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Victoria Osborne

There you go
a personal, vegan, teetotal, account of walking
El Camino del Norte / Primitivo
1 written in Blanes

Some kind of why and Barcelona


Spain 2016-17

wherefore
My Australian father used to say to me, approach to Santiago, this quote was
‘Remember, Victoria, you are a citizen of witnessed by thousands of people every
the world.’ (English speaking world, that day, from every country in the world, all
is.) I was born in London to a mother from walking the same path. As far as I could
New Zealand. I’ve lived in Sydney, Hong see all these people wearing backpacks
Kong, Auckland, Dunedin and Melbourne. had far more in common than their
Physical barriers, like seas or cliffs make a language differences. And once you had a
lot more sense to me than arbitrary smart phone and a translation app, that
political borders. I was with John Lennon; barrier dissolved too. It really wasn’t hard
“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do.
to do, nothing to kill or die for and no
religion too, imagine all the people, living The luggage for my Gap Year included a

life in peace … “ Seen in graffiti on the daypack, a hiking backpack and a large

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suitcase. Like an interstellar rocket, I ‘You’re going by yourself?’ People said to
planned to drop excess fuel tanks as I shot me, ‘You’re so brave’.
out further from my Melbourne launch pad.
I would leave the suitcase in Madrid Nah. We live in a technological world. I had
storage for four months and cut down to a smart phone. Sometimes it even worked!

two packs for the next few weeks. Then What had I got to lose? If I died, that

divide again, post half ahead to Prague would be the end. If I suffered, well, hardly

and keep half to walk the Camino de alone there!

Santiago. I would take only the bare


I did want to be by myself, though.
essentials to the end of the world,
Finesterre. The Camino de Santiago. Well. A common
refrain on the trail was, “Everyone walks
One of those things deemed essential was
their own Camino”. It was a pilgrimage in
a stone. My friend, and Camino mentor,
ancient times but what did that mean
Keira, gave me a clear, circular crystal. It
now? For me it was a chance to reset.
was a formal thing, like a flying saucer,
Reboot. Re-evaluate.
enclosed in a blue velvet bag, handy to
absorb everything I no longer required over For others it ranged from extreme sport:
six weeks pilgrimage. It would be barefoot running, eating only bananas
jettisoned at the end of the walk, at while wearing only a swoosh, cycling,
Finisterre, land’s end. I would throw it as racing the calendar, ready for a conference
far as I could and that glowing crystal will in Washington the next week; to extreme
be dissolved by the elements over the devotion, hairshirt-crawling-on-knees
months and years to come, along with the prayer, covered in ash, right up to the altar
characteristics, assumptions and ideas I of the Cathedral de Santiago de
no longer needed. Compostela. (I may be exaggerating. I
never saw anyone crawl.)
So what were the things I no longer
required? I’d have to think about it. I had a My way would appear a little austere to
lot to think about. My family. The some and wickedly middle-class to others.
environment. Our species. Our planet. And On the Camino we were all individuals -
six weeks is a lot of time to think in. Isn’t yes, even you, you heckling upstart.
it?

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My advice to anyone contemplating a conversation assistant in a small Spanish
Camino? Get fit. Wear in footwear. Trim secondary school in October. Some called
your toenails. Learn some Spanish. Don’t it a Sabbatical. Others, a Gap Year. Others,
take my advice. Read everything you can. An Epic Journey. I called it inevitable.
Don’t read anything. If you camino from
your front door and you’re open to I left Melbourne on my fifty-seventh

possibilities, then who knows? You might birthday. While I was booking Airbnbs, I

find a nice hairshirt. Or a glass of fizzy chose Blanka’s house in Prague because

cider. Or a juicy plum. Or a nerve-wracking she described herself as being of The

dog. Or a blister. Or a friend. Or yourself! Golden Age. Past child-rearing. As each


child left, she had another empty room to
I would be walking over June and some of rent. All the Airbnbs I chose to book were
July, trying to avoid holiday crowds. I hosted by women of our Golden Age. It
would be walking El Camino de Norte and became a deal-maker. Therese in Madrid,
the Primitivo. Mainly because I wanted to Rosa in Segovia, Lourdes in San Sebastian
attend an international puppet festival in and Dolores in Blanes.
San Sebastian in May and that took place
just next door to Irun - on the border of The Golden Age; what a very interesting

France - from whence the Spanish section time of life. Some of these women had

of the Camino del Norte commenced. elderly parents and some had
grandchildren. But that time between,
From Melbourne, I pre-booked when children were gone and parents not
accommodation for a Spanish language too demanding, well, that was Golden!
intensivo in Madrid, two Spanish puppet When responsibilities lightened. When you
festivals (Titirimundi in Segovia plus downsized, creamed a little from the top
UNIMA in San Sebastian) and a visit to my and escaped, took the plunge, to see how
friend in Mallorca; everything up to the day the other half lived …
when I would first set foot on the Camino. I
booked myself into a month-long puppetry I prepared while living in Melbourne.

course in Prague afterwards. In the trips Nearing my departure date I volunteered

before and after the Camino I would be with a young woman from Vietnam,

staying in Airbnbs most of the time. After helping her English language through

that I would start work as an English AMES (Australian Migrant Education

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Service). One day she asked me what I There was an expectation that walking the
meant when I said, ‘There you go’. Camino would amplify significance. I
suppose the solitary nature of pilgrimage
Consider that phrase. ‘There you go,’ as I provided plenty of opportunity to reflect.
did, when I looked at her, nonplussed. She And sometimes that did happen. One’s
was right to be confused. What exactly did past, relationships, health, humanity …
it mean?
Mostly I found little time for philosophy.
I took ‘There you go’ to mean, ‘You’re on While walking there was constant scanning
the right track’. ‘Yes, that’s correct.’ ‘That’s for yellow arrows, water fountains or loose
the way to do it.’ It was a phrase that often dogs. There were physical discomforts;
rolled out of my mouth, in order to blisters, sore knees or heavy packs. There
encourage, to praise, to support. After I’d was constant planning for food and
burbled out something that appeared to shelter, looking for toilet stops, bars or
make some kind of sense to her, we both albergues and the never-ending attempt to
left the building by way of the staircase. find a moisturiser that wouldn’t bring me
My continual Camino training meant I out in a rash. And walking made me tired.
never set foot in a lift if I could help it. We
met a large, kind lady on her way up. I say But, occasionally, some things did take on
kind because she pressed herself up greater import than normal, or perhaps the
against the wall saying, ‘There you go… ‘ time spent gazing at them meant a better
as she gestured generously to the inviting chance to recognise the significance that
space she’d just created for us on the had been there all along.
steps down. And on we went!
I was not a Catholic. I was baptised in the
So, given the Camino, ‘There you go’ Church of England (my mother a
seems to be inclusive, energetic and Presbyterian if we want to keep that
befitting a travel account that you may like inclusive theme!) and proudly strutted my
to read wrapped in a blanket, wearing atheist colours at university.
slippers and never setting a foot on the
trail! There you go! I invite you to proceed I had a near death experience in my

… thirties. I told my family what I’d


experienced (usual things: light at the end
of the tunnel, loving figures and rejection

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from Glory back to real life to fulfil the listening to a choral song ‘Of a thousand
things one has to do) and my birds’ by Sally Whitwell (from her album, ‘I
brother-in-law said, ‘I don’t believe that’. was flying’) when a blast of sunlight
Well. I guess that was the point. It didn’t through the port holes of the plane as we
matter what he believed. Believe it or not, turned to land in HK flashed like thirty
it was my experience. And so it was with spotlights and roamed over the opposite
the Camino. Where I slept, who I met, wall in a perfect tumult of light and sound.
what I ate; that was my Camino. All the
research in the world could not have When we took off from Melbourne I leaned

predicted, or repeat, my experience of this forward, my mouth open in a keen bite, a

ancient walk. For me. Millions of other gnash of teeth, lifting my seat arms, so

pilgrims have had millions of other keen to rise, so urgent to leave, I was the

experiences. Your Camino would be force pulling up the craft behind me.

different too.

For a shallow person like


myself, sometimes resonance
(or do I mean spirituality?)
could be surprising. And
sometimes, it could be banal.
Sometimes you just realised
that you were on the right
track. Sometimes that was
enough. Sometimes that was
a BLOODY RELIEF! A rescue.
A fortune. Facing the right
direction and carrying on.
What more did you want in
life? There you go.

There was a wonderful


moment on the plane leaving
Australia. I was half dreaming, There you go.

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CAMINO COUNTDOWN

I arrived in San Sebastian (also called Paulo Coehlo’s The Pilgrimage. So I


Donastia - two names for everything in the bought it on Audible, downloaded the app,
Basque Country where they speak and managed to listen to it.
Euskara) at the end of May, mainly to
attend the UNIMA puppetry festival and The Pilgrimage was narrated by an

also, to prepare for my Camino. American, sonorous, pause-heavy, male


voice. It droned on and on and Paulo took
I had a book to listen to on the train. One his SWORD so seriously and he belonged
of the Titirimundi volunteers, or it might to a secret organisation called RAM - I
have been the intense young woman in the mean - really? RAM? And emerging from
Madrid juice shop, on hearing I was about the WATERFALL, nude, in a birthplace
to do a Camino, insisted I HAD to read between a rock and a HARD place with his

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gorgeous male mentor (who was a or hang on, wait for it, the HOLY GRAIL!
successful designer when not leading And my great challenge? Find out what to
Paulo into the wilderness) and my head fell do with it? Oh, boy oh, boy. Why didn’t we
forward onto my chest and I hoped I just get on with it, Paulo?
hadn’t dribbled. I did miss something
about exorcising a black dog but I That said, that was my experience. Other

imagined I’d be hearing about that again. experiences are absolutely available.

We did get to hear about most things more


I decided to try out my new bastónes
than once. Seriously? The Seed Exercise?
(walking sticks) by marching up the
I went to acting school. Did Paulo think a
nearest mountain for some splendid views
reader would voluntarily curl into a foetal
of blue sea-sky. The mist hid the horizon
position at the same time every day for
as I walked up, testing different heights
seven days, slowly unfurl into a plant and
(lengths?) of the hiking poles. I felt pleased
when it started to hurt, scream? Really?
with myself, fitting in, just like a real
Without the benefit of health and safety?
peregrina (pilgrim). The crowning glory of
Think of the neighbours.
Mount Igueldo was a macabre Fun Fair. It

Spoiler alert: in the end, he found his was deserted. The highlight was El Torre

sword when he knew what to do with it. (The Tower), which used to be authentic

Fine, but the last time we saw it was when but in 1975 was redecorated like some

his wife went off to hide the sword. His kind of Disney set, topped with parapets

WIFE! She hid the sword. As well she to help sell the Fun Fair.

might. He ran all over Spain with a


So silent up there, perhaps the mist helped
handsome, rich, successful
muffle the air. A hotel, planted squat at the
designer/secret knight looking for his
top of the hill, overlooked the four beaches
sword and who should have it but his
of San Sebastian/Donastia. A beautiful
MASTER and we never saw the wife again.
view where sky and sea conjoined in
I had to say, Coehlo’s The Pilgrimage had
smooth surface. The dodgem cars, the
limited attraction for me. If it were me, my
scary shooting gallery things and the
secret organisation would be called EWE
haunted house all waited, silently, while as
(Erudite Women Experts or Early Worm
many as FIVE TOURISTS walked around.
Earthlings?) and I would have to search for
my female-orientated shell or cornucopia,

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Whilst atop El Torre, I spied a man below, communication as a matter of principle.
walking with an enormous bird flapping, Fair enough.
flapping. The flapping drew my attention.
Did he mean to hold the creature upside However, I did have a chat to the Torre
down or had it had fallen? It looked woman during which time she offered me

uncomfortable. Oh God. This Fun Fair had her banana to add to my apple, offered to

a raptor display. stamp my credential (which I did not yet

I should tell you, when


I arrived at El Torre,
sweaty and tired, I was
pressed for two euros
and fifty euro cents to
enter. Before that, even
to enter the Fun Fair, I
had to pay two euros
and thirty euro cents to
a dour woman with her
hand on the bar that
closed down over the
street to prevent
vehicular access. It
was something to do
and I was curious. have) and went specially to get a piece of
Curiosity adds up. paper to make me a demonstration sello
(stamp), a rather large blodge of Torre. She
Sometimes, when I was speaking Spanish
insisted I returned to get the real deal
(okay, attempting to speak Spanish)
when I’d organised my credential. It would
people looked at me like I was speaking
be a big climb to go back just for a stamp
Maori (I can’t). I supposed they probably
but I told her I’d certainly give it some
spoke Eurskara as first language and
thought.
didn’t appreciate my attempts at Spanish

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She was concerned I was walking the I demonstrated how I would beat loco folk
Camino by myself. She explained, with away with my new hiking poles and that
some relish, that in Salamanca, or seemed to satisfy her. I enjoyed my fruto
Santander, or maybe it had been Santiago, seco (fruit and nuts) bun and apple for
there was a chino girl, or maybe de Japan, lunch. There was something to be said
with those slope eyes, yes? Young, yes, about simple fresh fare after climbing a
young, that had been caught by a crazy, mountain, even if you were resting with
your feet up in the middle
of a set entirely suitable
for a Hitchcock film with a
woman determined to
milk all the juicy horror
elements from her Tower.

Just to make sure I was


still on the right track, I
slept in my sleeping bag a
couple of nights before I
left my Airbnb. I was very
comfortable. However, I
was still on a cosy homey
bed with pillow. I thought
of that scene in WILD
tied up and then she was dead. Well, I told where Sheryl prepared for
her, I was sorry for the young girl, but as her long walk into the American desert and
an old lady, I wasn’t worried. I tried to couldn’t lift her pack from the motel floor.
explain by saying ‘Cuando tu numeró esta Perhaps I would practice packing again.
arriba, tu numeró esta arriba,’ but And again.
apparently when your number is up lost
For a solitary person I was managing to
something in translation or perhaps it was
have quite a chatty time of it in San
lost in pronunciation. Or maybe my
Sebastian/Donastia. The third shop I asked
number wasn’t up!
about reflective tape started a

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conversation with the two fellows working given out with motorbike helmets. And he
on bike repairs. They involved a more didn’t want money. Because it was the
senior fellow, perhaps their dad, who Camino. And the bike repair man, who had
decided to take me around the corner so seriously gone out of his way, said
(bend) to the bigger bike shop. He told me ‘Buen Camino’ (Good Way), the first time
he’d been born in San Sebastian, in a line I’d heard it said to me, and it was all so
of four generations. He told me he’d seen genuine and rather overwhelming.
many changes but he felt Donastia now Gratitude. The Camino fuel.
was better than any time he’d known it
before. He worried young people did not On another day, I marched up Mount

understand history. He said there were Urgall, the hill on the other side of the bay,

political difficulties (Occupy, set up in the to see Jesus. I was surprised to find a

central gardens here, were highlighting a military citadel there, with gun placements

number of issues facing Basque people, and batteries, disused now of course, but

not least the political prisoners held too far centuries old, older than Napoleon. It was

from home). Napoleon and friends who laid waste old


San Sebastian, apart from the one road,
He said things were so much better now sensibly, where they were all staying. Now
with income from tourists, and people like the hill is a park and Jesus was an
me (I think he meant pilgrims). He was very afterthought, planted high on the hill in
concerned I should get my reflectando 1950. The sculpt was dramatic, visible
tape. He agreed that walking on busy from everywhere in the town, not quite Rio
roads, either in dawn or in rain, but big enough. The walk was a leafy
necessitated some kind of visibility outing and I enjoyed yet another chat with
assistance. After the bike shop turned us the man who ran the museum up there. I
away empty handed, we popped in to the thought it all very tucked away and
motorbike shop and that fellow seated under-advertised. As I came down the hill I
behind his broad counter thought about it could hear a band playing ‘Somewhere
and said no, but his large body kept over the rainbow’ with a clear trumpet line.
moving through space, bending towards a
drawer in front of him. (I don’t think he On the way back from the theatre after

stood up very often). He found a couple of seeing a puppet show from Italy called

packs of reflective stickers, designed to be Out, tears still in my eyes from admiration,

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yes, of a perfectly formed small show and claws. Clearly uncomfortable. She
a message to me, personally, the idea that changed feet, showing me the other. I felt
I had to be open to experiences as I she was watching me, tilting her head to
travelled, I set foot on the bridge directly one side, challenging me, what are you
outside the Victoria Eugenia theatre. There going to do? I felt helpless. I couldn’t do
I saw two groups of people watching a anything. And, even if I did have
seagull eat something. I thought at first it wirecutters, what then?
must have been one of those large fish
visible in the water in the mornings - much I watched a young, fashionably dressed

lower then because of the tide - over the couple, he in tight-fitting white tee and she

green mossy stones, mostly cube shaped, carrying a small boutique bag, though

I supposed left over from road building, or where the boutique was in that god

formation of the river mouth into the sea forsaken Fun Fair I don’t know, and they

somehow. barely glanced at this magnificent creature


as they went past. She was looking at her
The seagull was not eating fish, but bird. phone. Another group arrived at the
All that was left was a leg and part of a bottom of the steps and the two women
wing. As it pecked at the remains the stood beside me as the man climbed up to
exposed leg was flattened out, stretched assess the value of the visit. He studied
and flipped on the rock. The foot appeared the bird’s leg. It appeared to be held by
to open and claw the air. some kind of plastic coated wire. Rigid.
And the man voiced what we were all
It made me think again, back to that feeling. ‘It would not feel comfortable to
chained eagle at the fun park at the top of pay to see birds held in captivity.’ No, it
the Mount Iduell. The bird held upside certainly would not.
down that had first attracted my attention
was then planted by the entrance to So, instead, in freedom, one could
advertise the installation. Next to El Torre, photograph a large seagull eating another
beside the swimming pool, near the bird, and watch that foot, twitching and
dodgem cars. All of which stood silent. I stretching out claws on mossy green
watched the bird, still ruffled, pick up her stones in a river, for free.
foot, showing me clearly how it was tied.
Then she stretched out her big yellow

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On the way home up the steep hill to my I wanted to think. The world was getting
Airbnb I passed a fiesta. The smell of smaller, our population getting larger and
barbecue was strong and merry voices now humans wanted to shut out ‘the
rose in song, ‘New York, New York, these other’. If the camino was a walking
vagabond shoes are longing to stray, I’m meditation or prayer, then I wanted to think
gonna make a brand new start of it … ’ about our planet, meditate upon our
and then Fernando, outside with Lourdes species and pray for my family; my
and I, with chip and fizzy drink, decided to personal little family and our great, wide
play Freddy Mercury at the top volume on family of man.
his phone, ‘I want to break free … God
knows, got to make it on my own … ‘ Strange how every day the upcoming
weather gave warning of tormentas
Restless, restless, restless… Trying to (storms) and then as the day progressed, it
organise, find a place for everything, a would always turn out warm and sunny. I
thing in its place. Posted 3.5 kg to Czech reminded myself to buy sunscreen.
Republic. Along with the previous 3kg it
must have lightened me. Martes 7th June - Day One - The leaving
of San Sebastian - (only to return in two
Trying to listen more to Paulo Coehlo’s days) A pleasant chat with all the family:
Pilgrimage. So sober and serio. So Lourdes, Fernando, Hermano and
sonorous and repetitive. I wish he’d stop Carmela. A one euro ninety cent train
saying, ‘The Strange Road to Santiago’. ticket to Irun. And then, smooth gliding
Better, the ‘Road of the Common People’. steps onto a magical Camino.

Interesting how Coehlo’s first impulse to Yeah. Right.


write about the Camino was so
quintessentially masculine. So off-puttingly
sexual to my mind. I supposed Secret
Knights’s Orders were usually blokes
dancing about in trances and waving
swords in candle light but it didn’t mean I
had to like it. The focus was too narrow.

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2 La Comida vegana

¡Buen Provecho! Plant-based food


How to survive in Spain
Some flexibility

If I ate out I usually had salad and chips knife and one of those plastic
but normally I prepared food for myself. I splade/spork things. I did not carry coffee.
carried two plastic containers (which fit Better to buy it at morning tea/lunch time
inside each other for travel). The larger to meet some other pilgrims and to use the
proved useful as bowl with the lid as facilities! Always good to have an excuse
chopping board. The smaller kept teabags to use the bathroom.
or oil/vinegar sachets. One little fold-up

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IMPORTANT NOTE: ALWAYS carry Single-serve integral rice/quinoa/chia –
there’s a pre-cooked version made by
tissues. Many public toilets don’t have
Brilliante (most albergues have a
toilet paper. Or the toilet paper is outside
microwave at least – if not, you’re having
the stalls. Gather BEFORE going inside!
salad!)

Dark chocolate

Commonly available from Small almendra (almond) /arroz (rice)


Supermarket/Herboristeria /averna (oat) milk

(or farmacias) Dried fruit and nuts – can often buy loose
from large health food shops or fruiteria
Most albergues do have some kind of
stocked kitchen; fry pan, pot, plates, cups Individual oil/vinegar/salt packs
and cutlery
Mini patés – there’s a smashed black olive
  one I loved and the mushroom one is good

STUFF TO CARRY If you have Mini nut butters – watch out for the really
sweet almond one! Surprise!
room in your light, light pack.
BROCCOLI or kale chips!! Other chips will
Dried cup-o-soup (miso/veg) or low salt
do too – there’s some nifty chili corn chips
veg stock cubes
that are vegan!
Crisp breads / corn/rice cakes / tostadas -
Multi-vitamins for those weak days
CRISPY BREAD SNACKS are everywhere
and super excellent - watch out - some Probiotics
flavours are really salty
Your fav tea bag - mine was a
Smallest possible museli relaxing/chamomile type thing

Wholemeal pasta (can cook in half a soup   


cube and chuck a chopped fresh
tomato/can of peas thru it)

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Fresca (fresh) from Fruiteria All the fruit and veg! 

or market stalls (I was surprised when I first saw a fellow


pilgrim eat a whole punnet of strawberries
You can buy separate single things from at a sitting and then I thought, why not?)
‘mom & pop’ type stores and have a funny
friendly conversation! (eg can often buy  
just a few strawberries) And for peas or
beans I normally mime a handful (un mano, Things to cook into the
por favor? Es possible?) pasta/rice

a carrot (also handy to eat raw as snack


as are red peppers - big in Vit C)

tomato

little green pimientos

mushroom

shallots

Handful of leaves

Peas or beans

Keep your eyes peeled for things on the


counter near the knife – and watch
previous shoppers; sometimes you can
get a rodaja (tronza) de calabaza (slice of
pumpkin)

a slice of col (cabbage)


NO TOCAR - Don’t touch! The mom/pop
will pick up and bag your items for you. I normally say ‘una pequena, solo para yo!’
You must speak! and we all laugh and smile … 

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AND watch out for an already cooked Jar of asparagus
batata (sweet potato) from surprising
bakers Jar of cooked beans

For the salad: leaves, of course If sharing then Mercadona do a nice


guacamole and there’s a choice of
Avocado hummus - but perhaps you can manage a
whole container on your own with some
Cocktail cucumbers delicious bread?

Other common things from Depending on how hungry you are you
may need to ask if there is any dairy-free
the fruiteria/market
bread. Often there is.
Handful of walnuts – many rice/pasta
In Oviedo there was a lactose-free spelt
dishes are improved with the addition of
specialist baker. Pan sin lactosa.
walnuts!
It depends how hungry you are. If you
Almonds (almendras)
don’t ask, there’s always the chance it
Dates (datiles) could be … (most bread in Spain is made
with milk. Sorry.)
Figs (higos)

Cocktail mix of fruit and nuts - salty with


big chunks of corn
Things to order in
cafes 
SMALL – not to carry – eat
that night Breakfast/morning tea – tostada integral
con tomate y aciete (normally in deal with
Tin of peas zumo de naranja y café) - tomato on toast
with olive oil and garlic or a variation
Can/jar roasted peppers
thereof.

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Churros! But make sure the choc is made Pimentos al padron (those little green
with water. peppers roasted SO YUM with nice bread
and oil)
say: Soy vegetariano/a - vegano/vegana
(I am veg - a is for girls) Espinachas con garbanzos (spinach and
chickpeas)
say: SOLO VERDURAS (only
vegetables) Setas or Championes al Aljillo
(mushrooms, garlic and olive oil)
say: SIN PRODUCTOS DE ANIMALES
Berenjenas (eggplant)
(without animal products)
Pisto (roasted vegetable stew like
say: SIN (without) jamon (ham ratatouille)
pronounced hamon) atun (tuna) queso
(cheese) huevos (eggs) miel (honey) Ajo Blanco (chilled almond soup – haven’t
tried this yet, sounds great)
mayo (unless it’s vegan!) leche/lactosa
(milk) nata/crema (cream) Crema de verduras  (veg soup)

say: Por favor (please!) Ensalada mixta; (lechuga, maiz, tomate,


esparagus, pepino, pimento, acuacate

¡SIN PRODUCTOS DE ANIMALES


Look for:
POR FAVOR!
Parrillada or Escalivada de verduras
(roasted vegetables DELICIOUS! – hold the Here! She says it better!
mayo)
https://www.thenomadicvegan.com/the-ult
Zanahorias aliñadas (marinaded carrots) imate-vegan-guide-to-spain/

Esparagus con aciete AND remember to use


https://www.happycow.net/ – the
Gazpacho (or Salmorejo but hold the eggs friendliest café with vego options can be
and ham) found in the most unlikely places

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3 Las Cosas

¡Buen Camino! Things to take with you


Keep it small
Keep it light
Do you really need it?

Please note: the longest time on the Try to get biodegradable - you may need to
Camino del Norte/Primitivo without a shop bury rubbish. The following are only
is 22km. There will be a shop soon. suggestions! Go your own way.

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boots. These are your homes for six weeks
or however long you walk. Mine feel like
Ask yourself - do I need it? Can I live slippers now. Vegan boots are available. (I
without it? Can I buy it along the way? know Dubbin’s not vegan. And neither are
(Yes, you probably can.) the boots. I try.)

See the book: ‘To walk far carry less’:


Socks that fit well and are geared to the
https://www.amazon.com.au/Camino-Sant
weather - you don’t need fluffy winter
iago-Walk-Carry-Less-ebook/dp/B005NK
socks in the middle of summer. Get expert
NB0I
advice. Do not skimp on socks. I took
three pairs. Two is enough. But it will rain.
Two outfits as a general rule - one to
Keep one pair dry at all times. This could
wear while the other washes. I preferred to
be in a special lockup plastic bag
sleep in a third outfit - tee-shirt and
running shorts - heavy!
Toenail clippers and foot moisturiser.
You must love, massage and thank your
Take plenty of time. This is probably the
feet every day. Keep your toenails short.
last time you’ll do this (although some
You may use the same moisturiser for your
people do it over and over again) so make
face. See a podiatrist six weeks before
sure you’ve calculated enough
walking. No closer than that. Let your feet
rest/exploring days. Why rush? Do a
be as soft and relaxed as the smile on your
shorter camino like Portugues or English if
face. Have you trimmed your toenails
you can’t afford the time.
today? I know I have.
CHOOSE THE SMALLEST, LIGHTEST,
Sleeping bag and inner sheet - suitable
PACK POSSIBLE
for the prevailing weather. I took a pillow
Actually, choose lightest, smallest case to fill with a jumper as a pillow but
EVERYTHING you don’t need to. There’s often pillows in
the albergues. In summer you may not
Camino rule - your pack should weigh need the bag.
one tenth of your body weight

Boots that fit - get an expert’s advice.


Wear them in well. Do not skimp on your

20
Protective sheet - If there’s been a Jumper / hoodie - LIGHT warm thing -
bedbug infestation certain albergues will avoid big bulky favourite knitwear!
provide you with a protective sheet for the
mattress but I saw no evidence of creepy Sun hat - really. If you are outside for
crawlies anywhere I stayed. (Don’t put your hours you will be vulnerable to sun no
backpack on the bunks.) Towards the end I matter what temperature
did carry diluted lavender oil to spray
Raincoat - I had a poncho which was
around me and still I never saw a bedbug
brilliant as a ground cover to sit on as well
but did I feel slightly more relaxed?
as a sturdy windbreak - it needed the
Plain comfy cotton underwear that structure of a cap to keep the hood up
washes well and dries fast away from my eyes. It will rain on the
Norte. It rains nearly every day in the
Walking trousers that zip off to shorts - Basque Country and maybe every second
make sure the zip does not rub against day in Asturias and Galicia. It will certainly
your skin - handy to have safe zip pockets rain. Consider walking with bare legs in
for phone / wallet rain - shorts or skirt - much easier to dry

Walking shirts (I prefer long sleeved for Water bottle/s - consider carrying on your
sun protection) Many walking shirts have front - perhaps in a fanny pack or front
turn up collars that tuck under a hat. Also holsters as well as sunglasses and snacks
if you have front pockets you can get away - weight on your front balances the weight
with no bra. Most walking shirts might of the backpack - 2 litres of water plus
seem expensive but they dry super fast, stuff will weigh you down
have sun protective fabric and last for
years and years of solid wear. I took two. Going into town outfit - comfortable and
decent - shirt/skirt/shorts/trousers /dress -
Zip up sleeveless warm vest - I like these light - just one - do you really need it?
- lots of pockets with zips. You will be
walking by the coast. There will be breezy
days.
Sandals / jandals / thongs / flip flops - in
certain shower stalls and perhaps going
into town

21
Essential medications - whatever you cream/paracetamol - but you can buy stuff
need for as long as you need it - but do on the way.
you really need it?
A wrap / sulu / fabric to cover head in
Bar of soap - plain - not just for skin - hair church / sunscreen over shoulders /
- clothes … Same thing! Some people take warmth / instead of sheet in heat … this
mini clothes pegs or travelling clothes line could also work as a travellers towel

Small travellers towel (also consider a Tissues / toilet paper


tiny corner of a face washer if you like a
little scrubber with you) padlock and key - some
hostels/albergues have lockers
Toothpaste / toothbrush / floss - some
people like to saw the end off their Headtorch

toothbrush to save weight. Well. If you’re


Plastic containers for leftovers
that fussy … cut the labels out of your
clothes too Travellers probiotics - hopefully you
won’t need them but if you do get the
Moisturiser
squitters …
Sunscreen
Walking sticks (bastónes) - take 30% of

Muscle cream - For those strained or your body weight and give your arms a

twisted aches and pains - BUT FIRST be good work out - some folk love a rustic

careful - take your time! Avoid injury. Take wooden walking stick for that pilgrim

a rest. (Keep your eyes peeled for Pomada feeling - can you take it through customs?

Sant Juan - a magic lotion I was You might find one on the way. And leave it

encouraged to buy in Donastia - includes there. Handy if you meet an angry dog

hypericon)
Notebook / journal / pens /pencils

Hand sanitiser /watercolours etc (Think of the weight!)

First aid - Bandaids, antiseptic cream to Guide book? Up to date? Some people

keep hurts moist / iodine to dry out rip out pages as they go - getting lighter ...

wounds / Sting/insect bite

22
information is published all the time.
And you will do your Camino your way!

Some people listen to music / podcasts


/ audio books etc while walking. I like to
keep my wits about me while walking.
Listening perhaps for twinkling creeks,
rushing rivers, birds or cars, dogs or
approaching walkers. I would save the
audio books for those grim snorey
nights.

Smart phone and headphones. Do you Wifi is pronounced ‘wee fee’ and there’s
really have to take an extra camera as plenty of it.
well? There are lots of Camino based apps
and info - always upgrading - so up to you Charger - do keep an eye on your phone.

- or choose to stay off grid.


Ear plugs / eye mask for sleeping

I only used paper maps from Tourist


Sense of humour
Offices (I used them as a touch stone for
advice) and the Gronze app Sense of awe
(https://www.gronze.com/) which helped
my written Spanish understanding. Now I Flexibility
think I would take maps.me
(https://maps.me/) and download each Time - lots of time - be rich in
map for the next stage before I travelled. I time - and patience. You’ll get
did that when walking from Pamplona to
Burgos in 2019 and it definitely cut out a there in time. 5km in one hour.
lot of walking in circles for me. Roughly.
A good place to start is the forum
(https://www.caminodesantiago.me/comm
unity/) but do your own research. New

23
4
Camino del Norte

The Coastal Way, the Northern Way, the Spain you might begin your camino from
Green Way, El Camino del Norte is the way Irun or if you have a spare day or two, you
to get to Santiago de Compostella across might leave from Hendaye in France.
the top of Spain. They say you begin your However you go, you will do it your way.
camino when you leave your front door. In There you go. Buen Camino!

24
Pasages de San Juan, Martes 7th Junio - DAY
1 - Hospital de peregrinos Santa Ana - 16.7km
(with additional km for lostage)

A deep hulled rowing boat with thirteen the setting sun as I studied this
rowers and an oarsman steering heaved old-fashioned wharf. No roll-on-roll-off
across a perfect postcard fishing port. The containers in sight. Piles and heaps of
water was such a deep green blue it was things and cranes and a marina crackling
almost black. A motorboat flashed white full of tall-masted euros. Nothing too
alongside, an encouraging loud trainer ostentatious, mainly fishing vessels mixed
shouting instructions. There was some in with the odd yacht and some cute
kind of diving bird nearby. I kept catching brightly coloured dinghies.
tantalising splashing out of the corner of
my eye. I couldn’t imagine a fish that size I looked out over this port and considered

and I didn’t see the bird resurface my day.

anywhere nearby. My chocolate melted in

25
The train, running past grim deserted phone. It was on a lanyard, empty, already
buildings, had taken me from glossy attached to the backpack. The perfect
touristic San Sebastian to the more place for such an important document.
austere Irun. First stop, Officina de Turismo
(Tourist Information) to find the map and The priest got out his yellow marker and,

ask where I could get my pilgrim’s instead of pointing the way marked by the

credential. The smiling, kind ladies in the scallop shells, coloured in a ‘short cut’ on

office provided me with a map of Irun and the map of Irun with an almost

another of The Basque Country containing tourist-office drag and swirl to the left. He

delicious photos of seaside scenery and assured me this would be by far the best

information about El Camino de Santiago way for the likes of me. Now, this could

del Norte. With the traditional tourist officer have been in deference to my extreme age

pen swirl and flourish arrow across and and infirmity or it could have been a secret

around the map, they told me I would be priest’s way but to make sure I was on the

able to catch the priest before he stopped right track …

for lunch if I hurried. By the train station.


WAIT! What’s all this? I thought I was
Where I’d just come from.
going to stay in Irun? The fact of the

I trotted back to the station, back to the matter was the Irun albergue would not

church, the office beside the church and open for another five hours. There was

found the priest, who during the course of nothing to do in Irun. So I may as well

our pleasant chat, almost smiled once. He crack on, right? Off you go. Pasages a

carefully examined my passport and filled mere 17km ahead. No problema. We

in the credential, a card with information waved cheerio and he hastened to his

about the Camino and gaps for the stamps priest’s lunch.

I would collect from each place I would


Just to be sure I was facing the right way, I
stay. I went to put it in my pocket. I must
asked two police officers marching along
have appeared too casual (because I was)
on their beat. Correcto! Reassured, I
and he shook his head, warning me this
walked a small distance and put my pack
was a precious document. Luckily I’d
down on a bench. Pulled out the two front
bought an assortment of strong plastic
pockets designed to carry my water
bags from a camping shop in Melbourne.
bottles, plugged them into the belt of the
One had been intended for the mobile

26
pack, smeared sunscreen on my nose and indeed. But the way to Santiago is there,
ready, set, magical, gliding steps onto the to the right. His stubby finger stabbed the
Camino de Santiago. by now well-worn map with yellow priest
streak. Said the man in the bar, ‘This map
The sun was shining. Just enough to make is WRONG’. How could it possibly be? A
me hot. I kept walking. At last. I had made priest had made that yellow mark. A priest!
it to the Camino del Norte. This was it. I trusted the priest, not the man in the bar!
I marched on with head held high. And I
There were no other pilgrims in sight.
found myself in a busy highway. With no
I asked another woman, just to be sure, path. And MUCHAS TRAFFICAS! And an
who said, in words of Spanish, NO, I extremely large flattened snake curled
should have turned off back there. Really. across my path.
BUT I didn’t trust her, she looked shifty. I
knew directions could be erroneous.

In hindsight that was stubborn of me. It


only gave me further to travel back when I
asked another hombre and he assured me,
no, I really should have turned off back
there. Go back two roundabouts and do
not collect any money. Right. Trudge,
trudge, trudge … Back. Ask someone else,
am I correct? Si. Phew.

Still no other pilgrims.

Going past a bar I asked the mujer


(woman) sitting outside in the cloud of
tobacco smoke. She didn’t have her gafas
(glasses) with her (or maybe she couldn’t
read maps). It would be much better to ask Oh, I really didn’t think this was going so
him, in the bar, there, that man, another well. The cars were flat-footing,
hombre. Right. He looked very suspicious zip-zapping, very close by.

27
I came to a bold red bridge across the started something new. I’d been lost so
highway and decided to cross. Two men many times, I always went in the wrong
painted the structure, hanging out over the direction, I always did the wrong thing…
edge in a little box, and, although tempted,
I thought they were too busy to interrupt, Weeping and feeling incredibly sorry for

hanging out in space as they were. I got to myself, I heard a splashing at my feet.

a safe position at the intersection of two There was a school of large, shining fish

busy roads and a quiet path leading to a swirling in the creek. There were also two

nature reserve. I asked a man with a tyres but I decided to stop and smell the

fishing rod over his shoulder coming from roses. Or at least watch the fish swimming

the reserve. And he said, ‘WRONG WAY for a while. The path wound through a

GO BACK’. But, I protested, saying, ‘Look, nature reserve and even though I was

here, the priest said … ‘ confused and bothered I could see it was
lovely and the sun glinted from the water
And up came another walker from the as the fish swirled beneath.
sanctuary who was carrying two white
death lillies. They both insisted that I was I made a deal with myself. If I went near

wrong, the priest was wrong, there was the restaurant I passed earlier, I would go

only one way to Santiago from Irun and in and ask about somewhere to sleep.

this was not it. There was only one thing There was no point in being sad about

for it. I had to go back through the this. The air was clear. The sun was

sanctuary to find the road to Santiago. shining. The fish were silvery-beaut.

(Not the strange way or the common


The track was long and finally, it was true, I
man’s way, just the signposted way!) They
came out near the restaurant. I went in and
would brook no argument.
fell upon their mercy. The two women were

I trudged back along a path through the so happy to help, as were ALL the peeps

sanctuary along a creek. I felt miserable. who had given me advice throughout this

Tears ran down my cheeks. I was tired and tortuous day, all so pleased to assist a

hot. All along I’d been waiting for a bar so I goof like me who could only understand

could reorganise the pack and have a wee. limited words like a two year old. I was a

I was so uncomfortable and wasn’t this pilgrim who needed help and, of one thing

just like me, I had to get lost every time I

28
I was certain, the kind people of Irun were A LOT more than that and I had to keep
keen to help. saying, ‘Simple! Por favor!’

At least, at this restaurant surrounded by And it was. Simple, I mean. All I had to do
lines of bright green grape vines, I received was go up hill. I had to get out my
a nice cup of herbal tea and that did bastónes and get serious. Not quite
restore me. I sat in the sun with my cup on bush-bashing, but this was well off the
a half-barrel table and thought about beaten track. Okay, I thought, I had to
failure and life and what this meant for my make Sally proud. Onwards and upwards!
Camino. The kind ladies both insisted I go
to the local hotel and start again tomorrow. I got into my stride, found the hiking poles

Fine, I completely agreed with them. The to be of benefit and got into a rhythm of

hotel was right up the road by the green sorts when suddenly a large glossy black

metal door. horse appeared ahead and above me on


the track. It was a beautiful creature and
I set off, reconfigured and ready. I didn’t the man aboard seemed grateful when I
see anything green up the road. I saw a squashed myself into a shrub on the other
red door but I kept right on walking until I side of the track. He was a nervy horse.
found an elderly man trimming his ivy Highly bred. Like me.
hedge. He was on the inside of the fence
with his cute little dog and I was on the Onwards and upwards we went and the

outside. He told me, NO, the hotel is shape of the track was like the old bed of

closed. It would not open until July. Right. a creek - and it probably would have been

But I had been thinking about my friend serious if the rain had been coming down

Sally-Anne Mill and how ashamed of me but it was warm and sunny and I kept

she would have been if I’d just stopped on going ARRIBA until I finally came out at the

my first day because I was sulking about top, to find a road and a great big yellow

walking too far. So he told me I could just arrow! The first I’d seen. And on the top of

walk straight up this hill to Guadaloupe. the hill, there was the Ermita de

Just go a la izquierda (left) and a la Guadalupe, a graceful spire-topped

derecha (right), keep on the path amplia church. It was shut. I walked all around it

(wide) and go up. Arriba! (Up!) But he said and looked down the proper road to the

29
beautiful curve of a beach called A few kms along there was a sign, pointing
Hondarribia. Why hadn’t I stayed there? to the Camino Alpinista. There were some
warning hints this was probably a more
difficult way, words like Alpine generally
implied steepness and height to me, so I
chose to walk the midway point. The
Canadians and a German woman reported
that when they went the alpinist way they
all variously got lost AND chased by cows
with pointy horns, a bull with love on his
mind and assorted horses. But they saw
incredible coastal views.

At least the low road was clearly sign


-posted. Every time I saw one of the many
reassuring yellow arrows, I was thrilled!

It looked picturesque, a perfect Spanish And, after a while, I began to whistle. A

beach, crescent-moon of sand. man went by and asked, ‘Mas contenta?’


and I said, ‘Mucho!’ I think Sally would
It had taken me way too many hours to have approved.
walk five kilometres.
Eventually I got to the Albergue Santa Ana,
After that, it was easy! I just followed the which I found ironic, because Santa Ana
arrows along the path for the next 10kms was the name of Cathedral in Vittoria
and got to the albergue. Along the way I Gasteiz I could not escape as I kept going
saw cows with pointy horns, and there round in lost circles. This Ana I was
were dragonflies, some with azure bodies beyond pleased to see.
and some with brilliant green. Onwards,
onwards and there was even fresh water On arrival a genial mine-host, our

coming out of the wall - I was too scared hospitalero, grabbed my bastónes to put

to try it but later three Canadians said it into the large container near the door,

was good. indicated the boots shelf and led me (in


sweaty socks) up to the top room where

30
he was decanting the female walkers. He mushroom paté. I watched the rowers, the
was so reassuring, presumably used to the sun and the deep blue sea. And the bell
sight of hapless walkers on their first ever tolled above me. The other pilgrims had
outing into the wilderness. Or not gone to the town down below to find
wilderness, really, because this spot was banks, restaurants and pharmacies.
well-habited and welcoming with pots of
geraniums decorating the path heading Apparently (in 2016) only 6% of all pilgrims

towards the albergue. choose to do the Camino del Norte. When


I stopped to photograph the dragonflies,
And, after a shower, a wash of sweaty one came to sit on my hand. She had large
clothes, all was well again. I sat in a eyes. She was extremely beautiful.
beautiful position with my back against the
warm stone wall of the albergue, But, why did the priest tell me to go the

overlooking the port, almost a fiord. The wrong way?

water had an unctuous roll in the setting


sun as I tucked into biscuits and

31
San Sebastian/Donastia, Miercoles 8th Junio -
DAY 2 - Albergue juvenil Ondarreta (La Sirena)
- 10km

There was a gentle thrum of girlish snoring was my opportunity to brush up my pilgrim
in our albergue bog overnight and hot and act. In the old days one went to Santiago
airless it was too. But plenty of sleep even and came back with the scallop shell as a
though the bell of Santa Ana rang the symbol of one’s success. Because that’s
hours and the halves as well. Up and where the scallops grew. That’s where the
going before mine-host cleaners swept us scallops covered Saint James’s stone
out to breakfast on the verandah coffin. A likely story. But these days, we
overlooking the quiet port. stuck the scallop shell on the outside of
our packs, indicating that we’re probably
As I was leaving I saw a small handful of lost and when we ask can you point us
scallop shells hanging by the door. That’s towards Santiago? Thanks.
right! I was going to buy one in Irun. Here

32
I joined a small clump of pilgrims and we listening to sea gulls calling. These were
marched together to the water’s edge to verdant hills with a shock of
catch my first boat of the Camino. The weatherbeaten rock scratching up parts of
water was languid and soothing. We the rise, perhaps pitted with nesting
stepped on board and I really felt like my hollows. A distant castle punctuated the
journey had begun. This was utter bliss. headland. It was a clearly defined walk. As
The trip lasted all of three minutes, but we contemplated a fork in the road, a
going over water implied going to another caballero came along (there were many
land. I suppose too, a different form of retired gentlemen walking their dogs, or
transport from walking, one that has lasted possibly their prescribed hearts, along the
the centuries. Although it had an outboard path) and told us the scenic route was
motor and not a rowing slave! much better than that signposted.The
yellow arrow would only take us quickly
back to the road.

So we went the white/blue/green stripe


way and it was SO beautiful by the sea,
lighthouse castle, remainders of
battlements and fortifications, and the far-
off sighting of Mount Igeudo.

Back home in San Sebastian, we walked


down into the town, landing mere metres
from my favourite cafe. I tucked into
Another debate over our next choice; tostada con tomate y aciete (tomato and
whether to take the headland path or cut olive oil on toast) followed by fruit salad
inland? Inga, the young German from drenched in fresh orange juice. Inga and I
Hamburg, and I decided to go the long were joined by newbie Caterina from
way around to see the coastal views and, Belgium who was just deciding if she
given the perfect weather, it was the should start her walk this day or the next.
correct option. We sent her on her way to Irun after
comparative pack weighing. She was
We walked along the cliffside of the sea,
ready. My pack was by far the heaviest.
gazing at deep blue sky, gentle water,

33
We strolled along the beachfront. I felt a she was not bearing me too much
little sad to be finally saying goodbye to antagonism. I was so lucky my Airbnb host
San Sebastian after this fortnight and I was was generous enough to put up with my
able to point out areas of interest to Inga nonsense. But,1.3kg lighter. It all added
like an experienced guide. up!

The albergue was right at the other end of I went in search of sustenance. It took
the beach. It was actually a huge Youth time. A weekly Guardian to read, rice milk
Hostel with all things needed, including a to drink, some olives and an aqua con gas
French school trip! The two job’s-worths (fizzy mineral water) to snack upon. No
on duty took their time to work out which food until 7pm. But it was worth the wait -
bunks were booked and eventually we a delicious salad sandwich and crispy
joined twelve other dames in a clean airy chips. Pretty expensive and such a long
room. Most were backpackers but later, in wait but I wasn’t going anywhere. Sweet
the kitchen, it became clear that some crispy bread, splashed with olive oil, laden
other folk were on the Camino. One just with asparagus, lettuce, tomato and salty
had a tiny daypack and she expected to chips. I loved it.
be finished in under four weeks. (I planned
six weeks.) Back at the hostel, a cup of peppermint
tea, catch up on notes, a spot of apricot
I hired a towel and popped down to the soy yogurt and the hilarious Year 9 French
beach. Lovely just sitting in the sun in my camp. Or so it seemed. I still had a lot of
black undies. Then I decided to swim. I tea. Why shouldn’t I take it upstairs? I was
was very brave and went right into that being youthed out here.
freezing water. There was a woman
swimming far out, an astounding feat in After midnight one of our room mates had

that chill, and as she came in I realised she the decency to open our windows and

was wearing a wet suit. Cheating! That shout down to the rowdy and still hilarious

was it for me. I sat in the sun to dry and French camp to please shut up.

went to organise myself.


