Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Camino Frances Day 13

I couldn’t believe that my journey was nearing its end. That night in O’ Pedrouzo as I was preparing my stuff, there was an air of anticipation and excitement for everyone.  Like all pilgrims knew that no matter what, come morning, our journey was coming to a close. I felt a mixture of happiness and sadness.

The albergue chosen by Robi was a quaint one, it had two floors and was spacious. Being one of the early occupants, he was able to secure a cool spot. The room was big, probably around a hundred bunks, so the corner spot, he reserved at the far end of the room offered a bit of privacy. The ceiling was slanted in our area, reminiscent of a cozy attic.

Robi developed a shin splint hence walked only 2 kilometers from Santa Irene to O’ Pedrouzo. I considered it a blessing in disguise since it gave me the chance to finally catch up with him on Day 12. And so for the last leg of the Camino Day 13, Robi and I had the chance of walking together again.

We stepped unto the street of O’ Pedrouzo at 6:30 am, the chill of a foggy dawn greeting us.  We estimated that at a rate of 4 kilometers per hour we would be reaching Santiago before noon. We planned to catch the midday mass at the cathedral specifically offered to the pilgrims.

If not for the streetlights, we would have groped our way.  I realized how dark it really was when our path turned left into the woods. We turned on our flashlights, its brightness only enough to shine a few meters of our path due to the fog. I wouldn’t dare walk into the woods if I were alone in that darkness. We walked rather slowly because of Robi’s shin splint. A lone pilgrim overtook us. I admired his courage to venture alone in the darkness. It would be easy to get lost if one missed a turn. After a few minutes we came upon a fork. We shone the flashlights several times before finally seeing a small arrow pointing to the left.

We walked on, excitement building up as were on the last day. By the time the sun rose from the horizon it was still quite misty. I told Robi to go ahead as I took my time taking pictures. A photo of a spider’s cobweb here, a shot of a pair of boots there.

Robi had a bit of difficulty walking but I didn’t mind our pace. I was offering him a dose of ibuprofen but he had qualms about taking medicine.

The path led us to a hillside with a view- Monte De Gozo. It was a shame it was foggy. Otherwise we could have seen the three spires of the cathedral from this vantage point. Monte de Gozo meant Hill of Joy, it is said that pilgrims cry out in joy in this part upon seeing the end of their journey.

Monte De Gozo was the last hill before the cathedral. The remainder of the path was paved asphalt and descending. It led us near the airport on that foggy morning as I could hear the rumble of planes taking off and landing. Just from the frequency of plane sound I surmised that Santiago was a rather busy city.

A big sign saying Santiago De Compostela in bold red letters greeted us as we entered the central part of Santiago. We obviously posed for posterity.

We thought we were close to about 2 kilometers from the destination.

Twice we had to ask for the direction to the cathedral because the yellow sign was not so obvious in the central area.

When at last I came to see the church spires, it seemed that my heart would burst for joy. I cannot believe that the past 13 days went like a blur and there I was, flesh and blood, with blisters and all finally seeing the cathedral of Santiago.

We came in just in time, almost noon. We deposited our bags so we could attend the mass. It was solemn and I offered all my petitions and the petitions I have received from friends and family.

After the mass, we lingered a bit to marvel at the majesty of the church interiors. We met the other pilgrims.  Some looked very familiar, either I’ve seen them on the road or we were booked in the same hostel. They were all beaming, proud of making it through the journey.

I saw Eugene the guy from Gerona who was my roommate in Trebadelo.

Robi met a lot of pilgrims who started their journey with him in St Jean Pied de Port. They hugged each other as if long lost friends.

After the mass we claimed our certificates. Mine indicated my Latin name and the distance I travelled -300 kilometers. We hung around a bit in front of the cathedral and had posterity shots although I was a bit disappointed that the scaffolding ruined what otherwise would have been a spectacular view of the landmark. I was happy to see again David the Mexican guy I met in the Melide albergue.

To celebrate our journey’s end, Robi and I had lunch buffet with three Koreans at Carrefour -about 2 kilometers from the center. I did not mind the distance, 2 kilometers seemed a piece of cake when you’ve just walked 300 kilometers.

We stayed at a private albergue named La Estrella de Santiago which offered 6 euros/night. It was the cheapest we could find, a little far from the center but it had great amenities.

Florent who was our roommate in Astorga also happened to be booked in the same place. And so the three of us had a mini-reunion. Florent walked 2000 kilometers, Robi 700 and I 300. We chatted a bit over a bottle of wine bought at the neighborhood supermercado.

As Robi was still set to go to the coast (Finisterre) which is about another 3 days, I gave him my cane as a gift.

