London, 28/05/17.

No distance kilometres to share today, but I thought I might do a bit of reflecting and share some of my thoughts since leaving Spain yesterday. 
On Saturday I flew to London to spend this week with eldest son, Phil and his lovely wife, Emma. I’m so pleased to not have to fly straight home after finishing the walk. It would be a difficult transition to go immediately back to normal, everyday life, despite being keen to get back to Jon, family and the familiarity of home. Winter and blueberry pruning, however, are not sounding terribly appealing right now! 

It has already felt like a strange transition from the Camino life back to the ‘real’ world. The noise and bustle of Santiago was bad enough but London on a sunny Saturday of a Bank holiday weekend was overwhelming. What I really noticed was the stuff. We do fill our lives with an incredible amount of stuff. Living has been pretty simple for me for the last 40 days with only what I can carry on my back. You can’t buy much extra, either, if you have to carry it. A little bit of food and water and that’s it. 

Now that I’m in a big city, surrounded by lots of stuff, part of me wants more, (spend some money, get something new… I did leave some spare gear with Phil and Emma so I can have a change from my everyday walking clothes), but another part of me wants to stay away from that superficial consumerism. 

I have been pretty separated from the world while walking. Contact off the way was limited to mainly family, a few people through the blog, and a small amount of business that I couldn’t avoid dealing with. I barely looked at any news sites and didn’t see any Facebook notifications. I thought that if anything really important happened, one of my family would let me know. 

I occasionally picked up snippets of news from watching the Spanish TV which was always on in any bar. I knew that something had happened in Manchester that appeared to be related to terrorism. I had no idea how horrific it was until Phil described it yesterday. I don’t think I have missed out on anything by not hearing the blow by blow accounts or analysis that always happens after such an event. I know that I will gradually get back into watching the evening news and reading the news sites, but it has been a good break. Maybe the break allows something to reset in your head, when you are away for a while and not be continually bombarded by the world of news and commercialism. So much seems so trivial and superficial. I hope that this does carry over to my normal life in that I will invest myself and my time into those things which have real value.

After our previous Camino, we returned to a very busy period of family and work happenings. Very soon afterwards, the time away was a distant memory. It seems that you can’t pay it forward when it comes to holidays and rest. You still need to continually take time out. It seems clear to me that I find the wild places to be very restorative. I will be wanting some times on my own, some opportunities to get back into nature, and to keep up my walking and fitness.

I haven’t necessarily discovered what the next stage of my life will look like but I can move ahead with a degree more confidence and courage. It’s now time to invest some more in my loved ones and relationships at home, and the things I am committed to there. Thank you to  everyone who has kept things going in my absence. It’s probably good that we don’t necessarily know what new challenges lie ahead. 

Today’s daily bible verse that came to my phone:

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations— that’s what I had in mind for you.”

Jeremiah 1:5 MSG

This will probably be my last post for the time being. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting and encouraging, and putting up with my waffle! 

Vivienne 

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Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela: 11.5km.

Yes, I did finish yesterday! I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to complete the blog so I hope that I didn’t leave you hanging as to whether I got there. 
Best bits and blessings:

  • Finishing! Happy to have done it, happy to have finished now, and happy to be going home soon! It has been a very big thing for me to do this on my own. Thanks for joining me for my journey. I have been hugely encouraged and moved by the support and prayer I have received. Writing this blog has been a significant part of the challenge of my pilgrimage as well. Thanks for putting up with my daily waffle!
  • So pleased to have had the company of Christine for these last days. It has been enjoyable to walk more slowly, to take more breaks, and to savour the end. Chocolate con churros to celebrate.
  • We managed to find accommodation in the city for our last night. That was hard with all levels of accomodation full as the city was buzzing with lots of pilgrims and tourists for Ascension weekend. 
  • We got to the city in time to drop off our gear at the hotel, and made it to the Cathedral early enough to get a seat for the pilgrim mass at midday. We needed to be an hour early for that! 
  • The mass itself was as I expected from previous experience, but I was very pleased that the nun with the most wonderful singing voice was leading the congregational singing.  She did this for one of the services we attended two years ago. Even though there was no service sheet, hymn book or data projector, she was still able to encourage the very international congregation to participate. The statue of St James inside the Cathedral. 

  • I received my Compostela with no problem other than an hour and a half wait in the queue! This is when we were half way along the queue!

