Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cape Finisterre

Today is truly my last day's walking the Camino. I will be reaching the end today. This is it. So not wanting to rush into my day I had a leisurely breakfast in Sardiñeiro with Niall and Oonagh before leaving at a very acceptable time and with ample blue skies. Given the forecast was for rain we were particularly delighted. And so we happily saundered up and over the hill for our final descend into Finisterre. From the top of the ridge we could already see Finisterre, and Mobte Fache, the hill behind it  clearly, a beautiful sight, the end of our journey lies there.

It was a steep track that took us to a beach which was to be our final approach to Finisterre. A quick photo before we start the beach walk;

The beach was full of litter. In 2003 this beach was covered in oil after the Prestige oil tanker sank and broke up. Within a year of the spill the very successful cleanup had made these beaches amongst the cleanest in Europe, but by the looks of it that is now passed tense. We saw a dead dolphin, dead seabirds, a dead rat,... Signs of civilisation??

But none the less, it was pretty cool walking along the beach. The actual yellow arrows of the Camino were on a parallel track, but on a day this nice we had to walk the beach.
In accordance with dubious tradition Niall and I had to quickly do the pagan thing, skinny dip in the Atlantic. We decided not to burn our cloths here, a recent tradition. Timid is everything, as we had barely regained our modesty  two women came walking up the beach yelling my name. It was Sarah and Anna. Both had walked with Karina, and Sarah I had met in Burgos where she joined 'our family'. She had also added the FitBit app to her phone so I could sync my FitBit occasionally. This means I could now sync it again for the study. The FitBit is a fancy electronic pedometer which I have worn the entire trip for a cystic fibrosis  related study correlating well being with activity. I can see my position in the field of 30 participants and I am on top of the leader board no matter which way you look at it. It was probably not expected anyone would walk 900 kilometres during the study!
In Finisterre we all found respective accommodation, me in a little hotel, the others In an Alberge, before meeting again for lunch. During this time we ran into various familiar faces again that we were pleased to see. They included Kerry, Charlene, Ken, Birgitta, Claire,... Why always so many women! Harden up men, the Camino needs you!
After lunch many of them took the 3pm bus back to Santiago. So glad I just saw them, total coincidence, or was it???? The Camino 'provides' we say. Below is Sarah and Anna before jumping on the bus.

And Charlene....

And Kerry....

Come 4pm we all had enough lunch and beer to go for a walk. I made a head start, assuming the others would catch me. But without a pack it was sooo much easier walking up the hill, it was virtually effortless. Not a huge hill, just a 3-4km slow rise, but heck it felt like it was downhill all the way. Wearing my five fingers I glided up to the lighthouse on the cape.

Just past the light house is where people had attempted to burn cloths, and other just left belongings. There were quite a few people here, many were tourists I am sure. I should've left my watch - it keeps stopping.
I walked around and contemplated, shed a tear, gazed across the Atlantic with glassy eyes as the sun starting setting. When the temperature dropped a little I withdrew to the licensed facility on top for a scotch. They poured me half a bottle of 12 year old Chivas as per usual, for €3.50 and I checked in on Facebook....  A monumental check-in!!
Eventually the other punters caught up; here is Claire our resident drug and alcohol counselor from Melbourne with Oonagh and Niall. We drank wine and were soon joined by others. Even Deede texted me to say she had arrived and would be making her way up for sunset. So I checked for her a few times, one of the times I found Birgitta from Sweden wondering around. Eventually Deede showed up with a friend. Deede also walked it, in three days. Pretty amazing. Big day for her today. With the cape walk it would've been 40kms she covered before finding her fartsack.
We ended up having some Irish coffees and beers in the cafe before calling a cab after dark. No cabs. So we all walked back to Finisterre, downhill... Burgers and beer marked the end of this mega day, the end of my Camino, the start of a new life!

Oh did I mention the proposal we witnessed on the edge of this earth? This couple were surprised by these musos who gave the woman some beautiful flowers and then did their thang. The man went down on his knees,... And they will obviously live happily ever after.