I have booked my trip back to Madrid via Blabla car. I was set to be picked at the Santiago De Compostela train station at 4am.

At 3 am I took one last glance of my albergue then shut the main door behind. I did not bother waking up Robi. I had given him already my Buen Camino.

300 kilometers
13 days
It had been an awesome journey, definitely something for the books.

The past 13 days went like a blur. It had been a tough walk with shin splint and blisters. My will had been tested several times and yet I made it. I recalled the past few days, a sea of faces flashed before me, the German guy who gave me medicine in Acebo, the bar tender in Foncebadon, Christian my first roommate in the walk. I thought about all the pilgrims I’ve met in this wonderful journey, each with their own stories, triumphs and trials. They are most likely back in their own lives, in their own unfolding stories. Most I won’t ever see again. They will now forever be part of my memories of my walk to Santiago.

In my heart I knew I will be back again.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Camino Frances Day 12

The albergue in Melide was one of the best I’ve stayed in this Camino - yet I experienced the worst night there. It was because of the rowdy guests from another room. They were bantering way past midnight and one lad went inside our room to hide from his friends. This despite the lights out already. It went for about 3 times until an exasperated German lady gave a scolding and rose off her bed to lock the door. I’ve heard that Spanish pilgrims tend to be a raucous bunch but what happened that night was definitely over the top. I wished that the incident were more of an exception than the rule for juvenile Spanish pilgrims.

The albergue had two floors, I hobbled down to have a glimpse of the kitchen in the morning. With only limited choices in the vending machine, I decided to just take my breakfast on the first bar along the way, which in hindsight was a bad idea -the next bar had I checked the app was 5 kilometers away.

I referred to the Google map to seek the exit from Melide. After passing by several narrow streets I finally found the side road designated for the Camino route.  Robi was about 25 kilometers away. I proposed that he walked a shorter distance that day so I could catch up with him on Day 13 and we could walk the last leg of the Camino. The plan was for us to meet up at O Pedrouzo. This meant that I had to walk 33 kilometers for the day, a little more than my usual daily average.

My blisters had gone much much worse now. The day before I can still fool my mind to disregard the pain. But this time around, the pain kept on hounding me. Incessant, unyielding, seeking attention. Every step was excruciatingly painful. If only cutting off my feet was an option. The morning was chilly yet perspiration beaded on my forehead. Every godawful step required willpower. Maybe the pain would go away. “It’s all in the mind, I challenged myself”. And yet it didn’t.

Emotional pain was one thing. Experiencing physical pain was an entirely different matter. I would have chosen emotional anguish over deep-seated physical pain any time of the day. Every step was tormenting, yet I know that each one will be bring me closer to salvation. “Only two more days to go”, I coaxed myself.

My pace was slower than usual. A couple of pilgrims overtook me. I didn’t mind. I just needed to survive the walk that day and it would soon be over.

Pained, hungry and exhausted, I was so glad to see an unmanned fruit stand in the middle of the woods. After what seemed like ages,  finally an available food supply. It’s signage” El Pequeno Oasis” was apt. I got two bananas and an apple, and dropped the appropriate amount on the coin box. The fruits alleviated my hunger but not the pain of the damn blisters.

Thirty minutes later I spotted a coffee shop. Normally I would have gone ahead already but I thought of giving myself a cheat break if only to have a break from the painful walk.

I was glad to meet David in the cafe, a Mexican roommate in Melide albergue. His route was the Camino De La Plata which was the first time I heard about it.  The route he followed was mostly for nature-loving folks as the path were in the untouched parts of the Asturias region. I would eventually learn that this path was one of the most challenging Camino routes.

David seemed fascinated by a beehouse in front of the cafe; he took a picture of it with his handy digicam. I asked him to take my photo with my reliable phone. He went ahead after he had his breakfast. I lingered a bit to massage my soles. By now my blisters had grown into big bulging bubbles. If I had only a sharp safety pin with me I would have gloatingly pricked them if only to avenge for the suffering they had brought me.

The foursome group I met in Triacastela, O Cerebreiro (who also stayed at the Melide albergue upon my recommendation)  took their breakfast at the shop. The British guy noticed my pained look and offered a blister strip. I used to think he was haughty but his gesture totally debunked that. I profusely gave my thanks. I plastered it the wrong way though and so the walk was still painful when I resumed.

The next two hours had been pure torture. I did not pause to take any pictures along the way. My mind was just set to reach Arzua, eight kilometers away which had a pharmacy. I was dead set to buy blister strips and ibuprofen.

