Catherine’s Camino Blog

April 14

Have arrived in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Beautiful drive from Biarritz airport in a taxi with fellow pilgrims that we met at the airport. The scenery is special, fruit trees in blossom, apple, pear and wild plum; sheep in the meadows and all the trees in new leaf; and rivers rushing down from the Pyrenees.  The town itself is really old; checked in at the central office and chose a shell, the pilgrim identifier, and then checked into a municipal hostel, super clean and had a much needed shower after 24 hours of travel and then had a pilgrim dinner with out two new friends. I spoke English with the Aussie while Jarmila talked to the German girl. Now off to bed.  Breakfast is served at 6.00 am.

April 15

Wonderful day. Started at 7.15. We had only gone a few yards when found a boulangerie open selling really crusty baguette so that was our first purchase of the day. Crossed the Roman bridge and under the Arch d´Éspagne in the Middle Ages wall and out into the beautiful French countryside. Lots of spring flowers beside the road, cowslips, violets and celendine and all the trees were in leaf.

We followed the Route that Napoleon took to cross the Pyrenees but he was a bit too far ahead to catch a glimpse of him with his beautiful horses and splendid uniforms. It must have been a mixed blessing for the local farmers. I presume they arrived with gold, at least the officers, but the farmers must have been eaten out of house and home. As we climbed higher we lost the leaves and eventually it was just us and sheep and of course all the other pilgrims. Some beautiful flowers as we crossed the border , purple and white but unknown to me. Will post a picture if I ever figure out how to go from my new iphone to a computer. The beech forest is the largest of its kind in Europe.

It has been a long day. We got in at 3.30pm but definitely memorable.  Now staying in a huge monastery run by volunteer Dutch so everything is organized, clean and everyone is really helpful. If the rest of the trip is as good as this I will consider myself the luckiest person on the planet.

April 16

Stayed last night in Roncesvalles, the whole place was one large monastery established by Charlemagne to bury his daughter in the crypt. I do not think most of the church was that old but the small chapel was probably early Medieval. Went to Mass in the evening and took in the beautiful stained-glass windows and the Gregorian chant. I presume the modern pilgrims provide the money to keep the buildings in such good nick. The first part of the trail was through oak woods where we came across the place where witches were burnt during the inquisition. I wonder what those Bishops would make of all these women walking along the Camino. As we dropped down to 500m, spring returned and once again trees in leaf. The trails today reminded me of walking in England, mixed deciduous woods interspersed with plantations of mature pines. We had a robin (European) hop beside us for a few yards – really just like England. Apparently the weather is set fare for several days which is great news. Off to pork ribs that I feel are well deserved.

I have just heard about the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  It seems a bit surreal to be sitting here 3 thousand miles away while a terrible disaster has happend in Boston.  What a crazy world!!

APRIL 17

Pamplona. We arrived about 2.00 pm after an easier walk than the first two days. Gorgeous weather and as we came down from the mountains the countryside became greener. I saw a few bunches of late crocuses that must have been covered in snow till a few days ago as well as wild grape hyacinths; I never knew they are native to the Pyrenees. It was an easy trail well above the main road through green meadows. It seems they try to avoid towns; even the entry into Pamplona was along back streets with nice houses and pretty gardens.

Pamplona is a beautiful city founded in the 12 th Century I think.  There is an impressive Cathedral and several old churches. The hostel is close to the Cathedral and once again is a converted monastery, Jesus and Maria, only 7 euros for a bed and shower and free WiFi. No complaints. We wandered around the town for a couple of hours and tonight we will eat tapas on the Plaza de Castillo. Hard life!!  We get very little news of the outside world as Spanish is impossible for us; even deciphering menus is a challenge. We have been told to expect 3 more days of good weather before the rains arrive by which time we should have a good 150 kms done. Adios.

April 18

I was sorry to leave Pamplona this morning, such a nice old town with no intrusive architecture and in the evening there was lots of life on the streets. We went to hear the Rosary at the cathedral and then had dinner with an Aussie of about our age who is travelling alone. She has walked from Lands End to John o’ groats,very impressive.  We found a church dedicated to St Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona.

The notice could not decide if the Saint was black or if the wooden statue was blackened with soot. So much for organized religion. Great walk today up and over a ridge adorned with over 100 windmills. It was weird walking through the rotating shadows. Looking back we saw the Pyrenees and Pamplona and forward was fields of yellow mustard. We are now in Puente La Reina.

