Three years ago in November, I bought a copy of The Way. A few weeks later, towards the end of the month, I visited the Blackfriars office of The Confraternity of St. James and paid for a three year membership.
A few days ago, I received a letter from the CSJ advising me that my membership was nearly up. I immediately renewed it – for one more year this time – but I felt sad: in the original period of my CSJ membership, I had quit my job and walked the Camino. Between Covid and my precarious finances it is unlikely that I will be able to do so again in the second membership period. That great adventure, therefore, which took me way out of my comfort zone, to a new country, new friendships, the pain and freedom of long walks, may definitively be said to belong to a period that is now over and will not be repeated again, if ever at all. I don’t when or if I will get over this.
Of course, none of us know what the future may bring, but how I wish I was still in that first period of CSJ membership. Then, even though my Camino ended in May 2019, I would still have that point of connection with it.
Two things: i . Those who say that the Camino begins when you reach Santiago are right. I need to interiorise that more ii. I know that that ‘point of connection’ is not a real one, that I am as connected to the pilgrimage in the second period of CSK membership as I was in the first, but – but – .
On 16th May 2019, five weeks after leaving Saint Jean Pied de Port, my friends and I finally arrived in Santiago de Compostela. Today, we went straight to the flat we had booked for the night. Tomorrow, we’ll head down to the cathedral and the pilgrim centre.
Two years later I still think of walking the Camino as one of the two great achievements of my life (the other being earning my degree from university) and I remain as happy and honoured to have been able to do so as I was when we reached Santiago.
I would still like to walk the Camino Francés again, though I don’t know if I ever will – maybe health and financial status will not allow it – but if I don’t, I am immeasurably glad and grateful that I got the chance to do it even just the once.
As I write these words, the coronavirus continues to plague the world. Here in Britain, we are recovering: the government has made many mistakes since COVID-19 started to spread, but has done brilliantly with the vaccination programme. The Indian variant is causing concern but all being well, the country will be fully ‘open’ again this summer. After a slow start (to put it mildly), the European Union is getting on with its vaccination programme as well. As it does so, pilgrims will start to walk the way of St. James again. I applaud their bravery, for they will not only be undertaking what will be at times an arduous journey but doing so at a time when there will invariably be lingering concerns about the virus.
If you are one of those trail blazing pilgrims, or if you are reading this further into the future, here is this one-timer’s advice for making a good pilgrimage:
Don’t walk without water!
Travel as lightly as you can
The Camino isn’t a race. Go at your own pace
There is lots of advice that one could give but I think the above are the most essential. I would dare to say that the above is the most critical, as well. Some advice (like ‘leave your phone at home’) can be happily ignored. The above, I believe, shouldn’t be.
As for me, I bought a little bottle of wine to toast our success in 2019. Here’s to what we achieved and the Camino – long may she be a guide to souls.
On-Line Gaming As I have probably mentioned before, I love watching people play video games online. My current favourite is Codemasters’ F1 2019 – soon to be replaced by this year’s iteration of the game. The lock down period has been a blessing for discovering Formula 1 Twitch live streamers.
As I write these words, however, I am listening to an LMP 1 car race around LeMans in a virtual 24 Hours of LeMans live stream. Each team has four drivers, each of whom drives for a certain number of hours before handing over the to the next person. I don’t know who organised this race but it must have taken a lot of work. I imagine the stamina required to race is also pretty high!
The Last of Us Part 2 I discovered Twitch in 2014 when I started watching The JHN Files play the original Last of Us game. I was captivated by both game and the live broadcast. The Last of Us Part 2 finally came out on Friday, and I can’t wait to play it.
The game was originally meant to be released at the end of May but earlier that month was suddenly and indefinitely delayed. A specific reason wasn’t given for this, which led me to wonder if it was because the game – in which your character has to survive in a world that has been ravaged by a pandemic – might not sell so well in a world currently being ravaged by, well, a pandemic.
Fast forward a few weeks and all of a sudden, Naughty Dog, the company behind the game, announced that it would come out on 19th June. Why? Probably because an irate developer who had left the company/been sacked published spoilers about the game online. Thankfully, I managed to avoid those so can still look forward to diving into the game as soon as I have a chance.
The Path to Rome Today is 21st June. In 1901, Hilaire Belloc is eight days away from Rome. I have written my tweets (@PathtoRome1901) covering his journey up to the 25th. Today, I hope to write the last four days worth. Then, I will be able to relax and think about ‘what next’? I want to read more Belloc. Do I have the time? If I do, what should I read?
Protests The protests that started out as a reaction to the death of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis (USA) are now in some places morphing into a wider campaign against statues of people from various periods and backgrounds.
