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.

Day 11 – Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

When the Camino delivers…new friends (to my left Jo & husband Bryan in the black sweater from Melbourne, Australia; Ditte from Holland; Verena & Giuliano from Switzerland; and Neil from Kent, England to my right) are an unexpected treasure.  A shared dinner with passionate talk on many tender subjects such as politics, healthcare, religion…but we walked away friends.  Buen Camino!

After our chance meeting, lively discussion and entirely too much local red wine to wash down my excellent calamari, I went to bed much later than usual but awoke early and ready to walk.  I love the early morning…it’s always been my favorite time of day, so I was the first pilgrim down for the opening of the breakfast cafe at 7 am.  After a cafe con leche and croissant, I started out for Caldas de Reis.

Pardon senor…can you spare any loose coins?

This is what I should be eating…fresh fruit…instead of all the pan & jamon.

This dapper gent bids me and Pontevedra adieu.

After leaving the fond memories of Old Town in my rear view mirror, I crossed a beautiful bridge and river leaving town.  The sun was just cresting the trees and the air was fresh and brisk.  This was going to be an enjoyable 17 mile walk…I could just feel it in my bones.

The ancient bridge I crossed.

A newer suspension bridge in the distance.

The beautiful workmanship of the older bridge trusses.

After leaving town I made my way up a gradual grade to 150 meters above sea level.  The walk was a perfect balance of challenge and calm.  I saw very few pilgrims my first 2-3 hours, and my paths varied from shaded and wooded through small vineyards to hard surfaces alongside minor roadways.

An unusual stone waymark in the woods crossing a small brook.

Much of my day was walking down beautiful shaded paths like this one.  A peaceful setting for prayer and reflection.

It’s always the final 1/3 of each days walk that is the most difficult.  Your feet start to hurt from the varied surfaces, and in today’s case, from walking too fast the first 2/3 of the way.  So it’s always a treat and motivation to encounter a special tile marker or Galician cross.

Santiago telling me where I can find him.

These Galician crosses are complex…and weathered.  Note St. James below the crucifixtion of Christ.

I love this one of the mother Mary holding her crucified son Jesus.  No mother should have to experience such agony.

So my ultimate entry into Caldas de Reis was uneventful.  There was a  beautiful clear river with footbridge and adjoining cafes upon entry to the city center, but little else of historical note.  I haven’t seen my friends from last night but still may as dinner here in Spain doesn’t start until 8:30 pm.  I’m feeling a bit of the lack of sleep from yesterday and may call it an early night so I can repeat my early morning joy en route to Padron.  Until that post, I’m wishing you all a good day back home.  Know that my morning rosary includes you in my prayers.  Buen Camino family and friends.

I guess the dryers broken again!

The strangest sidewalk brick pattern I’ve seen…it literally makes you dizzy as if you’re walking on waves of water.

A parochial school is right behind our hotel.  I could hear the sound of children playing at recess…Catherine’s favorite sound in all the world.

The impressive bridge entry into Caldas de Reis.

The water was running so clear you could see the fauna bending with the flow.

Day 10 – Redondela to Pontevedra

The stone marker at the head of the bridge Pontesampaio over the Rio Verdugo.  The bridge was built in 1795.

View of the river from the bridge.

Today’s walk was 50% over lovely shaded paths carved out of eucalyptus forests.  The smell was like walking through a Pier 1 store on steroids!

I spent last night in an old farm house that was converted to a restaurant and inn.  Apparently the restaurant has quite a following as the inn was full of both vacationing families and pilgrims.  After waking to the rising sun with the songs of birds filling the air, I met pilgrims from Poland and Spain before heading out for Pontevedra.

Today’s walk was short & pleasant, and it’s a good sign that I’ve turned a physical and psychological corner when I consider 10 miles to be entirely too short.  You know you’re capable of more when you’re at your hotel before the rooms are ready for check in.  High class problem, as there’s time to wander and have a beer.

There’s been days when my backpack felt this large…but not today!

