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

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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.

23 June: Outeiro to Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela again. 

1,083km tracked on our phone app.Plus every day a few more steps were taken as we nosied around and went out to buy food. In fact, speaking of steps, we averaged about 33,000 a day and our maximum was just shy of 60,000 (which was crazy for our third day of walking and certainly not planned that way)But this walk was not actually about numbers. (And despite the photo above, it was not just about Camino cookies either)

Quite a few times people have told the kids this experience will stay with them forever. Some have said they probably won’t truly appreciate it until they are older. 

I wondered what the children themselves thought so I asked them. Ella-Rose (10 years) thought young kids might appreciate it more because it’s easier for them – they have better balance than older people who struggle on slippery rocks. Levi (15) suggested you’d appreciate it for different reasons at different ages. Older people might enjoy the break from work and very old people might appreciate even being *able* to do it, whereas young people might enjoy the new experience that they are less likely  to have had before and the freedom that comes with looser boundaries (Guess what he has enjoyed!!) They all agreed everyone, regardless of age, might enjoy meeting new people, although according to Micaiah (13), this could depend on your degree of extroversion or introversion. He also proposed the thought that you might appreciate it later in life in a new way you cannot imagine now if it somehow ends up influencing a decision you might make (for example, about work ….or there was one boy who ended up studying Spanish in South America for a year simply because of being in the university town of Salamanca and falling in love with it)

I also asked the kids if they had learnt anything on the Camino……Patience. Walking is so much slower than any other form of transport and you learn to slow down. Appreciation of what you have. When you are without something (like beds or books or different clothes or a washing machine), you realise how much you usually take those things for granted. When you don’t get a hot shower, you can still appreciate having water to wash with.

Appreciation of what is around you. Like scenery, people and weather.
Confidence. You realise you can do hard things. You appreciate the achievement when you have had to work for something. You could probably transfer this thinking to other areas of life too. (You sure could kiddos!) 
(First glimpse of the cathedral) 

It gives you a sense of how big the world is. When you walk a mere couple of inches on the map and it takes you weeks and weeks, you start to understand the vastness of the globe! 

 The children may not have raised this point, but they have been witness over the past seven weeks to the impermanence of *stuff* and we thought again as we paused on this bridge, a memorial at the  site of the tragic high speed train derailment that claimed 79 lives almost three years ago, that you never know when your time will be up, but that it is important to be ready.

While the adult observations that the kids probably will not fully appreciate this experience until later is most likely accurate, there is still a lot that they have gained already and are aware of doing so.

Distance: 17km to the cathedral Total Distance: 963km + 120km sightseeing on City Visiting Days

22 June: Silleda to Outeiro

 Penultimate walking day, reflective mood. We replayed some conversations we’ve had as we’ve walked. A lot of the time there has been companionable silence, no sounds other than the crunching of stones underfoot and cuckoos in the distance or a truck rumbling by. But there have been chats too.
 These signs prompted a conversation this morning:

“Only 33 to Santiago, we could so do that today. Why are we taking two days?” 

“We were taking our time, remember? Not rushing, being relaxed.”

“But we could be there today!”

“Do you want to push on and do it? Remember that’s 33 on the road, it’s more on the Camino path.”

“Yeah but we’re not on the path.” (True we got lost leaving town – the arrows just petered out to complete nothingness so we headed for the N525 which we knew would take us in the right direction and hoped to pick up the path at some point when it would come close to this road….and indeedy that is exactly what happened. By the way, we were not the only ones who had trouble with the exit from Silleda!)

“I think we should just have our two short days,” Ella-Rose declared. And so it was decided! This was to be a decision regretted by no one when the sun came out and baked us as we tackled the final 4km climb for the day!


The trees disappeared and even our own shadows grew shorter and shorter.

 I don’t know why we even believed the road sign; road sign distances are not to be trusted. The other day we were told A Gudina was 16km away. About an hour later (so theoretically about 5km farther on) the very next road sign declared we were now 15km away. On that same day one of the towns we passed was supposedly 3km away and just round the corner it was a mere 2km! We should have learnt by now.

We’ve had conversations about food (what would you like to eat? What are we likely to be able to eat tonight? Can we have a Camino cookie stop please? Why did we buy so much food yesterday, it’s heavy to carry today!! – see yesterday’s post. Will today be an ice-cream day? Yes, more than 25km!)

