Saturday, January 14, 2012

Camino de Santiago May/June 2006

Here is the first of my diaries of walks to date in chronological order with links to photos of each route.
1. Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella 775 km.


CAMINO DI SANTIAGO
Gitti’s Account
Day 1
Hi everyone, well I made the first day. After 2 hectic days in Paris, having nearly missed my flight out of Auckland as my ticket had the incorrect time on it, a long train ride to St Jean Pied de Port followed by a taxi ride across beautiful Pyrenean mountain scenery we finally arrived at Roncesvalles in Spain. We obtained our credenzia, the pilgrims passport, and checked into the refugio, an old barn with a beautiful vaulted wooden ceiling and huge stone pillars. We shared the space with no less than 118 other pilgrims, luckily the snorers were a long way from us. We had our first pilgrim meal, pasta followed by trout with chips and yoghurt, accompanied by a very good red. Then we attended the pilgrims mass at the monastery where we received a lovely send off by the monks, complete with Gregorian chants. This morning at 6 am the lights went on and by 6.30 am we were on the path. Breakfast at Burguete, famous as Hemingway’s favourite fishing haunt. One of the bars still has a piano with his signature. The village and others we passed through were beautiful, whitewashed houses with timber beams, flowerpots everywhere, beautifully kept and cared for. The weather was a warm 20 degrees, after heavy rain and thunderstorms during the night. The pilgrim population is made up of an interesting multinational mix, some have walked from far away already, Brest, Reims, to mention a couple. There is the hombre con los cavallos, a south American Indian with 2 packhorses, a spectacular sight, a couple with a donkey, very cute, a couple of French guys, one with an old shopping cart and one with an old children’s pushchair, a couple of colourful Italian cyclist who got me to take their photo. It took 3 attempts as they wanted an action shot.
The scenery today was exquisite, beech forests bursting with fresh pale green spring foliage, heavily scented hawthorn and meadows bursting with spring flowers. We made the 23 km to Zubiri with some difficulty. The path was steep and rocky in places and the last 2 or 3 hours we walked at snail pace because of painful knees, hips, ankles, soles of feet, back etc. The pain seemed to flick from one part of the body to another and then come back again. Now we are at a lovely hostel, had a shower and washed our clothes, ready to have a beer and some food. Better not think about tomorrow!
The plan is to reach Pamplona around 20 flattish km away.
Ultreya, onwards Arohanui, Gitti
Day 2
Hi, well I thought I could never walk again, but a good dinner, wine, sleep and voltaren emulgel and a sunny morning have worked wonders. Another challenging day through fabulous countryside, thunder and lightning, a little rain and we made Pamplona after 20 or so km. We cheated and took the bus through the final 4 km of ugly suburbs, we had both had it big time by then. My knee was fine uphill and on the level but downhill was terrible. I think it is related to muscle spasm more than anything. Pamplona on a Saturday night was great, tapas to die for. Found this amazing bar which was Hemingway’s favourite haunt, very atmospheric. Hardly any tourist and lots of locals in their Saturday bests. Checked into a religious hostel in town, 3rd floor twin room, no doors, cold showers, very bracing. Sadly the couple with the donkey had to go back to la Rochelle, no donkeys allowed any more on the Camino, as of last week. Tomorrow we plan to explore Pamplona and then walk on to the next village 5 km away. Need a bit of a rest. We set off with hoards of pilgrims yesterday morning but by today we were quite spread out, although you meet each other again at refugios and bars. Quite a sense of community. Felt a bit like Jamie Oliver today, Saturday roadside picnics everywhere, men fishing for trout, wrapping up small bits in bacon and grilling it on the open fire, with baked spring onions and sparerib, charcoaled. Very friendly scene. Must go now, time is up. Regards, Gitti
Day 3
Hi everyone, thank you very much for all the good wishes and advice and encouragement so far. I am glad to have made it to Puente La Reina 26km, after a very hot day in the Navarra Province. Left Pamplona at 7 am and being a Sunday had a very pleasant walk out of town through sleepy suburbs. Breakfast at the first and only bar for hours, motto, the first bar is always the best bar! A steep climb up a huge hill with dozens of windmills and a rusty graffitied pilgrim memorial, megawind from the turbines and a very nasty, steep, rocky, slippery descent on the other side. Finally reached a series of beautiful villages, and arrived in Puente around 4pm. The refugio is a bit grotty, but there is a festival on tonight which should be fun if I can still walk, that is. The knee is now totally fine, but the soles of my feet hurt like heel. My shoes are lovely and soft, so no blisters as yet, but I can feel every stone and I did not expect the paths to be so rocky. Can’t wait for the post office to open tomorrow as I have been planning to lighten my pack, which is too heavy at 9kg. But by the time we reached Pamplona on Saturday the Post office was closed and today was Sunday. I dumped my nightshirt and a pair of socks, only to find that a kind fellow pilgrim thought I had left them behind and returned them to me after carrying them around all day? I seem to be destined to hang on to this stuff.
Met a Japanese lady yesterday who did the Milford track and said that the Camino was much much harder.
Finding it a challenge to walk with another person as Brigitte is much faster on the downhill and we get totally out of rhythm with each other, re rests and meals. So much so that I have not got a clue where she has got to now.
It is impossible for me to go at a different pace. I am still in survival mode as far as keeping the body going is concerned, fluids, food, rest, elevations, ground condition, the weight and position of my pack, weather, availability of bed space are really all I can manage at this point. It will get easier as one gets fitter. Can’t believe the number of older retired people who just amble along as if this is a Sunday stroll. Lots of them have been walking as a hobby all their lives.
Need to finish now, time to wash my filthy clothes and self. Love, Gitti
Days 4, 5 & 6
Two days without internet. First things first. I managed to find Brigitte again who had checked into the local Luxury hotel in Puente La Reina. She left early the next morning to meet a friend in the next town. I decided to wait for the post office to open and get rid of some of my stuff to reduce the weight of my pack. 1.5 kg less certainly feels better. Before me there was a queue of about 5 pilgrims doing precisely the same! Then I walked 8.5 km to the next village and decided to stay there. Cirauqui is a picturesque hill village with a beautiful private refugio. Immaculately clean, great showers and a marvellous veranda overlooking the church and countryside. I met these cool nurses from Canada and several other nice people. There was a procession and church service that day in honour of the saint who looks over the farm workers. We had dinner in the basement restaurant, cooked by the owner, accompanied by the local fine red. It was a high point experience and I needed the rest. My feet were still really swollen and the top of my left foot was very sore from the pressure of the round hard laces in my boots. The boots had totally disintegrated, too soft in the sole, the rocks played havoc and the boots lost their shape and the little support they gave. I had walked in Water sandals that day, not ideal either.
The next morning I left at 6 am and reached Estella 15 km away at about 11am. The weather was glorious and I had equipped myself with a Chorizo sausage and bread for the journey, a few bites every 20 minutes or so kept up my energy. I wondered why the sausage was so soft and discovered afterwards that I had bought the kind meant for cooking! I was assured afterwards that I would have no ill effects! In Estella, a fashionable attractive little town I found some Merrill walking shoes and abandoned the boots. Just as well because I did not realise what was yet to come. I met a Dutch pilgrim Beppi, in the square and we decided to walk through to Monjardin Villamajor which has a nice Dutch Hostel On the way we passed through the magnificent Irache Monastery which has 2 taps coming out of a wall, one with spring water and one with red wine! Free to pilgrims. We had a small glass only, truly, because of the heat and rested in the gardens of the monastery. Then things turned for the worse. We missed the turnoff and ended up on an alternative route which added another 5 km to our already long day. It was 35 degrees and there was almost no shade. The water we had we sipped and used to wet our hats to avoid heatstroke. We were absolutely exhausted when we finally reached our destination after 30km at around 5pm. Anyway, I was glad to have the new shoes and amazed how quickly we recovered from our ordeal. The Dutch volunteers at the hostel had prepared a great meal and we had a very sociable evening with a big group of people. Today Beppi and I walked on to Los Arcos, only 15 km. Vineyards, hills, rocky outcrops, monasteries and ruins, the sounds of the cuckoo all the way. Slightly overcast, very pleasant walking. We got there around 10 am and decided to stay to recover from yesterday. My feet are still really sore, no blisters though. There is a pleasant hostel in the heart of town, run by Austrian volunteers. Very nice. We are going out for a Spanish lunch. Bye for now. Gitti
Day 7
Just sitting in the public library at Viana, free internet access and cake!
