Thursday, 30 August 2007

The Last Post

Photos first and then a looooong discourse (which is worth reading I might add.

Click here to open the portfolio from Arthur.

Click here to open the portfolio from Mark.

Hi Everyone,
The following is a distillation of a long list of topics which might be of interest to you. The topics covered include, why people walk the Camino, some the people who most influenced my Camino, a brief description of the route and our daily routine. I end with a few comments on the return to the "real" world. There is a lot to read and a lot more to say but we all have lives to live hence I have reduced it to a minimum, ie as in minimum for a long winded person such as I.

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to read the blog and make comments. It really did help to know that your were looking out for us.

Thanks also for your generous contributions to the Mercy Ships charity, £1300, and rising. Hopefully Mercy Ships will spend it on dental equipment and hence allow my pal Norton (his mother was a Hell’s Angel) to continue his charity dentisting in West Africa at the New Year.

Why Walk the Camino
When I came home I started reading a book I had planned to take with me but left it (along with another 750gm of books) due to weight restrictions. The book is entitled “Soulsong” by Thomas Forsthoefel and examines the lives of saints in different religions. The aim of the book is to expose the “song in the soul” which made them what they were and to provide parallels for our own lives.

The author proposes that the saints had asked basic human questions, eg “what it means to be human” and during the course of their lives had “walked into the answers”. This was a very apposite time to be reading this book. It has helped me to realise that, in the main, the people on the road to Santiago are asking some of the same questions and all hoping to literally “walk into the answers”.

I found that we were all, more or less, looking for answers to the same questions. Some answers come very quickly when listening to other people talk about their reasons for taking on this task, others appear out of nowhere and answer questions that were not even being asked and some are still out there waiting to be found. For some there is of course the danger that the answers may be too much to bear.

I am sure a lot of the “awakenings” are products of the stress on our bodies and mental resources, eg finding the inner capacity to cover the last 5km of the 40km day. However I am equally convinced that we needed to be open to the questions about our existence and how we impact on your fellow human being to allow the physical endeavour to play its part.

I am conscious that this may all sound a bit “new age” but it is far from it. The great majority of people we met where pretty straight forward individuals and we would all easily recognise them as the people who live beside us and with whom we work. What they are doing, by walking over 770km in 4-5 weeks, is giving themselves the chance to review their lives and find ways of making it better, for themselves, for those they love and for those with whom they come in contact.

Would I do it again? Possibly but I would have to change the way I did it. I have formulated a wee three week scenario which involves covering the 770km but only walking the first 100km and the last 200km. The Meseta, between Burgos and Leon, I could do without. It is an experience worth having but once only.

Would I recommend that you do it? No! It is too tough a gig to actually encourage people to do it. Happy to talk about it, advise about it, make recommendations about how it can be done but it is not something to be taken lightly. Mark and I had lots of planning, or we thought we had, but I have in front of me a 2 metre long map of the route and for the first time since we started planning this adventure, I have a realistic idea of just how long 770km is. It is a long way.

Was it worth it? Yes, and very much so. I had a great experience, met lots of wonderful people (both fellow pilgrims and those who provide the services that support our passing), saw some outstanding country and visited churches, cathedrals and castles that told me I was walking through history.

As to new approaches to my daily life, only time and those around me will be able to tell if it has been worth it. I think it has been but then I have to, don’t I.

I could be here all day listing all the kind people who helped make the road to Santiago so worthwhile but I will restrict myself to mentioning only four.

First and foremost is Mark without whom I would probably never have gone in the first place and who helped make the trip memorable for all sorts of happy reasons. It was a gas, dude.

Next is Colin Brow at the University of Paisley. Colin's physiotherapy skills made sure that I was in a fit state to at least tackle the walk. Without Colin getting my knee, foot and latterly my acute back problem sorted, I would not have been able to start the walk. Sorry to say it Colin but I am bringing back more work for you.

Next is Daniel Bullet from Tarbes. I think I spent less than 48 hours in Daniel’s company but by observing his serene approach to the Camino he passed on lessons that sustained me for the rest of the trip.

