Day +1…

I compiled the statistics for the entire 38 days of our Camino. We walked 36 of those days. We had two rest days. 854 kilometers, 239 hours of walking (including meal stops etc), 13,452 meters elevation gain, 12,628 meters elevation loss, 968,500 steps.

The Camino is supposed to be 779 kilometers. Ours was 75 kilometers longer. I used the GPS on my watch to measure ours. Not sure why we had roughly ten percent more distance. We climbed 13.5 kilometers and dropped 12.6. By the end I was much more comfortable hiking up hills. They were my nemesis at the outset. I walked nearly a million steps.

I’m not the world’s fittest person, and I’m old, but I’m amazed at what a body can do! I struggled through a couple of very difficult injuries, and if not for Vera, some Camino angels, and your prayers, I don’t think I would have completed it. Thank you!

I saw a beautiful part of the world. I met some amazing people. I got closer to Our Lady by praying the rosary each day. I got closer to God by taking a few moments to sit quietly in God’s presence. Not saying any prescribed prayers, just “being.”

I haven’t put this whole “Camino experience” into any kind of perspective yet. I guess that will happen over time. But I think that learning to just “be” has been the greatest blessing so far. When you’re walking (slowly) more than 20 kilometers a day, you can’t “do” a lot, but you can “be.” Maybe that’s what it means to “pray always.” Maybe it means simply having the secure knowledge that in every moment you are in the loving presence of God.

Thanks for joining me. God bless you all. Buen Camino!

Day 38: Pedrouzo to Santiago de Compostela

Statistics: 22.2 kilometers, 6.5 hours, 359 meters elevation gain, 404 meters elevation loss, 25,000 steps.

Well, we made it! It was a relatively easy day of walking with only two long uphills. Vera struggled more on the downhills with her feet and her knees. This is just a long, hard thing to do.

On the way in to Santiago we passed the “Mount of Joy” monument (see picture). It commemorates the visit of Pope Saint John Paul II.

It was a bit anticlimactic when we actually got to the end. The cathedral was closed for renovations both inside and out. We had to search for the place to get our compostela (the certificate that says we walked the whole Camino). We eventually found the place and waited about an hour and a half to get “processed.” The guy who reviewed our documents and gave us the compostela was wonderful. After we finished all the paperwork, there was, for me, a huge sense of relief.

After the paperwork we went back to the plaza by the cathedral and got someone to take our picture (see below).

I’ll tally all the numbers tomorrow, but for now, I’m tired and I need to sleep. I can’t put any of this into words right now. I certainly feel joy, relief, pride, humility and satisfaction. But I think “the Camino” will only sink in over time. I’ll reflect on it over the next day or two. I’ll keep the blog going for just another couple of days.

Thanks for being with me on this journey. Blessings to you all.

The Mount of Joy monument outside Santiago commemorating the visit by Saint Pope John Paul II. Even before Vera told me what the monument was about, I thought I recognized JP II in the artwork.
We finished! Vera and I in front of the Santiago Cathedral. If you think it looks like we’re leaning on each other to prevent the other from falling over – good observation!

Day 37: Ribadiso to Pedrouzo

Statistics: 24.6 kilometers, 7.5 hours, 473 meters elevation gain, 482 meters elevation loss, 26,000 steps.

We started with a steady climb out of Ribadiso. I stopped to take a picture of the sunrise (see below). This truly is a beautiful part of the world. The remainder of the day was relatively gentle ups and downs. We spent a fair bit of time away from the roads. I took a picture of the trail as we passed through a forested area. These have been my favourite stretches.

There are lots of bar/restaurants along the way. Most are quite generic. We went past one today that served Perigrino (pilgrim) beer. They had the people who drank the beer write a note on the bottle and they had these thousands of bottles all over the property (see picture).

We went past very few churches, and all were locked. It’s a pity, but I think few people actually do this pilgrimage as a religious/spiritual experience. Most of those who go into the churches snap a photo and leave.

