Final Chapter – Unexpected Endings

Those that know me well understand when I say I consider myself a ‘precision guy’.  My preference is to plan, analyze…systematically…and then plan some more.  If you’ve followed my blog up to here, you see that there was a commitment to consistency; to post my activities daily.  That’s also why many of you reached out to me when there was no final chapter upon returning home.  Where is the closure JT?  Is it the bum ankle that waylaid you?  The short answer is ‘no’; but in an ironic twist it probably has played a part in my being able to write this post.

As I wrote on my May 11 post, my blown-out tendon had forced me into bailing on the final 2 legs of my walk into Finisterre.  As it turned out, those 2 days were without question the poorest weather days of the entire journey.  Rain pouring down, wind blowing it at 45 degree angles, temperatures dipping to the mid 50’s but feeling much, much colder.  In other words weather that you get sick in.  Problem was, I was already sick…but much worse than I or anyone knew at that point.  I had left Florida on April 21 with the all too familiar signs of a sinus infection.  I told my wife I should probably go to the doctor and get some antibiotics, and she looked at me as to why it was even a point of discussion.  Problem was we had our inaugural Men’s Night at our church the night before I left and our Discipleship group happened to be hosting.  Between that and being a bit stressed on other packing issues, I neglected to do the one thing I should have prioritized…take care of myself.  It turned out to be a bad mistake as that sinus infection moved down to my chest, morphing into an acute upper respiratory infection, bronchitis and pneumonia.  I knew I was sick when I arrived, but convinced myself that through the daily walking and a regular diet of the expectorant Mucinex that I could manage things until I returned.  Boy was I wrong.  Nearly dead wrong.

By the time the driver dropped me at my hotel in Porto on May 12 I was so weak that I couldn’t carry my suitcase up the stairs.  Later that night was probably the most frightened I’ve ever been in my life.  I awoke mid night to a violent coughing spell, trying in vain to expel a buildup of mucus that had filled my lungs and throat.  When it got caught mid throat and my lungs started to spasm, my head told me I would suffocate right there and die alone in this hotel room.  As I wheezed desperately to take in air I prayed for God’s help.  I made it through that episode and a couple more later that morning and on the plane home, where a justifiably concerned Catherine looked at me and began the search for an urgent care clinic.  I medicated with OTC products until we made it eventually to the ER in Melbourne, where they immediately admitted me and put me on a drip IV of heavy duty antibiotics and steroids.  There I stayed for 3 days under close observation, until released to come home to continue my convalescence. It’s 2 weeks since I returned and I remain very sick and weak.  I hope to see a pulmonologist this week to get a more specialized diagnosis of my coughing and lung congestion.

Morals of the story?  Many.  Recognition of who you are and your condition pre-trip for starters.  Recognition that 10 hour international flights, in compressed air with other sick people, followed by a 6 hour time zone change and different climatic conditions than where you’re from negatively impact your health.  Recognition that the wear & tear from walking 15-18 miles/day and eating different foods, sleeping in different beds every night take their toll.  In combination, these factors proved too much for me to recover from an existing illness, and I nearly paid the ultimate price.  In retrospect, I’m thankful for the hard lesson learned, and certainly for God’s intervention in getting me home safely.

I felt badly about my ankle tendon interrupting my well planned walking schedule, and worse yet about how it transformed the message of my Camino.  The ironic blessing of the hurt ankle tendon was that it kept me from walking in weather that likely would have had me in a hospital in Spain instead of home, so God does work in mysterious ways.  Absent that ending, it was a beautiful trip filled with many lifelong memories.  I had great fortune on the weather until the end, met people I’ll never forget, saw sites that will be indelibly blazoned in my mind, and had some wonderful time…and talks…with God.  For those I’ll be forever grateful.

Walking a Camino is a great privilege. The common icebreaker questions upon meeting other pilgrims are ‘where are you from’ and ‘why are you walking the Camino’?  Many honestly don’t know what the pull was.  Many claim not to be ‘religious’, yet they can’t identify the mystic pull of St. James to his resting place at the Cathedral in Santiago.  The melding of nationalities for a common cause…completing the task…overcomes most of our differences.  Indeed it’s those differences working to a common goal that makes these pilgrimages so very special.