We’ve had conversations about wildlife. Oh, the things we’ve seen…deer (twice), eagles, storks, moles, butterflies, ginormous geckos, snakes, frogs, fish (in rivers and staring up at us from our plates), a fox, kites and numerous other birds we do not know, rabbits…and the farm animals – black pigs, goats, cows, chickens, sheep and horses.

We’ve had conversations about wild flowers. The kids got thoroughly sick of me making sure they hadn’t missed the beauty we were walking through! But they came up with some pretty good descriptors at times: like a Monet watercolour painting…..like a hazy mist of colour…..colours blending together so much that you can’t tell which colours are actually there…..dots of delight….banks of Impressionism…..

We’ve had conversations about politics. To be honest, they didn’t last long!

We’ve had conversations about architecture….ancient Roman roads and bridges, Visigothic churches, the Moorish influences, medieval cathedrals, ugly modern concrete monstrosities, amazing modern bridges, the properties of stone and timber, guttering systems, internal courtyards, effects of climate, personal preferences…..

We’ve had conversations about gender roles. The best prompt for this one was Sunday morning. We were walking along a road (surprise), when who should come towards us but a middle-aged man? He was twiddling a stick in one hand. Trailing behind him by quite a few paces was a woman who we took to be his wife. She was not carrying a stick. Over her shoulder was a tree. A whole tree complete with root ball attached and wrapped in hessian. It was twice as long as she was tall! There is a fine line between not judging how others live and noticing things that may be a bit inequitable; when the boys commented on the ungentlemanliness I encouraged them to hold that thought for the rest of their lives and always be ready to serve (at the same time we talked about how we cannot know the whole story and it’s possible he had a bad back or something we didn’t know about!)

We’ve also had conversations about home ownership and mortgages and rates and derelict buildings and community and aged care and disabilities and rally car driving and urban design and research projects for when we get home (which cars and phones are produced ethically and the effects  of sugar – truly no prompting from me, all Micaiah-initiated!!) and future plans and bar design and faith and generosity and travel and refugees and cold showers and consideration of others and freedom and friendship.

And we’ve walked along together, Ella-Rose and I, and I’ve asked her, “What are you thinking?” on numerous occasions and every time she has replied, “Nothing”. But I’m sure something is going on inside that wee head of hers!

Distance: 26km Total Distance: 946km

21 June: Castro Dozon to Silleda

“That’ll give you something to blog about, Mum,” Ella-Rose told me. 

“I already had something, but do you think I should write about that?”

“Well, I’m sure going to write about it in my journal!”

So I WILL put it on the blog. We had done 20km by 10:15 and were mighty pleased about it as the sun was starting to blaze fiercely. The jury is split on whether it is better to walk in the rain or the heat! As a bit of a mental diversion for the last 10km I asked, “How would you like it if I gave you each five euros and you had to buy all your food for the rest of the day?” Four kilometers sped by as plans and menus and schemes were discussed. The all-important question “Can we spend it any way we want?” was answered with,”Yes, and you can eat whatever you want whenever you want, but remember it has to last all day.”

These two decided to pool their money to get more bang for their buck….and were very proud to spend EXACTLY 10 euros! 

These two also went in together – you should have seen them all racing round the supermarket trying to decide how best to spend their money. This pair was not quite so successful and overspent by 80 cents so they had to forfeit something to that value!

Maybe I ought to have put a limit on the amount of sugar allowed to be consumed!! To be fair to the kids, they had much more healthy plans in place, but we ended up staying somewhere supposedly without a kitchen (I although when we got here it turned out to have one!) and so they stuck with bread, cheese and meat as their fill-me-up-staples and had a lot of money left to buy junk food!

—————————

What had I been planning on writing about? Today felt like the beginning of the end. 

When Santiago appears on the road signs, it really feels like we are near the end. And we are. Just one longish day (which turned out to be a bit over 30km and is now done) and then two more comfortable distances and we’ll be there. The Italian Snorer Pavrotti, who we spent last night with, will arrive tomorrow, but we are enjoying a slower pace now. Others who we walked with earlier – Digger and the two Italians – arrived today. On other caminos we have really savoured the last few days, not wanting the walking and the simplicity to end. This time we are all eager to finish. We are keen to get home. Sheets on beds and fluffy towels and non-communal showers and books and family and friends and fresh vegetables – we’re looking forward to all of these (and butter chicken and lasagne and curry). There are things we will miss – the adventure, speaking Spanish, walking with a backpack, cheap food, kids eager to get up at 5:30 and the sunrises…..like today’s. It was a treasure. We were up on top of a hill and a band of colour blending from pink to purple to blue and orange ringed the whole horizon. I have never seen anything like it.

