Sarria to Finesterre


  1. If a man without a shirt on offends you or makes you otherwise ill, do not look at this set of photos.
  2. This post is likely to be a bit longer than the others, so best you go and make a cup of tea, or just skim over everything and go to the photos…see disclaimer 1.

I’ve held off writing this post for a week or so because I wanted to give myself a little time. Firstly just to digest the events of the last months, and perhaps more so to make sure that I wasn’t writing from an overabundance of emotion, low blood sugar, excessive fatigue or walker’s withdrawal.

So let’s get started. There are three sections. Firstly the last 100Km into Santiago, secondly about Santiago itself and finally about Finesterre and the end of my walk.

The final 100Km into Santiago was a fascinating experience, I was wrong about there being better services. In fact on two occasions I was left with the option of walking 15Km for the day or 40Km, there were no alburgues in between. I was also wrong about it being more crowded. From before Sarria and into Santiago there are markers every kilometre. For me these had a combined effect of building the tension while at the same time creating the pedestrian equivalent of clock watching. For the final 50Km or so the trail is filled with a combination of Eucalyptus and Oak trees, utterly similar to walking in the Dandenong Ranges (the mountains behind Melbourne, where I live). It was odd to be smelling the eucalyptus and seeing the leaf litter on the trail, whilst at the same time being fully aware that I am on the other side of the planet from my home.

I intentionally stopped early the night before I entered Santiago. I stayed at a hostel at Monte de Gozo (translated, the Mount of Ecstasy), this is about 4Km out of Santiago and is so named because of the feeling of elation a pilgrim would feel as they came to the top of this hill and could see the city of Santiago for the first time. I stayed here because I wanted to be really deliberate and have room and energy for reflection when I was entering Santiago. I also felt a little trepidation, I can’t really tell you why, maybe because this was the end of the first part of my journey.

A number of blogs I have read have talked about the sense of anticlimax and “what now” feeling upon finishing this quest. This was not the case for me. There really was a deep sense of joy, fulfilment, and anticipation for the future as I came into the city. It was for me a strong and beautiful set of emotions that I experienced. Unlike anything that I had experienced before.

Santiago really is a beautiful city and to get to the cathedral you get to walk through ancient streets. The cathedral is on one side of the town square, the Paradore hotel borders another side. This Paradore claims to be the oldest and most luxurious hotel in the world. It was once the hospital (can also mean accommodation), for the pilgrims coming to Santiago. I stayed in it a couple of nights, and you will see in the photos a couple of shots of the cathedral taken from my bedroom window.

I went to the Pilgrim’s mass a couple of times. It really felt like an authentic pilgrim experience to attend a mass where I had NO idea what was going on and it was all in a language of which I have a very limited understanding. Possibly not unlike Latin would have been back when.

Walking around the city for the next few days was amazing and intense, I would often come across people I had met as I was walking. It was especially beautiful to see them walking in for the first time. When you see each other, there is a sense that you have both “survived” and there are lots of big embraces going on all the time. You can certainly feel the love. There were lots of tears (not me of course, I’m a man), and an amazing plethora of emotions.

I waited a few days in Santiago for my friends to come and it really was beautiful to see them again. While I was still in Santiago I was lucky enough to be able to spend time with some other fabulous pilgrims. Lots of great conversations, debriefing, hugs, poetry slamdowns. It was an amazing time.

I’m currently in Finesterre, in fact I am writing this from a terrace looking out over the harbour (you’ll see the view from here in one of the photos). Walking here was a quite different experience, I met fewer people and it feels like quite a different quest. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed the ocean, until I rounded a corner and saw the sea for the first time in two months and it literally took my breath away. The final walk into Finesterre is alongside the water. The smell of the sea air, the sounds of the waves crashing, the view of my final destination off in the distance. I must say that my heart felt full to burst.

I’ve stayed here a few days, been swimming, watched the sunsets, done a lot of reflecting and sitting with my thoughts and feelings. LOVED it. Of course I went skinny dipping on the western most beach, not alone I might add. It seems that this is a bit of a tradition here. Another tradition is to burn one’s clothes at the cape. I have seen a few people doing this.

In a couple of days I will go back to Paris, for a month or so, I might then have to head to Shanghai and back to Melbourne to tie off some work commitments before I come back and begin the motorcycle part of my trek. We’ll see I guess.

So was the Camino worth it? Absolutely! A thousand times yes. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, what I can accomplish, what I can handle, how I am when I’m tired or have low blood sugar. That I can do without, appreciate “small” things (they’re big when you don’t have them), that when I think I absolutely do not have anything left to climb another hill….I’m wrong. That the noise in my head keeps me awake more than the noise around me, that I am capable of more.

