Camino 8 - 2012


October 6, 2012

Once again with thanks

From 2004 through 2011 I have walked the Camino Frances in its entirety seven times. The terrain may have been the same but the realities varied greatly. Each Camino began with both anticipation and trepidation as I wondered how it all would go, yet each pilgrimage developed its own rich mix of old friends and new, fickleness of weather, stamina and health and, of course, philosophical musings and personal thanksgiving for each day lived and for my life with Bill which enables such a journey.

For me the Camino Frances could ONLY begin at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the picturesque Basque mountain town in the French Pyrenees. Excitement builds while riding there on the little train from Bayonne. After hoisting my pack, walking uphill and through the old fortress walls to the 39 rue de la Citadelle office of the welcoming Amis du Chemin de St Jacques to obtain a Credential and bunk, I walk on. Nearby at 55 is the famous red door of the municipal albergue with its welcoming shell. Opening that door begins each new Camino adventure. Mme Jeannine, the tireless hospitalera greets all and serendipity prevails.

Such shared serendipity is a continual precious gift. This extraordinary flourishing of human spirit helps make the Camino incomparable. On each pilgrimage fellow pilgrims and those along the way have graciously offered hope and help, smiles and hugs, conversation and hospitality. What a brew!

With time I have learned my strength; 'slow, but dependable’ could be my motto. Trusting providence as well as my simple gear, tenacity and ability to endure I try to take it as it comes enjoying the good and bearing the bad. After all this is life.

Nevertheless age and time will eventually take their toll, but hopefully my memories will endure. Physically I may not be there, but sentimentally I will always wear my pilgrim shell.

Until circumstances may force me to stop hope springs eternal!
Thus thankful, respectful and humble, but still curious and with an ever eager heart at 73 I plan to return once more starting October 15.

At my age what matters most is to go on!


.....Later in Comments

.......Mayte said ...I wish you the best for your new adventure! I will be thinking of you . With all my love and gratitude always for those memories I keep from my Camino with you. Hugs.

.......David remarked ...I found myself just sitting here smiling gently and feeling quite sentimental when reading your post. You are a wonder! Marvellous!

.......kacacc noted...73 and walking the Camino the 8th time! Wow! It must be a wonderful walk.  Good health and happy travels to you!.

.......John wrote...You have been a wise and faithful guide for many. I shall look forward to reading your insightful observations once again. Also  thanks for the encouragement of your spirit. Life truly isn't over until it is over. Have fun. Safe passage and Buen Camino.

.......Rob stated ...This gives me such a boost. Don't know why. It just does. Allez, la conquoise!

.......Mark mentioned...You are amazing! What an inspiration! Buen Camino times a million!

.......Kitsambler asserted...Best wishes for weeks of interesting companions, delicious meals, and thoughtful time of awareness and connection!

.......Laurie declared ...As my students would say "you go girl!" It would be wonderful to actually meet someday.To the extent an internet friendship can really be a friendship,  I certainly consider you one of my camino friends!I can't wait to follow you in spirit on your blog. Abrazos.

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October 16, 2012

Amidst the Pyrenees

Now I am back once again amidst the Pyrenees mountains! Sunday night's train from Paris to Bayonne took 12 hours. Since I had booked online 2 months in advance and am well over 60 the cost was only 50 euros to travel 1000 k while asleep in a first class couchette. Luxury was none existent, but the price was a great bargain! From Bayonne a small local train took me down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Last night the bustling coed dorm in the municipal albergue housed French, Flemish, German and Italians plus me.

One Italian woman and I shared our thoughts on kit, backpacks, strength, and, of course, pasta. We decided to start off walking through the mountains together; thus today we crossed the old border and arrived in a gentle rain at Valcarlos, Spain. Pictured is our verdant view from the comfy municipal albergue.

.....Later in Comments

.......Jan and Chris said...We will try to keep up with your blog.

.......Zo mentioned ..Buen Camino!!!!!!!!!!!!! You have been an inspiration to me, I read many many entries from you. If I'm lucky enough to meet you it would be an honor.

.......Ade remarked ..Enjoy the Camino for me! Ultreia!

.......Nikola wrote ..You are absolutely amazing! I am thinking of you and will be following your camino via your blog. I wish you all the best, good health, interesting people and a great camino.

