Monday, 27 July 2009

Every Good Pilgrim Deserves Pampering...

Monday July 20th (Later): There is no pilgrim refuge in Caldas. It seems that there was at some point but it is no more. I have been determined for days that once in Caldas I would take advantage of what it is famous for: very hot mineral water!

At the Hotel Davila just across the bridge I was told they had no singles, "but I can let you have a double for the same price." How much? 30 Euros? You betcha. My room is blue with white bedspreads it has no window but a skylight but once perched on the chair I can easily take a picture of the view back in the direction I have just walked. I booked a treatment for later on which was a one hour massage and a good dip in the waters "with rest in between". Then I went for a walk.

Caldas is nice and has a Roman bridge. There, you see. I can make it short when I want.

My masseuse has the unusual name of "Chus". I assume I have heard wrong. "It's short for Marie Jesus," she says. I'll never understand Spanish nicknames. She takes me down into the white tiled and very sterilised-looking Balneario. I am enchanted. There are weird contraptions sticking out of the walls with people who appear to have them in their mouths or up their noses or something. I don't get to linger long enough to ask. Instead I am introduced to a pool of 43 degree water which I am sure will need no explanation. Unlike many spas it has no smell.

After dinner in the very formal dining room (there are a group of Jubilados - pensioners on a government-sponsored jaunt: they are all very quiet), an anacronism in red velvet and oak, I return for my massage. My feet are pronounced "swollen and stiff" and it is good to hear that this pain has a medical term. "Tonight you will sleep like a baby," says Chus.

The mattress is latex, the sheets are soft, the ambience is one of total relaxation...

Aaaah! What a perfect day.

On Angels' Wings?

Monday July 20th: I am out early, or at least as early as either I or Karen and Katrina want to make it. We walk more or less together for a while. In Barro on the wall I had seen a poster of some waterfalls and old stone mills and was determined to look out for this place even though it was not in my guide. Just about a km from Briallos I spotted a sign indicating a Natural Area some 300 kms from the Camino and decided to investigate.

I am so glad that I did.

The area is called Los Barosos. I can hardly believe that pilgrims of old would not have stopped by this place and certainly it was known to the Romans anyway. I had the cascades all to myself, and believe me, my feet rated it Number One Attraction of the Camino Portugues...aaah!

Just before crossing the bridge into Caldas de Reis there is the Church of St. Maria. It is hot and I decide to stop for a while, but just before I can even get my pack off my sore shoulders a swallow falls at my feet.

I don't know if any of you have read Jack Hitt's wonderful "Off the Road" but the same thing happens to him on La Meseta just as a storm approaches. Jack is having delusional mirages by this time...anyway...

I dropped the pack and the bordon and picked the poor thing up very carefully. I sat down on the edge of a gravestone and covered it up momentarily and then a good 10 minutes just stroking it gently and talking to it. It was truly stunned and showed no sign of movement at all. I thought it would die there on my lap.

However, gradually it began to move its wings, and then to spread them out gradually. I photographed all of this and will add at least one later. Just before it spread it's wings out to their full capacity it turned its head to me and looked at me for perhaps two seconds, almost as though it was saying "thank you". Then with some initial hesitation, it took off into the sky. I was left completely humbled at what I had just experienced. For those 20 minutes there simply was nothing else in the world but me and that little swallow.

Asi es el Camino...

Company on the Road...

Sunday July 19th: (Readers please note: I notice that I am once again weaving backwards and forwards in tense and time. I am sure you will understand why, only please don't let Begoña, my editor, find out. Also, since all of this is done in an internet cafe in Santiago mas tarde I am sure you will excuse the occasional typo...?)

My Edilesa/El Pais guide out of Pontevedra appears to miss all the most interesting historical bits so I decide to do some waymarking of my own and find that this must have been the original way, judging by all the crosses and churches. I am stopped by three young people. "Santiago?" the tall man asks me. I nod. He asks me where I started and looks impressed. I am surprised as surely a lot of pilgrims pass this way (actually only 2% as it happens). He seems interested and I encourage him to walk, even from his own city.

Bet there will be one more Spanish entry in the pilgrim statistics very soon!

The Church of La Peregrina - the patron of Pontevedra - is closed, even at 10:30 on a Sunday morning so I walk by. I don't mind. I'm not much into Baroque architecture anyway (or is it a bit later?). However, the doors to the Church of San Francisco are open and I go in. I have always had a soft spot for St. Francis (interesting thing I noted in the Basilica of St. Francis in Santiago is that although most of the clergy I have seen so far look like they a octogenarians, Francis still sems to attract younger men into his Order).

I stay for the Mass. I think I have written before that despite the fact that I have serious misgivings about the (Capitalised) Catholic Church I really do love catholic churches, and the consecration of the Mass which I have no difficulty with whatsover. I love symbolism, metaphor in all forms: this to me is the ultimate in poetry.

As I have written in Pilgrimage to Heresy, the Priscillianists refused the transubstation and did not drink wine anyway. One way to find out whether you had a closet Priscillianist in your midst, after Priscillian was executed, was to ensure that the recipient consumed the wafer at the time it was offered. Despite vigorous attempts to stamp it out, and many atrocities commited in the name of the Roman Church against "heresy", Priscillianism not only survived its master's death but grew, even, in Galicia especially, it prevailed. But this is not the place to write about this, though you can be sure I will do so at a later time.

After the Mass, I left Pontevedra rather leisurely visiting an open air antiques market, taking lots of photos of families of cats in the street, and trying to get an African Grey parrot to learn a few simply phrases of English somewhat unsuccessfully, though he did shout "guapa" at me as I was walking away.

Hey, you take compliments where you can get them at my age!

Overlooking the marshes just outside of Pontevedra I see a familiar face wheeling his bicycle. It is Martin the man from Glasgow I met yesterday. It is good to speak in English! He decides that the day is good for walking so the bicycle becomes a third.

One of the things we discuss is the man-with-the-long-grey-hair-tied-at-the-back-two-inches-from-the-end. It turns out it was he who had the unfortunate, and still sound asleep and snoring, pilgrim across from him, turned out into the lobby last night. Martin had talked to "Out Cold" pilgrim this morning and discovered that he was in fact a very depressed individual who had taken rather too many tranquilisers the day before. I find this very sad.

The way is truly beautiful on this stretch and I am enjoying the comnpany having walked alone for so many kilometers. We fall into step both in pace and discussion. Martin is a Catholic from way back who has little time for the church he once left: "What right does the church have to tell me whether or not I want to produce children," he says. "Sex is something that those sad old men should have nothing whatsoever to say anything about." We both agree that love and procreation should not be separate issues and discuss the literacy of the 21st century where the church is failing to keep people poor and uneducated so that they can then interpret what faith should be. And it's true when you think about it: more children = more need for food = less money and time for what used to be an unnecessary education. Of course people lived in fear for their souls! And as Charlotte said to me, way back at Fernanda's: "You only have to look at the incredible control over people's lives the parish priest had since he knew everything about them!"

We reach the village before Barro and Martin makes a reluctant decsion to carry on to Briallos. He has a bike and less time than me. However, we stop into the Bar Pulpo for a hamburger (probably the best on the Camino Portuguese, and they have the pilgrim Sello too) and a beer. Martin treats me, and then he goes on. I sahll miss his company.

It's damn hot! The Albergue in Barro is somewhat "simple" in that it has mattresses on the floor, cold water in the showers, and no cooking facilities. It also is completely deserted! No-one, not even a "worker of the Government" is there to welcome me, and it stays that way until later that evening when in limp two girls. I have misgivings about the company as by then I am rather enjoying having the place to myself. They introduce themselves as Karen and Katrina. Katrina looks to be in bad shape. She is hugging her knee. I ask if it is swollen. "Swollen? No - it HURTS!" she said. I offer a Neurophen which is politely refused: "We are Austrian."

There are no shops and the Bar Pulpo is too far back up the hill. I should have anticipated this (John Walker of the Confraternity of St James: you LIED to me! You say I would be surprised at how many bars and tiendas there are...NOT!) I have water and some bread I saved from yesterday's lunch when I met with Leika the puppy, and that is my supper before an early night.