Ah, thank goodness for the kind Camino

I took out another kilo of extraneous stuff people. Gratitude rules.

and posted it to Blanka in Prague. I hoped

34
Orio, Jueves 9th Junio - DAY 3 - Albergue de
peregrinos San Martin - 14km

The wind flapped the umbrella over the One of the highlights of this albergue was
cafe table outside the kitchen cabin where an electric centrifugadora (clothes
I sat to write my notes. This was a kind of spinner). It was a single purpose machine,
playhouse decked out as a kitchen cum reaching almost to my hip height, where
dining room. It overlooked a swelling you placed your wet clothes evenly around
horizon of distant blue and the river. I was the column of the tube and shut the lid.
right beside an orchard and a veggie When you turned it on, it spun, and water
patch. The air was rural and crispy clean. ran out of the bottom into a catcher bowl.
Having enjoyed a shower and managed to This was much more effective than
wash my clothes, things couldn't have wringing your shirt by hand. I loved it. San
been nicer. Martin was a good albergue.

35
I could see baby apples in the aged trees have an interactive information centre
beside me. There were sparrows about the Camino de Santiago, plus two
squabbling in the next tree - a nectarine beaches and two health food shops! All
perhaps. The public trees I'd noticed in earthly needs. Was regretting posting my
plazas on the way here were so heavily skirt on to Prague as now I only had my
pruned, one could only hope they had walking trousers as 'going to town'
enough strength to shoot forth leafy new clothes. Of course I arrived in the small
growth for shade in the depth of summer. village centre just as everything was
closing but found a pleasant cafe with a
I had arrived early to the albergue San patio, serving a generous salad and chips.
Martin - a rural casa in the midst of coastal
Basque country. Somehow, this truly felt It had been another beautiful walk this
like my first albergue. I'd fallen unawares morning. Back in Donastia, I was
into Pasages and I'd already spent time in awakened by the Spanish girl's alarm, I
San Sebastian but this town, Orio, was all suppose at 5:30? Jeez. With a dozen
new. It was green and deep in the heart of females in the same youth hostel room this
rustic farming country. There were seemed a bit heartless. Even so, I was
numerous welcoming signs and greetings awake already, thinking of my bladder and
around the little desk at the front door. A hoping I would not be the first to flood the
distant woman shrieked at me that she main room with light, opening the door to
was coming when I rang the little bell and I the automatically lit bathroom. So, I
slipped my bastónes into the container by wasn't.
the boot rack and sat down in the chair,
reading the poem over the door about I hopped up to get my breakfast

persisting through all weathers, not giving ingredients out of the locker, so pleased I

up being the pilgrim's relentless purpose. brought the padlock. I fitted right in with
everyone else! I tied the key to my Knight's
She looked at my driver's licence, Templar necklace (another token from
stamped my credential and showed me to Keira, reminding me I had to look after
the bunkroom. I was the first one in and myself) and was easily able to find it in the
chose an upper bunk near the door as the dark, attached as it was to the body of my
bulk of the room was not near fresh air. pack. I worked like an expert safe cracker,
She told me Orio was fortunate enough to now with only nine sleeping chicas in the

36
room, working the key into the lock in the arrogant MEN making this kind of boastful
dark with barely a clink. announcement?) nearly always arrived
AFTER these female storytellers to
Down in the bowels of the Youth Hostel I Santiago. The gals ended up laughing
enjoyed breakfast with that exemplary happily, describing the disappointment on
Spanish girl of tiny backpack. I questioned the crestfallen and unshaven blokes as
her closely to discover she was only they met their placid female observers in
carrying singlets, shorts and a raincoat. (!!) the streets and byways of Santiago.
There was a Russian girl chatting to a
spritely French/Belgian lady, who was We all agreed the Camino was not a race. I
smartly dressed in crisply pleated hiking most certainly intended to go as slowly as
gear of the high-end style, the kind of thing possible at this early stage, planning to
the-almost-elderly-lady-really-ought-to- build up fitness gradually AND see
wear-on-a-modern-walking-expedition. everything I could!
She explained she had walked to Pasages
de San Juan but couldn't be bothered There were some familiar faces at the

waiting for hours for the albergue to open Youth Hostel even though most of the

so she'd caught the bus to San Sebastian. chicas I spent time with had pressed on to

She said, 'I have nothing to prove.' the next pueblo, Zarautz. I intended to go
through there on the next day and find an
A young Italian woman appeared and it albergue in an old convento further on.
turned out this group had already done the
Camino de Frances so they were full of I had decided against carrying a

anecdotes and comparisons for us guidebook. The English one was not highly

newbies. All of them described with some rated on the chatty and opinionated

zest the arrogant, 'I'm going to walk SO far Camino Forum. The German guidebook

and SO fast' attitudes they had had the best maps and information but

encountered on the trail. They detailed a was in German. I had decided to use my

strange and interesting thing that limited Spanish to utilise the Gronze app.

happened to these most arrogant and This was downloadable (as I only used Wifi

boasting ambitions. It seemed the most at cafe/hostels I needed access to the

superior of the men (how could it be that knowledge of the app at all times) and

these women only had memories of detailed. Which meant that for every ten

37
words I didn't understand I could guess I also noted a small striped bird, perhaps a
one or two and put the pictures together honeyeater. It went by very fast. There was
with some on-track gossip and some lucky some sort of falcon, or perhaps a kite,
guessing. And who wants to know the full surveying the lands slowly from above and
story before you get there, anyway? Isn't it also some wrens hopped in the shrubs.
better to be continually surprised? There were blackbirds and thrushes. I saw
(Pleasantly, of course.) a thrush beating a snail to death on a step.
You have realised by now my interest in
As I walked along the forest track, I birds is purely superficial.
enjoyed convivial encounters with various
retired gentlemen. One had a very sore Mainly, we were in fairyland. I walked past
eye, no top and a little camera bouncing a picture-postcard cottage, geraniums
on his belly. At first, I thought he might blooming in pots, an old dog spread out
have been a bird watcher but I think he like a frayed hessian doormat and several
was one of those fellows whose wife cats crouched by the door. Opposite the
wanted him out of the house in the lane, still in front of the door, a bay mare
morning. As early as possible. with bright blonde mane watched me
implacably as I walked by. I possibly had
I, however, was a bird watcher of much my mouth open, for I was truly amazed by
ignorance. There were some red robins all this rural glory on display.
along the track. They had tiny spindly thin
legs. I think one must have been a baby, I found a flat rock upon which to gnaw my
for it had no fear, hopping around a muddy apple, knowing full well there would be an
patch, pecking away, completely oblivious even more picturesque place just around
to passing pilgrims. Various peregrinos the corner. But it was a sunny spot from
tiptoed around this tiny little bird to fill their whence to bid the peregrinos, 'Buen
water bottles at a water fountain nearby, Camino' as they passed.
signposted as potable. I watched his mum
pop down to feed him once but as more One, my pal Inga from Hamburg, wished

humans joined me to admire him and his me well, saying she was impressed with

tiny stick legs she chivvied him on and I my bravery, coming to Spain for a year

also left the robin deli. knowing hardly any Spanish! Well! How
DARE she! I knew HEAPS of words!

38
Inga had a great job. For eleven years,
or the equivalent, she was allowed to
work for a year and then to take a
sabbatical for a year, both on half salary.
Sort of two for one. So she had an
income to do whatever she wanted. She
said some of her similarly employed
colleagues were artists who worked six
months on their own stuff and then six
months for the educational
establishment that paid them. Extremely
civilised. She was set for twenty-two
years, half of which was to be travelling flops/thongs/jandals (whatever you want to
the world. call them) for the first time that season and
you couldn't wear them for long the first
After my comfortable lunch in Orio I went time, could you? The beach was further
into the bar to pay. There, I saw my first along than I'd estimated, beside the
cider pour in the Basque Country. I've concrete edge of the well-controlled river
pointed out before my lack of interest in port entrance. I marched along, past the
things gastronomic and now I have to school sporting grounds and eventually
admit I'm a wowser, or teetotaller. (Or made my way onto the sand. Far, far away,
coffeetotaller). I can still see dramatic flair was the sea. I didn't know why there was
behind a bar, though. When people pour such a stretch of sand. The structure
cider in the Basque country, and I believe appeared to have been manufactured as
in Asturias, the next province the Camino part of the control of the river mouth. I
would visit, they do it from a great and thought the sand must be imported from a
very splashy height in order to bring in sand mine. It was one of my first sightings
some airy bubbles. Well worth hanging of boardwalks across such a sandy
around a bar to see that! Not too close, expanse. I don't think I've ever seen them
though, you will get splashed. in Australia but perhaps it might be useful
in the future? Little wooden duckboards
I decided to head down to the beach. The
cover the distance across foot-burning
sun came out. I wore flip
sand to arrival at the water's edge; a less

39
hoppy, skippy experience than I'd communal roll for all. You took as you
undergone in the past. But unnecessary as needed BEFORE you went into the
we were not in high sun season yet, cubicle. How could you tell before the
although it was warming up. I strolled to event? As I choked back outrage a
the water's edge, eyeing some pallid chattering cheerful school visit arrived at
swimmers with suspicion. It was true. This the bathroom. The children poured in and I
was cold water. I would not swim that day. couldn't get out.
Instead I went to wash my slightly sore
feet and find a bathroom. There was a Mr Grumpy leapt from his nest behind his

brick building that looked a bit like a Surf bench and his round red face split open in

Club, actually it was a Surf Club, but with the most genuine and kind, welcoming

public toilets attached. smile I've ever seen. He beamed at the


two teachers and bent to encourage each
Here was Mr Grumpy, guarding both child to partake of as much paper as they
female and male sanctuaries from his required, shepherding each to the correct
vantage point, sitting in the middle of the cubicle in turn. He was a lighthouse of love
bathrooms. He was large, serious and and gentle guiding. Mr Grumpy had gone.
wearing a black tee shirt with something He had transformed into Cutie Darling
heavy, muscular and grim over his Sweetie Pie. I sidled out beside the stream
obviously not muscular form. He listened of excited chatter and disappeared into
to Spanish heavy-metal hip-hop rap music the world of duckboard.
on his radio. He waved me in to the ladies
toilets, to the right. As I left his vestibule Beside the beach there was an aviary of

area he turned the music up. sorts, a demonstration of correct bird


housing. It was a large fenced area with a
He forgot to tell me about the paper! There built-in river, stylish cacti and citrus trees.
was none. Not even a hook to hang an Strolling, preening and sunning themselves
empty dispenser. Luckily, I had a tissue in therein were: chickens and geese, ducks
my pocket and after I'd finished and and turkeys. You name them, edible birds
washed my hands, I turned, helpful, of every shape and size strutted their stuff.
slightly embarrassed, to tell him there was I watched a baby rooster being taught a
no lavatory paper. That's when I saw it. On few lessons by his grand daddy. Kept in
the wall. A toilet paper dispenser. A

40
place! Firmly! No crowing from young San Sebastian. This albergue provided
wannabes around this old fella. dinner but due to my weird diet I decided
I'd get in early and make my own meal.
I walked back to the albergue, gathering
veggie ingredients for my dinner. The A tall young man with pale straw hair,
thongs made the cobbled stones of the about sixteen, looked hungrily at my
town uncomfortable. It’s much better to frypan stirring. He did not meet my eyes to
travel in boots in populated areas. The talk but slid words out sideways from his
ancient elegant old buildings reached into mouth. I'd seen him embracing a very thin
the air over the thin roads in stylish lady on the swing seat on the far side of
manner. I found the information centre and the veggie patch and was relieved when
modern and informative it was too. Then I she arrived in the playhouse to chat.
meandered back up the hill towards my Turned out he was her youngest son and
rural haven. Everything was peaceful. A he was on the Aspergers scale. She had
dog barked on a far off hill. A tractor four children in total, all of whom she'd
started in a paddock nearby. Rural bliss. home schooled. Her older children were
busy with their lives back in the States and
And, from right beside me, in the most her husband had decided that was the end
terrifying and scary way possible, a sheep of their marriage. She'd moved to a
BAAAAED. Loudly. strange town. He was a pilot who could
afford to fly them anywhere and she was a
I leapt into the air. Now, dogs do that all
dreamer who loved the idea of the
the time, we've all known the sort. They
Camino.
wait for people to get just to the point in
the fence where they’re most exposed and She felt she could not put this trip off any
then they create maximum fright. longer and she'd taken steps to bring her
Deliberately. I swear that sheep had taken unpredictable son and enjoy the ride.
lessons from experts. I nearly died
laughing. Wily baaaastard. She told me that as they arrived in the
casa there'd been some confusion in the
On my return I found freshly arrived household as the kid ran straight through
pilgrims had taken up position in the the space reserved for the albergue - the
bunks; a young German couple and downstairs sort of large garage or perhaps
various others I'd met either at Pasages or

41
rumpus room in some parts of the world - other direction, averaging forty kilometres
flung open the secret door to the family a day.
living area upstairs, rushed up and crashed
into their toilet to relieve himself. Once he'd worked out there were more
Apparently this was quite common with Caminos than just the Frances he had felt

people on the spectrum and even makes some urgency to walk from Irun.

an appearance in a 2008 Australian film Immediately. And he'd met this slender

called ‘The Black Balloon’. I hadn't heard lady with her wandering son and known

of the movie but the mum admired it, straight away he was on the right Camino.

telling me it was fraught for some parents


The boy leaned over to explore his head
to contemplate watching something so
and the Swede, retorting, pulled his nose
very close to their own lives.
right back. He was very familiar and

Meanwhile, he enjoyed my rice crackers. straightforward with the boy, engaging him

Turned out he was coeliac. We chatted and reassuring the woman, 'Let him go.

about food matters briefly as I concocted The other people will cope with him.'

a veg stir fry with a sweet potato, green


It was a beginning and I wished them all
pepper, two mushrooms, tomato and a
the very best. I saw them in the distance
handful of spinach together with a couple
over the next day, far ahead of me. He had
of veggie burgers. He wasn't interested in
said he was tired, that he felt like he
all that. He would join in with the shared
needed rest but I think that Swedish man
dinner.
had marched so far, so fast, he could not

I became aware of more folk entering the slow. But it did not seem to matter. He was

playhouse, tables now pushed together on the right track. There you go.

and set for about a dozen people.


My first Camino Moment.

One of these was a grizzled, weathered


man from Sweden. He explained he'd felt
a need to do the Camino. So he'd
marched along the Camino de Frances,
feeling somehow at a loss. Unfulfilled, he
walked back along the same track in the

42
Zumaia, Viernes Junio 10th - DAY 4 - Albergue
de Zumaia (Convento de San José) - 15.5km

That morning was cloudy but warm and I the playhouse to prepare my muesli. I was
hopped up and took my breakfast bag to glad to have access to a kitchen. I’d read

43
that some albergues had them, with system established, a kind of check and
different levels of amenities, and noted double check thing, I felt hopeful things
that I must check BEFORE I went to the would get more streamlined.
shops next time because the hospitaleros
at Orio had urged me to use whatever I All the peeps that had been chatting and

could find in certain cupboards. Sure laughing over a glass of wine with their

enough there were basic supplies, oil and dinner the last night went their separate

spices together with rice and pasta. ways with quiet determination and little
socialising in the morning. There was
I did my stretching in the orchard. As I balking at first with some refusing to wear
saluted the sun half-a-dozen black ponies wet weather gear fearing the mere act of
came as close as they could over in the pandering to the climate was showing
next paddock. They had a good long way weak pilgrim attitude and others, like me,
to run and the sight of them with their tails keen to try out my theoretical Danish rain
streaming out and their manes flying and poncho (derided in Melbourne as too
their hooves pounding into the verdant heavy) to see if it would cover the pack in
green meadow grass was joyous. Just practice. It did!
them flying and me saluting in the early
morning sun. And so I walked out, past the accosting
sheep, with the air cooled by a misty rain
By the time I got back everyone was out in that came and went during the day. After
the forecourt, quietly packing. Some left the heat of the previous three days it was
early WITHOUT BREAKFAST HOW calming to walk in cool. Only a couple of
COULD THEY? Including the mum with times was the heat of the rainwear
the sixteen year old son with Aspergers. oppressive and all I had to do was just
fling open a couple of pops down the side
And so to the leaving. For some reason, and I had air conditioning! By the time I got
packing seemed to have increased in to Zarautz the breakfast had worn off.
difficulty over the previous couple of days. When I saw a man carrying a baguette
I don’t know why. The sleeping bag was a wrapped in paper I deduced it was time for
big trouble to squash and then I forgot the coffee.
towel, on it goes, or had to get the rain
poncho out … I expected once I got a

44
A charming lady in a nearby grocery shop The sea boiled around the rocks of such
directed me away from the yellow arrows, intense sloping sides that I began to pay
towards the beach and a rather smart attention to all the rock formations, both
beachside cafe where I utilised los on the sea side and the cliff side on the
servicios and enjoyed a tostada integral other side of the road. It was amazing, all
con tomato y aciete. The bottle of oil had a those upward thrusts, the same that might
large golden arrow pointing upwards. have caused the Pyrenees and Picos, I
Delicious. Best tostada so far. suppose, that snapped this coastline and
folded it up like a
mille-feuille on edge.

The rain did nothing to


dampen my spirits. I
felt complete freedom
of mind. I was happy to
examine cows (with
pointy horns) some
sheep (though none did
the sneaky hide-behind
-the-hedge to bleat at
the pilgrim ambush
thing).

There were grapevines


and many veggie plots.
Once refreshed I marched back on course,
To my untutored eye it looked as if
admiring dramatic surf and delicate
individual farmers and their families were
sculptures on my way to the sea side road.
still working the land the old way. I
Much like Wellington, NZ, the space
guessed the kids headed off to towns for
between hill and sea was slim. Unlike NZ,
work and maybe brought the grandkids
here was a shapely art deco fence linking
back at weekends to help.
each glamorous street lamp curving ahead
for kilometres.

45
There was a large sign at a vineyard that to safe shipping. The beach also featured
said they’d cut down on chemical use in a similar line of wooden boards as Orio’s
viticulture but generally it didn’t feel like had, out across the presumably imported
land owned by banks or corporations sand leading the happily cool-footed
managed by agricultural college trained tourist to the waters of the Bay of Biscay.
keen beans. There were some very old
tractors and hay balers in amongst just a When I stopped to buy ‘walk-in-to-town’

few fancy new sheds. trousers at a roadside stall (for the


exorbitant price of 10 Euros) (cotton, blue,
The urban areas of the towns themselves they do fit and they’re not that heavy
appeared go ahead; Zarautz, Getaria and although not that ideal light
Zumaia appeared to have a lot of building scrunch-up-small fabric I’d eyed off
works. And, from the looks of it, the previously) the stallholder turned out to
occasional smart graphic designer was have been from Zumaia herself - probably
getting some work. It seemed the new half an hour’s walk away - and she was
buildings were propped up by the same wistful for home. She was very proud of
old bars, so the people might not have her pueblo and told me specifically that
changed their seating arrangements too the flysh was muy bonito. Had I heard of
much over the years. Just had a new the flysh? Of course I thought she was
building come up on top of them. talking about some kind of sea food so I
smiled and nodded and said, ‘Si, si,’ as if I
Didn’t feel like I’d walked that far this day knew what she was on about when of
but in truth it was the furthest I’d walked course I had no idea at all. She probably
since my lost and weary first day. I’m very thought I was incredibly rude. Or just
glad I stopped in Zumaia. It was so rather pathetic.
interesting and it was all about geology
which I can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure When I walked into Zumaia I turned into
of being interested in before. the tourist office to discover I had two
hours before the Albergue opened. She
If it was as cold in Zumaia as it was in San suggested I go to the mythical flysh. Of
Sebastian I would not be swimming. (I course I would! I’d heard all about the
didn’t.) Zumaia also sported a flysh. Whatever it was.
manufactured beach to open the river port

46
She drew all over the somewhat stylised of thousand year old rudely disrupted
and rather unhelpful map in that practiced rocks. An upending of Earthscab.
swirly way of the tourist officer - each thing
making absolutely perfect sense as she I saw a school trip down below. I
said it, ‘Go left here and you can easily wondered if they were my hilarious school

turn here, go straight ahead and, of trip pals from France?

course, it won’t take you more than an


At the other beach over the headland, past
hour … ‘
my cliff, along the side of the beach were

But she didn’t factor in the lossy nature of great caverns and on the other side of the

touristic instructions. She did look at me in sandy cove, a line of slates and shales

some disbelief as she kindly showed me marching out into the sea like some kind of

the way down the street and I couldn’t see demented rock army from Game of

the blue building straight ahead for love Thrones. Further to that was a great cliff of

nor money. But when I did see it, it had such rented zig zag power they went

blue edges around the windows and ahead and named it Flysh. The Flysh

doors, not all blue at all, it wasn’t my fault! covers over ten kilometres. I later heard it’s

She wouldn’t admit to anything. possible to examine the jagged stretch of


shore from a boat tour. If I’d only heard
By 13:30, I could see I would not be back that then. But the big slices of mille-feuille
in her office to collect my bag before they rock lines I saw were terrific. This was the
shut for lunch given I was half way up a Flysh then, a great rending of the surface
cliff at the time. I was stuck until four, when of the earth.
they would re-open. I do have to tell you,
marching up that hill was fantastic. I felt as To fill in time, I went to a bar, like the mess

light as a bit of dandelion fluff without my room of a large wooden ship. Behind the

pack. And fit! I was fit! I skipped up the hill. bar was a cheerful young woman who

I cavorted. I gambolled. And then I stuck spoke in that unaccountably deep voice

my head out over the edge, by the gorse that some Spanish women inhabit

bushes, and that’s when I saw the FLYSH. naturally, relaxed in their own bodies and

From above. And across the water. their breathing and their own selves

Amazing. It is a multilayered club sandwich somehow. I wish I could find the centre of
my voice and stick to it! I fear my own

47
voice was often lightly caught in my Speaking of wear, let us turn now to
chest/head with uncertainty and nerves. Roman roads. These are incredible
That was probably an area that could get cobblestone pathways, arduously
in with the stone that Keira provided for patterned, that still existed in fragments
the rubbish of my life. I had not looked at along the way. There was a section on
the glowing crystal spaceship but arrival into Zumaia. I’m not sure if it was
understood it was busy absorbing those the interactive display at Orio or in a
unwanted items and feelings in the side pamphlet somewhere else but I was sure I
pocket of my pack like a mini emotional had read that the Romans supported the
vacuum cleaner. pilgrims going off to see the remains of St
James. Is that really possible? I thought
After my street clothing transaction, which the Romans were anti-Christianity? I
I felt immediately I should have haggled mean, look at St Sebastian? Not a happy
more because, really, yuck trousers, but outcome.
she was so nice about the mysterious
flesh, flush, fish, FLYSH what could I do? And what’s with Romanesque
Again, that sincere Spanish architecture? That’s not even Roman! My
communication. Not false and certainly not ignorance of European history was like a
entertaining for the sake of it. People knife in my side. Every time I saw anything
didn’t readily smile until they were sure the over two hundred years old I turned into a
situation deserved a smile. I felt taken blithering idiot. OMG that’s really OLD …
seriously.

Especially when arriving at an


albergue. That’s a very serious thing
to do. I found that very reassuring.
When walking in the footsteps of
millions of pilgrims before me, I like to
think it mattered. And at the steps of
St Peter’s church, near here, there
was no doubt of the wear that millions
of feet had had on those curved
steps.

48
I was going to have to find a basic Spanish
history primer for kids. In Spanish. So I
could decipher it as I practiced my
language. As if I should buy more stuff. But
I could get it out of the library! When I
stopped walking. Because I wouldn’t be
putting anything extra in my pack that I
couldn’t eat.

I stayed that night in Saint Joseph’s


convento, a monastery. The hospitalero
was a very quiet, calm man who was later
joined by a comfortable older woman.
in the layers of the Flysh. The information
They both attended to every strangled
centre has displays not only about the
Spanish word I squarked out and after the
geology of the area but also the flaura and
formalities of credential, sello, boot and
fauna. I was interested to note there were
bastion were over, guided me to a room
indeed more than one species of snake to
where there were only TWO single beds
be found in Spain, none of which were
quietly empty. A window looked out into a
venomous.
drab courtyard. There were three floors but
the albergue felt to only be on the one I was writing notes in the communal room
floor. I’d noticed the convento went for with couch, computer, short table (so I was
nearly two blocks, including a large old leaning badly), surrounded by six chairs.
people’s home and a school, I think. I don’t There was some sort of boardgame
know if the religious order worked with offered on the table too.
people or just their spirits.
I asked the kind hospitalero where I could
Once I had arranged my belongings I went boil a kettle. He frowned at me and took
to the Flysh information centre and my cup with teabag. I followed. Then I
watched a film about the beginnings of realised I still had my boots on and could
known time. Scientists had found dust go no further down these ancient dark
from the meteor that crashed into the wooden hallways, so I rushed back to the
earth, killing off the dinosaurs, embedded boot depot, wrenched off my greasy

49
boots, stuck them on the shelf and by the least it had been the last couple of nights.
time my slippery socks had made their First night spent in a nunnery (or perhaps it
way back he’d returned with the warm was a monastery) and hopefully, it will not
water. When I asked him, ‘Donde?’ he be my last in this OMG it’s OLD walking
showed me this room. There was no sign trip.
of the promised kettle. I ate heartily of rice
cakes, vego paté and fruit all washed And, even more THRILLING, it looked like I

down with my lucky lukewarm chamomile might have a room of MY OWN!! There still

tea. If I’d known where he’d obtained the hadn’t been another person added since I

hot water from I would have gone there went to collect my dinner stuff but I kept

myself for a refill but I did not know. I all my belongings firmly on one side when I

thought the guia had shown there to be a went to the bathroom just in case. There

microwave and or kettle to heat water were three bathrooms along one side of a

available for the pilgrims but not so, corridor crossing this one. One with just a

apparently. toilet and sink, one with bidet,


bath/shower, sink, toilet and one with just
This was an enormous place. The walls shower but then there’s rooms and rooms
were thick, painted white. The ceiling was and rooms … So big and quiet and once it
held up by dark wood beams which had was full of nuns (or monks). There’s stuff
been plastered between them to create left in the wardrobe. Someone stays there
white vaulted curves. The floor boards sometimes.
seemed impossibly wide and held in place
with large fat nails. The wood was smooth I heard running and talking. I didn’t see

and warm. I’m guessing it was oak as the one other pilgrim that night.

interpretive museum mentioned oak


I hoped I would sleep well and I did.
forests in the area, so oak. I heard children
Another new person did not arrive in the
in the distance.
dark and I SLEPT RIGHT THROUGH!! With

There was a male gardener and our main NO SNORING!

hospitalero is male. Both male and female,


friendly and considerate, tapped on the
door to ask if I wanted a blanket. I was
finding the sleeping bag very hot, or at

50
Mutriku, Sabado 11th Junio - DAY 5 - Privado
albergue: Izabide - 17.3km

As I wrote notes I sat at a glass picnic of beeswax and incense. I wish I’d
table, whippersnipper whining to the left of donated some Frag money to their good
me, lawn mower growling to the right, works and now I see I can do that - I’m not
wondering if four-thirty in the afternoon sure why it hadn’t crossed my mind
was too early for dinner. I thought it might before.
have been. Just. I was really feeling the
need for the winter woolly I had posted The Frag were a group of mothers I’d

ahead to Prague. Bah. Oh well. I could worked with as our children progressed

always go inside. Didn’t. through the same school. We were the


Get-Things-Done Gals. One lunch time
Such a peaceful night in the convento last (was it the Chinese restaurant with the
night. It smelled sweet, with a soft mixture dead fish floating in the ornamental tank?)

51
we’d laughingly agreed that we were all pair and quite severe worries about
fragile but strong enough. And from then locating this sort of stuff in San Seb. But
on we were known as The Frag. When I then that passed when I easily found
left Melbourne they clubbed together to non-vegan Dubbin and smeared it over the
give me some money. I felt my expensive boots. They would probably leak under
visit to the scalp massaging hairdresser in duress but luckily, I hadn’t had any duress
Madrid had come from them - I had taken so far. Yet.
permission from their tacit approval - but
there was still cash left over. I would have I could trace my fitness back to a dance

to think of something they would all like to school in Melbourne, My Mother Said. I

give me. I was leaning to the indulgent but knew Barre class was supposed to be

in reality they would also be interested in good for the glutes and yes it was - glutes

the charitable. (Thanks, Frag!) an essential part of the walking machine -


but it was the rise and plié, the point and
Perhaps that was the beginning of my flex of Barre that strengthened the feet and
self-reflective mood. I had a good long ankles. I’m not sure I would be so
chat to myself as I walked. I started comfortable marching along these twisty
thinking as though I was writing which was forest paths, rural or not, without those
slightly annoying because I didn’t have a feet exercises. I would like to add that Lisa
pen and paper to hand, couldn’t have and her feisty team in Seddon were a force
utilised one if I had and would have felt and an inspiration and really helped power
really stupid dictating into my phone. me up!

I meandered along, mentally answering my As I walked I continued to ponder fitness


friend Fran’s question about my feet - they and gratitude. So much of the Camino I
were great. I put that down to wearing my found to be about gratitude. We stayed at
boots (bought before transition to albergues at a fraction of the cost of any
veganism) for a good year before coming hotel. So far I had found them to be
to Spain and walking a great deal so they clean-ish, comfortable and safe. Would
were distinctly not new and very you like a warm shower with that? How
comfortable. To the extent that the leather about a place to wash and hang your
had cracked and I had that Great Internet sweaty clothes? And if you like, dinner and
Debate of oil/dubbin or even buying a new a show! (Not really.) I was grateful. Really.

52
This private albergue is adjunct to a farm - something far too casual about the way
we all walked past the cute little baby she moved. Something cheeky about the
way she studiously ignored me. Something
just too sauntery. Remembering the Ninja
Sheep in Orio that waited until I was within
the magic maximum scaring distance, I
became wary and proceeded as close to
the opposite side of the road as possible.
Watching. Waiting.

On I walked. Two cars were parallel parked


by the door, out into the curve of the road,
which widened at this point. The house
was quiet. Too quiet. My boots crunched
piglets to prove it. It was no tranquil solid on the gravel.
antique convento. It might have been a
converted cow shed. Still, I was by a Suddenly!
window, the bunk was comfortable and I
had cut 5km off the next day’s walk into One by one, half a dozen assorted mutts

Markina, which would be my last stop in came out of hiding; barking and laughing,

Basque country and another convento. especially that tricky golden lab who hung
back in the middle of the pack, grinning fit
This was the day of dog. Previously, I had to bust, tail swirling. The tough guy in front
seen many cats but not so much today. was a low slung bristly fellow with a big
Most dogs that barked like they really black nose and a solid skull. He was the
meant it were on chains. But, coming fierce fighter, the sergeant major. Nothing
down the hill not far out of Zumaia, I bigger than the lab, they all barked fit to
watched an elderly labrador get to her feet bust, putting on a great show. They made
laboriously (see what I did there?) She me laugh. I urged them, ‘Tranquillo’ and
checked me out, nodded and perfunctorily sniggered on my way.
wagged her tail. Leaving me, she crossed
the road, relaxed, and wandered off into There were a lot of dogs on this day,

the vicinity of her house. There was walking away from the coast, around a
National park or special farmland perhaps,

53
certainly through farmland that overlooked There must have been a master who
the endless ocean horizon. I saw two visited Deba for a time as around the
enormous long haired Shepherds fountain by the church is a wonderful
wandering loose across the road but the patterning of stones.
owner called them to him before they
became too interested in me. Walking I saw butterflies; yellow, black and one of

through an idyllic farm with sloping fields those common red, black, orange things.

filled with juicy green grass I saw a tent.


I saw birds; mostly robins by the track,
Nearby a man ran his four dogs, lolloping
seabirds of course and a brown and white
and leaping over the long luscious grass. I
giant of a seabird pretending to be a
went by in a tiny thin hedged pass beside
goose in a paddock.
the field.
Went pretty hard in the morning after I
The paths were incredibly varied. Roads,
stopped and had a little readjusting
quite busy highways, thin disused roads
moment overlooking Zumaia. Then
and tiny little tracks. Incredible
marched on for two and a half hours
cobblestones and there was a beautifully
without stopping. Good breakfast? Not
crafted path coming down into Deba,
necessarily. Couldn’t find a good spot to
perhaps one of those vestigial Roman
sit and eat my apple!
roads, each stone placed carefully by hand
by a master in stone craft. Today’s new Camino ingredient was
Private Property. The arrows relentlessly
led into a gate clearly stating this was
private. I searched all sides but there was
no choice. The way went straight into a
private farm. I examined the gate. It was
not quite a Taranaki Gate, the famous New
Zealand system of shutting access roads
using any and all available material.
Taranaki, Northern dairy country, meant
putting effectiveness high over beauty. If it
worked, you beauty. If it looked nice and
didn’t shut, what’s the point of that? How

54
to tell a Taranaki Gate from a distance? At the last gate was a little farm side stall,
Why, it could be part of a fence, it could be the first I’d seen, with a handwritten sign
a hedge or it could be a tip. Often based encouraging pilgrims to try a bottle of
on something like a bed frame, a Taranaki home-made apple cider for two euros fifty
Gate could fair crackle with add-ons, cents. Buen Camino!
some of which may date back decades.
So, this first one was pretty new, not quite I found it surprising how few people were

all shop-bought, but not quite a profiting from the Camino. Obviously this

handcrafted utility based true Taranaki. I very albergue where the whippersnipper

entered the lush lands, a rough track wines and the mower growls around tiny

leading into winding pathway through little piglets was a private concern and it

shrubby twisty trees with a chuckle in my seemed the whole family was part of the

mind. business and wasn’t it commonsense if


the Camino passes nearby then why
Before long I came upon a gate featuring shouldn’t one consider the owners of
finely woven rusty barbed wire. This, I those high-end hiking boots and
climbed. (I was up to date with my tetanus backpacks as a source of income? Then
inoculation!) Some of them had built-in again, the Camino has that special
ingenious self-closing mechanisms. philosophy that might prevent actual
Clearly some pilgrims had been more lax exploitation of the pilgrims.
than others in the farming department. I
should have taken more photos but I was I passed horses wearing bells wandering

a bit aware that this might have been the high in the hills. Bells and horses didn’t

day the bull got a run in these here parts seem to fit together. Sheep, yes. Goats,

(mostly forest dells) and still, felt that I yes. But not horses. Took me some time to

couldn’t be too careful. The biggest realise it wasn’t all the horses. Only the

creatures I came nose to nose with on the pregnant ones. That made sense.

curly trails were two long-haired billy Forerunner of GPS for the worried farmer

goats. They both were on long chains but and the potentially valuable foal and mare.

were too busy eating and scratching Their gentle bell tones added to the

themselves with their pointy horns to harmony of the atmosphere.

bother about me.

55
By the time I got to Itziar I was weary. I normal, wasn’t it, for mums to do all the
looked for time for a rest and place for washing for the team. Why was that?
apple. But only a busy intersection
overlooked the glittering sea. As I climbed Back on the day’s musings again, through
up and up and crossed the four lanes of the private property and again, this variety

road I looked back to see a bar behind me, of road/path/track. As I descended that

the waiters wiping down outside tables. I elegant impossibly steep Roman road into

hitched up the pack and crossed the road Deba I heard an agonised male voice

once more to inquire if they were open yet. scream, “Mi Dios!” Such pain! Such

Yes, it was fine to use the services and I passion! Immediately my brain went into

came back to enjoy a hot cup of brown emergency mode.

liquid and a tostada con tomate


Straight away I expected some poor
overlooking a beautiful rolling valley down
pilgrim to have tumbled down the hill!
to the sea. Why not? The world became a
Silence. Then, as I carefully scanned the
more cheery place.
horizon and watched where I was putting

Speaking of which, as I gnawed a rice my feet, I heard the familiar plunk and

cake smeared with a veggie paté I would plock of a tennis match. Just shows how

not write home about, some sun came out! the solitary brain can stroll into danger and

The mowing stopped and the bar picked threat if not supervised and corralled into

up. There was a leek cooked into the reality. Forty - love! My God!

middle of the paté. I quite liked that. The


For some reason I thought at this time it
dog food aroma was somehow endearing.
was important to remember the Lord’s
I was surprised to see there were so many
Prayer. Possibly because this was a
people walking into this joint at 6pm. The
pilgrimage. There I was, walking along
washing machine was on and the tv was
reciting, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven,
on …
hallowed be thy name … Okay .. Um …

I chatted to an Aussie Mum based in Then I remembered that nun, Sister Janet

England who was doing the washing for Mead, so tried singing along with her, Thy

her son and husband. Didn’t seem fair to Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done on earth

me but she took it all in her stride. I as it is in heaven … Sorry, I hope you’re

acknowledged her acceptance. It was

56
too young to remember otherwise you’re plaza to find lots of restaurants, bars and a
humming now, aren’t you? fruit and veggie shop. Not sure why I was
getting a few curious glances my way. Was
And, as I was muttering to myself, trying to I still singing the Lord’s Prayer? Surely
unknot the old version from the stark new none would think twice about a
version, I walked past a restaurant with a middle-aged lady singing Smells Like Teen
very loud sound system. Who should be Spirit. What a mash up!
blaring out but Patti Smith. And what
should she be singing but that lovely Anyway, the healthfood guy thought a nice
anthem, ’Smells like Teen Spirit’? restaurant just on the edge of the town
might have been vegetable friendly. They
If I was having trouble working out how were indeed. I had the window table in a
God’s will is being done on earth then, the slim little cafe overlooking a park. My
trouble only increased as I struggled with ensalada mixta consisted of tomatoes,
that immortal chorus: ‘A mulatto, an lettuce, spinach, carrots, green beans,
albino, a mosquito, my libido, a denial.’ mushrooms, onions (removed), asparagus
What’s that about, then? ‘Give us this day and dressing. (Tomate, lechuga,
our daily bread and forgive us our espinacha, zanahoria, championes,
trespasses, as we forgive those who cebollas, esparagus, aciete y vinagre.)
trespass against us.’ That’s a tricky thing, !Hombre! Patatas fritas and bread, lots of
isn’t it. Must be where Louise Hay gets her bread, which I left. Pretty expensive I
ideas. I hope all those Christians thought but super nice and great variety.
remember they’re supposed to forgive
everyone. And lead us not into temptation After lunch, Turismo assured me this
(stop that, internet, you, just stop it) but albergue, recommended by the cabarello
deliver us from evil. A mosquito, my (gentleman) at the Zumaia convento did
libido… For thine is the kingdom, the exist, was open and I would be able to
power, a denial, and the glory, a denial, for sleep there even though it was not on
ever and ever. Just you. Right. A denial. Gronze. If Tourismo knew about it and a
My brain was curdling. hospitalero whispered to me about it, for
sure, it existed!
I found a healthfood shop in Deba. I
walked right in to the middle of the main

57
It was going to be interesting leaving the smiled and I apologised that I was not
Basque Country. Not sure what would related to the great family, in case they
happen and even less so the next day and thought I was going to buy them dinner or
the day after … why, that’s deepest a farm or something. Then, when they saw
darkest mystery level. I would try to I was from Australia from the driver’s
remember to pick up the next stage map license, we chatted about dangerous
from the Turismo. animals; spiders, snakes, sharks, usual
contenders. On this occasion, we got to
Another self discussion, as I strolled, was poor old Steve Irwin. Right through the
about my backpack. Purchased in heart. That really was awesome. On earth
Melbourne particularly for the walk, it was as it is in heaven, eh?
a NZ designed system with a lot of pulleys
and flaps and I was not entirely convinced But at Izabide, life was fast. I could now
I had it working in my favour. The last day hear twenty pilgrims chowing down
or two made me realise the hip flaps were together in the bar. My pal Michael warned
uncomfortably bent inwards so I had me about Chaucer!
strange dents on my sides but I was on to
that. I had been supposed to return to the I did have a jolly pre-dinner chat to a

shop to be readjusted before I left but I ran young German who had been living in

out of time. I suppose it was all part and London for five years, about Brexit and

parcel of rushing into things to start Trump and all the current affairs. He was

quickly. Never helps, really. not worried on either front. Although he


knew the dire implications of both nations
Unlike the people stamping credentials. choosing the negative shutting down
Although at this private Albergue the option he believed his friends would save
hospitalero was much more cavalier. the day. You would hope the London
Straight to Steve Irwin. How he got financial market peeps would trot off to the
stabbed in the heart by a manta ray! What voting booth, wouldn’t you. Out of our
about that? I completely agreed, it was hands. Good luck with that.
amazing. My usual ID conversation doesn’t
range that far. First, normally, there were See? I did have conversations. I was not

remarks and jests about that famous entirely silent all day! Crikey!

Spanish name, Osborne. We laughed and

58
Markina, Domingo, Junio 12th - DAY 6 -
Albergue de Markina de Padres Carmelitas -

This was the day of insects. Nothing their parental decision to give the Kid
remotely serious, just those little midges some responsibility. Let him carry his own
clouding, but I’d suffered bites and stings passport and money. He was old enough.
before so I felt cautious about anything It might help him grow up a bit. This was
approaching me on wings. (Didn’t see any on route to Bilbao from the UK. So, when
angels, well, not that day, anyway!) they got to Bilbao it was hot. Kid wanted
to get changed into his shorts. He went
Stretched in a patch of sun outside, into the toilets, got changed and came out,
enjoyed my brekkie and got on the track in ready to go. Dad said, ‘ Got the money
reasonable shape. Mum and Dad from belt okay, son?’
Sydney with fourteen year-old Kid were on
the road too. Dad told me the story about

59
Uh oh. Kid panicked. Returned to should do that too! So then I was
bathroom in fancy shopping centre. Even computing, okay, get to Markina, get some
though only two or three people had come gear from the healthfood shop, get up to
and gone in the intervening few minutes, the monastery, check, check, list,
the money belt, including passport, was organise, right. So we sauntered on and
gone. So much for early responsibility. Dad went on a bit quicker to catch up with
his family and whip them into a frothing
The family were then sentenced by red frenzy of hurry.
tape to hurry to Madrid to organise a new
passport. Dad, who told me all this as we I trailed on behind, thinking slow and
marched towards Markina, wanted to hire steady thoughts about the stresses of
a car to get in and out of Madrid as quickly raising a son to be responsible. They had
as possible. I thought that was a shame other children who were living in the UK so
and suggested they could take Renfe and I could see the youngest might have felt
stay in a hostel or something. At least the pull of acting older. I missed my own
spend a day in Madrid. Even though Dad son, who was living with his father in
had been to the Prado, seen all the sights, Melbourne. My only child, in his twenties,
Kid hadn’t. Didn’t it seem a waste to be so was very independent. I had missed him
close to so many interesting and famous for many years, much, much longer than
things - not least those fantastic clicking this Spanish time. I had plenty to occupy
tinsel people in Plaza Major - and miss out my mind as I walked slowly along the
just because of a lost passport and beautiful pathways. The small pueblos
slipped responsibility? along the way were beautifully kept, with
red painted window boxes and bright
But they were all steamed up to quickly geraniums. Everything was
get to Madrid and then back on track as picture-postcard along the populated
soon as possible so they could catch the routes. The forestry areas were stark and
flight home in a couple of weeks. And he industrial and we passed another
said, “I think we’ll go past Markina to the well-benched quarry, too.
next albergue in Zenarruza and stay there -
it’s a big old monastery, about 8km out of But soon enough, another clonking along
town.’ Sounded lovely, big gardens, a with her bastónes, and who should it be
brewery and orchards and I thought, hey, I but Caterina, our comrade from the cafe in

60
San Sebastian, the around a circuit. We managed to cross
Belgian/German/Spanish woman. She told during a reasonable gap in the
me she was from the Costa de Golf - her proceedings but there was a following
son was a professional golf player. I motorcyclist who gestured strongly that
commented on the environmental we should leave the road immediately. He
problems golf courses cause. She didn’t left no room for doubt. It was too thin for
think that was an issue in Spain. I looked both walkers and cyclists at this point and
at her sidelong. She looked very smart, the next wave of cyclists was about to
having had paid a hairdresser in Zarautz arrive. This found Caterina and me waiting
40 Euros for a nice cut. She said the use of in a cul de sac. So it went that she started
a hairdryer would have added another 20 eating dates and talking about how it was
Euros! She’d been worried about hair care Sunday and how nothing would be open
whilst on the Camino and this new, short, and how I probably wouldn’t be able to
easy style had taken the weight off her buy food. She had spent many years in
mind. Literally. She’d been powering Spain. She knew the ways of country
along. Her day three was my day six! I towns. Spanish people kept Sunday
must say, when she too said she was afternoon exclusively for family. All would
going to the Zenarruza monastery, I be quiet. Suddenly the sunny day with
thought I’d better crack on. So she cheering families around me was
marched off, saying we all have to find our condemned. Clouds of doom pressed
own rhythm, and I meandered along down from the sky. I would starve to
behind her. death. Everything was misery and gloom.
She pressed a date upon me. Have two. I
When I found her again she was parked by did. She reassured me. She had spare
the side of the road, held up by a cycle food. Being vegan I preferred to feed
race. Young men, around that myself and I wanted to rush to the shops
fourteen-year-old (ir)responsible age, to make sure I got some rice milk or soy
practiced their Tour de Spain tactics on the yogurt or something to go with my museli
very road we needed to cross. Unlike the for the Zenarruza monastery was well
Madrid Marathon police, earnest parents away from any shops.
were strictly keeping observers from
wandering all over the road. We waited for We couldn’t get past the cyclists because
a suitable pause. It was a 10km race we might cause one to fall and that would

61
be dreadful but as every panting young have suggested sacred space to those
fellow in advertising lycra hunched over an who were building the town. I assumed
expensive racing bike pushed past with they built the chapel around the
their faces grimacing and teeth bared and pre-existing great stones. It was
their parents and teachers yelling, ‘Venga!!’ wonderful. It was called San Miguel de
I thought no, it’s all a disaster, I’ll have to Arretxinaga. I stared in complete wonder.
spend the night in a gutter, starving like
Shirley Maclaine. I did not forget my beating heart for long.
Soon enough my mind strayed back to my
Finally, on the last round with the disaster mentality. Nothing would be open.
stragglers struggling, I could bear no more My vegan goose would be well-burnt. But
and pushed past and marched down the persistence is all. I would have to do a last
street without knocking anyone over and minute search before giving up. I surged
found the tourist info office but it was shut. forth into the town. Not only was there a
I accidentally turned in at a door that led cycling carnival but also a pelota (handball)
into a kitchen so I knew there was some extravaganza here and, for the girls, some
food available somewhere and I rushed kind of fancy calisthenics. A major
back to the arrow road and stormed Sporting Sunday. The girls were covered in
around a corner. As I marched, I caught a make-up, mincing around in their black
glimpse of something out of the corner of leotards. There were balloons and the
my eye, something unusual. I backed up to sounds of happy dads cheering on the
investigate. It was a chapel. handball and kids were opening packets of
chips, bags of fairy floss and chupa chups
Inside the chapel was an enormous and other delicious Spanish treats.
boulder. It leaned over another boulder (Seriously, chupa chups were invented in
and under it was a roughly hewn stone Spain. To keep los dentistas in business?) I
altar. There was a statue of Our Lady and couldn’t find a shop and then, suddenly, I
an incense burner and some fake covered deflated.
chairs like the ones people whip up for a
wedding with those big fabric flowers What was I doing? I didn’t need to rush
gaudy over the backs, all arranged over and dash. I didn’t have to be anywhere
and around huge rocks. It was until August! I didn’t need to get caught up
incredible.The enormous boulders must in other people’s speed and need and

62
ploughing on. I eventually found my way to I really enjoyed the flavours and I really
a restaurant that time forgot. A gentleman enjoyed stopping. The rushing and
signalled to the waitress that I was there, white-rabbitness of the woman from Costa
needing attention. She gestured to the del Golf and lost-passport tension of the
corner table and I sat and contemplated harried Australian family had infected me.
the ships, framed arrays of knots and other Once I calmed down completely all was
nautical pictures that graced the walls. well. I left my waiter a generous tip (well,
From my table at the back of the room I for me). I was very tempted to get up and
could see through the lacy windows to the help her but I knew I would be far more
square where the family throngs were trouble than I would be worth. Imagine
thinning out a bit. trying to explain what to do in a different
language to an overly-worried, terribly
The poor single waitress was having to helpful old woman who couldn’t
deal with more and more people entering understand you.
the quiet restaurant. She was a young
woman, pale, large and deliberate, with her One can read too much in to the Camino
dark hair swept back into an unflattering sometimes but for the sake of argument,
ponytail. She had a large round pale face. life does just carry on. One’s own personal
She wore a crumpled black shirt and story goes at one’s own personal time. I
baggy black trousers. She kept her cool could see that when I got caught up in the
but the speed at which she managed to rip higher revving engines of others I started
the cork out of a bottle and slice up a to get anxious and stopped looking at
baguette was deeply impressive. In the butterflies.
end I had a fresh salad and bread with
some separate white asparagus laid out The need to rush about and look for shops

across that may even have been fresh. It’s or things in any way dissolved. I did not

quite something, that blanched fat stem - need to go another 8km this day. I would

extremely tender - there is almost nothing get to the lovely big monastary in good

of the green sprout version in flavour - time on the following day.

more just soft-textured almondy vinegar.