A surprisingly tough day after a nice relaxing day yesterday and aperitifs with two very pleasant French men, a retired police commissaire and a winemaker. We had Pacharan, a drink made from Endrina berries and herbs from the local mountains, secret recipe. My meal choice went a bit wrong. After the very delicious garlic soup I found I had ordered pigs feet, nice sauce, not sure about the congealed bits in between. I set off at six am to avoid the heat of the day and promptly took the wrong path in the dark. This added another 4km top my 20 km way and I did not make it to Logrono. Too tired. The soles of my feet still hurt like hell and my pack still seems too heavy. The beautiful guidebook John gave me weighs 350 grams and I think I will have to part with it. Now down to one change of clothes and no jandals for the shower anymore. Germ phobia goes out the window fast. When I arrived at the refugio at 12 noon there was already a long queue. The monastery where I stay is beautiful with a big terrace and views over the surrounding vineyards, but the space is limited and the bunks are in 3 tiers! Thank god I scored a bottom bunk, although the idea of two other people above me is a bit of a challenge. En route from Los Arcos the path leads through Torres Del Rio a tranquil ancient hill village best known for the 12th century Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro linked with the Knights Templar. There is also said to be a tresor there containing some of their vast treasures.
Had a picnic style shared meal with some pilgrims I have not met before including Colin from Devonport, 76 years, involved in mountain rescue in the Waitakeres. His friend Jan was in bed suffering from diarrhea.
I must say again I am amazed at how tough this walk is for so many people.
I checked out my itinerary and I don’t think I can reasonably get to Santiago in the time allowed for. There are a few stretches which lead along the main road and are very unpleasant, I think I will have to be practical and give them a miss.
Sophia, you won't believe it there is a mad French woman doing this walk with a
Chihuahua! The little dog walked 7km today. Well if that is not bordering on the crazy I do not know.
Library about to close, love, Gitti
Day 8
Dear friends, thank you for all your kind responses and encouragement. Please do not be offended if don’t respond to you individually, my turn on the computer is usually only 20 mins or so, others wait in line. Well another day on the Camino. Didn’t sleep very well, the slight unease about being underneath 2 other people never quite left me. At 4 am a concert of cell phones and watch alarms started in our dormitory. A group of Spanish pilgrims decided to leave early to make sure they got a bed at the end of the day! Shortly afterwards the concert of the plastic bags began, 12 people with at least 3 or 4 plastic bags each in their packs, the noise was unreal. A French couple in the beds next to me lost the plot and started abusing the Spaniards, what a performance at an insane hour of the morning. Well I decided to give sleep a miss too and got up only to find that the early birds had raided the entire supply of toilet paper. I saw them distribute it on the way out. Well as Sophia says it was "pinch" dark as I left the refugio. When I reached the outskirts of town after my usual detour, this time only 1 km, the path through industrial wasteland was in darkness. I waited 10 mins or so for a fellow pilgrim and then braved the route a deux. By 8 am and after 12 km I reached the outskirts of Logrono, a beautiful university town of about 130 000 a pleasant blend of ancient and modern. There were storks nesting on the cathedral towers, a sight so reminiscent of my childhood. The path led past a small house in the middle of nowhere, the door was open and Felise greeted passing pilgrims and invited them for breakfast in her kitchen, just off the path as both her mother and grandmother had over the last 100 years. One left a small donation and wrote in the visitor’s book. Every day in mid and high season up to 280 pilgrims pass through her door! Apart from the kindness it is likely to be quite a lucrative little enterprise.
It seemed to take forever getting out of Logrono through endless suburbs, pounding concrete pavements and paths. I finally reached Navarette after entering the famous Rioja region. Luckily the albergue which only caters for 40 is not yet full. It opens at 4 pm, I arrived at 1.15 pm. My backpack is no 15 in the row lined up against the wall. Unfortunately the Spaniards are here too. Hopefully they will be in different dorm. I caught up with the 2 Kiwis and walked a while with Jacqueline and her Chihuahua Petra. All is not well with Jacqueline, she has tendonitis in both legs and is in terrible pain. I got my first blister today on my little toe. I guess I am a real pilgrim now. Well, time to get off the computer, adios, Gitti
p.s. Max and Fran, 1 Euro per km budget is a minimum. I allowed 30 Euros per day.


Day 9
Can anybody tell me why the hell I am doing this? Was fortunate to get a bed at the refugio last night as I had walked in excess of 23km. People who walked twenty or less were turned away and had to do another 6km to the next village.
Had the best dinner yet last night, fabulous artichoke hearts in buttery garlic sauce with little bits of bacon, followed by pan-fried flounder in garlic and lemon sauce and poached pear for pudding. The setting of the restaurant was glorious, in an ancient square under the church, which had artisans working on the restoration of all the golden surfaces. There is a special word for this, which has escaped me.
I slept in this am and left at 6.30 which I later regretted because of the heat. Now I am at the municipal refugio in Najera, 70 beds in one dorm. No hot water. Today was a real low point. I was exhausted and just crawled along. Only 17 km today. I have averaged around 20 per day so far, but to get to Santiago I will have to pick up the pace to average at least 25, which I physically am not fit enough to do. My mates have all passed me now and there are lots of new faces. The Spanish group (early birds) are here also - three nights in a row. As it turns out they are actually Mexicans, a theatre group who have linked up with an Australian couple who also work in theatre. They make a lively lot. They told me they left at 4 am the other day to get to Logrono to play this special Camino game, something about "getting there" Hmmm.
Hope I feel more energetic tomorrow. Next nice little hotel will find me checking in, need a night of comfort.
Love, Gitti
Day 10
Hi guys, hope this is not getting boring for you. It is my way of writing a diary and frankly a lifeline. Here I am in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, don’t you just love the name! Checked into a Cistercian abbey, very peaceful spot in the heart of town. Usual routine, 10 mins collapse, shower, washing, foot care, rest on bed, tidy backpack, read guide for next day, provisions for next day, explore town, aperitif, dinner, crash... well hopefully. This place is famous for two reasons, one the beautiful cathedral and ancient town, who owe their inspiration to Saint Dominic of the Road, so called because he dedicated his life to improving the physical route for pilgrims in the 11th century, and two the story of the Miracle of the Cock and Hen otherwise known as The Hanged Pilgrim.. The dark interior of the main church houses the tomb of Santo Domingo along with a chicken coop containing 2 live fowl. Legend has it that a pilgrim couple and their son stopped at an inn. The innkeeper’s daughter, pretty of course, had her eye on the lad, handsome of course. The devout young man turned away her advances. Incensed by his refusal she hid a silver cup in his pack and accused him of stealing it. The lad was hung. The parents continued to Santiago and on their way back they found their son still hanging, but alive, thanks to Santo Domingo. They ran to the house of the sheriff, who was just about to tuck into a fine dinner. Hearing the news, he retorted that their son was no more alive than the cock and hen on his plate, whereupon the fowl stood up on the dish and crowed loudly. Miracle, sheriff off to cut down lad from gallows, who was still alive and given full pardon. We are left to speculate on the fate of the maiden.
I forgot to mention the amazing Monasterio Santa Maria De La Real in Najera yesterday. It has a magnificent Pantheon housing the burial place of many illustrious kings, queens and knights of Navarre. The local church has choir stall with pilgrim motifs carved into the seats. This all made up for the ghastly refugio, modern hall, dusty, stuffy, noisy, streetlights in face, local teens having street party with Spanish rap out of cars, 2 to 5 am, what fun.
