Saturday, 23 June 2018

Camino de Santiago 2018

Camino de Santiago 2018
From Sahagun to Ponferrada about 170 kms.

As usual we took up the Camino from where we had finished last year, and one Sunday morning we took the early morning bus to Santander then another bus/ train combination to reach Sahagun. Those of us who were interested in using a taxi service for our backpacks were relieved to find a taxi just outside the Sahagun station, which agreed to transport our bags for a small sum. After a quick bite to keep us going we walked the short ten kilometres to our first hostel for the night, the Santa Clara in Barcianos de Real Camino.
Rosa, the proprietor at the Santa Clara turned out to be veteran Camino walker, having already completed 11 and most of them in one 30 day finish. She told me that it was the only way to move from the just walking to the higher planes of consciousness that I have tried to accomplish on the short bursts of one week that our group has been doing. I had to reveal my own experiences to her and she confirmed with a smile that I was on the right track. The group headed out for a walkaround the small town and a dinner followed by a drink (or two). Most family run hostels expect the pilgrims to be in bed early and it is customary to ask what would be the expected time for being back at the hostel in the evening. That night we got it wrong, very wrong.

The next morning we headed out at 8 am on the 25 km walk to our next destination, the quaintly named town of Mancilla de las Mulas. It was a bright sunny day and we made good progress. With my energies waning we made a pit stop at about 20 kms and after suitable refreshments took up the walk again, only to find a storm brewing right in front of us. It was scary. Here we made a rash decision to continue walking in the hope of reaching our objective before the heavens opened. No such luck, soon the storm ripped through us, with high winds and lashing rain. We donned our waterproof capes, but it was no use. We were drenched from the waist down and our shoes were like water containers. By the time an hour later we made the Gaia hostel, we had to be helped with our drenched clothes and boots to not flood the entire establishment. Needless to say a very stressed evening of trying to dry our shoes and clothes followed. Newspapers were stuffed in all the boots and this was repeated three times. The capes were wiped dry and the clothes hung up to dry. Miraculously everything was dry by the next morning.
Luckily the next three days were cloudlessly sunny, and this was perhaps too sunny for the Camino walker. I used an umbrella for shade when walking from about 10am onwards. It was very easy walking in mostly level coutryside while we made our way from Mancilla to Virgen del Camino where a luxury hostal (The Central) awaited. I was lucky to have my own room with my own bath, a real luxury among the normal dormitory style accomodation and shared facilities. then it was a further 29 kms to Hospital de Órbigo, where we were booked into what turned out to be a hippie style commune mostly populated by foreigners. Some volunteers among them were resident helpers doing such jobs as construction, looking after the vegetable patch and giving classes of yoga.  There was also an Israeli cook who had agreed to make a vegetarian curry for dinner, which everyone could have for a voluntary contribution. I realised that the dish we ate was hardly classifiable as a curry and for some strange reason the starter of bread and hummus was billed as an Israeli dish! There was music and the owner gave us a lecture on the significance of the Camino, and how moving westward was built into our DNA, which was hard to believe and I did not argue the point that our forefathers when they emerged from Africa, went both east and west. We did yoga and watched the sunset. I shared a table with a bright Psychology student from New York and wished I was forty years younger for various reasons.

Albergue Verde
In between the walks and the hostals it was possible to make friends and have conversations with all sorts of people, such as the Spanish yoga instructor who had lived all her life in California, the photographer Mel from Brighton who now lived in the South of Spain, the chap from New Zealand whose walking partner had twisted his knee soon after arrival and after surgery had to return home and the lady with the knee bands (my fellow walkers were curious about these) who turned out to be from Charlotte in North Carolina much to my surprise because I had visited that city when my son had lived there until recently. On another occasion someone asked us what religion we practiced, perhaps because our group contained several women and a bearded man with a turban!