April 19

Each village we come to has a story attached to it. Yesterday we passed a dry spring where a pilgrim dying of thirst was told by the devil to worship him but fortunately St. James arrived just in time with a scallop shell full of water and saved the pilgrims life as well as eternity in hell. Today a crazy Frenchman who has been at our speed for four days told us a small chapel off in the fields had a miracle associated with victory over the Muslem conquerers. I am not sure if they got this far north but I am sure the Basques are too much for anyone to take on. There is lots of graffiti in English about liberation from Spain, I guess the Basques are not satisfied with just having their language on all the signs. Jarmila thinks it sounds like Czech but I am doubtful that the origin is from eastern Europe. Another easy day today. We expected rain but it never showed up. Quite cold though. I hiked in waterproof pants, a fleece and a rain jacket. Tonight we will need hat and gloves to go out to eat. I am so glad I did not bring them all this way for nothing.  I cannot comprehend how the palm trees do so well here. I would think they would hate the cold. Today we walked through olive groves and lots of vineyards but the leaves were only just starting on the vines. We are now in Estella – a really pretty town and the centre of the

Kingdom of Navarre, I am having trouble sorting out the relationship between the Basque and the French, I guess the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This is our last day in Basque country according to some of the wayfarers. I have decided that I like being a pilgrim; it makes us part of a community with something in common, everyone helps each other and the locals tend to give us a hola as we pass. I am less sure about the spiritual nature of the journey; I am not sure what the pilgrims hoped to achieve by doing this difficult journey, for me just taking one day, even one minute at a time is therapeutic.

April 20

Really easy day with lots of sun. Most of the walk was on gravel roads first through an oakforest and then through fields of hay or vineyards. We watched a young man drive a tractor just a couple of inches narrower than the space between the rows of grapes without touching a leaf; it is fun watching someone really skillful doing his/ her job. We are now into a routine; up around 6 o´clock, dress and pack up and then a breakfast of tea and bread in the refrectory before getting on the road about 7.15.  By 10.00 we are looking for a bar serving coffee which we can find in most villages, then a stop again for lunch of bread, ham, cheese and fruit followed by chocolate and then we expect to arrive at the Albergue for the night sometime between 2.00 and 4..00 pm depending on the number of kilometres and the amount of climbing. Then the first order of the day is taking care of our feet; washing and rubbing cream to keep the blisters away. On a journey like this the significance of the biblical feet-washing becomes very obvious; in a world where only the rich could ride, healthy feet were a necessity.

After a shower and washing out my shirt and underwear it is time to shop for the morrow. Since most of the stores are closed from 2.00pm till 5.00pm this routine works well. We have stocked up with food as tomorrow is Sunday and who knows if any stores will be open; most of my friends who have walked the Camino advised me to expect nothing to be open. Just shared a meal with 4 Irish guys who had cooked too much pasta so Jarmila is doing the dishes. Day 6 completed , tomorrow will be a long day so we hope for an early start, 28 kms. Wish us luck.

April 21 Longrono

Today was a long day, almost 30 kms. Beautiful weather, not a cloud in the sky and the snow covered Pyrenees were always on the horizon. It was really a spring day with the first cuckoo, the hawthorn in bloom and harebells in the hedgerows. It was good to be alive.

I am enjoying the piligrim life with almost everyone willing to share whatever they have- lunch, food, snacks or wine; we are like a family moving along together. We now know the people who are on the 32 day schedule and are staying in the cheapest albergue just like us. Although we do not always see each other on the road we meet each afternoon , take off boots and enjoy the warmth of a sheltered courtyard.  The weather is still quite cold with a northerly wind. I started the day in gloves for the first time and went out to dinner tonight in hat and longjohns. I am not sure if this is normal or unseasonal cold. Tomorrow is another 30 kms, I hope my legs will hold-up.  We will stop early or take a taxi if it proves to be too much.

I am turning in now, I need all the energy I can get for tomorrow.

