Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday, May 30 - Olveiroa to Muxia

Terminado! We are done! We have completed the Chemin d'Arles from Montpellier to Somport, the Camino Aragones from Somport to Puente la Reina and the Camino Muxia from Santiago to Muxia. Thirty eight days, 959.8kms, 1,372,140 steps! And we finished in sunshine!!!! It took a while, ha, almost thirty eight days but the sun finally came out as we were walking along the beach boardwalk into this Atlantic coastal town of Muxia. Another milestone is that, although tendinitis teased and threatened it never settled in, so for the most part I was able to walk without pain, maybe not always without misery but at least without pain.
From Olveiroa to Muxia is almost 30kms but the path is fairly easy; it has it's share of ups and downs but that is a given. For a significant part of the time we walked along a path lined with young eucalyptus trees, purple foxgloves and an abundance of flowering yellow bushes - heather, mountain laurel or gorse or whatever, I don't know but it was beautiful. We took advantage of every café stop we passed even if we didn't need it. After the scarcity of these opportunities in France it just seemed wrong to pass any by.
Early afternoon we came out of a wooded path and we could see the ocean. I was excited to be nearing the end of our Camino but I wasn't as near the end as I thought. We still had ninety minutes more to walk our way around the huge bay before getting close to Muxia. We found our hotel, a neat, modern hotel noted for its excellent restaurant and took care of details such as checking in, sellos for our credenciales and getting our Muxia Compostella certificate, 'Muxiana.' Our quick lunch turned into a feast for Dayton as he had shrimp wrapped in a thin freshly made angel hair pasta and deep fried and then every complementary tapa that was generously served to us had fish in it. Even the Russian salad we ordered was made with potatoes and fish - who knew? And who cares, the Galician white wine they served was vegetarian and excellent.
After that, we lightened our backpacks, put them on and headed out to the Sanctuary at the end of Cabo; apparently the backpacks were needed for an authentic looking 'Fin da Ruta Xacobea' (End of St. James's Camino) photo. Dayton was looking for the setting of the final scene of the movie 'The Way', where Martin Sheen scatters his son's ashes into the ocean and I think we found it or close to it. The Sanctuary is set amid the rocks at the end point of the peninsula and those rocks are spectacularly impressive. Dayton kept encouraging me to go climb farther down and closer to the braking waves for a more exciting picture. I resisted - wisely - because when Dayton changed places with me for his photo op a huge wave crashed against the rocks and in those two seconds he was soaked almost as thoroughly as yesterday after all that walking in the rain. Told him so. All in all this was a really memorable finish to this Camino.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 29 Negreira to Olveiroa

This has been as wet a day as we have ever walked. Eight hours in a good steady rain, that is until it turned into a driving rain. This was exactly like our last day's walk into Santiago four years ago, my feet so wet that the blister prevention mefix tape just slid off my toes and floated in the drenched water-logged socks. (John Langford - think of your walk into Monte de Gozo). Thirty three kilometres soaked to the skin despite hoodies, hats, pack covers and ponchos.
The only thing that saved us (mentally if not physically) was meeting up again with Paige, a young lady from New York who had just finished the Camino Frances, and walking and talking with her all day...someone new to share Camino war stories with. We had met her late afternoon yesterday on our way into Negreira and the time flew by as we chatted and she was telling us about her Camino experiences this year. Today the conversations kept us busy and preoccupied, well the first seven hours at least and then it was getting tough for everyone. We had two beverage breaks; a much appreciated coffee and tea break in the late morning and then a limonade for lunch. We were too wet to ever sit down and order a true lunch.
Paige is on a year's sabbatical from her marketing career in New York City and this Camino is one part of her first six month travelling plan. Next week she is off to Rome, Athens, Croatia, Albania and Montenegro before finishing up in France and heading home to New York for two months before setting out again. Paige says she is not much of an outdoors person and this is her first extended walking experience but she is definitely a strong walker and certainly helped us keep the pace up.
By 3:00pm we arrived at our Pensión Rural in Olveiroa and we are now happily ensconced in our private room drying out everything including our Euros! Tomorrow we have one more 30km day into Muxia and hopefully our 'Gortex Waterproof ' boots will be dried out by then. Right now they are stuffed with newspapers and perched on the radiators in a valiant optimistic attempt to hurry up the drying out process.
Step one of the drying out process.
Olveiroa was the finale of my Camino Frances/Finisterre four years ago - where I threw in the towel, waved the white flag and conceded to the tendinitis I had walked with for over three weeks and about 650 kms of my total 858 kms. That final day, Dayton walked the remaining 33kms to Finisterre and I had to take a taxi. This year I am sure I will make it to Muxia tomorrow. I'm rolling out my feet and shins with the Yoga Tune-Up balls, stretching and rehydrating (vino tinto is a liquid so qualifies as rehydration in my plan). We can only hope that the skies are rained out because two days in a row of this misery just might challenge my 'don't whine' mission statement.
A small tapas to go with the vino tinto - unfortunately not vegetarian so it's all for Dayton
Enjoyed a lovely and lively dinner with a fellow pilgrim, Linda from Austria. Dayton had the menu del dia with a huge pasta salad, a veal stew and dessert while Linda and I enjoyed a salada mixta. So nice to have some lettuce and tomatoes to go with the four kilos of bread that come with every meal. And I love it all. This is not a place to be gluten free, vegetarian is hard enough.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tuesday, May 28 - Santiago to Negreira