.......Clare noted..Best wishes! Your encouragement was very helpful to me. I am still in the (last-minute) planning stages for a camino in late October-November, if all goes well. I'm planning to start in Astorga, so maybe we'll cross paths.

.......Brigit declared... I will be following your Camino exploits...best to you!

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October 18, 2012

Serendipity as if on cue

Wednesday Tersilla, my new Italian pilgrim friend, and I slowly continued climbing up the alternate route from Valcarlos towards Roncesvalles. To help take our minds from the endless mounting switchbacks I recounted the importance of serendipity or fortunate good chance on the camino (as well as in daily life). Imagine our mutual surprise when as if on cue there suddenly appeared beside us an Australian pilgrim whom I had met walking last year!! We three were QUITE astonished by this coincidence and continued climbing up together!

Five hours later while caught in a fierce wind we at last staggered breathless over the 1060 meter Ibaneta pass and peered into the tiny new chapel to glimpse the stained glass. Exhausted but joyous we then descended to the almost mythic monastery complex where we planned to offer our thanks and to soak our very tired feet.

.....Later in Comments

.......Bill noted ...Great photo once I figured what it was. Loved the serendipity. but after eight years doing the Camino so many other pilgrims know you now it is hardly serendipity any more!
.......Jan and Geoff wrote ...We wish you every success – good weather, good health, good friends and new experiences. Best wishes!

.......Ulla remarked ..I am really impressed that you are walking the whole Camino – again ! Don’t forget to bring those teabags.!

.......RC stated ...I'm very envious of you for doing another camino. I hope you have a wonderful time.

.......Dorothy mentioned .. I am happy you are once again meeting interesting and friendly companions with whom you can share parts of your trek.I hope you maintain your sure footing -- stay safe and godspeed!

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October 20, 2012

Two nights

Tramping through the forest on Friday down to Zubiri was dark, sodden and rather eerie due to continual heavy rain. I stayed once again in the pleasant and quite up-market private albergue, El Palo de Avellano, located next to the church. Several farm buildings have been refashioned into slick multilevel dorms and common spaces including a lounge with billiard table as well as a dining room with murals. Much is automatically lit by motion sensitive lights. Most fellow guests were of the 'been there, done that' ilk. Hence the night's ambiance was sleekly correct, but highly impersonal.

Tonight is vastly different. More rain made today's camino west towards Pamplona into a muddy mess; the Arga river was churning whirlpools. Drenched and cold I stopped as usual at the monastery in Trinidad de Arre. Their main albergue is under renovation but three tiny cell-like spaces above the church are presently available for off-season pilgrims. Luckily I got one; four Spanish men occupy the others. We all share the single loo and shower. The men keep asking if I am comfy. Two kind monks brought all of us hangers for out dripping ponchos and extra blankets "just in case". True the electricity is not state of the art, but we pilgrims all have tiny headlights. ... Thus for me tonight's shared human warmth is the true camino ambiance!

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October 23, 2012

Up and down through hell

Yesterday's route was really TOUGH. Although it began with this deceptive pastoral path it soon became pathless churning mud on the infamous Alto de Perdon. Cold white fog hid any view as alone and thoroughly frightened I plodded on balancing with my invaluable walking stick. Almost by instinct precariously and repeatedly I slowly lifted each heavy mud-covered boot. At last on the windy summit I ate a chunk of chocolate and gulped some water. Rain poured down.

Next began the even more hellish descent. Scree and multitudes of tennis ball size rocks covered the treacherous downward muddy path for the next few kilometers. Once again the walking stick was invaluable for balance and for probing to find solid footing. Finally the path became easier although the rain never ceased. When eventually I staggered into the welcoming private albergue at Uterga what a true pleasure it was to be out of the weather and to simply sit !

.....Later in Comments

.......Anonymous wrote...I have read your old posts from previous blogs and am now following you on your current walk. It appears that you are pulled to walking your caminos in the worst weather. I guess it makes you appreciate arriving at the albergues that much more. I plan to walk the camino in the spring - I am not as brave as you to make it too challenging.

.......Tritetales noted ... I am following you with bated breath! And packing some extra layers.

.......Bill mentioned...Remembering some of your walks in January and February this "hell" sounds like a walk in the park! (almost :-) I'll get you a second walking stick for your ninth camino!

