Posted by: pilgrims1326 | May 17, 2011

The Journey continues

The Journey continues…

Please pardon the interruption in news, but for several days we were not able to access wi fi for the ipad..this report is a touch late, but we hope you enjoy it.  Thanks for all the great comments…ultreya!

A request has been made for a clarification – i.e. – I remarked in the beginning that there were five Aussies from Queensland and “any group w/five Aussies has got to be fun”…well, it turns out that four of the five Aussies are NOT from Queensland, but from Western Australia and were whining about the apparent slur.  I rephrased the clarification at dinner to please them – “any group with an Aussie from Queensland has got to be fun”….now they are moping, and then our Namibians commented that they saw South Africa tagged on to their names and wanted it noted that Namibia is now free and independent of S. A.  Sigh – the United Nations is on call.  The Norwegians and Luz are fine for now, but strange things happen when foreigners drink lots of local brew.

Our last report was the monastery at Samos – we are now getting used to the routine – up at 7, breakfast/group meeting at 0815, leave at 0900 to walk 5-6 hrs.  We have at least one checkpoint and lunch – a picnic usually at 1300 near the camino and then finish around 3 or 4 to go to the hotel du jour. We stay two nights at the same hotel  three times which gives us a little extra time for laundry and rest.  We each have a suitcase and a packback (did I mention it is so unfeminine) but great for our layered living style – I actually find the backpack makes me stand a little straighter which is good for the downhill sections.  We got our hiking shoes ½ size larger and I also got a pair of hiking sandals since I have lost a lot of toenails doing walks, a marathon, etc. in the past – gives the toes and feet a break.  Victor with the great laugh has been having foot problems which are affecting his leg – he insists on walking and is always out front, but had to concede and go to a clinic to lance blisters under his toenails – three other walkers went out and got sandals, too.  Remember that for future treks…also take a wash cloth – there are none to be found in Europe…nor Laundromats!!

It is Friday already and we are leaving our modern hotel on the camino to walk 13 miles to Portomarin on the River Mino.  We leave the town of Sarria by marching out of the hotel and down the camino until we hit lots of steps (going up naturally!).  It takes a while to stroll out of town and while we don’t notice it at first, the ambient sound from the railway, the roadway, and the town are irritating.  It takes a while to get back into the countryside where there are so many birds singing – even cuckoos which sound just like the clocks.  We see trees 800 years old, and are in deep forest.  We walk at our own pace so the group is stretched out by about a 20 minutes difference or so.  John and I amble and rest a lot on the uphill.  The path is constantly changing from nice, soft compacted soil, to occasional muck , to macadam, to paving stones, to rocky dirt (bad news on the downhill – I fell once on small gravel over hardscape and got scraped – Luz fell a few days out and hit her face and had to get checked at the hospital.  She was fine, but went thru some interesting facial colors).  You have to be vigilant, too, that you pass yellow arrows, scallop shells, and stone markers – otherwise you have to backtrack on tired legs.  Because the camino is a world heritage site it is really very well maintained considering that it is far removed from towns – no lighting, phones, satellites, poles – essentially the same trail that led to the same goal 1000 years ago. You really must rely on the kindness of strangers. Today we pass the 100 km marker stone on the countdown to Sant Iago (St. James).

All pilgrims have a scallop shell as a badge of intent.  There are a lot of stories about this, but one I like is that when St. James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem, his two disciples (probably from James’ mission to Spain) took his body back to Spain intending to bury him at Terris Finis on the Atlantic, the westernmost point of Galicia, and at that time truly the end of the world since most people thought it was flat!  He had preached in that place to pagans, Celts and Druids with small success.  One story says the ship was unmanned and guided by God, that it sunk just off the coast, and when James’ body was recovered, it was covered with scallop shells which protected it.  OK.  The most satisfying theory is that the scallop shell has many lines which converge at a single point – very representative of the many roads converging at his shrine.  It turns out that the disciples ended up burying him just short of their goal and eventually they were buried on either side of him.  The graves were lost in time and grown over for hundreds of years until one night a shepherd saw masses of stars over a certain point in a field (familiar theme?).  He went to investigate and found the graves and reported it to the bishop.  The bishop investigated and declared the grave to be that of St. James.  More than one church was built over the spot (compostela for “field of stars”) and the city of Santiago grew up around it (Sant Iago for Saint James).  The scallop shell was also utilized as a drinking cup, digging tool, and bowl – handy for travelers who had to carry everything they needed.

