Sunday, 28 October 2012

How Did the Gear Stack Up?

Before we left, I published a list of our camino gear. Now that we've returned I want to comment on how well it all did its job, and the answer is, by and large, very well indeed. There are a couple of changes I will make before the next time though, and yes, there will be a next time.

1 Osprey Talon 44 pack, with hydration bladder, pack liner and pack cover
This pack is brilliant. With its soft structure and plethora of overly long adjusting straps it is not the prettiest pack in the world but it is light, comfortable and robust enough for the Camino Santiago. I carried about 7 kg, which would have just qualified as carry on luggage had I not been carrying a large folding knife. Next time, I will buy the knife in Spain and mail it home to myself at the end. For checking them into an aircraft hold, I fitted the pack covers to the packs backwards - that is, over the straps - and tied them with a length of rope. It kept the straps safe from jamming in the automatic luggage system and gave a measure of security.

Clemency's pack was a German made Vaude Tour 50. It was OK, but it has a cunning adjustable trampoline type frame which was either badly designed or badly assembled, probably the latter. The adjustment mechanism dug into her back until I disassembled it with the aforementioned large folding knife and put it back together in what was probably the factory approved manner. The shoulder and waist straps on this pack  were too thin for her, and needed supplementary padding.

1 pair Asics Gel Arata shoes and 3 pair socks
I had very little trouble with blisters  because of these great shoes, and the perfect socks which went inside them. I used 1000 Mile walking socks, which are woolen outer socks with a thin inner sock fitted inside them. It takes a bit of adjusting to get them smoothly in place in the morning, but they reduce friction and kept me blister free. The shoes are Goretex which managed to keep me dry except on the day we had sustained, prolonged rain.

Clemency wore Smartwool medium walking socks and Adidas walking shoes, which was also a winning combination.  The shoes are very light weight and not at all waterproof, but this is not really a problem on the Camino as the wet days were quite warm. 

The only time we had any problem with our feet was the day we used different socks. A product Verna Rutherford gave us, Blistex was very helpful here. It is a spray on plastic coating which prevented small proto blisters from developing any further. 
  
1 pair Teva sandals
These sandals were also perfect for their job: comfortable and able to stand up to an hour or two strolling through the cobbled streets of an ancient Spanish town. They are an alternative to regular walking shoes, and  it is quite possible to walk the whole Camino in Teva sandals, as one or two people we met had done. Clemency took jandals (aka flip flops, thongs) which wasn't a great idea. Jandals are OK around an albergue but try walking a kilometre over cobblestones in them and you'll soon be wishing you forked out for a pair of Tevas.

2 pairs lightweight hiking pants with zip off legs.
Kathmandu and Mountain Designs brands, no issues with these. Light, comfortable, durable and, most importantly, dry quickly.

I also took a couple of tramping shirts. One Mountain Designs polyester was brilliant. A Kathmandu polyester/modal shirt was not so great: it tended to soak up moisture like blotting paper which is hardly the point with a hiking shirt.   

3 T shirts (1x merino, 2x polypropylene)
3 pairs underpants (polypropylene)
Perfect. Comfortable, quick drying. There is no functional difference between polyprop and merino, so go for whatever is cheaper.

1 lightweight merino pullover
Perfect. Kept its shape and dried quickly when washed.

1 lightweight polarfleece jacket
Ditto

Waterproof jacket (Mountain Designs )
Waterproof overtrousers
Next time, the heavy New Zealand style rain gear will be staying at home. I used an Australian Mountain Designs Melaleuca jacket and Clemency had a Macpac. Both kept the rain out but also kept the perspiration in, so we ended up sodden anyway. The Spanish Altus brand poncho, which costs about 40 Euros seems to be a far better option than a $300-700 Goretex jacket. And leggings were pretty much useless. The Spanish have ankle to knee gaiters which make a perfect complement to the poncho, but given the warm weather, wearing shorts under the poncho is probably even better.

1 season sleeping bag (packs down REALLY small)
These Kathmandu brand sleeping bags have performed very well in both Spring and Autumn. They are still in very good shape. Some people dispense with sleeping bags altogether and use only a silk sleeping bag liner, or rely on finding blankets in an albergue. The few people we met who had problems with parasites were those who adopted this strategy. 

