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Day 4 September 19

Well, it’s official: I have a cold. Actually, I think I have had one almost from the day we began, but the combination of walking in multiple days of rain, with my body heating up from walking and then cooling down at breaks, made it official. So I face the final four days of the Camino with a cold and two gimpy knees. What a way to finish!

The good news is the power of sleep. It is amazing how restorative it is for my knees (I also think all the prayers being said for us has helped). So I begin this new day filled with hope. Much better than the alternative.

From a weather standpoint, we can count on another sunny day today, once the fog burns off. What a gift. But there are lots of signs autumn is upon us. Falling leaves, ripe fruit on the trees, and, in particular, the temperatures. It is in the mid 40s first thing in the morning, rising to the late 50s by midday and then up into the mid 60s by late afternoon. There is a chance it may get up to 70 today. Wonderful walking weather once the sun is up.

Tried to start at 7:30 again but a combination of slow sunrise and heavy fog delayed us a bit.

I JUST TRIED TO LOAD MY FIRST PICTURE AND OVERWHELMED THE WIFI CAPABILITY WE HAVE. SO I AM GOING TO STOP UNTIL I GET BETTER WIFI. MIGHT NOT BE UNTIL MONDAY AS WE HAVE OUR LAST LONG DAY TOMORROW. BUT I WILL AT LEAST PROVIDE A SHORT  SUMMARY OF THE DAY.
Today went well. My knees were fine until the last kilometer or two and my legs felt fine all day. John’s lower left leg is doing well but he had the “sluggish” legs today. Got some good pictures to share with you so I hope you will check in again. The last photo is of a Camino marker. Being this close to Santiago, every market indicates how many kilometers are left to go. The marker in my picture (taken just outside the town where we are staying) has the number 66 on it. A long way from 790, isn’t it?

Blessings to all and thanks for the continued prayers. My knees could feel them today.

PS If you want to convert kilometers to miles, multiple the above number by.621.

Day 5 September 18

For our entire pilgrimage John and I have kidded about “staying in the moment” so we can maximize our enjoyment of whatever is happening. That said, today marks our one month anniversary on the Camino. And one week from today we will be in Paris with our wives, God willing.

Today we knew we would have a longish day because we had a fairly significant up in the morning and a 2+ mile downhill in the afternoon (which I do very slowly as my knees are beginning to show the wear from all we have been through). So we started just before daybreak at 7:30. Our first challenge was climbing multiple sets of stairs to get out of Sarria. I tried to get a picture but it was too dark. Shortly afterwards, we came across a cross that was visible against the sunrise.


I hope you think it is as attractive as I do.

It was then up some well marked trails,


eventually breaking into open country.

As expected, there were many more pilgrims, but around mid-morning we ran into Fr. Paul, our two Polish friends we  met our first day on the Camino (I think at one point I said I thought they were German), and the St. Mike’s graduate. Fun to reconnect with all of them.


Then the climb began.

Not too bad really, but for some reason my legs were feeling very sluggish today. Fortunately, John’s legs were doing fine.

This led to some pretty scenery in rolling hills.


We were also rewarded by a bagpipe player    playing by the side of the trail. Amazing how far the sound of a bagpipe carries.

We also passed the 100 kilometer marker (Santiago is getting closer!).


More pretty scenery…


Followed by the beginning of the long down hill.


This took awhile and John was good enough to join me in the breaks I took. If you look closely at the next picture you can see our destination, Portomarin, to the right in the background.

 

   Finally, around 4:00, we arrived, to find the only way to enter the town was to repeat the way we started our day…climb a set of stairs.


We are staying in a comfortable hotel, with a nice balcony and view off the main lobby.


Tomorrow is another big day. So to bed early.

Blessings to all.

Day 6 September 17

We are having a peaceful break on our day off in Sarria. Slept another ten hours last night and just woke up from a two hour nap. Obviously, we have needed the rest.

After a good breakfast and working on a blog reflection this morning, we went out to get some more cash (which has happened less frequently than I thought it would) and then a light (only one course) lunch.

When I finish this, we will do our daily rosary (a little late today) and then go down to a bar we found this morning that had a pastry shop next to it for a little treat. To be followed in a couple of hours by dinner and then, hopefully, another good night’s sleep.

Big day tomorrow as we begin the first of our last five days on the Camino. As we are very close to the magical 100 kilometers from Santiago (the minimum required to receive a compostella, which is like a graduation certificate for completing the Camino), the number of pilgrims has increased. But we just try and stay focused on our pilgrimage.

