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Fiesta in Santiago – 30 September

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The Last Day in Santiago

We awoke to find Santiago transformed into a fiesta city, with a mediaeval festival in full swing. There were street performers, stalls with crafts and foods attended by people in costume: a remarkable way for the stay in Santiago to end.

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I will leave Santiago sadly and somewhat reluctantly: perhaps I will, now, always carry the spirit of pilgrimage in my heart, but when we depart from the city in the morning, we will no longer be part of a route on which our packs and cockle shells (mine has been slightly damaged for several weeks, but I am attached to its unique, “gap-toothed” appearance) mark us as something recognisable, greeting and greeted by those we meet, often with the Spanish, “Buen Camino.”

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On this last day, we found our Swedish lady friend from the Netherlands, listening to two singers (street performers) who were entertaining us with excerpts from operas. We even ran into the couple who slept above us (as it were) on the bunk beds in both Hospital del Órbigo and Astorga. There were some people whom we missed, and whose stories will, for us, remain incomplete. One was Kevin, from Londonderry. The other was our young Flemish friend, whom we last saw in Astorga, suffering from similar swelling in her leg to Kate’s affliction. We did not see our Spanish-speaking, American professor from Indiana after Cezir Menor. Others crossed our paths occasionally, but then disappeared.

All these people were our community along the way. They are as much a part of the Camino for us as the Pyrenees, or the high, breezy fields of the mesetas, or the vineyards of the province of León, or the ancient cobbles of the Roman road, or the deep, furrowed paths of Galicia. And so are the many Spanish people who showed us kindness along the way, especially the man who ran the café in Rabé, who gave us such good food, good service, free WiFi, a little medallion to carry with us, and then enthusiastically enquired of us when we left whether everything had been good. He is the icon for the best of the Spanish people along our way, patient in communicating, generous in spirit, and kind in heart.

And as I write this, I am reminded of one of my favourite prophetic quotes, from Micah: “what does YHWH require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” This should be a pilgrimage mantra, but it has been our experience also of the people whom we have been blessed to encounter along the way.

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Pilgrims in Santiago – 29 September

Santiago

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We have been in Santiago for a day, and the only walking we have to do is around the city. I am not sure that our feet and legs – and our minds – have adjusted completely. Am I ready to stop being a pilgrim? Do I have to? At least for the remaining couple of days that we spend in Santiago, we remain part of a community of arriving and departing pilgrims.

Last night we went to the pilgrims’ office to collect our certificate, a diploma for having completed the pilgrimage, which is commonly described as the “Compostela.” It is in Latin, with Latin versions of our names. Having remarked earlier that the certificate was not really as important undertaking the journey, I was surprised at the lump in my throat when we were given our Compostelas. Have I become the Straw Man in The Wizard of Oz?!

In the morning, after a brilliant sunrise visible through the window of our monastery room, we prepared to go to the cathedral for the mass for pilgrims. We had been advised to go early, because the cathedral becomes very full. It may be for the pilgrims, but there were very many tourists there as well. This meant that we had to sit for an hour and contemplate – and engage with those around us. An elderly Spanish lady came to sit beside us, and managed to communicate through our limited Spanish to determine what we had done and where we originated.

I sat and looked around the church, especially at the statue of Saint James, Sant Iago, behind the altar. We made this pilgrimage along with thousands of others because this place is holy, marked as a shrine for this man. I’m not one for worshipping the saints, but I have had plenty of time along the way to reflect upon James the Apostle, who he was, and what he means. Yet it took until this time to receive one more illumination from the pilgrimage. The role of the apostle, “one who is sent,” is to introduce others to the one whom he follows, Jesus. All along the way, one of my challenges has been to walk at the pace of another. The one for whom James is an apostle spent his life walking, physically, mentally and spiritually, at the slow pace of people who failed to grasp his message and meaning. Any difficulty of the pilgrimage pace pales in comparison.

