Monday, 9 May 2011

Red Skies

It is 6am and I have been awake for 45 mins. As I stretch out I am amazed as ever by the body's powers of recuperation. Last night I went to bed feeling the stiffness in my muscles and the throbbing in my feet which is familiar to Camino walkers. This morning all gone to be replaced with the delicious feeling of excitement that today we will walk into Santiago.

I'm excited because I will be staying there. Yesterday I got a message that my goods and chattles had arrived safely. There are many boxes to be emptied. That thought however doesn't detract one bit from how much I am looking forward to walking into Santiago today.

It has been a great week on the Camino Ingles. I have been walking with one of my friends from South West London where I used to live. (I really like the sound of that: "where I used to live!) John is one of the group of my  firm friends who meet regularly for a drink and a chat, which is more often than not a debate. Our gang is the evidence that middle age men still like to play like wee boys. Only now we can drink more. John is the most senior of us and the most competitive. He's big. He's Irish. And he is a builder. He is extremely bright and very well read. When we are all together John never introduces subjects for discussion like football or politics. Rather like a quiz master he asks questions, usually very loudly. "Does anyone know the chemical composition of nitroglycerine? Followed quickly by "what is the average number of words in a Shakespeare sonnet?

John is trying to retire but has been finding it difficult. Part of his strategy is that he has taken up walking and stage by stage he has been walking around London in a huge circle. He also decided he would walk to Compostela. At this announcement the boys, including me, replied "bet you don't". However I was duly delegated to lead an expedition.  This week John has experienced the glories of this little pilgrimage route. We were worried about the weather as there has been much rain and some storms in the region. However the weather was sunny and warm as we set off from Ferrol. We walked at a steady pace and at the end of the day strolled along the beach at Cabanas before crossing the long bridge into Pontedeume. Before dinner we walked down to the waterfront to see the sun set in a red sky. "Good weather tomorrow Johnnie" the big  Irishman pronounced and so it was to be. On the first day John had continued to ask me a stream of random quiz questions, "what do you call the colour of yellow on the house? "What is the latin name for that flower?" "Is it possible to have a tree that produces apples and pears?" On the second day as we climbed out of Pontedeume on our way to Betanzos I could tell he was silenced not just by the walk up hill but the beauty of the views looking back. On the way he began to return the many greetings of the local people who wished us "Buen Viaje" or "Buen Camino". The sky was red again as dusk descended on Betanzos. We visited the beautiful church of San Francisco and sat in tired silence. The big gruff Irishman lit a candle.
The following day we met a couple of Portuguese pilgrims. We were walking in shorts and light t shirts. They were fully laden with jackets, fleeces, trousers, gaiters, full boots  and backpacks which appeared to contain all their worldly goods. We also met Chris from New Zealand just as we were setting out. He was clutching a copy of my guide on which he had made notes. A thin, wiry chap Chris was the opposite of the Portuguese. He wore regular casual trousers and shirt,  carried a little rucksack and walked in regular casual brown shoes. I asked him where he started. "I left Ferrol yesterday" he said. "But that means you walked 50 kms all the way to Betanzos in one day!" I replied. And so he had. We caught up with him in Meson do Vento where he shared his meticulous notes on the guide. He set off next morning under a red sky promising to try and take two days to walk to Santiago. But I suspect he may have pushed ahead and I can imagine the looks on the faces in the Pilgrims' Office when he appears having walked a 5 day route in 3 days. However I'll be his witness.

The red sky of yesterday morning fulfilled the promise of the shepherd's warning and we were treated to a day of Galician heavy rain interspersed with periods of strong and very warm sun. As we walked all day through the rain my companion fell to silence most of the time. On our breaks we spoke of the route and as we ate our sandwiches in a bus shelter and last night at dinner the conversation was of life and love, faith and the lack of it, hope and ambition. There wasn't one quiz question.
As we ate in our hostal last night the sky glowed red. "Sun tomorrow" said Antonio as he served our salads. Today I'm excited for Big John as we walk our last hours to Santiago where he will spot the spires of the Cathedral and bask in his achievement as he stands in the square. Hugging statues and kneeling before alleged relics are definitely not his thing but I bet he'll follow the tradition anyhow.
John says this pilgrimage is among the best things he has ever done. He is wondering whether at his advanced age he can tackle a longer route. Of course he can. I can also hear him now when he is back in the pub with the rest of the tribe, "does anyone know the height of the spires of Santiago Cathedral?"

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