everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Gorgeous Galicia

We had a shorter day today – around 22km to arrive in the small village of Ventas de Naron. It seems that the ‘hood consists of two private albergues (each with its own bar/cafe/restaurant – possibly a bit OTT when you could reach one from the other in less than 10 steps), a lot of farmland and that’s pretty much it. So, the perfect place to chillax and enjoy a siesta…and a Magnum ice cream and some Milka chocolate.
There were some pretty scenes today as we reached Portomarin under a blanket of cloud. Spain, your Galicia is especially beautiful – so many truly breathtaking views (and hills, but that’s another matter) – it has been my favourite part of the Way. The lush green hills, the fat & happy cattle, the yappy dogs that seem to greet us in each village, the extraordinary starry skies that look like movie sets, the atmospheric foggy mornings. Love it.
Now there are a lot more people on the Way – a lot of tourists travelling on coach tours, carrying tiny day packs and completing the final stage to Santiago in style. A different feeling to the early weeks, when the sense of community was so strong as we all faced this intense experience together. Now it often feels like we old-time pilgrims have merged with some perky holiday campers and the sense of pilgrimage is very different. But there are many ways to walk the Camino, so good on them for being here. And if they experience even a small part of the wonderful journey we have had, they will be very lucky too!

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Another nice day on the Camino

Today was another cold and foggy start as we followed the torch light along the dark forest path after leaving beautiful Samos. Another great day of walking through interesting farming communities (lots of cows and dogs), with some very strong aromas. Our guide book author describes the sensory experience of this area far more eloquently that I can: ‘…rural Galicia at her best; wet and green with the sweet smell and squelch of liquid cow dung underfoot’. Amen to that.
We are staying in a new albergue here in the teeny tiny town of Ferreiros (where we were greeted on the way into the village by an ostrich – yes, really) and as I write, we are enjoying the still-warm evening sun at 6.30pm. Life is good!

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A beautiful 30k day

Today was probably my favourite walking day so far – and that’s a very big call to make! We left by 6.30am and everything on the mountain was pitch black. A low fog hung around all morning, adding to the amazing atmosphere – especially as we first walked through a forest with only my torch app to guide us through the darkness. It was cold – the coldest I’ve been here – a refreshing wake up call til we stopped for coffee. There were also some steep inclines (albeit shorter than yesterday), which were a not-so-pleasant surprise – but given that there’s not really an alternative, the climbing mission was accomplished!
It felt as though we were the only ones out walking – at one stage, Andy and I saw what we thought was lightning up ahead…but it turned out to be two French dudes taking flash photos of a statue that we couldn’t really see, even with our torches.
We stopped for coffee and while we were in the tiny stone bar, the sun finally made its way up and everything became a lot brighter. Except the fog stayed low – making for some beautiful Celtic-style views as we walked through stunning countryside.
We took a different path to the guide book as we wanted to walk a longer day and get out of sync with the stages of the book (followed by approx 98% of pilgrims, I think) as we have generally had better experiences with towns and albergues that way. So, a 30km day took us to Samos – the view of the impressive monastery as we came down the hill made up for the tricky, rocky descent.
We’re expecting to make it to Santiago on Saturday – with two cushy, short days on Friday and Saturday to time our arrival for the morning. Tomorrow, we will pass through Sarria, the town that marks 100km to Santiago – and apparently the start of the mass pilgrimage, as it’s the shortest distance you can walk and still receive a Compostela (certificate) when you get to Santiago. Not looking forward to the expected crowds – we have been so fortunate to have had such a positive experience on our journey: hardly any pilgrim traffic jams as we walk or stop, always a place to stay and plenty of dining options. Hopefully, by staying off the guide book path we can hold on to this more intimate experience for a while longer!
With less than a week til our arrival in Santiago, everyone is starting to finalise their post-Camino plans. Steph, Andy and Chris will continue walking to Finisterre – an extra 3 days’ walk to the coast – which I would have loved to do, but the timing didn’t quite work as I am off to visit to my Dublin family for a week before heading home. I plan to catch the bus from Santiago to spend a day checking out Finisterre, to see what the ‘end of the earth’ actually looks like. Will be strange not to walk it, but that can wait til my next Camino!

