Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Robin and I are now back home from our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The trip went smoothly and we made all of our connections, despite the labor problems at Iberia airlines. It is now just a few days later, the Camino gear is stowed, and we are already fully engaged with the life we left behind seven weeks ago. It is amazing just how quickly we transition from pilgrim to whatever it is we do at home. But, notwithstanding this, the processing of a pilgrimage is an issue apart that requires patience, and time to accomplish. It simply cannot (and shouldn't) be rushed. I have found that quickly drawn conclusions on the merits of a pilgrimage, at least for my part, emerge as glib summations that hold few, if any, essential truths, and are shockingly distant from what surfaces after more careful consideration. But, without fail, some friend or another will reasonably inquire as to what was learned from this journey, and without fail I will say I am not sure, at least not yet. I suppose some might say that I over think these things. Perhaps they have a point, but I come at the answer in my own way, guided by the Spirit within me. Certainly there are obvious lessons learned regarding equipment, weather, lodging, food, airlines, trains, and buses. But, how a pilgrimage transforms us, encourages us to grow in new directions, or strengthens or perhaps challenges our faith is another matter entirely. Robin and I set out, as before, ready to embrace the inner journey the Camino can readily provide. Along the Way the daily physical challenges often intervened, and challenged or subsumed our earlier resolves. It is just what happens when walkng such a long distance with varied terrain, and weather. The pre-Camino plan often gets modified as you go along and deal with each day's imperatives. Consequently, on any given day it is easy to feel as though you have drifted off course, lost your focus. A "please remind me why I am doing this" kind of feeling rises up. We walked trying to be mindful of the joy of faith, and the peacefulness of prayer. We tried to understand how the events of each day were opportunities for personal growth. We tried to keep our hearts open to better understand (and hopefully forgive) the venality of the few, while cherishing the grace of the many good people that we encountered. But, despite all of this, there was always the reality of the pure physical challenge of walking many kilometers each and every day that loomed over us and, in truth, some days were hard enough that we could only deal with that.

As one can see there can be a lot more going on beyond simply putting one boot ahead of the other day after day. The difficulty is in trying to link up all these different elements so that a picture of one's Camino can be formed. I suppose you could say that these elements are like single frames of a film. They contain information but do not convey any meaning until the film is viewed in its entirety. This can only be done retrospectively, after all the pieces are in hand and laid out. Once the journey is over, and I am back at home, I can slowly reflect on these details. This process enables me to gather the many thoughts that eventually get distilled into the essential truths of our Camino. These are not typically grand or lofty revelations, but are more likely to be simple truths regarding faith and human behavior, that needed to be reaffirmed and recommitted to. This "newness of life" is the joyful change that always comes to me when all is said and done. It is, for me, why the Camino always beckons, and why a pilgrimage never really concludes. It just seems there is always something that needs a bit of touching up, and the Camino helps me do that.

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and priest, writes in his book, No Man is an Island (a favorite read of mine), about the challenges we face understanding and accepting God's grace. Merton writes eloquently about the power of faith, but also reminds us how daunting that journey can be. This passage struck me as an essential reminder of the fleeting nature of good intentions, and of the need to ask more of ourselves as we seek God's grace for the strength to complete the journey down the pilgrim road and home to God. Merton writes.
....It takes more than an occasional act of faith to have such pure intentions. It takes a whole life of faith, a total consecration to hidden values. It takes sustained moral courage and heroic confidence in the help of divine grace. But above all it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all...

Our journey continues. Peace be with you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Feb 18, 2013 Seguiero to Santiago Day 5: Today it was uphill

Joining the Camino at Segueiro

We finally got to bed about 11:00 last night. We were trying to get our laundry dried and the dryer had decided that it would not be before eleven. Who can argue with a machine? The laundry finally arrived still warm from the dryer. We sorted it out and tried to get some sleep. Today was to be a short day at approximately 16 kms. Unfortunately, Robin just couldn't fall asleep. I caught a few hours. We were both up at 6:00 to be on the Camino at 7:30 (it turned out to be 7:45). Our intent was to arrive in time to go to the Pilgrim Office, get our Compostela (certificate of completion), go to the 12:00 mass, and then check into our hotel. So, understanding we did not have a lot of distance to cover the lack of sleep should not have been a problem. But, as it turned out, it was a day of mostly climbing (somewhat of a surprise), and that taps pretty heavily into your energy reserves when it goes on for a bit, which it did.