Around 1130 I paused at a clearing just after I ascended a path. Each step felt like my foot was being stabbed. I was longing to see Arzua already. A pair of pilgrims who were Asians passed by, they looked familiar although I can no longer which part of the route I have met them. I asked if they knew how far Arzua was. They must have sensed the look of desperation on my face and asked me what was wrong. When the guy learned about my blisters he offered an ibuprofen tablet. I ran out of water already (maybe that explained why I felt so exhausted) so I just swallowed the tablet. I took a photo of the exact scene so I would not forget that point of the walk where I almost passed out.

I never got to see the Asian guy again. I wished I did. I owed him that painkiller he gave me. It did alleviate the pain. After 30 minutes I have finally hit Arzua. I immediately went to the pharmacy and brought ibuprofen and blister strips. I grabbed a liter of water, bread and salchicon from the nearby supermarket and sat on a bench. While I took ibuprofen only half hour earlier I took another tablet. I decided that extra dosage is needed to counteract the torture.

Miraculously the pain subsided and I was on my way again. I was surprised to see David on the path again. I got ahead of him earlier because he was taking his time in taking pictures of the surroundings (this explained why he perhaps took the Camino Primitivo. This route meets Camino Frances in the Melide to Santiago leg). I asked him to take a photo of me. Surprisingly the shot captured a smile that belied the ordeal I had earlier that day. As David’s pace was faster than mine I bade him farewell with the usual “Buen Camino”.

I passed by a house where some thought-provoking quotes were posted. I took some shots. At this point the foursome group caught up with me.

I passed by a phalanx of pines trees that looked creepy even in mid afternoon. If I were a horror movie director this would definitely be one of the shooting locations.

At 330 I stopped by a road-side café. There was a weather-beaten old man with a black dog and a peculiar pilgrim passport. Instead of the usual stamps he had signatures of pilgrims- he had done the Camino a couple of times already hence was no longer interested for the stamps. Pleased to know that I came from the Philippines he asked for my signature.  He had not gotten any from a Filipino before. I was pleased to oblige.

According to the Google map, Pedrouzo was still 8 kilometers. It would be past 4 pm soon and I was aware of the risk of being on the road during sundown. But I needed to catch up with Robbie who already sent me a Whatsapp message that he had already checked in at a municipal albergue in Pedrouzo. He actually placed some of his stuff on a bunk across him to reserve it for me.

I saw that the last leg for the day would fall along the highway, so even if I failed to reach the albergue by sundown, there would still be light from the road. So I violated my 4 by 4 rule and went on.

The thought of meeting Robi soon, made me walk faster, the blisters still hounding but the pain had subsided considerably.

Thankfully just as the last thumbnail of the sun disappeared on the horizon I found the albergue.

I was overjoyed to meet Robi again. I never would have thought that I would catch up with him again and yet there we were reunited in O Pedrouzo. We had pizza, fries and beer to celebrate our reunion.

At the end of a challenging day we had only 20 kilometers left to walk.

Santiago De Compostela was now within our reach.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

Camino Frances Day 11

The idea that I had only 80 kilometers more to go prodded me to wake up early. For this day I had planned to walk about 28 kilometers to reach Melide. I learned from Robi the night before through Whatsapp that his stop was Melide. He was now about a day’s hike ahead- I was resigned at this point to the fact that I would only be able to meet him again in Santiago de Compostela should he decide to stay there for one more night.

I left behind a pair of short pants whose buckle got damaged during the walk. Any other day, I would have brought it with me but in this hike where every ounce of load was crucial I had to make a tough call. I put it inside one of the drawers in the kitchen along with a pack of extra earphones  (the cheap ones handed out in Renfe trains), hoping a pilgrim could find them useful.

There were only 4 or 5 of us in the albergue. When I stepped out most pilgrims were still on their beds. Pilgrims do not say “goodbye” to each other. The greeting “Buen camino” served this purpose.

Though it was already half past seven in the morning, it was still dark. This time I made sure that I was following the right route and used my cellphone to shine on the path. The cobalt blue sky had a marvelous view of the moon and two planets forming a nice alignment. With the heavenly bodies behind the silhouette of an oak tree with sprawling branches, I was reminded of a line in Desiderata.

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here. Therefore be at peace with God whatever you conceive Him to be.”

I started the Camino with a lot of emotional baggage. I was hoping that the walk would clear my mind a bit and give me a glimmer of hope however my future would unfold. In the comforting chill of that breaking dawn, I felt a different kind of peace as if my burdens had suddenly become light.

I trudged for about 30 minutes, hoping to spot an open café on the next stop which according to the Camino app was 1.5 kilometres ahead.  To my dismay it was closed. Most likely because it was already off-season for hiking. The busy periods are actually July to September with the number tapering off in October. Some albergues and establishments no longer operate after October.

