After discovering the joys of cycling in 2002 I took a group of fellow riders to China in 2006. Since then we have gone on to complete something like 42 other overseas cycling and trekking adventures which have taken us all over the planet.
  • Day18

    To the End of the Earth

    October 5, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 15 °C

    One quite amazing feature of our hotel in Santiago is that it features a “24 hour breakfast buffet”. I had never previously heard of this innovative idea, however it is actually quite simple. Instead of breakfast only being available between certain hours (eg 7.30 to 10.00 am), the buffet is available at any time of the day or night. This would even make it possible to save valuable time each morning, by having your breakfast before going to bed.

    After completing our walk to Santiago yesterday, it was a huge relief not to have to don my serious walking shoes and backpack once more. I was even able to leave my walking pole in my room. With sandals on my feet and nothing on my back it almost felt like flying.

    Our day began with a guided tour of the old city precinct with a local expert guide who introduced herself as Maria. She certainly was a huge reservoir of information and proceeded to teach us about the place at every opportunity. When she explained that confessions would be heard that morning in the cathedral “in seven languages”, I couldn’t help but wonder how people got on who were not able to speak seven languages. (Sometimes my mind just works that way).

    She also explained that the cathedral is being seriously damaged because, some years ago, much of the roof area was covered with concrete. Although this might have seemed like a bright idea at the time, it actually caused damage because the building was no longer able to breathe. Expensive restoration works are now underway to remove the concrete layer and replace it with something more akin to what was originally installed about 900 years earlier. Another example where the original builders really knew what they were doing after all.

    After a couple of hours of this serious touring, my brain reached memory overload and I was really glad that I could finally wander off by myself for a little respite. There were a couple of small matters that I wanted to attend to. The first of these was to receive my final stamp in my pilgrim passport. Douglas pointed me in the direction of the pilgrim office , so I went in the door with my passport in hand. The only trouble was that about 400 others had arrived before me and had formed a huge queue snaking throughout the building. It looked like a line of football supporters waiting for finals tickets.

    Since I did not want to spend all day waiting in a line, and since I was not interested in getting a piece of parchment paper, I invoked the well known “Plan B”. In another room there was a much shorter line to a man sitting at a cash register. In a very short time I reached the front and explained that all I wanted was a little stamp. He understood perfectly and dutifully proceeded to stamp front and back of my black book. It was all over.

    The other task I wanted to do was to spend more time inside the cathedral. We had spent so much time walking to the resting place of St James, that I thought I had better at least pay him my respects. At the entrance door I had to get past, not one, but two gypsy “beggars” who had almost succeeded in making entrance impossible without paying their own form of admission price. It really seemed a shame that this behaviour was allowed.

    Once inside I spent some time gazing at the ceiling and all the other adornments inside. I had to agree that the place really is huge. I could have spent a lot of time looking at all the minor chapels, statues and images, but I was looking for St James. When I saw a big queue I assumed that I must be on the right track. I joined the rear and slowly shuffled forward every few minutes. It was only when I got closer that I could see that the queue was not actually to see the crypt of St James, it was to hug the statue upstairs. Since I was not much interested in embracing a statue, I ducked out of the line of huggers and went downstairs to see St James instead.

    Once through the narrow doorway and down a few steps, I came to a grated opening where the silver casket of St James was situated maybe 4 metres away. On the floor there were numerous pieces of paper where pilgrims had left prayer requests or messages for the saint. I looked at the casket and wondered what (or who ) was really inside. The lid was firmly closed so the mystery will have to remain unanswered.

    With my two tasks thus completed, I felt that my mission here was finally over. There was, however, one other unfinished piece of business that I wanted to do on my final full day in Spain. I had not yet had a seafood paella. I found a nearby café that was willing to satisfy my curiosity and my hunger at the same time and I have to admit that it was fine eating.

    Although the prime objective for the Camino is to reach the Cathedral of Santiago, for many pilgrims there is a secondary objective as well. That is to continue walking until you can walk no more. That happens when you reach the Atlantic Coast at Finisterre. In Roman times this was regarded as the westernmost point of Europe and the name Finisterre literally means “End of the Earth”. That was where the maps finished and where the unknown began. It was Christopher Columbus who famously sailed into this unknown to discover the new worlds beyond.

