Sunday, April 13, 2008

Santiago at Last

Finally my journey has come to an end. Santiago welcomed me and Juli at 12-00 this morning, as he has millions before us. This afternoon Pau (9 years) asked me "was it worth it?" A good question if ever there was one. Everyone has their own reason for making this journey: I ticked the box "religous and other" as i handed over my credential, and got given the compostella in recognition for my efforts of the past weeks. There is something powerful about following in the same footsteps as so many others who have walked the same path, particularly when you think of those who walked in the days before gore-tex boots and when the return journey was on foot rather than with Iberia. I think that this journey has helped me to value more all of those things which are normally taken for granted in our lives, those material and human comforts which you never really appreciate till they are gone. But most of all, I think it has helped me realize that however much you rely on your own strength, there are always times when you falter and you need to rely on the strength, advice and support of others to pull you through. A new journey starts tomorrow. Pau told me during the first days of my walking, "I hope you have the strength to get to where you want to go". Let´s hope so.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Galicia At Last!

From Ponferrada another sunny day´s walk through the wine lands of El Bierzo on to Villafranca del Bierzo, a charming village where we stayed at a particularly special albergue run by a man who must now be in his sixties or seventies called Jato. The albergue had been built by pilgrims, and Jato seemed to live a life completely dedicated to the service of the pilgrims passing through, cooking up the most delicious Caldo Bierziano in the evening, and setting us on our way in the morning with fried eggs on bread. Still better, Jato loaded up all our rucksacks into a landrover making our climb up O Cebreiro the next day significantly easier going.

The threatened rain held off until the last 30 minutes of our climb up the steep slopes of O Cebreiro. At the top, the cold mist and rain swirling around us could not dampen our spirits. We had arrived in Galicia!

The walk down from Cebreiro to Triacastela was heavy going. The rain was relentless, once again, my foot started to protest, and to make matters worse, instead of following the Camino arrows, I ended up following some other markings down an alternative mountain route. Some 6km short of Triacastela, I came to a point where the path crossed a stream, where mysteriously, both the way to the right and to the left were marked with a cross, indicating "not this way". Almost miraculously, just as I mused upon which direction to take, a farmer appeared. "Which way is the camino?" I asked. He pointed down the river. "Your going to get wet!" he said.. I barely understood a word he said to me in a mixture of Galician and Spanish, but I understood he was directing me along an alternative and drier route. So I struck off across the fields, more or less in the direction he seemed to be indicating as the rain continued to pour, keeping an eye on the flooded foot path. After fighting my way through two barbed wire fences, I was able to rejoin the path, and finally find my way down to Triacastela.

In Triacastela, Juli had recommended that I went to the pilgrim mass. The mass was a truly unique experience. There must have been ten pilgrims, and the priest asked us which languages we spoke, and handed out readings so that each of us had to read parts of the service in our own language. Furthermore, he asked me to do a sort of simultaneous translation into english of his homily. In particular I remember he said that we should be christians through love and not fear, which I thought was very good. Finally, all of us held hands and recited the lords prayer together, each in his own language, and we took communion. I had never taken communion before, and I am not sure that you are supposed to without having met certain prerequisites, but it seemed to be an appropriate time and setting to do so!

That evening at dinner, Regine,a French woman asked me what I had learned from the camino, and strangely I did not have an easy answer. There are so many different things it is not easy to describe. What came to mind was firstly how small we are compared to nature. When we can drive and fly around the world, we loose this perspective. Secondly, it is the importance of looking after ourselves as an individual. Sometimes you need to go at your own pace, go at your own speed, and not let other people dictate their speed to you. Third, is a change of perspective of material things. On the Camino, the problem is usually that you have too much, not that you have too little. And lastly, on the Camino, it doesnt matter who you are, or what your position is in society. Everyone is truly equal, trying to reach a common goal. Later when we return to the real world, of course we will all go back to exactly the same lives as before with the same problems, but perhaps our perspective will be different.

From Triacastela, we had a good days walk. My feet didnt hurt, the rain stopped, and as the day wore on, I saw that it would be reasonable to keep walking taking advantage of the break in the rain, and finally I completed 32km as far as Ferreiros. Just two km before Ferreiros, we past the 100km milestone to Santiago. On Friday, Juli will arrive, and the apostle´s tomb is only 4 day´s walk away!

Message from Matt

Hola a tots! After a couple of days without Internet access, Matt hasn't been able to put his blog up to date. He asked me to write this note and tell you all that he is safe and sound in Ferreiros, less than 100 km from Santiago!!! nearly there.....
1 abraçada ben gran per tothom.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cruz de Hierro

Today has been the high point of my camino so far in various ways. Firstly because after half an hour we reached Cruz de Hierro, at 1500 m the highest altitude on the camino. I carried a stone up with me to put at the base of the cross to bring good health for all of us. But most importantly, because today the blister on the left foot hardly gave me any pain at all, and i could enjoy the walking. And what a walk it was, up over the mountains with snow capped peaks on either side, glorious sunshine, clean air, fabulous smells of spring scents from the flowers, cherry trees in blossom. One hour after the Cruz de Hierro, the mountains of Galicia came into sight, and once again my spirits soared. Following that it was quite a steep climb down to Ponferrada.

