Sunday, 26 September 2010

Walking in the dark ..........

The worse part of the walking day is right at the very start. Getting ready to leave is fine, packing your bag, getting everything sorted and in position and setting out. Psychologically and physically it takes a little while to get into a rhythm and then it just becomes what is you are doing. What makes it worse it that when leaving a town inevitably there is a steep uphill climb involved so that it is really hard work. Peregrinos tend to leave early so that they are not walking in the heat of the day and aim to arrive at 1ish at their destination to grab a bed at the albergue as they tend to fill early. It is usually dark and especially if you are walking through areas where there are no street lights you need head torches.  On the french way there are many more people and on early mornings it looks like a load of miners going to work in the mine as there are dozens of people ahead of you with lights shing in all directions! 

This clip is of an early morning on our way out of Pontedueme.  We were walking uphill in the dark along a residential road where every house had a dog and every dog barked furiously at us.  It was miserable.


It was also hard to find your way in the dark as you couldn't easily follow the written instructions and could not see waymarks and yellow arrows either.  We got lost lost several times.

Me and Angela had our Blair Witch moment on the first night when the sun went down like a light being switched off and we were in the middle of a forest.  We had told Martin to go ahead and we thought we were very near the Albergue.  We panicked a bit, Angela kept running ahead and then stopping to let me catch up which was futile really.  We were worried about Martin who wasn't in phone contact, was he ok?

We went onto a main road and called out to a man in the house with the intention of getting a cab to the albergue.  In broken Spanish I was hoping that I was saying something like "Hiya, we are trying to get to Neda to the Albergue but we're a bit lost and we are a bit worried about continuing in the dark through forest where there are no street light.  Would you mind awfully calling us a cab?"  What I said was "somos peregrinos. Tenemos miedo! En el bosque, no luces!" Roughly translated this means "We are pilgrims.  We are scared! There are no lights in the forest!"  I think he got the message because of the wild look in our eyes and so he walked us back down the road where we came from and along the road telling us to cross the bridge via the main road where there are street lights and it was only 10 minutes. 

Fantastic! we walked along, picked up Martin who was getting really worried and went to the bridge only to find that we couldn't get onto the road.  We had done something wrong.  So we had to go via the original route through the forest in the dark right the way around the lake which took 2 hours!  But we had Martin with us so we were safe!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Day 7 - Home to Stansted

The morning was a bit rushed (what day wasn’t?) and there was a bit of confusion over the time we were leaving and how long it would take us to get to the bus stop to get the bus to the airport. We ended up missing the bus but had plenty of time in the end. Phew! At the airport it was hard to believe that we had packed so much into the previous 6 days.

Angela’s Dave made us all a roast chicken dinner which was so, so appreciated after a fairly meagre diet! I still remember the roast potatoes which were crunchy and yummy. Did we have one of Dave’s crumbles? I think we might have! Double yum!

Day 6 – Siguieros to Santiago (10 miles)

Last day and experience told us that the fact that it was “only” a certain number of miles meant nothing and we were determined to be in Santiago in time for a relaxing walk around the city and time to enjoy the pilgrims mass. It had not been possible to attend mass at all or do any of the sight-seeing that I imagined we would do so I wanted to make sure that the last day was less rushed. Me and Martin set off early but decided that we needed sustenance in the shape of hot chocolate and cakes so went back to the cafe we were at the day before but there was no late night / early morning partying this time!

Again, lovely to be walking in the dark but we missed our way mark again because we were talking! By now we were a bit reluctant to follow Spanish directions so when a driver told us to go back where we came from I sent Martin back and he was to blow on the whistle 3 times if it was ok to come back! Like a sheepdog scampered back to climb yet another hill in the dark. Too much for me and I cried my eyes out walking in the dark. Triggered by tiredness, and anger that we missed the turning and yet more anger at having to walk up a hill in the dark, my tears were about other stuff. So I told the concerned Martin to just ignore me and I spent time in quietness, walking in the dark, thinking about things.

We had a very pleasant walk, sunny, but not too hot and we made good progress. Roy and Veronica caught us up and we stopped at a cafe for beer and coffee and after a bit continued in together to Santiago. Unlike the French way and the Portuguese way the outskirts of Santiago was suburban and not industrial and therefore pleasant to walk through.