Sunhat
Beanie
2 neck scarves
Large enamel mug
Folding cutlery set
Knife
Headlamp
Lightweight hiking towel
Toiletries
Cell phone and charger
Camera and charger
1 well worn copy of John Brierley's Camino de Santiago Maps
Various documents
Small medical kit to treat blisters, headaches and other ailments I might be prone to.
 Out of all this stuff, there is nothing I would change. I didn't use my sunglasses or the sunscreen but I would still take them. I took my Kindle, didn't use it, and brought it home with a broken screen; enough said. The headlamp, an Eveready, was great except that the switch was prone to being accidentally knocked on. It spent a lot of time illuminating the inside of my pack, but even so, the batteries lasted for 3 weeks and would probably go on for a lot longer yet.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Photos

I didn't take a lot of photos on the Camino; as often as not, taking snaps just didn't seem appropriate, but some of the ones I did take I am now putting into my Camino posts. Actually, the pictures are a mix of mine and Clemency's. For those interested in that sort of thing, the camera I used was a Nikon Coolpix P7100. It is an excellent camera, though very prone to water damage. Clemency began the trip using a tiny Samsung point 'n' shoot, but after a very short while put it in the bottom of her pack and used her cellphone, an HTC One V. Her results were pretty impressive.

You can check our photos out by looking at the older posts, below. I hope to finish posting pictures in the next few days. And in the meantime, here are a few others:

A view from the city wall, Astorga

Complicated overbridge specifically for the Camino, just before Astorga local bodies take the Camino and its infrastructure and also care of pilgrims very seriously. It is, after all, a major contributor to the Spanish economy, as well as being a deeply integrated part of their culture.

 
 Preparing the communal meal, Foncebadon

 Templar's Castle, Ponferrada

 Some flowers. Obviously.

 At every open church we lit a candle before the image of the virgin. It was a prayer specifically for our children.Some of the Madonnas were very old indeed, and many of them powerfully beautiful. This one would be 18th Century, I'd guess.

 A wayside chapel in a tiny village

 Every town had its graveyard with these small above ground mausoleums for local families.

The cloister at Samos. One of them, anyway.

You can take the bishop out of the Camino but...

We had an easier than expected flight back. Clemency sat in a wheelchair which meant we went straight to the front of the queue when boarding or going through customs, and there was always some pleasant person who knew where they were going to push her around the miles of airport corridors. We arrived home late on Thursday afternoon, and on Sunday had a pretty full day. In the morning we went to Oamaru for the 150th anniversary of St. Luke's parish, and in the evening to the cathedral so that I could dedicate the wonderful stained glass window donated to the cathedral and to the city by the Cullington family. The window is a truly magnificent piece, crafted by local artist Peter MacKenzie from Stella Cullington's ideas. Kiri Te Kanawa was the model for St. Cecilia who frames the right hand side of the window and modesty forbids me from telling you who was the model for St. Paul who stands on the left.

Apart from rushing around the countryside and blessing windows and so forth, I have been catching up with jet lag and bringing my psyche back to this part of the world, which hasn't been easy. What with the 30+ hours of travel and the time difference and the lingering tenderness in my Achilles tendons, I can't remember ever being so healthily or pleasantly tired. I find myself falling asleep at the most inappropriate times and waking fully alert and active in other, equally inappropriate ones. And part of me is still fully, actively in Spain.

Every time I have slept since arriving back home I have dreamed of the Camino, and only of the Camino. For the first two nights I dreamed in Spanish, which is disconcerting, considering how little Spanish I actually know; but the rhythms and music of the language infused my whole dreamscape. I have cleaned and put away my gear. Soon I will write my last couple of Camino blog posts: I want to comment on how our gear actually worked out in real life (pretty well, on the whole) and I want to post a few photos. But that won't be the end of it. I find myself already looking at web pages devoted to other camino routes. The ruta norte along the Bay of Biscay from St. Jean de Luz in France is the current front runner. It is longer and more difficult and has fewer facilities than the Camino Frances which we have just completed, but it looks pretty darned interesting. And it won't be all that long until I retire....


