Postscript

Distance: 869km
Walk Time: 179 hours
Ascent: 29369m
Descent: 29079m
Energy Burn: 236521 kJ (unfortunately I must have consumed around 236000 kJ along the way as I didn’t lose much weight!)
Average Daily Distance: 24.13km
Average Pace: 12m 21s per km

These are the stats from my GPS (iPhone) on which I recorded the whole trip apart from the odd stretch when I forgot to press the start button.

It’s now 3 months since we finished the Camino although it seems like a lifetime ago. Finishing off the blog today has really brought the memories flooding back and a chance to reflect on some things bigger than the day to day trials and tribulations of the road.

In our usual way, we did some very exhaustive research and planning for the trip. We read many books, blogs and web sites and at one stage I was even doing a digital plot of the route from the guide book to load into my GPS so that we always knew where to go…. although I did realise the foolishness of this a few stages in and abandoned it. I’m glad of that as finding your way on the road is all part of the Camino experience.

The first thing that strikes you when planning is how much conflicting advice and views there are on almost any aspect of the Camino. We took on board some things that turned out to be great advice and others that didn’t really work for us at all. Wiser for now having completed the journey, I would say that each person’s Camino is so different that it is impossible to give firm guidance on most topics although many people do voice very strong views on some subjects in the various forums and in books. As every pilgrim will walk at a different time of year, have different start and finish points and different routes, will walk different daily average distances, will have different levels of fitness and conditioning and will have different goals and expectations for the journey, their needs for equipment, clothing, food, accommodation and training will all be different. You are probably best to try and think about what you want your Camino experience to be and then look at all of the advice and options through that filter rather than taking on peoples golden rules or concrete advice. I saw one article where the author scoffed at hiking boots and said that as it was on paths all of the way, a pair of running shoes is all that anyone needs. This is actually true of much of the route but very bad advice for the week in the Pyrenees and foothills in late May/early Jun where we were clambering down rutted, rocky, washed away paths ankle deep in mud.

One of the bits of advice we read was that you should walk it alone. For us, doing this walk together was very much a part of the reason for doing it and it would have been a very different and much less rewarding experience for me to do it alone but that is my personal perspective. My only concern going into it was what would two people who have many married for nearly 30 years talk about while walking for 8 hours every day for 35 days! So, I loaded up my iPhone with music and language courses….. As it turned out, we barely ever listened to music or did the language courses while walking and that was only in the early part of the trip before we had settled into a rhythm. Somehow there was always something to talk about whether it was something we experienced on the journey or the other parts of our lives and there was always a chance to chat to other people on the road be they pilgrims or locals. We met some great people from all over the world, some you would have a quick encounter with and never see again, others we would keep bumping into again and again. Our Japanese friends who we had a coffee with on Day 4 were obviously on a very similar program as we saw them almost daily after that on the road, at hotels, in restaurants and at the sights. Unfortunately we never saw them in Santiago dC as we probably finished a day ahead of them with our big days at the end. The Spanish people all along the way were almost without exception friendly, interested and helpful and I will never forget some of the incredibly cheerful and hard working young people in some of the albergues. These encounters were for me a highlight of the experience.

Am I glad we did the Camino? Absolutely. For us the goals were to do something different and challenge ourselves, get fit, see Spain and learn about the history, food and culture, spend quality time together and do some ‘team bonding’ after 23 years of raising kids in a big city. We did all of that and got much more too like meeting great people from all over the world. I guess that puts us in the sometimes derided category of ‘tourigrinos’ i.e. people who are doing the Camino for reasons other than religion, but I’m sure all of the communities who benefit from or even survive on Camino traffic didn’t mind us being there. There were times when it was physically and mentally difficult and the odd ‘tense moment’ but without the challenge it would not have been the same rewarding experience. As is always the case with these things, its these moments that we remember most and talk or laugh about afterwards. But mostly, it was just great fun, laughs and hugely uplifting moments like when you have completed a huge climb and look back over the country that you have traveled on a beautiful northern Spain day. It teaches you to no longer take the simple things in life for granted and just how unnecessary most of the material possessions we accumulate really are. The act of emptying out your rucksack and sending away everything other than two changes of clothes, a pair of sandals and a warm jacket before you continue on your walk is symbolic of this. OK, we did keep the cameras and iPad so its not all unnecessary but I am glad to have the pictures and the blog which I am converting into a book that we can keep on the coffee table and pick up and remember our Camino with from time to time. It also teaches you just how much your body is capable of doing on a relatively modest diet and how much us mostly sedentary desk workers are overeating. After putting on weight after the first week having eaten anything and everything I could thinking I needed the fuel, I scaled back the intake, got rid of the Arroz Con Leche and probably was eating no more than I do on a normal day in Perth. On this we were able to walk over mountains with 10+kg’s on our backs for sometimes 11 or 12 hours a day.