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O’Cebreiro – welcome to Celtic Spain

Day 26 was a big challenge. Just as my clothes are getting a bit looser and I feel as though my strength and fitness are improving, the Camino throws in a hugely steep incline up to the cute medieval town of O’Cebreiro. Beautiful vistas through the woods (especially the early stages, with a smoky mist through the valley) and over the mountains, but a tough walk in the heat today and I was really focused on putting one foot in front of the other (as our friend Shane says of the Camino hills: ‘just don’t stop!’) as the sweat rolled down (in a sophisticated and ladylike manner, obviously). I was delighted to reach the top of the hill & the old walls of our first town in the region of Galicia.
Green, with changeable weather, beautiful farm land and lots of sheep and cows, the guide book says that this part of Spain has a very strong Celtic spirit – and judging by the music, scenery, design and vibe of this place, the book is right. To be sure, to be sure. Love it.
The albergue looks new – so new that they must have forgotten about the doors on the showers. Felt very European and liberated as I had no choice but to wash with only my short towel swinging from the empty curtain rail above me to give me some sense of cover. Those who know me well will appreciate what a big deal that was for me, as a conservative and private type: another Camino adventure!
The view from this albergue at the top of the hill more than makes up for it though – the pic below is from the common area, with the same view from bathroom and dorm room windows. It’s up there with the beauty of the scenery on the first days over the Pyrenees, for sure. Stunning.
Oh, and on the matter of looser clothes and improved fitness, people had suggested that we’d come home looking like waifs, but we’re so hungry after a day of walking that we’re eating quite a lot. I also like a pastry when we stop for coffee in the morning – a Napolitana is like the French pain au chocolat, only more chocolatey and much nicer – just to show my respect for the baking culture here, you understand. Snacks like chocolate, bread, cheese and potato chips are also on the agenda most afternoons as we chillax at our destination. Oh, and they have some very nice desserts too – and we pilgrims need our calcium for healthy walking bones! And not to forget the wine – delicious, cheap and refreshing chilled reds. It’s a holiday as well as a pilgrimage, after all!

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Our 25th Camino Day

Our day had an interesting beginning – walking behind two Italian men, leaving Ponferrada in the dark, an old lady in a pink tracksuit appeared and ran a bit to catch up with them. Speaking in rapid Spanish, she kept up and walked alongside them through the city streets. After a while, we realised that she was helping us find our way out of the city, taking short cuts here and there until we were safely out of town. Such a funny Camino experience – not sure if she turned back after we left to help the next batch of pilgrims get out of there!
We walked through some beautiful places today – vineyards, mountain views, stunning old towns, rivers & the ever-present bursts of colour from petunias and geraniums that brighten the streets – and ended around 30km in the hot sun, starting the big climb that we will finish tomorrow.
As Andy says every day (aside from the two-day stomach bug glitch), ‘today is a good day’. And it was.

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Highlights of Day 24

Today, we were very excited to be reaching Cruz de Ferro, a true landmark of the Camino. We timed our arrival to coincide with the sunrise – and what an incredible experience it was. People bring stones and other bits and bobs (including photos of loved ones) from all over the world to add to the pile at the cross. You can read more about the story behind it somewhere else – Dave from Dublin told us it’s something about tipping the scales in your favour when sins are being weighed up on judgement day. Would’ve been good to know that before I chose my small stone from Bobbin Head (scene of so many of my favourite childhood picnics) in Sydney.
My stone carried the fingerprints and wishes of my Mom and my Dad and me, as we picked it together before I came away – it was pretty emotional being at that special place at dawn, thinking of my special peeps. Awesome.
A beautiful day of walking followed our special morning – stunning mountain scenes as we climbed, then lots of challenging rocky downhill runs.
And now we’re in the municipal albergue in Ponferrada – a great big place where you pay by donation, rather than a fixed rate, and we have our own room of four again. We had a HUGE late lunch at a nearby restaurant – cured ham, seafood pasta salad and pork chop things that made Andy nostalgic for Bavarian food. And tortilla & ratatouille for Chris. And lots of delicious chunky baked potato pieces for me.
I finish my meds tomorrow and my leg seems fine with painkillers, so all set for the last 200km into Santiago!

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Oh, and today’s other sparks – a man with a spaghetti scarf (advertising pasta at a cafe) and churros-in-a-can at the local supermarket!