The starting points and nationalities of those who have completed the pilgrimage are read at the beginning of the service, and there we were: St Jean Pied-de-Port, Canada … as well as the Australians who have befriended us along the way: Pamplona, Australia. Once again, all those who have been engaged in pilgrimage were included in this worship: part of a body that transcends human differences, and brings people together in diverse ways to worship. We were led musically by a nun with a divine voice and the ability to lead people in learning the service music for the mass.

Our mass concluded with the use of the botafumeiro, which is a huge incense-burner, and which has become rather a party trick for the pilgrims’ mass. We were fortunate to witness the use of the botafumeiro, because it is only used on Sundays and feast days unless someone “sponsors” its use (which obviously happened on this otherwise non-notable Thursday) … Fortunately, the botafumeiro is only used at the end of the service, just before the dismissal, because it resulted in a surge of people with cameras, and was applauded. But what I suspect many of those intent on capturing this spectacle on film missed was that as the incense was released, so was the organ! It was wonderful to hear a full pipe organ in a large cathedral: an inspiring moment for me, because music is so intrinsically part of my own spirituality.

As the mass ended, we found ourselves surrounded by many of the people with whom we have walked: part of the wonder of being reunited in Santiago. We had already encountered Jenny and Dougal. We found our three young German friends. In the cathedral we found many of those with whom we have walked. We met the Brazilians, and the man who had asked for his Compostela to be completed in the name of his father, Heinz. We found ourselves staying in the same albergue as Annie and Louis, from Flanders. We saw two young brothers whom we have seen along the way. We saw Susan, whom we had initially known only as the girl with the bad knees! We keep encountering people who have been with us at one point or another. Is Santiago like a rather theologically simplistic representation of heaven: most people end up there sooner or later, even though some seem hard to find?

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In the afternoon, Jenny and Dougal had invited us to go with them, by car, to Fisterra (Finisterre) – another act of kindness and generosity. Having travelled everywhere by foot, and having experienced all the communities through which we passed with some degree of intimacy, it felt very strange to go through villages at driving speed, and not to look into each of the churches that we passed along the way.

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I am glad that we went, although for me the pilgrimage felt complete in Santiago. It was part of the process of transition back to reality, of integrating what we have experienced and learned into the lives we continue to lead. We went to Fisterra as pilgrims becoming tourists! And in this place, which can be dark and foreboding (the Romans apparently called the Atlantic at this place “the black sea”), but which for us was warm, sunny and clear, there was time for peace in the sound and sight of the waves breaking upon the edge of the small peninsula on which Fisterra sits.

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Back in Santiago, we spent time with Netia, whom we first saw a long time ago on the trail into Nájare, and with whom we shared a meal in Carrión, and who walks very quickly. Ian and Judy, from Australia, sat down and talked to us before they departed. Jenny and Dougal had to go to pack – they leave in the morning. Then we shared some wine and beer with Anne, Christiane and Erik, the three young Germans who seem to have adopted us. They will walk to Fisterra, starting in the morning. I hope that we shall see them again: we invited them to stay with us if they come to British Columbia.

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Arrival – 28 September

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Rúa to Santiago … The end of the road …

Someone, somewhere must like us … It seemed as though we began this journey, more than a month ago, in rain, and we would end it in rain. This was the weather forecast. However, we were late starting, and our procrastination was rewarded by missing most of the rain, which arrived unexpectedly early, so that we walked through an occasional early shower, but otherwise simply through damp forest trails that smelt wonderfully of wet eucalyptus.

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Although this was the day that we knew would culminate with walking into the city, and although the Camino has taught us by now that this means harder work for our feet on the asphalt surface, the Camino kept us walking for hours along more forest paths that are, as I described yesterday, a combination of very old, native, deciduous trees, such as oak, and newer, introduced trees, such as eucalyptus. And we were still being shepherded on our way by our little friends, successive robins, almost until we reached the limits of the city of Santiago.

