15 Oct 2017

Buen Camino


It has indeed been a Buen Camino, sometimes thrilling, sometimes changeling, sometimes spectacular, and almost always rewarding.

For those who have followed the stops along the way, after Miraz I spent the night in Boimorto and The last night before Santiago in Pedrouzo.

I have been in A Coruna since Thursday afternoon, a delightful city with the oldest continuously operating lighthouse which dates back to Roman times. I will send a photo. I return to Santiago on the 4.30pm regional train and am meeting Sr Katherine at 6pm for a drink. Tomorrow my friends from Belgium arrive to spend the week with me. I have decided to then stay on for a few extra days in Santiago rather than try to "do" Madrid in three days.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my ramblings, perhaps giving you an insight into the journey of one pilgrim. I do know I sent to you unsolicited and if it has been a nuisance I apologise. Some of you sent messages of encouragement and I thank you, I chose not to respond individually as carrying the iPad was sufficient intrusion into my pilgrimage. The problem is that once you have access to the ABC, the BBC, and CNN it is almost impossible to not succumb to the urge to find out what is going on. Why don't I get tired of being infuriated by Trump and others?

Finally I do find the auto correct on this iPad to be more of a curse than a blessing.

PS I lost 4kg.

13 Oct 2017

3 Irish Women


I first met Sr Katherine O'Flynn FCJ just before Christmas last year, when Bob Dixon invited me for cheese and wine and the opportunity to meet Katherine. Bob thought we would have much to talk about as Katherine for the past 3 years has been responsible for the chaplaincy to English-speaking pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela.

I had made an appointment to see Katherine at 4.30pm on Tuesday, the day I arrived in Santiago.

We chatted very easily for about 45 minutes over a cup of tea, a very Irish thing to do. Katherine canvassed the possibility of me coming over for a month or two next year to help with her ministry.

We were interrupted by Dominic (her French-speaking equivalent) who brought the news that there was an Irish woman in the chapel with the ashes of her son that she had carried on the Camino. Katherine excused herself by asking if she might bring the distressed person back to her office so we could both talk with her. I readily agreed.

After about 5 minutes the door opened and three people entered, Katherine and two Irish women, whom I shall call "Siobhan" and "Mary" to protect their identity.

Siobhan had two sons, the elder was murdered having got caught up in "the troubles", the younger took his own life three years ago leaving behind a wife and three children. Mary had walked with Siobhan for two weeks each year for the past three years and this year they completed the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago.

Siobhan and Mary (who incidentally was the last person to see and speak to the younger son) were leaving on Wednesday morning for Finisterre where Siobhan intended to scatter her son's ashes.

It was a grace-filled 90 minutes or so spent with these three Irish women. I know that Katherine and I were able to listen well and respond appropriately. So much so that Siobhan and Mary delayed their departure to Finisterre so they could come to the cathedral and participate in the Mass I celebrated.

I firmly believe that Siobhan is on the road to recovery. I was just honoured to be there at that time and am in awe of the courage and honesty of Siobhan Mary and indeed Katherine.

Lost And Found

13 Oct 2017


I was awake. It was dark, very dark. I put my head as best I could into my sleeping-bag and pressed the illuminate button of my FitBit watch. 6.26am. To heck with it I am getting up.

I remember celebrating Laurie Carroll's father's funeral. The thing that has always stayed with me was the person offering the eulogy said "...he never lost his sense of wonderment". What a wonderful tribute.

I hope I never lose my sense of wonderment. Take the FitBit watch. Tells the time measures how many steps you take, monitors your heart rate, knows if you are walking or riding a bike, and no doubt many other things.

Anyway after getting up at 6.26am and leaving in the dark about an hour later I had walked about 12km from Miraz on Sunday morning and there was a point where the track crossed a road and then followed beside the road for 5km. At the very time I was crossing the road Evan (Galway) came up behind me (he walks quicker than me). We both stopped I to put on some sunscreen, hat, glasses and mittens, he to take off a jacket and enjoy a banana. In applying the sunscreen I took off my FitBit and placed it on that part of the backpack that rests against your back. It is black the same colour as the watch. Evan offered me half of his banana, I offered him some sunscreen. He moved on, I about 2or 3 minutes later. After about 3km I crossed the road to inspect the precise direction of the way-marking sign, in doing so I looked back and saw Marcel from Switzerland coming (he is faster than Evan), at the same time I looked at the time. The FitBit was not there. I knew instantly that it was on the ground 3km back. I blame the banana as it was an additional thing the 74 yo pilgrim had to cope with.