  • Some of the pilgrims who walked the last bit of the Camino del Norte together, gathered in front of the Cathedral for a few photos. Then we all dispersed to probably never see each other again! 

    Challenges: 

    • The weather was not great for the last stretch with mist, thunder, lightening and some rain. We arrived a bit bedraggled but fine!The first view of the Cathedral in Santiago is from Monte do Gozo. Not today! 

    • Mixed up emotions on the way into the city, some teary moments. I had to laugh, though, that Christine was the first to spot and photograph the first view of the Cathedral. I was too busy taking a photo of some flowers! Maybe that says something about our priorities! It was about the journey not the destination. 
    • The huge number of pilgrims flooding into the city continued to make me uncomfortable. At one stage Christine and I stopped for some breakfast on the outskirts of the city. 
    • As we sat, we watched wet pilgrims stream past, ponchos flying. I’m not sure why it bothered me. Is it that it made me feel like just one of the masses? That this very personal journey now had to be shared with so many others? Maybe it was an overload of people after so much time on my own? The Camino means so many different things to different people that a journey of 1000km could be as meaningful as one of just a few kilometres. I keep reminding myself to try not be judgemental and that everyone walks their own Camino. 

      Standout moments:

      • Funniest sights on the way into the city early in the morning: people who live along the route into the city coming out of their front door on their way to work in the morning, to find a pilgrim in a sleeping bag on their front porch. And, as we had our morning coffee and watched those pilgrims streaming past, one gentleman was walking along shaving with a razor as he came into the city. Given the weather, it was not quite a dry shave. Sprucing himself up for the pilgrim mass, perhaps? 

      Day 38: Arzua to Lavacolla, 29km.

      I’m sorry that there is lots of text and not many photos with this post. They just would not load for me! 

      Best bits and blessings:

      • My penultimate day! 
      • An early start in the cool of the morning. We were out the door by about 6.30am, along with lots of others with the same idea. Much cooler weather overall with a little high cloud in the morning, followed by a thunderstorm in the early afternoon. 
      • Lots of off road walking on pleasant paths under the shade of trees.
      • Bar stops at good intervals along the way. Many more places to stop than two years ago. 
      • A few spots were familiar from two years ago when Jon and I concluded our Camino Frances, mostly the places we stopped for food! 
      • Last night I made a booking for a pension room in Lavacolla. It was hard to find somewhere in this town but we wanted to walk a little further today to allow us a shorter last day into Santiago tomorrow. Christine felt that she could cope with a longer walking day if we knew that we had somewhere definite to stay, so we wouldn’t need to rush. And she did! Persevering despite various sore bits and blisters, we made it!

        Challenges:

        • The number of people walking today was really overwhelming. The times when you could look down the path in front without seeing a line of walkers were quite rare. And commonly, groups of walkers, so the noise level significantly increased. 
          Then, all of a sudden, after O Pedrouzo, there was almost noone! It seemed that everyone must have either gone on ahead earlier because they were walking all the way into Santiago, or else stopped for the night at O Pedrouzo! It turns out now there seem to be quite a few others around this town tonight. We were just not walking at the same time as them. 
        • It was possible that they anticipated the approaching thunderstorm and decided to wait it out at bar somewhere. We were half way around the Santiago airport in a wooded area when the thunder and lightening came close enough to wet us a bit. We covered up and were fine until we got out of the trees and could see the lightening was quite close so we took a wee detour to a restaurant for a substantial menu del casa. After our break it was a little showery but fine for walking. We felt rather full for walking, though, just as well we only had another hour or so to go. 
        • I had such mixed feelings about the walking today. I did try hard not to judge those other walkers! Afterall, you can’t necessarily tell whether someone has walked 1000km or 50km. Lots of people are limping. Whatever the distance, it is definitely challenging. 
        • At times I was feeling almost teary that this huge thing I’ve been doing is almost over. I’m so pleased to have had the company of Christine over these last days. If I was on my own, I would likely have rushed quickly through them as a few days ago I was feeling quite over it all. And added to that, also now feeling very uncomfortable with the huge volume of walkers on the way. And if I had sped to the end, for what purpose? To get to there and sit in a bar somewhere on my own for an extra day or two? There isn’t any guarantee that I’ll meet up with people I know when I get to Santiago. Everyone has different agendas and I have overlapped with lots of different groups over the course of my time. On leaving the Monastery albergue yesterday morning, someone had tacked up a notice suggesting that anyone around in Santiago on Friday evening, come to the Cathedral for a Camino del Norte photo. It will be interesting to see who is around! 