But perhaps most importantly. I feel like so much that was unresolved has found an easy abode, that many things that were troubling me are troubling me no more. I have some exciting ideas that have been birthed on this trip and I can’t wait to get them going when I get home. That I am where I’m meant to be in life, that I trust God with stuff. That while there is still work required, I actually quite like myself and am comfortable in my own skin. That I am genuinely excited about the future and can’t wait to see what it brings.

I feel like my heart is genuinely open and unafraid. In fact I can confidently say that I am happier and more deeply content than I have ever been.

Questions. Will this translate into the future? Who knows, but I’m not afraid to find out. Is it all because of the Camino or because I was ready to be in this place already? Who knows. Could I have found this in my living room? Maybe, but I’ve spent a lot of time in my living room without this happening. Maybe I was just ready for it. Is this all a bubble experience and it will all come crashing down afterward? Who knows, but I will be honest with you if it does, after all you’ve been on the journey with me so far. But even if it is temporary (I kind of hope and suspect that it isn’t), I am grateful for what I have right now. This is a gift which I will never forget.

I am utterly the same as when I started, and totally different.

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Villafranca to Sarria

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My walk over the last big mountain is done. Galicia is beautiful and I hope I’ve caught just a little of that in my photos. I didn’t get to see my wolf, but I did get to spend some of my favourite time ever in my head. It’s fun in there.


Galicia is an interesting region with an interesting history. There is a strong Celtic influence, the Celts first settling here in the 11th century. As a result there are things that might normally seem out of place, like listening to people playing the Bagpipes or the Chandler, which I have experienced on three occasions.


The mountain villages are quite isolated and travelling through them and staying in them has been a genuine highlight of the walk. There are some places in the path where it has been worn down with the millions of pilgrim’s footsteps over time. This sometimes leaves the path two or three metres below the surrounding terrain. It is still stirring to me to think of the millions of pilgrims who have taken this journey through the centuries, including one of my personal heroes, Francis of Assisi.


I’ve met some interesting travel companions over the last few days, a Spanish police captain (I was well behaved), and a tour group who were doing it all in style. They were staying in hotels and had a bus carrying their luggage from point to point. They had a tour guide who was a friendly chap and knew his stuff. Now I know that there are the “purists” out there who think that it has to be all suffering and snoring, but you know what? They were having a great time, seeing great sights in good company and in a manner that was suited to them and their abilities. We each have our own Camino. I’ve had a few friends message me and say that they would love to do the Camino but they’re a bit intimidated, maybe this would be a good way to try it. This group was called Fresco tours, but I’m sure there would be others. I’m planning on putting a page or two up when I finish with some tips and tricks for those who want to do it the traditional way. Of course feel free to message me if you have any questions.


The Catholic Church has designated that a pilgrim must either walk the last 100Km into Santiago or cycle the last 200Km in order to receive their Compostella. I am currently in Sarria, which is 112Km from Santiago and therefore a common starting point for pilgrims wishing to comply with the 100Km requirement. As a result I expect things to get busier on the trail from here. A bonus however is that the trail is better serviced and I can stop more regularly for coffee…and the ensuing toilet breaks. It also means that I will likely have to carry less water. I mean in water bottles, NOT water retention.


Which brings me to a story and a thought. A couple of weeks back I was walking a stretch where there was some significant distance between villages and the last two villages did not have drinking water. As a result I was down to my last 200ml or so with still at least a couple of hours walk to the next village. It was also headed toward sunset, and to be honest I was getting a little nervous. I didn’t think I was going to die of dehydration, but I did think that I might be in for a very uncomfortable evening, when in the distance, a water pump appeared. No it was not a mirage.


It was a little off the track, but I walked down to it all excited about replenishing my water supply. I happily pumped the handle, giddy with the anticipation of plentiful sweet water, and of course the prospect of putting my head under said water. But nothing came out. More spirited pumping yielded the same result. It was then that I spotted a small note next to the pump. This pump requires priming, you have to put water in it.


You probably have heard of these pumps, and I’ve seen a few in my time. They need water added at the start to form a seal and make them work. Often protocol with such pumps is to leave a water bottle or bucket beside the pump for the next user. You use this water and replenish it from your pumping. This had not happened here.


So an interesting conundrum. This pump is asking me to bet my last water with the promise that it will give me more in return.  I must admit that I tarried a bit before finally deciding to take the plunge, and happily it worked.


With some walking still ahead of me and room in my enormous brain for ruminatin’, I came to pondering about the nature of the bet, and indeed what else am I either asked to bet on or choose to bet on. I would have described this as a small bet in the overall scheme of things. If I had lost I would have been uncomfortable and thirsty and would have likely forgotten the discomfort a few hours later.


But there are bigger things that I also have a flutter on. My education, work, relationships, love, spirituality, Coke v Coke Zero. I’m sure you get the point. All of these things come with either a promise or the hope of a promise. In my life journey, some have paid off while others haven’t. For some the bet is big, really big. I tarried for a few minutes over 200ml of water, and yet I can go for months or even years not spending five minutes over something like a life well lived, or spiritual truth. How short sighted and carnal I can be.


