KAREN'S CAMINO STORY...

Food, Wine, Friends, Talking, Walking and a Comfortable Bed !

In the words of the famous Julie Andrews “these are a few of my favourite things “. She too was surrounded by beautiful countryside, as was I, on my recent 12-day trip walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain. As good fortune and Wandering the World would ensure, I experienced all my favourite things on this journey.

Setting out from Astorga with my group, a few kilometres walk into Day 1, a little anxious about our walking abilities, we passed a local family in their field picking apples off their trees. "Hola" they called to us, offering us a crisp, tart, fresh apple plucked straight from a branch. No cold storage here I thought as I happily bit into it. Further along, the road was lined with huge fig trees, laden with this beautiful fruit. With figs often about $1 each at home I was looking at hundreds of dollars worth of figs right there on the side of the road. Using our walking poles to pull the branches down we picked a few to taste - delicious, fresh and complimentary.

There were ten of us in the group, a mix of couples, friends, and single travellers and we were mostly new to each other. We walked along chatting and getting to know a little bit more about one another. The time and kilometres slipped away as did those early anxieties as we admired the pretty Spanish countryside and before I knew it, we were walking into Rabanal, our destination for the first night. 

A beautiful, tiny town full of historic stone buildings including our authentic hotel. Feeling very pleased that I had just walked 18km with ease, I sat down in a bar with my new travelling companions to reward myself with a glass of local red wine that was served with a bowl of tasty green olives. 

Our meal that night was lovely and typical of dinner on many nights of the trip. A three-course meal with options to suit all tastes, featuring speciality dishes of the region. Although known as the Pilgrims menu there has clearly been some huge leaps forward in the last thousand years and the quantity and quality were excellent.
 
The next day we woke to some rain. Feeling a little apprehensive I dug out my Poncho, thanks to the Wandering the World packing list. Donning the poncho and confident in my waterproof hiking boots we headed off. The rain was off and on and I soon learnt that it’s true what they say. “There is no bad weather just bad clothing choices”. I found walking in the rain to be an enjoyable experience especially since I kept warm and dry as we meandered through pretty little towns full of stone houses, surrounded by pots full of bright flowers and resident cats roaming around. We passed a tiny little stone church and stopped to look inside. One of our group lit a candle and appeared to be feeling some sadness. I gave her a hug and we walked together the next few hours having a warm and wonderful conversation as she shared the story of her father’s recent passing and more importantly of his life and their wonderful relationship. This is the gift of the Camino. Where one has time, as they walk, in no hurry to be anywhere, to be in the moment and to listen and really hear someone and share stories with each other.

The day’s wandering was already over as we walked into our very inviting hotel nestled in a valley surrounded by hills. We gratefully accepted the tray of ice-cold beers that had arrived as we sank into a comfy leather couch. The rooms were comfortable, and the shower was hot with great pressure, just what was needed after a day of walking. Feeling tired and relaxed, we ordered Gin and Tonics, a little complimentary tapa of bread and jamon (local ham) also arrived (I just love that about Spain) and we sat down for a game of cards. We gazed out at the spectacular views and the hill we were to conquer the next day.

By day three the morning routine had begun to feel familiar as I rose feeling refreshed around 7am, did a check of my day pack for items such as fresh socks, hat, snacks, water and essential foot care items. Preparing my feet with tape over potential hot spots and adding a nice little cushioning of Hikers Wool over my toes every morning, proved well worth the effort as my feet held up very well over the coming days. I also took the tip from one of the Wandering the World team and put my boots on a good half hour before leaving to make sure they were fitting perfectly, with no bumps, lumps or rubbing to surprise me the moment I set out.

Today we were climbing the hill we had been admiring the previous day and whilst there may have been some trepidation, we were all here for the challenge and everyone was happy to take it on. It proved to be a steady, consistent and very achievable climb to the hilltop hamlet of O’Cebreiro, a time capsule from the 1500’s of humble, stone, round huts with peaked, thatched roofs. We were rewarded at the top with both a great sense of satisfaction at having pushed ourselves a little to get there, as well a warm bowl of Galician soup and a glass of local red!

Over the next days as we made our way towards Santiago, we had some wonderful encounters along the way with local people. The little grandmother who came out of her door way, right on the Camino path to offer us a warm pancake straight out of the pan. Having lunch in a family’s garden, where they had set up a buffet of homemade local foods for us to take a plate and select what we wanted after making our payment by “donation”. Outside Portomarin we walked past it’s church just as a lady closed its doors. Glenyce asked her if we could please look inside - she smiled, nodded and re-opened the door beckoning us in. As we sunk into the pews gazing at the pretty stained-glass windows she put on some beautiful music. We clearly saw her immense pride in her church, as still smiling broadly, she handed us all a little slip of paper each with an individual prayer. It was a very special and touching moment and more than a few in the group shed a little tear as we thanked her for making us so welcome.

Every night we stayed in fabulous accommodation, some in the middle of the town, some a little bit out of town on rural properties with beautiful gardens and views. The rooms were always lovely, the beds very comfortable and showers were hot. We had some sensational home cooked, local food including braised pork ribs, beef casseroles and grilled fish. Not forgetting the desserts, we always somehow found room for such as Crème Caramel, Santiago Cake and Rice Pudding.

We continually marvelled at the abundance of produce we saw growing along the way. Apples and chestnuts galore, figs, quinces, walnuts, kiwi and grapes. We laughed at pumpkins the size of Cinderella’s carriage, admired the precious purple saffron flowers and breathed in deeply the smell of wild fennel and mint on the side of the path. We delighted in the sound of the cow bells clanging, church bells ringing and of course the cheerful greetings of “Buen Camino “between pilgrims and locals. We enjoyed stops in the cafes that were often conveniently located at the top of a hill or just around a bend right when you needed a little break and a snack. We savoured, sampled and compared the many Empanadas, Spanish Tortillas and Cafe con Leches.

With just the final day of our walk to go the group sat together in the garden of our hotel, sipping Sangria, and reflected on what we had achieved. We were looking forward to reaching our destination but at the same time didn’t want it to end.

Some days I had felt as if I could almost not walk another step and yet after a good night’s sleep, I would be ready to do it all again.

There is something about the pace of walking, using your legs as a mode of transport that stretched the days out and the holiday seemed long and unhurried. We often mentioned things that we felt had happened days ago when it had only been that very morning.

As we walked into Santiago de Compostela on our last day I felt a real mix of emotions. There were the feelings we all have on a holiday. Excited, relaxed, happy to be there and sad that it’s finishing. But more strongly I felt something I had not experienced on a holiday before. Flowing through me was an absolute sense of achievement and pride in what I had done - walked 205 km and still going strong. Having never done a walking holiday before I was both surprised and delighted. It was a great feeling, and definitely addictive.

That night we enjoyed a fantastic group dinner in Santiago at a local restaurant frequented and recommended by Wandering the World. It was clear why, as we dined on many divine tapas to die for. We reminisced over our journey together, laughed a lot as the Spanish wine flowed and we set a date in the diary for the group to meet up in a few months’ time.

As I wandered the streets of beautiful Santiago the next day and gazed up at the incredible facade of its famous Cathedral that has welcomed millions of Camino pilgrims over thousands of years, I did a mental checklist of all my favourite things. I realised with great content, happiness and gratitude that my walking the Camino holiday had provided them all. It was a truly unforgettable journey.

 


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