Lastly, the experience would not have been the same without my beautiful companion and partner for life who’s idea it was to do this in the first place and who was such a trooper through the tough days. I am lucky to have someone to share the experience with as many don’t although that should never put anyone off as everyone seems to meet people along the way and it is unusual to see someone walking the Camino alone all of the way…

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Day 36: Santiago de Compostela

We allowed ourselves a sleep in with no alarm so have a little bit of a rush on this morning as we need to organise and pack all of our gear and check-out of the hotel in time for the pilgrim service at midday. Tom and Pilar are walking in this morning and we plan to meet them before the service but are running late now. By the time we arrive at the Cathedral at 11:30 it is full but Tom has somehow managed to save us some seats in the transept where the botifumeiro is swung (if they swing it). All cathedrals are built with a floor plan in the shape of a cross and the transept is the “cross” part of the shape. We are only a few rows back from the front but we’re not expecting them to swing the bot as this is only done on Sundays.

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The service is mostly in Spanish and the multi-lingual bits are done in english, french, german, italian etc. too so we basically have no idea what is going on most of the time but are enjoying the occasion with the cathdral absolutely full with pilgrims and (mostly) tourists but we recognise many faces from the road. It is a very grand and formal occasion with the attendants dressed in traditional robes. A nun with a beautiful voice sings at times and with the organ the sound is amazing.

As it comes to the end of the service, we discover that we are very lucky and the botifumeiro is going to be swung. This is a most welcome surprise as it is a very dramatic and spectacular tradition. The botifumeiro is a “thurible” which expels incense and is swung through the length of the transept. We have heard that the tradition started as a way to mask the odour of the pilgrims who arrived straight from the road in years gone by often having not bathed or washed clothes for months….

It is a wonderful way to finish the Camino witnessing this old tradition and we are very grateful to have been there on the day.

After the service, we enjoyed a lunch in the square including a very fine Gin and Tonic. We had met a couple at the hotel yesterday who told us that Gin and Tonic is surprisingly a very popular drink in Spain and that, typical of the Spanish, they do it with a flair that we of British descent have never. It’s poured in front of you in a very large stemmed glass filled with ice and garnished with citrus peel. Perfect for a hot day. We have to keep it in check though as we have booked a rooftop tour of the Cathedral after lunch. This is a real highlight and somehow, the immensity of the achievement of building a Cathedral like this in the 11th century is best appreciated from the roof. We have a very good tour guide and learn a lot about Cathedral architecture and the history of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The roof was meant to be visited as there is a well on top where in medieval times pilgrims took their clothes from the journey to burn them as part of the ritual of completing the pilgrimage.

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After the tour it’s time to say our farewells to our good friends Tom and Pilar who we have walked much of the Camino with and who have helped us no end in overcoming many of the day to day challenges we faced finding accommodation, food etc with our limited Spanish. We are catching the overnight train to Madrid where we’ll spend the day before catching another train to Barcelona from where our flight leaves in a couple of days…

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Day 35: Arca O Pino – Santiago de Compostela

It only took 3 months to get back to finishing the blog…. our final days in Spain/France were so busy and full that we never got time to do our final posts and then we were home in Perth with jet lag and getting back onto the merry-go-round of our normal busy lives. I have just found this post sitting in draft mode and also have downloaded the video of the botifumeiro so thought I’d finish the blog for the record.

Weather: Overcast, Warm and Humid
Mood: Excited
Distance: 22.2 km
Average Pace: 12:07 /km
Trip Time: 6.5 hrs

The day started with us packing our backpacks for the last time. What used to take 20 minutes and three retries to get right is now automatic and takes only a few minutes. Things we seldom use now, like cold and wet weather gear, are already in the bottom of the pack. Stuff we use at our overnight stops in the middle section and things we might need during the day e.g. electronics and first aid, at the top.

After a leisurely breakfast we hit the road at 8:24. The legs are in bad shape after three huge days and a number of shoe adjustment stops are required by one of us. The plan to stop only once is discarded and we have two coffee stops before the halfway mark making progress slow. It’s very muggy and we have a huge sweat going before long. No easy downhill run for us today, there are actually two ascents and in the muggy conditions and with tired legs we find them quite challenging.