Last but not least is Greg Byrne. Greg, Mark and I spent the best part of two weeks walking together and it is fair to say that we did not stop talking and laughing for the whole two weeks. Possibly not a lot of inner reflection going on during that period but Greg’s company made life so much better especially when I was grumping about my useless leg (and boy, can I grump).

To all others, especially our two Italian counts, I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for your company, your support and your kindnesses along the way.

One last point which only struck me in the last days of the trip.

You may remember the wee “queuing incident” that took place when we went for our "free breakfast" at the Parador and the reaction to Senor 11. In reflecting on this incident later, I realised that the “us” of whom I felt such a part were by and large composed of the same type of people. We were all educated, articulate and although of different religions and none we were already part of an existing tribe, ie the middle class.

We all had (or once had) similar professions, eg teachers, technical professionals, lecturers, lawyers, business executives. There were a fair number of newly graduated students but again the classification was easily marked middle class.

We were not rich (with the possible exception of Oscar) but we were by no means on our uppers or worried about getting a meal at the end of the day. Many people were on tighter budgets, eg they bought and cooked their evening meal, but I never came across anyone, other than the two Camino tramps, who was actually worried about paying £4.50 for a place to sleep or pay £5 for a three course peregrino menu meal.

Aside: Ask Mark about how much he loved the peregrine menu meal.

I once flippantly said to Greg, as we were sipping beer at 2.30 in the afternoon at Molenaseca, “Tough old life eh! Wonder what the poor people are doing?” Well after the Parador incident I did wonder what the poor people were doing and how they resolved their life issues.

For example, how do the “poor people” deal with “what it means to be human”? They certainly aren’t “walking into the answers” on the Camino because they can’t afford to. Where does the money come from to buy all the support gear, get to the start of the Camino (air/train/bus) plus sustain life and limb for 4 or 5 weeks. I don’t see the Social coming up with that type of money to help a housing benefit claimant “find themselves”.

Has the Camino now become a middle class preserve? A question for the Confraternity of St. James to ponder perhaps.

The Route
The route begins with the trek over the mountain from France into Spain. It is pretty demanding and would possibly be better done in two stages. Either way you are rewarded by views of the Pyrennes that are stunning. Most of the upward section is on or alongside a country road. Seems bad but it is OK. The downward section to Roncevalles is through wooded lanes which are very typical of those we see at home. This woodland terrain goes all the way to the outskirts of Pamplona (with notable exceptions for about 10km just after Zubiri).

Pamplona is the first big town and would be worth at least a day spent being the tourist. I had been there a few times whilst working on a European project with Ewan MacArthur, Chris Irgens and Lesley Walls so I did not dally for long, just enough time to send home some belongings to reduce the pack weight. Boy did that feel good.

The section between Pamplona and Burgos is mostly farmland with valley after valley after valley of wheat fields. It is simply huge. I had read that Spain had been the breadbasket for Rome and after walking through this area I can well believe that to be the case. We are not about to run out of Weetabix in the near future.

Between Pamplona and Burgos there is one large town, Logrono with a superb cathedral (and three other churches of similar note), and a number of small towns such as Puente la Reina, Estelle and Santa Domingo de Calzada which are worth seeing. The small towns are similar in structure with narrow streets, lovely houses, big churches. You get the impression that time has stood still for a long time but the shops, though small, are modern enough to give a lie to that impression. However the economy of these towns depends a lot on the pennies spent by the pereginos.

At least the town of Santa Domingo made a few pennies out of Mark and I that night as we teamed up again. Pizzas and beer and then some more. Very Spanish? Possibly not but we were celebrating and even by that time (one week in) Mark had had about enough of the peregrino menus to last him a lifetime.

Burgos is a big place, full of ancient and medieval structures, abounding in monuments and churches. The cathedral is immense, amazing and houses the last resting place of "El Cid", brigand, mercenary and all round bad guy. If you had the money, you had "El Cid". Spent one hour there and could easily have spent a week.

The route between Burgos and Leon is an acquired taste. I did not acquire a taste for it nor will I ever. Flat, very hot, arid and empty. This area lies in the northern part of the Meseta, a huge plateau which forms the central plain of Spain.

