Category Archives: On the Way

Day 40: Olveiroa to Fisterra … or … To the Lighthouse!

The gang leaving Olveiroa

November 8, 42km

It was a day to leave together: Letizia, Lucy, Alberto and Renato in the cool and misty morning crossing the final stretch of ground before the ocean. Within a km or so Alberto and I in step began the descent into a river valley and all on the path are glassy dark green stones the kind of which I have never seen except for the last time I passed this way eleven years ago. It is a strong place. Alberto is telling me about the ‘Meigas’ or wise women / witches in Gallega tradition and how like in Ireland, the Little People are an acknowledged, if hidden element of the living ecology here. This morning in Green Stone valley with silver braids of fog wreathing the stands of eucalypts and oak, it is not so hard to imagine. It is a place indeed to acknowledge country and to remember the ancestors and custodians who walked these ways and nurtured and protected the life of the land here.

The green stone valley

For me being a pilgrim is very different from other kinds of traveling because it supposes and strengthens the existence of a Way here, a trail, a line on the land. And walking that line is not an accidental or haphazard activity, but rather a purposeful one. One’s steps contribute to it and also give cultural and symbolic power to this Way. Unlike simply visiting a sacred place, which can be more of a consumptive activity, making a pilgrimage adds to its power, contributes to and strengthens its reality. This is maybe why we’re invited not to take photos in churches. And why the term ‘religious tourism’ leaves just a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. Mine anyway. It’s not that everyone must walk to Santiago. Lord no. The shift is one of the heart and of intent, even though a walking journey it cannot be denied, is powerful and works its magic sometimes in spite of oneself. But I do wonder what one can give to a place that is a contribution, and how one can dwell in and receive from a place without taking from it or consuming something of it.

* * *

Mid morning and something lovely happens. A decent crowd of pilgrims, some dozen of us, accidentally end up having a long and feastly morning tea by an old church. It’s Nuestra Señora de Neves, or Our Lady of Snows, and I don’t know why but that feels important. Chocolate, slabs of cheese, dried figs, ham wrapped in grease-proof paper, hazelnuts and Principe biscuits are handed around. New meetings happen. Photos are taken in a silent realisation that we’re nearing the end. Renato jubilantly rings the church bell and Alberto proclaims it the last day of school. For myself, I just soak up the sweetness of the moment and slip away to have a few moments of walking alone – and a quick wee behind a bush, truth be told, trying to avoid hazards of both gorse and bramble. Actually, I think ‘the end’ never really comes at the end… I mean, when is the end anyway? The real endings are secretly wrapped in perfect, unadorned, largely unrecognised moments like this one.

Not long after and there she is, the broad-busomed, glorious ocean. A heavy line of silver against black rocks and curved bays and headlands. A great still being beneath the roaring sky. Everyone does what they need to do.

Lunch at As Hortensias

We four have lunch at As Hortensias a couple of pueblos round from where we first touch at the water’s edge. The guys strip off for their swim but it’s not the right time for me. I’ll want a wild beach. For now it’s beers and Caldo Gallego and a goats cheese and broccoli salad and ice cream and coffee. And Letizia’s gone on ahead now, while we laze and eat and chat as if there weren’t another good 15km to walk. Ouff, it’s a steep first hill that we drag ourselves up at the end of Corcubión! But caffeine is a good walking companion in cool weather and Alberto and I are soon racing on laughing and talking a million miles. We’re walking, we’re walking, one hour goes by, then two, and dear me, but isn’t the sun sinking rather quickly, and we’re not there yet! And we’re going fast and just a bit faster and now we’re in Fisterra and have picked up a waiting Letizia, but it’s still about 3km to the lighthouse where we’re of course heading, to watch the sun set. Alberto and I start jogging, egging each other on as the clouds are painted in rose and orange. It seems right to have a sense of urgency right at the last! He is hopeful still but I know from the light that that sun has already slipped down below. And we run and pant and stop and run some more.

Letizia and Renato at the Lighthouse

And here we are finally at the lighthouse, at the 0km way marker, facing the rippling grey clouds and a horizon cool and heavenly, the colour of cream and honey. Instead of taking a silent and significant moment of prayer (my default), Alberto grabs some tourists or pilgrims and ropes them into doing a photo shoot with us around the 0km marker. It’s hilarious, annoying and wonderful. He is such an artist.

* * *

You don’t get to know what happened later on the far side of the lighthouse and L and I didn’t even know what the men did, the fratelli de luce, with their headlamps down on the dangerous edge. That was men’s business. Most of it was on the inside, anyway, pointed to the west and leaning into something new that could only be spoken and listened to there at world’s edge.

