Endings and beginnings

Sunday, January 24, 2010 by Johanna , under , , ,

I've been putting writing in this blog off for a week now, and it's about time that I simply sat down and wrote something, anything, to keep my readership - though destined to decline in numbers now that I'm no longer on the Camino - in decent figures and happy. It's not as if there is nothing to write about in the last two weeks - quite the contrary, there has been a lot of travelling and sightseeing and thinking happening. To overview the time that passed since we left Morations:

We spent just over a week in Barcelona, managing to arrive even after a cancelled bus, half a night in a train station and hectic train trip (switching in Zaragoza and not knowing where to go) on the way. Barcelona was a lovely city, and we were fortunate enough to stay in the empty apartment of a friend of a friend's called Coral, who was moving to Granada but still had the flat. She also came up for two days before we left. It as relaxing and lovely, completely unstressed and yet still interesting. We slepts lots, saw all the sights, went to museums and walked along the beaches eating icecream. We also were fortunate enough to meet some friends from home in Australia, who proceeded to take us to very fancy restaurants on the beach and beautiful cafes in the city and were alltogether fabulous and very, very sweet. Ever since walking for ten days with Charlie, the word fabulous has become a part of my everyday vocabulary.

We managed to get to Germany without any trouble, arriving by plane in Bremen, exploring the city, then catching a train to Hannover and a bus to the suburb where my (step)aunt and her husband live with their two gorgeous two girls, six and three years old, who have latched on to me and won't let go. It's been a lazy few days here, and a cold few days as well, seeing as the temperatures have dropped to minus six or eight degrees and we're all staying inside as much as we can, amusing ourselves with food, crocheting and baby-sitting. I also managed to double my wardrobe for 120 Euros - not a hard feat seeing as I owned a grand total of three outfits, including the Camino gear. I don't quite know how long I'm going to be staying here now - I'm going to the airport in Köln with Ariel and may stay a day or two in that city, about a week from now. After that it's just me - I don't think I can go on living in the three-year-old's room for another few months, she's anxious enough to get it back already, but people seem to be making plans for me to stay longer as well. I suppose I'll just have to see how things turn out after Ariel leaves.

Other than that, I've been thinking and planning a bit, reminiscing a bit in the city I spent two years in, and researching the route from Le Puy to St Jean Pied-du-Port for September. Everyone has been asking about the Camino and if something, anything, has changed in perception or worldview, spirituality, religion, whatever it may be. Well, I began walking without a religion and I am still not religious, and I can't say I've gone through a massive, dramatic catharsis either. But yes, something has changed, and it's getting more apparent the further I am away from my Camino. There is something. It's not big, and it's not dramatic, and I can't even put my finger on exactly what it is. But the experience itself was great enough to leave something a little bit different. Just a little bit.

Speaking of the Camino, once again, a question that has only just been resolved a moment ago when I finally remembered to google it. Everywhere I went, I kept seeing the words 'Caminante, no hay camino' in places - graffitied on the slats of beds and walls, on signs while walking, everywhere. And I always wondered what it meant and where it came from, because my halfhearted translation of '... there is no way' didn't seem to do anything. It's from a poem by someone called Antonio Machado, and the whole quote goes like this and is translated thusly:

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
Traveller, there is no way. The way is made by walking.

And after the 800km of Camino I travelled, I cried reading it.

Back in Moratinos

Friday, January 8, 2010 by Johanna , under , ,

After five weeks of walking and close to eight hundred kilometers, leaving the Camino was tough.

When you're walking, all you have to worry about is what you'll eat for dinner that night, how much chocolate you have left in your stash and where the next albergue is. You know that whatever happens, you'll have a place to sleep, people around you who are doing the same thing you are, a way of communicating just by being a pilgrim that means you're generally understood. And you walk, you sleep and you eat. Life is simple and secure, and wonderful.

