Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Post camino journey

We have travelled from Ssantiago to Madrid, then to Sevilla and Granada - all in quick succession. And now we are inn Barcelona having a 2 day break. We are feeling a little bit over the tourist-thing (sightseeing and standing in queues and battling crowds of people to see things or purchase something), but on the whole we are still getting on well together and navigating around pretty well.
Whenever things get a little tense, Rick acts the fool which keeps the kids spirits up.
We saw plenty of art in Madrid - loved the Prada! The modern art at Reina Sophia was a little too much for Mads and Gabe, but we did get them there which was an achievement in itself!
We enjoyed the Alcazar in Sevilla and attended a flamenco performance there also, which we loved.
Saw the Alhambra in Granada which was a long hot process. Perhaps because we were so tired we didn´t appreciate it as much as it deserved.
We are now experts at travelling on overnight trains. We were tucked into bed before the train left the station on the trip from Granada to Barcelona.
Emma - I saw your note in the St Peters newsletter. I hope all is going well for you and Sean and Paul. I think of you often. I really think we have a better form of Church in NZ than here in Europe - despite the history!

Friday, July 3, 2009

We Are There!!

Today we are resting and enjoying the sights of Santiago!
It´s hard to beleive that we have actualy arrived - we keep meeting pilgrims in the street that we have shared a meal with, or walked with, or slept with! and they all look like us - a little surprised to be here!
The last three days of our walk went like this - Sarria to a little place in the middle of nowhere called Casanova, 30K, (great little albergue and meal), Casanova to Brea 36K!! (we couldn´t find an albergue and Rick was threatening us with sleeping in the bracken with the giant slugs!), Brea to Santiago, 23K (arrived around 2.30pm, hot and thrilled to get there).
So basically we booted it to make it by Wednesday as planned. Mads and Gabe were great and even on the day we walked 36K they didn´t complain and just kept plodding on. That day we walked from 7am to 6pm with breaks for meals and morning and afternoon tea! We were really relieved to find a pension over a bar on the main road at Brea and even better, it had a 10 bed dorm with only us in it! And it had sheets on the beds. All this luxury improved our spirits so much that we set off for Sanitago the next day in fine form. But after climbing the two big hills before Sanitago, we found that all our aches and strains had come back to bother us and we stumbled into Santiago mid-afternoon. We went straight to the Cathedral and visited James Relics and placed our hands on his statue behind the main altar as all pilgrims do. I liked the quiet little chapel with the relics which was under the main altar - uninhabitied apart from me and the relics for a full 3 minutes, so time to pray for everyone I have been carrying in my prayers while walking....
Then we went and got our compostellas - our certificates. Mads and Gabe seem very proud of theirs. Today we went to the pilgrim Mass and clearly heard pilgrims from Nouvella Zealand mentioned several times in the list of pilgrims that was read out (not sure which ones were us...) - so again we felt very proud.
For me the Mass, which was packed, was a mixture.
Disappointing, because as usual we miss the opportunity as a church to talk to people where they are. There were at least 200 pilgrims there and it seemed the perfect opportunity to celebrate and include everyone, by data-projecting the liturgy in all the different languages. I don´t know what the priest said in his homily, but if it was me I would have been challenging pilgrims to use their sense of achievement in whatever they went on to do - to serve, to live in harmony with others, to keep searching and listening for God. But i suspect none of that happened. It was a plain Mass, said fully in Spainish, with one nun leading the sung responses. But on the positive side, the Mass did give me a sense of timelessness. The sense that hundreds of pilgrims had been to this Cathedral in the same way as us and had celebrated this Mass over humdreds of years in this great Cathedral. That thought was pretty awe-inspiring...
So that is our Camino!
Thanks for all your prayers and support - we couldn´t have done it without you!
Now our travels continue - we are off to Madrid tonight on the overnight train. Today Madeleine and Gabriel are shopping - so life is pretty much back to normal!
We will continue to update from time to time to let you know what we are up to and where we are.
God bless and buen camino!

Monday, June 29, 2009

From The Children,

A Picture Says A Thousand Words.