    For a pilgrim to walk from Santiago to Finisterre it usually takes an additional 5 days of walking. For us it took a leisurely 90 minutes by bus. The rolling green hills along the way were liberally covered with eucalypts and pines and it made me feel like we could have been driving through parts of Victoria.

    Cape Finisterre is a beautiful spot, surrounded by steep cliffs dropping down to the ocean over 100 metres below. The late afternoon was warm, the sky cloudless and the air still. I sat on a rocky point and gazed out at the endless ocean and imagined how the ancients could really feel that this was the end of the world. I also took the time to think back over some of the events of the past three weeks. We had shared so much together in that time. Much of our walking time had been spent talking to fellow pilgrims and, for a brief time in our lives, everything was so simple – just keep walking westwards. And now we were here. This marked the end of chapter one of our adventure. Tomorrow morning most will be travelling to Portugal and the two Christines will be leaving to continue their own adventure.

    There was a tradition among pilgrims to burn all their old clothes when they reached the ocean. Presumably they would then start afresh and the rest of their lives would begin. Although the authorities are trying to stop this tradition (this is a high fire danger area after all), we noticed that pilgrims had left a number of items behind – boots, socks, walking poles, etc. Some of these had been tucked into the rocks.

    Then it was finally time to return to the bus for the very last time with Raoul. We were headed back to Santiago for our final night in Spain.

    After dinner some of us went for a walk back to the Cathedral. There were still hundreds of people there and we were attracted by the sounds of some nearby music. It turned out to be a group of colourfully dressed musicians who were playing a wide variety of stringed instruments and singing well known Spanish songs. Throngs of happy students were singing and clapping to the music. You would have had to have a stony heart not to feel touched.

    Somehow it felt like the perfect way to finish an amazing trip.

    Buen Camino indeed.
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  • Day17

    Mission Accomplished - In Santiago

    October 4, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 17 °C

    It is often hard to describe your feelings when you complete something that you have been planning for years. Although it is always a relief when everything goes according to the script, there is also a slight feeling of disappointment that it is all over.

    We awoke to yet another fine and clear morning, just like every previous morning on the Camino, apart from the very first day when we walked out of Roncesvalles. We have experienced so much together over the past two weeks, that the beginning of the walk already seems like a lifetime ago. We have laughed together, we have suffered together and we have certainly grown together as we worked our way across the north of Spain.

    After a short transfer to Lavacolla, we began the very last leg of our walk. As seems to always be the case, the walk began with a steep climb through forests and farmlands, before settling down to a more gentle walk. Each step of the way brought us closer to our goal and we could understand how emotional it must be for those who have walked the entire 800 km from the Pyrenees. We even met an 87 year old guy from New Zealand, who had not only walked the entire way, but had carried his full pack the entire way. That takes a special kind of commitment that made our struggles seem pretty trivial by comparison.

    All the while the signposts counted down the distances until we reached the "Mount of Joy".. It is as this location that you get your first glimpse of the Cathedral in the distance. Apparently the early pilgrims were so overcome with emotion that they shouted "My Joy, My Joy".

    From that location we soon entered the outskirts of Santiago and the cathedral was hidden from view until we turned the final corner. The throng of fellow pilgrims were all heading in the one direction so it would be impossible to lose your way at this stage.

    We passed a lone bagpipe player, went through a short tunnel and turned left to see the famous Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in front of us. We had arrived. Around us other pilgrims were hugging and laughing. Some lay on the ground, Others were busy taking selfies. We assembled ourselves to record the moment in a group photo. It seemed the appropriate thing to do.

    There was something else we had to do. Just before we departed Australia, two of our team had to withdraw from the adventure due to ill health. At the start of our Camino we collected a couple of stones to symbolically include them in our walk. All along the way I have carried these stones in my pocket to remind me that Paul and Jan are still sharing the way with us. From time to time I stopped to show them a particular place or view. I am not sure if they felt it way back in Melbourne, but it was a help to me when I missed their companionship.