April 22 Najera

No need for a taxi. We arrived here in good shape just after 3 pm. In an albergue run by the church and the cost for bed, kitchen use and showers and lots of people to talk to is a donation. Another new experience resulting from being a pilgrim. The day was mostly spent walking through vineyards in Rioja. Lots of wineries along the route as I guess we should have expected. We are in a small town just like all the others. A very narrow main street with no cars, and people shopping in the evening after the stores open at 5 pm. The buildings are continuous along the street, only broken by an occassional crossstreet.  Balconies with wrought iron railings jut out over the street. Very attractive and conducive to walking. It is still cold, in the evenings and in the morning I was wearing everything I brought with me to keep warm. Tomorrow will be easier, only 20 kms, so we should be in early enough to do a wash and be sociable. My feet are still holding up. Bed time.

April 23 Santo Domingo

The road here was through fields of wheat, very pretty. Unfortunately the sign posts every kilometre were fun at first but then were a bit annoying. It is around kilometre 15 that the day begins to be long and we do not need to be reminded that there is another 10 to do. This is the burial place of Saint Dominic, a local saint who was refused entry into the local monastery because he was illiterate. He therefore gave his life to improving the lot of the piligrims along the camino and is buried in the cathedral. The Albergue is adjacent to the cathedral and a cock and hen are kept in the grounds to remind us of Saint Dominic´s miracle.  He saved the life of a young man who was tricked by a young girl who he spurned. She hid a silver cup in his sack and he was caught by the police and hung. Fortunately he was not dead after a couple of days and the saint saved his life. I cannot remember where the chickens came into the story but I do know the cock woke me at dawn.

There is a great square full of blooming chesnut trees in the town with lots of choice of tapas restaurants. I also managed with my limited Spanish to find a shoemender to fix my boots.  They are old and will now, I hope, see me through the rest of the trip.

April 24 Belorado

Another beautiful day through the fields and a private hostel with a room to ourselves. A great treat, no snoring tonight. The town has a small square with a bar with WiFi, unfortunately I lost all me update as everything seemed to disappear from the iphone. I do much better when typing as I am now on a computer. Everyone went to bed early leaving myself and Aidan, a retired cop from Limmerick, to share the last beers. He was interesting talking about the pros and cons of joining Europe. He thought that the decline in Irish nationalism was the best part of the joining and was prepared to see it as a good thing despite loosing 200euro a month off his pension as part of the austerity measures demanded by Merkel.  He was worried a bit about the rise of Sin Fein because of the austerity but his mates later assured me that a return to the troubles was inconceivable. These chats are what make the social side of the Camino. For myself I think I have found out why I am here it is to experience the Open Road. The freedom from any concern beyond the next meal and the next bed.

April 25 St. Juan de Ortega

The nicest walk yet. It was warm and sunny and most of the walk was through oak and pine forests with the occassional view towards the local mountains that are still snow covered.

An extremely basic Albergue in a monastery; I could not say the monastery was converted it seems as if the monks walked out and no one thought to modernize it except there are hot showers. I used the lavender spray that I was given at the airport in Montreal and prayed that there were no bedbugs.

April 26 Burgos

Well we have made it to the first major city on the route. A nice walk through the woods and a good breakfast and 2 more cuckoos.  However the last 15 kms were through the suburbs and were horrible. Eventually we took a bus into the centre. Enough is enough. Very modern albergue, too sterile for my taste. I have got used to the draughty old buildings.  The cathedral is magnificent, I thought I knew all the great buildings of Europe but I have never seen anything like this.  Despite the mixture of high Gothic, high Renaissance and of course Baroque, since we are in Spain, it is still harmonious. A bas relief of the way of the Crucifixion. 16C is one of the most moving pieces of religious art I have ever seen. Also a lovely 15C portrait of Ann, Mary and the baby, just right for grandmothers.

Snow is forecast for tomorrow.

April 27 Hornillos

The mural above made us laugh. It is so true of the trail. All these people walking across the countryside with too much stuff and sore feet and not really sure what they are doing there. Thanks for your comments. Keep them coming I enjoy reading them and it sort of keeps me in touch. WE are now wlking across a high plain with no protection from the Bay of Biscay or perhaps the Arctic. It is really cold. We wear everything we have all the time, on the trail, in the restaurants and in bed!! Today we had a bit of sleet but on the whole we have been very lucky with almost no rain. It would be hard to walk in the towns on cobbled or tiled streets on wet pavement.  All the accomadation is taken in the town and many people are having to walk on another 6 kms. Luckily we alays start early and stop early.  The Albergue is cold and still the original stone walls inside. The superintendant refuses to speak anything but Spanish but when she is running her own bar across the street she suddenly remembers her English.

