Trains in Spain are amazing. People told me that before I travelled but I am impressed. I find they are reliable, fast, and clean and zoom across the countryside allowing me to have a rest and observe the landscape at the same time. I wouldn’t say trains are cheap but, in my very limited experience they are around the same price as buses and unless you are fortunate to score a great flight (like my flight from Barcelona to Bilbao only 68euros) then flights are about 15-25% more. 

There is train etiquette; passengers are usually quiet (unless they are children and they are tired of course). The Spanish people tend to talk loudly and excitedly and if you don’t understand the language it can be mistaken for being confrontational (but it’s not). So, if you happen to be sitting next to people “chatting” it can be entertaining. I guess they don’t care if anyone overhears what they are saying.  First class is a little different to “cattle class” but having travelled in both there’s not much difference except in first class you get nice food and little hand towels to “freshen up your hands and face”. The price is almost double (but my upgrade when I booked in Santiago only cost me 1euro for some reason!) It truly was an offer too good to refuse! I can’t work out if there is a carriage where you can buy food. There is a sign to the WC (toilet) and a sign with a wine glass (so I assume so) but no one in my carriage that has left and returned has any drinks with them. I brought snacks and I always carry a ration of water in my backpack. Water is now the drink of choice because all the soft drinks taste different here (except of tonic water). I have one a day or two if the bottle is small and it’s very hot! 

The landscape has changed again; there are mountains in the distance and rolling hills with lots of olive trees, grape orchards, sunflowers and corn. The wheat is finished and I saw lots of hay bales in the fields. It's not surprising as the train whizzes through the villages and towns, that people are utilising their land to grow produce. From conversations with interested folk on the Camino, apparently Spain's agriculture hasn't been taken over by "big business" and it may well be still a reasonable way to make a living. I wouldn't know this for sure, having not had the opportunity to speak to any local farms. The land does appear to be well maintained with a focus on sustainability. It may be obvious to some that my Dad taught high school agriculture and I also studied it in senior years!
There is something to be said about sustainable farming and looking after the land. It is dry, but there must be water for parts of the year and there are various irrigation systems including channels and sprinklers. I am curious as to how the olives are harvested (i.e. by harvesters shaking the trees or wholly by hand). The man sitting next to me is very polite but doesn’t speak English. During these curious times where I have a smart question to ask I find myself wishing I had made more of an effort to learn Spanish…. (Something to work on for my next visit perhaps). 

Today I saw two ancient castles among the unusual hills. They were in ruins but there they were, “just like that” as I was admiring the landscape. Spain has a very long history of battles and alliances, Kings and Queens and conquering the world. These little gems would not have been visible from a plane and they are remote and not accessible by road so I am pleased I took the train in Spain.  Both trips have been between 5-6 hours in the day time so there is much to see.  I haven’t been able to take it all in but I have been very fortunate to be a “sponge” to the experience. 

The little screen at the front of my train carriage (next to the television) tells me the time, the next station and intermittently the temperature outside and the speed. This is quite novel and I didn’t actually notice this in first class earlier in the week! The temperature was quite hot today and near Madrid it was up to 38 degrees outside. The train has beautiful air conditioning and unless you are by the window on the sunny side of the train you are very comfortable. As we got closer to Barcelona the clouds came over and there is probably rain in parts of the region. It’s currently 31 degrees and I might put my shoes back on and roll my sleeves down because it’s quite cool. The speed varied throughout the trip but I noticed it was 303kms per hour at one point! Where the line is straight we pick up speed and when we approach towns it slows. There are people getting off and on and now for the last 90 minutes, the seat next to me is vacant. 

Train rides also provided me with an opportunity to write my blog (and for that reason alone it’s a very good use of time). I have found this time useful when I traversed from north (Santiago de Compostela) to south (Malaga). Then across southern Spain from the western side to the eastern edge to Barcelona. I will spend five nights in Barcelona and then sadly my Spanish adventure will end. 

