Day 30: Cea to Castro Dozón (19 kms)

There were only three of us in the junta albergue in Cea. The heat was on and we had a peaceful night’s sleep. A cold fog once again greeted us as we made our way up through town to the Vatican Bar for some morning coffee and toast. Suitably fortified we pushed on for the albergue at Castro Dozón. It was a day of ups and downs as hills came and went. We stopped in a bar next door to the monestary in Oseira for a coffee, warmed up a bit and then set out uphill once again.

Later on as we walked into the village of A Gouxa we noticed there was some fair going on and several vendors had great pots of pulpo steaming away. We still had about an hour to go to Cea, but decided to take a break. We got our plates of pulpo, and were the directed inside this hall where picnic tables were set up, and a throng of people were eating. Serving ladies came by and dropped off wine bowls, a pot of red, and a basket of wonderful bread. We tucked in and had what amounted to a menu del dia. There were other plates coming out of a kitchen that intrigued us so we ordered some nice grilled cubes of pork with fried potatoes (of course), and enjoyed that as well. It was a wild affair with much commotion. Would be diners were jockeying for table space, and ladies were trying to find serving lanes as the hall swelled with hungry locals. 6 euros for the pulpo and 12 for the pork, bread, wine and dessert. We could have stayed there for the duration but good sense finally overtook our stomachs and we slung our packs, weaved through the crowd, and stepped out the door. We were full as ticks and happy to have an hour’s walk to help it all hit basement. A very nice lunch indeed.

True to our dead reckoning we arrived in Castro Dozón a hour later. We walked through town and probably another 200 meters to get to the albergue. We settled in to await the hospitalera who, according to the posted notice, would arrive at 6:00 pm to check us in. It was then back into town for a run through the local shop and a couple of beers before we headed back to the albergue and our beds. Robin’s ankle is in need of another day’s rest so tomorrow she will go by taxi to Silleda, while I walk on to meet her.

Clearing a bit
The Monastery at Oseira
Coffee time in Oseira
Robin and Ray heading uphill from the monastery
Approaching Castro Dozón

 

Day 31: Castro Dozón to Silleda (27.3 kms)

Robin needed a rest day so I called a taxi whose number was posted in the albergue in Dozón. He knew just where we were, and arrived 20 minutes later. Robin would head off to Silleda, where we had a hotel reservation, and I would walk. Our new walking companion, Ray, left ahead of us, and I caught a lift for a few kilometers before saying goodbye and striking out along the Camino. As it turned out Ray caught up with me a short while later and we walked together to Silleda. It was an uneventful day, with fine weather, and we made good time. I said goodbye to Ray in front of the Alfergue Turistico at 3:00 and carried on to our hotel which was just on the edge of town. I made it just before the lunch cut off at 3:30, and sat down to the largest hamburger I think I have ever seen. About ten minutes later the plate was clean, and an empty beer glass stood with it. Perfect timing and good thinking on Robin’s part for ordering ahead of time. We spent a quiet night in just resting Robin’s foot. Tomorrow she would try and walk to Puente Ulla. But for now it is lights out.

 

Day 32: Silleda to Ponte Ulla (19 kms)

Robin felt her foot was sufficiently rested and wanted to try and walk to Ponte Ulla. We headed out rigged for rain, but as it turned out, we enjoyed a dry day. We opted to stay on the shoulder of the N 525 until Bandeira (about 7 kms) where we stopped for a coffee. At this point Robin was feeling some pain but opted to continue. We followed the Via de la Plata out of Bandeira and through some quite pleasant countryside. Robin found it hard going but together we adopted a slow pace that enabled us to reach our destination. The long, steep, descent into Ponte Ulla was particularly hard for a Robin, but somehow she managed it. We limped across the bridge into the village only to find that the Albergue Touristico where we were to stay was closed. This was not what we wanted to deal with at this point. As we were mulling over our options, Robin spotted a restaurant just across the road that appeared to be open. We shuffled across the road and entered into what was obviously a very expensive restaurant. At this point we just needed to get off our feet so throwing caution and euros to the wind we soon found ourselves being shown to a table. The meal was fine and the two cañas we ordered arrived in the form of a large pitcher of beer (first time in Spain this has ever happened). Perhaps our waitress sensed we were in need and opted for a practical solution to the beer issue. During our meal we did some searching on Booking.com and found a local manor house that offered rooms, Pazo de Galegos. It was shown as booked but we called anyhow. The owner, Manolo, answered the phone and explained that he was closed. It was Sunday and he had no bookings, and the previous day he had a large party of guests. So he had let the staff have a day off. But, he asked (in his perfect English) if we were by chance pilgrims. When we said we were he offered not only to take us in, but also agreed to pick us up. He knew the restaurant where we were dining and worked out with the waitress to be called as we finished our meal. Before long the three of us were turning into the parking area of this beautiful old home, with a working vineyard. Manolo also produces wine from this property. He could not have been kinder to us. The room was quite nice, and was warming up as the radiators came to life. As Manolo was in the wine business we soon had a nice Albariño and a nice Mencia to enjoy as we licked our wounds from the day’s walk. What an unexpected end to a very difficult day. Thank you, Manolo.