        Day 36: Miraz to Sobrado dos Monxes, 26.6 km.

        Best bits and blessings:

        • A cool, clear start to the day, after a good breakfast provided by the hospitalerios. Breakfast included a boiled egg, which may not seem like a big thing but it’s a very nice change to start the day with some protein! Dewy spiderwebs and erica. 
        • We got going early and made plenty of stops to drink and rest, including the all important stop at a bar to collect a stamp. 
        • The landscape was varied, with an area of interesting granite rock formations, some of which was quarried for more slab fences. 

        • Later, we took a shady stop beside this beautiful lake. It was originally built by the monks for water supply, irrigation and trout. It was very beautiful with waterlilies, and full of singing frogs and dragonflies. 

        • After our long walk we couldn’t immediately check into the albergue at the Monastery as the monks were, very sensibly, taking siesta. So we took the opportunity to refuel with a menu del dia which was very welcome.
        • This Monastery is a chapter of Cistercian monks and the building is very historic, with parts of it dating back to the 10th century. It was largely in ruins after being abandoned in the 1800s, with restoration beginning in the mid 1950s.

          Bunk room in the Monastery.

        Challenges:

        • By the time we arrived at our destination, it was getting very hot. The weather is predicted to be even hotter tomorrow. Christine coped well with her second day of walking but the heat was a challenge. 
        • Tomorrow, we merge paths with the Camino Frances at our next stop, Arzua. There will suddenly be many, many more pilgrims on the way and everything will become very busy. Not really looking forward to that. 

        Standout Moments:

        Last night we enjoyed a nice meal in the albergue, with the 20 or so pilgrims. It was prepared by the American volunteer hospitalerios, Miriam, Joanna and Wanda. They then initiated a round the table discussion about how and why each of us pilgrims came to be walking this Camino. It is the only time such a whole community discussion has taken place in any albergue that I have stayed in. It isn’t something that could happen every night but added a special dimension to that evening. 

        Communal dinner. 

        Leaving the albergue in the morning. 

        Day 37: Sobrado dos Monxes to Arzua, 22.2 km.

        Best bits and blessings:

        • We attended vespers with the monks last night. While it wasn’t my preferred style of worship and I really didn’t understand much of what was happening, it was unique to be staying in a Monastery and to have the opportunity to join with their small community in worship. It included lots of singing by the monks. 
        • During our morning coffee stop we spent a little time with Maria, a Dutch lady whom you may recall me mentioning before. I walked with her one morning for an hour or two, some weeks back. She has had all manner of physical challenges during her Camino which is why we are overlapping now. But she was overwhelmingly positive about the whole experience and very encouraging, despite only being able to walk short daily distances herself. An inspiration! 
        • On another one of our breaks, we shared a bus stop with an elderly gentleman for a while. We were looking for a spot to take a break out of the sun and he beckoned us over. He did his best to talk with us and find out where we were from. He explained that he was 95 years old, and I suspect he takes a short walk from his home down to the bus stop every day to have a chat with the passing pilgrims. 
        • Over the half way point for Christine! 

          Challenges:

          • There is no doubt that the main challenge today was the heat. It was an amazingly clear sky day and quickly warmed up. The walking itself was not difficult, but was made so much harder by the amount of road walking that was necessary today. The heat was definitely bouncing up from the hard surfaces. 

            Even the cattle were trying to get into the shade. An uphill stretch at the end on approach to Arzua was especially difficult. Christine did amazingly well to persevere. We checked into virtually the first pension we came to and took their last free room. Shower and rehydration were the first priorities, followed soon after by a great meal. 

            Now we are almost human, again. When we came out of the restaurant the temperature was around 33. Maybe a little more than when we were walking but sooo hot! We will try to leave earlier tomorrow to beat the heat and the thunderstorms predicted for later in the day. 

          • And yes, suddenly here in Arzua there are pilgrims everywhere! Lots of the other pilgrims staying at this pension have had their luggage transfered here, so are walking with small backpacks. I’m trying to have a good attitude! Everyone walks their own Camino! 

          Day 35: Baamonde to Miraz, 15km.