Incidentally, we finally have some tangible evidence of the continued use of the little family silos that (uniquely) populate the Galician countryside. We were able to see maize and onions stored safely …

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Perhaps we were not yet ready to rush into Santiago, because we seem to have been drawn to stop at more of the cafés along the way than we might otherwise have done for a relatively short walk. And now I have to reveal a remarkable occurrence. For nearly 800 kilometres, we have walked past what must be hundreds of cafés and bars, most of whom have the same signs illustrating their ice cream for sale. And they are mostly the same. But the signs do not represent what is actually for sale: it is always a subset of what is shown. I have ben craving a particular offering: a chocolate covered, raspberry sorbet – but it has never been available. On this last day, just before we began the final, urban part of our journey, we wandered into a café, and almost indifferently, I wandered over to the ice cream cabinet, expecting nothing, but finding what I had been seeking for weeks. I must report that it did not disappoint me.

Inevitably, though, our trail brought us into the vicinity of Santiago, and we skirted the airport. The trail brought us almost unexpectedly to a stone marker that indicated the limits of Santiago. I was not ready for the emotion it evoked … suddenly, we really were near to the end of our journey (even though it’s 10 or more kilometres to the city from the airport)

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There is no distant view of Santiago to ponder as one takes the long walk towards the city, as there was with Burgos. There is no sudden view, as there was with Villafrance. Santiago just sort of reveals parts of itself, piecemeal, as one comes closer, moving through layers of the city. There is a hill (after what we have climbed, I’m unwilling to glorify it as a mountain!), called Monte del Gozo, which is supposed to be the “mount of joy,” from which pilgrims once celebrated the view of the city before them. But now, it has been covered with trees, and developed into a hillside with recreational facilities and a huge albergue for pilgrims, so that the view is restricted.

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Nevertheless, I found myself reliving the sense of wonder that many generations of pilgrims must have felt entering this city … For eaxmple, after so many days in small Galician villages, we even need to be reminded to use the pedestrian crossing signals properly! Walking into the city, closer and closer to the old centre, this city does finally start to reveal itself, but waits almost until the last minute to disclose its intricate maze of ancient streets and stone buildings that make up the old quarter of Santiago.

Finally the towers of the cathedral came into sight, and then the cathedral itself, and the end of the journey … I suspect that Kate wanted us to find somewhere to stay, but I just needed to sit, quietly, for a while, to absorb the meaning of the end of the journey. I know that for some, there is a sense of achievement, accompanied by a lot of back-slapping or the equivalent, but that is not how I felt at that moment (or since). It was not so much a sense of accomplishment, more a warm feeling of having arrived, and, awe-struck, awareness of the richly blessed path that we have walked, coupled with still a sense of – well, loss, I suppose. No more walking. No more remote, country trails. No more hills and spectacular views. No more new and renewed friendships. No more yellow arrows to follow.

But here we are. We did find somewhere to stay, almost farcically, in the process of looking for something else, we stumbled upon a place that had already been mentioned to us: San Martin Pinario, Seminario Mayor, which in addition to being the second largest seminary in Spain, has a section devoted partly to an albergue for pilgrims and a floor that functions as a hotel. The view from our window is amazing. The location is exceptional: the seminary is across the square from the cathedral.

And now, what follows …? Tonight we will go to obtain our “diploma,” or “Compostela,” the certificate of completion. Tomorrow, we will go to the pilgrims’ mass. And we still have to complete the traditional ritual observed by pilgrims to Santiago.

But for now: we have arrived.

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Blessings – 27 September

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Boente to Rúa

Whatever divine guiding force is moving us along our way has blessed us exceptionally today. We had quite a good night’s sleep, and left about 30 minutes before sunrise. We walked through the deep forest paths in the morning twilight, and so it was fairly dark. We could see that for the first time since we have been walking there was some cloud cover overhead, and the making of a brilliant sunrise. We have had so many clear skies that there have not really been any colourful sunrises. Anyway, just as the path rose out of the forest to cross the main road, giving us a clearer view of the sky, we were presented with a spectacular view of a brilliant sunrise. We may have had to wait a long time for it, but it was worth the wait, and the perfect timing was something that we could not possibly have managed.