April 28 Castrojerez

This is a beautiful town nestled in the fold of gentle hills but very cold.  There is a new set of people on route with us who joined at Burgos and we have caught up others who have taken an extra day. There are still a lot of Aussies. The man we had supper with last night is a mining engineer who lives in Perth and told me Australia has enough ore to keep China supplied for 1o,000 years. He has worked a lot in China assuring the quality control of equipment that will eventually be used in Australia. Eventually the Chinese will be able to do this themselves and then where will the West be. I shared the last of a bottle of wine with three girls from Eastern Europe, Bulgaria, Latvia and Hungary. We discussed their life experience being born during the transition from Communism.  Essentially they feel that many older people cannot make the transition because they were used to a job for life and cannot understand the need to constantly retrain to keep pace with technology. One of the girls wants to be in marketing on the web.  I asked her how web selling goes in Bulgaria if older people cannot use a computer. She was quite blunt; older people have no money so why worry about them as customers, it is the young who have the good salaries and spend money!!

For myself, apart from being outdoors for 6 hours a day, it is talking to the other piligrims that makes the experience interesting.  Everyone wishes well for the others, can you think of a better atmosphere to be immersed in? Here is to the open road!!

April 29 Fomista

A very cold day.  No one here seems to understand the crazy weather but they blame it on the Americans .  It was snowing in Burgos but at least we missed that.  We walked along a beautiful canal for miles and saw an ancient sluice way. There is a family travelling with 3 children and 2 donkeys at the albergue but they are doing it backwards .  Perhaps they are returning the donkey.

April 30 Corrion

Not our best day although it is Jarmila’s birthday.  We had our sandals stolen so bought replacement crocs. We also left our guide book in a bar but we have managed to replace that too so we are none the worse for wear.     It has rained all day and looks set to rain till Friday . There is a huge low pressure system covering the whole of Spain.  We are managing to keep warm and only our boots are wet.  We will survive and it makes us realize how lucky we have been. We are in an albergue next to the main church and it is still run by nuns.  They had a room for women only which helps with the snoring.  Our Danish friend Steen and the 2 Australian women Trisha and Lisa shared a bottle of wine and we pooled all our food so we gave Jarmila a real party. I then went to Mass with Lisa and talked with her about why she is selecting a Catholic education for her children. We are still in the low pressure system. It looks dodgy till the weekend.

May 1 Ledigos

No rain on the trail. It started as soon as we arrived at the albergue, it is still cold.  We are on a Roman road for three days . It goes straight cross-country with very few towns. No coffee stops. It was built to bring gold from Spanish mines to Rome.  We took a short detour recommended by our guide book through oak woods.  Lots of wild flowers and a cuckoo but no sign of any leaves on the trees – a remarkably late spring. We had supper with a really nice Texan, our first meal with an American on the camino.  The weather is definitely improving. 34 kms tomorrow.

May 2 Calzadilla de Los Heanillos

We crossed the halfway point as we left the town.

The first part of the day was on a gravel track beside the main road untill we got to Sahagun.  This was an important town on the Camino as it is exactly half way between Roncevalles and Santiago. However many of the monasteries have disappeared.

We took another alternate route which was almost empty, still the Roman road across the fields. I saw some wild narcissus ands lots of other flowers and 2 or 3 cuckoos again .  For the first time we saw some unused fields.  Given the climate I imagine that farming here is marginal.  The village we came through had an albergue with no supervision, two computers, showers and toilets which we were happy to find. We are celebrating being half way by staying in a hotel, what luxury not sleeping in a dormitory and hiding valuables. I am sitting in the lounge on wifi waiting for dinner. Editing will have to wait till I find a computer, it is too difficult on an iphone.  Keep the comments coming.

May 3 Leon

This has been the best day of the trip.  It was wonderfully warm and sunny.  We had a good breakfast in the hotel as we knew we had a long way to go – 17 kms without a bar.  We stayed on the Roman road and we could clearly see a range of snow covered mountains to the North all the way. Took a break for a snack and sat down in a patch of wild thyme, really good for the soul.

