The day after

The day after the Camino

This morning I am rather hung over – whoever thought tequila shots were a good idea last night was crazy.  Tequila is never a good idea (particularly when it follows a lot of wine).  So after I got to my hotel, had a rest and a bath (yay full sized bath!), unpacked my pack, did some washing (and freaked out at the way my middle toe had doubled in size from a blister that would mean my toenail would eventually come off) I headed out to meet up with the girls for celebratory wine and tapas at a bar nearby.  When I was almost at the bar I rounded a corner and who should I see having Tapas at another bar? Zie Germans!  They had arrived in Santiago the previous day so it turns out they weren’t that far ahead of me after all, if I hadn’t stopped for a rest day we would have arrived on the same day but then I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people.

I met the girls at the tapas bar – they had managed a trip to Zara and a cosmetics store so looked gorgeous, I was in my spare clean hiking clothes accompanied by my hot pink teeva sandals and socks – yep, Camino fashion at its best!  We struck up a conversation with a bunch of students at the next table – well, when I say we I mean they chatted and my friends translated for me while I made up my own translation as we went.  It got more amusing after a glass of wine or two, particularly as their names were Nacho, Igo and Piker.  Then we joined them for some bar-hopping and us girls were treated to a few Galician delicacies including pigs ear, mussels and a strange cheesy, soapy and vaguely corn flavoured white wine.  Somewhere along the way we met the Santiago pilgrim – a guy who makes his living (or rather drinking) by dressing up as a pilgrim and wandering the streets of Santiago

 After stopping at most of the bars along the street (every door has a bar behind it) and trying a glass of wine or so at each we finally ended up at the bar that all the other pilgrims seemed to have found.  Then someone insisted on Tequila.  It was a blast, I saw quite a few other pilgrims I had crossed paths with along the way including supercaminoman and the general vibe in the bar was one of celebration and relief.

Later on a group of English and Russian tourists arrived and I was able to have a whole conversation in English for the first time that night only to realise that my brain could no longer speak proper English and was firmly stuck in basic easy-to-understand English which was accompanied by excessive hand gestures and not helped by the amount I had had to drink or how tired I was.

It’s funny how the Camino makes everything come together; how you see the same people at different times.  It is like an isolated pocket of destiny.  Life and just being are so much more intense than at home.  People are different, places are different, all experiences are somehow more acute and emotions are more powerful.  One thing, however, remains exactly the same – hangovers…


The music of life

Music is a huge part of my life so before I set out for Spain and the great unknown I made a playlist of songs I thought would help me along the road to Santiago.  My Camino  playlist is now complete (with a little help from my friends) and covers everything from Metal to Disney (kinda like my normal music collection), it started off as 10 songs but then went on to 15 and finally finished at 20.  I have only doubled up on one artist though several artists featured frequently in my playlist, with all the rest I have just included the most applicable song – enjoy