 6am (that’s the moon, in case you’re wondering – above our albergue)

 6:15am

 6:38am

 6:51am

 6:55am

 7:01am

 7:01am facing the other way

 7:02am

 7:03am

 7:04am

 7:05am

 7:09am

 7:09am

And then the flies came out…

And Sophie and Vincent caught us up because we were taking so many photos!


And we kept walking, mostly through forests and fields and sometimes wet paths…

Distance: 33km Total Distance: 920km

This post is dedicated to Duarte from Portugal, who honoured me by chuckling when he read a few previous posts, and also mentioned there should be more photos!

20 June: Oseira to Castro Dozon

“Do you have five minutes?” 

“We have all day, ” I replied to the Hospitalero, who had just escorted us through the wide stone corridors of the monastery to and from early morning mass. On the way to mass he had shown us the room the British novelist Graham Greene had stayed in. What other treasure did he have?

 The library! The official tour of the monastery does not include the library; we felt privileged.

 I have lots of questions about the purpose of this library and the contents and whether there is any way of making the books accessible to people and would anyone even want to read them (but now they can’t even if they wanted to)… Take note that Mary is wearing shoes, because the monastery is so cold – so we were told. It could well be the truth!

 We will miss fresh cool spring water! It tastes so clear.

 We had planned a short day for today – to reduce our mileage each day and be in Santiago on Thursday, one day needed to be a little one and this seemed a good day to do it as the albergue is right next to the Municipal Swimming Pool. Too bad the pool turned out to be green!!!!  

At least there is a supermarket in town. Two words in that sentence are a bit of an exaggeration. Town would be best replaced by “village” or “row of houses along the road” and supermarket….let me tell you about the supermarket!

There was a big supermarket sign, but all we could find (apart from a lady killing chickens in her yard behind the bar) was the bar. Inside there was a stand with potato chips, but that seemed a bit of an understatement for the term “supermarket”. So I asked.

“Yes, go through that door.” Do you mean that low skinny door that looks like it leads to a broom cupboard? No harm in trying, and if I’ve misunderstood, I’m sure she’ll tell me.

Well, what do you know! The wooden door led to marble stairs and down the stairs was a veritable Aladdin’s Cave. You could buy a mop or chocolate bar or pickled gherkins or round of cheese or air freshener or bottle of vodka (or any one of about twenty other types of alcohol for that matter) or cupcakes by the kilo or yoghurt by the dozen or a box of rennet or a whole salami. But I still think “supermarket” was a bit big of a word to describe this small room stuffed full of goodies. We chose butter and ham to go with our bread from Cea. 

  As we were leaving the supermarket, Sophie came down the road. She had already been to the albergue and could confirm there was a great kitchen complete with pots and pans and plates to feed fifty people so we squeezed back into the store and chose some food for dinner. Pasta, chicken, corn, peas, tomatoes, pickles, pimientos, eggs and mayonnaise…sounds like a salad in the making!

  Distance: 11.5km Total Distance: 887km

19 June: Ourense to Oseira

“What shall we blog about today?” I asked the monkeys as we ate our fried eggs, cured ham, chorizo, cheese, salad and bread (salad that great-grandma went down to the garden to pick for us!)

The bread! Leaving town! The hill! The monastery!

That picture explains the hill! The first one was steep enough that we started talking about not making it to Oseira, but stopping 10km shy of it instead. However, once things evened out a bit we decided we could press on easily,  although we retracted the “easily” when the temperature rose! 12 degree start, 29 by late afternoon.

Leaving town. We should have just gone the way we knew! But we decided to do the shortcut and see something different and somehow we got lost! The general idea was simple: head for the Roman bridge, so we asked directions. Finding someone to ask was no trouble at all. It was 6:30am and the streets were humming with people who had not yet gone home from their Saturday night out. We spoke with four different groups, all of them drunk! Some sent us in completely the wrong direction, others got us back on track. Take a look at this bar and be amazed at the noise coming out of it. Half past six in the morning, remember!