Predictably, statues of slave owners have been pulled down – here in the U.K. a statue of Edward Colston was dropped into Bristol Harbour by protesters.
Less predictably, I have seen photos/footage of a statue of Union General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant being pulled down; the same treatment has been meted out to a statue of George Washington and St. Junipero Serra. A bust of the novelist Cervantes has also been defaced. All these have happened in America.
What’s going on? I have read that Grant only ever owned one slave, who he inherited, and who he set free as soon as he was able. Cervantes was not a slave owner but rather, held as a slave for several years. Maybe these details are incorrect. But if they are right, they provide proof that for some people, what started out as a Black Lives Matter protest is dissipating into a campaign against anyone they happen to dislike. If that is the case, their campaign, lacking any solid foundation will surely collapse in due course.
But maybe they know perfectly well what they are doing and these acts of destruction are part of a deliberate campaign to destroy public remembrances of the past. Is this a good thing? No. Individuals or unauthorised groups who destroy statues are declaring that they have the authority to shape how society remembers the past. But this authority belongs only to the people as a whole (through the government) or the private organisation that owns the statue. Individuals who destroy statues or any public remembrance make themselves petty tyrants.
If the government or private organisation takes down the statue without considering first the pros and cons of doing so also acts in a tyrannical fashion. Once a statue goes up, it should only come down after the matter has been given full consideration. Nothing else will do.
When we ask ‘what is going on’, there is, of course, another option that we should be alert to: that agent provocateurs are acting in order to discredit their rivals.
Football Returns The Premier League returned last Wednesday. Sky Television is broadcasting its games on two channels – one with fake crowd noise and one without. Neither are satisfactory. Hearing the fake crowd noise and seeing the empty stands is too distracting to be acceptable. Watching a game without any crowd sound at all takes away any sense of urgency and almost all the excitement. With that said, I prefer watching the games with no sound as at least its more honest.
I am not fond of the fact that all the players take the knee/have the Black Lives Matter wording on their shirts. I dislike particular causes getting so much publicity when there are so many others out there that are extremely important and necessary yet get little or no publicity at all.
Sainsbury’s Up till last Friday, the queue for Sainsbury’s was getting shorter and shorter every week. On Friday, though, it was a rather longer. A sign of things to come? Probably not. I think I just arrived at the wrong moment. For example, a week or two ago, I arrived at the store when there was virtually no queue and left when it was as long as this week’s.
Also, per Government guidelines, I have started wearing a face mask when in store. Strangely, though, most people are now not doing so! The other week, one of the Sainsbury’s staff very kindly showed me how to wear it in a way that reduces the amount of fogging over on my glasses. Very useful! (I’m probably the last person in the world to realise this but in case you don’t know, you just bend the metal strip so that it follows the contour of your nose).
The Camino I have heard that the Camino is opening again in July, which is great news. It won’t be like before, though: face masks must be worn in albergues, and I think there will be a reduced number of beds available. Next year is a Holy Year for Santiago. This should mean that pilgrim numbers go up, up, up. It will be interesting to see what happens if the coronavirus remains an issue (as will likely be the case bar the discovery of a vaccine). I would like to walk the Francés again next year. In the current climate, I really don’t know if that will happen.
An Unexpected Letter This week, I received a letter from HMRC saying that I had paid too much tax over the last year. The reimbursement will be very gratefully received. This week, I found an old USB stick and on it was a document with my Government Gateway number on it. This means I can finally sort out my tax status for my current job, which is a great relief.
As I write these words, the clock reads 6:46am so I have beaten my previous early post record by a clean twelve minutes. In these days of lock down we get our pleasures where we can.
Who am I kidding – I would have mentioned this anyway; it’s an easy way to get into the post, after all (blogging-wise, there’s nothing worse than knowing that you want to write something but don’t know how to start).
So, how are things here? Well, my parents and I remain well, for which I give thanks. Overnight, one of my fillings fell out. I wasn’t surprised – the same filling has come out several times before. The shape and, I think, shallowness, of the filling has made it an impossible one to stay in. My tooth doesn’t hurt so I might just leave it be until my next scheduled dentist’s appointment.
Last Sunday was the first anniversary of my arrival at Santiago cathedral at the end of my first Camino. As soon as I am able, I will write a post about this. I know part of what I want to say so just have to work out the rest before I put finger to keyboard. Next Sunday is the first anniversary of my return home so I shall try to do it by then. If you want to know how I felt last Sunday, though, well, I teared up when I listened to ‘Santiago de Compostela’ on The Way soundtrack. This music covers the arrival of Martin Sheen et al at the cathedral and the swinging of the Botafumeiro, which always moves me deeply when I watch the film. Here is the music:
I feel so much for people who intended to walk the Camino this year but whose plans were scuppered by the coronavirus. I hope all of them are able to reschedule to next year or the year after.