Ponte Ulla
Pazo de Galegos
Saint Manolo

 

Day 33: Ponte Ulla to Santiago (21 kms)

Porto do Mazarelos

We spent a pleasant, restful night in Manolo’s beautiful home. He had a nice breakfast laid out for us, as we carefully eased our way downstairs to the dining room. We had asked Manolo if he could arrange a taxi for us, and he made an arrangement with a local taxi driver to come and get us at 10:30. There would no more walking on this Camino. Robin was still limping and it was clear we needed transport to Santiago. So with breakfast done we packed up, met the taxi, said goodbye to Manolo, and headed off to Santiago. It is always bittersweet to not complete the journey you anticipated. We had walked a month, covered a good part of the Via de la Plata, and now were about to enter Santiago once again. We had much to be thankful for and many prayers of thanksgiving to utter at the pilgrim mass. Manolo suggested to have the taxi driver drop us off just outside the gate to the old city where the Via de la Plata enters. We felt we could manage that and agreed that we would enter the city on foot. We had a few thrilling moments as our driver, ignoring one way traffic signs, maneuvered us up as close as he could get before dropping us off. Once afoot we managed to slowly find our way into this now very familiar city. We checked into our hotel, and headed off to the 12:00 pilgrim mass. We entered the cathedral through the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) which was only opened this past Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, in response to the Pope’s declaration of a Year of Mercy. As we walked into the cathedral, and into this Year of Mercy, we were filled with gratitude for having reached this holy place once again. It wasn’t all as we had planned it, but it was a precious gift and a blessing nonetheless. Feliz Navidad.

 

John and Robin

Holy Door
Cathedral nativity scene
That’s my girl

 

It is starting to feel a lot like Christmas


Today is yet another day of recovery for us. Yesterday, Robin made an appointment at a salon on Rua Vilar to get her nails and pilgrim feet attended to. While we were there I asked if someone could also cut my hair. No problem, the deal was done. So, a day later I am freshly shorn (and enjoying a coffee), while Robin is still being fussed over. Good for her as she truly deserves it. So to pass the time I am doing a personal review of Christmas decorations on Rua Vilar. The Spanish don’t seem run to the excesses that Americans do when it comes to holiday decorations. But, in many ways less is more so it all seems to work. However there does seem to be a theme emerging. 

Going forward

Robin and I have now been home for a little over a week. The trip home went smoothly. Even the “back of the bus” seats on the Delta flight from Amsterdam to Portland did’t seem too bad. Perhaps it was simply the reality that we would soon be back in our own home that made us more accepting. The big story for this pilgrimage was Robin’s foot problem. She has since visited her doctor and x-rays were taken that revealed a bone spur. This spur (not necessarily a pointy protrusion) has caused the nearby tendon to inflame which caused the pain she experienced. So going forward she has to use orthotics in her boots and other walking shoes. She has been told to avoid total rest. It apparently is better for the healing process if she engages in some moderate use of her foot. So she will proceed cautiously and just see how it all goes. We have no plans to return, in the near term, to the camino so she will have time to rehabilitate her foot. It is our hope that she will eventually be able to walk at least some shorter camino routes, but only time will tell. We are hopeful that this condition can be managed and our backpacks will be slung once again. Robin is on this, and if there is a way she will find it.

A few thoughts now about the Via de la Plata. This was our first time walking this route and we were pleasantly surprised at what we encountered. It is a beautiful camino. There are many flat sections that are sort of Meseta like, and those might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we enjoyed them. The trail marking and surface condition was surprisingly good. There are several arroyos scattered along the route that have to be crossed and depending on the weather (rain) keeping your feet dry might be challenging. Fortunately, we had no problems as the weather was quite dry. We elected to taxi to Guillena and start walking from there. We are not fans of long urban exits or arrivals, and the arroyo issue admittedly also played a role in our decision to skip the first stage. As it turned out, even though the weather had been quite dry, the two arroyos that had to be crossed in the first stage were quite full and required deviations (this from another pilgrim who walked from Seville).

Regarding accommodations we stayed mainly in private lodging (hotels, pensions, casa rurals). We stayed in some albergues when that was all that was available, and some were quite nice. Our only bottom line requirement was heat. If there was no heat available we moved on. It was quiet in November, but we were not totally alone. We fell in early on with a small group that eventually scattered and then we carried on mostly alone after that. We met one fellow outside of Ourense who had walked from Valencia, and he said we were the first pilgrims he had met.

