First year Anniversary

One year ago today, I walked into Santiago, Spain, the end of my Camino journey.  My daughter Elizabeth accompanied me for the last 2 days of walking — it was wonderful having her with me then, so I could share my emotions with someone who is as close to me as she is.

Emotions:  I felt elation – for having actually completed the journey; relief – my body was pretty worn out, especially my feet; joy – despite the physical and sometimes emotional challenges of the journey, it was much more than I thought it would be, allowing me to connect with the spiritual through nature and through the wonderful people I met along the Way; wonder and trepidation – I knew that my life was somehow changed forever, and I was looking forward to this, with excitement and also a bit of fear.  Why fear?  I knew without having to think about it that I could no longer work for the State of Florida; I was no longer feeling that I was making a positive difference in the lives of the children, and that has been my calling for most of my career.  But I am growing older, at that time with about 6 years until retirement.  I was afraid of cutting off a decent (not great, but steady and decent) source of income with no promise of success.

Now that a year has passed, I am happy that I made that change.  My financial future is somewhat fraught at the moment – at least during those dark hours of the night when there is nothing bright to distract me from thoughts of worse case scenarios.  But in the day, I am feeling a true lightness of being.  I have opened my own firm, and chosen to take a couple of months to work part-time before jumping all-in.  I do have work now, and am truly working.  I will begin actual marketing the first of the year, and hope to be fully operational and full-time busy by the spring.  My friends with their own practices have advised that my plan is sound and that I will definitely do well for myself.

But even if I end up making less and having to cut back on some expenditures, I have already done well for myself.  As I said, I now feel a lightness that wasn’t there before.  I am able to spend some time volunteering with groups I enjoy.  Now that the weather has finally turned to what counts for fall here in NE Florida, I am out hiking again.  And I’m in a slow process of tending to myself and my surroundings.  I am happy and content, in ways I had not been for many years.  Some of this comes with maturity, I’m sure.  But most of it is in now being in full charge of my destiny – to the extent anyone can be.

This was a move I needed to make.  And I doubt I would have had the courage to have made these changes without having walked the Camino.  During that journey I learned that there will be set-backs, but that there is always a way to continue the journey.  I had the tenacity and strength to keep going and did not end the journey early, despite a few temptations to do so.  That knowledge will stay with me and guide me through my life journey now – there will be set-backs and there is always a way to continue.  I think that having faith in one’s own ability is key to staying strong.

I yearn to strengthen this knowledge with another Camino, sooner than later!  Perhaps a shorter route, such as the Portuguese.  Or perhaps going to Italy and following in the steps of St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite saints since childhood.  I hope it will be within the coming year!  But even if there is not to be a long walk soon, it is fall, and there will be time for many shorter walks.

This year, my hiking group is planning on 4 weekend camping/hiking trips so that we’ll cover the bulk of the portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail for which we provide maintenance.  I have the time now to make the commitment, and have made that commitment to those hikes, during the “winter” and early spring here.  It will be grand!

October 24: the penultimate day

Today was fun, as I walked with Elizabeth.  This was another day often through the woods, especially early in the day.   We pass a memorial for Guillermo Watt on the side of the path.  Sadly, he apparently died of natural causes within a day of his destination.  Throughout the journey I’ve passed many memorials, often for people who have died due to accident.  The mountains are steep at times, and bad weather creates hazardous conditions.  But to put this into perspective, there are many many people who walk the Frances Way; I believe the death rate per capita is much less than in my town over the space of each year.

We walk along for a good distance, and have actually bypassed a village or two.  We have a great chuckle when we pass a herd of sheep that decide to talk to us.  They baaa’d, but it sounded like they were saying “hey”.  We answered in kind, and they responded.  Almost weak with laughter, we kept up this crazy call and response until they were too far away.

We came to a tunnel under the highway, and decided to just walk across the road instead.  We were hungry, so we stopped at the restaurant there, especially since the path began another steep ascent.  I really wanted the seafood rice dish, but it was for two people.  Elizabeth was kind, and agreed to share  with me,  even though she wanted pasta, I think  The waitress explained  it would take about 20 minutes, but we were happy for the rest.  We each had a beer, and shared a salad while we waited.

We were sitting outside, and soon the patio began to fill with other peregrinos.  There was a group of 4 cyclists, from Mexico.  One of them was talking about us, when our rice dish was served, and referred to us as “gringas.”  He didn’t realize we could hear him, or so he later said.

