Sep 272013
 

September 2013

Camino de Santiago
September 2013

My dear dear friend Julie Belott asked me a few weeks after Michael passed away if I wanted to hike the Camino de Santiago with her. My first statement was absolutely, my second was What is the Camino de Santiago? These posts, that I wanted to add to my blog are copies of the emails I sent to my mother along the way.

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Suggested Reading:
There are hundreds of books out about walking the Camino, and research done on-line will most likely garner a book that you favor rather than my suggesting any.  That being said…
I will state outright, that I am NOT a fan of ANY book that makes the Oprah Book Club list.  However, a friend loaned me Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and I highly recommend it.  This book is about hiking the Appalachian Trail, unprepared.  It discusses too heavy back packs and too small boots.  If you think you are completely prepared for a trek of this size, think again, and read Strayed’s book before heading out.  Forewarned is Forearmed.
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First day and I thought I would let you all know how things are going. I hope to be complete enough so that when you ask me to tell you all about my trip, I will know that you didn’t read all the way to the bottom. I will then put on an obsequious smile and in my mind I will be putting you in a box with Schroeder’s cat. Arrived in Santiago via DFW and Madrid. While Santiago is a lovely town I did not have too much time to explore. I am attaching photo taken from the public garden that is the highest point in town.

 
DSC_4697I spent most of my first day fighting with my phone. Despite being told constantly that it was unlocked and I could get a SIM card, that did not turn out to be true, so I am without phone, but fortunately I am with ipad. So emails and texting works.
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Julie Belott arrived last night with her husband Wayne. We had a quick dinner and a bottle of wine and Wayne headed out to the airport to go home. Julie and I headed back to our hotel to hit the sack.
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Museum of the Cathedral

Great little breakfast in the hotel, a 8 euro taxi ride to the bus station and then a 9 Euro bus ride to Lugo, then another 3.5 Euro bus ride to Sarria, our starting point for the camino.
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A lunch of grilled octopus and boiled beef – both delicious. We are in Galicia which specializes in Octopus, there are pulperias everywhere.
A quick word about Galicia. It is one of three autonomous states in Spain. Their language is slightly different, so Julie and I often look at each other funny when an odd word here or there will spill out of someones mouth, (they substitute x for j for example) but basically we are doing fine with our Spanish. I will say, that despite the heavily traveled Camino, we have yet to encounter any Spaniard that speaks English. Glad Julie and I are proficient enough to not be the least bit concerned.
DSC_4721After lunch we headed to the Monasterio de la Magdalena to get our Credencials. The Credencial is a document that identifies the bearer as a pilgrim, you collect stamps along the way as proof of completing the pilgrimage. Once we reach Santiago they will give us a Compostela (certificate of accomplishment) which is written in Latin and personalized saying we hiked at least 100 kilometers of the Camino.

Tonight in Sarria we are staying in the King Alphonse IX Hotel. King Alphonse died in Sarria on his pilgrimage in 1230. Sarria is thought to predate the Romans, and there are a lot of fabulous old stone buildings throughout the town.

 
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Everywhere you go you encounter pilgrims, riding the bus they are all along the road and in town they are on every sidewalk and pouring out of hotels and albergos (what we would call youth hostels) Backpacks and hiking boots are de rigueur around here.

A little background. The Camino has always been a religious trek, although now it is considered more a rite of passage. The first guide book to the Camino was written in the 12th century. Everywhere you go you see scallop shells. These were symbolic with a couple of thoughts regarding their meaning. One was that the shell represents the fingers of an open hand symbolizing the good deeds expected of a pilgrim. Another interpretation is that the lines of the shell, which converge at a single point, represent the pilgrimage roads convening in Santiago. As to why Scallop shells, there isn’t any real answer.

 
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Sep 262013
 

September 2013

DSC_4755Day 1 – 21 miles or 33.8 kilometers – Way toooo much – and I will explain why eventually

No wi-fi. (Wee fee in Spanish)

We started in Sarria. The Camino is a lot like walking a charity event. You encounter people through out the day over and over depending on how fast everyone walks. You always greet people with Hola and Buen Camino.

If you notice someone speaks your language you may walk a few blocks and talk about where are your from? Where did you start? How long have you been at this?

There are many beautiful vistas along the way and a lot of great photographic moments, that is what you expect. What you don’t expect is the stench. This is the season for the manure cocktail of pig shit and water that they spray on all the fields for natural fertilizer. I truly have built up a whole new library of olfactory discoveries. This is farm land, cows wander aimlessly, horses poop in the road, your senses are assaulted all day long.

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The next thing you don’t realize is flies. With that much shit everywhere there are flies. Eventually I kept thinking I looked like Pig Pen, I didn’t exude dust as much as clouds of flies.

