Cats, old stone buildings, coffee con leche, coffee con yellow, water fountains, working church bells, siesta, wheat fields, cow bells, sheep bells and horse bells, heidi houses, shutters, cow dung and fermenting hay smells, crusty bread in no packets, bread broken by hand, flies flying in squares, old cars, wifi- and some not do good weefee, warm expensive orange juice, tuna in everything, washing lines everywhere, plastic mattresses, boots in the hallway, quarto qesa pizza, green parakeets in the trees, old men playing cards in the cafes or parks, everybody smoking, beautiful clothes, very slim Spaniards, different dialects, stern looking friendly people, disposable sheets, Fanta Limon Go, Spanish bagpipes, dogs on chains, topless muscle men, topless not so muscled ladies on the beach, deep female voices (probably from the smoking), scooters and bicycles, churches of all shapes and sizes, fake candles, paying for unasked-for bread, selfie town everywhere, balla, no aircon, toilet lights that stay on for only 5 seconds, graffiti, no English reading material, folk dancers, tractors pushing us off the path, alleyways and doors, yellow arrow indicators, generalised toilets, people stripping down to underwear, trombone player in the river, strong electric perfume diffusers, 10 minutes of TV adverts, no credits on American series, hand gestures and head nodding, and now I’m almost time for my train back to Paris.
From Peregrine to tourist. What a leap. It meant I walked without a stick and cap. Clothes and pony tail remain. Simply because a short fling in Barcelona hadn’t been planned and the other because my hair has grown considerably unruly in the Spanish heat. Tourist also means no real places to get to and I can ‘park’ my rucksack in my locker for 5 glorious nights. It is the simple things in life that seem to take priority when far from home.
But I must admit that I am simply loving Barcelona. I am not sure if I would have appreciated it as much had I not walked a long stretch of Spain but I am finding everything fascinating. The art, food, English speaking shop keepers, trains, buses, bicycles -did I mention trains? Ha, I am loving the subway if while mentally working out how far the actual distance would be between the stops and knowing that I could have walked it. I am loving the different cultures all showing up eager to see the works of Gaudi or Picasso or the historic buildings, beaches, designer shops, flamboyant flamenco dancers, ladies of the night and the nightlife (of which- I know nothing). The city seems to have everything.
I have had two trips booked the past two days and tomorrow I don’t have to be anywhere at any time. What bliss. I may visit a shopping mall as the end of season sales are on and our Summer is about to start (yey)! The variety of clothes is great and different and today, I even tried on a dress! However it stayed in the shop because I couldn’t see past the ponytail and running shoes. Tomorrow I think I may have to leave my credit card behind.(Perhaps the running shoes too)
Onwards and outwards!
A bumpy night in a sea sawing bunk bed saw me leap out at the early hour of 7am. The girl from the top bunk across the way had suddenly got very restless and noisy and then fell into my bunk off her downwards ladder. I really wanted to laugh in my sick humour kind of way, so I thought it best to go snortle in the shower.
I had walked up the hill to the most South Western lighthouse in Europe the night before, with intentions of watching the sunset. At first I wasn’t too keen, after all, the sun sets late in Europe plus it meant a 3km walk back in the dark- which is not my favourite thing, but I went along with Grace to be less of a party pooper. The walk itself was beautiful as the rugged coastline is surrounded by a very active sea and I enjoyed the trip up. The lighthouse area was mobbed and after my sight seeing was done I started to get fidgety. The final straw was having to pay 25cents for toilet paper and of course I had no change. Growling around all of a sudden there was screaming babies, smokers and hoards of people. Feeling like a husband outside the shops in a mall, I eventually excused myself and made my way downhill. Again the view consoled me and gave me a good chance to recollect the amazement of this trip.
About half way , this young Scots lad who I had met along the way last week, came cheerfully up carrying a 5 litre wine bottle. I was thrilled to see him and said a real good-bye to an amazing young lad. I was impressed with his great energy and way of dealing with people while walking this route on his own. He is studying to be a nurse and the profession suits him. I got back to the hostel and had a quick shower before the sunset people returned.
We took the bus back to Santiago this morning, in order for us to go our separate ways and the bus unexpectedly stopped at the train station. I leapt up, climbed into the belly of the bus to retrieve my rucksack and just like that, it was gone. My Camino companion gone. I stood still for a moment and some swear words popped in my mind. ( I wonder who I am channeling?) I am now on my own. A real tourist. Although I am still wearing my Camino tshirt and there are still many people with walking sticks, it is me now waiting for a train to Barcelona.
Here I go!
For the past 37 days, my identity has been one of Pilgrim or in Spain – Peregrina. It was a label that has it’s purposes and advantages, such as getting lost and locals immediately putting me right; getting discount at some hostels and being offered a ‘Pilgrim meal ‘ consisting of 3 courses for around €10.
It also has it’s disadvantages. The locals get frustrated with us yakking loudly at 6am when they are still trying to sleep, they sometimes ignore us in queues and we don’t seem to be offered the same kind of complementary tapas snacks as the locals when buying a drink in their cafes- no crisps; olives nor meaty bites.
Tomorrow I head back to the finish point city, where Pilgrims are still recognised by their tired gait, suspended immobile arms under the weight of the backpack, the compulsory shell dangling from aforementioned pack rattling around much to the annoyance to those nearby and the stick- the walking stick which I abandoned in the last town before climbing on the bus.
I am then transitioning into a ‘regular’ tourist and I head off to the city of Barcelona for a few days. This was not part of my original plan as I thought I would still be walking at this stage. But a Eurorail train ticket and my love for trains has created this different opportunity to visit the city. I will still be hosteling it, unfortunately being peak holiday season, regular hotel prices became extortionately priced when converted to our humble Rands. I have enjoyed this role of Pilgrim yet I am looking forward to being a ‘regular’ once more.