Our dish was huge, and could easily have fed 6 to 8 people.  This guy came over and jokingly offered to buy some of  our food for a good price.  We couldn’t eat it all, so we agreed.  I teased him about his name calling us and he blushed and apologized.  To help with the apology, he told the waitress to put our cervesas on his bill.  What a fun lunch that turned out to be.  And the dish was very good, too.

As indicated, there was another ascent immediately thereafter.  At the top, we were at the Santiago airport!  That took awhile to hike around.  We even got to stand in front of the fence, right as a plane streaked close enough to see everyone inside, as it came in for a landing.  We stood and screamed; another fun memory.

Finally our 4 Mexican friends passed  us.  They intended to bike to Santiago this day.  Although they told us they would see us the day after in the plaza, we never saw all 4 of them again.

Our plan was to walk to Villamaior past the town of Lavacolla, so that we would be able to get to Santiago by noon tomorrow,  so we could attend the pilgrim’s mass.  While this ultimately worked out for the best, this is another hamlet with nothing to do.  We stayed in what once was a typical old highway motel, with the rooms in a semicircle around the lawn.  This place had seen much better days, and was among the lower 10 places I stayed along the way.   We had no choice but to eat there.  Fortunately, the food was  decent.

Tomorrow, Santiago.  The destination !

October 23: Elizabeth Day!

Today I walk a fairly short distance, in the dreary grey.  But to me this is a fabulous day, as I’m meeting my daughter in Salceda.  She will walk with me the next two days to Santiago ,  then we’ll do some sightseeing.  It is knowing I’ll see her today that puts a bit of  a jaunt in my step.

The first real town is Ribadiso.  Of course, there is first a climb, then another descent to the Rio Iso.  The reward is a small but lovely bridge.

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From there, you guessed it,  there’s another ascent.  Again, it’s not so bad because I have a reward today.  The rest of the way is much gentler.  Which is good, because it decides to rain fairly hard after lunch.

I see Tricia, from LA, for the last time at lunch.  She seems to be terrific, and I’m sorry I probably won’t see her or Vivi again.  They’re planning on going further tonight, then arrive the next day in Santiago .

Much of today’s path winds through country lanes and dirt paths.  I actually enjoy walking in the rain.  I hope to arrive in Salceda before Elizabeth, but she beat me there by a fairly short amount of time.  The town was south of the Camino.  It was odd to be walking off trail, with no yellow arrows to guide me.

The walk through this little town seemed interminable.    Of course, walking out the next morning, it wasn’t as long as it seemed.  I finally get to the inn, and get one of the best hugs ever!

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October 22

It was lightly raining when I awoke, so I decided to have a cafe con leche in the dining room before walking.  I had my laundry done the day prior, and was missing a sock.  No one in the dining room  copped to having one extra, so no telling where it went.  I planned  on shopping for a new pair in the town of Melide.

The rain stopped, the grey skies remained.  Today’s walk was not memorable other than Melide.  Most of the  walk was along roads, and after Cornixa, the path skirted highway much of the  way, even going through an industrial area at one point.  The walk into Melide was long, and uphill once the town itself was visible.  It became a difficult walk for me, as I’d neglected to eat anything for breakfast.  I was hapy to get to Melide for lunch.

Before getting to the commercial area, there was a bit of a walk through a very old part of town.  I stopped in a tiny museum and there was Vivi.

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Here’s me as an octopus.

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Vivi had told me she was hoping to have pigs ears for lunch, no octopus.  That reminded me how hungry I was, so I walked on ahead of her.  I was astounded when the restaurant I stopped at actually had pig ears on the menu.  Vivi had my contact information, but I didn’t have hers, so I couldn’t advise her to meet me here.  Happily she walked in soon after I had ordered.  She had her ears and padron peppers, while I had the traditional food, caldo gallego and pulpo – boiled octopus.  I’ve decided I only like octopus grilled!

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I left to go in search of socks, completely forgetting that by now it was siesta.  I did manage to find a 24 hour pharmacy to get more bandaids for my feet.  The afternoon walk was more ups and downs, but uneventful.  I stayed with a woman who was very sweet.  She had recently redecorated the rooms in the one house – they were not Camino looking at all, which was a nice change of pace.  This was in the very small hamlet of Castañeda, which had only one bar and no restaurants or food stores.  So for dinner I walked back to the bar for dinner.  There were no seats,  but a lovely Australian couple invited me to sit with them.  The company was better than the dinner, but the dinner was acceptable.