We cross over a Roman bridge to see the 12th century Church of San Juan – worn steps, carvings eroded by time, but exquisite art….and another stamp for our passports.  We are getting very coy about where, when, and how many stamps to acquire – they must be dated and in some order so the certificate official at Santiago will issue our hard earned paper.  These are not the original stamps from centuries ago which were issued to hostels as handcarved stones, but they are each unique and it is fun to try to remember which is which.  Our life now has a certain rhythm to it – get up, pack, meet, eat, walk, eat, walk, clean up/rest, eat, meet, sleep….again.

We don’t have time to miss the “conveniences” of civilization, but just keep moving forward…

This is a prayer from one of the churches called, “Pilgrim’s Bless”: “ Lord God, you who have mercy on those who love you and are never far from those who seek you, help these pilgrims on their way to Compostela.

Guide their footsteps with your kindness.  May your shadow protect them during the day and the light of your eyes shine on them by night, so that they can happily stand before the tomb of the Apostle Santiago.  We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

Being from a place where the rich try to block public access to the ocean, it is interesting to see the reaction of locals to this endless stream of strangers marching past their windows, behind their barns, sitting on their stone walls, scaring their livestock, gawking and photographing and dropping down anywhere they choose to rest a while.  They are reserved and quiet, but patiently give a little wave or tip of the hat in return for our salutations, but we are pilgrims, not tourists, so respect is given to their boundaries. It must be like living next to Niagara Falls – after a while you just don’t notice it anymore.

We arrive at our accommodations and are pleasantly surprised – it is the former home of the local priest – however, the aged stone walls of the house and barn were redesigned

and modernized with large windows, light wood floors, recessed lighting, modern hardware, and a great dining room with a long farm table which is just right for our group.  Each room is distinct, there is lots of hot water, and the view out the back is across a huge, velvet meadow where the birds give wondrous concerts. Also, the food is great.  We are growing stronger on the huge chunks of bread, the fresh vegetables, and the local wines sans preservatives.  We purr…

Saturday – Rain, lots of it.  I am tired and today’s trek is 12 miles – back to Portomarin and walking directly to our current inn.  Lunch will be 2 plus miles down the road, so I opt to rest up a little to avoid injury, and walk back down the camino to meet everyone for lunch later.  It is a good decision…I leave around noon  going the “wrong way” to the Waldemar Café, named after a magician, in Airexe to meet everyone.  I loved walking alone for once, but I get some strange looks going the wrong way.  The weekend, it seems, finds a lot of

“weekend pilgrims” – those who walk in segments because of time restraints.  I get into a real rhythm – step, step, stick…. and start a mantra to match…”prayer to God”, “prayer to God”.  I envison those – like Victoria’s great aunt – who did the camino on their knees in piety and gratitude and I wonder at such determination and devotion…step, step, stick…”prayer to God, prayer to God”.  The harmonics have a healing, comforting effect that moves my soul.

The sky is darkening and closing in with imminent rain and I am not there yet and starting to get concerned.  Suddenly I am there, but no one else from the group is.  Many pilgrims are there, so I sit outside, get a caffe latte and a croissant, and sit down to wait staring down the coming road.  Diana, now nicknamed “Sticks” because she gamely uses two walking sticks, is the first to arrive having been dropped off further up the road.  It starts to rain so we start to drink tinto vino.  More arrive and we grab a big table as a lot of pilgrims are seeking shelter and food.  Where is John?  I wander down the road to wait for him and finally he rounds a curve, his poncho flying about him like wings.  A new group has entered the café and I realize it is the “mama mia” group, and call out , “Mama mia” – they all respond in Italian, there are hugs, pictures, laughs, and lots of sympathy for his wife who gives a classic Italian shrug.

Buen camino…

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Posted by: pilgrims1326 | May 9, 2011

Day 7 Tricastela to Sarria

The most beautiful day yet – 19 km or 11 miles. Telso, our regular driver drove us back to Tricastela in order to walk the Camino back to our hotel in Sarria. A long drive – we were all thinking the walk back take forever, but with camaraderie and banter, the laughs were increasing and it did not seem to matter. The uphill started but was not as steep. We went through forests, and down country paths, past barns and stone farm houses, newly plowed fields and incredible lush landscape. Wildflowers were peeking out everywhere and we saw 800 year old trees-incredibly gnarly, but with sprouts of green. Saw a Castro, a ring of stacked rocks which at one time had a thatched roof. There are over 10,000 of these in Spain a lone and they housed entire families and live stock too. Some of them were old when the Romans arrived. Heard lots of history from Jason, our guide which was fascinating. Don’t think we get enough World and European history of this kind, and of course the more time goes by, the more there is to forget.

