To the end of the world, with sunshine to spare!

To the end of the world, with sunshine to spare!

Day 36, Saturday May 18: Cee a Finisterre, including to the lighthouse + back to Finisterre (21.56 km, 13.4 miles)

No reason to drag this one out, to withhold details, paint the scene, set the stage. No. This day was, as have been so many others, a joy to walk. The pines, the eucalyptus, the blooms still dripping with… with dew or with some rain I slept through in the early hours, I couldn’t say which.

But there was, on all our parts, I think, a sense of “urgency,” of “let’s get this thing done. We’ve come to arrive at the end of the world, so let’s not dilly dally about it.”

Only about 14 kilometers into the town of Finisterre itself. Up the hills and down them again, only to climb once more. An “are we there yet?” attitude. Glimpses of water, bay water, from time to time. Smells that reminded me of California here, northern Minnesota or Wisconsin there, Oregon–coast and mountains–from time to time. The animal and barn smells were gone, and in their place: really fresh air, scented blooms, and the sea.

We woke up to a much-improved forecast, but should have learned by now not to put any faith in forecasts. Alas, the unexpected rain arrived… but then departed; the clouds seemed to want to settle in between the hills… but then they thought better of it, too. So… I just continued to alternate rain jacket and winter coat. Vest on; vest off. Ditto the fleece cap. All articles of clothing extremely handy as they were either on my body or on my back.

Though I set out with neither Cristina nor Jeannie (now that I know how to spell her name, I suppose I should do so; it’s Jinhee…, but it was, after all, from her that I learned how to pronounce it: “like Aladdin’s lamp and the ‘genie’ that came out of it,” she had told me), we seemed to catch up with one another at various points, and we arrived at our albergue within minutes of one another, about 11:00. I’ve not actually had the experience of arriving before albergue’s are officially opened. This place, besides giving us a fantastic view of Finisterre’s bay–fantastic, anyway, for the 12 euros that we are paying–was very accommodating, allowing us to leave our backpacks in a locker or at least leave some of its contacts in the locker.

Because… we still had another 4 kilometers, a gradual uphill, before we would arrive at “the end of the world.” And we needed to stop at a panadería to pick up the day’s loaf. (And wait until you see a photo of what I chose….)

Other than stopping to catch a photo of the coastline or to remove/add clothing, we made pretty quick work of the climb. And then! Ah, and then, got photos of ourselves relaxing and celebrating at the end of the world. In almost full sun!

Precious! Dramatic! And the sign in town that reminded me that “the real Camino starts at the end”? Spot on!

Everything after our hike out to “the end of the world” was anticlimactic: the quick walk back down to Finisterre, the shower, connecting to the internet. Even the delicious pizza dinner with Jinhee and Cristina took a back seat, seeming of little consequence after having reached the lighthouse and the renowned spit of peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic. Yes, “the real Camino starts at the end,” and, as well, “it’s not over until it’s over”….

And so… I’ll begin tomorrow… with a walk! I’ll do a relaxing two-segment (as in “two-day”) walk to Muxía which I hear is a real gem. Another one for the strong box which will hold so many memorable places for me. When my memory fails me, the photos and these blog posts will be great supplements. As well, I might have to hire a security guard to protect my treasure box of memories. They deserve the best!

Undeserving but extremely grateful!

Undeserving but extremely grateful!

Day 35, Friday, May 17: Lago to Cee + a walk to nearby Corcubión (30.9 km, 19.2 miles)

What an absolute blessing this entire day has been! From start to finish!