Aside: Other than the major cities, the Camino is by and large routed through fairly remote countryside for most of its length and many of the albergues are located in small villages. This is particularly true of this part of the Meseta. There are bus services between many of the villages but usually only once a week and then only once on the appointed day.

It was on this stretch that I met bed bugs and mosquitoes. The bed bugs were a nuisance and a one-off, the mosquitoes were, for me, a biblical plague. From me alone they must have established a blood bank which should last a decade. Three weeks later and I still have the bite marks which show no signs of fading.

I met people who loved the barren landscape, said it gave them a sense of just how vast this land was. That is exactly what bothered me as in “God will this never end?” It did end at Leon and a welcome sight its towering cathedral spires were to Mark, Greg and I.

Leon is my favourite city on the Camino. Everything the tourist wants, massive cathedral with amazing stained glass windows that bath you in light; narrow streets joining a network of small squares full of people and restaurants, wide boulevards, all with history written into each stone. Call me romantic but I loved it.

From Leon onwards the landscape progressively took on features which we would recognise at home, woodlands and mountains. I felt very comfortable with this terrain and enjoyed walking in it, and on some days, walking up it because there are some big hills in this stretch, eg the stretch up to O Cebreiro.

I got to the top of O Cebreiro with a wee bit of puffing and panting. I got to the bottom the following day (at Tricastela) with a big bit of swollen leg. I was not a happy person, even seeing a fellow peregrino retiree in “stooky” didn’t help. Having done the best part of 400mls, to be injured within the last 80 was somewhat of a downer. However according to Mark and Greg, kind souls that they are, I had seen and walked the best part of the last section. So chin up with leg dragging I made for Santiago de Compostela on the bus.

I gave some of my impressions about Santiago in the main blog so will not over-elaborate on them here. Enough to say that it is lovely in the early morning and late evening. Sitting in the cathedral just after it opens at 7.00am, maybe with no more than half a dozen other people there, is a time to savour for ever. You get the chance to think or not to as you wish, being there is enough. However during the day the area around the cathedral is a circus and I hated it.

I found the external structure a bit of a confection and equally so the main alter. However the “Portico de la Gloria” is a masterpiece of stone sculpture as are some of carvings within the side chapels.

I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about the Cathedral. It is so obviously constructed for and dedicated to a specific person that I wondered at the “cult” overtones. That kind of tweaked at my more traditional understanding (I am 60 after all) of the place of saints in the ecclesiastical hierarchies. For example St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, is represented in St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Glasgow but he is not even close to being the focus of the cathedral. In Santiago, there is no doubt about who is the focus. I have never been to St. Peter’s in Rome so maybe it is the same there but I doubt it.

There is one thing for sure though. The shrine in Santiago draws many pilgrims and visitors each year and with their faith (or lack thereof) they bring their pennies.

The Daily Routine
Get up at 6am, get dressed, pack the sleeping bag, brush the teeth, fill up with water (as much as you can carry and never less than 2lts), pack the rucksack, check for wallet, phone, glasses and passport and get out the door. Simple eh! Takes 30mins max with little or no chatting (it is 6am) and no one getting upset. Team work at its best and that is in rooms varying from 125 persons to 6, but more often than not 12. Getting organised in the morning is now referred to as doing “The Peregrino Waltz”.

After that we generally put in an hour or so on the road and stop for breakfast, coffee and sandwich or cake. I hated not getting breakfast straight away so tried to arrange as early a stop as possible and if that was before we started walking so much the better. Fifteen minutes was all it would take and I was all the better for it.

After that it was walk, rest a wee bit (have some trail mix or nuts or fruit) and walk until the day was done, usually around 1.30pm at which point the heat was so intense as to be unbearable. Even after 3 weeks, trying to walk in 35C was not a pleasant experience.

We drank water all the time, filling up at fountains along the way or buying it from machines. In the first week I was always thirsty, drinking water and orange juice like it was going out of fashion. I was drinking so much fluid I really thought something was wrong with me.

After booking in at an alberque (we would recognise them as youth hostels), we would wash ourselves, our clothes, eat a bit of food (bread and a tin of tuna/sardines etc [must remember to finish that last tin of octopus]) and sleep for a couple of hours. Late afternoon was spent talking with our fellow peregrinos about their day, the next day and anything else that appeared out of the mish-mash of conversation.