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Secondly, we walked for more than an hour this morning with Anna, one of the young Germans with whom we have been sharing our way, on and off since Larrasoaña – our second day. She is 22, a college student originally studying mathematics, but who found after walking a different part of the Camino through France last year that she was not called to teach mathematics, but to try a different field. So she is now studying engineering and economics. She is also very diligent about being guided by her Christian faith in making decisions and in her view of the world. In many ways, there is more wisdom in this young woman than all the bankers in North America! Maybe she, and young people like her, will ultimately shake up the way in which economics is practised. As I said to her, there has not really been any dramatic development in the field of economic theory for 70 or 80 years, a time during which almost every other field has been subject to radical change. Anyway, we have been touched that these young people seem moved to spend time with us as they walk along.

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Our progress for the past couple of days has been closely supervised by a succession of robins (the small, European ones), who often dart down to the path before we pass, sit on close branches until the last minute, and then dart away, often serenading us as we past. They are a connection with my family, past and present: they have always been a distinctive part of the English countryside, and my sister’s bird table is often visited by them. Also, today we saw – for the first time – some Spanish squirrels. They have brown bodies and black tails. I expect that given the many Spanish chestnut trees that we have passed along the way, and that the chestnuts are edible, squirrels are not very popular with the locals. I’m avoiding thinking of what that might mean …

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I can understand why people are drawn to the Galician part of the Camino. Its forests are varied, but sheltering. They contain many very old deciduous trees, including oaks and chestnuts, as well as introduced species such as eucalyptus. For Kate, this lends a touch of California reminiscence, since the central coast of California is rich with eucalyptus. In Spain, they are fodder for the pulp industry, but their shady nature is much appreciated on what continue to be warm days. And we continue to walk through tiny villages and hamlets some of whose streets look as though they have changed little in centuries. Of course, some of this is attached to a region of poverty and serious population decline: we see many derelict and collapsing building, although there are signs of modernisation and repair under way as the Camino brings ways for the Galician people to support themselves, and reasons for their children not to leave for Madrid, Barcelona or places farther afield.

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Anyway, the day possessed more divine guidance: we stopped to look at the memorial to Guillermo Watt, a pilgrim who died just a day away from completing his pilgrimage in 1993. At that precise moment, a Brazilian couple happened to come along, whom we have seen a couple of times to greet, but not really to talk – until now. He told us of his previous four attempts to complete the Camino, each interrupted for a different reason, and then the story of his dead father, by whom he feels guided on this journey, which he seems certain to complete. He tearfully spoke of having a dream of being welcomed into Santiago by his father, Heinz. I am not sure what moved him to disclose this personal detail with two people who were – until then – basically strangers, but again, the way of Saint James is to bring people closer together, and sharing stories is one way this is manifest.

We were still looking for somewhere to stay, and since the albergues at Santa Irene, where we planned to stay, were full, we had to walk on (whatever Kate’s feet had to say). And there was one last blessing in a random chance: finding ourselves in the same place as Jenny and Dougal, the Australian couple whom we have befriended along the way, coinciding on and off since Puente la Reina. We have not seen them for a week, although we have probably only been about 5 kilometres apart. There was much catching up to do.

There was another sad note to the day. We met a man called Kevin, from Londonderry, completing a journey that his dead wife had planned … His journey has been difficult logistically as well as physically. I wonder whether we will see him again – and doubt it – but we will carry him in our hearts. Grief can take a long time to work itself out, and I hope that this way has given him some comfort and a beginning of peace.

There is one day left to follow the seemingly endless trail of yellow arrows that have marked our way. In some ways, I have a heavy heart as the end approaches, but the journey itself continues to lighten any darkness that we may feel.

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Incidentally, it looks as though some of the pictures from the previous post have been spread rather randomly around the text. Sorry for the illustrative confusion.

Field of Stars – 26 September

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Lestodo to Boente

We are once again in an obscure place tonight: nobody seems to be aware that this little albergue exists in Boente, and so most people simply walk through the village. According to the guide, this accommodates 10 people, so it is a very small hostel. There are two other people in our room.