For now, I thought I could lounge about in
An orange for my dessert was wrapped in
Markina, get up on Monday, have
paper twisted impressively at the sides like
breakfast in a cafe, wait until the
a great fat globe mintie. Delicious.

63
healthfood shop opened and quietly So, theme of the day; insects. Another
meander for a couple of hours, looking at gated section; not quite Taranaki, this was
the clouds and the birds and try to see a very neat macrame in blue string and
more butterflies. Just 8km. Nothing. That wire, a weaving really.
would be really taking it wonderfully slowly.
A kind of walk-through stile
thing - blackberries grew
nearby and a couple of big fat
bumble bees were partaking of
blossoms loudly as I squeezed
past.

Now, I’m not sure if I annoyed


the bees or if they thought my
bright green/yellow pack was a
superior blossom, but they
came after me!

Nonsense, I thought, as I sped


up, bees don’t chase people,
Even less walking than my second day
but loud in my ear was a determined buzz
from Pasages to San Sebastian but,
and I began to run across the road, hoping
maybe, the next day I would be able to
a big truck would happen past to smash
skip Gernika - or not - depending on the
them to a pulp.
shape of things. I must remember to go at
my speed and pay attention to the things It wasn’t till I turned the corner that they
that interest only me and remember I had gave up, and my pulse was able to return
plenty of food and even if I didn’t, if I ate to normal.
my apple and my orange, I would not
starve, in no shape or form. For just one,
or even two nights there would always be
water and I was very well nourished. All
was well.

64
I did see butterflies and some kind of loud Italian man of great style and élan, two
cricket creature was bursting forth but elderly Italian ladies, a Spanish girl, a
mainly it was quiet. There were hills and Danish girl and assorted other pilgrims.
forestry today. Radiata pine in unnatural There was trouble with the credentials.
blocks intermingled with bare patches, Apparently our printed passports had gone
spindly remnants of oak forests. The oaks out of style. An order had come through
seemed to have some kind of milky from head office in Santiago forbidding
fungus, like the mould that grows on late their use. The charming gentleman thought
zucchini or pumpkin leaves. It affected we might not be eligible for our
them all, the new oak leaf growth dusty, Compestellas (the certificates showing
twisty and curled. Tall silent forests stood completion of the Camino de Santiago)!
beside bare patches that showed through Oooophs! But nothing was certain. The
to the blue remembered hills and their faint pilgrims all agreed to do nothing about it,
pins of wind turbines. ‘We shall see’. And all proceeded normally
after that scandal. Bastiones, boots, bed,
The albergue here in Markina was in then shower, laundry, chatting, wander,
another monastery. A great collection of return, more chatting and our charming
buildings around a church. The front door
was open but there was
no sign on the door. I
knocked and heard
nothing from both
doors. Then I grew
resourceful and opened
one to find a sign. It
said, Albergue. A clue!

I followed the arrow into


a wide passageway and
thence into a salon to
discover a charming
elderly gentleman trying
to wrangle a young

65
host slowly nodded his way to sleep on his his ankle did feel better. We agreed that
desk. Two young brothers from Montana Sant Juan was magic, pure and simple.
turned up. Jack and Oliver. Charming did
not stir. He slumbered on. Jack and Oliver from Montana told us we
might get tangled up with summer solstice
So the young gals offered to walk the guys celebrations along the way - at least the
to the shop WHAT DID YOU SAY? AN young people were really hoping they
OPEN SHOP!?! would! The feast of Sant Juan had fire,
fireworks, parties, drink… Big city joy but
So I went too and bought fruit and nuts. no one knew what would happen in the
No starvation for me, that night! Excellent pueblos. It was very convivial to sit with
chatting with Ms Barcelona. She reassured these lively young people from all around
me greatly about living in Catalunya for the the world. People in the midst of change,
next few months. More pilgrims arrived moving from one place to another in a
and some, I believe, even tried to wake Mr number of ways. These were the thoughts
Charming. But he snored quietly on. It was that drove the Camino on this family
my first time to mingle en masse with other orientated Sunday! Everything was open,
English speaking pilgrims as we sat at the everyone’s minds, and even some shops!
long tables and compared travel notes.
The Italian Ambassador (not really, but a
lovely young man) advised me that
Sardinia would be an engaging place for
me to visit, with walking tracks and
nature reserves but that all of Italy would
be of great interest. He drew a detailed
map of the entire country in the back of
my journal. In return I offered him some
of my Pomada Sant Juan to try on his
sore ankle. He sniffed it and sneered (in
a sophisticated Italian way) that it was
just olive oil. But he took it anyway. Later
he gave it back and grudgingly admitted

66
Zenarruza, Lunes 13th Junio - DAY 7 -
Albergue de peregrinos del monasterio de
Zenarruza - 7.5km

Slow day. Very slow start. Got up in good the two boys from Montana, Jack and
time, stretched in the corridor and Oliver, gave me a hug. And the young
determined I would stay at the scenic Italian Ambassador shook my hand. Warm
monastary a mere hop, skip and jump thoughts of those three personable young
away. The hospitalero was disgusted. men, reminding me strongly of my own
That’s far too close. But I had made up my delightful son, took me a long way along
mind and instead of rushing out, I watched the path that morning. BUT before I
as everyone prepared and packed, stepped out for my short walk, I went to a
particularly the Irish girl who was so funny cafe and had a coffee, which I really
with her many bits and bobs all in different enjoyed and then waited for the
crinkly plastic bags spread out over all the supermercado to open. Apart from rice
tables. I was completely delighted when milk, I was able to get a good menu for the

67
day, including chocolate, spinach and postcards. I waited while the elderly monk
mushrooms. And then I set out. I was made a phone call. He assured me it
determined to get into the monastery would be fine to stay in the albergue,
albergue and I thought it opened at 11am. especially as the weather was now closing
in to be horrid.

After a time a younger man, bustling and


busy, arrived. He was wearing blue
overalls and looked as though he’d just
climbed off a tractor. I turned to wave
cheerio to the monk but he had gone
already, leaving the shop untended. I
followed Mr Overalls around the corner
and down to a more modern and ugly part
of the outbuildings. He pointed downstairs
to the ablution block and showed me to a
There was a crossroads, one of which large outdoor table and chair area tucked
roads I suspected lead right to the door in to a patio area.
and the other through a small town with a
bar. I was annoyed, I thought I’d missed Next to that, there was a small room filled
the monastery. But, pressing on, I made it with bunks, a little kitchen bench and a
through the ancient archway and into the tiny kitchen table where a young French
church grounds. woman sat. Victoire. She nodded at Mr
Overalls but concentrated on eating her
I gained an impression of honey coloured pasta. Mr Overalls said he’d be back later
sandstone buildings set into bright green to stamp my credential. I chose my bunk
lawns, utterly beautiful surroundings but I and Victoire immediately offered me some
was rather overcome instead by the chill of her food. This could only be improved
wet weather. I walked to the little shop at by the addition of spinach, mushroom and
the rear of the grounds and found a large, chopped walnuts, surely? And it was. We
jovial monk overseeing the little dusty chatted companionably. She was from
shop. They sold beer, made on the Paris but was studying in Lyon. She was
premises, ditto the honey and rather lovely slightly judgemental of her family whom

68
song in our heads if not in our hearts. Of
course, when I made it over the
Routeburn, a wonderful track of mountain
pass and swimming holes, I couldn’t have
been more grateful for that training!

Then another post card to Penny, who


happened to have been a student of
Sally’s, and because she could have been
here, maybe, in her dreams. And another
to Eliza because I think she gets it. At
she described as being serious Parisiens least, I think she will. I’m not sure if I do,
to the extent her sister didn’t realise there really.
was an international airport anywhere else
In the shower area of that private Albergue,
in France but Paris. Victoire’s father was
Izabide, just outside Deba, was a large
an academic of some description, who
postup of a praying Buddha with a lotus
wrote books and speeches for politicians.
flower. I suppose that all good things were
Some sort of French Bob Ellis, perhaps.
apparently ‘fighting the good fight’ but
I sat and shivered, wrapped in a pink sometimes putting Buddha into the
blanket, overlooking a beautiful but Catholic/Celtic mix seemed a bit rich.
blustery hillside. I wrote a postcard to my Especially when you spent the night in the
mother’s cousin, Sally, who had been on corner of a Carmelite monastery, next to
my mind often, remembering how she had an exquisite Cathedral. There were a
prepared us to walk the Routeburn in my couple of other churches in Markina that
first year of university. I dragged my were falling apart with obvious holes in the
borrowed boots over Flagstaff, a hill above windows. In fact, generally Markina looked
Dunedin, with my pack full of books very shabby and run down. I think arriving
wondering what on earth I had agreed to. in the midst of all those sporting
Actually I don’t remember ever getting a tournaments was a bit misleading.
choice. And Sally jollied us along
As I walked around Markina in the morning
tremendously, teaching us how to march
there were some fancy shops tucked away
to a rhythm either counting or music - a

69
and interestingly, all the shop signs in the beautifully. Four of the five were ancient.
centre of town had been styled by the They all had wooden nooks to sit in. The
same designer. They sported a rusty first leaned heavily on his bench. He was
rectangular box with the name, I presume bald, wearing a thin dark cardigan against
in Basque, of the commodity on offer, for the chill of the stone building. The second
instance, OPTIC showed a pair of glasses wore glasses, had prominent jowls almost
in a swirl. So there has been an attempt to like wattles, missing teeth and a friendly
beautify the town. demeanour. His flared sleeves were tucked
back over his hands. The third looked like
Simon Bolivar had left his mark(ina), not a retired businessman. His large paunch
just a mere country in South America but proved his interest in comestibles, possibly
this was the town where he was born. it’s a taste for beer with the brewery on the
There was a museo to examine his past doorstep. He loved his sleeves, deeply
but I just marched straight on past. Why? I snuggling his arms into them. The fourth,
had time, I could easily have learned more separate from the others, had white fluff
about an interesting historical figure? around the edge of his head like a tonsure
Educational shmeducational … I felt such gone to seed. He was ill with a nasty
a lightweight … cough. Sometimes he couldn’t stand. He
was miserable but persisted with his Casio
So, the Way as walking meditation. Why
on his lap, keeping the note ready for
don’t you get lost? Los flechas amarillo!
applying to the air just before it was
The yellow arrows are so constant that you
required. Mr Overalls completed the line
need only to raise your eyes at the very
up. He was the youngest, possibly forty or
moment you think ‘I haven’t seen one for a
while … ‘ And there was another arrow. Or
if not, there would be one shortly. That’s if
you were on the right track, of course. I
found myself talking in the Royal We. ‘Oh,
is that where we are going now … ?’

In Zenarruza we (most of the pilgrims


staying) went to vespers. In Spanish. In an
ancient monastery. The five monks sang

70
so, and, out of his overalls, wore a cape ancient space. Victoire had wept, she told
with no sleeves. He looked fit and alert me.
and his uniform was pressed and clean.
She told me many things, this young
Above them, a centred two-storey high adventurer who had already walked from
sculpture was not Christ but a monk. At Sevilla to Santiago (Camino Plato) and
the entrance of the gothic church was a done the Primitivo. Currently, she was
carved creature. The beams holding up the walking back to France, skipping the cities
eaves over the entrance way were by hitchhiking. She was twenty-four with
no fear and no sense of her boundaries.
She wrote everything down and argued
with herself, naming her characteristics as
though she was her own toy theatre. The
players included; The Wise One and The
Victim. I used to do that too, when I was at
school, in my notebooks, argue with
myself. The Victim was such a strong
character in my own life. Things happened
to me, in such an inevitable way. I took
them on the chin and waited to be struck
again.
enormous, probably oak, and one was
apparently not part of the structure but
The monks prepared a large pasta for the
decorated the way to the door. At first
pilgrims, he thought it contained some
glance it was a threatening snake but then
meat even as he assured me it was full of
you saw it had ears. The things it will have
vegetables and insisted I try it. I had
heard over the last eight hundred years!
already cooked for myself and was pretty
Including a classical concert the night
happy. The rest of the group greatly
before.
approved of the beer on offer. Apparently
the monks were able to appeal to higher
That Australian family and Caterina must
authority for their flavours.
have been here. If I had rushed here too I
would have heard some beautifully
incredible music echoing around the

71
Morga, Martes 14th Junio - DAY 8 - Albergue
Eskerika - 28km

Today was the day of the feather. I found a so I can’t be sure. Maybe it was some kind
large white and brown striped feather on of big falcon?
the way out of Ziorta, on the first wooden
stairway. In Australia I would have I was glad to have some different ideas
hazarded a guess it was from some kind of glide through my brain which was jammed

owl. Don’t know my Spanish birds at all full of Victoire. She talked and talked and

but I had seen an eagle, I think, and a talked yesterday. I got the idea she might

raven hassling it over a valley, but as I tried have been lonely? If that’s the result of

to distinguish more details they both being continually by yourself for months

swooped down and into the trees. It was a then perhaps clambering over an entire

very big brown bird and I think it had a country was not ideal for sociability

yellow beak but it happened very quickly afterwards.

72
She had
overstayed in the
albergue. And it
may be that Mr
Overalls felt she
had outstayed
her welcome in
more ways than
one! Especially in
those places that
are donativo -
you only pay
what you think is
correct. I’d taken
to paying
10Euros
everywhere - it
being the going proud of the fact she had stayed in
rate in Pais Basquo but many people paid Santiago for three days for no money. She
less. Victoire had no cash. When Mr never did anything to get noticed in the
Overalls asked her for her donativo and huge albergue there and she ate for free at
she refused, he went away to think about a restaurant that allows pilgrims with a
it. He returned, still in his overalls and took compostella to have three free meals. So,
her downstairs to the ablution block. She she was resourceful with an eye for the
looked confused. She came back and main chance.
reported to me that Mr Overalls had taken
her into the bathrooms to say she could But, it is my supposition the monk had cut
stay for free. She said she couldn’t her a deal whereby if she cleaned the
understand what he was on about but she (decidedly stinky) bathrooms, she could
was glad to have permission to stay.l have a bunk for free. But that’s not the sort
of thing Victoire would have noticed if she
Now, Victoire was a free spirit, a wild child didn’t understand that particular verb;
of the wind and weather. She was very clean, work, effort, that sort of thing. She

73
was very self-obsessed which I supposed head. Perhaps. As we know, comparisons
most twenty-four year olds ought to be, were odious. Like the albergue bathroom.
really.
Victoire went to school in Paris and her
two older sister and one brother are all
wealthy Parisiensess who can’t imagine
But then, today, I walked from Gernika to living outside Paris for five minutes.
Eskerika with Sina, the warrior police Victoire and her younger sister were the
officer from Hamburg. She was 21 and breakaway crew. She had squatted in
very serious and dedicated. She was also unused houses sometimes but mainly
fresh of face, blonde and slender. She said studied sociology in Lyon. But for now, she
it had been difficult for her mother when was going to hitch to her grandmother’s
she joined the force because it was her farm just over the border in France. It
mother who had to sign the document sounded like a good thing to do; an
stating that Sina would be prepared to give extended large family would look after her
her life for her job. I couldn’t imagine the and comfort her. I think she was very tired,
terrible feelings that must have overtaken carrying tent and cooking equipment over
her mother at that moment. Knowing that mountain tracks must have been
this was the right path for her daughter exhausting.
could not have made it any easier to give
the life she’d birthed to her country. While we sat inside eating my vegan
dinner, the rest of the pilgrims were
Sina’s older brother had Down Syndrome enjoying monk-prepared stew outside with
and possibly this was a relationship that freshly baked bread and monastery
had given her such a responsible attitude. brewed beer. One of the men came inside
So, in comparison, Victoire, from a to tell how he had walked over the
wealthy, privileged background where her Pyrenees, then from Seville to Santiago,
father writes political books and advises done the Primitivo and was now walking
government and business, had a kind of back to France. My eyes widened in
meaningless point of view where she surprise and I looked, with some glee, to
couldn’t understand the concept of Victoire. She had done, more or less, the
working to cover costs of a roof over her same trip! His German puffed out chest as
he described his feats and his proud

74
demeanour shrunk visibly as Victoire said, beginnings of some hydrangeas. So green
‘So have I’. Well. You could have knocked and verdant and we could see why! It was
him down with a feather. He questioned still raining. Every now and again the sun
her, testing to see if she was telling the would break through. I did get pretty
truth and then, reluctantly, had to give her sweaty so I washed my gear which sadly
grudging respect when he realised she had would not dry until Bilbao. I hoped to stay
actually accomplished all that he had, a a couple of nights there to take a good
lone slim girl, when he was a sort of strong look at the Guggenheim.
military figure in his fifties.
When I aproached Gernika I didn’t like the
Meanwhile, Sina sadly had only time to look of the Albergue. It only had negative
walk to Santander. She was extremely comments on Gronze. I went into the first
grounded. Calm. She was aiming to work cafe I found and had a dreadful coffee. The
with the dogs. In the police. To help her worst I’ve ever had. But a very good fresh
community. salad. She had no idea what a tostada con
tomate ought to be. I got bare white
But even before I got caught up walking to square bread with some sliced tomato on
Morga, where the Eskerika Albergue is, I the side. That was that. The limit. I would
was walking to Gernika. It was so quiet. not be staying there!
Perhaps because of the forestry, there are
not so many birds in radiata, and the I buzzed along, no luck on the rice milk but
increasing sight of eucalyptus, foreign stood in line in the supermercado with
trees to northern Spain. There were plenty some good fruit and nut chocolate in one
of birds in the hedgerows; red and orange hand (could contain traces of milk -
robins, finches, a small black and white sometimes I just had to). It was just on
bird, small sleek versions of magpies and 13:30 and there were three people with
some sort of flitty bird like a fantail. Many enormous shopping carts ahead of me. I
more insects and the ever-changing calculated I had just enough time to get to
pathways, some improved with gravel and the fruiteria before it would close. Dumped
granitic sand overlaying wide avenues the choc. Picked up some fruit, found the
through farmlands, past cows, sheep and health food shop and bought snack food
goats. Dogs, miserably tied up, beautiful bars. Found the tourismo, got directions to
roses and geraniums, fuchsias and the the public WC and got out of town.

75
A word about toilet paper. This large and a place to hang our washing. Then we
council run WC with cheerful yellow tiles went inside to what was very like a little
on the walls featured toilet paper cafe, well appointed and clean. Upstairs
containers. They were all hanging open the bunks were ranged close together but
and all empty. After my beachside very comfortable in a large airy room. The
revelation that toilet paper is something to owner had done the Camino del Norte
negotiate BEFORE entering the servicios, I twice. He had a large framed picture of the
had taken to ALWAYS having tissues in my Louise Bourgoise’s big spider, Mother,
pockets. Thank goodness! outside the Guggenheim by the
bathrooms.
On the way I saw the big old tree in a
cage, saw the old Assembly buildings and I chatted to a lovely Japanese man,
split. Something about that town, made Yositako, who worked in travel and a
dreadfully famous by war recorded by Mr Frenchman who had no time. A couple
Picasso’s 2D stretched agony, was not from Brussels told me Flemish was the
comfortable. I had already walked 18km, same as Dutch and at last I felt I had
about the top of my previous efforts. Now I joined the swim of humanity I was hoping
had no choice but to walk another 10km. I to fall in with. There were a bunch of
tightened my straps and marched on. Yanks, too. Three gals and two older
fellows. There was much conversation and
As I marched I met Sina and her gentle anticipation as we poured over maps and
conversation eased any discomfort I might compared guide books.
have felt had I been by myself breaking
these walking milestones. There was a lot We would be in a city the next day. Bilbao.
of uphill but we shared snacks and And on the way in we would pass the
ambitions and silly tales. Camino de Santiago information centre.
We were getting somewhere. We were on
We arrived to find a little dog barking at the the Way.
bell on the gate announcing our arrival.
Her name was Lolita. The gentleman, a
hospitalero but of a privado nature, sternly
encouraged us out of our muddy boots by
the door. There was an outdoor kitchen

76
Bilbao, Miércoles 15/16th Junio - DAY 9 -
Edifico Santiago - 24.9km

Uh oh. What started as a beautiful soft the big city and even as I walked along
misty day developed into forest workers hitching and hauling at my pack (realising
turning on their chainsaws and laying my front pack pockets were a bit broken) I
siege to trees, turning them into troncos imagined what it might be like and the
while each pilgrim marched their solemn variety of tasty food options I’d have and
way through the mud and on to the cluster of pilgrims around the table at
Goikoelexalde. And I felt great! Even breakfast had researched the best hostel
though I’d found it difficult to sleep I was to stay and I got through Larrabetzu and at
wired up! I was excited about getting into Lezma I lost the track.
a hostel like the one in San Sebastian with
a big kitchen and a locker and I was This is maybe where I lost my equilibrium.

imagining all the things I’d do and see in The arrows pointed at the library and at

77
least there I could use the bathroom but humans to build monuments to draw more
the only person I could find to ask were a people. And I thought of the energy I’d felt
mum and baby who assured me there was from the last monastery, particularly after
an invisible person in the library to ask. I the vespers, the sonorous male vibrations
looked in the library! When I returned she in those hallowed halls, repetitive and
added, at a pinch she thought if I headed calming. The warm stone walls, glowing
that way it might get me back on the Way. gold in the candlelight, giving off a tangible
I really couldn’t see the invisible person so power that I took with me on my journey,
thought I’d try her suggestion and luckily refreshed and re-energised.
that worked.
More and more I found walking into an
open church amazing. The idea of heaven
made manifest in a building was not
enough to see from the outside, not even
those little chapels with fences that you
could peer through. You had to get inside,
like those huge crystals you see
sometimes in science museums or
healthfood shops; mere rocks on the
outside but when they’ve been sliced in
half, it was the strange glittering growths
crowded around the inside that took your
I found a beautiful church, Andra Mari. It breath away.
was shut. I thought about Neil Gaiman’s
But most of the churches I found on the
places of power as described in American
Way, small or grand, were all locked up.
Gods. As I’ve walked around Spanish
And in the case of the large San Martin,
churches I can see how they are built in
arrows curving all around the industrial
the centre of the town (opposite the bar!)
by-ways, rather out of the way. Apparently
or on a hill overlooking the town or in an
the Camino society or perhaps, Friends of
undeniable place of power, like that
the Camino, were improving the approach
strange and wonderful boulder chapel in
to Bilbao. It was pretty dire when I walked
Markina. Perhaps sacred places, that
it. I took the long way, just in case and
attract people and energise them, inspire

78
once through the industrial wastelands, the city, on that day covered with heavy
often covered in graffiti and lonely, scrappy dark grey clouds, we could see paths that
buildings, we were led through a hilly must lead down there but the arrows said
parkland. There was some pretty grotty no and the descriptions said no and we
scrawled slogans, not encouraging for pressed on, though picnic areas and
female pilgrim feelings of safety. But the running tracks. Finally, I came to the hill
further I walked there were rural paddocks above Bilbao. There were works going on
where goats lay in shade, eyeing off the with an overpass and I don’t know if that is
passer by. where I lost the track or if the improvers
had not got to that bit yet but it was
We seemed to walk right around the city. It dangerously close to serious traffic. After a
was incredibly frustrating. We could see couple of cheery people in a passing car

79
gave me a bum steer, I eventually found The apartment, when I arrived, was in poor
the beautiful ancient steps into the city (the condition. Everything was shabby and
Santiago info centre closed!) stood outside when I asked for another blanket the
the Cathedral (closed) to watch the rain receptionist herself came up to help
pelt down and when I got to the remove the tatty old rag and bring me a
Albergue/Hostel I was disappointed. Yup. couple that actually had hems. We pulled
Full. the grubby cover off the couch to reveal a
really, really nasty stain. It didn’t smell,
It was raining. Grey. I was wet and cold. thank goodness, but it looked like a couple
But the girl in the hostel was kind and let of bottles of wine at least. I hesitate to say
me sit in the empty dining hall while I what might have happened there. I didn’t
looked through all the places to stay, finally sit on that side of the couch!
picking a central serviced apartment with
kitchen. I would be able to do all my But my favourite happy app, Happy Cow,
washing and watch tv in my own non showed me there were healthfood shops
snoring environment. My first pick nearby and I was able to stock up on
Albergue cum Hostel was in the old part of supplies, feed myself while my washing
town which had narrow cobblestone washed, empty the pack completely for
streets, wet and slippery in the grey the first time on the road and try to fix up
afternoon light. Everything was shut the broken front pocket a bit. I was happy
except a fruit and veg where I bought to stare at various Spanish soap operas on
myself an apple to eat for the short journey Neon channel. Passion was the name of
to my new digs in the more recent city the game and as the evening wore on, the
area. budget went up together with the quality
of lighting, location and script! Some great
It was called Apartments de Santiago and performers of all ages. The actors really
reasonably easy to find. The metro in flung themselves into the scene. Some
Bilbao was compact and straightforward. stories are universal and others are just
Nothing was open as I made my way stupid. Same old, same old!
through the spiderweb of roads in the
middle of town, filled with glitzy big name
shops.

80
backwards. Trying to be polite,
listening, nodding, smiling and my
heart was so deep in my guts,
pounding, bashing me up, so
uncomfortable, so gritando, telling
me to get out, to get away and this
is how I felt as I found myself on
that main road into Bilbao, with
no-where to walk and trucks, buses
and tractors coming at me. There
was nothing for it, facing the traffic
was essential and I had to go on.
Beastly bad it was.
On June 16th I took a day off. It was my
sister’s birthday, on that Joycean, Luckily, once I had calmed, I would visit
seemingly fortuitous date; 16/06/16. I had The Guggenheim (straight up the road, I
been in such a blur the day before I had couldn’t miss it, that is unless I went the
left my VISA card in the healthfood shop. wrong way to start with, which I did) was
Luckily I worked it out in the morning so I wonderful. When I found it! Puppy, a floral
was able to get a good night’s sleep. As
soon as I remembered where I left it I went
straight there. Still, it never takes too long
to imagine the most DIRE consequences!

I arrived as they opened the till and the girl


behind the desk was able to hand it over
without a fuss. Even so, I knew there
would always be a way to survive.

Panic comes and goes - when Victoire was


talking at me, so many words, all about
herself, I started feeling so overwhelmed
and, taking a backward step, she would
come at me and I would go further

81
building of dogginess opens the fun arty more of her work; larger works and those
party planted in and around that mad curly WONDERFUL cells. How lucky for her to
building, together with other shiny, have landed in a disused factory filled with
amusing sculptures. And, as I took my first all those terrifically cool things to play with.
orientating stroll around the edifice, two And how clever was she to make the
tinsel clickers! Been a while since Madrid. evocative spaces and choose those
They were really persistent, too, marathon diverse and textured objects with which to
clickers. tell her stories.

I pottered about the gallery spending time I also communed with Richard Serra, him
with Modigliani. Just one nude but I was of the shipbuilding spheres and toros.
so in love with Modigliani at one time. And Bloody marvellous. How to define space,
then I turned a corner and came face to literally edge and form with incredible force
face with a Mondrian, the Ochre Tree, and and weight and sheer height? I was
tears arrived as I gazed, such a perfect intrigued he appeared to care so little
painting. I also spent time with a wide about the surface appearance in his
open yellow Rothko and dreamed into that interviews showing around the exhibition
scratchy red brushstroke heavy red and spaces but as the cameras passed over
then up into the white
blue red and further into
green but all yellow all
edged with red and it
was so uplifting and I felt
I was in the right place.
There you go.

Then, and again, Louise


Bourgeois was here. We
had seen her work in the
Heide Gallery in
Melbourne a couple of
years before but this
exhibition had gathered

82
installation processes you could see folk My shopping list included a warm top -
polishing away in the background. Each having posted my lovely blue woollen top
panel was differently marked and, given on to Prague I found this costal rain too
Serra started as a painter, inspired by chilly without a jumper of some kind. I
Jackson Pollock, I found it disingenuous looked through the Guggenheim sweat
that he did not rate those intricate surface shirts with some disappointment but one
markings a priority. Of course, he is would do. It was not too heavy and I didn’t
singularly concerned with the (very) big have to traipse around Bilbao more than I
picture. He said at one point he is not had to, bar the post office.
interested in stitching but of course he has
to be - in order to extend those panels Feeling lighthearted, I returned to the

they have to join up somehow. Still. scene of my entry into Bilbao and visited

Phenomenal and erudite man. the info centre half way up the old steps.

I was taken aback how many people A wiry gentleman who had six Caminos

walked around those huge heavyweights, under his belt, preparing to do his seventh,

given one topple and certain crush, how talked me across the hall to the bench of

many had their audio guia plastered to informative literature. I donated to get a

their ears. I was overwhelmed when first copy of the Northern Caminos information

walking through. I really felt the need to booklet.

experience at first hand the rise and power


My first guide book, it contained lovely
of the shapes. Similar to walking through
pictures and a good summation of each
the thin gothic lanes of Barcelona’s old
town, giving helpful data like the
town, not knowing where we were headed,
population. This was a good indication of
feeling the push and pull of history and
the sort of supplies one could anticipate. If
industry and weight all around. The last on
the town was very small, then the
the floor of the Guggenheim is one that
chocolate has to last until the next decent
ends with the viewer walking into a distinct
sized town!
ship shape. Even before I watched the
interviews I knew Serra must have started
with shipbuilding. There is something true
about his presence in Bilbao, a
shipbuilding place of ages.

83
Portugalete, 17th June - DAY 10 - Albergue
Bide Ona - 19km

Leaving Bilbao. I had a slow start to the It was cloudy as I hoisted my pack and left
day with an email regarding my placement the hotel. The way forward was clear. Past
in Catalunya causing me some concern. I the Guggenheim, turn left and stick by the
panicked and sent emails to everyone river.
remotely connected to the plan. Finally I
dragged myself out of bed and got to the But, not trusting to my instincts or my

Post Office around 10:30am. Post cards ability to read the map, I thought I’d best

signed, sealed and delivered, I returned to ask someone. One after another, each

base to find the key to my apartment no Spanish lady that I asked grew

longer worked. After some negotiations increasingly worried about my inability to

with reception I was able to proceed with communicate. At first I saw the fear that

packing and throwing away excess weight. crossed their innocent faces, ‘Oh, no,

84
please God, there’s an alien talking at me!’ short-sighted. I thought a young fellow
Then once I begged a bit, ‘Disculpe, por interested in engineering would find Serra’s
favor … ‘ and I showed them the map and work at least intriguing. He would take the
pointed at where I thought I should be train and I would walk but we were both
going, they shook their heads, not wanting headed to the same place.
to get involved with my strangeness. The
second lady had a baby in a pram, so she See how the Camino gave interesting

couldn’t run, and the third lady, well, they parallels that would resonate with the right

reluctantly looked at the map but with one pile up of thoughts? So many different

side of their body reaching for freedom, ways to get to your destination in life.

none wanted to be the first to leave the Visualise and you will get there, somehow

difficult situation. They flagged down a …

young man strolling past, ‘English?’ To


We parted and I walked along the river. I
which he nodded and all the ladies
really enjoyed my rice milk and my apple as
suddenly disappeared.
I walked. It was raining on the way and I

The young person was from Montreal, so was hungry. The bars in this industrial part

he had no more idea than I where we were. of town were none too salubrious. I

He was heading to Getex, which I believe stopped at a service station to use the loo

was the town directly across the


river from Portugalete. He was
following his landlady’s
recommendation for a nice day trip.
He didn’t know anything about the
bridge with the cargo/car/person
carrier which had been built up in my
mind by various descriptions and
rumours. I thought it was the big
reason to go to Portugalete. He also
had been told to save his money and
not go to the Guggenheim which, as
it was only 16Euros, seemed a bit

85
and found some salty bread based
snack food. Rather delicious crispy
niblets with rosemary and dried tomato
flavouring. Ate the whole packet very
happily. You must keep an eye out for
crisp bread.

There were some run down and broken


large old warehouses showing signs of
the economic crisis. Soon there was a
spate of refreshed buildings and then
we were directed (the arrows said) out
and away from the river, possibly to
shops, and then back to a grotty area bridge. The walkways became neater,
of street art and broken windows and then, clearly money spent to keep the parks
suddenly, we were in a resort area with a nearby in order, the elegant buildings
World Heritage suspension bridge and overlooking the bridge appeared
charming old buildings. prosperous and well-kept.

They told (the guidebook! Gronze!) about Each side of the river had a mini-Eiffel
big things and towers and bridges at slender tower. Between them, high up, so
Portugalete but I didn’t really know what to shipping could proceed under it, was an
expect until I saw it and then everything iron bridge. The shape of it was a little
slotted into place. reminiscent of the San Fransisco bridge
but higher and more slender. Slung
So it was with the Flysh and the
underneath and sliding across the river,
Guggenheim and now with this suspension
just above the water, was a carrier. On the
or transporter bridge. It really was
carrier were several cars, an elegant
something. It’s called the Vizcaya bridge
solution to a difficult problem.
and UNESCO have made it a World
Heritage Site. The river glided through How to get between Getex and
areas of rotting old warehouses and Portugalate without stuffing up tall ships
suddenly, in the distance, there was the coming through? It was quiet and ran

86
frequently so, even as an antique, is still cyclists and an assortment of other
useful in this modern age. walkers. Lots of small rooms and I think
my room of only four bunks was smaller
What visionaries got together to dream this than most, which was valuable as there
up? The original meetings must have been was only a small amount of people who
wonderful. A little bit Jetsons from a might snore.
couple of centuries ago. The architect was
a disciple of Eiffel, a man called Palacio. The supermercardo provided individual
Apparently during the civil war part of it packs of pre-cooked rice (integral) which
was bombed. And Señor Palacio would made a perfect hostel dinner. A mushroom
have seen it as he looked out of his stirred through with one of those miniature
window. Just before he died. That must olive oils, a tiny can of peas and a bit of
have been a dreadful day for him. chopped pepper and hey presto, a
delicious and healthy meal. The individual
It took a bit of sorting to find the albergue, rice was also available mixed with quinoa.
another privado. I really hoped this was
one of the last urban places I had to deal I ate my meal in the crowded social area
with. It was tricky to find and turned out to where keen sporty folk watched some kind
be crowded. There was a big group of of soccer game and a genial young
Chinese woman drank a huge
bottle of beer. The bathrooms
had slightly confusing signs:
Chicas, NO, meant, obviously,
men. Clearly, I was to use the
one marked Chicos NO. It’s all
very clean but I must say, I did
feel happiest on the way out.

And for some reason, as I was


trying to work out how to get
here, I received an email
saying I had been placed in a
secondary school near

87
Barcelona! Yay! So all my anxiety of the My German friend, Brita, showed up with
morning, which I had to assuage with a another German woman. Three of the
danish (I didn’t ask about butter in the cyclists surrounded Mr Quebec but all
pastry, sometimes it’s better just to feed attempts failed. Luckily our host appeared
the hunger) and coffee Americano on the with cleaning cloth in hand and instructed
way back from the Post Office, was all us - well, Mr Quebec - very quickly so that
over. I’d been levelled up! The next level when I went to start it again I couldn’t
would be contacting the school, getting all make it go. After another high speed
the forms to fill in … on, on, on … I lecture, this time directed at me, all
considered spending a couple of days in systems go, and I had my nice dinner. Now
Santander, the next reasonably sized city, looking forward to breakfast after a sleep
to get it all sorted. and I’m going to try for 27.5km. Must take
the right road, though!
Looking around this social room with beer
and MAMiLS (middle aged men in lycra) I
could tell it was going to be an earplug
night. There was some energetic sporting
encouragement going on with the football
match.

I’ve found people to be friendly when I ask


directions or assistance. I do tend to ask
women and they’ll always give it a
considered go. But this evening I asked
the man from Quebec, who happened to
be standing next to me, how he thought
the microwave went. And it was pretty
funny because he did all the things I’d tried
already. And then he went nuts with all the
buttons. He tried pushing everything in
quick succession in no particular order
and then got faster and more forceful.
Suddenly we were surrounded by people.

88
Castro-Urdales, 18th Junio - DAY 11 - Albergue
de peregrinos de Castro Urdiales - 35km

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, and As I wrote my notes, I lay, with my legs up
it would happen just as I was against the wall, next to an open window
congratulating myself on how fit I was, framing a prunus tree just into full new
how well my body was taking the pressure leaves. The sun was glinting between the
… (Not that I was actually under much maroon leaves with the bright blue sky
pressure, after all, I’m hardly a refugee behind. We had another full albergue today
from a war-torn land, was I? Just a person and the young hospitalero was trying to
having a walking holiday in beautiful find places for all the latecomers, phoning
coastal Spain.) I fell over. A little slip can around to organise another mattress or a
go a long way. tent, possibly. When the sun glinted onto
the leaves they turned cherry red. It really
was beautiful with the wind gently shifting

89
the leaves from a flat platinum to the get new shoes - ALL her needs. He was
maroon, to brown and then the brilliant like an angel. This is the kind of Camino
red. Very calming. story we all hang on, amazed. A true
Camino Angel.
It was a beautiful walk in to this resort
town. There was quite a surreal castle on I would try to walk as much as possible
the horizon over the marina. The beach the next day but my knee felt like it was
side had a built environment, gazebos and seizing up. You really don’t know how fit
lovely attractive areas that I guessed you are until you slide, surprisingly, down a
would bustle like San Sebastian in the wet mossy steep gutter as cars swung
summer. close around a busy road in the middle of
tiny town, Ontón. Dang and blast it. And I
I was worried about my knee. One of the was going so well and so carefully!
girls, Julie from Denmark, I first met her in
Markina, was now strapped with green It was raining when I left Portugalete and
tape around both her knees. She’s one of as usual went in the wrong direction. Who
these determined, nothing-will-stop-me should run out of the parkland to greet me
walkers. She went to the hospital in Bilbao but a cute little West Highland terrior, the
for pain management, I supposed, and the type of dog I habitually photographed to
staff there warned her not to walk for a few send to my friend Penny in Auckland due
days. Or at least take it quietly. So she to her interest in matters of white Westies.
walked 23km. I suppose there was only So we had a chat, him in his tartan coat
one albergue in the vicinity but to with his smoking mother, who put her
disregard this medical advice when you hand tenderly on my arm to explain my
asked for it seemed a bit silly to me. She way.
must keep on, urgently needing to drug
herself and walk. So, she was resting on And so it went and we were trammelled

the beach - she got here at 11am for fear into a shared bike/footpath. There was a

she would miss out on a bed in the slightly longer way through the suburbs

albergue. And she met a man who worried but I was happy to be corralled and fenced

so much for her knees that he took her to in over the motorways. It really suited me. I

a physio who strapped her up, gave her could think. There were variations of this

creams and ointments and paid for her to bike path all the way to the coast. One part

90
had a wall of giant stones and there were As I walked, I noticed a man with a plastic
many, many big dogs walking out with bag being chased, danced around, by a
their owners. Not only that, but many cat. As I drew nearer I saw him drop some
houses were guarded by big, ferociously meat to the ground and the cat slipped
barking dogs. Apart from the excellent and around him and in and out of a tall wrought
beautiful vegetable gardens, I found it iron fence. Behind the fence, and I did not
interesting to ponder what these dogs linger to look too closely, were at least
three, possibly four, of the biggest,
loudest, strongest dogs, storming about as
he went to open the gate with a key. As he
did, I hastened away, and he started
crooning to them, ‘Bueno, bueno … ‘ and
his voice grew louder and louder until he
was shouting, ‘BUENO! NO! BUENO!’

Two men, also walking with their dogs and


long canes, caught my eye. I felt they were
encouraging me to depart the area. I did
not look back, presumably the dogs had
were trying to protect.
spilled out into the carriageway and he
As I walked along the contained pathway, was attempting to get them back behind
lined with enormous rocks on the the fence.
righthand side, the left was a series of
Further along, another big dog was sitting,
private properties with tall fences of metal
just observing the passers by. He looked
and concrete. High, and, if they were
old and calm and did not move as I went
see-through style, they had some kind of
by. Mostly the dogs were chained or well
astroturf or netting to cover them and
behind the tall fences.
nearly all had a sign featuring dangerous
dog, Perro por Seguridad, for security.
I passed another trying hard to jump over
Some even had a photo of the huge killer
a half door but could not quite manage it
dog in question.
while another playfully barked and ran
around while his owner tried to put his

91
neck chain and lead back on after washing I was told. And I was excited to be near
it. The owner was trying to get him to keep the marionette hub, there was a workshop
away from me and after shouting at the in Barcelona putting out some great new
dog would smile at me and say, ‘Tranquilla, work. And I would improve my Spanish!
tranquilla … ‘ He explained he had to wash And my French! And I would need some
the lead because the dog had covered it in Czech! And Catalan. If my brain held out!
shit.
Knee was the strangest thing. When I first
I smiled and acknowledged that was the did it, I thought it was fine. I got up, a bit
sensible option and turned my back on the shaken, nay, a lot shaken, but I kept on
dog so as not to antagonise him. I thought marching and calmed down. It was when I
perhaps I presented quite a threatening stopped to think about it that I noticed the
form, the entirety of my pack and body knee itself was sore and swollen. Not so
being covered with my rain poncho plus much the knee itself but the muscle at the
the clonking walking sticks turning me into top of the calf behind the joint. Before, it
a weird four-legged green creature, like a hurt to bend. Now, it hurt to straighten.
mad green camel. I didn’t use the sticks Now, I felt like I’d joined all the other
around animals for fear of freaking them moaning walkers with their endless blisters
out. and sore bits. Buggar it.

The young hospitalero here told me he had Another bunk without a fence. I built a
a friend from Melbourne. She was doing fence using one of the pile of extra
the Camino and then she went to South blankets in the albergue, a little line along
Africa for six months and then she got the edge of the bunk. Nice and secure little
married and went to live in the nest with all my bits and bobs around me.
Netherlands. So, she’s become an Like a bear in a tree.
international friend. I take good heart from
that! I’d like to be an international type It was still daylight at 20:30, people

myself. When I heard I was getting a walking around outside, going for dinner

secondary school near Barcelona I while there are also people in the bunks,

thought, yup, that’s exactly what I wanted! like me, scribbling in notebooks, and

I hoped the English teacher would be some, like the guy beneath me, reminding

relaxed but I guessed I would just do what

92
me to look out my earplugs. That was treatment! Can’t think what made her so
some snore he’d got going already. attentive.

This morning I was awake at 5:15. I sat up As I gathered washing and came back to
to start getting dressed and then I thought, the albergue after sitting in the Toros
no, buggar it, it’s too early and went back parking lot where the best wifi was to be
to sleep. When I woke the next time the found, I met Anthony, a young jazz
host was loudly making everyone guitarist from Texas. Very gentle funny
breakfast and people were saying ‘Muchas young man.
gracias’ as they left. He gave me a cup of
quite drinkable coffee to have with my So, tomorrow is Sunday, the dreaded

muesli. I was right as rain and on the road close-the-town day, and I’ve plenty of food

by 7:30, portrait taken outside the on board. Another nice rice dinner ahead.

albergue to litter their website. I’m going to try to walk 25km but there’s
other albergues if I don’t make it that far.
It really was a pleasing start to the day. There’s no point stuffing up the knee if I
And apart from the knee-slip, a pretty don’t have to. Gronze says this is Stage
good day all round. When I stopped for 10, so we were half way through my time
lunch, the waitress, in her leopard print on the Norte. And I’d just read ahead and
mini-dress and white pants and long they were suggesting taking the train out
blonde hair was SO solicitous of me. of Santander and I thought that was good
Really, she was incredibly kind and lovely. advice as the stage was 40km!
She opened the dining room for me alone
and I sat up in splendid isolation, perhaps,
as my son would have it, I looked like such
a dork she wanted me out of her bar. I had
a simple mixed salad and bread with
brand new oil and sherry vinegar. She
popped in and asked me how I was doing
and blew me kisses when I left and I’d only
spent 10 Euros. I gave her a tip but still, it
was not much for this kind of royal

93
Hazas (Liendo), Domingo 19th Junio - DAY 12 -
Albergue de peregrinos Saturnino Candina -
24.5km

Albergue de peregrinos Saturn Candida - My day started out relatively quietly.


6km short of the suggested stage to Feeling super eager to get away from Mr
Laredo - is very clean and new, offering Snory. He was from Quebec and describes
sturdy wooden bunks with plenty of space himself as French. I asked him what
between. I really didn’t feel the need to passport he carried and he reluctantly
keep pushing my increasingly swollen admitted it said, ‘Canada’. He chose to
knee so I stopped. Most of the day I had educate his children as French and he
the cheerful company of young jazz wished to live as though he did live in
guitarist, Anthony Plant. We had good France. While we talked I wished, strongly,
talks about anything and everything. to avoid judgement but all that stopped at
2:45am when I felt the urgent need to bash
him.

