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The last step on our journey; we took the bus from Gijon to Bilbao and then from Bilbao to Irun, not knowing that the bus would actually go all the way to our final destination just across the border, Hendaye. Hendaye is a resort town in France, on the southwestern-most point on the border with Spain. It was a good day to travel as it rained steadily all day. The rugged, mountainous countryside made us realize how much more difficult the Camino del Norte is (we had initially planned to do that Camino). We are happy with our decision to have started with the Camino Frances!
We were ready to get off the bus in Irun, thinking that it was the final stop but then Michael noticed another passenger staying on the bus and asked him if the bus was continuing on. The answer was yes so we hopped back on. (In Bilbao we had tried to buy tickets to Hendaye but hadn’t recognized the Spanish form “Hendaia” as one and the same!!) We crossed a bridge and presto – 5 minutes later we were in France. The bridge spans an inlet from the Atlantic called “Le Bidoasoa” – the border between Spain and France runs right down the middle. We had booked a hotel close to the train station as we would be catching an early morning train to Paris. The bus stopped across from the station! What an easy last step!
I wish there was some way to thank Spain, it’s generous, always welcoming, warm-hearted and helpful people, the agencies responsible for maintaining the Camino Frances, the many wonderful ‘hospitaleros’ at the albergues and Hostals/Pensions that helped make this journey not only memorable for us but also affordable. As we walked along, day after day, through village after village, each with its own special flavor, we often talked about what it must be like to have this endless, constant stream of people inundating your neighborhood/village/country, day after day, regardless of season or year or even century for that matter….and remain so friendly and interested in us as ‘pilgrims.’ Many times we remarked about the huge amount of trash, mostly in the form of discarded tissues, littering the “Way.” As a matter of fact, once, in a lunch break chat with a Swedish couple, it was suggested, “Why do they make the tissues white? They could at least make them a dark color.” LOL!
Now, as we wait to take the train to Paris and for our final departure from Europe, we find ourselves equally excited and just a bit apprehensive to leave Spain and to resume life in N. America. The Camino is deeply life-changing, in a way we can’t fully understand at this point. We have a lot of processing to do. The Camino and Spain have been our home for the past 60 days.
THANK YOU BELLA ESPAGNA!!!
From A Coruna we took the bus to Gijon, also a large, coastal city. For much of the drive we got glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, the drive was once again a lot longer as we stopped at few out-of-the-way towns, even though it was an “Inter Urban Bus.”
The city of Gijon (pronounced Heehon) is larger than expected but it’s our favorite so far. We arrived mid afternoon after a 6 hour trip and did what is now becoming our routine: went for a cervesa/vino blanco at a wifi bar/cafe where we could locate ourselves on the map while at the same time, checking on Booking.com for a hotel close to where we were (close to the bus station). We have discovered that we like to be close to the station for easy access to the buses on travel days but also because very often in the city where it’s easy to lose your bearings, there are often signs pointing the direction to the ‘estacion de autobus.’ We check into our hotel/hostel/pension, drop our packs and usually set off to explore our newest neighborhood. Here is a map (our very enthusiastic man at the reception desk explained where things were in detail LOL). The old city is the part in between the two sandy beaches towards the top of the map with the circle drawn around it.
Found a marvellous hotel, Hotel Central:
By the time we set off to explore, it was evening. We found the beach and the promenade and so many people out enjoying the unseasonably warm weather;
The next day we explored the old city with the fort on the top of the hill with beautiful views:
Pigeons bathing in the old fountain:
Lots of beaches in Gijon and I learned from the sweet man at the reception desk of our hotel, that they are some of the best surfing beaches in Spain.We walked one way along the beach, barefoot, captivated by the antic of the dogs and their owners:
Stopped at a seaside bar for a cervesa. When I went into the ‘Ladies’ I found these floor to ceiling pics in the cubicles. Michael found the same in the men’s (of the opposite sex of course) LOL:
And on the way back were equally entertained by the many surfers, watching them try catch just the right wave, wondering what the criteria were:
We loved our stay here in Gijon.
We left Muxia early, on the 6am bus, arriving in A Coruna after 8 some time – and no, it took much longer than 1:18 as we stopped at numerous small villages. Our first step was to stow our packs at the bus station, find a wifi cafe for coffee and find a place to stay for the night. That accomplished, we set off to explore this Galician coastal city – there was lots to see….
A Coruna has a most unusual layout….
With the port on one side….
And the beach on the other….
A Coruna boasts the world’s oldest Roman lighthouse called “The Tower of Hercules.” It turned out the Romans built very comfortable stone benches (at the base of the lighthouse) where we caught a 30 minute snooze in the sun.
