Sunday, 22 November 2009

A toast - "To the new boots"

Last week I had the most wonderful lunch with Andy (photo) who has recently walked the Camino Levante from Valencia. I plan to walk this route at the beginning of 2011 so this was a meal of discovery for me. The route passes through some of the most historic parts of Spain. The journey starts in Valencia where I will no doubt meet up with Paco one of my camino amigos.
I first met Paco on the Via de la Plata a few years ago. We met in a small village which comprises only a bar and an albergue. I was walking straight through and Paco was sleeping there, but we shared a few brief words.
We met again the next day when Paco and an older German chap who had walked from Gibraltar sped past walking at 6kms an hour at least. We met up again many kilometres later at the wonderful albergue in Santa Marta de Terra, the Casa Anita. This place is owned by Anita and her ever helpful husband Domingo. As well as the albergue they run a bodega and produce their own wine. Limitless amounts are provided free of charge to pilgrims.

I parted company with Paco there and I thought I’d never see him again. Two years and many Caminos later I was walking the route to Finisterre with Esteban. We had taken the less travelled way to Muxía and then walked backed to Finisterre. Muxía is a beautiful fishing village and the route enters and leaves along the coastline. It considers itself to be the “end of the religious pilgrimage” and the Pilgrims’ Office there issues its own Certificate as does the albergue in Finisterre. Muxía is a place of legend where they say that the Virgin Mary arrived on a stone boat to encourage St James in his work preaching to the Spanish. It is said that parts of the stone boat remain on the beach in front of the Church of Saint Mary of the Boat, Santa Maria de la Barca.

On the way from Muxía to Finisterre there is a short cut into the village of Lires which involves negotiating sunken stepping stones. It is necessary to check the depth of the river, and on the day we were walking, we just managed to get across. By the time we did we were ready for lunch. Although small, Lires boasts three bars each of which appeared to be serving food. We picked one at random and settled at table. Across the dining room I saw a man and a woman eating lunch. The man’s face was vaguely familiar. Since the Big Man’s Spanish is better than mine I persuaded him to go and ask these strangers if we had ever met them before. It turned out to be Paco from the Via de la Plata. He had been walking the Camino del Norte and his wife had joined him in Santiago for the jaunt out to Finisterre and Muxía. But, they pointed out, Paco was really the pilgrim, for his wife this was just a short break. We left them after lunch with a warning about the river crossing and advice that it might be best to take the road route.

Never thinking we would meet again, we set off for Finisterre, stayed overnight and got an early bus back to go to the 12 noon Pilgrims’ Mass in the Cathedral. It was packed as usual and we squeezed into a pew near the front. I looked around and there they were…Paco and his wife, sitting in front of us. “Hola otra vez” we said. They were delighted to see us again. “How did you get on with the river crossing?” we asked. “ I was fine” said Paco’s wife with a mischievous smile ,"but the Pilgrim fell in!”

Since then my interest in the Camino Levante has grown and I’ve kept in touch with Paco from time to time by email. It will be good to see him again. And also to walk to Toledo where in a small bar on September the 11th I watched the twin towers being attacked and collapsing. The bar fell absolutely silent at the sight on the television with the only sound being the sad prophesy from the bar owner who said with a sigh “they will go to war over this”.
I'm very much looking forward to visiting the Cathedral in Toledo again. I remember that first visit when on entering the Sacristy you discover a display of pictures of which any art gallery would be proud. The great ceiling fresco by Lucas Jordán and painting after painting by El Greco.

From there the route heads to Ávila birthplace of the Spanish mystic St Teresa of Ávila then through endless meseta to Medina del Campo which still practices the quite mad (imho) Spanish “sport” of bullrunning where they let fighting bulls loose in the streets of the city leading then eventually to the bullring.
The route then goes onto to Zamora a very beautiful and much undiscovered Spanish city where it joins the Via de la Plata. In total 1300 kms. 7 weeks of fabulous walking.

Lunch with Andy was an inspiration. Much talking and much red wine. We were joined by Don Antonio who was fascinated by Andy’s Credencial with its vast array of sellos. I can see La Terazza offering sellos sometime soon.

I woke the next day with a slightly fuzzy head. It must have been something I ate and had of course nothing to do with the complimentary chupitos of home-made Orujo which Don Antonio insisted should finish the meal. But I was also excited. Planning a pilgrimage always does that to me.
Springing into action I phoned Esteban who I knew needed to buy new boots for the Hogmanay Camino. “Right Big Man, we’ll meet on Saturday and walk the 20 kms round trip to Itchy Feet in central London and then back to La Terazza”. And yesterday that’s exactly what we did. 20 kms followed by a plate of scalding hot Caldo Gallego then a plate of Cocido, slowly braised chicken, ham, pigs trotters, onions and chick peas.

Over post-prandial drinks the new boots were duly passed around the boys in the bar. They were thoroughly examined and after some debate about their merits they received universal approval. They just had to be toasted. Well … any excuse.


  1. Thanks John,

    it was a good meal wasn't it, and it has got my juices flowing for the next pilgrimage and reflecting better on the last (I'll be posting more stuff on my blog during this week).

    I'm also giving thanks for the real communities and friendships which the Road to Compostela builds,


  2. Since I was in Spain for the first time I felt in my heart that this place would be important for me.
    I crossed the Santiago's Way two times in my life but never on foot.. i'll hope to do this wonderful experience again....
    I love Galizia, its colours, it smells like ancient time....