Santiago

Two happy peregrinos at the end of their pilgrimage.

Two happy peregrinos at the end of their pilgrimage.

Heaven and Earth are full of His glory.
Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of The Lord.
Blessed is He who comes.
Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
Give us Your peace.

¡Buen Camino!

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Santiago (Day 41 on the Camino)

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Nearing Santiago

Nearing Santiago

Well, we have completed our pilgrimage. Today, under cool, cloudy skies, we hiked the final 20 kilometers into Santiago. Six weeks and 800 kilometers (500 miles) ago we embarked on this fantastic journey. Now we can see the cathedral a few blocks away, but have not yet visited it. Our plan is to attend the pilgrim mass tomorrow at noon. We will also visit the Pilgrim Welcome Office to obtain our Compostela – the document certifying that we have satisfied the requirements of the pilgrimage to Santiago. This will proudly hang in my home office for years to come along with my completed credencial (pilgrim passport) that has the stamps (sellos) from every albergue and many other landmarks that we collected along the way.

As I reported yesterday, it may take a bit of time for this experience to really sink in and for me to realize exactly how it has affected my life. But make no mistake, I do feel changed – a different person, somehow, from when I left San Diego in early September.

Walking today we saw large numbers of pilgrims who had been bused to the day’s starting point so they could experience the Camino a bit as they walked the final few kilometers into Santiago. At one time this would have been unsettling to me. But, one way I have grown during my pilgrimage is that I feel happy for them that they also get to experience this fabulous experience in at least a small way.

imageHiking the Camino is an experience that is impossible to convey to others in a way that can be truly understandable. A person needs to actually make the pilgrimage to truly know what it means. We can try to explain what it is like to walk for several hours every day for weeks on end in all kinds of weather with a heavy pack on your back and how this affects your being. But, we will fall short in our efforts. I truly hope others might be encouraged by my experience to make the commitment to experience their own Camino. It will be the experience of a lifetime and will change you in unexpected and wonderful ways.

Santiago under morning light.

Santiago under morning light.

¡Buen Camino!

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O Pedrouzo (Day 40 on the Camino)

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The metaphor “40 days and 40 nights” has taken on new meaning for me as I completed my 40th day on the Camino today. It seems like I have been walking for months, but in two days I will be standing before the great cathedral in Santiago and contemplating what this pilgrimage has all meant to my life. I realize that I may not have the full answer for weeks or months after I return home. But, I feel certain that the effects are tangible and significant – that I am changed from who I was at the start in a wonderful, inexplicable way.

Another magnificent Camino sunrise.

Another magnificent Camino sunrise.

imageThe Camino was good to us today, perhaps in recognition of the misery we experienced yesterday. There was residual wetness from yesterday’s rains, but no new precipitation, which was a blessing. We saw a lot of new pilgrims on the trail today – a far cry from the days when I was able to hike the Camino for hours without seeing another pilgrim. We are told that there will be even more tomorrow since bus loads of pilgrims are brought in to walk the final day into Santiago. I hope it will be a meaningful experience for them as it has been for me.

Tonight we are staying at a municipal albergue in the town of O Pedrouzo, about 20 kilometers from Santiago. We’re not certain where we will stay tomorrow night. There is a large albergue (400 beds) about 5 kilometers from Santiago that looks good. But, we may choose to walk further into the city and stay at an albergue there. The reason is that we want to finish our pilgrimage on Sunday morning in time for the noontime pilgrim mass without any undo stress. We will evaluate,our alternatives as we approach the city.

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I caught some of the locals checking me out.

I caught some of the locals checking me out.

Our approach to O Perdouzo was in large part through wooded acreage. There was quite a bit of wind as we passed through a large eucalyptus grove, which reminded me of angel wings again – perhaps cheering us on and encouraging us as we complete this six week pilgrimage. Or, maybe it was just my imagination. But, what a wonderful possibility it was. We have also been walking for days besides hundreds of chestnut trees which line the pathways. When I see the chestnuts littering the path I am reminded of the recipes we make at home using chestnuts and it makes me envious of the locals who can walk out and collect as many of these wonderful nuts as they can carry. Is this, too, another Camino grace?

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¡Buen Camino!