Today was the first day where my feet were only killing me for 50 percent of the walk. I actually enjoyed the first half, no pain. I realised last night that what I thought was sneezing from pollen, actually was a cold coming on, no wonder I felt so low in energy yesterday. Bought some Berocca and feel much better. The blister is just about gone, open it, mercurochrome it, let it dry overnight, and then put compede plaster on at 2 euro a pop. Works like a charm. Fitness is not a problem for me; it is the pain in the soles of my feet. Probably the hard paths and weight of backpack. Hope this goes away over time.
Adios, asta manana. Gitti
p.s. there may not be internet off and on from now for the next few days as I am approaching a more remote and mountainous region.
Day 11
HI, I made it to Belorado, 26 km adjusted for ascent plus however much for the extremely icy and strong headwind. I had sent off my warm hat and regretted it. Eventually I resorted to two pairs of undies with socks sandwiched in between to cover the ears all held in place by my sunhat. It worked a treat. Towards the end of the route through tranquil villages bypassed by the N 120 I arrived at the Municipal Hostel at 2pm and it was full! Good fortune brought me to the other option in town, a relatively luxurious abode on 3 floors with hot showers, decent bunks a kitchen and courtyard. I cooked for Annemarie from Switzerland and Louis from Paris. Tomorrow we cross a mountain range with 1150m being the highest point of the route. Rain was forecast for today, but luckily it was only a shower and I got to try out my poncho quite successfully. My feet lasted rather better today, still sore but not as extreme. The best thing was the visiting masseur who gave my back and feet a fantastic going over.
Last night I visited the Cathedral at Santo Domingo de la Calzada. It was incredible. Apart from Santo Domingos crypt and the live chickens inside, there was an amazing statue of a pilgrim bearing his leg complete with festering boil to a passing child, really grotesque. There was a huge painting in 11 panels commissioned in 1530 by the king of the region. Recently restored it tells the story of a pilgrim traveling to Santiago. Clothed in a brown hooded cloak, bare feet, a stick over his shoulder with a small bundle tied to it, a long walking staff with gourd for water, he encounters both kindness and cruelty. You see him receiving bread milk and water from local villagers, revered by some, demonstrated by a halo above his head, despised by others and knocked down and beaten with a stick by drunken young men. When he finally arrives at Santiago as he has been a good pilgrim, one of his fellow pilgrims has his hand cut off as punishment for committing some sort of sin en route. The hand appears in the foreground of the picture prominently displayed between the teeth of a dog.
When I passed through a small hill village today, I could smell fresh bread being baked somewhere. Soon I spotted a discreet sign made of hand painted tiles with the word Panaderia written on it, I entered what looked like a normal residential terrace house and found a door with a window behind which there was the bakery. Huge sets of freestanding shelves with trays and trays of bread, croissants, almond biscuits and more and a huge wooden table in the centre which served as a preparation area and counter. The bread was being baked 5 loaves at a time in a huge wood fired oven. My bread was hot, crusty and the best I have ever tasted. Everyone else I later spoke to had missed the place and walked straight past.
I met a young German family en route with a cute 5 year old son who was bravely striding along singing songs with his parents, carrying a small pack with scallop shell. They walk about 10 km per day.
There are one or two really strange people doing this thing. Last night I noticed a man begging outside the cathedral. Today I saw him on the Camino, talking to himself, drawing strange symbols with his stick and using a cell phone for texting. Sometimes he would bend over and eat with his head down at ground level and bum in the air. I felt a bit uneasy I must say, but there were other people around.
That´s it for today, time to get the washing off the line, love, Gitti
Days 12 & 13
Here I am again, had a fabulous day yesterday leaving Belorado, refreshed after my massage and a reasonable night. The fact that my bunk was next to the toilet door in a room of 36 was mildly annoying.
It was a cool 4 degrees, overcast, luckily the rain never came. It stayed cold all day, max 8 degrees. The high country landscape was amazing, glades of dwarfed oak like trees, covered in moss, with silvery soft furry leaves, flowers in whites, yellow and purple ferns, rocks, natural pathways. I just loved. Hardly noticed the climb. I had this amazing sense of liberation from my normal self. I am really for the first time in years just dealing with here and now stuff. Things that would normally irritate me like mad, I just take in their stride. Most people rush off in the morning, afraid they will not find a bed, I have remained totally fatalistic and lucky so far. My feet were relatively painless for the first 13 km or, after that I had to slow down and rest often. At 2pm I arrived at the albergue of St Juan, a small hamlet. I was the last of my mates to get there. I checked in, paid my donative, only to find it was an old run down monastery with enormous drafty rooms, ancient bunks, damp walls, plaster falling off, dusty and musty mattresses with springs poking through. The showers were a trickle of ice cold water in unsavoury surroundings. I was so cold I wore every piece of clothing I had and was still cold. I needed a lie down, but could not face the prospect of the bed. The bar had stopped serving food. I sat down in the sun outside, had a wine and contemplated the prospects for the rest of the day. My friend Natalie from Switzerland looked at me and said, well if we go on we go now, so packed up our gear, boots back on and off to the next village. There was a chance we might not get beds there and that we might have to go further, but we did not care. We hardly noticed the 4 km as we talked all the way. After a total of 29 km we got what we deserved, a wonderful brand new albergue, fresh tiles, white walls, hot showers and new bunks with new mattresses, only 6 euro!
Downstairs they served a fabulous dinner, garlic soup, calamares, beans and ice cream, wine and water, for 8 Euros. I bumped into a group of young students from England, I had encountered over a week ago, they had been sleeping in abandoned houses and looked like tramps. Adam fell through the floor of the second storey and broke his hand in a few places. He was in a bad state. He had lost all sensation in his broken finger, which was very bent and very swollen. I managed to dispatch him to the hospital in Burgos. I think he may need surgery.
Today we walked on to Burgos, I took the bus through the suburbs to save my feet for sightseeing.
Tomorrow comes the Meseta. Love, Gitti


Days 14-15
So much has happened in 2 days I don’t know where to start. Well Burgos was stunning, the cathedral the most amazing piece of architecture ever, like a piece of giant lacework in stone. To think that generations of people were born and died without ever seeing its completion.
I found myself a spot outside a bar directly on the Camino by the old city gates and waited for Natalie, who had decided to brave the walk through the suburbs into Burgos, a way of dealing with her agoraphobia in a drastic way. She arrived exhausted but pleased with herself and appreciated the cold glass of rose I bought for her. She managed well and had not needed her rescue remedy which she had on hand, just in case. Natalie, Louis and I had decided to pre-book a room in the centre of Burgos as the refugio was 2 km out of town. The room turned out to be a somewhat dingy affair on the second floor of an ancient apartment block, the downstairs entry area with old cracked and lifting tiles had a decided smell of ablutions and the light switch, obscurely placed was timed for a very short time only the ensuing darkness made for a hazardous ascent up the old wooden staircase. (Time switches on lights are commonplace here and really challenging in toilets, you turn on the light and suddenly suspended above your seat there is total darkness followed by precipitous contorted attempts to find the switch again, usually placed so you can’t reach it from your throne)
That aside the room itself had 4 single beds, covered with moth bitten floral covers, a single lamp with a yellowed fly shit covered paper lampshade, washbasin in corner, window out to inner light shaft, no sun. 15 euros each.
We were too tired to wait for 9pm when the restaurants were due to start serving dinner, so we resorted to ordering a combination platter, black pudding rice cakes, chips and inedible Russian salad. One could not find the peas under all the mayonnaise. 18 euros each ouch, with only one glass of wine. We set off at 6.30 am, a beautiful walk out of the city, past monasteries, the cathedral and eventually the prison, crossing motorway construction sites and eventually leaving the city behind at last, we entered the meseta. This wide open stretch of landscape is hated by many because of it’s monotony and heat. Quite a few pilgrims chose to miss it and bus from Burgos to Leon, but I decided to brave it to see what it is really like. Natalie and Louis shot ahead of me and disappeared as two little dots in the horizon. Louis was planning to cover about 35 km, so we will have seen the last of him, nice man, very shy, engineer from Paris. Natalie is walking using the Nordic method. 2 long poles, long strides, she glides along as if on skis.