I trod on and my best bet was Eirexe which was 5.6 kilometers from Hospital da Cruz. The night before, Robi requested if I could pick the clothes he left inside the dryer of the Municipal Albergue in Eirexe. I told him that I would try my best as albergues aren’t open until after 1 pm. True enough it was still closed when I passed by- around a little over 8 in the morning. I was half-glad because it saved me the trouble of additional load. Sorry Robi.

Fortunately the bar right across Eirexe albergue was open so I finally had my much needed breakfast - a bocadillo de jamón, a cup of colacao and banana. I bought a couple of chocolate bars as takeaway.

The blisters on both feet had gotten worse. I winced with each step I made. It probably explained why I only took a handful of shots along the way.

There weren’t any major architectural interests along the route. I passed by a cemetery which was called Cemiterio De Peregerinos. I wondered if it was so named because it was along the main route of the Camino or because the graves were indeed only for people who had done the walk. There was not anything special about the graveyard yet I stood there for a few moments. Perhaps to pay tribute to brothers who have once followed the path- the same one that I now was taking. Or maybe a quick acknowledgement that we are all travellers in this world until death comes at our door. The concept of death seemed to be a prevailing theme in this walk.

As if fate, or the universe, or the Supreme Being or whatever supernatural force there was that could not be seen by my eyes, read the ramblings of mind, a sign flashed before me.

I knew Camino to mean the way. But it was my first time to read it in the context of the popular biblical passage.

The walk though painful was a bit manageable maybe because the blister strip given by the Dutch girl the day before was providing a good cushion. At least on my right sole. The other blister on my left foot was worsening . It has worsened from a mere annoyance to pain. It felt as if a stubborn corn kernel was stuck inside my sock pressing upon the sole of my foot every time I made a step.

Despite this I still enjoyed this part of the route heading to Palas Del Rei because of the archway that the trees flanking the road gave. Normally I would see the arch giving clearance to the vehicles. But in this region, the archway provided clearance to the pedestrians as well. Which made sense because the pilgrimage is a whole-year event, thereby the formation would naturally give way to the daily foot traffic.

After passing through one arch I felt an enormous sense of freedom as I saw a wide meadow and the next town that seemed to await my arrival.

Admittedly I was disappointed with Palas Del Rei. While the name meant “Palace of the Kings” I did not see any fortresses similar to the one in Ponferrada or eye-turning architectural structures for that matter.

As this day was a Sunday there were only a few restaurants available. I went inside one where a big menu sign outside indicated that they were serving “Bacalao Con Tomate”, one of my favorite Spanish dishes.

I paid around 16 euros which was a bit pricy by peregrine standards, but I thought that today was my splurge day.

I passed by a church and had my passport stamped. The caretaker asked me to sign in a log sheet. When he learned that I was Filipino he told me that the priest who was about to officiate the 12PM mass used to work in the Philippines. I decided to stay behind for a while, meet the priest and hear his mass. I was quite delighted to see two signatories on the sheet who also hailed from the Philippines. Sadly I never got to meet them on the Camino.

After Palas Del Rey I haven’t captured any interesting structure along the walk. The path would either be along a road or would cut across the fields under a canopy of trees.

Once I passed by a road with an ambiguous signage. I could not understand whether the sign indicated me to take the tunnel or the one ahead. Fortunately I took the one that lead underneath the bridge which thankfully was the right one.

I couldn’t recall if I stopped by any café in the afternoon but most likely not because it was a Sunday.

As I was entering the boundary of Melide, a black dog accompanied me. It walked with me for about 10 minutes. I chuckled at the thought that it might accompany me till Santiago. I don’t want to be overly dramatic about this scene, but it felt as if my dad sent the dog to accompany me at least in this part of the walk.  

When at last the dog stopped and stayed behind, I felt sad as if saying goodbye to a friend whom I will never again meet.

I guess goodbyes are part of the rhythm of a pilgrim’s life, much like the next scene that greeted me. A pilgrim neatly placed a pair of worn out shoes at the foot of a cross in a town square. A tribute to a pair of companions who have reluctantly decided to stay behind.

I passed by several hamlets and an old bridge before reaching the town of Melide around 4:30. Robi recommended me to stay in a private albergue that offered a promo of 6 Euros per night  (which in summer was charging 10 euros). It was great place actually.

I had my dinner at a place that served Kebab. It was located a hundred meters away from the albergue. On the way, I started to hobble horribly once again. I walked 28 kilometers for the day which meant I had a little over 50 kilometers left to walk. The blister pad had served its function for the day and I had it removed. By now the two blisters on both feet had swollen.

Little did I know at that time that the blisters would unleash their full wrath the following day.