94
He was sleeping directly beneath me and There was a loud party STILL going on in
even though I had the earplugs firmly the morning as I left Castro, teenagers
hammered into my head his snores happily shouting out lyrics at all rhythms
permeated my hearing. His snores vibrated and tones hardly related to any kind of
my bunk frame! The resonant roaring was music at all. A little while later I passed a
one thing but it was the combination of police car making its way up the laneway.
sleep apnea and groaning that was the Anthony reported the police had just
greatest torture of all. The snoring would parked as he went past. So, I guess it was
stop. I would hold my breath too. Then he only fair they were told to keep it down at
would groan, really, really loudly, like he 08:00!
was calling to someone across a wide
rushing whitewater river and then he would My knee felt pretty good this morning. I

fall back into snoring again. I ASK YOU!! warmed up slowly and relatively quickly.
Most people from the Castro albergue
I did eventually get some sleep, between passed me. I was just getting some steam
groans, but the last two nights together up - it was raining - when the young man
have felt terribly cramped and crowded of the previous evening’s chat passed me,
with people and snoring bunks. saying ‘Buen Camino’. And then,
surprisingly, he did a classic double take
The albergue in Castro Urdales was beside and said, so charmingly, ‘Oh, it’s you,’ and
the Plaza del Toros, the bullring building dropped by for a chat. And so it was that
huge and circular, painted white with lovely we spent a most companionable day
mustard trim. There was a red wrought iron together. I fear I bored him somewhat - but
kind of semi circle over the doorways, a he was very kind and we took our time.
radiating halo of bright twisted streamers
of blood. For added poetry, gate 4 was We stopped for morning coffee around
entwined with a vibrant climbing rose - of 10:30 and I was able to introduce him to
red. Strangely, I didn’t get a photo as I had the all important tostado con tomate y
discovered WiFi was strongest there, aciete! We then strolled along the byways,
outside the bullring and I had chosen to though an eucalyptus forest of young
engage with my social media public saplings before stopping in Rioseco for his
instead. orange and my apple, sitting on the good
bench by the broken picnic table. The

95
We kind of skirted around marriage and
stuff. He told me he used to be married
and I told him I still was. I explained how I
was extremely happy to be out exploring
the world and he mentioned a couple of
ex-girlfriends …

He said he’d really enjoyed the movie of


Eat, Love, Pray and I told him I’d not
other side had a broken bench and a great enjoyed the book at all. Maybe one day I
table. Like the caterpillar’s mushroom. would watch the movie. We made a deal
Either choice was poor! As we neared the to buy each other’s work, so I’m allowed to
end of snack time we noticed there was use any part of his album for my Footfall
another repaired table on the other side of film.
the park and enjoyed whole seated
comfort for a short time. These are the sort He tried to pick up a bit of rubbish

of small things in life with which the everyday to make the Camino a little bit

Camino rewards patient participants. better for the following people. I checked
in a couple of times to make sure he really
We then went up, climbing a small did want to be chatting to a middle-aged
mountain, and I’d been expecting far lady dragging along with her sore knee
worse that day. His pleasant company and he said he didn’t feel I was holding
took the attention from my knee so it was him back so we were very companionable.
we came relatively quickly to my albergue, He had shocking blisters so he’s got his
found the bar with the pleasant plane trees own shoe baggage holding him up but he
and enjoyed a relaxed lunch. But during wanted to press on to the next stop so off
our talks we solved the problem of he went after tending to his bandaids.
decriminalising drugs, his hopes for his
bio-medical degree, his worry about his Now, in Hazas, I sat in the edging out sun,

tintinitus, his love for his dad and brother, chasing it with my washing and I tucked

his concern for his mum and how he came into various snacks and nibbles. We ate a

to the Camino. late lunch at the Bar de la Plaza - where


they had pruned the plane trees to act as

96
umbrellas - it really was very effective and The man lying in the sun by my washing
beautiful. I expected later in the summer just let out a huge fart. He’s been chatting
as the leaves grew more it would make a on the phone in Italian. Perhaps he
great shady spot. Much better plan that thought I do not understand fart in his
the bizarre shaping in Melbourne, making language? Would he be surprised to learn
holes through the middle of the trees for I’ve written about his bald shiny head, his
power lines. bald shiny torso and his skins shorts?
Supposedly he’s only wearing skins whilst
I was pleased I stopped short of the resort his other trousers dried?
town. I thought Castro-Urdales was big
enough but Laredo is apparently bigger. Sunday night in the emerald green valley
Only about 7km from here so I would of Lienda. Bald farty man just moved the
potter up there quietly in the morning, then washing closer to me with the grace of Mr
catch the ferry to Satoño and stay at the Bean trying to make the clothes rack stand
youth hostel. I thought after another day of up. Be great to have dry socks tomorrow. I
babying I’d have my knee back again. I thought if I’d been by myself I would have
could feel it was swelling further down in stopped at the first dreary Albergue. Where
the calf when we stopped but now I’ve as now I’m well placed for an interesting
had it up against the wall and massaged it trip through a beachside resort and a stay
with my super Pomada de San Juan it was at the very place where Columbus’s ship,
feeling much more flexible. Santa Maria was built. I would try to get
more washing done there - hopefully I’d
Here in comfortable Hazas I was sitting in get there earlier. But I still wanted to rest
the sun, leaning on the tennis courts, my knee. Poco a poco. (Little by little).
watching my washing dry. I had a cup of
chamomile tea, some nibbles, fruit cake Walking through history and culture with
and choc and I would be ready for bed as continual worry about washing and food.
soon as the sun left the clothes. Apart Yet these must have been the same
from the stinging nettle by the washing line worries facing both Romans and Celts as
this was an incredibly peaceful place. And they arrived to these coasts to try to make
maybe lunch might have been improved a new lives for themselves and their families.
little bit without Madonna, U2 and Cher? Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry
water. After enlightenment; chop wood,
carry backpacks.

97
Santoña, Lunes 20th Junio - DAY 13 - Albergue
Juvenil de Santoña - 12km

Looking at the map, it was only 5km from as quickly as possible. It seemed the
Liendo to Laredo. This should easily have Camino always had a different attitude.
been accomplished in an hour. Well. We
went all around an antique barrio, El When one accepted the way would not be
Quintos, I think, looking at lovely laneways the simple centimetre it appeared on the

and wandering cats and chained-up map and, instead, climbed the hill to the

barking dogs and going through tunnels Cafe/Bar/Hostel/Hotel at the gateway to

and seeing more beautiful rural vistas. I Laredo, one unwound enough to enjoy the

was busily trying to baby my swollen knee traditional tostado con tomato con

and keep balanced on both feet, avoiding Americano while looking over a stunning

favouring, all while trying to get to Laredo view of sea and hillside. There was a wide
stretch of beach into the middle of the bay.

98
At either side of the bay were imposing was a beautiful day and if it wasn’t for my
hills, which appear to have been protected preconceived expectations that this would
as there was not the hideous blocks of be a short day, I’d probably happily have
flats over them that bulged out over the wandered along. But knee or no, we finally
central thin strip of beach. got to the beach where El Puente was
supposed to be.
This long stretch of beach was my second
leg today. I was guessing my walk this And a cheery little boat did turn up and we
morning was closer to 10km and my knee paid 2 Euros to walk up a thin gangplank
wasn’t going too badly. I just worried that I and stand on board. It was a beautiful little
wouldn’t have the suitable fitness to cover trip. I wouldn’t have missed it for the
the Primitivo if I was injured. In fact, not world. We chugged over a magnificent bay
doing high mountain passes might better with fishing boats about their business. I
suit my capabilities any way. I had to do was sorely tempted to go back and forth
more research. again but I thought that would have been
silly. In hindsight, it was silly not to on such
The albergue was at the Santoña sailing a beautiful day. There you go. One should
club. In fact, it was part of a huge boat follow one’s instincts.
shed. There were school camps with huge
tents out the back and there were heaps of There was a lovely girl in the tourism
dormitories but we’re all in one room now. office. She assumed I’d stay at the
I’m in with two other peregrinos so far, as municipal albergue, right along the
usual, there’ll probably be more. waterfront to the port and, as I was happily
chatting with her, a wrinkled
Oh, how did I get to this beautiful boat weather-beaten man arrived and sidelong
blissville? I walked! All along the gave me a card describing another
beachfront! It looks tiny in el map but I albergue, just for pilgrims, in the middle of
have to tell you it must be AT LEAST 5km, the town. So, why did I want to stay in a
it took all day. This was supposed to be a boat shed? I just did, that’s why.
short day!
I gathered some ingredients for my dinner
So eventually, Richardo from Barcelona and went to find a bocodillo for my lunch.
overtook me and we chatted about how And I saw a pub featuring a pilgrim menu
long and boring the beachfront was but it

99
and they offered many types of than I ought to have been. I’m also sure I
hamburgers. It looked as though they walked far more than 10km. It made a
offered a great variety of vegetables. So I difference yesterday with pleasant
asked for a burger con solo verduros. You conversation. The time goes by much
can see what’s coming, can’t you. Solo faster.
plantas, poor favor, si? Si, si, and we listed
all the vegetables I could have, si, si, no I got lost again this morning, very quickly,

problema, and she gave me the and of course, started to doubt my

inordinately long Wee Fee codigo and I abilities, back to day one again. I’m not so

made myself comfortable outside in the sure I’ve calculated this whole trip

warm summer breeze and the burger correctly. I will have been walking for a

looked amazing with chips and all and fortnight. There’s a few albergue options to

after the waitress, with the big smiley eyes choose from. I just had to see how the

and cheerful attitude had left, I saw the knee holds up. There was no need to bust

meat. it. I really did need my health!

I just picked it all off and hungrily ate the The little fish came up in the clear clear

rest. But there’s another lesson learned. water to investigate my legs, perhaps

Poor communication big time, there. I’m because I was providing shade? They

pretty sure I didn’t use the word veggie bumped into me, I thought at first it was

burger but I certainly mentioned everything passing seaweed but it was each in turn

to do with vegetables. Hopefully some as though their company dared them, go

cats were the winners that afternoon. on, you, see what it is, what does it feel
like? It was a gentle, lovely feeling.
This is a lovely place, albeit without a Surprising how often fish, swirling or
beachfront. There’s a boat ramp I noticed glinting or just knocking gently against me
a woman wade down so I joined her and have changed my mood.
let my knee soak up some salty goodness
from the harbour water. Fisherfolk kept That first Camino day, certainly as they

arriving and throwing hooks into the splashed in that reserve made me feel

general vicinity. I managed to have one much less sorry for myself. I’d also seen

more dip before making my way back masses splashing around in a stream on

inside the boatshed. I was far more weary my way into one of the coastal towns,

100
watched by a couple. She was
petite with tousled brown hair,
black tracksuit and sparkles
while he was huge, bulging,
short black hair, visible
underpants, low slung trousers
and they stood to watch this
parade of fish, a round nose sort
with pale bellies. Quite large and
there were many. I assumed they
couldn’t be good eating.

In San Sebastian there had been


sharp pointy fish with stripes in
the brackish river water while in Bilbao beach was too far to walk today and next
those roundhead ones massed, eating up was shower, dinner and bed. Then, I
rubbish, I presume. can tell for sure, breakfast. The rest was
snores, pilgrim boasting and more snores.
Here in this idyllic setting, with the roar of
fishing traffic, hum of industrial port and A word about Spanish showers that I have
ting tang of halyards from the boatyard, met. Mostly they are the hand-held kind. I
there were fish dancing just below the often feel, as I hold the handle, I am about
surface, and over there, by that small to burst into song or make an
yacht, a very big fish just jumped. announcement as I attempt to equalise the
heat/pressure balance. Also, I have to turn
The fisher folk, smoking fat putrid cigars, off after the initial wetting in order to soap
raised their heads slowly to look where the up. One must then keep the location of the
fish had been, calculated where best to soap fixed in one’s mind before rinsing.
put their fishing rods and left them where That’s if one wants to keep one’s favourite
they were, planted, to suck-draw on their soap, used for all washing purposes and
horrid cigars again. wrapped in a hessian or light plastic bag
because that lets it dry out in the sponge
Suffice to say the sky was very definitely
bag. Always remember your soap.
bright blue, the air was fresh and salty, the

101
Guermes, Martes 21st Junio - DAY 14 -
Albergue La Cabaña del abuelo Peuto - 23.6km

Under the shade of a huge oak tree (only We were met by young volunteers from all
just showing signs of the ubiquitous around the world. The young lady, Kaera,
fungus) with a table to myself (so far) but it who happily swung my pack over her
looked like the men, jubilados) were shoulder and escorted me to my shared
closing in on my table to varnish cherry room, was from Ireland. The young man
red. We were at a green and pleasant who carefully noted down my Passport
hacienda, Abuelo’s place, Ernesto’s number and stamped my credential, from
grandfather’s, where all these peregrinos, Germany. Some have finished their
who were heavy laden, came together to Caminos and returned to help other
contemplate their Caminos. pilgrims or Kaera simply stopped walking,
preferring to stay here, finding the
atmosphere restorative. She intended to

102
get going with her Camino one day, soon, Ernesto was a white-haired, white-bearded
maybe. old gentleman. He had some gravitas,
wearing an orange high-viz jacket and
The grounds and buildings seemed large, clearly running the team of retired
comfortable and sprawling. We would get gentlemen busily varnishing the outdoor
dinner and breakfast and I would get a tables.
salad. There were many pilgrims here.
Most I had seen in passing, many faces I moved to the cool of the library. The
were totally new. We were all wandering library was dominated by a large central
around these lush gardens, inspecting the table surrounded by chairs. The table,
chapel and the library. The bathrooms and covered by a blue cloth decorated with
laundry spaces were generous and filled strips of woven ribbon, was piled up with
with assorted smells of toothpaste and magazines and stories about the Camino,
shampoos. There was a slight air of many hand written and illustrated,
wonder, what is this lush place doing in the presumably by Ernesto himself. In front of
middle of the Spanish countryside? me was a hand-drawn and stylised graph
of the different Spanish states represented
An extensive clothesline with more than in 2008 at the albergue. Next to me was a
enough pegs flapped away on the top pile of magazines entitled, ‘Mundo Negro,
lawn. Deep in the heart of the dairy Revista Misonal Africana’. Beside that,
country, the air was clean and a rooster ‘Menos Misas y Mas Comunión’. Then
clarioned behind me. Next door, there was another Christian magazine called ‘Exodo’
no fence, and a lovely garden curved and next to that, ‘Movistar + Guia de
around velvet sward and a huge stringy instalación’ (that’s the wifi service). And
bark dominated the skyline. I took a photo around the table the magazine array went.
of a stand of young eucalyptus, thinking
the caption would be, ‘Why, oh, why, does Outside, near the freshly varnished cherry
Spain insist on turning Australian?’ red tables, there were permanent tents,
built for school visits or scout groups. The
Ernesto sat down next to me and told me entire place is an educational
they’d opened the Albergue 43 years ago establishment about the Camino.
but the first pilgrim arrived a mere 17 years
ago.

103
Ernesto would speak at 7:30. We were straining at their ropes and the seagulls
expected to join together to think about swinging overhead. There were fish again,
our common purpose and then go to which I took to be a good omen, many,
dinner. many of the rounded kind swirling just
below the surface. Two guys with planted
It was strange, when I started out this poles up away round the corner did not
morning, I fully intended to go to San seem to be hooking them out of the water.
Miguel. But it was a great morning. Weird I surmise they did not like the populous
night. One of the American women spoke kind or these round heads were incredibly
in her sleep, a great deal, off and on. wily.
Mostly in Spanish but at one point she
said, loudly and vehemently, ‘You
ungrateful BITCH!’ really, very much
NOT what you needed to hear in the
middle of the night! Then there was the
alarm. Not once, but three times. Okay.
Have an alarm. But DON’T put on
snooze. That was not acceptable
Albergue/Hostel behaviour!

And then when we were packing up in


the morning, one of them said, ‘I say we
just turn the light on.’ One guy was
It really helped having a map. I knew
staying an extra day, still snoring on - and I
where the Camino was and was able, for
immediately said, without thinking, as I’m
once, to head confidently in the correct
inclined to do, ‘You can’t do that!’ but they
direction. That gave me great joy and it
still debated it. ‘Cos, he’d understand, he’s
was only towards the end of the wall I
a hiker … ‘
realised I must have walked right past a
But their early morning system worked for large prison of some kind. Many people
me. I left at 7:00 am and the sun was just were lined up to drive their cars into the
coming up over the heaving harbour. The security gate entrance way, to start work, I
water looked rich, viscus, with the dinghies supposed.

104
Over the hill, the buildings changed nature looking cafe, overlooking the beach
to blocks of flats. Many for sale or rent and perfectly! It was around this time that I
further over and up the delicious hill, took began to feel I could not only probably get
me into the blue sun sky, giving me a great to Guermes but I really wanted to on this
view of where I’d been, the spread of night. I popped in to the tourismo and she
Santoña elegant around the wetlands and assured me I could buy food and stuff at
then over the top to reveal a sparkling San Miguel. I only had an apple left on
stretch of water and a wonderful beach board and half a capsicum. But she
where I headed next. reassured me, with her swirly expert
turismo pen that I could be there by
As I carefully came down the hill I realised I lunchtime to prevent starvation.
could take off my shoes and shorts, tuck
them into my pack and walk in the water - Distance is definitely elastic on this
racehorse acting! And it was such a Camino. Whoever made the signs or took
perfect thing to do. the measurements could be light on,
perhaps to encourage, or added a few,
Mostly the rip was pretty strong, creating maybe to impress? Just today I passed
holes that made it uncomfortable to walk three different signs to Santiago at 504km,
into the water at the beginning but once I’d 653 and 629.
got into the smooth part of the beach I
managed to really feel my legs were much It was all so fantastically scenic; adorable
better. Certainly still stiff, but absolutely on elderly buildings with pots of bright
the mend. It was a perfect time. geraniums, even a couple of amphora
spilling vibrant pansies, fig trees, grape
I was only involved in the water, the sand vines, much greenery. Yet in other places,
and the sky. Much of the beach was cows covered in mud, showing bones and
protected from marauding ships or jests by mastitis, plane trees pruned back to ugly
unpredictable rocks jutting out all through stumps, dogs screaming, throwing
the turbulent waters coming in to the town themselves against their neck chain,
of Neja. showing their teeth, ever changing,
nothing staying the same …
As I drew closer to the buildings I realised
that it was time for morning tea and, as
luck would have it, there was a mighty fine

105
Yet it comes back to the town with similar albergues have managed to change the
streets and plazas and just as I think there flow and now the paths, according to the
is not much new building going on, the guidebooks reports and people’s
next pueblo has a development which is comments - lead the way to Santander
clad in some kind of modern slate chunk rather than the old way.
which at least nods to the traditional
buildings adjacent. I met a few peregrinos Feels just a tiny bit like a cult or something

who stormed past but then I saw them on arrival. Beaming young fresh faced

again in San Miguel. volunteers spruiked the benefits of the


place and of Earnesto the priest, generous
A woman lounged in the sun, with her rooms, lovely showers and laundry,
yogurt, by a gorgeous stone church. She sprawling gardens and the aforementioned
looked lovely, surrounded by yellow library and chapel.
daisies or dandelions perhaps, wearing
pink with her dark hair in this dell of I arrived feeling very small and apologetic.

shadows and juicy lush green grass. My thoughts had turned to the past and
blaming. I had a tendency to feel self
She indicated a supermercardo nearby righteous and dutiful and loyal. I felt that I
and off I trotted, like a faithful dog had been extremely fair. But I do have a
searching for her owner’s stick, never hearty feeling of discomfort.
finding it at all. But the recently opened
San Miguel refugio provided lunch, a My room was filled with a jolly group of

passable pumpkin soup, bread Spanish family plus one other single

(yesterday’s) and water for 5Euros. Bit French woman. As the time drew near I

much? Who cares. It was available, it was thought I’d best go and find out what our

a shadey place to sit and I felt a little bit common purpose was. I didn’t have to feel

guilty for not staying there. It seems the small or apologetic. I could feel relaxed

others did the same as they dropped in for and take my place. I didn’t have to

a drink and then overtook me later on the perform. I didn’t have to do anything.

way here. It’s very strange that so many Except talk about food. The only vegan in

pilgrims have turned up at Guermes. It’s the village! But those comments passed

not even on the official Camino - though it mercifully quickly.

is described on Gronze. These two

106
We all gathered together in the sala, about the joy of achievement and the focus of
forty of us, I believe. Including volunteers. physical effort. The greatest pleasure came
Ernesto was 78 years old. He spoke from being in nature and doing physical
quietly about his family. His grandparents things. But the Camino only regarded as a
built the first home where the entrance to physical thing was just that, and not all.
the Albergue is now. This was their farm There was much more in the heart and
where they had fifteen children. Then his mind. That was really where the Camino
own parents married and had five children happened.
before the civil war scattered the family.
Most moved to Catalunya. Some of them He also showed us a graph of the number

returned later to make a go of farming the of visitors his albergue was receiving each

land. Finally, after Earnesto became a year, an exponential growth line. One of

priest, and travelled the world, he decided our fellow pilgrims, Christina, a woman

to open an Albergue. He spoke quietly but from France, was awarded the honour of

with great pride, as well he ought. being number three thousand already in
2016 - and the peak period had not even
It is now owned collectively, he says, so begun.
while it still runs with volunteers wanting to
work and visitors still arriving (and, given Earnest spoke Spanish and was translated

recent stats, they will, more and more) so into English by John from South Africa.

be it. Otherwise it will be sold and the Two French voices muttered translations

proceeds donated to an organisation that and understanding to their groups on

promotes community and solidarity and either side of the room. So today I went

mind force in the third world. from great confidence to very low at the
other end.
Earnesto said it was important for us to do
difficult things. Discipline was very Strange how, when they gave us fruit at

important, especially in this consumerist the end of the meal, I quickly cut into mine,

society. We could consider ourselves lucky even though I really wanted to save it. I

that we had the ability and the opportunity noticed a young French woman, Cecilie,

to climb mountains. He showed us a photo saved hers and I felt so GREEDY!

of a very tall and steep mountain pass that


he walked with his friends every year for

107
Santander, Miércoles 22nd Junio - DAY 15 -
Albergues de peregrinos Santos Mártires -
20km

Third ferry!! And to celebrate, I went from the albergue at the same time as forty odd
Somo to Santander, returned and then other pilgrims was interesting. And the
went to Santander AGAIN! I wished I’d directions given by South African John
done it for all my ferry trips. And, because were somewhat perfunctory.
they thought I was getting bored, they
changed the boat so the last trip took In our conversation by the front door, I

twice as long as it normally would. asked him about Ernesto’s words from the
night before. John had used the English
Everything was just lovely in the morning. word ‘solidarity’ which I think is more
Got a few strange looks by putting the charged than the meaning Ernesto might
strawberry conserve in the museli but it have intended. I think he was talking more
worked with a nice cup of coffee! Leaving about ‘community’ but John dodged that

108
spear, not actually
enjoying the job of
translating anyway.

I took a tour around


the garden on the
dewy lawn - getting
sticky muck and lawn
clippings on my feet
but doing yoga
seemed essential
with this knee - albeit
greatly improved.
And I had a good
chat to Anthony
about his album. His
feet were sore. I hope have read and talked Camino a lot before
he found some good light sandal advice in making the decision to arrive here.
Santander.
We all trailed out in dribs and drabs into
I wonder if the hospitalero was really the rising sunlit mist and rolling hills of
suggesting to catch the bus all the way rural verdure. And, quite soon met again,
seriously? I have just heard what she said. in groups of 3 - 5, to discuss the next
I really need to put my listening ears on arrow and where it might be. It was my
better. Anyway, the mist hung over the first sighting of People Without Packs
paddocks as we eased our way out . (PWP) also known as ‘I’ve got a tiny
backpack, why can’t you keep up?’
Personally I was pretty glad to get out of
that place. I’m not sure if Catholic faith and Valerie was one, she was from Mexico and
sport mixes that well for me. But if one has as bright and cheery as anyone I’ve ever
not really considered what the Camino met. I met her group a couple of times
might mean I think Guermes Abuelo’s during the day, once at my clifftop morning
would the place to go. But most people tea and then on the beach itself.

109
I’ve just met Saviour
in the corridor and
she told me in the
beginning she was
afraid she may not
get a bed at the
albergues. It was a
fear of mine, too.
She’s young and
strong, of course, and
decided to carry a
tent. She stayed on
the beach at Laredo
using her tent for the
first time, in a little
valley between the
Mostly I walked, on and off, with Nadja sand dunes, so she felt safe. That must be
from Germany. She worked for an SO invigorating, trying something that
industrial machine company in sales. I seems so DARING! Victoire did not blink at
thought she must have a lot of the idea but I did not even get the tent!
responsibility, she looked quite strained at Sometimes acting one’s age is the better
times. But on the beach, with her shoes part of valour.
and socks off, she looked very smiley!
Again, I spent a happy hour with no
The cliff was spectacular. The blue vibrant trousers wading through the water and a
sky arched over the choppy deep blue great joy it was too. Nadja and I stopped
sea. I adored the nooks and crannies that for coffee and sandwich over looking the
revealed themselves at various times. The beach (I scraped off the mayo - sometimes
day was brilliant, sun and blue and green. I can’t be ticky schmicky) but I won’t do
But in the distance, our future, Santander, that again. The mayo made me definitely
spread a stain of smog across the horizon. queasy.
How can our past look so beautiful and
our future so grim?

110
But then, my highlight - well, maybe chorizo.
splashing in the ocean - equal - catching
the ferry. Even before I got on I knew I’d do I sat alone in these seventies surroundings
it again and I did! So relaxing watching the like the echoes of student flats I had
world go by, LOVED IT! known and really enjoyed the most
FANTASTIC smokey BBQ veggie burger
Santander is a rebuilt city - there were and chips followed by an OUTSTANDING
grand older edifices with sculptures near strawberry tart with mint tea to finish.
the ferry port but much was destroyed in Splendid. I put a review up on Happy Cow
the wars. and headed back to the Albergue where
the lovely hospitalero helped me dry my
I spent some frustrating time trying to find clothes (sort of) and told me all sorts of
rice milk and vegan treats. When one of treats and things to expect along the way
the folk I asked directions told me I had to (like a fortune teller). Turns out she was
walk up a steep hill and I realised how tired also a great fan of the restaurant, being
I was. Way too tired to walk one more not only vegan but also soy intolerant.
step. So I caught a taxi to a vegan cafe.
She was very sweet, encouraging my poor
When I walked in the bar was filled with Spanish. I fear I speak less Spanish now
grizzled men playing a gambling game, than I did in Melbourne!
clustered together, in cosy local
people cluster. There was an
array of snack foods and what
looked a lot like sliced meat on
the bar. The large bearded man
serving was harried and busy
and I felt extremely relieved
when he showed me upstairs to
a hippy den of pot plants and tie
dyed wall hangings. He insisted
his restaurant was entirely vegan
and I believe those slices of
meat were probably vegan

111
Cobreces, Jueves 23rd Junio - DAY 16 - BUS to
Santillana del Mar (44.2km) then walk 11.8km -
Albergue de peregrinos de Cóbreces Abadia

Cut to the chase! I woke up undecided graffiti laden industrial area drove me to it.
with the crackle and zip of the many I’m a little reluctant to admit I skipped
plastic bags of a Spanish family, and 44.2km BUT there would have been a train
others, just starting out on their first day. It involved at some point …
felt like a new wave was coming over the
trail from Santander. Okay, some pilgrims don’t even take the
train. They squish up against the rail
The lovely fortune-telling hospitalero bridge in a most unsafe manner.
mentioned many options, including a bus Apparently. For I did not even see the
to Santillana del Mar. I am not sorry to bridge. I was lounging around in a bus for
admit that confusion and a high degree of 15 MINUTES! Yes, one of the longest
disinclination to walk through another stages of solid walking on this Camino

112
took a quarter of an hour on the bus. The Santillana del Mar Cathedral was a
Maybe one day someone will convince me small but lovely church with an
to walk it but I’ve spoken to pilgrims who ENORMOUS pipe organ that flowered out
hurt their ankle whilst walking the hard at the back of the church. There was a
careterras (highways) and gained blisters quiet chapel filled with red velvet and a
during the factory-laden walk and found suffering Christ and the lights snapped on
nothing to recommend it. Apart from the whenever a visitor came near, like a
fact that if you want to be pure and walk museum attraction.
the entire Camino from beginning to end
… First, find your beginning, eh!! But I had to go where I had to go and,
finally in Cobreces, I was in a grubby
I had a decent cup of coffee, a relaxed albergue overlooked by a pink monastary,
start to the day. Santander bus station was with no kitchen and all my stuff ready to
easy to sort and why not head to the cook. I did find a shop and got myself
nearest medieval town with an Open some asparagus of the soft white flabby
Cathedral where I could pump up the stuff in a jar to make a nice salad. I met
power? Aunt Suzanna and Ideas Gal Thai, from
Hawaii. They had also
been on the bus from
Santander but when
you’re not on the trail
you’re not exactly
pilgrims. It’s only
when you’re marching
along or hanging out
your knickers on the
wire clothes rack at
the albergue that
pilgrim comparisons
and chats come alive.
Thai was eighteen and
had so loved the idea
of the Camino from

113
the very first she’d heard of it, she had to Camino and he was very keen to chat in
come. But there was no way her parents English and befriend everybody, certainly
would let her go without an adult so that every cat, and enjoy every step of the
explained Aunty. Although I must say, walk. George from Finland, recently retired,
Aunty was a professor of medicine at the had certainly had some great adventures
Hawaiian university and absolutely no and he’s looking forward to walking for the
slouch. Both women were very next two months. I kind of hoped to avoid
entertaining. They were sampling the him as I felt tragedy in the way he tended
Camino, dropping in and out as a taster. to wander across the road in a floaty kind
of spiritual way and turned me into a
Although they’d left Santillana del Mar Nervous Nelly as cars approached. He
behind, they’d made a booking to return to also wore short sleeve tee-shirts revealing
visit the important thousands-of-years-old arms fragile with sores and sunburn. His
caves there, wishing to see the stone-age solution was to splash them with cold
art work for themselves. These rock art water. Even though I suggested a visit to a
pieces were so precious they can only farmacia, he held no truck with this
show them to a very select and limited modern chemical notion of sunscreen or
group every day so bookings must be skin cancer prevention.
made far in advance. Even this limited
viewing slowly destroys the art. This is in Santillana del Mar was an ancient place
direct contrast to the way Australia treats with cobblestone roads defined by antique
its rare and precious cave paintings; stone and mud walls. I trotted around the
kicking them over before blowing them up streets wondering if I should stay there -
to extract some kind of mineral short term apparently the albergue is in an old prison
wealth for already wealthy mining families. and that’s what it’s like. An old prison with
Maybe it’s better to get rid of them no frills. I didn’t want to leave the
quicker? Really? backpack hanging around outside so I was
glad to give in to the urge to keep moving.
I walked in to the monastery with George I found a pan integral (wholemeal bread
from Finland who was the sort of walker roll) that fitted into my pocket and off I
my son Felix might have been inclined to went, ready for my footfall on the road
tease in some way. He was almost as wide again. The uplift of my heart and mood as I
across as he was tall. This was his third found the shell embedded into the road

114
and walked up and out of the town was son had a small friend when he was at
clear and invigorating. kinder whose dad had trained as a painter
of stained glass windows and I particularly
Again, the countryside was misty and noticed that these windows were painted
verdant and it felt like the weather was with very intricate insignias and coats of
closing in. I was betting it would rain the arms. The monks had similar evening
next day. dress to the monks at Zenarruza but with
black overcloaks here. One of the younger
I found a relaxing wall to sit and watch the
fellows was wearing ugg boots and it
mist and enjoy my bread with olive oil and
wasn’t even that cold. There were twenty
vinegar from the miniatures I’ve found in
one monks in total.
the supermercado. Delicious! And a crisp
fresh apple to boot. About a hundred We had in our midst, our long, thin
metres after I’d finished my feast there was albergue midst, a priest from Brazil. When I
a pilgrim’s park, with tables and remarked the lack of youth in the
everything! So, following my rule, there is monasteries and churches I had
always a better spot, just around the experienced whilst in Spain, he raised his
corner. face to the sky. He also raised his hands,
looking pleadingly above, making a
I ate very well today, despite not having a
dramatic picture against the pale cloudy
kitchen. I had a banana before vespers,
sky. He said we should pray for more
which was great, and enjoyed a tomato,
vocation. I asked him what he thought of
green pepper, asparagus and walnut salad
the Pope’s encyclical. Did the Brazilian
with my left-over bread and some chips.
priest think that young people worried
Olé!
about protecting nature might be called to
The monjas have an enormous crumbling save God’s creation? He had nothing to
church, a great big building and another say about it. He looked at me as if he did
VERY big building in good condition not understand. This, clearly, may have
apparently just for themselves. We been the case. However, he spoke
attended vespers in a small chapel inside Spanish with the monks. Perhaps my
this large edifice. It was held in a lovely Spanish was not Spanish enough. Or
room featuring romanesque archways and earthly communication was difficult.
very ornate stained glass windows. My

115
San Vincente de la Barquera, Viernes 24th
Junio - DAY 17 - Albergue El Galeon - 23.8

In Cóbreces, the monastery was a very First thing, the Padre got up next door,
well-maintained and imposing building, waking Snory George from Finland, and
looming over the squat white garaging of giving all of us in the slumber section a
the albergue, which could have been lights ON and well done! I suspect it was
stables originally, or garden sheds? The the snoring that woke the priest and he
lady in charge of the private garden next was getting his own back but perhaps
door had collected some mighty fine, very that’s uncharitable?
stinky compost to make our lives spicy.
Luckily it rained enough overnight to calm I shuffled over and shut the door for some

the atmosphere somewhat. more time but when they left, around 6am,
George confirmed it later for me, I thought
I may as well get cracking too.

116
through this bustling heart
of commerce into a cafe,
downed a cup of coffee and
a tostado con tomato and,
there, charging her phone in
the bar, caught up with
Green Tape from Denmark
with her busted knees. Julie
had no compunction in
describing how she had to
be dragged the last few
kilometres from Santander.
Her knees were now
seriously bandaged and her
feet were turning yellow.
Suzanne and Thai were seen reaching for
However, she told me, with such happy
their breakfast bars while I thought Rene
gleam in her eye, that she had spent the
and Martine liked their sleep as I took my
most fantastic San Juan’s night on the
damp socks and safety pinned them to the
beach with the two guys she had been
outside of my pack and set off into the
walking with. There were fireworks,
misty morning.
dancing and a bonfire. As they were
Comillas was another beautiful theme park drawing near to the fire to rest in the night
of a town, with medieval cobblestone they were encircled by a troupe of hippy
plazas and twisty turning streets. A gypsy musicians, at least that’s what she
market, filled with stalls of interesting described, played strange instruments. So
handbags and nick nacks of the same ilk she spent a magical night in the arms of
as those I’d seen laying out on white fabric song and then, they all meditated together.
squares in both Madrid and Barcelona also She thought it was really strange but
featured baked goods, fresh fruit and veg. during this time the drive to strive and
continue walking left her. Her face was so
It was often uncanny how the feeling of happy as she described it all. She said she
‘this is the right place to be right now’ felt free for the first time on the Camino.
overwhelmed me. I walked straight She intended to catch a bus to catch up

117
with the young men and just take each day daughter tended to Camino matters. She
as it came. After sneering at one poor girl seemed lovely and at night I was able to
who had taken the bus because of one cook up my little feast very happily while
little blister, and feeling that she’d worked the old man quietly lay in his daybed by
so hard she had given in and felt a lot the window like a Ron Mueck sculpture.
better for it. She was only twenty. I was For all the negative comments, the
thrilled for her and went to get a second albergue was full of wet walkers and very
coffee so we could celebrate. content they seemed too.

As I stood in the bar the news was


announced that Britain had voted for
Brexit. I wasn’t sure if I’d understood the
Spanish news so I turned to the bartender
and did a little dance of ‘Is this really
happening?’ and like many of us over the
next couple of days, he responded with a
graphic shrug. ‘Who knows?’

Julie worried about her university options.


She was expecting to enrol in a Scottish
Tomorrow I would aim for the famous
university. I worried about my once useful
albergue that cooked for vegans and other
in Europe British passport. I had two more
fussy types so I was feeling good about
years of free travel, I presumed, before
food now. Earlier, not so much. When I
Brexit came into force.
came into Vincente I was busting to use
After swallowing fruit, dried fruit and the loo and felt honour bound to buy
chocolate from the market, I kept on something so I ordered a vegetable
walking to Vincente, another imposing sandwich. I was horrified to find not only
town built over two bridges. The albergue cheese but also tuna for my trouble. So,
suffered from some bad comments on embarrassed, I had to get another plate
Gronze but actually the elderly couple who and do some swift dissection, enjoying a
used to run the establishment were now so piece of toast, some lettuce and tomato
elderly they slept all day while their with a cuppa. I don’t know how I can be
more clear in my ordering.

118
As I walked I mused about Brexit, Mr those instructions clear in my mind for ...
Trump’s now more likely (in my mind) about five minutes.
chances. History dramatically unfolded,
here and now, on the Camino del Norte as So, I find my tomato shop and clarify for
the British financial market plummeted. sure and he’s a tiny bit clearer, without the
flourish. I find the steps and I’m dreading
Luckily an enormous bank of honeysuckle this albergue, it really doesn’t sound nice
rose up beside me and overtook my at all and of course I go in the wrong
senses. I was delighted and overpowered direction and a very nice person comes
and brought back to my footfall and then along with all her rubbish and spills
the cobblestones and then the rough and Spanish words all over my head and my
ready rock walls. comprehension skills just dropped a
million percent and I’d realised I’d gone
The tiny thin streets with intricate patterns the wrong way AGAIN! But she put me
of stones inlaid into some kind of mortar, right.
all so ordered and careful, things that
arranged thus have existed for centuries. When I walked up to the front of the town,
Sometimes a church might show a crack where stood a gothic church overlooking
or two, might be about to fall down, but it the river as part of a large fort. Back
appeared Comillias had looked after her
buildings, as had Santillana del Mar and
now Vincente de la Barquera.

I eventually made my way to the tourist


information office. She did that thing with
the map and the biro and the airy spin of
here we are and then the clear and
obvious arrows to where we want to go
and then the rrrrrriiiiiip of the map off the
pile of printed maps and the flourish and
the full hand point direction. Ah, yeah,
that’s what you say now, isn’t it. I had

119
towards the shops and I found, under a
sign in the shape of a large sailing ship of
metal, El Galeón, the albergue of doom.
But it wasn’t really. Just quiet. Pilgrims in
various states of damp sat around the
large table with their credentials at the
ready while the daughter conducted
individuals around the kitchen, laundry and
bunk room facilities.

The bunk may or may not have been a


little bit damp and flimsy but we all were. I Brexit. I found it very sad that people could
walked up to the gothic church. It was be so forgetful about John Lennon and so
exquisite. Some recorded music played. short sighted about the world. I suppose
Something really famous and evocative. because I’m so stretched across the
With a big choir. You’ve seen it in the colonies born in England, raised in
movies. I don’t know. BUT you probably Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, all
would and it was completely beautiful. The English speaking outposts, I had a wish
ancient floors and the stone walls rose up that people see the similarities rather than
overhead in a cave of wonder. focus on differences. That we see the
planet as a whole rather than divided by
I sat down to tuck into my favourite rice
invisible fences. I can’t see how else we
dish just as Anthony walked in. While he
will be able to ameliorate against climate
waited for the pizzeria to open we played
change. The atmosphere doesn’t obey
my new favourite game, naming his next
customs laws.
songs: ‘Aquila Girando’ (Eagle turning) was
pretty good as was ‘Black Slugs Oozing in I also feared the nibbles of small creatures
the Break of Day’, while ‘Flexible of the world and dabbed on my favourite
Kilometres’ evoked some more or less sandfly mix, that I had brought with me all
milage! the way from the south island of New
Zealand. I think the nibbling was done
I felt better about life today or rather, I’d
aprés walking but life is FULL of surprises.
recovered from the immediate pain of
Couldn’t wait for breakfast.

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Buelna, Sabado 25th Junio - DAY 18 - Albergue
de peregrinos Santa Marina - 23.5km

Not sure what happened but pretty sure I around a computer by the bar. Sure
took the longest way. I was minding my enough, Anthony, Lucas and Peter, trying
own business, having a late lunch, there to make a decision as to go on or not.
were three or four kilometres left to go…
and then, time passed, and I got to the I found myself a private office where I

albergue around five. Very puffed. After could write with a cup of peppermint tea.

climbing around a rocky cliff. Very, very A family inspected the rooms. They arrived

beautiful but very, very long. It was a little in a mini van so there could have been an

bit disappointing after the great beauty of indundation. I just kept my nose in my

the walk to realise the albergue was a infusion and wrote on.

truck stop on a major road. As I walked in I


The albergue here was very large and most
could see three young men gathered
of us were squashed in one room. I

121
suppose, helpfully, to
save on cleaning for
the hospitalera. When I
arrived, I met
Giancarlos, who
introduced me to a
German family and I
shook hands with Gert,
a friendly professor of
mathematics.

My bunkroom was next


to the bathroom which
featured a sign
reminding pilgrims not
to take clothes or
When Snorey George from Finland walked
pillow in with you. I could understand the
in I mentally cemented my Sunday night in
pillow. I had no idea why you would want
a hotel plan. I had to get away from the
to take a pillow into a shower with you. But
albergues, if only for one snoreless night
clothes? Little bit much to wander around

with no clothes given we were sharing with
people we did not know or even had a
The previous night at San Vincente de la
common language with which to make
Barquera, I had woken early. I went to
amusing comments.
sleep late. I felt as if I were sleeping on a
cliff. The slats keeping the mattress up
Managed the shower, avoiding the tall
were patently obvious across my body as
lanky German professor with no gear on
was the lack of fence around my top bunk.
and next took on the hand washing of
The lovely Spanish family who had retired
clothes. The only place to hang is in the
after me had piled up their stuff on a chair
beer garden. By the motorway. My very
and then moved the chair over the steps
unattractive knickers waved in the late
up to my bunk so it was a bit of a spider
afternoon grey sky.
climb to get down to the ground again.

122
But I did sleep after listening to Outlander little video, I wished I’d got footage of the
by Diana Gabaldron, read by Davina cyclists racing back in Markina way back
Porter. She was a very precise and perky in Day 6. It seemed like ages ago. Time
reader who rarely faltered in her various definitely shrank and stretched on the
accents. It was relaxing, and entertaining, Camino.
though the plotting is, at times, incredible!
So even when the air was filled with Lanky Gert was a mathmatics professor

snoring (starring Snorey George from and, over our pilgrim’s dinner, he brought

Finland) I could still relax my body. up Einstein, discussing the elasticity of


time! He was walking with daughter
I got up at 6:30, which was wonderful. Anaholm and son-in-law Marco. We were
No-one else was in the kitchen, people all squashed together in one small bunk
were sleeping everywhere, mattresses in room with Giancarlos from Italy. I’d first
the hallway featured Suzanna and Thai, met Jan (newly adopted Spanish version
latecomers but comfortably warm. It was of his name) in Guermes at the shared
free and easy in the bathroom and I took dinner there where he made himself
my time organising my breakfast. obvious by raising a glass and crying out
at all opportunities, ‘No vino, no Camino!’
I tied on gaiters as I had read we would be He recently retired from the military and
walking in areas that were not mowed or was walking his fifth camino. He
kept tidy. After the event I didn’t really completed his hospitalero training in the
need them but there were some seedy previous year and next year would be a full
parts that didn’t get stuck in my socks! I time volunteer hospitalero in Santiago. So
realised I could fork out for some ordinary if you meet him, remember to say, ‘No
shoelaces instead of using my emergency agua, no Camino!’ from me!
boot laces which are now stowed in the
‘just in case’ section. Due to a big soccer game, the younger
men were sitting in the bar, and because
Today’s track varied from roads to mud to they came in later, under their own
beside the trainline to a gravel path. This guidance, they managed to have the huge
last became interesting as we found bunk room to themselves. How could this
ourselves sharing the track with a long be fair and reasonable when I’m right next
distance time trail with horses. As I took a to Snorey George from Finland? AGAIN.

123
Our delightful hospitalera served up a Victoria, Elizabeth and Mary. I made some
share dinner of pasta and salad. Normal crack about everyone wanting to be Irish
people got pasta with tomato sauce and these days and off we went on a
cheese baked in the oven. I just got the discussion about Brexit.
pasta! Don’t know why I couldn’t eat
tomato sauce but it was the apple that I It became apparent that Mary, sister-in-law

got instead of the custard that was the real and first time Camino walker, would agree

kicker. The worst apple in the entire world. with every and all opinions. She simply

Mouldy. Rotten in parts. I think she must repeated the last thing either Elizabeth or I

have taken it from the compost heap. I had said, indicating complete accord with

really needed to cut out of this life for a whatever competing slogan lay on the

moment. table (sorry, Roman Road). Elizabeth


demanded to know what could possibly
On the way up the Roman road after be wrong with Britain leaving the EU? She
Pesués, I met Elizabeth and Mary. They wondered what facts the airy-fairy
were both stick thin and maybe in their predictions of financial gloom could
mid-to-late sixties. Both were wearing possibly be based on? She thought it was
black leggings to the shin, little fleecy only the people with money who had made
jackets and both from Ireland. Together, of these bad prognostications.
course, we made a kind of royal family;
My opinion was, as always, that people
needed to stick together to try and work
out how to solve the enormous problems
that face the planet. I had little patience
with folk who wanted to go back to the
past, to a past that had a fraction of the
population we now do.

Elizabeth became quite heated. She


exclaimed the world was now run by arms
dealers (and drugs, said Mary) dealers,
said Elizabeth, ‘We can never know the
people in charge!’ Apart from their close

124
personal friends, the media
owners, I put in.

And why should Elizabeth


have to alter her life, her
religion, her habits,
because of them? She
thought that each country
should look after its own
assets in its own way and
be responsible for itself and
that was that. She didn’t
want much to do with
people, humanity or climate
change. But she did make behind, as they prepared to meet up with
me feel small and weak and powerless. their backpack-carrying husbands.

I wondered about her forceful, thin little The Camino excuses: I just have to retie
legs steaming up the path and her forceful my bootlaces. I should just stop and fill my
ideas about shutting the gate and water bottle. Oh, look at that nice picnic
stopping all the big bad people coming in table. I will just stop and eat my orange. I
and stealing her life and particularly, her think I’ll pop in here and use the servicios.
religion. The three old queen namesakes, I’ll just take a photo of this …
marching up a Roman road, powerful
reminder of those wild Roman colonial Not so many big dogs on the way but
days. And the final fall of that civilisation. certainly many big houses. Colombres
For that may be our next fate. The Fall. appeared very well to do - lots of big
money cars on the roads. Big mansions,
On this Camino, where religion, war and mansiónes indianas (built with Latin
land protection were closely bound in American money). Must have kept more
history, there was much to contemplate. I than a few gardeners in pan.
was happy to walk on, leaving them

125
Poo, Domingo 26th Junio - DAY 19 - The Hotel
Rocomar - 18km

I had rarely felt so content. I stayed in a hotel. Kindly, supervising adults had
family run hotel in the Most Tranquil and organised an excited group of school-aged
Beautiful Bay in the World. The modest children into games on the wet sand.
building faced a beach, carved from a Toddlers hauled grandparents around and
rocky inlet, so that the beach was generously-built dads played racket ball
completely protected from the excesses of with plastic bats. All around was a blur of
the ocean’s forces. It was very flat for a colourful swimming costumes, plastic toys
hundred metres. and nets and resounded with a burble of
cheerful merriment.
When I arrived in the early afternoon, the
tide was out and the water, where many Today was a lovely day. Such a beautiful
folk swam and splashed, was far from the and dramatic coastline between Buelna

126
and Llanes. Llanes turned out to be a on the southern coast of Australia. The
particularly pretty fishing village. As I area was completely open to the
packed up I realised that Gian Carlos had wandering masses and, in a few years, I
left his rain gear. I thought I’d probably anticipated the same sort of fencing that
bump into him again so I said I would take now corrals the blow holes and crumbling
it. But then Snorey George was keen to cliffs around the Twelve Apostles.
catch him up so I gave Snorey George the
bag and off he dashed. The coast was incredibly beautiful. There
was a double blowhole that sounded
I farewelled Victoria (the hospitalera from terrifying as the sea breathed under the
Zaragosa at Buelna albergue) closely ground with a powerful battery of
followed by the family of three Germans. pounding. The crushed rocks were visible
Shortly after I stopped to take a photo, where the water presumably fell in a spout
they overtook me. And when they stopped on the blowing days and there was no
to fill their water bottles I overtook them. fencing at all. Perhaps that served as its
Polite nods and cheery waves. Then they own protection? Anyway, I sat very close
over took me on the way. Then I overtook to the edge of the cliff, enjoying the sun,
them. And then they started coming back the deep blue of the choppy ocean and
up behind me. This was beginning to the distant, distant shipping. I prepared my
annoy me. Why were they stuck to me? I morning tea with the intention of letting the
thought, the next scenic spot, I would sit Germans play through and get a good way
down for a snack and let them play ahead of me.
through for a decent amount of time.
As I turned my head slightly, I could see
We’d been walking through the heart of three little heads parked up above me, well
the dairy country with those hand-built within sight. The German family had
stone walls that have witnessed many a plonked down for their second breakfast
thing over the centuries, and beside the about two hundred metres behind and well
sea, but fenced off so cattle didn’t sail up the hill. So they were looking at me the
over the edge. The area featured some whole time!
geology with blow holes and structures
very similar in nature to the caves and I was fascinated by these cliffs, though,

Apostles of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road and taking no chances, ventured out

127
further down, without hindrance of pack. It the sun would strike and their rocky peaks
was not sandstone, like the Australian would be revealed.
coast area I’ve described, instead, it was
very hard rock beaten into shape by the As I reached the viewing area where there
Arctic seas (or more correctly the Bay of was a picnic table, carpark and vista as far

Biscay). as the eye can see, not only did the sun
blare out but also, from up
behind me, arrived the
Germans from Turbigen. On
the face of it, I was friendly,
but really, I was shocked!
What was going on? Were
they waiting for me? I waved
and smiled and said, ‘Hola’
and so forth and the young
woman merely nodded and
said, ‘You again!’ in a grim
voice. Wasn’t that nice? They
had started to think the same
of me! How dare they! We
had dark clouds, hills, cliffs
When I saw that the family was packing and such drama as befitted a duel
up, I relaxed, took many photos and between one lone Australasian and three
sauntered about. I found the blowholes Germans.
and figured the Germans must be well
away by then, so off I went, as happy as So I cleared out and left them to the picnic
could be, enjoying the great glimpses of table and headed up the hill, next to a golf
the hills to come on my left. (On the course. When I turned around a few
Camino Norte, by the sea, one cannot go moments later, the car park was full and
wrong if in doubt, by taking the right hand snap-happy people stood around the
path. That always brought you back to the vista. Perhaps the German family liked that
coast. Go RIGHT!) The misty rain veiled sort of thing. I hoped so, for I seriously did
those huge hills but every now and then not wish them to think I was stalking them!

