Wednesday, October 12, 2011
(Jacaranda, Syringa, bouganvilla in Johannesburg Parks)
The beauty of the countryside from the Pyrenees to Finisterre - a little village on the Atlantic coast which was considered the end of the world until Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas. We walked up and down mountains, through glorious forests, open meadows, vineyards, vegetable gardens and grain fields. And of course towns, villages and hamlets made up of just the farmer's house and his barn.
The people of northern Spain (many of whom are Basque) have a great sense of pride and the towns and villages are spotless (sadly the only litter is left by passing pilgrims). They plant flowers everywhere, in window boxes and in all their parks and open spaces - the colour was spectacular. The young girls are beautiful with dark hair and eyes, slim with long legs. We met lots of hard working people, looking after the pilgrims and working on their farms.
The churches were generally very ornately decorated, many with gold from the New World, and I felt they were wonderful monuments to the craftsmen who built them, but they didn't feel very sacred. If anything many of them were more like museums. The Marian tradition is very strong in that part of Spain so the Madonna was prominent and it was hard to find Jesus (usually tucked away in a side chapel!). I have always loved old churches but by the time the Camino was over I was all churched out!
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Our group arrived in Santiago de Compostella on September 22 ina timely fashion; we were able to attend the Pilgrims Mass at Santiago Cathedral. I was feeling rather dazed when I entered the cathedral. I had just been to the Pilgrims Office to request my Pilgrim´s Certificate ...¨"Not the Compostella" I said ... I accompanied my friend, who was unable to walk, from Arca in a cab. I went to Monte del Gozo and walked to Santiago from there."
The kind lady looked at my passport and my credential listing all the stamps from St.Jean Pied de Port to Santiago and asked if I had walked most of the way. Yes I said ... not mentioning the group´s occasional bus detours through the Meseta and up O´Cebreiro. Amazingly she issued me with a Compostella certificate not the other tourist credential!
"No!" I wanted to shout ... "I am a sham .. I am not as deserving as these other hard walking, sun-burned pilgrims with blistered feet and aching bones!" The eager crowd of anxious pilgrims was pushing forward, breathing down my neck ... I thanked the official, took my Compostella and tearfully exited the building.
So I was already in a certain frame of mind when I entered the Cathedral ... too late to find a seat I stand while the nun with the voice of an angel leads the throng of worshippers in a rehearsal of the responses. Then the actual service starts and among the celebrants is the priest from the first pilgrims mass I attended in the tiny town of Rabanal del Camino. At the end of the service a surprise ! The bishop of El Salvador is there with a group and thay have paid for the great incense burner , the legendary Botafumerio to be lit and swung ... a rite usually reserved only for occasions of special religious significance. I feel altogether too blessed !
We all meet in the square in front of this magnificent cathedral and hug and kiss each other ... as do other pilgrims who have bonded along the way. We retire to our accomodations in the medieval monastery recently partly adapted as a modern hotel ... its small cell-like monks rooms ideally suited to pilgrims but whose grand lower rooms, once cloisters and refectories adding a touch of regal grandeur. We have two days in Santiago to adjust to not walking and to get used to the idea of returning home. We shop for souvenirs and eat at fine restaurants (The Casino certainly stands out for fine fare and exceptional, friendly service).
On Friday night, the entertainment in the streets turns the city from sacred to profane ... music, dancing, Galician pipers, medieval troubadors, flowing wine, cerveza and the mysterious flaming cauldron of liquer, spiced with coffee beans and orange peel around which witches chant their incantations! A true bacchanal ! What a town ... what memories!
On Saturday morning I leave early and catch a train to San Sebastian. I have said final farewells to Sylvia .. our wonderful angel who has guided us through the spiritual and physical ups and downs of this journey, to Bell ... a perfect room-mate in every way; little Bell the Gazelle, always energetic, well organized and ever cheerful; also to our other South African companions .. Theresa, Zuretha, Jill and Janette who have joined us for the last two weeks ... strong, good natured and always there to help an exhausted companion carry a heavy bag up a flight of stairs or retrace steps to meet and encourage a faltering walker onward. Christine ... whose has been a vast source of knowledge and help with translation in times of dire need and who has also received her Compostella! YEAH! has already left. Alan , always an eager Tapas companion and curious about sampling new cuisine and exploring nooks and cranies of each new town and city has departed early as well.
On my long 11 hour journey I fly through some of the areas I have slowly walked over ... revisiting Astorga and turning north at Leon has we head over the Pyrenees to the coast. I can see from this vantage point why I spent all of the day walking to Roncevalles in a mist ... the mountains are perpetually covered in grey clouds. When I land in San Sebastian late at night it is lively and filled with fast cars and beautiful people. I see no sign of dirty, exhausted pilgrims. It is a bit of a shock ... all this fast paced activity.
But I will adjust and enjoy the warm sunshine and smooth beaches ... there is great beauty here too ... perhaps the greatest gift of this Camino has been to bring a greater appreciation of life in general. I feel I know my place in this universe a little better ... it´s not that I have experienced a monumental life-changing experience. If anything ... I am more like myself than before ... with one difference. I know I have done something rather exceptional and I am pleased ... very pleased and amazed. Everyone should try to do one exceptional thing outside their comfort zone ... and with companions like I have had on this journey, the outcome can only be positive. Ultreya dear friends!! Judy ...The Pampered Pilgrim
Saturday, September 24, 2011
We woke up to a misty Santiago with all the graniter and stones glistening with dew. Christine was the first to leave us on her way back to Sweden. We were sad to see her go as she kept us smiling with her great sense of humour. Christine was our senior lady and she shared her wealth of knowledge about the Camino, and especially about Santiago, with us. She speaks a number of languages and as such was a an angel to a Hungarian in distress who had to return home but couldn´t speak a word of English. Christine speaks perfect Spanish and was able to help the pilgrim sort out his problem.
We made an early start up the hill to the Market - a daily open market which supplies all of Santiago with fresh produce ranging from eggs, fish, meats, vegetables, fruit etc etc. The girls were able to find a few souvenirs and t-shirts at the market as well. Next stop was the flea-market, the internet cafe, the tourist office and lunch.
Last night we had dinner at the Casino. The group surprised me with a gift of a lovely hand sewn bag that I had admired at the flea-market, plus a lovely silver cross from Angels, one of the best silver shops in town, and a box of chocolates. I was very touched and thank them all again for their generosity.
Then we went to Bar Fuco-Luis for a queimada. (Google the word - it is a fascinating incantation involving arujo, sugar, orange and lemons rinds, coffee beans and fire!) Pepe set the queimada bowl up on an outside table and we were soon whoopìng and ooohing and calling out to all the ´brujas´(witches) out there. A Portuguese couple from Brazil joined us and a few Aussie pilgrims we´d met along the way joined in the at the end. When the last drop of cooled fire water was drunk we strolled down to the sqaure where Tunas (musicians in medieval minstrel garb) were entertaining a crowd of people. We boogied a little, laughed a lot and took dozens of photos which I´ll try to add to the blog when we get home.
We had a picnic with cheese, olives, chorizo, grapes, biscuits, bread, crisps, nuts, wine, water, Fanta and Coke followed by Caprichos - almond meringue biscuits - and Santiago tart. We got back to the hotel after 11pm. If you have four people wanting to go to Finisterre at night it is worth sharing a taxi which costs €100 or €25 each. (The bus is €40)