Never mind, we pilgrims have to suffer these things once in a while to make us appreciate things like good hamburgers!

P.S. If you are a strict vegetarian you might like to think about making another pilgrimage, to Burma or somewhere like that...

Puppies, People, Pontevedra and Pilgrimage...

Saturday July 18th: Loli the cleaner works seven days a week. We discuss the various separatist movements in Spain and Loli doesn't approve. When they need help they will go to a central government, she tells me. I try to stay apolitical. We have the same thing in Canada. It's something better not talked about.

Now I have a confession to make. I decided some time ago that I would take the train or the bus from Redondela to Pontevedra. I am not given to such things normally but I have already given more than 2000 kms of shoe leather to Saint James and felt I could justify this especially since I hate walking into a big city. As it was I might as well not have bothered as the bus station is right across the road from the Albergue and it is on the south side of Pontevedra anyway (and the next day I was to find walking in this compact city a real joy).

But that is how it was.

I was waiting across the road at the Bar Peregrina when a man came in with a puppy. I love animals of all kinds and this one was just too sweet to pass up. As it turned out she was only 6 weeks old and was already a good size, a cross between a husky and a boxer which I think is an excellent match. I got talking to her owner. The pup's name was Laika and the man was Carlos. He gave me his phone num,bver and said if I needed any help at all to give him a call. These were the first two of the Very Nice People I was to have the good fortune to meet in Pontevedra.

The man-with-the-long-grey-hair tied carefully two inches from the ends that I heard complaining in Torres is complaining again, this time because he believes that the man in the corner is drunk. Admittedly this man sleeps all day and is moved into the reception area by lights out. I don't know and don't want to know. I am fighting with Righteous Indignation on this Pilgrimage.

The Albergue has a few interesting books and I come across a play about Priscillian by Daniel Cortizon. It is in Galego but I decide to give it a try. I find if I read it out loud many of the words sound familiar and I really get stuck into it. Cortezon follows the familiar line that, having been seduced by Procula, Priscillian then is accused of aborting her baby (in the play Procula "uses herbs" to do this herself. I personally don't buy this as what we read of Priscillian from the Wurtzburg tractates (which were only found at the end of the 19th century) shows one man very much commited to his principles, one of which was celibacy. But the "Usual Story" comes via Sulpicius Severus and with his Roman Catholic bias (he was the biographer of St. Martin of Tours) his comments have to be taken as spurious. I have my own ideas about Priscillian, Procula, and her mother Euchrotia as you will know if you have read Pilgrimage to Heresy.

I meet Patrick from the Aquitaine who looks and sounds as if he "knows life", and who is talking with Martin from Glasgow about whom I will write more tomorrow. I go to bed eary and take Priscillian with, maybe in light of what I have written I had better rephrase that...

The Magic of the Camino: Literally...!

Friday July 17th: The Albergue in Redondela is in an old building called the Casa del Torre. I notice that there is entertainment that night right literally on the doorstep at 11:00. Yes, says the lady who stamps my credentials, but you can't go. Que? "The doors close at 10:00 and you can't go out after that," she tells me.

Never mind, I am still having a lot of trouble with the feet.

The Casa del Torre has a wonderful library with lots of fat books on Compostela things and I grab a whole bunch, put my feet up and spend a happy afternoon struggling with the Castellano. By the time I venture out for something to eat, the refugio has filled up with slim bike riders in slim bike rider outfits and as far as I can see, no packs of any kind. It seems they have a "Coche de Apoyo". I play a complicated game of cards with two Polish women and Mikael their son in which I seem to win but don't have the vaguest idea what I am doing.

The lights are out. But there is a balcony overlooking the stage and my bed is close to it. It is a magic show and I am right behind the stage. I have a wonderful view and am nice and legal inside. I am joined by only one other woman and even she doesn't stay. All the rest are good compliant pilgrims snoring their heads off and all have gone by the time I get up at 7:30 the next day.

I don't get this. Just because the Camino goes in a certain direction and certain writers have suggested stages between refuges doesn't mean that this is all we can do when on the Camino. Or am I dead wrong here? This to me was a chance to share a cultural event (even from the obscurity of the Albergue's balcony), but not one other person chose to do it.

Must just be me. It usually is.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Hobbling On Regardless...

Thursday July 16th: I always seem to be the last one out. Not for me is the plastic bag and flashlight rush. I like to SEE my Camino and besides not only is there no need on the Camino Portuguese as you are virtually guaranteed of a place, but the weather is likely to improve if it raining as I was to find out in Galicia.

I found that the sign markers out of O Porriño are no better than the waymarking in and I missed the Camino two times. Please Señor New President of Galicia whose name I forget but I think it rhymes with Yahoo or something like it: bring back the Yellow Arrow painters - your waymarking sucks!

I got to Mos which isn't very far and is very pretty. The Albergue is not much used as most go on to Redondela direct. There was a funeral going on when I arrived. The lady with the carefully applied make-up and the perfect skin told me (I am 73!) that it was the third funeral that week. The young people leave these places and their families and go to work in places like Vigo but I am not convinced they are better off.

As it was, I liked Mos very much.

There is a sign in the Refugio which says: "There are no Hospitaleros in Galicia but "Trabajadores de la Xunta". Now, take that word "workers". Somehow changes the focus somewhat doesn't it? Workers vs. those who give hospitality?

I go to the shop across the road and meet Flora who keeps the key. She is worried because the Trabajadora who cleans the refugio hasn't turned up for two days and there is a lot of garbage piled up (virtually nowhere in Galicia recycles except for O Porriño where they go overboard). She says that a lot of people are incensed because they now have to pay three euros whereas before the Refugios (when did they become "Albergues"?) were "free". The truck drivers off the main N550 highway pay more than that for a shower, she says. I have the key to the Albergue. I go back to get some money and tell her I am going to rent the Albergues' showers out to the truck drivers for two Euros apiece which she finds immensely funny.

I go to the simple church, simple in a Romanesque style if you can get past all the baroque gold additions and all the saints. It smells of incense and I have a yearning for Santiago and its cathedral. I stay for mass. The priest is late but no-one seems to care. At some point during the Litany he has to search through his book for the next bit. I have seen this before but am still amazed: doesn't he KNOW this by heart by now?

As I have said, I like Mos.

I indulge in a little fantasy: I could live here, perhaps as a resident writer, a minor oddity but respected by all; I could do good works, join the community, learn a little Galego (though I have heard none spoken here in fact the Castellano has a Madrid accent with its "th" for "d" endings), maybe learn to play the Gaita a bit......

Tracy! Back to reality!

On to Redondela tomorrow. I am ready now.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

No-one Writes About The Hospitaleros...

Wednesday July 15th: In most parts of the Camino the hospitaleros are either local volunteers or international former pilgrims, many of them extensively trained for the position. In Galicia the Xunta has the monopoly: "In Galicia there are no hospitaleros but workers of the Xunta de Galicia" is an exact translation of a poster I was to see later on in Mos.

Now maybe you will not agree with me, but somehow just the wording on this poster somehow changes the parameters between pilgrim and "hospitalero", um, "worker", and anyway, I was to find that although the cleaners are paid, the person who stamps your credential with the sello is in fact a volunteer too. To save time, I am going to copy in full a post I made a few days ago on my favourite pilgrim forum:

“No-one writes about the I was told by Maria Teresa, hospitalera of the beautiful refugio in Tui. I was on my way out, the last, as always. We got talking, "Pilgrims should realise that we have families and another life" she said. She went on to tell me of a couple who had arrived by bus from Oviedo the day before who were outraged when she told them that they would have to wait for others to arrive before she would admit them. "We'll write to the Xunta de Galicia," they told her very rudely. "I hope they do," Marie Teresa said: "They will get the same answer as I gave them: "Peregrinos a pie, first, then con caballos, then con bici, then finally those with coches de apoyo. That is fair. I am not going to turn away someone who has walked 30 kms that day because two yet-to-be pilgrims think they have a right to beds before they have even walked a kilometer."