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Coming Home


I'm in Kuala Lumpur, waiting for a plane to Auckland. I have texts and emails from the home, and pictures from my children waiting in Whatsapp, but none of the life I will pick up again tomorrow seems, as yet, quite real. I have been astonished at how completely the Camino Santiago de Compostela had taken over my mental processes.

There is another sense that the Camino is a spiritual exercise; that is, for the entire time one is walking the Camino, one lives in the now. Every day a pilgrim lives with a long term overall goal, that of reaching Santiago but until the last couple of hours on the last day that is just some vague future possibility that you hope will one day arrive, like retirement or Christmas. Every day there is a smaller goal: that of reaching the town you have designated as the next night's resting place, but that will inevitably happen, probably around 2 o'clock and can't be hurried, so that is never much in mind either. Instead of the immediate or the long term future, walking the Camino is always about this piece of track, this slight ache in my left thigh, this view, these people walking up behind me, this next footfall, this next mouthful of water. There is a camaraderie that grows amongst the people sharing the experience with you, and tales to be told of the last 2 or 3 or 4 weeks walking, but apart from that, all else fades to some other place, far away and long ago.

The Camino takes on its own rhythm. There is a pattern to each day: rise, pack, walk, eat, drink, find shelter, unpack, wash body and clothes, sleep, rise, pack.... There is also a rhythm to the whole Camino as it in sequence tests body and mind and spirit.

And then it is over. Santiago is reached and the time honoured customs are observed. The last night is spent, not in an albergue  but a hotel. Souvenirs are bought and trains are booked. Then the shell is taken off the pack and an ordinary railway seat is occupied. Then there are planes and airports, those places of transition with no soul of their own as the re-entry to the old life is made.

 The day after tomorrow we pick up the old life again and begin again, transformed. I'm glad of this 30 hours of travelling to make a physical journey of half a world, but an emotional and spiritual one of far longer than that.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Botafumeiro

The trick to seeing Santiago Cathedral is to get there early. It opens at 7.00 am every morning, though it is the back doors that are open, not the big front ones. We got there around 8.15 and basically spent the morning there.

The first thing for me to do was to visit the crypt and pray before the bones of St. James. I´m not entirely sure why, as readers of previous posts will know, but somehow, for me the Camino was not complete until I had done this. There in a small cellar, down a flight of steps was a silver casket containing James´ mortal remains. A young woman prayed before them and then pushed several copies of her CV through the grill to lie before the coffin. Unemployment is high in Spain, and I guess both her faith and her intention were obvious, and I found the sight intensely moving. I knelt there and remembered several things. A parish priest who, at the end of his pilgrims blessing had asked us to pray for his parish when we got to Santiago. Then a farmer tending some strange (to me) crop on a sunny hillside. I smiled and waved to him and he stood, raised both arms and cried out
¡Hola! ¡Bien Camino!¡Rece por mí cuando llegue a Santiago! Hello! Good Camino! Pray for me when you reach Santiago
So before I spent time holding my children, my grandchild, my diocese, my family, before God I remembered that farmer and his nameless crop and the parish of Arzua. Bless them all, my Lord and make of them what you intend.

Who can explain this? There in that little place before the silver box there did seem to be one of those parts of our universe where the veil between this reality and whatever lies behind it wears very thin indeed.It was a place for silence and for more tears.

We went to two masses today. One was the local parish mass. Sitting near the front, I could see the famous thurible, the botafumeiro, hanging from its rope before the altar. It is very large, but it looks decidedly petite beside the gold altar lamp. And both are modicums of minimalist discretion beside the altar, which stretches in all its Byzantine complexity from floor to ceiling of that vast building, encased in gold and silver. Set into the altarpiece is the large gilded statue of St James. The staircase runs up behind it and, quite visible to the congregation throughout the service, the continual stream of pilgrims rises and descends as people take their turns to embrace the saint. it was disconcerting at first but after a while, oddly appropriate.

About a thousand or so attended the mass, I would guess. It was led by an elderly priest, a true showman,  with an opera level voice who led the congregation with such humour and grace that the vast place was humanised.The service was a low mass, gently and sensitively crafted. The strictures against photos and talking were firmly though gently enforced. Tourists were ushered discreetly away for the course of the service. Then at the end, the botafumeiro was swung.