After close to an hour and chats across the streets with inhibitionless youths (“Look, there are some pilgrims. Are you walking to Santiago? Where did you start? Really? No!”), we saw “the Dutch couple”, Tamara and Mr Toe Shoes. We met them for the first time outside the shell cafe – they had just been leaving. We met them later that day at a bar. A trend was emerging! Of everyone we have met on the Camino, they look like they are enjoying themselves the most! They walk a comfortable distance, stop in lots of bars, occasionally stay in private  accommodation…..today we crossed the Roman bridge with them and left them at the first bar on the other side of the river!


We still were not out of town. Just up the road we had to choose between two routes; road (shorter) or official Camino (maybe muddy but more beautiful). We tossed a coin and headed for the Camino.

 
 So that’s leaving town and climbing the hill covered. How about the bread?

The town of Cea is famous for its artisan wood-fired oven sourdough bread. Being fond of both baking sourdough bread and using a wood-fired oven, I had to try some. But it was Sunday. I asked at a bar and was directed to a particular bakery which we found easily. Opening the door, we saw this: 

 And this: 

No-one came when we called so we backed out and rang the doorbell. A head appeared at a second-storey window. In my most polite Spanish I asked if I could buy some bread from Cea. “No. No lo tengo. Es domingo.” (No. I don’t have any. It’s Sunday.)    Poor lady, she must get sick of peregrinos bugging her during siesta, and on a Sunday to boot. I admitted defeat and added Cea to my Mental List of Places to Return To.  

 Up the road we went and then suddenly we heard a voice. “I found it! I got a loaf of bread. It’s solid,” Sophie, the Irish archaeologist, observed as she banged it against a wall. Just like our bread we make at home! We went and bought ourselves a loaf. Bagged and numbered, it’s the real deal. Breakfast sorted….and possibly lunch as well;-) Micki lugged it the final 10km to the monastery, and I refrained from telling him two other pilgrims bought loaves here in the village where we ended our walk!

The monastery. Initially it seemed deliciously cool. After three minutes it was perishingly cold. Just what you’d expect. It’s been this way for a thousand years! We went to vespers and will attend early morning mass with the Cistercian monks. Eight of them in this enormous outfit. I don’t know why a couple of hundred refugees couldn’t be given a home here. They could do the gardens, look after the cows, make other products to add to the monk-made honey, cheese, chocolate and alcohol that are for sale. This place is begging for more life.











Distance: 34.6km Total Distance: 875km

19 June: Xunqueira to Ourense

Xunqueira: must return to visit the church. Everyone who went in last night raved about it. We missed it and left the albergue (above) about dawn. Church would not open until 4.

Ourense: must return to visit the cathedral. It was my one must-do item, but a Series of Unfortunate Events prevented that happening. 

LFirst unfortunate event….we had to walk through this:

 (Actually that had nothing to do with missing the cathedral, but it sure was an unfortunate sight after mountains and forests and wild flowers!) But the good news heralded by that picture is that we were entering a city and cities have good food options:

 Still warm, not long out of the oven! Nothing unfortunate about that.

Second unfortunate event….someone dropped their jacket. No big deal, right? Pick it up again. Not so simple. Child who had insisted on draping said jacket over pack instead of attaching it securely as instructed by mother  on numerous occasions had to walk back up a hill or two to find it. The rest of us waited almost an hour – just long enough to not have time to visit the cathedral before signing in at the albergue! Then by the time we had completed essential chores (like buying food for tomorrow because it’s Sunday and nothing opens) the cathedral had closed, not to open again until 4:30pm.

Third unfortunate event…..this little train

 was supposed to leave the Praza Maior at 4pm. We were going to be on it. We were in the Praza with so much time to spare that we did some sketching

 Just before four a dozen or so Spaniards gathered over by those arches to the left and we joined them. By 4:06 some of them were agitated, by 4:15 some left, just after 4:30 I showed the phone number for the train to one of the ladies who tried calling it -unsuccessful, at 4:35 one couple went for beers and peanuts and I went to see if those little trains that we had photographed earlier were still just round the corner. One was gone. Some people were sitting in the other. I went back and collected the kids (and, incidentally, the rest of the queue including the beer drinkers) and we made ourselves comfy on the train which we hoped would leave at 5pm. It did. But there was no way we were going to get back in time to visit the cathedral! The train did a nice circuit around town and to the boys’ delight went over a bridge they had done a bit of research on:

 Not an unfortunate event…the train took us thermal pools that are right on the edge of the river. The kids thought this was much better than a cathedral! 