And she is right, of course. Perhaps the greatest lesson any of us can learn on the Camino is the humility to accept what we are given and not to expect anything and to put others before ourselves when there is a clear need. Certainly this has transpired to be my lesson on this Camino from Portugal. It is one I am still working on...but I still have 100 kms to go!

And now someone has written about the hospitaleros.....”

Initially the walk was absolutely delightful: passing past wayside crosses, old bridges, flowers and eucalyptus and pines, but later I began to have some trouble with The Very Nasty Toe.

It was not such to begin with but after the Sublime came the Ridiculous: a walk along the main highway which traverses a "poligono" O Poriño's industrial estate.

Whether this has a name in the Annals of the Camino Portuguese or not I do not know… but I shall poetically call it The Very Long Road. It is straight and flat and goes on for three kms to the point where you really do want to give up the will to live.

I diverted myself by making "honk, honk" gestures to the truck drivers as they passed and all rewarded me with some pretty impressive noises and I them with the "thumbs up", but even that can't take away from the sheer tedium of this stretch.

At "the end" and finally winding around to the right it appears that the poligono has come to an end, but don't expect a gentle forested entrance into O Poriño; you are not there yet. You cross over a pedestrian crossing made of iron this goes over the railway track, then at the traffic junction you take a left. About half a kilometer down this, again major, highway there is a restaurant on the left. You enter this in a daze and a slight voice from a distance asks for a Cerveza. You are led to a table. A menu is put before you. After the first half of the cerveza is consumed you realise that the voice is yours. You order (if you are sensible) a portion of Pimientos de Padron and another of chiperones and little by little you come back to life.

I wish I could remember the name of this restaurant - sorry.

Somewhat further on, having misunderstood the marker tiles several times you stagger towards what looks like the Albergue and it is. There is no hospitalero (in fact the Pilgrim book has many mentions of the lack of a hospitalero and the next day I add my voice to theirs). A woman has the unhappy job of doing what I had to do in Valenca and announces to me that I have to go BACK 400 metres or so and find the Police Office to register. I mutter something like "screw that" before I realise I am being unkind to a follow peregrina. I say that I will do it "later" (in fact I do so the next day to find that although 25 pilgrims had passed the night, only nine had registered and got their sello/paid their three euros, Ten once you included the rather late me).

What a daft idea. As if the last four kms hadn't been enough. I have since been told that a Tourist Office is planned for the Albergue (as well) and that there will be someone there "in August". I reserve comment for later.

And by the way, Señor Iribarne, President of the Xunta: Your way-markings Suck! Bring back the yellow arrow painters!!! Ah yes: "Righteous Indignation": I clearly haven't learned my Lesson of the Camino just yet….

The Very Nasty Toe now is most deserving of the name having developed a Very Large Blood Blister which is Very Painful to the Touch. I decide to put it up in the lounge area later that evening and meet Rosa and Marina all from Murcia and all teachers of English to primary children. We talk about Priscillian and I give them bookmarks of Peregrinos de la Herejia.

Antonio, who had previously been speaking with members of another group, came to listen and talk and was clearly interested in learning about Pilgrimage to Heresy. Marina gave a foot massage to Rosa who had foot trouble even after only one day's walk. I am thankful that what I am experiencing is really very little.

And so the evening ends well and I am not alone tonight.

From Portugal to Spain…

Tuesday July 14th: Having read through yesterday's blog I find (have found) that I am switching back and forward between verb tenses, something I would severely chastise my students for doing. However, this is a different case. It is difficult to be both narrator and protagonist at the same time. The writer in me stands back and comments; the pilgrim just gets in there and experiences, absorbs, filters - just "is". So forgive me: I do know how to write English!

Bicycle woman stands at the door waiting for the rain to stop. It is only light rain and the first I have seen. Eventually she leaves and Maja and I are soon to do so also… going in opposite directions.

I visit the old city of Tui inside the walls. It is fascinating and I am to find that it is bigger than I first thought. I begin to walk around the walls in search of a route which will take me towards the international bridge and at one "Portico" I encounter a man masturbating who turns away when he sees me but does not stop. "Charming!" I mutter as I walk by him, as I must. What makes some men do this??? I seem to run into them more than my fair share of times!

Anyway, I decide to have a last Portuguese beer at the last bar, but the last bar is closed. I walk across the bridge and notice that a scribbled message about the date and temperature in July 2008 has an added message in the same handwriting about two weeks later in August, presumably some Portuguese pilgrim on his or her way back.

Since I did not get my last beer in Valenca, I determine to have my first Galician "Estrella" at the first bar at the entrance to Tui. The first bar is The Old Dublin or something like that. The second is "Bar Lisboa". By the time I do get my beer I decide also on some Pimientos de Padron but notice on the menu that prices have changed - a lot! Another good reason to visit Portugal...

The Albergue is right behind the Cathedral and is really lovely. Maria Teresa is the hard-working hospitalera and she notices the similarity between her name and mine. I had intended just to get the sello (pilgrim stamp) and to walk on as after all I have walked, officially - the hike around Valenca doesn't count - less than 4 kms, but I am feeling very tired, it is hot, and I really want to see more of this place. I bag a top bunk in the corner away from everyone else (I am not anti-social: I snore!) and then go out to visit the Cathedral.

The Cathedral in Tui is one of the most atmospheric I have seen in Spain. From the outside it has a very "military" look, but inside it is pure Romanesque and remarkably (for a Spanish church) simple. There is choral music playing and I wish I could sing there. There are side chapels one of which contains a martyr crucified on an X shape cross and I wonder who this is. He seems very young. I go out to see the cloisters. There is a "Timeline" on the wall. The part circa late 4th century says very definitively that this is the time that all "Pagan" practices were exterminated - y ya está! Just like more Pagans please, we are Catholics!

At the back of the Cathedral there are gardens which presumably were those attached to the Bishop's Palace. The view to Valenca and Portugal is lovely from there. I make the mistake of climbing up the tower to get a better view. The first part is enclosed and I am OK but forgetting my fear of heights I go up the remaining rather precarious stairs to the top. I am fine at first, but when I realise I have to get down again "precarious stairs" turn into nightmarish danger and I have to go down them more or less on my bum….

It is not true, as I have written before, that if you don't use phobias they go away! I can cure those of others by means of hypnosis but do you think I can do anything about my own.....

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Caminando Otra Vez...

Monday July 13th: Not a lot to report on today. Just an ordinary day on the Camino Portuguese; except perhaps for my very rude ejection for the Posada do Peregrino. I was woken at 7:25 by a loud knock on the door. I was already awake but didn't really expect this from a private establishment especially one which was clearly a commercial enterprise judging from the variety of stuff on its sign outside.Oh well…

Breakfast, I noted in my diary was "a bit sparse". It consisted of two rolls of what I wrote was "translucent bread": the light inside it fascinated me as it sat there in the rays of sunlight. "Coffee" was some other substance containing "10% coffee" as noted with a certain amount of pride on the label. Oh, and jam, no butter. I was the only one.

I went back to my room and was just doing the feet thing when there was again a knock on the door. It was exactly 8:00. Sylvia stood there pointing to her watch: "Time you go!" she said. I was severely taken aback. I gestured to the packed pack and my half wrapped feet. "Cuando puedo, Sylvia!" I said (when I can). "Ten minutes" was the answer and she swept away indignantly.

Now I am sure you know by now what my reaction was. I slowed down...considerably. This was not an Albergue. I had eaten at the restaurant belonging to some relative because I was told to. I had paid 15 euros. And I was not going to be bullied. Sylvia returned to the top of the stairs with a vacuum cleaner. I left at about 8:30. Sylvia was scowling and just closing the doors after me when I turned and said: "No sé como es aqui en Portugal, pero en Canada una sonrisa no cuesta nada." It's true, you know: "A smile costs nothing".

I stopped by the Romanesque church in Rubiaes, still a bit pissed off. The church was (as they always are) closed and I was disappointed, but working in the gardens were two women. A van parked nearby said: "Jardineras". Now, a bit of explanation here: Jardinero is the Spanish and Portuguese word for gardener. But change the ending from o to a, and you change the meaning. This now means women gardeners. I asked one of the women: "us two," she said. I gave her the thumbs up and she laughed. When they left in the van they waved and honked the horn. A bit of "Feminist" bonding had just taken place!