    When we arrived at the Cathedral we all piled our symbols together in front of the entrance and took a picture. At that time our team consisted of 14 pilgrims, not 12.

    The only other thing I wanted to do was enter the Cathedral itself. By some sheer coincidence we had arrived right in the middle of a Mass. Although the door was closed, they were still letting in a small number of pilgrims. Douglas and I were lucky enough to gain entrance and stand with the throng at the rear of the congregation.

    There was one thing I was hoping to witness, but I knew that the chances were almost zero. From time to time the priests light a container of incense and swing it on the end of a rope from the ceiling. Although Carlos had lived in Santiago for many years, he had only witnessed this ceremony on one occasion.

    I could scarcely believe it when a female soloist started to sing and the priests prepared the incense. The timing was perfect. Soon it was swinging high over our heads, pulled by a group of about 6 priests all working in unison. The container slowly swung back and forth, each time getting higher and higher, until it almost reached the roof of the church. I had to admit that it really was a special moment, that will stay with me for many years.

    When the ceremony was over the congregation burst into applause, the doors were opened and we poured out into the bright sunlight outside. For one young girl backpacker the occasion did not have a happy ending. She had left her backpack outside the cathedral to go inside and it had obviously been stolen while she was inside. It was heartbreaking to see her distress and I could not help but feel angry that the gypsy woman that had been sitting in the doorway and taking money from people to "watch their bags" had done nothing to help. I even wondered if it had been part of a scam. It was such a shame that when you see examples of the very best of humanity, all too often you also see examples of the very worst.

    We checked into our hotel and were so relieved to take off our shoes and enjoy the showers. It will be wonderful not to have to don them again for a few days. Sandals will be my footwear of choice until we reach Portugal in a couple of days time.
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    Congrats to all for completing your pilgrimage.

  • Day16

    Sarria to Portomarin

    October 3, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We all well knew that our journey along the Way of St James was rapidly drawing to a close. Tomorrow we would arrive at the famous ancient Cathedral of Santiago and our own Caminos would be over. After sharing so much together over the past two weeks I am not really sure if we are actually wanting the experience to end, or whether some part of us would like it to continue for longer.

    Although we only completed a part of the entire Camino, it was impossible for us not be effected by the passion that draws so many people together in a united goal. In such a fragmented and divided world it is rare to see so many people of so many different races and faiths all drawn along by some invisible force to just "walk to Santiago". Whether or not you really believe that Santiago is literally the final resting place of St James, it is still a very moving experience to be a very small part of.

    The path was soon shrouded in a foggy mist which filled the valley. It seemed entirely appropriate and reminded me of the misty drizzle that had accompanied us as we departed from Roncesvalles on what seemed like a lifetime ago. The path very quickly turned uphill and we were all measuring our steps as we gained altitude. I looked around at the crowd that was around me and tried to imagine what had drawn each of them from far and wide to this same point in time and place. For a short while our lives would be tied together, and we would soon part to disperse all over the planet.

    The crowded path gave us a great opportunity to chat with other walkers, This had been something that I had been looking forward to, even before beginning the Camino. The conversations would usually begin with "Where are you from ?". The rest would flow freely. There is something about walking side by side with someone that encourages inhibitions to slide and for serious matters to come to the surface easily.

    Along the way there were regular Camino posts which steadily counted down the distance to Santiago, unfortunately many of these were covered in graffiti. It is so hard to comprehend why so many would feel inclined to permanently damage these markers by writing their names all over them or worse still, stealing the brass distance marker itself.

    The 100 km post has special significance, unfortunately it was the most defaced of all the previous ones. Dozens of walkers had covered the post with their names and other messages.

    The rolling hills rewarded us with amazing views, but also "blessed" our tired legs with numerous steep climbs and descents. Although my feet have fared pretty well after walking well over 200 km in the previous ten days, there was no doubt that my legs were tired and my toes would be very glad to be finally freed from my walking shoes.

    We stopped for lunch at a busy café. There was a continual queue outside the single toilet and a waiter that would have done the legendary Manuel proud. Fortunately the food was OK and we were soon on our way again.