My final stage is visiting Shelley and Keith in Doha on the way home. It will be extremely hot and some of the activities will be limited due to Ramadan but there are lots of fun things to do after the sun goes down. I am quite accustomed to eating late at night. Having said that the last two nights I have returned to my hotel after a big long day of walking and doing tourist things and instead of going out for dinner I have had a nice cool shower and gone to bed! The heat is quite draining and when lots of things don’t open until 10:00am there’s really not much one can do but start later. What a fabulous experience it has been so far.

Signing off for now.

The Happy Pilgrim / Tourist 

Written on my way to Barcelona on Thursday 2nd July, updates on trains since being in Barcelona includes:
1. Ride on the Metro (pretty amazing)
2. Witnessed a minor scuffle with a pickpocket and two Japanese tourists and quick intervention from the guards
3. Got a bit lost a few times
4. Was assisted by helpful locals and lovely staff
5. Accordion player on the train (raising funds for the livelihood) good selection of songs

6. And dogs ride the Metro and regional trains (it's very funny to see them on the platform waiting for the train! Don't know if my Cymore would be so well behaved?!

I have read that the transition from The Camino back to your previous life can be challenging, well that’s according to Brierley. I have sent my Guide Book home now to make space in my bags so there are no words of wisdom to recount only to paraphrase that we must continue with being mindful and aware that while one develops a great fondness for the Camino, one can’t be on it forever. It is probably harder for some and not so hard for others. When I returned to Santiago on Sunday en route to Malaga, I found myself quite aware that I have had my time (my arrival is over and it’s time to move on). The street vendors have moved to other parts of the square and there are new tour buses arriving at the Cathedral. I found that Finisterre completed my Camino journey for me. For some, if they run out of time, leave too soon and don’t wind them selves out it could be very upsetting to finish too quickly. Sort of like leaving without saying goodbye. Walking all that way, and towards the end glimpsing the ocean was truly extraordinary. I am so pleased that veterans like Helen (from the UK) didn’t give that away because it was a delightful surprise.. When I walked off the track and on to the beach and into the ocean I knew I didn’t need any more arrows. All the Pilgrims I spoke to later in the day and that evening agreed that the 2 km beach walk was a perfect way to end. Those endless shells were a delight and I collected some to bring home.

Coincidentally, as I was sitting on the stone seat at the edge of town in front of yet, another bar along came Lizzy. She called out to me and I didn’t recognise her at first (being short sighed and without my prescription sunglasses!)  Lizzy had arrived to walk along the beach and meet up with Rory who was nearing the start of the beach walk that I had just finished. Rory had made a very romantic marriage proposal in Santiago de Compostela last Sunday. They had been together seven years and their Camino was very special and obviously life affirming. Lizzy had got a lift to Finisterre because of her ongoing knee problem. She bravely battled the injury nearly the whole journey from SJPDP and Rory watched over her and cared for her gallantly.  Together they epitomised patience, kindness and resilience and I sincerely wish them well on the next stage of their life journey. Rory opted to walk the extra kms and put in a second huge day of 35kms (a mammoth effort) and they were meeting up on the beach. She asked me to join them for dinner that evening and perhaps go with them to the lighthouse. I was mindful of their privacy but she kindly encouraged me along. We parted ways and later ran into them both twice more that afternoon (as you tend to do) around the village.

My final guest house was lovely but I couldn’t check in until 2pm. This meant I had some time up my sleeve and I went and purchased some more “non-pilgrim” clothes for my next stage in Malaga and Barcelona and then on to Doha. I also needed to submit my Pilgrim passport with my twice daily “sessos” (stamps) at the Municipal Albergue. This is where the Finisterre credential is issued. The Municipal didn’t open until 1:30pm so I used this time to order a coffee. I have been limiting my coffee in Spain as it’s been so mediocre. I am a fussy coffee drinker, however today, for some reason I decided to jump off the edge and give it another go. So the story goes I need to walk to the end of the earth to get the best coffee in Spain. It was so nice I had two and laughed with the gentle fellow in hippy pants and jingling bells around his ankles and great English who served me. (He looked tanned and calm and like he was from Biron Bay). His manager was fussing around and the two of them were exact opposites. I laughed (and so did he) because he knew I was perplexed about how he could remain so patient and calm while his manager bounced off the walls. There are lessons to be learned everywhere and I found my self warming to this special place on the North Atlantic coastline at the north-west tip of Spain.