For starters

  • It’s a small thing, really, but… last night, in our very wonderful accommodations, with our lovely and lively hostess, I set up my bed for the night and… my headlamp wasn’t where I always keep it. Darn! Had I left it behind in Negreira?… In the morning when I was packing up, I saw one little dark spot in the back corner of the locker next to my bed (in which we’d been encouraged to store our packs). Sure enough, the headlamp. It had fallen out of its designated pocket when I stuffed the pack into the locker. Not lost or left behind after all. Blessing #1
  • “Bizcocho casera” (homemade coffee cake) was one of the choices for breakfast. “Homemade”… perfect, because our albergue hostess really did make us feel at home. Blessing #2 (the good cake and the homey atmosphere and treatment). So much like home was this place that I was out of the albergue and had made three turns before I realized that I had failed to pay for breakfast. About turn and back up the hill. I ran into Cindy on the way. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong?”. “No, I just forgot to pay for breakfast, so I’m going back.” “Oh, my, I forgot to pay as well!” We weren’t the only two! I asked the hostess: “Does this happen every morning?” She nodded. “But most people come back,” she assured me. Blessings #3 and #4: that most people return and pay and that most people–like this hostel owner–trust that other people are of good will and good heart.
  • I had the best “dump” of the trip while sitting on the throne in a small town bar/cafe after my mid-morning pick-me-up stop. You know the kind of “dump” I’m talking about: the ones about which you want to write home. That kind. Blessing #5.
  • How often do you see a baby calf out in the field with the bull and the ladies? Just enjoying the greenness of it all? This was one such opportunity. Blessing #6
  • And so, of course, I took quite a few photos–with my phone’s camera, right?–of said calf. And didn’t reach for my phone until about half an hour later when I wanted to jot down a note for this post… and my phone wasn’t in my rain pants where it belonged. I knew right away that there was no point in looking in the fanny pack where I keep the phone when I’m not wearing the rain pants. No point in looking in the zippered pockets of my jacket because I can’t get in those pockets when my backpack is on. I knew from the get-go that that phone was no longer in my possession. Jeannie came upon me during my moment of panic and I explained all of the above. “I’ll have to turn around and head back to the last place I know I had it, back where those cows were,” I tell her as I gesture back down the trail…. and coming towards me is a tall male pilgrim of unknown provenance who is waving a pink cell phone in his hand. We did not have the language for him to share his story of coming upon it, so whether there were other trail angels who might have been involved in the identification process, I know not. I know, from this and previous experiences, that we are each other’s angels and very much need one another. Blessing #7
  • And of course Blessing #8 is that it wasn’t raining during the time my phone was on the ground waiting for someone to pick it up
  • And Blessing #9 was that, in spite of how threatening the clouds had looked, the rain we did have, prior to the loss of the phone, lasted less than half an hour and wasn’t all that bad (plus, some of us were so positioned during the rain that we could duck under the covered porch of a bar).
  • My cup overflows: I was walking through gorgeous pine, oak, and eucalyptus forests where the argoma (yellow flowers bursting out of what looked for all the world like evergreen bushes) were vibrant with color. Blessing #10!

So how could I not be filled with gratitude? Many more blessings than I could possibly ever deserve or hope for. Humbling to have been given so much. And the day is still young!

As morning gives way to afternoon

After the coffee break there were still another 15 kilometers or so to go to reach Cee, which, along with neighboring Corcubión, is a bay town, tucked comfortably into the harbor free from the dangerous rocks and waves of Finisterre. Somehow I hadn’t really grasped Cee’s geographic position and so had no idea that I would be reaching “the sea” upon my arrival there.  Thus, when about nine kilometers before reaching Cee, I spotted “sea” way off in the distance, I wasn’t sure if I could really believe my eyes. I wasn’t going to arrive in Finisterre until Saturday, but I was going to get “sea at Cee” on Friday? An unexpected bonus, and so, the best kind!

At some point in the middle of nowhere, when coming around one of dozens of bends in the road, I spotted a fetching chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of the Snows.” Like most churches we pass along the way, it was locked, but I believe this was the first of those churches with an outside altar next to the entrance. Pilgrims had left mementos on the altar, and, on it a lit candle as well as a guest book to sign. I promise you: in the middle of nowhere. Very sweet. I busied myself taking photos. Right across from the church was a little picnic grounds. I was waved over to them by someone with a camera in his hand. It was clear: my services were needed to take a photo of his group as they finished their picnic. I complied, then I asked if I might sit and have my lunch. Of course! So… I was about to join the loudest and liveliest group I had come upon on the entire Camino. The five were not only good friends who were on their 5th Camino excursion together, but they were also Italian. Picture the tongues wagging and the hands waving. And the jokes being bandied back and forth. We managed to understand one another. A good time was had by all. I was able to ask these folks if I had seen what I thought I had seen some kilometers back. Was that the ocean I had spotted? They confirmed that it was.

This next “story” I just loved. For a while Jeannie (Korean, about 30 years old; only later did I realize that she spelled her name Jinhee) was walking at my side. “You are awesome,” she said. “What?!” I choked out. “The way you just get out and do this, in the rain or whatever comes, with energy. I want to be like you when I am older” (as in, “when I am old like you“). I really got a kick out of this. I have always felt like I was the one who thrilled at finding “older women” to be my mentors and models, women whose attitudes and enthusiasm for life keep them young and vital. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could be such a person for a much younger woman. Ok, so now I stand a bit taller. A “role model”? “Awesome”? Hmmm. If she says so….

With one kilometer giving way to another, I soon found myself at the albergue where I had reservations for the night. “Kati,” I hear a familiar voice call out when I enter. It is Cristina, the woman from Barcelona whose company I’ve enjoyed for a couple of days. We were to have bunks in adjacent “cubbies.” Once showered and “organized,” Cristina and I went out for a walk along the harbor where we saw a delightful array of boldly painted boats as well as typical Gallegan houses with glassed-in balconies from which the locals can watch the comings and goings in the bay while staying protected from the wind. Our walk led us to the neighboring town of Corcubión where we managed to find an open bar/restaurant (it was a holiday in Galicia) that would fix us some tapas to enjoy with our copas.