With love and thanks for being the listening into which I could share my Camino. May your own Way be blessed and rich and textured as only a simple human life can be.

Wildgoose (Amsterdam, 11.11.12)

undersevenskies@gmail.com

* * *

Possible post scripts to come.

Day 39: Negreira to Olveiroa … or… Escucha-mi señor!

“La energía de la tormenta limpia todas las preocupaciones y la negatividad. También puede generar energía electrica para iluminar los corazones que se encuentran con ella.”

Copied from Nicole, gift from another pilgrim.

“the energy of the storm cleans up all preoccupations and negativity. It can also generate electrical energy to illuminate the hearts that it meets.”

* * *

Nicole!! At lunchtime I had WiFi and found an email that our dear Nicole, and Anabel her bike, were in Finisterre yesterday and so would probably meet us somewhere today. Youpie!

Also met two Gallego pilgrims, father and son from the Lugo coast, our first. Blue eyes, different accent, different vibe. Lovely! There’s so much I want to ask them, starting with the traditional song or vocal trad of Galicia. What I get on that subject was that there is the ‘Hymno Gallego’ which, along with their language, was forbidden under Franco, himself Gallego. The common story of peoples being severed from language, culture, tradition, country, in the last couple of hundred years is such a painful one. Let’s not do it anymore, people. Let us instead love, enjoy and learn from our sister and cousin and neighbour and far-off stranger from a strange land cultures that we are lucky enough to meet and find ourselves in.

* * *

Reunion with Nicole

The albergue is a little pilgrim village of its own in refurbished stone houses with turquoise doors. We’re lucky enough to get the little holiday house casita with only five beds in it and its own bathroom. Wonderful! And only a few minutes after us, Nicole and Anabel arrive! It’s a big bear hug moment then flurries of stories get passed back and forth, threads of connections and reconnections and mainly just the simple happiness of a friend met again in joy.

As we’re heading to the local joint for dinner, Alberto turns up in the early dark. Hello! He’s with some other pilgrims who are planning a wickedly wonderful adventure of going on through the night to arrive at dawn in Finisterre. It has planted a seed in his head, not for tonight but for tomorrow night, the last last etapa between Finisterre and Muxia. *Goose’s eyes light up at the prospect of a crazy adventure in spite of all good judgment*

Fratelli di Luce

At dinner Renato is saying ‘Escucha mi’ which means ‘listen to me!’ to the waiter, as he often does with hospitaleros, us, etc. in what strikes me as quite a rude way. But then a penny drops for me, in a ‘you keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means’ kind of way. And it turns out he has been confusing ‘escucha mi’ with the Italian ‘scusa mi’ and has been meaning to excuse himself rather than demand attention. When we realise this we are all in stitches around the table and Renato himself catches on a few minutes later making us laugh even harder. I make the mistake of ordering at random from the Spanish menu and get a main course of assorted salted animal pieces with an accompaniment of potatoes and cabbage. There’s wine drunk, flan eaten and here we are on our last evening before the end.

Love, Wildgoose

Day 38: Santiago to Negreira or… Le bouquet final

November 6, 22km

It was delicious to leave the city this morning. But even as I wanted to get on the road, I also needed a change in rhythm to make the new beginning – the beginning of the end. So we slept in, breakfasted in our Albergue (Fogar de Teodomiro) and then had a coffee and slice of the local pastel de queso under the skirts of the cathedral. We slipped out of the city like thieves and what a relief, what a delight to be so quickly back on tree-lined paths and walking by veggie gardens and fruit trees and the late Autumn planted fields. Letizia and I said to each other, this is different! And so it was. It was like the pilgrimage itself had been left behind, the pomp and hurrah of the arrival, the shell of the pilgrim identity somehow put aside, and now just a quiet walk to the ocean. We don’t have a map or guide for this section so can’t gauge arrival times or plan which pueblo to lunch in or anticipate the ups and downs of the track.

There’s a young blonde-haired pilgrim wearing hippy clothes, Keens and a heavy pack up ahead, and walking the slow walk of the stoic pain-bearer. We fall into step. She’s Kelly, a Steiner teacher from New Zealand and after a month walking has just mysteriously developed a new crop of blisters. Sometimes it’s like that, we nod at one another with a smile that isn’t a smile. We share a lovely walk together for I don’t know, probably about half an hour, having the kind of conversation that arises out of a common though not personally shared experience. That is, shwoom, right to the heart of it. So much doesn’t need to be said, so can be left out in favour of the juicy bits. Delightful.