Had a good old chat with Veronica en-route and this was good as there hadn’t really been the opportunity to do so before now.

There was an impressive metal structure / archway to walk under about ½ km long as we came into the city. Very modern and chic. We turned a corner and then another and suddenly we found ourselves in the main square at the rear of the cathedral. This is so huge and amazing and we spent time just looking.

Next stop the camino office for our certificate! The queue wasn’t too bad and we collected our certificates and then the four of us sat outside the bar opposite drinking rather a good red wine waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. It was a really nice feeling to sit there knowing that all we had to do was to check into our hotel, come back for mass and something to eat. When the others arrived, we set off to the hotel to get ready for the 6:00 mass back at the cathedral.

The hotel was lovely, what a shame we were not going to spend much time in it! Time for a shower then back we went to the old city. Martin and Roy had kind of decided not to go to the mass but somehow they came in to have a look around the cathedral and were rewarded for their efforts as the botifumeiro was just being put into position as the mass was ending and we all got to see the swinging in full action!

Veronica and I positioned ourselves in the front row ready for mass and Angela texted me to say they had made it and were sitting at the back. There was a surreal moment when Angela T went up for a blessing, crossed her arms across her chest and bowed her head awaiting a blessing. It was a blessing for her that she could not see the priest’s face as he was evidently perplexed at this strange behaviour and looked around desperately for divine or otherwise intervention which was sadly not forthcoming. Oblivious to this Angela moved on (I am laughing out loud even as I write this) but more humiliation was to follow. Sue had witnessed all of this but as the next and last person in the queue she could not make a quick exit. She approached the priest with trepidation as she could see the bewilderment on his face as yet another strange woman with dodgy hand signals was approaching. Sue’s unique approach to reassure him however was to wink with alternate eyes and make amusing face gestures as she felt this would nudge his memory as to what he had to do! This was not successful and he now was resorting to looking around desperately for assistance. Sue simply scurried off and this drew an end to the matter.

Had a nice meal in a restaurant called Monroy (thought it was similar to RonRoy after Veronica and Roy and therefore a ‘sign’) and made our way back to the hotel stopping for drinks at a couple of bars as we went. Naturally I fell asleep at the last bar (I was up very early) and staggered back to the hotel for a well earned kip.

Day 5 – Hospital de Bruma to Siguieros (15 miles)

I checked on Angela at 4 in the morning and she had decided to stay in bed a little longer and leave with Sue and Angela T and Dave in daylight hours.  Me and Martin got ready in the dark and made our way out of the Albergue.  First problem – all doors were locked and we didn’t know how to get out.  Just like cat burglars we removed our rucksacks, pulled up a chair and climbed over a wall to freedom! 

It was lovely walking along in the early morning but unfortunately there were no cafes open,  so only water, banana and do-nut to sustain us.  When we hit a T junction with no signs as to which direction to go in we chose and went the wrong way and this brought our spirits down. 

There was no-one to ask and so we tried to flag cars down but no-one stopped.  We continued forwards in the hope that we would find some kind of main road and finally a car stopped and told us we were completely in the wrong direction.  By the time we made it to Buscas only 8kms on our route but having walked at least 12km we were feeling a bit rough.  We wrapped up in sleeping bags in the bus stop to have a nap to feel better and to wait for the cafe to open.   

The trouble was that unlike other early starts there was no cloud cover and so we were actually very cold and damp all the way through from the dew.  At 7.30 we found someone  to speak to and found out that as it was Sunday the cafes were not opening until 10 or 11.  This was going to be another totally rural day and the next cafe was 6km away.  If this was closed too then we might find ourselves in a dodgy position without any option but to go on.  It was probably due to a build up from the day before as well, but we both were feeling quite unwell, chilled and exhausted so we took an executive decision to call a cab and go straight to our destination.  We were proved right about the cafe and so knew that we had made the right decision. 

It was still very early when we arrived and went to a cafe to get a hot drink and breakfast.  It was a really strange set up as at one end of the cafe there were loads of drunk young people who were still enjoying their Saturday night out.  It was a bit surreal to be sitting there with our rucksacks feeling like death warmed up (and completely sober) watching them falling over drunk, drinking our hot chocolate and cakes.  We sat there for a little while and then families with young children came in and sat there as well. How bizarre!