We set out today in the morning twilight. The sun does not rise until after 8:00 at the moment, partly because of daylight saving time, and partly because Spain is so far west in its time zone: it takes a while for the sun to arrive here (and to leave in the evening – we do have our 12 hours of daylight to which proximity to the equinox entitles us!). Oh – and I should mention that because Kate woke me in the middle of the night to open a window, we saw the “field of stars,” the “compostella.” It was so dark that the sky was brilliant with starlight!

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Once again, we walked mostly through woodland or heath covered with gorse and heather, yellow and purple, and fascinating Galician villages and hamlets that show considerable Celtic influence … It’s a wonderful environment in which to revel in the glories of creation and the beauty of this world, and in which to contemplate the inner journey, the impending culmination of our journey, and its ramifications for life beyond, and the whole concept of walking a journey that we know will come to an end soon. It is a little foretaste of mortality, I suppose.
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Earlier, I was contemplating while walking about the challenge of living for more than four weeks in an environment where I barely understand the language, and where the locals barely understand me. I was pondering how kind the Spanish people have been in trying to understand us, and to help us to understand them. I mentioned some of this to Kate – whose secondary school Spanish has been a considerable help, even if we have the occasional glitch! Just a short while later, as if arranged by some guiding angels, we came across three older Spanish people on the trail. The man (whose name turned out to be Mattolo) told us that we were walking on a “calzada Romana,” or Roman road. I was very grateful, because our guide did not mention this, yet upon further inspection it was easy to see the almost hidden elements of its ancient construction. Anyway, Kate struck up a conversation of sorts with these three people, and despite our mutual linguistic limitations, we managed to communicate several things, including the purpose of the odd little structures on stone or cement stilts that we have only seen in Galicia. They are a for storing grain – a mini silo, or granary for each family.

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As I have been typing this, an Italian couple has walked into the café attached to the albergue who have walked from Portomarin today – 45 km. Apparently they started from St. Jean Pied-de-Port on 11 September, so they have been walking for two weeks. They look a little tired. I don’t feel inclined to undertake such an aggressive schedule, competitive or not!

Across the road is a church with a clock and a bell that chimes on the half-hour and the hour. And like many Spanish church clocks, it strikes the hour twice: as if to say, “Just in case you didn’t notice, it’s six o’clock!” We have not heard church bells for what seems like a long time – certainly since entering Galicia, and so to have this poignant reminder of our earlier Camino experience is quite wonderful.

I was able to go to Mass in the local church across the road. Many of these parishes celebrate Mass every day of the week, and attendance is quite healthy – there were about thirty people in the church, and the population of this village is quite small.

Dinner was a Camino treat. There are six people (three couples) staying here, including us, and we were offered the “menu del dia.” Having mentioned the question of language earlier in the day, it was fascinating to be a part of three couple who spoke English, Italian and French, and between us manage to have a conversation not just about the good food that the hirsute chef had prepared for us, but also about reasons for undertaking the Camino, gothic cathedral architecture, and spirituality.

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We have somewhere between 45 and 47 kilometres left of our journey. I remember writing about the sobering thought of completing the remaining 97% or 94% of our journey after the first couple of days. Well, we now have less than 6% of our journey left, and that is a sobering thought of a different kind. Anyway, I am happy for these final stages of our journey through Galicia. The forest paths, often deep within tree-lined and covered tracks, and the paths with views across the rolling hills, are nurturing for the mind and the spirit.

There is one other Camino reflection that has occupied me for the past few days, and I thought that I had already mentioned this, but now cannot find where I did, although part of it is covered in relation to the Horrible Night In Ponferrada. Earlier in our journey, I tried listening to Gregorian chant on my headphones as an antidote to night noises. The noise-cancelling headphones seem to have disappeared somewhere around St Jean de Ortega, and I turned to Adele, who is more effective at covering the sound of snoring. One repercussion of this is that I am stuck with Adele’s songs ringing through my hews as I walk. Anyway, it occurred to me that I would like a new song to play in my head, which immediately triggered three things. First, “O sing to the Lord a new song …” is the beginning of both Psalm 96 and Psalm 98. Secondly, what is the new song that I will sing after this Camino? Thirdly, and later, Psalm 137 (By the rivers of Babylon …), which some people will know as the basis for a popular song, includes the words: “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” and this also relates back to the question of language, of being understood, and of taking the time to try to understand and be understood. More food for thought on the last stages of this journey …

