4 April - Faro, the Algarve, Portugal
Firstly, Easter blessings and joy to you all. :-)
I am travelling pretty slowly along the coast, enjoying the sunshine (albeit with cold winds), reluctant to go too quickly north, as weather is rainy and cold - yuk! So, I am trying to get my timings right so that I end up in Santander exactly on time for the weekly ferry at the end of April.
The cycling has been pretty enjoyable since Seville: fairly flat. There is an abundance of flowers and so, for the past few days, I have been cycling blessings. I have allocated different coloured flowers to specific people and so, whenever I pass these flowers, I send blessings to the people in question. My children are being sent loads because theirs are yellow flowers and there is a huge preponderance of them. It's great fun and helps me keep my sense of humour, especially when I encounter the sudden end of a perfectly good road due to roadworks and have to push my bike through soft sand of a woodland track for a couple of miles. Whilst grunting along I see some flowers and send some blessings - and lo and behold, start smiling and feeling good about everything. :-) I have also allocated to olive orchards and pine forests, thanks for all the blessings I have received and to all the people who have been the instigators of them. It's wonderful.
The other day I cycled 99.98 miles!! If I had realised it, I would have continued cycling up the road and back again just to make the century. Having said that, it would probably not have been a good idea: the reason for the almost 100 miles was that I did a 25 mile circle back to the starting point 3 hours later and, then, at the end of the day, cycling a further 10 miles looking for the campsite and so, going up the road and back actually could have turned out to be another 10-mile detour!!
I continue to meet friendly people, including a load of Irish people: 4 lots in the last 4 days. One of them was a composer and spoke with a lovely, soft Dublin brogue. We spent a couple of hours chatting and then I started off on my day's cycling at about 11, still covering 50 miles quite easily.
Today has been great: the weather was wonderful: blue, cloudless skies. But also I had a bit of an Epiphany: I have been struggling with various issues and have felt heavily burdened with them. Today, though, with perfect timing on this Resurrection Easter Sunday, I seem to have sorted things in a way akin to Job, ie. when he gave up demanding answers from God and just trusting him that all will be well. At the same time, I reminded myself that there is good in every situation; and even if it is not clear at the time quite what that good is, it is important simply to put my trust in God. And I feel so much lighter within myself as a result. I know, this is very personal and probably totally ambiguous to you, but I felt I wanted to share it.
8 April - Lisbon
The weather has continued warm/hot and, more importantly, dry. :-). I have continued camping until arrival today in Lisbon, when I came upon a great hostel, (yes! hostel) centrally-located, friendly, comfortable, well-priced, accommodating (eg, allowing my bike to be kept safely in the dorm, thereby limiting occupancy to 2 instead of 5!).
The countryside has been beautiful and the variety of flowers are increasing. The downside has been the Portuguese drivers. :-( The roads have no hard shoulders, (or, if they do, they are so rough, you travel at half the speed and with twice the effort and so you return to the main highway) and the drivers go so fast and are totally reluctant to change their line of direction by anything more than a few inches, that these are roads on which I have felt almost my most vulnerable during the whole of my trip!
Since my personal epiphany on Easter Sunday I feel as though I have had a weight lifted from me, that I have been set free, that God's love has now come to rest inside me in a real and tangible way. It's as if it had been in a waiting room next to my heart, the door from it kept firmly shut by the pressure of all the angst and anguish pushing against it, and that, when I let go of all that pain, the door of the waiting room then opened so easily and God's love flowed into my heart. I feel as though I have been re-born, renewed, and that the future holds no fear for me any more. Instead of agonising over the past and fearful of the future, I find myself, at last, living the present! It has been a painful process, but it's exactly where I have wanted to be for so long.
I appreciate that this will sound pretty schmaltzy to some and I'm sorry to make you feel uncomfortable [or am !? It's good to be out of your comfort zone occasionally! :-) ], but this has been one of the main hopes for my cycling pilgrimage and I am delighted.
I should like others to know the same sense of freedom as I now have, especially people such as the guy I met early on in my trip, who, because we have kept in sporadic contact, I know a little of his situation. A few years ago, in his early 50s, he gave up everything: a good job, a comfortable home, a loving family, to live the free life. He is a lovely man and does good works in his free life. However, lately he is realising that , as he becomes older, he will travel less (which has been the major aspect of his free life) and, because he has given up everything, has only the prospect of a lonely, unhappy old age. He is in this situation because, by his own admission, he thought the free life meant being totally self-centred and doing things with only him in mind, regardless of how it affected anyone else. To me it seems the 'free life' has come at a high price and, instead of giving him freedom, has actually enslaved him into someone who is not happy with what he has become, but can see no way out. I mention him particularly, but there must be many who are like him, in the wrong place, not necessarily able to see a way out. Having now received such a release and freedom from all that bound me and weighed me down, I would want all people to have the same. It just needs that person to Seek God, Ask him for freedom and then Receive it.
