Continuing Random Thoughts on the Camino
Some of what you read may be true
The Rhythm of Life
700 -- 730 Start hiking at first light
830 -- 900 Stores open
100 -- 130 Stores close
100 -- 230 Lunch
230 -- 430 We arrive at our destination and without a shower the first thing we do is drink a beer. Most often it's a draft beer served in a small european glass which has been frosted. The ice rises to the top of the beer and floats there before your first swallow and it is so refreshing. It's typically served with a small plate or olives which we have come to enjoy as much as the beer. (sorry I got sidetracked with one of our favorite activities)
230 -- 500 Siesta
530 -- 600 Card games and dominoes begin
530 -- 800 Stores reopen
700 -- 800 Dinner for pilgrims
900 -- 1000 Dinner for locals
People along the Way
John and Neil,
We met John and Neil at Orrison. They are "up town" New Yorkers who know all the best restaurants, attended many up scale events in NYC and get around in chauffeured private cars. Neil is an immigrant to the US from South Africa and described himself as an "African American". His pack was as large as any we saw. They walked a quick pace allowing them to spend time enjoying other highlights of the Camino like going swimming at the end of the day. They ran with the bulls in Los Arcos, we shared tapas in Lobrono but because they only had 10 days to commit to the Camino they departed with a commitment to return and complete the hike.
Originally from Le Ceba, Honduras, Fabiola now lives and works in Canada. She is a committed hiker with her sights set on hiking in Australia. Fabiola was a great help when our faltering Spanish lets us down. We shared dinner several times but eventually we lost tract of each other.
Certainly the most joyous person we encountered, was always laughing, kind and positive. She was happy to be there but again only could spend a week on the Camino.
A PhD candidate from Germany, Lizzy had two months before her program started so she headed for the Camino. She was a steady hiker. Many days we would see Lizzy sharing coffee with friends or taking a short respite on the trail as we hiked by but she seemed to keep the same pace we did for over a week.
We would see these two cheerful young ladies along they way and at one point inadvertently gave them bad directions. Rene was frantic that they would hike a tougher trail than necessary especially since one had a bad knee. But they quickly recovered from our bad advice and forgave us when next we met.
For a few days we encountered a Japanese gentleman who we tagged Mr Miyagi for his resemblance to the character in the movie Karate Kid and the lack of his actual name. Well, Mr Miyagi walked at a slow pace with a stiff leg which we learn is from a knee injury. This small man carried a very large pack and a camera and lenses that would weigh down a pack animal, but he was always there. He left early and arrived late wearing long sleeves and a dark hat. Finally one evening we introduced ourselves to Mr Masahiro and enjoy his company. We looked forward to getting to know him better as we hiked the trail but a few days later we learn he has departed for Japan but would return in a month to complete the Camino. It's like that on the Camino, people come into your sphere of travel and then they disappear. The Camino seems to be very popular with Japanese, particularly with young people.
We had a friendly nodding acquaintance with an Asian gentleman whom we invited over for a beer one evening. Ming was from Hong Kong and an affable guy who worked for the government in the new territories of Hong Kong. We lost track of Ming as we all marched toward Compestela. Then while waiting in line at the Pilgrims office there was Ming as happy as anyone could be upon completion of the Camino and renewing our acquaintance. Ming was going on to Fenisterra and thought he may travel on to Portugal from there. But somehow I know Ming is back in Hong Kong protesting in the streets. You see Ming explained that he was an ardent supporter of democracy for Hong Kong and this was well before the most recent demonstrations.
Gretchen and Charlie
From Jacksonville FL, Charlie and Gretchen had traveled a great deal of Spain by car and train before hiking the Camino. We shared dinner in Santiago after receiving our compestela and had a good time sharing stories of our lives.
There were many more of course. Sometimes our relationship was just a nod, a wave or a smile but all were positive encounters and everyone seemed dedicated to the task.
Okay let's get back on track, we hiked 30 plus kilometers to Astorea. It was hot and the last three kilometers to the city gates were up hill. We are spent and the first building we spot is the municipal albergue which according to the guide book had been recently renovated and had private rooms. ... Sorry no rooms available. We trudged half a block and there's a five star hotel and I'm walking no further. Here's my credit card. The room was excellent and the air conditioning was most welcomed. In town a folk dancing competition was underway and that night a fire works display thundered from the top of a nearby church well past our collapse time. Our room not only has air conditioning but also a large flat screen TV. Spanish TV is mostly made up of anything found on US television even those crummy reality shows and every show on HGTV, all translated into Spanish of course.
We are within the 100 kilometer mark of Santiago and the number of pilgrims has greatly increased because if you hike at least 100 kilometers you can earn a compostela (certificate of pilgrimage to Santiago) for your efforts and you can even take a bus for a great deal of that distance, if you don't mind. We see groups of people without packs surrounding a guide. The suitcases are in the bus and taxis are available at every bar and cafe.
News from the US is spotty at best and we like it that way. There was one tidbit that found its way through. It seems the NRA has proposed a solution for the immigration problem created by all those young people from Central American finding their way across our borders seeking refuge from the violence and child trafficking in their home country. I understand this idea also came from Wayne Lapierre before he stepped down. It goes something like this.....when children reach our borders instead of processing them which would require housing and feeding these underage illegals and great deal of time and paperwork, we just return them back to the border and issue them a .38. This would be a great deal cheaper and would meet the requirements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 a law signed by George Bush. Wayne believes that properly armed they can protect themselves and I think it must be good for the manufactures of .38's.
Spain is one of the few countries in the world where pedestrians have the right of way and time and again we found that to be true in the cities. It's another matter in the country when a bunch of pilgrims are walking down a road. A taxi will race through the hikers scattering them like the General Lee would a bunch of chickens in the barn yard (you know the Dukes of Hazzard with Bo or Luke behind the wheel).