128
As I walked, I contemplated the great a reason why I should be so haunted by
peaks ahead, the cliffs and the track rose this particular family of German people?
higher and higher and the golf course got And I thought of our family friend, Patsy,
closer and closer and I could hear the who had recently died. She had spent
plock of the balls being struck and one many years in Germany and was a
landed quite close. What a piece of luck! professor of the German language at a
Not on my head. Not so near and I never New Zealand University. Could she have
actually saw a ball on the path but it would some connection with this skinny German
be an invidious way to go on a pilgrimage, mathematics professor and his daughter?
wouldn’t it? Lone golfball to the temple … That lead to fond memories of Patsy and
how much she would have enjoyed this
The path was so pretty on the way into walk, and my grandfather too, but I
Llanes, with a surprise church to visit. I suspect he would have become irritated
also noticed a signboard, of which there by how unproductive it was. He would,
were many, noting that this area had been and Patsy too, have been greatly
used as a location for a film. The sign interested by all the people he met along
detailed some twenty-two films that had the way.
been shot in the area, some quite recently.
Apparently they were all listed on the Acting entirely on impulse, with no
Llanes tourist website and I thought that evidence or good reason, I approached
would be a fun project; to watch all the the happy family, slurping their ice creams
films over the course of the next year and and asked them point blank if they knew
then visit the different locales. Dr Patsy Lopdell. The mathematics
professor barely looked up from his
Finally pottered into the old town, found a delicious chilly treat. The daughter said,
bank and chatted to a man in a yachting ‘What? What is a Patsy?’ I said, ‘It is a
shop about fixing my backpack and then person. Patsy Lopdell? A professor of
wandered back to the main street. And German? I wondered if you knew her,
there they were, sitting in a row on a sunny because, you know (embarrassed laughter)
bench, eating ice creams. what are the chances?’

While dodging golf balls on the way into Clearly, they did not know her so there was
town, I’d been wracking my brain. Is there no reason to be nice to them. There was

129
no reason that my way had become so placate their crying children. No smacks,
closely entangled with theirs. This was not though. Never any hitting. I did see some
a Camino Moment. I backed away in parents, over my entire time in Spain,
haste. firmly holding squirming hysterical
children, trying to enclose their pain or
It was so strange though, that just the day anger or sadness or whatever had caused
before Gert had greeted me with open, them to explode, but never hitting.
friendly encouragement. He eagerly shook
my hand, very firmly, with direct gaze and I was getting very hungry myself and
spoke clearly, in fluent English, while searched now for a pizzeria where I could
smiling and joking about space/time sit and people-watch. I turned in under a
fluidity. Not today. Not a smile, not a look, canopy and who should already be sitting
not sure if I blotted my copybook at a table, eating a fine looking specimen
somehow. Probably. Never mentioned any of the pizza species, but Anthony. So I
wars, not even Brexit! stopped to bother him for a while. Anthony
continued sucking down several cokes
So I walked out of that tedious encounter and chomping pizza while I ordered a
with the ice-cream munchers in the vegan version - which arrived dotted with
sunshine, very happy and relieved, through spots of mozarella.
a Sunday family party of gigantic
proportions. All of Llanes suddenly turned So I said, ‘Oh well, I’ll just scrape that off.’
into plazas and laneways full of open air And Anthony said, ‘No, you should get
cafes and restaurants; people sat in the what you ordered!’ And he did that
sunshine with glasses full of colourful American thing and made the waiter take it
liquid, the air redolent of delicious aromas away and get a new one without any
and the hum of merry folk following their cheese at all. I was actually very grateful to
children everywhere. see that this sort of fuss could be made
without too much rancour. However, I
I loved the buzz of a Spanish plaza on a don’t know that I would have done it if he
Sunday lunchtime! So many kids bouncing hadn’t been there. Not sure if I made my
about and so many waiters weaving their gratitude plain. We did have a jolly time of
way through tables. So many abuelos it, comparing peeps and paths we’d
gossiping and so many mums trying to travelled over the last few days. (Peeps

130
and paths! Great title, playing our title course, I got lost, tried to go into a very
game again.) He too, had not enjoyed his expensive looking hotel that was, luckily,
encounter with the German family. They closed, and instead went down a secret
had bustled in front of him at the magic path leading back to the coast. It
ice-cream shop, making him step back was a very beautiful Arthur
and give way, in an UnAmerican way. Rackham-esque path with a mysterious
Shocking. tunnel made of greenery leading to a creek
which gathered strength, widened and
I’d been thrilled to find an open shop on a turned into the beautiful bay of colourful
Sunday on my way into town so I’d cheerful beach games, the Poo Playa.
grabbed some fruit
and stuff just in case.
But not to worry,
there had been
another one open on
the way out of town
too! The Sunday fear
of starvation was just
a myth, I’d
discovered. I’d also
popped in to the
Turismo on the way
in, just before they
closed for lunch,
asking advice about a
small hotel, asking for
tranquility near the There, on this tiny little beach are two
sea … hotels. The Rockomar and the Feraval. I
took the steps wearily up to the first one,
The tourism expert had given me a few
through the crowds of families in their
options on the way out of Llanes and as
rainbow array, all sorts of shapes and sizes
Poo was the next town, I thought sleeping
and all very comfortable and happy. The
in Poo would be the correct thing to do! Of
staff seemed a nice group of people and

131
they, fortuitously, did have just the one has to stay three nights in a beautiful place
more room available. They assured me on the beach, poor thing! We continued
that all these cheerful folk cavorting on the our chatter up to the bar for an early
sand would be gone by 20:00 and dinner, enjoying roast veggies and salad. It
everything would be quiet. I took a look at was true, the children and grandparents
the room. It was above the back door, and had gradually packed up and gone home.
therefore, the bins, but it was white and It was just gorgeous.
blue and clean and had a private
bathroom. I got myself organised, there In the morning, I pottered down to the

was nowhere to wash clothes, and thought sand again, this time cut short by a great

I would go out to test the waters. wash of tide, and stretched enjoyably
before heading up for juice, coffee and
I stepped onto the sand and took three tostada. It was incredibly quiet. I really
more steps into the sunshine before I hoped I would be going back to Poo
noticed a familiar form lying on the sand. It again.
was Nadja, my beach buddy from
Germany
whom I’d first
met at
Guermes. So I
plonked down
next to her
and we spent
the afternoon
nattering
about this and
that. She had
walked the
fateful 14km
out of
Santander and
hurt her legs
so now she

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Pineres de Pria, Lunes 27th Junio - DAY 20 -
Rosa’s Albergue - or The Small Cute Shed in
the Garden - 16km

Apparently, hydrangeas are hortensia in Apparently there was another, larger,


Spanish, isn’t that a great name? Rosa’s albergue down the road. When we arrived,
Albergue was another privado, surrounded Dolphine told Lucas and Peter they would
by a lovely garden with feverfew, lilies and probably like it better. Bigger, with a nice
other rustic pretty things. I thought this kitchen and a friendly hospitalero and all
albergue might once have been a garage, the things that make me wonder what the
but it had been renovated so nicely, it just heck I’m doing here especially as I listen to
suited me and Snorey George from Finland George slurp his coffee and try to start up
down to a Tee. BUT Snorey George had conversations about bushfires and
managed to catch up with Giancarlos and kangaroos. Looked like I was in for a
give him back his raingear so that was a scintillating, snorey night.
bit of luck.

133
When Dolphine collected our cash and Peter and Lucas. Lucas could speak five
stamped our credentials George brought languages. He was born in Poland but now
out his 3D cameras and showed us some lived in Norway. He reminded me of
of his past images from his other Caminos Australian comic expert, Bernard Caleo;
saved to his iPad. With two different tall, funny and inclined to discourse. Peter
cameras on a rig that puts them the was from Stuttgart and I thought he may
correct distance apart he takes two have been a petrol head. But we had some
matching images. When he gets home, he fun teasing each other. It seemed they
collated the photos and put them through were carrying a ridiculous amount in their
some difficult and time consuming process packs. I couldn’t even lift one off the
on the computer to make them 3D. He ground.
didn’t, as yet, have a website or show
them at talks as slide shows but they were The area we were walking through had that

really quite evocative. For people who semi-rural quality that existed in coastal

couldn’t walk around these monuments New Zealand forty or fifty years ago. Many

George’s 3D shots might provide a good of the gardens here would have been

approximation of the experience. And he’d perfectly at home sitting in Waikanae, the

be awake so they’d miss the snoring. town where my grandparents retired just
North of Wellington. Now nicknamed The
This morning began farewelling Nadja in Stairway to Heaven, Waikanae has been
Poo and ended with some advice from ‘improved’ by more developers than I care
Alfonso (with a wife in a van and 6 kids of to enumerate. Let us pray those same
varying degrees of fitness in tow) to find developers do not get wind of the Asturias.
some friends to make the long difficult This verdant, uncluttered and
sections of the Primitive more bearable. unfashionable Northern Spain felt like a
That’s how he did it. He was a very fit man, sitting duck.
addicted to walking long distances with or
without his family. He believes that as one Back, back to Poo. I didn’t find the bed

friend exits, another enters. comfortable at all but I was terribly glad to
be there. Unfortunately, given my room
I really enjoyed the morning’s canter by the was over the kitchen back door there was
coast, enlivened by the meeting, passing coming and going and there happened to
and new meetings with young chaps, be a street light beaming hard in the

134
window for good measure. As I tossed and more because I bought it in Llanes at the
turned in my dressing of sensory overload; shop where the elderly lady dropped her
light, sound and hard mattress, I stirred in money. I retrieved most of it but she was
a soupçon of worry about the length of missing a euro. Using my handy torch app
time I was leaving for each stage. A 30km on the phone I managed to locate it,
walk was something I would prefer to leaning on the wall, far away from my
avoid, especially up and down hills. reach. The mud guard on my hiking pole
prevented me getting to it. I eyed her
Mind you, the coastal walks I’d just walking stick and thought to offer her the
clocked up felt a lot longer than their hiking stick while I used hers to retrieve the
stated measurement in the guides, which I coin but, by now the jovial shopkeeper and
had come to believe is the road distance the elderly lady were waving me on, it
rather than the curly bits around the edges didn’t matter and so forth because, of
where we’d been trotting. So, I argued with course, it was closing time and the woman
myself as a glass bin crashed into the wanted her lunch!
collecting area, I was reasonably fit. It was
just silly anxiety about my wobbly knee. I George made himself a coffee and I asked
had travelled happily for two hours before I if he had food. He said he did so I’ve eaten
even thought about it. I would remember an entire avo and a tomato. Quite missed
to take a photo of the San Juan Pomada avos - lovely to find them again. Managed
(herbal olive oil paste) before it ran out. I to eat my muesli this morning, wash it up
dropped it that morning and it was nearly a and then pack the avo and the tom in the
Great Tragedy. I was so addicted to that same container. I’ve only 13km before the
stuff. Pilgrims commonly smeared their next big town, Ribadesella, where
feet with vaseline. That seemed intensely hopefully there would be a healthfood
unlikely to me. Now, olive oil, that I can get shop. I managed to get through most of
behind! my Santander supplies. It was hard to
balance walking through the big towns at
In Rosa’s garden I had tomato and the same time as the shops choose to
avocado on corn cakes for dinner - with a open! Then, I couldn’t help but notice
dab of olive oil and a shake of oregano for George was eating slimey ham and the
good measure. Perfect avo considering its heel end of sliced white bread out of
been shaken up for 16km in my pack -

135
plastic bags. The cat was happily sharing … ‘Killing Me Softly as he spraaaaayed …
shreds of soft pink pig flesh. Oh, oh, oooooooh, aaaaaargh, yuuuuck,
aaaaaargh … FULL ON!
Sleep proved elusive at Poo. I woke with a
start at 7:30, realising sleep not so elusive Into the bright sunlit pastures and the joy
after all, rolled over, and rolled over again of the coastline with the great, wonderful
at 8:44, managing to kick the elusive right hills behind. We were getting closer to the
out of there! I scrambled into clothes, had Primitivo divide. Having done very little
some muesli and fruit and went down to research I didn’t really know what I was in
the beach for a stroll and a stretch. Then for. I decided if I got to town with enough
some toast, juice and coffee. So stuffed in time to spare I would stock up and go on.
the morning! But beautiful, stunning day Otherwise, I would stay and have an
this morning, walking out into the blue, organising day in town in a relaxed
bright, lush green and deep in the heart of manner.
dairy country.
Still, that does not speak of what occurred
Suddenly, as I blissed out on rural glory, I during the day. Past the stench and my
saw it. A large, once-white tanker driving morning tea apple, onwards towards an
up, turning round and driving down the orange and a sesame seed bar with some
verdant pasture, cliff side by the sea. I saw chocolate and frutos secos (fruit and nuts
it before I smelled it. And then I did smell or scroggin if you know what I mean) for
it. The tanker was spraying out ominous, lunch. Perfecto. Fresh spring water in the
viscous dark muck in a wide fan in the front pocket bottles and off we go again.
rear. After staying in Poo, I would be To Villahormes where there was supposed
sprayed by pooh. There was no avoiding to be a nice albergue. It took a great effort
it, that gas, that excremental putrid smell, to find.
tiny vapour droplets hanging around for
metres in the air. Clearly, there were some As I drew near I stood and examined the

pigs in a dungeon nearby. The floating building carefully. It was part of a row of

waste was incredible. I walked much faster rather pleasant looking holiday

and made up a song called, ‘Smelling Me’ apartments. The albergue was down the

about the dreadful choking stench that end of the row, tucked away. Looked

filled the air. I put on considerable speed merely okay from the outside but … it

136
smelled. Horrid. It was not clean. The didn’t want to go back to Villahormes, so I
washing machine was stuffed full. There went the road down to Nueva where I met
was a big sign warning not to hang two Germans. They were very impressed
anything anywhere so hand washing was to meet an Australian and then were so
clearly out of order. delighted when a chap from Miami turned
up they took a photo. If they’d come round
There was an Italiano with vaseline shiny the next corner they would have got three
on his feet resting outside in the sun. He other Germans and a Pole for good
told me the chica would return in an hour. I measure! All very jolly, especially when the
took another tour of the unpalatable internationally experienced waitress turned
dungeon. I decided I could do better just on her best sales technique to get us all to
as a cheerful Spanish couple arrived with a stay at the albergue in Nueva, there were
bounding dog who leapt and frolicked in more bars, more people, more fun, more,
the garden where we could not hang our more of everything …
clothes. He announced, with great glee, as
he eyed off the Italian man, there was to But I needed none of that and kept right
be a soccer match between Spain and on going and carried myself to the land of
Italy that night. Final straw for me. Packed reminiscent Waikanae with roses, hedges
up and left without another squeak. Got and hydrangeas and Snorey George. Four
lost. women of about my age marched in, past
this renovated garage and into the good
Wandered in to a busy cafe where a room by the house! They must have
waitress who might have been cousin to booked. They were the first Spanish group
the one in Markina, incredibly focussed on I met who were doing the Camino over
her work supplying goods and service to several years. Apparently this was a
her people. She had dark hair pulled back common way for people to holiday, taking
severely from her intense, round, young just a fortnight or a week to walk together.
face. Black clothes over soft round body They were on their third year, expecting it
but working fast, moving purposefully, no to take them another two to finish. The
wasted dashing about. Getting things four had left their husbands behind but
done at a steady pace. Anyway, she their children were all capable of looking
invisibly lead me to her boss who got after themselves. The Golden Age, indeed.
another bloke to point me down the road. I

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San Estaban de Luces, Martes 28th Junio -
DAY 21 - Albergue de San Estaban de Leces -
Halfway - 17.8

Theme of the day: LOST Hooray! Guess who was sleeping under
my bunk yet AGAIN!!!
Started out well. Left Pineres in good
cheer. George made a picture, snuggled Ribadesella could not let me go. I tried to
up with a cat that was not in the room leave. But I could not. The walk there was
when I went to bed. He spent most of the quietly rural and very solitary. I did not see
morning singing and canoodling and an single other pilgrim the entire morning. I
feeding the cat milk. He crooned to it was starting to be highly selective of my
about not having any meat to give it and photos. It was going to have to be a pretty
he went on and on until I never wanted to good caption or instagram before I’d get
hear his voice again. the phone out. The knee was strange.
Nagged at odd times - definitely better on

138
the rural paths rather than the nasty,, hard, were amazing. If you liked that sort of
traffic-ridden roads. thing. Still worried about the lesions on his
arms, though. There was no telling him.
I stopped to pick a large bunch of juicy
grass stalks for an old grey mare, covered Once I got to Ribadesella a few questions
in flies, that looked really miserable by the from likely individuals told me there was no
roadside. There was some nasty rusty health shop so I had to go have coffee.
barbed wire right in front of her pretty nose Then the turismo confirmed there was
so I stepped up close to the fence to get indeed no health shop but pointed to the
the grass over the danger area. The horse supermercado on the way to San Esteban
took the grass gingerly. As I stepped away as a likely source of goodies. I found out
I realised there had been a nice patch of later that this is where I went wrong.
stinging nettles rubbing my skin. So I just Instead of going the beach way (the
put my trouser legs back on. correct scenic way) where Izzie and
Shyenne went (my new pals from USA
I was looking forward to the last of our near Philly) I went in search of Pomada
beach walks tomorrow to help take the San Juan.
sting out of my leg. That’s if I went the
Primitivo way. Today I expected I would. If In the chemist I found all sorts of good
I walked 12km in the morning and 5km in things, not least of which was a packet of
the afternoon, then I certainly walked 5km BROCCOLI chips! I found some hemp oil
getting lost today. So I reckoned I was for massaging knees to tide me over til the
back up in the 20s again. I imagined I was next San Juan pomada can be located.
going to have to be capable of many more There would have to be another healthfood
kilometres if I chose the steeper way. My shop in the near future, surely? I also got
knee felt normal when I did a salute to the some diet (vegan) choc/protein bars in lieu
sun and I could go right back to bending it of decent choice. These are the things of
again and it hardly gave a twinge when its beauty one thrills to on El Camino del
straight. I thought I had got a bigger pain Norte. Or me. The One I’m talking about.
in the neck but that could be from Finland.
I left town over the medieval bridge,
Am I such a bitch? Possibly. He used to be following the signs obediently. Okay, they
an economy lecturer. And the 3D photos may not have been the exact same yellow

139
And the sign pointed down. And
there was no path. So I interrupted
the arguing couple who ran the bar
at the mirador - there were bars at
every conceivable point a traveller
might have needed a beer on this
part of the Camino - and she kindly
explained that I had to go back
down to the delightful medieval
bridge and go on from there.

WHEREAT? I did not go backwards


in this game! But, I did. And then, I
arrows, but they were definitely yellow looked at the best option for signs and,
arrow-ish. They showed a little backpacker obediently, I started back up that blessed
with an arrow in black on a yellow hill again. I’d come down a different road
background. Anyway, I got sucked in, and just to be on the safe side, I thought
because I marched up that steep hill, past I’d better check again and those different
the cute barky dog with grey moustache bar people said, go that way, along the
and the cats and the geraniums and little carreterra, which I did. So all good, until I
house raised off the ground with corners of see the signs, a yellow arrow for sure,
boulders and removable steps. I’d seen pointing UP.
them for the last couple of days now, an
almost Japanese flavour in the line of the So, I think, well, I clearly made a mistake, I
roof. Possibly storage of fruit and veg with should be more careful. So up! Go again!
the rocks preventing insect infestation? Same hill. Same geraniums. Same dog
Snakes would have a hard time getting in with bristly bigote and, this time, his once
there. Anyway, I kept following the signs patient, fluffy, cute pal tried to fling himself
and ended up at a beautiful mirador, a over the fence to kill me, stretching his
lookout, overlooking the extensive bay and chain with abject force so I hurried on past
river and that medieval bridge … the hortensias and there was the little
house on the stones and I was not wrong,
those signs only pointed to the left and I

140
Anyway, here in Asturias, the conchas all
point one way, the pointy end towards
Santiago. The radiating fingers are the
tail of the comet. Normally. This concha
was facing the other way. And I turned
back because I’ve been programmed
like a robot to follow the signs.

I was frustrated. Weeping. Moaning and


whinging. And it was a quarter to three
and I went towards the nice restaurant
needed to go right so l went back down to with the friendly people and thought to
the last right and off I headed, following myself, tranquilla. When all else fails, eat
my nose (because it was clearly so something. So I did.
trustworthy) past a fancy hotel where I
noted people my age were gathering for a At first I sat up at the waiter’s station and
nice, friendly lunch. The sort of familiar watched him rushing about between the
women who might be in a Spanish Frag. large group and the dumb waiter coming
up from the kitchen. He smiled at me and
I kept on going to find some orange arrows showed me where to stow my pack and
and I thought, well, I’ll go up there. It could patiently told me the WEEFEE code.
have been just a wide driveway or it could
have been a narrow road with ridged There was a lovely view of the ocean and
concrete surface, gouged for drainage due relaxing vibe coming from the jolly group
to steepness. Private road? I continued, of professional people enjoying their very
wary, very wary, and found a concha. Now, nice looking lunch. I ate my extremely
these shell symbols of the Camino are generous fresh salad and bread with some
finely nuanced into a line design. There’s a fruit to follow. I had an encouraging FB
central point and all lines lead to it. That chat with my husband, looked on Google
point, presumably, indicates Santiago. The maps, chatted to the waiter, saw I could
lines are all the caminos heading across easily get to San Esteban and went on my
Europe. (That’s one story.) way with far more than my normal one cup
of coffee on board. I was in no way jittery. I

141
was simply determined. I was sad
to give up on my isla idea but all
was well. And I marched on, happy
I was now, finally, about to say
farewell to Ribadesella. Why, even
the sun was shining.

And then I became aware of a


man’s voice, ‘Santiago!’ It increased
in volume, ‘SantiAGO!’ and became
closer, ‘SANTIAGO!’ so I turned to
wave, wondering does this have
anything to do with me? Surely not?

There was a little man in his garden, lovely road, with beautiful glimpses of sea
moving towards me, so I waved at him and and hills and round a corner where I waved
said, in a little voice, ‘San Esteban?’ which happily at the farmers and asked them if I
he echoed and we went back and forth was on the right road to San Esteban and
like that for a while like a location tennis the lady with the scarf over her head
match as he got closer and I realised he nodded and said, sure, no problema, on
must have seen me from inside his house, you go, and then I walked straight into the
got out and jogged across his garden and town, looked over at the albergue, which
was now chasing me up the road. looked just like the old school building it
must have been and Dolores waved me in
Eventually he made it clear I was indeed and showed me my bunk and there was
going the wrong way up the road. How Snorey George regaling everyone with cat
SURPRISED was I? stories and it was delightful with a
charming walled garden and a pretty full
He directed me to a WHITE arrow which
house, from the looks of the washing line.
surprisingly lead me back to the
The fridge hummed keeping the cokes
corregated concrete driveway road and he
cool while baby veg grew in the garden. I
assured me that was absolutely the right
had no fence on the side of the bunk again
way to go so off I went again, past the
but I clung like a limpet.
wrong way round concha and down a

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Villaviciosa, Miércoles 29th Junio - DAY 22 -
Albergue Villaviciosa - 33.2km

Last day on the Camino del Norte. Theme: decided to keep going because it was not
three dead birds and a snake. Woke at only Snorey George. There were two
4:33 due to the sound and vibrations of a others roaring in the bog that night. So,
large train rumbling underneath me. decision made, I got about my business,
Snorey George. Platform mine. That got wide-eyed and bushy-tailed. Cold wash,
me out of bed. Well-arrived in the kitchen solitary breakfast and stretch. By the time I
with bathroom gear and breakfast bag was ready to fight the wild sleeping bag
without really thinking about it. Stood for a into its little pouch a couple of other
moment and tried thinking. Even though it pilgrims were creeping about too. And so,
was too early and I needed the sleep, I just at first light, at 6am, I stood at the

143
door of the old school
house and reached for
the door handle. I was
the first one out. Today
was a day of firsts.

It was beautiful and


fresh, just light enough
to see, though not
enough to take photos.
I was out and about in
the crisp early air and it
was nerve-wracking
creeping through the
dawn streets before
even the dogs were up
He was furious there was no-one surfing.
to start barking at me. The trees hung over
He'd been at a surf festival in France and
the fences to create dark leafy tunnels. On
then walked all the way to Ribadesella
I walked through the rural lushness and up
before sending his wetsuit home. That was
to the beach. The sun glinted over
six weeks walking, partying and surfing
smoothly rolling surf lines and the beach
and now here he was, by the beach,
was deserted as far as the eye could see.
watching amazing waves and he could see
I was joined by Adrian from Frankfurt and all these combi vans parked with empty
we chatted as we stood on the hill surfing gear hanging outside them and
overlooking the perfect beach. He was a no-one was doing anything about it.
tall, lanky young fellow with a scarf worn Eventually he sped off and I stayed to
rakishly around his neck. He told me that if watch the light beams in the clouds over
I ever went to Frankfurt I must walk by the the waves. Crepuscular rays.
river and see the old part of town. Sound
I moseyed along, watching the
advice for most cities in Europe, I should
ever-changing views, and finally turned
hazard!
into a path which quickly became a tunnel
of green. I rounded a corner to find this

144
skinny, sophisticated young man standing,
stock-still and silent, in the middle of the
muddy track. He was facing off a small
herd of cattle with pointy horns. There
were about a dozen or so young mums
with babies.

He could only say, out of the


corner of his mouth, that
they were dangerous, these And the girls thought
cattle, in Spain, with their ... perhaps we weren't
and he indicated their horns paying them any
with a wide sweep of his attention and we were
elegant arms. It was true, harmless after all and
they had long, dramatic they trotted, very
horns. But carefully, very
these watchfully, on. I don't
beautiful, know what he'd said to them before I'd
pale, tan got there. It might have been threatening.
creatures We said no more about it and by the time I
were far more saw him again for coffee, well-met with a
worried about couple of other young pilgrims, he was
us than we once more the pure sophisticate.
were of them.
Then it was just walking. Strangely quiet,
After all, I
there were no shops open on the
pointed out,
beachfront. I had my morning tea orange
he was likely
sitting up on the tall lifesaving watch chair.
to eat them!
That felt pretty cool. It was a lovely view of
I lead him to the far side of the track and I the water - no sharks, no people, and no
urged him to turn aside and look at that cows in sight, just clear horizon and surf.
very interesting distant red thing, possibly
And on I walked. I became a bit uncertain
some new kind of tractor, did he see it?
about the under-utilised path. Clear

145
decision was made for me when I came to had to let it go. Not in a careless way, you
an abrupt stop. I could see the tail end of a understand. I would need the knee!
snake weaving across the road. Now, this
was either most of a small snake or a tiny A dead bird on the road flung me down
tail of a big snake. I didn't like to into my past. Every dead bird had meaning

investigate further and took it as a sign I if I chose to find it. Every dead bird had a

must turn back. A couple of Germans had life in flight. The pigeon struck, bleeding on

noted my backtracking and were the pedestrian crossing, the wing across

examining their excellent book for the body in flattened, hopeless way

clarification. Thankfully, those kind brought back the blackbird from my

Germans were able to set us on the right memory, beaten, beaten into a tattoo,

path, as they so often did with their sprayed blood in a dreadful arc

superior guide. surrounding its lifeless drooping corpse, its


foot caught in the fence, its life brought to
Later, I walked along a road for a while a splattered, agonised, repetitive silence.
with a chap called Paul from Norway who
had done a BA in marketing in Brisbane. The man who would cut his arm off with a

He had many interesting ideas about penknife in order to set himself free was

global politics. He was very encouraging blessed in comparison with that shocked

about distance and time. My son often and shocking victim hanging by his ankle

said, 'You can walk anywhere, if you have thread when he should have been flying

the time'. And that was one clear benefit of free.

getting up early, you could walk further


It was this resonance of history, this
and still arrive in plenty time for important
feathery echo that made that half-buried
business, like dinner and washing clothes!
crow of Unbearable Lightness of Being

I did spend the day worrying about food beam for me with strong force, shine out in

and, again, that nagging worry about my a way that I presumed another reader

knee. Uphill and down rural dale we went might not receive with their own dead

and the joint gave a couple of worrying birds not quite so vivid. They probably had

twinges but all was well. I was other images, other pictures painted in

helicopter-parenting the blasted thing. I their memories. But that one-colour,


rainbow-arc blackbird, that half circle of

146
wild-blood splashes, has to be one of the thought-provoking family orientation, but
worst images in my mind and it resurfaced from Gronze I couldn't tell which one was
sometimes, like today, when I saw a dead which so I just went to Turismo and asked
bird on the road. them for the closest. It turned out to be
privado, a clean youth hostel, and very
Because that target blackbird hung on our friendly. The hospitalero, Roberto, took my
back fence in Melbourne was a suicide of washing out of my hands for a small fee.
a kind. Because it was one of the loneliest (Later he returned it, washed, dried and
deaths imaginable. Because the bird did folded in a small washing basin.)
not want to die. Or did it? Did it die
escaping? Or did it die to escape? I was given a bunk in a separate nook but,
as usual, I chose to go with another, a top
What was I escaping? bunk in the main room so I had legroom -
much to the surprise of the hospitalero.
These were the troubled thoughts I nursed
This preference did disconcert people.
as I turned into Sebrayo. I was very
Apparently the lower order was more
surprised to see the couple from Germany
popular. Anyway, a young Spanish lady
sitting in the sun waiting for the albergue
was resting on the bottom bunk and, while
to open. I thought I had miles to go and
she took a snooze, I snuck into the
when they said Villaviciosa was only 6km
separate nook, took a stretch and had a
away, I thought that was NOTHING! And
little rest with legs up air against the wall.
off I sprang, immediately, into the
Who should walk in and take the
sunshine, and at a sprightly pace.
previously offered bunk but young Anthony
On arrival at the town, I went straight to from Texas. 'Well, of course. Who else
the healthfood shop to stock up on vegan would it be?' We had a good chat and off
goodies and then to the fruit and veg shop he wandered to find sustenance.
and from there to the ice-cream parlour
I had lots of food on board that day. I ate:
where the sorbet was sworn vegan and
a banana, an apple, an orange and an
the world was a better place.
apricot together with dried figs, almonds,
The word on the track was that one of the walnuts and surprisingly delicious coconut
albergues in Villaviciosa was one of those chips, a multiseed bun with oil and vinegar,
caring, sharing hostels, with coffee, juice and toast, a chia seed bar, a

147
raspberry sorbet, filled them up. This encounter cut him
rice/tomato/peas/pimento/mushroom deeply, his own memories exploded into
stir-up, rice pudding, lemon slice and mint bitter reflection. I could see his pain and
tea. Reasonably extensive but it had to be knew this was an example of one of the
to get me through 33km. Mind you, it had fierce Camino moments, when life,
been a very painless day compared to reflected in the pool of experience,
what my mind expected 33km to be. reached up to drown you.

I was not the only one who experienced Villaviciosa. Vicious.


resonating emotions that day. Later, when
Anthony returned to base, he told me Lights out and everyone was very quiet

about his encounter with an intoxicated indeed. I was surprised I still had puff after

woman. She had been falling-over drunk in my early start. Maybe I just didn't need so

the street and he tried to get her to go much sleep after all? And if you were

home. She only wanted to go back to the looking for magic Camino moments you

bar. She insisted she needed a beer so he might just compare the time I woke up,

bought her one. But he kept it up at the 4:33, with the kms walked today: 33, that's

bar with the barman. Feeling helpless, he right! Olé!

had left her sitting there, slumped and


incoherent, at a table in the front of
the café. He was confused, hoping
the woman would be okay and
knowing that he could do nothing
more to assist her. He didn't have
enough Spanish to find her address
and she didn't have enough sobriety
to tell him anything sensible.

At least he'd removed her from the


street and the danger of being hit by
a car. He was angry the bar didn't
show more responsibility, looking
after their customers after they'd

148
149
5
The first
Camino Primitivo Camino to Santiago
Pola de Siero, Jueves 30th Junio - DAY 23 -
27km - Albergue de peregrinos Casona de San
Miguel

I was not the only Aussie on the Camino fence. In the middle of the night the vest
no more! slid off the slope and landed with a
crashing thump, on the ground, next to
Last night was a quiet night with the grim Carmen, biology major and sensible young
Germans behind locked doors. My own woman from Valencia. She said in the
evening security system, placing all my morning that she had not heard a thing but
preciousness: wallet and phone, earbuds I’m pretty sure she was being polite.
and head torch in the pocket of my
sleeveless vest and hanging it up on the Like many privado albergues, Roberto
edge of my bunk, normally foolproof, was offered a Spanish breakfast. Normally
fooled. These particular modern bunks had packet cakes, muffins or possibly toast
a lovely curving slope design in the bunk and fruit, with orange juice and coffee, I

151
tended to eat my own muesli and fruit but I The track already seemed different as we
liked to buy a coffee when there was one went inland and rose up to greet the hills
on offer. Here I enjoyed adding a spot of we’d been paralleling beside the coast. We
soy milk for a change and took my time. were seeing more of the small food
Then I mucked around with packing until storage sheds and rural havens. It was H.
8am. It seemed both Anthony and I were in E. Bates territory. We met a jovial farmer, a
no hurry and we bantered along quite gardener really, who showed us his
happily chatting about musos and gender wooden clogs and who laughed as he
politics and travel plans and all the stuff of gestured widely to his extensive vegetable
life and dreams as we trucked along garden, ‘This is my business and these’
toward Pola de Siero. The guia was none presumably, wife and grandchild, were his
too clear about the enlace hasta Oviedo - employees! He loved the Asturias to the
but there were arrows aplenty. extent he found it difficult to visit anywhere
else, like when he had to stay with his
daughter in Ibiza, finding it far too hot to
sleep. He preferred staying put. She
should come and visit him.

The dogs here


seemed smaller
and friendlier
although there
were a couple,
more in line with
our past canine
experiences, who
threatened to fly
over the fence,
tormenting the
very idea of our
passing with their
gnashing teeth
and roaring

152
kerfuffle. passed by. It was just warm enough to be
tempting but we pressed on and, as we
At our break we met Adrian, cool man from entered the albergue, found a pile up of
Frankfurt, who was walking through from people at the entrance. The reason soon
Oviedo and then three young ladies became clear as it appeared there’d been
arrived. Micky hailed from Melbourne, a bedbug (los chinches) infestation
while Mary Joan and Steph were from recently and we had to hand over entire
Illinois University, Chicago. They were pack, boots and bastions to be put into a
great pals at the same ripe old age of 21 fumigation cupboard before taking our
years old. MJ and Steph had been packs upstairs to the spacious
studying in Barcelona while Mickey had bunkrooms. Fumigation cupboard is
been working as an auxiliar in a small putting it a big strong. What happened
southern town. She’d been able to make was that as a group of about five folk
ends meet by taking on some private arrived, the hospitalero took a can of
tutoring above and beyond her twelve strong insect spray, went into the room
hours promised to the school. It only took with the gear and sprayed widely. Then he
a short discussion to find out she had dashed out, shutting the door firmly
been to the same school as my nieces in behind him. He wore no breathing mask.
Melbourne. Small world? MJ and Steph
had been living in Gracia, had been caught Every albergue I’d stayed in previously had
up in the recent riots that I had requested that we leave the packs on the
encountered, but generally had been living floor - putting them on the bunks was too
the high life. Their only trouble had been risky if you brought bugs with you and far
how to balance eating, drinking and too risky for you if the bunk already had
socialising with all that pesky study! them waiting to jump on. So, it was
Leaving Anthony to their merry common sense to comply. This albergue
youthfulness, I voted with my feet for some read us the riot act. There would be no
solitary time and very lovely it was too. deviation. Each bunk had a chair specially
for packs and we were handed a
We all seemed to arrive at much the same protective elasticated sheet and
time at the albergue, a large building on pillowcase to protect us and/or the
the way in to town. The girls looked bedding. The kind hospitaleros were also
hungrily at the local swimming pool as we very serious about our credentials, taking

153
their time and making sure all the sellos as she was a single young lady she should
were lined up neatly. be called Señorita. Thank you very much.
This all happened in Spanish and caused
The Albergue seemed to have just enough great hilarity in the shop.
beds for some of the nicest people I’d met
on the Camino so far. The youth were Had no idea that Pola de Siero was such a
making a strong showing and, perhaps large town but then, given I had no idea
because the German guidebooks don’t about anything much, that was no
include the Primitivo, there was a distinct surprise! It did, however, make me realise
lack of German accents. There was a there would probably be a fair bit of
healthy proportion of French, amongst pavement the next day.
them René and Martine, so many English
speakers around the table this evening. Sadly, this very place of suspected

Also, the most salad I’ve seen in one place infestation is where I lost my beloved

for a long time, too. Everyone seemed to sandfly protection from New Zealand.

be tucking hungrily into fresh fruit and When you find an emollient that will not

vegetables. bring you out in a rash, protects and


soothes at the same time, you have to take
I’d hunted-gathered my own ingredients, care of it. Gosh, I wish I had it still …
including avocado and
fresh peas, at the Fruiteria.
I had a cheerful encounter
with the shopkeeper,
looking about forty, with
blonde hair and a jolly
demeanour. When I asked
for an apple, por favor,
calling her, ‘Señora’, she
turned! She gave me such
a talking to, though with a
discernible twinkle in her
eye, that Señora was only
for old married ladies and

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Oviedo, Viernes 1st Julio - DAY 24 - El Hotel &
Spa Princesa Munia - 18km

I was still grieving over the loss of my prescribed group of friends that would
favourite sandfly stuff, even though I had a make my Primitivo easier as
great early start and a good pack. Going to recommended by Alfonso. I didn’t
be tricky to get that good oil replaced in suppose it mattered in the long run. For
the North of Spain! Went from feeling even though we all walked as individuals,
chipper as I marched along by myself to there was always someone in front and
feeling melancholy with the passing of the someone else behind. The Camino felt like
youth brigade just before Oviedo. a tube, or an artery, and we all mere blood
cells moving forward through it.
As Anthony skipped back up to Gijón to
catch up with Lucas and finish el Norte, I It was so solitary this morning, it wasn’t
hadn’t been able to assemble that until I got to Colloto that I even spoke to

155
someone. I sought out a bar for my
morning coffee and all I could find was
a very nice cake shop. I couldn’t help
it. I had to wait while the staff prepared
previous coffees and cakes and I had
time for my hungry eyes to roll around
the sweet laden shelves. So when the
baker came to me, I ordered a baked
good. Now, I know I was getting into
butter territory but sometimes a lax,
sugar-craving vegan slid into more of a
vegetarian, okay? It had been like this
since Bilbao. Hunger for sweeties and
cheer was a great melter of rules. It
didn’t do me any good, however. The
eye of the greedy does not take into
account the richness of butter and the
effect thereof on the unready gut.

The charming baker gave me not only


my café Americano and the baked
feelings I’d experienced at the bakery.
good, but also a sausage roll, gratis. He
Steph, from America, kindly explained that
was so generous and kind, looking after la
next time I could say, ‘Soy vegetariana’
peregrina, that I didn’t like to shun his gift.
and that would solve all my problems,
Instead, I quietly wrapped it up in a
which I received with just a hint of
serviette, tucked in into my backpack and
condescension. I’m sure she was being
gave it to Adrian as he happened to be the
kind. I explained I didn’t want to slap his
next pilgrim I saw. Well, he was from
smiling generous face with my wet moral
Frankfurt. What self-respecting German
but I don’t think she cared, preferring the
youth would refuse a sausage?
youthful energy of her pals.
A bit further on, when the youth brigade
I think I was annoyed because she hadn’t
nearly ran me down, I told them the mixed
listened to the fact I’d been learning

156
Spanish for two years and that ‘Soy peace, a tour and some relics. There’s a
vegetariana’ was one of the first things I pile of them there!
learned to say way back when and she
had absolutely no interest in listening to Alfonso II the Chaste brought the Holy Ark
me or talking to me or finding out anything from Jerusalem and stored the contents in

about me and why should she? I Cathedral de San Salvador de Oviedo. You

absolutely agreed with her. It was just that could see old marks on a piece of cloth

I’d had quite a lot of that sort of effect in that were made by Jesus’s face, the Holy

my life and somehow I took it badly. Shroud. You could see beautiful old

Maybe I recognised her disregard as containers that hold original drops of

something I no longer liked. Mary’s breast milk. And you could see the
wooden box that purported to hold original
I really shouldn’t have cared but the Youth fragments of saints’ bones. They didn’t
seem to ward me off if I came near them. show photos of the contents but the vault
Fair enough, I am happy not to hang out that held all the containers was under an
with kids my own son’s age, but when I equally impressive museo. I felt I was in a
trailed into Oviedo (after a delightful theme park of wonders, things that had
exchange or two along the way; a banana attracted visitors and their wallets for
shop lady had engaged me in laughing hundreds of years.
banter with some of her regulars, and a
mother-daughter duo waiting at the lights After a struggle I chose to carry my back

who congratulated me on being so pack around the Cathedral instead of

valiente, I ran into a clump of them reading leaving it just inside the door, not trusting

their maps and looking very tired. I asked, my precious goods to the modern tourist

given their map waving, if they’d found the gaze. As I wandered around the hallowed

turismo and Steph merely glanced over halls, looking at the glory and listening to

her shoulder and said, ‘Not looking for it,’ the guia, I could see various familiar

in a really dismissive manner. pilgrims also seeking wonder. We nodded


to each other but quietly pursued our own
Thereby dismissed and, in that resonating paths.
Camino way, feeling unreasonably hurt, I
wandered in to the Cathedral in search of After centuries of development in the
Cathedral all that was left of the Unknown

157
Pilgrim’s Cemetery was a solitary twisted After that magic tour, I managed to find the
olive tree seeking the light and some fallen turismo by myself. A very snarky lady, one
stones. I suspect many unknown souls left supposed she was about to head off for
the earth here on their way to or from lunch, but still, dutifully swirled her pen
forgiveness, adventure or escape. I rested around her map to point the way out. I
there for a time, imagining how it might walked and walked around the old city but
have been for them, with little signage, I couldn’t find her recommended
plenty of thieves and scoundrels balanced office/print shop anywhere. I wandered
by a burning desire for adventure. around the market and the shops but
everything was closing. I was getting
It’s strange how the big Cathedrals across overtired and overworried about printing
Spain were similar but all different. One the documents necessary for my auxiliar
presumed that architects and builders may position.
well have been called in after the success
of one to assist with the next. Oviedo was I went for lunch, choosing a high
certainly one of the grandest I’d visited, restaurant that, I reasoned, would look out
and one of the dustiest. I suppose over the central park I had just walked
wheeling in a scissor-lift to get a vacuum around. When I explained I was vegan the
cleaner into those fragile golden altar woman in charge hustled me downstairs to
pieces would be problematic. Oviedo does the common people’s meat eating area at
have some very grand objects and once and we began the usual dance of
artefacts, the most impressive being a misunderstanding. In the end I had my
huge urn tucked into a corner. This was normal salad and chips and very fresh,
one of the original water containers (take it tasty and expensive it was too!
or leave it) that Jesus worked his miracle
upon during the famous wedding. Once a While sulking about not getting Wifi, I

year it was filled with wine to share thought to myself, if I stayed in a hotel, I

amongst the congregation. I hoped they could get the printing done and sleep

got a bigger throng that day because the without snorefests!

small group of people I saw for mass the


Very quickly, I found a helpful couple at the
next morning would never have got
front desk of a reasonably priced and very
through it all without serious injury to their
comfortable hotel. Not only did she print
health.

