The Long Way Home – Paris and Beccles and London

In ten minutes we commence our descent into Sydney Airport. We have travelled a long way since leaving home in May. Not just in distance but in personal achievement. In doing things together. In celebrating being alive. I commenced this blog entry in London and wrote some more in Dubai then some more somewhere over the ocean in between Madagascar and Sri Lanka. Its almost unimaginable thinking of the distances we have travelled and knowing it will all be over in a matter of hours.

I am not heading straight home to Brisbane on the next flight with my husband. My sister is in Sydney and will be undertaking further tests to determine whether her diagnosis will be motor neurone disease. During our travels news from home has often brought me to tears whilst walking and even in the middle of the night. Friends losing loved ones and being given terrible medical news for themselves. My father being resuscitated and rushed to hospital before being sent home (again). My sister's news was probably the most difficult for me to cope with. The first diagnosis she was given was Parkinson's. The next doctor thought that was not necessarily the case. Now we all hope it is Parkinson's. She is only 48 years old. Life is short and life is challenging.

I am tired, I am still proud to have walked 800 kilometres. My foot still hurts. Beloved husband thinks I might have done some serious damage. I have made an appointment with the GP for tomorrow. I suspect I may have injured my foot a little more than average as it hasn't really healed in the month since finishing the Camino – not that I've given it much of a chance!

Husband is thrilled to be heading home – he's tired – I think exhaustion has finally overtaken the thrill of travel. (Plus he wants to go diving!)

So what did we do the last couple of days? We headed to gay Paris as mentioned in the previous blog. We had two nights in the Latin Quarter there and managed to scale the Eiffel tower.

Well we didn't really scale it, we went up in the lifts but we couldn't help but walk down a few flights of steps – after all we'd walked 800 kilometres already!

We had a lovely sunset cruise down the Seine and caught a glimpse of why Parisians love to flock to the river in summer.

 

We also love the way Parisians can recharge their cars as they park.

 

Husband enjoyed the subway and pretended he was Marilyn Munroe

During the day we also hitched a lift with a Frenchman up the Champs Elysees – I have to say my feet appreciated the break and the young man was a wealth of information as we slowly meandered our way through the traffic and passed the sights to the Arc de Triomphe.

 

On arrival at this end of town we discovered “The Lido”. We had our first weekend away together to Paris twenty five years ago and had one of the best nights we remembered at the Lido – needless to say we grabbed a couple of tickets for that night to catch a bit of glamour on our visit. We headed back to the hotel and dressed up a bit for a change.

Sorry no photos of the show allowed.

The next day we headed back to London and stayed at one of the few hotels close to Liverpool st as we heard there was to be a tube strike and we had a very important visit to make out near the East Coast.

We stayed at the Montcalm The Brewery and have to say it was the most beautiful place we had stayed in in London. We were greeted by a doorman in bowler hat and had to have a photo with him. Given that we arrived with backpacks we were probably as much a novelty to him as he was to us!

After dumping our packs we headed out for a brief look around this end of the city and stumbled across the tower of London and Tower Bridge before heading back to the pub on the corner of our hotel which was called the Jugged Hare – later that night I would try a Jugged Hare Bomb which I managed to eat a little of before feeling a little too disturbed by the thought of it.

Mr Wong popped over and joined us for afternoon tea in the lounge of the Montcalm where we enjoyed a few sandwiches and some ginger beer before being confronted with the most delicious Macaroons you could imagine. I have to admit these few delights have resulted in an undeniable addiction. I see them everywhere. If there was a dealer on the corner I would buy them daily. I will seek knowledge of a supplier in Brisvegas if any are known. Perhaps I will have to buy them by mailorder or have them smuggled into the country… The mind is ticking. I have yet to have tried one in Brisbane that was as moorish as those at the Montcalm!

 

When the morning arrived we bid farewell to the Montcalm (a hotel we would highly recommend to others) – sadly we had a couple of troubles with the air con throughout the night so sleep was not as good as it should have been. We chose not to have maintenance visit at 2 in the morning as that might have been more disruptive than having the window open to the street was. They had tried their best before we nodded off to sleep already.

Anyway the tube strike had become a reality so next morning we headed off to Liverpool St Station with our packs on our backs and boarded the train for Beccles. For those in the know its a beautiful little English village in Suffolk. Our dear friend Helen (in Brisbane) hails from the UK and we were thrilled to be welcomed by her wonderful parents who have visited us in Australia for many a barbeque or luncheon over the years. Unfortunately ill health had thwarted more recent plans for them to come to Oz so we were thrilled to be able to catch up with them on their home turf. We also managed to meet Helen's brother Simon and his beloved Danielle whilst simultaneously enjoying a browse through their second hand shop and vintage clothing store. We were whisked away for lunch at a grand garden and visited Southwark pier and lighthouse before heading to dinner at a traditional seaside restaurant (with a lovely Australian chef would you believe!).

 

We had the best nights sleep in weeks before being pampered with a cooked breakfast and dropped back at the station to catch our train for our last night in London before heading home. What a wonderful whirlwind trip that was!

As you can imagine, we couldn't spend the last night in London doing nothing could we? So we headed down through Soho and caught award winning show “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night” at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was lovely to catch a West End show – the actors were great – the set was quite magnificent and, I had read the book so it was a novel way of seeing it presented. Whilst the West End has a wonderful atmosphere with people out on the streets enjoying the summer nights we are also very lucky to have such equally talented people in Australian theatre which is why I probably enjoy it so much wherever it is!

 

The next day we had arranged a late checkout so we slept in (a bit) and headed down to Harrods (as you do) for a quick visit before our departure that evening. As luck would have it we stumbled across the Oyster Bar almost as soon as we entered. A lovely Spanish couple moved seats so we could sit together – I enjoyed a chat in Spanish again (well sort of). We enjoyed a dozen oysters and a couple of glasses of pink champagne as cheers to our last day of travel – it was a lovely way to spend the morning!

 

Mr Wong popped over with our excess luggage which he had kindly stored since Malta and he escorted us to Pizza and Paddington Station before bidding farewell to us at the door of the Heathrow Express.

What an absolutely wonderful adventure we have had – physical and mental challenges – visiting distant corners of the world – seeing old friends, meeting so many new friends and having experiences a few years ago would have been unimaginable.

Thank you for taking this journey with us! Adios until the next adventure!