At 1:20pm I lined up for my Finisterre credential and waited about a further 20 minutes after the albergue opened. The line moved slowly but surely and everyone was polite and eager at the same time. I chatted to some Canadian ladies in the queue who had walked the northern route and were heading on to Muxia the following day (another 30kms). They didn’t walk along the beach because they were concerned about their feet with their packs on their backs. (Too heavy with the sand and they didn’t want to injure themselves).  I hope they get a chance to do the beach walk as it was not only cleansing for the soul but also extremely therapeutic for tired feet. My feet are very happy as I transition out of The Camino and I am very aware that not everyone is as fortunate.

After this I wandered around (saw Rory and Lizzy) and got a meet up place and time and went on to take some more photos and enjoy the views. I found a bank and purchased my bus ticket back to Santiago the following morning. There were three buses to choose from the 9:45am didn’t give me much time to walk the beach again in the morning,  but the 11:45am bus gave me plenty of time where as the 16:45pm bus could mean I wouldn’t get a chance to visit Saint James at the Cathedral. I missed my chances when I was there Sun-Mon-Tues. The queues were always so long. I got some snacks (fruit and beans) for the bus and train and then made my way to my guest house. It was reasonably large but not too large and way up high on a hill. I had a view out my window which was lovely, a fan and there was a little swimming pool. I did the usual Pilgrim things, washed my clothes and myself and organised my bags then went out.

When you walk the distance I have it’s just inevitable that you run into Pilgrims that you have spoken to or seen before. Sometimes you never see them again and other times you run into them every town or every second town. You see them in the plaza, at a mass, in the supermarkado, at dinner or at breakfast or when stopping at a bar (and toilet) between towns. Sometimes you stop and offer to take a photo of them or ask them how they were since you last spoke (especially if they are carrying injuries). This is what this “collective” of people do, Pilgrims watch out for each other, they say hello and they check in on you. Many are self aware and respect that people sometimes like to walk alone.  It’s truly lovely and I find myself wishing I could put together a brief, recommending some of our politicians (on both sides) do at least one Camino before the end of their first term in government!

Meeting up with Pilgrims that I knew previously was inevitable and I wasn’t surprised that I ran into a 64 year old man I met in Rabanal.  I saw him regularly since then plus the couple with the little baby who had just taken her first steps on the Camino. On my final morning I met with Arjan (from Holland) at breakfast, a Pilgrim who was introduced to me by Lizzy and Rory at dinner the night before. I took a great photo of him at the lighthouse doing a handstand and asked Lizzy to pass it on to him. Coincidentally we were at the same guesthouse. He asked me to join him for breakfast and I showed him the photos on my camera and some of those already loaded on my blog. He particularly like the photo or Rory on top of O’Cebrero (one of my favourites).  He gave me his details so I could email him some photos and permission to publish any photos of him I chose and then we said our goodbyes. On the bus, I saw Kevin again. I met for the first time at the lighthouse the night before and enjoyed some very funny stories. He had been teaching English as a second language in Spain for the last two years and was returning to the US to take up a masters in English Literature. He had a great head torch which was very smart as getting back off those rocks in the dark was tricky!  Along with Lizzy and Rory we shared a taxi back to town.

As I write this latest post I have just been on an overnight train from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid and I am now on a connecting train to Malaga. I woke very early and did a few yoga stretches *standing upright in the quiet walkway outside of my four-sleeper compartment. The windows were huge and I enjoyed looking outside at the early morning landscape. It was dry and beautiful at the same time. I noticed an abundance of olive trees and there they were (by chance) a herd of wild deer, some with huge antlers. The sun cast shadows on the landscape and it was reminiscent of the Meseta in some ways (but not as flat).