Still, at least I’m not thirsty.


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Leon to Villafranca

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“Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives” –A Sachs

Or as William Wallace famously said in Braveheart “Every man dies, not every man really lives.”


I was reminded of both these quotes in the last two hours from different sources. I wonder what I’m being told? Any thoughts?


Today I am in Villafranca del Bierzo and I am about 185Km from Santiago. Most will end their journey there, but I intend to head on a further 100 or so Km to Finnesterre. It’s interesting to think that I am less than 200Km to Santiago having come so far.


Of my friends, one couple have caught the bus from Burgos to Saria, so they will have finished or will be about to. The other couple are four or so days back, so I might try and slow up a bit and either walk the last bit in with them or try to be there when they walk in, cheer them on.


Villafranca is a beautiful city with a fabulous history. It was known as the “Little Santiago” because pilgrims who were ill, if they could convince the monks that they were ill enough, would be given their Compostella without having to go all the way to Santiago. The architecture here is amazing and covers a whole range of eras and influences. The food and the wine here is also memorable. The region grows its own varieties and they do not export the ones they consider to be most special. I have been lucky enough to be invited by one of the locals to a winery here and I have tried some spectacular stuff. It is currently grape harvesting time and it has been fun to watch the activity as I have been walking through the villages and vineyards. Tractors with mothers and grandmothers hanging off the sides driving up and down the main streets. People bent over picking by hand, walking down streets and being overwhelmed by the smell of fermenting grapes and the castaways emanating from dark doorways. Fun stuff. I have decided that if I lived here I would be a fat, Spanish alcoholic.


My main travelling companions over the last few days have been two ladies from Ireland and one from England. They have been fabulous companions and have given me both great company and much to think about. We have covered pretty much all of the taboo subjects, religion, politics, death, relationships gone wrong. It’s been like therapy while walking. They have now continued on while I gallivant around this town of great wine and architecture.


It occurs to me that I have not really described what a day for me on the Camino looks like, so let me have a short go here. A true pilgrim would stay only in Alburgues or Refugios (hostels), I usually do this with an occasional hotel thrown in so that I can get a good sleep…and wash.


So these Alburgues would typically hold between 4 and 50 people in a room, usually bunk beds. We would typically rise somewhere between 0600 and 0800, although there is often some knucklehead who wants to head out earlier and makes a bunch of noise preparing. I’m usually out the door 20 or so minutes later and like to walk to the next village before I have breakfast, which is usually a coffee and croissant or eggs if I can. I will then walk a further 20 or so Km stopping for lunch somewhere along the way. A typical walk is around 25 Km a day give or take 10. Upon arriving at the next stop I will wash me, then hand wash my clothes and often have a short nap, then off to look at the town, maybe a snack and something to drink. The evening meal is often the Pilgrim Menu, which many of the local bars and cafes put on. It is a set menu with usually three courses, bread, water and wine and it is usually under 10 Euro. I have not yet had one that I did not enjoy, though often one that I would not have ordered. It is usually shared with other pilgrims that you have met on the day, sometimes with no common language. Then it is back the Alburgue where I stuff earplugs in my ear and am usually asleep by 2230. The next day, start again. Wake, walk, eat, walk, wash, eat, sleep.


Two days ago, upon waking I went to the clothes line to recover my clothes that I had washed the day before to find my shorts missing. I was miffed and had a bit of a sense of humour malfunction. The missing shorts created a whole gamete of issues for me. I would have to buy another pair, it was Sunday so nothing is open, I would have to sleep in the pants I walked in, etc. I was one of the last to leave the Alburgue and found a pair of shorts left behind which were similar to mine but about three sizes too small. I could conceivably have worn them, but probably only to a gay night club. So I set a plan, I walked further that day than I had intended with these shorts hung in open view on the back of my backpack. Sure enough as I was walking through a village about fifteen Km up the road, there was a short, skinny Frenchman wearing my shorts. I wasn’t sure, you can’t look too long at a man’s shorts without starting an interesting conversation, so I sat down at the next café and waited for him to come up the road. They were definitely my shorts and he looked ridiculous. I stopped him with the classic conversation opener “excuse me but I think you are wearing my pants”. It turns out he picked up the wrong pair, my excellent North Face pants and left behind his crappy, gay night club pants. We exchanged on the spot and so became pants brothers.


Tomorrow I start the climb into the final mountain of this walk, it is a two day journey over the top and the part of the Camino where I am most likely to see a wolf. I would so love that. I also find myself liking the climbs, the honest labour required to get to the top.


I’m loving the walking and thinking bit in all this and I feel like so much is getting both resolved and birthed. There is much I would share here, but I already admire you for having read so far.


