25 March 2018
YAY! I’m finished!
Not only did I finish the Camino Frances last May, but I just finished it’s blog today. When I returned to reality last June, my life became very full, quickly. Finding time to complete the last few posts was not the highest priority on my list until now. It’s been almost a year since Terry and I took on the Camino Frances. This is the last post and it has my reflections about our adventure on Camino Frances.
An Oasis of Serenity
At the beginning, I anticipated many things but this experience has been far greater than I could have imagined. It’s mind boggling to recall all the villages we walked through, the places we stayed, the things we saw and especially meaningful were the people we met.
It was such a joy to be removed from the day-to-day political drama that smothers us in the United States. Sometimes, it seems like the world is full of cheaters, liars, atrocities, battles, bombs, guns, poverty and all forms of negativity. The Camino was a respite from media, television, newspapers and other carriers of negativity. It was an oasis of serenity. Utopia. We were immediately surrounded by a global community bonded by the common goal of walking to Santiago. This community restored my faith in humanity.
Walking with the World
One of my main objectives was to meet the world. And I did. The number of countries represented by those walking the Camino is astounding. Americans comprise about 10% of the people who walk the Camino. We are fortunate that there are so many who speak conversational English. I have not only walked with the world, but I have shared meals, happy hours, dorm rooms, bunk beds, tables and church pews with them. There were many genuine, caring people who became our camino family. Not just the ones walking the path but also the locals who extended hospitality to so many strangers like us. You can walk alone but you are never alone on the Camino.
The Ups and Downs
The first segment to Orrison had the steepest incline of the whole route. Hiking through the Pyrenees was strenuous but the beautiful mountains and scenic view diluted the physical agony we experienced. I could hardly move by the time we reached Roncevalle and there we breathed a sigh of relief … we thought the worst was behind us. We were so wrong! The camino is full of steep hills and valleys. Going down hill was more difficult than going up hill. We had a few techniques for the steep areas. Sometimes we would take 25 steps and rest. Then take another 25 steps and rest again. Slowly but surely, we always reached our destination.
As The Crow Flies
We made a hotel reservation in Pamplona and were giddy about reaching this destination. By the time we got to our hotel, it was dark. Several locals saw us hobbling down the street and took pity on us.
They guided us to our hotel. By this time our feet were raging, we were totally exhausted and we had no clean clothes. After all was said and done, we figured we had walked about 25 miles that day. How could we have miscalculated the mileage by so much? We came to the realization that the miles in guidebook were calculated “as the crow flies”. Crows don’t fly up and down hills, they fly straight over them. We took a day off to rest, recover and do laundry. We had to wear our “pajamas” out to breakfast and to the laundry service. After a day of restoration we decided we needed shorter walk days. We recalculated our daily destinations to accommodate the hills. On occasion we would cross paths with exhausted pilgrims who were swearing at the guidebook because the miles were not accurate. And we know why.
The Pharmacist is Our Friend
In Pamplona, my feet were so tender and blistered that I couldn’t wear my crocs because the textured insole was painful. Terry and I hobbled over to the Pharmacy (in our pajamas) and I showed my feet to the pharmacist. He gave me an amazing ointment and showed me how to bandage my feet. In Spain, the pharmacist has a more advanced role and helps solve minor medical problems. The pharmacies were usually busy places with several customers. We came to the conclusion, that in Spain, people don’t go to the doctor for every little thing, they go to the pharmacists who are knowledgeable and helpful. What a cost savings to their medical system. Some of the remedies that they are able to provide, you would need a prescription for in the United States. For travelers like us, we came to depend on the pharmacists. Whether it was an upset stomach, a skin rash or knee pain, they knew what to do. And I knew what to do about my tender feet. I bought a pair of sketchers and mailed my crocs home. My feet are still thanking me today.
A Needy Knee
Toward the end of our days on the camino, I slowed down. To be expected after walking several hundred miles on old Roman roads. But it became very annoying when people started coming up to me and asking, “how much pain are you in?” or they would say, “you got a bad knee? or how’s your knee doing?” I had NO pain in my knee, however, it was stiff and I didn’t realize how limited my movement had become. After we returned home I went through a series of physical therapy sessions which helped some but I still had limited movement. In October, I had a swollen knee and it was painful. I ended up at Twin City Orthopedics urgent care. X-rays were taken and the surgeon was astounded to see how bad my knee was. He was very blunt … “you don’t need an MRI, you need a new knee.” A couple days later, my knee pain flared up again. A second surgeon concurred with the first. I had my knee replaced in December. In hindsight, I feel so fortunate that I was able to make it through the camino with minimal knee issues.