Pilgrims two in the Gallego forest

Later on L and I stop for lunch in a little bar. The Gallego spoken here is like a song and makes me cock my head to listen. There are heaps of new pilgrims on the road today, a young Japanese guy, a Spaniard being a bit cool, two other guys looking Germanish and Kelly and her companion. They all look like they’re in their 20s. L and I remark that we’ve gone from being the ‘chicas’ – ie. The young women, and not needing any further differentiation – to being more like the aunts 🙂 . Later on we come up by another new pilgrim and greet each other. He says in Aussie twang (it was a twang) where are you from? And I say, the same place as you, I reckon. And I’m not far wrong! He’s grown up in Geelong and lives in Willagee (a suburb just up the road from Fremantle). He’s walking the camino to ‘undo four years of mining.’ It reminds me to be grateful to not have had such a burden: isolation, dehumanising conditions and too much money.

The albergue in Negreira is a slightly annoyingly km or two outside the centre of town, but it’s a nice one. Of the dormitory I’m like, what’s different about this room? and realise the beds are not bunks. We’re among the first but pilgrims trickle in all afternoon until, amazingly, it’s full. L, Renato and I, more Italians, French, Austrians, Spanish, Israeli, Japanese spotted earlier, Danish-Iranian… and yep, apart from Renato, honorary Nonno of the crew, Letizia and I are the only ones over 30. It’s a different vibe completely with this bunch from the Camino Frances and it’s a bit of work to just let it be what it is and not miss the friends and wish it was like the ‘good old days.’ These are the good old days, says David Whyte. L is lying on her bed with earbuds in which I’ve never seen her do. I’m pulled here and there in different conversations which are tiring and repetitive. But then, ah, we meet the delightful Isabel, cheeky, quirky journalism student from France but with perfect Mexican Spanish, peeling chestnuts and expertly cooking fried tomato and cream pasta sauce. She’s walked the Camino del Norte and Camino Primitivo and has had a rugged, solitary, bright journey. There’s something recognised and shared between us.

We were desperate for greens so bought broccoli, a leek, and a massive bunch of some kind of green leaves to cook up with garlic and oil and eat with bread and great wadges of a creamy local cow’s cheese. The greens turned out to be ‘amargísimo’ – very bitter – but I ate mine anyway and Letizia’s too.

Tired. In bed with blindfold and ear plugs. Party going on downstairs. In the morning crumbs, wine stains and badly-washed up pots in the kitchen. Put on boots, fill waterbottle and shoulder backpack. Outside pilgrims have left washing ‘to dry’ and it is stiff with ice.

Love, Wildgoose.

Day 37: Outeira to Santiago de Compostela … or… you never know til you know.

November 5, 16km

Our first glimpse of the cathedral

Arriving in this lovely city amidst flurries of pilgrims drifting in all directions, but tending to clump together in the nooks and crannies of the Cathedral, is quite something. Santiago de Compostela has scallop shells in every conceivable location: in the design of the manhole covers, etched above doorways, in brass on people’s gates and of course in the signage of every establishment wishing to get a piece of the pilgrim pie. Hoorah! The city! I suppose it has always been this way, God bless it. The arrivals and departures and meetings and surprises around the corner. In such a city everyone and everything is rubbing shoulders and it makes fine sparks and a good blaze, given a bit of kindling.

For my part, and I’m sort of a bit sorry to say, really, it’s

Santiago apostol in the Puerta de la Gloria

been more of a going through the motions to complete the pilgrim necessities of arriving in Santiago. Obtaining the Compostela, going to the pilgrim mass at the cathedral, hugging the saint… for me the moments which signal the fullness and completion of this pilgrimage have happened without the fanfare I imagine should be present in the ‘arrival’. They were hugging Grandfather oak yesterday or the day before, and Letizia and I getting a tear in the eye as we saw the cathedral spires this morning from a few kms away, and being brushed by the trees which for me was like the way pilgrims would be washed in preparation for arriving at the holy place.

Tomorrow we walk on to Finisterre, another three days north and west. This feels like the real end. Santiago is the end of being a pilgrim and the journey to Finisterre is the beginning of the walk onwards, new and renewed, smaller and with a budding sense of having no idea who we are.

Apparently for pilgrims of the middle ages, when Finisterre really was the end of the world and out there was the edge that one could fall off, the arrival at land’s end gave not a ghastly and frightening vista of the unknown, but rather a reaffirmation of the world, the known and the tangible things of life. As if the Camino was a time of renunciation of the deepest kind, most especially of one’s treasured beliefs and ideas of how it should all be, but that in order to make the journey back to home and spouse and life and work, one can – and must – pick up again those things one has temporarily put down.

I find this fascinating indeed.