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October 25, 2012


Finally the sun shone yesterday while I crossed many miles of rich red earth often planted with the classic combination of grape vines and olives. The camino also was classic following in part of one of the several ancient Roman routes which cross Spain. As I easily climbed up the steep muddy 'steps' of the ancient Roman bridge near Cirauqui I happily realized that at last my body had once again shifted into its own classic camino mode.

Ouf! What a relief! Now after ten days my legs feel stronger and the 6.5 kilos packed on my back seem better balanced. As always I try to take it as it comes enjoying the good and bearing the bad. After all this is life. Thankful at the end of each day for simple shelter, a bed (preferably a bottom bunk for me), working toilet, hot shower, something to eat and if possible good companionship. Carpe Diem!

.....Later in Comments

.......Cecelia said... Just another camino traveller who enjoys your posts. Nice to read that you had good weather today and that you're settling in. I haven't been on the camino for a couple of years now and SO looking forward to a longer trip in the spring - from Le Puy to Santiago (or maybe Finisterre and Muxia if there is time). In the meantime, I can live vicariously through your camino!

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October 27, 2012

At last a rainbow

"Life is the fire that burns and the sun that gives light. Life is the wind and the rain and the thunder in the sky. Life is matter and is earth, what is and what is not, and what beyond is in Eternity." Seneca

For the past week or so camino life has truly been "the wind and the rain" with torrential downpours everyday making it a very muddy slog. Happily early this morning on route to Torres del Rio a rainbow lit the western horizon as at last the sky began to clear. However the air has definitely turned colder; I'm glad that I've got my woolies!

To be exact I'm glad that I am wearing my long sleeve thermal undershirt. Much has been written elsewhere about camino equipment and kit. Carrying no more than ten percent of your body weight is generally advised. It can often be either amazing or amusing to see what some pilgrims attempt to lug. (On my first camino for sentimental reasons I carried a beloved stuffed moose!! We both made it but once with a moose is enough.)

Now after all my caminos here is my revised actual kit.

I wear;
thin waterproof jacket,
runner's winter tights,
short sleeve technical undershirt,
long sleeve technical over-shirt,
hiking boots with inner soles,
hiking socks,
money-belt with passport and credit card.

I carry;
walking stick,
30 liter backpack with waterproof cover,
sleeping bag/ silk liner,
fleece scarf, hat, gloves,
fleece/polar jacket,
second pair runner's winter tights,
second short sleeve technical tee shirt,
second long sleeve technical tee shirt,
long sleeve thermal undershirt,
two sets underwear,
second pair hiking socks,
pair night socks,
sandals for relaxing,
gaiters for snow,
small size basic toiletries and medicines,
small thin towel (ie. seersucker dish towel!),
diary and pen,
liter plastic water bottle,
food bag with -
..tea bags,
..instant soup packs,
..firm cheese,
..utensils and cup,
..water heating coil,
Nokia N82 smartphone and charger (has good 5mp camera and serves as computer for blogging).

total carried 6.5 kilos!! BINGO!

.....Later in Comments

.......John wrote...So glad you are now getting some respite from the rain, and have physically settled in for the journey. Good luck and enjoy the gift of this Camino. Will be following your progress.

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October 30, 2012


Glorious sunshine, brisk air, and a cobalt sky made Monday a great camino day. Walking into Logrono and the endless vineyards of Rioja was an easy pleasure. By night the municipal albergue was booming with an international crowd - an older French hospitalero, several German girls who planned to walk far south to Cadiz after Santiago to spend winter in Morocco, and a peloton of handsome, slim Brazilian guys biking to Santiago. Inside was a bit chilly, since the exterior temp was below 0 Celsius and the uninsulated albergue had bare stone walls but neither heat nor blankets. By following two simple 'tricks' for such a situation - choosing a bunk away from the cold exterior wall and, of course, using a silk or polyester liner in the sleeping bag - the eight hours of my night passed cozy and comfortable....

What an immense contrast this was to the effect of the same hours as they passed in NYC and along the American Atlantic coast. That was true calamity. Today when I entered a bar for breakfast Spanish TV was broadcasting live CNN images from this catastrophic hurricane named Sandy and called "storm of the century" by the US weather bureau as it hit NYC and the east coast. Chaotic scenes included Manhattan without lights and flooded subways. Half a lifetime ago I lived and worked there; many dear friends still do. ...May all be safe and such dystopia quickly cease.