Catholics Here and There
Another observation made is the very noticeable difference between the Catholic Church in the United States and the one in Spain. At many churches here, usually the first thing you notice is a large crucifix with a corpus prominently displayed front and center. Not so in many of the rural and village churches we visited there. The blessed Virgin Mary takes a lead role in these faith communities.
In a few towns, we were fortunate enough to experience feast day processions where everybody in the town comes out to celebrate and participate. There is nothing like good old Catholic ritual whether it’s in Spain or in the United States. In Astorga, the community got up early on a Saturday morning and brought out the flags, banners, and marching band to escort their Mary statue several miles away to the next town where there would be a big festival that evening. They returned after celebrations on Sunday. It was quite an experience to witness this.
We also observed that in some churches, the staffs were small and oftentimes the pastor took on many rolls. In Pamplona, we stopped at the Church of San Fermin, who is the patron saint of Running of the Bulls, on a Saturday evening just before a wedding was to take place. We took a quick look at the church and left to find dinner. Later we passed the church again when walking to the hotel. The wedding was over and the guests were gone. The priest, whom we had chatted with earlier, was sweeping confetti and remnants of the wedding out to the street. I don’t think you would see that in many of our churches. At another church, the priest was playing a guitar and singing with a group of children. He was teaching them a song. It was a very charming scenario that looked like it came from an old Bing Crosby movie.
In Spain, the church is intertwined with the culture and community life. There is no separation of church and state. Like elsewhere, church attendance is down in Spain too. To compensate for the loss, many of the larger more spectacular churches, cathedrals and basilica’s charge visitors like us a small admission fee which we gladly paid to view or tour the facilities. There is beautiful architecture, artwork, stained glass, cloisters and gardens to be seen. For those who wish to worship, there usually was a chapel reserved for worship only which was separate from the tourist area. I think the churches stay open because the government subsidizes them, tourists support them and they have small staffs. I wonder if anyone in Spain has ever had to experience their church being closed, torn down and replaced by condos like I have.
Octopus Here and There
Prior to walking the Camino, I had no awareness or interest in Octopus. It was not on my radar. If I had seen it on a menu, I probably would have ignored it. While in Spain, we were introduced to some of the finest Octopus ever. There are Pulperias everywhere. They are beer-hall style restaurants that mainly serve Octopus and potatoes seasoned with a smoky paprika. Dessert is usually Manchego cheese with quince jam. We developed a taste for it.
After walking the camino, Terry, David and I took a bus to Finisterre. Walking around the town we happened upon a quaint little fishing museum in Castillo de San Carlos. The guide was a retired fisherman and snorkeler. He explained the origins of fishing in Galicia. He was very knowledgeable about Octopods and how smart they are. He said an Octopus is as smart as a Collie dog. I find that to be a very interesting concept.
When we returned home, I bravely took a shot at making Galician Octopus. My fisherman son Kyle, had to come over and help me clean the first one but I have since become desensitised and can do it on my own now. Since then, I have served Galician Octopus a half dozen times and even managed to grill an Octopus. It’s amazing how your perspective can change in such a short time. Now, Octopus is a savory memory that brings me back to the camino.
Spain on the Brain
Terry and I often share many wonderful memories of our experience on the camino. We have talked about going back some day. Well, that day has become sooner rather than later. Last November on the one-year anniversary of when we found cheap airfare to Spain for our first camino, we thought we’d take another shot at getting cheap airfare. And it was too soon to do another 500 miles hike and we craved more Spain. We needed a kinder, gentler experience especially since I was going to have knee replacement in December. We decided that Santiago to Finisterre to Muxia to Santiago would be ideal … about 130 miles (as the crow flies). We searched long and hard and did find a descent airfare. I can’t believe were are going back to Utopia.
Spain … Here we come Again!
Watch for the next segment of my blog … Jane in Spain, Hiking Camino Finisterre. Terry will be joining me on the adventure in addition to a new cast of characters … Diane, Ellen and Peggy. I leave tomorrow. Lookout Spain — here we come. Again!