So far I am finding the meseta amazing, endless wheat fields, undulating countryside, no trees, just some arid rocks and flimmering summer heat. The villages are poor and somewhat desolate, but with friendly peasanty type of feel.
By 11 am the temperature had reached 30 degrees, a far cry from the previous morning when I left Ages in shorts with frost covering everything. It was freezing. A day later I got sun burnt on the back of my legs despite sun block. I was relieved to reach Hornillas around lunchtime. Natalie was waiting for me this time and had told the volunteer at the refugio that I was her mother and thereby managed to hold a place for me. I was terribly embarrassed and asked her not to do that again on my behalf. I would rather miss a bed than go down that kind of track. As it turned out, the refugio, whilst recently restored was no being maintained well. The bathrooms were filthy and the toilet stank like a Parisienne pissoir. To make matters worse, I had a huge Brazilian woman next to me who snored all night. There was a group of retired Germans, who constantly talked at the top of their voices as if no one else existed and insisted on keeping the windows closed all night. On top of that they rubbed revolting smelling foot balm on their feet, the kind my grandmother used when I was a child and I hated the stuff then. By 3 am I was ready to get on the road. Natalie felt the same and at 5.30 we grabbed our gear, got dressed in the dining room and set off. Some how this morning my tolerance of other people and their habits reached a low point. Perhaps it was because we stayed in a hotel the night before and got out of the rhythm. A really good walk through more of the Meseta, quite a surreal environment. Tonight we are in a nice clean albergue in Castrojeriz, a delightful sleepy little town with ruined castles and monasteries, once the scene of much fighting between moors and Christians. A typical old pilgrim town which had no less than 8 pilgrim hospitals in medieval times.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of small fried sardines, salad and rose for lunch in a charming courtyard behind the local restaurant, yesterday’s discomforts forgotten. 4 more days of the Meseta ahead of us.
Asta manana, love, Gitti
I have just worked out that I have walked over 300 km and have completed close to 40% of my journey.
Day 16
Hi from Boadilla. Had an interesting evening out last night at a restaurant which was frequented by Paolo Coehlo ( The Alchemist) He spent quite some time in Castrojeriz writing his personal account of the Camino, which was also published. We shared the table with Camilla a 30 yr old blond (dyed) crew cut. She shares her Trieste apartment with 4 bulldogs and plans to open an exclusive dog accessories shop in Venice. The screensaver on her mobile shows her with her favourite animal. He has a diagonal black and white face pattern and they pose a kiss. She calls him her boyfriend, Sophia, you would have got on with Camilla like a house on fire.
We noticed a shrine with a dog collar, photo and poem in the corner of the restaurant. It is dedicated to the owner’s alsation, who used to accompany pilgrims along the Camino to the outskirts of town and then return home. He ate some poison and died not long ago. His death hit the national paper.
We got back to the hostel and had the worst night yet. 5 Spanish men with too much wine on board snored their heads off. The room was boiling with most people trying to sleep in underwear on top of the sleeping bag, yet my attempts to open a couple of windows failed miserably. The snorers had field day, with the rest of the dorm clicking fingers, tongues, muttering, hissing and throwing things. The snorers slept through it all. I hardly slept and at 5 am crept out of the dorm to get ready to leave. 5 mins later the worst of the snorers emerged and started shouting abuse at me for waking him at 5. I calmly tried to explain that I had hardly slept because of his snoring and the stuffy room and that waking up at 5 after 8 hours sleep was not so bad really. To no avail, he continued abusing me, so I just walked away, feeling resentful and angry and frustrated because of my limited Spanish language skills.
I put my anger to good use and climbed the 100m hill behind Castrojerez in no time. As I reached the top just in time for the sunrise, the countryside and town below where covered in a wonderful rosy glow.
The rest of the 20 km walkthrough more wheat fields of the Meseta was uneventful. Have checked into a beautiful hostel in old walled gardens with swimming pool, set under church tower, complete with storks and their young. Absolutely magic. My feet have shrunk to their normal size after a swim, what a relief. So far no sign of the Spanish men, and the hostel is nearly full,.
Whew....love Gitti
Day 17
Hi, have now passed into the Palencia Region, leaving behind the Burgos Region and Rioja before that. Had a good night at what Natalie and I refer to as club med on the Camino. I really felt grateful for the welcome we all received from the family who run the establishment, who work day in and day out to serve 70 resident pilgrims per day, who are accommodated in a large converted barn as well as passing through pilgrims who stay for lunch, snacks and drinks.
It seems quite unsustainable really, to deal with so many people on a daily basis. They serve a 3 course dinner with several options for each course in 2 sittings and breakfast at 6 am. I have noticed quite often how frazzled the people look who are dealing with the pressure of the numbers of people day after day. The Camino crowds seem to have really exceeded the capacity of the current infrastructure. The lack of public toilet facilities is a real issue. It is impossible sometimes not to have to disappear behind a bush, they are few and far between sometimes (the bushes I mean and everyone uses the same ones it seems) and usually there are pilgrims in front and behind. The worst are the cycling variety as they seem to appear out of nowhere and I just about got caught with my pants down the other day.
Last night we farewelled a really nice young German couple who have to go back to Stuttgart to work. For Sonja the Camino was a breeze, but Juergen had severe blister problems, requiring medical attention. He is hoping by the time he gets to work he is able to stop hobbling on his feet. They intend walking the rest next year.
This morning’s walk led past canals through fertile fields, the sound of frogs, birds and the cuckoo in the distance.
I was disappointed that the Iglesia in Fromista was closed. It looked a beautiful piece of architecture. I got a glimpse of the crucifix through the enormous keyhole.
Most of today’s walk ( after the canal bit) led along "sendas" or otherwise known as soulless errors of national development agencies, otherwise known as pilgrim pathways. They are tracks parallel to the main road, no shade, dead boring. It was another scorcher of a day.
After 27 km I reached Carrion de Los Condes at about 2 pm, all refugios full. Luckily Natalie who got here before me had secured a bed for me, this time I did not have to pass as her mother! So tonight we are in a nice pension with en suite, sharing with a French couple and a French man. They don’t look like ronfleurs. Ronfleur is the French word for snorers and Natalie and I have developed the useful capacity with 90% accuracy, tested over 1 week, to spot them. It is an essential survival technique as getting sleep at night definitely helps with walking the next day.
I was chuffed today, my feet are no longer in agony, just a bit sore at times. Hopefully it will stay this way. My pack is beginning to feel like it is part of my anatomy.
Writing this email in a Chocolaterie, very dangerous, although I am having a beer with olives stuffed with anchovies right now, the croissant is saved for breakfast.
Love, Gitti
Day 18
Well, this must go down as the most boring stretch on the Camino. Dead flat, straight path, wheat fields, no shade, no sign of habitation for 18 km, after that more sendas along the side of the road, relentless sun and too many people.
Stopped for a Boccadilla and a beer at lunchtime with the Mexican/Australian theatre group. I have come to really enjoy their colourful and lively presence on almost a daily basis. They usually start off behind me but overtake me en route. The Australians say the bright pink Surpre bag Sophia gave me, which hangs from the back of my pack containing a few provisions, acts like a beacon and reminds them of home. For those of you who don’t know, Surpre is a teenage clothing store and every time you buy a garment you take it home in a lightweight cloth bag. It is great for travel and does not rustle like plastic.
The Mexicans sang happy birthday for me at lunchtime, it was really nice.
After 27 km Natalie and I finally arrived in Terradillos de Templarios, a small village, simple and humble. Formerly a stronghold of the knights Templar, the spirit lives on in the place name. The private hostel, where we pre-booked a room with the 3 French people from last night is full and others have had to walk on.
I witness the most bizarre Kafkaesque example of cross-cultural misunderstanding today involving a Japanese, Australian and the Spanish Polizia. A middle-aged Japanese man had lost a Bic lighter and began to accuse the young Australian man next to him of stealing it. The Australian explained nicely that he did not smoke and had no need for a lighter and that he did not have it. The Japanese man persisted with the accusation. The Australian offered to empty pockets and backpack to no avail. Others tried to mediate, offered their own lighters to the Japanese but no. The Japanese man asked for the police to be called, who seemed perplexed. In the end after much ado, the Australian was handcuffed by the Police with his agreement, presented to the Japanese, who then left satisfied. After that the handcuffs were removed and life returned to normal except for the Australian carrying around his fury all day- I met him again tonight and he was still seething.