Yesterday, 19th May was the 85th anniversary of T. E. Lawrence’s death following a road accident: he was riding his motorbike home down a country road when he turned a corner and was forced to swerve to avoid two boys on bicycles. Lawrence was launched from his bike and suffered head injuries that would prove to be fatal.
Unsurprisingly, there is a conspiracy theory regarding his death as a car was seen driving away from the scene of the accident, but I don’t think it has gained any traction among Lawrence scholars. At least, not among the few that I have read. A new film about Lawrence is due out soon – Lawrence After Arabia; judging by its IMDB synopsis, it will take a deep dive into the conspiracy theory:
Retiring to his cottage in Dorset Lawrence hopes to forget his past fighting in Arabia but soon he is drawn into political intrigue and his many enemies begin to plot against him. Was a motorcycle crash an accident or attempt at assassination by the British Secret Service?
According to IMDB, Lawrence After Arabia is due out on 16th October this year so going to see it might just make a nice early birthday present for me.
Apollo 13 (9/10) I have wanted to watch this film for ages but couldn’t find it streaming anywhere. While I was looking through our DVD shelf the other day, I found that we owned a copy of it. A very nice surprise! The film is as good as its reputation. Tom Hanks leads the way as Jim Lovell, captain of the ill fated Apollo 13 mission to the moon. The acting, script, special effects, music… everything about this film is pretty much spot on.
The American (8/10) Okay, the facts: Stars: George Clooney and the Italian countryside. Directed by Anton Corbijn.
The American is about an assassin named Jack who is ambushed by unknown assassins outside his Arctic hideaway. He manages to kill them but is forced to kill his lover: she didn’t know his profession and there can be no loose ends.
Jack heads south to Rome where his handler tells him to go a small Italian town and await further orders. Not long later, Jack is given another job: to make a rifle for another assassin. He does so, but realises that it is to be used on him. In the denouement of the film we see what he does to get out of this very unpromising situation.
Anton Corbijn is a photographer so The American looks very good. I mean, George Clooney is in it. It is set in Italy so of course it was going to look good but under Corbijn’s directorship it looks even better. The story is told very tightly. Music is used only sparingly. This means we really focus on Jack – despite knowing so little about him – and become much more unsettled than we would if we were watching a Bond or Jason Bourne film.
I found the denouement of the film quite confusing. One or two parts of it still are. On the whole, though, I enjoyed the picture. It was very different to standard Hollywood fare, and while I like that, too, I appreciated this.
Finally, Monday just one (18th May) was the one hundredth anniversary of Karol Józef Wojtyła, more well known as Pope St. John Paul II. Fifteen years on from his death (15 years already!) I still miss him. He was pope when I became a Catholic so will always be special to me – even though nowadays I am not as right on in my Catholic views as I used to be. I think in the end it will be people like him (rather than many living clerics – and laymen for that matter) who keep me in the Church. Pope John Paul: Ora Pro Nobis!
On Sunday morning I got to thinking (once more) about what I learnt from my first Camino. At the same time, I asked myself if I was remembering what I had learnt. Unfortunately, I realised that I was not. Here are the lessons that came to mine:
Appreciate water, and drink it regularly This is hard: day-to-day how does one truly appreciate a thing? It’s easy with a person – you show them kindness, etc – but with a thing? As for drinking water regularly, I know that I don’t do that. For several weeks now, I have been meaning to look on-line to see how much I am supposed to drink per day but have not yet done so. I have in the past, only to forget the information and drink less.
Eat healthily I would say that my diet isn’t too bad, but it still involves regular amounts of sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks. They need to either stop or at least slow down until I get a sense of balance in my diet.
So Far As You Are Able, Look After Your Body I have failed badly in this. In May 2018 I developed a muscle complaint in my right thigh that my doctor suggested I go to physiotherapy for. He gave me the requisite form to fill out and send off but I didn’t do anything about it: I didn’t want to take the time off work. As a result, the complaint got worse. It didn’t stop me from walking the Camino but it did make me need Ibuprofen on a pretty regular basis and it did make trekking polls a fairly essential part of my kit. When I got home from the Camino, I should have sent the form off then but still didn’t for the same reason as before. I am only now doing something about it. Yesterday, I sent the form away. The physio’ will be on the NHS so I will have to wait a while for a response but hopefully they will be able to alleviate the problem if not cure it. After nearly two years of doing nothing I have to admit that I just don’t feel deserving of a cure.