But for now, it’s time to meet our dear Michael again and go for a glass of wine in the Parador, another pilgrim tradition, before dinner at Casa Manolo.

Buen Camino ragazzi!

Love, Wildgoose

A glass of wine at the Parador. Just don’t look at my shoes

Outside Manolo’s where we had dinner

 

Day 36: Laxe to Outeiro … or… the embrace of the forest

November 4, 37km

It’s interesting to watch how Letizia and I manage our pain / injury differently. Even without pain, having taken a hefty dose of Ibuprofin, she has the discipline to walk slowly and to rest in bed in the albergue when we arrive. When I had the same thing last week I would immediate get delusional that it was getting better, I’m sure of it! after taking my Voltarin tablet, and couldn’t restrain myself from ramping up my speed to normal. And the pueblo or town or city would always call to me for visits and a drink in a bar with my journal. Sigh. I’m bloody lucky it got better! We are a good and complementary team. A lot passes between us in the long comfortable silences as we walk and walk and walk.

This morning through cool tunnels of oaks and chestnuts I thought how fortunate it is that we go slow these last, precious sections before Santiago which will be with us by this time tomorrow. For me it’s so easy to get into a mentality of racing to the next whatever it is. I embraced or maybe was embraced by Grandfather Oak, long and strong. And I had the impression of being combed through by the reaching branches of the trees, like my aura was being gently loosened of tangles as in a good hair brushing. So cool and sweet and quiet and fresh are these forests. Sometimes the track is very muddy.

Santiago in Outeira at the spring where pilgrims would wash themselves in preparation for their arrival

It’s been a few days since we’ve been with Michael, as he didn’t come to the monastery and walked ahead the next day. And actually today we decide to go ahead of him to Outeira which will mean just a sixteen km walk into Santiago tomorrow. In the pension where he’s staying we have a coffee for the last 4km push at the end of an already long walk, but he’s resting upstairs so we leave him an excellent note and head off. I don’t know what happened but I felt like angels were lifting up my pack or putting wings on my heels! I flew up the hill and was just sailing along the forest track in a blessed moment so sweet but shy you don’t even want to notice it properly in case it flees. My body feels very strong and sure. Walking is home.

* * *

It’s a silly albergue, all concrete and glass meaning the heat from the radiators disappears into oblivion unless you’re actually pegged up against it. Which I was. A coooold night! Pilar, the nice matronly hospitalera is making dinner tonight, though, which is excellent. It includes home made Tarta de Santiago and coffee liquor and we are all happy and full. Alberto then walks in soaked and grinning and takes an hour to eat his meal because he’s busy telling us stories. Some new pilgrims are there including Petra who has been living on the Camino for two years. We are impressed.

My lucky day!

Today I fell on my bum when wet slimy boots slipped down wet slimy asphalt. Shock to the system but no damage. And I found eight four-leaf clovers in five separate patches when walking and not really looking. Slightly woo woo.

Here’s to you, Santiago apostle. Bring us home tomorrow so we can embrace you in the cathedral and complete the pilgrim rituals. We will join the much more numerous pilgrim stream of the Camino Frances, the French Way which will be interesting! From our tight-knit groups and three-quarters empty albergues to… who knows what!

Adelante! Onwards!

Love, Wildgoose

Day 35: Oseira to Laxe … or: a river runs through it

November 3, 33km

This morning we did what we thought we had to do to join the monks for their dawn Eucharist – ie. Be at this door at this time. It was raining and we rang the bell and no one came so we found the door to the church and knocked. Not long later two monks come: a young and flustered one and an older and grumpy one and it turns out that their Mass was half way through when we had been banging on the door. yikes! So I’m all anxious, Letizia’s cool, and Renato is saying loudly ‘pellegrino! Misa!’ Anyway, we’re ushered in and have to walk across in front of the altar to get to a spare bench. Thankfully there are a bunch of other guests there and not just the monks. It’s a sung Mass and there are about ten monks. We’re up in the choir of the church and sitting quiet as mice, well, Renato is following the liturgy loudly in Italian, and okay, I’m trying to sing along with the plainsong, but you know, mostly quietly. Somehow we four bedraggled pilgrims are here plunged into this wonderful, old, precious monastic stream.