Since I know some of you enjoy pictures, here’s couple of random “walking with John” shots.



If you look carefully, you can see the scallop shell image in the grill work on the right above. The wall on the left is a long mural commemorating the Camino. Her’s another view of that wall.


Blessings to all.

A Conversation with Bill

Well, Bill, you have completed most of your pilgrimage. How do you feel?
I feel good. Of course, there have been some aches and pains, but overall I am surprised how good I feel. As I mentioned in a recent blog post, my knees have had a difficult time with the steep down hills, but that is more a matter of balance than any real pain. Once I get back on relatively level ground I am just fine.
One of the reasons my legs (and my lower back) are doing so well are my trekking poles. I have learned how to walk almost as fast on level ground with them as without them. I have also learned how to use them to relieve stress on my legs and lower back. And, of course, going down steep hills, particularly ones with rocky or other forms of uneven surfaces, would be impossible without the poles. They have been a real blessing. Thanks to Chris Canfield for suggesting them.
Anything on the trip getting you down?
When I was doing my training in New Hampshire, there were days I just didn’t feel like walking. It would take a real effort to get started. So far that has not occurred on the Camino. Every day brings a sense of, “What will we see today? Who might we meet?” And I feel a great deal of gratitude just being able to do this. As I walk along, I have often experienced the following sensation, “I’m in northern Spain, doing what countless other pilgrims have done. I am literally living a dream. If this is a dream, I hope I don’t wake up until I get to Santiago.” It’s a wonderful feeling, particularly with the natural beauty of most rural environments we walk through.
Let me see, is there anything that has gotten me down? When we first started, I did find it hard to get everything done at the end of each day. It took a while to develop a routine for the evening and first thing in the morning. But I wouldn’t say I was down. Frustrated is probably a better word.
The closest thing to anything getting us down has been the rain. We were so lucky for so long that when we hit these wet few days it was hard getting used to. Gray days tends to make everything gray, and everything is wet by the end of the day and close to impossible to dry. But it is suppose to clear soon. My only hope is it is sunny the day we get to Santiago.
What have you enjoyed the most so far?
Gosh, there are so many things.
First, John had been a tremendous asset. He is always looking out for me, goes out of his way to make sure my needs are being met, and has a great sense of humor at just the right times. I can’t imagine this trip being the same without him. What’s amazing is how well we have gotten along.
You mean you have had no disagreements?
Let me ask you a question in return. Imagine living with anyone you know in extremely close quarters (the twin beds are right next to each other) for five weeks, dealing with the inevitable ups and downs of any trip, each of you with your own unique quirks, having to make countless small decisions each day. Would you be able to do so without any friction or disagreements?