I said my rosary for those who struggle with despair and depression, and who contemplate suicide. Early in the Camino I was battling huge pain issues. I questioned whether I could continue. That was very disappointing, but I would not describe my reaction as despair or depression. There was always hope. And I knew that my worth as a person did not depend on my finishing the Camino. Not everyone sees the challenges in life that way. Some see obstacles as insurmountable, and failure as personally devastating. For some, these difficulties lead to thoughts of suicide as the “only way out” of a horrible situation. And so I prayed to our Blessed Mother to help those people who are overwhelmed by the world.

I must admit it’s been difficult to think of much more than finishing the Camino. Today we finished our second last day. Tomorrow we have about 19 kilometers and we are finished. I was talking with Vera about this over dinner. It seems that we started this pilgrimage only yesterday, and yet it seems like we been doing this forever. I don’t know what it will be like to wake up in the morning and not prepare to walk more than 20 kilometers.

I want to breathe in the entire day tomorrow. I want to experience the fullness of the culmination of this amazing experience. I want to surrender to the Camino.

We saw this beautiful sunrise as we looked back this morning. You can see Vera in the foreground. We were happy to have a day without rain.
This was the interesting bar/restaurant that displayed the Peregrino beer bottles. Vera said that despite the “different” exterior, inside it was clean and neat and classical music was playing.
The most pleasurable walking, for me, has been the times when we’ve walked through the woods.

Day 36: Palas de Rei to Ribadiso

Statistics: 27.2 kilometers, 8.5 hours, 609 meters elevation gain, 713 meters elevation loss, 29,000 steps.

It was a long hike today, made longer by the rain that fell throughout the day. The rain was mostly light, but constant. We had a fairly challenging climb out of Palas de Rei, but after that it was mostly fairly gentle ups and downs. Still, the elevation numbers show that it wasn’t a flat walk.

We spent a fair bit of time walking through the woods. The leaves have only begun falling. Can’t beat a walk in the woods, even in the rain!

I said my rosary today for those Catholics who have fallen away from the faith altogether, or who have stopped practicing. Many of our children see no place in their lives for their creator and saviour. And some our spouses fall into the same category. As Pope Francis said, we must come to know the JOY of the Gospel.

Because we had a long day today and because we were dealing with rain, I was not terribly excited about going into the churches. I was a “man on a mission,” and my mission was to get to Ribadiso. But many of the churches were open and Vera convinced me to stop. I spent a few minutes in two churches. I’ve included a picture of the church I visited this afternoon. You can barely see the silhouette of the crucifix against the window behind the altar. As I gazed at the crucifix, one word came to my mind: “Why?”

I pondered that question for some time. The answer is, of course, love. But it’s a love that I cannot imagine. Many people who have near-death experiences say they feel an overwhelming sense of unconditional love when they “cross over.” It’s something they’ve never experienced in their life on earth, and it fills them with joy. Perhaps that is the kind of love that Jesus had (and has) for us. I only know that I cannot imagine the kind of love that would move the creator of the universe to enter into our world and suffer for us as Jesus did. I believe in my head that Jesus had that kind of love for us. I have an intellectual understanding of that kind of love, but I can’t imagine in my heart what that kind of love feels like. I am left in awe!

You can barely see the silhouette of the crucifix against the window above the altar. Gazing at that crucifix made me wonder, why?

Day 35: Portomarín to Palas de Rei

Statistics: 28.2 kilometers, 8.5 hours, 591 meters elevation gain, 481 meters elevation loss, 35,000 steps.

It was a long day, and the weather changed multiple times: cold, then wind, then warm, then sun – mostly clouds. I was happy I had a jacket that was wind proof and had a hood. It was adjusted and readjusted many times.

We walked through beautiful country. Vera is especially impressed because it is so green. Her part of South Africa is seldom that green.

The first 15 kilometers were generally uphill. I took a picture looking back. It really is lovely to see the countryside. We also walked through some forested areas.

We went through a very small town this afternoon. Some of the pilgrims were playing with some local dogs while another pilgrim couple with a dog were coming through. At the same time a local farmer was moving his cows across the street. The dogs started attacking each other. The cows looked confused and I thought we were going to have a running of the bulls. I’m not sure how practical it is to bring a dog on the Camino.

We are still very much in cow county. I took a picture of one of the tractors we passed. I wanted Ave Spratt to know that John Deere is alive and well in northern Spain.