I may not run into any more Pilgrims I have met before from here on, but if I do I won’t be at all surprised.  The train ride last night was noisy and squashy but I was glad to be laying down as opposed to sitting up all night. It went fast and there was time to freshen up before arriving in Madrid. Finding out how to get my connection was a bit of a challenge as the people who spoke English didn’t know the platform details and passed me on to people who didn’t speak English.  I was “shepherded" and by this I mean “pointed” in the direction with little or no detail and only in Spanish  (and a whole heap of faith). I am learning that I can’t always get the whole picture (all the details) sometimes I have to just go to the next gate/door/platform and the rest will unfold. I think if anyone explained to me exactly what I was going to have to do, perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to cope! Needless to say, there was another  (inter-city) ticket to be issued, a platform to find, an interconnecting train to catch to another station. Then a queue to stand in, a different area to move to, another queue to seek directions and finally 20 minutes before departure I found my platform and train. But I made it and that's the main thing!

When I purchased my tickets on Tuesday I had the option “upgrade” to first class for an extra 1euro on the last leg (Madrid-Malaga).. All I can say is “VERY NICE”. I have a lovely single seat next to a window all on my own. Plenty of leg room, a fabulous tray table to set up my iPad and keyboard and we even got some nice food. This means I don’t need to get a headache from skipping breakfast at Madrid train station or worry about lunch when I get to Malaga. I just need to find myself a hotel close to the station. Easy to do with “” and ”Tripso” app both on my iPhone.  It will be the same routine when I book in (shower, wash clothes) sort bag quickly and out to explore again.

The big change from the Camino is that there’s not as much free wifi evident… no free wifi on trains or bus stations (or on trains or buses). There was wifi 98% of the time from what I found. It wasn’t always fast but it was available and free.  You can’t complain about that. Never-mind I can still collect my thoughts on the train without it and comfortable trains are certainly a great new experience for me. The time flies and before you know it you’re there.

Tomorrow I catch another train 50kms out of Malaga and walk the Caminito Del Rey and I can’t wait.

Until next time, adios from The Happy Pilgrim in sunny-southern Spain.
PS I am loving the warm weather (apologies to the folks back home)

I am writing this latest post from Palas de Rei on Thursday 18 June and I am now, only 68.2kms from Santiago de Compostela. I can hardly believe how quickly this epic journey has gone.  I have been walking for 32 days, with rest days in Pamplona (2 nights), Burgos (2 nights), Leon (3 nights).  I have 3 more days of walking and I will be there. I am so pleased that I made some adjustments to my itinerary; skipping past Caldadilla de le Cueza and walking on to Terrradillos de Temlparious and walking a bit longer in the section leading up to O’Cebreiro. These minor changes allowed me an extra night in Leon and Santiago (3 nights instead of 2). I loved Leon and I know that Santiago will be a rare treat before I head off to the end of my Camino in Finisterre. "The End of the World".

There are a too many magical moments of The Camino to do them justice in my humble amateur blog. I thought it would be useful to start noting them down before they are lost. The walking in itself is magical and so are the people so I have stories of both, some to share and some I choose to keep to myself. The Camino is life changing but I knew on the first day and pretty understood that to be the case before I even left Australia.

The walking in itself is truly magic. To give yourself permission to have time out to walk across a country is unique and something people back home may not really appreciate or respect. There are many people who can't understand why anyone would want to embark on this kind of adventure, but the Pilgrims on The Camino actually ‘get it’. Pilgrims who have completed their Camino really get it and I have been fortunate to have been provided wise advice from Joan and Rose and also my nephew Andrew before heading off.

Many of the Pilgrims I have met enjoy fitness (including walking) and are committed to building their strength and endurance before they set out and continue to do it while on the Camino each day. They enjoy the benefits of building strength and resilience which are obvious outcomes when embarking on this ancient route. If you absolutely hated exercise you wouldn’t be here because you exercise every day to get from point A to point B.

Many Pilgrims I walked and spoke with appreciate and value the environment. They enjoy the farm land, the pastures and the picturesque mountain ranges. Many of them embrace alternative energy like wind and solar.  When you are walking you notice the wind on the wheat, the sun on the poppies and the length of a road at the end of a very hot day. There is also the World Heritage "ancient" path we follow that Pilgrims before us have trod and that is also very special. You also build an appreciation for the path beneath your feet. Some days the rocks are a challenge and you appreciate the softness of grass on the shoulder of the road. If you are carrying an injury you notice this more and if you shoes or socks are wrong it can really add to your pain.