 

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Barcelona, Malta and back to London

Gaudie everywhere!
 

It seems forever since we finished our camino. We (I) thought if we had spent all the money to get over here (Europe) we may as well make the most of it as the chances of heading back in the near future are pretty slim. Anyway budget required we continue for the most part as backpackers with a brief sojourn in Malta for rest and recovery at a resort where we will meet our good friend Mr Wong who has migrated to old Blighty from Australia.

Following our quick trip to Portugal and Morocco, a couple of days in Barcelona seemed important. Rumour had it that it is a beautiful city and, I had a friend there I had met in Australia when she and her husband were on their honeymoon last year. We had since also met Jorge and Lola on the Camino and looked forward to some more fun and laughter with them.

How did our Barcelona visit go?

We arrived in Barcelona on a beautiful evening and headed to our hostel “Casa Gracia” via taxi. The lifts were a bit dodgy but the double room was fantastic (equal to a suite in any 3 star hotel) and there was a talented duet singing in the bar downstairs.

 

We decided to do a free walking tour the first morning to get our bearings and try and contact our friends throughout the day. I had sent both a couple of messages and heard nothing back so we enjoyed a few hours walking around the old city being shown interesting areas where Game of Thrones was filmed (not that we have seen it) and historic areas such as where the Spanish Inquisition took place (glad I wasn't around then let me tell you). We finished the tour with a burrito and a margarita and a few new friends from the tour. We walked along the beachfront having an interesting stroll just people watching and ended up catching the tour bus back to our hostel thinking we'd use the ticket again the next day after we checked out of our room.

Filming of Game of thrones and sad site of rememberance
Looking up to the balcony where the Spanish Inquisition took place
Barcelona Beach

Fortunately that night Jorge checked his emails (he was on holiday and wasnt watching them all day) so we managed a meetup with Jorge and Lola who were leaving for the South of Spain the next day. It was another fun meetup – they invited us to their apartment down near the beach and yet again we had a few good laughs and hopefully encouraged them to visit oz sometime. If for no other reason than for some more Flamenco lessons!

Our wonderful Friends Jorge and Lola

I tried again to contact Ximena my other friend and decided to visit her facebook page where I was disturbed to see some strange notices in Spanish that I didn't quite understand. I used google translate and was shocked to find that Ximena had been the victim of a fatal accident – this was only months after returning from her honeymoon in Australia. This explained why she had not responded to my last few messages. I was quite devastated and struggled with comprehending how someone so young and beautiful could have met such an early end. Maybe it was a strong reminder of losing our own loved ones and close friends before their time – it hit quite hard. All I could do was send my condolences to her family and her husband over a facebook message. It reminded me again of how lucky we were to have each day and how important it is to not take a moment for granted. We left Barcelona with me feeling particularly sad and at the same time looking forward to seeing Mr Wong's smiling face – determined to enjoy Malta – making sure we live while we can!

Well Mr Wong's face was at the same time dealing with some rather displeasing news – or as we have come to laugh about – first world problems! He had booked the resort where we were all to stay months earlier (before us) as a package with flights through a UK travel company called Low Cost Holidays (take note everyone). Only days before our holiday they notified him that the resort was overbooked and he would have to stay elsewhere even though we (my beloved and I) were still committed to staying at the Dolmen. Enroute to the airport he (Mr Wong) discovered they had booked the other resort for the wrong dates, hence there was an urgent need to contact Low Cost Holidays again!

At the airport Mr Wong's first flight decided to wait for a couple of passengers who were lost in the airport. Eventually they unloaded the hold and removed the lost passengers' luggage moments before they finally arrived. For reasons beyond comprehension they then reloaded their luggage and allowed them to board before setting off even later for Vienna. In Vienna Mr Wong had to run for the connecting flight to Malta as low cost holidays had not factored in the often encountered delays – nor the length of the airport! This flight boarded at the other end of the airport (some ten kilometres away or near enough). During his rush to get to the Malta flight Mr Wong managed to twist his ankle. When he finally arrived in Malta his luggage had missed the plane and he was nursing a swollen ankle. Whilst waiting to fill in his lost luggage form (inside the baggage area behind many others), his hotel transfer departed no doub assuming Mr Wong had missed the plane. Mr Wong then had to pay extra for a taxi from the airport to the new hotel which was quite a distance from ours.

In the morning the hotel boutique stocked only tourist clothing with Maltese holiday motifs all over them. Mr Wong managed to find an orange and white striped polo (with only a small Maltese cross on the pocket) and some red Hawaiian patterned board shorts along with some thongs advertising Malta all over them. That was as good as it gets. He was ready for the beach sin goggles, suncream, towel etc – all missing in his luggage!

Around a half hour after Mr Wong left the airport in his taxi we arrived and our transfer greeted us and immediately took us to the resort we had booked. We checked in and went straight to our room feeling hot hot hot and needing some airconditioning. Sadly our air did not seem to work. Nor did the inroom internet they had advertised and which we finally looked forward to after forking out the big bucks. My beloved called downstairs and the not so lovely man on reception said he would get maintenance to look at the air in morning. He also said their were too many people using the internet and that's why the wifi didnt work. At 2.30am? Que? (FYI The air con improved only marginally for the rest of our stay and this was only after we complained again and again – it was certainly not climate control as advertised – fan control at most – frankly many of the 5 euro hostels had better facilities!)

Well that was night one in Malta. Day one actually was beautiful. Mr Wong limped over the hill to the hotel we were in and we all attended the private beach in front – watching a young bride and groom paraglide past along with various other interesting people taking off on jet skis etc Husband and Mr Wong organised some diving for the next day and we basically enjoyed a few hours swimming eating and wandering around St Pauls Bay – there was a Festa that night and plenty of fire works. It was hot but we were pleased to know my beloved the “Master diver” was going to be diving with Mr Wong for free when the lovely Spanish girl gave MrWong his dive refresher. I was going to relax by the water and see about hiring a car. I also made contact with my Aunts Cousin and organised a rendezvous to visit the cave my Aunt had lived in as a child.

