Camino Portuguese & Celtic Camino – it comes to an end

A year ago, I sat in a train heading to Porto.

I’d just finished the Camino Frances, and I could barely walk. I was in a huge amount of pain from a damaged knee, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was walk another Camino.

I’d scratched my irrational itch that was the Camino Frances, and that was that. I’d done it. I’d had enough.

The train stopped for a moment, to allow another train to pass as I recall, and while waiting I looked out a window and down on a small lonely wooded lane.

Way below me a pilgrim stood at a crossroad. She had a backpack on, poles, and I could see the scallop shell hanging off her pack. She had a guide book out, and she was trying to figure out which way to go.

At that moment my heart leapt.

I wanted to be down there on that wooded lane. I wanted to be wearing my backpack again. I wanted to be lost, trying to find my way to The Way.

At that moment I knew I had to walk the Camino Portuguese, even though only moments earlier I had vowed to myself I would never walk a Camino again.

And so here I am, twelve months on, having not only completed that walk, but I had the privilege and honour to lead a wonderful group of pilgrims too.

And what a time I had!
What a time WE had!

I will remember it always as being one of the most enjoyable times of my life. To walk a sacred path with friends. To share stories, meals, to share unforgettable memories.

How lucky am I?

And then Ireland. I don’t know what drew me to Ireland, but it reeled me in and landed me flapping and smacking on its decking, in awe and wonder at the power and magic of the place.

I want to go back. I need to go back. For some reason it holds a spell on me that I just can’t explain. I need to know all about that spell. I need to feel that magic deep within.

I’ve shared this walk, these walks, with my wife Jennifer who each day seemed to glide along the paths as though she was transported on wings. Perhaps she was.

She made every stage of the Camino Portuguese look effortless – with her relaxed easy gait and her readiness to help others. She showed me what it is to be a true pilgrim.

And so it comes to an end.

But there’s never an end, is there…

There are more paths I want to walk, more mountains I want to climb, more rivers I want to cross. The act of walking is a powerful statement. There’s something inherently honest about the simple act of walking.

It levels you.
It elevates you.
It heightens you.

And walking towards a higher purpose –
Well, what can be better than that…

Two arrows

 

Camino Portuguese 14 – my favourite pics

Here are the few shots that I took that I quite like.

They’re not coffee table book shots. I have a real problem taking those shots. I’m not good at that kind of photography.

The shots below are not meant to represent the Camino we just completed. They’re just odd little pics that I took along the way that speak to me, and probably to no-one else.

Bom du Jesus snapper Cyclist looking at factories Washing line Sign walking down stairs

hydrant

Chairs on Camino

slippery slide

Steve posing Cranes girl with blue specs

chicken thru wire.3

man in pontevedra street freezer trio masked against wall

boy with cross in church

crossed legs

 

 

 

Camino Portuguese Day 13 – farewells pt1

Today was our last day together as a group.

church in late light

It was Easter Sunday, and some of the group went to Mass. Marie volunteered as a helper for the English Mass, and at the end of the service the Botafumerio was swung. Marie has a problem with crowds, which has kept her out of packed services, but today she overcame that fear and witnessed something she never thought she would ever see.

She was delighted.

We then walked to lunch, and we shot a group photo – this time with Steve included. (He wasn’t in the group shot yesterday.) The group showed their best side…

backside backside with Caterina's legs

And then their not-so-best side…

group shot.1

We had a terrific lunch at one of Santiago’s top restaurants, away from the tourist crowds and frequented by locals in the know.

Afterwards the girls wanted a shot just of themselves, which I objected to because I thought it was sexist, so I did my darnedest to mess the photo up.

girls shot.thru glass

(Glass half empty or glass half full?)

Begrudgingly, I then took a more considered photo.

girls shot.1

After lunch we said our farewells to Catarina. We gave her a group hug – she has been fantastic, and everyone adored her.

group hug with Catarina catarina crying catarina crying3

She felt very teary as she walked away, back to the van which she would then drive back to Mercedes in Porto.

catarina walking away catarina walking away shell

If ever we do another Portuguese tour, (and we’re considering another one in October,) then Catarina will be a part of it.

