Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Monday, 19 October 2015

October 21, 2015. Santiago

They sit, they stand, they lie around
Beside their packs upon the ground
On cobbled stones in this grand place
Before the church. And two embrace,
One with beatific smile,
Another looking all the while
For her companions of the way,
Who may, she fears, have gone astray.

Some with loads upon their back,
Others having shed their pack
Will go inside to see Saint James,
The symbol of it all, whose fame
Has brought them here. How do they feel?
Have they walked so far to kneel
Upon the ground in abject awe
Of Santiago Matamoor?

Or was it something less sublime,
A sudden sense of passing time,
A need to find without delay
A sense of purpose, come what may?
A whim perhaps, a challenge made
To end an evening, one that stayed
And lingered in the mind,
A rite of passage of a kind? 

Or was it something more profound,
A personal goal, a quest to sound
The very depth of self? Who knows?
Whatever way the wind now blows,
They've changed, and what may now ensue,
A willingness for something new,
Will make them stronger, more inclined
To venture forth with open mind,
Receptive now to new ideas:
A piercing thought perhaps, that sears 
The self-complacent soul and leaves
Instead, an intellect that breathes.

On Monday night, I enjoyed a jovial meal, the Australians, a German couple, Preben and I. Now I have been known, in a dramatic gesture, to sweep my red wine off the table and onto the white dress of the person next to me, but this time it was not my fault. Just as I was raising my glass to my lips, the waiter was putting my dish of pulpo in my place in a contrary movement. The plate struck my glass in mid air sending shards of glass and a waste of wine all over me and the table cloth. No harm was done, and the wine blended in well with the other stains on my Tilley pants. Of course, I was given another glass of red.

Dame Edna Everidge complained that "they always get the best positions" so I walked up narrow alleys to the top of the hill where I expected to see the cathedral, but it wasn't there. Nor was it easy to find, and I spent some thirty minutes looking for it. Inside, I refrained from standing in line to hug the saint as other pilgrims were doing. Notice the pair of hands around his shoulders in the photo below.

There are two Santiagos on the golden altarpiece, Compostelle below and Matamoros above. Santiago de Compostela is so named because seekers were led to his relics by strange lights in the sky, the field of stars. The legend of Santiago Matamoros dates from the final defeat of the Moors. Invoked by the Spanish, the appearance of the saint was the turning point in the battle. Typically, the statues of Santiago Matamoros show the saint slicing off the heads of his enemies. In the statue in one of the chapels, an arrangement of flowers discreetly hides these heads, but as the photo reveals, one can still be seen.

The interior of the cathedral is quite magnificent with its long Gothic nave, with standing room only as the pilgrims' mass begins. This must be one of the only churches in the world that is full every day.
At the end of the nave before the transept is a mighty organ: its pipes, adorned with seraphim and cherubim and all the lesser orders of angels, come down the walls, and then protrude like dragons' teeth above the congregation.

The pilgrims' mass was marked by three curious phenomena.

First, throughout much of the mass the long line of saint-hungers slowly climbed the steps to embrace Saint James, some just touching his shoulders, others rather familiarly, I thought, grabbing his chest. Occasionally, during more solemn moments of the mass the movement ceased, out of respect, or in response to ecclesiastical dictate, I don't know, but then it resumed again, a continual movement from right to left behind the altar. Distracting!

And then communion. Now I remember from previous experiences in church, and even this very same service a dozen years ago, that a minority of congregants take communion. The rest are not in the right religious state of mind, or they are not Catholics, but this time, almost everybody was getting up to take communion. I was the only one left in my pew. 

I recalled a story from dinner a couple of nights ago, which, until that moment I had not believed. After attending the  mass, a New Zealander had said how nice it was of them to give bickies to the pilgrims. She had got up towards the end of the service, followed the crowd up to the front, and received a nice little treat.

But what was really interesting to me was that the Church was turning a blind eye to the fact that many of the pilgrims receiving  communion were not Catholic. How enlightened! Time was when a Catholic would cross himself in horror at the thought of a Protestant or worse taking communion. Mind you, what could they do? Ask each communicant to prove she was a Catholic by saying a Hail Mary or two? But I like to think that the clergy knew full well that many of them were not even Christians, but chose to believe that God works in mysterious ways.

And then the moment everyone had been waiting for, the reason why the cathedral was so full: the swinging thurible, the incense burner. The organ thundered, and the little men in red appeared, lit the bowl, and gathered round the rope with many holds, and pulled. It gathered speed, and swung higher until the rope hit the top of the transept arches on either side, causing the censeur to give a little jig before plummeting down.

Across the church from side to side it swings
And as it passes through the air it brings
Fire, and flaming frankinsense to quench
With purifying scent, the pilgrims' stench.

It has to be one of the great spectacles in Christendom, and I found it strangely moving to observe the ritual that had been carried out for hundreds of years.

There must be several hundred bars in this grand old city, but if you sit in one of them, you are bound to meet all the people you hoped to see again before you leave. First, Jack the Kiwi and Gal the Israeli, who were planning to busk in front of the cathedral, and then Verina the German girl whom we had missed at dinner, and then Eveline the Quebecoise, who was happy at the change of government, but not that the Bloq had won only ten seats. And earlier I had seen Fernando, and later I ran into Ted from Quadra.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Day 35. Arzula to Santiago. 40 kms

There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it.

I spoke too soon. All morning there were pilgrims in front and pilgrims behind as far as the eye could see. I have never seen so many people on a walk. 

Pilgrims in front of us
Pilgrims behind us
On to the church of Saint James
Walked the six hundred.

I wanted to be out it, so I decided to walk all the way to Santiago, and as I suspected, most of the crowd stopped at albergues around the half-way mark, and the afternoon was clear.

For almost all the way I walked along leafy lanes which ran near and occasionally crossed the main highway to Santiago. After an hour or so, I caught up with a score or two of pilgrims bunched along the side of a barn wall, part of the way along which were provocative religious statements and rhetorical questions such as "If Jesus came back today, would he be Orthodox, Catholic or Baptist?"

