Friday, December 19, 2008

Day 31, Olveiroa to Fisterre, Spain Oct. 10

My last day of a 550 mile walk across northern Spain on the Way of St. James Pilgrimage.
21 miles, hilly along the coast. 8 am to 2:30 pm.

Going to the Coast of Death, as it is known for the many shipwrecks off this coast. 1987 was the last shipwreck.

Dip in the sea at the first chance I get. Take off boots and socks and jump in in all my clothes. It is warm and feels good. Everything dries after walking another half an hour.
The villages are charming. There are fishermen repairing their nets in their yards.

Check into the last hostel, 3 Euros and receive my certificate for reaching the coast. It is colorful. Wash my clothes, have a beer and a siesta. Pick up cheese and bread and jam at the market.
Stop by the local castle San Carlos, which is now a fishing museum.
Then walk 3 more miles to the cape where the lighthouse is.
Watch the sunset.
Now the walk feels really over.
A Dane passes out wine in little cups.
There is a fire and we burn something. The Dane walked from Denmark and burns his socks. I write something on a piece of paper and it goes in the fire.
My legs turn to lead. It is really over.
My emotions are mixed. I loved it all and am glad to be going home. But I will miss all the friends I made.

The we walk 3 miles back to town, Fisterre, in the dark. I have a very nice dinner of seafood chowder and bread.
I am finished!

Tomorrow I will stay another day in Fisterre to enjoy the sea, and  another sunset on the cape. Then on Oct. 13 I take the bus back to Santiago. On October 14 I fly from Santiago to London. October 15 I fly from London to Seattle, where I stay with my children for a few days before returning to Eugene, Oregon. It was a fabulous adventure.

Day 30, Negreira to Olveiroa, Spain Oct 9

21 miles, hilly, breezy, beautiful walking through villages and countryside

Walk out of cloud covered valley at 8:15 am.
Dairy farms with huge stone barns and houses. Old women herding big blonde dairy cows.
Lemon trees with ripe lemons
Traditional dresses, shoes on women. with a cotton dress that sraps around to the front, like an over-all apron. Very few women in the country wear pants and NONE of the older woman wear pants.

Old stone grainery supports are used for tables at a roadside cafe. Pilgrims stop for beer and coffee.
There is a youth group from Portugal walking the pilgrim route with their priest and several other adults, probably parents.

Hostel is 3 euros. Again, this town does not have enough beds for the many pilgrims and some are in tents.

I got my hair cut and colored for 24 Euros with a gift of bright pink lipstick. I put it on and feel a little more feminine. My wardrobe has been the same outfit, one hiking outfit for day, the other black t-shirt and capris for evening, since August 22, when I left for England. Plus I have a rain jacket and pants and black silk pants and tops for layering and sleeping in. It is nice and light to carry.

Day 29, Santiago to Negreira, Spain Oct. 8, 2008

12 miles, 850 ft. descent, 1,150 ascent in rolling countryside. 9 am to 1:30 pm

The first three hours are lightly foggy.
Leave Santiago on an ancient footpath through vineyards,
farms woods of holly and eucalyptus, which is fragrant.
The modern suburbs are dimly above and separate from the trail.
Scarecrow in a cornfield.
Black grapes in vineyards.

Stone walls and iron gates of Negreia, a medieval fortress.

The hostel is in an old stone farm house, with additional bunks in the stables, which are clean, but the doors are only gates. Fortunately, a French pilgrim got in early and saved me a bunk inside. There are not nearly enough beds in this village and later pilgrims must continue 6 miles farther. Some are sleeping on the floor of the stable, where it is cold.

I meet Pam, a young Canadian woman I met the first night in France at St. Jean-Pied Pont and we share our stories. Along the way, she has fallen in love with another Canadian, who lives only three hours away by plane. At dinner I meet the two other couples they are friends with, all whom met on the trail for the first time. Some are French, German and Italian. There is another Japanese woman with them. The Italian wants to know what I think of Obama, a question I am often asked on the pilgrimage.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 28, Monte de Gozo to Santiago, Spain

about 3 miles into Santiago, all downhill to the city boundary.

Through the modern suburb, into the old medieval town.
Following the yellow arrows and the shell, the Pilgrim's symbol of resurrection or new life.
It is on the sidewalk, the lamp post, a special post. Sometimes it is yellow paint, or perhaps a bronze shell embedded in the sidewalk. It changes as we go through regions of Spain.

Walking into the city, I separate myself from the other pilgrims, wanting to be alone.

Today I feel the love of those in my life who have already passed into eternal life.