The walk is lovely, but a bit slow: I am taking photos of everything in sight - plants, animals, stony roads, Roman markers on the road XIX from Braga to Iria Flavia; to Lugo, and then to Astorga. I am walking in the steps of the Legions. I meet a man with a pure Arab horse. White and very beautiful. The man explains that he has ridden her to Santiago five times. I tell him it is my dream to do this.

I stop in the next village for a coffee and watch a bit of the Toronto Indy on the television, which is a really strange experience for me as I lived in Toronto in the 1970's.Paul Tracy is out....obviously time to go.

I arrive at the Albergue in Valenca at 5:20. The sign on the door says open at 6:00. I spread my sleeping bag out on the grass and wait. 6:00 comes and goes. So does 6:30. At 7:00 a German lady arrives. She is travelling to Fatima. We decide to enquire at the Bombeiros next door. "They open between 6 and 7," we are told. Well they ain't open yet. It appears that the Albergue is run by the Boy Scout troup, "but they work". By 7:15 the man at the Bombeiros is persuaded to call.

It is close to 7:45 when we are let in. We receive our sellos but are told NOT to allow anyone else in. "They must call first".

Now this is patently ridiculous and when the next two arrive obviously very tired (both are Portuguese), we explain what we have been told but let them in anyway.

Shortly afterwards a very blond woman with an accent I can't place also arrives and insists that there must be a hospitalero and when I explain the "phone first" makes a disgusted noise and then sets about monopolising all the pots in the kitchen one of which I had just set out to make spaghetti for Maja the German lady and myself. After she has finished she leaves the dirty pots in the sink while eating. I suggest that she might like to wash them up first. "There are others," she says. I point to a very small frying pan. She is not impressed but eventually does return to wash her pots since I clearly have no intention of doing it for her.

And so let's talk about pilgrim spirit for a minute. How could this altercation have been avoided? When I walked in 1999 I began solo but quickly met Andrea and we attracted a group. By the time we got to Santiago we were 13 people speaking 9 languages. We made many communal suppers not just for us but for everyone and most often with whatever had been left over from previous pilgrims. The "correct" thing, I suppose, would have been to suggest that the 5 of us share what we had brought and what remained (pasta of course!).

This I have noticed on this Camino is rarely the case. Kitchens, when they are there, are not much used, and then generally by individuals such as this woman. It is a real shame as so much is lost: not just the opportunity to save money and share but also the chance to learn from each others' experiences, grapple with other languages and laugh when you fail. I have enjoyed walking alone but have very much missed the camaraderie in the Albergues and Posadas. In fact, the only time I have experienced it was right at the very beginning in Porto with Marie Eve and the others...and they were not even pilgrims. Fernanda's of course, is another point altogether.

Maja and I enjoy a culinary concoction with things you would not expect to put together. She is walking in the opposite direction to me and I am sorry.

I enjoy her company and will miss her.

"Don't It Always Seem To Go.....

...that you don't know what you got til it's gone..."

Sunday July 12th: Today would have been a pretty boring one at this point not far from hallway on the Camino Portuguese had it not been for the man in the alleyway.

I emerge from the shower with hair in a towel and look out on to the road below. Something doesn't seem quite right and once I look more closely I see a man flat out in the alleyway just a couple of metres from the very busy main road and with his head dangerously close to a wall. I make a run for it to the reception desk (actually very fast hopping would be more accurate).

"Hay un hombre en el suelo en el callejon en frente...!" They move very fast. One man phones the ambulance and the two women run past the Posada and down to the road. I stand with my turban on watching the drama unfold. What has happened here? Is he OK? A neighbour emerges in the alleyway and then another. One of the women from the Posada comes back: "He's sleeping..." she says, in Portuguese.

Now, one does not usually fall asleep in an alleyway and I think that even if he is drunk (which turned out to be the case) he still could have been injured by a fall, or could choke on his own vomit, or have alcohol poisoning and luckily the ambulance turns up very soon, all yellow and important. I go back up to my room and watch from my front road seat. After a while a stretcher is produced. The man seems to be sitting up. He is shaking his head Eventually he is helped to the ambulance and it takes off, though minus the siren it came with.

Either his wife or his Mom ain't gonna like this!

Breakfast and then the tourist office. I am finding it difficult to get up the "ganas" to move much but eventually get on my way. I walk almost to Rubiaes and the albergue when I stop in for a beer. A man in a silver Renault says there is a pilgrim hostal just before the ascent into the village. It is a difficult walk he tells me. Would I like a lift?

Now of course, I should tell you how I refused explaining my Holy Pilgrimage to the remains of Santiago, how he insisted, telling me that accepting his help would bring the Light of Grace into his weary day, how I would hesitate, he would insist, I would capitulate through sheer compassion for his fate.... "Yes, please!" I said in English.

His name was Artur. He rode a silver warhorse. I was "there" in five minutes, and he was right: there was a lot of up.

What I arrived at, however, was a private hostal called O Reposa do Peregrino. I was shown a room for 15 euros including breakfast. I gathered that with the buidling of the Albergue at Rubiaes pilgrims tended not to stop at the Hostal any longer. I was told, and I do mean told, that a minibus would be by at 6:30 to take me to dinner which it did.

Dinner was excellent (Bar Constantinio which I do recommend). Afterwards I was sitting outside with my wine and coffee when I saw a man with one leg cut off above the knee. He was chatting to a young guy about something. It made me really think. After he left supported by a strong metal walking stick, I asked the young man about him. "What happened," I asked. He told me the man had had serious problems with circulation in his legs. I thought that it must have been really serious and likely a long time ago. When did this happen? "Just a year ago..."

And I have been complaining about my blisters!

Friedrich Nietzsche says in Thus Spoke Zarathustra that no matter what kind of life you have lived prior to the moment, if at that one moment you can feel how wonderful life is, how happy you are to be you, and many true blessings you have, then ever thing before - even the most negative - which has lead you to that point, is to be thanked: We say "Yes and Amen" to Life at this point. I felt this at that very moment...

Nietzsche - you were right...

Yes and Amen.

Paradise Postponed...

Saturday July 11th: "Forget not that a shadow held between your brother and yourself obscures the face of Christ and the memory of God. Around you angels hover lovingly to keep away all darkened thoughts and keep the light where it has entered in. Your footprints lighten up the world; for where you walk forgiveness gladly goes with you."

I read this quote from a Course in Miracles while having my leisurely breakfast in Fernanda's kitchen. I am absorbing Brierley again. Fernanda and Charlotte have gone into town to do some shopping. I noticed that Charlotte was wearing a pretty dress this morning. She says that she slept "the best in ages". I am singing quite happily (and rather loudly) with Andrea Bocelli when they return.

Over lunch, Charlotte and I talk about the Law of Attraction. She tells me how once when she was really broke she had three wishes: a microwave oven, a tenant who would not be living in the room (she needed both the room and the money), and a ticket to Mexico. I said that I believed in “The Secret” but that the tenant might be a tall order. She agreed and then proceeded to tell me the story in detail. Within three weeks of "asking", she got all three!

I had asked Fernanda if she would buy me some batteries as my camera is eating them whole. There is a story connected with the Law of Attraction here too. You might find it silly, but I don't care: it's my blog!

I had decided late last year that I needed a new car as mine was into its second decade (great cars Opel Corsas though). Anyway, I thought that I would really like a Mini. Rebecca my daughter sent me a lovely message on my birthday in February and ended it with: "...maybe this will be the year of the Mini!"

Sometime after I realised that there was no way that I would be able to afford even a six year old one and so decided to wait for the perfect car to come to me and it did.

I have had Volvo 240s in the past and love them but I have always loved the C70 Coupe: it's a bit big and thirsty but anyone who knows me knows I am a petrolhead from way, way back. One was advertised in the paper and I decided to go and see it. Perfect. But more than I wanted to pay as the miles were high (which means little on a Volvo really). I offered half knowing that he would most likely tell me to bugger off. Give me 2000 euros he said. Did I hear right? This was 500 less than I had offered! I was reminded of The Life of Brian: "You're supposed to haggle!"