765. 765! That is how many pilgrims walked into Santiago and claimed their Compostelas yesterday, Monday, May 27. Apparently each day of this past weekend over 500 pilgrims completed their Camino. I find that astounding.
The Cathedral from our hotel room balcony
Dayton has been reading and editing my blogs and politely correcting my facts; however, that is usually after I have already posted the blog so take all my facts as more 'almost correct' than absolutes. I do have it on good authority that the stats listed above are accurate - another pilgrim told me so.
Leaving Santiago in the early morning
We are back on the trail again having left Santiago shortly after 7:00am this morning and heading out towards Negreira on our way to Muxia. A couple of hours into the morning we stopped at a bar/restaurant for desayuno (breakfast). A few pilgrims caught up with us here (they probably left after 8:00am) and went on ahead of us. Four years ago this would have caused me great anxiety as I would have been thinking, as each one passed me by, "There goes my bed. There goes my bed and OMG. There goes my bed", but not this time because we have reservations! We are booked into a Hostal, a Pensión and a hotel for each of the upcoming three nights respectively. Now I can just relax and enjoy walking at our own pace which is none too fast.
Camino markers showing kms. to Muxia
As Dayton paid 'la cuenta' for our breakfast, I was thinking that, although our Canadian dollar is well below par with the Euro we are getting very good value for our money, probably so much better than at home. For breakfast we had a café con leche, a tea, two pieces of Santiago cake and a bocadilla all for just 5.40€ and the bocadilla had about a half rasher of bacon and a half pound of cheese on a two foot long baquette. And for added savings, if you tip even 10% here, you are a very generous soul. Bonus.
We walked in and out of eucalyptus forests all morning and Dayton commented on how wonderful the scent was. I still haven't gotten back any sense of smell since my earlier cold so I could only imagine and remember from four years ago.
We got to Negreira just after the noon hour and stopped for lunch at the very restaurant where we ate four years ago..almost to the day. I'm always sceptical and anxious before we check into the Hostal, or Pensión or hotel, wondering if it will be dive but so far it has almost always been okay. Here we have a large room with ensuite bath, towels, hair dryer, WiFi and a washer and dryer to finally get our clothes properly cleaned. The bonus too is that we arrived before the rain. Let's hope that we make out as well tomorrow when we have about 34 kms to walk to Oliveiroa.
Ponte Maceira, about 4 km from Negreira

Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday, May 27 - Santiago

A day without walking, a day without travelling. What to do, what to do? There are 1,100 restaurants and bars in this town, 80 kinds of sea fish, 50 kinds of mullusk, and 188,130 kilos of seafood sold annually...I think Dayton has a plan.
We started out with coffee and churros and a few errands before we went to the Cathedral for the Pilgrims' Mass. It was rather incredible to see how many pilgrims complete this Camino every day. The Cathedral was full and a welcome was given to the pilgrims in many different languages. For the first time for us, during the Pilgrims' Mass, we got to see the Botafumeiro, the largest censer in the world, fly across the church. Eight men dressed in monk-style robes pulled heavily on the huge ropes to get it to swing back and forth across the church. It is said to swing at up to more than 65kms an hour as it swoops over the heads of the congregation. I was more than a little intimidated by my front row seat and a little fearful that I might be the first pilgrim crushed by it if any of those ropes ever broke. My guide information states that Botafumeiro is normally only used during religious solemnities and Holy Years and I don't know what today's occasion was but I am glad we had the chance to see this very impressive ritual.
After Mass we went to the Pilgrims' Office to get a sello (stamp) for our credenciales. We are not eligible for a Compostela certificate this time because, even though we have walked almost a hundred kilometres more than the Camino Frances, one has to walk the last 100kms from Sarria to receive the compostella. We knew this but still I must admit it kind of made me feel like an outsider, a non-finisher, even though I know differently. When we saw all the incoming pilgrims enthusiastically greeting and congratulating one another as they came into the square. I remembered how jubilant we were four years ago when we were there to welcome our own Camino pod of fellow walkers.
After a couple of tapas, we decided we had to call it an early night tonight as we will be leaving early early morning to walk to Negreira, the first of our three stages to Muxia. Time to get back into that Camino walking 'zone' or zen.

Sunday, May 26 - Pamplona to Santiago (by train)

This was an easy day of travel and every train and connection went exactly as planned, almost to the minute. We were a little concerned because the hotel in Santiago which we booked and prepaid only accepts check-ins up to 9:00pm and our train wouldn't arrive in Santiago until 9:51pm. After a few emails the hotel agreed to have someone wait for us until 10:00pm. Talk about cutting it close. The train arrived exactly on schedule, we raced to the taxi (as fast as one can race carrying a heavy backpack) and told the driver we had eight minutes to get to our hotel before the reception desk closed. We made it. Not so sure about some of the meandering pedestrians. We got to the hotel at 10:00pm on the dot. By 10:20pm we had left our bags in our hotel room and were out looking for a pintxo bar. Pintxos are obnoxious carnivorous concoctions which Dayton loves; in his mind the more bizarre the combination the better, and I humor him because he does carry my sleeping bag, poncho, toiletries and the chargers and sometimes even my wine. We found an excellent pintxo bar and over indulged. Dayton's favourite this time was a plate of grilled razor clams. I think he will be having a second serving for lunch tomorrow. We both commented on the fact that we have never been out this late on a Camino yet. Ha, we're rarely out this late ever.
Grilled Razor Clams
After the pintxos, we walked up to the elaborately magnificent Cathedral. The Cathedral was lit up highlighting the ornate detail of all the many spires. There were muscicians in local costumes playing for an audience of pilgrims and tourists, some of whom were creating their own folk dances to go with the music. Two minutes later and we were back to our hotel which is about 50 metres from the cathedral; ideal location.
Tomorrow we have nothing to do but tour Santiago and organize our Camino Muxia which we will begin walking on Tuesday. I think each stage of the Muxia walk is at least 30kms so I'm hoping to pre book accommodation. I don't want to walk 33kms and discover there are no rooms at the inn and we have to keep on walking. Dayton also wants to do the cathedral rooftop tour and maybe we'll go up to see the new Camino exhibit museum and, of course, there will be more pintxos. Dayton also intends to attend every Mass at the Cathedral until we see the bonifeira (sp) incense burner swinging.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Saturday, May 25 Part II - Pamplona