The other part of the wall was covered with famous quotations which alluded to the spirit of the Camino. One of them summed up the nature of the religious questions.

And Mark Twain was there of course.

This wall conveyed the spirit of the secular Camino. The Camino is evolving, much like Christianity itself, into a secular phenomenon. The Camino is a legacy of Christendom, still retaining the spirit of true Christianity, with its values of love and respect and tolerance. For example, later in the day, I passed another wall, written along which were the words: "The way to God is through Jesus." Now imagine how provocative that would be in a public place anywhere else. Blasphemies and obscenities would be scrawled all over it. But here, instead, was written: "Not the only way."

A little further on, I came upon a couple, one taking a photo of the other. As one away does, I offered to take a a picture of them both, and recognizing the accent, asked where they were from. They were Kerry and Greg from Bunbury, Western Australia, and they knew my cousin, Jan. It was another coincidence, and yet there were so many people that I was bound to meet someone I had a connection with. There was another coincidence too, but I won't bore the pants off you.

I ran into the Australians again at a bar a little more than half way to to Santiago. They had been planning to stay at an albergue a couple of miles back and had just realized that they had gone too far. There was the fellow from Sydney, the two Bunburyites, and a girl from Canberra. Listening to them talk was music to my ears and I say that without the slightest touch of irony.

How did we miss the bloody sign?
I don't know. You were bloody in front.
Well, we're not bloody going back.
Well, we can't bloody stay heah.
We'll have to bloody go on to the next one then.
We can't. It's too bloody far.
Well, we can't bloody stay heah.
But it's bloody seven kays to the next one. I'll whinge all the bloody way if we go on.

Well, they went on to the next one, and poor Kerry was dragging herself along. But they made it.

I was booked into a hotel on Monday for I want to follow the results of the Canadian election via Wifi, but I thought I would stay tonight as well. I phoned. Here is how the conversation went:

Me: Do you speak English?
Hotel: English tomorrow morning. Spanish today.
Me: But I would like to book in tonight.
Hotel: English tomorrow morning. Spanish today.

I pressed on anyway, chancing on finding a room, and I did. I can recommend the Hotel Mapoula, very clean, very comfortable, very central, with good Wifi, and the BBC World News on TV. I am paying 50€ for a double room, for there were no singles left, but Preben has a single for 30€. Preben is well organized. He returns home from one Camino and by the end of the week he has planned for the next, or the next two, for he walks in both spring and autumn. He has invited me to walk the Primitivo with him next fall, but this is my last Camino. Mind you, the Primitivo is a short one. But to train for it I would have to climb Mount Doug every day and Mount Finlayson once a week!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Day 34. Sobrado dos Monxes to Arzua. 22 kms

Your excretions and secretions and contributions similar
As such are too much for our cloaca minima.
It's not that we scorn your presence or proximity
But any extra effluent will clog up our facility.

The facade of the church at the monastery is baroque, rather like the cathedral at Santiago. Only a single chapel remains of an earlier Romanesque church.

The albergue with its many dormitories could accommodate the 150 or so pilgrims that can pass through each day in summer, but this not true of some of the smaller refugios. The albergue run by the Confraternity can hold only 28 people, and one of the hospitaleros explained it can get rather tense when they, English, have to turn the others, Spanish, away. The municipality will not allow them to put down mattresses on the floor to accommodate the surplus as the sewer system can only take so much. I composed a verse for them to post on the door when they are full.

I won't be waxing effusively about dogs today. Last night, foolishly, I bent down to pat an idle dog in the square, and he lept up, snapped, and almost took my hand off. And this morning, I had to walk downhill backwards to keep my eye on a little yap-dog that was having a go at me. I dared not turn my back or he would have taken a piece out of my calf.

I set out along the main road, then a minor road, passed a little old lady collecting chestnuts, and then a little old man with a little old dog, and after that it was plod, plod, plod along the road to Arzua, there to join the eastern hordes from the Camino Frances. 

But they are not here in great numbers. I am in an albergue, where at four o'clock there were still lower bunks available. Certainly, there are new faces: more young couples, some Koreans, who walk the Camino because of one book which it seems everyone there has read, and a woman who walks about with a beatific expression on her face as an example to us all. And, in another one of those incredible coincidences, Judith and Jurgen from Mayne Island who have just finished walking the Primitivo.

I finished the day with a delightful meal with Preben the Dane, Verina a young German girl, and later, a young Australian fellow who appeared and made a fair defence of Australian migration policy.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Day 33. October 16, 2015. Miraz to Sobrado dos Monxes. 25 kms.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know

A spectacular sunrise this morning boded well for the weather today.

As the days grow shorter and so does my time on the Camino, I come back to George's what's-it-all-about-Alfie question. Well, it's certainly a quest, religious, spiritual, personal, a journey in the tradition, I believe, of those great literary quests beginning with Homer's Odyssey.

For three Spanish lads at the albergue last night, I suspect it is religious. One wore a cross; another wore a ring. The third hospitaller, Stuart, an elderly Scot from Edinburgh, took us on a tour of the church and explained the statues, including Santiago with the heads of the moors at his feet, the same which I hear have been politically corrected at the cathedral in Santiago, and the Spanish lads were all ears, nodding in agreement and murmuring assent, and were so appreciative that they later wanted their photo taken with him. For them it is a religious quest.

Perhaps for me it's a personal quest. The most simple of the Greek philosophical slogans is also the most profound: Know thyself. As I walk, I peel away the onion skins. But that's life as well, of course. It's just that when you are walking alone for five weeks, you concentrate on these things. It's the same with the appreciation of beauty.

The first four or five kilometres across the moors were perhaps the most beautiful of the walk. Timber had been cut, and bracken and gorse and broom had taken over along with patches of heather. The occasional crocus peeped up tentatively along the edges of the track. This was wild country. At times I walked along a dirt track; at others, over rocky outcrops or flat slabs of stone. 