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Arzua (Day 39 on the Camino)

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One thing we have learned on this pilgrimage is that the Camino has a way of humbling everyone who travels on her. Just when you think things are going your way and your plans are good and solid, the Camino will remind you that you are not the one in charge.

imageToday, the Camino humbled us and we finally decided to throw in the towel for the day after only hiking about 13 kilometers. The day was miserable for us as we found ourselves in heavy rain for almost 4 solid hours before deciding to find warm, dry quarters for the night. We had done pretty well in moderate rain over the past few days, but this was something different. It was a steady hard rain all morning long. We were pretty well soaked in spite of our rain gear and there didn’t seem to be much point in going on since the rain did not appear to be letting up at all. So, we are now in a very nice albergue in the town of Arzua and will continue our pilgrimage tomorrow morning. More rain is predicted, but there is no prediction of “heavy rain” as there was today.

One consequence of our stopping early today is that we will not arrive in Santiago on Saturday, as previously planned, but on Sunday instead. Our overall schedule allows for this and so we will just shift our planned activities by one day and go on from there. We had been warned about the possibility of rain in Galicia and now we have a new understanding and appreciation of that warning.

Actually, though, we have been greatly blessed so far on our pilgrimage in that the weather has been exceptionally good up until the past 3 or 4 days. So, we will count our blessings and continue on to Santiago tomorrow. The forecast for Santiago is warm and sunny and we are looking forward expectantly to our arrival there on Sunday morning.

¡Buen Camino!

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A Calzada and Melide (Days 37 and 38 on the Camino)

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imageEdging ever closer to Santiago (only 3 days away on our current schedule), we departed from Portomarin yesterday under cold but clear skies. During the day there wasn’t even a wisp of clouds in the sky – a welcome change from the rain we endured yesterday. The countryside continues to be astonishingly beautiful. You wonder when the less beautiful scenery will appear, but the Camino continues to deliver.

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imageWe saw many more pilgrims on the way than previously. A large group were students apparently from a Catholic school who were hiking the last 100 kilometers to Santiago. There were perhaps as many as 50 of them (maybe more) – mostly boys, but a few girls with the older groups. One thing that impressed us was how well behaved they were. Plus, there was very little apparent adult supervision. We only could identify 2 or 3 adults traveling with the students. One was obviously a parish priest since he was addressed with the honorific “Padre,” while the others were most likely teachers. But, the kids seemed to be having a great time and we didn’t see any sorts of problems with them at all.

We have decided to change our planned itinerary a bit as we near Santiago. We are trying to limit our daily hiking distance to about 20 kilometers (about 13 miles) and selecting our albergues in less frequented places to avoid the large number of new pilgrims and help ensure we will have a place to sleep. We have also chosen a schedule that will allow us to sleep on the final night only about 4 kilometers from Santiago, thereby ensuring that we will be at the Cathedral in time for the noon pilgrim mass on Saturday.

imageSo, our stopping point for last night was pretty much in the middle of nowhere – a place on the map identified as A Calzada. The only thing there was the albergue, 20 kilometers from Portomarin – a small establishment with only 10 beds. As hoped, most pilgrims passed this place by, heading for the next bigger town, about 5 kilometers away. This was fine with us. As it turned out, we were the only pilgrims staying at this perfectly adequate albergue. This means it was a quiet night and we weren’t disturbed by any other early rising pilgrims. Plus, we had the bathroom to ourselves (didn’t have to share with anyone) and the proprietor’s wife cooked dinner for just the two of us. It was sublimely wonderful.

The trail was a little muddy in spots!

The trail was a little muddy in spots!

Today we continued on to the town of Melide (population of about 8,000) which is an in-between stop for most pilgrims but has a lot of available beds. The day’s hike was pretty miserable since we had rain all day long – some of it was the heaviest we have seen to date. Portions of the trail were especially wet and muddy during the heavier downpours, but we arrived in Melide and are now warmly ensconced in a newly built albergue with all the amenities. And, we believe the worst is over. Weather.com promises us that it will be sunny and warm in Santiago on Saturday when we plan to arrive. That will only be three days from now. The excitement and anticipation is mounting as we come to the denouement of our 6-week long pilgrimage.

¡Buen Camino!

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Sarria and Portomarin (Days 35 and 36 on the Camino)

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We have now been on our pilgrimage for five full weeks. The time has flown by and we are now only a few days away from Santiago. It is hard for us to grasp that this will all be over soon.

imageFor the past two days we have been hiking through beautiful rolling countryside and passing through a string of small farming hamlets – often right past small family farms redolent with the wafting odors you would expect from stables housing cows. We have seen many small herds being shepherded by the owners and the working dogs – usually German Shepherds – that are ubiquitous in this role. While we were warned about these country dogs, my experience has been to find them either not interested in us or actually quite friendly.