    The walk ended with a very steep descent down to Portomarin. At this late stage of the day and after 8 hard days of walking, all of our calves were protesting loudly. We then had to cross a huge (and VERY high) bridge across the Belesar Reservoir. The height made some of our walkers feel strong vertigo.

    It was a relief when we finally saw our parked bus and Raoul our driver. It had been one of the longest days of the trip, but the scenery was worth it. I checked the GPS and it told me that we had walked 24.5 km. No wonder I was a little worse for wear.

    All that remained was a transfer to our hotel at Arzua. Unfortunately this ageing 2 star Hotel Teodora was the worst of the trip. Situated right on a busy road the noise continued all night long, supplemented by the loud shouting of boozed up backpackers till after 3 am in the morning. At 2.30 am someone chose to add even more noise by racing up and down the street outside and dropping wheelspins along the way.

    The non air conditioned rooms were hot and tiny and mine came complete with the lingering smell of tobacco smoke (in spite of the prominent non smoking sign). In a surprise twist of events the evening meal was easily the best (and certainly the most copious) we had enjoyed for the entire trip. So much so that much food was left piled on plates uneaten.

    Tomorrow we will complete our Camino and finally get our first sight of the famous Santiago Cathedral.
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  • Day15

    The Best Day's Walking So Far

    October 2, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    After our quiet evening in the hills at Herrerias de Valcarce we awoke to a freezing morning. With a clear starry night the temperature in these mountain quickly dropped to near freezing point. After breakfast we took a short transfer to another mountain top start where the views down over the surrounding hillsides were absolutely breathtaking. Some of the valleys were still filled with white fluffy clouds which had not been burnt off by the low sun.

    The region we are now in is the mountainous province of Galicia. This is a huge contrast to the flat landscapes we had been hiking through a few days earlier. Although the walking is harder, it is infinitely more rewarding. Apart from the glorious views, the cool, clear mountain air made us all feel much fresher.

    Another feature of this region is stone houses with slate roofs. Some of the roofs were tremendous examples of the workmanship of the tilers, almost a work of art in themselves.

    Although we started at around 1400 metres in elevation and knew that we had to finish the day in Sarria at only 400 metres, the descent did not actually begin in earnest until long after the half way point had been reached. In fact we had a significant amount of steep climbing to complete before we could face the additional challenge of the steep downhill.

    Fortunately the path itself was in much better condition than the treacherous rocky paths that had been such a challenge yesterday. In addition we had the benefit of liberal shade along the way.

    When we felt that the steepest of the climbing section had been completed (at around the 10 km point), we took advantage of a lovely hilltop cafe to celebrate with a hot coffee. This was also the perfect location to sit, admire the views and appreciate just how far we had climbed. I believe that anyone undertaking a walk like this one simply must take the time to savour the journey. Especially in this region, the surroundings are just so magnificent, that it would be a crime to just hurry through without stopping time and time again to appreciate the beauty that is all around us.

    Although we might have been expecting an immediate descent to begin, the path actually continued along a saddle for some kilometres. Sometimes there was a small drop, but this was quickly followed by another rise. Apparently this is a classic feature of the Galician mountains. It often means that you can never get into a rhythm.

    It was not until we had reached the 16 km mark that the serious descent began. On this terrain you feel your toes squashed into the end of your shoes. The backs of your legs start to feel the constant strain and you need to pay close attention to every footstep, lest you take a tumble.

    As we descended we pass through a couple of tiny villages. At one time we found ourselves in the middle of a small herd of cows. At the front of the her a cattle dog was making sure they went the right way, and at the rear, the owner was making sure they kept moving. The houses crowded on either side of the path. Some of these looked like they were danger of collapse, while others had been heavily restored.

    With about 6 km to go we caught our first glimpses of Triacastella, nestled neatly in the bottom of the valley. We continued to descend steadily and each glimpse of the town showed that we were slowly getting closer and closer.

    When we noticed an enticing looking cafe we decided that it would be a nice spot to have a drink and rest before completing the walk to Triacastella. There were several young pilgrims already resting there. It so happened that two of our team members were celebrating birthdays today. Christine Swistak was turning 59 and Allan Barlin was celebrating being born exactly 10 years prior to Christine.

