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Camino -  Days 12 & 13

Camino - Days 12 & 13

Short post today.
Monday day 12, and gearing up for the final push tomorrow. Out at 8 this morning, once again in the pouring rain. Only 18K today, but some days are diamonds, some days are stones. Yesterday started cold and wet but after the hailstorm the sun broke through and the pleasure came. Yesterday was diamonds but today was stones. I got ahead of the group and really wanted to get through to the end as quickly as I could. The Camino trails were wet and in many places flowing with water. My feet were quickly soaked and after about 7 or 8K when the path crossed a minor highway, think the country portions of Highway 7 or 2 if you know the Toronto area, and rather than face 12K of more wet, muddy trails I decided to stay with roads and use Google maps as my guide.

The Camino trails are set up, and I’m guessing here but makes sense, to serve two purposes; to provide a more peaceful and contemplative environment for walkers (although there is a certain expectation of mortification of the flesh, think our 2 1/2 hour climb over the hills when the rivers were in flood!) and secondly to keep walkers off the highways. The length of the camino trails as compared to sticking with roads is not significantly different, the cross-country trails can cut off big loops of road. The Camino trails and minor highways generally run in parallel and periodically connect so that you walk large sections on trails but large sections are also walked next to roads and minor highways. Today I decided stay with roads.

By GPS was about 20K, not 18 and I arrived at about 12 noon, after having gone right through without a stop. Very cold and wet and just wanted to get to the end. The rest of the crew stayed on the Camino and finished about 1pm having gone about 22K but they had a much more enjoyable time than I did. I get it; the highway was a continuous stream of transports, cars and large trucks whooshing by at high speed, spraying water from their wheels and always just a couple of feet away. Not a very contemplative experience and tomorrow I’ll be back on the Camino trails for our final day.

 Posadas de Compostela our home tonight

Posadas de Compostela our home tonight

We are in a 4 star hotel tonight, Posadas de Compostela, nice way to finish. An old renovated monastery, large and very comfortable. I had planned to start at 5:30 tomorrow, in time to arrive for the Pilgrim service in the Santiago cathedral at 12:00. The rest of the crew want to leave about 7:30, enjoy the morning and get there when we get there and go to the Pilgrim service at 7:30pm. We all think it’s important that having gone through everything together, we should all arrive together so will join them and leave at 7:30.

Everyone very excited!

Tuesday Day 13  2 for the price of 1! Couldn’t get enough of a signal yesterday to get off my post so am sending it today, along with thoughts on our final day on the road and arrival in Santiago.

Our 4 star hotel, Posada de Compostela, of the previous night turned out to be a hollow sham, a painted face and a vacuous mind. There were only 3 staff that we could see, the receptionist, a large, unwilling man who lurked and a very young and terrified bartender. We know all this because the rooms and the public spaces as beautiful and well-appointed as they were, were very cold, no heat anywhere and we spent our time in the large, bright, glass-fronted bar area which at least had some semblance of warmth. Lunch was a foretaste, unfortunate choice of words, of what was to come. We were told on arrival that we needed to order immediately so that the food could be prepared and would be ready in 1/2 hour. Our choices on the menu were soup and a ham and/or cheese sandwich and all of the immense perms and coms of those items. We all chose a ham and cheese sandwich and soup. We were also told that dinner would be at 9.

We arrived in the bar area at the appointed time to find the receptionist and the large lurking man were also staffing the kitchen and serving. Food arrived in fits and starts over the next 1/2 hour, someone got their soup, someone else got a sandwich, two slices of toast with a slice of ham and of cheese, enormously complex to put together, but at odd intervals and over extended periods of time. My sandwich arrived early in the game but my soup not until the angelus was ringing, it of course was cold, and only arrived, grudgingly, because they presumably became tired of hearing my whines and whimpers from the corner of the room. These could not have been upsetting to the other guests because there were no other guests. Lunch consumed an hour, a term used loosely as during this time little was consumed but time.