Leaving the Camino is a complete culture shock all over again. Trying to get out of Santiago over New Year and a weekend even more so. You don't realise when you're walking exactly how sheltered and safe everything is. No planning, no bus tickets, no accommodation that needs to be found a booked. Suddenly you have all those things and more if everything is closed due to a public holiday and a weekend, and you're thrown right into the deep end. We tried to get out of Santiago on two days, first to Finisterre, and then to Leon, only to have to stay another night because the trains and busses had already left for the day. We finally managed to get to Leon, the place we chose to flee to simply because we liked the city and knew there was a youth hostel, on the third day of trying-to-get-somewhere, on a six hour train trip that was quite an experience. From there we had two days to regroup and think of our attack strategies for the next few weeks until we fly out to Germany.

For now, we decided to return to Moratinos and Rebekah and Paddy, who have been wonderful enough to put up with us for the last two days and pick us up from the train station in Sahagun. I think I could deal with life here at the Peaceable Kingdom - I sleep a lot, help out around the house, go for long walks along the Camino and reminisce, and do other fun things like cleaning out the chicken coop with Ariel and Kim, another woman staying here for a while. She's one of those serene people, who found that after the Camino life just wasn't the same anymore and things had to be rethought. She sold her place in Florida and is now drifting a bit, hoping to volunteer as a hospitalera in some of the albergues, I think. Having such a lovely place to relax for a few days is great and just what I needed after the first few days of non-pilgrim travel. Tomorrow night we are catching the train back to Leon and from there a bus to Barcelona, where John (who jumped in just a day or two ago) arranged for us to live in a friend's flat there. That's what I call awesome luck and awesome friends. (Thanks, John.)

Today was a beautiful day, inside and outside. In the morning I revamped my blog with Kim's help - she's a graphic designer or something like that and showed me how to use photoshop to make custom headers and all that. Must get photoshop when I'm in Germany! The photo is of the Puente de Magdalen in Pamplona, one that I took myself, a very beautiful medieval bridge crossed by thousands of pilgrims every year. Later, we walked through the frozen fields with the dogs, Una (a scruffy-looking, one-legged pirate of a dog) and Tim (a more placid dog who demands attention from everyone), helped clean the little church here in Moratinos and were invited over for tea and Rascon de los Reyes (Christmas cake) mucked out the chicken coop and enjoyed the glorious sunshine with Murphy (the most gorgeous cat I've ever met apart from Sekhmet, my own!) curled up on my lap.

And that's actually all there is to report from this land! I'm planning on continuing to update the blog while I'm in Germany, as well as wherever I find myself along the way. I'd like to do some woofing in Italy like a friend from the bookshop in Australia did, and maybe in France as well. And then, I've decided (and already started researching) about my next Camino - I'd like to walk a longer route for two months or so before I have to head back to Australia, from say September through October and into November a little. I'm tossing up between the Le Puy route and the Arles route and Camino Aragones route which joins up with the Frances in Puente la Reina. What does everyone think? The Le Puy route is more populated and has more infrastructure, while the Arles route is quieter but also has less infrastructure. Will there be to many people on the Le Puy route in the Holy Year in September still?

Adios Amigos!

Days 27 to 33 - Triacastela, Sarria, Portomarin, Palas de Rei, Ribadiso, Arca and Santiago

Thursday, December 31, 2009 by Johanna , under , , , , , , , , ,

Hi all, and sorry for the long, long gap between posts! For the last week almost we've been staying in Xunta hostels (since Sarria) and they had no internet and only once did Charlie find a wifi connection. I started typing this long post about everything from Christmas in Sarria to Palas de Rei, but then his computer downloaded  virus with a movie and went completely beserk, poor guy. He's had so much trouble fixing it.

But anyway, to kep things brief in the twenty minutes I have left: We spent the 23rd and the 24th of December in Sarria, had a massive Christmas Eve dinner complete with pumpkin soup, asparagus and smoked salmon, ratatouille and desserts of various kinds, and set out the next morning in glorious weather to reach Portomarin and the 100km to Santiago marker, where we took lots of photos! A couple are here, which the computer luckily saved before the virus hit.

