Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happy Birthday to David!!

David is 34! We celebrated a very good February 27 among friends in Dueren, starting with a buffet brunch in the company of Georg and Sylva, some haircuts, a relaxing afternoon of phone calls and emails home, and a party with the Lersch Family, complete with a dance party.

THANK YOU to Georg, Sylva, Anni, Armin, Tina, Astrid, Nanne, Thomas, Jeremy, and Chispi for making our visit to Dueren so wonderful, for opening your hearts and homes to us, and for making David such a very happy birthday boy! We will keep in touch from Sydney, and give you our love.

We started out the day trying to figure out what to do with David's beard... handlebar mustache? regular mustache? And I was just practicing various model faces.

Then meeting up with Georg and Sylva. They have taken such special care of us... "It's standard," they say. It has broadened our understanding of hospitality and graciousness.

A little piece of the party with the Lersch family... Anni made a delicious meal, including this cake (complete with all 34 candles).

The Family... Nanne, Astrid, Thomas, Tina, Anni, and Armin (and David and Gillian).

The dance party. Everyone was moving way too fast for pictures. That's how good of a dance party it was.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Koesoenem Sepen, Andras

Along the Camino, we met so many good people. We had the particular honour of following the same route and staying in the same refugios as Andras, our Hungarian friend we have mentioned a few times before (that he said Mass for us, and that our communication with him involved a lot of drawing and acting skills - like in this picture - until we figured out he spoke German).

But even with limited communication and contact during the day, Andras spoke big things with few words. A satisfied "Aaahhh" meant the refugio was comfortable. An abrupt "Okay" meant he was done trying to figure out what I was saying. And my favourite... after only a couple of brief meetings with Andras, David and I had to take our mandatory rest and he continued on. The day before we started walking again, we took the bus to Astorga and who should walk into the refugio but Andras. Even though we had hardly talked with him in our previous meetings, he smiled a big mustached-smile to see that we were healthy again. We invited him to share in our supper and, as I dished out a plate for him in the kitchen, he thumped his chest. "I," he said, "happy... in my..." and he hit his chest again. "Heart?" I asked. "I am happy in my heart," he replied.

So along the way and with improved communication (thanks, German language), we learned his reason for walking the Camino, we shared more meals and conversation and wine. We looked forward to seeing him at the end of our walk each day. And we arrived in Santiago on the same day, celebrating our finish together. Unfortunately, our trip to Finisterre and coming back to the hostal late the next day meant we missed our chance to say good bye to Andras... we wrote a note and slipped it under his door, realizing how insufficient a farewell this was to someone with whom we shared this momentous journey but asking God that our prayers be enough to honour the friendship.

Honoured, indeed. The day before we left Santiago, we came back to our hostal and found a package left on the bed. "For Gillian + David," the note said. And underneath lay a blank journal - just like the one we used to write back and forth our messages to Andras. It was his gift to us, left at the front desk of the hostal.

Thank you, Andras. We hope you enjoy life on the farm.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Just go a little bit further

At the beginning of the Camino, when choosing a spot to stop for lunch, a restaurant or a photo location, we found that just a bit further down the road was a better choice. So this became a commom theme for us - just go a little bit further.

And that is exactly what we did today. We arrived in Santiago, then went a bit further - by bus for lack of time - to Finisterre, which means "end of the earth." This is a peninsula on the west coast of Spain that was thought, in Medieval times, to be the end of the earth and is the actual end of the ancient pilgrimage route that is now the Camino.

The 3-hour bus ride along the coast was beeeeautiful ... mountains rising out of the ocean with fishing villages nestled here and there. It is a shame we were not able to walk this portion of the Camino (but our feet are happy).

We made a small 3 km trek from the centre of the town to the top of the mountain, where we were rewarded with views down the Spanish coastline and out into the open Atlantic Ocean as far as we could see. If our eyes were good enough, we might even have been able to see Canada. No wonder people thought this was the end of the earth.
Our Camino is over, but we will continue to follow our theme ... we will go a little bit further - all right, a lot further - to Sydney, Australia for the next part of our trip ... working on staff for World Youth Day 2008.

After a short climb to the top of the mountain (much easier without backpacks!) ...

... we were treated to a view of the Spanish coastline ... a peaceful place to sit, look and ...
... write in our journals.

A little further toward the tip of the peninsula ... km 0.

From here, Atlantic Ocean as far as the eye could see ... we could have sat here for hours. We also enjoyed watching and hearing the thunderstorms in the distance.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Here we are!!

We made it!! 500 km, and here we are, in Santiago. We arrived at about 2 p.m. on Friday, February 22 (henceforth known to us as Santiago Day) and walked straight to the middle of the square, put down our bags, and sighed. We are here.

How do we feel? A bit like we have run a marathon, I think. It takes months of preparation, lots of determination, some physical strength, a lot of mental battling - and then you arrive at the end. We´re happy, we´re grateful, we´re tired, we´re a little sad. We are proud of ourselves. And, I think, we would do it all again (in 40 years!!).