  1.  I’m on my way (well I had to didn’t I!) by The Proclaimers; Completely essential in my opinion and I set out from Sarria on my very first day with it coming through my headphones – because I was!
  2. I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) – also by The Proclaimers;  also completely essential for any longer distance walking or even a visit to the pub/tapas bar a little later on when (I imagine) the drunker Australians and Brits arrive and loudly join in with the chorus (and then mumble their way through the versus) – well they do at home so I’m assuming the Camino is no different.
  3. Catch my disease – Ben Lee; I started many days with this song because the beat is good for walking, it is also cheeky, cute and uplifting.  Ben Lee is also a comedian so it can be hard to imagine someone from that area singing but he actually does a pretty decent job of it – the song is a few years old and I have no idea if he’s done much recently and no, I don’t think the song is actually about communicable diseases…
  4. China – Sparkadia; I love this song it is beautiful so it was really quite fitting that it accompanied one of the most significant moments of my Camino.  I first heard of this band when they played on Adam Hills’s program ‘Live in Gordon St Tonight’ and was completely blown away by the song.  Since then it has been one of my favourites.  I haven’t added the video because it’s on my last post.
  5. I want to break free – Queen; Pretty self-explanatory really!  I think most people walk the Camino to get away from the demands of their daily life amongst whatever other reasons they may have and traveling to Spain to walk 800km or however far you chose is a pretty good way to achieve that!
  6. Down with the Sickness – Disturbed; Perfect for when you need just need to put your head down, shut your brain off and bully your feet into getting up that tough hill – or shut out the incessant prattling of a tour group.
  7. The Cave – Mumford and sons;  I saw Mumford and Sons in Hyde Park (London) after leaving Spain and it was amazing,  I’ve never been to an outdoor concert with quite so many people in one place – it was similar to the Australian ‘Big Day Out’ but for only one stage.  I really liked the band before the concert but now I love them even more.  I hadn’t heard of them before their song ‘Little Lion Man’ came number one in the Tripe J hottest 100 in 2010 – I then found that my brother loved them so listened to his collection of their music (he is often my source of ‘new’ music as I tend to listen to my own playlists or Triple M which plays Rock music and not often new Rock music).
  8. The river of dreams – Billy Joel;  The man, the legend!  I was so sad when i missed him in concert when he was last in Australia and I will be lining up overnight if necessary to see him if he comes back.
  9. The Greatest love of all – Whitney Houston; Well you have to really don’t you because if you don’t find love inside yourself along the way you’re going to be pretty sore and miserable by the end (not that you wont be sore anyway but if you can’t find love in yourself you’re not really going to listen to or appreciate your body as much as you could be).
  10. Burn your name – Powderfinger;  There will always be a place in my heart for this legendary Australian band and for this song in particular.  I absolutely love it and it’s great to help you forget your aching feet and how many kilometres you have to go and just let yourself go with the music.  I saw their final farewell tour last year in Melbourne and will never forget it.
  11. If I ever leave this world alive – Flogging Molly;  Irish music has a great beat and uplifting sound that is just as appropriate for hiking as jumping around a pub with a pint in your hand and this song is no exception but the version on the ‘PS I love you’ soundtrack is a bit better than this youtube clip
  12. Blame it on the boogie – The Jacksons; This is a great song to bring out the hiking pole accompaniment for.  As I danced my way through the outskirts of Melide I did feel a little concerned that anyone trying to pass me would end up with a stick in the face as I acted out my customary dance moves for ‘sunshine’, ‘moonlight’, ‘good times’ and ‘boogie’ but fortunately nobody was trying to at the time.  There are some songs that are timeless and I believe this is one that can get any generation on the dance floor (or tapping out the rhythm on The Way)
  13. F**k you – Cee Lo Green; most appropriate for a tough stretch when you just need to stick it to the man (or hill, or whatever) and keep moving so you can get where you need to be.  On a more personal note, I am a huge fan of all the Cee Lo songs I have heard, I think he has a fantastic voice and gift for music that is (i believe) rare in the modern top 40 where a lot of it is electronically altered to within an inch of its life or just plain crap.  It seems to be rare to have a male African American artist who can not only sing well but isn’t trying anything along the lines of rap (which I don’t tend to understand) and whatever Usher, Akon and Chris Brown call what they’re doing.
  14. Born this way – Lady Gaga;  Ok, I confess, I do actually quite like a lot of lady Gaga’s music – no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to don 10 inch platform shoes and put cans in my hair or whatever and join the screeching masses at one of her concerts (although it would be interesting).  I do think that a lot of her songs have musical merit, they are simple and catchy and a few of them even have moral messages – not that some over protective mothers would believe their children should be listening to someone who wears dresses made of meat or occasionally very little coupled with big hair and bigger shoes but hey, a song that says I’m beautiful in my way ’cause God makes no mistakes (etc) even if you don’t believe in God (which I don’t) has got to be a good thing for the self esteem of impressionable young people and it is certainly uplifting to hear your mp3 player telling you were completely awesome and perfect when you were born and still are when you’re already congratulating yourself for being on the home stretch of a 115km hike.
  15. Don’t Rain On My Parade – Barbara Streisand;  A song from a famous musical sung by Barbara, yes I know that’s what she does and she does it well but this one is special.  It’s completely relevant to the playlist – it’s all about independence and determination.  Don’t tell me not to do something because I have to, I am the one taking risks not you and I am the one deciding that these risks are worth taking so don’t try and talk me out of it and don’t put my decision down – so there!  This had been a rather recurring scenario during the planning phase of my trip – and then of course there was the real rain…
  16. Higher than hope – Daryl Braithwaite; Another amazing Australian talent and even though his time was 10 years ago his songs still echo in the hearts of the generations who were lucky enough to hear them
  17. What a wonderful world (and I think to myself); Well I don’t think it’s possible to walk any of the Camino without coming to the conclusion that the world we live in is a very special and wonderful place and that there are some amazing people in it.  So if you need an excuse to gain some perspective, get away a bit, reaffirm the love within yourself and with the world around you, look no further than the Camino de Santiago – it will change your world
  18. The Bare necessities – The Jungle Book; Courtesy of Mars – because all you need on the Camino are the bare necessities.  You carry your life on your back and anything superfluous quickly gets left behind.
  19. Dock of the bay – I know there are probably more appropriate songs to sing at a place of such spiritual and historic significance like Finisterre but this was what came to my mind – whistling and all.  Though it is hard to whistle when you’re freezing cold and the weather is rather windy even if you are viewing one of the most spectacular sunsets of your life (made even more so by its significance.
  20. It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) – REM; If you journey on to Finisterre from Santiago you really are at the end of the world – well, where the ancient Roman’s believed the end of the world was so the song naturally occurred to our minds and of course then we had to sing it (well the chorus at any rate – does anyone actually know all the lyrics to this song?!)…