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Day 23 – the barnyard albergue

Refreshed and raring to go after our rest day, we set off at around 6.30am and made our way out of Astorga. As the sun rose, we were so glad to see that the landscape had returned to the beauty of earlier Camino days. After the tedious ugly roadside vistas of the past few days, it was nice to see some greenery and mountains instead of endless plains of nothing.
There was a bit of a climb today, but a gradual incline, so it wasn’t too tough. The book suggested stopping in Rabanal del Camino, but we had walked that 21km distance by 11.30am and were all feeling good, so continued on to Foncebadon. Our Chris from Texas is a vegetarian, which is largely seen as a crazy idea in rural Spain, where tuna is seemingly considered a vegetable, appropriate for vegetarians. Anyways, Chris has been pretty much existing on eggs & potatoes for his main meals and the book said an albergue here had a vegetarian menu, so we decided to stay.
The book didn’t quite cover it – a vegetarian menu, yes, plus a farmyard of free range animals out the back and a yoga studio (think a big old shed) with lots of mattresses on the floor and lots of flies. We have a gate outside the studio to keep the dogs, chickens, goats and rabbits out. But nothing can stop the sound of the crazy rooster, who has been crowing regularly since we arrived this afternoon, poor dear. Another Camino adventure!

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Celebrating our 21st, Camino-style

After a good night’s sleep (my first for this trip) in Leon, we walked along an extremely mind-numbing and slightly depressing part of the Way to Villadangos del Paramo. Walking alongside the highway in the hot sun, with no real landmarks along the way, I was hit with a new physical challenge: a crippling pain in my right shin that was so intense it stopped me from taking a step on a few occasions.
As I lagged far behind the rest of the group and there was no one in sight – ahead or behind – I switched between anger and sadness and disappointment at my new malady. I don’t recall ever experiencing pain like it (although I’m sure it can’t compare on the pain scale, it did make think of the amazing mothers out there). I may have even started shouting like a mad woman, but as there were no witnesses, it doesn’t count. I’m not used to my body letting me down (but, of course, my body is not used to me trying to kill it by walking across Spain), so I’m still a bit shocked by it all. But then after a short rest and a painkiller, I just focussed on one step at a time. And with that, I got to our destination. An albergue atop a grassy knoll alongside a major highway.
Dave and Andy made us another delicious lunch and we spent the afternoon chillaxing on the front lawn, watching the cars and trucks go past. Yes, really. It was not a happening town, especially on a Sunday. But Chris had some amazing Lindt dark chocolate with strawberry and that made everything seem alright.
I wasn’t sure how my leg would go on our 21st day of walking, but after a night’s rest, it seemed ok and we set off for Astorga. I had decided to take a rest day in Astorga, as it sounded like a nice town of around 12,000 peeps. Oh, and apparently it’s the chocolate capital of Spain. Andy had picked up a tummy bug, so he was happy to stop too, as were Chris and Steph. Sadly, Dave decided to push on, so our group is down to four…for now, anyway!
After a tough walking day, we picked a great place to stop – a lovely town with a beautiful square, pilgrims a-plenty…and a 4 star spa hotel, where we spent our 21st night on the Camino in style. It’s amazing how we have become so used to having so little – our eyes were wide as we checked out our palace and enjoyed the town, knowing that a 10pm curfew, snoring, a 5.45am wake up and the rustling of plastic bags weren’t on the agenda. It was magical.
We slept in and this morning enjoyed our breakfast buffet. ALL of the breakfast buffet. So nice to just relax and enjoy each other’s company and the little luxuries that we’ve not had these past weeks. 4 star pilgrims, baby!
Today we have spent day 22 here in Astorga, enjoying a leisurely morning wandering around the busy markets that took over the town (lots of different food stalls & trucks, plus clothes, curtains and the usual range of crappy crap that must be sold at every market around the world), then a late lunchtime picnic in the park, followed by a visit to the incredible Palacio designed by Gaudi and the cathedral (which was impressive, but the Gaudi was AMAZING).
We have tried a small amount of the chocolate that the area is famous for – tried to work out if we could leave clothes from our packs to take more chocolate for the road, but guess that doesn’t make much sense. OR DOES IT?
Anyways, onwards and upwards for this gang of four tomorrow (literally, as we’re approaching the highest point of our journey) – we’re feeling very relaxed and I’m so glad we took a day out here to really enjoy it. To help us ‘flash-packers’ transition from the hotel, at least we have our own four person room in this dorm. Four persons – and hopefully no biting bugs. (After munching on only me in our group til this point, they have now taken a shine to Andy and started chomping his fine German skin – luckily my pack is now full of all the medicines we’ll ever need!)

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And with that, goodbye from Astorga!