The answer to your question is John and I have had a couple of small squabbles over little things but I think overall it is amazing how well we have gotten along. Having John with me has added immeasurably to my pilgrimage.
The people we have met and spent time with had also been a source of great joy. Let me give you an example. The other day, as we were trying to negotiable a particularly difficult downhill section of the Camino in gusty winds and driving rain, a couple passed me (not unusual at all). The man was about 20 yards in front of his wife. As she passed me, she looked and exclaimed, “Rene, it is Bill.” The husband stopped, turned around, and RAN back up the hill to give me a big hug. It turns out it was the Rene and Silvia from Quebec City we had not seen for two days and had just assumed they had passed from our lives. All three of us experienced such joy seeing other, gushing about small details of our lives. We proceeded down another 50 yards to where John was, had another brief reunion and agreed to stop at the next bar, wherever it was, to have a good visit.
Before we could get started, we heard another female exclaim, “Bill and John, it’s you!” It was one of the two gals who had served us fresh peaches and chocolate under a shade tree a week or so before (sorry, can’t remember their names…they were from Australia and South Africa). Anyways, she was so excited she gave us all hugs, including Rene and Silvia, whom she had not even met!
Imagine going through life and having friends who periodically burst in on your day to give you a big hug and shout with obvious glee something like, “It is so good to see you again!” I have a hard time putting into words how touched we have been by all the friends we have made on our pilgrimage. May I never forget their obvious affection and concern for our well being.
Another reason for enjoyment has been the growing spiritual aspect of this pilgrimage. When you spend most of each day walking by yourself, often in beautiful country, thinking of little other than the prayer you keep repeating, amazing things are bound to happen. Let me give you two examples.
More often than I can count, I have experienced a rush of pervasive gratitude. So much so that whatever prayer I have been saying is, without conscious thought, replaced by a simple, “Thank you, Jesus.”
And then there is another experience. It has not happened as often but has had a deeply powerful effect on me. It comes without warning and it is an overpowering experience of being loved without condition or reservation. The first time it happened, I just stopped for a moment and thought, “How many times have I told others (or myself) God loves without condition, and yet this is the first time I have experienced this love in a radical and deeply personal way.” Right now, I wish I had a better way to describe the experience but words fail me.
The second time I experienced this love, the following thought went through my mind, “How else could a 76 year old, with two bad feet, two aging knees, a bad back, two arthritic hands, and who doesn’t even particularly like to take walks…be walking 500 miles in northern Spain essentially pain free?” Answer: I am being carried. How can this be true? How can God, the totally other and almighty, bother with me?” And yet he does!
I could go on about sources of enjoyment, but I think you get the idea.
Bill, how do you like Spain?
Good question.
I have already commented on the country we are walking through so I will say no more about it. Besides, I think the pictures give you a pretty good idea of what we are seeing.
From my perspective, the ordinary Spaniards we have met and interacted with are what has impressed me the most about Spain. Almost without exception, they are courteous, helpful, pleasant and quick to find humor in almost any situation. I think we Americans could learn much from these wonderful people.
Let me give you one example. When we arrived at our destination the other day, we were met by Josefa (she had such a beautiful smile I took her picture). Anyway, she welcomed us with that big smile and, with sign language and some Spanish, made sure we were all right (it was rainy and cold). Once she knew we were, she announced there was only one room left and it had only ONE bed. Imagine our consternation! Then the big smile spread across her face and it became obvious she was just having some fun with us. When we asked whether my backpack had arrived she looked surprised and, with a dead pan expression, told us that Jacotrans (the backpack service) had already been by and there was no backpack. This, of course, turned out to be another joke, as she then showed us to our room, with my backpack already on my bed (John’s bed was also there). After making sure we had everything we needed, she quietly disappeared, and we never saw her again.
I can’t really say much about Spanish food. Most of our breakfasts are toast, juice and coffee. Most of our lunches are some form of sandwich or tortilla (a pie like dish in Spain) and most of our dinners are from what is called a “Pilgrim’s Menu.” This is a fixed price (usually $12 – $14) three course meal, that is nutritious and filling but often a little short on exciting tastes. A typical dinner starts with soup, salad or pasta, followed by a choice of meat, fish or egg main dish, followed by a choice of desserts. I think French fries are part of every first and second course of every dinner we have had. John, God bless him, almost always finds something good in every meal. I am not so sure I am a fan of Spanish food.
Finally, at least for the pilgrim, it costs less to live here than I had thought it would. While we have had several $30 (each) dinners, the usual price is the $12 – $14 I mentioned before. Our hotel rooms cost about $50 – $70 a night (compare that to Hampton Inns!).
Overall, I have throughly enjoyed the Spaniards we have met and the country we have walked through, and don’t think I am a particular fan of the food (I would kill for a bag of pretzels!).


One last question. Have you had any fears?
I guess I was fearful my backpack wouldn’t be delivered to the next hotel for the first couple of days, but soon grew comfortable as the system for transporting bags works.
I have had one real fear from the very first day. I have planned to make this pilgrimage for so long that every day I have been fearful something would happen that would prevent me from completing the 500 mile walk. As a result I have been very careful as I walk (a sprained ankle or something like John’s problem could happen at any time). And when people pass me as I plod along, I just smile and go back to focusing on the next five steps in front of me. And guess what? So far, through the grace of God I am convinced, I am still in one piece. And now I pray, ” Thank you, Jesus; please continue to guide and carry me for these last five days.”
And then, I have no fears.

Day 7 September 16

More rain and more wind. Unfortunately, no pictures. Up and down over a hill and then a long slog to Sarria, which is only 111 kilometers from Santiago. We are close enough now that every Camino marker has the distance to Santiago on it.

Biggest excitement today occurred when I stepped off the trail to take care of some urgent business and John, who had gotten fairly far ahead of me, decided I might be having a problem and so came back looking for me. You guessed it, he walked right by where I was hidden from view and retraced almost 5 kilometers looking for me. By then I was back on the trail making my way forward. Eventually I guessed what had happened and started waiting for him at places he would naturally stop and wait for me. We finally reunited about Kilometer 9. So, I walked 13 miles today and a John walked 19. The only good news is his left leg feels fine.

