Thursday, May 30, 2019

Welcome to Our Blog

This blog describes our walk along the Camino Portuguese in April and May 2019.  We hiked 690 km from Lisbon, Portgal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain in 32 stages.  It was a wonderful experience that helped us prepare both mentally and physically for our upcoming hike across Canada on the Great Trail.  For those of you interested in hiking the Camino Portuguese, we have included a description and review of the clothes and gear we took with us, as well as provided a detailed account of our experience.  Thank you for reading, and we hope you enjoy!

To follow our hike on the Camino Portuguese from Day 1 onward follow this Link.

To follow our hike on the Camino Frances follow this Link.

To follow our hike on the Via Podiensis / GR65 follow this Link.

To follow our hike on the Camino Finisterre from Santiago to Muxia to Finisterre follow this Link.

We hope you enjoy it!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Homeward Bound

Today involved our long return to the supposedly 'normal' or 'civilized' world.  This is always one of our hardest and least favourite days of any Camino.  Perhaps this simply means we need to work harder to keep the spirit of the Camino alive in our daily lives.  Despite our best intentions, in a world that moves so quickly, is so goal oriented and narrowly focused, and in which people seem increasingly focused on their own needs and oblivious to each other, we still find this difficult. 

We awoke at 4 am, and headed downstairs to the 24 hour buffet in the lounge to select some breakfast.  We found fruit, yogurt, toast, jam, orange juice, and coffee.  Although we weren't really too hungry yet, we ate breakfast in anticipation of the longish day ahead.  By 5 am we had checked out and were getting into the taxi the hotel had called to take us to the airport.

One aspect of the Camino that people value is that it provides a different perspective on the world and our place within it.  Partly this is offered through a simple change of pace.  Walking forces us to slow down ... way down.  Deceleration can take place over a few days or weeks, and sometimes you aren't really aware it has happened until you see a new group of pilgrims starting their hikes after you've been out there a while.  The new arrivals often seem over anxious about everything, and appear to be rushing around, sometimes even being unwilling to take breaks because they feel like they must hurry or they won't 'get there.'  Unfortunately, acceleration back to the pace of mechanized life isn't so gradual.  The taxi driver was very professional and a complete gentleman, but the 15 minute ride to the airport, which cost 21 Euros, felt like a vertigo-inducing Nascar ride where signs, landmarks, and other vehicles flew past with indecent speed.

We made our way through the small and modern looking Santiago airport and boarded our Iberia flight to Madrid without incident.  The hour long flight was completely full, mostly with people commuting to the country's capital, and not other pilgrims.  Already we could feel ourselves losing some of the tranquility we'd gained on the Camino, as we sat surrounded by other passengers who were scrolling through Facebook or watching videos on their phones, bouncing their legs to a frantic inner rhythm, listening to music so loud it was audible through their headphones, chewing gum, and repeatedly applying overpowering and competing perfumes.  When you've been away from it for a while, the distraction and over-stimulation of our modern lives is almost overwhelming.

When we arrived in Madrid we retrieved our backpacks from the checked baggage carousel, and then made our way by bus from Terminal 4, which is used for domestic flights, to Terminal 1, where international flights leave.  We had four hours before our Air Transat flight back to Montreal was scheduled to leave, and we soon discovered that Air Transat shares its counter space with other airlines, and therefore doesn't open until two hours prior to one of its flights departing.  In retrospect, it would have been more pleasant to wait in Terminal 4, where there were cafes, restaurants, shops, and more attractive waiting areas.  Terminal 1 was less appealing, very crowded, and offered far fewer amenities, but once there we chose to stay put, sitting on the floor with our backpacks under the watchful eye of airport security.

The eight hour flight from Madrid to Montreal passed without incident.  When we arrived we were shepherded through the customs process, which no longer requires retrieving checked bags and standing in line to be questioned by a human customs agent.  Instead, we had to make our way down a long hallway to first answer questions at one computer terminal, and then proceed to another set of machines that scanned our faces and our passports.  I seemed to be too short for the machine to detect me correctly, or else just abnormally shaped, and for quite some time it didn't seem to think my face matched my passport photo.  Finally I convinced it we were the same, received a little printed piece of paper, and was allowed to proceed.  I am one of those old fashioned people who definitely prefer humans to machines, even when they are giving me a hard time.

