Feb 23, 2010

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Last Tuesday morning I walked into the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela to spend a bit of time with St. James before leaving Spain.  I blundered down the stairs to the crypt with my pack on my back, set it on the floor, and then realized that there was a Mass being served on the altar before the reliquary.  I planted my knees on the kneeling bench and followed along as best I could.  After the service was over, the priest carried the chalice and paten back upstairs while the communicants remained downstairs in the crypt.

Reluctantly, I left the cathedral and hightailed it to the nearest bus stop.  I'd decided to walk to the airport, but spending 0.90€ to save an hour seemed like a smart move to me.  (It would have been a real bummer to miss my flight for the sake of a stubborn desire to walk all the way.) After almost a week in Santiago, it was good to hit my stride again.  The short walks around town and my day trips to Iria Flavia and A Coruña were good, but having my pack on my back again felt just right and 8 km was long enough for me to feel as though I'd gone somewhere.

From Santiago, I flew to London Stansted and then took the train in to King's Cross / St. Pancras station in London where I met an old friend who had graciously offered to host me for two days.  Wednesday morning, we hopped a train to Canterbury and it was then that I realized I was headed to yet another ancient site of Christian pilgrimage.  The relics of Thomas Beckett were destroyed at the command of Henry VIII in 1538 and shortly after that large scale pilgrimage to Canterbury came to an end.

Thursday morning I crept out the door and made my way to the train station where I had time for a coffee and a sandwich before catching the 6:44 to Victoria Station.  From there it was the Gatwick Express and on to my flight.  Fourteen hours after I laced my boots on in England, I was back in Canada.  The next morning I was at my first session of the TESL class that I'll be taking over the next four months.

So, why haven't I posted much lately?  A big part of it is that the time I spent walking in silence was what I needed for me to be able to write.  Once I arrived in Santiago, my experience changed.  The first few days I spent a LOT of time in the cathedral, but the quality of the silence I absorbed there was somehow different from the moving meditation that I experienced on the trail.  Now I'm home, and there are Lenten services at church, class Monday to Friday, and Olympic hockey.  There are a few more post topics rattling around in my brain, so I will likely be updating this again fairly soon.  And perhaps there will be another pilgrimage to record again one of these days...

Feb 12, 2010

Monte de Gozo

I'm now staying at the "youth" hostel in Monte de Gozo, which is the first hill from which the spires of the cathedral in Santiago can be seen. (Hence the name "Mount of Joy.") There's quite a complex here, developed originally for the 1993 pilgrimage year. The best part is, the room is only 9€ per night for pilgrims, 12€ for the non-crazy types.

Anyway, my plan now is to stay here for the next four nights so I don't have to lug my backpack around. It's a nice 5 km walk into the city centre, or I can hop a bus which runs every 20 minutes and costs 0.90€ -- but I think I'll do the walking anyway.

I will probably make a day trip to Finisterra by bus. It's 12€ each way, and the last bus leaves the end of the world at 7:00 pm. I'm also planning to do a one day trip to Padrón, where tradition says the boat carrying St. James' body landed. It's 20 km from Santiago, so I'll take the bus there and walk back.

I've also located a good internet cafe in the city, which means that probably this evening I'll be uploading lots of photos. Today I'll be taking a guided tour of the roof of the cathedral, and it's a bright sunny day, so there should be lots of photo opportunities.

Feb 10, 2010


Made it here in good health and good spirits. I'll be looking for a cheap internet cafe tomorrow to upload photos and write more, but for now just this.

Feb 7, 2010


Today I passed the 100 km marker. Less than four easy days of walking until I'm in Santiago, and I could do it in three without much difficulty. Finisterra is looking like a good way to extend my walking.

I'm finding that I have fewer and fewer words when I sit at the keyboard. I suppose it's because I enjoy walking so much that I'm walking longer and later into the evening, which leaves me less time to process my thoughts by writing in my journal. And in spite of "not much happening" I feel like I have a lot to process.

I was originally planning to walk a bit further today, but when I arrived in Portomarin at 3:30 this afternoon, I realized I had walked 24 km on nothing more than coffee and lots of tea biscuits. A hot meal was soon found, and also a very good conversation with a Czech woman I met on the trail today. Even though there were still several hours of daylight left, I decided to stay in Portomarin for the night so I would have time to sit and write and think and read. And now here I am at a computer uploading photos.