Evening involved the (easy) search for a peregrino menu, eating, chatting and the occasional half pint shandy.

Bed at 10pm and if you are lucky you get to sleep before the Olympic class snorers kick in. I thought I was good but there are some real champions out there.

Three major points:
• If you can avoid it don’t do this during the summer, the heat is just too much.
• Reduce the weight to an absolute minimum.
• Learn the language properly. This is really important and will make a major difference to your confidence in dealing with every day communications and help reduce the stress that inevitably accompanies such communications. It will also help you to get to grips with the culture of the areas through which you pass.

Aside: In Sarria, I went into a shop to ask for directions to the nearest internet café. I prepared the sentence, made sure the grammar was correct and repeated it to myself three times before going in. The two ladies to whom I spoke, looked at me, looked at each other and then burst out laughing. Spanish with a Glasgow accent must be a hoot in Sarria. They did however pay me the compliment of giving me directions in Spanish (which I understood too). So not only must you learn the language, you must also learn to speak it properly.

Back to the Real World
First thing I noticed was on the plane. A guy, in the queue waiting for the toilet, was checking out his shoes, jeans and shirt to make sure of what I don’t know but he was doing an overall check, a wee tug to straighten that seam, shirt collar ok, etc. I thought “fashion conscious eh..” and then realised that there is no such thing on the Camino. The very thought of being colour coordinated or seamed straightened is just too ridiculous for words. Which is just as well since most of the time I looked like something the cat had dragged in and that included sitting on the plane with Mr. Straightseams. I wasn’t bothered by it I just thought that it was kind of funny that I had forgotten that such things actually mattered in the real world.

Aside: As we were going out to eat one night, Mark appeared in a particularly retina searing ensemble which was described by Greg as the height of “Camino Chic”.

Second there is the noise and adverts everywhere and somehow the noise and adverts seemed to go together. Santiago was not too bad but Stanstead was too powerful. Possibly because of our lack of Spanish, the adverts we saw during our sojourn were nothing other than pictures. We saw TV as we passed through a bar but we tuned out because it had no meaning. In essence we had no TV/radio/adverts for 30 days or so. In retrospect it was a blessing. Since coming home I have switched on the TV for the news and having heard the terrible headlines, promptly switched off.

Aside: We did once hear noises emitting from a 6.00pm Spanish soap opera that I am sure my maiden aunt would have disapproved of strongly. However the scene had changed by the time we got to the TV. Purely in pursuit of cultural research you understand.

Since returning home I have been taking it very easy and avoiding the real world as much as possible. Had lunch at the 1901 with Margaret, been out with my old pal Brian for a small snifter, my cousins Martin and Tom for a meal and 2 days in bed with readjustment tummy problems which have helped me to shed another 4lbs in weight. That is me down a total of 12lbs. Physiotherapy appointment made for the bad leg and that will be me sorted.

Spending the rest of week at home readjusting and hopefully cutting the back lawn in which, by now, lurk forms of wildlife previously confined to the Masai Mara Game Reserve.

To paraphrase James Taylor: Yes, it is nice to be home again (and I intend to be here for a long time).

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

On Leaving Santiago

Hi all,
Well the "Black Cat" is no more. There is a "Black Cat" image on the wall but the doors are long since locked. However the ever resourceful duo of Italian counts, Massimo and Francisco, found a superb tapas bar and introduced us to the delights of tapas, eight off. None of your Glasgow kiddy-on stuff, the real deal.

Left there and moved towards the square in front of the Cathedral where we had arranged to meet a few of the others. Progress towards our destination was constantly halted as the two charmers enocuntered many of the peolple thay had met on the Camino and each meeting consisted of lots of hugs for them and excited banter. It was great to watch how much joy they brought to each of the meetings. No wonder they are the idols of the Camino, especially for the ladies.

Finally we made it to the main square and found that more and more of our fellow travellers had arrived ahead of schedule. Last night we met the wonderful Roman lawyer Oscar who was disappointed at not being able to book into the $300 per night Parador. Tough at the top.