After more than 15km of exploring, our feet protesting, we stopped for “Nordes” Gin & tonics in the sun, recommended by a couple of pilgrims we met there. It was a most interesting-flavored gin – excellent!!
Today, we visited the old city and happened upon a most beautiful old church dating back to the 13th century. The door was open so we went in. An unseen male choir was practicing – the most beautiful chanting/singing was coming from somewhere inside. We sat listening, enthralled, for a long time. It was the day for church and monastery visits I guess as we kept coming across them with their doors open. We happened by at just the right time because later, their doors were all locked up tight.
Checked the weather forecast – wind and rain for A Coruna tomorrow so we are heading east along the coast to check out the next town – either Gijón or Bilbao.
“The people we meet along the way…” -My answer to a casual question – “What about the Camino have you found most memorable?” – asked over a Pilgrims meal.
There were so many interesting folks we got to know along the way. As soon as I would comment on one person, another would pop up from memory. Instead of editing out certain persons, a difficult proposition as they all had qualities I wanted to mention, I opted to break them into groups. Even so I had to let some go. The first is Nationalities, simply because that was invariably the first question asked was “where are you from.”
The Camino was an international walkway where we met South Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Dutch, Austrians, Swedes, Belgians, Spaniards, Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Brazilians, Australians, New Zealanders … so many that we lost track. And even though most spoke some limited English (not surprising), fewer spoke any Spanish. Which was very surprising to me, since most cafe & albergue staff had little English or any other language skills*. Still we managed to communicate.
The character who posed the question was a Galician Spaniard. He grew up near Santiago and was walking the Camino because “for years I’ve seen people from all over the world with backpacks on, entering the square of the Cathedral at Santiago, some crying, some laughing… others collapsing and just sitting… all after walking this thing called ‘the Camino’… SO I thought maybe I should try it to see what it was all about.” He had walked 110 km in a week ( all the vacation time he could spare) and was heading home via bus the next morning. I asked If he had discovered anything. He responded “No… not really”, with a laugh.
“Mik-hile” (he gave himself this nickname because his real name was too difficult to get westerners to pronounce properly), a twenty-something South Korean man, was the only other person at one of the first albergues we stayed in. As we unpacked I watched as he wandered the rooms holding his smart phone up over his head then down to check it… took me a few minutes to figure out that he was looking for … I asked, “No WiFi?”… he looked at me puzzled- so I said “INTERNET?” and he replied “NO Weeee Feeeee… very sad.” A laugh and shrug… As we enjoyed the evening meal using limited English & pantomime, we teased him about being young enough to be our ‘grandson’. Along the way over the next weeks we would suddenly hear “GRANDFATHER… GRANDMOTHER” as Mik-hile jogged up to give and receive a hug… We were always as pleased to see him as he was us.
Olivia was another South Korean. She became known along the trail as the ‘Buen Camino Girl’ because of her exuberance when meeting or even seeing other pilgrims; yelling “BUEN. CaMEEEENO!”. You could hear her from blocks away.
Sel-Soo (phonetically spelled because I have NOT a clue how it should be) was a Brazilian man we kept passing and being passed by. We would smile, he would smile…and then exchange a “Buen Camino”. One evening being the only ones at the restaurant, we shared a table and a meal. Broken English and pantomime sufficed for our conversation. TWO weeks later we were approaching Palas de Rei and saw Sel-Soo waiting for a taxi. He was going into the next largest city because his legs hurt BUT, more importantly so he could eat some “pulpo” – pronounced POOL POE – a local delicacy. Apparently Palas de Rei is famous for it. Tilly asked “what is that?” Sel-Soo responded, “pulpo, pulpo… poooool-POE!” as he searched his memory for the English word… I laughed and then- having seen it mentioned on the menu – say ‘octopus?’… “YES – PULPO!”, he exclaimed and we dissolved into laughter.
Bern, an Irishman made my memory list when after learning about the Las Vegas mass shootings said “The whole world is broken.” We all shared a moment of silence at the table and nothing more could be said about it.
The Canadians we met were dominated by British Columbians (and mostly Vancouver Islanders) but we met the odd Québécois, Albertan & Manitoban.
Americans came from all over… Massachusetts, Georgia, Oregon, Washington (state & DC), Colorado, California, Texas are a few of the states I remember. OH yeah and we all avoided speaking about politics and ‘you -know-who’ back home.
Rich, a young American, was walking the Camino as a break from his volunteer work as a school counselor in Ghana. We remember his smile and positive manner. He walked fast and quickly out paced us so, we were surprised to catch up and pass him a few days later. Until, we saw how he and his new walking partner Katerina were interacting… I don’t think either of them were in any hurry to finish the walk….good for them.