Tomorrow pretty much everyone leaves, except for Steve and Arlene, who are staying on an extra week. Jennifer and I fly out Tuesday for 10 days in Ireland.

I’ill write a series of posts over the next week or so, reflecting on the time we’ve had together. But just to say it’s been an extraordinary two weeks. We’ve formed friendships that will last a very long time, we’ve laughed so hard that we’ve almost needed resuscitation, we’ve stayed in some beautiful hotels in some gorgeous towns and eaten some truly wonderful meals, we’ve walked through some spectacular countryside, and some have had profound revelations about their lives.

They will go back home with a vastly different view of life.

This has not been a decadent five star jaunt – this has definitely been a spiritual journey. Yes we’ve stayed in some nice digs, and yes the van has been there for support when needed, but this has been a very real pilgrimage for everyone involved.

boots

It hasn’t been an easy walk, and when we got our Compostelas yesterday there was a very real sense that we’d damn well earned it. There wasn’t one of us didn’t appreciate what it meant. We’d walked the Camino Portuguese.

From a personal point of view, I’ve had an extraordinary time. I’ve learnt so much from this wonderful bunch of people, and I’ve been humbled by them and inspired by them. I will remember these last two weeks as being a very very special part of my life.

To all those in the group – thank you so much. Thank you for taking the risk of coming along, thank you for trusting Jennifer and me, and most importantly thank you for being the wonderful human beings that you are.

You are the ones that have made this tour something so very memorable.

And we had fun, hey?

group shot

group shot wider

 

CP14 Recce D3

I must have been tired.

Got to Tui, had a beautiful home cooked style lunch, had some wine, went to the room, and woke up eleven hours later!

Slept from 5pm to now – 4am.

I never do that.

So that’s the reason this blog is late. Sorry about that!

Now I’ve got to remember what happened yesterday… oh yes, that’s right – drove out of Caldas de Reis in the rain. Sorry Steve, would like to tell you the rain stopped, but yesterday the rain was pretty damn consistent.

The hotel we stayed in by the way was situated right beside the stream that cuts through CdR, and had a glorious view.

Caldas de Rais stream

Drove south, checking out the hotels we’ll be staying in along the way. Stopped at a gigantic supermarket and brought some groceries. I love wandering through Spanish supermarkets – with the hams hanging and the gigantic fish on display as thought they’ve been plucked straight from the sea.

Got to Tui and our little hotel nestled right beside the Cathedral in the old town. The Cathedral was very dark inside, with pre-recorded hymns whispering through hidden speakers.

Tui sculpture

The Cathedral is quite unique in that it looks like a fortress, with it’s crenellated towers – Tui looks across the Mino River to Valenca, in Portugal, and it was a fortress when it was first consecrated in the 13th century.

Tui cathedral

Had lunch in one of those places where from the outside, the restaurant looks dowdy and unbecoming, but the prices are good. Walked inside and the joint was bustling with locals.

The food was like mama’s cooking – a local pasta soup, then spare ribs in a stew, surrounded by boiled potatoes that melted in your mouth, followed by an extremely yummy home made desert that was part flan, part tart. Beautiful.

All for the princely sum of €9.

Oh, and I also had a bottle of Rioja. Well, not quite a bottle, but I did give it a bit of a nudge. That’s what put me to sleep. And pure exhaustion from the flight over.

Today we’re heading into Portugal, and will be staying overnight in a wonderful casa rurale in Rubiaes.

Oh and Steve, it’s stopped raining!

Tui Church window

CP14 Recce D2

First full day in Santiago.

woman outside Cathedral wall

The rain eased off overnight, and the streets and back lanes of Santiago were glistening as Jennifer and I made our way to our favourite brekkie spot, Cafe Agarimo – not far from the hotel.

