An Anniversary, and a Sad Loss

It’s been two years since I posted after Maggie and I walked the Camino. The walk touched us deeply and we think about our journey and some of the wonderful memories we have. The people we met also feature often in our thoughts.

Two years ago today we set out from Pamplona on day four of our Camino.

Many of you may remember my blog In Sickness and In Health where I mentioned a fellow peregrino who we learnt had cancer. His name is Warren Mah, a fellow Aussie from Brisbane.

Today we learnt that Warren passed away in his sleep a couple of days ago at the age of 47. He leaves behind his wife and children. It was a privilege to have met and known Warren – the world is sadder for his loss.

Until our next Camino,

Maggie and Peter

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So What Will You and Maggie Do Now?

Four weeks have passed since Maggie and I walked into Santiago de Compostela.

The following day we realised that we were exhausted. Not physically, we walked the last thirteen days, over 300 km, without a rest day and I reckon we could take on almost any challenge now. But we were mentally and emotionally spent.

We relaxed in Santiago for two days, then caught the train to Madrid, and dozed as we watched the countryside speed by at 200 km per hour. It was such a change to walking 25 km a day! We found the San Miguel market in the centre of town, the best place for freshly cooked food and local wine.

Returning to London we spent some wonderful time with Maggie’s sister Sandra and her family, then with our daughter Elizabeth and her partner Pierre in the remote wilds of Scotland, just 100 km south of John O’Groats.

I am now back at work, Maggie is thinking about her future, and both of us are putting our Camino experience into perspective. That’s a big challenge! We are putting a book together to showcase our trip. Not just words, more of a photo journal with stories about the paths we walked, the people we met, and the places we visited.

After we finished the Camino we asked ourselves would we walk another one. At the time it was an emphatic no. We had climbed enough mountains.

But the Camino doesn’t let go that easily! It calls out to you. We miss it.

At the end, a fellow blogger who walked the Camino Frances earlier this year, asked us a question – so what will you and Maggie do now?

Well, the plans for our holiday in May next year have just been cancelled, and we now have four weeks spare. And a month is not long enough to walk the Via de la Plata from Seville to Santiago. So, no promises, yet, but we have just ordered the guide book for the Camino Portuguese!

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Thank You

It has been a week now since we walked into Santiago de Compostela, and we have had time to start processing our thoughts about the experience. It is too early yet to put those thoughts down. But we would like to express our gratitude to a great many people.

To our families, for their encouragement.

To all of you who followed our blog, for your comments which inspired us; or for just logging onto the blog and seeing where we were.

To our friends who followed us, wherever you live.

To all at the big Q, whether in Queensland, NSW, or wherever you logged on around the world.

To the wordpress community who have their own blogs but took the time to follow ours.

To all the amazing people we met on the Camino from so many countries.

We look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible as soon as we can, and with more of you via email. We will put a selection of photos on a web site as soon as possible.

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I had this post worked out days ago. It was going to be a thank you to all of you.

But somehow emotions got in the way.

We wanted to arrive in Santiago in time to receive our compostela, our certificate of completion, and then get to the cathedral for the pilgrim’s mass, which is at midday. That meant getting up early. We started walking at 5:00, and walked through the dark for 3 hours, which is when sunrise happens this time of year.

We arrived at 9:30 and collected our compostelas. Emotions started to kick in. We found our hotel, dropped off our backpacks, and made it to the cathedral by 11:00.

Then we started bumping into some of the wonderful people we had met over the last few weeks. The mass was beautiful. Emotions kicked into a higher gear.

And then they swung the botufumeiro.

That’s when emotions went into overdrive.

We had expected a mix of feelings when we arrived, but neither of us were prepared for how we felt. The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets, taking in the sights and sounds and catching up with more people we had met over the weeks. We walked back to our hotel at 9:00 through an arch next to the cathedral, where a couple were singing opera duets. Pure magic.

The thanks will have to wait another day.

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A Seed Was Planted

Five weeks ago today, on our daughter Erin’s birthday, we arrived in St Jean Pied de Port, France. Tonight we will sleep in the small town of O Pedrouzo, just 18 km from Santiago. But this journey began some time ago.

We had heard an Australian being interviewed, on ABC Classical Radio, after he had walked the Camino and written a book about his journey. Intrigued, we bought the book, and thought, one day, when the time is right, we just might walk our own Camino.

We put the book up on the bookshelf, and life, as it does, carried on.

Seven years passed before the right time came along. This year we were able to juggle our careers, our business and our household, and find the six weeks it takes to get to Europe, walk the Camino, and return home.

We have overcome injury and illness, and met some amazing people on the way.

It has been an incredible experience, a test of our courage, our strength, our will, and our emotional fortitude. Surely one of the hardest things we have accomplished in our lives. And one of the most rewarding, fulfilling, satisfying journeys.

We have climbed up and down mountains, through vineyards and cornfields, sunflower crops and wheat fields, past animals and vegetable farms, through sun, rain, fog, dust and dirt. Stayed in cities of great size and villages of as few as fifty people, slept in tiny B and Bs, former monasteries and paradors. We have visited some of the most magnificent cathedrals in Europe, and some of the humblest village churches.