Strangely the little piece of wisdom in my guide book today is a statement by Mahatma Gandhi," an eye for an eye only ends up leaving the whole world blind".
Lots of love, Gitti
Day 19
Hi again, sad to leave the lovely albergue this am. 5 bedded room, no bunks, minimal snoring, new clean bathroom facilities, lovely restaurant and outdoor enclosed garden, friendly, relaxed proprietors and a fab dinner, a pea based entree and fresh fish in salsa followed by fresh fruit including cherries, my favourite. Lots of water and wine.
I managed the 24 km walk really well and guess what I passed the half way mark between Roncesvalles and Santiago today. The tough bits through Galicia are still to come though. I am unbelievably pleased to have got this far without any major problems. Yesterday I overtook a limping woman in sandals, whom Brigitte and I met on our first day, a fit mountaineer from the Munich region with a deep voice, I was in awe of her that day, she has had a battle with blisters.
Then I met Louis again, a public relations consultant from Liechtenstein, also pretty fit, Brigitte you showed him how to use the washing machine and dryer, he was stuck in Burgos for a couple of days with tendonitis. One of the older Kiwi men I mentioned a few days ago has had a succession of mishaps, another guy developed phlebitis and had to stop....the list goes on.
On the way today I passed through a number of very basic pueblos, mud houses, some abandoned, in between more Meseta and a few km along sendas again. One village I passed through had a strange looking hill at the entrance. As I got closer I realized it was a human habitat, resembling Hobbitland. There was a low doorway amongst the grass and one small window. Further up the hill a tall brick chimney was poking out of the grass and a few metres away a television aerial. In the village itself which had no shop or bar or anything one passed a cute little mud cottage with bright blue shutters, a rough sawn table and seats in front, a wine barrel and several straw covered umbrellas. On the barrel beautifully arranged was a bottle of wine, percolated coffee, a hot water jug, several exotic tins containing a range of herbal infusions and 2 wooden boxes with Che Guevara’s portrait printed on them acting as honesty boxes. There was a little blackboard with the words, "please help yourselves" what a nice touch.
Tonight I met up with Natalie again, she had planned to take a different route, but got lost. We are staying in a godforsaken village with a monastery run by beautiful young nuns. It is very rustic, but spotlessly clean and the bathroom is new. Tonight we will prepare a shared meal and after a blessing for the pilgrims, we will watch the sunset.
Until then, Gitti
Day 20
Hello all, well I am moving well along now, another boring Meseta day coupled with an ice cold northeasterly wind. Now in Mansilla de las Mulas after 27 km today, tomorrow Leon and then I will be heading for the mountains. This region around Leon allows one to experience the remnants of the Maragoto culture, which dates back to the 7th century, when the people here became isolated during frequent Arab invasion. Today the isolation continues in some of the abandoned villages in the mountains. The cuisine of the region remains distinctive, unusual pastries and cakes, mantecadas.
Most of my day was occupied with savouring last night’s experience with the nuns. They belong to a progressive order, spiritual in orientation rather than religious and very warm and down to earth. We all walked to a lovely warm light church in the village accompanied by a rather good looking young priest, dressed in jeans and a polo shirt. He was in need of a shave. The priest robed up in front of the assembly and delivered a brief service, without a lot of pomp and ceremony. The nuns sang cheerful songs accompanied by guitar and flute.
A French pilgrim who was also a priest was invited to say a few words. The service over, priest disrobed we all walked back to the monastery, leaving the locals behind in the church to say their Santa Marias.
We all prepared a simple meal together, I cooked pasta for 39 people. After dinner there was a blessing for the pilgrims in the little chapel and the senior nun spoke beautifully about the Camino and its meaning and purpose. It was very simply put philosophical rather than religious and presented with great warmth and humanity. The young nuns sang once again and leaving the chapel we each received an individual blessing and a little cardboard star, cut out and individually decorated by the nuns. We then watched the sun disappear behind the horizon, a big ball of fire. The nuns sang a final song and then we all sang Old Langsyne together ( did I spell this right?) It was such a beautiful ceremony, so simple and without fuss. Most of the nuns were novices from as far away as Peru and it was their last night on placement at the monastery. We were fortunate to have had this experience, I am sure it is not a nightly occurrence.
Now it is time for me to get some essentials from the shop, out of soap and stuff.
Love from, Gitti


Day 21
Hi from Leon. Decided to take the bus through the endless suburbs and industrial zone, a good decision. consequently I had most of the day free to explore the beautiful old part of the city . The cathedral was superb, I have never seen so many windows in a cathedral and all of them are stained glass, unbelievable detail and variety. The city was once a Roman military garrison, the name is derived from Legion. It frequently changed hands between Visigoth, Moor and finally Christians.
Apart from the old walled city centre the place is hectic and modern.
I treated myself to a massage today, the bottom of my feet are excruciatingly painful when touched and I ended up equipping myself with cooling gel and support stockings. Apparently I am to soak them in icy water for 1 hour after walking each day, well I will give it a go. My boot saga has been major disaster. I don’t think I mentioned that the shoes I bought in Estella about 2 weeks ago were no good in the end and I had to resort to buying some Spanish tramping boots. They were great for a week until I discovered that my right Achilles tendon was getting really sore and I discovered the right shoe had a very bulky seam. The left one does not. I went to about 6 shoe shops today in an attempt to get them to contact the manufacturer because I feel this is a quality control issue and I should have the boots replaced. Well no luck anywhere and my Spanish is not good enough and no one speaks English, French or German well enough for us to really communicate effectively. So I just have to box on. I can’t tie the boots up anymore because of this problem. I am constantly fantasising about Aigle boots Ladies Topo 500 size 38 and two thirds, the specs are going through my mind frequently and I wish I had them. You just can’t imagine the impact of walking 25 km per day every day often on very hard uneven stony paths, it is so different from tramping in the Waitakeres. Apart from complaining about my feet again, sorry, all is well.
Tonight I am staying in a Benedictine monastery, the dormitory is quite empty and women and men are separate, great, no contortions getting changed in my sleeping bag or attempts to emerge fully dressed from a damp shower cubicle.
The place is meticulously clean as well. Bliss...
Love, Gitti
Days 22 & 23
Well would you believe it, I was so preoccupied with my Achilles tendon, I left my or rather John’s walking stick behind on 3 occasions in 12 hours. This cost me an additional 8 km! On one such occasion I got hopelessly lost in a tangle of tiny narrow angled streets in Leon. To make up for it I took the bus to the outskirts of this big sprawling city, a good decision. The remaining 15 km were quite pleasant and when I arrived in Vilar Mazarife, Nathalie had secured a room with 2 beds in a friendly little refugio. The room was basic, rough wooden floors, old hospital beds, foam mattresses, bare light bulb, but we did not have to put up with lots of others, snorers and oxygen phobics. We had the window wide open, it was bliss.
We found the place had a nice kitchen and courtyard with fig tree, so we bought a few supplies and ate al fresco.
I soaked my feet in ice cold water, put an icepack on my tendon, followed by copious amounts of Voltaren Emulgel and had a good rest. Today and tomorrow I plan to only do 15 km to give my Achilles tendon time to recover.
I wore my sandals today as the route was flat and mainly along the road to give my tendon a break from the boots. It does seem grateful for it.
We arrived in Hospital De Orbigo, a beautiful village, to find that today was the day of the yearly Medieval Festival, a grand affair, markets, street entertainment, the inhabitants of the town dressed in costume and later on by the bridge, various spectacles including knights on horseback, dragons and more.
The bridge Puente de Orbigo is one of the longest and oldest medieval bridges in Spain, dating back to the 13th century. Once upon a time a noble knight from Leon, scorned by a beautiful woman, threw down the gauntlet to any knight who dared to pass as he undertook to defend the bridge. Don Suero successfully defended the bridge against numerous knights from all over Europe who took up the challenge. After his 300 lances had been broken, he proceeded to Santiago to offer thanks for his freedom from the bonds of love and for his honour, now restored. The legend of Don Suero is re enacted as part of today’s ceremonies.