When you are exhausted what you want to know is who hates you so much to send thousands of flies to hover around your body and constantly fly into your ears. Julie suggested this was part of the penance one pays on the Camino and maybe we should pray for them to go away (like that was gonna work). I on the other hand was way to busy praying for cold water and cold beer.

The other thing that made today so tough is the weather. We started out pretty good. Due to the latitude the sun doesn’t come up until 8. We headed out about 7:30 and it was already hot and humid. It stayed that way until about 5:00 and then it started to rain, then it stared to pour.

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I sit here tonight with absolutely everything in my possession in some type of dampness. Even my ipad cover is wet, and it was buried deep in my pack. Fortunately, ipad, phone and even camera (which I eventually buried in my pack as I was getting freaked out about the amount of water coming down) are fine. This is a good thing as this part of Spain is suffering a terrible drought, but really – hiking soaked to the bone for hours is not fun for anyone.

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The reason we did way to much…Most pilgrims go from Sarria to PortoMarin. We could not get into a decent hotel in PortoMarin, so Julie booked us into a hotel in Gonzar. According to Booking.Com Gonzar was only another 1.8 kilometers away. Unfortunately we discovered the hard way that Gonzar was actually 11.8 kilometers, or 7 extra miles away. Then when we got to Gonzar we learned that she had booked us into a hotel another 51 miles away. So on the advice of a Spaniard in Gonzar we walked one more kilometer to a pension in some town that isn’t even listed on the map. This was NOT Julie’s fault, the hotel was listed in the wrong place. Lesson – don’t trust the internet bookings at Booking.com.

When we arrived at the end of that last kilometer there was ABSOLUTELY no one at the Pension. I had a tad more stamina so I walked ahead. I saw a sign for Bar/Cafe so headed there to see if anyone could tell us about someplace to stay nearby.

I was greeted by four people that said Hello, not Hola, but Hello. I explained that we were in a bind, with no hotel and an American gentleman (from New Mexico) jumped up, grabbed my hand and said I’ll take care of you. He said that the pension he and his beautiful wife were staying at had one room with three beds. Apparently some Americans had come, looked in, deemed it unsatisfactory and left. The room was paid for, the owner had gone home, and as we both agreed, all us American’s look alike and she would never be the wiser.

We then had a delightful dinner at the restaurant. The other two women were French, with excellent English. The owner/chef/waitress, Flora, took care of the 6 of us as though we were family. $30 Euros and THAT included a bottle of red wine and a beer.

DSC_4769Essentially – that is what the Camino is about, Doing good deeds for fellow travelers. Chatting, talking and just enjoying strangers company.

As far as walking that far. Yes we were both exhausted. We had a good breakfast at the hotel before leaving, but we only stopped once the entire day and that was for water. It isn’t easy there is a LOT of up and down, hard granite roads, interspersed with pavement and dirt roads. However, we had lots of mole skin for our blisters and fortunately some power bars readily available.

I would not recommend ever going that far in one day on the Camino, but it is proof that if two little old ladies can do it in a pinch, anyone can.

Today’s theme : Biting off more than you can chew and then being rescued by the unexpected.

Sep 252013
 

September 2013

I started my morning by hiking up a hill to Castromaiar. Castro means stone in galician, and at the top of the extra 1 kilometer I walked was the ruins of an old Roman encampment. Just amazing how much history is in this countryside, and most of it hidden behind fabulous stone walls amidst large pieces of farmland.

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Well yesterdays hike took its toll on us today. I do not believe there is one solid square inch on either of my feet that doesn’t have a blister, in some cases, blisters on top of blisters. I even got one under my toenail. I am definitely going to loose that nail. I am rather convinced it is from two things. The incessant rain and the fact that it is so hot and humid my feet sweat the entire day. That much dampness causes blisters. Thank goodness for mole skin and blister bandaids. But I must admit, right now I am cranky and in pain.

Today we went from our little spot in Gonzar to a delightful hotel in Coto. Total 11.9 miles or 19.5 kilometers.

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The terrain was much rougher today. The rain is causing a lot of the roads to wash out so the going is treacherous and very, very uneven. We were more in the woodland area today, but that does not mean we weren’t often greeted with Eau de Pig Shit and flies, but not nearly as bad as yesterday (YAY)

Also today we stopped for lunch, a necessity – I really didn’t think I could make the whole trip today, but after lunch things were great. I must admit however, the last 5 miles were up hill and we really, really talked to ourselves for the last 3.

Todays saying: Understanding you limits and recalculating.

Sep 242013
 

September 2013
14.1 miles – 29,482 steps – Rain for about 15 minutes – more about that.