    When I suggested we could sing another round of Happy Birthday to Christine, a young German pilgrim immediately produced a ukulele and began to sing. She had a lovely singing voice and for an all too brief moment, we all felt united in the spirit of the Camino. It is these completely unplanned events that for me, make travel so magical.

    Soon we all wished each other yet another "Buen Camino" and continued on or way. A short time later we were in Triacastella and the day's walk had been completed. With a final total of 22 km, it had been one of the longest of our trip so far, but somehow it did not seem too hard at all. Perhaps we are all getting stronger, but I think it was more like being carried along on a wave of positive energy.The slightly cooler weather certainly helped also.

    We arrived at Triacastella around 3 pm - just in time for lunch. This might seem a little strange in Australia, but in Spain the rhythm of life is completely different. It is not at all unusual to have lunch late in the day and dinner much, much later. Dinner is seldom eaten before 8 pm, and often as late as 10 pm.

    After a brief stop at the huge Samos Monastery, we continued by bus the final few km to Sarria. The main claim to fame of Sarria would appear to be that it is the closest point to Santiago that you can begin a Camino and still qualify for your Compostela (certificate). I guess that makes it a popular starting point for those will not much time or energy to devote to a longer pilgrimage.

    My first impression of Sarria was slightly underwhelming as it appeared to lack the charm and history of so many of the other towns we had passed through over the past 10 days. We are booked for one night at the Hotel Alfonso IX. I guess that if it was good enough for the Fonsie, it will be good enough for us. And it was.

    It is hard to believe that in just two day's time our Camino will be complete and we will have arrived in Santiago. Tomorrow we have another long stage to complete, but I already sense that the group is really looking forward to it. Since Santiago is now almost on the horizon we are expecting to be sharing the path with a much higher number of pilgrims.
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  • Day14

    In Which we All Go Downhill Rapidly

    October 1, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Ever since arriving at Roncesvalles, about 9 days ago, we have been walking at relatively high elevations. This had been something of a surprise to me as I had not realised that so much of the Camino would be above 800 metres above sea level.

    We awoke to yet another fine and clear morning. Well actually I awoke to complete darkness, but that is probably due to the fact that my alarm is set to go off at 5.30 am. When the sun eventually decided to wake up as well (about 7.30 am) it revealed a completely cloudless sky. It is worth noting that the only slight drizzle we have seen since arriving in Spain, was the slight sprinkling we got as we left Roncesvalles on day 1 of our walk. Each successive day has been fine and clear, heating up to the low 30s each afternoon.

    Our day began with a short bus transfer to the famous Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross). This famous location consists of an ancient iron cross atop a long column. At the base of the column a huge pile of stones has been built up from the contributions of untold thousands of previous pilgrims. The tradition says that you collect a stone from the bottom of the hill and leave it at the base of the cross. The dropping of the stone symbolises a release from whatever problem you had been carrying.

    It was quite poignant to stand at this sacred location and see the huge pile below us, realising that each stone represented a single pilgrim. Many people had also left written notes, presumably detailing their needs and requests. Some of the stones had been inscribed with the name of their carrier.

    The Cruz de Ferro was also the highest point we had thus far reached on our Camino. At 1500 metres above sea level, it towered over the surrounding countryside. It was obvious that the flat plateau of the Castille was now behind us and we had entered the mountains once again.

    Anyone who had not done much walking might think that it is easier to walk downhill than uphill. If you did think that way you would be entirely wrong. Although walking uphill might require more cardio effort, going downhill puts a lot more strain on your feet and leg muscles. It is also in going downhill that the risk of falling is much greater.

    After a few short undulations we soon encountered the steepest descents of our Camino. Not only was the slope very steep, but the path was treacherous as well. With a collection of loose stones, large ruts and exposed rock it would have been so easy to take a tumble.

    As I carefully made my way down I kept thinking to myself "Please don't let anyone break a leg". We had already had our share of broken legs on previous Ghostrider adventures (but that is a story for another day) and I certainly did not want history to repeat itself.