The weather is still fabulous, unlike the rest of Europe including the south of Spain and it is meant to remain fine for the next 5 days at least. The mornings are still really cold, 3 degrees or so and by the afternoon the temperature is in the 20´s.
Bye for now, Gitti
Days 24 & 25
Hi, from Rabanal el Camino, a beautiful little mountain village. I am having a glass of rose and eggs and bread before I start my 6km 300m ascent to Foncebadon. Shirley Maclaine who walked the Camino about 12 years ago and subsequently wrote a book about her experience approached this village with great trepidation. Then it was abandoned by people but inhabited by packs of wild dogs, which would at times behave in menacing ways. Nowadays the place is undergoing restoration and the people are back, the dogs gone, well almost.
The medieval festival was quite a spectacle although the main event did not start until 11.30 pm followed by very loud Celtic music from 2 am until dawn.
The villagers had prepared large quantities of pulpo, octopus which was cooked in a rich sauce with potatoes and tomatoes on top of open fires lit on the cobbled streets. There was relatively little pulpo and relatively large amounts of potatoes and a small plastic plate full cost 10 Euros. I decided to pass on this and bought some Artisan bread and cheese and escaped the masses to the calm of the refugio courtyard. This particular refugio, San Miguel was a beautiful old building sensitively restored with excellent facilities.
Yesterday I walked on to Astorga another beautiful old city. It was Sunday morning and there was not a soul in any of the villages I passed through, not even a pilgrim for the first 2 hours. What bliss.
At Astorga I visited the Camino Museum in a famous Gaudi building. It was amazing, Moorish in design, with a hint Walt Disney like fantasy. Nathalie and I had a disastrous pilgrim’s menu lunch and were green with envy when a fellow pilgrim told us about having lunched at a pilgrim friendly 3 star hotel for only 1 euro more. Oh well....
Last night I stayed at Albergue Las Aguedas in Murias Rechivaldo, a fantastic stable converted to a refugio with a lovely inner courtyard and a very nice German volunteer who is extremely knowledgeable about local culture and history. I slept in a top bunk. Unfortunately the German man below me tossed and turned all night on his plastic covered mattress and for some reason regularly delivered punches to the underside of my bunk and the resulting impact on my bottom or stomach was most annoying. When he started his performance again this morning I was so angry I hopped out of my bunk and grabbed my gear with such vigour that my guide book went flying into the air and disappeared behind a huge built in heater, totally out of reach. I had to wait one hour or so for everyone to wake up before I could begin the retrieval process. Armed with sticks, tongues, forks etc I attempted to rescue my book to no avail. Ludwig another pilgrim finally managed to lift the heater off its brackets and my book was saved. The annoying German of course had gone. I had a feeling the guy would be trouble when I saw his gear on the bed. Designer clothes and a cosmetic bag 3 times the size of mine. I passed him later today in spite of my sore leg and he was struggling with the weight of his pack full of unnecessary junk. I did feel like a bad pilgrim for having such bad and cynical thoughts about another person. It is amazing what bad sleep does to one’s tolerance levels.
I just love the landscape now, mountains with patches of snow and wide vistas of forests, wild lavender, gorse, red earth, rocks and stone walls reminiscent of Connemara in Ireland. Great to be out of the seemingly endless plain, no rain though at least.
Adios for now, Gitti
Days 23, 24 & 25
Well today I feel miserable. I now have tendonitis in my right leg, which hurts like hell and I cannot walk today. Will have to take bus to next destination as otherwise I will run out of time. At least the Achilles is better though.
This all came about during the course of an extremely nasty prolonged downhill stretch. The altitude dropped from 1500m to 500m over just a few km. One had to be extremely vigilante as the path was steep, very rocky and uneven and with the sun directly behind me my shadow was making it difficult to see where I needed to put my feet. On top of that the heat was extreme, 34 degrees in the shade and the sun was belting down relentlessly.
When I finally arrived at the refugio in Ponferrada, I had to queue up for a bed, one hour later I was assigned a lower bunk in the emergency accommodation in the basement with 69 others. The refugio with 185 beds was totally full.
I saw the visiting doctor who told me I had tendonitis, so icepacks, anti inflammatories and more Voltaren creme. How annoying. I had been doing so well. During the night I could not sleep, so I took my sleeping bag and found a wooden bench in the kitchen where I administered icepacks and drank lots of water. So the night finished up reasonably ok.
I had a quick look at the the Templars castle on the way in. An impressive imposing structure. Apart from that Ponferrada is a modern, chaotic sticky sort of a place. Not a place where one would like to linger. I went out for dinner with 2 people from Tyrol last night, we had a fabulous meal in a 3 star hotel for 8 Euros each, including Paella as a starter, grilled sea bass with salad as a main and fruit tart for dessert, along with bread, Bierza red wine and water.
The hotel was close to the refugio, so I only had to hobble a short distance.
Since I last wrote, I reached Foncebadon, in great shape that day, I was moving along without any difficulty. I really did not like the feel of the place and the people in the restaurant were really unfriendly. I had already had a shower and washed my clothes in a really grubby old albergue, the new private one is being constructed at present, and was sitting outside not sure as to what to do next, when a young German couple arrived looking totally exhausted. When they heard there was only one bed, or rather mattress on the floor of the church, the woman burst into tears. That was my chance to act, so I offered my mattress, packed my gear, attached the damp washing to my pack and set off to Manjarin, 5 km away. I arrived there at 7 pm, having passed Cruz de Ferro. A simple iron cross, 1505 m above sea level, has become one of the abiding symbols of the way of St James. Pilgrims bring stones from their homelands and add them to the already existing huge mountain of stones, witness to our collective journey.
The night at Manjarin was amazing. The albergue with 20 places is somehow reminiscent of the kind of drop out communities one used to find in New Zealand in Golden Bay or Coromandel. Run by Thomas who stands for universal peace and frequently gets into trouble with the authorities, the place has solar power, no running water, the well across the road is the only supply, a long drop toilet and various makeshift rickety buildings, shacks and caravans. They grow organic vegetables and other things I am sure! There are dogs and donkeys and chickens galore.
High up in the mountains the place gets snowed in in winter and must be bitterly cold. Thomas identifies strongly with the Templars and has incorporated many traditions and ancient rituals in his daily life. The night I was there there was a Muslim pilgrim there, and I found out that almost no other albergue would accept him because of his religion, so he normally slept in a tent.
I soaked my tired feet in the cold spring and at 8 pm we all 24 of us ate al fresco, a simple fish based pasta soup, bread salad and a rough red.
At night we slept in a stable, very rustic, with a rickety gallery accessed by a strange ladder-come-step arrangement which gave me the willies. There were old foam mattresses on the floor, no gaps in between. I had been assigned a mattress next to this intrusive creep of a Frenchman, complete with fake tan, who had attached himself to Nathalie during the day and kept on trying to make advances at her. She is so very polite in a Swiss kind of a way that she did not know what to do. Over a glass of wine I gave her a demonstration of the staunch Kiwi way of getting rid of unwanted male attention. Not sure what she thought of it really. Anyway the mattress next to me on the other side was free, so I moved over and strategically placed my pack and walking stick between myself and the guy. At dinner I noticed that my feet were swollen, a sign, that I had not drunk enough water that day, so I filled myself up with a litre and a half of water and ended up making the trip down the ladder to the long drop on 5 occasions. At some stage during the night a young guy, who had smoked dope earlier, came up the ladder flicking a lighter, to guide his way across packs and mattresses and people. I quickly fumbled for my torch as I did not fancy the idea of getting down from the gallery in a fire.
That night over, I witnessed Thomas with his sword ritual to greet the sun, dressed in a white cloak and chanting. Several pilgrims had reported that the guy was mad and that his sword routine was threatening, that the place was filthy and one should not stay there. I found the guy eccentric, not in the slightest bit threatening and the place was basically clean. The long drop immaculate, managed with chalk in a cute little building. I certainly felt very welcome there.
