When I said I was going on the Camino everyone told me that it would be life changing. From personal experience I can now say that the Camino forced me to slow down and provided the gift of time for myself. In my regular lives the chattering monkeys of my mind are rarely stilled as there are constant outside demands on my time and even through I might have the very best self-care strategies in place I never have a whole week or more to indulge just to my own personal reflections.
On the ‘way’ the only really pressing concerns are where is the next coffee shop/bar, will my feet hold up for another day and making sure we do not get lost. However getting lost is not a major concern and even the route markers seem relaxed. Yellow arrows and the symbol of the shell are placed haphazardly, but always in the right direction, on items that range from stone fences, the road, house walls, gates, trees, and more. Some are really easy to see, others are more faded and almost hidden, but they are there. Worst case just wait a few moments and someone else will come walking along and together you continue. There are also the occasional marker stones counting down the kilometers and as my feet grew wearier these become a sight to look forward to – some come decorated with evidence of past walker with blown out shoes.
The Camino trek sees us traverse ‘undulating’ hills (well that is what we were told but some are more like great BIG hills and then we had to get down the other side too!), beautiful shaded wooded trails and across streams. It is very rural, farming country complete with wafting farmyard aroma in certain spots. We share the track with plenty of cattle, a few horses, ducks and more.
Some of the villages and tiny churches date back to medieval times and the yellow markers of the way lead us down cobblestone paths right through farm yards and past front doors and open windows from which locals pleasantly wave and wish us buen camino. The Camino is most definitely not commercial and those who live along the route genuinely welcome the perigrinos and we do not feel like intruders in their lives. Then again this has been happening for thousands of years so it is no doubt just a part of their lives.
What should become part 3 of my Camino story? Food of course! It was very large part of the Camino Adventure as obviously we needed sufficient sustenance for our daily walks but we were completely delighted with the range of culinary experiences! Along the way enjoyed delicious trout caught from bubbling fresh local streams, delicate wild mushrooms, Iberian ham served for breakfast and lunch but always delicious, salmon cooked in a wood oven, Spanish omelette of various varieties, gorgeous pasties, Galician soup and chunky bread. In Melides we sampled the famous local fare – pulpo – very delicious and tender which came as a surprise to some of our group who had never experienced octopus before.
Meals were accompanied by various wines, and on hot days, as we tramped the countryside towards our destination of Santiago de Compostela, Galician cider or a cold beer went down very well.
Dinner was always eaten late – never before 8 pm as nothing was open earlier. A glass of cava offered a great start to an evening as we waited for meal time and in the cool of the evenings some of us accepted our hosts gracious hospitality and finished off our meals by enjoying a tipple of local ‘fire water’ thrown in for good measure and our guide Andres gave us an entertaining explanation in Andringlish – his version of English which I have to say was much better than any of our Spanish – about the qualities of ‘fire water’ and home-made liqueurs which vary greatly from place to place.
All walkers are issued with a Credencial which is like a passport into which perigrinos need to collect two sellos (stamps) per day to verify one has walked the minimum of 100kms to qualify for the Compostela which is th certificate issued on reaching Santiago de Compostela.
Sellos are issued in all kinds of places from cafes to churches with each being quite unique. Some individually go quite mad collecting the various sellos with it becoming a bit of a competition to see who can collect the most.
The most memorable sellos I collected was at the monestry in Samos which was founded in the 6th century.
Walking in single file along a very narrow, lush and verdant trail through the woods on a somewhat overgrown, muddy path flanked on the left by a crystal clear running river we emerged to the impressive rear view of the imposing monestry which dominated the landscape.
Following our guides Andres and Simon – more about them in a later blog – we entered the monestry ready for our official guided tour.
The tour was all in Spanish and we understood not a word but it was worth paying the adminission for the tour just to get inside the cloisters and see the treasurers of the church which included impressive books.
The inscription about the library door read ” A cloister without a library is like a castle without an armory.”
The monk who stamped my credencil , spoke only Spanish but was extremely forward and had clearly been imbiling a little too much of the liquor for which the Benedictines were famous!
In fact the monestry caught fire twice during its history as, according to the story we were told, the stills exploded and caused considerable damage. There is a gallery of pictures in the cloisters that tells the story of the fire.
Today, they no longer make Benedictine but it was for sale in the gift shop. Our monk was no doubt doing some quality control to ensure it was up to scratch or perhaps he was trying to keep warm as those old stone walls are definitely very chilly?