He told me that it would need to pass its ITV (safety check/MOT) and that might cost a bit so if I would pay for that then I could have it for 2000 . "It's all I really want out of it," he said, "I want her to go to a good home." Good home! I'll wash her every day and wish her good night..."You need look no further," I said, delighted.

So where does the Mini come in? Be patient...

Anyway, with Simone Volvo in Santiago awaiting my return, Fernanda and Charlotte came back with batteries. There were 8 in the pack. "This was a bit more expensive," Charlotte apologised, "but we thought you might like this..." In the pack was, you guessed it, a scale model of a Mini Cooper!

The moral of the story is: "Ask for what you want....but always be Very Specific!"

Back to the day: after yesterday's session with Charlotte I thought I should wait around for a while just in case there were any "abreactions": in clinical hypnotherapeutic terms this is a negative reaction - a catharsis of sorts - followed by a feeling of great joy and sensitivity, but it can be a bit frightening if you don't know what to expect.

I said I would take Charlotte into trance that afternoon, this time to explore more of the blockage and if possible free it. Obviously I am not going into detail, but I asked her to free three stones from the bottom of a deep pool. Each of them would have a word and all three words would be connected. This turned out to be very successful as Charlotte later told me - as we were walking a short way together out of the village - what she had released and it was just the catharsis I was hoping for.

I got involved in hypnotherapy about three years ago, just before completing my Masters in Psychology, which I also teach at the A level. I practice psychotherapy on the Costa del Sol. I have found hypnotherapy to have simply remarkable results when twinned with psychotherapy and there are very few areas where it is not effective, and often very quickly. I have achieved very fast breakthroughs for people (hypnosis and children is my speciality) who have been seeing psychologists or psychiatrists for months with little success.

It is a pity that so few people know anything about it. Anyway, this will no doubt be another blog at some future time. In the meantime if you are interested, you might like to access my other website at which will tell you more about hypnotherapy in Marbella and the Costa del Sol.

I leave Fernanda's still laughing about the two women dancing in the kitchen at two in the afternoon. My plan is to return after my week in Santiago and to guarantee that I have both left a few kilos of stuff and have promised Fernanda a copy of my book. Charlotte is now re-thinking of travelling to Italy an idea she had virtually abandoned. I say I have a feeling we will meet again.

The walk is lovely: cows, cats, country people and cabbages, and I feel that something very important about this part of my personal Camino has been accomplished. I miss the Posada Juventude in Ponte da Lima and in true Portuguese character the woman I ask for directions virtually takes me there. (This, later, I find is not just a Portuguese trait: Gallegos do it too.)

I share a room with a German woman, a doctor but we do not say much even though she speaks English. I am alone again but happy. From my window that evening I see windmills silhouetted against an ever changing sunset.

It has been a good day.

If This is a Dream Please Don't Wake Me...

Friday 10th July: My feet seem to have decided to approximate water balloons. It is a good excuse (not that I needed one: I am part of the family now) to stay another night. Although I was still not allowed to do anything which involved standing, neither Fernanda nor Charlotte could do anything about my pulling weeds from the flower garden in front of the house. When I explained it was therapy, Fernanda withdrew her objections but dashed into the house and came back with a blanket for me to sit on and a really serious gardener's hat.

Fernanda, her mother and Charlotte set to digging up potatoes on an industrial scale. I had the luxury from my vantage point of watching them: Fernanda with the pickaxe, "Mum" with the wheelbarrow and I marveled at such hard working people in this part of the world, especially, it would seem the women.

"I am on holiday," shouted Fernanda. She works at the Post Office. In the afternoon I decided to jettison as much as I could from "Penance" my mocilla. When I weighed it at the Alameda in Compostela it was just 8 kilos. But since then I have added my old shoes (bought sandals in S de C and forgot to leave the others in the car), shampoo, water, my El Pais/Aguilar guidebook (excellent even if you don't speak Spanish). Now it was just too heavy. I was surprised by how much I now felt I could leave behind.

By lunchtime, three more people had arrived: a family from Barcelona. The first thing that mother and daughter did was to turn themselves upside down in a gravity defying yoga position just in front of me and my again levitated feet. The husband (I learned he was Manuel, and they Engracia and Eva) decided that I needed to soak my potato feet and a large bowl was produced and filled with cold water, vinegar, salt, and wild mint in which I stayed in perfect bliss while everyone else did their thing around me.

I hoped I had not encountered a group of cannibals on the Camino and this was their way of marinating me prior to the feast. This was by no means alleviated when Manolo told me to remove my feet and proceeded to wrap them in cabbage leaves. I was almost hysterical with laughter: was this to be part of the stew along with me! Once unwrapped, said cabbage leaves were inspected very carefully and having found nothing, feet were declared OK. I never did find out what all that was about but I was glad to find out that I was not on the menu that night!

Lao Tse says: "If you are to be reborn, let yourself die". I studied Chinese philosophy for my Masters many years ago, and I was to find this in the John Brierley guide to the Camino Portuguese that Fernanda showed me. I spent the afternoon reading and found a lot that I certainly agreed with. Brierley says that returning from the Camino may mean a paradigm shift not only for ourselves but others around us: "...our colleagues may not always appreciate this fresh perspective," he writes. He goes on to say that we have impoverished ourselves spiritually, "severely limiting our potential".

Our experiences on the Camino de Santiago allow us to find our way home. "We hold the key to our self-made prison," says Brierley. I am reminded of Revelations 3:20, the only bible verse I know by heart: Behold I stand at the door and knock..." Someone once said to me: "Don't forget: the key is on the inside."

Charlotte seems to feel that she can confide in me. She tells me of a painful and ongoing physical problem she has which seems to have worsened over the last two weeks. "I can't get my mind off it". She asks if hypnosis would help. I say that yes, I think it might but I invite her to tell me a bit more about herself first. Obviously I am not going to go into detail, but what she told me gave me an immediate insight into the cause of her pain. There was a psychosomatic element which brought Louise Hay to mind (You Can Heal Your Life) I said after dinner I would take her into trance.

Dinner was simple and excellent and so was the wine. Engracia said she was 50 and Fernanda's eyes almost popped out of her head. "What skin cream do you use?" she said. I wanted to know too: Engracia had that alabaster skin that novelists write about but few of us have ever seen. She came back with a tube of Echinacea cream. Her husband said it was also genetic and the yoga and good nutrition. But Fernanda still wrote down the name of the cream!

As a clinical hypnotherapist the best reward for me always is the look on the faces of my clients when I bring them out of trance. Charlotte was no exception. She seemed to have lightened and I could see that good work had been done. I knew she would sleep well. And so would I.

Now I know why I didn't walk with the others to Ponte da Lima. It wasn't for me that I stopped here, that Fernanda met me in the street...

Monday, 20 July 2009


Having stolen a pear and leaning on my bordon in abject misery, an angel appeared. She was wearing a red and white checked shirt. "Are you O.K?" she asked me. I said that I didn't think I would make the last 11 kms (I had already walked 22) and that my guidebook told me that there was a private house nearby where the owners took in pilgrims. "That's my house!" she said, and picking up my pack she led me to Heaven.

If you are walking the Camino Portuguese just before Vitorino, between Barcellos and Ponte de Lima, when you get to a little white bungalow on your left, look out for an angel: she'll probably be wearing red. It seems to be her favourite colour. If she asks you in, go with her.

When will you get the next chance to enter Heaven?

Once seated in her kitchen with a glass of very cold water, Fernanda introduced me to a Canadian woman called "Charlotte" from Nova Scotia. She was peeling potatoes. "You seem to know your way around," I commented. "I just got here," she said. It took a while before I was to learn that she had met Fernanda while walking the Camino Portuguese some weeks before and now was coming back to stay for a few days. She had been learning Portuguese.

A room was prepared for me: "You must rest". A double bed was dressed with white sheets. I was horrified! "I can't get into that bed with these feet!" I indicated two items at the end of my legs which looked a bit like the potatoes I had seen outside in the wheelbarrow. I was led to the bidet: "You can wash them in there if you like."

