Spain Travelogue Blog

Spain 2014

Over the past month or so, we’ve been holidaying. Many people choose this time of the year to get away from the southern winters and we chose Spain. More particularly, Iggy chose Spain along with the suggestion that we should walk the Camino de Santiago. At the time it was suggested, I’ll freely admit, this was not my first holiday choice. Going overseas to walk 200kilometres – you must be kidding! (I was thinking: Surely I’ve broken rule #1 – do not let wives plan overseas holidays.)

And 200 kilometres is far from the “real” Camino – the various paths pilgrims took to visit the supposed tomb of St James, buried in Santiago. They came from southern Spain, France, Italy and Portugal and took several different routes. Some of the paths are over 600 kilometres and I was thankful Iggy did not get too serious! In fact, there is evidence of other similar paths that took Celts – as early as 500BC – to what they believed to be “the end of the earth” which was, in fact, the most eastern part of Europe. So they walked to pay homage to their pagan gods. 

The brochures tell you that you walk the Camino for one of three reasons: spiritual, religious or just a lifestyle journey. I put myself squarely in the latter camp – but that was at the beginning….

Our Camino walk was broken into two parts: firstly, the northern Celtic path (in fact, several parts thereof) and the second being the last 112kilometres of the most common Camino (the French Way), from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. While the first week was broken into five separate daily walks varying from eight to 15 kilometres, the second averaged 23 kilometres per day and, while that might not seem a lot, not much of it was flat and you knew had been for a walk by the end of the day.

The first week provided cliff top walks along the northern coast with the wild and wonderful scenery one would expect. We also traversed farmlands and cornfields where the crop is almost exclusively grown for feed.

We visited the ancient ruins of a Celtic village, dating back to 400 – 500BC. (I find it very difficult to get my head around that depth of history.)

One day included a visit to a ceramic factory with a grisly history involving the more sordid collusion between the state and the church. Another day’s activities involved a visit to a knife manufacturer in the mountain town of Tarramundi where the family M. Lombardia. All of the males have had Christian names commencing with "m" and the current custodian – a youthful 70-odd year-old, I think was Mario, continuing knife-making in the old tradition after five generations. 

His workshop included a bellows which he fanned with an apparatus like a bagpipe, while he tempered his steel and fashioned his beautiful knives with an outlook over a picturesque far and distant green valley and hillside. (Yes, of course we bought knives – and were thanked in the traditional way – glasses of red-current firewater. Just the thing to get a long mountain hike under way!)

Each night, our accommodation was top-notch; usually mansion-sized restored farm houses of local stone, each bedroom with ensuite bathrooms. The properties were either within their own picturesque surroundings or on hillsides with commanding views over their village.

(In which case, a testing walk to and from the evening meal was required.) The hosts were always ready to meet our need for a few cold cervezas (beers) prior to the three, four or five course meals that were to follow. On the occasions where they did not have a fully operational kitchen, we meandered into the nearest town where our sensationally organised guide would have booked a table at the best restaurant where we enjoyed the very best of local Spanish cuisine and, of course, wine.

Up to this point, I have not yet made mention of the way our trip had been organised. Iggy had seen the advertisement in “Living Today”, placed by Lifestyle Journeys, run by Sharon Breslin out if Melbourne. Our fee included all accommodation, food and many beverages, together with some surprises in store arranged by our guide and tour designer, Ricardo. I could devote a chapter (maybe a book?) on this man who was nothing short of remarkable – in his knowledge of the area and its history, his superb organisational abilities, his innate love of travel and his great sense of humour. I came away more thinking that I had made a new friend, than having met a truly professional travel guide. Iggy and I say “all praise to Lifestyle Journeys and its wonderful people”.

On three occasions, Ricardo sprung surprises on us. Firstly, an outrageous host who, dressed as some sort of ancient druid introduce us (in fluent Spanish, but that just added to the intrigue) to his “Viagra water” – a specially boosted type of fire water which he set aflame before insisting we partake many times over! It was hilarious...

Then a couple of nights later, our host (who plays with a number of symphony orchestras) entertained us prior to dinner with a number of renditions from his array of classical guitars. This was an absolute privilege from a master of his craft and we were enthralled.

Finally, in an 18th century homestead (which has been in the same family for hundreds of years) after our wonderful meal in this luxurious and historical home, we were treated to a trio, appropriately dressed  singing traditional Spanish songs in a rollicking, but very professional style.  This was more wonderful entertainment.

On the second week, commencing in the town of Sarria, we were on the Camino in earnest. To gain certification that you had actually walked the Camino de Santiago, requires that at least the last 100 kilometres had been completed. As proof, “passports” are purchased in which stamps are sought from cafes, churches, arlberges (the dormitory-style accommodation houses which we were fortunate enough not to require) or other accommodation places along the trail. The 30 or 40 spaces on the passport should be completed as proof that the trail has been walked.

So, the walk continued and now we came across many other “pilgrims” making the journey for their own personal reasons. They comprised multiple nationalities and we saw older people (even older than us) shuffling  one foot after another, and a young eight year-old with his Italian family. “Buen Camino” was the oft-heard – and uttered – greeting.

Our group comprised nine walkers from different parts of Australia and, while we have all made new friends, it was walking alone, seeing this country from the slow lane where some revelations may have occurred.

From my own perspective (having made a commitment to myself not to check my emails for the week) I saw the total futility in much of my daily activity. Time to downsize on the unnecessary; to look at what is possible and ask “why not?” instead of “how?” If this is the meaning of a spiritual journey, perhaps I’ve been on one.

Back on the track and if there is one lasting picture I have, it is strolling through any one of the many hamlets, with its stone farm buildings and cottages, seeing how the farm and home animals – cows, dogs, cats, chooks and horses – have the right of way and how life seems so simple at this leisurely pace.  

On the final day, we entered the outskirts of Santiago and then into the old town and finally, to the St James Square where there was a palpable sense of excitement at having achieved this goal. After our own celebrations – along with other groups finishing at irregular intervals – we set off to have our passports verified and to receive the official certificate of completion.

While there were many benefits, there is no gain without pain, as they say and we were all very tired. Iggy had pain with her troublesome feet and my knees were complaining to me that we had spent too long on the downhill. Going uphill, you just lose your breathe, going down and the weight on your knees can be painful. But these were very small prices to pay for what was a wonderful way to see a wonderful part of this country.

Ricardo and I had made a pact between ourselves to rid our faces of unwanted hair, the day we arrived at Santiago, so, true to our words, as we would always be, of course….

Considered from the safe distance of another hemisphere, one tends to make assumptions and judgements about countries and their people, often falling back on stereotypical concepts imposed upon us from childhood history books. From what we have seen, the Spanish are a parochial people  – probably more proud than anything – however, their pride is based on their own province before that of their country. This is different to what is apparent to us.

Our walk had taken us through Asturias and Galicia in the north west of Spain and we know that we want to come back to this region and to explore more of this intriguing and delightful country.

  • Posted by iggy on 12th August, 2014 4:14 pm
    Great newsletter and blog post.
  • Posted by Ricardo on 12th August, 2014 11:33 pm
    Wonderful and funny story. Great pics too. A few typing errors here and there, such as -the Celts travelled to the most Western (not Eastern part of the known world); the Lombard knifemakers' family pass the first letter of their first name both to male as well as to female descendants: Manuel, Martin, Mara...; the firewater conjure was said in fluent Galician -too fluent in fact, and then John says the guide was nothing short of remarkable, when he in fact meant that he was remarkably short!!
    All in all, I have loved the writing of this blog, and the man and woman behind it are the kind of people who love and enjoy life because life loves and enjoys them!
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