Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Voyage Home

Because we (wisely) chose not to walk all the way to Finisterre, we had a couple of days to burn as well as an already planned 2 day layover in Paris - so our journey home was a vacation in and of itself.

We left Santiago on Tuesday morning by Bus for the town of Porto, Portugal. We had a rental in a private apartment that was very reasonably priced compared to the unexpectedly expensive tourist town of Porto. We called our host Miguel by Janine's phone and then passed the phone to cabbie so he could explain the strange drop-off point - which the cabbie promptly got wrong. But we made it anyway and Miguel gave us a good lay of the land after marching us to the second (third in U.S.) floor of a riverside apartment building (always the second floor it seems). We promptly began exploring the myriad of churches and tiled decorated buildings of the town from where Port gets its name.

One of the more interesting excursions was the Libreria Lello - a hundred year old bookstore that may (likely) have inspired the Hogwarts library (J.K. Rowling evidently taught English in Porto).

We watched the sun set from above the city as we chatted with two twenty-somethings (one Portuguese and the other Spanish) about their next travel destinations.

While Janine and I ate our fair share of Tostada y Marmalada on the Camino, whenever we found a proper Patisserie I was rarely disappointed in the quality or the value. We lucked into another such venue in Porto. After indulging in cafes and pastries, Janine and I took different paths - her to explore the gilded world of the Church of Saint Francis and I to simply wander the streets and see what trouble I might find - very little other than getting an opinion on the best local Port cellars - which is where we headed next.

The Ferreiro Cellar was one of the oldest of the dozen or so Port cellars on the other bank of Porto (technically the city of Gaia). We learned a tad about the process and got a taste of the white and the tawny. The ruby we would taste by chance on our walk home - at a pop-up vendor outside the cathedral at the top of the two-tier bridge that spans the river Douro.

The Francesinha sandwich is probably the most memorable food from the Portugal trip - a kind of meat laden grilled cheese ladled with a tomato sauce. They also eat a lot of fava beans which were delicious with bacon (as is everything).

Another long bus ride back to Santiago was required to catch our flight to Paris. We made use of the evening to see the cathedral one more time and strangely enough the Botafumiero swung again - We are 3-0 in this regard.

The Paris layover was simply required because of Santiago flights. We have both been several times but I was excited to get in for a day and walk through all of the amazing gardens. Janine spent a few hours at a Louvre exhibit related to Christian Dior. We are staying at a hotel by the airport which will work out pretty well for our morning flight.

I look forward to coming home - albeit the word home is a bit fluid right now.

Monday, August 7, 2017

El Fin

note 0.0 km - ignore my hairline

A dreary morning of clouds and mist greeted us as we left our little room in Casa Luz in Lires. Only 14km (we thought) to our final, final destination of Fisterra (a.k.a. Finisterre a.k.a. The End of the Earth). The hiking was pleasant enough and we had our standard breakfast of cafe con leche y tostada to fuel us until lunch. We went through a handful of villages and performed the ritual of talking to the little old lady wanting to give directions.

Fisterra, like Muxia, is a peninsula. Its tip is in the south while Muxia's is in the north. They both have harbors on the east side and people go to the point or the west to watch sunset. One of Fisterra's claims to fame is its lighthouse - unfortunately located an additional 3km from the center of town. So we girded our loins for an extra 6km of walking that we had not planned on (Janine's knee is on fumes). But it was a beautiful walk to the 138 meter above sea level point and we found a wonderful table in the shade for the second best meal on the Camino (fresh bread, perfect avocado, seasonal pear and nectarine, regional cheese, and local chocolate and wine).

On our way back from our Lighthouse excursion to catch our bus to Santiago we ran across two pilgrims that we had left behind about 10 stages ago - one had been injured and was hoping to convince her hiking partner to go a little slower. She evidently recovered quickly and arrived in Santiago two days after us.

I'll likely do a little reflection in another post as well as check in from Portugal and Paris but this is my last official blog of my 2017 Camino. I'm done.

post script. Janine was really hurting on the walk to hotel upon our return to Santiago. I'm thankful we are not in the wilderness doing a 33km day towards the sea. St Rete is looking out for us.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Staring At the Sea

Muxia was a lovely small town on a peninsula with boats moored on the east side and beautiful sunsets on the west. A small chapel dominated it's craggy end point. This may have been the sight where St. James had a vision of the Virgin Mary. We managed to find a small restaurant and had some delicious seafood including razor clams which were new to both of us. Otherwise, the town seemed pretty dead for a Saturday night (Appropriate for the Death Coast - lots of shipwrecks here). We watched the sun set at 9:53 and promptly went back to our room for bed.

We broke our normal routine this morning and ate breakfast at our starting point instead of walking for an hour or so first. This was critical as there were no services and just a few very small villages between Muxia and our stopping point of Lires. Despite "going backwards" from most on the trail, we only met about 40 hikers today - most of whom are problem pilgrims, some who likely hiked all the way (4 days) from Santiago. But our numbers are dwindling.