As I passed a farm, a little terrier was waiting for me, wagging his tail, as he probably waited for every pilgrim. As I bent down to pat him, there was a bark, and a large German shepherd shot out towards me. I expected him to be caught short by his chain, but no, he kept coming and pushed in front of the little dog to be patted. The two of them nuzzled there and I lingered for a moment. 

Later, I came upon a very strange dog indeed, like nothing I've seen before. One half looked like a wooly Airedale; the other, a terrier. Then I saw another just the same. And another. And a little further on in a field there was a tumble of puppies rolling over each other, two of the same mixed breed, the other quite different. There was a very interesting family history here.

Then I heard a robin sing and saw a flash of orange.

Without the other distractions of life, one is especially receptive to these moments of beauty on the Camino.

I passed a scattering of cows. Normally they stick together for company, but these were spread outcross the field, ruminating. Contented cows.

After that it was road walking and then the last eight kilometres tramping along a major highway. No bar was indicated on this route, but just five kilometres before the town, I noticed some chairs in the distance on a footpath, and a sign, and a figure waving, and it was Preben, and there was a beer for me on the table.

I have been thinking about the man that was rooting about under his horse chestnut tree. Were they in fact edible chestnuts? A little touch of Google in the night put me right. Many of what I thought were horse chestnuts, including the tree in the man's yard, were in fact the real thing. In their spiny skins, they are difficult to tell apart, but the nuts are different. Horse chestnuts, conkers, are rounder; chestnuts are flatter on one side, and they have a stem or the remnant of one that is quite prominent. The nut on the left in the photo below is a horse chestnut and poisonous; the other three are chestnuts and edible, low in fat and high in protein. And I walk on them all the time. Preben tells me he pays several euros for a few at Christmas. I told him to hire a truck, drive down here, scoop them up, and make a small fortune.

I am staying at the Cistercian monastery at Sobrado dos Monxes. Seventeen monks remain in a monastery with room for many, many more. Eleven of them were present at Vespers. One monk did more yawning than singing. Poor fellow. He had been up since matins before dawn. Then he was going to compline because he couldn't go to bed. There was one good tenor. The chant was beautiful, even if a little feeble-voiced at times, but I imagined how it must have sounded when they were a hundred strong, singing the office they have singing for more than a 1,000 years.

Twenty-five to thirty pilgrims were present. For some it would have been a religious devotion. But for the rest of us, a cultural phenomenon? A curiosity? A touch of history? A nod to our heritage? A polite gesture to our hosts?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Day 32. October 15, 2015. Baamonde to Miraz. 15 kms

It is I, Hamlet the Dane

Last night I was having a beer in a cozy little pub when Preben the Dane appeared. As I suspected, he had missed the turning before Ribadeo and taken the coastal route via Tapia, staying there when he ran out of time to go further. Yesterday he had walked 40 kilometres to get back on his schedule. I bought him a beer for his efforts.

It was a foggy four degrees as I left town. After three kilometres along the highway, I turned off on a side road, crossed the railway line, passed the little chapel of San Alberte, and ventured into the woods, acorns crunching underfoot.

Later in the morning, the fog lifted, and it was like a fine Australian winter's day, blue sky, crisp and still, the silence broken by the occasional cooing of a dove or the squawking of a crow, or the crowing of a rooster from a nearby farm. No sound of traffic from the motorway today, or noxious fumes: this was the most idyllic of days.

For the most part, I walked with Preben. We stopped for an omelette and a drip coffe at a little rustic albergue in the woods, 156 metres precisely off the Camino, a very charming spot, and then again at a bar just two kilometres short of our destination, where we drank a tumbler full of young red wine, the veritable blushfull Hippocrene, which the proprietress fetched in a carafe from somewhere out the back. As always, the drinks were served with little tapas, sausages on bread, or baked peppers, sometimes hot, sometimes not. 

I am spending the night at Miraz in an albergue run by the Confraternity of Saint James from London. One of the hospitaleros, Christina, from Belfast, has read this very blog, although how she identified me as its author, I'm not sure, but perhaps it was because I'm an Australian Canadian, not the most common of identities, and the other, Maureen, in another coincidence, is from Beach Road, Oak Bay, Victoria, B.C. It is a lovely albergue, where they serve tea at four o'clock, with lovely bickies so you can put the weight back on you have lost in the morning. And I never been so warm: a wood fire is blazing away in the corner of the common room.

Their hospitality extended to Maureen's buying several of us a drink at the local bar. I will reciprocate when we both get back to Victoria. A herd of cows provided a diversion by marching down the main street of town.

Only three or four days to Santiago, now, depending on whether I split the last stage into two. This last step is on the Camino Frances so there will be lots of people.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Day 31. October 14, 2015. Vialba to Baamonde. 19.7 kms

It only takes a mildly tempered link
To break, and let the savage beast run free
To lunge at me, and with untrammelled glee to sink
Its foamy fangs into my calf and knee.

Stars in a clear sky, only seven degrees, as I left this morning. This was the second part of a long step I had cut in two. As so often happens, a kindly fellow escorted, rather than directed, me along the way out of town. And then I had a friendly conversation with a dog and his master who told me I had only five days to walk to Santiago. Six for me, I think. I passed a man in his yard rooting around under his horse chestnut tree. Was he planning on playing conkers with his grandchildren, or was he using them for some culinary purpose? 

I spent another delightful day walking along country lanes and paths, sometimes dirt, sometimes cobbled, crossing bridges over rippling streams, occasionally missing a turning and having to backtrack a little, but without any serious detours. No fig trees today. I think that delicacy may be behind me. Still the occasional blackberry which I sample, shrivelled and past its prime, but edible.

 I passed many deserted farm houses, the land no longer viable, I suppose.

And always in the fields I see that tall vegetable, sometimes as tall as I am, a member of the cabbage family, I think, not unlike kale, that is a chief ingredient of Caldo Gallego, the marvellous soup that I remember from my time in Galicia on the Camino Frances.

I walked with Frederika, the young German girl for a while. She fully supports Angela Merkel, but I read this morning that German public opinion (51%) may be turning against her generous refugee policy.