Leaving Sarria we have for the first time encountered a flood of new pilgrims - those just going the last 112 kms. Madeleine can´t bring herself to even call them pilgrims so she just refers to them as GRIMS ! We have much the same feelings !

Carbed on Carbonara

It´s funny after dithering around that we settled on staying at Ruitelan ! Comments in the guest book described it as one of the few remaining authentic albergues. Carlos our host prepared a wonderful meal - cold creme of leek soup, tuna salad with mozzarella and pimentos and a wonderful carbonara which carbed us up for the ascent on O Cebreiro. We finished with a delightful creme custard. It was a wonderful stay. Early on in our camino the Aussie Dowager queen of caminos said that on the camino "People were sent to you." I´m not quite sure how you determine this, but opposite me at dinner at Ruitelan was an Austrian gentleman that we hadn´t met before. I had nodded to him a couple of times when doing the washing but hadn´t talked to him during the first part of the meal as there was conversation aplenty around us. Towards the end of the meal I engaged him in conversation and ascertained that this was his third camino. His first was done on bike with his daughters, the second on foot alone. Shortly after his second camino he had suffered a horrendous bike accident - smashing his head and shoulders in a high speed crash. It had taken him 2 years to learn how to speak again and for the doctors to patch him up and he still suffered from persistent headaches. He was doing this camino in thanksgiving for being alive !

We left Ruitelan in light mist with ponchos on and devoured the climb to O Cebreiro where we refueled. The descent encountered more persistent drizzle and a cold wind so we were well wrapped up. After lunching at Alto de Poiro where a Swiss couple who have been our roommates for a couple of times were celebrating their 2000 kms milestone, we arrived at our daily destination of Fonfria. We had the luxury here of a family room with ensuite - bliss. Next day we headed off for Sarria in better weather, traversing some lovely, hilly countryside. In Sarria we stayed at Los Blasones albergue and during dinner in town we witnessed a Galician festival !

Little bands were out playing in the streets with the Galician bagpipes in evidence. It was an excellent evening´s entertainment.

Today we ventured from Sarria to Portomarin, through lovely green countryside and many little hamlets. We are now ensconsed in the Mirador albergue and figuring out how we can best divide the mileage for the last 3 days of our camino.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Humility and the Christian soldier

Just when you are feeling great and invincible the camino offers you a lesson in humility ! it sends a slight muscle strain or some tendonitis just to remind you of the frailty of the human body ! With this in the forefront of my consciousness we left Rabanal - we were unable to stay at the CSJ hostal as it was having a spring clean, and set off for the Cruz Ferro. Having deposited our stones on the huge pile we started our descent towards Manjarin. I read from our guidebook that there was a modern day Knights Templar called Tomas stationed here. As we entered the village the teenagers saw an aged hippie in a combie van and gave him an enthusiastic wave but it was a case of mistaken identity - not Tomas ! Around the next bend there was the Templar stronghold ! Tomas rings a bell - by hand when pilgrims approach - so we popped in for a visit. I was not intending to enter his shrine but felt drawn in by the irrisistable Templar pull ! Although I had foresworn not to buy any souvenirs until Santiago I could not resist buying a templar bandana which initiates me into the brotherhood until I complete my pilgrimage. With humility as my breastplate, my walking sticks as my sword and my bandana as my badge of honour I can now march on to Santiago fully prepared for whatever the road send my way !

That night we stayed at Moliniseca - a pretty little village with some grand houses. We encountered the communal swimming pool which was the river - half dammed - in the middle of town ! It was a picturesque spot, well patronised by the locals and a few pilgrims. Whilst waiting for our meal we also watched an impromptu game of soccer amongst the local lads - nice first touches and tricky footwork.

The next day we headed towards Ponferrada and the Knights Templar castle ! I was full of expectation that my newly acquired membership of the Order would somehow lead me towards the legendary Templar treasure which is reputed to have been hidden in the castle. But alas the castle was closed and not due to open for 2 hours ! The souvenir shop over the road which contained some fine examples of Templar souvenirs was also closed - so we came away empty handed and trudged off towards Cacabelos for the night. Our refugio here was set into the walls surrounding the church - like stables with 2 beds in each stall - an ingenious design.