And then “home” to play catch up on photos and posts. (It never ends, and yet: it will soon, won’t it?) There’s the flurry of quick catch-up messages with other pilgrims. “I’m in_____? Where are you?” “Any chance you’ll be in [such and such a place] on [such and such a day]?” Knowing that time is running out. There’s finding out the latest from Ginny (a probable Monday release from the hospital). The days are full and quite long.

And there’s reflection about all the blessings of the past weeks. Beyond my wildest imaginings! Counting my lucky stars. And hoping the full moon doesn’t interfere with a good night’s sleep. I think I’m a bit behind….

High and dry!

High and dry!

Day 34, Thursday, May 16: Negreira to Lago (28.8 km, 17.9 miles)

Today’s mini-miracles

Shall we count them?

  • It (almost) didn’t rain, and if you had seen the “mist in the mountains” and the low, gray clouds, you would have been, like me, expecting a downpour any minute. Then this: once I arrived at the night’s albergue, and before I had both shoes off, it began to rain. (Any chance I might ask for a repeat tomorrow morning? The forecast looks like today’s and suggests that an umbrella would be useful….)
  • I didn’t sleep well last night, walked almost 18 miles today, during which time I climbed 225 floors… and I’m still awake to tell about it (but admittedly pretty droopy; I’m trying to stay awake for a 7:00 pm dinner, and then all bets are off as to my finishing this post)

Sweet things about today

  • Maybe I should mention first how I started the day with a couple of things I purchased from the grocery store yesterday: a gooey sweet roll and strawberry yogurt to which I kept adding fresh blueberries as room became available for them in the yogurt container…. That got me the first 10 miles down the road
  • I can’t speak highly enough about choosing “alternative” routes, those roads less traveled.  And why less traveled?  Because a) people don’t study the signs and so don’t know what they are about to miss; b) people don’t want any added hills or added mileage; c) maybe people are afraid of getting lost (it’s true: the alternatives are not always as well marked.) But oh! Oh! I took two optional/alternate routes this morning. The first was 3.75 kilometers; according to the sign, it added maybe .5 of a kilometer to the regular route and would take about 20 minutes longer. But oh! It went along a river, a “busy” river with water rushing over rocks and mini-falls which were not very high but extremely wide. Beautiful! I never saw anyone else during my almost 4 kilometers along that section even though I stopped to take quite a few photos. The sign for the second alternative route (only 3 miles) stated that the standard route and the alternative were about the same length and would take approximately the same time, the major difference being that the alternative would go “through the mountain” and would not involve any asphalt. And still: I saw no one else in front or behind while I walked past farm fields (and yes, up and down quite a few hills). What’s the deal? Why wouIdn’t everyone jump on board to avoid asphalt? I admit: there was a third alternative. I read about it in someone’s guidebook during a morning “coffee break.” I learned that some of the markings had faded or were hard to see, and that only those with a good sense of orientation or time to backtrack as necessary should attempt it. Oh, I wanted to do that one! I really considered it until I arrived at the junction where the two paths separated. Admittedly, I do not have a great sense of direction. Plus it would have meant walking as many as 22 miles before I would come upon an albergue…. or more if I happened to get lost. In the end, I stay on the standard route, skipping that third alternativa.
  • Finally, for the first time on this trip, I have run into a Spanish woman who is traveling alone. (They tend to have these little groups that are hard to “penetrate,” so I really haven’t had any Spanish gal pals. Until now.) Cristina and I are one year apart in age, she being the younger. We know how lucky we are to have bodies and hearts that get into this hiking business and can handle it well. (Knock on wood….) We are retired teachers, like to bike, to take photos, to eat….. She has offered to lead me on a tour of the historic district in Barcelona when I am there (next week already!)
  • I enjoyed a bocadillo picnic while sitting in a grove of trees with Jane from Ontario and Sandra and Cindy from Nashville, TN; and at our dinner table tonight we were Cristina from Spain, Marlene from Germany, and Jeannie from South Korea.
  • Jeannie looked familiar. She reminded me that we were in the same albergue room a little over a week ago, in O Cebreiro. She got out her phone and showed me a photo she took of me and two guys all treating our feet with creams of one sort or another before putting on our hiking socks and heading out for the day. Earlier in the day I approached a young man who appeared to be from Japan. “We’ve met, haven’t we? Help me remember where.” It was Takeshi, one of the three people staying at a church-run hostel the night we danced and sang as one of our own strummed his guitar. Happy meetings!
  • This is sweet, too, and although it happened last night, I had by that time published my post for the day so this was not included. I mentioned Baudilio, a Spaniard, a “poet,” and a very lively character. Charming with the ladies. Even with the little ones. He and Marco and Anna and I were heading out for dinner together last night and Baudillo used all of his charms with a 4-year-old who was walking with her mother. Before long she was holding his hand as she listened to his playful conversation with her. (Marco eventually took the other hand.). We must have walked at least four blocks that way, and that little girl was receiving more personal attention than she had had in a long while, I suspect. So it came time for us to turn off for food, but the little one would not agree to a parting. Baudilio eventually had to pick her up, talk with her softly, give her little kisses, and tell her firmly that it was time to go on with her mama. It makes a cute memory.
  • Tonight’s albergue in the middle of nowhere (Lago, but can it be found on a map?): it is to die for! New and clean and set up perfectly, with a young owner who is as pleasant and accommodating, as friendly and helpful as they come.. She clearly loves what she is doing.. A nice thing to witness