We start the day as early as possible and once even left with flashlights in hand, now that was a dumb idea. The trail was rocky and we only had these small thumb flashlights. From what we can tell farmers in Spain don't start their day at day break. Our early start typically causes the farm dogs to start barking, first one then another then a half a dozen. It reminds us of the howling monkeys surrounding Lake Gutan in the Panama Canal. One troop starts howling and is answered by another and then another.
On the next to the last day of our hike we can only find a hotel that is out of town and far off the Camino. It is very foggy the next morning and we hike for an hour looking for the trail. Suddenly through the fog we spot a few pilgrims and then more pilgrims and then even more. It was like watching lemmings migrate. Where did all these pilgrims suddenly come from? In the first few hundred miles we would walk for hours and not see any other pilgrims, days when we were the only occupants of a pension. Now we find it difficult to make a reservation. We are close to the end and are surrounded by what might be called "short hikers", those that only hike 100 kilometers and should the hiking becomes too much well there's always the bus.
Today we march into Santiago de Compestela. It has been thirty-four days since we started, one of which was used to run with the bulls. Our two young friends from Germany, whom we often talk to, note that there now seem to be many Americans on the trail. I explain that for the most part these are elderly Americans and they are confused, they believe they are marching to a new casino not hiking the Camino and we Americans love new casinos.
Upon arriving in Santiago we find a great deal of the Cathedral covered in scaffolding. Thoughtfully the scaffolding has a mesh covering that outlines the Cathedral so use your imagination. Our second stop is the Pilgrims Office where we stand in line for an hour to receive our compostela (certificate of completion), yea ya gotta do it. We also apply for and receive a certificate of distance which lets everyone know we did the 500 mile trek.
Like many tourists destinations there are street characters and musicians aplenty. The city is crazy busy and to add to the crowd the La Vuelta a Espana (bicycle race of Spain) will conclude in Santiago on Sunday. We go to mass at 1200 on Friday to see the massive incense burner swing over those in attendance. This custom supposedly evolved to clear the Cathedral of the stench from the pilgrims and now is symbolic of the completion of the pilgrimage. The mass was a fulfilling event and of special note was the nun who sang for the mass, but at last both of our cameras were low on batteries and we were unable to film any of it. Well that meant we would return for the 730PM mass in order to capture as much as possible in digitized format. You must arrive an hour early if you want to sit down during mass so come early and stay late.
The Cathedral is as ornate as you can imagine. Gold leaf covers most of the alter, massive chandeliers light the dark interior and deep in the bowels of the catharral an ornate symbolic sarcophagus represents the remains of St James.
While walking into Santiago we see an example to modern architecture that literally blends into the landscape of rolling hills and we know we have to find this building. We take a cab to Gaias, City of Culture and find that the structure is even more impressive on a human scale but not yet complete. The "city" is designed by Peter Eisenman, member of the New York Five, with the intent to tie a modern Galicia with the age old Compostela. The complex houses a library, the Center for Cultural Innovation, an area to support entrepreneurship and an art gallery. It's the last day for the art show which covers four floors, Welcome to Fresh Water. It was very well done and we were pleased to have discovered this different piece of Santiago.
We find the train station in Compestela in order to purchase tickets to Madrid. The place is crammed with young people waiting in line. This must mean that you can't buy tickets on line or from a kiosk.
A six hour train ride and we are in Madrid. We catch up on some news and nothing much has changed in the 44 days since we last checked into current events. John Kerry is in Egypt convincing the Egyptian they are the key to stopping ISIS. Wasn't that long ago the Coptic Christians in Egypt were being killed. The trouble makers of the world haven't changed much since our departure: Putin, Assad, Koch Brothers, Fox News, Iran and we still don't know if Hillary is running.
During our four days in Madrid, we visit all the primary museums, eat Chinese, Japanese, fast food and other cuisines not available on the Camino. Madrid is full of tourists. The many attractions draw Spaniards and foreign visitors who dress casually as they wander down the busy streets intermingled with the business people.
We began the Camino in St Jean in France and found that it was much more difficult than we had anticipated. We finished each day with a sense of accomplishment, sharing a drink and food with our new friends and we're energized by this new adventure. As we worked our way out of the mountains and hilly regions we discovered the drudgery of the long hot days in the plains surrounded by fields of wheat, beets, fruit and nut trees and sunflowers. It was hard work but your body and mind toughens to the task. In the final phase we count the days and start to feel the sense of fulfillment we had hoped for. We are also joined by hoards of "short hikers" reminding us how popular the Camino has become but we don't let it diminish our sense of accomplishment. Finally we enter Santiago and find relaxation in just sitting and especially in knowing that tomorrow we will not be putting on our boots nor carrying our pack.
Each day after you have completed the Camino our body heals a little but we will still take home some nagging injuries. You feel strong, but are not ready to do it again. Remember it's not a vacation, it's an adventure disguised as a pilgrimage.
Returned to the US 18 September 2014
Brown cows make the best pets
When let out to pasture or chewing their hay
Their calm demeanor disguises the fact
They create more methane than a new corvette
Chickens roam the streets
Eating everything under their feet
No steroids nor vitamins so they must be pure
I wonder what's in that yellow paint they adore
Black berries line the Camino route
Pick them as high as you can
Because a peligrino peed on the low hanging fruit
Sun flowers stand tall and withered ready for harvest
Their seeds will be turned into oil for cooking
Or bird feed or spit from a baseball dugout
Forty days and always in a different bed
Some with sheets of disposable micro fiber
Others freshly pressed, crisp and white
But always the fear of the bed bug bite