Lires is on a river about a kilometer inland from the sea and has one bar, two restaurants, and about 6 places to stay. It will be interesting to see how many turn out for dinner tonight - supposedly the bar/restaurant at the top of the hill is where most people go to watch the sun set over the ocean.

It was a nice day a leisurely pace, a fair amount of walking, a lot of reading, and hand-washed laundry. The latter reminded me that one of my sock liners may never be worn again this trip - tomorrow is our last true day of the Camino - unless something changes.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Change of Plans

I mentioned yesterday we had new plans. Canadian Sean, who recommended the awesome Casa Marcela (see yesterday's post), arrived in Campostela a few days before us - by doing what seems like an impossible 60km day followed by a 50km day. He did this so he could do part of the Finisterre route. Usually this road is an additional three or four days of walking to the sea - Sean probably could have done this in one long day. Instead he was given the advice to walk from Muxia (another seaside destination) to Finisterre. This path is a slightly long up-and-down one day walk or two short one day walks - surprisingly our over-achieving friend split it into two days. The reasoning behind doing this route is that the walk to the sea is "more hiking" whereas the seaside trail is an "enjoyable decompression". Hearing this from more than one person, we decided to heed this timely advice.

sunset in Muxia

The question now: what to do with our extra 2 days? My immediate solution: Bus down to Portugal. I had already mapped it out as it was another potential "bail the Camino" scenarios. We currently sit on a slow bus to Muxia and hope to see a glorious sunset tonight over the Atlantic Ocean. Upon our return to Santiago, we will catch a fast bus down to Porto Portugal, a town recommended by Tripadvisor and at least one Portuguese hiker I spoke with. Two nights there and then our multiple day trip home (2 day layover in Paris). We are anxious to see Jackomo who has been in boot camp - we've been getting videos from his trainer and he seems to be doing well and having fun with all the new mental exercise.

The only other news today was a really nice chat with a nun from Ireland. She was running the chapel attached to the Pilgrim's office and offered to debrief us on our Camino experience. Jennifer was a lovely woman who was wonderful at sharing her faith and respecting the varied spirituality of others. She shared a beautiful story of the child Saint from her hometown of Cork. Supposedly Little Nelly of Holy God was allowed to receive the Sacraments before her untimely death at age 5 because of her deep understanding of the faith and her holy outlook and demeanor.

Quote for Reflection from Jennifer:
Ephesians 3:17-19

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The finish line?

Walking in the dark for the first time this morning - gray skies, in a forest, official sun rise not for another 30 minutes. Many of our compatriots started with headlamps every day. We saved this fun for last. And only so that we could get our destination, the cathedral of Santiago, by 11 am. We had high hopes that the noon mass would include the swinging incense burner known as the Botafumiero.

It drizzled on us most of the morning, very similar to our first day on the Camino - a wet pair of bookends for our journey. We wondered if we would see many others from the trail in the church or in the square. The answer was almost everyone: The seminarians, Padre Keith, John and Kathy, the two girls from Villafranca, British Steve, Canadian Sean, John the Interpeter, Mark and Joanne (whom I had kinda forgotten from pre-Burgos days), and even Marie made an appearance after having already gone to Finisterre and back. Of recent memory, the only people we haven't run across yet are S.J. & Scott, Kelly Montessori, and the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

As an aside, you'll note I have quite a few nicknames going on. They just help if you haven't gotten a name. Here are some more:
Potbelly and wife
Italian f**kers (quite literally, in the next room)
Oscar Hollywood and family
Knee braces
Hungarian Donkey People
St France
White hair hippy
Surly youth
Italian Horde
The Germans
Irish lasses
Kat from Catalina
Irish Sean
The other Seattleite

Back to our story...

Janine was happy to have completed her 500 mile journey - especially grateful that she managed to keep going despite a bad knee (and blisters and back problems and shin splints). We rewarded with the Botafumiero and getting mass from Padre Keith. A second reward came in the reward of some timely advice - A Michelin restaurant named Casa Marcella which was just opening for lunch Oysters, Mojito Melon, Cucumber soup with almonds, Ahi with Fig, Hake in Red Sauce, Duck skewers, and Passion Fruit Sorbet - sorry no pictures!)

Botafumiero in Action

My shorter journey (we'll call it 400 miles) was a mixture of rewards and struggles. The injured ankle dominated my first two weeks and guided me off onto another adventure - I'm so happy I broke away because it put me in such a better place for the last 300 km of the walk. No big insights though - I think I'm fairly introspective most of the time and no big aha's. It's probably left me a little more relaxed going into the school year, although all of that may be undone by amount of trains, planes, and automobiles that are going to happen in the next two week.