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There aren’t many people walking with us as most who plan to arrive today started much closer to arrive in time to attend the pilgrim service but there are a few people and the mood is cheerful and we take turns taking photos of each other at the key points on the walk. Jerry the (tequila guy) is one of the walkers who we have been crossing paths with since just after the Meseta. There are also a group on horseback with very ornate saddlery.

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We reach the high point at Mt Gozo eventually. There is a large monument up here and a nice shaded area. A school group doing the Camino is parked here for lunch and they have an electric guitar leading a sing song and a couple of giant paella dishes going, looks like great fun for the kids.

We are very excited as we start the walk down into the city. Strangely, the path isn’t that well marked here, we had better directions in small villages 600kms away! We know we’re on the right track when we first get a glimpse of the Cathedral towers in the distance over the rooftops.

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We eventually make it through to the square which is very quiet as its now after 2:00pm (siesta time) and very hot and muggy. No fanfare or welcoming committee, just a few tourists milling around and a nice Spanish lady with her family comes over and asks us if have have just arrived and asks where we have walked from and how long we have been walking etc. She also offers to take a few photos of us in front of the church.

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I feel quite emotional as we stand there and let it wash over us that we have actually finished. For 35 days we have been walking towards this goal through rain, hail, snow, mud and heat and now we are finished. The sense of achievement is immense and its a great feeling but its also very very hot and we need to get out of the sun. We decide to save the Cathedral for tomorrow when we will enter it for the Pilgrim service but we have heard that the queues to collect your Compostella at the Pilgrim Office can be quite long so we decide to have a look in now to see if we can catch it at a quiet time. Its not too bad so we join the queue and in 15 minutes we’re all done and have our Compostella. As its written in Latin they also write your name in Latin so I am Philippum and Caroline is Carolain.

We now enter a luxury hotel covered in dirt and sweat for the last time. Its an 18th-century Franciscan convent and tastefully done. Our room is very comfortable and there’s a big bath. I ordered some snacks and a bottle of Cava to celebrate and after cleaning up we climb into the big double bed and enjoy the comfort and thought that we don’t have to get up and walk tomorrow. The Tour De France is on live and Orica Greenedge are winning the team time trial which is an unexpected bonus and Simon Gerrans will don the yellow jersey as a result. I try to stay awake to enjoy it all but its fair to say that I’m in and out of consciousness towards the business end and Caroline is well gone.

One chore we needed to do after our siesta was to collect our suitcases from the depot we sent them to from St Jean at the beginning of the walk. That done we finished the day off with a spa and swim and then a great meal and bottle of wine at the hotel restaurant. Plenty of time to see the town tomorrow….

On reflection, it is probably better to do what most people do and stay overnight very close to the finish and walk in to a busy square and go straight to the pilgrim service but our schedule is now so tight that we couldn’t afford the extra day.

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We Have Arrived

We have arrived in Santiago de Compostella today as planned!

After checking in at the pilgrim office and collecting our Compostella, we went directly to the hotel, showered, ordered a room service meal and a bottle of Cava and sat in bed watching the Tour de France live and Orica Greenedge take first in the team time trial and Simon Gerrans put on the yellow jersey.

This was followed by a siesta, spa and swim and we’re about to go down for dinner now and we won’t be in a fit state to write a anything after that so we’ll do a final blog post tomorrow with pics of Santiago and the last day…..

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Day 34: Melide to Arca O Pino

Weather: Cloudy and cooler
Mood: Expectant
Distance: 38.96 kms
Average Pace: 11:50 /km
Trip Time: 11 hours

Before I get into Day 34, I have added some missing pictures and a video to Day 32 which I didn’t have time to do last night when catching up on the posts. Have a look if you haven’t seen them. C. I might add at this point, that a lot of the photos were of ” the birds, flowers and plants” that I was filming yesterday!! (See Phil’s blog of yesterday!)

The strategy for today is to try to get as close to Santiago as possible so that our last day is lighter and we can enjoy it. We haven’t booked any accommodation and are just going to play it by ear. The tactics to achieve this involve an early start, regular breaks, coffee and 600mg ibuprofen.

We’re away at 6:00am walking through Melide (the octopus capital of Spain!). The
plan is to get breakfast in Boente after an hours walking but we are feeling so stiff and lethargic that when we see a cafe opening up on the way out of town, we make a beeline for it and down a coffee and a chocolate pastry. We are now used to seeing sparkling wine and rose on hotel breakfast buffets and people having a glass of wine at early morning stops but are still a little surprised when a local walks on and has a large glass of Anise liqueur with his coffee on the way to work at 6:00am….

On the outskirts of Melide we pass the 50kms to go marker.