Arriving at the cathedral, I go in and it is the 9:30 am mass.
The huge altar piece covers the entire front and sides. Top to bottom angels and figures gilded in gold. It is like the angels paused for a moment, were caught and cast into gold mid-flight. Flitting away, their figure was cast, but their spirit moved on. The mass is Spanish or Latin, but the priests in red or white long, garments were impressive.

The three finger salute, the thumb and next two fingers, are the blessing of the pope. We see it in some statutes and wave it to other pilgrims.

After mass I find the office where I stand in a short line to receive my certificate of completing the pilgrimage, which have been issued for over 1,000 years to pilgrims. I am thrilled, more so than I would have imagined.

The mass for pilgrims is at noon, so I have breakfast and coffee and attend that. The church is filled with pilgrims. The priests name the countries we are from and blesses us. I am beginning to feel Catholic!

Stay on the third floor of the Seminario Menor for 10 Euros. Just inside the medieval town, on a hill overlooking the valley. It is a spectacular building and must have been a seminary.

I spend the afternoon resting, sketching in my journal, washing clothes as per usual, visiting with other pilgrims. One of them goes out and finds the way out of town for tomorrow's hike, which is not easy, and is kind enough to pass on the information.

Having arrived a week before my plane reservation to London, then home. I decide to walk to the coast, the end of the known medieval world. I was sure I would need days off and be exhausted. But I am excited and ready to walk 55 more miles in 3 days. It is not flat.

Day 27, Arzua to Monte de Gozo, Spain, 2008

22 miles, 656 ft. ascent, on rolling terrain, with 1,000 ft. descent

Walked fast with Patrick from Sweden all day. We walked and talked and entertained each other. Had lunch then dinner together and it was pleasant.
Although I did think it strange, as he promised I would, that he brought his medium along, one went in front and one behind him. 

Passed a village with an outside stone oven.
Silver tanker trucks collect milk from the many dairy farms. One is labeled Nestle.
Footpaths through small villages
Through eucalyptus woods.

Excited to reach Santiago in the morning. Sad that the adventure is nearly come to an end.
Stayed in the Monte de Gozo hostel for 3 Euros. It is new and nice.
Dinner for 7 Euros of salad, pork chops, french fries and the almond cake with the Santiago cross or emblem on top, made from sprinkled powdered sugar. Patrick highly recommended it.

Day 26, Palas dei Rei to Arzua, Spain Oct 5, 2008

17 miles. 1,350 ft. ascent, 1,300 ft. descent. 8:30 am to 2 pm

Clear blue skies, crisp and breezy. Perfect for walking in my long-sleeve shirt.
Now in the Galacia region, where James the Apostle of Jesus, preached the Gospel for 30 years. This is documented evidence. After 30 years he went back to visit Rome, where they remembered him and beheaded him. Tale is his bones washed on the Spanish coast at Muxia, and are now at the cathedral in Santiago. It's a longer story than this, of course.

Acorns fall about me in the breeze.
Yellow leaves herald the beginning of fall.
Blossoms of purple heather with yellow gorse blooms amongst them, much like England and Ireland.
Etched in concrete or an outdoor, common laundry structure for the village hand washing is the date 1987. A small stream is directed through it.
Yellow arrows guide pilgrims to Santiago.  They are every 20 to 50 feet, perhaps on a fence, the road, a rock, a telephone pole. It is great entertainment looking for them, hoping I did not miss one.  But I do occasionally and a local person shouts to me and waves me in the other direction. I am sure I provide great entertainment for them.

Day 25, Portomarina to Palas Dei Rei, Spain Oct. 4

14 miles, 1,350 ascent, 400 ft. descent.

Beautiful day of walking. I feel so good and love my new boots.
Traditional woven and thatched corn crib for maize
Working windmills creak.

Invited into a caravan camper for tea by Englishman John Frances, a trail angel offering aid, water, tea or temporary or permanent travel companion!!!! Later when visiting with another pilgrim, we compared notes and she was offered the same. He has been trolling the El Camino for eight years and people have written about the aid he offered to them on the trail and photographed him. He is almost a fixture, but one with a mission.  He was still looking for his travel companion when I left him, in case you are wondering.

Stayed in a new albergue, built by the local municipality, for 3 Euros. The pilgrim menu of salad, boiled potatoes and fried fish and flan was delicious as always. 9 Euros.

