Vincent (she spent a number of days in bed recovering from various ailments so even on days we didn’t cover many miles, it was still more than she managed). What better way to say farewell than over churros and chocolate?

 (By the way, in the bar a television was broadcasting David Cameron speaking from Number 10 and while there was no soundtrack running we pieced together the story from his facial expressions alone – this would be a very interesting activity for a language class…or even relationship skills, but I digress).

Official business like attending mass at the cathedral, where we heard those special words spoken: Desde Sevilla peregrinos de nueva zelanda (from Seville pilgrims from New Zealand) – “that’s us” the kids grinned at each other. The first time we sat through a mass we were delighted to have picked out a handful of words that we almost recognized, but it was really next to nothing and we didn’t have a clue what was going on. I noticed such a difference today. We are still beginners at Spanish, but we are able to follow the gist of bits and even completely understand some strings of words. For not having tried particularly hard <blush>, we have made encouraging progress. It’s gratifying that the kids are returning home with a stronger desire to study Spanish (last time their attitude was more along the lines of: well, now that we’ve finished our Camino, there’s no need to learn any more).

 We went in to the service hoping the botufumeiro would be swung. For some people it’s a spectacle of Disney proportions, for others it’s a deeply spiritual experience, for some it raises goosebumps, others it reduces to tears….for us, it has become part of our tradition of being in Santiago, and we hoped those ropes would be released. 

 Today I joined the throngs filming the swinging. There was still awe. I was still aware of the gasps as it rose higher and higher through the air. I still heard the angelic soprano filling the vast space. I followed every movement. But somehow it was different watching through a screen instead of just watching The Real Thing. If I’m ever back here again, I’ll just watch, and maybe snap one picture. And even though I do not do much camera-work in the rest of my life, I will take with me a heightened awareness of how a camera can sometimes be intrusive rather than enhancing.

 And sometimes it can be the opposite. This simple photo of a shell on the end of the pew is a reminder to me that there is always something new to learn. I have sat in this cathedral a number of times now and never until today noticed these carvings. 

More official business.

 I made the kids endure to the very end of the organ piece being played after the service. It was cacophonous, it was immense, it was even awful, but it is not every day we get (or want!) the opportunity to hear an organ booming like this one did! And so we listened. Just like we listened to the Galician bagpiper later. 

After the service there was more Official Business to attend to. We had to climb the steps and look down on the square, then go and sit in the square and watch the world go by.

 It was pretty busy. We hoped some of our friends might wander by, maybe Digger who finished before us, or Kyoko and Mikio, the Japanese couple, who we thought might arrive today. We did see some, but not these ones. And we made a new friend. He wears a sign around his neck asking for money for food. He limps around, hand outstretched. We were having lunch as he approached us. I smiled. 

“Would you like an orange,?” I enquired. He took it eagerly.

“Do you have any bread?”

“Only this,” I explained, showing him the end of the baguette I was finishing. With some difficulty, he hoisted himself onto the stone seat beside us, arranged his leg comfortably and rested his crutch between us while he proceeded to peel the orange. When we had all finished eating, we tidied up and I offered to take his peelings. As we started to walk away he called out, “Senora, over there. Look, there’s a rubbish bin over there.” We thanked him, changed direction and deposited our bag of rubbish in the bin hidden behind a wall.

 We settled ourselves down to draw (that’s Levi’s picture above) and after some time our new acquaintance hobbled by and stopped to chat and look at our work. He was no longer “a beggar”, but just as much one of the positive encounters as the guys who asked us to take their photo, or the ones who talked for a few minutes with us about where we were from and where we had walked, or the ones who asked directions to the Pilgrim Office, or the one who wanted to know where he could stay for three nights.

Having whiled away a good portion of the day by now we started to head slowly for home. We dredged up memories as we walked and I let the kids in on secrets from my time here alone with Rob after our Portuguese walk last year (just quietly, wandering around a city and sitting at bars with a spouse beats doing it with kids any day!!) Now the kids want to go to the bakery I went to with Rob, they know not to bother asking about the expensive ice creams we ate, they are not so interested in Padron peppers. I suggested we walk home a different way. I showed them a street I had walked up and down twice with Rob looking for a particular bar.

“But it’s our tradition to go this way Mum.” I realised that just like they pack their backpacks the same way every day or get their sleeping bags out as soon as we arrive in an albergue, they wanted a little familiarity. Walking the same road and not having to be inquisitive about what was round the corner was important to them today. So a couple of streets into our traditional walk I started to take photos of “our route”:

 (Big kids, do you remember eating our final lunch on your Camino outside that little church on the right? Empanada and cheesecake if I remember correctly)

 Past my wool shop 😉

 Churreria San Pedro where the breakfast pictures were taken.

 Shortcut (with yarn bombing)

 Through the enormous courtyard where every child and its mother and grandparents hang out from 5pm til late – we are there too early today and it’s empty. 

 Up the last street to…

 …our albergue.