It is used liturgically, apparently, only 8 times a year on the great feasts, or on other occasions if someone wants to pay 400 euros for the privilege of seeing it and so I guess someone in the congregation had a few hundred euros burning a hole in their pocket. While the priest said the final sentences of dismissal at the end of the service, and while the organ thundered out some rousing bit or other, for no liturgical reason whatsoever this piece of ceremonial circus got an airing. Back and forth it tore across the transepts belching smoke like a great tin comet. A forest of hands went up clutching cameras and people oohed and ahhed. When it was stopped after a few minutes a thunderous round of applause went up.

An hour later was the pilgrim mass. Between services I took my opportunity to embrace the saint, trying hard to be gracious as an Italian tourbus party let about a dozen members of their posse into the queue before me. I touched the great gilded icon, looked down through the altarpiece at the gathering congregation and returned to my seat having fulfilled all of the obligations of a pilgrim.  The crowd was bigger this time, my guess would be around the 3,500 mark. The service was led by a nun with a wonderful contralto voice and included input from priests of various nationalities, including an Australian and a Kiwi. I guess they were priests who were also peregrinos, and had been lent an alb for the day and given the invitation to participate. We were blessed, and at the end there must have been someone else with a spare 400 euros for the botafumeiro did its thing again. This time it went a bit longer and I think a bit higher, almost seeming to clip the roof at the end of each swing; and this time, it didn´t seem quite so out of place.

The Cathedral of Santiago is one of the world´s most important Holy places. I must admit, when first looking at its splendour, to wondering what James that most  practical and focused of apostles would make of it all. The immense Byzantine altar and the Romanesque architecture combine to create one of the planet´s greatest pieces of architectural art. It is therefore a magnet for people with many different motivations: the merely curious as well as for those who know it to be a place where the sacred can seep through just a little more easily than usual. I watched a young girl praying before a statue of the virgin in a side altar. A tourist strolled by, and without even pausing to look at what he was photographing, thrust a camera in front of the girl´s face and snapped a pic of the statue. I guess he needs  proof that he has actually been there, and when he gets home he will struggle to remember where he took it or what exactly it is that he photographed. When she gets home she will know the blessings given her in that time she spent with the Mother of God. Both I guess will receive as they have given. The Cathedral of Santiago is big enough, holy enough, gracious enough to be kind to them both.

The Last Day


 

 Track on the last day

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with...

Waiting on the Cathedral steps... encountering angels...

The final walk into Santiago was, in many ways anticlimactic. From Arca I walked in the dark along the soft earth of a path through an oak forest and began a gentle climb. By the time the sun rose the towns were becoming frequent and had taken on a particular character, that of subsidiary settlements to a large city. Around 11.00 I passed the Santiago city limits but still had 11 km to go before I hit the big smoke. Soon it was kilometre after kilometre of senda path following a straight two lane tarmac road, then an amazingly ugly sculpture on the top of Mt. Gozo, then the suburbs. I crossed motorways, walked past and through shopping centres, waited at pedestrian crossings, dodged cars on roundabouts. And without much warning, after an hour or so of suburban trudging there were the towers of the cathedral looming on my left and the old town all around me. Beggars and buskers both of the very highest levels of professionalism. Smart young men and women in bright colours. Pilgrims everywhere. People, people, people. And round the corner my Clemency on the Cathedral steps where she had been waiting all morning. We embraced and cried and slowly walked up the steps and into the place which had been our symbolic goal all these 500 weary miles.
Rush hour in the tomb of St. James

Whatever it was that I was expecting in the tomb of St. James it wasn´t what I found. The place was packed. Tour buses disgorged their cargoes every few minutes. People stood everywhere, popping pictures on cellphones and tiny pocket cameras. The custom is that pilgrims ascend the steps behind the altar and embrace the statue of St. James, then descend to the crypt to pray before the relics of the apostle. There was a queue several hundred long to do this. I was hungry. We had nowhere to sleep. You could not turn around without banging into someone. The cathedral police continually asked, very reasonably, for silence to respect the sanctity of the place, and to remind people that taking photos or talking on cellphones was not allowed, but people yakked on and emptied their tiny flashes into that vast space. People we had met on the way kept greeting us, enquiring after Clemency´s health, which was wonderful though not what either of us wanted to deal with right then.