People have their characteristic gait which may reflect their personality. Frederika, for example, has a jaunty walk, occasionally throwing her arms out as she walks. I can recognize her from half a kilometre away. Preben has a steady plod. And there's the ebullient Italian, whom I see at almost every albergue, who breaks into a jog every so often, backpack and all. When I left the Camino del Norte on my detour to Oviedo, I met him jogging towards me five kilometres from the turnoff. Took the wrong path, he told me. Eveline the Quebecoise has the gait of a tortoise; in fact, she identifies with that animal, and always carries a little ornamental tortoise with her. She calls me the hare, because I go ahead, take a wrong turning, and then come up behind her.  I believe I have a rolling gait. I'm not sure what that signifies.

I dined out with Eveline her last night and again we talked politics. She is a fiery separatiste, or independiste, as she would prefer to be called. I am trying to convince her that she would be better off in Canada. She feels that there is an anti-Quebec attitude in the rest of Canada, which I am trying to dispel.

Last night I ate pulpo for this time this trip. I always make sure that I'm going to get the tentacles, cut into bite-sized chunks, ever since the time I recommended it to a friend, who ordered it and a whole octopus arrived on her plate. She almost chundered. 

This afternoon as I walked past a farmyard, a savage hound lunged at me, only to be caught by its chain just short of my calf. How many lunges before the chain breaks? Every day I pass dozens of dogs on chains. What else can they do but become savage?

On the other hand, cats regard me with disdain. I passed a pussilanimity, or perhaps a moggitude, or a felinicity of cats.

Baamonde is renowned for its sculptor, Victor Sorrel. We visited his house, a living museum; everything, inside and out and inthe garden, he has created: wood sculptures, stone sculptures, miniatures, paintings. 

Particularly impressive was a sculpture inside a horse chestnut tree outside the Romanesque church.

Day 30. Gontan to Vialba. 20.5 kms

The frost and breath of frosty wind had snapped
The last autumnal crocus 

The day was fine but cold, a chilly wind at my back, but the sun came out mid-morning and made for very pleasant walking. I trekked along minor roads and country lanes, brambles on either side, and at times the track was deep in the earth, twelve feet below the fields. How had this happened, I wondered. Was this a constructed road or an ancient track worn down over the centuries by horses' hooves, wagon wheels, or even marching legions?

I ate lunch in a field with my back to an old gum tree-ee. It was an idyllic moment, all alone, with the sun in my face, and such a gentle breeze stirring the leaves, already turning, even falling some of them, birch and poplar.

As I ate, a couple of young girls passed, one Czech, the other Hungarian, who had become friends on the Camino, and I reflected on others who would never have met otherwise, the German and the Pole, the Israeli and the New Zealander, all unlikely liasions. A good reason for walking alone, I think, unless you are partners.

I pressed on. Conkers cracked and their soft spiny coats squished underfoot. Crocuses appeared along the edge of the lane, some snapped, not by frost, but by careless pilgrims' feet. And a very strange assortment of mushrooms, some like something Coleridge might have dreamed  up, another more like a ripe tomato.

Stone slab walls enclosed many of the fields, and I saw the same slabs used as a roof of a barn.

Another entrepreneur had driven his car towards oncoming pilgrims, handing out leaflets advertising a private albergue, in town rather than one kilometre before, at 10€ rather than 6€, and I decided it was worth the premium for a little more room and the certainty of hot showers.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Day 29. October 12, 2015. Lourenzo to Gontan. 25 kms

When we have laughed to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind.

I set out and was soon cold, wet, clammy and miserable, seeing little of the promised magnificent hillside views. As my poncho billowed in the wind and rain spattered the back of my legs, I slushed along in the footprints of earlier pilgrims. The gum trees swayed like masts on a high sea.

The colour of my poncho does not necessarily indicate my voting intentions on October 19th, for like the woman who commented on strategic voting in the paper this morning, I would vote for a centipede if it would get rid of Harper.

At my first stop, in a posh hotel bar barely a couple of kilometres from Lourenzo, out-dressed by fashionable guests, I pondered on the difference between their lot and mine. They would be spending the day by a fire perhaps, while I was walking in the rain. 

I walked on and arrived at Mondonedo. I visited the cathedral, only the second church in Spain that I have been able to enter. It is called the "kneeling cathedral" for its perfect proportions and its short stature. It is the darkest cathedral I have ever visited. The choir Is Romanesque, the retablo gilt baroque, of course, the nave Gothic, and yet small, narrow windows let in very little light. To make matters worse, part of the central aisle is walled off from the outer aisles, making it even darker. On one of these walls is a painting showing Santiago Matamoor making short work of the infidels.

I like to sit in cafes across the plaza from the cathedral. I watched the coffee dribble out of the spout. It really is a better coffee here, longer and stronger. After the initial spurt, it dribbles for a long time.

As I watched the coffee dribble,
I thought I'd have a nibble.
I settled on a hamburger with cheese.
And to wash the morsel down
I chose a beer of some renown
Estrella Galicia, if you please.

With 16 kilometres to go, I reluctantly left the town and marched uphill. Somewhere I missed a sign, climbed higher, and arrived at the highway. Reluctant to backtrack and give up all the height I had gained, I walked for many miles along the road, cars whizzing by, until I picked up the trail again at almost 2,000 feet, and headed on to Gontan.

As I opened the door of the albergue. I knew this would be a good one. It was warm and bright and modern. I have a top bunk in a four-bed section, but there's a ladder and a guard rail. And the showers were piping hot. That is unusual when you arrive late in the day. The showers are often cold and by the time you've stripped off and turned on the tap, you have to go through with it. But not today! After a cold and wet walk, I just stood there, the hot water tumbling down. What luxury!

There was no possibility of eating out in this little town, so I bought some provisions and a bottle of Rioja, and was planning to eat alone, when I ran into a Quebecoise, Eveline, in the same situation with similar provisions, so we ate together. We had more food than we needed, and more wine too, but we managed to give some away, and drank the rest. And of course we had a long conversation about Quebec separatism. Once again I realized that the most important thing about the Camino is to be open and to listen.
This is what the Camino offers. Where else can you be exposed to so many ideas and opinions different from your own? What better opportunity to learn?