At the end of our walk yesterday in Coto we finished at a delightful little hotel. The place was owned by a husband and wife. There was a bar set up under a tent outside and that is where the husband worked, lots of locals hanging out chatting. The wife was the cook, and our meal was just divine. We started with a wonderful Galecian soup, kale and chicken broth, and moved on to pork ribs with potatoes. NUMMMY

DSC_4811At dinner we met an Irish couple, and you all know my love of Irish men. We had so much fun with them, that we went to bed well lubricated to sleep and sleep.

The Irishman told us probably the best advice we received. You can have your pack sent on to the next hotel for about $5.00 – well some of you may think it is cheating, but guess what – we were so exhausted that is exactly what we did, and yes, we are going to do it again tomorrow.

We just killed ourselves pushing it the first day, and well, heck, we are still walking the Camino, just not with 15 pounds on our back :-). We ain’t no spring chickens you know!

Today was a lot of woodland area, as well as several Roman stone bridges, and Roman stone encampments.

DSC_4835Not too much eau de pig or flies, but a whole new smell of Brussel Sprouts. They grow everywhere and they smell in the fields exactly like they do when you cook them. As I said a whole new repertoir of olfactory assaults.

We have decided that I am a weather god. I HATE to wear a poncho, I am hot enough as it is, let alone put one giant plastic sheet over my head. So it has to be pouring before I will put one on, AND THEN as soon as I do it stops. So today – I forgot my poncho in my pack, Julie made me buy one while we were heading through the town of Palais de Rei. She figured if I bought it it wouldn’t rain. We stopped for a bottle of water and a potty break about 1-2 hours away from our final destination and it started to rain. I put the poncho on, got hotter than blazes and it stopped. So I do control the weather, but I have to be hot and steamy before it listens to me.

As I mentioned the first day – Galecian is very interesting and often makes us just go HuH? Tonight we are in a sweet town called Azura. The z is pronounced th.

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Our hotel – Pazo Santa Maria – is $117 – the most we have paid and it would easily be a four or five star in the US. All stone buildings with lots of gorgeous carved work, wood beams to die for, with wood ceilings that just make me wish we could get that type of construction in the U.S.

DSC_4863My friend Amy suggested that I pack some nice sandals and something to wear in the evening to go out. Tonight the place is so special I actually am wearing what I brought. Real luxury tonight :-).

We are headed to dinner now – and there is no doubt it will be fabulous. We are a good kilometer and one half from town, so dinner and breakfast will be here in the hotel.

I’ll let you know tomorrow how dinner was.

Today’s saying: Take advantage of all the options.

Sep 232013
 

September 2013
14.9 miles and 35,000 steps

Promised to give an update to last nights meal, good but no where near as good as the home cooked food from the night before. Galitian Soup, Veal and Torta de Santiago. The Torta, you see everywhere. Almond flour, almonds and powdered sugar. I am sure it is also an olive oil cake. Delicious and fast becoming my favorite food of the region.

DSC_4840My mother asked how many stamps I have collected and I realized I had not talked about that. Technically you collect two per day. We have been so focused on the finish line that we have only been collecting two a day, one in the morning and one at night where you stay. Yesterday, however, we stopped in a small town neither of us can remember and collected a stamp from a small ancient Roman church. The priest handed us blessing cards and shook our hands. Despite his age (waaaay older than me) his handshake almost broke my hand. We also picked up one at a fruit stand. This happens often on the Camino. People put out food, coffee, water and/or tea and have a honesty box. We bought nectarines to die for and the fruit stand had a stamp as well.

So on to day 4. It was a nice day in that we had no rain. Terribly humid, but no rain! – Yep, carried that damn poncho the whole way!

We spent more time going through very, very small hamlets today. I also felt we saw considerably more stone work along the way today.

DSC_4923First thing this morning we encountered a group of Japanese, stylishly dressed and walking with no packs. We still have not figured out if they were just visiting Spain and walking one day, or if they put on full makeup and walked in these gorgeous clothes for the entire trip. We met them again where we stopped for lunch, and while they were stamping their “passports” I noticed they had 3 or 4 pages worth. We only have 1 page worth. I haven’t figured out if they stopped at every place they could to collect stamps or if they really had walked farther than we thought. So of course, I started stopping and collecting stamps till Julie teased me so bad I had to stop :-).

DSC_4905We ran into our Irish friends again along the way and walked about a mile with them. We took a potty break in an albergue where we parted ways and yep – we got a stamp :-).

We met some fellows from Gibralter and walked with them for a while. The problem is, we were having so much fun laughing and talking about the world we walked a full kilometer past our hotel. Combination of our bad math – we try to calculate the kilometer marker that our next stop is at, and the fact that we were using google maps and well we all know that isn’t the best.

We are now happily off of our feet and sitting in a hotel in Amenal, drinks and computers in hand.

So – the disgusting olfactory sense of the day – my own feet when I took off my boots. UGH!