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November 2, 2012

Waiting a while

If little in life turns out to be as one might have anticipated this truism is particularly apt on the camino! Two days ago I set off at dawn planning to walk quickly to Najera in order to "make hay while the sun shone". Mid morning and mid stride my glasses frame suddenly broke but not the lens which both fell onto the path. Luckily I did not step unknowingly onto them! I can see close up without glasses but the distance takes on the dappled atmosphere of a good painting by Renoir. Since this is hardly an efficient way to scan for yellow arrows marking the camino path, it is a good thing that I am familiar with the general route.

Today I have rested in Santo Domingo de la Calzada doing little but looking VERY closely at handsome sculpture within the cathedral such as this of King David while waiting hopefully with fingers crossed for my glasses to be repaired.

PS. I just got my glasses back from the optician so now I'm good to go!

.....Later in Comments

.......Teresa noted... Luckily you didn't lose or damage the lens. On an old pair of glasses I had the screw kept falling out until one day I lost the lense into a deep rocky lake. Do you have a spare pair of glasses just in case something worse happens? I remember reading about how Monet's paintings changed as he got older due to the changes in his eyesight. Something I had never thought about before but makes total sense. Buen Camino!

November 5, 2012

Memorable moments

Saturday I stayed in Granon where the albergue within the church tower has ALWAYS been a special halt and it was again VERY special last night. Two extrovert male hospitaleros; one Spanish from Sevile, one Italian from Trieste were both GREAT chefs. Arriving early and quickly choosing a mattress for use on the balcony floor I then was kindly invited to share their authentic spaghetti carbonara for lunch. We three spoke no common language but easily communicated thanks to several glasses of vino tinto!

By dusk only two other pilgrims had arrived; both were also women of a 'certain age'. Hence we quickly dubbed ourselves 'the three grandmothers'. Prior to evening mass there was a brief trick or treat visit by local young Halloween spooks complete with masks and costumes but three days late! We all attended evening mass and thus were able to see lit the extraordinary Baroque retable or altar screen. The gracioua priest then joined the hospitaleros and grandmothers for a leisurely dinner at the albergue. All was special and offered to us pilgrims in the spirit of true caritas.

...Indeed all at Granon was and will remain memorable for me.

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November 8, 2012

Bridging the seasons

For the past few days I have been walking alone through LOTS of forest, a dense mix of tall fern, oak and aromatic pine. Everything is always SO much easier on the dry days when in the hazy late autumn sunshine an ocher colored camino path crosses low pasture or endless gentle rolling hills. Now each morning frost whitens the path and most passing villagers and pilgrims remark that it has at last and alas turned 'frio' or cold. Indeed it has.

It always amazes me that many pilgrims are taken by surprise when the weather changes. Because Spain is so hot in summer Spanish winter pilgrims often overcompensate and bundle up in bulky heavy garments and thus suffer from bearing additional unnecessary weight. Personally I have always found several thin, lightweight (and easily removable) thermal layers to provide vastly more comfortable insulation than one thick layer.

Now for late autumn walking I always wear underwear, runner's winter tights, hiking socks, hiking boots with inner soles, short sleeve technical/thermal undershirt, long sleeve technical/thermal over-shirt, thin waterproof jacket, polar fleece gloves and polar fleece thermal lined cap. If the daytime temperature were to fall way below zero (!!) I would also add a long sleeve thermal undershirt as well as top the jacket with my poncho and polar fleece muffler. On earlier caminos even in snow I have been comfortable if not exactly cozy in such a multi layered combo.

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November 10, 2012

Some symbols

Yesterday when leaving Burgos to begin walking west on the high Meseta plateau I pondered on two symbols found along the camino. Of course as pilgrims today we all search for and follow the famous yellow arrows which now mark the way. Initiated late last century by Elias Valinas Sampiedro the then priest at O Cebreiro and first painted by him using yellow paint begged from the Road Department these arrows in our contemporary minds have become symbolically equal to the route.

A much older camino symbol is the scallop shell. It was first associated with the hagiography or timeless legendary history of Santiago when his decapitated body was said to have been miraculously pulled from the sea near Padron, Spain; thus shells have been the symbol of Saint James and of his pilgrims ever since. Often Saint James is represented as being his own pilgrim.

