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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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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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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Day 43 Portomarin to Eirexe 18.07km – All quiet on the Western Front

A late start meant we missed the crowds – it also meant we could meet a few stragglers like ourselves. People who were clearly not in a rush and happy to stop and have a coffee or a cold drink in between meals. I am sitting outside another albergue listening to Bonnie Tyler would you believe? Yesterday I marched along to Bon Jovi outside one place. Occasionally we actually hear local tunes but moreoften not.

Most people walk from Portomarin to Palas del Rei – a 24 kilometre journey. We have decided to limit our walks this week and hopefully I will not arrive in excruciating agony every night and husband can enjoy the strolls. Today is still around 17 kilometres. To a pilgrim coming from France or further afield that is a short day. To anyone back home it could be considered pure torture!

We stayed in a hotel of sorts last night. The idea was so we could sleep in. Funnily enough because it is a place filled with pilgrims they assume you leave early. We were woken by the cleaners at 7am because they thought we had gone. Admittedly we left our door a little open so a breeze would get through but luckily we put a chair near it to deter any rushed entries. The bang was a little sudden though for the start of the day.

The walk itself was quite pleasant. It didn't really start getting hot until a few hours into it. In fact I even started the day with a coat on again. Its much nicer to walk when its cool. Because we were leaving after 9 the locals were out in force preparing for a fiesta of some sort. They were covering the streets with leaves in readiness for something exciting. We weren't going to hang around and find out but maybe it meant something big as we hadn't seen that sort of preparation before.

We wandered over the water and up the hill on the other side and enjoyed a pleasant walk through the forest and the countryside. We spotted a few more of the strange little huts we had been seeing since arriving in Galicia and had lunch on a terrace with a nice outlook across the valley. I asked a Spanish man what they were and he said they were for storing corn but no-one grows corn here much anymore.

One of the most interesting things we were seeing in these parts was vending machines placed out on the street and even seemingly in the middle of paddocks. Quite convenient for pilgrims who had developed a thirst or needed a bite to eat but we couldnt work out who controlled access to land in these parts. Obviously that is of significant interest to me as I have spent most of my life negotiating agreements to use land. It seemed anyone could run a power lead onto the street and stick a machine out if they felt like it.

Finally we arrived at Eirexe and a couple of Kiwis who we kept bumping into were staying at the same place and so were the two American ladies who we had first seen at the albergue a couple of days back during the heat wave. They were the onnes sipping cold drinks watching us leave after lunch when it was 42 C in the shade – you know the first day I started singing on the road again.
 
Anyway we all went across the road and had a decent feed and everyone went to bed early – these guys all get up early so we thought we'd give it a shot. When its complete daylight its hard enough for me but, I also found it difficult to sleep in the oversized single bed which was classified as a doble matrimonial. Husband had a couple of beers and was out like a light. He was still recovering from heat stroke.
I went downstairs to do some reading and writing and Kim, one of the American ladies, was down there as well. We had a nice chat and I called a couple of places to reserve beds for the next few nights as things were so busy it felt as though we might miss out because we walk so slow and leave so late. Kim said they had not been game to sleep in the Albergue dormitories like we do because she was frightened of bedbugs and things. Ironically that night when I went to bed in the nice clean pension I was a little itchy and found it hard to sleep.
Husband slept like a baby! We both woke up with a couple of bites! Aargh…
 

 

Buenos noches.

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Day 42 Barbedelo to Portomarin – 19.65 km – 100km to go and the Hordes begin!

A quiet day. Not! We left Barbedelo at around 8:45 and missed saying goodbye to Shirley and Steve. We were at the 108km mark so in only 8km we would pass the 100km to go mark – yee ha! My feet were so happy to hear this that they sped up and we killed the first 8km in record time! Before we went too far however we hap'd upon a bagpipe player. I threw him a few coins and he winked at me. My beloved noticed too. He was a cute bagpipe player! Who would have thought Spain had traditional bagpipe players?

 

 
 
What disturbed us most today were the crowds that must have started 3km earlier in Saria. At our first break there was a lineup for the toilets! Not only that but the noise was so disturbing I could not stay and relax and walked on to the next town to have my cold drink and hot chips. (Sometimes its easier to eat what you know rather than risk having octopus tenticles placed in front of you when you order calamari.)
We were also noticing the complete lack of “Buen Camino's”. We almost had to drag it out of some people! For 700km everyone said buen camino. Most disturbing was when an American girl said “What?” On a positive note however, we were now meeting even more new people. There were suddenly a lot of Spanish people which meant we were finally meeting some locals! I could practice language skills.
There were a few interesting occurrences today and the first was meeting up again with the pilgrim carrying Jesus on a stick. We love this man. I am sure he is carrying Jesus as some sort of penance for his sins. I do do not need to carry anything as the pain with every step for the last 700km has been penance enough! He and his mate were very kind and his friend offered to take my photo with him. I found their Spanish very hard to understand and finally concluded they might be Portuguese! Who knows – they might be basque or Galician also.
We also finally caught a lizard photo. This had fulfilled a personal challenge as the darn critters are usually so fast! There was also the odd local sleeping and the strange little windowless building they all had in there back yards. We (I) translated something that suggested the little buildings were for drying grains out. We thought they might have locked naughty children in them in days past!
On the way into town we spotted a couple of pilgrims soaking their feet below the bridge. Looking up at the stairs we had to climb and down at the stairs they had climbed made the idea somewhat unappealling. I had booked a room with a bath and that would suffice for today's cold water pool!
We eventually arrived at Portomarin to enjoy a great plate of vegies (another Shirley recommendation) – this may sound a little odd, after all we see them growing everywhere but for some reason they never seem to make our plates. We were so thrilled as we had been seriously missing them.
The Camino had clearly changed today. Buen Camino was disappearing, we were lining up for toilets. There were so many people that the peaceful walks of the last few hundred kilometres were becoming a thing of the past. We knew our Camino was coming to an end. Maybe these changes would make it easier to bid farewell to this adventure. Just a hundred k's to go.
Buen Camino!
 
 
 
 

 

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