Bracken, Gorse and Heather – 25 September

We walked the 5 kilometres into Portomarin quite quickly, and found ourselves presented with a view that only presents itself in the autumn during dry years. The river at Portomarin has been dammed to create a reservoir, submersing the old village, which was completely reconstructed up the hillside above the new reservoir. There is a high, new bridge (don’t look down!) across the river, but when it is dry, the old bridge and the village are exposed. It has been very dry this year, and we could see a lot of the old walls and streets. The early morning sun didn’t really facilitate photography, so it’s another scene that will have to remain in our memory.

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The Camino is partly – increasingly – about the people we meet … A man from Glasgow, who lives in Dundee, walked with us for an hour or so, and shared some of his story until we stopped for coffee and feet … He told us that we are about one day behind a BBC television crew, filming a documentary about the Camino.

In Portomarin, we saw some women leaving the town along the Camino while we were having breakfast. We kept seeing them throughout the day, and nicknamed them the “laughing chicas” because they seemed to be very happy. Then we noticed that they seemed to stop at a lot of the bars along the way, and appeared to be doing a sort of bar crawl … They were not laughing quite as heartily the last time we passed them, later in the day. Everyone’s feet speak to them after 20 kilometres …

This was another glorious day of walking through Galicia … We went through hillsides covered with bracken, gorse and heather, a brilliant array of colour, especially the purple and yellow, that defies photography, and since I will not take photographs that don’t do justice to the original, there are no pictures of this – just in my memory.

We had dinner with yet another couple of people from Western Australia, also staying here: Tom and Suzanne, father and daughter, walking from Sarria. What are the odds of meeting two sets of people from one of the most sparsely populated areas of the world, about as far away from northern Spain as it is possible to go? Yet we have met two, and there is rumoured to be another couple of people from Western Australia in the vicinity, about a week behind us. It is fascinating to share stories and experiences, and reasons for tackling the Camino, or as much of it as each of us has.

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We hoped to find an open church to worship, but every church that we have passed in the last two days (including today, Sunday) has been closed. Today, we have not quite made it to Palas de Rei, which is only about 4 km away, but after the experience of entering Ponferrada, we have become leery about adding an extra hour to our walk. In trading pragmatism against idealism, we have had to sacrifice the goal of finding a church in which to worship on this last weekend. At least we know we will be worshipping – in style – in Santiago, but I have enjoyed the worship we have experienced in the Spanish villages along the way. Perhaps this is just a manifestation of one of the ways in which Galicia is different from other parts of Spain through which we have passed. For tonight, I concocted my own liturgy, and offered prayer in the wonderful, expansive chapel that surrounds this tiny hamlet of Lestodo: meadows, tree-covered hills, a chorus of bird-song … and, just up the hill, one of the ancient, Celtic crosses that seem to be scattered throughout Galicia – this one outside a small, old cemetery.

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A Wonderful Walk and a Milestone – 24 September

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Pintín to Mercadoiro

When I awoke this morning, I realised that this is our last weekend on the Camino. It seems a little odd to contemplate getting to Santiago and – perish the thought! – not walking any more. And a little sad. So I will just get on with walking …

We walked into Sarria from Pintín with some clouds overhead, and along paths and roads through the green Galician countryside. Once again, I reflected upon the way in which people have taken care of the earth in this area for hundreds of years, planting, reaping, cultivating the soil, taking care of their animals (all without the help of multi-national seed companies).

We saw a fire engine speeding past at one point – a funny, stubby little vehicle compared to British or North American appliances. As happens very often at the pace of the Camino, this triggered thoughts of someone, and time to expand upon those thoughts and reflect upon them. In this case, the person was my brother-in-law, who in a quiet way is always very generous and hospitable to us and our family, and while greatly appreciated, probably does not receive the expression of gratitude that he deserves. He is a good husband and father, and now a very happy grandparent. He serves the community as the fire chief in the town where he lives, which is why he came to mind. I have many thoughts and reflections like this along the way, too many to record all of them, and some too personal to post publicly. But it has been a valuable part of the pilgrim journey to have the time to contemplate the gifts that others can be in our lives, and have been in mine.