It was past midnight by the time I got to bed. Mission complete. Bus to Santiago tomorrow, then train to Madrid the next day and off to Dubai that same night. And life goes on PC - Life Post Camino. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

End of earth is nigh

Ahhh, how nice to have a good sleep! The extra hour of winter time (the clocks changed back!) did wonders. I seemed to have a leisurely morning, even had a shower, and went down for breakfast. There was a group of peregrines I hadn't really met there yet, except seen in the past few days, including here for dinner last night. I assumed they'd also been here for the night. No, they had stayed in the Alberge, but came here to eat. They listened to my CF spiel and took the postcards, and I had breakfast with them.
And this is how I met Niall and Oonagh, English teachers who had been teaching in Spain for three years, and were finishing off with the Camino. Birgitta from Sweden and Claire from Melbourne. A Camino formed family. Claire went off to scout ahead, and the other three asked if I'd walk with them. I told them I'd walk the flats with them but they shouldn't wait for me on the uphills. I said I'd see them in the next cafe. But no, these perigrines were sincere and actually waited for me regularly to catch up. They even stopped in the cafe for a coffee and drink, Niall even enjoying a morning beer (USA/Scottish heritage). My style of walking.
The track went straight up the hills, particularly pleasant track, muddy and rocky and no traffic. And the rain started same time we did. We passed a cool patch of track covered in green stones. We all picked one up to take home: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenstone_belt

The rain and wind picked up to the point where I said this was the worst I'd had on the Camino. But Niall told me that on the Meseta they had the worst of rain we got today for 6 hours straight with winds 5x harder. Perhaps I was lucky... I must also say my memory only ever remembers happy events.

After noon we started seeing patches of coast in the distance, whenever the clouds gave us a gap. And there it was, the Atlantic Ocean! And there is Cee, the town we are heading for down there, with the hamlets of  Corcubion and Opcion on the other side.  

A steep track took us down to the towns, and we soon found a cafe for a late lunch. To get there we walked through one cafe with very surprised people who watched us squeeze through their narrow cafe. We entered it thinking it might be nice, walked through to the other side, where there was another entry, and decided it wasnt that nice and exited. There had been nothing for 12 kilometres since our last coffee stop. I had every intention of staying in Cee, but decided that I could walk a bit further yet. My ankle had been hurting all day for some reason, but all my other ailments had vanished. I blame the beer with lunch for me wanting to carry on with Niall and company.

Below is Oonagh on her way down the steep slippery road down to Cee.
And the dead centre of Cee, overlooking the bay.

Here I am following Birgitta out of town, up the next 100+m hill. Good company sure makes walking easy.

We are getting so close to Finsterra now, it is scary. Even the cat is trying to tell us something. It didn't like the miaowing sound my camera makes when I turn it on or take a photo (yes, customisable sounds). 
And here we are walking into the county of Fisterra. The town is still 10km away or so, but this sure looks pretty good to me!

Niall and Oonagh decided to find a hotel 7km before Fisterra and walk in tomorrow, and I certainly was ready to call it a day. It was almost 6pm and we'd done about 25kms.  It all seemed easy, but my ankle was really quite sore. We found a beautiful little hotel with a pizza restaurant below it; Pension Nicola in Sardiñeiro. Pizza and beer for dinner! 

Rebecca and the gang posted in Facebook they took an excursion to Finisterre today and saw the spot where dirty pilgrims jump in the sea and burn their stuff. That'll be me tomorrow, yeah!! Oh, and I got messages from Sauffie who seems to be heading to Finisterre as well, and Charlene got there today. Maybe we'll see Joke there. Who knows!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Gumtrees? Nope, it's an entire Dry Sclerophyll region!

Despite having proper cotton fitted sheets and a room on my own I still didn't sleep that well. Weird isn't it. No place like home! First I was cold, then with a second blanket I was sweating,.... Anyways, woke up relatively early and was aiming to get on the road by 730 for the potentially 30+ km day ahead. Charlene left about 715 and I finally left at 8am in search of breakfast. Good thing I had some yoghurt and a banana as nothing was open this Saturday morning. It was dark for almost an hour as I slogged up the first hill on a wet narrow forest path on search of hot coffee in the next village. Next Sunday summertime in Spain ends and we will have light in the morning.