The religious connection with the journey is subtle for some and more profound (or obvious) for others. Most people don’t want to tell you everything about themselves (which is perfectly fine by me), but it is obvious that I am amongst good people with (what I call) a Christian ethic. They have a goodness inside them, a gentleness and patience that is lovely to be around.  If they aren’t Christian their religion is not obvious to me and is so closely aligned to Christianity I can’t tell. Mostly we surround ourselves back home with good “like-minded” people but there seems to be a concentration of them here and I find it quite addictive and a pleasure and a great joy to be around.

I mentioned in my earlier blog, the day I walked over the Pyrenees everyone I spoke with afterwards noticed the rainbows and really appreciated those small snippets of sun warming us from the otherwise near freezing gail force winds. They all agreed that there was something magic with that very cold day and wouldn’t have had it any other way.  You can’t appreciate the sunny days, unless you experience some rainy ones and this is very true of the The Camino. I have been blessed by great weather with only a few days of rain walking to Roncesvalles, Zubiri and Rabanal.

People who walk The Camino appreciate their feet and while many people aren’t experts on what your feet, socks, shoes and pack weight have in mind for you, they understand what a blister can do to affect your progress. And even if they don’t learn it straight away, they do learn the importance of resting and treating your feet so they can recover and take you on safely to your next destination. Look after yourself (health wise) and it will sustain you to enjoy more of life on The Camino (which is symbolic of your life journey).

I will update more of the blog when I get to Santiago and write about the kindness and the humour and the humility I have experienced. I have also been able to experience a quietness which allows me to listen to the birds chirping madly and hear a church bell in the distance or a tractor coming down the laneway out of a little village. I love hearing the roosters, or the cows or a bell on a herd of cattle perched high on a mountain. While I like listening to my iPod while walking back home, I have only popped my earplugs in three brief times (twice along side a very noisy road and the last time during the last 2kms on that really hot day on the Mesesta).  Perhaps I will listen more to my local birds when I get home and take the opportunity to listen more mindfully to what the morning has to offer.

I am going to publish this now and update later on and include some of my latest (favourite photos). Please note readers, when I get home I will edit and upload photos and tidy them up in a more professional looking slideshow. It’s a bit of a challenge to make it look exactly like I want it to on the iPad and with slower and different internet speeds between towns sometimes it takes me a long time to publish.

A snapshot of my "magical moments" include;

1. Elivera (from  Utah) suggesting I walk with Charlotte from Denmark (while she took care of Eve from Germany).
2. Meeting Crystal and Candice (daughter-mother team) at Orrison on 14 May as they walked over the Pyrenees and seeing them three or four times during the last five and a half weeks and hearing stories of their progress from new Pilgrims I walked with (such as Nuala from Ireland). Then, I can hardly believe it, arriving in Santiago the same day and having dinner with them to celebrate that night!
3. Meeting Ad from Holland, by chance in Leon and then again in Villadangos Del Paramo on my birthday and at the same time meeting Rory, Jay and Maureen. Sadly Lizzy was sick in bed recovering from a tummy bug that night.  Then I saw Ad again on arrival at The Cruze de Ferro. I took a photo of him and got his email to send it on then ran into him again at Acebo (6kms along). I left my back pack with him (and my camera), showed him how to find his photo and went off to use the “facilities” and order something to eat. When I returned he had tears in his eyes and thanked me most sincerely for the photos telling me it was very special. I was obviously pleased, but here's the thing, a few days later in Villafranca de Bierzo an American couple at the same hotel told me a story of that same day. They happened to be sitting at the next table where where Ad and I and another Dutch lady had lunch in Acebo. They told me that they were so moved by his reaction to my photo that they were compelled to tell me what went on when Ad first saw my photo. This was beautiful.
4. Running into the family from Victoria (Carl, Bronwyn and Albert) and sharing dinner with them three times over the course of the Camino. Then, by chance I saw them on Sunday 21 June,  they also arrived in Santiago same day as me, this was also special. They were great company, practical, funny and great conversationalists.
5. Finally, the joy of meeting Judy when I left Santiago this morning, Wednesday 24 June. She had tears in her eyes and was standing out the front of the Parador in the Cathedral square as I walked by. I recalled her pensivness and we obviously felt something similar because her tears put tears in my eyes. A few short kilometres later she was walking with me and we had a lovely day talking about important things you normally wouldn't speak about to a stranger. That's the beauty of The Camino and I am blessed to be here.