In the morning I set off through fantastic mountain scenery and cool temperatures until the nasty bit you already know about.
Bye for now, Gitti
Days 25, 26 & 27
One door closes and another one opens! I took the bus from Ponferrada as my leg was so sore and I could not even put my foot down without excruciating pain. The 23 km to Villafranca seemed endless by bus. I was amazed that I had been walking a similar distance every day for the last 24 days. In Villafranca I checked into a most atmospheric albergue and had a rest, waiting for the anti inflammatories to kick in. Villafrance is a picturesque little town set in an area famous for it’s vineyards. In the evening I decided to soak my feet in the local river, which has been dammed to form a pool. The river is meant to have healing waters. Well I got there, but not back and had to take a taxi. The next morning I managed to get a ride with Jesus, don’t worry, I have not gone mad. It is the name of a lovely old man who transports backpacks for a nominal fee which goes into a refugio renovation fund. He took me around all his errands, including his smallholding where he showed me the damage done by wild pigs the previous night. They had eaten their way through the entire 6 rows of pepper plants and dug up the ground, creating a hell of a mess. Jesus took me to La Faba, a beautiful tiny village, 6 km from O Cebreiro, up in the mountains. There is a stunning albergue in a restored parish house adjoining a little church, set amongst trees and stone walls just outside the village. It has been renovated by a German confraternity from Swabia. As he left me there Jesus gave me a shoulder massage, a rose and a bunch of leaves which I was to grind up and mix with salt and vinegar and put on my sore tendon.
I had to wait 3 hours for the refugio to open, so I hobbled into the hamlet and met a German man by the name of Marcel, who has lived in Galicia for twenty years. He was just taking his donkey and foal to the field and invited me for a coup of Indian tea on his return. He is in the process of restoring an old building and sells Indian bead necklaces from a table outside his front door. As I was drinking tea, Nathalie arrived having walked all the way and we were both invited to make a salad from Marcel’s garden and join him for lunch. Nathalie set up the table with necklaces and I made lunch. We feasted on organic lettuce, dark leaves, a welcome change from the usual iceberg lettuce. We bought fresh cheese, crusty mountain bread and Marcel had wonderful red organic wine to go with it. His workmen joined in also. Marcel invited me to stay for a couple of days and offered me his sleep-out, a rustic affair accessed by a steep ladder. He thought it might take a couple of days until I could walk again. It was a tempting prospect. However after a relaxing night in a typically German clean environment I felt I could risk the ascent to O Cebreiro, just 6 km. Well I was right and got there without any pain. The landscape and villages are very different and very beautiful, very Celtic, lush verdant pastures, shady patches, grey stone buildings. From O Cebreiro I shared a taxi with 4 other tired pilgrims, who had various ailments. I was glad to have saved myself the rather arduous descent. I would have got into difficulty with my leg. From now the landscape is more undulating, I might manage walking, and perhaps I might be able to get rid of my pack for a few days, while I recuperate. This is the region for pulpo, so today I will treat myself to a plate of this delicious seafood.
Love, Gitti
Days 28 to 32
Somewhere I miscounted the days, since I left Roncesvalles on 12.5 and today is the 12.6., this means that this is my 32nd day on the Camino. I am now walking again fully after 4 days or so of using a combination of walking and other means of transport. Ideally I would have liked to have stayed put and waited for my leg to get better and then to carry on walking, but I did not have enough time up my sleeve, so doing the combined thing and keeping moving forwards was the next best option. I still will have walked in excess of 650km of the 775km, not bad really.
From Triacastela, where I had delicious pulpo in the Galician style on a hot plate, and not such a good night’s sleep, I was actually cold for once and the streetlight shone into my eyes and people snored and I had to go to the loo 5 times in the night, I took a bus to Sarria, a modern town, not very attractive. Stephanie from Appenzell in Switzerland who had walked all the way from Switzerland, she is 24, dealing with her 3rd burst of tendonitis, had also taken the bus and we both felt like carrying on out of Sarria, but the next bus was not due to leave until 7.30 am the following morning, Sunday. We reluctantly decided to stay and made our way up to the old part of town. It was 10 am and there were already dozens of backpacks lined up outside the municipal albergue, which was not due to open until 1 pm. So instead we checked into a lovely private albergue and being the first ones to arrive, we chose the best beds, complete with sheets and duvets, what luxury. We were the first to use the showers, what bliss. Then we rested, I had a haircut and in the evening we had a picnic on a stone bench next to the church. It was a really relaxing day and the next morning we got up early to catch the bus out of town. We arrived at the deserted bus station at 7 am and the bus never came. A man at a petrol station said it would come later, like 8 am, by 9 am still no bus and then somebody else said it was not due until 17.30! Right. We decided to hitchhike and at 9 am on Sunday morning there was hardly a car in sight. Eventually we got a ride with a German "pilgrim" group of 3 who had taken their car from Germany and were taking it in turns to drive one third and walk two thirds of the distance each day. Some days they would walk all the way all together and then catch the bus to go back and collect the car. Considering the infrequent bus service this was proving somewhat difficult. After 7 km the woman stopped to wait for her 2 companions and we got a ride with a very nice pilgrim friendly Spanish man, whose son had walked the Camino last year.
He dropped us off at Portomarin, a really fascinating place surrounded by a river and huge reservoir, which was constructed in the 1960´s and the chapel and several other historic monuments and buildings were moved to high ground and now form part of new Portomarin, the old town is submerged under the reservoir.
From Portomarin I walked the 13 km to Hospital de la Cruz, mainly uphill, a hot afternoon. I have really got to the stage where I am over the whole thing, the remaining 65 km to Santiago seem a huge amount and I am decidedly fed up with refugios. I want my bed, shower and family. Not necessarily in that order. John and Sophia are en route to Paris right now. I can’t wait to see them. Last night was really uncomfortable, hot sticky, fleas, my rickety bunk next to the division to the bathroom, smelly urinals just over the wall. The man in the bunk next to me coughed all night, the usual snorers, the 5 am plastic bag rustlers...My pouch with passport and money fell behind the bunk and I got up in the middle of the night to retrieve it with my torch. Every time I climbed down from my bunk I thought it would tip over. After I left this morning I found there was a beautiful clean charming new albergue just 3 km up the road, which was not mentioned in my guidebook. Now I am sitting in the basement of a grubby bar in Palais de Rei, not a redeeming place, getting ready to move on to Melide, which reputedly has the best Pulperia in Galicia. Another 16 km. Have walked 15 so far this am. Luckily it is a cool day, almost too cool, fog, mist and a little rain, the first except for a 10 minute shower some 3 weeks ago.
With a bit of luck I should get to Santiago on Thursday. Getting there is no longer really important; I feel I have done my dash. Toyed with the idea of busing the rest, but to get the Compostella, one has to walk the last 100 km minimum, and I decided I did really want it, so here I am.
Adios, Gitti
End of Day 32
Hi, what a long walk. I arrived late in the afternoon in Melide after 30 km, which was a bit more than I really wanted to walk, but I was determined to eat pulpo at Ezequiels tonight and I got there. As I arrived Jaqueline, the French professor with her dog Petra emerged from the said restaurant and promptly invited me to share her hotel room, free of charge. How generous. What a relief. I had a shower and a rest and then went to find my friends at the refugio with this delicious fresh cheese I had bought from a farming woman in a small hamlet on the way. The cheese had leaked over my backpack adding to the already interesting smells accumulated over the last few weeks. We shared the cheese, Hainer, Renee and I and exchanged the day’s events. We will probably not meet again. The Camino is mayhem now, lots of 100 km pilgrims, new faces, accommodation full everywhere. What a pain. Most of today’s walk though was on pathways through woodland and Eucalyptus forest, agricultural hamlets and fields. The paths were quite soft underfoot, for once!. Now I am off to have Pulpo with some fellow pilgrims, once again pleased to be here.
Love, Gitti
Final Days
I just wrote my last email, and the whole thing disappeared in smoke, how totally frustrating.