Blisters, believe it or not I have even more, did not think that was even possible. Julie has been a wonderful nurse tending to the ones on the bottom of my feet, I could never reach those.

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 For my long distance cycle friends, we all know that at the 50-80 mile spot we get what cyclists call bike brain – well guess what?  We get Camino brain.  For those that have never experienced this, you simply get goofy, and it is hard to communicate.  We were at the 40 mile marker and Julie said there is a Farmacia (In Spain they have a green cross in front of them).  I said, yes I see the orange cross.  That is Camino brain.
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Tonight we sleep at the 14 Kilometer mark – We have been counting down from 115.

Saying for the day- Enjoy the camaraderie, but keep your eye on the road.

Sep 222013
 

September 2013
9.9 miles – 23,500 steps

DSC_5007Today was bitter sweet. My feet are so glad we are done, and frankly I could not have done anymore without a few days rest, but none-the-less, it has been a journey worth it all.

The last leg is really uneventful. Truth is most of it is through exactly the sort of area we had walked before and as you close in on Santiago, the road becomes the entry to a large town. Factories, surrounded by large parking lots and then the suburbs and then town.

We entered the church like any good pilgrim and sat for a while. It is really stunning inside with so much history.

DSC_5164There is a famous botafumeiro in the church. It is the largest censer for spreading incense smoke in the world. It weights 175 pounds and is 5 feet tall. It is hung on a pully system above the altar, requiring 8 men to get it to reach its top speed of 80 kph. It is said the censer was installed to cover the stench of all the unwashed pilgrims – and that is not hard to believe!

After, we headed to the pilgrim office to receive our Compostela. You stand in a long line, fortunately we arrived where our wait was no more than 15 minutes, when we left the line was way out the door. You are directed to a counter by a guide, it feels just like any passport/visa office in the world. The women that were directing were Americans. They are American Pilgrims on the Camino. The one women that put my Compostela in a tube for safe traveling was from Nevada City. You can read more about them at www.americanpilgrims.com.

DSC_4972Once you get to the counter they check your stamps. You are given a sheet where you put your name, city, age, how you did the camino i.e. walk, horse, bicycle, and then answer if you did it for religious purposes or another reason. I was about the 15th person to sign the sheet I signed, I saw Dallas Texas, Bangor Maine, London, Santa Barbara and others I don’t recall. I would love to read just a few of the sheets, they must hold the most interesting collection of travelers.

After a few minutes you are handed a certificate completely in Latin, including your name that says you did it! ( I assume that is what it says, as my Latin is a tad rusty – for all I know it says thank you for spending your hard earned money killing your feet, getting blisters and eating our delicious Galician food).

The line is a fun one to stand in. We were in front of two men from New York that had walked the entire Camino 800 kilometers from St John, France. They took 31 days, which is actually rather fast. As people strolled in and out, people they had started out with would come running over and hug and cry – the Camino creates quite a bond.

Tomorrow Julie leaves out of La Couruna via the train, depending on the weather I may go with her for the morning and then come back via train. I have one more full day to spend photographing Santiago and then home.

DSC_4979A few things I have learned. While it sound so very cliche, you get out of the Camino what you put into it. We have met so very many interesting people, and everyone’s Camino is different. But I found that upbeat happy people had a good Camino despite the hardships, that complainers are complainers and always will be, but I also found that people on the Camino that were looking for something didn’t really find it, my opinion is because what they were looking for was inside them, and they weren’t looking there.

Regarding Spain, and in particular Galicia. Spain has suffered from the world economic slow down as badly, and worse than most. This mornings news had an article about a fellow that posted to his facebook account how he had a Masters degree and yet was forced to go to England to look for work, and there he only found work as a barista. Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.businessinsider.com/benja-serra-bosch-spains-unemployment-icon-2013-10

We were stopped on the road by a woman named Lynette. She was an American, and we think she just wanted to talk to Americans, she works as a health care worker in Santiago. She said that Galicia has lost its spirit and gumption, that everyone has gone underground and is to fearful to do new and different things for fear of loosing even more money, and so the citizenship has become mired in inaction.

DSC_4911I found this particularly true, in that there really was no entrepreneurship on the Camino, many times you would hear Americans (and really only Americans) say if I had a place on the Camino I would do this, and you had to agree with them, there is so much opportunity and yet they have not grabbed hold of it. You can counter that with the fact that it would make the Camino even more commercial, but when you are trying desperately to find work, new ideas are what it takes to get the economy stimulated, and there are approximately 2000 pilgrims that finish the Camino in Santiago EVERY DAY, selling just half of them a decent hamburger would bring in a lot of money :-).

Well if you have read all of my missives, and have gotten this far down each of the pages, you are a true friend and reader and I thank you.

Saying of the Day: Enjoy your successes, but also enjoy the moment!

Buon Camino!