So in the lyrics of Freddie Mercury I leave you with the sound of ‘Barce loooona’. Adios
We came, we saw, we got the certificate.
The last stage of my Camino passed seemingly very quickly although I can clearly remember saying ‘this time next week we’ll be done ‘ and now we are.
The final stage saw us walking quickly and excitedly towards the city. We hardly stopped for a rest and almost had to force ourselves to drink a coffee. The approach to the city started about 10km out of town when signs started popping up and the airport lights were seen in a field. This made us walk quicker, only to find that the outskirts kept stretching. I asked Grace if we would ever smell the pungent, fermenting haystack mixed with cow dung again as the villages had less and less telltale signs. Finally after a long steep downhill from a monument that fooled us into thinking there was a bathroom available , the city started properly. Train tracks, traffic circles, trucks and cars driving round the wrong side of the road all appeared just to continue to confuse me. I began to feel giddy, much like the last 3kays of the Comrades because I know I have done it. We laughed and wondered at how life would feel without our ‘ job’ of walking. We got to the old part of town being guided by the Camino shells and signposts and we continued on the cobblestone streets towards the Cathedral which is the official end of the journey. Just before the last corner there was a lady bagpiper playing out welcoming tunes. I felt my heart swell as the realisation took hold.
It is done.
Well, almost. There was a lack of pomp or ceremony in front of the cathedral and finding the office to get our Compostela (certificate of completion) proved tricky and a little disappointing. But we found it and stood dutifully in line while the reality of no more compulsory movement needed sunk in. The ladies at the very busy counters were efficient and we were soon hustled out of the room to make space for other eager pilgrims. We walked back to the cathedral then decided to go find our hotel and get cleaned up.
We made it to the Mass where the priests swung the Botofiermo and the massive organ played a dramatic tune while the congregation ‘oohed’ as the burner flew higher and higher. I must admit that this somehow moved me and I felt emotional. With a puff of smoke it was all over, much like this Camino. The drama settled down into my body, I had a moment of wonder at my body. Just like after doing Comrades my body says ‘now what?’ I thanked it and for a brief moment I thought ‘what was I thinking?’ Now it is relax time, time for reflection and thinking, for travel and finally the journey home.
After all, that is the symbolism of life. We are all on different paths just trying to get home.
It is the night before my last bit of the Camino Frances walk and all that is left is a short 20km. The Camino officially stops in the city of Santiago where the remains of St James (allegedly) are said to be buried. In some of the reading I have done it was mentioned that the route used to end at the sea in a small town of Fisterra but this was more a Pagan practice which the Church changed. I am grateful for that change because I prefer not having another 100km to walk to reach the sea.
Much like the finish line nearing in a race, I am ecstatically happy at the thought that it is nearly done and I have made it. I have enjoyed it in many ways and I certainly have learned a lot more about myself than before it started. I know for sure that I don’t like getting water dripping down the back of my neck when it rains. I don’t like carrying a rucksack when I don’t have to but I prefer that to carrying something in my hands. I don’t like sharing my bedroom with 10 strangers talking in strange languages and snoring in the same tone. I am a bit picky at getting into wet showers and hate it when the toilet paper is finished. I am pretty good at reading Spanish hand signals and catching the gist of what is being expressed.
All small practical things and I am sure there are some big philosophical insights waiting to be unfolded. I know the journey or Camino never really ends and I don’t want it to. I am curious (nosy?) By nature and no doubt there will be more questions to come. One of the wisest things I have heard is that ‘I will never get it done ‘ and I am okay with that knowledge because the world is full of mystery and lessons and joy and fun. I am looking forward to all of it.
Onwards to Santiago we go… (Fisterra on the bus because, you know….)
The Camino is now well known in Spain. For a while it was forgotten, as the older religious Pilgrims fell away and many of the small towns or rather villages struggled to keep their livelihood going . About 18 years ago there was a sudden reawakening of interest. A few famous people wrote some books, movies and documentaries made and many people from around the world pitched up to complete the journey.
The Spanish government has now invested money into it and the European Union is giving some help and the villages are flourishing, the path is well maintained and there is a resurgence of pride amongst local Pilgrims. To get a certificate of completion one needs to complete the last 100km of the route. I overhead someone saying that people now put it on their CV , much like Comrades I expect.
In August, the route has its busiest time. Half the recorded Pilgrims are Spanish due to it being summer holidays. Today we met many of the new Pilgrims. How could we tell? They smelled clean, fresh and looked groomed. Their shoes were still new and their yoga mats uncrinkled. Plus they chatted a lot as they dawdled together in their original bunches in matching t-shirts until they reached the first hill. It was decidedly mean I must admit and I recognised the look of horror as I strode past without my rucksack and greeted with a cheery ‘beunas dias’. They panted back a mumble and we all moved slightly closer to the end.
This increase in foot traffic meant our initial two hours was busier than before and noisier. I watched my Camino mate stride off into the distance and I knew it would be crazy to try keep up. Our night before’s 4 bedded hostel room which initially, had seemed idyllic was close to becoming a scene from ‘Orange is the new black ‘ when Grace caught the dreadlocked ladies smooching up a storm. She didn’t have eye pads or earplugs like I did so she was grumpy, with reason, when we set out. For a moment we were wishing for the randy Germans back. Flies had pestered me most of the night too so the initial surge in this morning’s speed was good to get the aggression out of the system. After our first drinks break the route calmed down and at times it seemed like we were the only two walking. The trees are magnificent and I was seeing faces and shapes in all the gnarled branches and ivy.
We reached our overnight stop fairly early and managed to get a private room for the two of us. The weather heated up after we finished and I felt for those new Pilgrims working their new journey on foot.
Four days of walking left and I am looking forward to it.