Travel Lightly This has multiple meanings. – On a day-to-day basis it means keep as clean a desk as possible, throw away any paperwork you don’t need, get rid of any possessions – whether it is tech, books, or anything else – that you don’t need. All this is important as I am a bit of a hoarder. I do try to be tidy but so far it is more of an on-off thing than a permanently on, if you see what I mean. – Travel Lightly also has a deeper meaning, for example, don’t let yourself be attached to material possessions, don’t buy anything except for what you really need (whether on account of beauty or utility or anything in between). As with the day-to-day meaning, I currently get rid of what I don’t need on an on-off basis. In the depths of my heart, I love what I have too much. I know this to be true because whenever I am ill and start thinking about worse case scenarios I am sad at what I will lose by dying. A Christian who is truly aligned to God should not be thinking in this way.
Be Prepared to Make New Friends Since coming home from Santiago I have not made any real effort to make new friends. I definitely need to think about this more and then come to a conclusion and then act upon it. But why must I make new friends? That’s a good question with lots of answers, one of which is because I am not, and don’t want to be, a recluse.
So, five lessons learnt from the Camino. What next? First of all, don’t be surprised if I come back to this subject in another post – especially if I think of more lessons. In the meantime, I am going to use this post as an opportunity to ask myself how I can implement the ones above. For example, I have just looked up how much water should one drink per day. The website said two litres (three pints) so that’s what I am going to try and do. What about the other lessons? Let’s see.
My walking companion for Camino 2 would like to bring her dog. Can it be done? Is it practicable? To find out, I turned to the Camino Pilgrim Discussion Group on Facebook, of which I am a member. Heres my post,
I was wondering if anyone here has walked the Camino Frances with a dog and if so what advice you would give to anyone else contemplating doing the same.
Alternatively, even if you haven’t, what advice would you give/books about the subject you would recommend.
Over the next 24 hours or so I received 41 responses. The vast majority of them were negative: don’t take your dog at all; it’s too hard for them. A handful were neutral about the matter and another handful offered useful advice about what to do if you do take a dog. I have screen shotted those replies to send to my friend.
As the replies came back and the negative responses piled up, my friend suggested that if the Francés is too difficult perhaps we could walk the Santiago-Finisterre-Muxia-Santiago route. That would take about ten days and allow for shorter and slower days – ideal for four paws, and, no doubt, two legs as well.
If we do decide to walk from Santiago to the sea and back again does this mean that a second Camino Francés is out of the question? I can’t speak for my friend, but I would still like to walk that route again. Maybe it will be possible to do both routes, me leaving SJPdP and joining my friend in Santiago or else me doing the Camino Francés at a later date. We’ll see; we’re at such an early stage of planning that neither may happen.
If you are thinking about walking the Camino with a dog, here are four links that I was given that might be useful:
I don’t know when this journey will end. I don’t even know if it will end. I’m setting out, anyway, in the hope that one day between now and who knows when, I will be fit enough and have enough money to set out from St. Jean Pied de Port to walk the Camino Francés for a second time.
I will update this blog every time I take another step towards my second Camino. Don’t hold your breath, though, for the updates will for a while be few and far between.
So, you may ask, what happened today to start the journey? Well, I started a new job.
Hold on, didn’t you start a new job back in June? Wasn’t that the start of C-2? No. Even though I knew before finishing my first Camino that I wanted to walk another one I didn’t start the June role thinking ‘This is the beginning of the journey towards Camino 2’. Back then, Camino 2 was just an aspiration. As of today, it is a firm intention.
Okay, so what are you doing starting another new job? Ah. Well, the June one was a temp position. This one, as it happens, is a permanent post.
That’s good news. It shouldn’t be too hard to save up the necessary money. Indeed. Except, it is part-time so saving up will not be easy. Especially since my bank account is currently deep in the red.
But you have job security. Did I mention that I will be freelancing? If they don’t like me…
The good news is the job is in social media, which I have wanted to work in for a long time. I started the job today and can’t wait to get stuck in.
When will Camino 2 happen? I said above ‘who knows when’ and meant it. I don’t know. It quite possibly won’t happen. I have a feeling, though, it will take an extraordinary financial turnaround for it to do so. And as it happens, that fills me with comfort: A week ago, I had no job and nothing in the offing. Today, I have a new job. The job was confirmed yesterday, just hours after I had given away all the money in my coat pocket. Two extraordinary turnarounds. If those two, why not more?
Anyway, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to do as well as I can to save up and stay fit and if the good Lord wants me to set off across the Pyrenees, whether via the Napoleon or Valcarlos route, He will.
20-23.5.19 Arrival Since writing yesterday’s post, it has been brought to my attention that I forgot to write about the most important thing of all – the fact that in Finisterre Ellena made a lovely soup for the three of us. It took her several hours and a lot of ingredients but she did it, and we were all very grateful!
After we arrived in Santiago, Ellena and Carolin decided to rest as soon as we found our apartment. I went into town to buy some food and take a few photographs.