We left in company with a friend of ours, Marie, from France, went to the pilgrims office and queued for our Compostela, the certificate of achievement for completing the pilgrimage. It used to be worth an indulgence, but I´m not sure if it is anymore. Then we found a restaurant. It was a pleasant Edwardian sort of affair with big comfy chairs, and a high ceiling and wood paneling. We ordered paella and sat exhausted and were greeted by one of those angels who pop up from time to time on the Camino. Lisa is a Canadian, traveling with her mother, Shirley who was walking the Camino in celebration of her 70th birthday. Look up the word "extrovert" in the dictionary and there will be a picture of Lisa. She made herself known and talked about her time in Dunedin and her fondness for New Zealand. Around 3 we decided we had better start looking for a bed, and made our farewells to Lisa, Shirley and Marie.

Beds in Santiago on a Saturday are in the hens teeth category. Every place we poked our nose into had the same story to tell. Completo. Lo siento. Clemency could hardly walk. I began to have a new sympathy for St. Joseph. About the time I was about to hail a cab and ask him to take us to the next town back on the track with an albergue, a loud Canadian voice called our names. Lisa bounced up and told us we were only 5 minutes from her hotel, and maybe they might have a room. I left Clemency with Shirley and followed to a small, not exactly up market hotel just out of the historic district and yes, it was possible they could have a room and yes they did have a lift and yes we could have the room for two nights.

So here we are. Six floors up. Everything new and clean. Only five minutes walk from the Cathedral. And a bath!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Why Pilgrimage?

A few people asked me before I left New Zealand how I intended to continue my spiritual practice while walking. The answer which I have arrived at over these past couple of weeks is that the Camino IS my spiritual practice. I go to mass but don´t take the sacrament. I pray daily and when I can manage, use the Jesus Prayer as I walk, but these are secondary. I repeat: the Camino IS my practice. Now I suppose I have to explain what I mean by that, and I am writing this after four hour´s walk through some very beautiful Spanish countryside and after a Spanish beer. Spain serves the largest beers in the world: ¿will that be a bucket or a rather unmanly half bucket sir? and today´s was the coldest in the world, I kid you not; the foam froze to the side of the glass between the bar and my table.

A day or two ago I became very annoyed at some English graffiti. An adolescent hand had written on a wall, "Go home tourism "pilgrims" ". A crude picture pointed out that the offender had no backback and thought s/he was pretty awesome for being able to walk 100 km. Perhaps it was because I was carrying no backpack at the time, and struggling to walk 15 km but it hit a raw spot. Amidst my judgmental response to this piece of judgementalism, I have been thinking quite intensely since about what it is that makes a "real" pilgrim. I see Spanish abuelas well into their 70s struggling up hills in unlikely looking gear. They have no doubt walked very few kilometres but I know they are giving all they have as they plod on their way to Santiago to lay their heartfelt concerns before the relics of the great apostle. I see upper middle class English staying in fancy hotels and being ferried to their starting point on the track every day by taxi and returning to 4 courses and a sauna and a night on a kingsize innerspring. I see American and Italian and German and Spanish 20 somethings with the best possible gear walking resolutely through mile after mile of Spanish countryside as they try and figure out which way is up. I see people my own age battling various soft tissue injuries and plodding slowly from village to village. Each in their own way, these are all real pilgrims. I believe each has a reason to be here and I think each has been called here. But for it to work, truly, as pilgrimage, the Camino must cost something. It must hurt. It must bring us to the edge of our need for comfort, for security and for certainty; and the more it costs the better.

Personally, I am not convinced that payers said in front of the bones of some dead bloke are any more effective than any other sort of prayers, even in the highly unlikely event that the skeletal remains belong to one of the apostles. I don´t think that the sheer hard work of walking hundreds of kilometres across a foreign land earns any sort of favour with the almighty. But I know that making pilgrimage is a spiritual practice.