Ended this gorgeous day and John and I agreed that if we had only one day to spend on the Camino it would have been this one. Evening took us to the large ancient monastery at Samos for vespers. There is a small river running behind it which is lovely. We stood on the front steps for a group photo when suddenly here came the same brown dog we had met at O’Cabreiro. It sat with us for the picture, but when we came out he had left. We decided he was a spirit guide just come to check on us.

The Monastery chapel was awesome and it must have been very wealthy at one time, but the seating area for worshippers was modest wooden benches. The exquisite dome over the alter was at least 35 feet high and the wall behind was a fantasy of cherubs, clouds, angels, and apostles with a Christ figure floating before golden sun rays. I have always loved the elegance and simplicity of vespers at Mt. Calvary – the end of the day, the ringing of the bell, the sweetness of twilight, and the beauty of the liturgy – a time to give thanks for the day gone by and to refocus on the night to come. This service was not that way at all, and I came away saddened by the contrast between the glory of the decor and the lifelessness of the service. Time had its effect on this place and it seemed to be trapped by its own history.

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Posted by: pilgrims1326 | May 9, 2011

Addendum for day five

It is dark and quiet up here on the hill and life appears to be quite simple. O’ Cabreio was restored by a former monk so our rooms were once the monastery then a hospital for pilgrims. The streets are paved with stone, the houses are stone and the roofs are slate – all from the surrounding land. There are a lot of ambient cats and dogs about…would love to feed each one…especially one sweet little brown pup with huge ringed eyes…a real actor. There were a lot of other pilgrims in the restaurant..we had big chunks of bread, local wine, and lettuce that was so green and actually had taste. We dragged off to our cells thru the chilling dark and realized quickly that even the sound of a sneeze is heard by everyone in a monastery…no clocks. No tv or radio and lighting too dim. To read by…we are starting to get the idea…

Day six coming down the first mountain…O’Cabreio to Tricastela
Please excuse our break in news, but there was no wifi so we compiled notes, but were unable to broadcast…now 12 miles or 21 Kms…we were up early, too early I think, to find a cold, foggy morning..we dressed in layers, packed again, then off to get some breakfast…more big chunks of bread..toasted.., cereal with cream or yogurt, strong coffee, and perfect strawberries. Came out to find the same little brown dog and gave him a bit of something. As we left he stood with ears in defeat and eyes miserable as we marched off to Tricastela or three castles 12 miles away. When the fog cleared we started to shed layers, but the climb up to the alto de Poio, the highest spot on the camino – 1313 meters. Our couple from Namibia seemed fascinated by the waterways and said that aside from the Rivera that border the country, there are no viable waterways within the country which is slowly turning to desert. The last bit up to the Alto was really steep and we literally pulled our bodies and wheezing lungs over the edge only to find lots of nicely rested pilgrims. After our lungs recovered we were bringing up the rear of our group and ended up behind a group of four Italian couples. Suddenly one of the women started back up the hill with her exasperated husband yelling, “mamma Mia, mamma Mia, mama Mia” after her. We all laughed and call out, “mama Mia” every time we see him.
Downhill can be worse than uphill on the body…toenail he’ll..the titanium, tri-fold, cork topped walking stick actually comes in very handy. We pass clusters of houses and farms and ancient walls alive with plants and ferns?.lichen coats many tree trunks and as we descend pines turn to chestnuts and poplars. Occasionally we plod thru muck left by recent rains, but today we are blessed with gentle sunshine. The section of Spain we are in is called the Ireland of Spain- who came first is arguable, but the countryside is emerald and lush…occupied at one time by. Celts..pagans and Druids.
Finally arrive in Tricastela..but no castles. We enter an ancient church to get another stamp for our starched new passport..actually a paper foldout, but nice. Once inside what appeared to be a ruin turns out to be a sacred space preserved for untold generations and centuries with incredible carvings and art…it has stood for centuries before our country was even formed and has seen families long forgotten thru every notable life event..
Off now to the Alphonse IX hotel in Sarria for two nights. it sits right on the camino and next to a lovely gurgling river. We are very tired but no one wants to miss a meal…

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