After though, I was too intrigued to sleep so Fernanda made me put my (cleaner) feet up in the living room where there was no-one. I felt like I was in a dream - heatstroke no doubt... After a while several other dazed pilgrims appeared and for a little while it was organized chaos. Sofas opened into beds, mattresses appeared from no-where, doors were opened into upper rooms and aforementioned dazed pilgrims were told to rest.

I returned to my room expecting it to be full of pilgrims, but no, it was still mine: "For as long as you want". I offered to help prepare the meal but was roundly told off and directed to the outside and told to put my (blistered and very swollen) feet up.

The pilgrims were all from Belgium. Charlotte spoke perfect French, Fernanda Portuguese and Spanish, me Spanish and English. Jacinto - Fernanda's wonderful husband - didn't speak much at all: he just poured the (homemade) wine. After the aguardiente one of the pilgrims (was it Vincent who had appeared so shy?) began to "play the mouth trumpet": honestly he could have been Miles Davis. The Belgians began to sing French songs and then we all trouped off to our respective quarters.

I for one slept like a baby.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Alone Again, Naturally…Part Two

Thursday 9th July: Sometimes it is hard to accept that what happens to you happens for a reason. And when your heart is closed through a disappointment or apparent betrayal it is hard to open it and take what is sent to you: to stand and absorb and not just pass through.

I couldn't sleep last night. I had agreed with Montserrat and the others that an early start was a good idea as we had 33 kms to go that day and anyway I had learned my lesson from yesterday's late start. As a result I was awake and writing at 4:30. Everything was pretty well packed up and ready to go but when the others appeared I said: "Just give me two minutes" and made a dash for the toilet. When I came back, no-one was there...

At first I thought they must have been waiting for me outside the Bombeiros but even though it was still semi-dark there was no-one to be found. To make things worse, as I had taken a taxi to the Bombeiros I had no idea where the Camino began and got myself lost. By the time I picked up the flechas I was feeling both angry and hurt. I really was no more than two minutes and why couldn't they have waited most especially Montserrat who had bemoaned walking alone all the way from Lisbon?

Anyway, needless to say, those negative thoughts coloured my way for many kilometers and I began to feel all the painful bits I had previously ignored: the backs of my legs hurt, I had some new blisters on my toes and the ball of one foot, and I was carrying the backpack too low and the result was a strain on my lower back. The road seemed very long and as the shade disappeared I began to do what no Pilgrim should do and all succumb to sooner or later: I fell into the Pit of Despair!

I commenced to think of all the shortcomings I have and decided I had to work on eliminating them one by one: cynicism, lack of tolerance, impatience, and perhaps most important, that little streak of self-righteousness I attribute to my father but which I most likely hatched all by myself. In short, with every pecado my pack got heavier and so did my heart...

Continued (see part three)

Alone Again, Naturally…Part One

Wednesday 8th July: I decide that I want to revisit the museum in order to find out a bit more about the excavations which were done in front of the portico. These dated from the 4th to the 6th century and coincide with the spread of Priscillianism. I have also learned that the church was given over to the Order of Cluny in the early 12 century, all of which is important to my research. I also want to try to catch up with my e-mails.

With all the goings-on connected with Peregrinos de la Herejia this is not the best time to be away. As it is, the server goes down after 10 minutes. Maybe God is trying to tell me something. Anyway, as a result, I do not leave Sao Pedro until almost 12:30. This is a mistake I shall not repeat.

To begin with, this journey on the Camino Portuguese was as lovely as could be; through groves of sweet smelling eucalyptus and in shade, but as the day wore into the afternoon, and I found myself walking more on asphalt and cobbles, the walk became interminable even though it was still less than 20 kms.

I became aware of all the things I was trying not to think about: feet, shoulders, lower back and too much sun despite my hat. By Perreira I was feeling a bit like Mark the Overlander on his video (see this blog below, right): I was "a bit sick of the ol' Camino. By the time I got to Barcellos I knew I couldn't walk another step. I hobbled round to the Bombeiros just before the bridge (nice view of the castle etc.). They sent me up the road ("solo un kilometro y medio") to a school.

Where is Montserrat and the others? "You are the frist one". How can that be? Further enquiries revealed that I had been in Barcelinho not Barcelos which was on the other side of the bridge. In Barcellos there was a large Bombeiros Voluntarios which had space for pilgrims. How far? I took a taxi.

There were only six beds all of which were taken. Montserrat and the others had gone out. I dragged a rather dusty mattress out then went for a shower. Upon my return I could hear someone playing an oboe. I listened. The tune was familiar and I knew that I had heard it very recently. Then I realised, it was Pavane by Gabriel Fauré, one of Colin's favourites and one he had spent hours online trying find only a couple of weeks before.

It was a God-given surprise and one which took my heart home after a long and rather difficult day.

I went to the Vera Cruz restaurant which is just a little along the road from the fire station. They served me enormous prawns as "an entrada". The wine came in a "jarra". The bill was just under 8 euros. I walked back in a very undignified way. My blisters are multiplying like so many mushrooms on a spring dawn. My face is burned despite all my preparations and a hat which looks good with flowers and would be any donkey's pride and joy.

I was met by Montserrat who told me that we were able to sleep in the room which is normally occupied by the female fire-fighters but none had shown up. So instead of dusty colchon en el suelo I got white coverlets and luxury. No fires in the night either.


Peregrinanding Otra Vez...

Tuesday 7th July: My pack weighs far too much. I am very good at advising how to pack, but not so good actually following my own advice. On my first Camino de Santiago, my mochilla broke a strap as I was entering Los Arcos. It was repaired in Viana but has never really fitted properly since then since it can't be adjusted properly to my back. As a result I carry too much on my shoulders and also, as a result of the repair, the straps have a tendency to slip off the padding and onto my shoulders - and that hurts. I also have a blister on one toe. But only one...

Montserrat leaves before me. Despite a stiffness, I am walking well through grape vines and corn fields. It is all so green and lush. Far fewer stretches on asphalt and more off the road. It's lovely.

I arrive in Sao Pedro de Rates having passed a miniature stone model of the church. Miniature models must be all the rage here as inside the Museo there is another scale model this time made completely of matchsticks. It took over three years to construct. It is very easy to miss the museo as it is immediately after the church, but the arrows will take you to the right just before it. A few more steps and there you are. Well worth it, and Fatima the curator will be happy to show you around.

I arrive at the Albergue to find that Montserrat has taken up a temporary post of Hospitalera since the only trace of the usual one is a really nice and apologetic note on the Pilgrim Register explaining that a day off was needed. Never mind, Montserrat is clearly having fun. I stake out a place under an oak tree with a view of the windmill (in the grounds of the refuge) and have a wonderful siesta.

When I wake it is cooler. I go in search of a beer (80 cents in Portugal - such a civilized country). We meet several other Spanish men who are walking together/separately and spend an evening talking of pilgrim things and singing pilgrim songs. It is nice to be part of a group again. I stay up late talking to Ignazio from Italy about Priscillian.

Tracy Saunders, Matamoscas...

Monday 6th July: Unfortunately, none of my new friends were walking the Camino but were staying in Porto for courses, etc. Marie Eve had to wait for her luggage (I left her a muestra of perfume to cheer her up). Montserrat from Tarragona had gone on ahead. She walks far and fast and is an early riser. Me, I prefer to take my time.

I have read several times on the Pilgrimage-to-Santiago Forum that it is advisable to take the Metro from Porto out to Viklar do Pineires. I was determined not to do that, but once I had walked the three kilometres from the Pousada to the Cathedral and then another two or so finding out that any transactions from a bank machine was "no authorised" I was beginning to despair. So in the end I did take the Metro and I was glad that I did.

Walking through the outskirts of any city is depressing to say the least, but from what I have since learned about the Camino Portuguese, getting out of Porto is potentially life-threatening. Even as it was, the first few kms were on asphalt with nothing between you and the trucks but God.

I learned after a while to hold my bordo out at arm’s length and it was either move out or risk a broken windshield. Not a very Pilgrim-like thought, but having begun, I hoped to finish! And by the way, they may swerve to miss you, but don't expect them to slow down! The sooner the Portuguese get their Grand Prix back the better. They need a Portuguese driver to divert their driving urges into a solely vicarious thrill, for the sake of pilgrims if not European statistics (the most accidents in Europe).