Camino Day 8, part 2 – the end of the beginning

Camino day 8 – Part 2

And on I walked.  The numbers on the wayside markers went down and down and the view was still awe inspiring at times.  I passed fields of wildflowers and groves of silver birch, oak, pine and eucalyptus.  The way went through a tunnel of green that went on for maybe 100m.  Perhaps the trail was carved by hand out of the ground, or maybe the feet of thousands of pilgrim wore away at the earth over time and this is the result.  Who knows, but I like to think it is the latter.
 After that I passed some dead shoes on a waymarker, they had been someone’s faithful companions for hundreds of kilometres and had walked as many steps as they could.
 I really wanted to take a photo of the 13km marker (I can’t remember why) but at around 13.5km the markers stop saying how far there is to go just as you get to the freeway near Lavacolla.  I later discovered that this is because the way was changed to go around the airport – so my book was right all along, not 4km or so out as I had thought.  This meant that my already tough walk of 18.5km was going to be 22.5 (or whatever) but the thought didn’t really hit home, I was on a roll and wouldn’t be stopping.

My feet and legs ached and I cried intermittently, overcome by the magnitude of what I was achieving and the significance of the day.  And the finally, there was Santiago in the distance with only Monte de Gozo in the way.  Not a particularly inspiring first impression but it was the end of the road and that was enough.

The end went on forever, twisting and turning.  First Santiago was to the left, then in front, then to the right, then to the front, then – ah you get the idea.  Finally I got to the bottom of Monte de Gozo and the end was in sight – well, the freeway sign marking the start of Santiago was in sight.  Now all I had to do was get to the cathedral.

At the other end of the freeway overpass I met up with a couple of girls I had met at Arzua (one hot American mama and one sexy Spanish senorita) walking with a (gorgeous german) girl I had met earlier in the day.  I joined them and we walked (or rather hobbled) through the streets of Santiago following the Camino as it twisted and turned on its way to the cathedral.  It seemed to take forever and we were all sore and going slowly – there was no need to hurry, we were in Santiago, we would make it to the end.

And then, finally, we were there!

The cathedral was huge with a magnificent carved stone facade towering above the plaza where the tents of the protesters were set up on the stone ground.  Inside we were surrounded by stone pillars and tourists, some were pilgrims, some not.  We dumped our packs in an alcove and sat, absorbing the atmosphere and reflecting on our journey’s and what had brought us to the Camino.  Hiking boots were swapped for comfortable sandals and we sat in companionable silence for quite a while.  We decided to go and rest in our respective hotels and meet up again for dinner, we thought the chances of finding the band were very slim as there were many plazas in Santiago and we had no idea what time to look.  So we collected our things and walked outside to find – the band!