Other nationalities I have not listed here include Swedish, Austrian, Polish because they fit better into one of my other groups.
*HINT – Learn some basic Spanish IF you are going to walk the Camino – you’ll wish you had learned more!
We are in Muxia. It’s our 9th day here – we have another 5 days before heading off on another adventure – the adventure of getting back to Paris and from there – HOME!
But first, let me tell you about Muxia because it’s such a unique and beautiful spot:
It’s actually a tiny peninsula jutting north out into the Atlantic Ocean. Our Air B&B is situated right at the beginning or neck of the peninsula, on top of a hill and we are on the top floor. (This is a view from the beach at the entrance onto the peninsula.)
You can clearly see the peninsula and the 2 hills shaping it. We have lots of windows: when we look out the bedroom and dining room windows we see the sunrise in the morning and we see the business side of the village….the port where the fishing boats come and go….the restaurants and bars….and so on. When we look out the extra bedroom and den windows, we see the other side of the peninsula…the other side of Muxia….more residential….and we see the sunset….when the sun is out that is! When we go walking every day, we choose which way we want to walk around the peninsula.
At the other end of the peninsula is another large “hill” on top of which is an old stone cross and at the top of which you get a 360 degree view (I call it Stone Cross Mountain). Just past that hill is an old church (which I believe still celebrates Sunday Mass every week).From the church you can descend onto the rocks that form the northernmost point of the peninsula and those rocks I call the “Martin Sheen Rocks” because that is where, in the movie “The Way”, he tossed the rest of his son’s ashes. We also call it “The End of the World” (although Finisterre has that official but dubious honour) – the waves roll in all the way from N.America with nothing to stop them. It’s a most beautiful spot and we have spent a part of each day there, just sitting on the rocks, watching the waves crash in, always in different sizes, formations, directions, volumes, and shapes, marvelling at the amount of energy unleashed by each one.
Every day we walk in one way or another around the peninsula. Sometimes we walk in an entirely different direction, towards the mainland. Then we encounter a couple of beaches, a wooden walkway, and a little used road that wends its way around another point before it stops. Wherever we go, it is beautiful. The previous week was stormy, windy, cold, and either rainy or misty. This week has started with blue, blue sky and sunshine. SPECTACULAR!!
So that’s Muxia. Yesterday we went to Finisterre, just a short trip by bus south, down the coast from Muxia and it too is beautiful but much bigger and much more touristic. The big attraction is the old lighthouse at the very end of the point, the very “End of the World” as they believed in the medieval days. We sat and contemplated Camino experiences; enjoyed the sun; admired the lighthouse; dipped our feet into the Atlantic Ocean; sipped wine. A great day bu still, we are happy we decided to stay in Muxia.
Despite the quiet beauty of this place, I must admit to a certain feeling of dis-ease….a very strange sort of feeling that is difficult to describe….boredom maybe? Homesickness maybe? A feeling of ‘not knowing exactly what to do with myself.’ We walk, talk, eat, sleep, cook….all of the everyday things one does at home so why do I feel so much dis-ease? I think maybe it’s because for almost 40 days, I knew exactly what each would be about…walk, rest, eat, walk, rest, drink, walk, eat, sleep and repeat the whole thing 40 times. To all of a sudden stop …. well, I find I am confronting my issue of always needing to be busy: teaching with all of the tasks that made teaching so satisfying (and frustrating too) being with kids, watching their amazing variety of learning styles, seeing them grow, marking, planning, creating, organizing….and more; with the chores of daily life; with physical fitness; with going adventuring and discovering new places, making new friends….! All of a sudden, I don’t have “things to do” and I feel restless…like a turtle hibernating in its work shell and only now pulling my head out, looking around and seeing the world in a whole new light.
Michael and I talked about “walking into retirement” and now I laugh because that’s exactly what we did … inadvertently …. because the “Camino gives you what you need” we heard from several fellow pilgrims….you get the life lessons you need….! So yes, we are receiving our respective lessons now. The joke is on us!
Not that there’s really any day that’s the same, we did start to see a bit of routine develop. But I should go back just a bit…..we did initially try to plan every day, setting an end point for each day but discovered very quickly that most days never went according to “The Plan” we had made. Either the distances were longer or shorter than we were prepared to do each day (every day you feel different both emotionally and physically), the terrain you covered each day varied so much (some days there were many steep ups and downs or you walked a lot on boulders which is hard on the legs and feet), or maybe there were long distances to cover with no cafes or albergues in between so that when you’d get somewhere, all you wanted to do was to eat, drink, and rest; or it was raining and you were wet, or it was hot and dusty and you needed a sangria/cervesa/cervesa y limon, or you found a great ‘pilgrim supply shop’ you simply had to go into and shop….the list goes on.
