Wine Fountain Blues

Day 6, our last day for this year. Estrella to Los Arcos 22kms

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There is an unreal sadness to waking up and knowing that it is the last day of this part of our journey along the Camino.

The sense of lightness that comes with fitting your life into a ruck sack and needing only to follow yellow arrows and shells will be over after today.

The morning hope and anticipation of new landscapes, new stories, new walking companions, will be lost until next year.

But all the same, the sun rises, the way beckons and we don our walking boots.

We find no medieval kings or princesses as we leave hidden-from-view Estella, instead we walk part of the way with a young chemist from Barcelona.

” I have finished my studies at university here,” she says, her walker-sticks tapping the road in time to her words ” but in Spain it is impossible for young people now. Rents are high and wages are low. I have a job in a laboratory but it does not really pay my rent “

” You studied chemistry and yet you speak such good English,” we say. 

She shakes her head.

“Not so good. It must do another test. I need the next certificate in English because I want to go and work in New Zealand next year. “

“Why New Zealand?” I ask.

” Because it is different. It is an adventure,” she says. ” none of my friends, none of the Spanish people my age want to walk the Camino. None of them want to live in New Zealand. I like to do different things.”

She walks with certainty and fearlessness and I am quite sure Spain’s loss will be New Zealand’s gain.

But for now, the future that matters is at the end of our toes.

” Did you know, ” she asks, ” that there is a fountain of wine on this part of the walk?”

For a moment Ninesh and I are so stunned we stop walking.

” A fountain of wine,” we shout, ” you mean like water, only wine?”

Our companion nods, laughing at our excitement.

In the game of ‘ rock, paper, scissors, a fountain of wine would always, always beat a Mountain of Forgiveness .

” It’s not far,” she says, consulting with the ironmonger in the workshop  where we have stopped to purchase some hand crafted iron shells. Like his father and grandfather before him, he stands over a fire day after hot day, creating works of art for those pilgrims and visitors who wander by.

The thought of a fountain of wine just up the road does not seem to be of any interest to him,   but Ninesh and I find ourselves with a renewed spring in our step as our Spanish companion leads the way.

And before we know it, we are there.

It is not so much a fountain as a tap but when you turn it, it runs red, warm wine rinning in a stream and forming alcoholic droplets on the ground around us.

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I’d like to say it was the most delicious wine we have ever tasted but our Spanish chemist took one gulp and spat it out. 

“Not good,” she said, ” don’t try.”

As authoritative in her recommendations as her walking, we used the tap marked

” aqua,” to fill our bottles instead. Like many things, a fountain of wine seems to be better as a concept than a reality. 

And so we walk on through ancient woodlands, past olive groves and vineyards, along white chalky paths and up ridged, rocky hills (of course). When we reach the top we gaze at the view, the Pyrenees stretching as far as the eye can see, wooded summit after wooded summit,  many with churches and monasteries seeming to be balanced precariously on their tips.

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In front and behind us, the unending line of foot-weary, hope- heavy pilgrims make their way towards Santiago de Compostello,

And for a moment it feels as though there is nothing else, only this time, this place, this journey,

And I wonder how many others have stood on this spot, staring at  an ancient, winding path that will forever lead its travellers towards their field of stars.

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At Los Arcos we leave my worn-away boots, our temporary pilgrim way of life and the Camino behind us.

It feels strange to be sitting on a bus, to be moving through scenery while our feet are still.

We find ourselves peering through the window, wondering if the path is perhaps just the other side of  a passing hedge or hill.

But we are back in the modern world and the bus follows blue sign posts to motorways, not yellow arrows to forgotten villages.

We are reclaimed by thoughts of tomorrow and, more importantly, by a search for the perfect tapas and the strongest Mojito Bilbao has to offer.

Tomorrow we will step off the plane and into our normal lives (probably with a slight hangover).

But if we listen carefully in the busyness of our hectic days, I am sure we will still hear it,  the beating of our heart to a more ancient rhythm, from a time when all that mattered was the distance still left to travel towards your dreams.

We will be back next year with stronger muscles, newer boots and with a more posititve attitude towards hills.

Until then…..  

Buen Camino. Go well. 