 

Mr Wong's luggage finally arrived on day 2 and Reno (the cousin) very kindly took us up to the caves where my aunt had grown up. Its hard to imagine the contrast between life in Malta during and after the war to life in Australia now. The caves had dirt floors and limited natural light but out the front was a beautiful view out to St Pauls Bay and the ocean beyond. The minute Reno walked into our resort I knew it was him as he looked more like my Aunty Maria than her own brothers! I am proud to be related to such a cool cave woman (married to my mums brother) and have a new appreciation for her father and his decision to take the family across the world to find opportunity and a new life. My grandmother had done the same taking a boat from Ireland when she was only sixteen.

The Medna

On a different note Mr Wong's dive refresher aggravated the already twisted ankle (clearly hiking over the hill between resorts didnt help either). So he had to give diving a miss for the rest of the trip. This meant we made use of the hire car and visited the Mdina – a beautiful old walled city in the centre of the island and we caught the ferry across to Gozo and unintentionally visited the inland sea and the Blue window. These are magnificent natural sites not to be missed on a visit to Malta. I also visited the Capital Valetta one day when Mr Wong's ankle was so swollen it needed a rest. I am going to put myself out on a limb here, it was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. I have to say it was spectacular. The shear size of its outer walls are a sight to behold and both the city and the Mdina have been painstakingly cleaned and are undergoing works that highlight their grandeur. After the Medina in Marrakesh the Maltese city and Mdina were a real treat.

For the uninformed Malta has a history that mixes Arab occupation with French, Italian and finally British. Thus the name M'dina comes from the Arab world. There is also a strong similarity to the British way of life. In fact there were so many Brits there enjoying the summer – we were wondering if anyone was still at home! The Queen apparently spent a good deal of her time there as a princess when her husband was in the navy and Malta apparenlty has a special place in her heart. On a different note there is also evidence of prehistoric life and a questionable ancient relic sat smack bang in the middle of the Dolmen resort – Questionable due to the lighting, plumbing and general maintenance around it.

So after 8 nights in Malta ( and the not so impressive Dolmen resort) we finally headed back to London last Saturday. We had time to hike through Hyde Park (the tube was undergoing maintenance at our stop), seaat dance to The Commitments (the musical) on Saturday night and visit speakers corner and Camden Town on Sunday before a quick trip to Paris.

 

 

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Marrakech express back to Spain

Marrakesh Train Station
I bought some Moroccan pastries to take with us – may have overdone it!


In order to ensure the adventure continued we decided to catch the Marrakech express backwards to Tangier rather than waiting around airports for delayed flights. Whilst waiting at the train station we eventually figured out it too was delayed. Not easy to figure out when noone (and I mean no-one) speaks english and we dont speak Arabic. The station was hot and when we eventually boarded the train the inside too was hot. Eventually the air started to kick in and it actually wasn’t too bad. The nice man at the ticket counter had suggested we could buy two adult tickets and two childrens tickets to ensure we had a whole sleeper cabin to ourselves for the journey. They provided sheets and pillows so it was almost a pleasure to zip through the country (nothing like the Chinese or Egyptian trains of our early travelling years). We awoke quite early and managed to see a fair bit of the Northern area on Morocco on our way, passing beaches on the Atlantic as well as the rural areas of Morocco.

How they separate first class sleeper from economy!

Once we hit Tangier there was general chaos again at the train station with what appeared to be hundreds of taxis fighting for a couple of hundred passengers. We negotiated a fare and went straight to the port via the city and jumped on the next ferry to Spain.

 


 

Leaving Tangier
Spain in the mist

It was a smooth ride across the opening to the Mediterranean and we spent a lovely day in Tarifa – a Spanish mecca for surfers and world renowned destination for Kite Surfing. Tarifa is the Southerly most point in Spain and actually would be quite appealling for a longer stay but we were now on a time limit.

 

We bought tickets for a bus to Seville that afternoon and headed to the beach to wait and for a swim and a feed in one of the bars. We ended up having a great afternoon with a couple of lovely ladies and a fellow who happened to be the organisers of the world Kite Surfing Championships. We really would have liked to stay a bit longer.


 

We headed up to catch the 4pm bus to Seville only to be told we had missed it! Yep we had no idea what time it was anywhere anymore – it changed in Portugal, then in Morocco on the way in and then on the Sunday after the end of Ramadan they put daylight savings on – now in Spain it had changed again. No wonder my body had no idea when to sleep and when to wake! Many had warned us against Seville as it would be too hot. I have to say it was probably the nicest place we had been to in Spain so far and I was so pleased we went – it was hot but it was a beautiful mix of old and new – I would love to go back some time in April or May. We arrived at 8.30 and raced out to catch a Flamenco show and hit the sack somewhere around 1am. Unfortunately our schedule did not permit the much hoped for Flamenco lessons but the show was so impressive I am sure that husband has recorded the moves required and will impress me with some tap dancing at home that will make Michael Flately look like an amateur!


Rather than race out early the next morning we wandered around the city for the morning and caught the afternoon AVE train to Barcelona and marvelled at the speeds being shown up on the monitor. (And yes the temperature was still up there too). It was as we were packing to get out of the hostel that I realised the Camino credentials were no longer in my bag. These were the passports we had had stamped at every stop along the way. Panic rose in my stomach. They were nowhere to be found. We headed out to a cafe and I emailed Marrakesh and Lisbon. Thank heavens for technology. The lady in Marrakesh found them as they had slipped behind a chair. Lets hope the mail in Morrocco is reliable!

Back to this high speed train. That train was a great way to speed through the countryside and see Castles, hilltop ruins, villages, cities and windmills. We watched the speed monitor and saw it hit 296km per hour a few times. The conductor said (and I quote) “It only goes up to 300km”. Yep, “only” 300km per hour. Imagine that – Brisbane to Sydney in 2 – 3 hours on the ground.

So there you go – the weather was hot and the train was fast! Now we have two days in Barcelona before heading to Malta to meet Mr Wong and catch up with my Aunts relatives and see the cave she lived in. I know sometimes I shock you but this is a true story – my Aunt is a cave woman and my Uncle always bragged about marrying a cave woman. That should be a treat to see. Rumour has it from home that there is also a fiesta on while we are there too – lets see how that rumour goes!

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Still Wandering – Onward to Portugal Morocco

 

 

 

It would be easy to assume that an 800km Camino can fit within the 30 or 40 days that some of the guidebooks suggest. After all – some people do it in 20 or even less and quite a number of our friends certainly did it in those time limits. But, after reading a few accounts of the journey and recognising the endless possibillities for injury, illness, weather and fiestas, we decided to give ourselves a few spare weeks so that we could cope with these intangibles along the way – and visit a fiesta or two (provided they weren’t just rumours!)