Back to our rooms to rest and prepare for the next day, our last on the road. Too cold in the rooms so by 5pm back down to the bar to wait the 4 hours until dinner. And during this time the large lurking man revealed his purpose. Shortly after we arrived at the bar so did a group of two older couples and a young couple, clearly interviewing the hotel as a possible site for their wedding. The large man turned out to be the hotel’s special events marketing person and he spent the next 3 hours at a large table showing brochures, answering and asking questions and demonstrating more activity and life than he had heretofore.
Hilarie and I tried to convince the receptionist to move our dinner up to 8 or anything earlier than 9 since we had an early start in the morning and a long day ahead, and since in any event there were no other guests and no one would be discomoded. All to no avail, it was impossible, it was too difficult to arrange, it was logistically too complex. We pointed out that it was a set dinner as part of our room arrangement and all they needed to do put it in the microwave an hour earlier, not well received. So back to the bar to drink the evening away. Our bartender was a terrified young man who I believe had just started his job that day, the season was just beginning and I don’t think anyone had been properly trained to receive guests. There was no one there to supervise and help, except presumably the large man and he was busy pushing weddings and if his behaviour over lunch was indicative, was not even slightly interested in guests’ welfare. Our young bartender was so terrified that he needed to check with the receptionist before he could fill an order or, come to that, a glass and his hand literally shook so badly that as he was pouring, the wine spilled onto the table, not once but each time. It was pitiful and we felt for the young man who had been put in that position and left to his own devices. Need I point out that all the paradores and pousedas are government owned and run?

When 9pm arrived it became clear why dinner could not have been changed, as at that moment the night receptionist arrived, the day receptionist left to go home and the new woman went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. I will pass over the rest of the evening, suffice it to say that we finally left for bed after 10:30 following the main course and before desert could even be offered.

 On our way to Santiago

On our way to Santiago

On the road by 7:45, excited and nervous both by the expectation of arrival in Santiago and also by the walk ahead of us, 24K with two sets of climbs on the way. Still and and very misty as we left and as the sun rose by 9, sunshine with a bank of clouds, air cool and a chilly wind. Today felt very, very long. We stayed fairly close together as we moved, within a couple of hundred metres of each other. The walks allow for a certain amount of conversation but people move comfortably at different rates and conversation is not easy on climbs and in any event, I think people are simply not inclined to extended talk, not the reason they are there. Day moved continually through sunny to overcast and cool, back to broken sun; very good to walk. The walk took on a sort of treadmill quality as we got within 6 or 7 K of Santiago. We could see the city in the distance after a climb of about 300 metres over a 5K distance but we still had to descend to the bottom of a river valley and then back up about 300 metres to the outskirts of the city. That last piece was interminable and I think it took about 2 hours to cover, up and down and nothing ever seeming to get any closer.

 Welcome to Santiagp. Scarecrow on the outskirts

Welcome to Santiagp. Scarecrow on the outskirts

Arrived in the outskirts with about 1.5K to go and just put our heads down, tow of our group were in major distress with very bad knees and feet and we just wanted to get there and complete. Finally arrived in the Cathedral square about 2:30 after 7 hours to cover, as it turned out about 26K by GPS tracking.

Feelings indescribable, but a real high. Thrilled and proud of all of us, 3 of whom I had never met before or had had barely met but who were pulled together by the experience and shared some very intense moments. Hard to explain but I think anyone who’s spent an extended period of time with a small group who have shared physical difficulties and pushed themselves beyond the ordinary, will understand. Almost don’t want to put it into words.

 Scallop shaped petal. Fountain of the Compostela office.

Scallop shaped petal. Fountain of the Compostela office.

We all went and picked up our Compostelas, the latin-worded document that attests to the fact that you have completed the Camino and it was a surprisingly emotional moment for many, lots of tears shed. While we were waiting in line for our Compostela passports to be looked at and our certificates issued I chatted with a very nice man, tall, good-looking, thin and athletic, mid/late 30’s who had walked from Pamplona to Santiago in 20 days. He showed me iPhone pictures of his walk across the Spanish countryside where they had had snow and ice storms for large parts of his walk, while we were getting rain. He stayed in Alburges and said that it was dreadful as they walked through snow all day and then at the end of the day the alburges were unheated. Very nice guy, born in Austria but now Brazilian; please no attempts at humour!

 Arrival!

Arrival!

When I reached the counter to get my Compostela he was at the wicket next to me and had no money to pay for his certificate, 3 euros. He had a credit card, which they would not accept, but no cash. I paid for him, not exactly a big deal. Our gang then went to a restaurant for lunch and a beer to celebrate, and who was sitting at the table next to ours but my AustrioBrazilian. Lots of chat and cheer and as he was leaving he had sent over to our table a bottle of wine as thanks. Cast your bread upon the waters…

Pilgrim service in the Cathedral at 7:30 where they read out the numbers and nationalities of the pilgrims who had finished that day and was thrilled to hear Canada called out. Very moving.
Back to my hotel for a bottle of champagne to celebrate and then to bed on a high that I have not felt for a very long time. Hope the crash tomorrow will not be too hard.

 Cathedral

Cathedral

Final, Semi-final? Camino thoughts

Final, Semi-final? Camino thoughts

Camino - Days 10 & 11

Camino - Days 10 & 11