We found a place for us to stay in Sigueiros in rooms above a bar / restaurant.  We did investigate the option of staying at the sports hall but we went for the rooms as they were pretty cheap.  Me and Martin laid out our sleeping bags in the park and slept for a couple of hours until the rooms were ready and then proceeded back to the bar to wait for the others.  We were feeling quite restored by now and as you do thinking what was the fuss about but there you go! 

The weary wanderers turned up, beers and dancing followed as a group of musicians turned up stopping at all the bars in the town.  Angela got her massage oils out and I massaged feet and shoulders in the bar as the beer did its magic.  Staggered back down stairs after showering for a really good meal.  Sue claimed her foot massage then and there as she had been too busy

 dancing and had missed out earlier! 

Day 4 – Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma (18 miles)

Confusion about leaving time!  We set our alarm for 3 with the view to leave at 4 and Angela set hers for 2.45 with the view of leaving at 3.  At 3.15 she impatiently knocked at our door and wanted to know what was happening!  Left at 4 for the long and winding road to Hospital de Bruma.  Now picking up writing this blog a month after our return (Sorry! New term at a new school has left me in bed at 8:30 every night!!) 

I was led to believe that the Camino Ingles
was lined with armchairs
The thing about caminos is that is can be horrible in that you are stretched to your limit physically and you want to at times stamp your little feet and go “I am not moving this has to all stop”  So like Shannon in Lost series 1 I had a couple of sulks today.  Round about dawn, I remember there was some light I said that I was stopping and sat outside someone’s house on their bench (surely they wouldn’t begrudge an old pilgrim?)  Martin and Angela ignored me and continued uphill round the corner where they found a bus stop with a seat!! I thought this was an ideal spot for breakfast but Martin was anxious to make headway and made the fatal mistake of trying to separate me from a banana moment, by telling me there was going to be somewhere much better to stop further on.  “What? Do think there are ****ing armchairs waiting for us 2 miles down the road???!!”  Because, as we all knew, there was not going to be anything to sit on unless we found a cafe or (not).  He was only trying to be helpful poor man. 

One banana later my sugar levels started to rise and my enthusiasm with it and we continued until we stopped and laid down on the side of the road. Literally. Martin went first then Angela then me all in a line by the edge of road.  No pavement or pedestrian area.  Didn’t bother to take off our rucksacks so laid there like upturned turtles and went to sleep.  I did think that it would make a good photo but felt too knackered to reach to the bum bag for my camera.  Woke up to the noise of lorries driving past our heads. 

We got up and went looking for some armchairs.  Stopped briefly at Leiro a small hamlet to: you guessed it take off our boots and socks and rest up.

Arrived at Bar Julia having seen only forest and country lanes on the way and rested.  Boots and socks off.  Hot chicken noodle soup and beer is a fantastic combo!  By now this was half eleven.  With hindsight, we should have left when we felt restored an hour later. But, we wanted to walk together as a group and we didn’t think we had too far to go and we had called the others who were only 15 mins away and so we decided to wait a bit longer and finish the walk together.  Everyone arrived we had a nice lunch and then decided to wait till the heat of the day was gone as it was too hot to walk in the heat.  We left at 5 thinking that we only had 11km to go but the problem for me Martin and Ang was that we had been up since 4 and it was to prove too long a day for us. 

Hot tip: How to take a rest without anyone else knowing
 - talk about the pretty flowers!

The scary steep climb proved to be fairly insignificant after all we had been through so far and we stopped for a celebratory beer at the Cafe in Vizono.  We left at 7 with only 7km to go but somehow this took forever.  Did we get lost I can’t remember but Dave and Martin went on ahead to make sure could get a place at the Albergue.  We were on our last legs when we arrived at 10:00.  It was lights out at 10:30 and we had to have a shower and it would have been nice to have eaten something.  Angela had her “losing the plot on the camino moment”  while me and Martin saved ours for the next day.  Didn’t sleep well for some reason (we were sleeping right by that woman in the video of the empty albergue earlier and I did hit my head when I stood up)

Day 3 – Pontedueme to Betanzos (12 miles)

Me, Angela and Martin set off early at 6 this morning.  Estimates in walking time had been way out so far and with this being a 12 mile day wanted to set off early to miss the heat and in the hopes we would arrive early afternoon.  Having missed out on the beach yesterday wanted to have time to visit the ‘theme park’  in this town. 

