Donativo

And the forecast is true to its word. As promised, we wake up to the sound of a wild storm blowing outside our albergue!

Everyone meets up downstairs and starts kitting up. At last it’s an excuse to wear our ponchos! I would hate to think we had carried that extra weight unnecessarily. Robin has also offered to carry my spare pair of trainers and all the medication to reduce the weight in my rucksack. The struggling Princess feebly tells him not to, but he takes them anyway, and I don’t complain. I feel a pang of guilt and begin to think that perhaps those joy-rider pilgrims who use the taxi service may have a point!

It’s like a scene from a Tolkien novel! With ponchos on covering our rucksacks we look like a group of hunchbacked trolls. Walking in the pitch-black dark in the rain is an unusually pleasant experience and as we have set off without breakfast, we are on a quest to find some.

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Looking for our friend Quasimodo?

We know from our really reliable guidebook that there aren’t any cafés for around 5km, so when we come across a ‘Donativo’ it’s a welcome sight!

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The Donativo – Terra de Luz

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Pilgrims drying out!

 

A Donativo, we learned, is a shelter providing free rest, food and drink to pilgrims. There is no obligation to pay, only whatever you can afford. This is our first and it is excellent. A small commune of creatives who are extremely welcoming – hot coffee, home-made cake and fruit, as well as fun and interesting conversations with other pilgrims and musical instruments. We listen to a violinist play a Ukulele like a guitar while sipping hot, fresh coffee from a jam jar and munching on a banana. Caroline talks about her trials of learning to play the fiddle and I make a concerted effort to brave the compost loo, which isn’t too bad actually, while Nick picks up a guitar and knocks out a tune.

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More Pilgrims

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A little shrine of hopes, dreams and dedications

There are all sorts of different kinds of people here, including the obligatory skinny hippie types with their sunken stomachs beneath cable-knit pull-overs and over-grown bearded smiles. They remind me of Robin when I first met him. Skinny with shoulder-length blonde hair and a pair of John Lennon glasses. I look at him and notice how he has matured since those days both physically and mentally. He is still that hippie deep down inside but has had to grow a hard shell to protect himself from ‘the elements’. I wonder how these hippies will evolve in the outside world away from this nucleus of like-minded, peace-loving people. In fact, I wonder if I will be able to take some of this away with me and keep it in my heart for when I’m back home.

Caroline and I wash up our jam jars at the outside kitchen area and then load up with our rucksacks. Once again into the breach with walking poles deftly poised we resume our journey with high spirits. I am struck with the thought that this journey is a bit like giving birth. The agony of childbirth is soon forgotten after the birth of your new-born child… but it’s worth it!

Along the way,  we are all fooling around again, and Robin decides to attempt a long jump across the stream. He slips and carries on, although we later find out he has injured his ankle.

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The road to Sarria

We eventually arrive in Sarria, although the really useless guidebook has done its best to mislead us again. We end up walking around the town to reach the other side of town to find our next albergue.

It happens to be a renovated bus station and our rooms are clad with dark, wooden panels. We freshen up and go out again to find ‘linner’ (lunch and dinner).

The restaurant is a good one and we relax and unwind while enjoying a protein rich dinner – no veg. of course.

We arrive back and it is very clear that Robin has been in an awful lot of pain with his ankle. He falls asleep on the bed and I am left thinking what we should do. Do we carry on regardless, or do the sensible thing and go back home? I am certainly not going to carry on without him, although if I tell him that, I know he will carry on for my sake. I spend most of the evening lying on the bed thinking. My body is exhausted but my mind will not let me sleep. I decide to put all my fears and problems into God’s hands and eventually go off to sleep.

Dawn arrives and Robin is still in pain. I tell him not to go on, but he insists that I carry on without him. This is not an option for me. So he straps up his shin with rock tape and decides to carry on. Perhaps this is God’s will, I think to myself.

Breakfast is spent with an Irishman and his daughter who have just joined the camino. We share stories and gain strength from their optimism.

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 🙂

 

Portomarin

Next stop is Portomarin, and it looks like rain again.

The journey seems to last forever. Seeing Robin hobbling along is taking its toll on both of us. We eventually see the town in the distance, but it is all downhill from here, which is a living nightmare for Robin.

Nick and Caroline are waiting for us to arrive at the bottom. We enter the town via a bridge across a river and Nick becomes a bit wobbly. He reveals he doesn’t like heights, so the view of the valley below as we walk over the river is a hard one for him. We then come to our next hurdle, which is a steep flight of about a hundred concrete steps into the town. This wouldn’t normally be a problem but given the number of kilometres we have already travelled and the heat of the afternoon, Robin tries to cover his pain and exasperation without success. “How did you manage to organise another hill to climb, Nick?” Poor Nick gets as much blame as the guide book when it comes to finding our hostels at the end of the day. He organised the whole trip, and this is all the thanks he gets.

This time it is not a hostel but a hotel and it’s a good one. I can tell because of the absence of the dreaded sausage pillow which has been a constant feature of all the other albergue. This place is modern, comfortable and even offers a spa. But at 10 euros each, we decide to have a drink outside on the terrace instead.

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Outside our hotel

The laughter resumes and we forget all about our woes and enjoy this time together. I decide to have a shower before dinner and limp back to the room. Two seconds later, the wind whips up, and the umbrella I’ve been sitting under suddenly crashes down on to the seat where I’d been sitting just a second ago! Wow! How fortunate am I? My prayers have been answered again, I think to myself. I give thanks to God and get ready to go out.