    Whenever you have to drop around 1000 metres you know that you will most likely have sore calves and toes by the day's end. Fortunately we only had one relatively minor mishap on the descent, but we were very relieved when the path levelled out and the day's walk was completed. It had only been around 17 km, but the level of difficulty made it feel much longer.

    We still had a very interesting bus transfer to our hotel at Herrerias de Valcarce. Although it would have been only a few kilometres as the crow flies, the nature of the mountains in this region meant that the actual route was extremely circuitous. Several times we drove over huge viaducts that were suspended high above the valley floor. The engineering was certainly impressive and we all hoped that the constructions had been done correctly.

    We finally pulled into our alpine style hotel. The Paraiso del Bierzo was certainly the most remote hotel we had stayed in so far, although my room was also the smallest. It was tucked on the highest floor, in the roof cavity. There were no windows and a huge sloping wooden beam dangerously traversed the limited interior space, right at head height. I felt certain that I would knock myself senseless on it at some stage during the night, but fortunately I managed to avoid it.

    It had been a long and eventful day.
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  • Day13

    The Journey Continues - Leon to Astorga

    September 30, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Although it was amazing to have a rest day in Leon, I must admit that there was something inside me that was also keen to resume the walk. Even though we have only been walking the Camino for a week, we are beginning to feel that we have become a small part of a much larger story. The story itself will only be complete when we all arrive at the Cathedral in Santiago.

    Leon was something of a very pleasant surprise for most of us. I am not sure what I expected to find, but it certainly wasn't bagpipes and Celtic music. And yet that is exactly what we did find. Apparently Celtic music is an extremely important part of the culture in this part of Spain.

    I spent my final evening in Leon watching the pipe bands play outside the cathedral and then march around the streets of the old city. It was such a beautiful balmy evening that I could not help being caught up in the emotion of the crowds that were thronging the old city. It is a memory that I will cherish long after this trip is over.

    Today's walk took us to the much smaller town of Astorga, famous for it extensive Roman ruins, huge cathedral and incredible bishop's palace. The fairy tale bishop's palace was designed by Antoni Gaudi, with work starting in 1890 and taking about 17 years to complete. The building itself is a fascinating work of art and would appear more at home in Disneyland than alongside an ancient cathedral. When you are inside the palace you are surrounded by light coming at you from all directions and I almost felt that I was inside a diamond. It certainly must have been created by an incredible mind, but I am equally certain that I could never live in such a hectic place.

    The walk itself was only about 16 km, but it was enough to bring our cumulative distance on the Camino to 105 km. When you add on the considerable distances we have walked around the cities we have been staying in, our real total would be closer to 140 km.

    We started the walk early and were thus able to avoid the heat of the day. Although much of the walk was alongside a quite busy road, the final few kilometres into Astorga were magical. I am sure that our walkers are already significantly stronger than they were a week ago and the kilometres seemed to pass by without much effort.
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  • Day12

    A Brief Personal Reflection

    September 29, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Although the word Camino is most commonly applied to the walk from the Pyrenees to Santiago in northern Spain, it really is just a name for a walk, path or journey. In early times, every pilgrim began their journey from their own front door and then made their way to the Cathedral at Santiago. Now that our own version of the Camino is half over I thought it might be time to share some of my personal reflections.

    As we have made our way along the walking paths that have been trodden by untold multitudes before us, we have also had opportunity to observe those who are also making the journey with us. I found it fascinating to see how their journeys differed.

    For some it seems to be all about reaching the destination in the briefest possible time. These walkers can be identified easily because they stride along, barely looking from side to side, seldom talking to their fellow pilgrims. They have an urgency in their step and no wish to be delayed along the way.

    I also saw many that were obviously doing it hard. For them the journey involves pain, sacrifice and perseverance. Each step is a battle towards their final goal. Although it would be easy for them to give up, they seem to be driven by a long term aim to reach their final destination.

    Others walk at a slower pace and obviously take time to look around, to chat with their fellow pilgrims, to make friends along the way. These are the ones for whom the journey itself is every bit as important as the destination. They are determined to soak every last experience from the walk and I suspect that they might even be a little disappointed when it finally comes to an end.