 

 

Quote of the Day 

“I’m going to walk very slowly so that  today last longer…” Ninesh

 

Top tip

If you ever get the chance, walk El Camino

 

 

Medieval Incongruity. A Blog a Day the Camino Way, Day 5

Day 5 

Puente la Reina to Estella. 22kms

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So we left our new favourite Spanish town this morning and headed out, over the famous six-arched bridge towards chalk -pathed scrubland.

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One thing I have learnt in these 5 days, is to never trust a guidebook when it tells you that the walk will be flat. There seems to be no such thing as a day on the complete level on the Camino, just some days with slightly fewer ups and downs. I suppose that is also true of life.

So on this apparently flat walking day, it took about 15 minutes before we were climbing an almost vertical slope, scattered with pilgrims in various stages of collapse. At least with every summit scaled, we can add another sense of small-scale triumph to our days.

And no two days are ever the same – each view different, constantly changing landscapes different companions  

Today we walked across barren scrubland, through perfectly aligned vineyards, through ancient cobbled towns, along narrow blackberry- edged paths and past trees with such perfect green points that it was easy  to believe they had been painted onto the blue-skied backdrop.

We climbed steps cut into the ground, so high that you need two hands to pull yourself up onto them, slid down hills, on ground baked hard by a relentless sun, scrambled over high arched bridges and arrived in Estella.  Yet despite the polarised buildings that seem to reside in different centuries , the Camino, the shells, the pilgrims form part of its very essence.

Right at the beginning of today’s walk, just past 8 am, we met a group of Irish Camino goers who we have bumped into often over the last few days.  They were sitting around a table outside a cafe/hostel in one of the small, picturesque villages we were passing through, eating breakfast. As always their meal was accompanied by a sense of friendliness and laughter.

“You got here early,” I say ” what time did you leave?”

“About 6.45,” says one of them.

At 8 am the sun is already hurling its relentless warmth towards the ground. 

“Very wise,” I say ” weren’t the last few kilometres yesterday a killer? No shade and SO hot.”

They nod

“‘It was so bad,” says one of them,” that we had to drink a bottle of gin as soon as we arrived.” She pauses and looks  unenthusiastically at her half eaten piece of toast. “I don’t think it really helped.though.”

We left them contemplating the likelihood of being able to stand up and walk again.

I am writing this just before midnight. Outside the temperature in this strange city of Estella has only just dropped below 30 degrees. The fan in our basic hotel bedroom is blowing the once- white curtains. And beside me Ninesh sleeps, the sleep of the exhausted pilgrim, deep and dreamless.

The odd thing about Estella is that walking towards it, you can’t see it, not even when you are 500 metres away. Until, suddenly, rounding a rocky outcrop in the river, it is there in front of you.

A medieval city built on either side of the river, joined by steeply sided bridges. a whole concrete, industrialised centre built as an add on, snaking up the hill behind it.

But tonight, any hint of modernism was forgotten at the heart of the old town. Just as it is an almost invisible city, so the inhabitants are able to make the newer parts of their home disappear when necessary. As we wandered the cobbled streets this evening, the sun warm on our backs, we found ourselves rubbing shoulders with knights in chainmail, princesses in long flowing dresses, peasants wearing sack-like robes and a gold crowned king and queen riding white and black steeds towards the main square. If this was strange, it seemed to be only us uninformed travellers who thought so. The king and queen arrived at their thrones  accompanied by bagpipes and drums and graciously allowed the peasants to entertain them with endless, complicated dances.

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“It must have been very boring being a medieval king or queen,”I say as we escape to a bar on the banks of the river for drinks and tapas. But it wasn’t long before we were joined by the medieval folk, royalty and peasants eating deep fried calamari are and freshly cooked chicken nuggets while checking their not-quite-medieval phones.

When we left to wander back to our room through air warm as soup, the laughter followed us, the strangeness of walking next to medieval lives already forgotten. Because it is easy to believe that the Camino has been trodden by peasants and kings. And perhaps, if an ancient path meanders straight through your city, it is not surprising that the ancient and modern, the old and the new, the yesterdays and tomorrows should be so interchangeable and so completely intertwined.