Day 25, Barbadelo to Portomarna, Spain, Oct. 3, 2008

12 miles, 1,700 ascent and 2,000 descent. 8 am to 12:30 pm

Cool, lovely walking day.
Crowing roosters
Hamlets of old stone farms
Wicker corn crib with thatched roof
Stone corn cribs, raised on stone pillars
Tiny chapels
Clucking hens
Vegetable gardens
Traditional dress of locals, all women wear skits, with smocks over them.
Ripe, green acorns fall on me occasionally.
Ripe blackberries, just like I pick in Oregon.

The French pilgrim hands me a nectarine gift as I sketch on the trail and he passes me by. We have been leap-frogging down the trail for days now.

Stayed in Pension Manuel for 20 Euros. A friendly older couple welcomed me, showed me the cooking stove in the cement patio. The sheets are threadbare and I share a bathroom. But no one else comes, so it is all mine.  I buy chicken, spaghetti and salad makings at the market and fix my own dinner. Had later afternoon wine at a bar, a glass for 80 cents.

Day 24, Triacastle to Barbadelo, Spain, Oct. 2, 2008

15 miles, not much ascent, mostly easy descent on ancient paths lined with chestnut trees.
7:50 am to 4 pm

Fabulous day of walking.
Beautiful, green country looks like England.  
Met Wilson again, good visit with Wilson about life.
The stone pathway, called a corredoira, is lined with ancient, huge chestnuts and oaks.

In Paiscais, a tiny village, I stopped to relax, eat, and stroll through the graveyard surrounding the church.  It was here that the unbidden and somehow fascinating thought came to me, "When I die, I will be tired of my body. I won't miss it." I had just never thought about my death like that.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 23, Las Herrerias to Triacastle, Spain. Oct. 1

16 miles, 1,300 feet ascent and descent. 7:30 am to 3:30 pm

Begin with a steep grade along a stream.
Emerald green fields, trees along the stream. Cows taken out to graze for the day by an older man or woman. 
Another day of walking with Roberto. "Good companions make short miles."
His girlfriend is still calling to complain about the cold weather in Italy, where she has moved to study.  But his phone is going on the blink. Hopefully, soon it will quit working altogether.
Over the pass in a mist. Coffee break in an ancient village. Order something on the menu and it turns out to be a wonderful egg sandwich. Two thick slabs of brown bread with scrambled eggs, cooked solid, in the middle. It is delicious, but I can only eat half and take the other half for a snack later.
Stone houses with slate roofs.
Down into an alpine valley with chestnut woods.
Through farmyards guarded by German Shepard dogs. The dogs are not tied and pay no attention to us.
Recognize many pilgrims and meet new ones. Conversations start out the same, Where are you from? When and where did you start? Then when we know each other better, Why are you walking hundreds of miles to Santiago, Spain? 

I will walk 555 miles before I am done. I enjoy walking and like to experience a country and the culture on my two feet.

Hostal is 3 Euros, in a new facility along the stream. The priest runs it and has a special mass to pray for pilgrims at 7 pm, which I attend. I am continually surprised at how touching these are. 
Dinner at a small cafe is 8 Euros for salad, french fries, pork, flan for dessert and a beaker of local wine.  

Day 22, Cacabelos to Los Herrerias, Sept 30, 2008

17 miles, 1, 500 ft. ascent, 8 am to 3 pm

Gorgeous fall day with blue skies. Leaves are starting to turn to yellows and reds.
Climbing into the Sierra de Ancares mountains.
Women in peasant garb in trucks going out to pick grapes, wearing peasant scarves and dresses.
In the mountains a woman in a traditional black dress, scarf, tanned and weathered face herding big blonde milk cows with bells around their necks. Nice sounds.

Coffee break at 10 am in Villafranca over looking a river with an arched Roman bridge, castle, churches and medieval village. Sit in the sun with my new walking companion, a young Spaniard named Roberto. He walks fast also and we enjoy the day visiting about life, his girlfriend he is trying to forget. But she calls him on his cell phone several times to complain about her new life as a student in Italy. He looks totally miserable. Some young women, beautiful pilgrims, try to engage him in conversation at coffee and he is only polite to them. 

Instead of choosing the route along the bottom of the valley, we go up into the mountain and descend about six miles. Beautiful chestnut forests on top, with some great views. An elderly woman herding her milk cows.

Stay in the tiny village of Las Herrerias. Hostel is 5 Euros. There are only 5 Pilgrims here but one man snores outrageously loud. Fortunately, he went to sleep in another room. Dinner of a mixed salad, three delicious fried fish, probably sardines, cheesecake and wine for 7.5 Euros.

Day 21, El Acebo to Cacabelos, Spain, Sept. 29

18 miles, 1,300 ft. descent, 8:15 am to 5 pm  I buy NEW BOOTS.