As a result the 48 days we actually took included about 6 rest days that coincided with the odd fiesta and allowed me in particular to actually complete the walk. I am confident husband could have proven to be quite a speed demon had I not slowed him down – although he did suffer a few aches and pains, he never had a serious injury at all and not even one blister! Had my beloved husband not been by my side I am not sure how I would have finished either – remember the two backpacks he carried? – although I do think I may have taken it a little easier for the first week heading into Pamplona – you remember don’t you? In empathy with slaves….

Anyway whilst still feeling the glow of success, and knowing we now had a bit of time up our sleeves before our actual holiday in Malta began, we headed off to Portugal for a couple of days and selected Porto as our first stop. Sadly the hostel we picked was full when we arrived and we had to book into a more expensive hotel. Sad for a moment that is, the hotel was called the AS 1829 and just happened to be absolutely superb – claw foot bath in the corner of the living area, air con with soundproof windows that opened out to let us see the action, right on the main strip just up from the river. The girls at the hostel were so sorry for us because we had to pay double! Sad I was not! Claw foot bath, view of the action, 2 mins to the river front. Sometimes not planning has its benefits.

 

 

 

Porto was a lovely place to visit although it was very busy. Because we only had a short time we thought we’d do the tourist bus that came with a visit and tasting at a Port cave. Only trouble was we had one day and had to catch the train at 4.30 – the only English tour was at 3.30pm. The lovely lady at the front counter snuck us in to the port cave to tag along behind a private tour in Spanish. We felt a little out of place but trotted along behind pretending we were one of them. All was well until the tour guide wanted to take a group photo. One of the participants hid behind us – we thought she was a ring in too! Anyway there’s a whole bunch of Spanish people out there somewhere with a lovely group photo with two Port tasting Crashers smiling in the crowd!

 

They like to eat rabbit around here and we saw this cage at the front of a restaurant! Surely not….. but then I think it is. Not dissimilar to the lobster tanks really – except it was a very cute rabbit!

We then hit a high speed train and headed to Lisbon or Lisboa for those in the know (Melissa) and spent two nights in the Heritage Hotel there. Lisbon again is a beautiful city with plenty of history. We only really had one full day so we headed straight for St Georges Castle and meandered back through the city catching a tram and a couple of taxis and walking of course! (What’s new?)

 

My plotting and scheming to get to Morocco was almost a failure until I realised we could fly direct from Lisbon and then head back to Spain from Morocco. We would have had two nights and two full days in Lisbon but the flight was early afternoon. Two nights isn’t too bad in this part of the world as the cities come alive at night because its so darn hot during the day. We headed to the airport at lunchtime and after checking in and clearing customs we relaxed in the coffee shop waiting for our flight. About half hour before the departure time we decided to head for the gate only to discover we hadn’t actually passed through passport clearance – even though we’d shown our passports to numerous important people. The line up was huge and we panicked that we would miss our flight. “Don’t worry” said the attendant “the flight to Marrakesh is delayed”. Well five hours later we finally boarded the flight! Would have been a nice day in Lisbon too.

 

I had booked a cheap Riad in Marrakesh (a sort of private home with a rooftop terrace and beautiful centre courtyard with spa pool and garden) and emailed them to arrange a pickup. I was glad I could contact them and rearrange a pickup time. Thank heavens for that as finding a Riad in the Medina was almost impossible. Even though someone was handing out sim cards at the airport with free calls and data for the first week. Google maps has no idea what’s going on in Marrakesh – and some of the streets must be 1000 years old. The Riad made me feel like I was in an episode of I dream of Jeanie – or in a harem in an old hollywood movie! A medina is actually an old city and includes hundreds of riads along with the souks, mosques and all sorts of businesses and homes for the locals. Its also where the Kasbah is – I understand it is the walled fortress that probably was home to someone important in years past. We didnt really want to go visiting all the old buildings as it was the people and the current way of life that was of more interest to us. As it turned out it was the end of Ramadan the day we arrived and the first two nights we were there was when they all came out to party and during the day many of the souks and shops were closed.

We managed to catch a few street performers which included snake charmers, local musicians, african dancers and general chaos. The constant “look here” “what price you want” etc etc was not overly relaxing but we did take a ride in a horse and cart around the old city wall and managed to eat some fantastic food.

 

Highlights for me would probably be the hammam and participating in the cooking class at the Maison Arabe cooking school – I couldnt take my sister Ellen whom I am sure would have felt right at home in the Masterchef setup, so my beloved husband agreed to participate and he excelled in Tagine of Chicken and Lemon (with extra chilli of course). Cant wait to try it again at home!

The hammam is an interesting concept. It is a traditional steam bath where you are heated and scrubbed to within a millimetre of the end of your skin! You actually come out feeling quite cool and relaxed. All when the temperature outside is in the high 40’s! In fact on our last day we were told it was over 50 degrees celcius! I felt somewhat unwell from the heat and husband was extremely tired. Lets just say we were a little hot. Thank heavens we didn’t have to walk 20kms and the lovely ladies in the Riad Zouini let us stay until we were ready to catch our train the last night.

In order to ensure the adventure continued we decided to catch the Marrakech express backwards to Tangier! Stay tuned for the next episode….

 

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After the party…. from Santiago to Finisterre

Well the first day after we arrived in Santiago started with a fantastic buffet breakfast at the Hotel and a quick trip up the hill to visit Morgan Morgan Chris and Tim. You remember the American students who we adopted after bumping into them in so many albergues and bars don’t you? I think we first met them when we last saw Anthony and Martin and Jacob from Bilbao at Carrion de las Condes. Anyway then we ended up hanging out for a few drinks in Leon before bumping into them at Jesus’s place, Astorga and finally bidding them farewell at Rabanol.