Rains came and went and came and went regularly, the path was seriously wet, like a river in places. Glad my shoes are awesome. Gumtrees everywhere, this is crazy. Not like the plantation style patches I saw before Santiago, this truly is like home!

I hit a few villages over the next few hours, but none had signs of life. Nothing to do with it being a weekend either, these villages were merely bunches of homes without shops/cafés. The map i have actually tells me if there is coffee, but would I believe the map? I stopped for muesli bars, nuts, chocolates and lollies. A handful of peregrines overtook me during the morning. Not too many, and most I didn't know and most were Spanish or non-English speaking at least.
Then I finally came to the village that had a cafe. It was noon by now. I had eggs and bacon, a couple of coffees and a bottle of water. Replenished my kamelpak, I don't like carrying two litres, so just put in enough for half a day. The barman always looks a little surprised when I ask for a glass of water and our it into my backpack and ask for another two glasses...

And just then Charlene appears. She had taken a wrong turn. Same wrong turn that had me fooled, but I did a quick number two in an adjoining paddock whilst I was well off track. Always take advantage of opportunities when you see them. John from Cyprus and his Taiwanese women was in the cafe as well, and a Danish lady I'd seen a few times before, you certainly can't get away unnoticed on the Camino, even on the way to Fisterre! I told Charlene I'd stop again in the town where I might stop for the night in Santa Mariña, 7kms away, but she said she was definitely going for the 30kms today, all the way to Olveiroa. 
The narrow stone huts used for drying corn are looking older and older. I wonder how many have collapsed and buried a human. Some you see half collapsed! Wind turbines are dotted all over the countryside again. Every time I see them like in the photo below I believe it will be downhill soon, but that wasn't exactly the case. Maybe the track just follows the ridges.
I stopped at Casa Pepa in Santa Mariña for 'lunch' at about 3pm, and despite a fair number of punters seemingly stopping there I decided to have a beer and carry on. Not sure it was wise, but what else can you do in these tiny hamlets all afternoon.

The track continued, following more and more roads, bunches of dogs everywhere, many German shepherds, and many loose. They bark at you, then come up for a pet. I assume if they were biters they wouldn't be loose, and barking dogs don't bite... I know Charlene is a little worried abut them as she got bitten in San Francisco whilst running. I expect her to be ahead, so I might hear her scream if she gets bitten.
The weather keeps on being threatening, but the wind is great and the worst of the rains seemed to avoid me. Come 7pm, well not much change from 7 anyways, I was exhausted when I finally pulled into Olveiroa. I even wore the Vibrams for the last 10kms, despite mainly being wet road. It is a pleasant change to my sore feet and joints. These barefoot runners just make you land on your joints slightly differently so it is nice to have the change.

Located and booked into a perfect little hotel called As Pias with apparently the nicest restaurant. I first had a beer, but needed a shower before dinner. Everyone there had arrived much earlier, like 3pm!!!  Ken from Scotland didn't recognise me I'm pretty sure and I didn't recognised the rest of his company, I spoke to Kerry who was waiting for her French walking partner for the day. The Frenchman asked if I wanted to join them for dinner but I had to go unpack and shower first. On my sore sticks that was not going to be a quick affair. With beer in hand I drooped off to my upstairs room and cleaned up. I had some tea later on my own and disappeared for an early night. Charlene is at the Albergue; she is a bean counter at home, so the spending money in hotels registers more with her than it does for me. No seriously, I can ill afford it too, but I can even less afford to get sick these last few long days of walking. Best spend a couple of dollars extra for a warm comfy room. And seriously, it is not that super expensive anyways at €35 for the night. I put it in the travel insurance budget!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Now what?

Waking up a after a long deep sleep in a hotel room alone with proper sheets and blankets, after a shower with a real towel (and not my minimal travel chamois)... you feel so good that you could do it all again.

Flippantly I google Santiago to Finisterre and immediately come upon the latest travel maps that show it can now be done in 4 comfy days, and no need for the three big 30km+ days... What was I going to do before my flight on Wednesday in any case. I checked my options of being a tourist, joining Karina and Mark for a bit on their road trip, go to a beach somewhere, visit Madrid.... The thought of walking casually for another four days, suddenly seemed quite viable. Specially when it turns out some other Camino family friends are also doing it and planning on the 4 days.