Well once again, the pulpo was fantastic, cooked in the Galician style in wine and olive oil, served on a wooden plate along with crusty bread and a very young white wine, followed by an Aguardiente a short black with a herbaceous Schnapps. I returned to the hotel and had a good night’s sleep for once with Jaqueline and Petra.
Yesterday I walked 15 km through woods and Eucalyptus trees to Arzua, a somewhat ugly little town. Actually I have decided that Galicia is the region I like least so far. It is damp, the architecture is unimaginative, ugly, lots of bad attempts at restoration and featureless new building. The entire place, including the towns smells of cow dung and everything seems damp and grubby.
The albergues are dreadful. State funded 20 years old, standard soulless design, badly kept, filthy, full of graffiti and depressing.
I feel it is really time I stopped walking, yesterday I got 3 new blisters on the soles of my feet and today my achilles tendon started to protest again. My shin still hurts. Anyway tomorrow is the last day, so I am not giving up now. 20 km, mainly close to the road, past the airport, into Santiago.
Many are walking or bussing on to Finisterre on the coast, but I have had enough now and can´t wait to see John and Sophia, so I decided to hop on a train to Normandy on Saturday. Some people are even walking back to their homes in Denmark, Holland and Poland. Unimaginable.....
It is strange to think, that tomorrow is the last day on the road. I feel quite relieved, but really pleased I took up the challenge and opened my eyes and heart to many new experiences. Others feel a mixture of sadness to leave this uncomplicated life on the road, along with apprehension about what the future will bring. Many feel this has been a life-changing experience and that things will not be the same when they return home. There is lots of excitement gratitude and a sense of achievement and connection with others. Lots of us have arranged to meet at the Cathedral at 6pm tomorrow for a final meal together.
Yesterday, when I looked at my blisters I could not face dealing with them myself and went to the medical centre, where they drained and dressed them. When it came to pay, the fact that I did not have an NZ social security number created an administrative problem and they waved the fee. I hobbled into town in search of a suitable place for lunch and bumped into Dawn a rather outgoing Canadian postie, I met some weeks ago. She was in the company of Juan and Marcos, a lovely gay couple from Barcelona who have lived together for 25 years and are getting married by civil union in September, followed by a honeymoon in New Zealand. We had lunch together at a tiny restaurant behind a cheese shop, El Cabaillero, a family run affair. I had my best meal yet, a delicious Minestrone like vegetable soup followed by a beef stew, lightly cooked in white wine, red peppers and onions, with golden potatoes, the meat fell off the bone. this was followed by homemade cheese with a slice of fruit based marmalade, coffee and liqueur. A large group of young Spanish people joined us and when Marcos began to talk with them and found out they came from Malaga, he burst into passionate Flamenco song. It turned out the young people were musicians, within minutes they brought in their guitar and an afternoon of singing, dancing ad clapping ensued. The restaurant owners, who were having their family meal in the corner joined in. It was a wonderful afternoon and I felt extremely privileged to be there. We left the restaurant at 7 pm, what a long lunch!
Bye for now. Gitti
Santiago
I am here....!!!!!! I can´t believe I made it. The last stage of walking was great. The path was through woods and more Eucalyptus plantations. I left at 5.30 am and arrived at around 1 pm. I walked the last 3 hours with Anke, a German woman and her labrador. She is 38, with 2 children and lost her husband one year ago. He died suddenly of an aneurism aged 38. They had been together for 25 years. She comes from a little village near Schl├╝chtern where I was born. We crossed the bridge at Lavacolla, now the airport, but in the old days pilgrims would wash here prior to reaching Santiago. When we arrived at Monte Gozo and saw Santiago below us, we burst into tears. Others were there too including a 16 year old German girl who had walked through France to Santiago.
Dawn and the 2 Spanish guys, Juan and Marcos also appeared and we bought white wine and drank to the occasion under a tree, sitting on an ancient wall.
It was still a 6 km hike from there, hot and sunny, but we made it.
The city is wonderful. I just checked into a small pension and have my very own
clean cupboard sized room, overlooking a light shaft, with en suite. Total luxury at 20 Euro per night. Got to go now and do my errands, love, Gitti
Grand Finale
Just have to fill you in on my last day in Santiago: Now in Normandy after a 30 hour train journey with tight schedules, including 30 minutes in Hendaye and &1 hour in Paris, which involved changing stations and queuing for a ticket for 30 mins: I had 1 minute to spare!
The 7 pm arrangement in front of the cathedral did not quite come together, but as usual I met some other pilgrims and we had a nice dinner together: I sat outside the little hotel I stayed at in a narrow street under the colonnades and had a glass of wine to finish the day and went to bed at midnight, but was too excited to sleep and my legs were restless:
The next morning I spent sightseeing and shopping and at 11am went to the cathedral, impressive, large, plump and heavy, meant to stay. I placed my hand on the tree of Jesse the central column of Master Mateo's masterpiece: the Entrance of glory, a remarkable storybook in stone: Millions of pilgrims have worn finger holes in the solid marble as gratitude of their safe arrival;
At the top of the pillar are a group of apostles, one with a very lustful expression in the direction of a carved, once full-busted partially naked woman on the opposite wall: The church thought this improper and instructed the stonemason with the removal of the breast: The peasants angry about her sudden flat chestedness decided to get back at the priests and began to make the local cheese, which was regularly consumed by the priest, in the shape of a large breast, complete with nipple: To this day tetilla_ “tit cheese” is the staple cheese of the region and has retained the breast shape. Then I attended the pilgrims mass, the cathedral seating 1000 people was packed, even people sitting on the floor: I had a prime seat, front row of the west wing, just next to the altar:
The mass was beautiful, a nun chanting with a crystal clear soft voice brought tears to many: The service was conducted in Italian, Spanish and English and all the pilgrims' nations and numbers who had arrived over the previous 24 hours were mentioned: At the end of the service there was a sudden burst from the organ and from high in the roof of the cathedral, just in front of the altar, the giant silver incense burner, the Butafumeiro was lowered: Suspended on a massive rope, which is supported by 8 priests, it was originally used to fumigate sweaty disease ridden pilgrims, and is now only used on special occasions or when someone pays 350 euros: The burner was lit by a priest and then to the sound of the organ, it was skillfully manipulated by the 8 priests from the end of the rope which split into 8 ends: They swung it higher and higher, just missing our heads, lengthening and shortening the rope during the swing, which gave the impression that it would behead the congregation and smash the balustres next to the altar: It swung higher and higher with incense exuding profusely and filling the entire atmosphere: Finally it nearly touched the roofs of the east and the west wings: It was a most exhilarating and scary process: I sat right underneath the thing: When the swinging stopped the entire congregation cheered and clapped. How lucky I was to witness this ceremony. An amazingly choreographed piece of theatre. It was worth walking there just to be part of this. I sat next to Dawn from Canada whom Brigitte and I met on the first day having a drink in Roncesvalles. As I left the church after countless hugs with my fellow pilgrims, I saw Anke, who had hired a car and asked me to come to Finisterre with her. So at 5 pm we took off for the 100 km trip to the coast, the end of the world, as they used to believe. Anke wanted company as it was the first anniversary of her husband's death and I felt privileged to join her.
As we approached the lighthouse, I saw a lonely pilgrim coming towards us and recognised Louis, who Nathalie and I shared a hotel room with in Burgos. I had not seen him since. More hugs and tears, what an amazing coincidence yet again. We walked to the cross past the lighthouse, where you are meant to get the answer as to why you walked to Santiago: For Anke it was the realisation that she was not alone: She had felt very alone after her bereavement and she walked away with a new sense of hope: For me it was some sort of sense that everything was alright now, as it was. After that we had a fabulous dinner at a harbour side restaurant, we ate Coquilles St Jacques. The occasion required it and later watched the sun set over the sea from a huge cliff, listening to Gaelic bagpipes. We drove back to Santiago and I collapsed into bed at 1am. As I fell asleep I thought of the words of the Benedictine nun some weeks earlier, to open your hearts and minds to the surprises of the way. I have certainly had more than my share:
Un camino comienze con un paso, a great journey begins with one step……..