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Day 28. October 11, 2015. Ribadeo to Lourenzo. 27.5 kms

Quelque part dans un bar

Sunday morning. The only bar that I could find open for breakfast was one that hadn't closed from the night before. Lots of young people in there, still partying, loud, but not belligerent. A couple dancing, a maudlin fellow at the bar, a young girl drinking beer from a bottle. Coffee for me, but nothing to eat. I had to walk 23 kilometres before I found another bar.

And then the quietest of days. A very long uphill walk, and then a steep climb for an hour or more to the upper ridges. Overcast sky, mist in the mountains, clear sky away to the west. Gently sloping valleys on either side, parcelled into fields lined with trees and bales of hay, some of the paddocks dotted with cows, others reserved for winter fodder.

High up on a ridge I came upon a little recreational space, sat on a friendly bench, and ate a crust of bread. I used to buy a baguette in case I got hungry along the way, but now I save a couple of chunks from the menu du jour of the night before.

Then it was a long downhill walk, through the village of Gondan and on to San Xusto where I finally found a bar. Another very steep climb up minor roads, over a hill, and then such a gentle stroll through heather and gorse and broom and gum trees into Lourenzo.

Despite the major climb, 13 to 14 hundred feet, it was very pleasant to be up high on lonely roads, away from the highways I have been plodding along in recent days. No larks, which have a magical sound all of their own, for I suppose it's the wrong time of the year, but the occasional song from a blackbird or thrush, and the odd, odd squawk from a bird that was heard but not seen.

I have changed my mind about Spanish dogs: they bark just as much as their French counterparts. Many of them are watchdogs that run along their fence, barking as you pass. But some are treated quite cruelly, I fear. Chained up, or even caged, how can they be anything else but savage?

Lourenzo is an ugly town, despite its main attraction and national monument: a monastery founded in the 10th century with a highly renowned baroque facade. Otherwise the streets are shabby, and the ugly factories which surround the town detract from the natural beauty of the river. 

I have a lower bunk in the albergue, which is now full. There are a couple of coughers in my dorm as well. That's a bit of a worry. I hear that Ted from Quadra is about six kilometres back, but no sign of Preben the Dane.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Day 27. October 10, 2015. Pinera to Ribadeo. 36 kms

On finding a Koran in the albergue

A Koran in the gites along the way?
Perhaps it's there in case I want to pray.
It doesn't bother me, and what the hecka,
Perhaps I'll take a Bible into Mecca.

Copies of the Koran have been seen in other albergues as well. Very curious! They are written in Arabic, so we are hardly likely to be converted after a bit of light reading in the evening. They are well bound, expensive copies, perhaps funded by Saudi Arabia.

There used to be a kind of rule in the albergues that lights would go off at ten and come on at seven. Well, they often go off earlier than ten, if everybody's in bed, but they certainly don't come on at seven at this time of the year. It's still dark, and some people sleep in. So this morning, for example, I was out of the dorm before the lights came on.

I ate breakfast in La Colorada where there was a curious incident. My breakfast bun and my coffee came to four euros and some change. When I emptied everything out of my pocket, along with various bits of tissue and a walnut I found four euros and a Canadian quarter. The girl was very interested in the quarter, so I gave it to her. Don't worry about the extra, she said, and took my four euros. But as I left, she came running up, saying she had made a mistake, gave me a new bill, and some change. I didn't quite know what to make of this. Was she writing out a new bill to cover the fact that she had rounded off the previous one?

But it was quite different from an earlier experience. I had paid for a ensalad mixte with a fifty, and received my change in a pile of notes. I checked through them, and found a twenty was missing. Of course, he came running up, sorry he had made a mistake, etc. So, note carefully what you are paying with, and count your change.

Fortified, I left the hotel and strolled across the flat country, quite different from the ups and downs of a few days ago. Wind turbines were turning lazily on the distant hilltops, and horses were swishing their tails in time. But I had to get a move on. I have been ambling along thinking I have lots of time, but to arrive on the night of the nineteenth to listen to the Canadian election results, I have to walk some long stretches. And today was one of them.

I crossed the River Navia and ran into a pleasant American couple from South Carolina. She had been bitten by bed bugs in an albergue, so now they were staying in hotels. It had taken them the best part of a day put all their stuff, including their pack, through a washer and dryer. So they are about, the bed bugs.

I had a beer for lunch at La Caridad which was the end of a step. With the beer came some little tapas, bits of sausage on circles of bread, and some innocent looking peppers which burnt the top of the roof of my mouth. I think the purpose was to have me order another beer.

Then it was a 21-kilometre march to Ribadeo, mainly along the highway and minor roads. Quite a plod! Engaged in a conversation with Ted from Quadra, I missed a vital turning, adding a few extra kilometres. And it started to rain, so I had to perform acrobatics with my poncho.

Finally, crossing over a highway bridge, at least a kilometre long, I arrived in Ribadeo and Galicia, the final region of the walk, and also the region for pulpo. And then another kilometre through the town to find the Hostal Galicia. Strangely, Preben the Dane is not here. He had booked, hasn't cancelled, and the proprietor is gesticulating wildly.

Day 26. October 9, 2015. Sota de Luina to Pinera. 30 kms

When first I saw her standing there forlorn,
I thought she wore a coat upon her back,
Fashioned 'gainst the bitter cold of dawn
By kindly hands that pitied her. Alack,
It was not so. This was her natural hue,
So different from the others of the flock;
And there she stood alone as if she knew 
Her manners and her mien were wont to shock. 
Anon appeared a dog, a noble soul,
The goatherd and the master of the way,
And not the first I've seen perform this role.
He ventured up to me as if to say,
stand on guard, no matter who they be,
However strange they look or seem to thee.