Going up, again

But, despite the up and ups our plan came together, and we stood in front of the cathedral at 11:10. The weather was warm and dry. The trail conditions for this last section were quite good. There were a few low wet spots but they had workarounds readily available. I guess we were thinking today would be a coast into Santiago, but it wasn't. The long climbs, just shy of steep kept us working to get to Santiago. No free lunch today. However you approach Santiago arrival day has its own unique excitement. Today was no different. So knowing that a nice hotel was awaiting us, and that we would be in our own beds by the weekend, we kept huffing and puffing to the finish line (smiling all the way). After mass we wandered over to the bar at the top of the Plaza Quintana, had a cold beer at an outside table, and just soaked in the warm sun. We are now back at the Parador with some champagne chilling in an ice bucket. Robin is having a long soak, in a hot tub, as I write this post. This chapter of our Camino life is now officially over. However, even as we long for the comfort of our own home, we understand that we will be back. So, I guess it is time to head for the ice bucket....

Cheers from Santiago and thanks for being with us on this (always remarkable) journey,

John and Robin

Back again
Which way?
Robin navigating
Finally a peek at the cathedral


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Feb 17, 2013 Bruma to Sigueiro Day 4: A downhill day (well, mostly)

Today we had a quick breakfast at the Pension O Meson Novo, in Bruma, confirmed it was raining, albeit lightly, made our goodbyes, and hooked it around the corner, and eventually joined up with the Camino path about 1.5 kms later. We wore our ponchos as we left and never took them off. The rain was light all day, but steady. Temps were around 45 F to start and notched up a bit as the day wore on. I'm guessing that they never got above 53-55 F. Today's cooler weather helped offset walking in our ponchos. The actual route for this stage was very nondescript. It was quiet, and repeated many of the themes we have come to enjoy on this Camino, but there was nothing particularly special about it. Sorry. It was nice that the terrain was mostly downhill (or level) to Sigueiro.

We walked along rural country roads a good bit, there were a few "woodland paths" tossed in for good measure, and we spent a lot of time passing through forested areas. As we approached Sigueiro we spent about 45 minutes walking along a straight, but undulating logging road, that never seemed to end. In truth, I didn't really enjoy that part very much. I found myself just wanting it to be over. I guess I needed a change of scenery. On the plus side most of the off road trails were well drained with good walking conditions. We squished around a few low lying bogs, but never had to become too creative to find a way through. We were able to make good steady progress as there were not many places to stop (make that none, but it is Sunday). We shoved off at 8:40 this morning, and were sitting down for lunch in Sigueiro at 2:00. We opted for a room at the Hotel Santa Cruz, about 4.5 kms back the way we came. We took a taxi, and asked the driver to pick us up in the morning, and return us to Sigueiro. Once again our plan is to arrive in Santiago in time for the 12:00 pilgrim mass. I think we only have 16-18 kms left to go, so that should not be a problem. After tomorrow we are truly done with the Camino for this go around. But, it is hard to believe that we will not be back. For now we are only thinking of arriving in Santiago. I'll post from Santiago, and then Robin and I will gather our thoughts and post a recap of this journey once we get home. Off to do the laundry (one last time). Trash can after that. We are smiling.