It was a day of flowers and ferns,* of more eucalyptus smells coupled with the smell of rain in the air and the smell of animals. Much more evidence here of field activity (ploughs, furrows, corn up an inch or two), more outbuildings. Also a day of distant vistas. And of roads, ascending and descending, that would give a King’s Island roller coaster a run for its money.

*I learned two new Spanish words today: helechos are “ferns”; babosas are “slugs.”

We are all hoping that by the time we get to the ocean the clouds will do some parting so that we can witness the sun going down into the water at the “end of the world.” Not that many pilgrims are still up at sunset, which is really late around here…. Some folks take only three days to get to Finisterre, but many of us in this or nearby villages will need another two days to get to that last strip of land on the western-most part of Europe (let’s not quibble about it; that’s what Finisterre was thought to be for centuries, so even though that idea is not correct, believing it to be is more than half of it, isn’t it?). Saturday. That gives the weather a few days to turn around. And, regardless, we will reach the land mass and the lighthouse, and it will get dark. That has to count for something, even if we don’t see an orb take a dramatic dive into the water.

Snip snap snout

This tale’s told out

Photos coming if they’re not here yet.

On the “way” again!

On the “way” again!

Day 33, Wednesday, May 15: Santiago to Negreira (23 km, 14.3 miles)

Can you hear me crow?

‘Cuz the news is all good!

  • Ginny is improving by leaps and bounds, lighting up the 4th floor of the Hospital Clínico Universitario with her smile and good will towards all; as of last night she’d progressed from broth & juice to galletas (sort of like graham crackers, but round); and she’s been bold enough to walk her visitors down to the lobby and then march right out the door to wave to them as they climb onto bus line #1
  • Among those visitors: her daughter Colleen and her sister Pat who flew from Minneapolis to New York to Madrid to Santiago, put in an afternoon and early evening of listening to stories, and were kept up until past 10:00 pm sampling tapas at a restaurant between their hotel and my pensión before I hugged them good-bye and officially turned over my “helping hand” services to their more-than-capable hands. Need I tell you that they were exhausted?
  • The sun is still out but the temperature is in the more-welcome mid-70 range rather than in the 80s…. AND
  • Katy is moving again!

Go west, peregrina, go west!

I’ll admit that it was a tough decision: do I go back to the point where I left the trail, 101 kilometers short of Santiago, or take on approximately the same number of kilometers to walk to and then explore a bit the “Costa da Morte” [“Death Coast”], as they call it in Gallegan/Galician/gallego/the language spoken by the people of Galicia (Northwestern corner of Spain). As I was making my plans back in February and March, my secret hope was to finish the Camino with enough time and energy left to walk–or, as a last resort, take the bus–to Finisterre (“End of the Earth”). It is 89 kilometers from Santiago to Finisterre, then another 29 kilometers from Finisterre to another popular bay along the coast (Muxía, pronounces Mu-SHE-a), also popular with pilgrims.

Like the other Camino routes, the Finisterre-Muxía “way” is very well marked with yellow arrows, one gets stamps/sellos in little passport books, there are albergues all along the way, occasional opciones where a pilgrim must decide whether to take the right fork or the left, and, at the end, the possibility of receiving certificates of completion.

It is believed–well, “known,” really–that ancient peoples, so-called “pagans,” traveled to Finisterre to watch the sun disappear into the ocean, and, one supposes, to beg of the supreme deities that they cause it to return again. Research has shown that many pilgrims through the centuries continued the tradition and, having paid their respects to St. James, went onward (¡Ultreia!) to the coast. I have read (in somewhat old literature) that very few pilgrims nowadays actually walk beyond Santiago. Most, if they want to see Finisterre and its lighthouse, take the bus for a one-day excursion, especially if the weather is nice (as in: will one be able to actually see the sun drop into the ocean?). That seems to be changing, however. The trail/road is not brimming over with pilgrims, but neither was I alone out there. And when I arrived at the albergue municipal this afternoon, entering with a young German woman (Ana by name, a veterinarian at a zoo in her home country), the hostess smiled and held up two fingers. Yes! We got the last two beds! (There are, however, plenty of beds in this town, in a variety of private albergues. The upcoming towns don’t have as many, so we’ll see how it all works out as I move towards the coast….)