The unbelievable mellows quickly into the believable, disbelief constantly suspended.

So don’t be surprised if you should ever walk the early morning streets of Estrella and find that you are breakfasting with a medieval princess while her pure white steed grazes gently on the succulent grass of the riverbank.

Buen Camino

 

Quote of the day

Don’t be fooled by any guidebook that doesn’t mention at least one hill. 

Top tips

Make sure that you know which side the sun is on as you walk and put your water on the other side. Your ruck sack will shade it and stop it from getting too warm.

Bring a small folding bag to carry with you for your evening’s entertainment.

Sun-Drenched Forgiveness . A Blog a Day – the Camino Way, Day 4

Day 4   Pamplona to Puente la Reina.  24 hot kms

So we are lying here on top of striped duvets in a cool, trendy and very clean hostel in one of Spain’s best kept secrets: Puente la Reina.

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It’s almost 9 pm and outside it is still 30 degrees and the ancient town with its beautiful sandstone bricked buildings and narrow shady streets is alive with laughter.

We left the morning-after-the-night-before streets of Pamplona just after the sun had risen. As the too-wide-eyed all night partiers began to think of bed, we lifted our ruck sacks onto our protesting backs and following the silver Camino shells embedded in the pavement, headed South West towards the Mountain of Forgiveness . Even that early, the heat of the sun was almost tangible as it slanted between the gaps in the stylishly old apartment buildings.

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Dawn in Pamplona, the morning after the night before

Through well manicured parks and the beautiful grounds of the very modern university we faithfully followed the silver shells until the city of Pamplona ended and so did the shells.

It’s strange how each city integrates the Camino symbol into the fabric of its culture.  While the spokes of the symbolic scallop shell, many trails all coming together in one point: Santiago del Compestello, are traditionally yellow on a blue background, the shell rather than the symbol has come to represent  The Way.

Camino cities, towns and villages  have shells embedded on pavements, engraved on walls. Some are flat, some raised, some simply painted on homes. The story of the Camino is something everyone is proud of. Which is lucky, since often in the smaller villages, people open their blinds to greet the first light of morning, only to find they have almost opened them onto a passing pilgrim.

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Pilgrims tie shells to their back packs, wear them on leather threads around wrists and necks, picture them on T-shirts

” I’m getting the Camino shell as a tattoo,” says one of my Camino-work colleagues, ” my wife says it’s fine,” he adds, just in case, at 50 years old, I thought he might need permission.

But as we reached the outskirts of Pamplona the tasteful silver shells disappeared and we were left searching for the more familiar  yellow arrows sprayed randomly on posts and paths and roads along the way.

The walk was open today, the shady river and forest paths swapped for the unending, rolling, hazily yellow fields that form the flat valleys between mountains. Until we reached our own mountain. We climbed gently, steadily and sweatily, the path narrowing, flanked by purple flowering thistles, until we reached the monument at the top of the Mountain  of Forgiveness.

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It is an  metal sculpture depicting travellers in many forms, walking along the edge of the mountain, the Pyrenees rolling away behind them.  And on the other side, a modern addition of wind turbines, clicking a soothing rhythm.

Whether it is ourselves or others we are meant to forgive, I’m not sure. But whichever it was, we lingered for a while in the cooling breeze that comes with a sense of triumphant righteousness at what we had achieved so far and being quite high up  a mountain.

But the final 11kms were relentlessly unshaded and even I, lover of all things sunny and hot,  was relieved when we reached  the unexpectedly cool, trendy and perfectly maintained age old streets of Puente la Reine.  It’s narrow cobbled streets are cool, it’s people friendly, it’s cider the perfect balance of cold and dry and the music it plays in its bars and cafes simply the best ( if you are English and very fond of 70s and 80s music.).

We are staying in a hostel in the centre of town. Clean sheets, clean towels and a roof terrace for lounging. The view is of the mountains while behind us swallows skim across the river and through one of the 6 arches of the medieval bridge for which the town is named.

And, like the atmosphere in this town, our muscles too are relaxing,

Each morning it hurts a little less to stand up and stretch.

It is strange that we greet the morning with a smile rather than dread of the distance to cover. I keep asking myself why.

