Thursday, 15 July 2010

Camino Odyssey Part 1...

Well, here I am in Santiago otra vez and what a week it has been. I should really have been blogging as things have happened but that hasn't been possible so here is a condensed version.

I couldn't shake off that nervous feeling when I left Marbella on the 6th, but as I moved north (and west) all that seemed to change despite the horrendous accident I witnessed involving a drunk driver (at 11:30 in the morning!) only a few kms inside the Portuguese "border". It served to remind me to drive very carefully.

I arrived late at Fernanda's pilgrim refuge on the Camino Portuguese, but that didn't matter. Within minutes I had a plate of good home cooked food in front of me and I was back with my Portuguese family once again. It was as though I had never left.

I have written extensively about Fernanda, Jacinto and their daughter Mariana, but it bears repeating: this woman opens her doors to all pilgrims and for every single one she treats them as though they are not only the first pilgrims to climb her steps but the most important guests ever to grace her table. This time I met also with Dominique from Belgium and the next day, Julianne from Australia arrived and between us all we shared pilgrim stories.

Soon we were joined by Benny from Denmark, and shy Horst from Germany. At dinner, Benny was aggressively cornering Dominque (rather dogmatically in my opinion) about her inability to speak Flemish. Dominique defended herself as best she could, and I added that perhaps for her it was less important than for Benny who felt that one should consider oneself a failure if one didn't speak five languages as he claimed to do. I would have traded her smile for his smugness any day.

It was the night of the football match between Germany and Spain, and to everyone's surprise, the Spanish "selecion" won the game. Horst who was sitting beside me throughout was most gracious in defeat. Perhaps for a pilgrim who had walked from his house it was not so important after all. I who hadn't walked here was, however, absolutely thrilled for Spain. Next day, I was reluctant to leave but I know that I always have a place in the heart of mi familia Portuguese.

The following day I drove directly (finally breaking down and using the toll roads) to Galicia. Along the way I stopped at several pilgrim albergues that would not open until five o'clock, leaving many tired pilgrims outside the doors in the 35 degree heat. I cannot figure this out. In Galicia these albergues are run by "paid workers" unlike most others elsewhere which invite volunteer hospitaleros from all over the world. The latter are open at reasonable hours: that is the sort of time one would expect to arrive when one has woken up before the sun rises and arrived after 25 - 35 kilometers in the Spanish heat hoping for a shower of any temperature and a bunk to bunk in. I don't understand the pedantic nature of the Gallego system.

In Tui I again met Maria Teresa who runs the hospice there. She repeated (as last year) that she had to be the most unpopular hospitalera in all of Galicia because she sticks by the rules: Foot pilgrims first, bicycle pilgrims later, and if you have arrived by bus intending to start the Camino Portuguese at the border of Galicia and Portugal, well, you are gonna have to wait. She said that she appears to be on the hit list of a German Forum and one pilgrim arived to find out if she was really as bad as she was painted! Left bookmarks, my sympathies and good wishes and continued on...

to Muxia. I had intended to walk from Santiago to Finisterre, finishing my Camino in Muxia this year - the last stages of 10 years of journey - but two cracked ribs this year have made that impossible. I stopped at a little shop to ask about rooms for rent and was subsequenjtly met by Begona (there appear to be a lot of Begonas in my life right now. My editor is one, and my publicist is another).

The room was small with shared bath but homely (so many little ornaments and lace tablecloths that I had no room to put anything down on tables!)and had a traditional glassed-in balcony overlooking the street, though not the sea unfortunately as we were one street in. Never mind. After 1200 kilometers I slept like a baby.

More tomorrow.

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