My favorite pilgrim figure of James is this exquisite mid 15th century sculpture in the Burgos cathedral museum. Standing roughly half a meter tall in gold plate on silver James wears a pilgrim hat complete with shell atop his delightfully precise curls. ( Sainthood is depicted by the flat halo behind his head. ) He grips his pilgrim staff and from one shoulder hangs a tiny traveling bag known as a scrip also decorated with three additional shells. ... Thus today as I walked proudly wearing my shell while following the yellow arrows I, too, continued these symbolic camino traditions.

.....Later in Comments

.......Kim remarked...So great to follow you along your way! Be well friend and touch the earth for me.

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November 12, 2012

Morning glory

Saturday setting off from Hornillos del Camino the grey sky was heavy with cloud but apparently calm, the endless surrounding Meseta hills colored ocher, and the gently mounting path dry mud. All seemed easy and I relaxed remembering earlier caminos with deep mud or even snow along this stretch. A few other pilgrims passed by including a biker in shorts. We all wished each other "Buen Camino" and kept on walking. Little did we suspect what soon would occur ahead; such innocence was indeed bliss! Suddenly the sky darkened as cold rain teemed down. Fierce wind blew and the path became heavy slippery mud. Now all was bitter cold with icy hail and it had become almost impossible to see or move. What a drenching mess!

Shaking with cold I finally stumbled down into the little village of Hontanas which has a wonderful camino tradition. The door of the municipal albergue is always kept ajar in case any pilgrim at any time needs solace. Recalling this I thankfully staggered in, found a bunk, and immediately took a blissfully long HOT shower and at last began to get warm. Four other soaked and shivering pilgrims also found a welcome refuge here. We formed quite a cosmopolitan group; an actor from Rome, a woman from Chile, a Frenchman from Le Puy, and a fellow from Korea. ... Yesterday when walking at fist light I watched a perfect sunrise. At last the storm had passed; calm, clear and cold the morning dawned glorious!

.....Later in Comments

.......Unni Skaar wrote... I loved meeting you on the Camino! I'm back in Norway, but my thoughts are still with you and the atmosphere on the Camino. The days on the Camino gave new energy and were a spiritual gift. You have very professional pictures on your blog, and its so interesting to read your reflections and the history of your days. I will follow your journey to Santiago! I hope to go all the way in June. Best wishes for a Buen Camino!

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November 15, 2012

Mid point

Exactly one month ago I arrived at SJPdP to start this my 8th Camino Frances; tomorrow if all goes well I should cross the imaginary mid point of my journey near Sahagun. Physically I have lost any 'baby' fat ; after four weeks of walking roughly 6 hours per day while always carrying my loaded pack (6.5 kilos) I am as fit as might be hoped for 73.

Mentally as always I try to accept the extraordinary camino mix of contemporary reality and historic legend. Weather, vistas, buildings, and, of course, people create such a rich tapestry. Although all can quickly alternate from being amazing, to amusing or even awful, little is ever dull. What a wonderful brew! This photo taken two days ago at the Fromista canal provides positive proof of my happy first month; may the next be as good! All I need is continued luck, tenacity and endurance. Ultreia!

.....Later in Comments

.......Laurie mentioned ...I am enjoying your blog vey much, just as I do every year! Wishing you a very wonderful second half. Buen camino!

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November 19, 2012

Everything in its place

During the past month several readers who have not yet walked have asked how to best organize their kit. Perhaps mid journey is an appropriate time for me to reply; however, what works for and pleases me may not be good for everyone! Packing can be VERY personal!!

Since no pack is entirely waterproof and mine is colored black everything is packed in one of three opaque white soft plastic bags. White greatly increases interior visibility and the soft plastic is noiseless. At the bottom of the pack one large bag holds all my clothes except the poncho which travels in a big pocket on top of the pack. For tidiness(and my aesthetic pleasure) this clothes bag always remains within the pack. Thus there is never a messy pile of clothes haphazard on the floor.

On top of the clothes bag goes a similar smaller toiletries sac in soft white plastic. This also holds my tiny towel. Within the sac soap, sponge and shampoo are kept together in doubled small plastic bags; after using these inner bag items in a shower all are replaced into the small dry outer double bag before being put back into the main toiletries bag. Thus the other toiletries stay dry. Next on top of the toiletries bag a simple clear plastic envelope serves as my 'office' with diary, pen, accounts list and head lamp. At night it safely holds my glasses. On top of everything is placed my sleeping bag in its own nylon stuff sac plus another soft plastic bag for added protection. With water bottle and cup in a handy side pocket and food in the large back pocket all is neat, compact and ready to go!