Tomorrow, a day without our packs and a bus ride to the sea - our travel plans are taking new shape.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The best laid hilarious post script

The plan was to get up late, take our time, get to Arca (Pedrouzo on some maps) for a late lunch about 2, and then kill about 5 hours waiting for the 7 o'clock mass. We'd then walk another hour (still light) to the crossroads of Amenal and its lone hotel. This would leave us about four hours of walking into Santiago tomorrow and guarantee we'd have plenty of time to make the noon mass and hopefully see the Botafumiero - the gigantic swinging incense burner.

Arca Mass - note scallop behind altar

Not sure how the second part of the plan will turn out but the killing time has not really been an issue so far - very leisurely lunch ended about 3:45. We walked across town to the fancy hotel and sat down in the garden for an ice cream. A crossword and a memory reconstruction later (we are trying to remember the first half of our trip), and it's almost 6 o'clock. Despite our slightly disheveled pilgrim look, the staff here doesn't seem to be shooing us away so we may stay until just before mass. (We did also order a coffee after an hour).

The walking weather this morning was incredibly pleasant - we left late enough to avoid the rain that many other poncho laden pilgrims did not. Because we had a reservation at the end of the day and I knew we'd just be killing time after lunch, I settled into a pleasant stroll and the mantra that "we'd get there when we get there" (until about the last 2 km). I met a nice Spanish family during first breakfast (while Janine was still getting ready) and we had a nice chat with a Colombian on the road. The crowds are slightly annoying to Janine as all the noise is invading her psychic space. I'm trying to view them as part of a giant river heading towards Santiago - If I pick up my feet, they'd carry me on in.

I do believe León to Sarria may be the best part of this walk if ones time was limited - If someone didn't care about the Campostela, I'd say skip the last 5 days. Perhaps the first time you do it, the extra excitement that builds overcomes the crowds and the commercialism. But the towns and the scenery seem a little less interesting during the last 100k. Granted I've seen over 500k of scenery so far - I'm a bit jaded.

Post-script: whole plan worked pretty well until they gave away our room despite us calling and saying to NOT give away our room. Ten minutes later, room magically appeared. Another Camino miracle.

Post script 2 cause it's still cracking me up.
Quietest food in mass: Potato chips in a foil bag. Better idea: give to a 5 year old. Think I can do at least a three minute bit on this.
Our father...crinkle crinkle...heaven.... crunch crunch ... Thy name ... Crinkle crinkle crunch crunch ... Kingdom come ... Plastic toy drops on floor... Be done

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A pretty good day

Janine wanted to get a jump on the locusts that descended in Sarria so we got on the road at 7:30 - late for a Camino start but early given how far we had to go and the mild weather. The new pilgrims are actually great but it gets a little tedious managing your walking with tens of people in front and behind.

We immediately struck up a conversation with Scott and his daughter S.J. from California. Two super nice people with strong ties to their church - Scott's a pastor and one of the other daughters helps to run a church in my hometown of Winston-Salem NC. We spent most of the morning chatting with them and were half way through our day before we knew it. We parted ways as they were considering a side-trip at the half-way point. We moved on through our 2011 stop of Palas de Rei and onto the roadside Inn called Casa Domingo - likely to be our favorite stop on the trip.

After a little reading and my late afternoon nap, I retired to a hammock with the public-use guitar and serenaded myself and passing pilgrims for an hour. A true communal dinner was at 7:30 at our table had two young Italians, Luka and Allessandro, and Kelly, a Montessori teacher from Florida whom we'd met a few days earlier. It was one of the best pilgrims meals we've had but the best part of the day, possibly the trip, was what followed.

Janine had been hoping to see a Queimada, which is a ceremonial fire drink usually done for winter parties or Halloween in Galicia. Upon our arrival, she noticed they would do one but at a certain cost per person and a minimum of 10 people. She secretly arranged with the bartender that she would simply pay for 10 people and treat the entire dinner party to this specialty of the house. After dinner, the Spaniards began singing and playing the guitar so most everyone stuck around. About a half hour after dessert, a ceramic bowl smelling of grain alcohol (although I think it was closer to grapa) was placed at the end of one of the tables. Sugar, lemon rind, and coffee beans were added. The windows were all shut up, the lights were turned off, and the bowl was set on fire. After some ceremonial stirring, music similar to Night on Bald Mountain began playing and the bartender appeared in Saint James Pilgrim garb. He then began a non-sensical chant in Spanish and began raising the burning liquid high in the air and pouring it back into the bowl. After several minutes, the lights came back on and we were all served this liquid - for some of us, still burning in the cup.


Eventually Janine was asked to don the Saint James outfit and read the English translation of the brewmasters chant. A few of us had a second cup of good cheer when we suddenly noticed that it was once again 10 o'clock at night and time to retire.

Post-Script/Next Day:
I didn't manage to get this one out on time. It's now the next day where nothing has happened by comparison. Janine is still struggling with her knee and both of us are counting the kilometers and towns until we get a rest in Santiago. I have only 3 pictures from today and two of them are from leaving Casa Domingo.