The Pilgrims’ Office First thing on Tuesday morning, we walked over to the Pilgrims’ Office. We still had to queue but not for two hours, which was a relief. While we waited, though, I wondered if the Pilgrims’ Office would give us a compostela; or would they say Nah, mate – you took a taxi on the last 100K? I am happy to report that they didn’t even ask if we had taken a taxi and that we did each receive our compostelas. Ellena and Carolin also bought the extra certificate that told them how many kilometres they had walked from Saint Jean.
After leaving the Pilgrims’ Office, we stopped at a nearby café where we got talking to a friendly Australian (or was he American? I can’t remember now). Upon a moment, our friend Colleen walked by! I was so happy to see her – she saved my Camino on Day 1 so to see her at the end was a great joy, and very apposite. Colleen told us that a Franciscan church down the road also issued compostelas to pilgrims so after finishing our drinks, we toddled along there, knocked on the day of the sacristy and met a friar who did the necessary for us.
The Cathedral From the Franciscan church we went to the pilgrim church itself: Santiago cathedral. Unfortunately, it is currently undergoing refurbishment so we were unable to attend Mass there and see the famous Botafumeiro (giant thurible) in action. As you can see from the photograph below, the latter was all wrapped up during our visit to protect it during the refurb.
The scaffolding was so extensive that it was hard to see the inside of the cathedral as much more than a very old and elegant building site. The place was not without meaning, though. For example, I saw my two favourite popes.
In case you don’t know who they are, that’s Benedict XVI waving his hand and John Paul II with the staff. JPII is now a canonised saint; I fully expect Benedict to be declared so after his death and shall be very disappointed if both aren’t declared Doctors of the Church one day; though that probably won’t happen in my lifetime.
Most importantly, we also saw the bones of St. James himself.
Are they really his bones? Sure, why not; no, very unlikely; who cares? To even be concerned as to whether they are or aren’t misses the point – Santiago Cathedral is not a sacred space because his bones are there but because of what he did and why. Ultimately, though we walk with and because of St. James, the purpose of our pilgrimage is Jesus Christ, and it is He who hallows the cathedral with His Presence.
One thing we didn’t do at the cathedral is enter it through the Portico of Glory – its gates were closed (on account of the scaffolding inside) – so we were unable to fall to our knees and put our hands on the statue of the Saint (though I admit I probably would not have done the former had the Portico been open). We also didn’t climb the steps at the back of the main altar to embrace the statue of St. James – the queue to do this was very long and on this occasion we were happy to just wander around and see whatever we could.
Malcolm the Brave Now, not long after I met Ellena and Carolin the subject of getting a tattoo in Santiago came up (see Postcard 7 here and 8 here). I didn’t think it would happen, but the subject kept coming up and about two weeks before the end I realised that Ellena, who had suggested it, was serious.
So, after our trip to the cathedral, as she and Carolin rested, I went to the tattoo parlour and made an appointment… I just hoped that the cigar chewing, beer drinking Hells Angels bikers that probably owned the place wouldn’t beat me up and dump me in the gutter first.
Of course, it was nothing like that. The place was cleaner than clean, the people polite, and I even met Joey from Australia who had joined us once or twice (most recently at the Cruz de Ferro) along the Way. He was looking tense: he had already made his appointment and now the time for the needle had come.
Despite the fact that we only had a one day window to get our tattoos done, we managed to make the booking, decide what kind of tattoos to go for and get inked.
Here’s mine (forgive the Oh So Pale English skin):
Pau Cafre is the tattooist and he did an ace job. If you are ever in Santiago and are in the mood for a tattoo, check him out at Old Skull Tattoos.
Being tattooed was such an experience! I could have gone through with it by myself but when Ellena said she would come and sit in the room with me, I wasn’t going to turn that down. She held my hand and I rambled on about Alexander the Great while the needle did its work.
Speaking of the needle, there was just one, but it moved up and down so fast that it felt like there were goodness knows how many of them. It felt very dramatic.
I know that tattoos are not to everyone’s taste but I am so pleased I decided to get mine. It’s a wonderful reminder of the Camino – one that will never get broken, lost or stolen. If I ever walk another, I will definitely get another tattoo at the end. I’m already thinking about the keys of St. Peter.
Food Stations After leaving Old Skull Tattoos, we ate a lovely pizza round the corner. While in Santiago, we also visited a local KFC one or twice. I think I mentioned before that I never go to KFC at home so it remained a nice treat. I especially liked the free soft drink refill – it had my favourite Camino fizzy drink, Kas, so I was one happy customer. On one of the days we were there, a group of teens came in. One of the girls in the party was carrying a cat, her pet. She sat down and took good care of it while the others went to order the meal. It’s good to see young people with their heads screwed on right.