Cafe Agarimo ext

The hotel by the way – the Literario San Bieito – was wonderful. We’ll be staying there when we return at the end of the tour. The hotelier, Amadeo, could not have been more helpful – and the room we had was simply beautiful.

Breakfast was coffee and ham/cheese/tomato toast, done the way only the Spanish can do it –

coffee Cafe Agarimo Cafe Agarimo tostada

We then did a quick sortie to the Pilgrim’s Office, to pick up the Credentials for our group – plus we bought some goodies for the Pilgrim’s Pack. Then we walked a brisk 5kms to the outskirts of town to the Cortez Ingles – the big department store. I needed to get a bracket for my Garmin GPS – I’d forgotten to bring it from Australia.

Back then to the Cathedral. We hadn’t had a chance to go inside the previous evening. It was almost empty when we walked in – and after a contemplative time, allowing the energies of that extraordinary place to seep into me, I began to take some shots of the Botafumeiro all trussed up.

Botafumerio hanging Botafumerio rope Botafumerio pulley

Then off to lunch with Johnnie Walker – the doyen of the Camino.

john Walker

A beautiful restaurant, San Clemente – but what made it special was getting to know John a little more. He’s a fascinating man. I asked him how many Caminos he’d walked and he looked at me blankly and smiled – he genuinely didn’t know, he’d walked so many!

john Walker Jen and me

He very kindly picked up the tab – insisting – so I insisted on reciprocating after the tour. We plan a big lunch after Easter, at a special place he knows out of town that does steaks that are reputedly the best in the world.

I can’t wait.

After lunch we drove off to Padron.

trees at Padron

 

I noticed the name of a town – Valga. I chirped to Jennifer that the town was like me. She said it was very sad I would say such a thing.

The next sign for a town appeared. The town was called Cuntis. I chirped to Jennifer that I would not make a comment on that one. She replied dryly that I just had…

We stopped at Padron and walked into the old quarter. A man appeared at the door of a bar. He yelled out: Are you pilgrims?

I hesitated, not sure how to reply. Was I a pilgrim yet, even though the walk hadn’t started? Or was I still a pilgrim from my last Camino? I really wasn’t sure. So I kind of nodded meekly.

That was enough for this man. Come in, come in – he said, gesticulating wildly for us to step inside into his bar.

shaking hands

We did – and immediately I realised the bar was a shrine to the Camino, with photos and Camino memorabilia all over the walls. The man – his name was Peepe (yes, correct spelling) – asked me to sign a book. He raced into a back room, and rushed back out flourishing a book full of comments from past pilgrims.

While I was figuring out what to write, he raced back into the back room and returned with about ten more such books, each of them filled with comments from passing pilgrims.

notebooks

After I wrote my little missive, he then insisted on taking photos – first Jennifer and myself behind the bar, then photos of me with him, then Jennifer with him. Photos done, he then began to dance wildly around the bar, punching the air with excitement and laughing.

with jen punching air

Strange man.

Saying we had to go, he went to kiss me on the lips but I quickly moved my head and he grazed my cheek, thankfully. We managed to escape, and took refuge in a cute little restaurant and had a plate of home grown (and very famous) Pimentos de Padron. Washed down with a beautiful glass of Rioja, it was sublime.

Pimentos de Padron

Off then to Caldas de Rais, and the hotel with the thermal baths. The baths are at water level (the hotel stands right over the thermal waters) and are truly spectacular. Hot, steaming, pressurised – I’d believe they’d cure the incurable.

Balneiro Acuna Hotel Thermal baths

The day ended with the all too familiar ordeal of trying to get SIM cards with well meaning Movistar staff who can’t speak English.

I think I might have taken out a data contract for two years…

Albergue in Padron

 

 

 

 

CP14 Recce D1

I should explain the title –

CP14 is Camino Portuguese 2014.

Recce is a reconnaissance. My wife Jennifer and I are doing a recce in preparation for the start of our tour in a week. This will be our third and final recce.

D1 is Day 1 of the recce.

We arrived in Santiago late yesterday, after one hell of a trip. I travel a lot, and this last trip would have to go down as the worst.