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November 22, 2012

Two gems

Wednesday I walked west out of Leon visiting the extraordinary contemporary church at Virgin del Camino on route. The town is named for a small 15th century statue of the Virgin holding the dead body of Christ in her arms. Today this is in a handsome church designed in the 1960s by Francisco Coello, a Dominican monk and follower of the Brutalist architectural style of Le Corbusier. It is basically a simple box with giant sculptures of the Apostles crossing the west facade. Recessed windows of glorious crome yellow glass warm the restrained interior. Impeccably maintained the church is an architectural gem as well as a haven of peace within a chaotic suburb.

Opposite the church I joined the alternative camino route to Villar de Mezarife. It was very pleasant to escape the N120 highway noise and suburban sprawl while crossing peaceful moors. Unfortunately the albergue I chose was not the greatest, but that's the luck of the draw!

Thursday dawned cold and crisp, but clear. However the forecast for the coming night was 3 below freezing! Walking beside endless fields of corn and sugar beet I was, unfortunately, victim of the 'trots'. Chaos!! Thus at Hospital d'Orbigo I opted for a new HEATED private place called Albergue Verde which was another gem. Reassembled two years ago from old adobe barns it was hyper clean and VERY comfortable. This photo shows the common room and adjacent dining space. Vegetables from their surrounding organic garden were prepared by the charming hospitalera for our most delicious dinner. What a happy find!

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November 25, 2012

Moving along

For the past week or so ever since leaving the sprawl of Leon the Camino Frances has been crossing open tracts of rural land. Often planted with sugar beet, corn and winter wheat, or forested with pine, oak and giant fern these great spaces have been ideal for solitary walking and silent philosophizing. In the chill late autumn air all non essentials are hewn away; to paraphrase Descartes I walk, therefore, I am. ...

Once again the camino is crossing high mountains. Unlike my difficulties climbing the windswept Ibaneta pass that first exhausting day in the Pyrenees almost six weeks ago today I easily walked up Mont Irago which is supposedly the highest point on the entire Camino Frances. Such relative ease is positive proof of my newly acquired greater strength. Long may it last!

Now on the 'other' side of Mont Irago I am in the tiny picturesque mountain village of El Acebo. The photo shows the camino which has become the main street. Upper floor balconies provide exterior storage or drying space above any winter snow. Although it is COLD here tonight I sincerely doubt that it will snow.

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November 26, 2012

One cup of tea

This post can be read as a PS to that above. It is now 7am in El Acebo and as usual I am waiting for the safety of dawn to continue. No other pilgrims spent the night here; it was lonely and COLD.

Yesterday after a good and copious mountain meal in the bar/restaurant downstairs I took a welcome hot shower. The water pressure seemed okay but plunked in the middle of the loo floor a large full water bucket with dipper was a surprise. Was this a new decoration in the Japanese bath-house style? I should have known.

By early this morning there was no running, only dipped, water. Who knows how good that is? Thus for a very welcome HOT early morning tea I used what water was left in one drinking bottle. Boiled with my invaluable electric coil (the only 'luxury' that I carry) that single cup now tastes splendid!

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November 29, 2012

A frosty guardian angel

Ever since El Acebo I have been thinking about the rigor of this last mountainous stretch of the Camino. However today really takes the cake. Or to be more exact today is the frosting on the cake.

Trudging down to Ponferrada early Monday, then up to Villafranca Tuesday and on to Ruitelan yesterday were three hard tiring slogs across multitudes of vineyards and in varied weather mixing brief sunshine with icy rain. Each afternoon it was a great relief to arrive at an open albergue and settle down for the night.

Last night at the wonderful cozy albergue in Ruitelan we twelve pilgrims were worried regarding the weather forecast of heavy snow for today since all would be climbing up to the mythic village of O Cebreiro. This morning Carlos, the ever gracious hospitalero, told us not to walk the snowy camino but to follow the bike path along a plowed back road. Slowly we all set off. Luckily for me, Boris, a sturdy pilgrim from ex-Yugoslavia now in Germany working as a personal guard for celebrities walked with me. Perhaps Carlos had asked him to do so; perhaps it was just serendipity.

Up we slowly climbed on dry road to begin, then a bit of snow, then deep snow and total white out. Huge pines shaggy with snow resembled grotesque phantoms from some fairy tale. After four hours climb there was a low stone wall - civilization at last! We had arrived. ...I shall always remember our walk and how comforting it was to have a guardian angel.