Our one hour flight from Montreal to Toronto was delayed by 50 minutes, and then our gate was changed.  We were grateful for the extra time to walk around a bit after sitting for eight hours, and we took advantage of the opportunity to get something to eat and drink.  Still in Camino mode, we were somewhat dismayed to observe the impatience of our fellow passengers, one of whom tried to elicit our support for the idea that Air Transat should be sued for forcing us to walk the extra distance between gates, giving us nowhere to sit down, and making us late.  The individual in question didn't have noticeable health or mobility issues, and certainly had enough energy left after the short walk to complain with vigor and enthusiasm.  Our lack of outrage seemed to cause disappointment.  The whole experience was rather dispiriting. 

When we reached Toronto we collected our backpacks and made our way to the long-term parking lot, which still had small lumps of dirty ice and snow decorating its edges.  Thankfully our old car started without complaint, and we were soon in the midst of the fast-moving freeway system that circles the Toronto airport like an ungainly pile of spaghetti.  Navigating this mess of on-ramps, off-ramps, collectors, and express lanes involves several rapid bouts of lane changes across eight and sixteen lanes of traffic while maintaining a constant speed of around 110 kph.  I was more than usually glad that it was Sean driving and not me.

We stopped for a coffee and a mental breather in a Tim Hortons on the edge of Toronto, already missing the napolitanas and cafe con leches of Spain.  We then continued our two hour drive back to London, Ontario, covering a distance that would have taken about eight days to cover on Camino time.  Around 20 hours after leaving Santiago, we checked into the residence where we will spend the next week, before flying out to Newfoundland and beginning our next adventure.  And so, another beautiful Camino comes to an end.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fisterre to Santiago – via Bus

We awoke at 6 am to find a bright sunny day outside, the sun's warmth already beginning to make itself felt. We walked a short distance down the street, and stepped into the same bar we had lunch in yesterday. Sitting on the outdoor patio amidst a group of other pilgrims, we enjoyed our coffee, orange juice, and toastada. As we sat there a very drunk local man approached the patio, intent on striking up a belligerent and slurred conversation in Spanish, but he was firmly shooed away by the proprietor. By 8:30 am we had finished our breakfast and made our way down to the marina.

Colourful row boats floated in the shallow turquoise harbour, and lines of white sailboats were bobbing gently in their moorings. A group of small fish was visible in the crystal clear water. Across the bay the hills of Galicia rose and receded into the distance, and behind us the colourful buildings marched in rows up the hill. We stood at the base of a statue dedicated to Galician emigrants, and said a last farewell to the beautiful Atlantic from Europe.

By 9 am we were waiting in line outside the Monbus station for the bus that would depart at 9:45 for Santiago. The bus was full of happy pilgrims, laughing and exchanging stories in at least five different languages. Some people expressed disbelief that they had actually made it all the way to Finisterre. Others exchanged stories about which Camino they had hiked, how long it had taken them, and what their favourite places along The Way were. Quite a few people asked for information about routes they hadn't hiked yet, clearly thinking about which Camino to do next. We were glad to recommend the Via Podiensis and the Caminho Portuguese to several pilgrims who had just finished the Camino Frances, and to describe how we thought each experience differed from the Camino Frances. A Japanese pilgrim sitting beside Sean saw his camera, and asked if he was a photographer. The man then proceeded to share some truly stunning photos of his own from hikes he'd done in Japan. It was a lively and thought provoking bus ride, but it was slightly depressing to realize that the express bus got us back to Santiago in only one hour.

Although we had tried to Google where the bus station in Santiago was, we weren't able to determine an exact location (or even an approximate one for that matter) before arriving. As such, it took us a few minutes to figure out where we were once we arrived. Mostly we just followed the crowd of other pilgrims for a few blocks, and then we found the familiar yellow arrows of the Camino Frances to guide us back towards the central square and the Cathedral.

We hadn't booked anywhere to stay, but wanted to find somewhere nice for our last night in Spain. As a general rule of thumb prices tend to increase the closer you get to the Cathedral, so when we saw the Bonaval Hotel, and found that it was extremely reasonably priced, we ducked inside and booked a room. It was still early, and we couldn't check in until 3 pm, but the very kind staff allowed us to stow our backpacks until the afternoon.

Having no particular destination in mind, we wandered the streets and parks of Santiago, stopping to explore parks and alleys that were new to us. We purchased a few postcards showing scenes from the Camino Portuguese, as well as quite a substantial pile of chocolate, cookies, wine, and locally made bell-shaped cheese to send home as presents.