I said that it was a difficult decision. It would have been nice to say that I had done the entire Camino Francés. Still, the idea of going backwards in order to move forwards did not appeal, nor did the crowds on the last hundred kilometers of the route I had been on, nor the long line (up to two hours) to get the Compostela certificate upon arriving in Santiago. Plus, I would be arriving a second time into the same large city that I was wanting to “flee”…. I admit, I had begun to get more comfortable in Santiago and I could appreciate the beauty of its monuments. Were I to backtrack and re-enter Santiago, I could “get into” the city, enjoy some of the museums, check out more of the parks…

But in the end, it felt more appropriate to move forward. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had already seen the best of what there was to see during the 450 or so miles than I had already walked. The coast made more sense. Beauty was awaiting. So… I went to the tourism office, picked up some literature; went to the App Store on my phone, picked up a couple of potentially helpful maps; got a room for my last night in Santiago that put me right on the route for Finisterre, and said, with a bit of trepidation, to be sure, “Yes!”

And so this morning, right at 7:30, I was out the door. By 8:00 I felt pretty confident that I had made the right choice. By then I was already basically “out of the city” and back among the trees and the greenery that talk louder to me than any monuments.

Where’s smell-a-vision when you need it?

If there were any way I could share the smells of the forests I walked through today, I surely would. There were a variety of spring smells in the air, but the predominant one was that of eucalyptus; such trees were everywhere. (Missing, however, were the koala bears….)

I spoke for a bit with an Irish mother and daughter walking together. The character of the morning, however, was Baudilio, a Spaniard who will be turning 79 in a few days (precisely on the feast day of San Baudilio, a new-to-me saint). We walked along together for a good bit, until I stopped to take some photos of hens. I’m sure he thought to himself: ¿qué le pasa a ésa, que nunca ha visto antes las gallinas?” (“What’s with this one, has she never seen hens before?”). Baudilio is walking with Marco, an Italian, but stopping to greet all the women whose paths he crosses with a flowery greeting that is reminiscent of “old Spain” where a man felt safe using poetic language to complement a woman. No longer the case. There’s some talk of Baudilio, his Italian friend, Susan (a gal about my age from British Columbia), and the young German veterinarian going out later for some dinner.

The interesting thing about the Finisterre route right now is that the people on it all arrived at Santiago, but they did so from a variety of different Caminos. Some were on the Portuguese route, some on the Rio de la Plata, some on the Norte or the Primitivo. And all are enthusiastic walkers and happy to be back on a trail.

Which…. isn’t really as much of a “trail” as I would like, but I can’t judge the whole for its first part. We have been on paved local roads quite a bit, at least 60% of today, possibly more. Little traffic, but not as woodsy as I might like.

Besides the lovely smell of eucalyptus, the day held a few other memorable things. One was the climb to the top of Mar de Ovellas. One person told me that we climbed for 3 kilometers. All I know is that I looked at my Fitbit when we reached what appeared to be the top, and it showed that so far for the day I had climbed 130 floors; I’m pretty sure that most of that climbing was on that one particular section. (I ended the day with 165 floors; not that atypical.) The other treasure of the day was about 4 kilometers from my final destination for the night. It was the town of A Ponte Maceira, a medieval town (aren’t they all?) with the most significant bridge of this entire “way.” The bridge got us across the Río Tambre, where I spent quite a bit of time. I had a picnic lunch by the churning water and took photos and videos of the falls and the semi-reconstructed mills (now for tourist purposes as opposed to for actual grinding).

Now that I look at the list of places I should have taken note of, I conclude that I walked too fast and that I would have been advised to have the guide in my hand as I walked. But then… how would I have held on to my hiking poles? Oh, well, I enjoyed what I did see, and that’s what counts.

My albergue tonight sits up high overlooking trees in several directions, and in another, the town of Negreira which, with 2,000 people, is, I believe, the largest town I’ll see while on this Camino. The literature suggested picking up food at the grocery store in town for breakfast and for snacking on during tomorrow’s rather isolated route. I did so, but am feeling less than anxious to carry the extra weight. Maybe I can share some of the food, in the same way in which I shared a couple of the disposable razors I bought today (only available in a 4-pack). You wouldn’t believe how excited a couple of women were over the chance to shave their legs! Oh, the small things in life! I also purchased dental floss today. Another biggie! I’ve been looking for it for weeks, and even today I needed help finding it. Why they would have twenty different kinds of toothpaste and, hidden on a bottom shelf, one kind of dental floss puzzles me.

When I began this post, it was sunny and 75 degrees. My app says it is 73 now, but it lies. As I sit outside here, I’m beginning to shiver and I realize it’s time to put that long-sleeved shirt on again. Tomorrow’s high will be 60 degrees. 59 for the three days after that. With a good chance of rain. So, deal with that when it happens. The good thing: the more clothes I have to wear, the fewer I’ll have to stuff in my pack, right?

It’s also time to take the laundry off the line, send some photos to the family so Regina–thank you! Mil gracias!–can add them to this post, and then time to direct attention to an evening meal of some sort.

That’s the report from the “new” Camino. ¡Ultreia!