The end of the logging road
Entering Sigueiro
Take me to the hotel


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Feb 15, 2013 Betanzos to Bruma, Day 3: Climbing to Santiago


Robin and I enjoyed a relaxing breakfast at our hotel (Hotel Garelos) in Betanzos, and then pushed back for another on time pilgrim departure. We were heading uphill, and out of Betanzos, by 8:30. The weather continues to favor us. Today was dry with a high temp of 62 F. Robin and I quickly shed our base layers and walked all day in t shirts. As it turned out the climbing and the warm weather made that a good choice. Today's route offered more of yesterday's paths through eucalyptus forests, and along rural roads that kept us clear of traffic for most of the day. The one belated change for today was the move inland that gets us headed to Santiago, but also (and sadly) turns our backs to the sea. We shall miss contact with the water, but we do want to get to Santiago.

We had a very quiet, and pleasant day roaming through the countryside. This Camino has been well routed to keep pilgrims in a quiet rural setting in between major towns where services can be found. Despite the concern that surrounds the climb to Bruma, today turned out to be a pretty average day as far as exertion was concerned. We had a little huffing and puffing climbing out of Bertanzos (nothing serious), then we went up and down and finally over a couple of ridges. It was now about 11:00. At this point we seemed to be mostly in a descent, albeit interrupted by occasional climbs. We arrived at the Bar Julia (18 kms from Betanzos) at 12:50. This was the only bar open along today's walk. Robin and I walked in just as they were opening. They said food was available, but after taking our drink order all hands returned to cleaning and prepping for the trade of the day (I thought that included us). One lady had about 50 gallons of crepe batter and was cranking out finished product using a gas fired pan that cooked several at a time. She kindly slipped us a few to stave off our hunger, but we could not get anyone to stand still long enough to take our order. Finally, we trapped one lady and she agreed to make us a couple of sandwiches. Wow, what an effort. We wolfed down the food, as we were anxious to get going and see what the dreaded climb to Bruma had in store for us. About ten minutes later we were looking uphill to where we had to go. It looked steep, but no more so than what we had already experienced on this Camino. It was steep enough that we had to short step our way for the first km, the path then gave up some of its pitch and we could lengthen our stride, but just a bit. As we rounded bends there was always more uphill work to do. We clomped along and about 35-40 minutes later we were in much flatter terrain (normal walking gait). There were a few more small elevation gains, but "the climb" was behind us. In retrospect it wasn't that bad because it was so short. I was expecting unending kms of uphill work, but the bulk of the huffing and puffing was finished after 45 minutes of climbing. This was a very pleasant surprise, and gave us little kick to the finish, at the albergue in Bruma, where we arrived just before 4:00. We had arrange to be picked up there and brought to Meson Novo (a nearby pension) where we are spending the night. Tomorrow we are expecting rain to move into the area. We have had a good run of luck with the weather lately, so a bit of rain is what it is, and we will deal with it. No fine dining tonight, just hamburgers at a local cafeteria. We are tired, but far from total collapse. Another day and a half and we will be in Santiago. Plans are already brewing for a little celebration. All is well (thank God). Ciao.

Which way to Santiago?
Albergue in Bruma
Robin and Main Street in Bruma


Friday, February 15, 2013

Feb 15, 2013 Pontedueme to Betanzos: What a gift

Pontedueme in the rear view mirror

Today began as usual with two pilgrims trying to get sorted in a small pension room as the growing daylight reminded us that we should already be on the road (or path). We have practiced our preparations to the point that stage directions are no longer required from either party. We just do what needs to be done and somehow get out the door (smiling). Today was no different. We popped out into the morning half light and bolted for the nearest bar for a quick desayuno (breakfast). Toast, coffee, and juice and soon thereafter we were ascending the narrow streets of Pontedueme. The Camino Frances is replete with hills and valleys. The Camino Ingles is as well, but everything just seems a bit steeper. My guess is that the terrain is reminiscent of the Camino Norte's first days (from what I hear). So, my point being, we started burning through breakfast about 5 minues after we had eaten it.