Returning from my 2nd Camino, striping away the focus on my illness, evoked many of the same emotional and spiritual feelings as the first.  While happy to be reunited with my bride, I had an overall sense of preferring isolation.  My heightened sensitivity to life as I left it, with all the corresponding noise, busyness and expectations was, frankly, depressing to return to.  Instead of my eye seeing the beauty of new surroundings, I saw yard work to be performed, emails to answer, bills to be paid, aging parents to be tended to.  Life as I knew it, and left temporarily behind, was eager to get back in my face and invade my peace.  That’s why, in light of all the pain, stress and strife involved in walking a Camino, I would gladly pick up my backpack and walk another.  They are simply that special on so many fronts.

I always encourage my family and friends to walk a Camino if that door cracks ajar in their lives.  I know firsthand what awaits them and how life changing they can be.  The fraternity of pilgrims that have completed their walks may find it hard to express their feelings to others upon returning, but the kindred spirit we share is undeniable.  I can only hope that you come to understand what I mean when I say that.

I do want to thank you for following my blog and encouraging me along the way.  Your support and prayers were very uplifting for me, and I hope in some small way I vicariously changed your life as well.  That was certainly my hope.  That was certainly my prayer.  To those other pilgrims I met and befriended in Portugal and Spain, no matter how briefly our time together, know that your friendship will last a lifetime…and that I truly hope our paths cross again.

Until that day arrives, Buen Camino / Bom Caminho peregrinos.  May God bless you and your families abundantly.

 

To the End of the World

Finisterre, or ‘finis terre’, was once thought to be the ‘end of the world’.  It’s easy to see why when you stand at Faro de Fisterra and marvel at the vastness as land gives way to endless ocean.  It is truly a spectacular sight, one everyone should strive to visit, and one I’ve had the good fortune of seeing twice now.  It is one of the Camino’s great hidden treasures and renown as the westernmost  point in Europe.

The Fero de Fisterra…the final edifice at the end.

Ara Solis…the altar to the sun.

Way mark 0.00 km…the finish!

The cross just below the Faro de Fisterra.  It’s straight down to the sea from here.

No, that’s not my boot…but it could be!

The gorse with it’s yellow bloom and thorny edges is a fitting plant for the craggy coastline of Finisterre.  The different shades of blue as the water crashed against the shore were brilliant.

Today, special in so many ways, was not only the end of my pilgrimage, but happens to be my 63rd birthday.  Celebrating here may not be as cool as my 60th with Catherine in Pamplona, but it’s a close 2nd.  The Hotel Rustico Spa I’m in is quaint, charming and has great views of the ocean from the room windows.  I’m on the western facing side, so I’m told the sunset is spectacular, but it’s also very late (approx 10 pm) being so far north and west.  It won’t make this blog post, but hopefully tomorrow’s as I begin my trek back to Porto for my flight home on Saturday.  When I arrived here early afternoon the weather was really brutal…high winds, cold and raining…sometimes very hard.  To escape that into the warmth of this quaint inn, and then have a truly unexpected surprise…the gift of fine cheese, sausages, hams, bread, wine and a slice of birthday cake…all arranged by our daughter Meghan…was very emotional.  Thank you Megie!  One of the best birthday gifts ever!

Spanish birthday cake!  That’s one heckuva candle, no?

Look what a beautiful and delicious spread Megie had waiting on me when I arrived.

The birthday boy with inn proprietor Juan…a really good guy.

Oh Santiago…the weather you endured when taking your message of love and salvation to the people of Spain.  God bless you good and faithful servant.

A distant and majestic view of Faro de Fisterra.

The perfect place to give thanks for a safe pilgrimage.  Thank you Lord.

Gorse and the endless Atlantic frame the Faro de Fisterra.  It’s quite a sight to see.

The vast Langosteira Beach surrounding Cape Fisterra.