Give it up for the birds

Give it up for the birds

Day 32, Friday, May 10: Samos to Morgade (29.3 km, 18.2 miles)

Come on, put those hands together. The birds went above and beyond today! They got my attention and applause, for sure! Hopefully you’ll be able to catch some birdsong in my videos. Even allowing for the fact that the birds’ best singing is heard before I start recording or just after I push stop, I still caught some lovely musical interludes. Yes! Put those hands together and give it up for the birds!

[Note: I came up with the title for this post and jotted down the towns and the distance, as shown above, shortly after arriving at my destination. The remainder of the post is being written four days later, in the wee hours of the morning. I’m grateful to re-read the notes I took as I walked that day. They help bring the memory of the walk back to me, as do the photos and videos. The details are coming back and put a smile on my face as I relive the day and “get it down” for posterity.]

I never did get the “possible roommate” last night, so I was able to turn the light on when it suited me and get out the door just shortly after 7:00 am. I often walk to the first or even the second little pueblo for breakfast, but fortunately I followed my instincts this morning and stopped for a croissant and a coffee before moving forward. Good thing! It was hours before I would have found a place to remedy hunger! As it was, quick breakfast behind me, I was just on the outskirts of Samos when four women passed me at 7:30. They were soon out of sight and from then until 9:58, when a gentleman whizzed by me, I didn’t see a soul. It was just me and the birds, some cows, a few horses, many trees, rolling hillsides, babbling brooks, and enough stones and mud to force me at times to take great care in placing my feet. Especially as I moved beyond Sarria–more about that in a bit–it occurred to me that were it not for the “nearly mountains” in the background and the huge castaños [chestnut trees] that lined the path, I could almost feel like I was in southwestern Wisconsin. If my description doesn’t have you wishing you were there with me, then I haven’t done the area justice (or… or you are just not an outdoor kind of person).

Perhaps you have seen one of my slug photos? Another reason to watch where I placed my shoes: in a matter of about 20 feet, I spotted three of the good-sized, intricately-patterned black fellows. (Perhaps some among you would give them a different, more accurate name? “Slug” is the best one I know to use.)

Just thinking out Dowd*

So yes, a lot of time to drink in the sounds and sights and think about “life.” One thought leading to another. Frequent stops to commit those thoughts to writing. And now, to sharing.

Thinking about those birds: there is no way anyone can convince me that the birds aren’t filled with joy as they sing to greet the new mornings, thrilled to be alive for another day. And this, even though the bulk of their day may actually be spent flitting from here to there in search of sustenance. We might call that “work” or “drudgery” or “ho hum, here we go again.” The birds have a “let me have another go of it, ‘cuz I can hardly wait” attitude.

That brings to mind Emily from Thornton Wilder’s beloved play Our Town and that poignant scene in the cemetery where Emily, now dead, begs for a chance to go back and relive just one ordinary day, but relive it paying full attention to how extraordinary the minute details of ordinary life can be. When allowed to choose one such ordinary day and place herself in it, she is, of course, very frustrated with her inability to communicate to others how very special each moment is. Remember how the play’s narrator agrees with her that people just don’t understand and appreciate life? Some few do, he suggests. Poets and philosophers, maybe.

And that sets me to wondering about what life was like for Lazarus after he was given a second lease on it. Or for Jairus’s daughter. Or the widow’s son. And, for that matter, for the ones who were in the process of mourning the deaths of their loved ones: Mary, Martha, Jairus and his wife, the widow. Did they come to a new sense of joy with the dawn of each “extra day” they were given? A new appreciation for the ordinary daily tasks of life? Or did tedium take over again after a while?

This was not, by anyone’s standard of measure, an easy day. It was the longest hike I had done in weeks, and by the time I reached the village I had climbed close to 200 floors (and so, later in the evening, I went out for a walk, heading in the direction of the next village, returning to the albergue with 206 floors and over 19 miles for the day, making it, I believe, my longest day to date.). So, easy? No! At one point, I took out my phone (aka: my “notebook”) to jot down how happy I was to be walking rather than riding a bike, when I see, approaching me, a cyclist in the process of dismounting. I was soon in conversation with Santiago from Argentina who was headed to “meet” Santiago the Apostle in Santiago. He was glad to walk along for a while and admitted that were it not for the time crunch he would be walking as well. Santiago had begun on April 29 in St. Jean Pied-de-Port and expected to complete his Camino within another day and a half. At one point, I shushed Santiago. “Listen! Do you hear that?” It was the cuckoo bird! It had been days since I’d heard him, but there he was, over and over again, accusing us of folly! I tried to record his call, but when I later watched the video with the volume turned high, there was no cuckoo bird to be heard. Santiago was my witness, though; the cuckoo lives!

Santiago had miles to go before his day would be over, so I sent him off, wishing him well, and I again thought to myself how grateful I was that it hadn’t occurred to me at any point to rent a bike to continue my journey.