Then today we left Cacabelos and headed towards Vega de Valcarnces. However after arriving there we decided to push on towards the next town and have decided to stay at Ruitelan under the hospitality of Carlos. All appears to be well with injuries not impeding our progress. However we did experience some light rain today which saw us donning our colourful ponchos.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bells, storks and familiar faces

Two of the most prominent icons on the camino which we have not yet mentioned are the storks and the bells ! The storks seem to inhabit every tall belltower with up to 6 storks sharing the same tower. Sometimes you see them in the mornings in the fields hunting for worms too. The bells are part of Spanish life and go off at regular intervals. However they all seem to be computerised and pre-recorded with not a Quasimodo in sight ! Most of the campaniles also have a loudspeaker. On Sunday morning when we were walking thru Sanbanez the bells started ringing like they do during the Gloria at the Easter vigil and after 15 minutes they were overplayed by choir music which went on for an hour - until we were out of earshot ! I suppose the locals just get used to the regular noise.

Today we left Astorga and stopped for breakfast at a cafe on the edge of town. The barman was a splitting image of my brother in law Andy from Wanganui - only 10 years younger and with more hair ! It´s amazing how many people you see who remind you of people you know back home ! I guess that there are only so many facial permutations available to the creator ! The odd thing is that their personalities are often similar too !

Today we passed thru Santa Catalina which marked the 500 kms mark for us ! We celebrated with an orange juice for Kathleen and me and a Red Bull for Mads and Gab. I tried to ask the barman for a ¨"rojo torro¨" but he did not comprehend until we said Red Bull ! Gab is walking on
despite his knee and seemed to go ok today.

Monday, June 22, 2009

St Martin & Astorga

We left Leon after our rest day and really stepped it out and arrived at St Martin at 12.45pm. Stayed at the first hostal on the edge of town - Vieria Albergue - brand new and only 5E each for a 4 bed room ! We kept waiting for other pilgrims to arrive to fill up the place but very few did - and there were only 10 in for the night ! Couldn´t fault the place - clean, good meals and very friendly. Gabe and Mads even had a swim there. Today we left at 7am and have just made it to Astorga at 12.45pm. gabe has been troubled today with a sore knee - looks like a cartilage tear. Got the ice on it now and given him an anti-inflammatory. Had a good walk today through the countryside - wheat, tobacco being the main crops. Staying at public hostal in Astorga - 4E each and 4 of us in one room ! Almost heaven !

Caught up with our old friend with the rudimentary Maori tattoo a couple of days back. Finally asked him his name and he replied "Ban" - we must have looked flummoxed because he wrote it down = Van ! Of course the Spanish have no V sound - "Ban the man " doesn´t quite have the same ring as "Van the man" though ! Also met a young guy from Barcelona who worked for Avis Rental cars so I asked him how the Spanish pronounced Avis - again they don´t pronounce the V and sort of swallow it as a b sound. Must be a corporate headoffice nightmare for marketing !

Calculate that we have 10 walking days to go, Deo volente. Mads is enjoying the walking now and Gabe is always happiest after food - 2 hamburgers for lunch today ! The constant walking is tough on the body so they are showing good mental strength ! A fellow pilgrim praised us for our family´s progress because he had met a French family who had given up after a couple of days and gone back to Paris to do some shopping ! Several bits of graffiti along the way suggest that the REAL camino is the internal one you make along the way - so we have yet to fully determine what that means for each of us !

Most people think that we are either from England or USA and are floored when we say NZ ! They always ask how we came to hear of the camino too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Made it to Leon yesterday - we left ourselves a short 19kms to get here but it seemed to take forever ! Particularly hot walking conditions of 35 degrees and we had a long morning tea stop chatting to an American from Texas who has a vitamin/healthfood company. Kathleen got paranoid as she thought he might want to introduce us to some sort of Amway scheme ! Anyway we followed him to a pensione in town but after a sleep he told us he was leaving because he had been bitten by bedbugs ! Bedbugs top Amway in Kathleen´s list of paranoias so we were out of there pronto ! Even got our money back ! So we set off to the local convent hostal for the night. It was nice but we earnt our indulgences ! Attended vespers with the nuns, went to Mass - which ended up not being a Mass - even tho a priest was in attendance - more a paraliturgy, then went to Compline and a pilgrim´s blessing ! Today we went off to the Tourist office and they suggested a couple of pensiones and cheap hotels. So we have found a nice one and Kathleen is just this moment exorcising the bedbug demons by washing all of our remaining clothes !