It was a crazy night in Pamplona last night. The only ones not running in the streets were the bulls. Every family within the region and all their extended family and friends must have been in the centre of town. The main plaza and all the cafés surrounding it were crowded and there wasn't a cafe seat out of thousands to be had. The main plaza was a check-in point for a Paris to Madrid Antique Car Rally and so the outer lane of the square was a line up of these antique beauties parked in the order they checked in. There were musicians, marching bands and dozens of folk dance groups, with dancers aging from five to seventy five or so, dancing in any street or square with a modicum of space and a appreciative audience available. It was so loud and so busy that it was a quite a challenge to move through the streets but so interesting and fun.
Antique Car Rally - Check-in Point - Plaza del Castillo
We watched the festivities and then scouted out a few pintxos bars for Dayton and we found some excellent ones. Dayton would describe his pintxos as amazing while I'd have other descriptors for baby squid tentacles. One pintxo was Serrano ham, chorizo sausage topped with a fried quail's egg, another was a mushroom stuffed with diced salmon and crispy prosciutto, a third was a sliced potato, Brie, topped with an anchovy, and then there was something with calamari and...well you get the picture, not any one a vegetarian's delight. At the last place though I could get fresh made churros so churros and Chardonnay was my pintxo combo. What can I say, I was hungry by that time. Dayton and I were pretty proud of ourselves too; out on the town after 8:00 pm Saturday night.
Basque Pintxo - Baby Calamari Tentacles on Toast!
Vegetarian Pintxo - Churros and Chardonnay
The Pamplona revellers partied all night, literally all night under our window. I am now up ready for breakfast and some are still out on our street, maybe winding down? They have to at some time you would think.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday, May 25 - Monreal to Puente la Reina

And we are done! Thirty five days, 875 kilometres - half of it in mud, 35 different chambre d'hôtes/gîtes/auberges/hotels and Casa Rurals, umpteen different villages (usually with every store, restaurant and bar closed) and always wearing the same clothes day after day after day (oft times they were clean).
Just to emphasize how contrary and miserable the weather has been so much of the time on this route, this morning we started out in a good rain. Fortunately we walked out of it. It was a fairly easy walk highlighted by a great surprise stop in a little town called Enériz. We seemed to have walked into a town fiesta which always turns out well. The locals were all gathered in the central square where tables were set up and bocadillas of grilled chorizo sausage or fried bacon were being handed out freely. More locals were inside the bar enjoying bottles of wine and beer and raciones of chorizo and other snacks. As Dayton had a café con leche and watched the men enjoying all these mid-morning tapas and wine, he had an epiphany. Why, when he has the guys over for drinks and appetizers, should they wait until 4:30 or 5:30pm? Why not follow the Spanish example and start mid-morning? Yes quite the epiphany!
On our way into Puente la Reina, we passed the beautiful little octagonal church at Eunate which is thought to have been connected with the Knight's Templar or possibly a chapel for pilgrims. It also has a small albergue for today's pilgrims.
A few kilometres later we were in Puente la Reina and we were done. There is always a feeling of disbelief at the end, more disbelief than relief...truly. However, our end this time will be short as we are moving on to Santiago to start one more short Camino, the way to Muxia.
Coming into Puente la Reina
We took a bus to Pamplona and have tickets for the oh so slow train to Santiago on Sunday, almost eight hours. After getting our train tickets we took a taxi back into the centre of Pamplona, checked into the first hotel we passed and now are about to go out and find Dayton some pintxos.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday, May 24 - Sangüesa to Monreal

Last night we had eleven pilgrims in the albergue and within that, seven nationalities: two Canadians, a Brit, an Italian, one young man from France, a Brazilian, one from Holland and some Spaniards. Despite the fact that last night's albergue experience was pretty good with a great communal meal and surprisingly little snoring, I am still glad that we are booked into a Casa Rural tonight in Monreal. It is our first B&B experience on Spain and so far so good. We have a lovely large private comfortable room with all the amenities; big fluffy towels, a hair dryer, heaters and demi- pensionne or here in Spain media-pensión.
Kit, Greg and I taking a break before our last two kilometres to Monreal
Today we walked anywhere from 25-29kms depending on which guidebook to tourist information one goes by. At the end of the day I always congratulate myself on walking whatever the highest mileage was, and yes by mileage I am referring to kilometres.
Dayton said he had a tough day today. We started out with over a half hour going through tall wet grass and so, despite waterproof Gortex lined boots, our feet were wet for the rest of the day. It was cold and windy all day and Dayton said he was just leg-weary and a little disappointed that where we expected to find a restaurant for a lunch break we didn't. Half the afternoon we played hop scotch through the mud but I just kept telling myself to be grateful that it wasn't raining and I was. On top of this, Dayton's boots are literally coming apart at the seams.
When we got to Monreal we did find a bar open and by bar the Spanish mean a cafe/restaurant/bar. We are not bar hopping per se just looking for a bocadilla and a tea.
Our media-pensión meal was pretty amazing tonight: hearts of romaine with crispy fried garlic salad, a hearty soup and then Dayton had stuffed calamari and I had a fried tofu with sautéed vegetables entree. Very nice.
Tomorrow is our last day on this Arles/Aragones route so we have said farewell to our other pilgrim cohorts. After 35 days of walking we will try to make our way by bus or train to Santiago and then the plan is to walk the Muxia route. We will see.