I’m sending you a big hug.

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Burgos to Leon

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DISASTER!!! I have caught the Man Flu! As any right thinking person would know, the Man Flu is a serious and debilitating illness which will lay any but the most heroic low for weeks, even months. It is NOT just a cold!

I have however heroically pressed on, against doctor’s orders, well if I’d seen a doctor I’m sure this is what they would have ordered.


Despite the cruel hand of pestilence visited upon me, I have loved the last few days. I took an extra day in Burgos to look around. I have then slept out for all but one of the days since. I have slept in a field, in haystacks, but my personal favourite I slept in the ruins of an old castle.. I was kind of hoping to meet a ghost or a vampire or something, but no such luck. These sleeping out experiences have been fabulous, the moon has been rising around 0100, it is waning at the moment but still more than half full (I’m a moon half full kind of guy). It is a real treat to wake in the night and watch the moon work her way across the sky. I did wake one night to see two wild dogs looking at me from around 30 meters away, actually I say “wild” but they could easily have been from one of the farms nearby, but we’ll stick with wild to keep the story interesting. Sleeping out was for me part of the pilgrim experience that I wanted to try.


I’m writing this with less than a day’s walk into Leon. A few people I have met have told me that the section from Burgos to Leon is boring and terrible, but I must say that this was not my experience. It is certainly flatter after Fromista, but still some lovely scenery. From Burgos to Fromista has some fabulous bits, including the castle ruins I slept in. There is also an amazing table top mountain which is hard work climbing but totally worth the effort when you get to see the amazing scene from the top.


As you would know from previous writings, I am walking on my own now. I love my friends and I miss them, but walking alone I think is an important part of the journey for me. In truth there was one particular day where I felt a deep loneliness, but I guess that’s an important part of appreciating the journey with friends.


Which brings me to one of my reflections. Actually this one has been wandering around in my brain for some time now, so it’s time I tried to give it a home.  So the reflection is this, all the GREAT stories have a time of deep darkness in the middle. The thing that makes them great stories is in the overcoming.  Think about it, any movie or book or great historical story seems to have this element. The dark days of World War II, the death and resurrection of Jesus, When Harry Met Sally.


So, I have some thoughts on this. Firstly, if you want to be a part of a great story, you must be prepared to sail a dark and stormy sea. Having said that, I’m thinking that when the people in these stories are going through the dark times, they’re probably not thinking “wow this is great, I’m part of a great story”. They’re in the darkness, despairing, broken, desperate.


So perhaps if you ever find yourself in a dark and desperate place, it may be worth remembering that the story is not over yet. Even sometimes when the story seems absolutely over, it may not be over yet. You may be in the middle bit of a great story.


I’ve been through a few dark times in my years on this Earth, and thankfully so far they have all been part of good stories, in the end. I didn’t think I was in a good story at the time, I just thought that this really hurts and I want it to stop. I prayed a lot. I really want to determine to be part of a great story whenever I face these dark times in the future. God help me in this.


To my friends who have been my journey companions in the dark times, you cannot begin to know how lucky I think I am to have had you at my side.


Hugs Aplenty to you all.

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Well, in contrast to the last blog, the last few days have been a bit rough. Even miserable in some parts.


My first bad move was to set off from Santo Domingo in the afternoon and so found myself walking in the very heat of the day on some hot, dusty, often beside a busy highway, trails. I met up with the others who had set off earlier in Belorado, had a drink and pressed on to the next village on my own.


A highlight of the place I landed is that it was a church carved into the rock face and the hostel was run by Franciscans. They are so hospitable, even giving me a hug (you all must know how much I love that by now), on the way out the door. The next day I actually jogged a bit and felt really quite strong. I had intended to do a 50K day. I met with the others and we walked onto San Juan where they were to stay and we said our final goodbyes. I would walk onto Burgos, 27 Km up the road.


I already had a pretty serious blister forming and then with about 15 Km to go my calf muscle “let go”. I seriously could put almost no weight on it at all! I was wondering if this was where the Camino would end for me. I limped into the next village and was shuffled into a taxi, which took me to a physio. It turns out it was cramp. Seriously, just a cramp. I’m such a sook! In actual fact a number of muscles in my legs had started cramping. Her treatment was to give me some salt tablets and massage my legs, I limped in and walked out, it was amazing. I was then able to walk gently into Burgos where I find myself now. 50Km in a day.


So, in Sooky summary: I had a bad blister, I had a bad leg cramp, I said goodbye to my friends and my camera battery went flat! Perhaps I need to harden the !@#% up little princess!