Once again thanks for the comments you are leaving. Funily enough, the hymn Mum quotes is one I hum to myself sometimes as I walk along, but so far it has been da di dum up until the last line "to be a Pilgrim". Now I will be able to put the right words all the way through!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Small things

Leon is a beautiful city, but certainly not pilgrim friendly. Progress in the form of ring roads and fly overs have pushed the pilgrims aside leaving them to risk life and limb on road side. If before the pilgrims were at risk from bandits and thieves, the main risks today must be 40tonne trucks wisking past at high speed. The days stage to Villadangos del Paramo was probably the least inspiring so far with the exception of Leon´s beautiful city centre. On the way I ran into Roland, from Berlin, who had started his walking in Leon. At Villadangos there was a pleasant Albergue with a poster on the wall "the pilgrim learns to appreciate small things".

The hospitalero by the name of Angel arrived, and on seeing I was limping straight away prepared a bowl of warm water with salt and vinegar for my aching feet. My blister was giving me problems and without a thought, he offered to drive me 15km to the local surgery where the nurse drained the blister and dressed it, giving some relief, and said it would be ok to keep walking, even though a bit painful.

The next day at last we left the main road, breaking out accross country towards Astorga. Roland accompanied me almost all the way, and it was such a relief to finally be in the countryside again listening to birds singing. But the best thing of the day was to be able to walk on grass! Soft springy, foot friendly grass. Indeed the pilgrim does learn to appreciate small things. Finally Astorga came into sight, with snow capped hills behind and my spirits soared. For the last few days I had doubted whether I would make it this far.

From Astorga there is a continual climb up to Foncebadón at 1500 m. altitude, some 26km. Santiago once again had rewarded us with a beautiful day's walking, not a cloud in the sky, a cooling breeze, with the snow capped hills in front, and the plains of Leon stretching out behind us. Foncebadon is a tiny village which had practically been abandoned, until revitalized by the flourishing pilgrim business. Tomorrow just half an hours climb away is Cruz de Hierro, the highest point of the journey, where "heaven meets the earth".

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

On to Leon (almost)

Today the sun was shining all day, a perfect temperature for walking. I was last out of the albergue at 9-00 and made slow but steady progress out of Burgo Ranero, through flat countryside, on through Mansilla de las Mulas and then into the outskirts of Leon , perhaps not the most inspiring scenery, but after the previous days, I appreciated an easy walk. When I arrived, a Galician man showed me how to properly cure blisters leaving a small thread in the blister with heaps of antiseptic so that it drains properly, leaving the old skin on top to protect. Sounds dramatic, but it seemed fairly painless so tomorrow we ll see what the results are. Certainly today I was feeling quite a lot better, so I am not sure if yesterday was flu or just allergy to walking. It was also a relief to see at long last the horizon break and mountains rising up, still in the distance, but this means that in a few days the plains will be finished, and Galicia starts!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Penitence and Purification

Following a good nights sleep, we were wakened at 0700 by the Hospitalero since we were all supposed to be out of the hostal by 0800, and this hospitalero by all accounts was a stickler for the rules. However my room mate in the next bed seemed to have no intention of moving, hunched up in his sleeping bag, with jumpers and wooly hat. As we had breakfast, someone mentioned that he was staying behind sick.

Walking out of Carrion de los Condes, I braced myself for the longest stretch without refuges on the camino. Both Juli and the guidebook warned of the difficulty of a stretch with nothing but endless horizons and false hopes. And very shortly, rain, cold horizontal rain blowing into our faces and sapping our spirits as once again we tried to avoid the sharper stones digging into our feet.

4 hours later, a small village appeared out of the rain welcoming us to warm soup and pasta.

The afternoon was much easier going, luckily the hail storm which fell started just as we were leaving the restaurant, so we were able to shelter in the porch waiting for it to finish. Others were not so lucky.

And so on to Terradillas, the afternoon becoming quite pleasant, allowing us to dry out as we walked , finally arriving at a pleasant hostal where I shared table with some Spanish group of pilgrims.

The next morning for the first time, I was hardly able to pull myself out of bed. I felt exhausted, and furthermore my stomach was telling me that something was not OK. The first village was only 6km away, close enough to abandon the walking at an early stage if it became too much. As I walked I remembered the vision of the sick pilgrim in the next bed to mine, and all the symptoms were stacking up to be flu. However, I made progress, and following 6km stopped for warming tea, so I decided to carry on, since there were regular stops along the route leaving me options to stop at various points along the way. Today would be a day of purification of mind and spirit, with minimum food, and hot tea. My resolve crumbled as I arrived at Sahaguan, where the sight of a railway line brought me visions of an overnight train from Leon to Barcelona with Juli and a convalescence with all my home comforts. Only the sight of a graffiti of encouragement to an unknown pilgrim "animo" broke the vision, and another cup of tea and a phone call from Juli restored my flagging spirits. Frenadol seemed to revive me still further as I made good progress throughout the rest of the day. The weather was perfect, a warm sun, minimal wind, but cool air and finally some respite from my blisters, as the paths were much kinder on my feet. All the same, the last few km into Burgo Ranero were hard work. I think over the last couple of days I have earned an atonement for a sin or two, but the forgiveness I most crave is if any day in 2003 I failed to give Juli enough support during her camino, as her support and messages along the way is invaluable. This thought is becoming a heavy stone in my baggage.

Anyway, an early night tonight, and see how I feel tomorrow.