My injured left ankle isn’t any worse today, but it’s also not any better.  My good friend Briant back home happens to be a Podiatrist, but he also happens to be vacationing with his bride Nydia off the coast of Portugal in Madeira.  I took a chance yesterday and sent him a picture of my swollen ankle with hopes he’d have a suggestion.  Thankfully he received the message and responded that he thought I had some posterior tendon issue he coined as PTTP…but then went on to say that we should probably rename it to mean ‘Portuguese Trail Tendon Problem’.  Yeah, that’s what 265 miles will do to you when you take a city car offroad.  Somewhere along my walk from Melbourne Beach to Key West I blew a tire in Marathon.  These walks really are insane when you start putting numbers to maps.  Catherine and I walked the equivalent of Melbourne Beach to Atlanta in 2014…and not on smooth, flat roads.  This one was supposed to be ‘just’ 300 miles.  The mind was willing, but the body didn’t agree.  Life happens on the Camino.  You learn to deal with it.

Only in Spain does the snack bar sell sardines and wine.  You’ve gotta love the Spanish!

Better than Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew, right?

I’m very glad to be here…even more glad to be finished and heading home!

The PTTP syndrome…hurts like hell.

I had to go for the risotto with pulpo and shrimp last night…and a Rioja to chase it.

Tomorrow I have a typical 3.5 hour car trip back to Porto, Portugal that will probably be more like 4.5-5 hours based on word that there will long security lines crossing the border due to Pope Francis being in Fatima for the 100 year anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.  That’s worth the delay.  An amazing time to be in Spain & Portugal.  Buen Camino family and friends.  Adios St. James…Buenos tardes on Saturday Catherine when we’re together again at MIA.  I can’t wait to see you honey…I’ve missed you very much.

From Cee to Shining Sea

Today I took the only true option available to me…a cab from Olveiroa to Cee.  The family owners of the inn at Olveiroa, from the Dad that checked me in, to the daughter that translated my English, to her Mom who cooked the meals, to Tony who drove me to Cee this morning…these folks were angels that showed kindness and provided assistance to a peregrino in need.  My hopes for an improved ankle were dashed the minute I tried to stand from bed.  This is not a minor injury but will have to await further diagnosis until I return to the States on Monday.  But I am safely in my hotel in Cee and it feels good to be here.

Tony…the young man who drove me to Cee today and showed me many of the stunning sights along the Way.  God bless you young man.

The remainder of my post today is of 2 incredible spots we stopped at to marvel and both God’s and man’s works.  The panoramic views of Cee from above (with Finisterre in the distance), and the engineering marvel where the Xallas River meets the Atlantic Ocean.  The cascading flow of water to this confluence is where there is a one-of-a-kind hydroelectric station where 5 turbines are spun 24/7/365 to produce electricity for the Galician coast.  I hope the pictures and video capture at least a minimal experience of what I witnessed.  By the way, Tony told me that had I not injured my ankle and taken a car trip, that I would NOT have been able to witness either of these sights as the pilgrim path was much more inland.  A problem that created an opportunity.  Found treasure.  Thank you Lord for the gift of this day.

Where Cee meets the sea…wow!

The seaside town of Cee with Finisterre (the ‘end of the world’) in the cloudy distance.

This mountaintop is where the cycling Camino ends.  With my injured ankle, may I catch a hitch senora?

The view was purely majestic.

The confluence of the Xallas River to the brackish water below.

Thunderous roars of water cascading down well worn rock facings.

​The descent starts up here…

​Look, listen and enjoy.  What God has provided through nature, man has harvested for the benefit of many.

From Agony to Ecstasy

As I left Negreira bound for Olveiroa my walking notes said “prepare for a long day”.  OK, so what’s different with that and most days?  What they should have said is ‘ this is a RIDICULOUSLY long day…25 miles of walking through open farmland, up & down severe grades, and with no cafes or places to sit and rest your weary feet and bones in between.  Lord have mercy, this was my definition of agony.  You see, it wasn’t just my blisters and bruised toenails from the previous 17 days of walking long distances; it wasn’t just my sore back and aching meniscus repaired knees; and it wasn’t just the bacterial crud on my chest I’ve been living with for 2 weeks.  Now there was a new bedfellow, one I hadn’t encountered before.  I had a notion of his visit the previous day before arriving Santiago as I started to feel an odd sharp pain in the front of my left ankle.  I had brushed it off as yet another ache or pain associated with the miles on the odometer.  I suppose the day off walking in Santiago allowed this visitor to lurk in the shadows, waiting to pop out on the longest walking day of my life.  And pop out it did…literally & figuratively…on the last 6-8 miles of that walk.