The terrain has changed over the last few days, with more plains and seemingly a bit hotter and dryer. The villages and towns are still amazing, San Juan is essentially a monastery, a café and a hostel. The forest that I walked through prior to San Juan was once upon a time notoriously dangerous for pilgrims, apparently filled with robbers, murderers and geography teachers lying in wait to jump out and rob them, kill them or berate them for late homework. I was imagining what it must have been like for a pilgrim to find themselves walking into the safety of this monastery after braving those wilds.


I am currently in Burgos and planning to rest for a day. I like this town, great food, beautiful architecture, a pleasing vibe. Worth a visit I think, not least of all for her amazing cathedral and beautiful sculptures.


So, as I have been walking alone over the past week or so and drifting into and away from my friends, it has caused me to think about our journeys personally and in community. I find that it is often difficult to hold the same pace as my friends or indeed others that I may find myself walking with. At the same time, I like being with them and sharing the journey with them. I also find that a number of other pilgrims (not my tribe), are very set on their pace and are constantly comparing and justifying why their way is best. I don’t find this very helpful.


It has brought me to thinking about how this seems to happen in my real life. Here’s a parallel that I notice in my world:


I compare myself to my peers. Careers, cars,  relationships, marriage, kids, house, lifestyle, et.etc.etc. It’s really sad, and I’m pretty embarrassed writing about it, but I find it happening often. Some of my friends have told me how they wish they were going on this trip I’m currently on, but you know what? I envy their great marriages, or families or any number of other things. And this brings me to realize that we each have our own “Camino”, our own way, and comparing with each other is as ridiculous as comparing a sports car with a battle ship.


My lot has been to not find a happy marriage (so far), but I am strong and fit and have an adventurous soul. So if I live true to myself and try and work within the bounds that life (maybe God), has dealt me, then there is no point wishing I were someone else. There is every point in taking the time to work out who I am, and how I’m wired, and to work on a life that is true to this. Perhaps this is part of the journey to a life well lived.


Israel’s King David wrote in a Psalm to God “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful….” Talk about a healthy self esteem! But I think he has it right, he knew who he was, he knew he was made a certain way on purpose, and frankly he did a lot with his life. This appeals to me.


I look at my friends, and all the time I see their fearfully and wonderfully madeness. If a man is judged by the quality of his friends, then I am freaking awesome!!


My love to you all.

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Estella to Santo Domingo

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Participate in a village festival in provincial Spain: Check

Get drenched by rampaging youth at said festival:: Check

Dance with a complete stranger at this same festival: Check, Check, Check!

These last few days have been fabulous, interesting….surprising.

A few days ago, the tribe split. We had spent a fabulous day in Los Arcos together the day before and the forecast had predicted three very hot days. In fact the thermometer in town the next day read 40 degrees C. So we set off early together before dawn with a view to hitting our destination before the day’s heat set in. With my perspirational giftedness I decided to push on a bit faster and I hit our destination town around 1030hrs. The refugio didn’t open for another 2 hours, so I thought this a good opportunity to press on, I rang the tribe and let them know and as a consequence I’ve been a further 10Km up the road and walking mostly alone the last few days.

That day’s walk, into Lagrono turned out to be pretty tough, and the hostel I went to first was full. In the end I went to another hostel that was supposed to be great, but ended up offering my worst sleep yet. The next day I headed out at 0530 and made it to Ventosa before lunch. This included time for a nap under some grape vines for an hour or so. It was beautiful walking through the dawn, and as the sun was rising I was walking around a lake. Very special.

You’ll see a photo of a bunch of rocks all piled on top of one another. These piles are all along the Camino, often at the top of big climbs. The tradition is to pick a rock that represents a particular sin that you wish to deal with and to carry that with you to the top of the hill or until you are ready to let it go and then to place it on top of these piles. It’s really quite beautiful imagery and I have certainly added to a few of these plinths.

The hostel at Ventosa is fabulous, and if you ever do the Camino I would recommend it. Friendly people, a small village, they ask you not to rise before 0600, and they do this so that they can wake you with beautiful music. So to paint the picture, I rolled over at 0610 to hear Gregorian chants drifting up through the stairwell. It was a mystical and glorious way to start the day. I waited at the café in the village, which is on the Camino route until the others walked in from the previous village, we had breakfast together and then headed off. I was only starting so I set a pace I liked and again found myself with the strength and energy to press onto the next village, and this is where the opening paragraph comes in.

The village is Azofra, and as I was walking in there was music and fireworks and people dancing in costume, you’ll see it in the photos. I of course assumed that this celebration was because I was entering the village, but it turned out I was wrong. It was their yearly thanksgiving festival, where the people get together and thank God in celebration for the harvest and the good things given to the village. It is a beautiful thing, and of course much in line with my recent reflections. It is a day and night of celebrations, indeed the party didn’t end until 0330 and even then there were some hangers on.