There's me balancing like a tree... a slightly wonky an entirely unflexible tree due to me wearing too many clothes to do it properly.

There's me and Ariel posing with arms and legs (haha Jet, get it?)... yes, we went a bit nuts.

And there's my mud encrustd foot - I couldn't help this one because of all the speculation on the forum of Gareth's boots being so clean. Let no-one say that mine are!!! They even had mud on the inside. It was very, very muddy and there were creeks all along the camino. We had to detour across the fields at some points.

Yay for photos. The days between Sarria and Ribadiso (wonderful albergue there!) were a dream, with sunshine and lovely temperatures. After that... It poured. And poured and poured. The creeks rose a meter overnight, we got absolutely drenched, my sleeping bag got wet inside my pack, everything was wet. In Arca the dorm stank to high heaven because we all had our boots on the radiators inside to dry! Didn't really work that well. Going into Santiago was a little better, we had some really sunyn spots in between some heavy showers, and even a Rainbow getting into the old city! Very nice indeed. It's very strange, the last two days' walk, because there are so many eucalyptus trees everywhere. Made me feel like I was back in Australia... in some of the photos, you'd think I was!

Arriving in Santiago was a stange experience. In one way, completely relieving and wonderful and amazing, and in another quite sad, because the camino life and rhythm truly is amazing. That said, I'm very happy that now I can relax, put my feet up and just chill - my feet really were at the end yesterday after going to the pilgrim office (not a single person queuing!!!) and back to the albergue, 3km from the city center. (Grr.) They were soaked and the tendons were being really annoying and painful again. Did I say that I met a physio in Ponferrada who said that I had several inflamed tendons (something like that) which actually needed time not walking to get better? Well, that wasn't going to happen, so I just kept walking... as you do. Just walk it off, is my philosophy. But now I think I really do need to let them heal a bit before stressing them out again.

Some really good news from today at Frank and Ivar's travel center - the one box that did arrive had my down winter coat for Germany, my books (books!) and my favourite long skirt in it - yay for comforting home things! It brighteend up the whole albergue when I wore it. Luckily it's warm and I can! And I'm so glad my warm jacket was in there too - don't have to wear thirteen layers anymore now. Today was a bit sad too, though, because I had to say goodbye to a pilgrim I've become very close to after the mass at the cathedral (which was very elaborate, very spanish and had very nice choir music), who walked on to Negreira that day on the way to Finisterre. I think I'll have to go there by bus anyway after a few days here in Santiago - so maybe, just maybe, we'll see eachother one more time. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, that's all for now because I have to go and buy shoes. This camino experience has truly been an amazing one and I may even have picked up a few wisdoms along the way. I'm so, so very happy that I went through with it all! The last month has just gone by so quickly and amazingly, and the people I've met I will hold very close for a long time.


Days 25 and 26 - Villafranca, Vega de Valcarce, O'Cebreiro and Triacastela

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 by Johanna , under , ,

I can't believe all you people in forty-degree heat. It seems as surreal as the whole snow thing probably still does to Ariel, though after a couple of days of it I think she's seen all there is to see. We've now seen and experienced the whole transformation - fresh snow to dangerous ice, back to more snow, and then to slush and creeks that have taken over the whole camino coming down into Triacastela today from the mountains. No matter really - our boots were already soaked from the rain, so a few ventures into 5cm rushing water from the melted snow made no difference, really.

The day's walk from Villafranca del Bierzo to Vega de Valcarce was one of the most amazing, wonderful and beautiful days on the whole camino so far. I don't miss the Meseta - especially not that 17km stretch of yellow road that just went on and on with no change whatsoever - in the slightest. I'd much rather climb up the mountain passes and tracks looking out over the Valcarce valley. It's magical. The first ascent was the steepest, probably making a 45 degree angle of ascent, but once it evened out a little to become just a gentle climb the first 500m were so, so worth it. There's something amazing about walking along mountain ridges. It's perfectly quiet when you stop and sit down on the path and look out over the valleys, so very quiet. I wonder if that was the same sort of quietness that Coleridge felt in the opening of his poem Frost at Midnight. It must be very close.