We arrived at our destination by 1.30 pm and decided to go on by bus to Leon. The trail is by the main road and then through miles of suburbs on hard pavement. Our guide book recommended the bus.

We were lucky with the albergue. It is large, 160 beds and run by nuns but it was already full when we arrived. An old nun took pity on us and found us a bed each in a dormatory full of school girls. I was worried they might talk all night but they were very considerate. We then went to visit the cathedral, a gothic wonder and one of the finest in Spain. It is very narrow and high with many stained glass windows so it is very bright. Apparently there had been two near disasters over the centuries when incompetent architects attempted renovation without understanding the engineering unlying gothic construction. One was an attempt to put a dome on that was too heavy for the pillars and eventually caused cracking and the other was a misguided attempt at renovation in the 19 century without first shoring up the roof. Fortunately a new architect was hired who built an internal scaffolding to hold the roof while repairs were done to the main structure. The job took 50 years.

We wandered throught the cloisters where we were accosted by a woman from Salt Spring Island. She did not know we were Canadian or spoke English.  She just wanted to speak to a pilgrim. Here Spanish husband had told her you could pick them out by their looks, I hope it was not by our smell.  Lets hope that no more disasters will befall this magnificent building and it will there to inspire pilgrims for another 800 years.

Then a beer in the sunshine that lasted till 8.00pm and then back to the convent for a pilgrims blessing. A fitting end to a wonderful day.

May 4 Mazarife

We left the convent at 7.00 am, our best start yet, having had a free breakfast provided by the nuns of bread, coffee and apple sauce.  We started out by completeing our tour of Leon by seeing two of the other historical buildings  – the church of St Isadore with the Pantheon behind- original Romanesque. Then on to St Marcos Plaza where the church is now a museum and the monastrary is a Parador. We snuck inside to see how it had been modernized. It is beautiful, next time we will stay there!

The first part of the walk was on pavements through the suburbs but soon enough we were on a gravel track over the fields and across a heath with low trees just breaking bud and lots of flowers and birds- wild hyacinth, broom and miniature poppies, perfectly adapted to the harsh climate.  It has been an easy day with lots of time to update the blog, do a wash and sit in the sunshine. There is a  large Swedish group at the albergue, one wonders what holds them together, probably the leader. She has written a book on the Camino and this is the seventh time she has brought a group here.  They sang to us after dinner. Everyone knew the words of a folk song and everyone in the group was blond with blue eyes.  Still a tight knit culture.

May 5 Ostega

A long walk, 30 kms but not difficult. It has been wonderful to watch Spring arrive in Spain,  an unexpected pleasure. Some days we go back a bit if we are on a high plateau but we know overall summer is on the way.   Today was the first time I walked in shorts. The farmers too are moving. We met or were overtaken by about 10 tractors this morning.  Some were ploughing, some planting corn and we also saw the irrigation pipes being laid across the fields after the planting.  After lunch stop we climbed a bit and walked through some woods with lots of flowers and birds and then  back down into the valley.  This old town was at the crossroads of several   Roman roads. The city wall is mainly still in tact. The most famous building, however, is a Gaudi that they call the Bishop´s Palace.     A strange neo-gothic building that for my taste does not really work.  Off now to l ook  for supper and to buy some chocolate, Osrego was the centre of Spanish chocolate industry. It is excellent. See you tomorrow.

May 6 Foncabadon

We are half way up the second hardest climb of the walk which should make tomorrow doable. A nice day for walking – overcast but no rain. As on almost every day we crossed several clear swift-flowing rivers. The bridges are often old and stone, sometimes still cobbled, and then there is a new bridge for cars and the pilgrims only have to share space with the bicycles. Sometimes we see someone fly-fishing which is the sign of a healthy river.

It is always interesting to see the environmental attitudes of another country.  There is separation of garbage in every village and all the hostels have timers on the lights and often on the showers. This bugs some of the pilgrims; often sitting on the troilet one finds oneself in the pitch dark. I of course approve of all these initiatives.

We are now in an almost abandoned village way up in the clouds. The only people left are those who cater to the pilgrims . Probably the only farming possible was sheep and goats and that is really hard work. Everyone has left for the city.