And I think perhaps it is because it is rare in life that we make time to let our mind wander. We need do nothing but follow the shells and watch as a landscape, a country, our dreams, unfold before us. And safe in the knowledge that the way is mapped out for us, that we do not need to worry about taking the wrong path, the wrong decision, we can let our thoughts flutter free.

When in life do we have truly have such freedom from responsibility ? For a while we have put our cares on hold . When you walk across a country rather than drive through it or fly over it, time itself seems to move at the same pace as you. Instead of feeling thoughts rush through your head, as though on a non-stop motorway, there is time to hold onto each one and consider it properly.

Time….that’s always worth waking up for.

We have a few more days before the first part of our Camino journey is over.

A few more days to find our own story.

A few more days to work out what it is we are looking for.

Outside an age old bell is tolling in the round tower I can see from our window.

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I wonder how many pilgrims have passed beneath it’s shadow for how many years.

In the dusty heat of a Spanish night, I imagine them travel weary and sun drenched passing through.

We are, all of us, part of something greater and less transient than ourselves.

The Camino is more than a shell or a symbol or a personal journey.

It is a woven thread that links the past and the present and the future.

It is an intertwining of stories and dreams and lives.

…….And for the next few days it will be very, very hot

Buen Camino

 

Quotes of the day

“It’s not the road already travelled that is important, but the journey that lies ahead.”

” I’ve only got that time I forgot to put the rubbish out to feel guilty about. So I  won’t need to stay long on The Mountain of Forgiveness.” …. Ninesh

 

Tips for today

Freeze water in bottles over night. It really helps.

Remember there is not much shade for this part of the walk,  so if you are walking in Summer like us, leave as early as you can. Hottest part of the day 1pm -5pm

War- torn hearts and post-fiesta dreaming. A Blog a Day, the Camino Way – Day 3

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Following the Camino signs

 

Day 3. Larasoanna to Pamplona. 16.5 km ( a short day’s walk)

And so today we have taken the easy way. A short 16.5 km walk to Pamplona, famous for its bull running and apparently, until yesterday, it’s fiesta-ing. It felt as though the whole city was sleeping off a hangover as we trudged through its beer-stained cobbled streets this morning. Bunting and flags with pictures of blood splattered bulls hung lopsidedly from half closed windows, sleeping figures curled around empty beer bottles, collapsed in the park. One of the biggest parties in Spain over for another year.

It is strange how quickly you become part of some ancient journey, how after only 2 days, sweaty and ruck-sacked, we felt out of place in a big city built for bustle and busyness.

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Post-fiesta Pamplona

The Camino had brought us here along narrow stoned tracks and past meandering rivers. We had climbed wooded hills and stared across valleys to the mountains opposite. And on the way we walked with our fellow hostel dweller from the night before,  who wakes each morning telling herself that today will be even better than yesterday.

We walked too with a traveller from Japan.

She is a peace keeper for an international charity and spends her life being flown to war-torn countries where she tries to re- unite members of families who have lost each other in the confusion and horror of war.
She walks with determination and concentration, a reflection, perhaps of the calm way she puts back together the pieces of broken families. She has brought child soldiers home to desperate parents, reunited siblings who have been thrown to different ends of the world, found lost children and watched them run into their mother’s arms.
” There are few people,” I say, ” whose jobs truly make a difference. You are one of those people.”
” Perhaps,” she says, her eyes never leaving the path.

“It must be such a hard job,” I add.

Almost imperceptibly, she shakes her head. ” Oh, my life is easy.”
I imagine the horror and destruction she has seen. The heart-breaking news she must sometimes deliver. The families torn apart who she can never put back together.
” That depends how you define easy,” I say.
She shrugs, staring intently at the single file path ahead.
Like everyone else, she is walking El Camino for a reason.
What she has seen, all that she has lived, the sadness and the heart-ache she has shared, has left her with a restless passion that cannot find a home.
She has tried competetive,  sailing, running marathons and is about to climb Everest – but nothing can fill the emptiness .
” In Japan, I don’t fit in anymore,” she says. She finds that she no longer believes in the values that hold her nation together. Nothing seems to make her feel anchored or grounded enough to stay.
She has tried to find love, searched for a partner who can wrap himself around her and keep her soul from drifting. – but no one seems strong enough to hold it down.
” I think perhaps,” she says, ” that I have never been in love. I have liked several people a lot- but I have not missed them when it is over, only the life we never had.”
I listen to the rush of the fast-flowing river we are walking next to. It is ageless and constant and comforting.