The plan was to fly Etihad from Sydney to Paris then connect with a Vuelig flight to Santiago. We would have a two and a half hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport before the flight to SCQ – plenty of time to collect our bags (we couldn’t check them all the way through) then make our way over to the other terminal where the Vuelig flight would leave.

I’ve done this quite a few times before, not a problem.

(I should note here that we in the travel industry shorten Santiago de Compostela to SCQ. And Paris Charles de Gaulle is CDG. I will bedazzle you in the coming weeks with my use of travel jargon.)

I’ve flown Etihad before, and they’re recognised by business travellers as one of the top airlines in the world. And our flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi could not have been more pleasant.

But when we got to the transit lounge at AUH, (that’s Abu Dhabi to we travel insiders), I noticed on the Departures board that the connecting flight to CDG had been delayed two hours.

Two hours.

Two hours would mean we’d miss our onward flight to Santiago. Ooooops, I mean SCQ.

On the next sector (that too is travel lingo), I spoke to the Cabin Manager who told me that the delay had not been caused because of a malfunction with the aircraft – Etihad had decided to wait two hours to pick up a tour group of 35 passengers connecting on a late flight from Vietnam.

In other words, this two hour delay was totally discretionary on Etihad’s part. Presumably they were doing it to save money, so they didn’t have to put these people up in a hotel.

But by the end of my travel day, this delay would cost me more than $1000.

The Cabin Manager was very nice, particularly after I’d given him one of my newly minted business cards stating that I was a tour operator. He assured me that we would be met by one of his senior Ground Staff Guest Services agents, and everything would be ok.

I couldn’t see how everything would be ok. The estimated arrival time had been put back to 9:15am, and our flight to Santiago was due to depart at 9:25am. We’d have to collect our bags then go from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 and check in our bags on the new flight.

It wasn’t humanly possible to catch that flight.

The Etihad flight landed at 9:15am as predicted. And standing outside the aircraft, when we disembarked, was Etihad’s Guest Services Manager. He was a tall imposing Arabian man holding a clipboard imperiously, and I immediately thought of a palace guard with a scimitar. I suspected he was probably a eunuch too.

He was not a Guest Services Manager. Nor was he a de-balled Palace Guard.

He was an Etihad Troll.

His job was to deflect everything, deny all responsibility, and to make those who had just flown (and waited) more than twenty six hours as belittled and as powerless as possible.

And he did his job magnificently.

He Immediately told me that because the Vuelig flight was not a co-share with Etihad, (co-share being another travel term that I throw in here casually, as if I use this language all the time…) there was nothing the airline could do. That’s it.

I argued, talked about the airline’s responsibility, about it’s discretionary delay, I gave him my newly minted business card, but none of it worked. He raised his scimitar, I mean his clipboard, in a final act of dismissal, and I knew I would never get any joy from this man.

I wished him well, hoped he would sire many children, and we made our way to Terminal Three. By the time we got there it was 10:20am – almost an hour after the flight had gone.

The next flight to Santiago was same time next day. If we wanted to get that flight, we’d have to overnight in Paris. It would throw our recce schedule out the window. Plus we’d be up for accommodation in Paris, which I’m sure Etihad would not pick up.

I asked the lady on Information at T3 (here’s some more travel lingo for you) if there were any other flights to northern Spain – A Coruna for instance, only a short distance from Santiago. But there was nothing. The only flight that went anywhere near Santiago was an Eazy Jet flight to Porto, leaving in 2 hours. And that left from T2.

It had taken us twenty minutes to get from T2 to T3, so we went back to T2. We went to the Eazy Jet desk and yes, there were two seats remaining on the flight to Portugal. The last two seats. And they were €240 each.

The original Vuelig flights had cost €79 each.

I bought the tickets and we waited at the gate. We’d been told when we bought the tickets that Eazy Jet has a strict policy of only one item of hand baggage, and it has to fit into one of those bins that they put at the gates to show you how big your bag is allowed to be.