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Day 19 on the Camino

Day 19 saw us walk about 24km through to the bustling city of Leon. It was hard going, mostly flat and boring scenery as we walked alongside busy roads. Leaving Reliegos, we passed the statues of the Weary Pilgrims. We felt their pain, I tell you.
It was nice to see some of our Camino mates again in Leon – Shane is here, Maria from Hungary (fortunately feeling much better now), plus the fabulous Bev and Nicole from Queensland. It’s amazing how excited we all get to see familiar faces – greeting these 2 week old friends as if they’re family. It’s lovely.
We girls decided to stay in a smaller albergue with private rooms in Leon, mostly so that I could finally get a good sleep, without worrying about bugs! It’s actually university quarters, so I am in a dorm room. It’s not as cool as what I’ve seen in movies (and there are no sororities to join), but it is nice to have some private space to recover a bit. And they have very funky wallpaper in the foyer (close-up pic below).

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Camino Days 17 & 18 – This was NOT in the guide book

I had hoped that the previous post would be the first and last tale of illness on the Camino. Fortunately (I guess), this part of the Way is very boring scenery – long, flat plains and endless fields – so this illness is a bit of a focus! I woke on Day 17 with even more bites on me – I will spare you the graphic details, but they were horrific: clearly, whatever is biting me does not agree with my system. There were now around 15 angry bites on my feet, 8 on each elbow and one each on my face and neck. Imagine a normal mosquito bite, now multiply the size by five, the puffiness by 1000 and the redness by 10000 and the itchiness by one bzillion. And that is what I am riddled with, my friends. Oh, and just for extra points, some of the bites have become hideous blistered messes as I have walked on – no foot modeling in my future, dammit.
The swollen left foot was at least a little better after the painful ice & boiled water technique, followed by the chopped potato bandage overnight (thanks to the incredible Bev, the 66 year old hockey player/tax accountant/yoga instructor/natural therapies whiz from Queensland, walking the camino after winning Hockey gold at the World Masters in Turin).
But, advice from my medical consultant on the other side of the world (shout out to my brother Tony, responding to photos and messages with excellent real-time support and guidance) was to rest up. So we only walked around 12km to the town of Sahagun (officially halfway to Santiago) after stopping for coffee at a German cafe/albergue along the way. We arrived very early – around 10.30am – and it was a good day for walking, with the temperature and cloud cover all looking great. Shane walked on, figuring that we’ll meet again when he needs a shorter day himself down the track, so our group was back to six.
The day actually passed quickly in the quiet town and I was glad to be able to rest and ice my foot. A delicious banana from the local supermarket served a dual purpose as I used its skin in a bandage to reduce the swelling even further.
Day 18 saw my foot a lot less swollen, which was great. But I had about a dozen new giant bites on my hands, leg and neck. My foot felt the best it had in days though, so I was well able to hike the 31km to Reliegos with the gang. The weather was great – a bit cooler and overcast for most of our walk and we arrived in time to choose a nice albergue. One of the key criteria was a kitchen so that we could boil all of my clothes, like witches of old, in case they were hiding any bugs. Steph and Susana led the cooking and the water was certainly an interesting colour after we were done.
As the afternoon progressed, I was starting to feel a bit sickly and my feet were getting redder and itching and there were a few worrying marks appearing. So Steph and Susana took me to the hospital where I was seen straight away. God bless Susana’s fluent Spanish, which translated the clucking and tsk-ing of the doctor and nurse as they issued terse instructions. They bandaged some of my bites, popped some of the creepy bite-blisters and then whacked two painful injections in my butt. With some antibiotics and cortisone coursing through me and a script for more from the pharmacy, along with insect repellant, I am hopeful that tomorrow will be a better day.
The lovely staff were very direct – I was crying with Susana and the lady apparently asked, ‘Why is she crying?’ as if to suggest I was a bit too silly for her. But then when she finished the injections and gave me a whack, I turned around to check if she’d done one or both already. When she gestured that it was two, I said ‘awesome, high five!’ as I was so relieved. She indulged me in an awkward high five, bless her. And then they didn’t charge me anything – so so nice and a world apart from the last doctor. They said I could definitely keep walking as long as I looked after everything, so onwards and upwards tomorrow. Thanks so much for your words of support and encouragement here, on Facebook and by messages – it really has meant a lot to me and I’m very grateful. And, of course, MVP awards to my angels Susana and Steph for looking after me so well. Bitten, but blessed, so I am.

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