All spiritual practices have this in common: they confront us with the limits of the false self, so that we can recognise those limits and grow past them, and this is precisely what the Camino does. It is a tool, in other words, whereby we make real Jesus invitation to leave ourselves behind in order that we might find ourselves. The Camino Santiago de Compostela  is not a pleasant and refreshing walk through beautiful Spanish countryside. It is not an interesting historical and cultural walking tour. Or at least, it is not just those things. The Camino challenges  and searches and judges. The Camino exposes us, we who answer its call to pilgrimage. The myriad defence mechanisms we call our personality are opened up and shown for what they are and the result is not diminution but expansion; a contact with the true self and with the great one whose ground, Says Meister Eckhart, is the same ground as that of the true self.

People have walked this track for a long time. For a thousand years Christians have taken various routes to Santiago to pray before a skeleton of archetypal lineage. For 1500 years before that and maybe for longer pagans have done the same thing over the same space for outwardly different but internally similar reasons. And I do the same. Tomorrow I finish. I will walk into Santiago cathedral and I don´t know what on earth will happen. In some ways it is is irrelevant because it has been the journey, not the destination which has challenged me to the very limits of my endurance and brought me to new depths of understanding of who and what I am. I will finish with inflamed tendons and a deflated bank account, but I can´t dismiss the possibility that perhaps when I am even older, even more injury prone, I will gladly make my way to St. Jean Pied de Port and do it all over again.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Arzua

Yesterday wasn´t a great day. Clemency felt so much better that she decided to walk on, and even to carry a pack. So, we set out early from Palas du Rei and walked slowly out of town intending to stop at the first cafe for breakfast. The trouble was, we moved just a little bit too slowly and by the time we got the requisite 2 km down the road the cafe was overwhelmed by pilgrims and had put out the Sorry Full signs. So we walked on to the next one, which didn´t turn up until around 11:00. All our carefully worked out rules of hydration and nourishment were torpedoed and we paid for it. Clemency, with an amazing show of courage, walked for about 10 km before she had to sit down on a farmer´s stone wall at about 11.30 and ask a passing Spaniard to phone her a taxi. The taxi indicated it would be there at mid day, and we decided she would take the packs in back seat comfort to the next town, Melide, while I walked on.

Clemency was in considerable discomfort, but I was not far behind her. I had shin splints developing and was feeling a little ill, I guess from something I had eaten the day before. I left her sitting on the fence and hobbled slowly on.. It took me another couple of hours to reach the provincial service centre of Melide and find the hotel recommended to Clemency by the taxi driver. It was a nice neat clean little place but our room was on the third floor, and what with this being rural Spain and all, there were no lifts. I went to bed with a fever and some displays of fairly primal vomiting and slept for about 13 hours. Clemency spent a fitful night, unable to lie in one position for long, whiling away the night by watching Spanish cable TV. We woke fairly haggard, and considered the possibility of calling the whole thing off. We decided instead to go on, at least in the meantime. Clemency would take the packs on to Arzua, and I would walk for both of us. Then we would reconsider. We always have a prayer time to start the day, but today's was short and to the point. "Bugger it Lord, how about a slightly more encouraging day today?"

I left Clemency in a cafe and walked into the dark with a painful shin but with the fire in my gut almost gone. I  found myself walking at almost my normal pace and the pain in my shin died down a bit . I fell in with a man about my own age, Stefan, an architect from Belgium and had a very pleasant few km of conversation. By the time the sun rose, I was walking on soft tracks through pleasant farmland. I stopped at a rural bar for orange juice and arrived here in Arzua about midday. The markers which count down the half kilometres to Santiago passed by with pleasing rapidity.


 
Arzua is a gritty town about the size of Ashburton. I entered it along a road lined with 8 storey apartment blocks and found the church where Clemency had been sitting for most of the morning. It was the local parish church, and a roster of people comes to it for an hour or so at a time to pray for the pilgrims. They had made Clemency welcome. A shy young Spanish pilgrim heard her story and returned to the church after half an hour to make her a gift of bread and chocolate. There had been a mass and a service of morning prayer. Candles burned before the Virgin for our children. The mornings prayer had been well and truly answered.
 