The trail was again crowded with recent pilgrims. Far more noisy than it has been.

Vera has been struggling with her feet. It was especially troubling at the end of the day today. As we were getting near our accommodation, we passed a church. I knew Vera was suffering and wanted to get off her feet, but she insisted that I take time to pray. I was very grateful to her. I took a picture of the altar.

I told you yesterday about Kathy who was limping so badly because of ankle problems. We saw her today, still limping and yet very determined to walk to Santiago. She actually limps faster than I walk. Another lesson in humility! I said my rosary today for Kathy, and for all the other pilgrims who are struggling with pain as they try to make it to the end of this very long pilgrimage.

Only three more days of walking. We’re getting close. About 67 kilometers to go.

A look backward as we climbed out of Portomarín this morning.
I’ve probably seen more John Deere tractors than any other make. Thought Ave would be interested.
The lovely little church where I had some quiet time just before the end of our very long day.

Day 34: Sarria to Portomarin

Statistics: 25.5 kilometers, 7.5 hours, 543 meters elevation gain, 552 meters elevation loss, 30,000 steps.

It was a tale of two halves today. The first half was almost all uphill and the second half was almost all downhill. You can see from the elevation numbers that we did a lot of climbing and dropping. It was hard on the feet. I changed shoes twice. It’s really important to have one good pair of shoes/boots that are broken in, comfortable, and reliable.

It was a beautiful day for walking. The mist cleared after about three hours and we had sun most of the day. I gradually shed layers until I was in short sleeves. More than half the trail was on country roads, but the parts going through the forests and fields were good. There are lots of cows in this part of Spain, and their odour was a frequent companion. We’ve seen lots of chestnut trees and they’re dropping their fruit. I got a picture of an elderly Spanish couple that was out collecting the nuts on the road.

Our Camino will be in excess of 800 kilometers. But you can get a “Compostela” (certificate) if you do only the last 100 kilometers. During our walk today we passed the 100 kilometer mark. That, by itself was exciting. I’ve included a picture.

But LOTS of pilgrims who are only doing the last 100 kilometers joined us today. The trail was actually crowded sometimes. It was easy to spot some of the newcomers – they had clean shoes. So, the trail was a bit more lively (and noisy) than we have been used to.

Having passed the 100 kilometer mark, I said my rosary in thanksgiving for the past 700+ kilometers and for strength during the final stretch.

We met a couple from South Carolina more than three weeks ago, and we’ve been running into them quite regularly. I usually see them when I attend Mass. The first time I met Kathy she was limping. She said it was bunions. She has had a couple of ankle sprains on the Camino. The last one was a few days ago. Her ankle swelled up so badly she couldn’t get her shoe on. She took two days off but is determined to complete the last 100 kilometers, so she was out there today. I’ve included a picture from the back that shows her husband, Greg, Kathy, and Vera. You can see Kathy’s limp even on the still photo. She is very brave, and must have a high pain threshold.

An elderly Spanish couple out collecting chestnuts.
This marker told us that we had 100 kilometers to Santiago de Compostela. Yeah!
We’ve run into Greg and Kathy quite regularly over the past few weeks. Greg is on the left side, Kathy is in the middle, and Vera is on the left. I’ve never seen Kathy when she wasn’t limping. It hurts just to see it. But she carries on.

Day 33: Triacastela to Sarria

Statistics: 21.8 kilometers, 7 hours, 401 meters elevation gain, 611 meters elevation loss, 26,000 steps.

We began in the mist. It wasn’t really cold, but I had lots of layers on. No rain all day – wonderful! We immediately climbed out of Triacastela, and most of the 401 meters of elevation gain happened over the first seven kilometers. I took a picture of Vera walking through the mist to give you an idea of what the first half of the day was like.

At the top of the hill we saw a large Camino shell on a wall behind a pool (see picture).

I said my rosary today for the election in Canada. I sincerely hope that the new legislators and the new government (if there is a new government) will bring our country back to its Christian roots.

Yesterday Mike Landry sent me an encouraging comment, noting that I was getting close to the end of the pilgrimage. I responded that I was excited about that, but needed to be sure I didn’t forget the journey that still remains. It is a temptation of mine to focus so much on the end that I miss all the things that bring me to the end. I struggle to remember that the journey is important, not just accomplishing the goal. It’s something that I have continually had to remind myself about during this whole pilgrimage.