Leaving Negreira…note the pickpocket behind me.  Beware peregrino!

The early paths were quiet and lovely.

As we scaled mountain ridges I ran into a crest of wind turbines making electricity.

It was when I encountered the sole cafe for a midday cafe con leche and a pastry, and removed my rain pants to inspect this now throbbing ankle pain, that I discovered that someone had surgically implanted a golf ball into my ankle.  There was this pronounced bump with redness and swelling around it that underscored the pain.  Another pilgrim, watching this discovery unfold, said ‘oh yay…you’ve ruptured a tendon’.  You didn’t need a medical license to see something was very wrong.  What were my options out in the middle of nowhere?  Proceed.  With caution.  The last 6-8 miles took me literally 3 hours to traverse as I would step with my right foot and slide my left.  Not pretty, but pretty damn painful.  I finally arrived at my hotel, showered, took Aleve and placed inflammation pads on the ankle.  It’s still very sore this morning but there is no walking for me today.  This is a day-to-day observation…disappointing as the finish line was so close.  Life happens.

The barren coastal scrub alongside many of the paths.  Reminds me of northern Scotland.

The Spanish ‘pick me up’ of cafe con leche and apple pie.  Sugar & caffeine…what can be better?

One of the many Galacian granaries seen in the farming districts.  Harvested crops are stored here for preservation.

The weary mind plays tricks on you.  I swear this cow whispered ‘eat more chikin’ when I passed by.  Out of respect, I ordered the pollo for dinner.

Part of the vast farming meadowlands distinct for the lack of homes and people.

So as I crested this agonizingly steep hill, a revelation hit me as I turned to take in the glorious view behind me.  What did I know of adversity when others go days without food or clean water?  What did I know of pain when friends of mine have lost spouses and children; when my own brother has lost a son?  Our discipleship group back home reads devotionals from Streams in the Desert and My Utmost for His Highest, and a repeating theme is how the Lord teaches us ecstasy from agony.  How else would we know His love when that ecstasy arrives?  The pain only serves to prepare us, to sharpen our rough exteriors, to break us down from the pride and hubris that disrupts our ability to love.

Part of the ecstasy that awaited me.  Thank you Lord for the reward of these views.

It took a long time, a lot of sweat, blisters and pain to reach this mountaintop.  Amazing!

Today has started gray and wet.  It can’t always be paradise.  Life gives you the spectrum of good and bad.  I’ll take today as the gift it’s intended to be.  Rest, quietness…stillness.  Thank you Lord for guiding my way.  Buen Camino.

A Bittersweet Day…Santiago to Negreira

Good morning Lord.
Oh St. James…you picked such a lovely spot to rest your weary bones.

When I woke today to the sound of my 6:30 am alarm, I struggled to get out of bed, not being sure what was more sore…my feet, my ankles, my knees or my back.  I felt every bit of my age…and then some.  Then I pulled open the window curtains and saw this glorious sunrise over the Catherdral.  I did not want to leave Santiago.  Do you blame me?

I encountered some unique way markers today.

OK, I get the idea…it’s that way!

With due respect to Finisterre and it’s ‘end of the world’ history, it felt anticlimactic to pack my bag for another 4 days of long walks instead of for home.  I was tired and missing my wife BADLY.  I had so wanted to see and kiss her sweet face and have a bottle of wine, telling her all about my journey.  Instead I faced 17 miles of mostly uphill graded paths and roadways until I limped in mid afternoon.  My body felt like a union shop on a work stoppage.  Nothing worked.  Even blisters popped and covered in trusty Compeed bandages hurt like hell as new neighbors formed alongside them.  Then a tendon in my left ankle decided to join the strike and my stride slowed to a crawl.  Would I ever get to this Negreira, and if I did, would I be a wounded version of myself.  Today was just flat out hard physically and mentally.  But then the Lord delivered…a beautiful waterfall and old medieval bridge rejuvenated my spirit enough to get me to the finish line.

I wish all my paths today were this nice…they weren’t.

Beautiful blooms along a wall.