To Home Rest, Compostelas, churches, noms and tattoos. That was our holiday in Santiago. Finally, though, Thursday came and it was time to head to the airport. Upon our arrival, we stopped one last time together in a café. When the time came for Ellena and Carolin to head off to their flight we exchanged goodbyes and I watched them leave:
Sigh. Two hours later, it was time for me to do so. Farewell, Santiago; farewell, Camino; farewell, Spain. For now?
End So there it is; the end of my Camino. I did it! I bloody well did it! It started last November when I watched The Way, continued when I joined the Confraternity of St. James, took a big leap forward when I quit the job I wasn’t enjoying, and finally really got going after I left St. Jean, and became an immeasurably richer experience after I met Ellena and Carolin. And now? It’s over but it never will be. Here’s to the next stage.
18-20.5.19 We left Santiago not long after midday and arrived in Finisterre at around three o’clock. It had been a pleasant enough journey for me, but one to be forgotten for Ellena and Carolin – both suffered travel sickness on the way to the coast and back again.
When we arrived, the skies were blue and we had time to pop into a nearby restaurant for lunch. We had booked an apartment for the weekend. It was only a mile or so up the road but once our lunch was over, we were only too happy to jump in a taxi to get there.
Hiccup No. 1 took place when we arrived at the garage café opposite the apartment to not find the flat owner’s representative waiting for us with the key. No problem, let’s sit down and have a coffee. So, we did.
While we wait, I’ll tell you about the above photograph. It’s the same cross – with the crucifixion on one side, and our Our Lady and the Christ child on the other. The Incarnation in all its glory.
Once the flat owner’s representative arrived, we settled into the apartment. It was a clean, nicely furnished place. However, this didn’t stop Hiccup No. 2 from now happening: there was no WiFi. Where’s it? I text messaged the flat owner. There isn’t any, he wrote back, but there is lots to do in Finisterre: there’s a medieval church, there’s this, there’s that, there’s the other!
Right. Dude. Duude. Sit down. Ellena, Carolin and I bow to no one in our love of medieval churches and this, that, and indeed the other but if we pay good money for a modern apartment we expect there to be WiFi. There’s a time to visit medieval churches, and there’s a time to use the internet.
Seriously, though, while the lack of WiFi didn’t ruin our weekend, it was a big surprise to find that there was none. For this reason, and this reason alone, I would not go to the same apartment again if I revisited Finisterre (which I hope to do – see below).
To conclude the Great Matter of the Absent WiFi – you may be wandering why it was such an issue; surely we could have just used our mobile phone’s normal data plan. I could, and did, but Ellena and Carolin didn’t have any data on theirs so they relied on WiFi to be able to use their devices. So that they could use their phones, they tethered them to mine. That solved the problem until we got back to Santiago where, mercifully, the apartment we stayed in did have WiFi!
Once we had recovered from the shock of no WiFi, we decided to hit the beach. Our apartment nearly backed onto it with only a bit of scrubland separating us. To get there, we had to go down to the basement car park and out the back door. Easier said than done. We didn’t quite get lost in the (empty) car park but the door leading to the scrubland was not easy to find! You’re going to have to trust me on this one. It was all very awks.
Once we found our way out of the basement, we crossed the scrub, got stung by nettles and found the beach. There, we had fun paddling and trying to avoid the broken shells. Ouch.
As you can see in the above photos, I tried to get arty again. Am I looking at a sand cliff? (Please say yes). No, they are just the walls of a runnel – three or four inches high. I put my phone next to the sand wall, clicked and hoped for a decent photo!
Our weekend was largely spent relaxing at home or visiting the beach, either to paddle or bath or collect shells. Along the way, I went on a food run. While visiting one of the waterfront restaurants to order a pizza a man said hello to me. Oh dear; I don’t recognise him. He knew me, though: we met in Zubiri (see this post and ignore the wholly ill advised bit about Top Nazis. Heh.). He still remembered how I had had to ditch the two books I had brought with me! We had a nice chat while I waited for the pizza.
From the moment when Ellena suggested that we come to Finisterre to celebrate the end of our Camino, I had been very keen on the idea: it meant that I would be able to visit Muxia, where The Way ends. On Saturday, I wandered into town to check the bus schedule. Unfortunately, there was a restricted service and it looked like I had missed today’s bus. To make matters worse, tomorrow’s schedule was not much better – there was no direct bus to Muxía. To get there, I would have to go to someplace else, change buses then head on my way.
I think it was as soon as I saw that a change was necessary that I thought to myself, you know what, not this time; let’s leave it until next time I am here; it gives me an additional reason to come back. I just want to relax and not be bothered about planning anything.