    And I suppose there are also those who begin the Camino in a fit of enthusiasm and quickly lose interest. Perhaps it was harder than they expected, perhaps each day was hotter, steeper, longer than they were prepared for and they become discouraged. I suspect that the journey to Santiago is liberally littered with walkers who cease their journeys without reaching their original goal.

    As I thought about these things it seemed that we are all partakers of our own personal Caminos through life. Perhaps the famous Camino is really just a metaphor for our passage through life. At the beginning of our lives we do not know how the story will unfold along the way. Each person must make their own life's journey, no one else can do it for them.

    Some people charge through life, driven by ambition, power, money, fame or whatever, only to realise too late that they missed the most important things along the way. For others life can be a challenge almost every day. They may be plagued by illness, financial distress, relationship problems and the like, so that it seems like a continual uphill battle. And of course there are others who seem to always lack any sort of direction, who never have a driving passion and are constantly changing direction, seeking that elusive "something" that will give them meaning.

    The older I have got, the more I have come to realise that our true riches in life are not money or things, they are friends and family. We were never meant to walk our Caminos alone, we are strengthened and enriched by love and shared experiences. Sometimes we share the journey with others for only a short time, while with others we may share our journeys for much longer or even a whole lifetime. Whatever the duration, our lives are built on these interpersonal connections. In the final analysis our lives are really the sum total of these experiences. They are what makes us who we are.

    Enjoy your own journey.

    Buen Camino !
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    Well said.

  • Day12

    It's All Happening in Leon

    September 29, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    I suppose I could take the credit for it, but that would not be entirely honest. When I was putting this trip together I really did not have any idea that we would arrive right in the middle of their important festival. I also didn't realise that our only rest day for this part of the trip would also coincide with the Football Grand Final Day way back in Melbourne. Although it may not have been planned that way, it certainly did work out perfectly. It must have been meant to be.

    The other indication our rest day was well timed, was the fact that our walking team was rapidly falling apart. Yesterday our team had been reduced to only 9 walkers. If the current rate of attrition continued we would probably all have been bedridden by Tuesday. We all needed a day of rest and recuperation. We also all needed to thoroughly wash our socks and underwear.

    When we arrived in Leon it was obvious that the festivities were already well underway. Large temporary sound stages were being erected in the many open squares in the old town, and the large number of people just wandering the streets was a clear indication that fun was in the air. We had also been told that there was to be a special organ recital in the main Cathedral, followed by an outdoor Celtic Music Performance. At first I thought that the excitement was just because they had heard that the famous Ghostriders were in the town, but I found out that the festival happens every year at this time.

    After dinner at the hotel most of us walked back into town to enjoy the activities. At 10 o'clock the place was just beginning to hum, the streets were packed with people and hundreds were seated at the dozens of outdoor cafes and bars. We made our way through the crowded streets and arrived at the cathedral plaza just in time for the Celtic group to begin.

    It surprised me to learn that Celtic music is very popular in this part of Spain and the large crown gathered in the square would support this assertion. The band kicked off with some rollicking numbers, led by the fiddle and pipe players. Some in the crowd started dancing. It was hard to stand still in such a happy atmosphere.

    I looked around at the hundreds of happy people around me and at the floodlit cathedral. Even at this late hour, the air was still warm and still. It was a great place to be. I was enjoying it so much that, if I was younger, I might have stayed much longer. The truth was that we were all very tired and so we decided to head back towards the hotel.

    Back in my room I crawled into bed and, for the first time since leaving Australia, I did not have to set the alarm for the morning. The next thing I remember was waking up a short time later. At least it seemed a short time later, but when I checked my watch it was actually 8 am. I did not think it was possible to sleep that late, since I normally wake around 6 am. For a moment I was disoriented a little, thinking that I had misread the time. But 8 am it was. I really must have been tired.

    I arrived down at breakfast just at the same time as about 80 bus travellers also chose to arrive. It was a bit of a jostling match to secure a glass of juice or a bread roll, but the masses soon dispersed, leaving mainly the Ghostriders behind. Now it was our chance to check the progress of the Grand Final.