          Best bits and blessings:

          • The company of Christine to help the last days pass quickly. 
          • Beautiful early summer weather conditions for walking. A nice introduction to Camino walking for Christine, but it may become very hot in the next couple of days. 
          • Flat, easy walking and a short distance. This means plenty of time to do washing and for it to dry! 
          • Tonight’s albergue is run by the British Confraternity of St James. It was nice to be welcomed by volunteers who speak English and offered free tea (and milk!) and bickies. This is a donativo albergue and we will share a meal together tonight and breakfast in the morning. It is a nice, modern, clean place to stay in for Christine’s first experience of an albergue. They are not all as good! 

          Challenges:

          • On my arrival here the hospitalerio spent a bit of time explaining to me that I should have got two stamps on my credential yesterday. Baamonde marks the last 100 km to go to Santiago. I was aware of the importance of getting two stamps per day, from the 100 km mark, but didn’t consider that I would need an extra one yesterday. It is a problem that many ‘pilgrims’ try to ‘cheat’ and attain a Compostela by not really walking the minimum 100km. They hop in and out of taxis and buses between bars and accommodation places to get their stamps. I have a stamp from last night and two from today but apparently that may not be enough. I’ll be really rather annoyed if I am denied a Compostela when I get to the pilgrim office in Santiago because of missing one stamp, despite walking over 800km and having at least one stamp per night, sometimes two or more. I have so many stamps that I have filled my original credential and got another a couple of days ago! I know that this is not what it is all about for me but it would still be very disappointing. Here is a prayer on the wall of the albergue to help me regain some perspective! 

          Standout moment:

          • As I explained, the extra stamps are important from now on. This area seems very poor and to depend on the passing pilgrims for a lot of the local income. This morning we passed a sign saying stamps available here. We went into the yard of a sculptor and didn’t realise that he would make a significant deal about stamping our credentials. After a applying a conventional ink stamp, he fired up his small blow torch and melted a small amount of wax then imprinted a seal into it. A dramatic addition to my stamp collection!  

          • There was a little gathering of passing pilgrims waiting for this ritual to be carried out. While there, I met my first Australian pilgrim, Brian from Brisbane. We had a nice wee chat! He was walking further today so I may not encounter him again. There did seem to be lots more pilgrims on the way today, but this albergue is not quite full yet. Some people did a big walk today to the next major stop, an albergue in a Monastery. That’s our plan for tomorrow night.

          Day 34: Vilalba to Baamonde, 20km.

          Best bits and blessings:

          • The latest start I’ve had of any walking day, about 9am! Another short day so no rush to get on the go. Last night’s albergue was also brand new so well equipped and almost empty. There were a couple of others there but I had my bunk room to myself. New albergues are springing up as the Camino del Norte becomes more well known. Purpose built facilities are always going to have advantages over the municipal ones which may be housed in converted old school buildings or similar. They don’t necessarily have the atmosphere, but will once they become more widely known and there are more people in residence. In the meantime, no snorers! Small farms around Galicia must struggle to be viable. Many people have left the rural areas for the cities. 
          • Tonight in Baamonde, the municipal albergue is large, one of the biggest on the Norte. I’m staying a little further down the road in a hostel because Christine joins me later this evening. She arrives a bit late to check into the albergue. This hostel is pretty dated, on the site of a truck stop fuel station and restaurant. The restaurant is absolutely flat out. It seems to be quite a thing to have a meal out on Sunday. Giant stepping stones to miss the muddy patch. 
          • A light cloud cover just prevented it being too hot during this morning’s walk. It got pretty warm! 
          • During a midmorning coffee stop, I was delighted to see a Dutch pair of pilgrims, father and son, whom I’ve crossed paths with occasionally since the very early days of my walk. It is always nice to see friendly faces and to check up on how others are doing. This morning I also walked and talked with Caroline, from Munich, at one stage, and Fairlim (sp?, that’s how it sounds) from Ireland, whom I have met before. 

          Challenges:

          • The body seems to adjust to knowing it will have a short day and that’s all it feels like doing! Either that or I’ve just about had enough of the walking, and getting to new places every day. 
          • I have blisters on both heels that just don’t want to heal up. They are not especially painful but a bit of a nuisance. 

          Standout moments:

          • About to pass the 100 km to go sign!
          • Christine joining me tonight. It has been quite a juggle for her to manage to get this time, with all her other commitments. Plus the challenge of getting here by public transport on a Sunday! We have been friends since 1992 – a long time. I’ll take good care of her once we start walking tomorrow.