Tomorrow is a big day.  I am excited about my next stop!

October 21

This was another chilly, foggy morning.  After crossing over a major highway ,  I walked along a local road for less than a mile before being able to stop for coffee and toast.  Many pilgrims intensely dislike road walking, but I don’t mind these little used roads.  In fact, I am able to carry on more quickly when I’m not walking a rocky path.

Today was a relatively easy day.  Sadly, I don’t remember much of this walk, for much of the middle part.  I was taken by the eastern outskirts of Palas de Rei, which included many many acres for  sports and recreation.   Still before the town, there was a motel that reminded me of being in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania  (to the extent I can remember that far into my childhood!).  This place had individual cabins in a very rural setting.  If I was not meeting Elizabeth soon, I would have wanted to stop here to enjoy this memory.  But I was planning on stopping in San Xulian for the night, because the albergue is one designated in the guidebook with a heart, meaning it is highly recommended by many pilgrims .

I walked in and out of the town of San Xulian, but failed  to see my destination .   However ,  I was feeling strong enough to know I could keep going the next few miles to the next town, so I kept going.  Happily, as I got to a river, I saw this building with a ginormous scallop shell on its wall.  I could stop after all!  Best – this place had an old mill house across the meadow from the albergue and dining room.  I neglected to take any pics of my room, but here are two from my window and while walking back to the dining room.

 

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The meadow between sleeping and dining buildings.

 

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I spent a lot of time talking with Vivi, whom I’d first met in Fonfria, and a woman in her early 70s who looked like  she was in her 50s, named Tricia.  Vivi was living in Canada, but was of SE Asian citizenship .   Tricia was living in LA, and was from Mexico.  We spent a great deal of time before and during  dinner that day.  They were very different and both wonderful .

Dinner that night was home cooked, plentiful and delicious.  We had two soups ,  not as alternatively ,  but sequential; a large salad; the ubiquitous tortilla with potato; a vegetable dish; pork; and dessert .   Along with plenty of both water and wine.  I slept well that night, in my room beside  the water .

OCTOBER 20

Leaving Mercadoiro, there was more downhill, from roughly 600 meters to 350 over about 4 kilometers.  And although the path was rocky, it was also forested, wending its way through  a few hamlets.  At one point, there was a choice to be made – going down another very steep path that, thankfully, carried a warning that it was treacherous or continuing along  the roads.  Before coming to this point, I came upon a raised pasture with cows, with one cow who was close to the path.  I took a few photos of her, which got 3 other people to stop briefly and do the same.

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These same 3 people were stopped at the sign.  The young woman decided to go or the challenge.  The two older men decided to follow me and take the road.  They soon passed me, but that’s because I had become snail-like in my pace by this time.

This road brought me out to the outskirts of Portomarin, which is west of the Rio Miño.  This was a remarkable sight, as the old town was flooded in 1962 when a dam was built.  So you could see parts of this medieval town in the river.  Perhaps more remarkably, the important structures of the town were removed to higher ground and reconstructed.

20161020_103417.jpg   The new town is reached by a very steep staircase leading to an arch.  Now, the town itself is off the Camino, but I  trudged up that staircase anyway.  I was in need of some breakfast (which I was very glad in hingsight I stopped for ) as well as a visit to an ATM.

Visit this site for professional photos of this area:  http://www.caminoadventures.com/sarria-to-portomarin/

Leaving the town, I had  to walk  down to the road in order to get back on another steep forested path.  That was always the way: descend to a river then climb back up again.  So, I went essentially back up to 600+ meters again before stopping for the night in the town of Hospital.

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Before Hospital, before Gozar, I stopped along the side of a road at a picnic spot.  I  met two women there from New Mexico, Holly and Barbara.  We sat and chatted for a while, talking about the tour groups that were now along our paths.  I saw this particular group numerous times, and they were very demanding people.  They would load into a small bus in the mornings and be let out to walk the nicest parts of the Camino, if they wished. After walking for a short distance, they would again meet the bus, and the driver would have laid out a feast for them. This day they had two large picnic tables laden with food and wine. The three of us were,  frankly, jealous.  it was past lunch and  we were hungry.  After our chat, I foolishly chose the longer alternative skirting the south side of Gozar. Holly and Barbara were smart and chose the road. I disliked Gozar, as the village had no directional arrows. I wandered a bit before I found a place for lunch. As I left the village, I realized I would have come to a much better stop, sooner, if I had taken the shorter path on the northern edge of this village. Ah, well, it was only one meal and only a few kilometers out of my way.