We then headed down to the markets which is always an interesting place to discover how the locals eat. Of particular interest to us was the way most of the crustaceans were sold live. We usually buy our prawns and crabs quite dead I believe (although my beloved husband has been known to catch the odd crab from time to time henceforth then they are alive). The lobsters for some reason deserve the right to live the longest at home often being sold from the tank at the restaurant. How these ladies in Santiago survive all the claws and jumping out of the plastic containers is beyond me.
One of our Japanese friends was still hanging about!
Anyway a few of the people we had met on the Camino were still hanging around and it was a great thrill to catch up and say goodbye. As you can imagine most people had packed up weeks ago and gone back to work whilst we kept plodding along. I will say in our defence many were on tight schedules and had to catch buses to meet flights. We were so thrilled to catch Shirley and Steve before their departure, Mike and Gilda and Michelle and Chris have stayed in touch on Facebook, Jacob from Bilbao has gone to help his Mum move to Madrid, Anthony and Marten stayed back to rest Marten’s hooves and we eagerly await news of their grand entrance to the square in front of the Cathedral, I don’t know what happened to the Englishman Dave with the Red Ankles, he could be still walking somewhere for all I know, Janice I’m sure has her feet up at home and is sitting back looking nice and relaxed and Pepe, well maybe he was just a Camino angel and never actually walked with me at all!
Michelle and JC however, they will always be with us. We kept catching up over the two days in Santiago and again in Finisterre where I finally managed to dip my whole body in the ocean again. We headed to Muxia first and then to the beachside ablergue do mare at Finisterre. Muxia is where two stone boats are believed to have arrived if I have it right. One was the Angels bringing Santiago (Saint James) to the Spanish shores and one was Mary asking permission. It is a beautiful little place where many pilgrims flock to after the Camino along with a visit to the beach and Finisterre. I was more thrilled to hit the beach at Finisterre than you could imagine. Having spent my youth on the beaches at Coffs Harbour I believe there is something truly soothing to the soul swimming, and sometimes just sitting and watching the waves roll in. There is not a swimming pool on earth that can even come close to a dip in the ocean and when I dived in the freezing water I finally felt totally at peace after our journey.
Finisterre is Latin for the end of the earth. In the old days people thought the ships sailed over the horizon and fell off into the abyss. We know better and thoroughly enjoyed the most beautiful view from our albergue, and of the sunset at the lighthouse; and a wonderful day of beach and wandering.
Muxia
 
 
 
 
We caught up with some friends which of course included Michelle and JC but also Anna Adam and Lilly from Canada.
 
 

 

 

Before leaving the next morning I zoomed in on a few beach campers from our Albergue and felt sure that was the last we would see of Michelle and JC.

 
 

At the statue outside our albergue Husband left the stick that had been his companion for much of the camino. I actually felt a bit sad but it seemed like the appropriate place.

 

We headed down to the bus stop with barely minutes to spare and as we threw our packs in the hold Michelle and JC came running across the road to say goodbye. The tears are flowing again as I write this post. We never really planned to run into each other so much but their 53km hike to catch up to us that day put them in a special place in our hearts. Michelle was crying too, JC was silent, “Its really over isn’t it” I said or asked or whatever. Yep we jumped on the bus and headed back to Santiago and managed to grab the next bus out to Porto in Portugal. The Camino was really over now but a new adventure was about to begin!

Michelle and JC heading off

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Day 48 Villamaior to Santiago de Compostela – 9.47 km to Saint James in the Field of Stars – At last!

Before reading this post it is important that you know how truly grateful we are to have had so many wishing us well and cheering us on – especially over the last few days. We are sure that there are many times when we could have pulled the plug and hopped on a bus and headed off into the sunset but for the well wishers and the messages of encouragement. The fact that many also promised to raise a glass on Friday also made us extremely happy and emotional as we celebrated in Santiago last night. Thank you for taking this journey with us!

And now to the blog!

 

Well after the heat wave yesterday I almost thought I was still dreaming when I awoke to a strong wind and looked outside to see serious storm clouds gathering across the horizon. There was no sleeping in today (for me at least), so I hopped into the cold shower (as you do when there is no hot water yet again!) and fixed up my pack, and taped my heel, ready for the grand finale. My beloved husband enjoyed a few extra minutes siesta and was pleased to hear the weather report I conveyed after my quick trip out to the courtyard. We anticipated a wet arrival in Santiago (just like many others before us) so I put my rain jacket on and husband made sure his was nearby – yesterday whilst sweltering in the heat this was an unimaginable outcome. We were both pleased that we would be walking in cool weather.

Only at the last minute did we confirm the cafe where we were staying wasn’t going to open early for breakfast so we headed out the side of the building and out the gate for our 8 kilometre trek into Santiago (note the actual distance was 9.47). The wind was quite strong and husband had to stop and put his fleece on which seemed almost absurd after yesterday’s heat. We passed a couple of tv stations before reaching the first little cafe at the camp ground overlooking Santiago. We sat outside until a cup of coffee and a cup of tea arrived and a gust of wind blew all the dirt into our faces and our drinks. We quickly moved inside and enjoyed a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs and tomatoes along with our dirt encrusted drinks. My eyes had a gust full as well.

The Australians from Yepoon who had been at our last two overnight stops dropped in as we were leaving. I must have looked a bit of a mess having ingested dirt with breakfast and having shed quite a few tears reading messages from the home front on my phone. I’ll come clean here – I’d been bursting into tears on and off for a few days by now whenever I thought of the enormity of the journey we had almost completed and the challenges others were going through elsewhere. Husband would simply look at me and smile (or laugh) as we plodded on down the track. Today was different though. I was allowed to cry when we finally arrived. But the tears kept coming between bouts of laughter all the way down the hill into Santiago. The tears were dispursed between hiking songs. I was singing “Valderi Valdera with a knapsack on my back” which clearly drove anyone who dared come near me away and, my all time favourite “These boots are made for walking”. We kept walking.

The gps app was counting down the kilometres but the wind was so damned loud I couldnt hear her speak every second kilometre. We knew a few people were sitting around at home waiting to hear of our success so they could toast to our arrival so we were reluctant to drag the arrival out. Furthermore, the wind had captured a few wet clouds so we had a few sprinkles of rain and this urged us to hurry on so we could get there before the rain really fell down.

We passed the Polish Albergue where we thought Michelle and JC might have camped. We had also met another two people from Slovakia and the Czech republic who had been looking for that albergue yesterday. It was said to be a great camp ground. We kept moving. We also passed a rather large statue erected for the Popes visit a couple of years back. A young fellow with Cerebral Palsy walked with great difficulty down towards us from the statue – I wished he and his father buen camino – his face lit up with a huge smile and his father said “Buen Camino” back – the tears flowed again. Weren’t we lucky to have been able to walk that far!