After some time in the square, we went inside the Cathedral to say, ¨thanks.¨

Then on to the Pilgrim Office to obtain our Compostela... this certificate states that, yup, we are pilgrims and we walked a long way to get there.

It was such a good walk.

¨... but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts...¨ (Romans 5:3-5)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Last 100...

We´re almost there... we´ve been walking more confidently and in better health this last 100 than any of the ones before them. And we are really good at unpacking and packing our backpacks everyday and setting up ¨home¨in our daily refugio. We feel like we´ve finally gotten into a good rhythm (and we´re a little sad that we only have 100 more km to go... ) and are having such good days of walking and talking. We´re pilgrims!!

See? Here we are, walking and talking. Sometimes I sing made-up songs, sometimes David recites the names of Gillian´s aunts and uncles and cousins, sometimes we talk about what life will be like in 10, 20, or 30 years, and sometimes we are just quiet (but then Gillian usually starts talking again).

Look at this... calla lilies just grow by the side of the road. The views continue to be beautiful. We are walking through more villages and alongside the road (rather than just nature trails) but there are lots of things for our eyes to delight in.

I´m pretty sure the cows don´t live in this house. But maybe they are just watching it while the owners are away.
David with Antonio and Monsy, a Spanish couple who we walked with for a while. They made us laugh and laugh (even though I had no idea what they were saying... David couldn´t translate fast enough).

A rainy afternoon... post-rain (I wouldn´t take the camera out during the rain). We only had two of those on our whole Camino (and we are glad).

Breakfast at our refugio in Ribadiso... this is one of the original pilgrim hospices, beautifully restored. With a very long table in the dining room.

A misty morning on our second last day. After taking this picture, we climbed up a hill, out of the fog, and into the sun.

Sharing a meal with Simon (from Germany) and Andras (from Hungary) in Arca del Pino.

Beginning our walk on the last day... more mist and dew and pretty-coloured houses.

Looking up a eucalyptus tree... we walked through forests of these guys and the smell was wonderful. No wonder we feel so good and healthy.

A Camino monument on Monte de Gozo. We stopped here for lunch on our last day... now only 5 more km (one hour) to go....

Monday, February 18, 2008

Up and Down

... but this time it is not our health!! Now that we have gotten used to the highs and lows of health, we are going through the geographical ups and downs of Spain. Once outside of Astorga, we started entering into rocky territory. Then from there... up and up and up. The morning that we left the town of Villafranca, we walked straight up a 400 m climb (really, sometimes I think a ladder would be more effective than us trying to climb up a rock wall). But the climbs have been in such beautiful weather... we´re both looking quite tanned and we´re down to wearing just one layer (not the multitude of sweaters that I packed).

We´re pretty well past the mountains, now in the rolling hills of the countryside. We´re passing dozens of towns each day, a lot of cows, a gigantic pig, vocal roosters, chickens roaming free (scary), and little lambies. We´re really delighting in all that is around us... in the morning. Afternoons are usually a harder time for us. It´s funny that, even thought we walk different distances each day (sometimes 31, sometimes 20, sometimes somewhere in between) our bodies can tell when it´s the end of the day... things start slowing down, blisters start aching, Gillian starts whining.... So refugios are a welcome sight (especially if they have heating, hot water, and ColaCao).

Tonight we are in Portomarin and, after we update the blog and answer some emails, we´ll head over to the Supermercado... I think we´re making macaronis for supper tonight. Only four more days of walking left... Santiago, here we come!!

An arrow pointing us along the frosty Camino outside of Rabanal. Our mornings start on the chilly side... generally end on the sweaty side.

David at Cruz de Hierro... the highest point on our Camino climb. Here, pilgrims leave rocks from their homeland below the iron cross. We brought ones from Shaunavon and Oakville (not large heavy boulders... just tiny, easy-to-carry rocks).

The same day... there were a lot of ups and downs that day... we thought rather than making us climb up a mountain, then down a mountain, then up a mountain, someone should just build a large suspension bridge.

Our days are filled with views like this. Life is really rough.

(Sorry... sometimes the pictures flip and sometimes they don´t... computers.) This is the Puerta del Perdon, in Villafranca del Bierzo. A long time ago, pilgrims who couldn´t make it to Santiago (because of injury or illness) could receive the same blessings by walking through this door of the church. (If this was the Amazing Race, it would be like a Fast Forward.)

We just climbed from all the way down there to all the way up here.

Once we got to the top of this mountain, we got to eat jam and bread (little motivation tricks). We were very excited.

Past the mountains, through the chestnut groves... sounds like Peter Rabbit. Anyway, we got lost in the chestnut groves, and this woman with a rake helped us find our way.

After the mountains, come the valleys. We followed this river for a few days... little channels split off and flowed through lush, lush fields.

We´re starting to get into farm country. Past these mountains, we entered into a new province, Galicia. There is a Celtic influence in this province... in the buildings, the stone rock walls, even the music! The first town we walked into in this province was O´Cebreiro and there was Celtic music blasting out of the stereos... we wondered just how far we had walked....

Sunday morning and we arrived in Samos, a town built around a monastery (founded in the 900s). We attended Mass here with the monks. Monks don´t care too much about central heating... it was freezing in there.