It was cool this morning as I left the gite, ten degrees, and the wind was whipping up from the sea.
As I stopped to take a photo of this strange-looking goat, a cross between a Saanen and a Nubian perhaps, its guardian, a big Saint-Bernard-ish dog came rushing over, not threateningly, but just to make sure I wasn't intending any harm to his herd. 

The breakfast at the gite was better left alone, so as usual I was loking forward my coffee and tortilla at the first tavern. It was about six kilometres on, and from there, it was an easy walk into Luarca, the recommended place to stop.

Luarca is one of the loveliest seaside towns I've seen. One of the Germans thought that it looked very British. Indeed it does, rather like a Cornish town with its steep cliffs and narrow harbour, but bigger and busier. I would have liked to linger, but had only covered 15 kilometres, and as the next step was a long one, I was planning to even out the distances. 

The albergue, one kilometre after Pinera, is basic, but not crowded, so I have a bottom bunk. There is a Gulf Islander here, Ted from Quadra, 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Day 25. October 8, 2015. Soto de Luina to Cadavedo. 21 kms

Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every valley...

Although the albergue, an old school house, was almost empty when I arrived, allowing me to acquire a coveted bottom bunk, it was full by the end of the day, all twelve double bunks. It is remarkable how calm it is in these crowded rooms: people moving quietly around, gliding by each other with barely a word, and certainly never a cross one, in these difficult conditions. This is one of the benefits of the Camino, putting you together with so many people in an unfamiliar situation.

And another, of course, is meeting different people with different points of view. I heard of a young American at a recent albergue who was arguing with some Europeans until two in the morning that Germany was totally responsible for two world wars.

As I walked over to the hotel last night for our pilgrim's menu, a bus arrived and discharged a load of elderly tourists. Some wore shells, but others were pretty frail, so I thought they must being doing a bus-tour Camino. But no, I met a couple at breakfast this morning, who told me that they stay at a hotel for several nights, and each day the bus drops them off and picks them up. So they carry only a day pack. But they probably arent walking it all.

And we backpackers too enjoy different levels of food and accommodation. We are not all equal on the Camino. Pilgrims first class stay at hotels. Pilgrims second class stay in rooms and private albergues and eat at restaurants. Pilgrims third class stay at the basic albergues de peregrinos and cook their own food in the kitchens. Pilgrims fourth class sleep in tents, and may or may not cook their own food. I am a second to third class pilgrim.

Very fine weather, today. There were stars in the sky as I left the albergue, and the clear skies with a few clouds persisted all day.

It was a day of ups and downs. The main road weaved around the valleys that ran down to the sea, whereas we zigzagged down the sides of the valleys, forded the streams at the bottom, and then zigzagged up the other sides. Someone's guide book compared the total ascent to climbing Cebreiro, the notorious hill on the Camino Frances. At times we came back to the sea, with magnificent views of the rocky coast.

Happiness is climbing 300 feet and finding at the top a bar where I can order a large coffee and a ham and egg omelette!

There are so many different kinds of people on the Camino. I listened for about five kilometres to a German Swiss fellow who could talk the hind leg of a donkey. He told me about his work, his house, his mother, his wood, and asked not a question of me. Eventually, I had to stop for a pee, to let him go on.

Then I met a German woman who works for a software company that manages schedules for railway companies including Via Rail. I made her promise to get the E & N line running again.

And I keep running into a very pleasant stout young German with two even younger girls in tow. It's an interesting ménage a trois. And I ran into the young German girl, Frederika, whom I hadn't seen for a week or so. I think there are more Germans on this walk than any other nationality.

As I left town this morning, a enterprising fellow had parked his car where he could accost every pilgrim who passed, handing out a blue leaflet advertising rooms at reasonable rates. Tonight, for 20€ I have a single room with sheets, towel, and washing machine, and a sort of breakfast, all included. It's a good deal, considering the alternatives. The normal albergues, for say, 5€, are crowded, and sometimes squalid. The private albergues, for 10€ to15€ , are less crowded, very clean, with nice showers and a pleasant common room, but you still have to use your own towel and sleep in your bag in a dorm. So it's worth paying a bit more for a private room.

Day 24. October 7, 2015. Muros de Nalon to Soto de Luina. 16 kms

Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.

I was surprised to run into Fernando at the albergue, the rather cynical, anti-clerical Basque Spaniard whom I left in Santander about to catch a train back home to San Sebastián, I thought, but no, he must have just been avoiding the crowded albergue and the industrial trek the next day, and had taken a train to a stop on the Camino down the line, for here he was, still walking. We had an excellent meal together, he and Preben and I, -- lentils and rice, brochettes, and ice cream -- for he had learned of the cook's reputation at the restaurant, and he regaled us with alarming details of the Spanish economy.

Sorry to harp on about gum trees, but today I walked over hills where no natural vegetation remained, the gum trees were all triumphant, and as I walked through the forest I heard the snarl of a chain saw, and there they were, twelve-foot lengths of eucalyptus being loaded onto a truck, for what purpose I do not know, but I shall find out.

For much of the day, I was passing back and forth around and under the autoroute. These super highways have been within sight or hearing much of the time on this walk, and they cross the narrow valleys leading down to the sea on huge viaducts mounted on pillars one to two hundred feet tall. I remember these being built when I walked in 2003, huge construction projects financed by European money. Fernando assured us that, unlike other instances of corruption and mismanagement, this had been money well spent, for it had enabled Spain to export its products to the rest of Europe. I imagined, however, how local farmers must have felt when their idyllic natural setting was destroyed by these bands of concrete which spanned the valleys. This is perhaps the ugliest picture I have included here, but it's the view the locals have to live with.

I noticed along the way that some of the Camino plaques had been prized off their their stone or concrete stands, presumably by pilgrims wanting to keep them as souvenirs. This is a despicable practice, since they have peen put there, probably by volunteers, for the benefit of us all, to show us the way. I hope the culprits feel pangs of guilt every time they see them in their living room. Or if they are religious, and they were expecting to be forgiven a certain number of days in purgatory for finishing the Camino, then I pray that these days be reinstated, and doubled. Or perhaps there is a special place in Dante's Inferno for pilgrims who filch on their comrades.