 

 

We kept walking. I was probably going faster than any day so far. We were seeing new pilgrims everywhere – everyone was speeding up. Was it the proximity to our destination or the impending bad weather? I don’t know we just kept walking. I turned my data on to send a quick message to everyone saying 4k’s to go. I saw other messages of encouragement and had to turn it off again before it chewed my battery. We kept walking.

As usual the last 4 kilometres into any city are the longest. Santiago was no exception. It’s always harder with concrete and traffic. We stopped and had another pilgrim take our photo at the Santiago sign. We took a photo of her and her daughter in return. We stopped for a quick toilet stop at a bar and bought a drink. We kept walking following those yellow arrows for what would be the last time.

Finally we reached an area that had to be the old city. A bunch of schoolkids headed off to the right as we came up the first hill. This confused us. There were no arrows to be seen. We stood perplexed looking at the Camino app compass for a while – it seemed to change its mind every couple of seconds. Thankfully a couple of more observant pilgrims headed up the street opposite and we suddenly spotted the faded sign with the arrow on it. We passed many shops and locals and finally a large building on our right that looked like a grand hotel. It was the last albergue before the square in front of the Cathedral.

 

 

We walked under an archway and finally out onto the square. I was blubbering. We had made it. One of my sisters insisted I call her when we get there as she was sitting by with two bottles of champagne waiting to toast. One was for her. One was for me. She suggested she might have to drink both as I was so far away! No prizes for guessing which sister! I turned the data on and called blubbering. I tried to call my other sister and my dad but couldn’t get through. Husband turned on facebook and told our boys and all of our family and friends. We turned round and round and hugged each other both happy and sad our journey was over.

 
 

 

 

We threw our packs on the ground right in front of the Cathedral and laid down. There were different groups around in circles, singing, chanting, clapping. Most were not long distance pilgrims. Or at least not the walking type. We had the best spot. A tour group arrived in front of us and a Spanish man asked if he could take our photo. At least thats what we thought. We of course said yes. He grabbed my pack. Moved it to the side and lay down with his head on it next to my beloved. His wife lay beside him and his son took their photo. He wanted to be like us! It was hilarious. It was a wonderful end to our journey. They struggled to stand back up. How amazing to think that people wanted to be like us!

 

 

 

The rain had disappeared, the sky was clearing, it was cool enough and warm enough all at once. It was 11am so we headed down about one hundred metres past the Paradore (the expensive hotel on the square) to our hotel, a converted Monastery – San Francisco Monument Hotel. It was perfect. The staff were wonderful and we discovered we had been upgraded to a suite! We decided not many guests were actually walking pilgrims so we were given special treatment. The stuff we had sent on to lighten our loads had been delivered to our room. We dumped our gear and headed up for the 12 o’clock Pilgrim mass in the Cathedral. We were hoping to see the Botafumeiro Swing.

The mass was fantastic. Before it started a nun with a beautiful voice was singing and engaging the congregation to join in. It was all in Spanish and sounded angelic. We managed a standing spot right behind the last row of seats on one of the wings where the Botafumeiro would swing if it was used. Tears kept rolling down my cheeks. I still couldnt believe my aching feet and legs had made it. I did have to keep lifting my right leg off the ground as we stood throughout the service. That heel was killing me and I needed to sit down – the tourists had all the pilgrims seats. Luck was on our side. The Botafumeiro was going to be used. After a whole mass in Spanish the Bishop spoke in English and told everyone how it used to be used to hide the smell of the Pilgrims but it wasnt needed for that anymore. (He obviously couldn’t smell us or the rest of the pilgrims we had been meeting.) “Now it is swung so it can send our prayers straight to heaven”. I cried. The music played, the Botafumeiro swung. Apparently our prayers went straight to heaven!

 

With that we headed up to buy that champagne. We held a few toasts to friends and family at home and to us and our new Camino friends. It was such a fantastic day, we went to the pilgrim office and received our Compostella and a certificate of distance (which I’m quite sure was nowhere near as far as we actually walked). We caught up with quite a few people over the afternoon, husband saw the Japanese fellow we had first seen at Mansilla, the American ladies from the mist, Michelle and JC, the girl from the Czech republic, Adam from Slovakia, there were a bunch of Germans we had met, a Canadian, our new Spanish friends Jorge and Lola etc etc.

I went back to the 7.30 mass and realised there was no line up to visit the Sepulcre of St James. I went straight in and lit some candles for friends and family. I then went up behind the high altar while Mass was in progress, and came upon the statue of St James that everyone wraps their arms around and whispers why they came into his ear – I had heard you usually line up for hours to see him. I walked straight in. I touched him on the shoulders and realised it was a great place to sit for the mass. I sat down on the stairs and peaked through the ballustrades at the congregration. Me feet were so sore I couldnt possibly stand through another mass. It was a great place to see the Botafumeiro from a different angle. Other people were standing behind there also. I wasn’t the only naughty girl. It swung again after communion and it was so majestic. I cried again.

The night came to an end when we finally walked past the Cathedral square where a local group were playing guitars in traditional attire and engaging the crowd to sing along in Spanish. There had been wonderful buskers all day, harp players, opera singers, guitarists, bagpipers. Santiago felt quite magical. We went to sleep about midnight in our big comfy bed fortunate to have celebrated our Camino across the world with new and old friends. Thank you for sharing our journey.

Buen Camino!

 

How it really felt!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botafumeiro

The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

 

 

Day 47 Salceda to Vilamaior – 19.26km – 482 ascent 472 descent – A completely unnecessary day of heat and hills – what happened to the cool?

Just a few days ago I indicated to you that we were limiting our distances so we could enjoy the last few days and arrive in Santiago in one piece. I also indicated it was much easier now that the weather was cooler, the paths were easier, there was more shade.

And then we left Salceda!

What the hell happened? How did we get this last full day so wrong? I had booked us into a Casa Rural only 8 k’s out from Santiago. One book said 16km but another suggested 18. Trust me the extra 1.26 is a big deal when another damned heat wave hits – we ended up walking 19.26km. Friends who had started with us in the Pyrenees had posted photos of arriving in cool weather – I think some had even arrived to Santiago in rain. Had we really straggled too long?