Visited Leon cathedral (attended 9am mass) and San Isodora Church this morning. Gabe and Mads found a Burger King but it didn´t open til this afternoon ! Will sit down now and plan out the rest of the itinerary - only 12-14 days to go !

PS : re-encountered Rick Steve (or his doppleganger) today and he chatted away happily to us- so there was obviously no permanent damage - unless it was amnesia ......

Thursday, June 18, 2009

From the wife!

Cheers for all your positive comments and encouragement! They really are appreciated.
I find that its always a struggle to get the male brain to move from a preoccupation with farting and money, but if it takes being called a philistine, then I´m fine with that! Having said that, rick is well qualified to give very good advise about anything to do with budgeting for a family doing the Camino. and I suspect he is also very able to advise on dietary traps.
Unfortunately we how have another preoccupation! A Spainish character that we have been keeping track with recently, has decided it is his responsiblitiy to inform Rick about the best aphrodisiacs available! Last night it was chocolate, and today it is a Spainish liqueur called orujo. There is always a meaningful look in my direction!
Today we walked a long rather boring stretch to Mansilla de Mulos. Tomorrow Leon!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Humblest Apologies from The Philistine- the penny drops...

I have just been reminded that a Camino-veteran friend of ours referred our blogspot to the Camino Live Forum - hence our blog has received comments from persons unexpected. Please note that the comments of my wife are legitimate camino experiences designed to edify, whereas my comments were written for family, the odd workmate and odder friend.

Therefore all readers who are looking for bona fide camino comments should ignore my postings !

However - essential tips to date :

Footwear - get professional fitting ! The Spanish heat swells your feet and normal everyday fittings from a cooler climate will not be big enough for the camino heat ! Swollen feet cause rubbing, causing blisters.

Plastic ponchos - while probably ineffective against decent rainfall they are handy for wearing in the mornings when the temperature is lower - and they are easy to take off without removing your pack. They are also good as a windbreak when the wind is slightly cooler.

Quickdry garments - necessity - not cotton !

Sandals : 3 of the 4 of us have walked mainly in Keen sandals and socks- good ventilation and coolness being the advantages. The only improvement would be that they lack the cushioning of a walking shoe. So if you are interested in wearing sandals then do so but buy the model with the most underfoot cushioning.

Vaseline/petroleum jelly - an application can help in areas of friction especially when sweating in the Spanish heat !

Walking poles - absolutely essential that you have at least one.

Carrion de los Condes to Terradillos de Los Templarios

Today we walked the 25k to Terradillos de Los Templarios. We are making good progress and enjoying most aspects of our experience. Sometimes the feet pain is hard to handle, but the people we are meeting along the way and the sights we are seeing generally make up for it all. Yesterday we arrived in Carrion to see the end results of a Corpus Christi procession. The flower strewed pavement was something to see, even thought the procession had passed and the designs were all mixed because people had walked over them. It was still possible to appreciate the beauty of what the locals had designed and also the effort it must have taken them.
We also went to a pilgrims blessing in the evening in one of the local churches and that was also very nice. Again, like most good liturgy, it was releveant, well organised, not overly verbose, full of local flavour and the priest made an effort to shake the hand of every pilgrim there, which made it a very frinedly affair.
Gabriel and Madeleine are managing the walking well, despite a sore knee for Gabriel and numerous blisters for Mads. I guess when you take children on something like this, you tend to see things from their point of view and anyone who has ever had anything to do with teenagers will know that they are largely interested in the fairly basic ingredients of life. That doesn't change just because you come to a foreign country. So one of our major preoccupations is finding food. Three meals a day. And when they need it! The other occupation is finding accomodation that has good showers and, if possible, friendly people that they can talk to despite the language barriers. They are handling the changing conditions, scenery and people very well and we are extremely proud of them. I'm sure they are learning lots, although as with most pilgrimages, it is impossible to be dictatorial about what it is they should be learning and the significance of the many wonderful historical aspects of the camino pass them by. This is fine by us. The important thing is that they learn about pilgrimage by experience and they are truely doing just this. They are learning about the hard bits, how the feet hit the dirt as you put it Mark, and about the fantastic bits and they have had many very positive encouraging comments from fellow pilgrims.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nun sharper !