Yes sir, I hear you loud & clear!

A hunter in action.

I used my ‘cat whisperer’ skills to get this kitty to chill.

​A medieval bridge I crossed over on my walk today.

​This made my day.  The sound and sight were refreshing.

So tomorrow’s walking notes say to expect an 8 hour walk, my longest yet.  They advise to start early and not take too many breaks.  Did they know that the weather forecast is for 100% chance of rain and a high of 60 degrees?  Double argh.  I’m going to ‘give it up’ to you Lord.  I’ll take up my cross and do the best I can.  Buen Camino.

Farewell my Beloved Santiago 

When I awoke to a stunning sunrise my emotions were scattered. Part of me wanted to shut off the alarm and go back to sleep and stay another day. Part of me wanted to pack for home. None of me wanted to tie boot straps and sling a backpack over my shoulders, but here I am doing just that.

My second trip to Santiago has been more than I could have hoped. Perfect weather, 3 visits to the Cathedral, obtaining my Compostela of Completion and enjoying the energy of the city. It is truly a unique place.

Good morning Lord.

St. James…I love your resting spot. Well done good and faithful servant.

A cross in the sky on the way to 7:30 pm Mass on Sunday. Coincidence? I think not…

​The majestic Convent of San Francisco.

​Street artist fill the air with music on many corners in Santiago.

And so I bid you fare thee well Santiago…I will miss you. Perhaps the Lord will bless me with a future visit to your magical grounds. Wishing you all a blessed Monday. Buen Camino!

A Day in Santiago…

Hola family and friends.  Today is my first day without walking since April 23 and the wall of exhaustion hit me as the adrenaline waned.  Of course I was able to rally to eat a huge breakfast and lunch and do some shopping, but was disappointed to find that the daily Mass in English operates on the other 6 days of the week.  So I popped in to the Cathedral to hug St. James and catch the tail end of the 10 am Spanish Mass.  This time I sat on a different angle than yesterday to see the Botafumeiro swing above my head.  A bit scary to be sure, but certainly more so for the 6 Tiraboleiros as it appears to barely miss hitting their heads.  High risk, low pay job…but oh are the spiritual benefits amazing!

A beautiful morning dawns in Santiago.

Statue of Mary in the Cathedral.

This one is my favorite…so loving.

The back of the St. James statue they let you touch and give thanks for a safe journey.

​One of the impressive ceilings within the Cathedral.

​Just watch and be in awe…

So tomorrow I pack up again and start the 4 day leg to Finisterre.  The forecast is for nice weather tomorrow, but then my Camino gets rugged to finish as the final 3 days are forecast to be cold and 80-100% chance of rain.  Staying healthy as well as upright will be the goal.  Lord give me the strength to finish this pilgrimage.  I asked for this to end on my 63rd birthday in Finisterre; I have faith you’ll continue to hold me in the palms of your merciful hands.  Thank you for all the blessings you’ve given me Lord.

Pilgrims up and about early on Sunday.

And now you understand why pilgrims lose very little weight, even when walking long distances daily.  The pastries and coffee are superb.  Trust me….I’ve tried them all!

2 mimes performing in the Cathedral square.  Note that the one dressed as St. James appears to be floating.  I wasn’t about to ask how!

​I volunteered to have my swollen and bruised feet used for this sculpture.  Payment?  A pastry and cafe con leche, of course!

​Many street performers serenade the pilgrims in the squares.  This bagpipe player probably wouldn’t make the cut in Scotland, but in Spain he’s ‘prime time’.

A Special Destination is Reached…Teo to Santiago de Compostela.  Day 14 along the Portuguese Camino Way

When one sets a goal, and visualizes the completion, generally there is great joy and satisfaction upon reaching that physical, mental or spiritual ‘destination’.  Catherine and I had walked the French Way Camino in 2014, with the goal being Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of St. James remains.  When we reached that destination we had different reactions.  Catherine was overwhelmed with joy to visit the Cathedral and see all the St. James memorabilia.  I, on the other hand, felt a bit overwhelmed and disoriented by all the hoopla in the square fronting the Cathedral and adjoining streets.  Whatever solitude I had been able to reach was eroded by the loud noises, crowds and snapping cameras.