Sarria is a great little town, full of distractions and diversions. We had breakfast in a café where the proprietor was sufficiently patient with my lack of Spanish to understand that I wanted a roll filled with the enticing blue cheese in her display cabinet para llevar, to take away (for later) and make one for me.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed elsewhere on the Camino, all of the churches seem to be locked in the morning, and so we were unable to look inside any of the places that looked very interesting from the outside, including the monastery, Mosteiro da Madalena, even though a notice on its door says that it opened 20 minutes before we arrived.

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From Sarria, the Camino is pretty well uphill all the way for this day, although with only a few steep sections, and while this might seem counter-intuitive, the most comfortable mode of walking for us is a steady climb. After one steep climb, I paused for Kate, and a robin (English-style) flew down onto the path ahead of me to engage with an acorn. He allowed me to get very close, and was quite devoted to his task. I’m used to English robins being friendly to humans, but was pleasantly surprised to have this interaction with a Spanish robin. There is a lot of wonder to be found at this pace: looking up, looking around, or looking down (as I was in this case).

The trails and roads along which we walked were often shaded by trees that are mostly very old, and so the appearance of the sun in the afternoon was something pleasant, which is rather a contrast from the mid-afternoon heat in León. And although some of the walking is along country roads, they are largely devoid of traffic; and the trails along which we walk are manifestly very old, and well worn by the feet of many thousands of pilgrims. I found that this connection to those who have walked before (who knows, maybe even Francis of Assisi!) adds to the wonder of this pilgrimage.

Everyone walks their own Camino. We saw two young Spanish girls, who had evidently set out today from Sarria, walking along with music playing loudly – no privacy of headphones for them! We called them the Chicas Musicas and wondered how they would fare after two weeks. Of course, they will be in Santiago in a lot less time than that. We were told that Spanish students can receive academic credit for walking the Camino and receiving the certificate at the end. This explains a lot of the new, clean trainers (shoes, that is, not personal trainers) and shiny packs that we observed today. It is tempting to become smug and self-satisfied after completing seven times what those who start from Sarria will accomplish. It is a temptation to be resisted. People do what they can. We met a couple of German women today, a mother and daughter. The mother is very asthmatic, and is concerned about the hills. She took her time, and they managed to arrive at our albergue by the evening.

One of the young Germans, Erik, whom we first met in Burgos, came across us as we were finishing a short break to adjust shoes and drink, and asked whether he could walk with us. Although he walks faster than we do, the two girls with him apparently do not, so in the afternoons he walks ahead to secure accommodation. I was touched that he would walk with us: he is probably in his mid-twenties, and we are not, and his company was a gift. So we walked and talked, and as we did so, we came upon the 100 km marker by the side of the road. Throughout Galicia, there are markers every half kilometre along the trail, although there is some dispute about their accuracy in the context of the current Camino’s path. Nevertheless, we stopped and took a picture of the three of us at this milestone, and then revelled in the difference in perception possible at this point. Those of us who have now walked about 700 km see it as “only 100 km to go.” Those who started from Sarria today see it as something different. Erik stopped at Ferrerios, and we continued.

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After reaching the summit of our day’s journey, with some more spectacular views, this time over the rolling green hills to the west, ahead of us, we decided to stop in Mercadoiro, a hamlet with an official population of one. This is just 5 km before Portomarín, and we stopped partly because there are a lot more pilgrims along the way, and the larger centres can become congested, although we have yet to determine this for ourselves. As we discovered in Sarria, walking through towns in the morning means that the churches are closed, but since tomorrow is Sunday, we are hoping to find that this is not the case.

This has been a really good day’s walk. In some ways, I would have been happy just to keep going for another couple of hours – assuming the same terrain, which might be dubious. And my feet and my spouse would probably have expressed discontent fairly quickly.

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