Today, I went to the Church of Many Martyrs and received a carimbo (stamp) de Santiago in my pilgrim passport. I now start the Portuguese Camino to Santiago.
13 April - Porto
The weather has continued to be exceedingly kind to me: sunny, warm/hot and, above all, dry; albeit with headwinds. I have had some lovely days along quiet country roads, but, whenever travelling the main roads, the traffic is not pleasant and still causes me concern.
The other day, a bit of a panic: three weeks before the end of my trip sees me along a quiet hilly road, completely stimied - cos I have no gears!! One moment fine, the next, nothing! Luckily, this happened to happen outside a car repair shop; the only problem being that it was closed! During the following hour, after the obligatory tears at such a catastrophe, I had flagged down 3 appropriate vehicles (ie. to transport me to a reasonably-sized town (ie with the possibility of a bike shop), who decided they could not help me, when a reaonably-sized car stopped and a couple got out asking me if I had a problem. I cried out my situation to them, at the same time that a mechani came along to open up the garage. However, he looked at my bike, decided he couldn't do anything to help, which left the couple to transport bike, baggage and me to the town to which I was headed, depositing me at the local Bombeiros (fire department) - (they take in pilgrims), supplying a floor for the night and a hot shower. A couple of them ended up replacing the broken part with the spare one I happened to have with me. Hooray. Something always turns up!
Another repair required recently was a nut and bolt to a rear pannier. Easy, I could do that; after all, I had a small bag of nuts and bolts that I'd been carrying with me throughout the last 2 years. So, bolt screwed in, washer slipped on, nut screwed on -- oh, no actually, doesn't need screwing, it's big enough just to slip on - ie, it was too big!! And all the nuts were the same. I had been given an assortment of nuts and bolts - that didn't actually fit together!! My fault - should have checked them before departing on my trip. I just assumed that they would be compatible!! Anyway, I found a little garage on leaving Coimbra, thus able to swap the too-large nut for one that fitted.
Porto is interesting and historic, small and intimate, and boasts a rather fine reputation for a certain fortified wine - which I have been tasting.
20 April - Santiago, Spain
On leaving Porto I decided to stick with the main road, as, in theory, it would be flatter and I would make better progress. Not a great choice: busy, as one might expect, little or no hard
shoulders, loads of road works - and slogging hills. In the late afternoon, at the top of yet another unthrilling ascent, a guy standing by his car had been waiting for me, in order to ask if I was
traveling the Camino, and suggested I might like to take the coast road. Definitely, a good tip; I had a great time flying down, down to the sea, with The City of Bristol Boys' Choir ringing in my
ears from my ipod. A joyous experience. That night I stayed again in a Bombeiros, my proffered donativo the following morning being declined. :-)
Along the coast a bit further, the ferry across the river - and I'm back in Spain, on good roads with hard shoulders and drivers who don't give the impression they'd quite happily flatten you.
I had a choice of following the river up to Tui, after which the busy main road, or the coastal road. I chose to continue along the coast. It turned out to be one of my favourite stretches of road since returning to Europe. It was also good to see a huge sign showing the coastal route of the Portuguese Santiago route. I stopped in the small town of Oya, where there was an ancient monastery (closed) and obtained a stamp in my pilgrim credenciel from the bar down the road. Baiona is a pretty town (another stamp), in which I was caught in a massive hailstorm. After a long day, I rolled up at the albergue de peregrinos in Pontevedra at 8.15pm! There were quite a numb er of pilgrims staying there, the first I have seen on this camino. How lovely to be amongst them again.
Another long day (made longer by having a puncture!! which I can't have repaired properly because it went flat again within half an hour), to Padron and on to Noia, where I camped in grounds of the Red Cross (as directed by the local police - after some persistence, as they would have had me continuing out of town to somewhere else (no, I have no idea where that might have been, but to them it would have meant I was out of their sight), even though it was late and raining). I also asked at a church, but, in his nice, cosy, warm, dry office, full of Compostela memorabilia, the priest did not emanate any of the same bon esprit that you find in most people on the camino. After an hour in the warm, dry library checking emails (but unable to reply because the internet was too slow), I went for a meal (rabbit in a tasty sauce), finally forcing myself to go along in the dark, rainy night to the designated camping spot. Which, actually, turned out to be great! In that, I was invited into a beautifully-painted, cosy, pretty gypsy caravan, by a young Dutch couple (their teenage children were in the newly-built caravan alongside; the 3 horses which pull the caravans munching lazily on the lush grass nearby), who have been on the road for ten years! Living the free life.
Noia is on the way to Finisterre. I decided it would make more sense, to me, to go there first and then on to Santiago. I went by the coast road - soooo pretty and, although hills were included, there were loads of flat bits. Including another one on my bike!! (pause for laughter). At least this time it was the front wheel and so I didn't have to take all my bags off to fix it. On the way to Finisterre, I met my first pilgrim cyclist. He was from the Czech Republic, had started in Bilbao and was now cycling back home, which he reckoned would take him a month.