Then it was onto the hic town of Ganso 29 kms away. On one of our stops along the way to catch a bite to eat, there was a local TV crew interviewing passing pilgrims about their experiences on the Camino. Once they saw me they headed straight to my side and the gorgeous presenter of the show and I, we discussed my impressions of the Camino and how I was friends with this large Spanish group. In Ganso we were booked into a place called Gabino, in a dormitory with 11 bunk beds. They came in pairs with the only single bed allocated to an old man who provided (at least for me) the emotional highlight of the entire week. Two of us from our group (Alfonso and I) signed up for an early dinner provided by the hostal, and there were only five diners in total. So we had a table for four at which we were joined by two German ladies, while the fifth person who had a table to himself turned out to be the old man mentioned above. There was much conversation with young ladies from Hamburg and Hanover and after dinner the old man joined in the conversation (with me as the translator). He revealed that his name was Braulio and that he had already completed 6 Caminos and that everyone knew him on the Camino. 

Local TV Host
Then he said that this year marked a difference for him, and when we asked what was different, he became quite emotional and began to shed some tears. He showed us his hand on which he wore two rings and said ‘last year at this time my wife was alive, and now she is not’. I sympathised, and revealed that I also had lost someone close to me (my father) recently and that several times I had had the feeling that my father was walking besides me. I too had my eyes brimming with tears and I realised that Alfonso was also crying for some personal loss of his own.

So there was this scene where three men were emotional and two young ladies were wondering what was going on. I translated and I guess they understood the reason for all the tears. Soon after the ladies retired to prepare for an early start, and the old man had also departed, a man approached me and greeted me in Panjabi (Sat Sri Akal). I was surprised but not shocked, having seen other people on the Camino with knowledge of Indian customs. We started talking and this man had been practicing Kundalini Yoga and some other spiritual rituals using ayahuasca and other hallucinogenic plants. The evening was getting more interesting by the minute and we were deep in conversation about the use of peyote and the teachings of Don Juan (the book by Carlos Castaneda). By the time I asked this man if he had a spiritual message for me, Alfonso had his hair standing on end.

Later we caught up with our friends and had a drink at the Cowboy Bar dedicated to the American wild west, including a TV showing western movies, where the drinks were priced at suitably agreeable prices.

If Ganso was small with nothing to show, our next destination turned out to be even less of a place. This was another 29 kms down the camino and went by the name of Riego Ámbrose. The Camino took a steady climb during most of the morning while we climbed to 1500 metres and then a steep drop down a rocky path with loose boulders strewn across, which made for a very difficult walk. Several of our party had their feet in trouble and some boots were broken. It was Thursday the 15th and Spain was expected to play Portugal at the World cup in Russia. Most Spaniards wanted to be at some venue to watch, but as it turned out, there was not a single TV in this town where anyone could watch the game. Some in our group (including me) called a taxi, which took us to the next town with a bit more life, and a bar where we could watch the game. It turned out to be quite a game, with both sides taking turns to be ahead but finally settling for a draw, while we debated the skills (or otherwise) of both Ronaldo, who scored three goals and the Spanish goalkeeper De Gea who was responsible for errors which allowed two Ronaldo shots to end up in goal.

The next day was the final day of our Camino, and the rocky path down the mountain continued through beautiful scenery. It was much easier than we had feared and to make it a delight someone had set up a ‘honesty’ fruit stall along the path perhaps aware that our town had no bars and no breakfast facilities, so that we could have a variety of fruit and leave a contribution in a money box for a very welcome injection of energy. I have to say that the money box was full, a testament to the honesty of most pilgrims. An hour or so later we reached the soccer game town of the night before for a proper breakfast with coffee! A few hours after that we came into Ponferrada, our final destination for a much earned rest, and a large vermouth at a table in a sunny spot outside a bar. Later more friends and family came up from Laredo to join us for the final lunch and to ferry us all back home the next day.
Now we have only Ponferrada to Sarria (about 100 kms) left to complete the whole Camino, perhaps next year. 
Buen camino.
To see a full set of photos click here

1 comment:

Patricia Smith said...

It was great to get your photos and blog, it was somewhere Derek and I were hoping to do,
however not to be,
if you are in the Uk , do keep in touch, it would be great to see you again,
love to you and Marisol,