And while I'm on the topic of despicability, I find it disgusting that our prime minister is musing over banning the wearing of the niquab by public servants, a non-issue that he is using for crass political purposes. Just as only one or two women have wanted to wear the garment at a citizenship ceremony, their right according to our constitution, it is even less likely to be worn by public servants. Not only may raising this issue evoke anti-Islamic sentiment, it may also provoke someone to wear the niquab, just to assert her right to so. Recently a woman was attacked for doing just that. How this government is changing Canada for the worse! Please read Sheema Khan's piece in today's Globe.

As you may have guessed, I'm keeping up with the news through my Globe and Mail app, and perhaps, if I can find Wifi, I will watch the election results on the nineteenth beginning here in Spain at three in the morning.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Day 23. October 6, 2015. Aviles to Muros de Nalon. 24 kms

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

I walked out of town this morning into driving rain, which continued on and off for much of the day. I have just about managed to don my poncho by myself, flinging it over my head so that the back flap covers my backpack. But it's easier if you have a companion.

I walked along the road for an hour, and as it looped back on itself and wound down to the seaside town of San Cristobal, the way cut through the hill with the rain forming a little rivulet down the middle of the track. 

I had my second coffee of the day. I continue to run into difficulties with timer switches, but this morning I encountered a very sophisticated and civilized version. Sitting there was I, when slowly the light began to dim, giving me enough time to find the switch before darkness descended.

I remember from long ago that "knife" was a Danish word that came into Old English during the Danish invasion of Northern England, along with all those place names that end in -by, like Oadby, from the word "by" meaning town, as in "bylaws". I confirmed all this with Preben the Dane, and tried out various theories with him, for example, that silent "k" words come from Danish. "Knife" and "knee" and "knot" do; "knead" and "know" don't. We shouted words at each other as we walked.

Towards the end of a long, cold, wet hike through the forest, the sun finally came out. I put in at a bar at Soro de Barco. This may or may not have been a typical Spanish bar, but there were several men around the bar and a red-headed woman behind it, very much in charge. The men were arguing and one in particular was quite loud and obnoxious. Then the woman, the proprietress, got involved and the two were going at it hammer and tongs. She was telling him off, whether for his opinions or his behaviour, I didn't know. The other two men looked a bit uncomfortable, but his shouting and her screaming increased to such an extent I thought they would come to blows. She would scream, he would stop, and then start again, and she would hurl another string of abuse at him. Finally, it died down, and a little later as he left, she saw him to the door, and bade him a friendly goodbye. Then she looked at me and shrugged. Was it football or politics? I don't know.

A couple of kilometres further on I arrived at Muros de Nalon and decided to stay a private albergue, Casa Carmina. This is very well equipped, and quite luxurious for an albergue. It, too, has lights that go on and off automatically, and more important, Wifi.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Day 21. October 4, 2015. La Vega to Oviedo. 26 kms

It was only a drizzle, 
And hardly a pizzle
When I set out for breakfast this morn.
But when it did fizzle,
I continued to grizzle,
For I'd gone without coffee at dawn.

Indeed, it was barely light when I left the albergue this morning, hoping that one of the town's two bars would be open, but no luck, so I had to walk ten kilometres into Polo. That's a long walk for breakfast!

Polo is a sad industrial town with more graffiti on the walls than I've ever seen before, and not only on abandoned buildings, but on occupied ones as well, a measure perhaps of high unemployment, for I have left behind the more prosperous coastal towns supported by tourism.

And then it was a longish ten-mile hike into Oviedo along highways and byways, surprisingly quiet most of the time, as it weaved between the railway and the autoroute and avoided housing and industrial development.

I have lost my earlier companions of the walk, but have fallen in with a Danish fellow, Preben, who gave me the idea of making this little detour through Oriedo. But Jack the Kiwi, Gal the Israeli, Frederika the German, a Czech couple, and the smoking Danish mother and son, all have disappeared, and are likely way ahead of me, now that I have lost another day by this detour.

It was worth it though. The old quarter was typically Spanish, with winding streets leading into large plazas, where everyone is out walking and meeting or eating and drinking. How the climate has influenced their culture, encouraging an openness and outwardness, in no small way contributing to the difference from northern nations in everything from art and music and sport to industry and economic prosperity!

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Day 20. October 3, 2015. Sebrayo to La Vega de Sariega. 23.2 kms

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with golden eye
Kissing with golden face the meadows green
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy

I was in a top bunk again last night. There is no standard design for the double bunks. Some with guard rails on either side of the top bunk would pass a safety standard, but most would not. It's not so bad without them if you are up against a wall, but if you're not, you have to anchor yourself somehow to make sure you don't roll off. Some have a ladder up the sides; others up the back. Some have no ladder at all. Then it's quite an art to swing yourself off and down in the dark. 

Invariably the bunk rocks on top when the person below moves. And the person below me, for two nights running, was a mover and shaker. I think he was having serious nightmares, for sometimes he would shake in one direction and then another, and of course tremors below meant violent cataclysmic quakes above.

The albergue at Serbrayo was the worst equipped I have seem. There was no drinking water, only one working burner on the stove, and an awkward lack of toilet paper. Unfortunately, this alberge is a difficult one to avoid.

There was mist in the valley as I set out through the fields, the long grass heavy with dew, a few chooks up early to catch the worm, circular bales lining the road in their green or black or silver plastic wrapping, a lone songbird, and always the apple trees, often with blighted fruit, but I don't think it mattered for it all went into the cider press.

I ate a leisurely breakfast at Villaviciosa, and then walked through the town, and came to the place where the roads divide. I decided that I wanted to see Oviedo, so turned left, away from the coast and up into the hills. I can still cut back to the coastal route from Oviedo if I want to.

Notice that here in Asturias it's the top of the shell, where the valves join, that indicates the direction. Elsewhere it can be the opposite. Confusing! I always look for the yellow arrows. Occasionally they can be confusing too when they point in two directions or are double-ended. Which to choose? Is one low, the other a high level variant? Or is one a Duke-of-Yorker, a longer loop just to get you off the highway?