War is temporary, unpredictable and destructive.

I look at my companion and understand that it is not only the essence of a nation that can be ripped apart by war but the heart of an individual.

We leave her and our hostel-sharer  in a cafe and head on towards Pamplona.

I hope that the Camino can  fill her emptiness.

I hope it begins to fill her life with colour and certainty.

I hope she finds a love strong enough to soothe her restlessness.
If the Camino can provide  a sun hat just when it is neeced,  it can definitely piece a shattered soul back together and return the passion to a beating heart.
She still has 760kms to go.
That should be long and far enough.

Buen Camino

 

Quote of the day:

” I have worked in many dangerous, war-torn countries but the only thing I truly fear is bedbugs.” … Camino pilgrim

 

Today’s top tips

Start early even when your journey is short- that way you avoid walking in the heat and your aching muscles will be glad of a longer rest.

Stand your phone in a glass if you want to listen to the music you have on it, it works like a speaker.

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Sunhats and Basque Vinyl – A Blog a Day, the Camino Way, Day 2

 

Day 2. Roncesvalles to Larrasoana. 28kms

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On the Camino all are welcome

So we have made it through the sometimes unexpectedly steep undulations of day 2 and are safely ensconced in a hostel in Larrasoana. The sky above the old church next to our hostel is so intensely blue that even as you lie under it, it’s hard to believe it’s real.

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As yesterday we began by walking through the early morning rain and mist of mountain weather. It was a long day, 28 km but we are braver and already more experienced pilgrims today than yesterday.
We left at 7.30 and wandered through sleeping villages, and past fields where the honey velvet newborn calves gazed at us through long lashed dark eyes full of puzzlement at these strange 2-legged creatures. Along dappled forest paths, we buen-caminoed our way past rain- coated fellow travellers, determined not to stop or take off our ruck sacks in case the thought of standing up and putting them back on became impossibly painful. And 6 hours and 20 minutes later we collapsed on the ground outside our hostel.
But as we are slowly discovering, the Camino is not just about the journey and surviving the aching muscles, it is about the people you meet and the stories you gather along the way.

“The Camino provides,” says the once-was-stranger we are sharing our hostel with today. She joined us for a beer in the only bar and shared her story.  She is recently divorced and has traded her life as a rat- race accountant in Luxembourg, for a 6 month Camino journey. From  Puy-en-Velay in France, she has already walked 800 kms and is planning to walk to Santiago de Compostello and then along the coastal Camino back to France.
She is searching for many things on her journey.
And perhaps the Camino has not yet provided her with the answers she is looking for but it has provided her with a sunhat.
“I left mine at home,” she explains “and only realised 25 Km into the journey. And just as the sun got too hot to bear, I saw something black lying on the path in front of me. It was a hat, a perfect sunhat. I asked every pilgrim I passed along the way if it was theirs but the answer was always no. In the end, one of them said, “it is yours. It is a gift to you. That’s what happens on the Camino.” She smiles, a smile that fills her eyes with warmth.
Something you quickly realise on the Camino is that everyone has a different reason for following the ancient trail.
” Perhaps I will find a new job, a new , life, a new husband, ” she says. ” Every day I make a new decision because of the people I meet. ”
We tell her of the 6 month journey we made with our children in the camper van so many dreams ago.

” It was the biggest adventure you could possibly imagine,”  we say, ordering another beer. “And it’s kinder to the feet,” we add, massaging our aching toes.

” So you have helped me make today’s decision, ” she says ” I have always wanted a campervan.. When I go home , I will buy one.”
And we raise a refreshing glass to campervans.