*Some of you know that my maiden name was Dowd and that my dad was a fabulous, funny, and prolific letter writer. Back in the late 50s he had some stationary printed up with the letterhead “Jest thinking out Dowd.” I’m happy to appropriate his gimmick, although changing the “jest” to “just” in consideration of the types of thoughts I was having. Dad also had stationary printed with this across the top: “No Dowd about it.” He sure had fun with words!

Sarria and beyond

The town of Sarria is 112 kilometers from Santiago. Pilgrims who walk at least 100 kilometers (or who bike at least 200) prior to reaching the cathedral in Santiago and who have the appropriate documentation–the credencial/pilgrim’s passport with its sellos/stamps–qualify for receiving the treasured Compostela certificate. Sarria is a good-sized city and is very much given over to the tourist/pilgrim business because so many people begin their pilgrimage there.

Can you understand why I was dreading it? The guidebook cautions us to be kind in thought and in deed when we come upon those just beginning their pilgrimage journey in Sarria. We are warned that the Camino from here on will benoticeably more crowded and considerably noisier. More commercial. A buzz in the air that no longer harmonizes with the melody that the long-time-on-the-road pilgrim is singing.

And so: I moved through the town as quickly as possible. I stopped in the very attractive 13th-century Iglesia del Salvador and, from the same period, the Monasterio de la Magdalena with its lovely, refreshing cloister walk and patio. I picked up a new credencial because the one issued to me back at the beginning had only a few spots remaining for the sellos I needed to collect to confirm my completion of the final 100 kilometers. But I was anxious to get out of the “maddening crowd,” so I picked up bread, cheese, and chorizo in a little grocery store in hopes of finding a good picnic spot somewhere down the trail.

And I did find a lovely spot! There’s a photo of my backpack hanging on a castaño on the side of the trail, and of the huge bocadillo I was about to consume.

The day had gone quite, quite differently for Ginny, and was about to change for me as well. To explain: I was so pleased with my lunch spot and with my sandwich that I wanted to share the photos immediately with the family. I turned on my data in order to do so. Oops, not good enough reception to be able to send anything. However, I could see evidence that Ginny had tried to call me via WhatsApp. And not once, but over and over and over again.

This is not good! We have not called each other once on the entire trip. Text messages have met our needs just fine. Something was wrong and I couldn’t find out what it was from my out-in-the-boonies location.

Nor did Ginny answer my call when I got within calling range.

I kept moving forward, many scenarios–none of them good–going through my head.

It was only when I reached my destination for the night that a text from Ginny came in letting me know that she had been taken by ambulance in the early hours of the morning to the university hospital in Santiago and that she was now in recovery after surgery for an ischemic bowel. Holy cow!

Trial and error until we finally connected by phone (turns out the albergue was in a really low spot: I had to climb up out of the hamlet to receive/make phone calls). It’s now 5:00 pm.

Long story short: I gathered the available information for schedules of busses leaving from Sarria or from Portomarin, each a journey of approximately 10 kilometers from where I was lodging for the night. I had walked some 29 kilometers already that day; I didn’t have 10 more in me, nor, even if I did, the time to catch the evening bus. And what time would I have to leave in the morning to walk to either town to catch the only Saturday bus–leaving one of the towns at 8:50 am and the other at 9:15–to Lugo where I would be able to get on a bus to Santiago? Too early!

Albergue to the rescue. “That morning bus,” the oldest of the women at the hostel explained (in Spanish, of course), “it will pass by the highway a few kilometers from here as it travels from Sarria to Portomarin. There is a place along the road where it will stop if you flag it down. You go there in the morning. If you are there by 8:50, that is good. You wave and it will stop.” When I asked for directions to get to that spot, she assured me that someone would drive me in the morning, that if I were in the lobby at 8:30, someone would drive me.

And so there was nothing more I could do that night. I was hugely entertained during dinner by an 11-month-old baby at another table who absolutely loved the waiter and his antics. A good distraction. As was the evening walk I took up towards the next village. Marveling that a car would actually be able to drive this little lane to “get me to the bus on time.” (Truly: in the 6 or 7 kilometers I had spent on the road leading to Morgade earlier in the day, I don’t recall seeing any cars on it.)

By the time I posted the “flashing news” about Ginny to all of you, my five roommates were fast asleep. I soon joined them.

The following morning

We’ll give a quick recap of Saturday morning. Sure enough, one of the daughters of the woman who promised that “someone” would take me to the bus stop was indeed available at 8:30 to do just that. And off we went. Three or four kilometers maybe. A lot faster than walking, for sure. She dropped me off at a sort of intersection with absolutely nothing noteworthy to indicate it was a place where a bus would stop. But oh well. Stranger things have happened. I expected to have about a ten-minute wait. So a good ten minutes go by and along comes a car from the side road, the one down which I had traveled to get to the stop. It was the daughter again!