We greeted them for the last time and listened for a while – there were plenty of hugs and photos.  My walking companion and her injured friend showed up after a little while – apparently the delightful Italian and Southern American lad had finished today as well and had only just passed through the plaza while we were in the Cathedral.  After saying goodbye for the final time the girls and I headed off to get our compostela’s – well, to join the incredibly long line to get out compostela’s and then off to our hotels for some much needed rest before meeting up for tapas later on.

It is easy to spot fellow pilgrims in the streets even without poles, packs and boots.  They usually have sandals with socks, not overly fashionable but practical clothes and often walking slowly and stiffly/sorely with a shuffle or hobble.  Many stop to say congratulations or share a smile as we pass like we know a secret that the other people in the street don’t know.

Today I made a decision.  If/when I am accepted to study medicine, when I finish I will walk the Camino again but this time it will be the whole thing from St Jean, all 800km of it.  The Camino takes a lot, every day you have to give it everything you have and in return it can give you exactly what you need (if not necessarily what you want).  So this time I have walked in hope, next time I walk with thanks.
Just to prove I was really there!

And I will go on to Finisterre, because for me that is the end of the journey.  I wont do it on foot, when I got to my hotel after leaving the cathedral I discovered a blister the size of Mars on my toe that means I will lose my toenail now, not to mention all the rest of the pain my poor body is producing!  Yes, it’s a bus for me – Onwards to the end of the world!!

Camino Day 8 (the final day) – Part 1; Lightning flashes

Camino day 8; Arca – Santiago (part 1)

What a day!

I slept in this morning so didn’t start walking until nearly 10am.  I knew I would be starting out alone today so I wasn’t holding anyone up with my late start.  Last night we had a goodbye of sorts.  The Puerto Rican’s wanted to be at Santiago for midday pilgrim mass as they would only have a few hours in Santiago before heading back by train to Lugo where they had left the bulk of their luggage.  Our delightful Italian friend was planning to only go as far as Monte de Gozo so he could have a leisurely walk into Santiago the next day and arrive fresh and relaxed.  Our free-spirited southern lad was also headed to Santiago but would only be there one night before heading on to Finisterre.  We made no solid plans to meet up because the way is unpredictable and nobody knew when they would get to Santiago.  The only thing we did know was that the band was playing in a plaza somewhere in Santiago at some time – maybe 3pm, maybe 4, maybe 5 or 6, they didn’t know.  But the sadness of parting was forgotten in the joy and companionship of the evening.

Last night I followed the sound of music down the main street until I found the band – and everyone else.  We chatted, some danced and clowned around, took photos and listened to the music tapping our toes to the joyful beat.  Afterwards the two Puerto rican girls, Italian guy and I headed to the cafe for some amazing, rich Spanish hot chocolate that was so thick it had to be eaten with a spoon.  I decided I would have to take some home with me if I could find it in Santiago.  After many words and hugs we parted ways for sleep and another day or more of walking, not knowing if we would meet again but knowing we shared something very special that would live on in our hearts long after the thrill of travel had passed.

There was a light rain in the morning but once I left the streets of Arca behind and headed into the forest the rain did not touch me through the trees.  It was beautiful – glorious ivy-covered Oak trees interspersed with Eucalyptus and ferns, so many shades of green there are not enough words to describe so here’s a photo

The walk today would be shorter than yesterday according to the wayside markers – only 18.5km to Santiago, I was sure I could make it.  I was going along at a good pace, buoyed up by my music and the feeling that today, maybe, I would finish, I would achieve what I came here to achieve.  I would complete my Camino.  I was listening to ‘China’ by Sparkadia

and singing along to the chorus when suddenly it happened.  The thing I had been hoping for with every fibre of my being.  It was as if I had hit an invisible wall or been struck by lightning and could not move.  Then a flood of emotion took over, a feeling of love, protection and reassurance coursed through me from all around and I had the overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be ok.  EVERYTHING!  That I don’t have to worry anymore.  I have no idea where it came from and after what could have been a moment or 10 minutes it ebbed away leaving me completely stunned.  Overwhelmed I cried as at buoyed my spirit.  It was like nothing I have ever experienced before.  There were no words to hear, nothing to see and no-one took responsibility for it but that is not important.  It was there, it happened, that is what is important.