And sure enough, there was another troll at check in, making sure that everyone had only one piece of carryon, and that it fitted in the bin.

Jennifer and I had flown from Sydney with a couple of pieces of carryon – she with a handbag and a wheelie Samsonite. Me with a wheelie Samsonite too, and a Camino bag holding my knee brace, a jacket and iPad.

This troll was unforgiving. Just like the previous troll with his clipboard like a scimitar, this troll was using his bin like the Pits of Hell. If your bag didn’t fit into that bin, then you were hurled into the Pits of Hell.

Eazy Jet’s version of hurling you into the Pits of Hell was to charge you €55 for an additional piece of hand baggage. Already I’d paid in Australian dollars nearly $700 for these fares. And do you think the troll would cut us any slack? Nope.

Jennifer stood her ground. She made a fuss. She kicked up a stink.

Jennifer is the sweetest gentlest kindest person I know, but when she gets her back up, watch out. It takes a lot to get her back up, but this troll managed to do it. And she went him like a ferocious dog.

I stood back and averted my gaze. And pretended I wasn’t travelling with her…

A young dark haired woman standing a bit apart in the line caught her eye, and gestured to her that she had plenty of room in her bag, and that she could put her handbag in her carryon.

This seemed like an elegant non-confrontational solution, even though I suspected that Jennifer was spoiling for a fight with the troll. So she put her handbag, containing her purse with all her credit cards, cash, drivers license – everything – into this woman’s bag.

As we went through check in we were told by the airline staff that the plane was now full of carryon – there was no more space – and so they would have to check our wheelie Samsonites in as freight.

Again we complained, but of course to no avail. By this time we’d been travelling more than forty hours. We were exhausted.

We boarded the flight, and then we realised what we’d done.

We’d given Jennifer’s handbag to a complete stranger. Someone standing near the line – not actually IN the line, had ingested that handbag into her bag.

We looked through the plane. The woman was not to be found. We looked at each late arriving passenger. The dark haired woman was not amongst them.

I walked over to where Jennifer was sitting. One of the last indignities of this flight was that because we were the last two seats to be sold, we were not sitting together. And no-one would move for us.

Jennifer went through everything that was in the bag. Everything was replaceable, except the credit and debit cards would have to be cancelled and reissued. And this at the start of our journey. Her credit/debit cards were linked to mine, which would mean we’d have no cards to withdraw cash or pay for our rental car or hotels.

Was this a scam, I began to wonder? An elaborate scam perpetrated at these check in gates? Taking advantage of a traveller’s exhaustion, desperation, the chaos and flurry of check in – an apparent act of kindness that could reap the thief rich rewards?

The flight was ready to depart. Still no sign of the women. Just as the airline staff went to close the doors she slipped in, walked quickly down the aisle and gave Jennifer her bag. They both laughed, and Jennifer gave her a hug.

Was it possible that our day could be any more stressful?

Yes, it was.

The rental car.

I’d pre-paid my rental car to get a good rate. Problem was, the pick-up was at Santiago airport, Spain. Not Porto airport, Portugal.

The Hertz lady, a very pleasant young woman, tried her hardest to make the computer bend to her will. She did genuinely want to help me. I think she felt sorry for me. But her computer was resolute. The voucher I’d purchased could not be switched over. Even though I hadn’t picked up the car in Santiago. Even though I hadn’t driven it. Even though I hadn’t even sat in it.

I’d pre-paid for pick up at Santiago airport, to return to Santiago city depot a week later – cost: $360. And that was that. She swiped my card – issued me new papers, and we took possession of a small Citroen.

We then had to drive 200kms to Santiago. And it was raining. No it wasn’t raining, it was deluging. It was Noah’s Ark raining.

I immediately thought of Steve and his reluctance – nay his abhorrence – of walking in the rain. I felt like taking a shot with my iPhone of the torrents of water streaming down the front windshield, and emailing it to him with the message – I bring the sunshine with me Steve. NOT. 

