Friday, 20 May 2011

Camino Frances- Epilogue

I thought that Epilogue would be better than Postscript to finish my Camino. They always had an epilogue at the end of The Fugitive, the TV series in the 1960s. In case you didn't get what went on in the previous hour, the spelled it out for you in the epilogue.
Firstly I can state that I will be one of a handful of pilgrims that finished the Camino and will not write a book on it. The coffee tables of the world are cluttered enough with My Camino, my journey to self-discovery etc. Thanks Paulo.
The Camino  was much as I expected. I walked for 34 days with 1 day off in Burgos taking exactly 5 weeks. It was a physical challenge but within my limits. Thankfully, no injuries, blisters or bruises. The Albergues were better than expected; a lot of them have been renovated in the last year or two. The prize goes to Roncessvalles which just opened in April. Its old Albergue which is still there had a bit of a bad reputation. The showers were better than I was expecting. The snoring was as anticipated but my tolerance to the racket improved in that I used the ear plugs only 2-3 times. On the other hand, they were not very efficient so maybe I gave up on them. The coffee was much better than expected, similarly the food. We ate mainly pilgrim meals for 9 Euros each evening. The freshly-squeesed orange juice was a triumph to the point that we passed up the second cup of coffee of the day to have one. Everything was cheaper than expected outside of Santiago (outside of the tourist drag in Santiago). We were also glad that we contributed in some way to tourism in regional Spain, especially in those small villages. 
The highlights included the walk through the mountains down into Molineseca, the days walking through the Pyrenees, the stained-glass windows in the Cathedral in Leon, the town of Astorga and of course the weather. Am off now to start the rest of my holiday which will include a few quiet pints in Coffey's in Clogh and in Freeny's in Galway. I have been walking now for a day without my 8kg rucksack which is a bit strange. I am walking with a bit of a 'here's me head and me arse is coming' type of gait. No doubt my equilibrium will be restored in a few days.
This has been a Quinn-Martin production.

Day 35 - 24k - Santiago de Compostella

Headed off at 7.15 am which qualifies as a bit of a sleep-in for us. We took it fairly handy most of the day and had a few stops. Met Marcus early on with his dad but wasn't game to ask him about the fags. He works as a trauma surgeon which must be a very stressful job so we thought that if the odd smoke eased the stress a bit it can't be all bad. The walk into Santiago was very pleasant, most of it through woods. We cam across quite a few markers on the Camino where people had died. One of the first we saw was for a Japanese pilgrim. About 10 Kms out of Santiago we saw a lovely commemoration to a Myra Brennan.
"Myra Brennan, (52 yrs) née Holland of Kilkenny and Sligo, Ireland who died peacefully in her sleep in Santiago de Compostella on 24/06/03 having just completed her second consecutive Camino".
It finishes appropriately for a Sligo person with a piece from Yeats' Lake Isle of Innisfree:
"And I shall have some peace there
For peace comes dropping slow".
"From Slievenamon today, together all the way"
The memorial was set up on the 5th anniversary of her death by a Brigit R.
She did a fine job.

We arrived in Santiago at 1 pm and headed for The Cathedral. Found accommodation on the way and dropped off the bags. Didn't have a shower as we wanted to smell like real pilgrims when we got our certificate. We then trundled to the Pilgrims Office which was doing great business so we had to queue for half hour and busied ourselves congratulating with the other pilgrims each others' efforts. Managed to get a certificate in Latin without telling too many fibs. The plaza in front of The Cathedral was crowded with pilgrims and everyone was greeting each other probably for the last time. The plaza was also full of young people protesting for real democracy in Spain which entailed a hefty list of items. The pilgrims also showed great interest in the protest which I suppose was part of the plan.    
Went out for some beers with a few pilgrims which cost 3 Euros for a small glass. Everyone was bitching about the prices as we were used to getting it for next to nothing on The Camino. Went out for tapas with Marcus and his father, Karl Heinz. Didn't get up to much today. Went to the pilgrim's mass at 12 noon. Had to get there early as it is always packed. It was the normal choral Mass which was very pleasant but not as good as the day before where they had a nun that sang like an angel; or at least better than Julie Andrews. The major excitement was the large crucible with burning incense which they swung over the congregation.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Day 34 - 27k - Brea - Bed Bugs

Went across the road from the Albergue for a bite to eat last night. We went up market on a couple of glasses of wine. They had wireless Internet and played decent music so we were set. Won't say much about the Albergue last night apart from the fact that it was like sleeping in a marquee with the racket that went on. As a result we were on the road at 6.20 am, the earliest start yet. It was a very enjoyable walk today and we seem to gave missed the crowds again. Most of the pilgrims we saw were the same people we have seen in the last 3-5 weeks. We stopped a couple of Kms short of the plan today but only about 22 Kms to walk tomorrow. Not sure what's going to happen tomorrow when I get to Santiago. Throw away my crutches (walking poles) in a fit of religious fervor or buy a CD of Carlos Nunez who hails from these parts. Might have a go at the CD. Another fine day today. Only 1 day of rain in the 5 weeks and another day of sun showers. We had one evening when the skies opened for a couple of hours but we had just escaped that by a couple of minutes.
Some of the Albergues give you paper sheets and pillow cases. I am assuming that this is to reduce the risk of being bitten by bugs or of transporting them. They seem to be a bit of a problem on The Camino. On the first night back in St Jean, Marion from Berlin said that it was too early in the year for them and they are only a problem in September. She had done the Camino before so Gaby was delighted to hear this as she had spent a couple of weeks reading up on them on the net. She washed our silk sheets for the sleeping bags in some bug repellant stuff she found on the net but we both reacted to it very badly. My lips started swelling up; thought it might turn into a scene from The Exorcist for a moment there. Anyway, the sheets were washed another 5 times to make them habitable. We only heard of bugs one night on the Camino and that was in the Benedictine Convent in Leon which up to that was getting rave reviews. I stayed in the Municipal Albergue that night. So, with one night to go I can say we had a good run on the bug front. Santiago will probably be invaded by locusts tomorrow.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Day 33 - 28k - Melide - Sedantary Western Lifestyle