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By 9:30 I’ve had 3 coffees and Cal has had 2. It’s mercifully cool today and this allows us to take our time and have regular breaks as we don’t need to try to finish walking early to avoid the worst heat of the day.

There are some nice walks through oak forest but most of the day is actually walking though eucalyptus plantations so not dissimilar to walking on our bridle trail at home. The scenery is unspectacular and I feel sorry for all of those people who’s Camino experience involves only Sarria to Santiago as its definitely a second rate experience compared to earlier stages.

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Soon we reel in the 40k marker before reaching Ribadiso where there’s a Roman bridge and a restored pilgrim refuge which is one of the oldest surviving.

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To keep up our regimen of regular breaks we have a drink in Arzua and buy a take-away bocadillo which we eat in a likely picnic spot on the road.

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Watching people on the track today, we’re not the only ones just getting it done. The old hats who have been at it for 5 weeks or more like us, are all hurrying and we are being overtaken regularly which is unusual. We had a chat to Aussie Phil as he went past and he confirmed that like us, he’s tired and just wants to finish now.

It took a long time to warm up today and after each break it takes a while to warm up again but once warm we are feeling strong and keep pushing (C. I think it is actually only once the ibuprofen kicks in and our bodies are less painful!!) We only realise now how much the heat we have had since Leon has taken out of us. With cooler weather we can keep going and going.

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We actually contemplate for a very brief time walking all the way into Santiago but we come to our senses and call it a day in Arco O Pino with less than 20kms to Santiago left for tomorrow. (C. Don’t look at me – I never once contemplated the idea of the possibility, Phil was heard to say as we settled into our very comfortable pension this evening that perhaps we could just manage two more kilometres so we could have walked a marathon distance??? Only a few weeks ago the idea of doing 25 kilometres seemed impossible to me !!).

If the score so far was Camino 1 PJ and CJ 0 from our start in the Pyrenees and Navarre, we have kicked the equaliser today with 38kms knocked over and will be happy to arrive in Santiago tomorrow with the score at 1-1.

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Day 33: Gonzar – Melide

Weather: Bloody Hot!
Mood: Grim Determination
Distance: 33.93 kms
Average Pace: 12:13 /km
Trip Time: 9 hours

To limit the time walking in the hottest part of the day, we’re the first out of the Albergue this morning at 5:50am. We have another long day and want to finish earlier than yesterday.

It’s fair to say now that we are just getting it done. We walk over roman bridges, through medieval villages and past 12th century churches without paying them a glance. We try to stop every 5 kms for a drink and rest but being Sunday, there are a couple of long stretches as many places are closed before lunch.

The climb up to Melide at 2:30 pm in 33 degree heat in the full sun is, um, character building. We both pass out after a shower and only wake at 6:30. Straight down for dinner and back up in our room, Cal is asleep again within minutes of walking through the door. We are both hobbling after two really big days and the Hostal manager gives us some gel to use on our legs when he sees us hobble past the cashier after dinner.

Sorry, no photos today. Just getting it done!

We’re very excited as tomorrow is our last big day and possibly our biggest day ever which will put us 22 kms from Santiago de Compostella on Tuesday morning for what we hope will be a pleasant downhill run home…

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Day 32: Sarria – Gonzar

Weather: Sunny and Hot
Mood: Good
Distance: 33.25 kms
Average Pace: 11:48 /km
Trip Time: 9 hours

Sarria is an interesting point on the Camino Francis. To have said you have done the Camino and to get the Compostella verifying this, you must walk, cycle or ride at least 100 kms to Santiago de Compostella. Sarria sits just outside of this point so is a major starting point for large volumes of people, especially in summer, who do just the Sarria to Santiago de Compostella part of the route. Apparently, it can be very busy and accommodation hard to find.

The scenery is not outstanding and we also don’t expect to see anything we haven’t already seen so have a mindset of just finishing the walk now. We’ve had a wonderful time but have had enough of the daily routine now and just want to get it done so plan a couple of big days to finish the last 115kms in 4 days.

So we leave early and the day starts slowly with a long ascent and Cal taking picture of rocks, flowers and leaves. In the end I have to give her the hurry up and we make some good progress.

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One interesting sight is a very rustic old lady driving her cattle up the Camino path, presumably moving fields.

We stopped for lunch in Portomarin where there is a big dam and where they disassembled a couple of historic buildings and reassembled them in the town town further up the hill after building the dam. There is some kind of festival going on with lots of bangs and a band playing in the square.

After lunch we had a very hot last walk to the Albergue in Gonzar where the lovely young lady took one look at us and gave us a beer and coke before starting check-in proceedings. A superb Albergue with great, hard working and friendly staff.

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