158
the documents immediately but her After perusing the documents I could see
assistant turned out to be Catalan and was that I wouldn’t have to be anywhere until
able to assure me that both Catalan and October 2nd, in Madrid, but of course I
Spanish documents were the same and I would need to organise housing and
could rely on my shakey Spanish paperwork in Palafolls before that. I would
guesswork to work out what necessary wait until I got to Prague to organise the
steps were required. final dates for Madrid, Vallalodid and
Palafolls. There was no point in getting
While lingering at the desk I saw there was worried at this point. I could do no more. It
also a spa at the hotel. Throwing caution would just have to be what it would be.
to the financial gods I booked a massage
as well. After that delightful, if slightly on Let’s just forget all about the IQ test that
the light and fluffy side experience, I was trying to open the hotel door, shall
ordered gazpacho and fruit salad from we? The brain, completely befuddled by
room service and spent far too long relaxing massage, (body dressed only in
watching Spanish ads and a brilliant reality white terrytowling robe and huge white
show called ‘First Dates’ on telly. Why not terry towelling slippers) could not work out
Principe Fechas? Bit like watching people how to open the door with the hotel key.
walk a tightrope over a bath full of Was I at the right door? Repeated trick of
piranhas, First Dates consists of some sliding in card, green light, twist handle
personable restaurant staff spying on and pull. Bastard.
people having their first dates and
performing a running commentary secretly. Trooped back downstairs to complain. She
tested the key. Yes, all was correct. I
trooped back up and tried several more
times to pull that damned door towards
This mild period of relaxation, away from me before I finally woke up to myself and
the clump I’d been caught up with, made pushed. Gently. The door opened easily.
me realise, yet again, that I needed to Inwards.
follow my own pace and only my own.
Those other people have to do their own Sometimes change is a necessary thing.
thang …

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Escamplero, Sabado 2nd Julio - DAY 25 -
Albergue de Escamplero - 12.7km

Mucked around last night, watched too men dressed in fine embroidered capes
much tv, ate too much chocolate and too covering them like crusty carapaces. A
late to sleep. Woke at 7:20 am and chatted couple of younger servers but the big boys
to husband and son via FB before getting were all over seventy.
up and ready for mass. The Cathedral was
quiet and I slipped in the side door with a I was reminded again of that Brazilian’s

florist who was delivering white bouquets, priest’s upflung arms as he invoked his

for a wedding perhaps. heartfelt prayer that there should be more


vocation in the youth. I felt, watching the
My first impression, as the men of religion elderly priests and their attendants, that
entered the side chapel, was of the they really had to jazz this joint up. The
Sketzies from Dark Crystal. Hunched old small congregation was, in the main,

160
elderly, with just one younger man and his Once the folk had shuffled back to their
small son looking about in awe, much as I seats there was a brief moment of prayer
was. The floors grew into trees and the and then the smiling lady next to me shook
domed ceiling featured gorgeous lighting my hand and all around me there was a
from rectangular boldly coloured glass flurry of meaningless handshaking as
patchwork. The Cathedral took a hit in the though we were electrons knocking
civil war and was refurbished, initially in against each other for warmth.
the forties and again, more recently. I
suspect that has brought electric light, and The elders came again to the fore and we

probably heating, to this side chapel. processed out of the chapel, through the
main nave and into the Capilla del Rey
The woman next to me shared her book, Casto, where I had been told off the day
pointing out the finer features of the before, just about to snap a photo of the
Spanish response system. Very like the Holy Mother giving her breast to baby
Vespers services I had previously attended Jesus. I had thought to send it to a
at the monasteries, this was morning mass lactation consultant I know. Mind you, this
of course, differing only in the culmination central sculpture was surrounded by stone
of communion, of which I did not partake. I bishops, saints and images in arc after
watched the older folk lining up for their concentric arc of cold grey arches.
taste of flesh and blood and wondered Yesterday the place was cold, silent and
about the place of the Catholic Church in empty. Today, there were fresh flowers, the
contemporary Spain. lights were on and the alter piece shone
gold and gorgeous. The Holy Mother wore
Before that, though, theatrically speaking, a large and beautiful cone shaped dress
the lights, voices and observant eyes alive and her little baby did too.
alive oh in the cold stone room brought the
place to life, used the space, as it was There was gold and glory in abundance.
meant to be used, rather than just cold Everywhere one looked was large and
empty corridors photographed by facile beautiful; heaven made manifest. And the
tourists collecting images in their fancy organ was full throated and dynamic,
cameras. leading the organist, dressed in heavily
embroidered black, to attempt some

161
groovy licks that gave nasty suggestions rolling her eyes, rising above the shoulders
of digit slip and tangle. of her peers in obvious need to escape. It
was just a moment for me as I passed her,
It was all over very quickly. The elderly folk arched in clear pain, apparently wishing to
in sparkly dresses and the young men in twist out of the milking machine. I clearly
white frocks filed into the barred altar saw the whites of her eyes as she
section, while a man in a smart sports stretched against the rusty chain around
jacket and blue tie held the gate open for her neck. I walked by, my mind twisted by
them. A priest, who had lately joined the discomfort. There were so many cows. So
congregation, chatted with one of the flock much mastitis. The heart of the dairy
as people drifted away in twos and threes. county.
I walked around the entire building, mainly
seeking shell/arrow for later use, and saw After a couple of coffees I was awake and
those priests exiting, cheery, looking ready to go. I went to the statue of Alfonso
forward to their morning tea, I expect! II el Casto (The Chaste), the beginning of
the Primitivo proper, the start of my
I too, found coffee and pastry and even fell renewed quest. He held his hand over his
into the greedy trap of buying some heart. He wore a really nice little skirt and
unknown ingredients in the form of had terrific thighs, the quads divided into
delicious sweet almond biscuits. Their double strength. I felt empowered by the
effects sadly reinforced my previous huge Cathedral beside him and slightly
suspicions that, after studiously avoiding mystical because of the magic energy of
cows’ products, my gut preferred a lighter those relics. I strode out, finding the shells
diet. embedded in the pavement as
recommended by Gronze and away I went.
My mind and heart did too, reminded of
Gliding smoothing over the new first way,
recent images of struggling cows in the
the way designed to push through
heart of the dairy country. A particular
contested lands, making sure Christians
milking session I passed had stayed with
came to control this land.
me. In a muddy cow shed, the cows were
chained together at their feeding trough, Soon I met a pilgrim from Alaska, bearing
grubby machines pulling at their teats. One a new pack and a fresh attitude and we fell
cow lunged up and twisted her head, into conversation. These were her first

162
steps on the Camino and she told me her really didn’t do things in half measure.
daughters, ten and twelve years old, were You’d think he would have stuck to a few
a bit worried about their mum on her own bottles? I assumed when the guia talked
and really thought they should have come about filling the old container every year
too. But mum was happy, grabbing a brief that they spoke of wine but it could well
respite from family responsibilities while have been water. I wondered if that
they enjoyed summer camp. She would brought the crowds? Certainly, when the
stride out and finish in ten days. Catholic Youth Festival descended upon
Melbourne in 2013 they did so in
I spent some time warning her of the enthusiastic numbers but I’d seen no sign
dangerous dog signs - explaining that of youthful energy in these grand old
although they were chained up they could monuments.
still give you a fright as they lunged. And,
as a message about being a know-it-all, I wondered if the Pope’s message of
after she’d walked on I only saw the warning to protect the environment would
cutest, smallest, fluffiest, friendliest dogs. grab the attention of young activists. But I
They certainly seem to have a different was aware there was sickness in the
attitude to our canine friends in the Church, too. I don’t know about the state
Asturias! Cantabria, cantankerous. of Spain but certainly other nations have
Asturias, cute as. You simply couldn’t uncovered grim histories. When the old
predict what would be around the next priest reached to pat that cute little boy on
corner. the head in a kind of blessing, the father
eagerly pushed the kid forward, a strong
Even so, planning ahead, I expected to do hand in the middle of the tiny slim back.
27km the next day which would put me at Yet, I’d hesitate, nay, refuse point blank, to
only 20km to get to Bodenaya, reputed to involve my young son in any kind of
be another of the caring-sharing type church activity. Perhaps Spain’s priests are
albergues with a shared, vegetarian dinner. clear of any wrong doing?

That large container that Jesus used to Even now, those houses of glory do offer a
change the water into wine floated in my way out of poverty. If sport and rock & roll
mind as I walked. I thought about it, huge can work for a young person, then why not
as it was, and only one of nine. Jesus the church? Might pick up some valuable

163
chunks as the edifices crumble. Perhaps if the end room and had some energetic
the celibacy rules were changed and the confusion about shopping for food - it
focus and attention of the monks and nuns being Sunday and their wallets being light.
works became more community But all was resolved happily.
orientated, more environmental, then those
old houses, those tremendous buildings, There was a strange arrangement of

could see more people with purpose seating for us to enjoy beside the clothes

working for people, housing refugees line and something that might have been

perhaps, rather than mere useless the vestiges of a barbecue or some kind of

glittering museums only, it seemed, for evil rusty torture machine all tarmacked

tourism. And, yet, most of the money into the car park below. After school hours

presumably still goes to Rome? a young mother brought her small son to
drive his electric car noisily around the car
The albergue was a little step out of town park. I watched my washing pale in the
and had to get the keys from a weak sun while I made these notes. When
restaurateur on the way in. It seemed a it got too cold, I brought it inside and
very attractive bar as I sat to get my strung it up between the two empty bunks
credential stamped but I was eager to get beside me.
some washing done and proceeded down
the road further, and round the bend, to I had it strung between the bunks when

the albergue. It was another building that the new Spanish family of five people

looked as though it might have been a moved in later in the day. I pulled my

school at one stage. It was my first empire in, not wishing to appear greedy

experience with the triple bunk towers. I and tucked my travelling clothes line in

chose my normal top bunk but only on a around the base of my bunk. It was an

double layer. excellent twisted line that needed no pegs


and was very easy to use. When I left in
I was pleased to see a happy Julie from the morning, I neglected to see it. Actually,
Denmark there, enjoying the company of it was once my son’s. I had ‘borrowed’ it.
her young friends. She was still bandaged Sorry, Felix. Lost in the mists of
and still keen to walk but not quite as Escamplero ...
determined to damage herself as
previously. The young were crowded into

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Cornellana, Domingo 3rd Julio - DAY 26 -
Albergue de Cornellana, Monasterio de San
Salvador de Cornellana - 25.7km

It was a misty, cool morning. I was keen to credit at the time because I was definitely
leave before 8am. The best sleep I’d had slower than usual.
for ages. Really comfortable mattress, not
so much snoring, in fact, because I heard Today, I felt ready to walk! I spent some
nothing, perhaps it was me! In the morning time with the family from Madrid. Helen and

Helen gave me an instant coffee that tasted Nacho, Carmen and Alba. Nacho explained

as good as any I had paid money for in the food storage huts. They were called

Spain. I suspected the relaxing massage horios and were primarily for storing

may have affected me more than I gave it maiz/corn out of the reach of rats. So, as

165
suspected, the missing step was next to the park and watched this lively
supposed to keep out vermin. Some of parade while munching on excellent salad
these cute buildings now appeared to be and patatas bravas (sin mayo!) I walked
used as accommodation or storage. We through the farmers market, but realising I
saw some, now featuring handrails, that still had far to go, was disinclined to carry
would provide easy access to a rat. much more. I purchased the odd piece of
Apparently this style is particularly fruit as I went. The attractive plazas were
Asturian. We would see rectangular ones surrounded by beautifully kept mansiónes
in Galicia. indianas, painted in bright colours. These
buildings were built on the proceeds of
Slim, fit Carmen, possibly in her early adventurers going to Latin America and
seventies, was on her fifth Camino. She returning home with their golden plunder.
had another son who was born in Although many towns had long since run
Australia, now living in Newcastle. She had out of gold, Grado of 2016 gave the
an MA in agronomy from Armadale impression of a bustling, lively and
University. Nacho and Helen spent their prosperous place.
honeymoon in Australia and they had
returned with the family two years ago. I It was a warm, intense day. The sky turned
had spotted the Australian towels hanging to a vibrant blue as I headed up the hill.
on their bunks the night before and young After a while I was joined by Danile, from
Alba had an Australian flag on her Milano, a young man with a tremendous
backpack. dark beard that had cost him more than
one customs search in his travels. We
As the day progressed, Raoul from came into the monastery by a large and
Valencia caught me up and then Richardo beautiful river, his feet hurting him on his
from Venice. We came to a bar overlooked first day out of Oviedo. Must say, I was
by a fantastic cliff. Raoul went in for a large glad for that 12km headstart from the day
jug of beer and I went on to Grado, which before.
unlike most Spanish towns on a Sunday,
was absolutely hopping! There was an In Cornellana the albergue was hidden at
extended market through the main streets, the back of a thousand year old
restaurants and cafés full to bursting with monasterio. There were new faces as the
colourful families and visitors. I sat in a bar pilgrims kept arriving. Reasonably quickly

166
the plaza square was lined by hanging Monastery would survive for another
washing and resting people. hundred years. The local council had kept
the albergue going and recently
When the hospitalero arrived and unlocked refurbished it to an excellent level of
his office he was particularly strict about comfort with a clean separate kitchen,
checking id and stamping credentials. laundry and spacious bunkrooms.
Normally I was able to hand over my
drivers’ licence out of my wallet but he As I chased the sun around the courtyard
insisted on checking my passport so I had with my washing, I ate my broccoli chips,
to unpack the mochilla. Duties complete, now my favourite food. All they contained
he offered to take us on a tour of the old was broccoli, brain oil and salt. I also
church. All had fallen into disrepair but due chomped through corn cakes, bread
to Asturias and the European Union’s sticks, instant veggie soup, tea and two
support of Spanish monuments, this protein bars. Plenty more space in the
particular edifice had received an injection food bag for tomorrow. Those protein bars
of funds. And, encouraged by the were actually a range of diet food from the
renovations, local people had started to chemist. But they were vegan and tasty.
use the church once again. We could see
different fabrics in the cushions - I liked the While we’d toured the church, the youth

leopard print one. brigade had taken a walk to the river to


find a swimming hole which apparently
Some of the original paintings had been was fantastic. The hospitalero showed us
discovered under layers of damp and rot, the knack of opening and unlocking the
while the rest of the monastery will gate and also pointed out the
eventually become an information centre thousand-year-old archway into the
for the Camino. Some parts of the walls courtyard. This was the oldest surviving
were beyond repair but the graceful arches part of the building. In the middle at the
and the altar pieces still seemed to be top was a design that depicted a young
standing. The hospitalero pointed out girl nestled up next to a bear. Apparently,
some of the pews were labelled. One side similar to the Romulus and Remus
for gentlemen, the other for women. But founding stories of Rome, Cornellana had
now the modern community was back, been founded by a child reared by this
holding services, mixing it up, using the generous and maternal bear. The first
church and it looked as if the San Salvador recorded bear hugs.

167
Bodenaya, Lunes 4th Julio - DAY 27 - Casa
Bodenaya - 20.1km

Lovely morning leaving the I was one of the first arrivals at David’s
thousand-year-old monastery, except for privately run albergue in Bodenaya. The
my alarm magically going off at 6:30 - or clouds hung over the road in a grey drizzle.
maybe it was the phone. But who would I entered the mud room and stood in some
call me? It was deeply embarrassing to confusion. Which door to choose?
have to scrabble around to find the blasted Eventually I knocked and a young looking
thing and shut it down. It was uncool to man with his hair parted in the middle and
wake everyone in the albergue and even a large smile insisted this was my home for
though it was only an eight bed room, I felt the night and I must enter at once. Still in
guilty for most of the morning. welcoming mode, hippy, blissy music
played while folk stuck their heads around
the door to receive further generous smiles

168
and encouraging greetings from the small circles - did not stock the individual
man busy at the kitchen bench. Micky and servings of pre-cooked rice I had come to
he chopped carrots for the lentil stew. I’m depend upon. Luckily, they would not be
pretty sure she was taller than he was. necessary tonight.

Soon a cluster of recently-showered and Like Ernesto, David had a clear method of
relaxed folk checked their emails or wrote looking after his charges. This included
up their journals sitting around the table, doing everyone’s washing, which I found
eating fruit and drinking tea. I looked somewhat daunting, but he insisted that
forward to my first vegan share meal and as we were all family we must all live
chatted to people as they arrived. This together and share.
albergue had a history and so far, David
was living up to the monk-like aura of his Side note about people flapping things out

predecessor. of windows. Either my first or second day I


noticed a woman flapping a yellow
We went through some utterly beautiful tablecloth out of her flat window three
forests today. Some tracks were floors up. It was after lunch. And now, it
reminiscent of walking through one of New was with relief I ticked a mental box when I
Zealand’s Great Walks, even to the ferns saw my daily flap. At different times, and in
by the path. different colours, I saw dusters, sheets, tea
towels, sometimes from many floors up,
There was much road building going on sometimes from a back door in a rural
which was interesting given there was area. I started to look forward to seeing my
simply not that much traffic. Don’t know flapping flag of the day. One day I saw
who they were expecting to drive here - someone shaking their black shiny sheets
especially given the excellent train system. out of a first floor window which gave rise
Stopped for morning tea in Salas, which to some strange thoughts about slippery
has a beautiful (OLD!) dark church, Santa sleeping.
Maria. Very lovely, with a tower/castle in
the middle of town as well. There had been discussion about the lack
of thought on the track at various stopping
Mind you, I spent more time in the points. Many people I compared notes
supermercados, searching for rice. I got with agreed this was nothing to worry
vegies but three shops - walking round in

169
about. It was good to think of nothing, the I could cope with any steep climbs it
empty mind, the walking meditation would throw at me! I was cured! Apart
hopefully left room for new thoughts. I had from cravings for sugar which lead me into
some idea that the placing of feet was cake shops! I had to stop because just one
filling my mind, particularly on some of the small cake made me queasy. They were
steep sections. Concentration was just too rich. Another day, another cake,
required when negotiating rocks, mud and another reinforcement that eggs and butter
tree roots woven into a tricky maze. What no longer suited my digestive system. My
then of the roadsides? What was our vegan choice was being made for me. If I
excuse into thoughtlessness there? It got bready things, like those caracoles
wasn’t blissful. It wasn’t sad. It just wasn’t (snails) with glaze and sultanas, I was
anything at all. Empty heads. okay. The custardy things, which looked
so delicious, made me spew.
I felt some regret as I handed over the
rinsed little glass jar as a perfect container This was the nicest albergue to be in,
for spice to the Bodenaya kitchen. The end listening to the gentle rain outside. It felt
of the Great Pomada de Sant Juan, my like one of those old beach houses that
good oily friend and saviour of the bruised someone’s friend’s parents own, cluttered
knee. Just the barest flash of discomfort with comfy interesting junk of generations.
today but it must have been two weeks Decorated with bizarre juxtapositions of
ago since the great slip-up of Otoño. I was football memorablia, flags and camino
well-healed and felt ready for the Primitivo. symbolism. David presided over a relaxing
atmosphere: rainy-day cheerful chatting,
quiet recording of piano weaving
throughout, people reading, showering,
lying down, preparing for dinner. Those of
us sitting at the table worked together to
fold the paper table napkins and pin them
with a painted yellow arrow. This would be
our pin to carry with us, a little badge, to
keep our family feeling together. I felt calm
as I went upstairs to lie on my bunk and
stare at the steamy window with raindrops

170
pattering down. I looked forward to the family ties, the notion of bonding together
convivial shared meal. Normally I became seemed to make more sense than division.
overwhelmed by language barriers, jealous
of those whose ready understanding gave At the table, German Martina and I
them passport to many a quip and banter I discussed an analogy covering both her

simply missed. camino and her career. She spoke about


her boots, and her growing dislike of them.
The call to table arrived and I went They were too hard on ashfelt but just right
downstairs to find the place transformed. on the mountain tracks. Extrapolating this,
The little tables had all been joined to the the tool, being her boots, was correct in
big one to stretch diagonally across the some environments but not in others. She
entire room. On one side of the table stood was a scientist who had been working with
the Spanish people, different smaller the same tool (fruit flies) for over a decade.
groups now bonded simply by standing She saw her career coming to a dead end
together. On the other side was a motley and dreaded it. She said she didn’t have
group of Italian, French, British, German, a the drive to lead other people, the obvious
Swede and two Aussies. Once that split next step for someone in her academic
had been recognised, David admitted such channel, and she recognised she must
a regional divide had never happened transform. She could see now that she
before. It didn’t matter, everyone was could either change the boots or the
charming. David spoke about the nature of environment. This was nothing new to me,
family and the nature of the Camino. How who planned to change into an English
everyone was on the same path for teacher and change environments -
different reasons. Everyone needed to find coming to live in Spain for a year. She felt
respect and understanding for peace into she no longer had a career. When I told her
the future. Just like a family. We were now my friend Jeff’s line, ‘You only have a
part of the Camino Family and we had to career in hindsight,’ she was given pause.
look out for each other. Where had she been was clear. The way
forward was not.
Bread with salad and pasta, then
dahl/soup. So nice to have a full belly. It Walking along the track, the way forward
rained outside while Martina and Rebecca may not be clear at a cross roads. But
spoke of Brexit downstairs. ‘It’s very bad’ looking back is easier. It’s obvious where
was the general consensus. Given our new you’ve been.

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Campiello, Martes 5th Julio - DAY 28 - Casa
Ricardo - 26.3km

At Casa Bodenaya, David woke us all at We all trooped downstairs to discover our
6:30 with Ave Maria. Contrary to my clothes, washed, dried and neatly folded,
peaceful expectations I found it eery and arrayed in colour coordinated patterns
quite loud too. For the second time my around the edges of the benches and
phone went off and there was no alarm tables. A piece of art! Such a lovely,
set. After fretfully (so embarrassed) going relaxed start to the day. Chatting over
through the settings I worked out that breakfast and finishing long discussions
someone had tried to call me from Sydney, about the state of the world and the nature
presumably the phone card company? Not of kindness. David and the volunteer that
helpful. So I would turn it off at night from was staying with him for a month or so
now on. were a bit taken aback by pilgrims that felt
they could empty their entire packs into

172
the washing basket. David’s deal extended and Rebecca and Barry disappeared out
only for the day’s essential wash. I into the damp.
admitted I’d put in an extra tee-shirt. They
forgave me. And so, too, I went out of the door, into not
rain exactly, into mist. David pointed down
Everyone hugged farewell and proudly the road and said, ‘See the yellow house?’
wore their paper maché yellow arrows on And then looked at me and shrugged. No
their jackets as they made their way out yellow house. Only mist. We laughed. As
onto the chilly roadway. I found my cold family do.
wet boots and started lacing. But I
became aware of the Brit couple, Rebecca Off I went, into the main road, and into the

and Barry. They were pacing around in the silent, quiet, no traffic, main road. Bunting;

mud room, unable to go. Turned out little blue background triangles centred

another bloke had taken his shoes. Same with white cross decorated with dangling

brand but in different colours and a alpha and omega, flapping as I went by, or

different size. You think he’d have noticed hanging limp, or lying wet and mangled in

the different feel on the foot? the road. And so the road went on. And
on. And the yellow arrows petered out and
Super Rescue David jumped in his car and the road went on. And I went to the petrol
chased the shoe thief. I got to chatting. It station for relief and the guy said, ‘Keep
turned out Rebecca and Barry were going until El Cruzar and there’s a path to
conservationists and bird experts. As soon the left.’ (He was speaking Spanish, just so
as I heard that I launched some of the you know).
mystery birds I’d seen recently at them.
They thought the raptors I’d been seeing And so I went left. Too early. But I found a

were probably red or black kites or bar and did coffee and wifi and moaned

possibly peregrines. Eagles would be the about my leaky boot. And then I got back

very big ones. Apparently they’d seen on the road and walked about fruitlessly

vultures all over the rest of Spain but not in looking for yellow arrows. I found the path

the North. I’d never seen a vulture in the and was reassured by a cyclist, a woman

wild and really hoped I would! David and then a man. Then I came to a choice

returned triumphantly holding the shoes between the low road and the high road.

173
I made the wrong choice. Eventually a kind brown birds and warblers and pretty things
woman told me so. She was dressed very and mist and mulch and rain and a speedy
smartly and explained that I was not her Australian from Parramatta who had been
first customer. She often had to tell lost at the World Championship Frisbee
pilgrims, it wasn’t my fault, the signs were Ultimate Tournament strode up behind me.
poor just there, and look, I had to go up. Much faster than me. I panted beside her
She had to go shopping and went on her for a while as I quizzed her. After she
way, having done her duty to the lost finished the Camino she would head to
pilgrim. Frankfurt to compete again. She had her
frisbee with her at all times, just in case.
Up I went and eventually there were the She did zip past and crack on and I
conchas on the road again and arrows and watched her racing ahead and noticed the
along the top of a dingy town we went, shape of the frisbee stretched hard against
which could have been nicer in the centre the fabric of her backpack.
but I walked along the edge. After talking
with Dorthe and Sue, my new friends from And did I mention my right boot was
Denmark, it turned out I’d gone the leaking? Both boots were soaking by this
carreterra way; the lesser-used, main road time. I took the boots off, sitting to one
method, which is why there were no side of the muddy track and wrung out my
arrows. Darn and heck. But what was it socks. At least I stopped squelching as I
that lead me off the official way and onto walked. I hoped I would avoid gangrene. I
the road for local people? Should I analyse didn’t make the detour to the interesting
my inner character for a Camino analogy? monastery a mere five km away. I might
Nah, just get on with it! have done enough hard yards today. The
track was not difficult but it did seem to
Tieno was stuffy and uninspiring. Fences consistently rise and I suspected there
and power poles were decorated by circus would be more on the next day. I was
posters, featuring a vicious looking clown dragging myself to the finish line when I
and some poor animals, all at hurried noticed a small white car slowing along
angles, corners peeling off. It felt creepy. beside me on the road. A suspicious man
So I did not find a bar for lunch. I did not leaned out the window and asked where I
find a supermarket. I marched up the hill was going? Where would I sleep that
and found lovely oak forests with little, tiny, night? Oooooh. Creepy.

174
Now, I hadn’t been accosted, or even to check out the merch at Hermiona’s, I
imagined that I would be, but I was a saw one pilgrim but Rui had definitely got
single woman and I my the bulk.
auto-inner-alarm-circuitry switched on with
a rusty whir. It’s a different matter for Rui sat down with the sello and the

young women. I really saw the sense in credential, and Dorthe and Sue were there

walking in a group or with a friend. But as too, and he gave us a history lecture about

a mature lady, not so vulnerable. the Knights Templar and the need for a
Camino to form a border and land claim to
Luckily, I didn’t understand him, really I keep the Moors down South. He was the
didn’t. I believe he was touting for first to explain the system in terms of
business. I think it was probably the same business and as we all know, religion is but
guy who met me, on foot, as I walked in to a gold plate for the politics of the day. Or it
town. (In the car he looked shorter.) was back then.

Turned out there was a big war going on Apparently, and in direct contrast to David,
between the two private albergues in the Rui’s advice was if the weather was fine, it
pueblo. I think Ricardo’s was winning. It was better and quicker to do hospitaleros
had been in Ricardo’s family since 1822 - the higher mountain crossing with less
and it had been developed from a very shops rather than go round the boring
large Horio - here called a Panillia - way. I don’t mind being without shops so
because it was originally to store a long as I got my medicinal coffee in the
particular kind of strong ancient wheat to morning. Especially with three Mr Snoreys
make bread (pan). I was coming here lined up. The Snorey Guys. Oh yeah.
anyway but this man showed me around
the albergue and I didn’t like to disabuse I got the last available bunk. Right above

him. Turned out his name was Rui and he the Snorey Guys. And the Snorey Guys

was from Portugal, working for Ricardo. As were practising their work after a drunken

well as the albergue, they ran a bar and a lunch. They were ripe. As I prepared to go

supermarket as does their enemy, to bed they got up to go out for dinner and

Hermiona’s Albergue just across the road. imbibe more stuff. I made sure I had my

Big turf war. Like a big trap-door spider, earplugs ready. Later, I was to wish heartily

Rui made sure he caught every pilgrim as I had such a thing as a nose plug as well.

they walked in to town. When I popped in

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Berducedo, Miercoles 6th Julio - DAY 29 -
Albergue de peregrinos de Berducedo -
29.5km

Well, that was an interesting day. From the general direction of down. It was a release
dark sordid night spent with the overly for me and the resulting silence was a
generous and sharing Mr Farty, and his surprise to all. It did not last long.
sidekicks, the Snoreys, to the torrential
rain at close of day, ridiculous to the Even when it was quiet it was difficult to

sublime. sleep due to the dreadful anticipation of


the next sensory barrage. He'd been
During the night, Mr Farty even started eating some kind of eggy tortilla - and
banging on the bed, kicking it firmly as he drinking plenty of cider - and the smell of
turned over in his sleep. I was so furious sulphur and the sound of flaccid farts soon
after one such interruption I punched my became low notes of that evening's
own mattress as hard as I could in the

176
concert. Lucky the beds were strongly weight of their packs. It was always a treat
made. Unlike my humour. to see them and always slightly surprising
because they often stayed at different
And, for the morning's recital, Dorthe and hostels or albergues.
Sue ran the bathroom hand dryers long
and loud as Dorthe dried her boots and all René remarked they had thought I was far
her clothes and everything else that ahead but instead it was them, ahead of
remotely damp. They also enjoyed bacon me! I let them go and sat to enjoy my
and eggs for breakfast. In fact, they morning orange watching the layer of
seemed to enjoy everything. They were a cloud shift slightly as it burned away,
fun couple of gals. I could see them fitting sometimes covering the promised hills and
in with my friendly crowd of mums at sometimes flattening out smoothly to
home very well. become a pond between the far-off rises.

Today's walk started off slowly, misty and Taking my rubbish with me, I returned to
damp. There was a selfie with the Danish the track and after a while my attention
gals and lots of chat. But even though was taken by a golden stallion slightly
we'd been told if it was raining to take the above and forward on the hillside.
more roadside and shopside version, the Gradually he came down to just below my
general consensus, everyone at our level and seemed to be walking along with
albergue had agreed, it was OVER THE me. He looked back, and I thought,
TOP to Hospitales! fancifully, that he seemed to indicate I
should follow him, that he thought I
The track started out with a gradual incline needed guiding. (Sensible creature). Really
rising into the mist. The promised views though, I snapped photos quickly as I had
looked as if we would never see them, never seen such a glorious looking horse.
covered entirely by a blanket of cloud. As The sun glinted from his mane and the
it came up to noon and the climbing green pastures rose up beside my right to
seemed to slow, there were tops of azure the blue, blue sky and dipped down into
hills visible. I came upon René and Martine the cloud lake valley on my left.
packing up their morning tea. I managed
to take a mystical photo of them walking Then we rounded a corner and the sun
off into the distance, stooped by the was out and warm and the grassy valley

177
spread out into a flat clearing with a tarn move unnecessarily. Brownie again
off to the left and ahead. Around the bucked and kicked into the air and then
shining dark water a group of horses calmly came around and they walked
clustered together with some cattle. The together on Goldie's way.
cows were more leisurely, lying down in
picturesque poses. The sky was vibrant.
The lake of cloud below spread out to the
edges of the far-off mountains.

Any complaints or worries about time


melted into complete absorption of place
and environment. So incredibly stunning,
tears welled up from my chest and stung
my eyes. It was as though, as I had risen in
altitude, my mood had also risen and I felt
light, happy and invincible. I felt lucky that
I hadn't liked to get too close to these
I could be here, alive and well. Somehow I
horses with nothing between them and
was part of this landscape. I belonged
me. I advanced cautiously. After a while
there at that time. I was elated.
the two horses stopped again but I kept on

I noticed a dark chestnut horse detach coming, without using the hiking sticks,

himself from the other livestock around the quietly, trying to be insignificant as

distant water below and he cantered, possible.

forcefully and speedily, directly to the gold


Brownie looked over to me, feisty, his
one. The goldie continued straight along
mane unkempt, long and shaggy, the
his path, not towards Brownie, but on his
tough kid, and Goldie, calm, the parent
clear trajectory parallel to me and
perhaps, leading him away in the other
thankfully well ahead. Brownie came up to
direction, or so it seemed.
him and they stood with their heads
together, breathing. Then suddenly, I found it such a lovely encounter with
Brownie bucked, and danced, excited, these creatures, on these high pastures
proud, agitated, as though he'd just with such an ever-distant view of hills
received serious news. Goldie did not gleaming like aquamarines, that it was as

178
thought perhaps it was a farmer tending to
these cows and horses wandering free but
no, wait, that red umbrella had tables and
chairs sheltering in the shade and hang on
a minute, I thought, 'That's no farmer,
that's a bar!' In the middle of the
mountains!

Some enterprising fellow had strung out a


spider's web across the track at the
though I walked on air as I watched the bottom of a hill where there was no access
cloud formations below me dissolving. to shops for 22km and brought
After a time, I sat beside the track and ate refrigeration and a coffee maker. I handed
my lunch. It was a long walk and I hadn't over cash for cold water and a packet of
prepared well for food but I did have some crisps and lounged under the umbrella to
pimento in a can, tremendous sandwiched chat. He had several large rubbish bags
between two crunchy corncakes, together already full of empty soft drink cans. He
with a crisp apple. reckoned he had seen over sixty people
come along, not counting just Hospitales
In the distance I saw the French Quartet
where I had come from but also the
(René, Martine and another couple)
alternative road route, Palo, where there
preparing their own picnic amongst the
were shops. He agreed this might have
ruins of the ancient hospital. As I passed
been the start of the July rush coming
by I heard them cry out, 'Victoria! Victoria!'
down the line. And this is when I started to
and, for a moment, I thought perhaps I had
sense I might just have trouble getting a
done something wrong ... But no, they
bed for the night.
were just filled with the same exuberance
as me, 'Buen Camino!' And it was a good My pals had booked at a privado, an
walk. Really, really good. increasingly popular option, but I had held
the opinion that one should go with the
Then I turned downhill and it was very far
flow and take what comes. My sense of
and there was a wind farm on the first hill
resignation grew with the darkening clouds
in the distance and on the way down I
I suddenly noticed looming in the sky. Oh
could see a truck and a red umbrella and I

179
well. So be it. There was nothing to be could, in theory and, if necessary, open the
done now. church or the school to provide shelter.
(But that didn't explain the young Spanish
I marched on, fortified by my chilled water couple of girls who I met drenched in the
and chips. I walked through a farm made busstop who had no choice but to go to
of stone with chickens that did not look the next town whenever the bus decided
well, scrawny and bare skinned with to show up. This became unpredictable as
pinfeathers missing over their backs. One it had not arrived when expected. They
walked right in front of me and opened her had been waiting some time.) I counted
wings and displayed, her skin raw and myself extremely lucky!
sore and beastly. But there was a large
dog and instead of standing by it After I'd walked around and into Lago, a
reassuringly, the farmer looked at me small steep village, I came upon a cute bar
under his hand, checking, and then left me and a couple of Danish ladies relaxing with
to negotiate the dog by myself. I decided their boots off. I enjoyed a chilled orange
to sidle past, not saying a word to that juice with them, used the bathroom and
dog. Not a time for good doggie, no, not at then trotted along beside Sue and Dorthe
all. as they made their way. And the thunder
rumbled. Thor waved his hammer about
The Danes went ahead to their pre-booked
salubrious establishment on the
other side of the town while I turned
in to the small, damp and close
Municipal building. The young
hospitalero was glad to hear there
was just the one of me because
there were no beds left in the inn,
bar one mattress folded up in a
locked cupboard and the space
upstairs, a foyer area at the top of
the stairs. He explained that as the
hospitalero he was duty bound to
find a space for pilgrims to sleep. He

180
and then the rain came down in rods just attendant came to personally weigh my
as I arrived at the municipal albergue. fruit and veg and place them reverently in
a bag. I found a tiny tin of peas to add to
I laid the squashy mattress on the floor of my delicious feast.
the alcove above the actual rooms of the
albergue. It was rather nice when the rain And then, close to 6am, I heard creeping
stopped. I had a rural vista and fresh clean steps come up to my castle turret.
air all to myself. I was pretty weary after Reluctant to open my eyes I was glad to
this day, but how extraordinary, how hear them retreat. I turned over and went
divine, to have seen those vistas. I was back to sleep. When I did wake, not much
safe and I was there and it was fresh and later, I found a little card propped up in my
comfortable and there was to be no one havianas (thong/jandal/flipflop) which I'd
snoring right beside me. The power had set up as a trip hazard should anyone be
gone out in the town after the deluge but I inclined to climb the steps. It had the
was able to get a shower in before I went name of an albergue printed upon it. Oh,
out foraging. how I puzzled on that. Surely the owners
of an albergue would not be creeping
The tiny shop was in darkness due to the about advertising so early in the morning?
power outage. The irritable woman played When I saw no other cards littering the
her role to the hilt in our 'This is a local kitchen or bunks of other pilgrims slowly
shop for local people' skit. I still thought it realisation dawned. The Danes had sent
strange how slow the community was to me a message. This was to be our address
cash in on what had to be a growing for the next day! I was assured of a bed
pilgrim/tourist industry. There must be a inside for the next night.
reasonable amount of peeps through the
door, given the hillside café's busy till. And I looked around my private retreat as I
it was only the beginning of the high swept, folded the blanket and tidied up the
season. There was very little from which mattress. The cows mooed in the distance
pilgrims could choose, to cook in the and the leaves on the trees opposite blew
minuscule albergue kitchen. There was a glistening young green in a gentle morning
hot plate and a frying pan. When I picked breeze. A comfortable, peaceful,
up a plum there was a strangled cry - one snore-free, penthouse albergue.
does not touch the vegetables - and the

181
Castro, Jueves 7th Julio - DAY 30 - Albergue
Residencia Juvenil de Castro - 26.9km

We were impressed as we neared the This morning was pretty strange being in
albergue. This looked promising. A lovely the thick of zippity zip I still managed to
old farmhouse environment, the smell of leave pretty late - or later than most - 7:15.
cows, deep green verdant grass and a Even though I got out the door in good
homey bar. Dorthe, Sue and I were in a time I forgot the bastónes and had to trek
small room together with one other. Mr back. Wandered into the Dane’s albergue
Farty and the Snoreys were also playing but they were long gone so I went to a
here tonight. It would be interesting to see café for coffee, went on my way again, got
if we could hear the Orchestra through the lost, met René and Martine who told me
walls. the Danes had left early and then we were
on the track again.

182
This was a steep ascent up a narrow path, small shrub of yellow flowers and then
then a steep ascent up a road, then a very forget-me-nots of the deepest blue and
steep ascent up another road and I made then it was as if some very clever gardener
like the swimming machine, moving up had planted their slatey rockery with
and down the lanes solidly, with force and gorgeous colours and feathery textures
determination and that was how I marched and the walking was delightful.
up that very steep incline,
with deep breathing and
concentration and it was
like a strong step class but
no music and there were
plenty of people climbing
the hill and then we came
up close to the windmills
and we could see the lake
of cloud beside us and it
was exciting because no
one could tell what would
be under the clouds
though it was going to be
a large lake, because that
was the job of the day. We
had to walk around a large Soon the descent came, down below the
reservoir. But early on we could only see misty clouds, and there was sun breaking
that lake, flat and puffy, of soft, white, through and suddenly, below us, there was
clouds. a body of green water. I say we, it was just
me, but I did feel part of the troupe of
After the ascent, of course, came the
pilgrims, the artery of bloodcells marching
descent and away we went through pine
onwards. I met recognisable faces,
forest with thick-carpet pine needles and
greetings and people who knew other
quiet curving paths, stoney and slatey.
people I’d chatted to. Eventually we got
After a while there was a glow of purple
down enough to see that this structure
heather in the walls around us and then a

183
was still a working dam, generating that before - unless one was wading
electricity although around the hills were a through surf or splashing in a mountain
series of strange buildings. Some stream. I always understood once you put
appeared to be deserted, perhaps lodging your boots on, you left them on until it was
for workers on the dam in the days of time to finish for the day. Then you
building. Others appeared to be structures gratefully massaged your feet and gave
of concrete, honeycombs in the hills them treats and presents and let them lie
above, perhaps overseeing the up a wall to drain.
construction process. The face of the dam
itself, a great swooping pleated skirt. There We pooled our lunch resources, enjoying

were the Danes, resting in the sun on the orange and avocado, dates, olives and

road over the dam. They were very fond of corn crackers. The sun heated the

taking off their boots to air their feet. I surrounding concrete and we gladly

never took my boots off during the day but packed up to find some shade. We only

on this occasion, in the sun, with bare feet had 10km further that day but it still

company, I did. needed to be walked. As we crossed the


road and looked back at the dam face we
They have taught me to take my shoes could see a shrine built into the slope
and socks off at every opportunity. Well. facing us. Our Holy Mother oversaw all
For the first time in
thirty days on this
walk and, given the
training my boots
have put in for over a
year, many
kilometres, I have got
a blister. Only small,
but there it is. How is
that possible? Could
it be due to the
removal of shoes half
way through the day?
I have never done

184
that went on in the technical and and puffing blister protected, bag hoisted
mechanical ways of water control. on back and we and proceeded onwards.

I used the bathroom in a rather nice Hotter and hotter, the sun was beating
looking hotel overlooking the lake while down, heating up the road. Still 5km to go
they continued on. And we went on and up and it was heading towards 18:30 when
and on and up, sometimes in forest but we chatted to the British Birders who were
mainly on the road and finally we made it busy pulling money out of pounds and
to a bar and drank water and confused the changing to euros before they lost too
waiter and kitchen staff and there were much value given the slumping financial
many pilgrims wandering around looking consequences of the Brexit vote. At this
for food and drink and entertainment. stage they felt they should move to Ireland
as Barry had an Irish passport. Thank
It got hotter and hotter and we found a goodness for Irish grannies!
pathetic supermarket and a weak
pharmacy. The pharmacy provided a Eventually we arrived at our rather idyllic
packet of magic blister bandaids that are rural spot, showered, washed clothes,
left on to dissolve the skin and protect for enjoyed a pleasant meal. Lots of eating
two to three days. While I applied the today. The gals are determined to get on
lovely blue squishy bandaid I saw there the road early.
was a set of scales. So I weighed my
pack. Remember, I’d been to the This albergue had a bar so a chef came in

supermarket and picked up supplies, fruit rather than the pilgrims doing their own

and veg amongst them, and the pack care and feeding. After some debate about

weighed 12.4. Which was far too heavy. what on earth vegans ate, I was provided

There was much debate about it. One of with a very fine vegetable rice collation

the women was only carrying 6km. This and thankfully, I was not the most dramatic

would be ideal. I suppose because I don’t of customers. The Danes have even more

go out to cafés to eat I have to carry a complicated requirements being inclined

certain base load of carbs and chocolate, to the paleo/coeliac/whatever club and

for instance, one cannot be without their most interesting request was to

chocolate. So with a great deal of huffing pre-cook six eggs! The chef agreed that
after she’d sorted dinner for the mob she

185
would boil their eggs. Dorthe was relieved. The laundry was fraught that day. There
She really didn’t want to have to carry half were slate steps down to the washhouse,
a dozen raw eggs any further. So my and as the evening grew darker, the grass
requirements start to look quite reasonable gathered some dew and the steps became
next to them! slippery.

The clothes line, raised up on the roof of I was splashing away with Sue trying to
the laundry outside was already fully laden control her work and keep dry (I wasn’t
in the weak sun. The two American gals helping!) when we agreed it would
who had been auxiliares de conversacion probably be okay to pop our few items into
for a couple of years were doing their yoga the spin cycle of the washing machine.
stretches under the drying clothes, Normally you had to pay for the use of the
hilariously joined by Mr Farty, his belt tight machines but we figured it would be okay
over his paunch wrapped in walking just to use one small section of the wash
trousers. They were advanced level and I cycle. We got away with it, hanging out our
was actually impressed Mr Farty, with his clothes to catch the last of the fading sun.
wild white hair and his bushy eyebrows, However, it was during the complicated
managed even half of the balances and food discussions that Dorthe was
twists their slender forms achieved. Their discovered, her clothes spinning away in
long straight hair glinted as they saluted the machine regarded as a gross
both sun and earth. The circle of beer infringement. She was told in no uncertain
drinkers parked companionably on the terms to remove them at once. It took
other side of the lawn chattered in Spanish quite a while to negotiate a peaceful deal,
with the Orchestra interjecting with voluble whereby the three of us shared the dryer,
life somewhat forcefully. and paid for the privilege, once the sun
had gone down.
I had to get the mop to clean up the
bathroom. After pilgrims arrive and shower The clothes spun in the dryer, people
in the afternoon, shower rooms and quietly snoring already and I felt like
bathrooms can end up awash. Normally sleeping, rather than listening to my
there’s a mop somewhere near but in this melodramatic audio book. Still popped in
albergue they kept it downstairs in a the earplugs, though!
cupboard.

186
A Fonsagrada, Viernes 8th Julio - DAY 31 -
Albergue Cantábrico - 20.8km

Beautiful misty rural morning. I slept the bedrooms when a young Spaniard
extremely well. Sue kicked off our snorey turned up at 11:00. He’d walked from
evening in a gentle kind of way but no Grandes Salimes having got up at 5:30
earplugs were required as sleep came and would be going no further. She
quickly. There were the odd rustlings at pointed out to him that he still had most of
5:30am but I got up, well rested, at 6:30, the day to fill and but he would have none
enjoyed a large breakfast and was ready to of it. He sat in the sun, rested and drank
go at 7:30, which I thought perfect. beer. It was the Sporty Attitude. Few hours
workout in the morning and a nice relax on
Much discussion about different styles of a cheap holiday for the rest of the time.
walking. The chef, Sandra, told me the Another attraction may well have been the
previous day, she’d just finished mopping younger female pilgrims? This didn’t wash

187
with the more serious peregrinos who liked I started the day feeling overwhelmed by
to have picnics, discussions and admire the great weight on my back but spent a
the scenery, the habitats and the history decent time walking with Barry and
through which we meandered. But, as we Rebecca. They were carrying far more,
gained more of July holiday makers and tent and cooking equipment included.
the pressure for a bed came down the line, They inclined to the rush at the distance
there was bound to be more of a race to and then enjoy a big long rest. Fast march
the next bunk in the population. and then a good sit down. Rebecca was
starting to feel pain in her hips. They’d
We had a lovely misty departure in been walking for months. The time passed
amongst the arrival of the Spanish very chattily. They worked for conservation
Bodenaya family who arrived for desayuno organisations in Britian until the funding
coffee just as I was preparing to leave. ran out and were feeling grim about the
Micky, the Melbourne girl, had joined state of the world generally. So we spoke
forces with these attractive folk. Mar was a freely about pretty well everything.
lovely woman with two young children at
home and I think it was her generous and There was great moment when we’d been
interested nature that cemented this going steadily uphill and the wind farm
group, mainly young men, after our meal at suddenly loomed out of the mist directly in
Bodenaya. It’s not just the same language, front of me. Very impressive. There’s no
there’s a sense of modern young people way these things are as noisy as people
finding friendship and camaraderie. They make out. Have they not visited a coal
have suitable hiking clothes, look fit and power station? What on earth are people
healthy and like a game of cards and a doing to themselves, much less the
good joke. planet? Had they no imagination?

There was a sense that we were all We spent some time chatting with various
walking together, even though there was ones on the side of the road. We came
space between the groups. Rebecca and upon a group, lounging on the ground,
Barry described it as walking in a bubble near a line drawn across the wide path. It
with the same familiar faces popping up was actually a mounded up heap of rocks
around us. with no written sign and, apparently, was
the border between Galicia and Asturias.

188
One of the young fellows pointed out there was a large and modern place with dark
would now be a switch in how the blue plastic covers on the bunks. Just a
conchas/shells were displayed. Previously couple of streets across, there was a new
we pointed to the single convergence and albergue being built into of the shell of an
now, the spreading lines of the scallop antique edifice. I was able to exchange
would be our leaders. There was some banter with what looked like
hopping and skipping over the arbitrary owner/architect/builder meeting outside.
line, so important to so many but in the No, it wasn’t ready for me this afternoon. I
end, just a line of stones across a path. felt quite chuffed I was able to get a laugh
with my pathetic Spanish. It was like the
I looked for a scenic spot to enjoy my old times when everyone spoke English
orange. Finally we met up with the jolly and I was a local in a local place. Oh,
Spanish (and Micky) Bodenaya family those were the days.
again, sitting neatly all in a row outside a
crumbling chapel. After some One amusing aspect of the albergue where
multi-language banter, Barry, Rebecca and I stayed was the clothes line was a couple
I settled in to a nearby picnic table for of blocks away. One had to be shown
morning tea. Very companionable. where the paddock of clothes flapped in
the sun as the description was
simply too confusing. And, great
thrills, there was a bonus puppet
show in town!

The crew had set up on the


veranda frontage of a city building
in a central plaza. They were clearly
not expecting a huge crowd,
though some chairs were left along
the wall if needed. It was a beautiful
set in the shape of an antique radio
- the sort that would have needed
An hour later found me in the albergue.
valves. I would have thought that most
And very clean and comfortable it was. It
modern children would never have seen

189
such a thing but this is Spain and one her Camino after her feet had disintegrated
never knows. badly. She had visited a doctor that
afternoon who had performed the
The puppets and sets were utterly threading operation. This is something I’d
gorgeous. Very clear characters, carved read and heard about but this was my first
beautifully with superbly detailed sighting. I’m still not sure if you walk with
costumes but they never got out of the threads still woven around your feet?
Galicia. I found out later it had been The very sore looking blisters had been
funded by the Galician government and I literally sewn through so that the thread
suspected that they funded by amount of would wick the fluid out into the air without
Galego vocab. It was one of the wordiest breaking the skin on the top. She looked
shows I have ever seen. When they did the like an unfinished puppet, with threads
physical humour the kids screamed with hanging out of her feet. Poor thing. She
laughter, and there was plenty of that, didn’t walk the next day.
slamming people in doors and farty pigs
BUT after so many words they completely Found myself an assortment of food and
lost the audience, a large percentage of listened to the party atmosphere. Some
whom started dancing and jumping and pilgrims returned to base very worse for
doing their own performance in front of the wear and had to be shushed. I found one
stage. Such a shame. girl in tears, she had reached the end of
her tether for a variety of reasons and her
Back at the albergue there was ample bunk room was full of bouncy chatty
washing and drying machines. Hilariously happy people not giving her any heed.
we were back with the Orchestra and After some signalling we were able to
ominously they went out for dinner. They encourage the merry discussions to go to
had enjoyed a riotous lunch so no-one the common room. Perhaps there was a
was looking forward to their return. festival on that night for there were
revellers in the street until very late. These
I discovered that my tiny blister was
are the mysteries of life that remain veiled
nothing compared to some. One poor
to the non-drinker. Small price to pay, I
young girl from Mexico, Maria, whom I’d
should say.
first met cheerfully part of the party youth
brigade at Salas, was debating finishing

190
O Cádavo Baleira, Sabado 9th Julio - DAY 32 -
Albergue de Cádavo Baleira - 23km

Going to be a big day the next day walking with that glue stuff. Nothing was a
because I didn’t quite make the grade very tempting option. Pretend it’s nothing
today. I got where I was going and I’m and it will go away? 30km. Hmmm.
really glad I stopped when I did but sadly I
have no option for tomorrow and the I was very tired after conducting the

blister is no better. I guess, the thing is, it Orchestra all night. The bog was alive with

was no worse either. The choice I faced: snores and farts of doom. I fought the

either nothing, a bandaid, a sticky rising panic and tried to relax. I didn’t

specialist bandaid or borrow some scotch sleep and I didn’t sleep and eventually I

tape from Sergi, one of the many blister had to pee and when I got back I was

experts at this albergue. Frankly, I worried completely awake so I listened to Ms

about the scotch tape. A reasonable Perky Scots read some more Outlander,

expectation of a reaction from a day which kept me interested if not absorbed.