Time for the 12 o'clock mass in the cathedral. Apparently they call out the number of pilgrims form each country. It is a nice mass, a nun sings beautifully, her hand articulating her song high up in the air. It is a small spectacle. All in Spanish I think, but occasionally I recognise other languages. It is very full, many people standing up, it is very touristy. There are three masses a day like this perhaps and on Fridays they swing the big incense bucket through the church. That'd be cool, but if I walk tomorrow I won't see that. I think that is a sacrifice I'm willing to make as I get up from my hard pew after the service. I walk around the cathedral and see the people queuing to see st james and some other saints. I am not religious enough to consider doing that.

after recovering from the service i have lunch with Charlene and Joke and their Camino family, Steve, Joanne,... And Charlene said she'd consider walking too! Joke is determined to go, as her friends wouldn't be impressed by walking from the French Pyrenees to a church in Spain, but they would be if she walked form the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean! I kind of agree. And so by the end of the day I too decide I need to go! If I leave tomorrow and take four days, catch bus back to Santiago, train to Madrid the following morning it will all work with my schedule.

Now I needed to  look for a place to recharge my phone for the next week as i have no credit and internet left. During my day I found I where where I could recharge my Digi prepaid phone, only for all the major phone brands. Even the post office and the tobacconist, places that recharge most phone services  couldn't do it. so in the end I bought a Vodaphone sim for the last week, which means another phone number. I was glad to also buy a quality earphone for my phone, as the old one had died. I like listening to podcasts through two ears! 

Next I try to get in touch with Carlene and Kathleen for dinner, but they had eaten already and were in their hotel. As I tried to find their hotel my phone ran out of Internet; no maps. Then I  found Jo, Lynda and Rebecca having dinner and told them the news and said my farewells. They didn't talk me out of my plan to walk. As I roamed the old town Karina spotted me and pulled me into a bar with her in laws and Mark, and plied me with beer before going for dinner. I told them my plan. They also didn't try talk me out of it. After dinner we visited a bar for one more drink, a Spanish sized whiskey. After that whiskey I was ready to walk again, through the night if need be! Bed time!

In the middle of the night a storm wakes me up, I close the hotel window and take my now wet stuff from under it, put a towel down to absorb the puddle, my feet are aching... A very productive neb morning neb session reassures me that I am doing the right thing to walk, as non activity doesn't go well with my lungs!

I have breakfast with Karina's clan and say farewell, Sineade walks in with her cousin and we say our farewells. She smells all nice and clean now, and has pretty band aids around her nail-less big toes. 

Next i book a first class train ticket to Madrid , one that is least likely to crash. Plane schedules were not suitable and much to expensive on this short a notice, so first class seemed a worthy alternative. Especially as I would be flying to polluted Dubai and need to make sure I stay well before the flight and not catch anything in a crowded train.

And at 10am I walk past the Parador hotel where many friends are having breakfast including Joke. I received a message earlier from Joke to say  that she  decided to leave a day later. I can't text her back. When I changed to my vodaphone sim and tried texting both Joke and Charlene my new number I couldn't even do that. Seems the vodaphone service can't sent  texts to  international numbers. What a pain, I only have their international numbers. Later on I find out that international texts are 60c each and my €10 bought me 20 minutes local calls, 20 local text messages and 500MB data, leaving me no further credit. Whoops. I can't even receive their messages now if they text to my old number. I can't swap sims whilst walking in the rain. Me and my sim fetishes,... I hope Joke will find out that I am out if communicado. She might think I am upset with her for postponing as I am it replying to her anymore.

One last glimpse of the cathedral in the rain, drop off my bag at the nearby hotel  where my meds bag got dropped yesterday... That was a story,... The hotel reception spoke to the bar where my bag was, 5kms away, and somehow it was arranged they'd drop the bag off at this nearby little hotel. I picked up my bag there a bit later and immediately reserved a room for my last night before train/flying out. Amazing how I was reunited with my bag again. 

And 1030am I finally left Santiago proper!

This is the lane way down from the cathedral past the Parador, to where my next hotel is and how one leaves for Finisterre. It appears it is now called Fisterre, I hope it is the same place. In any case I am following the signs! 