.....Later in Comments

........Bill wrote ...Wonderful image and moving account.

........John remarked...Courage, you are over the top. Well done and smooth sailing onwards to Santiago. All the best!

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December 2, 2012

What's on the floor?

I have walked down and out of the snow and am crossing the green and gently rolling fields of Galicia. Santiago is almost in sight on the western horizon! Thus,perhaps this is a good time to answer readers' queries about organizing their kit near their bunk within an albergue dorm. Once again what works for and pleases me may not be useful for everyone; I HATE mess and want to know EXACTLY where everything is !

The picture shows it all. My jacket and hat hang on one bed post. What I wore walking airs on the top bunk while my towel dries nearby. Since few pilgrims are about in December it is easy to also use any empty space above my usual bottom bunk. The sleeping bag is spread with close by my 'office' envelope holding diary, pen, accounts and head lamp. On the floor beneath the bunk and furthest from my head are walking stick and boots. Next are the nylon stuff sac and protective plastic bag for the sleeping bag. On top in a clear plastic sac are hiking socks worn today and still useful for tomorrow. Next is a soft white toiletries bag and filled water bottle for night-time sipping. Sandals go in the empty space before my basically packed back-pack which sits closest to my head.

In the morning I simply put on my walking clothes, socks and boots, put into the back-pack my 'evening' clothes, sandals, toiletries bag, and 'office' envelope, plus the rolled and stuffed sleeping bag. Thus I'm quickly ready to go! Now after seven weeks practice I can even do it in the dark!!

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December 6, 2012

Cosy comfort

Ever since last Sunday while slowly walking the last 100km to Santiago I have stayed in several small rural albergues. Slightly off the beaten track or at least not at one of the often published 'official' halts these are run by the ACAG, ie the government of Galicia. Very well maintained and generally found in recently renovated historic buildings with original details, interesting roofs/ceilings, good heat and hot showers. At 5€ per bunk they are a GREAT bargain.

The photo shows my dorm for tonight in Azura; at last all is warm and comfy after a sodden forest slog in the almost constant rain from Melide. In both towns these ACAG albergues are gems! What BLISS it was to arrive, open the door and step into surrounding warmth when I was tired, wet and chilled! Now for a hot shower followed by a relaxing siesta.

.....Later in Comments

.......Canadiandude remarked...You're a true inspiration. I hope I have a chance to meet you sometime along the Camino. I wholeheartedly agree with your support of the smaller "off the beaten track" private albergues. That is the same choice that I made when planning my first Camino for next June. Buen Camino!

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December 8, 2012

Once again with thanks

Earlier today I walked into the city and up the hill to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela thus completing my 8th Camino Frances! After hiking at least 5 hours daily for 53 days while always carrying my fully loaded backpack, I am sincerely thankful that I made it!!

Weary but thrilled, I feel as if I have been rehewn during this pilgrimage. My bones may be the same but much else seems configured differently from how I set out eight weeks ago at Saint Jean Pied de Port. As always I have relearned which qualities are most important - caritas, sincerity, tenacity, endurance and, of course, enjoying serendipity.

All of us who walk here whatever our reasons or beliefs must share similar quickened emotions upon arrival. The weight of history is so great with the accumulated layers of centuries, both visible and invisible. One can see much and also feel or imagine even more such as hoards of past pilgrims following the same timeless route towards the cathedral.

When at last I arrived it was at this simple northeast corner and not one of major entrances to the cathedral. I put my hand on the ancient stone wall, offered silent thanks for all that has been which enabled this and wept.

.....Later in Comments

.......Teresa said ... A part of me is envious for your walk which seems to happen during such a quiet and therefor seemingly more contemplative time of the year. Thank you for sharing your journey, I have enjoyed following it.

.......Rob wrote...Congrats and don't forget to put an eighth notch in your walking pole.

.......Janet and John remarked...Congratulations!! Once again we have followed your journey with interest. Our prayers were with you.

.....Dorothy exclaimed ...Well you have gone and done it again. I am very proud of you! You have my respect and admiration.

......Jan and Geoff stated ...Congratulations! Another magnificent achievement. We still don’t get how you find the time and energy to write the blog and insert the photos. What you do every day is exhausting, just thinking about it. But we guess the excitement and stimulation gives you energy.