Nicole from Hamburg plus Vita and Kathleen from Belgium (who had walked from Belgium) had also arrived and a great time was had by all. We bought some wine and had the really good fortune to be entertained by a Gallician folk band (20 thereof) for about three hours. Greg and I even sang, he in Gaelic to great applause, and around 1 o´clock the oldies left the troops to their fate. We discovered that the guys had found the only bar open in Santiago and danced away until about 2.30. I don´t even remember those days.

This morning we decided to avail ourselves of the free breakfast offered to the first 10 peregrinos who turn up at the Parador for 9.00am. Six of "us" duly arrived at 8.00am and were joined in dribs and drabs by 5 others. That makes 11, only 10 are allowed. Senor 11 (as well as one of the others) is a permanent peregrino, moving from one Camino to another as a way of life and places like the Parador are a source of free food. Consequently he was not for moving on and that set the stage for a bit of queue jumping which was thankfully avoided when two of the prospective breakfast guest had to leave because they could not produce the Compostela, which is necessary for entrance to the feast. Hence the crowd had reduced to 9 and all were admitted.

The management did nothing to resolve the situation but then the management at this point is the car park attendent who no doubt has other priorities than sorting out queuing rights for peregrinios. The feast was a cup of coffee and some bread, hardly worth the wait but that was not really the point of the visit, at least for "us".

Also the manner in which we were all treated, courteous enough but basically as tokens to a long forgotten ideal, highlighted once again that the only people to whom we the peregrinos are special, is to ourselves. I am sure the shrinks would do a number on this tribal bonding but it somehow begs the question of just how enlightened we become on this or any other Camino. Mark you, it is not the first time I have heard it said by those who have done this before, that the Camino only really takes effect after the walking stops. I hope so.

Said goodbye to Massimo and Fransico who are off to walk the four days to Fisterre. Good luck guys and thank you for your company and support. Look forward to receiving the photos.

On a lighter note, I have done the tourist bit and bought the presents, all bar the chocolates and my Camino Tshirt.

Greg has to be out tomorrow morning at 4.00am to start is journey back to Owen Sound in Toronto, I at 8.30am for Prestwick. Doesn´t sound as exciting but for me it can´t come quick enough.

I will produce an epilouge sometime later in the week but in the meantime I want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement over the past four weeks. It meant a lot to us, especially during the down times.


Monday, 20 August 2007

The final lap

Hi all,
Thanks for all the supportive messages, they help a lot. Will continue the story in the new, short but sweet sections.

Santiago (1): Took the bus in from Triacastela and had my old pal James Taylor on the cans to help bring up the down mood. That man always does the business. This was followed by the Stones doing "Brown Sugar" and a truly wonderful version of "You Can´t Always Get What you Want"(chior included)

Arrived to meet Mark and Pauline and had a wonderful lunch and I suppose I did ramble on a bit.

Did try to get an alberque in Santiago but they were all full and in reality I wanted to get to the sea as quickly as possible. Hopped a bus for Fisterre and arrived woebegone (knackered) nearly four hours later. It is supposed to take 2hrs 30mins. Fortunately I had phoned ahead to book a mattress (all the beds were gone).

Again the concept of a mattress neeeds a little updating in this part of the world. It turned out to be 9mm of foam to which I added the 9mm of foam I was carrying with me and a couple of blankets to cushion the floor. This was almost exactly the same type of bed I had so long ago in Torres del Rio only this time there were no bloody church bells. Had a cup of tea, hit the floor and slept like a baby, ie cried for my mammy. Next morning got a room in a boarding house and crashed for a few hours.

Fisterre: A relatively small town entirely devoted to two things, fish and tourists. The fish they catch and sell and the tourists they treat well, at least I was and grateful for it too.

Aside: Must remember to return the key to room 34 in Hostel Lopez when I get home.

Sky was a bit overcast so I wandered out in the shorts (not a pretty sight) and took in what little there is to see. Visited a really interesting church dedicated to the fishermen and considered going to the "end of the earth". It was 2.5km away and I thought, "No, too far for the leg". So I wandered around a bit more and found I was a bit nearer the "end of the earth". This went on for about an hour and I finally found myself, guess where, yup at "the end of the earth". Possibly the Camino makes people move in mysterious ways too.