As Marcel approached I was so glad he was Swiss. They don't miss a thing, do they? No he had not seen my watch. After deliberating I decided to walk on another 2km to a bar where I would have a cup of tea and wait for other pilgrims, hopefully one with the FitBit. Evan suggested that I get a taxi back to where we crossed the road and see if the watch was still there. I asked the woman in the bar about the possibility of getting a taxi, at which point her husband immediately materialised as a taxi driver.

Back we went stopping about a dozen pilgrims on the way. None had seen the watch. When we got to the spot I was a bit worried that my "taxi driver" might run over the watch as he was pulling off the road. Out I got, no sign of the watch. But then what was this black thing in the grass. FitBit. The sun had warmed the back of the watch which only added to the feeling of exhilaration at finding th swatch.

I gave my taxi driver €20 and he offered €10 change. I declined.

Thanks to FitBit I can tell you that last week I walked 255km. Soto de Luina, Luarca, La Caridad,  Vilela, (spelt incorrectly in the last email), Mondonedo,  Vilalba, Miraz are the places where this pilgrim found rest last week. According to Fit -Bit 340,385 steps or 255km, incidentally Craig gave me 247km for the previous week.

I arrived in Santiago de Compostela on Tuesday morning and concelebrated the midday pilgrim Mass. It was just 28 days since I left Bayonne walking 1,255,846 steps or 942Km (33.64km average a day).

For Mr Bremner's class my question is what does Santiago de Compostela mean in English?


Saying Adios To The Atlantic

6 Oct 2017


Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining

3 Oct 2017


Last night I stayed in Viela about 7km from Ribadeo. Ribadio is significant on the Camino del Norte, because it is here that pilgrims turn their back on the Atlantic and begin walking SW rather than basically due West up till now. Check out the bridge at the entry to the town - 600m long and far too high for a person like me with a fear of heights.

I am now in Galicia. A question for Mr Bremner's Class: How many regions have I passed through?

Galicia true to form was shrouded in fog and offered misty rain all day. However I must say I had one of my best days of walking. This I am certain is because I decided to meditate on the "Our Father". This I did all day taking from 8am to 1pm to get to the second "heaven". Of course other things flashed into my mind but I kept coming back to the prayer, thinking of it in blocks, and then relating it to my life. For instance Our Father ( remember who is the author of the prayer) is extraordinary as Jesus is sharing his Father with us. Abba was the word Jesus used to address God, which as I understand can be translated as "daddy". Two things, firstly that Jesus could be so audacious as to refer to God with such intimacy and secondly that he would share the Father with us. You and me. Then I started thinking of biblical images of God as Father and found the "Forgiving Father" in Luke 15 widely called the Parable of the Prodigal Son irresistible.

I then took the word "father" and thought of my difficult relationship with my father. I could go on...

Yesterday I saw a very cruel thing. I observed a cow in a paddock with a rope tied around its neck with the other end of the rope firmly fastened just below the knee of the right leg. The effect was that every time it moved its head was forced downward, in a bowing action. When it trotted this forced action was accentuated. Terrible.

Gave the Atlantic a good farewell yesterday with a diversion along the coast it was truly magnificent.

A couple of overall impressions about the walk thus far. The beautiful Spanish costal towns, the most numerous Spanish tree - the gum tree (and the associated timber industry), and the goodness of the Spanish people.

Staying tonight in Mondonedo, it is the best albergue so far; a towel, sheets, clean.

Finally another question for Mr Bremner's class. Who, when and how united the separate kingdoms that today make up Spain. Perhaps an important question given the forces at work pulling it apart.

A Pilgrim's tale.


This morning Tuesday 3 October greeted the pilgrim with rain. It is never something one undertakes with relish, setting off in the still darkness (at least till 8am) with poncho attached in the rain. Today perhaps even more so as it followed a 42km walk yesterday and when daylight came the fog and the clouds were one.

Back to the early days of this pilgrim walk in the rain, mud and slush. Still managing 4km an hour in spite of the conditions and the up and down. Came to a place called Villapedre after 5 minutes shy of 3 hours having travelled 11.7km where I broke my fast, a tortilla, bread and 2 cups of tea - 2.50€. Evan from Galway who I do not walk with but for the last 5 or 6 nights have enjoyed having dinner with, suggested walking on the road. Certainly a safer option in the conditions. So I soldiered on to Navia a further 8km. La Caridad today's destination was still 9.5km away.