But I had one last issue to contend with. I’d forgotten to bring the bracket for my Garmin GPS. I was going to take the bracket off my car and put it in my carryon, but in all the hoo-ha leaving Sydney, I’d forgotten.

So Jennifer had to sit for two hours holding the Garmin up to the front windshield to get satellite reception, while I drove through pouring rain 200kms to get to Santiago.

We arrived just on dark, and do you think we could get a park?

Santiago late on a Sunday, for some reason, was packed. Was it Mother’s Day? Was there a special service on at the Cathedral? I didn’t know. But I finally found a spot about half a kilometre away from the hotel, and we trudged our luggage in the rain through the old cobblestone lanes until we arrived here, at this beautiful place.

San Bieito Hotel

Finally, after nearly 48 hours of traveling, we’d got to Santiago.

We had a quick shower and went straight to the Cathedral. I was surprised to see that the square was all but empty. I’d never seen it empty before. But it felt good to be here. Good in my bones.

Cathedral Square

Etihad’s discretionary delay had cost me probably $1200. I might get that back on travel insurance. I don’t know. But I’m just glad to be here, in this glorious city. About to start a wonderful adventure…

Cathedral Side door

 

 

 

 

 

Camino Portuguese – My Packing List

Only 5 days now before I leave, and I’ve started to get serious about training!!

Yesterday (Sunday here) I did a 14km walk with full backpack plus two cameras. I wanted to see if I could find a configuration where I could have the cameras readily accessible, yet not have them interfere with my walking rhythm. I think I sorted it.

Why will I be walking with a full backpack when I have a support van? I could easily just put my pack in the van and walk with a much lighter day pack, but I want to approach this as a pilgrim –

Yes, I know, pilgrims can put their packs in vans too –

Perhaps the real reason is that …

Well, I actually don’t know the real reason.

And maybe that’s what I’ll learn on this walk. Is it bloody-mindedness? If there’s an easy way or a tough way, do I naturally gravitate towards the tough way? Just to try and prove something to myself?

Or am I showing off? Trying to show the other folks – those on the tour – that I’m big and strong and a “true” pilgrim? That I’m a leader? 

Like I said, I really don’t know. But my PGS has told me this is what I must do, and so I’m doing it with the backpack. And two heavy cameras.

Having decided this, I’ve started weighing things again, getting the weights down, and working out what do I really need to carry on my back for some 240kms.

It’s interesting – I learnt a lot from the last Camino. I carried way too much stuff last time. This time I know exactly what I need and don’t need.

As well though, this time I’ll be staying in hotels the entire time, so I won’t need a sleeping bag and towels and soap/shampoo.

For those of you who might be interested, my backpack is the one I used last year – an Osprey Kestrel. The poles are Lekis, and the boots are full leather Meindl.

So here’s the list:

(W = wearing one, or carrying…)

HIKING –
2 trackies W
3 t-shirts W
2 socks W
2 undies W
2 long sleeve shirts
2 long sleeve tops W
windstopper jacket W
rain jacket
Backpack W
Water bottles W
Walking poles W
Boots W
light-weight runners
Scarf W
Cap W
Sunglasses W
money belt W
knee brace W
pantyhose W
COMMS
ipad
iPad charger
iPhone
iPod
Headphones
Power adapter
CAMERA
Fuji X-T1 W
Fuji X-E2 W
LENSES
XF 18-55mm W
XF 55-200mm
XF 14mm W
XF 35mm
batteries
battery charger
card reader + cable
SD cards
iPad SD card reader
Camera case
Rainproof bags
MISCELLANEOUS
headlamp + extra batteries
Garmin watch + strap W
Garmin charger + dongle
Opinel knife
PERSONAL
Toothbrush
Toothpaste
Deodorant
Sunscreen
Razor
Shaving cream
Eye shades + earplugs
Muesli bars
PHARMECEUTICALS
Ibuprofen
Voltaren
Crepe bandage
Betadine
Hopefully I won’t need the Ibuprofen and Voltaren!
wpid-Photo-28082013-523-PM.jpg