It is a really, really, really, really steep that takes you out of town, and it goes on for ever.  One of the disadvantages of walking in the dark is that you don’t pick up the yellow arrows and waymarks and so we missed our turn off and walked up to the main road.  ‘helpful’ locals will give directions as if you are travelling by car and once you are off the signs it is virtually impossible to find the route again and you have to follow the roads to the villages you are looking for. 

Secretly, Martin loves these detours as he is in his element, leading us out of the wilds, sniffing the ground for animal tracks and broken twigs to deduce the presence of recent peregrinos.  Personally I prefer the technical advantage of my ‘HTC legend –not-quite-an-iphone’ and the maps app plus free wifi in the cafes and asking locals to point to the route on the touch screen!  In the end, neither option was successful and we did not pick up the trial until we reached Mino and asked at the tourist information office. 

Went to the nearest cafe, took boots and socks off and drank more beer, ate calamares and cured ham with bread.  Excellent!  The rest of the gang by this time were at the other side of Mino and didn’t not miss the turning! (We were like the advance guard, texting our mistakes so they didn’t do the same!) 

Again this was a very nice walk which led us past the beach and although we were very tempted to run into the sea we were concerned that our plasters would come off! And we had run out of supplies!  Unlike yesterday we did not meet up for lunch as a group.  They were the other side of Mino and were just starting lunch as we finished. 

Angela regressing as we stop for a rest and a play at the top of the hill

We expected to see them on the road later or for them to stop at the cafe and to walk in together but as it turned out they passed us while we were sitting there and so we arrived just after them!  Great to see a cafe that was not on our itinerary and couldn’t resist!  Ang dropped the beer for a brandy and coffee and boots and socks came off for all.  Naturally I went to sleep! 

Stayed in an apartment above a bar called Betanzos Chocolaterie which was ok and found what looked like a nice restaurant but there were concerns from those the next day who braved the seafood paella!  Concerned about the lack of cafe opportunities for the next day the Angelas and myself caught last bell at the supermarket for some goodies to eat on the way.

Day 2 – Neda to Pontedueme (8.5 miles)

Angela has recovered from her ordeal in the forest and is now confident she knows the direction to go in.

Given that we had had such a long day with the travelling, we decided not to set off too early this morning as it was ‘only’ 8 miles or so again.  We expected to get to our destination with enough time to sit on the beach and have a nice swim!  Guess what! Didn’t happen!  We didn’t end up leaving until 11 o’clock but it was a cloudy day with a bit of drizzle and so I wasn’t unduly concerned about the late start.  A really pleasant walk. 

We chose the most comfortable walking speed for ourselves and me, Nurse Ang and Martin hung to the rear and the rest of the group forged ahead. 

Caught up a couple of hours later, drinking beer outside a cafe!  So sat down for our first beer which moved to another and then we felt peckish and then there were delicious tapas all served with fab home-made chips.  Tasty calamares, little chorizos and chicken goujons made with fillet. It was yummy-yum yum.  A group of Spanish peregrinos stopped and we had a good chat.  They were having their backpacks carried by car and we were a bit jealous!

Resumed walking and Martin sped up and walked with the others for a while.  Me and Anglela took our time and did a bit of blackberry picking (they are honestly the most tasty and musky blackberries I have ever tasted!) and stopped at a little house that looked really interesting and went to ask someone if they could take a photo of us because it was so picturesque.

A woman came out shouting loudly (difficult to tell if they are friendly sometimes cos they shout a lot when they are being nice too!)  "etc etc Molina etc etc"  I thought it was her daughter's name or something because she poked her head out but what it was she thought we were wanting to have a look at the Molina which we discovered means Mill.  To our amazement she had a really old functioning water mill that ground up different types of flour and she showed us around and turned it to demonstrate how it worked!  I did video it so if I can get it on the blog I will do so later.

Martin like the true gent he is sat in a bar supping ale on the edge of the town until me and Ang turned up again and we walked together into the centre.  We arrived at about 7.30, an hour after the others and we checked into accommodation. 

Dinner at 9 and walked around the town trying to find somewhere that wasn’t tapas and ended up eating back where we started close to the hotel.