Afterwards grumpy monk, who turns out to be one of those with dry dry humour and warm kindness that leaks out of his gruffness, tells us that the Father Superior would like to invite us for breakfast and we are taken to a small room for just us, and a jug of hot milk, and chocolate and coffee and fruits and bread, butter and jam are brought in. Grumpy monk, who is Padre Gerardo and another, Padre Alphonso then keep popping in and out, being very friendly, asking us where we’re from, talking about the Camino and answering all our questions. It’s just simply lovely monastic hospitality and we are made to feel like honoured guests not some more bloody pilgrims who disturbed their Eucharist. When it’s time to go, they take us the special way through stone corridors with old paintings on the walls and are gracious with all our requests including, like, a photo with everyone’s camera. From our time with them you would imagine that the monks just sit around waiting for pilgrims to entertain, so spacious and generous was the spirit with which they welcomed us. I found it very very touching. I learn so much from people, especially… hmmm. Especially people who are living a strong and clear vocation of service.

Wet morning!

After breakfast we were obliged by a prior commitment to back to last night’s bar for another cafe con leche and by the time we were ready to leave the weather had settled into a heavy soaking rain. The path lead immediately off the road and was uppy and downy through forest and between tight stone walls. It had become a river! It was kind of peaceful for me because my boots let in so much water from the holes that it’s not worth trying to keep my feet dry. It was so wonderful to have Alberto with us. He is a true pilgrim adventurer with a big warm heart and the best of the Extremeño spirit. He is always doing things like meeting someone extraordinary in a doorway and having a four hour lunches, or arriving soaked and grinning several hours after nightfall or capturing the attention of the whole room with an amazing tale or giving an impromptu history lesson about the Spanish flag. Today he is leading the way through the river path and talking on his phone and making videos and talking about the nobility of the Corrida (bull fighting).

The flaming autumn trees around Laxe

Another long day but well punctuated with vittals and good conversations. And at last we’re in Laxe. Don’t pronounce the x like we were; in Gallego it’s like a sh or a soft j. Lashey. There you go!

Good night!

Love, Wildgoose

Day 34: Orense to el Monasterio de Oseira

November 2, 33km

A thrilling arrival, strange and wondrous to the monastery

A thrilling arrival, strange and wondrous to the monastery

There are four old men playing cards at the next door table. Letizia is now the one with ice on her shin! I have a manzanilla with anis and wet feet still and a jar of heather honey. Renato is reading his guidebook. We’re waiting for the monastery to open so we can get stamped. After a slow afternoon through cool forests with otherworldly currents the monastery of Oseira suddenly appeared out of the trees as we rounded a bend and crossed an elbow of the dark river. It is absolutely enormous – on its long side, a wall about four storeys high that has fifteen balconies spaced at intervals and with space for more. The albergue seems to be in a kind of gate house but I find out later it’s actually the monks old library. Old here means old. It’s a Trappist Cistercian monastery following Bernard de Clairveau and has been holding prayer between cool stones and vaulted arches and pools of light for just shy of nine hundred years. To be at proximity in the falling grey light of the afternoon, stomping on sodden oak leaves and wet grass up to the façade is breathtaking. It’s like being in another time. I keep expecting to see Sean Connery dressed in a cowl and carrying a tallow lamp.

The wonderful bar in Oseira

The wonderful bar in Oseira

As we walked the last couple of hours I had some moments of deep quiet, of strange empty, watchful inner abundance, of a kind of homecoming, of forgotten kin. The unknown, remembered gate? I don’t know. It’s been another strong day. After a morning just sweet and light between Letizia and I, we had two stops, one in T__ and one in Cea, and they were quite nasty. Alienating, cold service, miscomprehensions, being at crossed purposes and regarded with a cold eye. And now here we are, somehow held within a circle of monastic hospitality that itself is couched in the grandest, oldest, Gothic stone. This bar is presided over by a smiley Abuela with her two granddaughters. It’s a goodie. Bars along the Camino are either steeped in presence and simple, warm hospitality or… not. This one has rows of ancient bottles and bright creamy orange walls and posters celebrating the ‘exaltation’ of the local artesanal bread and climbing plants and local honey for sale.

* * *

The diamond stairs in the monastery

The diamond stairs in the monastery

So I went on a guided tour of the monastery, pre-shower and still wet footed, enjoying the slow and punctuated Spanish of our guide-afficionado. “Light is the main protagonist of a Gothic structure” he might say, or “imagine those arches from the point of view of a monk living a vocation of silence.” It was thrilling, captivating and almost overwhelming. In the sanctuary is a statue of La Virgen, of a style they call La Virgen Lactea or something, which means she is breastfeeding the Christ Child. Too far away for me to see in detail, except for her serene outward-facing gaze and the warm intimacy of her body.

Dinner was in the local bar: plate after plate of cheese, salami and jamon iberico eaten with the famous local bread and what felt like bottle after bottle of red wine. Alberto who we met in Orense came in having arrived in the dark dark night and was cold and sopping. He had had adventures along the way.

Sleep came easily under piles of blankets.

Love, wildgoose