So as I have walked in, a statue of Mary and Jesus is being walked through the village behind traditional dancers, the village priests walk along behind this and the townsfolk take it in turns carrying the statue. After I had checked into my digs I went back out and shared a few beers in a street bar with some German pilgrims who have taken me into their tribe. As we are sitting there, the bar owner comes out and starts to usher us indoors with much concern. When we asked why we were told that one of the traditions is for the youth to come down the street with buckets and bottles and water pistols and to drench anyone they can get. Everyone heads indoors and locks the doors so these rascals can’t get in. I thought my clothes need a wash, it’s hot, this is fun and so I elected to stand my ground, alone outside, with all the other pilgrims and sensible folk watching from behind locked doors inside. You can imagine what happened, and I did get a fabulous drenching. I’m told by the Germans that there are a some good photos coming.

In the evening a band played and the village came together to dance. Luckily every third or so dance was a conga, so this gave me an easy, unthreatening entry. These people really know how to dance, which was fortunate because the lessons I took a hundred years ago took some time to find their way to my feet and when they did, they did so without much flare or confidence. My partners were very gracious and indeed I was lucky enough to have a pretty full dance card all night. I half suspected that I would wake up the next morning married and chained to a plow. It was one of my favourite nights ever! It has allowed me to check off some essentials from my life list. All that’s left is to eat a bag of M&M’s underwater and have a baby with an Eskimo, and I’m done.

I’m in Santo Domingo de la Calzada now, and as I write this the rest of the tribe are working their way here so I hope we shall be reunited tonight, even if only for a day or so. It is only 500Km to Santiago from here which is my first destination before I head on to the ends of the Earth.

I’ve had some more great reflections on the way, but I’m probably already boring you with my prattling. On the subject of which, for every photo that gets posted there are a hundred still to be shown. So as a heads up I should warn you to come up with an excuse as to why you can’t attend my slide night when next I see you.

My thoughts and love to you as always while I’m walking.

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Pamplona to Villamayor de Monjardin

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We’ve now walked from Pamplona to Villamayor de Monjardin, over the last three days, a total of around 56Km. Utterly beautiful. Our injuries seem to have settled and our particularly injured member has stepped up to the plate, pushed through and is keeping up nicely, after some quality time with the Physio in Pamplona. Her husband has had much advice to offer on the subject of injuries, and as a consequence we have asked him to start every sentence with the phrase “I’m no doctor, but…” I’m no doctor but, let’s stop for a coffee, I’m no doctor but I need a bathroom break, etc.


I walked out of Pamplona on my own, having taken the sleep in option and also wanting a little alone time. The trail takes you out of Pamplona and up into the mountains, at the top there are scores of windmills, I love these. I caught up with the others in the midafternoon and we wandered into our albergue  for the night together. Again the long tables and meeting people from all other parts of the world. This night was a couple of guys from Spain and four Canadian ladies.


The next morning we set off toward Estella, you’ll see a couple of early morning photos. It was lovely coming down the hill and seeing the sunrise peering through the cathedral. Estella is an especially lovely town, you’ll see photos of the river (which as per tradition, I skinny dipped in…before we hit town). This is a beautiful wine region and you’ll see some photos of the vines that we walked through on our trail.


On the way out of Estella there is a “wine fountain”, which dispenses free wine to passing pilgrims. The tradition is that one uses their scallop shell to drink from. You might think that the wine would be the worst stuff that they could find, but in truth I found it to be quite palatable. It really is a lovely gesture and symbolic of the hospitality and generosity to be found on the Camino. Apparently there is a 24 hour webcam which shows the fountain and the pilgrims who over indulge. I’m not sure how successful this would be in Melbourne.


Today’s walk was through some beautiful forests and villages, and then a serious climb up to where we are now. Medieval bridges, ancient Roman roads, monasteries and ancient ruins rising up out of the woods. It really is a magical journey to take.


This afternoon we find ourselves settled in Villamayor de Monjardin, we have a lovely upstairs room with a terrace, which has views that are genuinely breathtaking. We’ve already decided that we will share a bottle of wine (or two), here this evening. The albergue in which we are staying is run by a Dutch ecumenical group, they seem very interesting and tonight they will run a “Jesus Meditation”, really looking forward to it. They are all volunteers and they run this place as an evangelistic outreach to pilgrims.


So, one thing that I have been reflecting on the last few days is gratitude. It is amazing how walking through 20+Km/ day in some pretty serious Spanish heat can teach you about gratitude. In the past week I have experienced real, sincere, deep, heartfelt gratitude for the following: Shade, soft grass, good tasting water, an egg and ham tortilla, coffee, flat ground, a reduction in incline on a hill, seeing my friends round a corner, a simple single bed in a dormitory, a cold shower, simple pilgrim food, a sound sleep. As I said deep, sincere, genuine, heartfelt, gratitude. In my day to day life I would consider myself a positive, “glass half full” kind of guy, but none of these things would have been likely to gain my attention. It has brought me to thinking, as a middle class westerner, have I lost my ability to be grateful for the simple? There is a passage in the bible that says to be grateful in all things, I think that maybe I don’t even know that there are a whole plethora of things for which I can be grateful in each moment. How great would it be if I could harness that? If I could live in real gratitude day to day. Moment to moment.


