Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Camino – a life affirming experience

Johnnie Walker hard at work

I’m very lucky. I love working with pilgrims here in Santiago, hearing their stories and seeing their joy on arrival. I also like writing guides to some of the shorter routes such as the Camino Inglés. Many pilgrims send me information for the guides which helps keep them up to date for other pilgrims. They also write about the things which happen to them along the way. Here is a small selection. I’ve edited some bits and removed the names. I find them inspiring. I hope you do too:

Dear John,

A few weeks ago already since I finished the Ingles -- I'm trying to keep it all fresh!
I'm glad I got to meet you and talk briefly when I got my Compostela.  The group at the office, by the way, seemed particularly warm and friendly.  I didn't realize at the time that I must have hit the first group of Amigos, but it was lovely to be greeted in such a nice way.  Please pass along my thanks.
Before I forget, I have a few little notes on the route that may be useful.
The promenade leading to the albergue at Neda
I stayed in Ferrol at El Cairo.  The owners were quiet but friendly.  Eating out alone in Spain can be uncomfortable sometimes, but I had a good supper at the pizzaria next door and felt quite comfortable.

The promenade route into Neda seems to split into several paths, and somehow I missed the waymarks leading to the pedestrian bridge.  

The hospitaleiro at Pontedeume albergue was a friendly and helpful fellow, and wouldn't even let me make a donation.  He says he's there at 7:30 til 9:30 to let people in.  

The next day was a hungry one (actually it was cold, wet, hungry, and exhausting, but thanks to the beautiful camino and some lovely and incredibly fun fellow peregrinos, it was a fabulous day overall).  Bar Julia was open for coffee but didn't have any food.

Carmen and Benino (hospitaleros in Hospital de Bruma) were terrific, and made sure I got fed. 
Speaking of food, Bar Cruzeiro was closed the next day.  I got coffee at Bar Novo, and should have had the foresight to ask if they could make me a bocadillo.  But what a treat at Hostal Miraz!  I want to eat there everyday. The mass times in Sigueiro have changed from what is in the guide.  I arrived when Mass was almost over, and thus was a little sheepish asking for a sello, but they could not have been more welcoming.

I got a little confused getting into Santiago.  I couldn't find the waymark across from the Bar Garcia Lorca, and turned to the left instead of crossing into the park with the arches.  I was rescued by a woman in a highrise shouting at me from her window and waving her hands in the opposite direction.  

This was just one of so many times on this little camino that kind strangers went out of their way to help me out.  I have rarely in my life felt so blessed as I did in those five days.  Thanks again for all of your help with the guide and your encouragement.  
Buen camino, with best wishes,
A pilgrim

View from the Camino outside of Ferrol 
Dear John
Here are some notes from our recent Camino...
...When we reached this point we were absolutely drenched and dripping having walked for a couple of hours in persistent rain and hail. As we really only wanted some respite from the rain and a coffee we decided to try the Café Vilar a few doors up as it did look a bit more inviting and does have a pilgrim sign outside. I ordered and paid for our coffees and took the opportunity to get our passports stamped before taking our coffees to a table out of the way. I know I felt thoroughly wet and miserable and so did my friend as we hunched over our drinks. After a few minutes we heard a voice behind us in broken English saying “you like” we turned round and the lady behind the bar had brought each of a plate of bacon and egg on toast. It was such a kind gesture and never has bacon and egg tasted so good. It really lifted our spirits and amazingly once we’d left the bar, the weather improved for a couple of hours and we were able to press on. Earlier in the week we had been told that originally pilgrims had the right to ask the locals for food and drink and they had to supply it. I had not expected that in the 21st century we would still be on the receiving end of such kindness, especially unasked for. I know we were probably out of season, and it wouldn’t happen as a matter of course, I also suspect that as we are two ladies of a certain age (I’m 54 and my friend is 67) we probably elicit a different response than others might but I will always remember that gesture.
Walking the Camino was an experience I know we’ll talk about for many years. It is definitely an achievement that we’re proud of, it was certainly a hard earned Compostella for us. However, more than that it was also a reminder of the general goodness of people. We met so many friendly people along our way, they filled us up with water; showed us the way when we looked lost (even physically walking with us to show us on two occasions); took care of the dog that followed us for 2kms; fed us when we looked in need; chatted to us because they wanted to practice their English (even if we were sitting at the side of road replacing plasters and changing socks) offered translations when our Spanish fell as short as the waiters English; and generally wished us a buen viaje. 

Best wishes
Two peregrinas
My favourite spot for lunch on the Camino Ingles
Hola John
Just wanted to say thanks so much for the guide - completely invaluable on my recent walk (I don't know how people manage it using the waymarks alone!). In fact my guide came in very handy for several other guideless pilgrims when the waymarks seemed to peter out as the route enters the outskirts of Santiago by the café bar Poligono!  There was only one bit where I managed to get lost through the first forested path between Poulo and Segueiro where I must have missed the waymark after the kerb of granite blocks - I kept going in what I hoped was vaguely the right direction and ended up in an unmarked (and apparently uninhabited!) hamlet where a kindly farmer on a tractor got me back on the right path through a series of hand signals (my phrasebook Spanish improved infinitely over the week!). Maybe it was the scorching sun, or maybe it was having already walked several km out of my way that day, but I have to say, that long straight forested section that follows shortly after feels a lot longer than 4 km!
I also met some wonderful people along the way, which helped alleviate my aching feet and back. At the end of the first day, feeling a bit bedraggled and despondent having realised that I had packed way too much stuff and my feet were already hurting(!), I asked some people outside the cafe bar by the O Burro Bridge for directions to the hotel (didn't see the big sign behind me!) and they took me in, bought me a beer, ran me a bath and cooked me tea! They also pointed out a shortcut avoiding Cambre taking the river path opposite the hotel and turning right till you reach the waymarked path shortly after the cafe bar Meson Vasco. I must have still been looking a bit lost and forlorn the next day though as a friendly cyclist on his way back to Carral walked me the whole of the second leg of my journey and also insisted on cooking me lunch at the end! And that was apart from the other pilgrims (Spanish and English) whom I had the pleasure of encountering along the way.
All in all a wonderfully life-affirming experience!
Many thanks again!
A pilgrim

1 comment:

  1. I don't know what we would have done without your guide in 2009 John! Even though we didn't meet even one other pilgrim, it was a lovely walk.
    See you on 30 May next year when I walk in with my Slow-Camino walkers!