A Friendly New York accented perigrine walking with two South Korean ladies passes me up a hill as I grunt a Buen Camino to them. He replies asking me if I am South African or Australian... Not a bad guess I tell him. South African can easily be confused as a Dutch accent, and I am both Dutch and Australian. A bit later the rain has stopped and he is helping the ladies with their gear and I overtake him. I tell him he was pretty spot on. You have asthma he asks me.... Most people assume I have a cough from rain and cold, but again he nailed that one pretty much, even though asthma and CF aren't exactly the same thing. Just then Charlene comes up the track. I can't believe this, I left so late! She had breakfast at the Parador with the others. 
Pretty scenery on the way out, and a last glimpse of the cathedral,...

When we find a place to stop for coffee and snacks we find Kerry from Seattle there. So she's also doing it! No crowds now, just the people I know, the people that left Santiago late!
Charlene and I continue to Negreira, and find an Alberge at Chancela the town just before it. It is a nice modern Alberge where Charlene gets a private room and I pay for dorm bed. We both get towels and sheets, fitted sheets, and heck they are even properly folded (who folds fitted sheets properly??), this is great. What is even better, probably because the nice lady read my postcard, I too got a private room! 

The laundry facilities are fantastic, commercial grade complete with detergent. Our combined laundry is done for €5, and the drier got it dry before dinner. Sure enough there is an elevator and WiFi. If this is how the four days will continue I will be very pleased. 

If tomorrow is a good day we might even do 30+. I personally doubt it as my foot is still quite sore, but who knows. Never say never. The forecast is good.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Big Day!!

The whole night I've been up listening to the rain. Lying in the top bunk in an empty dorm again, climbing down for about 4 loo stops during the night wondering why I picked the top one again. Wondering about all the people in my team, my new Camino family, how out of the gazillion people I still remember 193 names clearly (remembering names is one of my primary weaknesses!). I question why people communicate, why they don't, ponder on personalities, why people need space, or why some people just need people. But in any case rain or no rain, today I'm walking in! I told a few people I'd be arriving about 4pm, maybe I was thinking the dutch brass band could get time to get organised (I kid you not this happened purely by accident in Turkey after cycling Paris to Istanbul; go read the book www.coughingthedistance.com!

Although the Alberge was relatively big, say 100 beds or so, I heard very little from my mini private dorm and assumed no one wanted to walk to Santiago in the rain. It was 7pm when the lights came on automatically (!). I packed up and was out in the drizzle at 830pm.

On leaving town there was a nice long downhill forest path, which made for  peasant dawn walking. A few kilometres later I noticed very black clouds quickly approaching. It was clear a Nescafé sponsored stop was imminent, this was confirmed by a small and cozy cafe appearing in my sight.  I ducked in quickly and the skies opened as the door clicked behind me. Half the café's clientele consisted of close Camino Family. Cole and Ash were there. I immediately rushed up to Ash to apologise about a marginal comment I had made about being gay. Nothing offensive was meant by it, but I later realised it just wasn't  nice and it may have offended them. They laughed and said not to worry, they hadn't been offended, hadn't even registered on the scale and if that was the kind of thing they'd be offended by they would be very angry people indeed. I am so sensitive myself now at this stage of the Camino that I try to be super careful myself. I know my brother always tells me I often accidentally offend people without even realising it. 

Lizzy, Joke and Yvonne had breakfast with me under the coffee cloud and I left a bit before them as surely they'd catch me going up the next hill. Which surely they did, an hour later close to the top of the first hill of two on the way into Santiago.

Today's walk was only 18kms and in my head I was calculating my ETA. I stopped with the girls at another cafe almost on noon, and had a beer to celebrate the day.

Then I ran into Stuart the Scotsman (see pic above). He struck me as Scottish right from first sight. Not sure what it was. In any case he is a very nice man, had done various Camino routes and had volunteered for the organisation as well. He was just completing the Camino Primitivo, a  not so  common route to Santiago any more. We shared a beer and a hamburger in the next pub, which was another hours walk uphill away. Nice of Stuart to keep me company going up the hill.