191
Meanwhile, the dragon beneath (is there a assistants were also pretty tired but
monster under my bed, Mummy? YES marched on, determined to get to the next
THERE REALLY IS!) kept hitting the base albergue in time to get a bed. Not realising
of the bunk when he turned over. I do not the early birds were pushing to get to
know how he managed it! What WAS he Castroverde, the next stop, so that the
doing down there? Nuts! So many awful following day would be shorter.
farts, some loud, some deadly silents. So
rude. At one stage he hit the base of my It was a stunning day. We entered a forest

spine so I punched the mattress three path very soon. There was a picnic area

times. Maybe the place was a little more with dramatic stone Aslan type tables and

quiet after that? stools. I sat and sorted boots and pack
issues before proceeding. Many people
passed me. The days of solitary walking
seem to be disappearing. Reasonably
soon I met another mini picnic area and
enjoyed my orange with some muesli
biscuits; second breakfast.

Wind farms, paved cobblestones, single


file whippersnipper trail carved into the
long grass and all around, idyllic rural
fecundity. Flowers blooming delightfully in
Everyone seemed to spring into action at a meadow, mountains framed by greenery,
the same time in the morning. The bulk of cows and a rather menacing big dog that
the Bodenaya family were off probably sat in the shadows of the farm buildings to
about 6:30 or so while I chatted with the the left of the trail. As I appeared it walked
Danes. They have a slight tendency towards me in a businesslike manner with
towards the morose. I found myself no tail movement, and, like a tug nosing a
straining for the positive at every turn. big ship along, gave me clear directions. I
was to stay on the right side of the path,
Just managed to see the sun rise over the on the sunny side of the strip. I was only
mountains and off I went. The young too glad to move right along and obey. He
Americans who have been conversacion would move up and over so there was no

192
way to step gracefully in a straight line. As Speaking of which, as the day grew hotter,
I took the final steps out of his territory he my feet grew sorer and the approaching
made a sort of heeling lunge at me, very Albergue looked clean. I went on to the
close to the back of my legs. Keep going, pub for lunch, enjoyed salad and chips in
move along, nothing to see here. I kept the front bar all by myself. The mother and
going as fast as I could. daughter (I guessed) who ran the
establishment chatted to me as far as my
He frightened quite a few of the customers Spanish would last and I’m still not sure
arriving at the extremely well situated café why I didn’t get invited to go to the dining
just moments along the track. Here I had room. But I was relaxed and happy sitting
my third breakfast, tostada y tomate y up in the front window. After finishing up
aciete y café Americano with Gary from my Wifi work and my last chip I decided to
Oklahoma. He’s a flamenco guitarist with see if there were any beds left at the inn.
no fingernails to speak of. I think he’s more
a barman these days. He had spent the SO LUCKY I decided to stay at O Cádavo
night at the opening of a new bar. He’d and not march the extra 9km. Which I note
heard other revellers as well but felt like will be perfect timing for morning tea the
supporting a new local venture. He walked next day because the albergue there
the Frances five years ago, had lived in would have been FULL. The hospitalera
Spain and France and was a bit concerned told me as I signed in. Apparently they
about the meeting of the Ways. He were in a panic down the line with too
predicted an influx of people. He and many pilgrims. So I did fall on my feet!
Maria had been turned away from the
municipal albergue in Salas when it was And, when the lovely hospitalera showed

full. They’d found a good privado but me around, I told her I was a bit worried

many folk were phoning ahead to book about sleeping in a room with senior

privado albergues and even hotels. I think gentlemen because of the snoring. She

I’ll go with the blessed ignorance version smiled conspiratorially and showed me the

and be grateful whatever happens. I have room favoured by ladies and younger folk.

generally fallen on my feet. (Apart from the She was very funny. The Orchestra was

one close shave which turned out to be a playing somewhere else that night and all

blessing, didn’t it - my quiet penthouse was well.

apartment?)

193
Many people had taken to their bunks for a cous went flying! The bulk of it was still on
siesta. The bunk room was the most quiet the plate but it was a darn good thing I
from the moment I arrived to the early was sitting on the grass! Sergio and his
crackling leaving noises. partner lent me a couple of their miniature
clothes pegs. They were the sort you use
I was very pleased to sit on a lawn - to hang up Christmas cards. Extremely
extremely unusual beast so far on the trail, cute. Some of the albergues were a bit
and rub the ancient Spanish cream onto light on for clothes pegs. My socks looked
my legs and feet while watching my adorable with the tiny shiny pegs.
washing dry. Then trotted off to the
supermercado, bought chips and fizzy Felt a good deal hotter than the official 27
drink to share with the Brits before they degrees. I suspect it’s something to do
moved off in the cool of the evening and with walking on hot roads with no shade.
came back here to finally eat the naughty The roads radiate extra heat. There’s
cous cous. First thing this morning, I saw reasonable humidity and I’m still carrying
something with sesame seeds had shaken too much but I ate a lot of it!
loose or sprung a leak through the pack. It
wasn’t until I was up and walking and There were some great views, some quiet

thinking about it I realised it was cous times; all solitary this afternoon. Spent at

cous. When I stopped later I washed out least half an hour trying to remember the

the food bag and shook out the entire march from Barry Lyndon. Eventually it

pack. came back and I warbled out some fine


variations on that energising theme.
Finally, cooked the cous cous on the stove
top, my first experiment with food The afternoon hum was more of a

supposed to be microwaved. It was just blues-based vibe about how I didn’t want

fine with some chopped fresh veg. Went to be there anymore, I’d rather be beside

outside to listen to book and soak feet in the sea shore, wading in the ocean and I

cool water. rather did miss the sea for the first time. I
know I’ll see it again, of course, but being
Sergio wandered by with the afore hot and foot sore when I came to land,
mentioned scotch tape. As I tried to those far-off blue horizons called
wrench earplugs from the ears, the cous hauntingly to me.

194
Lugo, Domingo 10th Julio - DAY 33 - Albergue
de Peregrinos de Lugo - 30km

This morning dawned clear with no hint of bags. We nodded and couples and friends
rainclouds. I woke at 5:25, and mistaking it murmered quietly together. Like ghosts or
for 6:30 dashed into action. But, when I wraithes, we all silently moved out into the
looked again, I thought, ‘Someone’s got to rising daylight around 6:30. The rest were
be first,’ and quietly started moving to bath all still fast asleep!
and kitchen. Gradually a handful of people
turned up. We wrapped and zipped and I met Thalia from Russia and Jaques from

sipped stealthily, having gained enough France. He seemed to have adopted her

skills over the last few days to wake early although she was still pretending to be

and remove ourselves from bunk room to independent. Later in the day, walking and

pack in hallways, balancing on benches jesting with Javier and Cynthia from

and chairs to stuff packs and roll sleeping

195
The clear sky
foretelling another
warm day. At least
my feet would stay
dry! Steep uphill,
especially knowing
that I had to do
31km. And it was
sunny. There were
places where the
track seemed to
digress into a patch
of pines, possibly
forestry, implying
they won’t be there
Madrid and Sergio and Roberta from
in a few years time. Hard to see any
Northern Italy.
remnant natives. After centuries of farming
I adjusted my pack as best I could and set and forestry there would not be much land
off quite slowly. I saw a STOAT! It looked untouched by now. Some lovely distant
like a little black and white kitten at first hills rolling away into the future.
and it was long and thin and my brain took
I had plenty of food and water on board
a while to recognise its stoatness as it
and some coffee pretty soon at Santa
crossed the road in front of me and
Maria church. Enterprising food truck
dashed into the shrubs. And then I saw a
parked right outside what used to be a
overfly, like a golden snitch, just hanging in
nunnery, I think. I ordered my coffee before
the air in front of me. Another thing I’ve
I went in to the ancient church, guarded by
read about but never seen before.
a very enthusiastic woman who had
I ploughed on. It was a bit tough getting postcards and things for sale. I sucked
started today. The sunrise was lovely over whatever power I could from the dramatic
the paddocks fringed with trees. The sky altar piece and left. Saint James wore a
glowing with pinks and orange tones beard and an implacable face. He sat
flecking the tiny growing specks of clouds. astride a giant white horse, throwing what

196
could have been a rippling python, but I But people look comfortable in their rural
suspected was a lightning bolt, at some setting, more than comfortable, with new
miscreant Moors. His henchmen waved smart cars and enfolding hills and curving
scimitars beside him. Beside them, a roads and fecund fields. The buildings are
couple of fat white babies looked to be variously aged but roofed in slate here.
offering more arms. The older ones have a higgledy piggedly
style while the more modern roofs are
I found it difficult to balance the warrior meticulously scalloped. One had a
nature of Saint James with the peaceful dragon’s spine of pointed slates along the
self reflective modern Camino. It’s spine. An enterprising farmer had opened
fascinating that we walk the old way of a shed to the passing peregrino. They’d
border control while Brexit and Syria show created a kind of rumpus room with food
us that, even still, many people would like vending machines, tables and chairs and
to protect their invisible borders by force. one of those soccer table games. It would
The oddest thing about this altar piece is be ideal for a rain cover but it seemed dark
the Australian ABC symbol right at the top. and pokey on such a brilliantly beautiful
day.
I avoided the tostada - thinking I’d really
had enough tostada con tomato - possibly There was another pilgrim trap with
that’s why I’d been driven into the cake pergola, sink and tap. You could sit at a
department. I just had the coffee and it table, relax and enjoy whatever things
was fine by itself. I knew I had fruit and were on offer. With a drinks machine and
nuts and nibbles if I needed to protect the donation box.
coating of my stomach! Very smart vendor,
even early on a Sunday, to help the
pilgrims along, together with tables and
chairs.

Got up to speed after the coffee boost and


off we went, continuing our tour through
rural Spain. It seemed like a farming
museum. It was difficult to believe this
type of farming could survive much longer.

197
I went past a very excellent and beautiful covered the path with a roof of green. This
park with shady trees and drinking was the life.
fountains. It looked like a camping spot
with spaces for tents and a hedge around Lugo was one of these ancient walled
it for some kind of privacy. Too early for my cities, the only one apparently where the

journey. Timing is everything on the wall is completely intact. As I walked in I

camino. could see an ancient viaduct - not as big


or dramatic as the one in Segovia but still
The last few kms were tough. It said it was amazing to an Australasian - and a lot of
only 27km but when you’re walking in full boring blocks of flats. There were no
sun and the road radiates that heat back at grocery shops I could see, of course it was
you from below you are in a toaster oven Sunday, bloody Sunday, so that may have
and it gets very hot indeed. Getting past explained matters.
lunch time I started looking for a perfect
picnic spot. A lot of road and sweaty But the wall! The wall is absurdly

walking later we entered a green and quiet wonderful, medieval, just what a walled

stretch. Trees reached up above and I did city ought to look like. The stones are at

indeed find couple of rocks that performed once the same and yet each one is

table and chair function extremely well. I different. The blocks lie on each other,

had prepared a collation of avocado, sometimes evenly spaced and sometimes

tomato and corn crackers, by now stocked two will take the place of one. It is a

with those mini oils and vinegars sold in patchwork of stone. The science of

supermarkets. It’s terrible packaging building a circular wall when there were no

problem but I would carry all my crackling lasers and fancy measuring machines

plastic rubbish out PLUS always picking must have been extraordinary. And it’s still

up any plastic litter I came across. Trying standing. While, now, the height of great

to leave the Camino a bit better than I architecture is to make some block like a

found it. big brick and call it minimalist and watch it


fall down in twenty years. The Lugo wall is
I lay back under a large and gentle oak, surrounded by a soft, velvet emerald lawn
one that had been there for over a hundred so it looks like a large grey cake on a green
years. It was missing limbs and yet still fabric.

198
The albergue was easily found, just inside Especially now as we neared the meeting
the wall, with many a sign pointing at it. of the Ways.
The hospitalero had a glass walled booth
to himself and as stated before, timing, The sandwich included mayo. Given my
timing, timing. I got the last bed. One new-found ordering bravery, following the

whole floor had been shut down - probably American way, I should have asked that

being fumigated. I took my insect the mayo be removed. I didn’t. I did ask for

protective mattress cover and pillowslip an extra plate and scraped it all off.

with gratitude.

The hospitalero did not know where I


might find an open shop on Sunday. There
were, however, plenty of bars open so I
asked for a vegetal sandwich without all
the dairy/meat/fish things and the chips
were handmade and deep-fried and utterly
delicious. The man was watching his
computer when I went in and I nearly left
but he was playing through the Beatles
and I managed to arrive with Magical
Mystery Tour, which, on consideration,
suited just fine. We chatted as I ordered
and he was a large man, bouncing off the
walls between the bar and the shelves at
the back holding all the bottles. He was
concerned when he heard I was walking
the Camino by myself. He said, ‘Do you
have a gun?’ pointing his fingers at me The Cathedral was enormous. As I strolled
playfully. (Aargh). I laughed and said I did through the glittering corridors, noting
not need a gun. There were always huge confessional tomb-like boxes along
pilgrims ahead of me and more coming the wall, I bumped into the Bodenaya
from behind. People in the future, people family and greeted them like the old
in the past. I was never alone for long. friends they were. The main altar piece is

199
ablaze with spikes of gold, a complete suppose. That’s why it’s worth walking
rendering of heaven. There’s a side chapel with a partner. When they look one way,
devoted to the patron of Lugo, the Virgen you can look the other and then compare
de los Ojos Grandes (of the big eyes). She notes!
doesn’t appear to have extra large eyes,
she’s very formal and regal with a large I didn’t find strength to go to mass. I

crown. She is surrounded by a crowd of weighed up the idea of going in the

fat babies. morning but I

The altar still had my

piece itself restless urge

is lit by two to keep going.

grand There were no

chandeliers vego

and the restaurants

walls of the open or health

chapel are food shops to

glowing speak of so

with natural there was no

light. The point hanging

building’s around from a

details are hunting

hidden but gathering

I’m sure students of architecture would POV. 19km was easy, if I went. I thought I

love it. I can’t tell you more than it was would. Go.

ornate and impressive.


Aruza, a town on the way ahead had a

We wandered around the streets of Lugo vego café two stops away. The Great

and I missed the artists working away in Danes were in Lugo. Sue was busy

the middle of the town. Apparently this massaging one of the young Spanish men

was a highlight for everyone who saw from the Bodenaya family. She was

them. You just can’t see everything. I don’t causing him great immediate pain and he

have eyes in the back of my head! moaned in the bunkum. But he said it was

Everyone looks in different directions, I better in the morning. All in all, a good day.

200
San Roman de Retorta, Lunes 11th Julio - DAY
34 - Albergue O Cándido - 19km

Woke very fruit salad


stiff and and tostada
sore. Tried to con tomate
decide to with two
stay in Lugo cups of
but just coffee and a
didn’t get the vibe. Slow start with the great deal of talking. We talked about
Great Danes and breakfast. I don’t know children, and in Dorthe and Sue’s cases,
how they cope with no Spanish at all and grandchildren. We talked about families
gluten intolerance and paleo restrictions. and jobs and gardening and meditation.
But they have. They’re so funny. We ate a We talked about everything and their
huge amount - at least I did! Orange juice, plans. With Sue’s ankle and their time

201
running out they’ve decided to catch a
bus. They intend to race onwards, looking
forward to seeing the sun rise over
Santiago in two days time. That’s their
bag! Good on ‘em! Hope to see them in
Copenhagen. What an adventure that
would be. Why not? I left them to find their
bus and went off around the walled city to
get lost as soon as I went through the
gate. The wrong way, of course. Walked
halfway around the walls before I realised.
Fascinating though they are, having
withstood the tests of time and arrows, the
walls represent barriers to freedom and it get to a forest path but sadly today they
didn’t take me that long to realise that yup, didn’t last long and soon enough we were
I was lost again. Arguably, I knew where back on the road again. No services. When
the wall was. But I really didn’t want to I saw the sign saying we were on road for
walk the entire boundary. Good morning! 5.4km I knew I had to find a convenient
shrub and dig a little hole. Bit sad so many
By now my little legs had warmed up again
pilgrims are unaware of the Bury Your
though I have to say the old war wound
Waste Rule. There’s a fair bit of
had decided to tighten up overnight. Never
tissue/toilet paper littering the undergrowth
mind. Kept plodding on. Met the two
beside the tracks.
Young Americans, Julie and Jenna, and
they were going slow too - still fueling up A few more kms and an enterprising family
on caffeine and lemon drinks to ward off have provided a bar with fruit and toast
their horrid colds. Marched on to greet and all things good like bathrooms. A
Roman warrior (aluminium?) over bridge strange pack of mangy flea-bitten dogs
and took a rare selfie. My arm is too short. were more interested in each other than
My third ever selfie. One with Texan, one the visiting pilgrims, which could only have
with Danes and one with metal Roman. been a good thing. The Young Americans
Found it pretty slow, up hills, on roads. It’s rocked up, as did René and Martine. The
always bad going out of towns until you French Couple were fascinated with

202
tostada con tomato - more converts to the immediately impressed by a mural of a
great Spanish tradition! I was pleased to peregrino. An elderly bearded man,
meet Innes, who has joined forces with wearing flowing garments the grey/brown
Kevin, young Frenchman I met at Pola de colours of a wren marked with the red
Siero (where everyone opted for salad). symbol of Saint James, leans on a green
She is from Portugal and speaks six bench. His hat, decorated with a small
languages well enough to be understood. scallop shell, and a bulging wineskin hang
She was self-effacing and kind. All this from the wall beside him. He carries a
pleasantry right next to an ancient gothic staff, a gourd for water and a scallop shell
church (closed, of course) Burgo St to eat donated food by. A poem says,
Vincente. Very beautiful and foreboding
this morning in the cloudy vista. ‘O Cándido,

Onwards, ever onwards in the carreterra Cuando no se encuentra

and just when it all got too much, a short


Descanso en uno mismo,
stretch of scenic wonder, all green moss,
fairytale stone walls and blue-bell Es inutil buscarlo
prettiness. No shops, no bars, until the one
bar, where the Orchestra lounged, En otra parte.’
terrifying me, until I realised they were
(When you can’t find it, rest in yourself. It’s
pushing on for the next 8km. I don’t know
useless to look anywhere else.)
how. I don’t remember seeing them on the
road at all yesterday. Maybe they’re
catching transport like the Great Danes?
Whatever, their presence prevented me
noticing the bar also sold fruit and stuff.

Never mind, for this albergue, which was


very quiet until the forestry trucks started
unloading, is not for them! It’s a lovely little
place, like a private hotel. The outside
features a mural of an albergue in a forest.
When I entered the bar downstairs I was

203
walking this track, in their own ways and
own times.

We were surrounded by trees with a


shadey area of long, cool, grass. The
clothes washing sink was out the back by
a fuente with deliciously cold, fresh water
constantly tumbling out of the tap. There’s
another albergue just within sight where
Rebecca and Barry are staying. They came
to the bar to buy beer and have a chat.
They are close to their goal of a thousand
miles. They seem very tired but still keen
And, there was the hospitalero from Lugo,
and interested in everything natural.
lounging in the bar! It was very
disconcerting to see the same man, once They tend to become miserable when they
encased in a glass booth in an urban think of returning to Britain - a Brexit
environment, tense and bothered by Britain - that no longer wanted to spend
running out of beds in a busy large money on conservation and therefore their
albergue, and now, relaxed and easy in a job prospects were cloudy.
leafy forest environment, chatting to the
hospitalero that runs this place. Turns out Can’t believe how aware of my skeleton I
he’s the overseer for a group of albergues was. My feet really felt like a bag of bones.
and has to travel between them, keeping
the machinery of the Camino running
smoothly. I was in a small four-bunk
room, girls only, with Carmen, who I’ve
met before from Palma and Linda from
Capetown. Turned out Linda had started
her camino much the same time as I and
had done much the same sorts of things.
Yet we had never met before. A handy
reminder how many folk are actually

204
Quick look at tomorrow shows another big educated folk what I should see in Paris.
one, 28 or 29km perhaps, but on to René wa delightful. He and Martine took
Melide, where the ways meet. More up the challenge and give me an extensive
pilgrims, more albergues are reported. list of places to visit. Not only that, but
Interesting times. they invite me to sleep in their albergue in
Paris. They have a small apartment where
I’m glad I did keep moving rather than René can live when he works in the city.
hang out with the tourists in Lugo - that’s Normally they live closer to the German
one more day in Paris! I don’t mind border. My list grew longer and longer as
splitting days from now on, with more the Canadians joined forces with the
albergues, I recognise I feel better on the Parisiennes. There is no way I could see
move. Albeit slowly. It is a heavy pack. I Paris in less than five days. It would be
shall know for next time. Certain objects better not to go. I hesitate to stay with
are not necessary. Lighter clothes - quick René and Martine. I don’t want to be a
drying materials - those sort of burden to them. I hope they didn’t think I
considerations. Bit more science. Despite had designs on them. I worried. But as
the heavy pack it was with a light heart usual, feeling the fear and doing it anyway,
that my feet hit the ground in the I agreed and it appeared René enjoyed
mornings! thinking of how best to showcase his
favourite city. In fact, he set himself a little
Another dinner together, though not a
walking challenge - and promised he
share dinner. The hospitalero ran up and
would compile a personalised Paris tour
down the stairs to the kitchen upstairs
written in best guide book style! I was
while we all lounged around the table
overwhelmed by their kindness. I suppose
downstairs. He made me a bowl of
when people love their country, as René
steamed vegies. I sprinkled them with olive
and Martine clearly do, they are proud to
oil and salt. Delicious. Fruit to follow.
share it with strangers. Not only have they
Lovely people. Carmen from Spain plus
travelled but their children also travel the
Julia and Cynthia from Italy. René and
world so I believe there is an
Martine were joined by some French
understanding of the fellowship inherent in
Canadians, Liz and Richard, and their
helping others. Like a family.
merriment is contagious. Liz is an art
teacher. I took the opportunity to ask these I feel very lucky.

205
Melide, Martes 12th Julio - DAY 35 - Albergue
Alfonso II El Casto - 27km

Not that I was focussed on counting all the I enjoyed my favourite microwaved
time but there were only two more days to rice/quinoa with tomato, mushroom and
Santiago and three after that to Finisterre pimiento. There are some sweet little green
and then the yellow arrows come off and peppers that are often eaten stir fried in oil
who knows where I shall choose to turn? and salt as whole dish by themselves.
Anything would be possible! I just hoped I When I bought them the attendant
wasn’t paralysed by too many choices. (dependiente) often remarked to be careful
But there would be something and I as those little fellows can be spicy hot but
sought decent Wifi to research my options. I never found them so. I added a cup of
tea, a large handful of fresh cherries and a

206
protein bar to the menu. Felt better for a was only the second time I’d seen the
good old feed. Mind you, yesterdays bowl stars because normally we were all tucked
of steamed cauliflower, broccoli and up in bed, snoring! Then someone
carrots was satisfying as well. knocked, needing the bathroom, and I
returned to the quiet bunkroom and
Feeling weary thinking about the past. snuggled in back to sleep.
Getting very excited thinking about the
future. I drew up a chart of the month to Today some cad had set their alarm for
come and asked everyone I met where 5:30 with no apologies. After that rude
they thought I should spent my Eurail awakening, I snoozed for half an hour, then
pass. Everyone had some great ideas. I packed and went on a rampage in the
couldn’t do half of them! kitchen. Linda, from South Africa, started
up in shock. ‘You can’t have that fruit!
I was slightly annoyed to wake in the That’s not part of breakfast!’ I stared at her
middle of the night needing a wee but before I replied that I could indeed help
when I went to the loo I looked out of the myself to the fruit. I had discussed the
window and could see the stars. The entire breakfast thing with Nito, our
Camino is also known as the way of the hospitalero, the night before. Because I
stars, or field of stars, Compostella. One was vegan I was allowed to eat the fruit
theory is that the early Celts would follow given I could not eat the packaged cakes.
the stars in the Milky Way to the coast. It Then she looked abashed. But only for a
moment because she came back
with, ‘But, have you paid?’ And I
replied, ‘Of course I have’. Then we
had a relaxing chat about how
everyone had a different camino and
the mere fact we’d spent thirty-five
days travelling on the same road,
staying in the same places and yet
we’d not heard or seen anything of
each other in that month proved it.

It was a lovely forestry sort of day.

207
Much of the track was off piste (not kilos were out in front, not everything in the
highway!) with delightful ancient farm backpack. In the front pockets of the pack
buildings and the Galician version of the I normally carried water, an orange in one
horio, slim, rectangular, some with side and an apple in the other, together
crosses, looking elegant and aged. Others with some random stuff like tissues,
with hideous modern brickwork or awful sunscreen, sunglasses and dried fruit and
metal doors. nuts.)

You do get the feeling that this type of Yesterday I was writing and took a little
farming, mostly consisting of grandparent nap in the afternoon. I had my water bottle
farmers, won’t be around for much longer. next to me, not touching me, but on the
There are machines and tractors that must same mattress. And my heart was
have been working for fifty years trundling pounding so hard you could see my pulse
over fields that must have been working in the movement of the water level. Not
for centuries. There were hay carters, just faintly, either. Very obvious
shifting green long grass by fork full on to movements. Like the entrance of the T-Rex
a cart, then there’s still the old small bales in Jurassic Park. How wild is that? My
ready to be picked up by trucks. But more blood pressure must be strong!
and more now we’re seeing
the great balls of plastic
wrapped in blue or black,
leading the way into the
future.

(A note about the water


bottles: I carried two of the
plastic bag kind, they were
both capable of a litre/kilo of
water although I normally only
filled them two-thirds. They
were the right size to fit into
my front pouches so I was
balanced. It meant a couple of

208
O Pedruozo, Miercoles 13th Julio, DAY 36 -
Albergue recently renovated? - 33km

Missing out on WeeFee once again. Got and filling up the entire kitchen with their
the sulks. Sunny day. Feeling a bit lonely. big pots and spoons and chatting and
People seemed to have clumped together laughing together without me.
and I called René ‘Richard’ by mistake.
From the back he really did look like I did enjoy my dinner and I ate an entire

Richard. Now I feel like I’ve done the block of vegan chocolate to finish.

wrong thing and although he assured me it


So many bars along the way. And the way
didn’t matter I feel like he won’t want me
seems so neat and tidy and there are so
to stay in their flat in Paris because I don’t
many people. There are also signs; peace
even know who he is and everyone seems
signs and Peace and One World and Love
so happy in their couples and their large
written on walls.
family groups making huge pots of pasta

209
Suddenly as Santiago approaches it feels 100km you have to have two stamps a day
like it would be nice to have someone to make them concentrate on the task in
special to share this with - and I think there hand. Clear once more, I’ve filled one
are all the peeps on the road, of course - credential and stapled on a new one.
and especially all the Camino peeps - we Shouldn’t be a problem.
are different and special and superior to
the Frances in everyway. Just kidding. When I set off this morning, most had left
around 6:30, but I took my time and left
Strangely, like going to different schools, about 7:15. It was still cool and pleasant
on the Norte there was a sense of but the sun was up. It was a rural day. Not
recognition of the regular faces. Then on so many on the track around me but it
the Primitivo at first I was overwhelmed by quickly became apparent they were in the
the new ones. Then I remembered folk, bars! You can be part of a line of a dozen
especially after the Bodenaya ‘getting to walkers when suddenly they decide to go
know you’ night. Then I felt like I could to that bar, there, and then you’re alone
pretty well name everyone on the track. In again!
my wave of people now blended up with
the Frances, there are such a mixed Spent some quality time with Rebecca and

bunch. The Johnny-come-latelies from Barry again. They really are an interesting

Sarria - the last town where you can couple. I worry they don’t eat very well, go

expect to get a certificate having walked super fast and then collapse. Then they

the minimum 100km.

On meeting at an ancient chapel, Rebecca


assured me I could get a sello there. ‘For,’
she added, ‘You have to get two a day.’

Two a day? Really? I’d only been getting


one! That meant I was fifty percent down
on my stamps! After a short panic till the
next albergue, the hospitalero reassured
me that was only for the
Johnnie-come-latelies, if you only walk

210
eat crap food to get their rockets fuelled leave my pack at the monastery before
up for the next rush. They’re up to a heading into the Cathedral to see what we
thousand km and starting to hurt. But I could see. If the pilgrim mass was on at
can’t be worrying about them. That’s their noon at Friday well, it might be worth
Camino! hanging around for an extra 24hours in
Santiago.
We passed some interesting new bars and
albergues along the way. A group of young
Americans sprawled on bean bags on a
lawn in front of an old crumbling building.
Their coffee machine wasn’t working but it
was a cool place to sit in the shade and
have a yarn. Two young fellows owned the
place and intended to bring it up to very
profitable. They already ran a successful
business walking rich Americans into
Santiago overnight, seeing the stars, to
arrive at dawn. This was the equivalent of
medieval fireworks. After the streets are
washed first thing in Santiago, the street
lights gleam golden over the cobblestones
and ancient walls.

I walked into Giancalo - no vino no camino


- again which showed me the Norte troops
had arrived! Met a woman from Arkansaw.
She has arrived via the Aragon way. She
I keep remembering Anthony’s comment,
says there are shorter gaps in the
in such a quizzical tone, ‘You’re used to
albergues and less people and it’s very
not getting what you ordered, aren’t you?’
beautiful. That could be my next one.
He was speaking about pizza, of course,
She’d done it twenty years ago when it
but we both knew it applied to everything.
was very different. So, tomorrow. Up and
It’s true of many things. I have not
away before it gets too hot. I intended to

211
managed to find an effective way of counting down like a carpark … 23 bunks
getting what I want. available. 22 bunks. 20 bunks.

I thought that I might like to sleep! I hope René and Martine arrived. They’d done
this albergue of modern glass booth for this walk before and needed to stay in a
the hospitalero in the foyer and dark place that was near the pizza joint they’d
colourful walls and little internal gardens visited previously. Martine was craving
turns off the ambient music soon. And the pizza. Seriously. She thought perhaps this
lights. This is a very refurbished place with was the very albergue and he rang to book
a hilarious ad about three km away - a a place. No change in the electronic
motion sensor picks up each clump of countdown.
pilgrims as they arrive and plays them a
recorded welcome to the way. There’s a Martine got her pizza!

poster and a map. There’s tables to lean


and chat while watching the advertisement
for the albergue. There’s an electronic

212
Santiago, Jueves 14th Julio - DAY 37 -
Albergue Seminario Menor La Asunción -
20km

Made it to Santiago! Perfect timing. was thrilling. She was the leader of the
Slipped in to the Cathedral through the people and delightful to hear and see she
Forgiveness Door. The clear resolute voice was.
of a nun rang through the hallowed hall.
She gave instructions to the mass of There were other nuns too, by the altar,

people gathered in front of her as to what and it made a great change from the dry

to sing and when. The sound of a female male droning previously experienced in

voice ringing clear and amplified through monasteries and Oviedo. Mind you on

these majestic and brilliantly lit chambers

213
each occasion there’d been a female in the the forest path was wide and easy. Then I
congregation to carry the tune and timing. realised someone was coming up behind
me with a head torch. Two of them, their
The day began surprisingly early. I don’t beams like car lights blasting the dawn
know why they woke me at 4:40 but it was magic. It was very annoying and I stopped
a good time to go on with brekkie and to let them pass. I couldn’t help myself,
preparations. Ready to go at 6:00 but saying, ‘You don’t need the head torch.
chatted with René and Martine about There’s light enough.’ But they bustled
Paris. And then we were off in the dark past with their knee bandages and their
with street lights for vision. I held my head bastónes and head wraps making them
torch, easy to operate, in my hand, the seem like oversized insects replying, ‘We
elastic wrapped around my wrist. By this prefer it.’ They were haughty.
method the arrows and shell road markers
sprang into view without marring the light Just as they got out of sight they doused
from the stars above. their light but by then it was obviously day
time. Soon enough we were out on the
It was wonderful. Very quickly we arrived in road. We encountered ashfelt and suburbs
a forest. The light was coming up fast peppered with some strips of forest for the
through the trees. I’d been able to see rest of the trip.
stars while I had breakfast in
the albergue, slightly tainted by
the lights from the kitchen and
auto motion sensor by the
toilets. (At least they’d turned
off the lovely hippy music by
22:00!)

So there we were. I’d


separated from my fellow
travellers almost straight away.
I was mesmerised by the
dappled light coming through
the trees while the soft curve of

214
About half way I met Barry and Rebecca all ages walking with great heavy packs or
looking very happy. They had spent an tiny little day bags, laughing, singing, alone
inspiring night. A seventy-nine-year-old or sharing conversation with a child. They
woman had taken the adjoining bunk in were all going past and it was not a race.
their albergue. She had walked all the way Even if you did feel, in the tide of humanity,
from Cologne by herself, through France it was a race, then you could be pretty
and Spain. They said she was positively sure you’d meet some of them at the next
glowing with the experience, having met bar or watch them sitting by the side of the
such lovely people. They too, looked very road checking their blisters.
happy. Particularly Rebecca. I hope I do
see them again. I have really enjoyed I listened intently to myself. This was about

talking with them. ME!! It was all very pertinent and resonant,
especially on this day of days, as we
The trail was getting as crowded as a city walked into Santiago.
street now. The sense of anticipation was
real and high. I stopped for coffee at a bar, There were many people on the road, all

sharing a table with a young Indonesian purposeful, although some were plain silly

man. He had left his legal job to study with ukuleles, singing and banter, though I

advertising in the Netherlands, of all suppose if you walked that way, all the

places. I suppose there was a love affair in way, together you would get to know more

there somewhere. Then he decided what people more intimately, even if it was just

he really wanted to do was make films. So that there were more people generally.

he’d found himself back at the beginning


The only other person I talked to was Jack,
of yet another degree, sitting next to
a young guy from Connecticut who was on
seventeen-year-old girls in classes, trying
holiday with his pilot dad. Dad was
to write scripts and feeling like an
suffering from a bout of food poisoning
oversized frog in a small pond. He
and lagging along behind. Jack intended
watched all his legal companions stride
to go to university in St Andrews and
ahead of him into important jobs and
sounded just a little bit proud as he told
successful careers.
me that it was the same place Prince

I couldn’t help but draw the comparison William attended. After four years of Social

with the Camino. We could see people of Anthropology he intended to study law

215
back in the States, with a view to politics. missed them by a day. They’d headed on
Big plans for a little kid, straining at the with their adventures while she stayed in
neck as he strode up the hill. That’s partly Santiago. She loves the place with the
why I talked to him, because he was going daily tide of pilgrims. I don’t know, there’s
like fury and didn’t look like he was having a bit of a hippy scene not far from the
any fun at all. surface. I saw some drug action going on
surreptitiously in the main drag - so if I saw
He walked right past me later, with no sign it openly then it will be rife, I reckon.
of recognition. Anyway, it’s not my scene, not my life, not
my business.
I took a side trip on entry to Santiago. I
met Carmen and we ate dates as we stood Arriving at the Cathedral was everything I’d
by the busy intersection. I didn’t follow the come to expect from film and tv, packed
traditional Way into the city. I went to the with people, some more tired than others
monastery and dumped my backpack into from recent arrival and all giving it a bit of a
a locker and headed in to the old
town. There was a girl sitting on the
wall reading a book. It was a beautiful
day, I should add, and the wall was
hundreds of years old. She was
overlooking a parkland, next to a
vegetable patch planted under some
olive trees. There was a grape vine
fresh with new green leaves.

We looked at each other with a kind


of wonder for it was Marta, the
Spanish girl I’d first met walking with
Danish Julie way back at the start of
my Camino. We’d shared our table at
Markina, the place of realisation.
She’d walked the rest of the way with
the young American brothers. I’d

216
sing as the nun lead everyone in song. Not I was far from the glory of the altar. There
long after I squeezed into a pozzie, the were crowds of folk in hiking gear ahead of
procession arrived. These men were more me, then a space, then the steps and the
sprightly that the old guard in the old area leading up to the altar which is as big
monuments along the way. The main priest as a hall, populated by nuns and a crowd
spoke very clearly about being brothers of important men. Behind them, the
and sisters and peregrinos and it was in altarpiece was a burst of colour and gold,
Spanish and I was tired so I didn’t quite a magnificence of heaven and glory. In the
pick up the details. centre, raised up high, was a statue of
Saint James. All the churches and
I’d walked all around the church to get a cathedrals I’d visited over the last months,
full view of the ceremony and pushed my in Barcelona, Toledo and Oviedo, and
way in to the back of the seats. This was those smaller towns and tiny wayside
brilliant as it was a pew with kneeling bits chapels, had their altar pieces hard up
at the back. A chance to get the weight off against a wall of some description. There
my feet. I was very happy when it was time was nothing behind them, no moving
for prayers. I felt very humble as I kneeled parts. The pictures and images telling
when the rest of the congregation sat or scriptural stories of suffering and
kneeled. redemption were all still lives. Well, in so
far as I’d noticed, anyway. And here, in the
The young Indonesian man, Harith, was
Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, I
standing in a line of people in the
had noticed loving arms embrace the
Cathedral, waiting to embrace the statue
Apostol Santiago. They really were loving,
of the Saint. I had read about this but
it looked for all the world as if the Saint
forgotten it.
was being embraced by an angel.
When I was at the back of the pews near
One at a time I could see the people
the great door way watching the service I
ascend the stairs to the right of the altar,
had noticed a pair of arms around the
and then go off to the left. But from the
statue in the altar piece. It sent a shiver
back of the church, overwhelmed by the
down my spine and I stared in wonder.
grandeur and the crowds. I didn’t notice
What was the meaning of this?
the movement until I became aware of it. I
wondered how it started for it really was a

217
They heaved on the ropes attached to the
enormous humidor and it swung right
across the Cathedral. The congregation
held their phones aloft to capture every dip
and lift. They don’t do it for very long. The
waft of smoke didn’t penetrate to the back
of the nave even as much as the
hand-held small burner in the Oviedo
cathedral had sprayed the aroma around.
It was very theatrical and the great beams
overhead did not shift in the slightest with
all that hefty heaving going on.
lovely sight. Some of the people were
really devout and they were extremely
I jogged down the side to get a view from
emotional about their touch. I saw no
the other side. I could see Micky from
slobbering, don’t get me wrong, there was
Melbourne on that side and gave her a
pure grace and beauty in their
wave. She’d be returning to Australia the
envelopment.
next day, booked already on a flight. There
were other familiar faces but there was no
I considered it rather a shame that Saint
room in that crowded place for anything
James had to be such a warrior and
but a smile and a nod.
murderer of men. The story had
everything. Magic, shellfish and a stone
I put a five euro note, my only cash, into
coffin. But thunderbolts and border
the collection plate. I turned and walked all
control?
through the Cathedral, staring at the
sculpts and fittings, the glory and glitter of
After the body and the blood, the men in
heaven and the magnetism of an
red with scallop shells marched around the
enormous theme park.
great church, the leader smiling while the
younger men looked determined. I thought
When it was all over and people poured
they looked familiar and there was a buzz
away like sand from an hourglass. I met
of excitement and an array of raised
Mar and Eloutra, from our Bodenaya
phones. They lit the incense! The joy in the
family.
place was palpable.

218
Mar told me about the Forgiveness Door. petition and filled in my postcode and then
It’s normally closed except on Holy Days came to the last column where it expected
but, because the Cathedral is being I would fill in how much money I would
restored, the Pope had declared this year donate. I looked at her, impressed. This
The Year of Mercy. We could come in the was a neat method of raising money. Or
sacred door and all our sins would be begging, whatever you like to call it. I was
forgiven. I felt that coming in the door in sorry, I had no money to give her. I
ignorance might not be sufficient so I went gestured to the Cathedral. I’d spent it all
out and came back in again, knowing inside. Once she’d left me, I turned back
made it more powerful, I think. to look at the edifice. It was covered in
metal scaffolding and clearly a great sum
I left the great building and came out into of money was needed to restore this
the fresh air. I was greeted by a deaf glorious church. Maintenance must
woman who held out a clipboard. She was continue all the time but now, much money
collecting money to build a school for the was in evidence. There was also many
deaf nearby. Tremendous idea. I signed the more people in evidence in the employ of
the church. The nuns and priests,
obviously, and presumably the staff in
the cathedral shop and offices …

This was a huge, thriving business.


Where did all the money go?

The old town of Santiago was covered


over with tourist tatt. There’s many
people walking the streets. I suppose I
could have gone to museums and tours
but all I could think of was my stomach.
I budgeted twenty euros for a delicious
meal. I tried a likely place and found a
slightly grumpy waiter who agreed they
could make a salad and some chips for
me. When the chef heard I was vegan

219
he was pleased to inform the waiter there washbasin in my room which reminded me
was a dessert he’d invented that would be of the room I shared with my younger
just right for me. He was right. It was a sister when we lived in Auckland. And
large martini glass filled with mango puree Bells Palsy. Hmm.
with different berry couli layers. I tasted
intense flavours of blackberry, currants When I had Wifi at the café, I messaged

and blueberries mixed with a rosy firework my husband to tell him I’d finally made it to

of mango. It was scrumptious! Santiago. He was on his way to bed on the


other side of the world, complaining he
I felt that I had celebrated my arrival to the had a cold so he was miserable, I
highly anticipated destination even though suppose. Anyway, I made my report and
I had not planned it. I had walked in to the sent a couple of snaps and he replied, ‘Oh,
Cathedral just as the pilgrim service I was wondering how you were getting on.’
started. I had found delicious and healthy
food. Either someone/thing was looking It felt like I was really on my own. That I

me or I had a great deal of good luck. was preparing for something new. Even
though immediately it was a simple
I had plenty of strength to go forth seeking continuation. Because I was in my own
my Compostella. There I found Jenna and room instead of being part of a flock or
Julie from the States, proudly holding their pack, with a hive mind of when to do
certificates. I bumped into the two things, I had to make my own decisions
auxiliares, MJ and Steph. When I was about my own life.
uploading info about Finisterre from the
tourist information office I ran into young I decided to go to bed and I slept.

Italians, Guilia and Cynthia. It was great to


see them, hale and hearty and on their
way. Although I didn’t make any intense
passionate soul-mate connections on my
way, I did connect with a few beautiful
people here and there!

Back in the monastery room I had


everything I needed. There was a small

220
Vilaserio, Viennese 15th Julio - DAY 38 -
Albergue O Rueiro - 33.7km

Today started quietly enough. The alarm I had been concerned that the way to
didn’t go off, at least for my conscious Finisterre would include a long walk out of
mind. I woke up at 5:3ish - I think I set the the city similar to others, industry and
alarm for 5:00. Whatever. I got up in time badlands.
to leave before the sun was up, to see the
streets of Santiago being washed with, if I Luckily, I met a couple of taciturn Spanish

am not mistaken, a floral-scented young men who pointed me in the right

detergent. Looked lovely but of course the direction. I followed them hopefully. We

description that ought to be available to got to the ancient oak forest I’d been told

the pilgrims - they told me GREEN arrows about in the turismo and my fears were

- does not quite live up to reality. allayed. There were some beautiful
wooded walks this morning. The weather

221
two men seemed to
head into a bar and I
kept walking, quite
happily, thank you very
much.

But then Lee came up


behind me and said,
almost accusingly, ‘I
thought you guys were
walking together!’ I
didn’t think this
deserved much of a
comment. Normally I
proceed with cheery
chat so I did. It turned
stayed bearable for the first 10kms (and a
out that not only was this fellow a devout
nice-ish coffee) then walking on through
Catholic who had walked to New York
small farm-villes and lesser roads, I
from Michigan in May, wherefrom he’d
paused for my morning orange.
flown to Roma to team up with his good
Clearing the picnic area a strange buddy the Italian Lawyer to have an
alignment of me and two men, both audience with the Pope for Jubilee Year,
dressed in black. We walked in this line, but he also has not read the Nature
stretched across the road for a few Encyclical, although he thinks he should
minutes until we came to a street sign because he is an ecologist. But he can’t
blocking the way put up by road workers. read Latin well enough.
Neither of these guys were youngsters and
Although he did have some good ideas his
both were long-term walkers. The first had
perspective seemed tainted by the idea
walked up and down the lengths of Spain
that science ‘preventing’ climate change is
and France. He was the older one who
better funded than his baby, ‘mitigating’
talked to himself in a slightly disconcerting
the effects of climate change. He also
manner. The second was a Yank with a
believes it’s important to ‘prepare’ for the
cap. Lee. Or so I came to know him. The

222
effects of climate change. I remarked if discussing the translation - not an easy
American funding was anything like the sum to have to do every few metres - into
policies behind Australian scientific miles. I asked them why they did that and
funding then that was possibly an urban both men, slightly defensive, said they
myth. Very few scientific endeavours were didn’t understand kilometres. What a
being funded at all - and certainly not waste of brain.
those in prevention.
Lee informed me that there had been an
He understands that people don’t want to attempt to elevate the USA into metric
learn new things because they don’t want some years back but most folk had
to look stupid. For example, I had met two continued to use Imperial because they
middle-aged American men walking along didn’t want to change. Part of the reason
the trail back a while. They took great for that, said Lee, was that there had been
delight in stopping at each milestone, translation tables provided so there was
seriously, this was Spain, they were always reference to the old ways. The old
ways were familiar
and trustworthy and
visible. So a step into
the easier,
international,
straightforward
system failed because
the past came too.

He went on about
taking two years off to
work with an
impoverished inner
city school teaching
advanced maths. I
asked why he didn’t
marked in kilometres left to travel to teach in his own speciality, ecology. He
Santiago. I was amazed to hear them said, ‘Because most of these kids in LA

223
didn’t know what a tree was, much less try distance to keep us on track to their till. I
to conserve any’. This just further knew it was 15km but their signs said
infuriated me. 10km! All the rest of their signage kept
pinching the truth hopefully. I’m glad I
Unable to keep listening to his worked it out because then I would be
self-important mansplaining for much able to avoid them and head to the
longer, I suggested he watch out for the municipal albergue instead.
opportunity to join a Symposium. These
informative sessions are often run by The road was reflecting rays of heat and
Engineers Without Borders, church groups the sun pounded down. I was stuffed.
or schools. Originally dreamed up by a When I came to a bar, which happened to
tribe in Ecuador, Pachamama and a be the trapdoor spider evil albergue in
Californian group, they have become more disguise, I asked how far it was to the
international and inclusive over the years. municipal as I sucked down a refreshing
One of the original speakers was Paul cool drink. Oh, he said, ‘It’s far, very far.’
Hawkins and I heartily suggested Lee So I gave in and handed over my
google his oft viewed speech about the credential to be stamped. I would be
Greatest Movement the Earth has ever staying in the privado that night. Surprise,
seen. surprise, who should be sitting in a corner
watching the American football match on
When the time came to part, he headed off the bar tv, unseen behind me until I turned
to the nearest albergue with a bag of to follow the hospitalero out, but Lee. He
groceries, I was greatly relieved and went grinned at me, with his dark wet hair,
on my way. Neglecting to understand that I relaxed after a shower. He sipped a cool
had unwittingly told him of my plans. None beer.
the less, I enjoyed a strange salad
sandwich and then hit the increasingly hot I spoke some pleasant remark about his
road for a further three hour walk. It got son, who apparently played football in the
hotter but the first hour was beautiful States at some high level, and added that I
forest, increasing incline but shady. The had thought he was going to the albergue
second hour introduced more road walking many kms ago. He said that he couldn’t
and also the clear realisation that my find the one that had been recommended
intended albergue was lying about the to him. Oh yeah. He went past at least

224
three. Good lesson. I wouldn’t be telling After a shower I came back to the café
any Tom, Dick or Lee about my plans any section to enjoy a fresh and generous
more. I went on my way, trailing behind the salad with chips. Lee stayed in the bar
owner. with the telly. A couple of other single folk
stayed quietly at their own tables and I hid
It was a clean place, the bunks were behind the propped up menu. Until the
comfortable. The showers were strange. family gathered outside in the evening
The bathroom was almost entirely given shade. The new baby was on display,
over to the shower. I would definitely need dressed in bows and frills. The baby was
the earplugs, given the motley collection of passed to relative to relative and it was
old men I was in with. One guy stretched lovely.
out dressed only in his knickers - the sort
that are brief speedo size. It was a I thought of rusty gates, dogs with
generous spread of flesh. I quickly averted something stuck in their throats but it was
my eyes and went about my business. only abuela (grandmother) laughing.