A vineyard along the Way today…

I stopped in the tiny and ancient Capela da St. Maria on the outskirts of Pontevedra to offer some prayers and leave this one from my daughter Cristin…’Let it Be’ Dad…let it be.

The inside of the tiny chapel.

Many pilgrims leave their prayers here after their visit.

Pilgrims also pile prayer stones on waymarkers as they ‘leave their sins behind’…

Pontevedra is the Galician regional capital and home to a modern university and about 80,000 residents.  Their ‘Old Town’ section is very cool and littered with public squares, bars, cafes, commercial shops and tourists.  There’s a lively spirit to Old Town as many are out having a coffee or beer and conversation.  It was a treat to arrive early and hang out watching the many different genres of folks stroll by.

The entrance to one of Pontevedra’s many public squares.

The Convento de San Francisco.

Statue atop the Santuario da Peregrina.

The Convento de San Francisco.

Our beloved St. James!

The impressive Arturo Sauto designed Santuario de Peregrina.  The floor plan is designed in the shape of a scallop shell.

So tomorrow is a bit longer with 17 miles into Caldas de Reis.  I didn’t walk with any pilgrims today.  The ones I encountered were in small groups and the opportunity to start a dialogue didn’t develop.  Perhaps tomorrow will be a different story…we’ll see.  I put the ‘alone time’ to use though as I let my mind go to several topics I have been considering.  Time to think is still the most under appreciated  and valuable commodity there is.

Can Beauty ever be Considered Redundant?

The unique roof line of the Immaculate Conception church where I stopped for morning prayers.
The impressive interior of the church.  Note the 12 apostles prominently displayed on the altar wall.  The question is…which is St. James?

When I left the urban city center of Vigo and slowly made my way out of the city and on my way to Redondela, I had perhaps 75% of my short 10 mile walk today alongside different areas (and views) of the Vigo estuary.  The views were stunning, and I’ve come to expect as much along the coastlines of Portugal and Spain.  So today many of my photos are of those views.  They may seem redundant, but can beauty ever really be considered redundant?  Not to my eye Lord, and I thank You for that.

Old school / new school.  Like walking to cars…both get you from A to B, but at much different paces.

A cruise ship in the Vigo harbor.

Much of my view today was of the Vigo estuary on paths high in the hills.  This made me one happy peregrino.

On the last 1/3 of my walk I had the pleasure of meeting another solo pilgrim…Neil from Kent, England.  Neil and I had stayed at the same hotel in Vigo, but only caught a glimpse of each other at breakfast.  During our chat I came to find out he was a retired doctor that spent the previous 15 years of his career working as a physician on the North Island of New Zealand.  He had some fascinating stories to share about the Mauri native islanders and how they’ve come to blame many of their health and social-economic  problems on the ‘white man’.  Like any story, there’s probably partial truth to this.  He and I are of similar age, both have 3 adult children, but he has grandchildren already.  He enjoys walking and frequents the public links nearby his town for socialization.  What was most impressive about Neil though (at least to me), is that he does volunteer medical work in remote parts of the world as a way of giving back.  He’s traveled to Uganda (where AIDS is an epidemic) and South Africa, diagnosing maladies with insufficient tools and staff.  We discussed religion a bit, and after sharing he was a member of the Anglican Church and me the Catholic Church, we agreed that God doesn’t take denomination qualifiers as an entry to Heaven.  After all, we all worship the same God, yes?  Thank you Lord for the gift of Neil’s company.  May I have the good fortune of walking with him again.

Another magnificent view of Vigo and the estuary.

Vigo’s harbor is important for the shipment of many goods, including the auto’s Citroen, which are made there.

El Gato named Paolo…at least that what he told me his name was!

A backside view of Vigo as I approached Redondela.

Today is May 1, my 9th consecutive day of walking.  I am thankful it was a short walk and the weather was perfect.  I took advantage of both and moved at a leisurly pace (where was this JT on that 2014 French Way Camino my Catherine might ask!).  Neil and I both had the same diagnosis…inflamed and sore feet from all the hard surface walking over the preceding week…especially the cobblestone streets.  Thank you Lord for mostly crushed coquina shell paths today.  Our feet are rejoicing!