I arrived in Finisterre and went straight to the lighthouse and to the boot on the rock. I also became quite emotional: that I shall be home with my children in 2 weeks and that I have cycled round the world. And there was a lovely German woman on hand to give me a big hug when she saw how I was feeling. Bless her.
I decided to stay 2 nights in Finisterre. I've had some long cycling days and Finisterre is a very pleasant, relaxing place to stay. Except for the albergues in Santiago, pilgrims are only allowed to stay one night and have to be out by 8.30am. Many pilgrims are currently wondering how they will return home because of the current lack of flights. I knew something had occurred, with a volcano in Iceland and that airports in northern Europe had been affected, when I was 'reading' a Spanish newspaper in a cafe a couple of days ago, but did not appreciate the extent of the aftermath until a couple of days ago. I mentioned it to a German pilgrim who had just arrived in Finisterre and was completely unaware of the event, as, I'm, sure, many would be.
Now in Santiago, for the second time, and two years down the line, I spent the last 9 kilometres in a highly emotional state, unable to stop crying: at the coming to an end of my cycling pilgrimage; at returning to Santiago; and, mostly, the thought that, yes, I have missed my children hugely and now am ready to go back home - in fact, can't wait to get there! I think the hardest parts of my trip have been the homesickness of the first 3 weeks and the returning anticipation of the last 2 weeks.
I followed the signs to Santiago and then, would you believe it? I'd just taken a photo of the sign to the city centre - and promptly lost my way, ending up having to ask someone the way!! I went to the pilgrim's office to obtain my pilgrim's certificate (oh, I forgot to say: the albergue in Finisterre issues certificates for completing the camino to Land's End, which I hadn't realised and so that was a pleasant surprise). When I entered the main square of the cathedral in Santiago, I was interviewed by some local tv group making a film about pilgrims.
I am having to trust that I shall be able to catch the weekly ferry from Santander on the 29th, as it has been impossible to contact the company either online, through a travel agent or by phone. I have to keep reminding myself that ´something has always turned up´.
28 April - Santander
Well, now, for the past week I have been travelling the Camino del Norte from Santiago to Santander, my third Camino route. The weather has been kind after a few rainy/misty days initially. There has been some some beautiful countryside: hills coloured by yellow gorse and pink, what looked like, shrubby heathers. And then, at Ribadeo, I arrived on the north coast and had scenic days following the sea. When it became too much like hard work up some very long, steep, slow hills, I decided at Aviles to go inwards to Ovideo - an old city, traditionally a pilgrimage city before continuing on to Santiago. It was a good decision: although the route was hilly it was much easier than I'd just been experiencing; it was quieter; the countryside was lovely. From Oviedo, the road followed a river back to the coast at Ribadesella; again an enjoyable day's cycling. The enjoyable cycling continued until 20 kilometres short of Santander, when the road became very steep and hard-going again, worsened by no hard shoulder and loads of traffic; not a pleasant entry into Santander. Even so, I didn't mind too much; almost my whole concentration these last few days had been on the fact that each turn of the pedal was bringing me nearer to home. I am truly excited to be nearly there and the prospect of seeing my children (and, of course, everyone else!) again is overwhelming.
I have met many wonderful pilgrims en route. The Del Norte is much lonelier and harder going than the French Camino and I've been impressed with the fortitude of the pilgrims. Bon Camino to them all.
I have just been trying to book my ferry ticket online because it is much cheaper in pounds than euros. Unfortunately, and very confusingly and frustratingly, I was unable to pay with either of my cards (from different banks!)! and so now I have to go and buy the ticket at the ferry office here in Santander.
Just three more days' cycling - and then I shall be home!! WOW!! :-)
29 April - MV Pont-Aven, Atlantic
I am currently halfway between Santander and Plymouth. I had to withdraw cash to pay for my ticket yesterday, which is more expensive in euros than pounds. When I arrived on board today, I tried my two cards again, both of which were declined. The ship allowed me to phone one bank which said a restriction had been put on my debit card, although they could not tell me why or when, that was another department's responsibility. They said they had lifted the restriction and so I should be able to use the card again. But, no, not so. I tried many times this evening, to no avail. It means that I am not in the cabin I had planned to be in and I was only able to have my celebratory meal in the restaurant, cos of the 50 euro note I had for emergencies. I am not impressed with the bank.
Whilst in Santander, I stayed two nights in the albergue de peregrinos and met some lovely pilgrims: from the Czech Republic, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and France. Santander itself is a pretty town and harbour. I went along to the cathedral for a look and for a service, unable to understand a word, but just wanting to attend one before leaving for England.
Talking of which, have I perhaps mentioned that I am pretty excited at the prospect of my imminent return to my children, home, family, friends ..... ? :-)