May 7 Ponferrada

The hardest day so far but some beautiful scenery despite the fact we were in cloud all day. One of the nice things about the walk is that you make friends, do not see them for a few days and then unexpectedly meet again at a cafe or rest stop. Our first coffee was in a deserted village with a population of one. He is a friend of the Camino and keeps a shelter on the mountain pass . There we met Dino, the always chatty Italian a designer working in Spain, Danny the Spaniard walking with his dog  and Irene the Spaniard who the Irish group serenades with goodnight  Irene. We then went past the iron cross where one leaves a stone representing all one´s problems and then onwards and upwards . The views were restricted by cloud. The vegetation on the way down was beautiful- hillsides covered first with purple bush like a mutant heather, then mountainsides covered with a white bush like a broom and a purple lavender like plant that smelt like thyme and finally bushes covered in something like a camilia.  Now we are out of these mountains we are almost in summer. We have seen gardens with roses in bloom and wisteria climbing over the walls. Off to find food and Jarmila needs new socks from all the walking.

May 8 Villafrancha

An overcast day but good for walking. We started out on the road from Ponferrado instead of on the trail, a mistake so we took a bus for a few kilometers till we found the trail again. We were in the siburbs and fortunately all the buses were going out of town to a huge new regional hospital. The day was spent walking though vineyards covered in green leaves and the track was heavy with the smell of hawthorns. Villafrancha is the start of the mountain crossing, a very pretty town crammed into a steep-sided valley. The sun came out at the end of the day so we wandered around a park full of roses, some already in bloom and surrounded with blooming chestnut trees. We then sat in the Plaza Mayor and ate an excellent fish soup in the evening sunshine. My attitude towards food on this trip has been mostly food as fuel, keep eating so that I have enough energy to wlk tomorrow. Despite what seems like large meals I moved the button on my pants over by 2 inches when it came off yesterday.

May 9 La Faba

Not an easy day. It rained all day as we were told would happen once we got into the mountains. The first part of the day was along a valley with a rushing river beside us. Most of the time we were seperated from the main road by I concrete barrier but since there was ver little traffic that was OK.  The new autoroute was going the same way but was so far above us , sometimes on huge cement pillars , that we never heard the traffic. The last 2 hours was up a steep track which would have been pretty in nicer weather. All we wanted was to get to the Albergue. It is run by Germans so of course everything works smoothly, the bathroom was warm and socks dried quickly on the radiators and the dormitory was clean and spacious. We had dinner with 2 American grandmothers. They had been going 3 days and were clearly out of their depths. They took the mountain trail out of Villafrancha which we had avoided because of the weather and it had taken them 14 hours, they did not get down till 8.30 pm- I have no idea why they thought they could do that.

We had a small service in the ancient chapel in the evening. Somehow it fitted the camino to have a service in German with the readings in English, lead by a German baritone with an excellent voice who had us singing Tezee chants in Latin. It certainly filled me with a feeling of companionship with my fellow pilgrims.

May 10

What a fabulous day. We started the remainder of the climb in the clouds but by 11.00 am the fog had dispersed and it was a sunny day. The countryside was wonderful,the higher slopes covered in the purple bushes all in bloom, very reminiscent of Scotland. As we walked across the uplands much of it was dairy farming with large, brown cows in thick spring grass. Farming is still done the traditional way up here. Many houses have the animals living underneath to provide warmth and the cows are walked to the field in the morning and home for milking in the evening. Each farmer caring for four or five cows, either walking with them or once we saw him accompanying the cows riding bareback on a pony.

May 11 Sarria

Absolutely wonderful day in the beautiful Spanish countryside coming down most of the day. The countryside is a little like the Cotswolds, rolling hills, very green, lots of pasture land with cows, some fields with cows and calves, the small villages are grey, grey stone houses and slate rooves. The tracks were sometimes very low, perhaps 10 feet below the level of the surrounding fields, as they contoured round the hills. This made me think they must be old with many generations of cows, goats and pilgrims walking on them. That is what I enjoy most about the walk; thinking about the number of other people whose footsteps I am walking in. People with the same desires, the same needs and surely the same pleasures as myself.

Sarria itself is not an interesting town; probably its only claim to fame is being on the Camino. However it provided a supermarket on a Saturday afternoon, a rare thing in this part of Spain, and a bank machine as well as bedroom for only 4 people which means we will have a good night’s sleep. We only did 18 kms today so we are full of the joys of spring. Only 110 kms left.