The albergue municipal at Vega that we stayed at was nice enough to have a heater in one of the small bedrooms, while the rest of the rooms, including the bathroom were as cold as it was outside. The kitchen was also out in the open, under the patio roof. While it's probably quite charming in summer, it was a bit of a test in winter, snow and ice and all. We huddled mainly in the heated room (which made it all the way up to 17 degrees) and I tried to spend as little time as possible outside and as much as possible inside!

Leaving the next day we were met with 30cm of fresh snow, at least on the tracks that we followed towards the end. We started out following the roads - the falling snow and fog were so thick we couldn't see 50m in front of us - up to La Faba, a hippie village if ever I saw one (the municipal albergue had a Ganesha holding up the sign and Indian motifs on the curtains on the inside of the closed door), from where we had to take the camino trail that ascended steeply for the last 4km. The snow had stopped falling, but was 30cm thick, and we followed mainly in Thomas' (the German pilgrim - he and Charlie were walking with us) footsteps. Don't know how he did it, walking in front. From Vega to O'Cebreiro the change in altitude is something like 800m, and takes about 8km. Those 8km took us four and a half hours of slogging uphill through snow.

Funnily enough, I felt brilliant while walking. It was only when we got the the albergue (heated, thank god!) that I started to feel the cold and the wet of walking in snow all day. In the evening I got the sniffles and today I have a proper cold - nothing serious, just sneezing and a runny nose. Took some Rhus Tox last night and this morning, mum, it's what you wrote down for colds brought on by exposure to wet and cold. Actually helped a lot, as I managed to get to sleep, so I'll have to take a bit more tonight. (Sorry for that digression, folks.) This morning the snow has also turned to slush, and all the rain that Galicia is meant to be famous for occurred all day. I'm surprised at how warm and dry I did manage to stay. Tomorrow we're heading to San Mamed del Camino, where the albergue has been described as 'a veritable haven of peace' by my guidebook. If that ahven turns out to have hot showers and heating, that's where we'll stay for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We'll venture into Sarria the morning of the 24th and find all sorts of food for our feast - I sent out messages to all our pilgrim friends telling them where we are planning on being, and that that should try and join us!

Anyway, that's all for now, seeing as I have to eat my pineapple and then go to bed, should try and get some sleep. (Once again there is a mattress that leaves a Jo-shaped hole in it! But no bother.) Taking the shorter, steeper route to Sarria tomorrow, not via Samos, I think I'll spare myself the extra 7km and take it easy.

Much love to all!

Day 24 - Ponferrada - Villafranca del Bierzo

Sunday, December 20, 2009 by Johanna , under ,

Yesterday's walking (I mean the route above, as I am typing this in the morning while waiting for Ariel to finish her breakfast) was wonderful. The snow was melting becase the sun was so warm and everything was blue and white and green, except for the pigs being roasted in the streets. We saw three in three different villages - must be a pre-christmas thing? At one point we sat down on a bench in the sun and didn't want to get up becase we were so warm!!

Which is more than I can saw about this morning, because I'm cold and it's -4 degrees outside and the heating isn't really that powerful (another run-down, friendly albergue with a great dinner last night). We actually had to change albergue, because the municipal albergue had no heating whatsoever, which is probably why the guidebook says it is only open until November... But here at least had hot showers, real hot showers (albeit in a freezing bathroom) that almost were too hot and so, so wonderful. My first hot shower in at least a week. The downside to winter walking is that the only time you're actually warm is while walking. Sonja, you really should consider waiting until April or May...

And that's why I'm off now! Walking keeps you warm. Heading to Ruitelan, the albergue has been reccommended, so we'll see how that goes.