The first few kilometres of the morning saw an influx of pilgrims – in fact it seemed as though there were crowds. We stopped at the first cafe bar for a bite and ended up only having coffee and tea. It was too busy and too complicated to order more. Michelle and JC popped in – they had a bit of a sleep in but as usual, were quickly able to catch up with us.

 

We headed off again, saw some great horses taking pilgrims along for a ride and then bumped into the Americans we had last seen a few days ago when I took their photo walking out of the mist from Eirexe. We chatted for a while and parted ways in O Pedrouzo where they were staying the night. We stopped a short way up the road and had a hamburger each (actually my beloved had two) they were on soft bread which didn’t rip my sunburnt lip open like the hard bread we had become used to in Spain.

Not sure if I have mentioned before but I realised my spf lip balm was useless some time back when my lip was first sunburned. I had tried many farmacias to obtain something seriously good for protecting my lips – like good old zinc – but I failed at every turn. I started using spf makeup as a stop gap which I think worked quite well. Not sure if I mentioned before but in Portomarin, which is one day out from Saria, where all the new pilgrims finish their first day, we were so surprised by the lineup at the farmacia that I had to take a photo – all I wanted was something for my lip – they were all limping around with serious day one injuries and there was no hope of even getting into the shop to look, let alone get served before midnight.

Portomarin farmacia

 

Anyway back to now. We had left late because my beloved needed a sleepin after our catch up with old friends last night. This didn’t bother us too much because the weather had been quite mild and the distance we were to travel was not quite great. But the day heated up very quickly. Husband crawled past the 20km sign and we still had 12 kilometres to go. It was going to be a long day…

 

We passed another reminder that life is short – both on and after the Camino.

 

When we reached sealed roads we noticed the tar was bubbling quite severely. At one point I tried to capture the rippled effect of heat rising on the path head. I’m not sure that I adequately captured the reality.

I did finally get to dip my feet in another creek and the cooldown was magnificent and immediate.

Note the Kinsiology tape that has become my knees’ best friend!
I am not sure that I can adequately explain the last 5 or 8 kilometres of the day. There was a completely unnecessary ascent in scorching heat. It was so uncomfortable for me (probably because I was finally moving at the speed of “normal” people), that at the top, I darn near collapsed from heat exhaustion myself. I sat appropriately at the foot of the Santiago sign and caught my breath. We were entering the city limits and I was all but collapsing!
 
 
Finally another 4 kilometres later we reached a water fountain and we both thoroughly wet our heads under the tap (remember the trough is for the animals!) We were then able to soldier on another few kilometres – yes I had it wrong – I think we travelled about 8 kilometres during the time I thought we would be there any minute. But hey, we made it to our last night on the Camino – we are only 8 kilometres out from the city – we have eaten dinner and showered. Had dinner with the Aussies we met last night. I can still walk. Husband does not have heat stroke. We are almost there. What a day!
 
 
 

Buen Camino!

 

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Day 46 Arzua to Salceda 12.2km – Finally – a walk in the park!

We are aiming to arrive Santiago this Friday. That means we don’t have to kill ourselves walking to get there. Finally we can actually enjoy the journey. We can leave late, stop for lunch, I can even drink wine on the way and still arrive in time to relax at the albergue.

I have to say that I have been walking with a shadow of sadness for loved ones and friends who have been dealing with lifes tragedies and challenges. Sometimes I don’t even notice the surroundings and have to remind myself that we are on this wonderful journey and our times of pain have been and will no doubt come again. I bring myself back to now and look around for some special reminders of the beauty in the world. I also am glad to be actually walking finally without every step feeling excruciating. The tracks are great, the trees give plenty of shade and the weather is so much milder than some days we have endured.

Leaving Arzua this morning we happ’d upon the local markets – it’s another nice thing about leaving late, you see a bit of action in the town you have stayed in. We also met a couple of nice nuns who wanted to stamp our credencials. I told one nun my husband was a very naughty boy – she said to me “You must be a naughty girl then” Well that was a surprise coming from a Nun and had me laughing down the track for quite a while.

 

We saw horse or at least we thought it was type of a horse and we were very sad to see all the flies around his head.

We actually walked for over 6 kilometres today before even seeing a bar to grab a coffee at. It actually was a pleasant walk again. I didnt even have to stop and tend to any foot or knee problems. In fact by the time we found the first bar the time for coffee had passed and it was time for a beer! It really was a good day.

A fellow was parked over the side of a bridge we had to cross about 5 kilometres in and he handed us a brochure that had a menu on it which included pimientos del padra. The brochure was for Tia Dolores at kilometre 29. We really were getting close to Santiago. Every half kilometre or so we saw a distance marker telling us how far we had to go now. Anyway the first bar was at kilometre 31 or something so after a quick drink we headed on to find Tia Dolores. It wasn’t a let down. We ordered scallops, pimientos and also ham croquettes which we had found to be quite tasty. We each had a beer and we sat back and relaxed just like the locals do. After all we only had about 3 kilometers or so to go for the day. Who would have thought a 12 kilometre hike was an easy day?

 

We arrived early at our albergue and were pleasantly surprised. The room was clean and modern. The grounds were lovely. The pool was a little disturbing but it was a pool primarily for your feet.

The only pool that did not entice me (Shirley we love it anyway)

We also heard news that Michelle and JC were planning a 50 plus kilometer day and might catch up to us. This was exciting – most people who can walk that far don’t slow down enough to talk to us – they are super hikers. We are so not in that category – if I walked 40kms I am sure I would end the day in hospital! 50 and they would be calling an ambulance (or a psychiatric ward). My Irish feet were not meant for marathons! Finally at 8.57pm precisely they arrived. Just in time for the 9pm cut off for food!

 

I do feel sad for some who have had to rush through to catch a plane and couldnt take a day off to socialise or rest or recover from injuries or to talk to the number of people we have had the pleasure of meeting. I am also glad we have had plenty of time so we didn’t feel the need to catch a bus when we needed to rest. We have certainly spent some time getting to Santiago!

Tears well in my eyes sometimes when I think of how far we have come and knowing that we have walked every step of the path and also knowing it will soon be at an end. I am trying to envisage how it might feel when we arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago and the journey is over. At the same time I am feeling a sense of euphoria knowing that we have come as far as we have. Life is good for us at the moment. Our boys are doing well without us. Our pets are well and still alive (or so we are led to believe – not sure about my plants though!) and we have had enough physical capacity to come this far.