So as I woke early this morning, partly by the sound of pouring rain and partly by anticipation of reaching Santiago, I wasn’t sure how I would feel this time around.  I walked the short 15 km solo in off and on rain, encountering some of my favorite things…bird song filling the air, fog over fields before the rising sun burned it off, small running brooks, blooming flowers…and stray kitty cats.  All of those were gifted to me this morning.  The Lord has been generous with me on this Camino.

I’d be spooked if I was a bird.

Maybe not with her though…

This is the antithesis of walking on A1A.  I’ll miss these uncrowded, unspoiled paths.

This kitty had an elevated seat…part of why he’s so mellow with my passing.

Only 11+ km to Santiago.  The prayer stones get piled higher the closer we get.

Reminds me so much of our years in Manakin-Sabot, VA.  It’s easy to pray in these settings.

I knew I was getting close when I passed a Way marker that showed <5 km to Santiago, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotion of the first sighting of the city in the distance.  It was pure, unadulterated joy.  That’s hard to find in this ‘instant gratification’ world we live in.  I had worked hard for that view, just as we had done in 2014.  My beat up feet, sore knees and back, and mental exhaustion was the price I paid.  I would do it again.  Unqualified.  I experienced another emotion a couple hundred yards later.  I had rounded a corner and headed severely uphill with the view of Santiago now to my back, and I was not looking forward to the thigh burn from the climb…I wanted that view again…NOW.  But since the Lord MADE ME slow down on that climb, I decided to take the time to thank Him for allowing me to arrive safely and for all the pilgrims and angels I had met along my Way.  It was then I had a burst of genuine love…for my Catherine, and for our 3 children.  I can’t express the power of pure love, but you all have surely felt it.  A welcomed joy.

The sound of running water is soothing and peaceful when on a long walk.

An old gated entry way.

It’s OK kitty…I won’t mess with your food bowl.

My initial sighting of Santiago far in the distance.  Be still my heart!

So when I reached the Old Town section of this ancient city, the streets narrowed, the cobblestone streets echoed the voices of pilgrims, and the energy of the area was undeniable.  This entry to the Cathedral was completely different than the one from the French Way, but both are special in their own way.  It was easy to follow the tall spires of the Cathedral to her steps, and…I was BACK!  It felt so good this time.  I know I was by myself, but St. James made sure that Catherine was by my side, hand in hand, as I scaled the steps to the grand entrance.  Thank you honey for being at my side.

The intricate carvings around the church are true works of art.

The ornate statue of horses leaping out of the water in the Prada das Praterias square.

The invariable throng of tourists and pilgrims gathering at the steps to the Cathedral.

I’m filled with joy to be one of them!

A combo view of the horse statue and front steps to the Cathedral.

Since I left Teo so early, arriving in Santiago around 10:45 am, I decided to go in to the Cathedral and secure a good seat for the 12 noon Pilgrim Mass.  Mission accomplished as I was in the 4th row from the front of the altar, with a straight on view of the large statue of St. James behind the altar.  They keep the church very cold to counter the throngs of people crowding every Mass, and as I was still a bit wet from walking in the rain, I had a chatter to my teeth and chill to my limbs.  As Mass began, it was certainly worth it.  There had to be 12 priests concelebrating the Mass, and certainly no need for EMHC!  Although it was in Spanish, the beauty of the Catholic Mass is it’s consistency and tradition, making it easy to follow.  As the conclusion was near, 8 men in garnet velour robes came in and assumed positions around the then still Botafumeiro…a large silver colored incense burning Orb…and proceeded to fill it with incense, light it, and start the most awesome display of pulling down hard on ropes wrapped around pulleys to get the Botafumeiro swinging from side to side.  You can almost feel the air sucked out of the church as the attendees look on in awe.  It’s an experience I hope you all get to in your lifetime.

The magnificent Cathedral of Santiago, under renovation with scaffolding around all sides.

The large statue of St. James behind the altar.  I had a straight on view of him.

​3 gifts in one shot…the Botafumeiro in the foreground, the celebrating priests behind it, and the statue of St. James behind them and the altar.

​The Botafumeiro in action.  Remarkable…truly.