On my arrival I was a bit disappointed and not as excited as I thought I would be. Probably still tired. However the place is a tourist trap, stalls selling everything for the discerning mug and simply mobbed with people and their cars.

I managed, as did a few others, to walk through the throng and on down to a part of the rock beyond humankind and into a bit of solitude. It was very gentle and peaceful and a time for contemplation. One of my ambitions had been to walk to the end of the earth and in a very limited way I had done that.

After a bit I noticed a woman sitting along a bit and discovered that she and I had met very briefly at Logroño, a long ways back. She is Canadian and out there looking. We had a great chat about, life, love, the universe and the number 42.

Very powerful personality but she seems not to know it. For example when I enquired when she was returning home she let it be known that she was off to Lisbon the following night and then onto Morocco to do some charity work before going back to Canada. Dumbstruck is not the word. There are people out here who are just too big for words.

Aside: She did go to Lisbon on the 10.00pm from Santiago.

The following day it was back to Santiago to see the cathedral for real and also in the hopes of meeting up with Greg and the guys coming in on Monday morning.

Aside: Oh and the bit about the sky being overcast, well by the time I had stealthily made my way to the lighthouse it was not overcast and I had shorts and I had not the factor 50. I do though have the most brilliantly sunburned legs you have seen for some time.

Aside: Apparently in Celtic mythology Heaven lies beyond this point. However we now know that it is the US.

Santiago (2): On the way to Fisterre I had bought a wee book about the cathedral in order to prepare for the visit. I did not want a repeat of Burgos and Leon where I knew nothing about the reasons why the building had been designed in the manner in which it had been. Turned up suitably informed and ran into the most horrible throng of tourists imaginable.

All fours squares surrounding the cathedral had stalls, jesters, a bloody jazz guitarist with amps full on and a dosser dressed in the ancient peregrino costume organising people for a ride on a bloody toy train which cirles the cathedral.

I did my best to read my book and view the cathedral structure, making note of things to look at more closely the next day (today, Monday) and mainly enjoying it despite the disturbances (especially that bloody guitarist) and it got worse.

It was just on six o´clock and Mass was starting. I went in and took my place in the pew to attend the service. Lots of other peolle did the same thing and though it was all in Spanish I was able to follow the service as it progressed. However there were people walking all over the place, taking flash photos and video recording. Mums and Dads and weans were posing to get their picture taken and that was even happening during the sermon. It was a bloody circus and a complete outrage.

When we all set out on this journey, there is a sense of the spiritual no matter how little and if there is not I defy anyone to say that it did not become so along the journey. Tens of thousands of us give a lot of time and effort to upholding the idea of the pilgrim, helping each other as best we can, giving each other space, holding onto our hopes for ourselves and trying to face the fears we come across as we move through the journey. We do everything we can to achieve the goal of arriving in Santiago and possibly, as many of the books state, find some sense of fullfillmet at the end of the journey. Well, mince, mince and more mince.

All of our efforts are betrayed by the crass commercialism at the final point on the walk. It is an absolute disgrace and, not joke intended, something should be done about.

Santiago (3):
Retreated to a lovely albergue, a bit new age and had a quite pleasent evening chatting with fellow travellers. Came into town this morning and met with Greg, Massimo and Fransico who were clutching their Compostelas and spreading smiles like confetti.

Booked into a hostal and attended the midday mass which is dedicated to all pilgrims who have arrived that day. A much more sober and closely managed service and all the better for it. So now off to see a bit more of the cathedral and celebrate our reunion at "The Black Cat". Should be a good night.

Will give details of the events when possible.


Sunday, 19 August 2007

Mark's Epilogue

This is almost certainly my last post. The last one was going to be the end but now it is this one.

What can I say? Met Pauline at the airport and just about managed not to humiliate the two of us in the arrivals lounge. It was great to have her come out and be with me at the end.

We met up with Arthur for lunch, but I will let him tell that story.