Robin’s foot problem forced us to skip the walk from Puebla de Sanabria to Ourense (about a week). We then, after a couple of day’s rest,  tried pushing on from Ourense but that only worked for part of that section. Eventually, Robin walked from Silleda to Ponte Ulla, and that ended any hopes of walking further. Even though we were just a day’s walk from Santiago, it was not going to happen. So we offered thanks for what we had been able to accomplish, and then took a taxi into Santiago.

Our initial plan was to arrive in Santiago about five days before Christmas. As it turned out we were there for two weeks. Now remember Robin was still very much limited to what she could do. Sitting around a hotel room icing her foot was not her idea of a grand vacation. We both had to reach an accommodation with the situation, and we did. The days passed slowly with resting, icing and sipping a bit of wine. Eventually Robin felt she could walk a bit so we would set out for short excursions around the town. This helped a lot. As Christmas approached Robin began practicing with John Rafferty and Stephen Shields to get ready for the upcoming Christmas masses at San Agostin where the three of them would be providing the liturgical music over Christmas. These are two wonderful people and we are very pleased to call them friends. This lifted Robin’s spirits exponentially, and mine as well.

The fun is about to begin

The Christmas season in Santiago is quite a bit more subdued then what we are use to in America. Decorations and seasonal music are only minimally indulged in. It seems more focused on families gathering for holiday meals than anything else. Now this leads me to the part about John and Stephen preparing meals for Robin and I and a few other friends at John’s home. This was always going to be part of our Christmas together, but I had no idea what was forthcoming. We all gathered at John and Stephen’s after the Christmas eve mass, and after the Christmas day Masses (2). On both occasions all hands were treated to banquet worthy meals that just never stopped. The holiday tables were beautifully arranged and the food and wine were both abundant and superb. The gaiety and laughter only served to top the cake (actually Christmas pudding, aflame). So, even though we struggled a bit on the camino, the joy we found in this very special Christmas celebration carried the day, and our hearts. A final tip of the hat to John and Stephen for the huge effort this all required, and to Rebekah, Paddy, and Kathy, for their exceedingly good company. A special note of praise for Robin’s grace under pain through all of this. She sang beautifully and kept us smiling when I am sure she was hurting. She is my Pilgrim Robin, and I love her dearly.

Our (always happy) liturgical musicians
The Christmas Eve feast awaits

Home at last

St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, from where we always start out and God willing return

Robin back where she loves to be
Me trying to get healthy

Seeking ourselves in a troubled world

Setting out

Ash Wednesday is just ahead and once again the Lenten season is about to begin. It is a time of pilgrimage, a time of setting out into the often troubling and most arid parts of our lives to discover anew the mystery of God’s love, and mercy. It is in the making of this journey that we set ourselves the task of rediscovering the hope that sweeps the dust from the lamp of our faith. It is not an easy journey as waymarks are few, dangers lurk, and all sorts of temptations abound. Perhaps the greatest challenge is simply believing that we both need to, and are capable of doing this. The Lenten journey is in many ways a solitary one. It is a time when every individual, regardless of religious affiliation or not, can take some time and sort out the direction his or her life has taken. It is also then follows that we should focus on what needs to be done to be better people, to be more Christ like in all that we do. I don’t mean to imply that by following a few steps one miraculously discovers fulfillment in the spiritual life. Quite the contrary, as all of this spiritual effort frequently takes place in a mysterious world of dim light and featureless landscapes that tends to create more uncertainty, than clarity, as we  seek the path we are to follow. But, it is also a time when hope, prayer and reflexion can come together to lead us from this confusion to the truth of God’s love and what that means for us. It is in our willingness to accept God’s unconditional love that our peace and joy are born anew. Every pilgrim road we have walked bears witness to this. Today we find ourselves inhabiting a world that is suffering on so many levels that it can crush our spirits and throw us into despair. Let us hope that this year’s Lenten journey can help us all find the compassion and mercy needed to start the healing that is now so needed, and so long overdue.

“In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.”

Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

What we leave behind

The state of Washington is blessed with some spectacular hiking opportunities and a wide variety of terrain. Sometimes in our rush to always be off to Spain or France to follow their ancient pilgrimage routes we forget just what beauty we leave at home. Here are some photos for those of you who have never visited the Pacific Northwest or Washington state, that will help explain what I mean.

Cascades
Mt. Rainier
North Cascades National Park, America’s Alps
America’s Alps
North Cascades National Park

Tulip Fields, Skagit Valley
Columbia River, Crown Point 
Columbia River, Cape Horn

Olympic National Park Rainforest
Olympic National Park
Palouse wheat fields Eastern Washington
Palouse wheat fields
Pacific Coast