But I have a good teacher. The uphill climb this morning was very difficult, and I could see that Vera was struggling at times. And yet whenever I asked her how she was doing, she smiled and said: “What a perfect day!” She was totally “in the moment.” Her focus was on the here and now. Pain and mist and endless uphill climbing were just “stuff.” We would eventually get to Santiago, but right now we were hiking the Camino and it was a beautiful day. She is a remarkable woman and I am grateful that she is my traveling companion. She teaches not by words but by example and by the power of her life. I included a picture of the afternoon trail. It was a beautiful path through some ancient trees.

These were the hiking conditions for almost the first half of the day.
At the top of the hill we saw this artwork of the Camino shell behind a beautiful pool.
Just an example of the ancient forest we walked through this afternoon.

Day 32: O’Cebreiro to Triacastela

Statistics: 22.9 kilometers, 6.5 hours, 291 meters elevation gain, 973 meters elevation loss, 28,000 steps.

The day started cold and wet with a heavy mountain fog/mist. We had periods of real rain, about three hours, but the whole day was gloomy. Even with that, we walked through some wonderful countryside. We did very little walking on roads and the surfaces were quite good. We had a little break in the weather near the end of the day. Vera insisted on taking a picture (below). I contemplated getting out my sunglasses but didn’t. Good thing. The “break” in the weather lasted only a few minutes.

While most of the day was more or less flat, the end of the day was an extended downhill. Vera’s knees and feet suffered from the downhill pounding. You’ll note that we had almost a kilometer of elevation loss. Almost all of that was at the end of the day, when our feet and legs were already tired.

Shortly after we left this morning we came across the pilgrims’ monument. I should have had Vera stand next to the monument for the picture so you could get a sense of the size. It’s huge.

As we were nearing Triacastela we came across a hemlock tree that is more than 800 years old (see picture). Quite an impressive sight.

We’ve been passing signs quite often that tell us how far we still have to go. We are now less than 140 kilometers from Santiago de Compostela. Six more days of walking.

Yesterday I got a comment from one of the ladies who works with the kids at the youth prison. This lady became the godmother for one of the kids who was released. She worries that he and so many of the other kids will return to their “old lives.” I said my rosary for those kids today.

This was about as clear as it got today.
The Pilgrims’ Monument. It’s more than twice as tall as I am. Vera says she’s seen lots of pictures of this monument, but has never seen it in the sunshine.
This hemlock tree, near the end of our walk today, is more than 800 years old.
Less than 140 kilometers to go. If all goes to plan, we’ll be in Santiago in less than a week.

Day 31: Trabadelo to O’Cebreiro

Statistics: 22.6 kilometers, 6.5 hours, 846 meters elevation gain, 109 meters elevation loss, 29,000 steps.

It rained all day! Low clouds limited visibility, so we couldn’t see a lot, but we did walk through some pretty forests. Mostly though, it was just facing the challenge of nonstop rain.

The trail was fairly flat at the beginning and followed close to the road. With all the rain, it wasn’t so bad that we were next to the road. The surface was predictable and easy to walk on.

The last eight kilometers were a relentless climb up to O’Cebreiro. Almost all of the elevation gain was in those last eight kilometers. The trail was very rocky, footing was difficult, and water was rushing down the trail constantly. Vera called it a waterfall. We were very happy to arrive at our accommodation.

I attended Mass at the local church (see picture). There were lots of pilgrims there. The priest (a Franciscan) had one of the English speakers read the first reading, and the second reading was read in German for the first half and Spanish (a guy from South America) for the second half.

After Mass, Father invited all the pilgrims to come up around the altar. There were probably 45 or 50 of us. He gave each of us a small polished stone with a yellow painted Camino arrow. It will be a valuable keepsake for me (see picture).

I said my rosary for Laura. In the last 42 years we’ve never been apart this long. I miss her terribly.

The church where I attended Mass. This picture was taken before Mass, while I was saying the rosary.
This is the polished, painting stone that I received at Mass. I added the finger to give perspective on size.

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