I don’t know specifically what it means; whether I will get well completely and forever, whether I will be accepted into and complete a medical degree, whether it meant I will finish the Camino, finish my holiday, whether I will always be happy and live to be old and wrinkly with the person I choose to spend the rest of my life with by my side, whether I will meet that person – who knows!  But that is also unimportant because I know that whatever happens I will be OK.
 Obviously this experience lead me to reflect a bit.  I was on the home straight of a journey that has been several months in the making.  A journey that looked several times like it would not happen.  A journey that has taught me new respect for my body.  We (my body and I) don’t need to go any further to prove anything to anyone.  We have proved to ourselves that we could do it, that we can do anything we set our mind and heart to and that is enough.  We have learned the most important thing of all from this journey – patience with ourselves and love for ourself.  Santiago will always be there and everything will be ok.

About 100m from my place of epiphany the Camino brought me back to the world (just to remind me I was still here and not to get too carried away) when I met an elderly Spanish man walking along the way in the middle of nowhere.  He was going very slowly and it was clear he would take a long time to reach anywhere.  He was carrying an umbrella.  I said the usual ‘Hola’ and ‘Buenos Dias’ and he settled in for a chat in Spanish.  He did not let the fact that I understood very little of what he was saying deter him and repeated himself over again and used hand gestures until he thought I had grasped the idea.  I believe the conversation went something like this; you are going to Santiago?  It is not so far now, only 16km.  Where did you start?  Oh Sarria, that is a long way – you are very fit/fat/happy/beautiful????? (yeah that bit got a bit confused because he kept saying different things – it could possibly have been all those)  To get to Santiago from here there is one small hill and then one very big one.

Spain makes language barriers and cultural differences highly amusing 😀

The rain in Spain actually doesn’t stay mainly in the plain…

Day 7 – Arzua – Arca/Pedroso

So I have decided I am staying in a hotel again tonight – more expensive but I do have my reasons!  Let me explain; I like sleep, I really appreciate it, actually I could go so far as to say that I LOVE SLEEP!  My body also loves sleep and sleep has been a big issue throughout my illness.  So you see, if I was able to lounge around on a beach all day after partying heaps and staying in a poorly ventilated dormitory with 34 others including some that are intent on bursting ear drums and conducting brain surgery with their snoring it would be fine.  I honestly don’t mind staying in a dorm – I’ve done it before and I will do it again, just not tonight…
I have to respect what my body needs if I am going to make it to Santiago and what my body needs (it has told me in no uncertain terms) is sleep.  I really have been pushing it and my body has been showing the effects so I need to be nice to it when I can.

So yes, last night.  I got some sleep in between being freezing cold and then boiling hot once the accumulated  breathing and body heat steamed up the room, then I kept needing to move (moving while trying to sleep is my problem, not snoring and I feel really bad that I might be keeping people awake until a ripper snore (or fart) is let off and then I don’t feel so bad after all), then there were the snorers and the fact that wherever you were in the room the door woke you up when it opened as the light outside was bright as day and the hinges sounded like they were being tortured.