The view down the mountain into Ponferrada from the Leon mountains is spectacular.
It feels schizophrenic to walk from the "time stood still" village yesterday into a town with two nuclear power plant stacks today, only 11 miles away.

Walking down into Ponferrada, an medieval town with a large cobblestone shopping area, I find a sport shop.  But their boots feel narrow and the toe box seem small.  Yesterday an Australian couple recommended Keen boots and sandals, which had solved their foot problems. While perched on a stone water trough for animals in the mountains, I had been dipping my feet in the icy water while enjoying the sunshine. And getting a little siesta as other pilgrims walked by in amusement. They stopped to rest and chat about life. Which is one thing I love on this trip.

Coming into Ponferrada, I take a detour route to visit a Roman spring. It is still encased in the Roman's quarried stone and kept as a historical site. Plus I avoid an area of ugly suburban sprawl, instead entering through vineyards and older, charming homes with vegetable gardens and a few horses.

Surprising me as I come around a corner in Ponferrada, is a spectacular castle of the Knights of the Templar.  After the crusades to Jerusalem were over, they came here to guard the Pilgrim Way of St. James and protect the pilgrims from bandits and landowners who tried to make they pay to cross their lands. It looks like a movie set with a moat, flags flying and turrets.

In the pedestrian shopping area window shop, passing stores of the latest fashion, and catching my reflection of a hiker with a pack and shade hat in the window. Fashion is the farthest thing from my mind. I am after new boots.  Finally there is a shoe shop of cheap shoes and in the back are cheap hiking boots. They have lots of flex in the sole, a high top and I get the size 10 for only 31 Euros. The women helping me speak no English and my little Spanish is not helpful, but it works. My size 8 boots, with the heel now worn down, go in their garbage. 

Leaving town through the modern suburb on the street El Liberty with a plaza named Marteo Luthero King Jr. reminds me America's struggles for freedom and justice affects the whole world. Stop for a siesta on a park bench beside a cemetery. Pass through many vineyards and popular groves. Flat walking on shaded sidewalks through sleepy villages and flat countryside.
Nine miles in my boots and I feel much, much better.

All locals give or return a greeting of Hola or Beunos Dias. Heads tip up, instead of down, in greeting. 

Stay at an old farm, now a very nice touristy accommodation for conventions, but I am charmed, tired and willing to pay to stay. The farm implements, from threshers to spinning wheels are displayed. Plus I get to see how the farm houses were set up. Big wooden and stone walls encircle a barnyard,  gardens and outside living area.  Plus they restored the traditional round stone dwelling with thatched roof. Food is local and hardy. Empanada of pie dough filled with potato and ham, served with local wine when checking in and again at dinner. More boiled potatoes for dinner, a salad and thick pork steaks and flan for dessert. Visit with two German pilgrims at dinner. They just met and are from adjoining villages.  While the room is very nice, I don't sleep better than in a dormitory and miss the companionship.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 20, Murias to El Acebo, Sept. 28, 2008

19 miles, 1,300 ft. ascent and 1,000 ft. descent on trails through countryside and forested mountain. 

Blue skies, nice trails, some road.
This is Maragato country of Celtic origins. The people are Maragato, one of the four ethnic groups. One Pilgrim remarks the buildings look like those in the Lake District in England and I agree. Probably they came from that area of the world, being Celtic.

I pass into the Leon region. The dogs have changed, now they are the big yellow Leon Mastiff guard dogs. As big as and similar to a St. Bernard. They are all loose, but they ignore everyone, and simply watch the sheep closely.  One wanders down the main street of a village and a local man tries to move her to one side, without success. She wanders off and looks like she has puppies somewhere.

Black, short hair dogs work the sheep while the Mastiffs sit and watch them all.

Pass through a village of most ruins, some have old thatched roofs.
Big, blonde milk cows in the field with a ruin of a large, stone arch, now free standing.

Pass an old man carrying a bundle of sticks on his back.
As one Pilgrim put it, Time has stood still here.
There is a traditional round house of stones with a thatched roof.

Stay at the first place I came to in El Acebo, a casa rural for 35 Euros.  Very charming with a porch and spectacular view over the valley. And beer in the fridge. Wander down into the village for dinner, 10 Euros.  Ordered the local dish of chick peas with a green leafy vegetable grown locally, potatoes and a round bundle of salty pork parts wrapped in skin, called Bierzo and lemon mousse.  They are very proud of this local dish.  It was enough to stuff me and I eat a lot. All dinners include all the local wine you can drink. Water costs extra!
Visit with Norweigns and Aussies at dinner.