Thursday, May 23 - Ruesta to Sangüesa

Another 25 kms down and not too tough at all. Yesterday the landscape we walked through was dubbed a 'moonscape', grey and crater-like, barren and rather bleak, sort of like the badlands. Today was all moors and Meseta with a really good cold wind but a good hiking day. No rain.
The Moonscape Landscape on the way to Ruesta
Somewhere along the way, I suggested we brave an albergue again rather than go all posh, Chris' description, in a Casa Rural (Spanish style B&B). I don't know what possessed me as I am now typing in the dormitory with two world class snorers napping nearby. OMG, I'll be jamming those earplugs in tonight. We shopped for groceries and are pooling our food resources and culinary talents to prepare and share a meal tonight. After showers (not too hot and not nearly private enough), we went back into town to the tourist office and booked a hotel room for tomorrow night. I have no idea what a hotel room will be like in the next town. Monreal is a very small town and boasts an albergue that sleeps 21, a hotel with four rooms and maybe a bar. At the very least we will have a room to ourselves.
We made a huge pasta dinner with salad and lots of fruit and a sweet bread for dessert and shared it with anyone who checked on and lots of men checked in. There are beds here for 14 and we are full and I am the only female.
One of the Spanish walkers came in with some devastating news about that very exuberant and outgoing

Dario, on the right, serving his pasta. Kit, from Holland, is assisting with our hospitalero, Armand supervising.
Italian pilgrim who taken over the cooking of the meal in Arrés. Yesterday, Dario, this little chef, after he had left Arrés and was on his way up a climb towards Artieda when he collapsed from a heart attack and died. Quite a shock. So hard to believe. It is a cruel reminder that any Camino is quite a physical challenge.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Monday May 22 - Arrés to Ruesta

Last night was a true albergue experience. if you comment on the lack of sleep because of the ronquistadors (a phrase coined after the Spanish verb for snoring - roncar), you will always be informed, "It is the Camino and it is an albergue. You will get used to it". I am here to tell you, you don't. However, there are some parts of this experience that are interesting; preparing a communal meal with the other pilgrims and spending a couple of hours trying to communicate in a mixture of French, Spanish and English. A little chubby Italian pilgrim declared himself 'chef de jour' and made a pasta dish with a chorizo tomato sauce all the while officiously ensuring every other aspect of the preparations satisfied his Italian sensibilities. Times have changed on the Camino. Where once this was an opportunity to leave the real world and all it's technology behind, now the phones are going off one after the other throughout dinner. Never the phones of the Canadians though... we have a Rogers plan, it is too cost prohibitive to ever use in Europe. I hypocritically observe this as I am writing about it on my WiFi accessed iPad...but at least the iPad doesn't have an obnoxious ringtone to disrupt a meal.
Our very personable hospitalero volunteer, Armand, was up and frying bread for breakfast well before six am so we could pack up and leave early. We had almost 27 kms to walk today and, even though it was a dark threatening sky in the morning, the worst we had to deal with was a bit of spitty rain(and that's not a typo or auto-correct, it really was just spitting all morning) and a cool gusty wind. Dayton commented on the continual AFC of these walks - another flipping climb, up and down all day. I must finally be getting into the physical and mental groove now because I barely flinch when I hear that we have 27kms to walk today, I've saved that flinching for the few upcoming 31-33km days we have ahead..especially if we do the Muxia route after we finish this one this Saturday.
We are in an ancient ruin of a town, Ruesta, but it has a fairly modern albergue. The chief cook and all around keeper of the keys is a vegan and prepares only vegan or vegetarian food. We have to wait 6 hours for the evening meal to be fed but it seems whenever the Spanish pilgrims come in they can order a midday meal. Hmmm. Guess I'll go get my emergency food.. .another bag of chips.
It is a modern looking albergue but it is a cold one. We all had our fleece jackets on as we sat down to a much appreciated lentil soup. So good. Pasta with mystery protein was next, good and feeling. A very hearty meal which would produce some over indulgence guilt if not for the calorie burning walks. We just have to hope we are bur ing enough to wear this off.
It was a really quiet and uncrowded night for an albergue. Only the Dutch fellow was in our room. So all is good and we are ready for another rain threatening day. Spring has not come to Spain.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tuesday, May 21 - Jaca to Arrés