I set out in the rain at 9am.  And this time it was real rain, the rain had decided to be completely committed to its cause and required full wet weather protection as it was relentless in its determination.  I met The Puerto Rican ladies from the night before outside their Albergue (which was right next door to mine) and one joined me as planned, the other had an injury so was having a day off.  It didn’t take long to get out of Arzua and into the countryside and the scenery was beautiful if slightly damp.  One thing I love about Spain is the determination, ingenuity and make-do attitude; so what if it’s raining and my tractor doesn’t have a roof – I have an umbrella
My Puerto Rican friend was a science teacher who wanted to become a priest and we had lengthy discussions about how different life in Puerto Rico was to Spain and even Australia, particularly her neighbourhood where many children do not finish school and end up working as drug traffickers etc.  It is not a life I could begin to imagine coming from a family where it is a given that you finish school and then university and an area where the majority of kids I went to school with finished school or if they dropped out, ended up in an apprenticeship to a trade or working in the family business so they at least had some future employment to look forward to.  I know I have had a privileged upbringing (though not as much as some) and I am not naive enough to think that the whole world of even most of the world is like the one I live in but it is rare to hear these stories first hand if you do not go out and seek them (particularly coming from Australia which is so large and so removed geographically from most of the western world).  That is one of the magical things about the Camino, it calls people from all over the world, from many different backgrounds and dumps them together unceremoniously on a path in the middle of the Spanish countryside – you never know who or what you will find.

We clocked up 19km, quite a decent effort I thought, particularly considering the weather, but the band were playing that night in Arca so she had a deadline.  I had nowhere better to be so tagged along thinking I could stop earlier if I needed to and found somewhere I liked the look of.  I didn’t.  We crossed paths a few times with a group of 3 (one man and two women) with their dogs – very cute and well behaved (the dogs that is), I have no idea what breed they were but they were mid-sized and looked a bit like black shelties only slightly larger.  We also saw my Southern American friend a few times and strolled (damply) into Arca with him.

I don’t know if every day is getting harder or it just feels like that but today was hard – probably because I was starting on very little sleep!  I also might be coming down with a sinus infection – oh what fun!  That and my body is still a bit of a mess what with intermittent tachycardia, the pain in my feet and who knows what going on with my blood pressure, oh and today my knees decided they had been far too well behaved and wanted some attention too.  And I had been really impressed with them up until now, actually I still am, they could be a lot worse.  I swear also that my pack is getting heavier – I know for a fact that that is impossible as it is getting smaller so I am either getting better at packing it or am leaving things behind on my way.  Still, I have walked further today than any other day so far and according to the wayside markers (but not my book) there is only 18.5km left till Santiago.  the question is; do I do it all in one day so i can stop and rest properly sooner or do I do it over 2 easier days?  Nobody can answer that for me and I guess I will just find out tomorrow.

I am not sure about going on to Finisterre now – part of me thinks I have put my body through enough for one year, the rest thinks it would be wonderful to get there under my own steam.  But if the book is to be believed (the jury is still out on that one) there is another 91km or so to Finisterre from Santiago and, to be honest, I really don’t think I can be assed, although it’s not a definite no.

After promising myself some TLC we walked into the first hotel we could find and my friend translated for me – 40 Euros for a room, yeah that’s so not going to happen…
How about I give it to you for 30?  Well that I can work with!  I obviously looked rather pitiful or they were desperate to fill rooms or something but either way I got my room.  Apparently I would love it, it was really nice.  To be honest I can’t actually tell what makes it 10 Euros more than other rooms; it is smaller, there are no extra blankets and it has a shower not a bath.  So what makes a room 10 Euros more along the Camino?  The answer is, apparently, climate control.  I would much prefer a bath!  Actually, I think when I retire I will set up a hostel along the Camino with single room options or smaller dorm rooms (maybe 8 beds) and separate dorms for snorers and early leavers.  Also baths, including a jacuzzi in each shared bathroom or just a really warm pool, a table for unpacking your pack for each bed, hooks to hang up hiking poles, bags of ice available at reception, an in-house pharmacy and nurse on call, clothes washing facilities that don’t cost as much as the room, a restaurant that opens at 5:30pm, massage chairs in the communal room and plenty of water and wine for everyone.  I like that plan, it’s a good plan.

The dog people are also staying in the hotel and I think the dogs are in the basement.  I can hear them howling up the stairwell which is acting like a sound conductor and amplifier and is right next to my room.  I can hear them as if they were next door.  Oh, the dog people are actually next door and having a very good time indeed – how do they have the energy for that after walking all day?  Um, think I might go for a walk or something, away from here – conveniently I know of a Puerto Rican band that is playing nearby.

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