I decided to do what I rarely do; stop have a rest and eat one of the three plums I had purchased the night before. I wanted confirmation that the road I was on led me to La Caridad as the signs I was seeing offered no such confirmation. I was still in the outskirts of Navia sitting in a bus shelter when I noticed a car pull up on the other side of the road. I did not immediately approach the driver but after a few minutes decided to elicit his help. With my brochure in hand listing the names of the towns I pointed to La Caridad and by gesture was assured I was on the right road. He then indicated that was where he was going and offered me a ride. My resolve to walk evaporated immediately and the last 9.5km was covered in minutes rather than hours. First into the albergue a shave, a good shower and then off to lunch. A salad, fish stew and a bottle of vino Tinto (not drained).

I need to say that with the exception of potatoes (remember Dan Quayle - my question for Mr Bremner's class) unless you order a ensalada mixta you just don't get vegetables. I never thought anyone could rival the Irish when it came to potatoes, but the Spanish do.

Snap shots.

A few days ago when I stayed in Gijon (check out the university) I stayed in a pension a single room, shared facilities, no soap, a mini towel and what would be adequate in normal circumstances a supply of toilet paper. It is the first time I can remember when I was rationed toilet paper.

The next night at Soto de Luina - cold showers.

About a week ago walking with superb cliff top views of the Atlantic after Guemes I noticed corn growing up the the very edge. It surprised me because I cannot recall corn being grown so close to the sea. I think corn is a very thirsty crop so it does make sense that the extra moisture the coast offers makes sense. But as I say I can't recall seeing it before.

I ended my last email with choices, given I am running ahead of where I expected. What is firming in my mind is to simply arrive in Santiago and walk through it to Finisterre (90km) and then to Muxia, returning  to Santiago on 16 October.

All's well.


Back In Touch

2 Oct 2017


Thought you might like a break, plus there were so other reasons for being "off the air". The albergue I stayed at on Thursday night did not have WIFI or portable water for that matter-but what can you expect for 4€.

I realised that it was school holidays. I knew it was a public holiday in Melbourne-Go Tigers (nana would be pleased- she would be 125 tomorrow). Not many would realise but Richmond was the first team I supported and until I went to Carlton in 1965 had anybody asked I would have said I followed the Tigers.

This past week I have stayed in Cobreces, San Vincent de la Barquera, Llanes, Ribadesella, Sebrayo, Gijon, San Martin (near Salinas), 329161 steps according to FitBit. My nephew Craig will tell me how many kms and I will let you know.

A couple of funny things have happened. Last Wednesday I stayed at the surf camp in Ribadesella (right on the beach). I decided to have a pizza. After finishing my meal, waiting for the bill, I was playing with my water bottle. The screw-top has a hole from which it can be carried. Somehow I got my little finger in past the joint. Trouble. The waiter came with the bill and rather sheepishly I presented my predicament to her. I was immediately led by the bottle attached to the little finger to the toilet. Liquid soap applied, finger extracted.

Friday was a long day including two significant mountains. I happened on a group actually painting the yellow arrows. Three young men with a woman obviously in charge driving a van. Bravo I said wanting to convey my appreciation. They followed me or vice versa for a couple of kms. I was in front of them when I was confronted with a significant decision, as the arrows gave me two options - in opposite directions one saying "bici". I had noticed this before and wondered if it meant scenic route, forgetting it actually means bike. What to do? It was an important decision as I had begun the ascent of the first mountain. Inspiration. I'll wait for for the council workers and ask them as to which is the better choice. I did not have to wait long for the white van to appear around a bend. I hailed them down and then began a discussion the "bici" route was further but not as steep. Much discussion. Then an offer I could not refuse the woman offered to drive me to the top. On the summit I asked if I could take a photo. They all piled out of the van and somebody was deputised to take the photo. While lining up a bike rider appeared, a few words in Spanish and he was off his bike and now became our photographer.

The other day I was walking along a very narrow track when a van appeared from the opposite direction. There was no room to pass, steep embankment to my left and steep drop on my right along with wild blackberry bushes. The driver summed up the situation and reversed and reversed. I thought he must know the track well and is heading for a safe place. Wrong. He was actually waiting for me to pick the safe spot. Had it not eventually dawned on me we might have gone all the way to Santiago.

According to a brochure I have come 542km from Irun plus another 40 from Bayonne, leaving just 282km to go. Choices.

Peace to all.

A Late Start

27 Sep 2017


Pilgrims seem to want any trace of light blocked out of the room and all windows closed before settling in for the night. This morning I slept in stating my walk at 8.08 nearly an hour later than usual.

This really was the only blemish to an otherwise perfect day. The walking this morning along the coast was superb. Check out Google maps or whatever from Poo (not joking, better to walk through it than to live in it), to Celorio. Even go back further East, so many absolutely sensational costal towns.