May 12, Portomarin

Another wonderful day walking through beautiful country side. Lots of big, ancient oaks along the sides of the tracks- Bluebells are out and I even saw a couple of foxgloves in bloom. The villages are much more frequent now so there is no need to plan a coffee break, there is always a bar within a few kilometers. This town is on a hill on a wide river, we are out of the mountains temporarily and the river has the feeling of being nearer the see. Only 4 more days to go. Off now to have a beer in the square and see how many of our travel companions have arrived.

May 13 Palas de Rei

Another beautiful day walking through Spanish countryside. We are entertained by our thoughts on a little houses that the bigger farms and homes have constructed on their properties. Alway well above ground with concrete stands that prevebnt the entry of vermin so clearly something to do with food. At first I thought they would hold several coffins and they were personal sarcophacae especaially since many had crosses on topp, Jarmila said she had seen something like this constructed of straw in Germany and they were insect hotels. Then we heard they were for hanging meat, thought perhaps they were smokehouses but went to inspect snd there was no hoñes in tyhe base to let the smoke in. Now the mistery is solved. They are for storing grain and the mice cannot climb up because of the shape of the concrete. They are clearly a staus symbol inGalatia . The albergue tonight uses it to store the pop bottles!

May 14 Ribadiso

A small village just short of Azura, about 40 kms to go.  The most interesting thingtoday was meeting a beautiful horse with really expensive tack – sadle and bridle at a complete dump of a coffe shop, terrible coffee and basic toilet. The horse and rider were doing the camino, he walked the horse on the slippery and hard surfaces. They arrived at a nice albergue with us. They were accompanied by an expensive horse van that was equipped with electric fencing so they could set up an enclosed field beside the albergue and let the horse have some freedom. When it got dark horse and van disappeared but they were back on the trail in the morning.

May 15 Pedruizo

Not a very intersting walk, we are still in the countryside, a lot of eucalyptus plantains which are not attractive and many people believe are bad for the environment- they grow fast because being desert trees they suck all the water out of the ground. Tony and Jane, the Aussies we have been walking with for weeks, we walk the same speed and take the same overnight stops usually, said that they are not good in some areas even in Australia. The hay has had its first cut in many of the fields, the amount of rain here makes it grow well.

We are staying in a private albergue as the town is just off the trail so we got a bit lost coming in and took the first place with a bed.  Shared a bottle of wine with Steen who has caught us up and then a nice final supper with the two Australians, 3 Germans, a Belgium – the fastest and fittest of our group and two Americans. John is a vet from Florida whose son was killed exactly a year ago in a horrible accident in China – he was a Fulbright scholar studying Mandarin and fell off a roof during a party. They had always planned to do the Camino together so now he is carrying the ashes to Santiago and raising money for a scholarship to send another student to China to study – I find this very impressive.

May 16 Santiago

We started like crazy fools in the pitch dark at 5.45 and when we got into thge woods we could see almost nothing. I was wearing my headlight and one of the other pilgrims had a flashlight.  Fortunately dawn started about 6.20 before we had time to break a leg. We did not find any breakfast till 9.45 so we were on the trail for 3 hours with nothing. It then started to rain and we walked into Santiago in the pouring rain, thank goodness for the poncho that Steen had given me early in the trip. Had a cffee and then went to the Cathedral at 11.30 as we heard it is sometimes difficult to get a seat. I was perched on a pediment of a stone pillar very near the high altar and as the Mass started and attendant took pity on me and there was an empty seat on a bench in the chancel that he offered to me. Somehow I had got the best seat in the house. The singing was led by a nun with an excellent voice and the service was taken by I presume the Dean of the Cathedral. It is not that difficult to follow if you are an Anglican. I am always conflicted about taking the host in a Catholic Church, I am not sure if I am welcomer being confirmed Church of England and I could not understand the invitation given in Spanish. However being seated where I was I felt I had no alternative, I am sure my mother, an arch anti papist was turning in her grave. The highlight of the service was at the end when 8 men dressed in medieval outfits lowered the incense burner, filled it with hot coals and using two inch ropes swung it almost the length of the 2 side naves – what a spectacle and what an extrordianry end to an amzing experience. We then got our certificate, toured the cathedral and found a way to get back to Paris. I will write again when I have decided what all this has meant to me.