So what now?  Unlike most pilgrims who hurriedly fly home and step back into the shock of their lives left temporarily behind, I arranged my trip to enjoy a 2nd full day in Santiago.  I intend to go back to the Cathedral for Mass and to really walk the inside and take in all the St. James lore.  I’d also like to walk the bustling streets, visiting any shop that catches my eye for potential souvenirs, and most certainly take in a couple cafe con leches and pastries.  Then I’m off to the Finisterre Way…another 87 km added to the 372 km just completed.  I arrive in Finisterre on May 11, my 63rd birthday.  A fine gift indeed for this aging pilgrim.  I’ll be alone for dinner that evening, but I’ll most certainly feel the love from my family and friends, even in their absence.  This last leg of my pilgrimage stands to be the most reflective yet, as very few pilgrims continue on this trek by foot, so it has every opportunity to be the most profound.  That’s my hope.  That’s my prayer.  Buen Camino!

Day 13 – A rainy walk from Padron’ to Teo

Unlike most other pilgrims I’ve met on this Camino who are walking into Santiago today, I set my trip up under a ‘split plan’ where I did 15 km today and 15 km tomorrow, preferring to arrive into Santiago for my rendezvous with St. James fresh…and as fate would have it…dry.  Those poor souls that are doing 30 km today are doing it in cool & wet weather.  That’s a true test of spirit after being tired and sore from the previous 12 days of walking 15-18 miles/day.

The flowers along the paths were ‘singing in the rain’…

Had to swap out the straw fedora for my trusty Canes cap.  Who said the Hokies are the only ones bringing the Lunch Bucket to work!

Nice walking weather IF those clouds hold on to that water!

Amazing how grubby you can get w/o shaving for 12 days…yikes.  Don’t worry honey, I’ll clean up after I finish my walk.

Most of my new friends blasted off around 8 am due to the weather, distance, and desire to get their Compostela and attend the 7:30 pm Pilgrim’s Mass at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.  Me?  I had no incentive to jump out into the rain, knowing I only had 10-12 miles to walk today, so I left around 9 am.  I walked alone today, and as I’ve written before, I actually prefer that.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t encounter some cute and unusual things…like a family that has been walking the Camino with the Dad pushing a stroller with a baby, while the Mom has had a smaller child on her person with a Snuggly.  Pretty unusual.  And later I ran into a family of sheep feeding at a grass bin.  One kept jumping up on the fence, and I swear, calling out to me.  I admit to answering back.  Maybe I should stop walking alone!

It’s a family affair!

This guy wanted to have a chat with me.  Scary thing is I was answering back.  I probably should walk with another pilgrim tomorrow don’t you think?

The stone walls are bursting with small blooming flowers.  The rain just made everything pop.  Very pleasing to the eye and uplifting to the weary soul.  Thank you Lord.

Lots of small wine grapes growing.  I think they all harvest and sell to a coop.  I can tell you this…the local wines are just excellent…and reasonably priced.

About 2 miles from my inn I had the good fortune of running into my new Australian and Swiss friends, who were just popping out of a cafe for a refreshment and rest.  They looked tired and were walking very slowly.  Still upbeat, they confirmed they were headed for Santiago today.  I caught them again briefly at my inn just as I arrived, and they looked with envy at the dynamite old rural casa and well known restaurant.  You didn’t need to be a mind reader to know they would have loved to shed those packs and wet clothes and come have a glass of wine & tapas by the fireplace.  I felt somewhat guilty about having a reservation here…but only for about 5 minutes!  It’s the perfect place to rest and reflect, both of which I intend to engage in.

A hauntingly beautiful path enveloped in shade.  What a grandiose entry.

The row of crosses signify the approaching cemetery.

The grand cathedral near Teo.  Once again, the church was locked.  Very sad.

Some churches have apparently leased out portions for commercial activity.  Hmmm…

So as I conclude today’s post my eyelids are very heavy and there’s a leather couch near a fireplace calling my name.  It’s saying, ‘JT…come lay down and close your eyes for a well deserved siesta.  I will rejuvenate you so you can find all the meaning you came for on your walk into Santiago tomorrow’.