Two more blogs to go from the Camino! Wherever you are in the world – Friday Morning Spanish time will be our time for a glass of champagne! Join with us for a toast – hopefully 5 or 6 pm Australian time! We will visit the Cathedral and light some candles for our friends and family, we will attend the pilgrim Mass and hopefully see the botefumeria swing and we will hit the town and celebrate the journey. But for now it is still two more days of walking – Buen Camino!

 

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Day 45 Melide to Arzua – 14.88 km 405 ascent 422 descent – Playing Spanish Roulette and learning Flamenco!

What a day! Just when we thought all the fun was over and our Camino was coming to an end we decided to do a short day and to send our packs again to ensure we arrive in Santiago in one piece (14.88km). Well at least to ensure my heel arrives in one piece! Things were not overly fun until we bumped into Jorge and Lola again. We had met them yesterday a couple of times (they were the ones who suggested the paddock with the tables and chairs) and, as I have said before, if you see someone more than twice on the Camino they become like old friends. I think what was obvious was that they liked to stop at bars also! They were great fun. It was our good fortune to meet them because I could practise a few Spanish words and they could teach us a few things about Spain because they are from Barcelona.

Today was also good because we had also heard from Michelle and JC – they had not run off to France and we just might get to see them again before or at Santiago. Last, but certainly not least – Anthony and Marten were walking again (you know, the Frenchman with the nice ass). A few days back we had been deeply saddened to hear that Marten (the nice ass) had sore feet and needed to stop. Afortunatemente Marten was feeling better and they were already at Rabanol.

Leaving Melide with crowds

So we left Melide after having a late breakfast in the main street. There were hoards of students again and it was not a peaceful walk for the first 5 or 6 kilometres. I was still feeling a little saddened by different news from friends at home, those battling illness and loss of loved ones and the lack of buen caminos was becoming more and more noticeable. I was trying my best to say it to all who passed. Then we saw Jorge and Lola again which made us smile. They were in another bar having a drink just like yesterday. (Maybe they were eating but lets not let the truth get in the way of a good story). We started playing leap frog and, as we walked along today we actually overtook Jorge and Lola at one point while they were actually moving and of course I had explained to them that we had to take a photo last time this happened so they insisted we take one this time!

 

We had some great laughs along the way and Lola decided to teach me flamenco seeing as that I wasn't sure I'd be able to walk again let alone dance by the time we reached Santiago. We also discovered that they too went zig zag down hills just like me and husband thought that was hilarious – I have had a hard time convincing him how much better ones knees feel doing that. We had a lot of laughs and I learned that my name sounds like Rooster in Spanish – Gallo pronounced gayo! Think I'll stick with Mary.

 

Anyway about two k's before our town they were getting picked up and taken to a casa rural somewhere so we stopped and had a drink with them while they had their lunch. They ordered pimientos del pablas (I'll have to check that) and said it was like one in twenty. They looked like fried jalapenos but tasted like fried capsicum. They explained that one in twenty means one in twenty will be spicey hot. It was like playing Russian Roulette with capsicum so we all indulged. First Lola got one, her eyes watered, she turned to the side and drank rather large gulps of beer. Then Jorge had one and started coughing and choking. My beloved, who looooves spicey food was jealous he kept getting the mild ones so we ordered another plate. This time I ate two that brought tears to my eyes and, down to the last capsicum, husband got none! I have christened this game “Spanish Roulette” and I am fairly confident we will be eating a lot of capsicums now we have discovered it.

We left them eating their lunch and headed off to find our albergue which was meant to be on the near side of town. Thank heavens because yet again we had another large ascent to finish our day – I must admit it is one of the first times in weeks I have arrived somewhere not needing to immediately soak my feet in cold water or rub voltaren into my heel. After taping my heel and covering it with the silicon padding meant it even felt okay!

Desafortunatemente this joy was short lived. Husband went downstairs without a key and discovered he couldnt get back in the building. A nice school teacher standing nearby lent him his phone to call me. Then he discovered his phone had no credit. So we spent the evening walking up and down a very long main street buying more phone credit and eventually speaking to the Chilean call centre for Jazztel and resolving all phone problems. Recharging a Spanish sim is not a simple process you know. But we succeeded – we are champions! Now we could rest.

Buen Camino

 

 

 

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Day 44 Eirexe to Melide – 22km – A walk in the mist

“I am sitting in the mist listening to the cock crow. A few early morning hikers have left already. I can hardly see ahead. The mist has engulfed the village. It's 7am and we have a long day ahead of us. Twenty two kilometres to our next stop at Melide. People from the town before us are already passing the village. We have just spoken to our younger son via Skype and I am realising how much I miss our boys and family and friends; and the comfort of our home. It is time to walk.”
Our American friends leaving Eirexe

 

 

Starting early for a change gave us an opportunity to miss the heat. At least that's what we thought. It also gave us an opportunity to experience the crispness of a misty start. The vista was at times eerie and you could hear your footsteps echo along the road. Every now and then a car would appear out of the mist or another pilgrim would creep up from behind. The morning really is a beautiful time of day. Especially when you are on a pilgrimage and you have a long distance to travel.

 

The day was 22km but without the heat it actually didnt feel too bad. I had booked us in to a room in a Pension that had a pool at Melide and quite frankly the walk was quite a pleasant one although it did start to feel a bit hot again in the afternoon. We met a nice Spanish couple who suggested we have a stop at one bar where the enterprising owner had placed the seats and tables in the paddock opposite. It was a nice place to stop.

When we finally arrived at Melide we were pleased with the accommodation – it was as though someone had opened their home to guests and it was clean and cool. The pool was lovely!

After a rest we headed to the mains treet and tried Pulpo – the local specialty. Pulpo is octopus and neither of us much like it anyway but thought we'd try it. Luckily the New Zealanders arrived minutes after us and we were able to quickly hand it over for them to try before they ordered any. They loved it and happily ate it all – in fact their only complaint was that we only ordered the small size! Well that saved a big waste didnt it? We shouldnt order things we know we don't like – but then you never know when you might change your mind and trying local dishes seems important.

I think the taste was fine – it was the concept of eating octopus that we found disturbing.

Not to go hungry – we had steak instead. We headed back to our room and tried again for an early night so we could beat the heat tomorrow.

Buenos noches.

 

 

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