A morning's wait in Arzua parish church
We found an albergue near the church. It is housed in an ancient stone building but has obviously been recently refurbished.  It is clean and bright and spacious and it is good to be amongst pilgrims again. We put our clothes through the regulation Galician government washing machine (4 euros for half an hour) and pegged out our now fragrant gear in a little sun trap courtyard. And in two days we will be in Santiago, God willing. And Oh how I have freshly learned the import of those two words.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Palas de Rei

The Camino has a way of working things out for you. When we were trying to figure out what to do for the next few days, we met two South Africans, Shirley and Lara. A mother and daughter they had been walking for a few days and Shirley was not able to continue. So it was decided Clemency and Shirley would catch the bus to the next town and Lara and I would walk together. It worked out pretty well. Clemency made it to Portomarin with a minimum of trouble and I walked 36 km through soft forest paths, up a couple of gentle hills and through any number of delightful country villages. For most of the way I had the company of a lovely young woman who shared with me some of the reasons she is walking the Path of Miracles. The sun shone, the route was gentle and the scenery as pleasant as any we had encountered.
Just after sunrise, just out of Samos

About 11.00 am Lara and I passed through Sarria and past the best equipped Camino shop I had ever seen. There was every conceivable type of knapsack and boot and stick raincoat and badges galore to stick on every imaginable part of yourself. I wish I had encountered the shop a year ago, but it was a warning of things to come. Sarria is 111 km from Santiago and it is the place where many people start their Camino. From Sarria onward the track became more and more populated.  Around mid day I passed the sadly vandalised 100 km marker, that is, the point where there are 100 km more to walk to Santiago. It was a milestone for me. 700 down and only this few to go!
 Convent garden, Sarria. We stopped to get our credencials stamped, use the toilet and buy Aquarius. Not necessarily in that order.
 Typical track on this part of the Camino

We all met up again in Portomarin and Clemency and I had the most wonderful pub meal with new friends: a couple of Irish and one Dutch . Today I set out again on my own, leaving Clemency to have another quiet rest day busing to the next destination. At least that was the theory. For Clemency it was an interesting day, with interesting being used in the sense of the old Chinese proverb. The bus didn´t go directly to Palas du Rei but through Lugo, and no one spoke English and....
 The way is regularly punctuated with small country bars where you can buy coffee, food, beer or wine Many have rooms if you don't feel like going any further today.

 Portomarin

I entered the track with many hundred new pilgrims. Ahead and behind as far as I could see they stretched out in an unbroken line. The gear was new and often ill chosen. Physiques looked unweathered and sometimes unsuitable. People moved in large groups so were not inclined to interact. And the whole Camino experience changed. The locals, getting on with their lives while literally thousands of strangers passed by looked through me when I smiled or spoke. The usual conversational openings between pilgrims: "Hola. ¡Bien Camino! Where are you from? Where did you begin? Going far today?" simply did not happen, let alone the invitation to a deeper connection: "Why are you walking the Camino?" The track was flat and dull. There were no churches or monuments. There were few cafes and those that were there were crowded and fuggy.

I struggled with myself and two thoughts recurred. One was "how great a crowd of witnesses..." The other was the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. I found myself in the place of the early employed. How dare these latecomers crowd in on my camino, I who have crossed the Pyrenees and struggled up to O Cebreiro! Who do these people think they are with their fresh, unweathered clothing and their new shoes? Don't they know how pilgrims are expected to behave? I didn't much enjoy my day and things didn't improve when around mid day it started to rain. I walked into Palas du Rei around 2, having covered 26 km largely on my own and with only the briefest of stops for food. 

From Sarria onwards the Camino changes. I would guess that about 60% of those who make this pilgrimage walk only the last 100 km. It is different, and I don't much care for the difference but who am I to judge? All the old truths of the Camino still apply, including the fact that no one walks it by accident. God has called each one of these new thousands there for a reason, whether they quite realise it or not. Each one is going to be profoundly challenged and changed by the experience of this walk even if it is only going to be for a few days.
 Horreos, food storage places similar to pataka. They are everywhere in Galicia.
A busy day on the Camino Santiago
Clemency will walk the last part of the track into Santiago. How much of the last part we don't yet know. For me, I am longing now to finish. There is only about 74 km to go, or 3 easy days (or two heavy days) walking left. My legs hurt and my clothes could do with a decent wash but we will dine soon with the same interesting people from last might and the next town beckons. ¡Ultreya!