  A Little Inconvenience…..this albergue (in an old monastery) has a lovely kitchen, but no pots. Obviously we couldn’t cook anything. So we bought a whole lot of fresh stuff (including a new favourite cheese which we’ll bring home for the rest of you to sample) and had a lovely picnic at the baths after our therapeutic soak.

 As I say, we’ll have to return to Ourense!

Distance: 24km Total Distance: 840km

17 June: Laza to Xunqueira de Ambia

 If you look really carefully at the left side of the picture you might see a whole lot of bee hives cascading down the hillside. If you look to the right you’ll see Micaiah just about to stung by one of the monsters and pursued by more. He got such a fright he panicked and almost knocked his sister off the rock in his effort to get away. Over the other side are big rocks, not a nice gravelly path like in the picture and he was in grave danger of breaking a leg or killing a sibling as he made his escape. Hearing the commotion, I hoofed it over and was just in time to see their near demise. I did what any sensible mother who is trying to calm the situation would do – screamed in my loudest voice one word: STOP! Thankfully, they all listened and acted immediately. Tessa added her scream to mine as the “swarm” (poetic license but it was how it felt to them!) turned its attention to her. “Stand still,” I advised and they did. Presumably because they no longer felt threatened, the buzzing balls of sting retreated. 

Suddenly everyone really just wanted to arrive. We had already been feeling a bit like that earlier and when we’d come to a little hamlet with a bar full of noisy men I had poked my nose in. (Sidetrack: according to what we’ve seen it’s good to be a man in Spain. You spend a lot of time sitting in bars, playing cards or dominoes and your wife cooks you meals and toils in the garden. Sidetrack over). They all stopped talking and looked at me as I asked,  “Where are we?” They replied with a place name I did not recognise and then added the answer to my unasked question, “Xunqueira is 5km away, just 5!” That was the information we wanted. And a very pretty five it was too:

It’s just there was a bee drama and the path went on and on and we had really had enough. (That’s the downside of walking a long day – you don’t fully appreciate the wonder you might be in)

But truth be known, I might have found it hard to appreciate *anything* today! The sunrise was pretty, but then I had to drag an unwilling body along a perfectly flat path for the first seven kilometers. 

Streams roared after all the rain we’ve had (and were continuing to have), but my energy levels did not match them.

Then we had to go uphill. My legs refused like a donkey at a bridge it doesn’t want to cross!

 You might not feel like it, but you simply have to put one foot in front of the other. You might be slow, you might be dawdling, you might be barely moving, but so long as you are going forward, you will eventually arrive! We climbed up.

And up. And up.
And looked back.And then up some more.
 Last night I had said I would not mind if it rained all day as we had such good views yesterday. I’m sure there was something spectacular behind this cloud:

 We soon forgot the lack of vista when the road led us to a little bar where everyone who has visited in the last dozen years has written their name on a shell and it has been placed on the walls and ceiling. We added our own and warmed up by the roaring fire.

There was still some climbing to be done, up to the cross

 Then the downhill started. The uphill had been a battle (for me – not for the kids, they were fine!), but the downhill was just painful. A few days ago a little gnome climbed inside my leg and attached a rubber band to something below my calf and twisted it tighter and tighter. Some people would take drugs to mask the pain, but I preferred to use the pain to gauge what I could safely without causing injury. After a couple of days the rubber band was released. And my calf tightened instead.  It has felt like a ball of concrete ever since and the kids have been making noises about “old lady”. Except this little girl: She stayed by my side all day. When I staggered up the hill, I encouraged her to go and walk with her siblings who were fast disappearing into the mist, but she insisted on staying close and looking back every few meters. If I stopped, she did too. She was a faithful companion.And down we went….down, down, down….

We were grateful the rain held off and we grabbed a spot to sit while we had a bite to eat. (That’s the bread from yesterday’s post – the pictures are up now, if you want to take a look) On through the town…

 ….and onto a dead straight completely flat road….. We never managed to pick up our pace – apart from the bee incident, that is – but eventually we arrived. After a long day the kids were keen to eat out, but they prepared a pretty good dinner while I did the work of blogging!

Distance: 34km Total distance: 816km