During lunch Arthur talked almost constantly. He talked of stories, people and locations. He talked of feelings and emotions. He talked of decisions made and promises to himself that he now had to live up to. Pauline and myself just basked in the joyous radiance coming off this man. It was great to see him like this, particularly after the events of only two or three days before. Pauline loved this, as did I.

However, what she is not enjoying, and now that I am home I think everyone else is the same, is that I am not talking. This evening I had dinner with my Mother and she eventually had to ask 'Well...what about the Camino?' My response was one sentence involving around 15 words. That was it!

I don't know why I have left my brain on the Camino but that is where it seems to be.

Friday night, Pauline and I had dinner, and eventually went on for a couple of pints, with Marita and another Peregrino called Simon. I held up my side of the conversation with stories, experiences and questions. No problems there. Put me in a similar situation with non-peregrinos and I don't want to talk about it. What is going on? And I am asking. If anyone out there could give me an answer to this I would appreciate it greatly.

I can see it in Pauline's face. She doesn't know what has come back from Spain. Or is wondering if I forgot to pack a bit of me.

Maybe, I'm just tired. I have had one good nights sleep in the last two weeks and to put this right here I am writing this blog at 23:30. Clever guy me.

One other thing that came out of the lunch with Arthur is that I now have another person who understands what I did in West Highland Way Race 2006. For those that don't understand the reference watch:

Since this, I have been told by many people that I was stupid or just an idiot or, as Marita thinks, that I have a martyr complex.

Arthur now understands why I went on because he wanted to do the same. He understands what it is to want to complete something so much that the pain has to be pretty bad to make you stop. The funny thing is so does Marita. Even as she is telling me off for being so stupid, she is walking on with a buggered foot and three toes that have no feeling in them.

I haven't read a newspaper in over three weeks. I have absolutely no idea what has been happening in the world. For large periods I didn't even know what day it was. And now I am back to the everyday stuff that can act as fog, or smog, on our brains.

The last three weeks have been an interesting experience. I think the next three are going to be the same.

Hamilton out.

Getting close to the end

Hi everyone,
Since the Camino is drawing to an end I think it appropriate to speed up the process and give only a few details of the travels.

Molinaseca: wonderful wee town, has a genuine roman bridge, lovely narrow streets, lots of life, good food and a great wee bodega in which Greg and I were not only served the best wine we had tasted all trip but the lady of the bodega provided a plate of fried tatties and green peppers. Now how is that for knowing your customers are fellow Celts.

Villofranca: Decided to stay at the "Ave Fenix" albergue. There is an amazing story about how the "New Pheonix" came to be so named but that is another story. However the most amazing thing of all was that I met Lynsey who used to work in Student Services. After she left she completed her studies as a Chiropodist and spends two weeks each year at "Ave Fenix" albergue tending to the feet of the footsore and weary. It was a great and delightful surprise to hear a Scottish accent, the first we had heard since leaving home(other thaqn our own and we don´t hear them anyway).

Lynsey did my blisters, mosquitos bites and scraps on my back from the rucksack. Felt superb afterwards. The blisters never returned but the mosquito bites are still louping.

O Cebreiro: set off the following morning for the big push up to the top of the world, 30km for the easy route, 34 for the not so easy route. Guess which one we took. It was a long and very hard day with a 1500ft increase in altitude over 5 miles and it is very hard going.

Aside: My guess is that that was the one that put paid to me.

The views are truly Alpine and worth the effort. Had a great evening with the group of Dutch people.

Triacastla: Up and over the big hill (1250m, and superb views) and steeply down into Triacastela. Took the boots off and the tibial tendon and associated tissues were well and truly swollen.

Decided to wait until the following day to see if things improved, they just got worse. Thought I would take the bus to Sarria but it was 15th August (all time BIG holiday in Spain) and in that part of the world nothing, but nothing moves. Eventually took a taxi.

Spent the day resting in Sarria. Spoke with Scott Graham at work and talked through the possiblities. I spent some time going over the various options but since I need both legs to work for the foreseeable future I took the decision to stop walking.