I walked this morning with a delightful couple from Vienna for an hour or so. Had dinner last night with Evan from Galway. My favourite however was Anna from Bristol who I met around Gernika. In fact we arrived before the albergue was open and it began to rain. She suggested to two or three others that they climb the fence and offered to take my bag. I was in fact first over the fence where a verandah provided shelter. Anna declared me as "my hero" to all and sundry.

Yesterday I came across the biggest dog (both in height and bulk) that I have ever seen. A question for Mr Bremner's class - what is regarded as the largest dog in the world? Also came across three goats in a paddock sitting on a wooden picnic table, have a photo.

Speaking of photos this morning there was a special shot, long shadow of the pilgrim on the path, Ocean to the right with spectacular rock formations. Thought it was so good as to stop, take off my backpack, get out the iPad. Ready. "Siri not available". Perhaps not a good idea to have a password for the iPad.

Tonight I am staying at a surf camp right on the beach. Even got Zante from Bendigo to take a photo. Could there be anybody less likely to be staying in a surf camp. Incidentally you see plenty of such things along with surf schools, not to mention a plethora of surfers.

A final question for Mr Bremner's class: when I am walking along rocky tracks (loose and embedded rocks) if I look up invariably I kick a rock. However if I keep my head down I do not. The message from my brain to my foot stops me kicking any rocks. It seems to me that my eye scans the track relays a message to my brain which then conveys to my foot ( about a step and a half ahead) where it should be placed. Is this something a computer could not do? Or more precisely would the computer be slower or at least not as efficient?

As they used to say at the end of one of the cartoons - "that's all folks".

46742 35.01


A Long Day

26 Sep 2017

If yesterday was a short day today was a long day. I left San Vicente de la Barquera at 7.35 this morning and walked into the Albergue in Llanes at 5.20pm. According to FitBit  that was 39.97km or 53369 steps later. Just two stops (apart from water refills, breakfast at Sergio - 9km from San Vincent'e, and a mineral water at a bar).

Leaving the beach at San Vincente immediately going up and up, it was 5 hours of walking before I saw the ocean again. Much of the walk was through eucalyptus forest, some of them well established, so I guess gum trees have been around in Spain for a long time.

The Camino split today with the Ruta Leonesa heading South to join the Camino Frances at Carrion de Los Condes. This may mean fewer pilgrims, it certainly seemed that way today.

About 4 this afternoon I was feeling the pinch as the saying goes. I estimated that my arrival time in Llanes would be around 4.30, but it was nowhere in sight. Rather unexpectedly I came across a police car parked on the side of the road with the two occupants not over-busy. How far to Llanes? I asked. 3kms was the reply. Mustering all my strength I set off. A sign informed me that it was 1km to St Rocque and 5 to Llanes. My spirits drooped. Stopping at the first bar in St Rocque I asked if there was accommodation available in the town. There seemed to be, at least according to gestures. I then noticed that the bar was next to a bus stop. Five o'clock I was informed. Just finishing the mineral water that I had ordered, I could see a bus approaching. Gestures again indicated this was the bus. The 1.50€ bus fare for the 3km was money well spent.

Now for Mr Bremner's class, I mentioned yesterday I had lunch for 11€, breakfast this morning was 3.60€ (a slice of potato omelette, half a sandwich and two cups of tea), and the bus fare was 1.50€. How much in Australian currency was each transaction worth?

A Short Day

25 Sep 2017


I left Cobreces at 7.40 this morning. It proved to be a good place to stay. The albergue was clean and well run 14€ including breakfast. Just opposite there was a bar/restaurant where I had a delightful grilled tuna steak, that covered the whole plate 12€.

My intention was to walk further today but rain was forecast after 3pm. I arrived at San Vincent'e de la Barquera around 12.30 feeling tired and with a sore left foot. Proved to be a blister; always great satisfaction to prick the blister and see the water run out. Anyway I did not even attempt to find the albergue knowing at the very earliest it would open at 2pm. Booked into a hotel for 35€, intend to make an early start in the morning.

Had a delightful lunch, chose the menu del dia for 11€. Paella, grilled sardines, mineral water con gas, bread, and a bottle of vino Tinto. Declined the dessert and coffee. How can they make anything out of it? The bottle of wine was not exhausted.

Now for Mr Bremner's class, this morning I found the sun sometimes to be on the right side of my face and the ocean straight ahead or even slightly to my left. This was puzzling because the ocean has always been on my right and the sun coming over my left ear. Why? In which direction am I travelling? What if I was walking in the same direction in Australia, where would the sun be?

Need to mention that all along the way there have been numerous gum trees that I always find a good reminder of home.