“The bus hasn’t come by?” “No, not yet” I respond, thinking: would I still be here if it had? “Get in quickly,” she tells me. “When I got back my mother asked me where I had dropped you, and when I told her, she said it was the wrong place. We’ll go there now. Get in.” Backpack, poles, body back in the car. Me thinking; And if we cross path with the bus as it travels in the opposite direction? What do we do then?

Fortunately, that did not happen. She brought me another kilometer or two closer to Sarria, dropped me off, and within five minutes the bus came around the corner and pulled into a lane marked “bus” on the side of the road.

From there through some pretty countryside to the city of Lugo. Find schedule for the bus times for Santiago, buy ticket, wait about an hour. I’ll be in Santiago by 1:30. Could have been much worse.

The bus from Lugo to Santiago went through several larger towns through which the Camino would also pass. As I looked out the bus window while going through the towns, I saw pilgrim after pilgrim after pilgrim. I’m sure that in between the towns the Camino passes through some pretty areas, but it was a bit disheartening to me to see the “crowds.” When would I be “one more pilgrim” again?

For the moment, though, I had enough to think about. Arriving in Santiago. Getting from the bus station to the albergue Ginny had previously reserved for herself for that night. Dropping my pack off there and finding my way to the hospital….

Don’t worry. “Consider the lilies…”. And the birds. Let’s have another round of applause for the birds who remind us each morning that all is well! Then, when we’re all clapped out, time to start behaving and living as they do. Except maybe not so much public pooping!

Are we there yet?  (Wait a minute: where are we going?)

Are we there yet? (Wait a minute: where are we going?)

Monday, May 13: the update you’ve been waiting for

I know, I know. I’ve kept you in suspense. Let’s put an end to that with this report.

How about this for good news: when I left the hospital today, Ginny got “real food” on her dinner tray this evening: broth and fruit juice! And earlier in the day: café con leche. So little by little, from gauze pads dipped in water to water from a straw and now, the “gourmet meal” I’ve just described, everything is going in the right direction.

And this: not only is she walking all the wings of the 4th floor, but she’s now doing it without toting the IV/saline solution cart with her. She even came outside in her glamorous hospital gown to see me off on the bus to downtown Santiago.


Still, the doctors here seem to err on the side of caution, so it seems she’s not likely to be heading for Madrid on Thursday evening and back home on Friday, as per her initial reservations. Might be delayed by a couple of days.

But when she finally does return home: it’ll be with her daughter Colleen and her sister Pat who are coming to “fetch” her. They are probably in the air as I write this. How’s that for love?

Meanwhile, I’m making a mess of life in the big city (the population is said to be just under 100,000, but it seems much bigger to me). So far I have managed to

  • Lose my credencial [Pilgrim’s passport with stamps “proving” that I’ve been traveling through umpteen towns and villages along the Camino]
  • “Check” my backpack in a store while touring the Cathedral area and not notice that the receipt I got for the bag did not give an address…. (and yes, I walked in circles before I finally found the store and my waiting bag)
  • Get on the right bus but going the opposite direction than the one in which I wanted to go (great way to see the extent of the city, but not the best method for getting to the hospital in a timely fashion)
  • And more…. But I’ll spare you

I’ll just say that it was kind of weird to arrive in Santiago the “wrong way.” Hard to feel celebratory when I finally was in the squares (yes, plural) surrounding the cathedral. A cathedral which, I confess, I have yet to enter.

Though my initial plan was to return to the “village” of Morgade, 101.something kilometers from Santiago, to continue my trek towards the tomb of the Apostle in the “right way,” I am now giving serious thought to a different plan.

I’m thinking that instead of taking two busses to get back to the area where I left the Camino, I might just… go to Finisterre, the “end of the world.” This route to the coast would be considerably less busy that the last 100 kilometers of the Camino Francés and I’ve been told that the scenery is really spectacular. It might just be a more fulfilling way to end my pilgrimage.

As it stands now, tomorrow will be a day of tying up loose ends, and then, one direction or another, I’ll head out of Santiago on Wednesday morning, with plans to return no later than the evening of May 21 so that I’m well situated for my scheduled flight to Barcelona on May 22.

There are still two days from last week that I have not written up yet. With luck, those posts will be coming. After all, they have been given titles already, and the titles are feeling very lonely.

Ginny and I have had lots of visiting time for the last three days. We’ve swapped stories back and forth about our adventures while apart and have recollected the first half of the trip, spent together. Laughter and tears. Precious memories. It has been a Camino that has surprised us on many levels! Oh, believe that much!

And remember: we both made it to Santiago. One in an ambulance, one in a bus, but we got here. We chuckle to think back to how Barb didn’t really care if she got her “Compostela” (for completion of the route, for doing the final 100 kilometers), and, by golly, it looks like she may be the only one of us to actually get it. We FaceTimed Barb tonight before I left the hospital and we all agree: what an experience!

Thanks for your support and for your kind and loving inquiries into Ginny’s health. She is one tough cookie, no doubt about it!