I also wonder if time in the dark is required for me to really love time in the light. If I had never experienced searing heat, could I actually be grateful for a cool shower or shade? If I had never experienced being frozen to the bone, how grateful could I actually be for a warm bed? To what else in my world might this apply?


I have spent times in my life where I have felt terrible loneliness, so I can tell you from deep in my heart that I am grateful for my friends. I thank you, sincerely.

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Roncesvalles to Pamplona


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I’ve taken a short break (stop judging me), and I am resting in Pamplona for the day. In fact the five of us have rendezvoused here and I have just returned from dinner with the others. The night life in Pamplona is fabulous, as is the food. Our injured compatriot and her husband caught a bus to Pamplona from Roncesvalles, and the good news is that she seems to be in good health with only a hamstring strain. So they will be joining us on the walk tomorrow, albeit carefully and gently. I’ve loved walking with the other couple and getting to know them, as well as sharing some of my story with them. Having said that, it is nice being all together again. I’ve also found myself making friends with other pilgrims on the way. A few of whom I have pretty much seen every day. Tomorrow, the others are planning to leave earlier and I will catch them up in the next day or two. Who doesn’t love a good sleep in? Only Communists and Presbyterians I say.

It is interesting that I am on a spiritual quest and that I have made two new friends who seem to have latched on to me who describe themselves as “Neo Pagans”. There has been some fun conversation to be had in there. There’s a fairly famous bit in the bible that says “if you seek, you shall find”, so I guess I find myself respecting anyone who is also on a seeker’s journey.

The walk over the last couple of days has again been quite intense. It is hot here, and there are still some pretty serious hills to cross. I’m taking in between five and six litres of water every day, and on the third day took in eight litres.

I’m loving the change in terrain, walking into villages, on mountain trails, past rivers. I’ve tried to get a few photos that show the beauty of what I’m experiencing. I am also developing some traditions, I make a point of sticking my head in any town fountains that I come across and I am swimming (sans clothing), in the rivers as I come across them here. I love it. Of course I feel for any who might stumble across such a scene.

Again, I have had plenty of time to reflect and pray and work my way through stuff. There are lots of things going through my mind and my head that are still in the early stages, and not much that I could clearly articulate here, but stand by.

One thing that has been interesting has been in dealing with some of the hills. It has not been uncommon to find myself trudging up a hill for hours at a time. I am by nature, and physique, a sprinter. I am built for strength, not endurance. My tendency when I have come to a hill has been to try and tough it out and hit it hard all the way to the top. This works on hills that are a couple of hundred metres, but trust me when I say that when you are going uphill for kilometres at a time, sprinting does not work!

This has caused me to reflect on how I approach life. I live in an instant dinner, instant entertainment, wait for nothing, world. The idea of tucking in, trudging through and toughing out a problem, from one side to the other purposefully over time, is a bit foreign to me. I tend to set a plan in motion and get to it. To learn endurance, persistence, stickability, even when it hurts every step, might be a valuable lesson to me. And in this instant gratification world, might be a useful and perhaps uncommon asset.

For those of you who I know as friends, thanks for having stickability with me. I know how lucky I am to have you.

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Basking With The Basques

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Today marks my goodbye to Paris, at least for now.  This morning I jumped the train to Bayonne and made a connection from there to my starting point St Jean Pied de Port, which means the foot of the pass of St John. It is from here that my friends and I will set off tomorrow. To be honest, I am a bit intimidated by the prospect, I am carrying more weight (both in my pack and …well,,,just me), than I had intended. The first day is considered the hardest and commences with the crossing of the Pyrenees. The thought of setting out in, what I assume will be my poorest personal fitness of the trip, to attempt a mountain crossing, frankly has worms. Still, what’s the worst that can happen?


The Basque country is a fascinating place, most would have heard of the separatist movement, and whilst I don’t condone violent means to achieve this, I can understand their position. They are a unique race of people. No one knows where their language came from, it is highly unusual amongst European languages, unrelated to any other, there is even one theory that it similar to the Sioux language. There have also been DNA studies showing that they have a unique heritage among Europeans. I can understand wanting to keep that kind of heritage alive.


The train trip in, particularly from Bayonne to SJPP was breathtaking. We rolled by a river most of the way, one of the most beautiful I have seen. Into the feet of the Pyrenees, the mountains looming up before us throwing out their challenge.