225
Hospital, Sabado 16th Julio - DAY 39 -
Albergue Casteliño - 34km

It was an effective launch form the such a bundle of blokes. There was one
Vilaserio albergue this morning. There was other woman but she was quiet as a
snoring, of course, and for the first time in mouse, preferring the lie-low tactic.
ages, talking. Much talking from the
restless man below me, unfortunately also I was surprised to discover that muesli,

shaking the bunkbed. I did manage to chocolate flavoured rice milk and chopped

sleep. I was tired. I woke at 5:25 and nectarine were quite so delicious at 6:00. A

snuck all my stuff out of the room and German smoked cigarettes outside and

downstairs where I had clocked there was another man, who preferred to walk

a general bathroom and a foyer area with around in his undies as much as possible.

sink. There were a couple of men awake. He looked better dressed.

Not sure how I managed to luck in with

226
I was also surprised there were so many ‘Hello!!’ I replied, like a boss, ’Have a great
men with shaved heads who reject the day!’ We all smiled and they drove off.
notion of hats. The last few days were Good party, I think.
torrid with hot beating sun and the men
sported beetroot faces but they still sipped As I walked on, various ones from the

their beer and discussed sports albergue passed me by, polite greetings

regardless. until Lee arrived. ‘I’m a lazy gringo, didn’t


get up till 6:00. Had to photograph the
I slipped out into the sunrise and it was sunrise … ‘ Blah blah blah … (I was
lovely and still on the road. I tried to starting to get the idea that Lee was one of
capture the glory on the iPhone but it those fellows who had a wife pleading with
would not fit. It was him to get
like my old him out of
instamatic camera the house.)
from childhood.
Somewhat I completely

frustrating. There agreed with

were limitations as him. Yes, it

to what is actually was a

out there and what magnificent

can make it into the day and we

little box. were lucky


and I hoped
As I drew near to a T his
intersection a white grandchildren
car pulled up. The window wound down would be able to see it like this one day
and a young male face peered at me. He (his first grandchild was about to be born -
looked as if he’d just had a brilliant idea I really did know a lot about Lee by this
but couldn’t quite remember it. It was just time). We happened to be passing a very
on the tip of his tongue … We stared at large modern milking shed. It seemed at
each other for a moment until I had a last the industrial agricultural machine
brainwave and said, ‘Hola!’ The boys might be making inroads into these
inside the car grinned and shouted, antique lands.

227
Lee then launched into what sounded like uncomfortable and admitted that the
an oft-practiced lecture on industrial audience was not actually a private chat
farming practices changing our but a group activity where the Pope talked
relationship with nature as though I know to them and the international group of
nothing at all which is certainly not far from admirers just listened while the Pope
the truth. I thought I disliked him so much banged on about poverty. Lee thought he
because he had absolutely no interest in was a lucky man to have ‘met’ the Pope.
finding out anything about me. He only
wanted to expound on his theories, his We were pulling into a small village. Oh! A

experiences and his expertise. Breaking delightful little park with dappled shade! I

into his lecture, I asked if he’d read thought this was a fine time to pull out one

Jonathan Safron Foer’s book, ‘Eating of Anthony’s ‘Camino Excuses’ and tried

Animals’. He hadn’t. I don’t think he made the classic, ‘Excuse me, I think I’ll just

a note of it, or Paul Hawkins or the utilise this nice park to eat my morning

Symposium either but at least I’d made an orange’. And did. Lee went on the hunt for

effort. coffee and sugar. Not far away …

I couldn’t help myself at once stage in his I slurped every drop of juice from my fresh

diatribe I pointed out that his work in fruit and I too went to find coffee in a

forestry climate change mitigation (different) bar on across the road. It was a

appeared to me to be putting the small bakery and the gentleman who

ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather served me had a severe disfigurement on

than trying to fence off the top. I was his face, possibly as the result of burn or

actually quite glad to see him because some kind of extreme surgery. This in no

something he’d told me the previous day way impeded his work but did offer me

had been niggling away in my mind. The contemplation and counting of blessings. I

audience with the Pope. Now, I knew he took my coffee and an apple outside and

was holding off on reading the Encyclical chatted to a woman who was waiting

until he learned enough Latin but I there, sitting at the other table. She was

wondered if he’d spoken to the Pope very sad. She had spent a day on the trail

about the environment at all. I asked him, from Santiago and found it all too difficult.

‘Did you tell the Pope you were an She was Italian and between us we

ecologist?’ He became a little bit managed to cobble together enough

228
words to have a conversation. I tried to fuel was necessary as I continued on in
encourage her, pointing out that if she’d this heated day.
got that far from Santiago in one day she’d
really been pushing it. She was I walked out of Olveiroa, looking for the
disillusioned by the whole thing and glad perfect picnic spot. As I left town there

to see the taxi arrive. The taxi driver was were a line of benches against a wall. They

even more glad to see the café and made were nice but not the quality which I’d

her wait while he swallowed a coffee and come to expect in a picnic spot. So I kept

had a chat with the bar owner. on. Up. Some more up. Up to the wind
farm and the sparsely planted pine trees.
After they’d left, I stowed my belongings Up above the shadey parts! Where, oh
and took to the road again, tightening my where, was my perfect lunch spot? I
belt. Who should leap out in front of me began to despair.
like a bounding hare but Lee. I couldn’t
help myself, my. brain didn’t connect with I turned a burning corner and there were

my mouth, I let out a ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake!’ I two pilgrims huddled in a meagre puddle

really don’t know how loud I said it but he of shadow under a spindly pine tree. I

veered off and marched ahead. I didn’t see congratulated them on their good fortune,

him again for another 10km where we met took a slurp of water to sustain myself in

again in a bar. He informed me that this this arid windswept curving roads cape

was the place he would stay and I was and continued down. Down over a little

thrilled for him (for I intended to push on). I bridge, baking in the sun. Hark ye! A

encouraged him strongly, saying that he bridge? Yes, it ran over a little stream!

had plenty of time, he may as well break


Hang on … running water and a shadey
his journey in comfort. As if I cared.
spot! An idyllic lunch area created by the

I went on my way with my takeaway salad creek spreading out over a rocky patch.

roll (bocodillo - very large!) in a plastic bag, There was a little pool one might have

bumping on the outside of my backpack. dandled one’s feet if one was of the kind

By this stage, let’s recap, I’d had three that took their boots off willy nilly but I had

breakfasts. 1. nectarine and muesli 2. grown stern about that kind of reckless

Banana/coffee 3. Orange/sesame blister inducing behaviour and kept mine

bar/coffee. The energy provided by this well fastened. I didn’t trust the water

229
quality either but snuggled down into a
seated position. My back well-cushioned
by cool plants and the chair created by
soil and rock could have been designed
by Danes.

This was utter bliss. I stared in grateful


wonder at the wildlife. There were four
different types of dragonfly and a spidery
fly that stood on the moving water. The
sound of the creek burbling gently
through the heat of the day made me feel
as if I were in a green cave.
have minded sharing but I was awfully
The wonder is, I had seen these dragon glad they kept going.
flies at the beginning of my walk. As I
found the path to Pasajes de San Juan I After about an hour I thought perhaps I
had been attracted to a particular shrub, should move on. I knew it would only get
about my height, that was decorated by hotter but I only had 3km or so to get to
these iridescent beings of green, blue and the albergue. I gathered myself together
bronze. The ones I saw as I breathed in the and proceeded. I used the bathroom at a
water-cooled air were black on first sight, bar, brought fruit for the morning and when
then as they moved I could see the blue I turned the wrong direction, the whole
blended into their wings. place, full of a large family group of
pilgrims, all shouted at me!
As I dawdled (not dandled) and opened my
pack, seeking MORE food, various I continued along the river, admiring it from
pilgrims puffed past with their red faces further downstream. When I saw a hill I did
and burnt shoulders (why did the girls the only normal thing and marched up it. I
insist on wearing tiny string singlets?). found out later that this was where I first
They all admired my place of beauty yet went wrong. Secondly, I turned the wrong
none came down to join me. I wouldn’t way when I got to the top of the hill. As I
marched along my misgivings about the

230
missing yellow arrows grew until I sello. I really didn’t understand what was
questioned a sleepy family gathered on going on. It all felt a bit grim. I began to
their front step to catch a breeze. The man feel this was a mistake, miserably
leapt into action, rushed down to the fence snapping peanuts out of the shell from the
and described corrective directions with bowl in front of me. The young women
gesticulation and repetition. I marched indicated that I should follow their mum
back again, still on the road, but found the out into the car park. This was a busy
Camino centre shut. At least I was back on road. There was indeed some kind of
The Way! factory near by. (I don’t think it made meat
pies.) It all looked industrial and truck stop.
I found the last bar before Cee, 15km Then she indicated I should stow the pack
away, which I think was a slight in the boot. I thought I shouldn’t be getting
exaggeration but even if it was only 10km in a car - I’m supposed to be walking! But
it was plenty for this day. It seemed to be a we went backwards (so that didn’t count)
local bar for local people. When I enquired down the highway and turned into the little
about the albergue there were strange pueblo down the road. We parked in the
smiles and an odd attitude. I got a creepy middle of some elderly stone farm
feeling that perhaps this was the final buildings. Dogs were going off and a cow
albergue connected to the meat pie was screaming. Mum unlocked the door of
factory … I put on a derring-do, we’re-all- a recently renovated house. It was very
in-this-together cheery face and laughingly comfortable indeed. There was a kitchen
asked the very attractive bar tender what with everything one could desire. I was the
the heck was going on? She explained first person in so chose my perfect top
they had been teasing their younger sister. layer bunk near the window. I showered,
She had been expecting that no-one washed all my clothes in the washing
would come to the albergue so she machine, hung them out in the seering
wouldn’t have to do any cleaning the next heat and tried to toast myself from the tan
day. lines so my feet could get some balancing
sun.
The mother and the bartender bustled
about looking after the local people in the For some hours it looked as if I’d be The
local bar while the young sleepy girl looked Only Pilgrim in The Albergue! But around
after filling out the forms and stamping the 19:30 the hospitalera drove down the entry

231
way and tipped in a Hungarian. I did would be fine. Especially as there was to
suspect it would be so as the previous be BEACH!
night had brought many a weary traveller
to the bar. Presumably some chose to Looking back through my photos I was
walk in the evening, having waited out the surprised to see I hadn’t taken that many.

extreme heat in a cool bar somewhere. Most of them I even vaguely remember

Also, it did seem the advertising was far where they were taken. Thank goodness

reaching, attractive, and as previously for smart phones that label locations!

discussed, misleading. So perhaps, people


There was a cow in pain, or grief, in the
were attracted. This place just might miss
shed next door. Her piercing cries shook
the neatly strung up web 2.2km up the
my world. Probably not the only one right
road.
now. I ate an entire block of dark

Young Hungarian childcare worker taught chocolate with hazel nuts and half of one

English and German to tiny tots. Her just plain chocolate. I would have no more

belongings were covered in cartoon chocolate for my last day. Day 40. It would

characters and sparkles. She was very have taken me 40 days and 40 nights to

purposeful and intended to get going early. get to the end of the world.

We packed up to sleep. We’re both tired. It


It would be the last day the next day. The
was 19:00.
last yellow arrows. The last albergue. And

I was so glad I found the mini oil and a direction to be decided. A new Way and

vinegars. How to turn a packet of rice on Monday, an aim that I shall decide.

cakes and a tomato into a feast! Oh, and Somewhere. On this next day I would

the emergency dried one-cup veggie soup. throw my troubles as far as I could throw

Multi-course dining! them from the end of the world. I would be


who I am after tomorrow.
It seemed I walked 28km today which,
given the extra couple of km I walked up
the hill and the wrong way down a
motorway, seemed fair. It meant I’d
snipped tomorrow to under 30km. Given
the high temperatures predicted, that

232
Fisterre/Santiago, Domingo 17th Julio - DAY 40
- Hospidería de San Martín Pinario - 31.3km
(AND THEN SOME!)

I couldn’t really explain this day to myself What a day! On the split second of 6:00
as yet, perhaps I would in time. I got up she was out the door. I ate my breakfast
with Sarah from Hungary, with her Minnie (banana/museli) in a leisurely manner and
Mouse towel and her Hello Kitty purse and pottered out soon after. The road was still
she was very positive and purposeful. She warm from the day before and the sky was
juiced two oranges and put them into her clear. I saw one star. The way of the stars.
water bottle which I supposed was one Pah. Not when you go to sleep at 20:00 it’s
way to stay hydrated. not.

233
It was lovely walking this morning, if a little sunset, she would burn all the clothes
strict. I really wanted to get to Cee, 15km, she’d worn along the Camino. I
as quickly as I could to avoid the heat. It thoughtlessly said, ‘Oh, I’m not doing that.’
was in direct sun for most of the way so,
all in all, correct choice. Got to Cee about She was really shocked. She stared at me

10:00ish which hardly seems right looking with disapproval and surprise mingled on

back. her sweet young round face. She


stammered, ‘But why?’
There’d been some wild festival the night
before and the place was covered in And I sternly said, ‘Climate change.’ Of

empty bottles and evidence of extreme course.

partying. Wading through the litter I asked


And she said, ‘But, it’s just us, burning a
the street cleaner if he’d been out drinking
few clothes, that’s not going to make a
here and he shook his head, shocked. No
difference.’
way! He’d been asleep!
And I said, ‘Yes, it is. It’s all of us. All the
Found a glamorous café and parked my
time. All our actions.’
stuff in the window. Particularly good
coffee and tos/tom/aci. When Sara arrived Quickly we changed the subject to safer
I ordered another coffee but wouldn’t you ground. What did Sara think of the Pope?
know it, the place was full. The bartender’s
skills went out the window in direct I asked her if she’d read the Encyclical
correlation with the amount of people he about Nature. She hadn’t heard of it. She
had to serve. added that she didn’t like the Pope. I had
never heard of such a thing. How could a
Sara and I chatted about her Melbourne Catholic express negativity towards El
friends and how she would love to cuddle Papa? I didn’t know it was possible. I
a koala and pat a wombat. She was very pressed her for more details. She said she
disappointed when I disabused her of this thought he was like a fox. Wily? Tricky?
romantic fluffy notion. (Should I have? She She couldn’t find the right English word. I
was so cute.) asked her what made her think that. She
said that ever since he’d been elected she
Then she said she was really looking
had worried that he was going to do
forward to this night of nights when, at

234
something, what she could not say, but out it was more like a seminar where the
she felt with all her being that he would be Pope gets to chat with people and Lee no
the last, or perhaps the second-last, pope more met the Pope than I did. Fie upon
ever. She thought he would destroy the them! I have no patience with them.
entire Catholic church. I told her about the
American ecologist who had attended an So I marched on. And up. There were a

audience with the Pope where they had all number of steep sections today and luckily

worried about outcasts and poor people a good number under shade. I kept on,

but did not mention any action that might determined not to be caught in the sun.

assist such folk. That was, according to Through Cee, by the sea, where a filthy

the American ecologist, of course. He’d factory burned coal, even on a Sunday,

been very impressed with the Pope. with no sign of what they were making.
Power, I suppose. Huge heaps of coal lay
Sara’s lips drew thin and taught across her around the grim installation of pipes and
face. She was disapproving. ‘That’s as smoke.
maybe … ‘
The coast changed every time I saw it, the
I asked her to think about exactly what he rocks jagged in some places, the sand
might do to bring down the church and smooth and naked as the tide receded.
please let me know if we met again later. I The water was completely flat. The tide
left her to apply more sunscreen and drink was out as I came into a bay, with strange
more orange juice.

As I walked, I found I was


angry. With what? With the
Catholic church. Hugging
false idols, huge empty
monument buildings,
burning their plastic lycra
clothes. It was all absurd. I
did ask Lee if the Pope
knew he was an ecologist
at the audience. Turned

235
patterns of currents drawing finger paint Keira’s story about meeting a flasher. I
swirls across the smooth blue surface. didn’t think I was in for such a treat but I
was wary.
I stopped at a bar, packed with families
enjoying a midday meal, their children The man had to hurry as I was nearly upon
spilling out over the pathway and onto the him. He pulled himself together and
beach with gurgles and shrieks. The returned to the path. I pretended not to
overworked waitress had no idea if there notice anything amiss. He straightened his
was a fruiteria nearby. I took a detour away trousers and checked his front for drips.
from the beach to see if I could find the Fascinating.
town. It was very hot by now. The road
parallel to the beach was filled with I met a lone pilgrim coming back in the

hideous apartment buildings and hotels. opposite direction. She was thin, sensibly

The road was hot and I could find no sign dressed with long sleeves and a very large

of a shopping strip. I slunk back to the sunhat. She was checking her phone. I

beach path. I started to feel a toilet would asked her if we were going the right way.

be useful and decided to look for a bar. She was caught up in her private concern

Then I turned a corner and found a public and looked up at me with worried eyes.

toilet facility and it was OPEN! Not only She said, in a strong English accent, ‘If

that but it was CLEAN! There was you want a bed, then you need to turn

excellence in timing! back to find a pensione.’

As I continued down the beach path it But Finisterre was ahead and I had

curved and wandered through sand dunes business in Finisterre so I kept going.

and then into a grassy area. The There were reputedly plenty of albergues

composition turned from boardwalk or there. It was a hot day. It was a small

ashfelt into crazy paving and lead into a fishing village, with curling roads and sea

spindly pine forest. A sturdy man ahead of themed decorations on houses. I passed a

me looked around. He looked furtive. Then clump of tired sunburned pilgrims. They

he let his large black and tan dog off the lay in the shade opposite the municipal

choker chain to roam amongst the slender albergue like a motley gang of kangaroos.

trunks. Then the man popped behind a


There were a number of packs lined up
spindly tree for a wee. I did remember
outside the Municipal albergue, waiting

236
this day. I was like a train. Onwards,
onwards, ever onwards. There was no
reason to stop. As usual there was little
thought going on in my head. Just my legs
moving.

The signs pointed to Faro and I asked


someone, one of the albergue owners
hanging around outside, and he said, yes,
that was the way to the light house. Only
2.2kms to go. That would make it 30kms
that day. Ish. I kept going and by jingoes it
was hot. Up the hill, curving up into the
while their owners went to lunch. This was sun, beside the road, marching, marching,
not common practice on the Norte or marching. When I was hungry I stopped
Primitivo but I understood it was normal on and stood by a pine tree offering some
the Frances. I wasn’t sure I’d like to leave meagre shade. I wolfed down a packet of
my pack lying about like that, unattended mixed crispy corn, fruit and nuts. It was a
and vulnerable. Look what happened to salty cocktail mix, crunchy and chewy all
Martin Sheen in The Way! The bars after at once. Like bones from the sea.
Melide preferred no packs inside either,
leaving a pile outside while the pilgrims I stopped next to the sculpture of the
jostled about ordering and going to the classic pilgrim near the top of the hill.
bathroom inside. In one way I suppose this Interestingly he looks away from the coast,
practice acted as a sign for friends, most as though he’s battling wind and rain. I
people having distinctive flowers or flags stood and looked across the sea. The sun
on their packs. Of course, everyone had a beamed down on the road behind me, on
scallop shell. the sparkling sea and on the roofs of cars
that travelled like big beetles up and down
I kept going, with my pack, and marched the hill. Sun blared down on a large
past albergue owners soliciting business in souvenir shop but that didn’t stop me
a friendly manner. They chatted to walking around it and finding the
passersby. I wanted to get to the end on bathrooms. There were many folk

237
examining the fridge magnets and tea I climbed down past the day-trippers and
towels with great interest. I kept going, tourists, past the three young men who sat
past the light house and over to the tower. separately on their own rocks, looking at
It was like a red-painted skinny bit of Eiffel. splashing birds pounding into the flat, hot
There is a sign forbidding people to burn blue like an airport floor. There was a line
anything but clearly that has not stopped of white, which could have been sewage
them. As I went on, on, on to the end of or could have been a fishing net, marring
the land, I could see boots and socks and the perfection of the view. I kept on going.
shoes scattered about. Little mounds of I really wanted to land the stone in the
black smeary nylon ashes. It was a bit like water. I perused the options. I chose a
a sparse tip. Knowing I was about to throw large rock I thought I could get to in safety
something was slightly unnerving but at and be able to manage the throw. I
least it was biodegradable. Earth to earth. calculated the distance and angle of climb.
Crystal to mineral. I climbed down to a midpoint boulder and
ditched the pack. I was a bit shaky by now
Past the lighthouse was a grassy but so I ate my orange. It was half-cooked. I
inherently rocky landscape. Sandy parts crammed it in my mouth.
between huge boulders sheltered tough
grasses and small shrubs. It was a steep I went down, through the spiky plants,
descent to the water. The waves crashed thrown boots and tights and burnt
against the rocks at the bottom. The water remains, expecting to see a snake at any
was calm, but still powerful. There were moment. I got to the chosen rock and
currents meeting out there, fishing nets leaned on it for a moment. I felt there was
and small boats. no need to endanger life and limb any
further, as I was by myself, and prepared
But how strange. There were other the stone by exposing it to the energy of
landmasses clearly visible right in front of the sun and loading it up with insecurity,
us. It was difficult to think why the Celts self-doubt and helplessness. All the things
thought of this as the end of the world. I no longer need. Then I returned it to the
You could easily see other ends of the plush purple bag with insignia prepared by
world nearby. The sun glinted from the tips Keira and spoke to the elements. I found
of waves. It was very hot. My head was my voice catching in my throat as I
hot. thanked the sky, the earth and the sea for

238
this opportunity to make myself the best for their own needs. It had served its
person I could possibly be. I was leaving purpose for me. I was done. I had
these things behind to become part of delivered the things I no longer needed to
them. the end of the world. Criticism,
over-judging and over-thinking were on
And I threw it. I clung slightly to the rock that stone too. It was over.
with one hand for I had no desire to be like
Mrs Pidgeon who threw a spider out of her I turned and climbed back. It was tricky. I
front door and landed in hospital with a got back to the pack and hoisted that on
severe case of broken bones, having too.
thrown herself out with the spider.
I went into the lighthouse, Faro de
The stone bounced three times and landed Finisterre, to collect the sello in my
about half a metre away from the sea. I credential. Another sculpture of the classic
was shocked. That wasn’t in the script. I pilgrim stood by the door on a little plinth
should have practiced with other stones. I with wheels. I guess they moved him in
looked at it, lying purple obvious in the and out. I watched all the tourists. There
sun. I examined the few metres of rocky was a man with a selfie stick taking photos
landscape I would have to negotiate to
climb down to it. It wasn’t much but it was
steep. I’d already come considerable
distance and I was tired. I knew I had to
get back up again. I felt like a loser. All I
had to do was chuck the blessed thing in
the water and I couldn’t even do that.

Then, I thought I would rewrite the script. I


only had to throw it as far as I could. I
didn’t have to kill myself as a byproduct.
So I called The End. The edge was near.
One storm would have it over. Alternatively
it would fade and become part of the cliff.
Or some brave fool would find it and use it

239
up womens’ dresses. Outraged, I took a I came back down the hill and
photo of him. Did he see? half-heartedly tried at a pensione to see if
they had a bed. She did not but suggested
I asked a cheerful young woman if she a vego friendly restaurant for me. When I
could take my photo by the last milestone, got there it was shut. There were many fish
marked with 0:00km. She didn’t speak food type restaurants clustered around the
English but she was happy to oblige and port. They were all closing. I found a lovely
she left her seat with her picnic of various waitress who took my order; ensalada
snacks and treats spilling from her bag. todas verduras; sin mayo, sin atun, sin
She had a lovely smile. A Spanish family carné; solo verduras and some patatas.
were posing by the marker so we waited There was consternation in the kitchen.
for them to finish. Recognising us as the One of those where the chef, a small
virtuous pilgrims we were, they asked me woman, came to look at me. Really? Yup.
where I had come from. They appeared Por favor. She got it done.
impressed when I told them I had done the
Norte/Primitivo route, some 870km. My I sat and looked at the commercial fishing
photographer performed her duties with themed tourist trap around me as I
aplomb and I asked her where she had munched bread and salad. I emptied my
come from. When she revealed she had pockets of the empty cocktail-mix packet
walked from Prague, we were all amazed. and I found the bus timetable I’d picked up
She had walked through Germany, France in the Santiago tourism office. I asked the
and Spain to get to the end of the world. waitress if the bus-stop was nearby. It was
Three months of walking. The Spanish just around the corner. The bus would be
family and I applauded and congratulated going in half an hour.
her like mad. She refused to have her
photo taken. One of the men suggested I There was a long queue of people waiting.

should now walk to Prague. We all laughed A slim young fellow, about the same age

when I told them I was indeed going there as my son, came to stand beside me. After

but I would be taking the train. a little time he turned to speak to me. ‘I
saw you. Climbing down the rocks.’
And that was that. It was over. I had
finished. I remembered him. He’d been one of the
three young men sitting on the rocks

240
above me. He had sat with his knees putting their luggage in the cargo hold.
crossed. Perhaps meditating. Watching a There seemed to be no room when I
middle-aged sun-stroke victim clamber looked in and the driver looked like he
down the cliff. I felt some comfort. If I had might have a stroke when I tried to board,
thrown myself off the end of the world he still with the pack. He indicated strongly
would have been able to tell people. I was there was more cargo area on the other
not sure I liked having a witness to my side of the bus, if I’d bothered to look. I
failure to get the stone into the water. I sheepishly stowed my bag, paid the ticket
looked at him and debated telling him I’d and got a seat right in the front. The
not lived up to my own expectations. I’d air-conditioning was bliss. An extremely
missed the target. Then I reminded myself large fellow from Brazil sat beside me. He
I’d rewritten the script. I had succeeded in had spent five days on the Portuguese
getting there and off-loading my unwanted way. He was staying in Santiago, being a
items. I had done my duty. I was on track. tourist by catching the bus. I must have
We looked at each other and held our really smelled. I know my pack did. I felt no
peace. We smiled. We’d been to the end of shame. I was glad to be on my way out of
the world. It was a little bit like having Felix there.
there with me. His friends came to gather
him up. I moved forward in the queue. Back in Santiago, I shared a taxi from the
station to the Cathedral with two German
The bus-driver was grumpy. Tourists and women who couldn’t be bothered waiting
pilgrims alike kept trying to pile on without for three-quarters of an hour for the bus. It
was Sunday, remember?

I knew the parador monastery by the


Cathedral in Santiago had special pilgrim
rates so I checked in there. I was in a quiet
room on the top floor. There were to be no
yellow arrows for me in the morning. I
could see the sunset from my monastery
room.

241
6
Go Back to the Beginning
From Santiago to Leon, 18th Julio - DAY 41 -
Train!

Going backwards to Leon! Poetic really. I of the way of the cleaners just before the
reflected on my journey. Immediately I first dawn walkers.
found more anger. On that hot march
onward and upward towards the end of I had given coins to one beggar but not to

the world was the realisation I had been all, those women with rotten teeth, who

sucked in. I had taken the mythology bait held up a little cup, plastic or paper

and swallowed hard. I had taken photos of crumpled and stained with remains of

the glorious Cathedral and avoided getting take-away coffee. They cried out, ‘Por

the beggars in frame. Those blanketed favor! Por favor!’ with increasing

figures lining the walls of the shops, desperation and volume as I passed them

sleeping under shelter, waking to move out by. It was heartbreaking.

243
The young mute woman (who I suppose noting anything down, without keeping any
my father would have assumed was receipts, wildly and irresponsibly. It did
actually perfectly fine, probably from add up and soon I would have to recover
Sydney, probably with a trust fund) who the mantle of modern living. It cost 23
got me to fill out the form. She said it was Euros to stay in the smart monastery but
a petition. It was to encourage the with a generous buffet breakfast which
Santiago powers that be that a building had included plenty of fruit, cereal and
was necessary to house and educate toast options. I had eaten as much
those with misfortune, such as she. The breakfast as I could stuff in.
last column which I did not see until I got
there was a request to fill in how much I had a mad dash around the early empty

money I would donate. I had no cash and I streets trying to find a way to the train

was not impressed by the idea of pledging station. Eventually I settled for a taxi for

to pay money to an unknown organisation the first available seat. Then, as I

on a photocopied petition in a religious attempted to explain to the guy in booth

city. I left it empty and apologised silently number 4, he said, computer says no, train

as she expressed dismay that I did not to Leon full. I could go on the next day. I

hand over similar sums as those that had paused. Thinking. Luckily I did for this

preceeded me; 5 Euros, 10 Euros, 50 simple task had become increasingly

Euros … I tried to explain that she had got difficult since my first easy discussions

me outside the Cathedral, on exit. I’d given with the monastery receptionist, the taxi

5 Euros to the church for theatrical driver directing me, the man in the pilgrim

purposes alone, and I don’t know what office directing me, the young woman in

coins I’d handed over to the elderly the invisible RENFE office (hiding behind

woman dressed in black with stumpy teeth the post office) who could see the

and a black hat. There’d been another with available seat on the train but couldn’t

a green cardigan on the way into the make the booking because she couldn’t

Cathedral as well, so I was afraid, blonde stamp the Eurail pass directing me that

mute girl, you missed out. she could hold the seat for an hour but I
would have to hurry to the station to pay
I feared having to grit my teeth and for it and she’d written the details down on
examine my finances. I knew I hadn’t been a slip to show to the staff … All seemed
profligate but I had just spent, without lost.

244
Suddenly the man in booth number 4
deflated and said I should move to booth
number 1. And this fellow did some And how fast did the country fly past?
juggling on his computer, found a seat,
stamped the Eurail pass and pointed me
to the correct platform. An interminable 25
minute wait and I was on my way,
backtracking across Spain.

So the vagaries of the transport system


would be my focus and interest. The
slurped on painted yellow arrows giving
way to the iron streamers of railroad lines.

245
Irun, Tuesday 19th Julio - DAY 42 - Train - and
on to France!

Just spent last hour in Vallalodid, checking to spend some time there, to work out
out a mysterious sculpture with an eagle what the heck that sign/statue meant.
rending the face of a woman standing
behind an explorer in a boat. The next I woke a couple of times in the night and,

layer down was a lion ripping the letter ’N’ luckily, finally on the alarm but it was silent.

from a sign that said ‘Non plus mas’. There I must have done something to the

were other people and things but the sign settings. Great. Worked it out. I’d turned

said there was study and bravery. It was off the sound. Not helpful. Must have been

very confusing. There was reason enough ESP.

246
Felt a bit unpractised as I organised cool ice-cream shop called me inside for
breakfast, packed up and noted I’ve left fruit salad. As I walked in the power failed.
faint hemp oil marks on the shiny wall from I sat quietly soaking up the cool
my feet. Tried to wipe it off. I expect the environment as she frantically tried to work
cleaners would be using full force out how to switch it back on. She was in
detergent. When I thought of all the charge of the ice-cream, after all! Finally
albergue walls that were smudged with oil she rang an expert and made some
or Pomada St Juan from my feet up the adjustments and the lights, and the till,
wall times … hummed back on.

Together with this


helpful young
assistant, we worked
out there were two
albergues in the
vicinity. One was full
and I couldn’t find the
other. Returned to
primary eating idea.
One restaurant kitchen
closed, the waiter
there advised another
just around the corner.
This would always be
open. All this within
sight of the enormous
When I arrived in Leon about 16:00 it was
Cathedral baking in the middle of an oven
really hot. Stifling. Very quiet. Siesta time.
plaza like an ornate wedding cake. A
The station was about ten minutes from
bunch of kangaroo pilgrims lounged in the
the Cathedral and I slunk, bent and beaten
shade waiting for the tourist office to open.
by the sun, from shady spot to shady spot.
Even the beggars had deserted their posts
I wandered off piste a bit trying to find an
in front of the cathedral. It really was hot. It
open albergue or hostel but eventually a
turned out the restaurant that was always

247
get me through the long train journey on
the next day - not very arduous but so hot
- and trotted back to the Cathedral. Toured
it with the audio guia and once more with
my own eyes. It was being renovated so
the full angry glare of the afternoon sun,
turned to glory through the rose window at
the head of the church, was covered by
scaffolding and marred somewhat.

The great inner space of the building does


celebrate light. The first impression on
entry was of those enormous windows of
leaves and vines on either side of the main
nave. Utterly huge, beautiful and intricate.
Apparently the renovations in the
nineteenth century brought the choir stall
midway down the body of the church and
open was attached to a small hotel and that does tend to forestall the view. I had
that it had a vegetarian menu. I floundered to take my credential to the museum for
on the notion of spending 30 Euros for a stamping and I discovered that was all the
one room but, given the last forty nights sightseeing I could manage that day. I
had generally been within budget I could went back to the restaurant and ate plenty.
probably splash out. So I got a
comfortable room (to smear with hemp oil) Then I went upstairs, gathered my empty
and a new, clean bathroom. I washed, back pack and took it down to the bar. I
decided to get my small amount of clothes ordered a shot of vodka. I took both drink
washed done for 9 Euros and headed out and pack to a quiet corner and sprinkled
to the Cathedral. vodka over the arm straps and the most
smelly parts of the fabric, hoping the
Got out into the baking zone and realised drycleaning process would kill the worst of
I’d forgotten my credential to get stamped. the bacteria.
I turned to the supermarket for supplies to

248
In the morning, the train went on and I was on en pie, and I did find the bridge - at
back in Victoria Gasteis, back through San least one with pot plants - and I saw a
Sebastian and Irun. I decided to stay on yellow arrow but right beside this utilitarian
for Hendaye and do the walk into Irun from bridge there was another, more ornate, so I
France, a mere ten minute stroll. thought perhaps that one was more
Hilariously, I could not get Wifi, could not celebratory of the enormity of the border. I
organise accommodation and became went over there and snapped what I
suddenly nervous about not having a bed assumed to be border markers. There was
for the night. So I turned on my mobile nothing clear, no a sign that says here is
data roaming and the thing that landed Spain! Then I proceeded to a strange
was Anthony’s comment about walking collection of Tobacconists. I wondered if
across the bridge and swimming in the French people came over the border to
Hendaye beach. Fine, that sounded great, pick up their cheap tobacco. That’s what it
so I asked a couple of people where the looked like. There were at least four, big
beach was and off I trotted obediently shops. One was more like a duty free
following their FRENCH instructions. shop. It even had attractive models
offering free tastes of tobacco. This
Of course, it was the wrong way and I saw probably spells SPAIN!! to the French side.
eventually there was no beach, only more
France. I was incredulous that everyone So, back to the yellow arrows. They
spoke French, here in France, just ten pointed up, and then down, past a nice
minutes away from the Spanish border. I river fringed with reeds and picturesque
did ask again and a sympathetic woman painted rowboats. I made my way into the
told me I was wrong. It was 41 degrees. I town and found the Irun Cathedral. It is
was very hot. She told me I had to head obviously very old. The stones were
back to the railway station and from there melting away in the atmosphere. The faces
go back to Irun. Start again. How prone on the people decorating the edifice were
am I? We walked together to Irun. She told worn smooth and lumpy. The Cathedral
me about her cleaning job - she lives in was shut up tight. I was also melting.
Irun and works in Hendaye and walks four
days a week. She has one son, still small, I dragged myself to the museo. I gasped in

and they live with her mother and her aunt. the air-conditioning through my mouth and

She left me at the local train but I did press every cell in my skin as though I was a fish

249
thrown back into water. The
woman behind the desk
laughed as I entered,
bastónes akimbo, fabric
stuck to limbs, face purple
with heat. She directed me
to their free exhibition
displaying sexual images
from Roman murals.
Reluctantly, I demurred,
preferring instead to ask for
directions to the Irun
albergue, the place where I
wished I’d begun my
Camino some forty one
days before.

Eventually three kind


women gathered to
compare notes and
eventually to phone the
albergue. They felt the
albergue must have moved.
They found an old map of
the town for me. They drew
directions on it. Once again, I held a map barely entered the common room before I
of Irun with swirled instructions drawn spilled my aggrieved story to the first man.
upon it and I moved straight ahead, He gestured me inside and introduced me
through the streets of shops and down the to the second man. Both thin and retired,
hill by the pizza parlour. I arrived with one both sincere and kindly, these men
other and we were beamed up to the first listened while I explained about my
floor and welcomed by the gentle double-crossing priest, the man who had
hospitaleros. I could not believe my luck. I

250
steered me wrong on my first minutes of so convinced they knew the correct way
the Camino. they made me think the priest had steered
me wrong. Again, everyone has a different
But, the map that I pointed to, the map I’d Camino.
been given by the museo staff, was a
different printing to the one I’d started I began to see, particularly after today, that
with. There, in the middle of the highway, it was just my normal style to head off, to
was a shell. The road was an accepted start straight away. To bravely begin. I was
part of the Way, to the extent it was good at that. Jumping in. Normally there
decorated with concha! The priest had in would a fifty percent chance of being right.
fact told me one of the correct ways that If there were more options my success
joins up eventually with the more popular rate lowered. But I congratulated myself,
route. It was the map that was wrong. at least I did begin. At least I did conquer
my fear and I did it anyway. I persevered
The hospitaleros were quietly shocked and found out the error of my ways.
with the idea that El Padre would mislead
a poor pilgrim. I think the men I met were And eventually I made it. I got on the right
track.

There you go.

251
Irun - France - Miercoles 21 July - Day 43

I made a valiant effort, getting up with the deflect any advice. She listed some of the
first crackling of plastic bags and ‘shoulds’ that people had given her over
zippily-zip of the extremely dynamic the years; go slower, take in the views,
German woman, Beatrice, on her sixth, take in the spirit of the Camino … But she
Camino. She had three kids and a pointed out when she went slowly she
husband who understood that if she did tended to wobble. She had to go far and
not go away each year, she would go mad. fast. She couldn’t use poles because of
The shape of her torso was bent, her neck trouble in her neck. She was super fit, and,
forward, striving with her heavy pack even there you go, it was her way.
as she stood without pack. She was the
loudest, most social person in the albergue I met Paul, a young man from a small town

kitchen the previous night and certainly the near Dresden. He was wearing a very cool

keenest to crack on in the morning. She tee-shirt. I asked permission to

had opinions on all her Caminos and many photograph it for my son. He told me he

stories, but she was equally as keen to had never been in a plane before he took
the one that brought him to Bilbao. He was

252
twenty-nine. He was very nervous. He also pilgrim checking on a newbie.
had a lovely smile. He was a
mathematician - I suspect he’d completed That was that, then, 6:15 I was out on the
a doctorate. He told me he had grown not-so-busy highways and byways of Irun,
tired of working so hard on things he could making my direct way to the train station

not communicate with his friends and without faltering much. Just one correction

family. They would ask him about his day with the help of a street sweeper and a

and he could only wave his hands gently in smart lady further on and I was at the

front of him as he tried to gather the station half an hour before the train’s

abstraction that was pure mathematics expected departure. Wrong. I had three

and try in vain to translate these ideas into hours to wait. So I did the normal thing

words. So he apprenticed himself to a and decided to head over to visit the

watchmaker and learned how to make beach. In France.

watches. He loved transporting the


I struck out on my well-worn path of the
physical elements into perfect clockwork.
day before. I became more and more
And he could talk to his family about it! I
uncomfortable, needing a bathroom quick
gave him my bastónes. It felt like the right
smart. The views were lovely, coming to a
thing to do and I was lighter for it.
marina/port/wetland area with a boardwalk

As I was preparing to sleep, I met a Dutch pathway for early morning joggers and dog

woman with four children and four walkers. Not so many at 7:30 but enough.

grandies. She looked younger than me! The public WC was locked. I kept on and

She was on her sixth Camino also,


though far more quiet and self
possessed than others in the albergue
that night. She was a swimming teacher
and very fit, you could see that in her
bearing. I liked her immediately and
ranted to her about my surprise that the
Catholic Church and the Camino are not
more connected to saving Creation. She
agreed to keep an eye out for Paul for
those first couple of days as an expert

253
turned to where I suspected this famous the boardwalk by the water I was struck by
beach might be, sweating with the a feeling of peace and quiet. I felt I needed
humidity and heat left over from the day to be somewhere relaxing, perhaps for a
before. Already it was 21 degrees couple of days. This could also be a
according to the farmacia’s clock. The holiday, not just continual exploration and
streets became more cultivated, more derring-do. Why not? The idea of finding a
manicured than those I’d encountered in little coastal hotel somewhere, even by a
Irun. It felt French, somehow. I passed river, suddenly seemed very attractive.
boulangeries and RE shops and finely
turned into a street that lead directly to a So then to the beach, and it was indeed a

pavilion, not unlike the one at Bondi, so I lovely, lovely beach stretching to rocky

knew I was near the beach at last. I outcrops in the distance. I was very

stumbled into a French café (just in time pleased to have seen it but I had no time

for my presence of mind and calm of for swimming and relaxing at that time. I

bladder), enjoyed the smooth jazz turned on my heel and made my way

ambiance, the slim waiter with smartly back, stopping at a newsagent to find a

sculpted hair who forgot I existed as men French phrasebook. Well, of course, they

approached the bar and engaged him in had an English/French book which gave

lively and warm French banter. the correct pronunciation of the English
words, assuming that the reader already
How stupid to be surprised by French knew French. Not ideal for me. And I had a
things when I was in France. I realised I plan for a bocodillo to eat on the train but I
had spent all my time preparing for Spain. I will have to seek one in Bordeaux in the
had not thought of France. I’d managed hour I had to hand there.
‘Merci’ scraped from school. I needed to
concentrate on the future! So pleased to be facing the right direction.
All in all, life was very good. French bread,
Relaxed, full of bread and coffee, I took jam and coffee, sea air and the sight of a
the Wifi opportunity to check out my surf school and I was in France!
options. The big cities, Bordeau, Toulouse,
Lyon and Nice all seemed to offer grand There you go … Ahí tienes … Voilà!

museums and churches with


¡Buen Camino!
expensiveness. As I was walking around

254
255
Aftermath After the Camino
Visiting new places
Revisiting los peregrinos!

256
PARIS
Cross the Rue de Beaujolais and ahead to
the small passage to enter the Palais Royal
gardens.
René’s Walk in Camino Style
Cross all the garden up to the Buren
columns and exit opposite side. You
(this took me two days!) should arrive on a place facing one entry
of the Musée du Louvre.
Leaving the albergue, (which is just near
Cloud Cakes 6 rue Mandar 75002 Paris Cross the Rue de Rivoli and enter the
Louvre court in front of the glass pyramide.
https://boutique.cloudcakes.fr/en
Turn right towards the Place du Carrousel
so you may as well have a delicious coffee
(big arch) and continue straight ahead
and a vegan croissant to begin your day),
through the Jardin des Tuileries.
turn left out of the shop and turn right into
Rue Montorgueil. Continue and turn 4th Exit the garden at the opposite side on the
right in Rue Tiquetonne. Take ahead Rue Place de la Concorde (obelisque ).
Etienne Marcel up to Place des Victoires
(Louis the 14th statue). Turn left towards the Seine river, do not
cross it but get down to follow the river
On the place take 2nd small street on your bank heading to the Eiffel tower.
right Rue Vide-Gousset.
Continue on the river bank, leaving on your
Facing the church take small street on right the Grand Palais and passing under
your left, Passage des Petits Pères. Pont Alexandre III and Pont des Invalides
Straight ahead enter Galerie Vivienne. You bridges, up to Pont de l'Alma where you
may visit the Galerie but you have to turn will leave the bank.
left to exit Rue des Petits Champs.
Back to the river facing the place, take on
Turn right in Rue des Petits champs and the left side Avenue du Président Wilson
immediately left to take stairs down to and continue up to Place du Trocadero.
Passage des Deux Pavillons.
Take the large stairs on your left to get the
best view on the Eiffel tower.

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Continue downstairs towards the tower, Cross the river by the small bridge the
cross the river to go to the left bank, pass Pont au Double. You are in front of
under the tower and continue straight Notre-Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité.
ahead across the Champ de Mars gardens
up to École Militaire. Facing Notre-Dame, take the street on the
left along the cathedral the Rue du Cloître
In front of this building, turn left and take Notre-Dame.
the Avenue de la Motte-Piquet, continuing
up to the Invalides gardens. Ar the end cross the bridge to arrive in Île
Saint Louis. Continue straight ahead in
Cross the gardens, go to the opposite side Rue Saint Louis en l'île.
half way to catch Rue de l'Université.
At the end cross the river to come back to
Pass the Assemblée Nationale building, the right bank of the Seine.
then take on your left the Rue de Courty
and continue by Rue de Lille. Turn left to take Rue Saint Paul and
continue up to Rue Saint Antoine.
Turn right in Rue du Bac up to Boulevard
Saint Germain. Turn left on the boulevard You enter the Marais district.

up to the Saint Germain des Près church.


Turn left in Rue Saint Antoine and enter, if

Facing the church take on the left side the open, the Hôtel de Sully. Cross the courts

Rue de l'Abbaye along the church up to and exit the garden by a small door in the

the Rue de Buci. corner on your far right.

Turn left and continue Rue de Buci straight You will enter then in Place des Vosges.

ahead to Rue Saint André des Arts. You


Keep left and exit the place by the next
enter the Quartier Latin district.
corner on your left in Rue des Francs

Cross the Place Saint Michel and take the Bourgeois.

small Rue de la Huchette.


Continue Rue des Francsk bourgeois

Continue straight ahead by the Rue de la straight ahead (Picasso museum nearby),

Bûcherie up to the Seine river. continue then by Rue Rambuteau (along


Musée Pompidou) up to Rue Saint Denis.

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Turn right in Rue Saint Denis. To have the best general view of Paris, it's
better to go the top of the Tour
Pass Rue Etienne Marcel, Rue de Turbigo Montparnasse. More central than Tour Eiffel
and Rue Tiquetonne. and the only place you do not see this ugly
Tour Montparnasse.
Then turn left in the Passage du Grand Cerf
(just after Rue Tiquetonne).

Continue straight ahead in Rue Marie Stuart.

Turn right in Rue Montorgueil and Rue des


Petits Carreaux.

• That's set.

Part 2

- Montmartre --> try to go to Place Blanche


and climb to the hill by Rue Lepic up to
Martine and René are super! They continue
Place du Tertre. Have a look to Sacré Coeur
to walk - here’s their Rome pilgrimage:
church and streets around like Rue Saint
http://essert-roma.blogspot.fr/
Vincent 

- Opéra district, Place Vendôme, Grands
Boulevards, minutes from the albergue


-  DO NOT MISS the Saint Chapelle on the Île
de la Cité, but avoid any knife or inadequate
stuff in your bag as it's located inside the
perimeter of the Palais de Justice and
security is reinforced

- the Champs Élysées, but NOT this Sunday
(Tour de France ends there)

259
Anthony Plant is a guitarist from
Texas and I haven’t visited him
yet. But you can see his
performance of ‘The Way to
Santiago:
https://www.anthonyplantmusic.c
om/media

I visited lovely Nadja in Munich! Here in the


English Gardens, she explained how the
German people socialise with pretzels, beer
and bands beside a pagoda.

260
I met Dorthe and Sue on the
Primitivo and we met again in
Copenhagen. Then Sue
invited me to housesit for her
at Christmas so here is Dorthe
in Asnaes in the Odsherred
Region, about an hour west of
Copenhagen. Beautiful!

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The glamorous trio of Oscar, Rebecca and Barry now live in Scotland. But I managed to
visit them twice when they lived in the south of England, near West Wittering. And they
returned the favour in 2018 when they came to visit me in Sevilla, Spain. I’m now in
Australia and who knows when we will all meet again. There you go!

262
And here I am again, walking from Pamplona to Burgos in 2019. I
arrived in Madrid April ‘16 and I left Santander June ’19. There you
go! ¡Buen Camino!

Victoria Osborne 2020

www.ourrelationshipwithnature.com
https://www.facebook.com/Victoria.Osborne.author/

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