” I retired last year, ” says the German man we share our table with over a 10 euro pilgrim’s meal and bottle of pilgrim’s wine. ” so last year I walked the Camino and this year I am walking it again.” He tells us how he met his second wife in the bookshop she owns and how he fell in love with the warmth of her smile.
She is joining him for the last 325 km of his journey ” it was her wedding gift to me, the promise to walk part of the way with me,” he says. “I am turning 60 this year but I can’t wait to hold her hand as we watch the sun rise. Can you imagine anything more romantic?”
His gaze wanders to some faraway place as we finish our wine and are joined by a Spanish policeman from near Bilbao who is spending a peaceful week walking while his children party away their holiday.
And then there is the cool pirate-like supermarket owner with his wild, pony-tailed hair and deep dark eyes. He only has 2 passions: vinyl records ( a passion he shares with Ninesh) and being Basque ( which he shares with many in Navarro, the region we are travelling through). . His is the only shop in the village, it is small and has limited shelf space for the packets of seeds and jars full of hard-to-recognise pickled vegetables. The rest of the shelves are given over to part of his record collection which he plays on an old-fashioned record player.
” Basque is the hardest language in the world to learn,” he tells us proudly. ” It’s a language so ancient that nobody is sure where it comes from. ”
” Are the Basques still fighting so fiercely for independence?” I ask.
For a moment he gazes. Over my head to a different time. The sense of smouldering pride is palpable.
His gaze returns to me.
“No longer,” he says. And 2 words have never sounded so like something lost.
“I am sorry for my terrible English,” he adds word perfectly as we turn to leave.

And so we rest our aching limbs on our comfortable bed and know we will put ourselves through it all again tomorrow.
” Its like a drug, the Camino”, said the Spanish policeman.
And I know what he means.
Already 2 days in, the Camino feels almost like a way of life, a gatherer of dreams, a piecer-together-of-broken lives.
I read yesterday that Santiago de Compostello means St James of the Field of Stars.
And that seems right somehow.
We are, each of us temporary pilgrims, walking towards our very own field of stars.
It makes each footstep worthwhile

Buen Camino.

 

Quote of the day

Wear today’s sweat tomorrow…..it saves on washing

 

Pilgrim Tips for Today

Seek out the 10 euro pilgrims’ meal in bars and cafes. You sit together at a big table and share wine and conversation.

Start walking early – it means you have a whole afternoon to relax and rest your weary muscles and you beat some of the heat in July and August.

Take an ibuprofen/ paracetamol with your breakfast…. prevention is better than cure.

 

A Blog a Day – the Camino Way

It is rare that you get to walk into your dreams.  But today Ninesh, my husband, and I have taken our first steps into ours.

26 kilometres of steps to be precise.

We have just finished the first very uphill day of El Camino, the ancient pilgrim route from St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compestello in Spain. We are neither of us religious nor particularly spiritual people but there is something about the Camino that caught our imagination years ago while our children were still young. And we promised ourselves then,  that our first holiday as re-free agents, without our children, would be to begin the 800 km journey and see who we meet and what we find along the way. We’ve dreamt it so many times, it’s hard to believe that we are actually here, sitting in a bar at the end of our first day.  In front of us, the imposingly beautiful convent of Roncesvalles, stands guard, it’s ancient cream walls bright against the deeply green wooded hill that rises behind it.

But we are here. Footsore, muscle- weary and secretly triumphant that we have made it through the, apparently, ( I hope they’re not just saying that!)  most difficult day of the walk.

We have followed the blue and yellow Camino signs and made it to where we are meant to be.

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And that is what it feels like…. for now, at least, we are where we are meant to be.

We have meandered along mountain roads and clambered up mountain trails until we glimpsed the horses that gallop across the Pyrenian mountain tops.

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And I am sure that if we had just stood on tiptoe, we could have touched the clear deep blueness of the sky.

We have slid and almost-tumbled down steep woodland paths.

Not that the day was rain-free. But it was perfect for a first day.

At 6.30 this morning we had a simple breakfast in the warm and welcoming gite we were staying in, watching a damp, misty morning dawn over the mountains we were about to climb.

Fortunately that was the last we saw of any mountain summits until we were walking on them. Shrouded in mist and cloud, they stayed hidden as we climbed steeply and exhaustingly upwards.
” Isn’t it lucky,” said one of the gite guests when we bumped into him at dinner at the end of the day ” that the clouds and mist stopped us seeing how high and far we had to go.”
And he’s right.                                                                                It definitely helped us not-so-fit-unwillingly-named-middle-agers not to know the enormity of what we had to overcome.