Many of the paths were smooth surfaces today…a Godsend!

Sharing the road with bikers and sheep!

Can you imagine waking up to this view every morning?  Many do.  I wonder if they realize how blessed they truly are.

A mural painted on a rock along the Way.

Tomorrow I am scheduled for 20 km as I make my way to Pontevedra.  I wonder what my day will present to me, but I trust that God will deliver…again.  Peace always family & friends.

​Peppercorn carne with double starches and an Estrella Galicia to chase it down.  Yes!

​​As beautiful to look at as it was pleasing to hear.

Angels from Above

I believe in angels.  I think God sends them in many shapes and forms.  On my 2nd day of this Camino I was a little blue at dinner because it dawned on me that I would be riding solo for several weeks, and I was already lonely and missing Catherine.  So who pops into the restaurant but 2 Americano pilgrims from SW Oregon…Jan & Bob.  They were friendly, engaging and we chatted for a brief time.  I ran into Jan & Bob again the next 2 days but haven’t seen them since.  We had a couple great conversations about work, family and Camino’s and I like their perspective on life.  Thank you Lord for sending those 2 angels when I was blue.

A small town festival to bring in May and the national holiday in May.

The stunning Cies Islands in the distance…one of Spains most important national parks.

My Madrid angels…sister & brother Ines & Juan.  God bless you both.

So when I packed up this morning my mood was as dark as the sky.  I was tired and did not want to walk nearly 30 km in the rain, but I had a destination (Vigo) to get to, so I suited up with my rarely used Columbia rain suit.  The last time I wore it was in Wales for the 2010 Ryder Cup when I was working for Scottish golf tour operator PerryGolf.  Rain suits are a bit like insurance policies…you pay a lot for them and use them rarely.  Off I went in spitting rain and high winds.

About 4-5 miles into my walk I rounded a corner and 2 young Spaniards were coming down an adjoining street and we met at the intersection.  After Buenos Dias and Buen Camino’s were exchanged we struck up a conversation that would last all the way into Vigo.  I found out they were brother…Juan an internal auditor for a Madrid bank after a stint in London; Ines his younger sister that was a manager of international advertising sales for the large Madrid newspaper.  To say that they were both interesting and generous with their time is an understatement.  They would wait patiently for this old American as he took off his rain jacket, put it back on, and repeated the cycle at least 6 times throughout the day as we experienced rain, wind, sun…even hail.  All 4 seasons packed into one day.  The really neat thing was they took turns walking with me and the conversations covered careers, families, religion & faith, weather…life.  When we wished each other a continued buen Camino and adios in Vigo, I was a bit sad but oh so thankful for their kindness.  Thank you Lord for these angels at my side today.  And Ines…thank you for the meat empanadas at the festival…a nice late walk treat.  Tell your Mom & Dad that they’ve raised two outstanding human beings.  I hope our paths cross again.

A colorful snail along a wall.  It’s about how fast I was moving early in the day!

Not the best looking girl but an excellent swimmer.

Public cabanas at the Bay of Baiona.

Beach bums hangin’ out.

Geared up and leaving the Parador…but not at all pleased by the prospect.

Tomorrow I have a much shorter walk into Redondela where I leave the Portuguese Coastal Way and join in the original central Camino Portuguese.  Catherine and I had met 4 angels on our French Way Camino in 2014…Joe & Linda Stubbs from Washington DC and Jim & Giselle Thornton from western Canada. We have remained friends and stayed in touch.  Joe & Linda walked the central Camino Portuguese last year, so now we can compare notes for the remainder of my walk into Santiago.  Until then, God bless you all.  Please pray for me.

Tapas and a Mahou Maestro to wind down my day.

A brave soul was Jules Verne to sit on the mighty pulpo at Vigo harbor.

Real Club Nautico.

All manner of ships and boats at the Vigo harbor.

Children riding a Merry Go’ Round at the harbor festival bringing in May and the Monday national holiday.

Carriage ride anyone?