Around lunch time we stopped in at a wonderful wine bar for some lunch. We were seated in what looked like an old bank or theater - with a domed ceiling and carved wooden pillars. We lingered over a lovely lunch consisting of a huge quinoa salad, white wine, and a slice of Santiago cake, content to sit and observe for a while, and somehow reluctant to return to the hustle and bustle of the streets outside.

Around 3 pm our meanderings took us back to the square outside the Cathedral, and there we were in for a bit of a shock. The square was absolutely jam packed with pilgrims, tourists, buses, and the sightseeing trams. There were hundreds of people sitting and lying in the square, and hundreds more milling around. When we finished our own Camino, just four short days ago, it was nearly empty by comparison. This would explain why many of the albergues and hotels were listed as 'completo' when we looked earlier, but we hadn't expected to find this much of a change in only a few short days.

Shortly after leaving the crowded square we came across an art exhibit offering free admission down one of the side streets. Deciding to try something new, we climbed the steep interior stairs to the exhibition on the upper floors of the building. We were greeted with a fascinating display of street-scapes from Santiago de Compostela. Some were done in ink while others were done in watercolour, and some were a combination. The artist was also an architect, and there were city plans and letters mixed in as well. Seeing the colours and perspectives the artist used to create different moods in his city-scapes was very interesting, and many of the set-ups were very similar to those Sean uses in his photographs.

Wishing to visit the Cathedral and perhaps give Saint James a final hug, we ventured back to the Cathedral to see if it was any less busy than before. If anything, the crowds in the square were denser than before, and when we made our way into the Cathedral we found that it too was packed. The line to hug Saint James stretched all the way around the Alter and out the door. With all the construction going on inside in the Cathedral, everyone was funnelled together - pilgrims, tourists, and large tour groups alike. We found there were simply too many people, even in the smaller side chapels, to find any space for peaceful contemplation. 


There has come a moment on all our pilgrimages when we know the transition from pilgrim to tourist has occurred. You enter the city as a pilgrim, seeing the Cathedral for the first time, and sharing the moment with all the others who have arrived on foot after a similar kind of journey. You recognize some of them, and you celebrate together. One day, or perhaps two days later you've cleaned up, spent your time exploring the museums and shops, and you don't recognize anyone anymore, even though you still look. When you finally head out of Santiago in a car, bus, train, or airplane, you leave as a tourist. Although you cannot predict exactly when the transformation will occur, you know unmistakably when it has. This afternoon when we no longer felt we belonged in the Cathedral we knew our pilgrimage was complete.

We sat at an outdoor patio and enjoyed a cold pint while watching the procession of pilgrims walk past. Then we headed back to the hotel to check in. We were shown to a gorgeous room that was actually more like a mini apartment in a sub-basement. Unlike our previous pilgrimages, when we were headed back to the comfort and familiarity of our own home when we finished them, this time is a bit different. Before setting out we sold our house and donated most of our possessions to charity. We have no home to return to, but instead will spend a few weeks back in Ontario, and then fly out to Newfoundland to begin a four year hike across Canada. This was our warm-up hike. As a result, although it is our last day in Santiago, doing laundry is still important to us, because these clothes are all we have for a while yet. So, we headed back out and washed everything we owned that wasn't on us, including our rain gear.

By 7 pm we were back in our room, packing our things and our new purchases in preparation for our 4 am departure tomorrow morning. We felt too tired to venture back out into the town, but it was still too early to go to sleep. We decided to settle down with a bottle of the famous monk-made Galician Herbal Liqueur, watch Martin Sheen's 'The Way', and reminisce about our Caminos. As the time passed we laughed, cried, and reflected on our own walks along the Camino Frances, the Via Podiensis, and the Camino Portuguese. We remembered the places we'd been, the crazy things that had happened, and the wonderful people we'd met. We were surprised to see new parts to the movie that we didn't remember, despite having watched it quite a few times before. Then we realized this was because it was a different version of the movie, with a slightly different ending. Only extremely rarely do either one of us like a remake better than the original. However, as this stage in our journey comes to an end, it felt right to watch the movie that inspired us to begin walking this path. Here's to the unknown, new adventures, and new beginnings!

Songs to to load up and get trekking to!

Looking for some music to add to your track listings?  Songs with beat that are fun to venture outdoors to?  Since 2019 we have released a s...