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Strangely, though, it was not the ascent as much as the descent that caused the aching muscles. The first 23km seemed to sail by. It was the last , steeply declining 3.2 km that felt as though they would never end.
But they did end in a bar with 2 of the most incredibly thirst -quenching, poured – from-a-great-height glasses of 1 Euro cider I have ever tasted.                                             Who knew that cider could ever tasted good?

And the truth is, we are not playing the real Camino pilgrim game because we are not spending our second night in a simple gite like yesterday or in the communal dorms of the convent where you bring your own towel and sleeping bag liners. We are not yet the through- and-through pilgrims that we should. Instead we are staying in the beautiful hotel next to the convent. After our 11 euro 3 course pilgrim dinner in the hotel restaurant, we are allowing our aching muscles to luxuriate on a comfortable feather bed mattress in a room with polished wooden floors, a power shower and a TV.
But hey. … there was nothing in our dream about having to rough it all the way.

Buen Camino.

Quotes of the Day

” Up is the new normal,”… Ninesh

” Just when you think things are on a level, life throws another hill at you,”….. Becky

 

And if you are interested in walking the Camino, here are some of our preparation and today’s top tips…

Preparations

Pack as lightly as you can – remember everything you pack you will be carrying on your back.
Invest in a good ruck sack.
Look after your feet – make sure you have, good walking boots with ankle support ( definitely worth it for the descent) and light weight, good quality, socks with some padding. Nothing can turn a dream into a nightmare more quickly than blisters and the wrong shoes.

Girls- I would definitely recommend investing in a good quality ( and of course very beautiful) well fitting sports bra. No ruck sack strap-chafing that way.

 

 

Top tips from our journey to St Jean Pied de Port and our first day

To get to St Jean Pied de Port we flew to Biarritz, stayed the night there. But the train for St Jean Pied de Port leaves from Bayonne (. 40 – 50 minutes bus ride from Biarritz, cost 1 euro, bus no. 8). We stayed in Biarritz but Bayonne looked like it would be a cool city to spend the night in.

The train from Bayonne to St J P de P takes about an hour and is only 1 long carriage so get to station early to make sure you get a seat ( ticket costs 10 euros and 10 cents).

 

El Camino passports can be got from 39 Rue de Citadel, cost 2 euros. You need your passport or ID card number

 

First day of walk

Eat a good breakfast
Leave early ( 7 am) so you have done a lot of the climb before it gets too hot. It took us 6.5 hours but can take 7.5.

There are 2 or 3 places to fill water bottles en route and several places to get snacks if you want them.

Bring some dried fruit e.g. Figs, apricots. They are a good way to get sugar into your bloodstream quickly if you find you are losing energy.

You can order a pilgrim’s dinner at almost any hotel/ restaurant you stop at. The menu is set and includes starter, main course and dessert as well as a bottle of house wine. Cost: 11 euros.

 

 

 

 

Smile and Have a Party – I’ve had a Wonderful Life

I have written many blogs about weddings.

But not today.

Today I am going to write about funerals.

Not because I am feeling macabre or sad but because  I have recently realised the hope that can grow from saying goodbye.

In the last few weeks I have attended 2 funerals: Sheila’s, someone who has lived on our road for as long as most of us can remember, and my uncle’s.

At 92 and suffering from Alzheimer’s, the death of my uncle was truly merciful.  For a long time he had been suffering and confused.

Tended devotedly by my aunt, we watched as day by day the person who had survived travelling to England on the Kindertransport, created a life in an alien country and become a pillar of his local Synagogue, gradually disappeared.

His days became a tangled, darkening mass of confusion, uncertainty and anxiety, his view limited to the window from his bed in the living room. The only way he could be moved was to be hoisted, like a lump of meat, into a chair by one of his many daily carers.  .  In life he was a strong-willed, dignified, private man – his slow death stole all that he valued from him.

His funeral was as he would have wished it to be, the age-old Hebrew words building a scaffold of tradition that brings comfort and predictability to a world that must change when it is left by someone we love.