Nobody told me that Abrigo Peregrino meant "Pilgrim Shelter" (abrigo is an overcoat - um....?) so I walked right past it. Four kms right past it! The road home is the longest. Montserrat was looking out for me and introduced me to the little pilgrim refuge in Vilarinho: only 4 beds, but clean. The people of the little village had obviously decided that something should be done to help pilgrims and it was clearly appreciated.

The only problem was the flies. I spent all of the evening and most of the night swatting the "maldito" things. Where was Barrack Obama when I needed him?

Friday, 17 July 2009

A Blessed Day of Relaxation and Friendships...

Sunday 5th July: Marie Eve introduced herself from somewhere down below. I was in the top bunk. She must have heard me yawn. Had she heard me snoring she might not have been so friendly. She was staying a few days after a conference in France. She was from Quebec and told me that her work was using drama as forms of therapy and expression in institutions from retirement homes to prisons.

We went to breakfast together and I met the other occupants of the room: Yola from Halland and Sylvia from Lisbon. Yola and I began to talk about what it was like getting older. Being in hostels is what I love best because you have the chance to mix with young people who are very much like you, just less wrinkly.

Yola and I both agreed that life after 50 was great. "You don't mind to let the leaves fall," she said. We created a metaphor of life as a path with obstacles in the middle like stones: the size of the stone marked the extent of the difficulty. "Sometimes you can walk around it, sometimes you crumble it. Sometimes you climb up it..." I added, and sometimes you recognise it for what it is, go back, and seek another way.

It's wonderful being the Old Wise Woman!

Marie Eve was distressed because EasyJet had lost her luggage. I said that I thought she would soon get it and gave her a comb. I spent most of the day in my impromptu "office" two chairs and a table right beside the river. What a view. You can see right out to the river estuary. I was just about finished writing up an itinerary and a budget (1 euro for every km walked - it was to work well, though I did "bank" some from the longer distances) when a woman came to reception with an obvious pilgrim pack.

She was delighted to meet me. She had walked from Lisboa and had met no pilgrims whatsoever. And there were no Albergues either: "I stayed with the Bombeiros" she said. She was from Tarragona. "We will walk together." So I had company, which was nice, and good for my Spanish too.

Supper was prepared for and by all and included Miguel from Pamplona. I asked him about running with the bulls. "Once when I was younger". Yes, 33 is too old...After supper we all went down to the river to attend the last night of the Feria. Again, despite the very exuberant Brazilian band on stage, almost no-one was dancing.

We decided on the bumper cars: Marie Eve and I chasing Miguel and Sylvia. I haven't been on bumper cars in.........!! And here I was, having the time of my life, with these total strangers as if I had known them all my life, AND, as if we were all the same age.

Oh but I do love the Camino!

A Little Time for Rest...Part Two

On Saturday evening (still the 4th) I took the train for Oporto. My intention was to leave the next day but while I was watching the vineyards rushing by I thought: "Why?" Did I need to be in a hurry?

I had plenty of time even with short distances between albergues. I decided that if I liked the Youth Hostel (no Refugio in Oporto - in fact none between Lisboa and Oporto I was to learn) then I would take Sunday to rest and prepare.

I arrived at a railway station a long way from the Posada Juventude and had to take a taxi, but once esconced, I was restless, and hungry. I asked about food. I was told there was some sort of Fiesta going on "down by the river" (I hadn't the foggiest idea where I was: "What river? It's dark!") and that I would find food there.

There was a band on stage and a singer who had presumably listened to a lot of Enrique Iglesias. I got a hamburger (the frist of many) and went to listen.
Now the Portuguese are wonderful people; they will do anything to help you, but you have to make the first move. I stood aside to watch them "at play". Now if this was Spain the atmosphere would have been very different. But as it was, almost no-one was dancing - or singing, or laughing.

Here and there were a few women dancing together, a woman dancing with two children, holding their hands, a couple dancing in a dance embrace on the sand. It was the most peculiar of dances for this up-tempo music. Let me see if I can was sort of forward, forward, step, step, backward, backward, step step. There seemed little joy in it, there was a certain sadness, but it was all so serene and dignified.

Back at the Posada I asked what was the name of the dance. No-one seemed to know.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

A Little Time for Rest...Part One

Saturday 4th July: I got up early despite my late night pretending to be half my age. I bought my usual white rose for Priscillian from the market and on the way to the cathedral I found myself following a solo pilgrim with an enormous mocilla.

I quickened my pace as I wanted to see his reaction when he first saw the towers. I wasn't disappointed. The moment was broken however, when a woman touting accommodation approached him. He saw me loking at him and smiled. I smiled back. He asked me in English where the Tourist Office was. I told him, and where to get his Compostela. His name was Steve and he was rather badly sunburned. He had travelled a very long way.

I left my rose and was just having a quick word with Santa Susana (such a beautiful face: she is such a "feminist statue" with her sword and her look of strength) when a voice said: "Good morning". It was Rachel. She smiled. I smiled. She passed by. Santiago is a small place.

I went to mass. The sermon seemed to be something about making an internal quest, that the destination wasn't important. I thought about what I had said to the press and wondered what was being said in the diocese.

Later in a bookshop I came across Steve sitting on the floor and looking very intensely at a topographical map. We exchanged smiles....A small place....

A time for rest...

Brick Wall.....

Friday 3 July: I knew it was too good to last. As I have said, my reception in Compostela has been a wonderful one. I met some real "stars" of the press here yesterday and all were interested in Priscillian, most had heard of him, and one or two said: "Of course!" (Especially Xurxo Fernadez whom I am told is read by many in the Correo Gallego.)

I decided to say a last good night in the crypt but the Cathedral was closing. Three men were at the doorway all wearing the same dark blue jacket with the pin of the Archdiocese in their lapel. I thought this would be a good opportunity to ask about the marble tomb.

Now I have been fascinated with this ever since I noticed on my last visit a year ago April. If you know the cathedral try to think of the "other side" of the wall against which is the silver sepulche: around the back, so to speak.

There is a grille, and you can just about make out a rose coloured marble sarcophagus. There is a star over it. Sometimes there is a light sometimes not. It is not marked on any of the maps of the cathedral I have seen. It is not mentioned on any of the guides.

When I have asked before I have received either a blank look or some answer about "El Apostol". I have even asked on several forums but no-one seems to know. This seemed to be just the time to ask. I hit a stony silence.

Then, one man, leaning on his stick said to the others: "Es la mujer de las entrevistas", and then to me: "Dejale en paz...dejale el Apostol en paz." (Leave the Apostol in peace.) I was taken aback (naive to the end). I noticed the body language: the closed stance.. I said: "¿Porque no podemos hablar un poco de esto?" (Why can't we talk about this a little?). His answer: "Yo no quiero hablar con usted. Deja le en paz."

It was the smug expression that got to me. I repeated my question: would it not be better to talk? "I'm not interested in talking with you. I am only interested in The Truth". I said I wasn't interested in arguing with anybody and bid him a good night. ut you see, I am only interested in the truth too, and the truth is that there is very, very little likelihood of Santiago being anywhere near the place which bears his name.

Now no doubt many of my readers will say: "Good. That told her!" and fair enough. But in order to reject an idea you need to know something about it. It was clear that this man had closed his eyes, ears, and heart a long time ago because of what he had been told. And that was that. No defences, unfulfilled and antagonistic in a world hungry for answers, not dogma; for change not the Staus Quo. As far as I could see, he was a out-of.-date and dusty as his anachronism clinging to a falsification 1700 years old, or in this case, from the spin doctors of Diego Gelmirez in 1100.

Never mind, there was always Casa Manolo: fantastic value and the best chiperones this side of heaven. I met a young woman as I was about to leave. Her name was Megan. I was just giving a copy of the book to the staff (Casa Manolo is mentioned in Pilgrimage to Heresy). We are a group downstairs, she said. Come and join us. And so I met Rachel from Texas.