After Mass, we took a tour of the inside of the monastery... equally cold, but beautiful. But the monk/tour guide spoke so quickly that Spanish David here could not understand what he was saying. So we just looked around and listened for words like Romanico (referring to the Roman period) and Infanta (which refers to the Royal Family children, but which made Gillian think of Fanta... yum).

Spring is springing all around Spain. Little flowers and lambies abound. (Sorry about the snow in Canada.)

David enjoying his Tarta de Santiago. That´s our Hungarian friend Andras looking on in the background. Perhaps he thinks Canadians are weird for taking pictures of cake.

How we start our days... get up, get dressed, get fed, get our feet ready, and then out the door. We usually start with all our jackets on, and then de-layer 15 minutes later. It´s just part of the routine.

We´re in farm country now... that´s a red tractor in the distance, not a green one.

Yayy!! That´s what we said when we saw this sign. Just 100 more km to go!!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

For Devonna and Justin...

... who, we´re quite sure, are checking our blog on their wedding day.

We wish you the happiest of days, the best of weather, the greatest feelings of peace, on this, your day. We want so much to be there with you... but instead we will pretend (and the weather in Spain has been pretty spectacular, so perhaps not much of a stretch from Jamaica?).

May you know love all the days of your life. We walk this day of our Camino for you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine´s Day!!

A smoocheroo in the shadows from Spain!!

We are having a great time walking... feeling good and so happy to be enjoying the countryside of Spain. We are in the mountains now, so some invigorating climbs and beautiful views from the top. We both agree... this is the hardest thing we have ever done, but this is the best thing we have ever done.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Slow and Always

That´s the German way of saying, ¨slow and steady¨... and that´s what we´re doing today. We´re back on the road! We walked all 21 km from Astorga to Rabanal today and are settled into our albergue, preparing for 27 more km tomorrow.

Why the miracle progress, you ask. Yesterday we made a visit to a physiotherapist in Astorga. He basically wrenched the tendonitis right out of my achilles, no mercy. Well, it´s not gone. But he gave us some good advice, taping techniques, and stretching ideas. And, most importantly, he gave us the go-ahead to walk.

And David... the antibiotics seem to be working well, the swelling has gone down, and he has no pain walking so far.

Yippee!! (Slow and always, of course.)

We´re very grateful for our new feet, still pondering the slow down, asking if it was good for us, that sort of thing. One thing we are very happy about is that this has put us on pace with Andras, a pilgrim from Hungary. We have limited communication (mostly pictionary and charades) but he is joy to be around. And - he´s a priest and will celebrate Mass with us this evening (in Hungarian... with charades). David can´t wait to hear "Uraaaaammmirrr..."

Tomorrow, we will reach the highest elevation on the Camino. We´ll be able to see Canada from the top!!

The view from our resting place in Astorga. The sun is nice and warm... we are so lucky. Many people have told us there is usually snow here at this time of year.

Thumbs up! We´re back on the road! And it´s cold in the morning! (As opposed to our resting schedule, which had us taking naps after breakfast, our walking schedule has us on the road around 8 a.m... it´s quiet and peaceful and pretty.)

Leaving Astorga... the Cathedral is in the background... the sun is in the foreground (or really, really in the background, depending on your point of view).

We´ve gone from the prairies to the forests. And tomorrow... mountains. We are topographically privileged.

Laundry day at the refugio. Actually, almost every day is laundry day, because we only have two sets of clothes. And no one likes a stinky pilgrim.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Still Resting ...

Despite the rest from walking with backpacks, Gillian´s ankle didn´t seem to be getting any less swollen, so on Saturday we decided it wouldn´t hurt to check with a doctor to get a professional opinion (all physiotherapy and orthopedic specialists were closed). The doctor told her to stay off it completely for 48 hours ... no walking, no sight-seeing ... nothing.

So in our albergue, rest we did ...

But not before we had one last good Spanish dinner ... with wine of course (for Gillian anyway ... David´s taking antibiotics, so no wine for him - that´s his water in the background). We enjoyed some typical food from Leon, as well as some delicious soup. David enjoyed the various kinds of meat and sausages and Gillian especially enjoyed her new-found favourite - arroz con leche (rice with milk) - which is just like rice pudding, but somehow better.

Then we headed back to our albergue, where Gillian started her stopwatch for her 48 hours of rest. David scanned the small library at the albergue for any english books to keep her busy. He found one right up her alley to keep her nice and busy ...

David also found Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict, and this is what Gillian is doing (between naps) as David types here at the internet cafe. And if she´s not reading or napping, you know just how hard it is for Gillian to sit still, so she pretty much looks like ...

Gillian´s ankle has gotten less swollen since the 48 hours of rest started, and David´s ankle is no longer red and is starting to get less swollen, so things are looking up. Tomorrow we plan to go to the physiotherapist to get an opinion from a professional who understands active people and who can get Gillian´s achilles back in shape to start walking.
Thanks so much for everyone´s prayers ... we´ll let you know when we´re back on the Camino!