It is the unfillable spaces left behind that makes death so hard to bear.

The stillness where there was once motion.

The quiet where there was once noise.

The lacking where there was once completeness.

And that is how it feels in the house at the end of our road, Sheila’s house.

Sheila was the life and soul of our street.

Famous for grabbing the microphone at our first street party to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee and then getting the words to God Save the Queen wrong, she seemed to dance her way through life.

Always there with a smile, never happier than when she was driving her famous green camper van down our road, her grandchildren constantly by her side, laughter never far from her eyes..everyone knew Sheila.

So when we heard that she had died suddenly, the sense of loss sent waves of grief and sadness through our homes and hearts.

She was taken too soon, with so much left to give, unlike my uncle, her death wasn’t slow but sudden and unexpected.

Yet even in her death she wouldn’t let us stop living.

The morning of her funeral was hot and sunny, the world awash with the colours that come with the first warm days of Spring.

The crematorium was overflowing,

It turns out Sheila was not only loved by her family and all the people in her street, she was loved by everyone who had ever met her.

No one wore black.

We were determined that her goodbye would be a colourful one. And from the moment the familiar green camper van turned the corner into the crematorium, led by a brass band, and with the coffin made out of her late husband’s canoe in the back,  we knew it would be.

If Sheila had been there, she would have been marching with the band.

 

If Sheila had been there, she would have danced through the service.

If Sheila had been there, she would have told us to stop crying.

The eukalele group she belonged to played “You are my Sunshine.”  The local community choir she belonged to sang out to “When the Saints,” and the sun just kept on shining.

Through laughter and tears her daughter spoke of the days and years and holidays and love they had shared. ” Every year for the 40 years of their marriage, for her birthday and Christmas, my dad, John would make her a wooden toy with moving parts, and always he would carve onto it ” J loves S.”

That seems like one of the sweetest love stories.

That seems like true love.

That seems like a marriage to envy.

Left behind with her will, Sheila had written by hand:

“Smile and have a party. I’ve had a wonderful life.”

So that’s what everyone did.  People queued to write a goodbye message on her coffin and left to party the rest of the day away.

People always do what Sheila says.

It is hard to believe that a funeral could give us hope.  But somehow it did.

We, each of us, left, with the warmth of a smile drying our tears.

Sheila seemed to squeeze joy from every drop of  life.

Whatever the obstacles, she overcame them, whatever  mountain she had to climb, she sang her way to the top and relished the view from the summit.

In life, Sheila never looked backwards. ” No regrets,” that’s what she told her son and daughter.

No regrets…in these strange, uncertain times it is hard to turn towards tomorrow without fear.

But the traditions that are important to us, whatever they are, the values that help us to do what we believe is right… they cannot be so easily torn asunder.

As I stood in the Jewish cemetery watching the men of the family throwing the first sods of earth onto my uncle’s coffin, as I watched Sheila’s campervan driving past me at the crematorium, I could feel the threads of a complicated, multi-coloured web that joins together random lives being spun.

It is a web of hope because however great our differences, whatever our beliefs or traditions, what binds us together, what makes us human, is always greater than what divides us.

The lives of Sheila and my uncle have touched each other in death.

In saying goodbye, what I have gained from knowing them both has become intertwined.

I take much from them:  The strength to continue against the odds, to start your life anew,  the understanding that traditions can stop our world from crumbling, the capacity to love unconditionally,  to seize the day, to live every moment to its full, to know that tomorrow always has the potential to be better than today.

I’m not sure what it is I believe in… hope – maybe, love- perhaps, that the world could be a brighter, kinder place – definitely.

But whatever it is, I know that I am not going to let fear stop me from believing.it.

No blade of terrorism will be sharp enough to cut through the multi-coloured web of hope that binds us together.

We are all of us a product of our confusing past, but it is the future that will sustain us and like Sheila, I will turn towards tomorrow with a smile ( and a quick drive down the road in our camper van ).

And when I sit in our garden at night, staring at the star sprinkled sky, there is something strangely comforting in knowing that somewhere out there,  Sheila is  persuading my Jewish uncle to smile and have a party before the Friday night prayers.

 

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