“Will it be the short-sleeved t-shirt or the long-sleeved t-shirt with the black shorn off trousers tonight? Mmm..I can’t decide. I’ll wear both.” I’m really beginning to like living out of a rucksack. There are certainly no decisions to make about what to wear, and make-up is non-existent, so getting ready to go out takes no time at all!

 

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O dear

Tie Dye Girl

The following morning, at sun rise, we set off for Os Valos and we are met with some stunning views!

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Red sky in the morning – keep your poncho handy!

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Sunrise at Portamarin

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Arty shot

The weather begins to brighten up and we notice there are a lot more pilgrims now. Some of whom have only just started their journeys, some without backpacks, and there is one pilgrim being pushed in a wheel chair by a group of people from south America. We see quite a few familiar faces, and bottoms, as the rear view is sometimes all that you get.

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Drying your laundry Camino style

On this stretch, one girl stands out from the rest. I noticed her when we were all struggling up the steps to Sarria, and then when we were struggling up the steps to Portomarin (there is a theme here!!!) because she was wearing unusual tie-dye leggings and now I seem to keep spotting those leggings!

The heat increases and we are well ahead of Nick and Caroline when I notice ‘Tie-dye girl’ sitting at the side of the path on her mobile phone. She looks upset and I assume she is having an argument with her boyfriend. Robin is striding ahead of me at this point. He is trying to make up time on a flatter pathway, as he knows he will struggle later with the downward hills. Conscious of keeping up with him, I decide not to approach her and continue on my way. I console myself with the thought that if it were me, the last thing I would want is someone prying into my private life.

By the time we reach our next albergue, I have forgotten all about ‘Tie-dye girl’.

Nick and Caroline arrive a little later and tell us why they have been delayed. Apparently, they noticed the young girl too. She appeared inconsolable, so they stopped to see if they could help her. Caroline was of the opinion that if it was her daughter, she would like to think someone would do the same for her. So to cut a long story short, the girl was from Sweden and was talking to her brother. She suffered from depression and anxiety, and had been upset all day after finding a bed bug in her bed and after squashing it, found it was full of blood. This had literally knocked her sideways. She was travelling alone and had nowhere booked for that night, so Nick told her where we were staying and offered to meet her there to sort things out. Thankfully she did did turn up, had something to eat and sorted out the rest of her journey. I am sure that without Nick and Caroline’s intervention it could well have been a different story.

“Blessed are you pilgrim, if you discover that one step back to help another is more valuable than a hundred forward”

I can’t help thinking how brave she was. I could never have attempted this journey alone at my age, let alone at hers!

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!!!!!

Follow the Yellow Brick Road – Amen

This dark morning in Porto de Bois is very wet, and being in the middle of the woods, it is pretty creepy too. Wearing my poncho, I remind myself of the Wicked Witch of the West character from the Wizard of Oz. So with this in mind, I designate everyone a name. Robin is Scarecrow because he is still hobbling, Caroline is the Tin Man, because she is creaking a bit and Nick is the Lion because he is quite an effervescent character who blows a lot of hot air! (ha ha). It’s surprising how little it takes for us all to become age seven again, and before long, we are chanting “Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!” in the middle of a dark wood.

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Lions Tigers and Bears Oh My!

The day remains wet, and I am quite content with this as I walk along listening to some of our Priest’s meditations and homilies. Father Eamonn completed the whole camino about six or seven years ago and he has been an inspiration to us to be here today. His Blogspot and meditations can be found at Fr. Eamonn’s Blog

I feel very close to God and imagine every breath I take is the Holy Spirit. It invigorates me and I pray for my family and friends back home.

During the Camino I have had many thoughts. Some good and some not so good. At times I have felt confused and at others I’ve felt blessed. I pray that Christ will be ever more present in my life and help me to know him more and to hear him more. I believe we are all connected to each other through the Holy Spirit and it has never been more apparent than on this journey. If only I could bottle some of this to take back home with me, although I know when I return to my church and listen to Father Eamonn I am always inspired.

I begin to wish more people could take the time to experience what I and many others experience on this journey, so they have something to hang on to and to console them when more difficult times come along.

I reach a concrete path and as I walk, I feel the rain running off the ends of my trousers and into my shoes. It’s a pleasant feeling, and as I listen to some pan pipe music, my mind wanders. I notice the way in which the water meanders over the hard surface of the concrete, always finding a way around obstacles, and then I notice some factory buildings. It brings me round to thinking about the way we treat our planet, and yet at the same time worry about pollution. Some of us seem to be either hypocritical or in the dark about the truth of what is really happening in the industrial world. I worry.

It reminds me of a programme I watched before starting the Camino on how the production of cotton is one of the main polluters of our world. That and the constant obsession with buying more throw-away clothes with the changing fashions and the must-have designer brands that most people struggle to afford just to give the impression of wealth. I really don’t know the half of it, I think. But is it this naivety that money making industries rely on while they are destroying the face of the earth?  I think of the bad press the internet gets, but hope that it will help us all to see the truth and know exactly what is happening out there. How we are sacrificing our planet for greed and wealth.

My mind goes back to the meandering path of the rain water, and I am consoled again with the thought that just like the stream, nature will find a way. I say the prayer Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end Amen.

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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……