So, I stayed in Finisterre; although, I didn’t entirely relax. On Sunday, instead of going to Muxía, I took a walk to the lighthouse at the end of the end of the world.
The lighthouse is about four kilometres north of the centre of Finisterre, and the path runs uphill along the side of the road on one side, and a deep drop into a cliffside wood on the other. That Sunday, it was a burningly hot day.
By Camino standards, the walk was short and not too strenuous; after 36 days of walking, though, I doubt my legs thanked me for putting them through one last exercise.
Presently, however, I arrived at my destination. Ahead of me, a car park, then, a souvenir shop; further on, a hotel, then the lighthouse.
The lighthouse was closed, but you could walk round it to the very last piece of land before the Americas and look out over the sea while standing next to the last Camino memorial stone.
In the above photograph, the boots sit on the memorial stone (there is a cross out of sight to its left). The dolphin is back along the path, on the way to the hotel. The land you can see is further down the coast.
Having said a prayer for the man to whom the stone was dedicated, and taken a moment to admire the view, I withdrew to the nearby hotel bar.
Drinking that beer, in that place, in that weather, after that Camino was a most wonderful experience.
But soon, it was time to return to the flat. The walk back to Finisterre was downhill. Between that and the beer inside me it was a whole lot more pleasant a walk than the way up!
On Monday morning, we left the apartment and walked/hobbled back down the road to the bus stop. It was another sunny day and the coach was rather too warm for long journeys. This compounded Ellena’s and Carolin’s travel sickness. All I can say here is that at least they felt better afterwards.
I don’t know when or if I will get the chance to walk the Camino Francés again. That’ll completely depend on time, health and money. In the meantime, what I would certainly like to do is walk from Santiago to Finisterre to Muxía and then back to Santiago again. This pilgrimage would take about a week or ten days at most. As I write these words, I’m hoping this will be my 2020 pilgrimage. Time and the good Lord will tell.
The last day of our Camino! Joy and sadness intertwined.
After paying the dinner bill (see yesterday’s post), we set off from the pensión. There were no cafés in Brea itself – or at least, none that we saw – so we kept walking until we found a bar a couple of kilometres up the road. Afterwards, and admittedly not for the first time, I briefly considered a career as an action photographer:
We walked along the roadside and came to a hut with incense burning on a small table. A sign there proclaimed a great truth:
Sometimes a simple moment of joy is all we need to remember how lucky we are
Well, we can debate whether we are lucky, blessed or whatever but either way the sentiment is a good one.
On the table was a stamp for our pilgrim passports; we stamped ours before inhaling the incense one last time and heading on our way.
This morning, we met more doggos. Ellena greeted them happily. If Dogbook existed, she would have so many friends by now. The second time we saw a dog its mother watched on from a distance as she went about her work.
It was an overcast day and soon enough, rain started to fall. Off came the backpacks and out came their rain covers.
We stopped for lunch 15 kilometres from Santiago, at a place called Amenal. One thing I regret about the Camino is not making a record of all the non-pilgrim meals that we ate. There were one or two really nice ones. The café-bar we stopped at today comes into that category. The pizza was nice; really nice! If you walk the Camino past Amenal, look out for the café-bar that has the round ‘Kilometro 15’ sign outside it. That’s the place to go to for good food.
We continued – by the roadside, and then into woods. The road followed us, and it gave us an opportunity to remember an earlier event. In my first blog post in this series, I wrote this,
During the afternoon, I saw two pilgrims taking a break by a roadside crash barrier. A good idea! I wanted to do the same there and then but didn’t want to invade their space or stop so close that they could see I was copying them. Even when exhausted, propriety reigns! So, I walked a little further on and took out my bar of chocolate. Dear reader, I don’t think I ever enjoyed food more!
Day 1: St Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles
The two pilgrims, of course, were Ellena and Carolin. The woodland road we were now walking alongside also had a crash barrier beside it. So, with the Valcarlos Route in mind, we stopped and took photographs of us all resting on the barrier – this time, together.
Carolin and I:
Me and Ellena:
It was a fun moment!
Once the photos were done, we moved on – onwards and upwards through the woods.
There is a scene in the film Inception when Ariadne (Ellen Page) – while in a dream state – makes a Parisian street bend upwards until it is directly above herself and Cobb (Leonardo Decaprio). As we came out of the woods, we saw a road climb so sharply that it too seemed to be intent on curving backwards over us. I was not overjoyed at the prospect of climbing it, but, as Ellena said, when you get closer to roads like this, they never go up as sharply as they appear. Thankfully, this proved to be the case.
We got to the top. Although it hadn’t been as bad as it looked, we – I – still needed a rest and so we dived into a café a bit further on. Here, we were hit by an influx of pilgrims (TPs looking for toilets) for the first time since the Portomarín to Palas de Rei road.