I revised that decision the following morning (felt a lot better) and set out walking to the next town. Not a smart move, lasted 5km and had to get another bloody taxi to take me to Portoomarin. Saw the doctor, she strapped me up and said "FINALE" in a big loud voice. Strong men don´t weep so I am told but hey, this was a hard one to deal with. Just under 700km done, 70km to go and the walking has to stop. Strangely the hard time was when all the others set off the following morning. That, as they say, was the pits.

Will follow this up tomorrow.

Still in good spirits though here in Santiago, just back from Finisterre where I got to the end of the earth.


Spanish Power Cuts

Just to let you know that I had just finished the next installment and the bloody power went off and I lost the lot. The problem is nothing new nad it is my fault since I forgot to save it asd I went along. Will try to update later tonight.


Friday, 17 August 2007


Yep. We did it. My Viking Vixen and me arrived in Santiago de Compostela at around 8:00pm wednesday.

It had been some day. From the moment that we left Azurua it poured with rain. Nothing for us Northern Europeans though. The Spanish and the Italians were putting on clothes like the next Ice Age was on the way. Meanwhile, Marita was wearing her evening dress (long story) and I was making a pain of myself by singing every song I could think of with rain, or sun, in the title.

We stopped for the best Peregrino menu we have had (top quality food why can´t the others do this?) then very slowly started to walk the last 11km to Santiago.

It was a strange, emotional time. There was a lot of silence and a lot of rememberences of the Camino. People, places and events. Marita particularly likes the time that a hostel owner took us for a English couple and kept on calling us ´Los Inglesos´. I, being Scottish, made a point shouting back that I wasn´t english everytime they said it. Marita just laughed.

Anyway, that and many others were once again discussed on the walk.

Then we came to Monte De Gozo. For those that don´t know, tradition says that you stop for the night there and make your way in to Santiago the next morning. I didn´t want to do that. The reason being that since Sarria, the camino had become a flood of ´Part-time´peregrinos. These are the people that do the minimum distance to do their compostela. Try as we might to love our fellow pilgrims they just bloody annoyed us. Especially the cyclists. Marita hates the cyclists.

So, I wanted to head in but there was something about Marita´s mood and quiteness that made me think that she was having second thoughts. She had already said that she was feeling sad that the camino was coming to end. We must have sat for around an hour in the warm evening sunshine (letting our clothes dry) just relaxing and looking down on Santiago. At around 7:15pm we decided that tonight was the night and set off through the massive alberque (sleeps 800 people) towards our final goal.

An hour later there we stood in front of the impressive Cathedral. There was no band playing. No-one to put medals around our necks. We only had each other to say well done to and hug. Anti-Climax? You better believe it.

Not only that we still had to eat, get our compostela and find a place to stay!

Santiago, the centre of it anyway, is a lovely, narrow streeted, cobblestoned maze of a place. Even with the souvenir stores etc. you can still, just about, hear the marching feet of the millions of peregrinos that have gone before. Of course, when walking the streets we meet many of the present pilgrims that we have met and shared experiences with along the Camino. We hug, congratulate each other, catch up on stories and enquire after others that we have left somewhere down the line. This is our fanfare. We peregrinos pat each other on the back. As I said to Marita last night, Shakespeare named it right ´We Band of Brothers´, for whomever has shared their sweat, skin, blood, taste buds, sense of smell, sore feet and damaged joints on the camino IS my Brother!

Anyway, I am at the airport waiting for Pauline to fly in. Can´t wait to see her after our longest separation ever, but I am still upset as I had to say goodbye to Marita this morning. NOT a good thing to do. We have shared the camino, time, histories and thoughts for a large part of this thing. She is an incredible lady and one that I am honoured and proud to have as my friend. I hope that that can continue. Does this sound a bit emotional? Tell you what, you do the same thing with someone and see how you feel at the end.

Don´t know if Arthur has posted that he has hurt his leg and is unable to complete the camino. I am gutted for him. Once I get Pauline off the plane I have arranged to meet him in Santiago for lunch at the very least. Think his going to head down to Finesttre.

So that is it. Finis. Done. Over. If you are looking for my thoughts and insights on the camino...too bad. I am afraid they are private and personal largely. If you want to know what happens On the Road to Santiago, go to St. Jean Pied du Port and put on your walking boots.

Later Dudes.