    It was already into the final quarter and Collingwood was in front by a small margin. Although I couldn't really care who won, the thought of all those loud Magpie supporters would be enough to give anyone nightmares for months. We all began to silently wish West Coast to catch up. They did. The momentum shifted back and forth until West Coast got a late goal to seal the premiership. It was a great result all round.

    The rest of the day gave me a chance to catch up with my laundry at a nearby Laundromat and then to simply wander the streets and watch the proceedings around me.The festival was in full swing and, once again, the streets were packed. Next to the Cathedral a large fruit and vegetable market had been set up. I bought some oranges and an apple and then walked a short distance to a shop that supposedly sells the best hot chocolate in Spain. Allan and Lorelle wandered in the door and we sat and chatted for a while. It was a perfect way to spend a rest day.. Tomorrow we all get up early to resume our pilgrimage. I suspect that the closer we get to Santiago, the busier the Camino will become. Already the Camino seems to have become a part of each of us and I am sure it is a time that we will never forget.
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  • Day11

    And Then There were Nine

    September 28, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    After the fiasco of the previous evening, we were all a little apprehensive as to what form our breakfast would take at the Puerta de Sahagon. Getting ready in the morning was a little easier than usual as I didn't have the distraction of the Internet to delay my preparations. The only place in this huge hotel that has an Internet connection is the foyer. I still cannot understand how the proprietors must have found millions of Euros to build the place, but could not find a few thousand extra to set up wifi routers for the rooms.

    At least the breakfast looked reasonable, with the usual offerings of scrambled eggs, sausages, cold meats, cheese, yoghurt, fruit and bread. The only problem was that there was only one staff member to manage the entire breakfast area. This might have been OK if the automatic coffee machines were working. Unfortunately they weren't. One quickly ran out of coffee and the other went down when the circuit breaker blacked out all the appliances down one side of the room, including the remaining coffee machine, the TV and the toaster. It remained thus for the duration of breakfast.

    The poor hassled girl in charge started manually making coffees with the machine behind the bar. This meant that she then had no time to clear tables or maintain the breakfast items. Once again the place degenerated into a shambles. Since we had to leave early for our walk, we all got up and left.

    During the evening Christine Swistak (aka C1) had fallen ill with a stomach bug and was still feeling quite unwell when it was time to leave the hotel. She had no alternative other than to stay behind and be picked up later by our bus. Her roommate Christine Brown (aka C2) decided to also stay behind and look after her. Allan Barden had been affected by the previous day's heat and decided to catch a couple of extra hour's sleep. With these retirements, our walking peloton was reduced to 9 people.

    Fortunately we were able to begin the walk in the relative cool of the morning. The path was almost flat and we made excellent progress, achieving over 7 km before we stopped for a rest under the shade of a small clump of trees. Because of the flat and open landscape we were able to see the steady stream of fellow pilgrims stretching out into the distance in both directions. This really is a sight to beyond. It is hard to prepare yourself for the spectacle of so many people all working their way towards a common goal. Each time you encounter a fellow walker you greet them with a blessing of "Buen Camino". You are almost universally given the same greeting and a big smile in return.

    We only had another 6 km to complete before the end of the day's walk. This brought our cumulative total to 88 km and we even had time for a cool drink before being collected by the bus for the transfer to Leon.

    Our hotel for the next two nights is the very impressive Hotel Silken Louis de Leon, situated in a perfect location. Not only is it within easy walking distance of the old city and the cathedral, it is also only a short walk from a laundromat. I am sure that we will all make good use of that facility while we are here.

    The end of today's walk marked the half way point of our walk along the Camino. We might not be walking the entire length of the path, but it still requires a lot of hard work, especially in the afternoon heat from the fierce Spanish sun. We are rewarding ourselves with a free day tomorrow. It will be wonderful to be able to pass the day without having another 20 km walk to wake up to.

    So what we will we wake up to ? Tomorrow morning just happens to coincide with a sacred festival in Melbourne. It is called the Grand Final. Of course we will be keenly following it from the other side of the world.
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    Go Pies.

    Dennis Dawson

    We have just finished listening to the Grand Final while we were having breakfast. It was good to have a close finish and even better to see the Magpies once again lose a Grand Final by less than a goal. We take it as a sign that our Camino is bringing results.


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