True friends (Guest Blog)

As we prepare to leave Hastings for the Camino, packing the last few bits into my rucksack, I am mindful of the time we spent this winter with the Snowflake project helping the homeless. Was this, in some small way, what it was like packing all your possessions into one bag? It made me reflect on how fortunate we are and on the journey we were about to embark on, leaving most of our creature comforts behind.

“Blessed are you Pilgrim when you contemplate the Camino and you discover it full of new friends and new dawns”

“It was 30C yesterday” the taxi driver announces as we are decanted in Ponferrada, the small ‘one castle’ Spanish town that is the start of our Camino. It is now cold and more like 9C and it is starting to rain. However as we enter our albergue, it is warm, super modern and inviting – a good start.

Ponferrada Castle

It’s now around 2pm and we have been up since 1am with only a few hours sleep. We are all tired and hungry, so we will go and grab some food, but the trick will be not to go to sleep now, but stay awake, then have an early night ready for the long walk ahead of us.
Lunch was unassuming, but now full, sleep was really beckoning, we must stay awake, but how?
We arrived back at the albergue and go to investigate what was in the basement. To our surprise we found an empty games room, complete with table football, pool table and a host of board and card games. What followed was a real fun time as we reversed our tiredness playing all sorts of games.
At this point we should introduce our friends and fellow pilgrims, Caroline and Nick.

Robin, Nick & Caroline

Now you think you know people, but after spending a couple of hours playing competitive games and tiredness has forced you to lower your “social etiquette filter”, this is when you really start to get to know one and other and build true long-lasting friendships.

Whether it was the dominoes or the games of Knock Out Whist, I think we truly started our friendship journey, which hopefully will blossom as we support each other on the road to Santiago.

One final question directed at Nick, I still do not understand your theory of when playing Knock Out Whist.

The scenario, you are dealt two cards, the 3 of Diamonds and the 8 of Spades, why is it better to choose diamonds as trumps????? Maybe you can explain that during the miles ahead?

God sent me a gift! (Guest Blog)

I think it is fair to say that I am competitive and like to win.

Although I was not conscious of this at the outset, upon reflection, it is now clear to me that I approached my Camino in this way.

No bag would be too heavy for me, no distance too far, I would get up that hill faster than anyone, etc. etc.  This was all to my detriment.

Whilst I was taking in the beauty of my surroundings, enjoying the company of my friends and conversing with other pilgrims, it was just on an every day level. Something had to change, but of course I did not realise that…….

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Break time

About half way through our Camino, at Tricastela, the weather turned and we woke to howling wind and rain.  To be honest, I was looking forward to battling the elements – again my ever present competitive streak was on the rise.

With all our weatherproof gear on we did look a sight,

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Straight off the catwalk – The infamous short long trousers!

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If your name went in that book you were in trouble!!!

 

but it was not cold and the bad weather was a welcome relief from the heat of the sun.  We had a great day’s walking, stopped at a fantastic Donativo for breakfast and were making great progress towards Sarria, when we came across a small stream swollen by the rain.

Again Mr Competitive came to the fore, thinking I was still 16 and forgetting I had nearly 10kg on my back, I thought I could use my walking poles to vault the stream.  Well I made a hash of it, landing partly in the stream.  Oh well I thought, only my ego dented.  Wrong again!

About 200 metres later, the ankle that had taken the full force of my landing started to complain.  I tried to walk through it, but to no avail, and by the time we arrived in Sarria I was a hobbling mess, convinced that it would be the end of my Camino.

The next morning I could hardly put my weight on my ankle without severe pain.  Not wanting to drag our group down, I suggested to Liz that she could continue with the others and I would meet them all in Santiago. Her reply was that if I was stopping, so was she!  I couldn’t have that, so I strapped my ankle up, took copious amounts of painkillers and took to the road – only 100kms to go!

What happened that day can only be described as an epiphany.

Firstly the technical, thank goodness before the Camino I had learnt how to use walking poles correctly, they became my third leg.  The pain from the injury was also bizarre – walking up hill, little pain, walking downhill and it was like hot knives being inserted.

Of course what the injury did do, is slow me down considerably and with all that competitiveness evaporating, it made me think deeply about what a problem this competitive streak had been for me.  I truly started to appreciate my surroundings and I felt liberated by the experience.  I had a notebook with me and started to write my thoughts. Here are some: –

“It’s the quality of the journey not the speed”

“Take it slow and your wellbeing will grow”

“Open your eyes”

“At 120k God sent me this injury as a test and a gift”

‘The beauty and aura of my wife up ahead just stands out and in harmony with mother nature”

On that day I vowed to change, to slow down and appreciate the gifts that I have and those around me. Try and avoid the consumerism rat race of every day life and live life to the full, by appreciating and helping others.