We finally arrived in Sarria a little after 4:00, soaked, tired and ready for our day off tomorrow. One indication we need it is we both slept 11 hours yesterday, starting with a nap in the late afternoon and then getting to bed around 8:30 (what else do you do in a cold room in a 460 year old villa when it is raining with gusty winds outside?).

Hope to do a little reflecting on the blog tomorrow. Lots on my mind.

Blessings and love to all.

PS Almost forgot. We met a gal from Lucca today who loves to go to Gli Orti (our favorite restaurant there).  Gave her a business card to give to Samuele and Silvia.

Day 8 September 15 

About three weeks ago, John and I adjusted our room reservations for the remainder of the trip. The problem we had no solution for was today. If we wanted to have the big climb to Fronfría in the morning, and the last (hopefully) steep descent out of Fronfría in the morning also, it meant we would have only a six mile walk to the next logical town, Triavastela. Since there was no apparent solution to this dilemma, we decided to just go with it.

What a blessing it turned out to be! We awoke this morning to rain and tropical storm winds (gusting to 35-40 mph). We set out around 8:30 and it took us almost three hours to cover the first four miles. Sorry, no real pictures as I was afraid of getting the camera wet and permanently damaging it. Just imagine more lovely scenery, but with driving rain and gusty winds.

By the time we got to a nice new bar with two miles to go,  it was apparent to me the steep downhill was just too risky for me in the high winds and rain. While my body, and particularly my legs, have been surprisingly resilient, my knees have been slowly weakening from the walking, and in particular from having to navigate steep descents. The result has been greater difficulty in managing my balance in downhill situations. Gusty winds were not what the doctor ordered.

After some discussion at the bar, I decided to take a taxi for the last two miles (aren’t you surprised by my common sense?) while John walked the remainder. Once again, the good Lord sent his angels to look after us, because of what I discovered once I got to our planned destination around noon.

We were suppose to stay in a private room at an albergue in Triacastela, but it was a reservation we made by phone and when I arrived, the nice young señorita Erica had no record of our reservation! As she said, “Viola, what are we to do?” She called the owner, who came down to the albergue, and by the time we were done, the owner had arranged for us to stay at the last (or next to last, not sure which) room at an old medieval villa 2 kilometers outside town. Arrangements were also made for a driver to take us there and then provide us transportation back to town for dinner (at a nice restaurant where we had lunch, which also happens to owned by the lady who owns the albergue).

Now here’s where the Lord’s help comes in. Shortly after I first arrived at the albergue, other pilgrims started arriving, all convinced the weather was too difficult to walk in and all looking for a room. If I had walked with John, it probably would have taken forever and by then the room we are now in would almost certain be gone.

So, our magical trip continues. When I figured out what had happened, I did take one picture outside the albergue. It will give you some idea of what the day was like.

I also took a couple of the pictures of where we are staying. The villa was built in 1636!




The last is a picture of a photo. This place is amazing, although damp and cold.

More rain scheduled for tomorrow but we only have 13 miles and a modest hill to climb and then we have our last day off before striking out for Santiago.

Blessings to all.

 

Day 9 Monday, September 14

We started early because we knew we had “the steepest climb of the pilgrimage” (source: our guide book) ahead of us, followed by another seven miles of smaller ups and downs.

Once the sun rose, things seemed relatively tame.


But then we started up…


And up…


And, you got it, up…


For those of you familiar with Tamworth roads, think of a 2+ mile Brown Hill.

Pretty soon, we got pretty high..


We remained in good spirits (seriously)…


…even though it rained most of the day and the temps were in the 50’s (actually good walking weather). The good news about the rain is I now know how to put my new poncho on without assistance from a waitress.

But…believe it or not, we still went up…


As you might imagine, the scenery was breathtaking…



Finally we reached the top, and started down. The smaller “ups and downs” were at times challenging (I won’t bore you with more pictures), but the scenery was still great…



at one point we passed a pilgrim statue we could really identify with…


Until, at a little after 5:00 we arrived safely at our stop for the night.

All in all, a challenging day.

Today we celebrate the completion of four weeks on the Camino. Only eight more days left. It has been, and continues to be, an incredible experience.

Blessings to all.