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December 14, 2012

Out and back

The past week I have walked west towards the sea. Leaving Santiago de Compostela just after dawn Monday morning was sad. When crossing the almost empty Plaza Obradoiro and passing the immense cathedral, of course, I silently vowed to return once again on foot (same time next year?).

Late in the cold afternoon I arrived at the Neigreira ACAG albergue. Recently renovated with only 20 beds (not bunks) and great HEAT, this was a good place to stay. Most other occupants were Spanish male long distance trekkers doing 50 k per day. All had lots of great equipment and clothing; their lime green reflective parkas certainly out classed my yellow jacket! They rose early Tuesday anxious to start well before dawn wearing head lamps to see through the dense fog.

Since my comfort level is 20-25 k per day I stopped Tuesday night at the private albergue in Vilaserio. Clean and new with good showers it nevertheless has NO heat! Although warned by the barman/owner I stayed. Luckily heavy wool blankets were available. With three of these on the bed and wearing my wooly hat I slept through the frigid night.

The next day's walk over the hills and down into Olveiroa was, as always, a pleasure; restaurant staff and the charming hospitalera all graciously greeted me by name and recalled my earlier visits! Although along this stretch 'on a clear day you can see forever' unfortunately dark, heavy clouds were clustering on the horizon. Little did I or the few other pilgrims realize what an intense storm was about to begin.

Both torrential rain and wind began that night and still have not ceased. Walking yesterday was dangerous and truly frightening; cold rain poured down continually while huge trees were bent and snapped by the wind and I, too, was constantly pushed about. For safety's sake it was necessary to get out of the storm FAST! Thus I spent yesterday afternoon and night in the sleek new Dumbria albergue and today returned to Santiago by bus. Unfortunately the weather forecast is for the storm to continue for several days.

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December 17, 2012

Full circle

After these last rain drenched days spent in Santiago I am now about to leave savoring precious memories of this eighth Camino. As always it was an incomparable adventure! The 'something else' which has made every Camino so special is the extraordinary flourishing of human spirit found along the path. Each pilgrimage evolved into a rich mix of friends old and new composed of fellow pilgrims and those along the way who offered hope and help, smiles and hugs, conversation and hospitality. Such shared serendipity is a most precious gift; I loved it all!

As Shakespeare wrote "This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well, which thou must leave ere long." Sonnet LXXIII

Thanks to all who have read my blog often offering welcome comments; thanks for sharing my memories !


.....Later in Comments

........Lex and Judy wrote ...Amazing. You are really an inspiration. We have enjoyed reading this and all your past caminos - your words paint a wonderful picture. We are looking forward to our own camino experience in 2013.

........Cecelia declared....Congrats! I know some of the joy you have felt on this camino although I've never taken the challenge of walking in this kind of weather. Thank you for being such a wonderful inspiration and for sharing some of your thoughts and feelings along the way. Again - big congratulations!

........Jenny remarked...What an amazing journey you have had yet again, and what an inspiration you are to all of us. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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Unknown said...

Hola Margaret, Finally,back in Vancouver, I find your blog.Interesting to see how it all turned out for you this time. I thought for sure we would meet again, and we came very close several times. At Ruitelan I was a night behind you and I sure thought of you often.Your pants were the best gift I ever had,and most of your recommendations were spot on. I didnt get to Santiago until Dec 20,after which I took the bus to Finisterre for a week,meeting some awesome people there and resting up for the walk to Muxia.
Hope you remember me and look forward to hearing from you! Love and Grace, Magdelanye

Peregrina said...

Greetings, Margaret!

It has taken me this long to digest my Camino, and my husband and I still debrief over dinner about different adventures we encountered, and now that I have read your account of your seventh camino, I want to send my fondest regards your way.
We arrived in Santiago on October 30th and attended the All Saints Day Pilgrim mass after decompressing at the Seminario Mayor, which we really loved. Placing my hand in alignment with the hand impression on the marble tree of Jesse at the Gate of Glory was so moving.
I am so glad you stayed at the Albergue Verde in Hospital de Orbigo! We found that albergue to be delightful as you did, and the master of the house even taught a yoga class in the morning.
Full of admiration and gratitude for your wonderful writing, gentle logistical advice and especially your contemplative elder wisdom on all aspects of the Way.
Ultreia! Surtreia!
~~Alice Despard, U.S.A.

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