You’ll see some photos of SJPP in this posting, beautiful cobble stone (hobble stone as a friend of mine puts it), streets, a city wall, houses and shops that look as they would have in the middle ages. Having the 5 of us here is fabulous, we ate the pilgrims menu (salad, a mince stew, bread and ice cream),  and then used the bread and the wine to take communion together. It was for me a very special moment.


So in saying goodbye to Paris, I have been reflecting on some of the seriously fabulous wines that I have been lucky enough to sample. Amazing Bordeaux and a Chablis that was so good that if I saw you drink it and you didn’t weep I would think you a heartless scoundrel.


As some of you closer to me would know, I come from a long line of alcoholics. My father and his father before him, it is a proud family tradition that goes back generations.


As a result I am easily given to reflecting on such things, and I have been thinking a little about the nature of wines and viticulture.


One interesting thing about French wines (and lots of others), is that many of  them are grown in what would traditionally be considered uncomfortable environments. Either chalky or gravelly or low nutrient soils. In fact quality viticulturists will sometimes “stress” the vines on purpose. This results in less overall yield but a much higher quality, concentrated juice with which to make the wine. It is an art. To anthropamorphise a grape, which I’m sure you’ll agree to be highly sensible, I wonder if the grape thinks it worth it. To be stressed and go through hardship, and then to be crushed, but ending up an utterly exceptional wine, unique in the world, something aspired to and even copied by others. The thing is, there is no other way to get there, no shortcut, no cheat. It is either do the hard yards or be ordinary.


I know what I would choose. I do choose. I want to put myself in the hands of the master winemaker, trust Him to lovingly work with me, to make me the unique wine He planned me to be from the beginning of creation. Time to buckle up and try and enjoy the ride.


If you see me grimacing, you may want to remind me of this temporary insanity. Still, it beats dying of old age as the Vikings say.


Save up your hugs for the next time you see me. Remind me to bring a bottle of my favourite wine.

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The reunion planned back around Easter in the Dog’s Bar in St Kilda between the Butsons, the Pates and me in front of Notre Dame Cathedral at 1100 on the 26th August, has taken place. You’ll see one of the photos with the five of us standing together. It has been great to see members of my tribe. We’ve been catching up, eating together, speculating about the big walk coming up. I’ve loved it.

Those of you who know me well would know that I have a penchant for the quirky, and that I can do just enough magic tricks to be annoying at parties. So I was lucky enough to be shown the Magic Museum here in Paris. Fun times. Now if I could only find the juggling, stilt walking, unicycling and fire eating museums I’ll be set.

A couple of other photos of note, there is a statue of Joan of Arc (again my special crush), one of the Paris versions of the Statue of Liberty and some great early morning photos of the Louvre. Taken had a very unsensible hour, but no people around and great light.

I have been reflecting a lot on the nature of love. Of course being in “The City of Light”, it was only a matter of time. Not only romantic love, although make no mistake this is interesting to me as well, but love for my family, my neighbor, my tribe, humanity.

So, this brings me to a life well lived, at least for me. I know I have been asking the question of others in previous blogs, and received some quite brilliant responses, please keep them coming, but here is one that is important to me.

To love courageously.

There are a few things I have learned over the years (imagine how smart I’ll be when I learn a few more things). Firstly, sooner or later love hurts, I don’t want that to sound bitter or broken, it most certainly isn’t. Indeed the realisation is liberating. What I mean to say is that people will let you down, I let people down, I try not to do it on purpose but I do. It will hurt because people make mistakes, because the ledger won’t always balance in your favour in a relationship, if it does you’re probably not in a healthy relationship. It will hurt because that person might say bad things, they might leave you, they will eventually die, they will fail you. And if you love, you will get hurt. If you love hard it may hurt more.

Having said that, the very nature of love, even a great romantic love, is to put the other person before yourself. I have realised that one of the things I have a tendency to do is to move toward and away from a person according to how much they move away from and toward me. This is fear, some may call it common sense or stewardship of the heart, but I really do think it is fear and with me at the centre. What if I could be free from fear enough to say “I will love you, how you are toward me is no longer a part of the equation of my loving you”. I suspect if I could get past this fear I might even hurt less when someone lets me down.

I wonder if this is what happens to some great loves over time. A couple set out passionate and in love, but one lets the other down who pulls back a bit, then the letter-downer pulls back in response, and so forth. Soon they find themselves in this cool relationship and what was once great is now just a convenience, or worse still a prison.

There is a passage in the bible that says “perfect love casts out fear”. I think that says to me that GREAT love cannot coexist with fear. That fear is a mortal enemy of love.

Of course God knows how to pull off this perfect love business, but we are made in His image, surely I can at least aspire toward this love. I mean really, what have I got to lose? Hopefully I am just giving away fear and ordinary, vanilla flavoured, uninteresting love, and setting out to love amazingly. I am on a pilgrimage after all.

And on that note, my efforts at courageous love to you all. Pray for me on my quest.

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