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imageWe have also had rain for the past two days. Yesterday the rain was fairly light but it lasted almost until 2 o’clock. Today the rain let up just before noon, but it was quite heavy at times. But, with the proper rain gear, it’s not all that bad walking while wet. And, in spite of the rain and the wafting odors, the scenery continues to deliver the most delightful vistas so far on our pilgrimage.

Our destination for yesterday was the medieval city of Sarria. Since this is the last major pilgrim-oriented city before the magical 100 kilometer marker required for pilgrims to earn their Compostela certificate, many new pilgrims have joined us on the Camino and there were many more albergues available in this town. I was actually expecting many more new pilgrims than we finally saw, which is a blessing in itself. And the remaining towns should have many more available beds, designed to handle the added pilgrim traffic especially during the peak summer months.

imageSarria had beds for a couple hundred pilgrims distributed among about 10 separate albergues. We decided to pass by most of the more commercial albergues in the center of town favor of an albergue located on the far side of town which was associated with a convent – the Mosteiro de Madalena. It had 90 beds available and we felt it would not be full up (“completo”.) Well, it turns out that only 6 pilgrims (ourselves included) spent the night in this modern, beautifully outfitted albergue and we had the place to ourselves. What a treat! We also had dinner at a recommended Italian restaurant which was a nice break from the Spanish cuisine we have been eating for weeks. There is nothing wrong with the Spanish cuisine. It’s just that the 10 euro pilgrim menus that we order from all seem to have the same 4 or 5 dishes available for pilgrims and it gets a bit repetitive. This was a nice change of pace. And the house made sangria was absolutely delicious.

imageToday we continued on to the town of Portomarin. The way passed through many more small farming hamlets and followed country tracks through the woods and besides intensely green pastures. At the entrance to the town we were greeted with yet another steep set of steps (46 according to Clint’s reckoning) – a fine welcome to this wet and rainy town! We saw many of the new pilgrims but also saw the familiar faces of many of the hiking partners we have been traveling with for the past few weeks. Our cadre of friends has been anything but static. New friends sync up their hiking with us for a while while others drift away to follow their own ways, mostly due to differences in walking paces and distances walked each day. But, it has been fun to see the same people and commiserate with them since they are in the same boat we find ourselves in. For instance, at dinner last night we saw no less than five couples that have been hiking with us. And all of them came over to visit with us for a while. It is a wonderful small family. Tomorrow we continue on toward Santiago. The forecast is for clear skies and we are hoping for the best.

Standing by the magical 100 kilometer marker in the rain,

Standing by the magical 100 kilometer marker in the rain,

¡Buen Camino!

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Triacastela (Day 34 on the Camino)

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imageThe lure of Santiago is growing stronger as we walk ever closer to the ultimate destination of our pilgrimage. We have been walking for almost five weeks and the approach of the end is on our minds more and more. It has been interesting that my concept of time has been changed while hiking the Camino. It is hard to imagine how long we have been at this. Days merge into each other and destinations with euphonious Spanish names become hard to remember specifically without referring to our guidebook. I can remember specific places and events, but the concept of a time line has become blurred. Time itself has become less important as we walk along. I know this will all change again once this pilgrimage is over and we return to our “normal” lives. I hope this will all become clearer and make more sense after I have had some time to ponder the entire experience after my return home.

Today we continued on to the town of Triacastela named after the three castles that once stood here but, alas, are no longer in existence. It has been a pilgrim refuge since medieval times like most of our destinations so far. Our way to Triacastela passed through a string of small villages as we descended from the heights of O’Cebreiro down to the lower plain where we are spending the night. The scenery, while reminiscent of the Pyrenees had an ethereal beauty of its own, especially in the morning before the mountain mists and clouds dissipated as the sun rose.

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imageWe crossed over a couple of mountain peaks at altitudes as high as 1,335 meters. At one such peak (Alto San Roque) we saw the large statue of a medieval pilgrim straining against the mountainous winds and looking out over the mountain scenery. We also began hearing the sounds of cowbells again – a sound we haven’t heard since our time in the Pyrenees. This time, unlike before, the bells were actually on the necks of cows. The region is known for its artisanal cheeses and the lush green pastureland provides an ideal diet for the truly contented cows we saw dotting the landscape.

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Tomorrow we continue on to the town of Sarria. As noted before, this is where we begin to see the larger number of new pilgrims that will be joining us as we make our way to Santiago. Our itinerary indicates that we will arrive in Santiago in one week – exactly as we had planned so many weeks ago.

¡Buen Camino!

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