Only about 7kms out of the city, and after discretely passing the airport (unlike near Burgos where it was a rough trot into town alongside the airport), I found Lizzy and co again, sitting down for coffee. Actually they'd passed me a kilometre before. They had a beer in another pub. Dutch courage sure is popular!! My walk at this stage was interrupted by a phone call from a Spanish man about something that he was excited about. I spend a few minutes trying to figure out what he had wanted. He had someone who spoke English call me a bit later to explain my bag with cards/meds had been delivered to them, in a pub near the intended Alberge. I wrote down the name of the pub... in my head... With a mental picture of where she described it to be. Foolproof.
Anyways the girls were having coffee near this big peregrine monument on the hill. I took the obligatory photo, and a bonus photo of them, see below, and decided to make tracks to ensure I wouldn't be late for my 4pm appointment at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. 

The girls were relaxed and in no rush to arrive. I was nervous and close to tears as I walked into Santiago. I'd read how horrible the walk in was, and many people even caught a bus in. But again, like the Meseta, it was booooooogus. Nothing wrong with it. Maybe books are dated, but they all speak of major highways and walking along emergency stopping lanes, crossing dangerously repeatedly... I recall one dangerous crossing the previous day which was on a crest of a hill on a kind of busy road though not a highway in my opinion. Maybe that is where the German men came to grief last month. Anyways, it was a pleasant walk until...

Roadworks. But again this was not a worry. There were no more hills, I was making good time and ahead of schedule. A kilometre out of the old town I sat down in a cafe and ordered a scotch. They sure know how (not) to serve them here. Obviously no one has ever shown them the curriculum for The Responsible Serving of Alcohol as taught in Australia to anyone who is to serve alcohol in any licensed establishment.
The girls caught up just as I'd changed into my Vibram five fingers for my 4pm arrival. I hadn't worn these shoes for a little while as they're not so ideal in rain. It looked like it would be sunny for the next 15 minutes. So Yvonne, Lizzy and Joke order wine and nibbles as it looked like rain to them. I left 3 minutes later in the rain...

And fifteen minutes later i walked through the spectacular medieval feeling arches and roadways into a magnificent square. People with umbrellas were ducking around in puddles as I walked across the square, looked for CNN and ABC news crews, turned around and caught a faceful of cathedral staring down at me. Breathtaking. Thanks to the rain and my camera not wanting to turn on there is no photo of that. Funny how my camera failed to turn on for these monumental moments like the Cruz de Ferro and the arrival in Santiago. Taking photos with a phone is also cumbersome in the rain as touch screens don't respond well with rain...

It wasn't terribly busy on the square and I asked some people where to go. They weren't sure either, so I plugged the destination in my iPhone and alerted Karina that I was heading for the peregrine office.

There I showed them my collected stamps and was duly handed over a certificate with my first name terribly misspelled. Turned out they create the pig-latin equivalent for you. Anyways, Karina and husband Mark appeared and hugged me and congratulated me and I shed the compulsory tears. The scotch had helped me control my emotions,  it is not often alcohol's associated with a success story.

Within minutes I was whisked away into a gorgeous hotel right there opposite the office and shown my rooftop room. There I got the message from Carlene to say she'd waited for me and asking where I was. I was tickled pink she had come to see me arrive and said I'd be down in a flash, but she had to go take care (read 'bathe and whiskey') of Kath who had also arrived. Six o'clock apparently we'd all be meeting for dinner. So I went downstairs and ate and drank with other camino family arrivals, like the girls who arrived in a rainstorm...

When six o'clock came I was done for the evening really, but Rebecca, Jo and Lynda showed up, as well as Dan and Kelly, and before we knew it we were seated in a tapas bar with a terribly unfriendly waiter. Everybody was there, Father Jim, Kath and Carlene, Sineade showed up as well as Wendy and Deede with San Franciscan Sharlene. It was hot and steamy in the back of the restaurant and I could hardly keep my eyes open. With my agua-con-gas (sparkling water). I went to the front section where Karina and Mark were, but come 8 o'clock I had to evacuate. It was very special to have us all together one last time, even though I must've appeared as enthusiastic as a wet sponge! Anyways, I was out like a light after doing nebs and slept like a baby who's just walked 800kms with a backpack.

And no, this story ain't over yet.

The previous adventure!

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