I am a trooper as in "What a trooper!" I am in an albergue in Arrés sharing a habitaciónes (a bedroom) with several other pilgrims, all men. The beds are all so close that if any one of the men snores I can probably reach over and give him a 'turn over and shush up' nudge. The washroom facilities are all shared too. There is no light in the shower so you have to leave the door open to shower so that you can find the taps, manoeuvre the shower hose and hold onto the soap. There is no heat (although I'm sure eight sleeping bodies in one room might warm it up). We did not see another pilgrim all day so I don't know where all these roommates have come from. But I am a trooper and I will 'keep calm and keep on keeping on'.
Arrés with our Albergue
We started out this morning at 7:10am with Chris and Greg, two men on a mission to see a mission or more accurately a monastery. They had decided to add a seven kilometre detour to the Camino route in order to visit the Monastère de San Juan de la Peña so they were feeling they had no time to dawdle. The monastery they planned to visit sounded quite interesting. It was in fact comprised of two monasteries, one of which might have been a hermitage devoted to St. John the Baptist by some famous hermit, Juan de Atares. The monastery dates back to 1025 and was presented to the Cluniac Benedictines and became a starting point for the spread of the Order in Spain. This was also the first monastery to introduce the Latin Mass in Spain. Dayton and I decided to visit any site that is right on the Camino route, no detours, no side trips, especially not a seven kilometre detour two ways so we waved Chris and Greg goodbye as they headed into the highlands and we kept on the low route.
The landscape has changed dramatically from the high, snow capped mountains to a low lying river valley, the Rio Aragone farming valley. The Camino way markers were very confusing and frustrating today. We'd see a marker stating 810kms to Santiago then 37 minutes later we'd see another marker 810 kms to Santiago and we were walking for all of those 37 minutes, not taking a break. We saw three 809 km markers about 15 minutes apart, then no 808 marker and again three 807 markers. I felt like I was standing still but I am a trooper so keep on keeping on.
Dayton had another half yard long bocadillo break in Santa Cilia de Jaca and then we continued on to Puente la Reina. Now Puente la Reina is the name of the town at the end of our Camino Arles/ Aragone but once again someone has changed the goalposts. Our Puente la Reina is still a 30km a day, five day walk from here. No complaints. I am now in the walking zone. We did pass one interesting section where there were hundreds of stone pilgrim cairns like a stone fairy or pilgrim garden.

Ten minutes after Puente la Reina, we reached the cut off for Arrés, our destination for this evening. The sign to Arrés indicated 3.5kms but neglected to mention that it was 3.5 kms straight up - a muddy, mucky path. It certainly challenged my 'trooper' status. Aargh, there was a quite seething mental running commentary describing this path and I don't think I was the only one muttering and mumbling about the mud but the 'trooper' prevailed.
There are a couple of blessings here; a bar/ restaurant that stays open and serves food and beverages (as in wine, beer and fries) all day. I will be a trooper. Maybe not. One our our albergue roomies, a guy from Italy, just came in to share a drink with us and he's already apologizing for being a very obnoxious snorer. I am a trooper. I am a trooper. I am a trooper. I will kill him.