We continued on our way. We passed Santiago airport and tried not to think about the fact that in a week’s time, we would be saying goodbye to each other there. The rain was falling more heavily now. Just past the airport, we dived into a bar as much to escape the rain as for a drink. We were now just 12 kilometres from Santiago.
It was still raining when we left the bar but we pushed on nonetheless. In time, we came out of the woods, left the last village behind and arrived at the Monte del Gozo. Here, we looked out for the statues of the two Arriving Pilgrims.
I had been eager to see the statues ever since I watched Martin Sheen and co walk up to them in The Way. We almost missed them, however, as the road was a little distance away from the statues’ location. Actually, it was so far that we only just spotted them in the near distance.
Something else that didn’t help is the fact that in the film (released in 2010), the statues appear to be on an unkempt hill whereas the Monte del Gozo now is a very well landscaped park.
Our first actual sight of Santiago came while we were still on the road but our first ‘official’ pilgrim view came with the statues. Here’s what we saw.
You can just see the spires of Santiago cathedral in the centre of the photo – our destination! After thirty-six days and so many kilometres, we were almost there.
Almost, but not quite, and not today.
Today, we headed off to the town’s east end where the apartment we had booked was located. There, Ellena and Carolin rested while I went in search of a supermarket for provisions.
17.5.19 The reason we didn’t go to the cathedral yesterday was because it was about four kilometres from our flat. Having walked 25 kilometres yesterday, we were happy to go to the cathedral tomorrow; or rather, today.
After packing our backpacks up, we closed the apartment door and started the final part of the journey. We left early – before nine o’clock to allow plenty of time to get the compostelas before we had to catch the coach to Finisterre, which was scheduled to leave Santiago at midday. As we knew that there might be a queue at the pilgrims’ office for the compostela, we reckoned to get there early – between nine and ten AM – so that we had plenty of time to pick up our compostelas before leaving town.
That was the plan. It didn’t work out like that.
We arrived at the cathedral square. I have to admit, doing so was an underwhelming experience. We were here. We had finished. Well done us? Yes, but now we have to go to the pilgrims’ office. No time to waste – we should have left the apartment earlier; the bus leaves at midday and ten o’clock is already drawing on.
We came, we saw, we left sharpish. So much so that I was only able to take a two or three photographs of the cathedral. I didn’t worry, though; there would be plenty of time to take more when we returned on Monday.
We found the pilgrims’ office and joined the queue in the courtyard outside. It was another cloudy day and soon the weather turned on us. Fortunately, it was only very light rain and within a few minutes we were at the doors to the corridor leading towards the reception where the compostelas were being issued.
We stepped over the threshold into the building and— stopped. Stopped. The minutes passed. No movement. More time passed. Still no movement. I checked my phone. It was somewhere past ten o’clock. We still had time but only if the queue started moving. Steady progress would do. If the queue was going to be like this the rest of the way, though, we would miss the bus.
While we waited, I went onto the Camino Pilgrim Discussion Group on Facebook and asked if it was possible to pick up one’s compostela any time after today. I quickly learnt that it was. When I told Ellena and Carolin this, we agreed to leave the queue and come back on Tuesday – at opening time. I didn’t know if I would receive an answer from the CPDG and was so very grateful when I did – if you are interested in any of the Camino routes and are on Facebook, I thoroughly recommend the Camino Pilgrim Discussion Group to you. The people there are friendly and always ready to offer help and advice to any who ask.
We had intended to walk to the bus station but time was now against us. So, we took a taxi instead. At the bus station, we tried to work out how to buy a ticket for the coach to Finisterre. Very fortuitously, we met Ellena’s American friend Buddy (man not dog) who was was just returning from the coast. He put us on the right track and soon we were on our way.
Just like that, then, we left Santiago. Our Camino was over. Now, we were – what? Recovering former pilgrims? Plain old tourists? Something in-between? If you are thinking about doing the Camino be warned! Once you become a pilgrim, I don’t think you ever stop. I don’t think you can. The spirit of the Camino becomes a part of you; the experience of it is tattooed onto your spirit. This is certainly what I have found since returning home on 23rd May. I am only a former walker. I am still, though, a pilgrim, searching for meaningfulness, for an authentic way to live, for God. I am searching for the Camino in my life at home. I haven’t forgotten the Camino Francés, though. Far from it. How I would love to be back there! I think a part of me still is; walking the Way in the shadow and shade, and always will. I would very much like to walk the French route again. Whether I will or not is in God’s hands. If I do not, I shall try my best to not mind too much – as Newman says, He knows what He is about – but instead, live with gratitude for the Camino that I did undertake, and finished on 17th May 2019.