So thank you Lord for opening my eyes and seeing a better way.

Now the challenge is to live it!

“Blessed are you pilgrim, because you have discovered that an authentic Camino begins when it is completed”

 

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New Pace of Life 🙂

 

Rain again & The Shining (Guest Blog)

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”

Well I can assure you that it doesn’t.  It is quite happy soaking us in the mountains.

Santiago is getting ever closer and we start off in good spirits

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but the journey is taking its physical toll.

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The face says it all

 

Tonight we are heading towards an isolated refuge in a hamlet called Porto du Bois, so that should be interesting, but we have to get there first.

Blisters are becoming more of a feature and figuring out ways of managing them to get us across the finishing line are becoming more creative.

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Ouch!

At our late morning stop at an albergue, it is boots off to adjust plasters, and Nick comes up with a very welcome blister solution.  Hot chocolate all round with a large shot of the finest rum – I can assure all you doubters that rum and zinc tape works better than Compeed!

As the medicinal effects of the rum start to wear off we are buoyed by some stunning scenery

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Mass just finishing

However, I can tell that Liz is beginning to flag and then as if by magic, around the corner is a jewellery shop (those that know her, know that she just loves her jewellery).

On our whole journey we have only seen shops in main towns, now in the middle of nowhere, a jewellery shop!!

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Jewellery shop

 

Soon after the shopping stop we start to enter a woodland area populated with amazing Eucalyptus trees and Sweet Chestnut. The smell and colours are intoxicating.

 

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Eucalyptus Forest

Dazzled by nature, the afternoon walk is beautiful

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and before we know it, we are at our accommodation for the night, Apartamentos Turísticos Porto de Bois.

When I pictured an ‘isolated refuge’ I imagined something basic.  This place is not too shabby, but it does have an isolated almost “The Shining” feel about it, particularly when we discover the owner’s daughter taking pictures of us through the window in our apartment – creepy!

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Apartamentos Turísticos Porto de Bois

We are also the only guests, apart from a lone mute Spaniard, who looks remarkably like Jack Nicholson!

As darkness falls there is a definite chill in the air!

Huddled up in our apartment, all we can hear are eerie noises from the pitch black forest around us, and I am sure that I saw something dash past our windows. Also what is in that padlocked tin shack on the top of the hill overlooking our room???

Anyway we are all hungry and have ordered dinner. The only problem is that we have to navigate across an unlit courtyard to get to the dining room.  We all keep close, with hunger driving us forward and gingerly open the door to the dinning area.

What a fantastic restaurant (and veg!) and although we were alone, apart from the grunting Spaniard, our host created a superb ambience with some cool tunes and served us one of the best meals on the Camino.

 

Mind you we did double lock our doors that night!!!!!

Ribadiso to O Pedruzo (Guest Blog)

When we arrived in Spain and drove to our starting point, we got the distinct impression that the ‘walk in’ to Santiago would be along many roads.  How wrong we were.  The route has been well planned taking in the best of nature.

I just want to share the beauty of our last full day before we arrive in Santiago.

Our penultimate stopover was at Ribadiso, a little hamlet consisting of some farm buildings an albergue and a restaurant.

All these pictures were taken in Ribadiso just using moonlight for illumination.  The camera has AI (Artificial Intelligence), a sign of things to come!

In the morning we set off for O Pedruzo, our last stop before Santiago and here are some more of nature’s highlights.

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The tree struck by lightning

 

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More Beautiful Forests

 

We also find a lovely totally organic cafe on the way.  Such a beautiful morning, Liz decides to give us a song. Mind you I am not sure Nick is appreciating it!!

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In fine voice

We finally arrive in O Pedruso but not before the obligatory 2km uphill climb in the blazing sun – that was tough, but we make it, only to find probably the worst accommodation of the whole trip.  To be fair everywhere we have stayed has been good, but this is not.

Pension 9 De Abril smells of TCP and I am not talking about the antiseptic!  The problem is the lack of ventilation.  Oh well we can put up with it for one night. So we head out for dinner at a recommended restaurant.

You may have picked up that vegetables rarely appear on the menu in this part of Spain.  This restaurant was no exception,  it had two menus, one featuring entrecote steak or steak on the bone.  That was the choice, so guess what, we all had?

The steak was excellent, but it was all cooked in the restaurant without an extractor fan,  so now we all smell of cooking as well as damp from the hostel, a fine combination.

We have fresh clothes waiting for us in Santiago, so we leave at the crack of dawn. We are nearly there……