Feb 5, 2010


The last few days I have not covered much ground, but even if I continue to drag my feet, I will probably be in Santiago by this time next week. At this point, I have very mixed feelings about that. Yes, I'm eager to reach Santiago, but I would also love to just keep walking. Perhaps to Finisterra (the end of the world) and then turn around and head east.

It's been a good few days since I last posted, but I haven't really had time to process the events and the timer is ticking down on this computer. I suppose I'll just log out once the current batch of photos finishes uploading, and perhaps scribble a bit in my trusty notebook. (Paper, that is. I left my EeePC at home.)

Feb 1, 2010

sunrise, sunset

Just call me Rev Tevye. Or not.

I got underway this morning from El Acebo before dawn. In this part of Spain on February 1, that means by around 8:30 in the morning. Once I found my way out of town, I realized what a spectacular view I had and so I just stood and watched (and snapped a few photos) while the rising sun gradually touched the snow-capped peaks around me and 40 kilometers across the valley at the next major ridge of mountains. Wow.

The first 10 kilometers of walking yesterday was glorious -- cold and crisp and snowy. (I've uploaded some of those photos to Flickr already.) The problem was that once we'd hit 1517 m above sea level, there was nowhere left to go but down. And that's when the fun began. I don't know what our altitude was when the snow turned to rain and the head wind picked up, but after 90 minutes of high winds and rain at about the 3 degree mark I had decided to call it a day at the first town after the pass. My friends decided they would push on, however, so we parted after a mid-afternoon meal. It was 3:30 when they left, and I figured they would be walking for at least another four hours. Oh, and sunset in the mountains comes quickly. By 7:00 it is dark.

Since I knew where they were planning to walk to today, I decided that after a short walk and long rest yesterday, I'd catch up with them today. On to Ponferrada, then, where I dawdled a bit. I spent three hours in the city, in fact. Apparently Mondays the museums in this part of the world close, but the 10th century Mozarabic church on the outskirts of town had a sign telling me which of the neighbours had the key to unlock the church. That was well worth seeing.

By the time I was done poking around, it was almost 4:00 pm and I was sorely tempted to take another short day and just stay in the city. I knew there would be a Mass at the cathedral for the celebration of Christ's entry into the temple 40 days after His birth. If there had been a service in the church of Santo Tomás (the 1100 year old church previously mentioned) I probably would have stayed put.

Instead, I decided to head out to Cacabelos. Yesterday when we parted ways in El Acebo, that's where my friends said they hoped to spend tonight. It is a good 18 km from the city centre, and the church of Santo Tomás was on the opposite side of the city. Still, it was a flat route with a nice smooth, even path and I made it in three hours.

Except that the albergue in town is closed until March. Since my friends had arrived in mid-afternoon, they simply kept walking to the next town, but it was 7:30 by the time I realized the place was closed. (Yes, it is located at the far end of town.) I rested for a few minutes and then headed back to where I'd noticed a few hostals. And thank God for friendly helpful strangers, because one guy I asked pointed me towards a place that had rooms for almost a third less than the place I was headed towards. And the clincher was, they have internet access with computers I can plug my USB devices into.

So, today I walked from sunrise to sunset, probably a total of about 40 km. My friends are 8 kilometers further along than I am, but at least tonight the only snoring in the room will be my own.

The Kings of León

No, not the band. Twenty-four members of the ruling family of León are entombed in the Panteon in the Basilica of San Isidoro in León. The iconography on the ceiling of the royal crypt dates to the 10th century. The Pantokrator and the Last Supper were clearly recognizable to Orthodox eyes. The library and treasury of the monastery attached to the Basilica have been looted several times over the centuries, but they still have a Bible dated to around the year 960 AD and a communion chalice also from the 10th century.

In Canada, we consider a church to be an historic building if it's been around for a hundred years or so.

Pascal the Pilgrim

dinner party

From left to right: me, Antonio, Pascal, Arancha, Joseba

Pascal is a Swiss gentleman. In his corporate career, he has lived in the U.S. and France, and most recently in Italy. I met him in Sahagún, Spain and at that point he had been walking for 107 days. He began in Genoa and wandered over to Marseilles, up north, back south again, got to Santiago by the Camino del Norde and the Primitivo in time for Christmas. He spent New Year's Eve under the stars at Finisterra and is now headed for Rome. After Rome, he plans to walk to Jerusalem. Oh, and three years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

I will not be complaining aloud about any aches or pains I may experience on my trek.