I follow the group in search of a disco. Rachel and I hold back, talking. Her family are doctors and she seems destined for medicine too. I was amazed at how she had arrived at these ideas so far beyond her years. We talked about standardised testing: IQ tests proved nothing, she said. I asked her about Obama, how was he received in Texas. "He is well-liked and has much support. He is doing the best he can.." How could Americans have elected Bush twice? "It is a tradition in the States that we tend to support the President in times of war." I learned much from her.

At Large in Santiago...

From Friday July 3: Don Rafael is a Camino god. His many publications include one solely on the Portico de Gloria. He is one of the foremost experts in "Estudios Xacobeos" and has studied and taught in both Rome and Jerusalem.

I was introduced to him by Jose Luis, the very energetic proprietor of the bookshop Follas Novas in Calle Montero Rios just off the Alameda. Don Rafael is 82: he wears his white hair long and has a wine coloured cravat pushed back over his shoulders. His voice is a whisper, soft and sweet. His eyes look at you as though you are the only person in the room.

It occurs to me that he was a ladies man when young. Actually, it occurs to me that he most likely still is! We talk a little about the Portico de Gloria. I tell him that my friend Geert claims it is an "Enigma". "It certainly is," Don Rafael agrees, "it is a story in stone. Look at the musicians. They are not even interested in playing. They are talking amongst themselves and laughing. The angles in between show the way from Alpha to Omega."

He gives me a copy of his book. and then leads me down to Xacobean heaven: the sotono (basement floor) of the bookshop (he is the founder, the very energetic Jose Luis tells me). It is wall to wall, floor to ceiling books about the Camino and things connected. I am speechless. This isn't a bookshop: it's a cathedral!

I tell Don Rafael that I will need a small chair and a corner when I get back at the end of the month. He tells me I will be very welcome and gives me several more of his books. I ask him about Priscillian: "Most of my colleagues agree with you," he tells me, "but I still thnk there is a possibility that maybe, maybe, it might be Santiago after all". He suggests that I might like to meet some of the people he knows.

I leave the bookshop with wings: I have just been in the presence of greatness...

I pick up five newspapers only to see my picture in them which honestly is a bit weird. One of them says as the headline: (in Gallego)... The only thing to do with the Monte de Gozo Albergue is to destroy it!" Talk about out of context... (Needless to say there are some rather pointed comments about this in the paper in days to come.)

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Meeting the Press in Compostela....

From Thursday July 2: I have finally arrived in Compostela and my Spanish publisher, Editorial Boveda have put me up in a lovely boutique hotel with a view of the Seminario Menor and right across from the market. This is an area I know well.

Funny to think of staying my three nights in the Seminario, particularly when I remember that as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, I would walk up the hill past this place so many times in 1999 and 2000 and since, never knowing what was in store for me.

Last night I went for a walk around Santiago de Compostela. I went to Praza Obradoiro of course. That vision of baroque splendor will always make me smile a big smile, but it is the Romanesque interior that I love most.

I had interviews all day for my book, Pilgrimage to Heresy or in this case, Peregrinos de la Herejia. Maria Arias told me that I would have one after the other. I expected four or five as it had been with the rádio and press interviews in Malaga last week. Oh no! She had lined up no less than 12 press interviews, two live rádio interviews and quite a few “phone ins”: in fact I lost count. And all in Castellano which I am not by any means fluent in but which seemed to come from nowhere!

One of the periodistas, Xurxo, who Maria tells me is widely read and respected, took my hands in his, looked in my eyes and said: “Tu hás hecho una maravilla. Una Maravilla!” I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say. And to think I thought they were going to burn me at the stake in front of the cathedral…. (Course, they still might as you will see in a day or two…)

The next day I had a promise to keep. Last time I was here I left a white rose for Priscillian in the crypt and I went in search of another in the market today. It looked very pretty behind the grille and if it really IS St. James, well I am sure he enjoyed it also. I went to the Pilgrims Office to find out how to get permission to view the excavations as I hope to do when I return at the end of the month, and by the time I left it was just past noon and the pilgrims mass had started.

I said to the security guard that I really did want to attend the mass and I wasn’t just “touristing” but he said it was too late. The he looked at me and said in perfect English: “Are you Tracy?” “Yes,” I said really surprised, “how did you know?” “I saw you in the paper…” WELL, talk about 15 minutes off fame! My ghasted has never been so flabbered. He seemed to be somewhat sympathetic to the idea so I gave him a bookmark and he thanked me. I think that I might have touched more than just pilgrims (and the church), but more on that later...

Friday, 10 July 2009

Tracy Saunders, Escritora...

This post continues with my long drive up to Santiago de Compostela. As and when I find available net access, I will be able catch-up and post my reports in something approaching "real time".

Following the Camino de Santiago as much as I could from Leon, I got first to Rabanal, then Foncebadon where I was amazed to find people living there. When I walked in 1999 I do remember some work being done but other than that it was deserted and had been for years.

I stopped into Bar Gaia with a few bookmarks to leave for Pilgrimage to Heresy. The owner (Enrique) and I got into conversation. When I mentioned Priscillian his eyes lit up. Enrique is one of that strange breed of Camino afficionados “a character”: middle aged, handsome, beard, piercing eyes,: a friend of Tomas from Manjarin just up the road. Someone I wouldnt want to cross swords with, but, I suspect, someone who would do anything to help someone he liked...He seemed to like me.

We talked of the Way of St. James and the sacred feminine, of the significance of Finisterre; of the almost certainty that many have walked this Camino of ours long before Christ. I left him with a book and hope he enjoys it. I then went on to leave copies for Tomas and also Jesus Jato of Ave Fenix in Villafranca del Bierzo, both people and places which figure in Peregrinos de la Herejia.

Even being a MotorPilgrim in Simone, my Volvo preciosa it was a wonderful feeling to be seeing all those places again: places familiar both to me AND Miranda. That feeling stayed with me past Villafranca (especially in El Acebo: what a jewel of a village lost in time) until I past Piedrafita and O Cebreiro and got to Gonzar where somehow it left me.

But by then I was getting nearer and nearer to Compostela, and I felt drawn to it like a true pull of destiny. What was awaiting me in the city of my dreams THIS time…

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tracy Saunders, Viajera...

Sorry that this, my first "Camino" post has arrived late...but for the last week I have been almost without net access...Anyway, here goes....

It’s not exactly the Camino de Santiago, I admit, but on my way up to Compostela I had to pass via Madrid to get my passport, something I seem to lose with alarming regularity. Somewhere in the middle of chaos (demonstrations, policemen holding everyone up, one way streets – you get the idea) I picked up a traveller.

I didn’t realise it straightaway, but it was the click, click, click that gave it away. I spent the night in Leon at the Youth Hostel which doubles as a Pilgrim’s Albergue and there I met Thibault from France. He had his head out of the window enjoying a certain substance when I first met him. He seemed really pleased to have company as the hostal was more or less empty.

He had started the Camino in Bordeaux and all his friends seemed to be either ahead or behind. Despite the language “barrier” we got along famously. The next day I said I’d give him a lift to Hospital de Orbigo so that he could catch up his friend. First, I said, I had to find a particular antiquarian bookshop called La Libreria Camino de Santiago and a man who has shown interest in Peregrinos de la Herejia.

Whilst trying to find the bookshop I was virtually sideswiped by a taxi and hit a sharp curve. Have you ever heard a tyre on its last breath……. Had to call the grua (with some difficulty as couldn’t find the number of my insurance agency). Anyway the long and the short of it was three new tyres (the other two really were awful I admit) later I was “flat” (excuse the pun) broke.

Poor Thibault, who was a wonderful support through the whole thing, said: “I am so sorry for you”. Anyway, we both agreed: “It’s just stuff”, and anyway – after the very big nail was removed, and the tyre was resting in peace, we decided that better there than doing 140 kms on the highway…which I then proceded to do just for the fun of it, much to Thibault’s delight.

It was certainly the fastest he had travelled in weeks. When I dropped him at the campsite in Hospital de Orbigo (I can swim in the river! Maybe go fishing!) His last words to me were: “You are my angel”...... Thibault: it was the other way around…

By the way, I never did find the bookshop…..