Headed off at 6.45 am this morning through a heavy fog but it wasn't cold unlike the fog on the mountain a few mornings ago. Walked for only half an hour before we found breakfast which was good so Gaby didn't have to go through her "I'm not leaving this town until I find coffee" routine. Enjoyed the walk today much more than yesterday. Didn't seem as crowded. Finished the Gypsy Boy book on the walk which was very good as well as being a bit harrowing as it was full of family violence. Made a few stops for nourishment and arrived at the Municipal Albergue in Melide which is quite big but appears to have been recently renovated. Only 50 Kms left now which is 2 full days walking by our average. I believe that you can get quite a decent certificate in Santiago in Latin if you say that you have undertaken the Camino for religious or spiritual reasons. Otherwise, you get a plain old English one. I'll have to look up "spiritual renewal" in the Spanish dictionary. That should swing it. I won't bother with throwing in "abandoning the sedantary Western lifestyle" because then they'll know I'm a chancer.

Day 32 - 22k - Vendas de Naron

The smell of cow shite is making me homesick. The Albergye we stayed in last night had 22 beds. At least half the punters would have passed their snoring exams in flying colours. There was a big German chap that went for a snooze in the afternoon and before long he was snoring like a chain-saw. I was a bit concerned when I saw that he was on his side and already creating a racket. I was in the bed next to his so I wasn't looking forward to sunset. There was a Polish couple above me that were wetting themselves with yer man snoring in the afternoon. The irony wasn't lost on me when it transpired that the chap from Poland turned out to be a powerful snorer himself  and his partner had to slap him on the jaw in the middle if the night to slow him down. The poor German chap beside me had a relatively quiet night in comparison to his neighbors. Sometime before 6 am somebody's alarm went off playing some soft music with running water. The sort you'd hear in a health spa (I've seen a documentary). The alarm then switched to The Turtles and that nearly finished before he switched the alarm off. "So Happy Together" me arse. Gaby who normalcy doesn't hear a thing at night didn't get much sleep for a change. I listened to another few chapters of a good autobiography called Gypsy Boy read by the author Mikey Walsh. It is very good and tells the story of Gypsy family  that came to England during the war to escape the pogroms in Europe. Went out for a pilgrim's meal and had a trout that was too big for the plate. The Ribena was good too. Had a chat again with Niall from Fermoy last night at the Albergue about a new film called The Way with Martin Sheen which is set on the Canino Frances. He thinks that this is the year to do the Camino Frances as next year it will be crawling with Americans. Had another short day today, 23 Kms. The Camino seemed crowded today with these 100k pilgrims that have their luggage transported. The problem is that they walk in threes and talk non-stop and you can't get past. It's worse than a 10-mile sponsored walk that I did over 40 years ago in Kilkenny.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Day 31 - 26k - Ferrerios

Samos is a lovely town that is dominated by its Benedictine monastery. It is still a working monastery with at least 12 monks we saw last night at Gregorian chant. The monastery is the oldest in Spain, built in the 7th century. We went for a guided tour yesterday at 4.30 which was in Spanish and cost 3 Euros. Didn't understand hardly anything so I was able to get creative when it came to the history of the place. They have a 90-bed Albergue in the Monastery which probably keeps them ticking over. The monastery is huge.

There was a fella from just outside Tipperrary where we stayed last night who was cycling from St Jean to Santiago. He was feeling a bit poorly as he had come off the bike that morning. It was very honest of him to say that he was looking at 2 girls at the time. I was going to tell him never to cycle through Italy or he'd kill himself but decided to leave it. He was hoping to get to Santiago tonight if he got on the road by 7am. Tony cooked last night in the Albergue so we stayed in for a change. After that we went to Gregorian chant and then off to the bar where we had lunch for a glass of wine (top bunk last night). Headed off at 6.30 am and managed to have breakfast in the town. The Galician dialect (language) is very different to the Spanish that Antonio Banderas speaks, didn't manage to understand a word at breakfast. Had a quiet walk to Sarria along the road, no traffic. The man from Tipp passed me on his mountain bike at 8.15 am. He must have had a later start than planned; up late watching the Eurovision I suppose. Passed 4 English girls in Siarra and one of them said "Girls, we are on it" referring to the start of their Camino. I trundled past them with nearly 500 Camino miles behind me doing my best not to make a condescending comment. The Galician countryside is very like Ireland. In the last few days the Camino has gone through country lanes connecting farmyards. Went through quite a few dairy farms which were the first I'd seem on the Camino. Pulled into Ferrerios and stopped in the Municipal Albergue for 5 Euros. Only 98 Kms to go to Santiago.