Until next time – The Happy Pilgrim

I am posting from Rabanal del Camino on Wednesday 10 June and felt inspired by a downpour of rain, thunder and lightening, to put a few words together. Actually, it was much more than the down pour between Astorga and Rabanal that inspires me. It is the strange coincidence of running into people on the Camino that you hadn’t seen for weeks and the joy of walking together. The quirkiness of sitting in a warm bar and an old man (sitting opposite me), who, when not talking, is whistling a constant tune, and  the pleasure achieved by a good days walk, a warm shower, “happy feet” and clean clothes. I must also acknowledge the joy that being fit and healthy enough to do a holiday (pilgrimage) like this brings me each day.

I walked with Kelly today (from Melbourne). I ran into her as I came in to Astorga and was trying to find the Cathedral and my hotel. It had been a very long walk that day (30kms). It is advised, for safety reasons that Pilgrims walk together in this area. We were both aware that in April an Chineese-American woman (from Arizona) went missing in the area and ladies walking alone are strongly encouraged to pair up and walk together.  We were both very pleased to see each other and made plans to catch up in the evening and make arrangements to walk together the following day.

That evening we met for a drink in the plaza “as you do”.  My pilgrim-package included dinner at my hotel, so I just went for a drink and a chat, so no changes to my personality while in Spain!. We roared with laughter when Kelly ordered an ox t-bone and Kelly asked if it would be a decent size piece of steak. She had been unwell and her appetite had returned it was time to energise herself with good healthy food. I thought I heard the waitress say “1kg” but thought that it couldn’t be right. She returned with the chef and this huge piece of raw meat on a plate and our eyes nearly popped out of our heads! Another classic “lost in translation” moment. Needless to say Kelly made another order but not before we took a photo for Facebook!

There are so many lovely Spanish people who value Pilgrims and conduct themselves with pride and integrity. There are many examples in villages, or shops when I have been lost or confused at the end of the day or struggling to describe something  I  want to purchase (in “Spanglish”) and I have been assisted kindly and patiently by a local. Today Kelly and I stopped to listen to a man with a banjo playing under the eve of a run-down church in Puente de Panote. As we sailed by, his music put a smile on our face and he called out to us (and to everyone who went by) “watch for cars” which was very valuable advice as we  just popped out on to a busy road. We turned back and asked him if we could take a photo (Kelly wanted a video) but he said no and even though we were disappointed we respected his answer. We gave him a couple of euros because he had brightened our day. He kindly offered us a box of gem stones to choose from and we both humbly accepted one and  were on our way.

Pilgrims would be aware that there is a courtesy applied to utilising the toilet facilities of a local shop or bar. You need to buy something and, as long as they are clean and have paper, this is not unreasonable to keep the economy rolling along. On entering Puente de Panote we asked a local store owner if he had any bananas (which he didn’t) there was nothing else we needed so we used the facilities and offered him a euro each which he declined and insisted we took the money back.

This evening I am going to Vespers (sung by Benedictine Monks) in Rabanal (before dinner) and, if it's not too late or cold will try and attend the Pilgrims blessing later in the evening. I am looking forward to the experience and have already met a young American guy (travelling with his father who is a priest) who will be doing one of the readings. They ensure there are some aspectes in a number of languages which is lovely. Life in it’s most simplest is quite beautiful. The Camino has many magical moments including the beauty when a storm clears and the thunder and lightening subsides. Today has been another fabulous experience. Must get my shoes dry, check my water and get my day pack organised for tomorrow and of course upload this post.

Lots to do before Vespers, Pilgrims blessing, dinner and bedtime.

Until next time The Happy (water-logged) Pilgrim

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