We climbed out of Pontedueme and were rewarded with some spectacular views. We moved onto a variety of trails, paths and roads throughout the day, and all were quiet (some sepulchral). We stayed dry finding ways around the few bogs, found the ever present scent of eucalyptus very settling, enjoyed the elevated views of bays, rivers, estuaries, and the pleasant towns and villages we passed through. It was a beautiful day weather wise (and on all other accounts) and that certainly added to our enjoyment. Locals have told me that the warm, and dry, weather (almost hot) is not the norm, but that is what we had. I walked into Betanzos wearing just a t shirt. My base layer was slung over the back of my pack. Temps were in the mid 60's F. An interesting anecdote, Robin and I were perhaps 2.5 kms from Betanzos when we passed a beautiful orange tree whose limbs were bending with ripe fruit. The branches were overhanging the path, and I commented on how great one of those oranges would taste. But, we didn't reach up, and help ourselves. No more than 10 minutes later, perhaps less, we passed a woman leaving a gate with a full plastic sack in one hand. She said hello and asked if we would like an orange. She gestured to a tree, just to her side, and said "from there." She reached into her sack for the fruit, we accepted, thanked her, and continued on our way (simply wondering). We arrived in Betanzos at 3:00, and found our way to the Hotel Garelos. We are now booked in there and enjoying a cold beer on their sunny (at least for today) patio. The owner's daughter, Adriana, who speaks excellent English, has been very helpful. Good spot (recommended). Off to Bruma tomorrow to see what all the fuss is about the hill. Stand by for an update. Beautiful day, today. Robin and I both loved it. This is a pretty part of the world.

Ciao for now

Camino Ingles
Arrival Betanzos




Thursday, February 14, 2013

Feb 14, 2013 Camino Ingles, Ferrol to Pontedueme: Day 1

Naval Base Ferrol

Robin and I were well rested after several days off since arrival Muxia. But we were back at it this morning as we slung our packs, snugged rigging, and finally set out for Santiago on the Camino Ingles. The weather was quite mild (48 F) at our departure (9:00). We both were wearing a t shirt and a mid weight base layer. Today would be dry so ponchos were stowed. We had previously found the first Camino marker down by the Port and across from the Tourist Information kiosk. So, this morning we knew we could head down to the Naval Base and follow its perimeter wall for the first bit out of town. The air was absolutely still, offering not a breath of relief from the humidity that was now more noticeable as the temperature ticked up a couple of degrees.

Leaving Ferrol

We plowed on, not exactly spewing gravel in our wake, but making modest progress as we worked at getting our Camino game face back on while enjoying the Port views as we walked. As it turned out those Port views would be with us a good part of the day. All went well. The marking was good. The only confusing part was when the Confraternity of St. James (CSJ) guide (which was correct) directed us one way, and a Camino marker pointed us in another direction. There were arrows all confirming the CSJ directions, but there still was this marker raising a cloud of doubt. This happened at the first turn to the right after joining Camino do Vilar. The marker indicated continue straight on. The only other issue was a set of new signs as you emerge from the trail to the roundabout where you see the Cafeteria Vilar do Colo.

New signs for diversion

A local guy came over to us and made it clear that we should not follow the old route but should follow these new signs. He was right. The signs lead you up through an industrial estate until you hit a t junction. There is a sign there to turn left to pick up the Camino shortly thereafter on your right. This diversion basically parallels the old route. Apart from these exceptions it was a good first day. We stopped in Neda for lunch, and also visited the Tourist Information Office to check on lodging further on. The man on duty was very helpful. If you have any questions this is a good place to get them answered. Now with lunch and Neda behind us it was full ahead to Pontedueme.

We enjoyed the scenery, especially as drop into the little beach town of Cabana, just 1 km from Pontedueme. The walk across the bridge into Pontedueme also offers some great photo opportunities. We have found a room at the Pension Allegue (30 euros for a double room). Robin and I are about ready to head out for dinner, so I'll wrap this up for now. Had a fine day, but wondered if we would ever lose sight of Ferrol (which we eventually did at about 3:00 pm). We arrived at our pension at 5:30. Long day, but fun (got the game face back on).