We were using a great guidebook which had been highly recommended to us, written by John Brierley. (As we walked along, we saw copies of the same book stuffed into numerous N. American pilgrims’ pockets and packs (Brierley must be making a killing since we saw so many and such a variety of editions!) Brierley divided the Camino Frances up into 33 stages; each stage with comprehensive maps, diagrams, lodging, and food. We learned that a sort-of “Brierley’s Brigade” as Michael called it, had developed along ‘The Way’ – many pilgrims who followed the Brierley book stayed at each beginning and end village/town/city at each stage. The distances for each day fell between 18 – 30 km/day. After some experimentation, we decided we wanted to listen to our bodies as to when to stop and to stay at the albergues in places between Brierley’s stages. Oftentimes there were fewer people, smaller albergues, and different choices in ‘Pilgrim Meals’ in these places. We stopped , usually at the first albergue we’d come across since our sore feet, legs & lungs and/or growling stomachs insisted.
So we gave up planning where we would stop to eat, drink, stay each night and learned to live in each moment. (Being a planner, this is something I have strived to do all my adult life.) The moment we awoke started our day. Sometimes if it was quiet or if we still had our ear plugs inserted and our masks still on, we could sleep past 6. If not, we’d get up with everyone else using our flashlights and headlamps (so as to allow sleeping pilgrims to sleep) or when the lights were turned on by some brave soul after 7am. (Sometimes that brave soul was me as I hated packing in the dark, afraid I’d leave some vital piece of equipment or clothing or toiletries behind.) Early on in our walk, when we were still part of ‘Brierley’s Brigade’, we would get up very early if the distance was far so that we could get the ‘required’ kilometres in.
Sometimes our ‘coffee moment’ started before the day’s walk began if the cafe was open early; other times, our ‘coffee moment’ happened along the way after an hour’s walk; sometimes (rarely) even after a 3 hour walk. We preferred to have a coffee and something to eat before we started but sometimes we started with just the water in our camelbaks. Then, finding a cafe that was open and serving breakfast was pure ecstasy. Most often, breakfast consisted of “cafe Americano con una pocita de leche” (coffee with a tiny bit of milk) with a croissant for me and tostada (TOAST – which turned out most often to be warm slightly singed bread – few places had a toaster and threw the bread briefly on the grill) for Michael. Once I finally learned how to say “scrambled eggs” or “huevos revueltos” in Spanish, we sometimes had eggs for breakfast/brunch. We got so we actually liked to start with just a coffee, walk for an hour or more, and then stop for breakfast/brunch.
‘Rest moments’ happened very spontaneously depending on if:
– you came across an unexpected and interesting coffee place – one playing Spanish guitar music… one on wheels…..;
– a church with an open door, music playing, candles lit, invited you to come in;
– you found an outfitters shop for pilgrims and HAD to go in;
– you had to stop and enjoy the “Cow Concerto”;
‘Rest moments’ happened frequently some days and rarely on others. Sometimes a ‘rest moment’ even turned into a night in an albergue….and that is a whole other story altogether and the subject of another blog.
We also had ‘conversation’ moments and ‘silent moments’. Simply walking, placing one foot in front of the other for hours on end, clears your mind. You stop thinking about all the daily stresses and worries of everyday life. All of a sudden, you find you are having ‘moments’ of a totally different nature. Moments that:
– involve spontaneous singing of or whistling or humming of marching tunes you haven’t heard since you were a kid
– make you sing songs about the sun as it rises in the sky behind you, warning your legs and the back of your head as it lights up the sky behind you in magnificent colors of orange, fuscia, magenta, and yellow (You Are my Sunshine, Yellow Submarine, Here Comes the Sun….and many more)
– have you asking each other questions of a more spiritual nature and what you believe and why such as the connectedness of everything, the divine, universal energy, God.
– are silent for what seems like hours
Living in the moment and making decisions when they needed to be made, made the walk relaxed and comfortable. We had the luxury of knowing we could stop whenever we wanted, whether it was for photography, to talk, to contemplate, to visit churches, to take the roads less travelled (aka the scenic route), for sickness, and that we’d still have as much time as we needed. We allowed ourselves a lot of extra time – over 60 days – for the entire walk. Brierley suggests that the walk can be done in 35 days but we wanted to take our time. Our average mileage turned out to be around 22 km/day with daily distances ranging from 8 to 30 km/day. We did the whole thing in 38 days including 2 rest days for sickness.