Tomorrow, on our daughter Elizabeth’s birthday, we will complete the journey and walk into Santiago de Compostela.

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Peregrinos who wish to receive their compostela, their certificate that proves they have walked at least the last 100 km of the Camino, must start no later than the town of Sarria. We walked into Sarria this afternoon, leaving us 111 km before we arrive in Santiago on Wednesday next week, the 9th of October, our daughter Elizabeth’s birthday.

Galicia, the north western area of Spain, has thrown all the weather it could at us. We have been rained on, nearly blown off the mountain descending from O Cebreiro, endured a thunderstorm, and finally, after nearly a week of rain, the sun shone most of today as we descended another mountain into Sarria.

We are well into our second credencial, or pilgrim’s passport, the first filled with stamps from our four weeks’ journey so far.

The weather looks friendly for the last few days of our walk, so we can put our rain gear away now. We have met some wonderful Spanish people on our Camino, but those we have met today seem to be suffering from Camino burnout. A delightful man in a small hostal a few days ago said they work 7 days a week for 9 months a year! No wonder they get burnt out!

This photo was taken as we entered Galicia – shame about the graffiti, but after climbing 700 metres in height over 7 kilometres, we were too tired to care!


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Pimiento Festival

We stayed in a beautiful hotel yesterday in Cacabelos. It was like walking into a scene from The Hobbit. There were slate roofs, grape vines, a shop full of food products, world music playing, and then, at the end of the bar, the ladies were roasting red peppers on a bbq. By the time we finished a bowl of soup, the peppers were bottled and in the preserving vat.

The rain keeps falling gently, and the weather suggests bowls of hearty soup and casseroles. We have had delicious lentil, chorizo and vegetable soup for lunch the last two days.

We are well into the last 200 km now, and counting down the days before we arrive in Santiago de Compostela.





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In Sickness and in Health

No, I am not going to talk about marriage, or get all religious on you.

Before we got to Leon we met Loretta, an American from California. She was walking with a companion, but she was having problems with her leg, so she was using a bus or a taxi, and catching up with her friend at the next stop.

Two days ago, walking out of Astorga, we met a young man, maybe 25 or 30, who lives just a few kilometres from us in Brisbane. He had a sore leg, said he had pulled a muscle.

We passed each other, as you do on the Camino, a couple of times over the next day or so. His leg was still troubling him.

Last night, in Rabanal, he walked into the restaurant where we were eating. We introduced him to Loretta, who was also there, and they decided to share a taxi today. The walk over the mountains past the Cruz de Ferro is not easy, so it was a good decision for both of them.

Tonight we walked into a restaurant, and Loretta was there, dining with her companion. As we had helped her with her taxi journey today, she shared her day’s story with us.

The guy from Brisbane, it turns out, has terminal cancer.

You meet all kinds of people on the Camino. Some surprise you, some have no influence on you at all, and some leave you counting your blessings.

We are so fortunate to be sharing this amazing experience with each other. Today was a hard slog over the mountains into Galicia. We walked over 26 km, the climb was relatively easy, the descent bloody hard, tripping and slipping over rocks and slate for a long way down the mountain.

But how lucky are we, and how easy is our road, compared to others.

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Cruz de Ferro

Cruz de Ferro

Today we passed the highest point of the Camino, the Cruz de Ferro or Iron Cross. Often shrouded in mist due to it’s elevation, it was cold and wet at the top of the mountain.

Last night, just before falling asleep, I posted the previous post about the church in Rabanal. There are a modest number of people following our blog, but one of them, Anne Maddock, who has her own blog, was in the church for the vesters service with us. We didn’t know it until she read my post in the middle of the night.

Not only were we in the same church on the same evening, but we were staying in the same small hotel in the same town of just 50 people! We met at breakfast this morning. It is such an amazing coincidence. We wish Anne all the best for her Camino.

It was great ro meet you Anne, and we wish you buen camino for the rest of your journey.

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The Climb Into Galicia

Today we began the climb from the meseta into Galicia. Our injuries are on the mend and we have walked for the last two days with no problems.

It is said that the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. It doesn’t. It falls mainly in Galicia, the north-west corner of Spain. For those not familiar with the geography, think of Ireland!

We finished our day’s journey in the hills heading out of the plains and into the high, wet country of Spain’s northwest. Our day started in rain, and finished in a tiny village half way up up a mountain, in more rain. Yet it was glorious.

This village, Rabanal del Camino, has just a few inhabitants, a couple of places to stay, and surely the smallest, oldest, most run-down church we have seen. Yet what a church.

We are not the most religious couple, but we were humbled by the simplicity of this place. We went to vespers at 7 pm, sung in Gregorian chant by the Benedictines, and returned at 9:30 pm for the pilgrim’s blessing.

The cathedrals and town churches we have seen along the way are beautiful, but the stunning simplicity of this simple place, and the humility of the monks, who asked us, “us”, to pray for them, was such a moving experience.

Tomorrow we climb to the highest point on the Camino, the Cruz de Ferro, and continue our journey into Galicia.


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