All the locals on the camino trail know that there is money to be made from pilgrims - and so do the nuns ! Of two hostals to choose from in Carrion - both run by nuns - we chose the Espiritu santo. Quick as a flash the nun receiving us says "You want family room ?" Of course we agreed and there goes 40E ! We met some pilgrims later and they paid 5E at the other hostal ! I worked out that our hostal was 8E a pilgrim but since we had 5 beds in our room we had to fork out for the 5 beds = 40E ! Gosh I´m a novice !

Two long hot days

Our rest day in Burgos was notable for the number of times we got ripped ! First coffees at breakfast were advertised at 90c but cost double - we think that the cheap price was for thimble sized cups ! Then buying our lunch from a dairy we were short changed ! Then we decided to have a pre-dinner drink at a cafe and were charged 12E for a round ! At dinner we decided to try sangria at 14E jug - and only got 4 glasses out of it - it was 50% ice ! One of those days !

The next day we shot off in gorgeous conditions looking at 25 or 30kms. For the last few days our paths had crossed with an American dude who looks and sounds like travel guru Rick Steve.
he is travelling with a companion and we met them again after our breakfast stop. They set off before us and I thought they had raced ahead so at the edge of town I let rip with my valedictory salute to the town. Unfortunately the 2 Americans were hiding to the side filling up their water bottles ! Kathleen was acutely embarrassed and set off full steam ahead whilst the yanks were left to deal with the fallout ! We didn´´t see them again til after lunch when they gave us a wide berth and still looked shell shocked !

Just up the track from the mini-Chernobyl we paused for a water refil and encountered and Irish guy who looked under the weather - stressed out, sunburnt and dehydrated. He declined our offer of a boiled lolly so we resumed walking. At our next stop he powered past us aided by two twig like bendy poles and proceeded to disappear into the distance. At the 25km mark we looked at staying at Sanbol which was in the middle of nowhere but declined when advised that there were no toilets ! So we pressed on to Hontanas in 30 degree heat eventually arriving exhausted. Advertising hoardings on the way to the town showed a nice private albergue so we flopped into there. It was great ! While waiting for the washing machine to do its job I had a well deserved beer at the bar and who should join me but the re-juvenated Irishman - except he wasn´´t Irish - his parents are but he lives in Wales ! Tim was a bar manager from Cardiff and in his element on either side of the bar ! He kept Gabe and me entertained all afternoon with stories of football fans, rugby fans and life in Cardiff. The only porky he told all afternoon was his claim that he didn´t snore - he was like a freight train ! Tim had done the camino 5 years ago with 12 mates but wanted to do it now on his own. He disappeared before sunup and we haven´´t seen him since - tho 2 girls report that they heard a Welsh voice calling out from under some shady bushes - like some modern day Siren !

Next day dawned fine and hot and we did another 30km trek to Boadilla. We stayed at another private hostal which appeared like an oasis - green grass surrounding a pool ! Our host was an Argentinian who was in awe of the All Blacks ! Had a great stay there and today trudged off in misty rain to Carrion de Condes where we are staying at an old convent hosted by nuns !

Friday, June 12, 2009

Burgos and rest day.

It was lovely to wake up slowly and not have to walk!
We went to the cathedral and enjoyed a leisurely 3 hours looking at all the wonderful art and history associated with it. Climbed to the Mirador and Castille (lookout) and were rewarded with beautiful views of the city.
We are hoping all our aches and pains will ease as we rest so that we can attack the meseta and a potentially long walking day tomorrow, but Gabes knee and Mads blisters are still worrying them. Just leaving the civilization of the city will be a trial for them both. they are enjoying shops everywhere and if we weren´t walking they´d be buying up local supplies of swords and fashions!
Summer has returned! It´s supposed to be 30 tomorrow and 34 the day after! Today it´s a nice 25 degrees.