Thank you for walking along with me.  I needed you.  Know that I prayed for you.  Tomorrow will be special for me.  I wish my bride Catherine was with me so we could walk the Cathedral steps hand in hand and attend the pilgrims Mass together.  Honey, know I have you tucked neatly away in my heart.  There you will forever stay my love.  Promise.

The sitting room at the quiet & peaceful Casa Parada de Francos.

An equally peaceful & quiet back yard to the property.  A great place to read a book in a rocker or have a cup of tea and a chat.

Maybe I’ll refresh my Virginia fire building skills this evening.  The weather is conducive!

Day 12 – Caldas de Reis to Padron

On the trail to Padron…
Walking mates Neil from Kent, England (left) and Benjamin from Hamburg, Germany.

An old church we encountered on our walk today.

Sheep keeping the grass mown.

Coming off maybe my best day in Pontevedra, Caldas de Reis was maybe the low point of the trip so far.  I had just come off this magical chance dinner with 6 other pilgrims from across the globe, and I had walked solo into this town that had zero charm or history.  Then I found out the wifi was super slow meaning my blog post got stuck somewhere in cyberspace when trying to post.  Late that evening I ran into a walking mate from a previous day, Neil Robertson, and we had a bite to eat.  I asked Neil if he was OK if we walked the 15 miles into Padron today, and he agreed, so off we set this morning for our destination.  It was a relatively quiet start with more bird song than human voices…which is always a good thing.  Many of the paths were along wooded forests and there were virtually none of the dreaded enemy…bikers.  A short way into our journey we ran into Benjamin from Hamburg, Germany…a theater actor in musicals back home…and he joined us for about half our walk.

All these small farms and vineyards we passed are kept going by hard working farmers.

Generations of women keeping life sustainable in the small farm towns.

Santiago looking a bit grim at a cemetery we passed.

An usual canopy of trees on our path that were perhaps twisted by the wind.

When we arrived in Padron we thought it was going to be a replay of Caldas de Reis…an industrial town low on character.  Boy were we wrong.  Little did we know that Padron has significant Camino history and actually furnishes their own official Certificado called a Pedronia if you visit 3 historical sites within the city.  Since we had arrived early afternoon we decided to give it a go, and boy are we glad we did.  The first, Fuente del Carmen, and third, the church of Santa Maria de Iria were both beautiful and historic, but our second stop…to Monte Santiaguino, the starting point of St. James’ ministry on the Iberian Peninsula, was powerful and peaceful.  We both agreed that the Holy Spirit was present at this spiritual site.
One of the great Jacobean treasures, the original stone O Pedron’, beneath the altar at Igrexa de Santiago.  The stone is where the town got it’s name.

The altar at Igrexa de Santiago church.

Scenes of our Lord’s crucifixition and Hades at Igrexia de Santiago church.

St. James (Santiago)

Convento do Carme

A scalloped shell font at the entry to Monte Santiaguino.  The translation of the inscription is “so that all may speak His name”.  Indeed Lord…indeed.

There was an incredible sense of peacefulness at this site.  I believe it was the Holy Spirit.

The site where St. James first preached and baptized pilgrims.  Powerful.

The church of Santa Marie de Iria.

A statue of St. James.

This statue of Jesus was mezmerizing…as if He was looking into your soul.

St. Micheal the Archangel doing battle with the devil.

 Mother Mary.

So after receiving our Pedronia Certificado’s, Neil and I had dinner at the hotel and discussed tomorrow.  He, along with most pilgrims I’ve met thus far, walk the 30 km into Santiago, whereas I have a ‘split day’ and only walk approximately 15 km into a town called Teo.  I then have the short walk into Santiago on Saturday.  I’ll surely miss these new friends I’ve made, one of the most special benefits of walking a Camino.  I am particularly thankful to have made the friendship of Neil, whom I’ve been able to share much of my life stories to…and him to me.  Safe travels home new friend and Buen Camino.  I hope the good Lord allows our paths to cross again.

Purple blooms on a tree in Central Park.

The grounds of Central Park.

An unusual stone formation at the Park.A statue of a peregrino in city center.

My awesome sister-in-law is named Dolores!

Not sure if Camilo would have been happy with this bust of him displayed prominently in town.