Carrying on, I was insulted to see another steep ascent to Hospital, where I planned to spend the night. It was not a big deal, but I was getting tired, and I don’t like having  to put forth this effort at the end of a day. I came to Hospital in due time and was again surprised by the rundown condition of the Inn, and the lack of hospitality by the staff.  This was El Labrador, and the guidebook promised me hospitality!

No worries, though. I saw a husband and wife couple I had met weeks earlier, Holly and Barbara, the two men who admired the cow, and a few pilgrims new to me.  Everyone in my age group were feeling like I was,  i.e., as much as we loved the journey, our bodies were wearing out and we were glad we were getting close to Santiago. Dinner was ok; the conversations were wonderful. And – I figured out how to turn on the heater in my room, so I was warm through the night and I was able to wash  my socks and have them dry by morning !

The next morning I was anxious to get on the road.

October 18- 19

As I indicated, it was good to be walking.  It was difficult to leave Samos at a decent hour.  Spain is in a weird time zone to begin, meaning the sun is now rising at or after 8:30 a.m.  And unless I have a reason to walk in the dark, I don’t.   In addition, the mornings have been foggy, so it’s dark-ish, cold and damp at 8:30.

In addition, my hospitalero Ashley, her mom and her mom’s friend and I got to talking again.  It was easy to stay until a bit after 10.  Fortunately,  the day’s walk was only about 10k, to Sarria.   Sarria is the gateway for people who want to get their Compestela, the certificate, while walking the least amount permitted.

The beginning of the day was along a river – I’m sure  the source of the baby trout I had the day before.  Lovely !

 
At the first cafe, I met Monica, who is Canadian and who likes to sleep in.  As I was to learn later, she also likes to walk into the very late afternoon.  We became walkjng companions for the day.  I really enjoyed her company, but we parted ways in old Sarria.  I was ready to stop for the day, but she carried on to the next village.

I stayed in a small albergue,  which had only a few beds per room.  As my insomnia has kicked in most every night, I paid a bit extra to have no one else placed in my room.  There was a communal dinner.  Enjoyed my stay.

As always, the next morning featured a steep climb out of the valley.  I thought of Monica and wondered how she  took this hill so late in the afternoon.   As I suspected,  I saw her at my first town on Wednesday.  But I also saw Olga, the woman I met at the Biarritz airport on Day 2 in Europe.  Olga was at Orisson and she was my first walking companion as we slogged downhill so painfully into Zubiri.

How could I not walk with her for one more day?  Interestingly,  we ran into the couple, last name of Brennan, from Canada, who took us to the wonderful albergue in Zarria.

All week (and this will be true for Thursday and Friday, as well) the path has been mostly through woodland,  with many oaks and huge chestnuts.  There are numerous ascents and descents, but on average, each day they’ve gotten less steep.    This land is mostly dairy cow, with sheep from time to time.   While walking with Monica, I got to play at being St. Francis.  We were passing a small herd of sheep on the path, when they spooked and ran.  But one poor sheep was caught up in baling twine in the blackberry bushes.  It looked like it was willing to break its leg to get out of there.  I dug in my pack for the small scissors I have and freed the sheep.  By this time,  2 men pulled up in their pickup and watched.  They seemed pleased that a pilgrim cared about that sheep.

I left Olga at her chosen location and continued walking on to Mercadoiro.  Before that, however, we stopped for lunch at a place whose stamp said 99.5 Km.  I now have less than 99 km to go.  I’m tired of walking,  but this life has gotten under my skin.

Mercadoiro was in the middle of nowhere,  so another day of hanging out after stopping or the day.   This was also an albergue with a couple of private rooms.   I had a lovely conversation with Lucien, a Dutchman about Elizabeth’s age who walked from Holland to figure out what to do with his life, including whether he wanted to settle down with his girlfriend and have any children.  He decided he did and almost quit the Camino.   But he decided to keep walking to Santiago.

Another communal dinner with him, an Italian and a kid from Brazil whose dad is Italian.  What a babel of languages.  We all managed to understand one another and shared a lot of laughs.

My time is getting short.  I can’t wait, because my daughter is meeting me on October 23rd!