Soon it was quieter and lonelier. I walked on narrow winding roads, through the hills, sometimes following a brook up a valley, for I seemed to have chosen a low level variant. I am noticing more and more horreos in the villages, and I suspect that the large circular stones on which they are mounted are to keep away the rats.


I ate lunch at Valledios across from the monastery. It was unbelievably still. Gum trees towered above the horse chestnuts below, their leaves barely moving, 

The only sounds the passing of a car,
And heated conversation in the bar.

I forced myself to leave that idyllic place.  And then the climb. I knew that my valley must come to an end, for I was surrounded by hills, and suddenly it was straight up for 700 feet on a little concrete road that zigzagged up the slope, for 50 minutes in all, for I dared not stop or I'd never start again, until mercifully, I reached the highway at the top.

And then it was downhill through little villages to La Vega and the alberge.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Day 19. October 2, 2015. San Esteban de Leces to Sebrayo. 26 kms

Ambulemus, nam cras moriemur

Last night was one to forget with some of the worst snoring I have ever heard. There was the bull, of course, but also the lion, and the jackal, and a chorus of smaller animals. And I fancy that I even heard an eeyore. At times it was almost a waltz, in a bass sort of way, with shorter, faster, double-rumbles sounding between the louder snorts. And the small room was stuffy because the Spanish like to keep the windows closed. The only other gringo took his mattress out into the hall. I awoke with a headache, either from the air or intermittent sleep.
Even some of the Spaniards were chuckling over the noisy night, and pointing to the corner of the room where the worst offender had been sleeping in blissful ignorance of the insomnia  he was causing. 

As I set out this morning, the sky was heavy over the mountains, but much lighter out to sea. With the cooler morning, smoke from a wood fire was wafting across from a farmhouse.  I followed a minor road to the coast, and then reached the coastal town of La Vega, passing a couple of horreos, traditional storage "granaries" for corn. I have seen them before in Galicia, but without the circular stones on top of the wooden supports.

I then walked for several kilometres along the cliffs before coming down into Berbes. Here I saw the welcome sign, "Desayunos 25m". And that's all it was, 25 metres.

After an omelette sandwich and several coffees, I walked on and off the highway into La Isla, and then along a narrow track under arching trees, razed cornfields on either side, to the large town of Colunga, where I bought provisions for this evening. There was no need for lunch after a large breakfast, and I feasted on figs and the occasional apple along the way.

And then it was up and up on a minor road, for the minor roads go up and over the hills, rather than round the sides, and then down a steep stony path to a creek, and then along a path beside the creek towards Serbrayo.

Here's another ploditude, a piece of advice I have been following myself for several days. Beyond having some idea of where I'm staying at the end of the day, I am no longer consulting my guide book all the time, or counting the kilometres to each town, but simply walking and enjoying whatever happens. Carpo diem. And then the villages with the possibility of coffee, and even the destinations, are a pleasant surprise and not a countdown. And tonight, for example, I was walking along the road towards a village in the distance, noticing in the corner of my eye what I thought was a family in their front garden, when they suddenly yelled, "Albergue!," and there I was, in Serbrayo.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Day 18. Nueva to San Esteban de Leces. 15 kms

A coffee is a coffee is a coffee,
The lady would have said. But 'tis not so.
In distant lands, it may be warm, not hot,
Or tainted with the tang of bitter beans
Unpalatable. But here in Spain where brash
And brass machines do hiss and spurt
The livelong day, certes, the brew they spout 
Is bold and strong and hot, and sans pareil.

It was easy to leave the hotel at the crack of dawn, for the days grow shorter, and we are into October now. The sun lit up the hills as I walked, and there was a softness in the air, silent for the most part, for the birds seemed to have gone, or found their mate, or met their fate, and weren't singing. But occasionally an avian shriek shattered the silence or a chattering of sparrows lighted on a neighbouring hedge, or a magpie, thin and long-tailed, not the fat Australian namesake, fluttered away as I approached. I walked through apple orchards, the overhanging branches already picked clean by passers by. To the left were the mountains which I I'll have to cross if I walk the Primitivo: to the right was the sea. 

I have been vacillating over whether to continue on the Norte, or take the Primitivo, a path through the mountains, more beautiful, but more difficult with long climbs, and I must make up my mind, for the path divides in a day or so. Many of the people I have been walking with are choosing the Primitivo, but this morning I was walking with an Italian who told me that the mountains would be too difficult for him. Now he was young and fit, so now I am leaning towards the Norte. Besides, rain is forecast, and I don't fancy walking in the rain in the mountains. After ten kilometres I arrived at Ribadesella.

After last night's supper, a thin slice of ham sandwiched between two crusts, and breakfast, a few cakes and a thermos of cold coffee, I decided to treat myself to the menu del dia. I was assured that my choice for the first course was typical of the region: a pile of beans in sauce, probably the ones I have seen climbing up the corn stalks, and on the side an assortment of sausages including black pud. My second was fairly typical as well, probably typical all over Europe, what the French would call steak frites. And the wine, a young but bonny Tempranillo. And I was serenaded by a carillon on the nearby church playing immelodious hymns.

I decided to linger a little in Ribadesella, take a tour of the famous caves with their prehistoric paintings, and then head off for the hostel at San Esteban de Leces, five kilometres further on. As I walked across the bridge, the tide was out, exposing a graveyard of ancient boat skeletons. These two lay side by side like man and wife.

The Tito Bustillo Caves (named after their discoverer) extend perhaps 400 yards into the hill, and the inner parts with the paintings were found only in 1968. The paintings, deer, horses, bison and another animals, are deep, perhaps 400 yards,into the hill. I didn't benefit from the guided tour in Spanish, but just seeing these paintings in ochre and charcoal, from 18,000 to 20,000years ago, was a memorable experience. No photo, of course.

At five o'clock, I left for the albergue just five kilometres out of time. Today was an easy day.