Wednesday, 8 September 2010

I´d rather poke my eye out with a sharp stick!

After a relatively easy last 100km, we are now in Santiago de Compostela and the end of the Camino. We´ve been camped on the outskirts for two days, sitting out torrential rain, the first we´ve really encountered, prior to finishing.

It´s been very much a journey of contrasts in scenery, physical effort and hospitality. But before I tell you about the highs of the adventure, let me digress for a moment for a little rant, as is my way.

It may surprise you to learn that the Spanish are a nation of hearing challenged and follow a vampire lifestyle. I know, I´m as surprised as you, but there it is. I have evidence to share with you to prove these two points.

Firstly, if there´s one thing the Spanish do well it´s make a lot of noise. Mostly this comes in the form of standing about twelve inches apart and trying to outdo each other in volume. Not just one at a time though, oh no, that would be far too sensible. This lot prefer four or five in a group, all going for it at once! If it were an Olympic sport Spain would win gold, silver and bronze!

The second of my observations is supported by the fact that virtually nothing is done in this country during daylight hours. However, once the sun has set, and normal folks have pulled their sleeping bags around their ears, out they come, shouting, banging drums, setting off fireworks, clacking castanets or just generally making a noise if they sense it´s getting too quiet! At one point, on the outskirts of Portomarin, a small town of about fifty houses, around midnight, a rock concert to rival Glastonbury kicked off. This was in a town square just 20m by 20m!!! When did it finish? 6.30am, just in time for cornflakes! I felt really sorry for the pilgrims on the trek who were staying in traditional Albergues. They have a curfew imposed on them of 10.30pm when silence must reign. I don´t think anyone told the locals. Portomarin was a very nice town too, and quite unusual. Years ago they had moved the entire town stone by stone to higher ground before flooding the valley for hydro. That night I remember wishing they had left the locals in the valley!

But enough of my ranting I hear you say, what of the rest of the trip since my previous blog on the 1st of September?

This trip was first and foremost about meeting up with my best friend Pauline, on part of her round-the-world cycle. The Camino was a great choice and for me is a separate entity into itself, and Spain just happens to be it´s location.

As we approached Santiago the number of pilgrims increased from tens every mile to literally hundreds, all heading with one single purpose in mind, one joint destination. Some had started just 100km away, others had started from as far away as Sweden and Russia! It had taken us a lazy three weeks to cycle from Logrono, just 400 miles to the east, but here we all were, filtering down to one final path, one final kilometre, that would end at the doors to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago itself is a little bit of an anticlimax. Compared to the impressive structures of the cathedrals and cobbled alleyways of Burgos and Leon, Santiago looked derelict and forgotten. The main cathedral is some what moss-covered and made me think more of Ankor Wat than a cosmopolitan city. On closer examination as we wandered around the narrow, thousand year old cobbled streets, it is evident that Santiago has a somewhat damp climate. Virtually every building is moss and lichen covered and all hotels offer free use of umbrellas. This isn´t for shade I surmise.
This morning we rose early to visit the tomb of St James within the cathedral and the over-the-top baroque interior of the basilica itself, with it´s enormous metre high swinging incense burner, the botafumeiro. Electric candles now adorn the alcoves, presumably to stop the obvious damage from burning candles.

But the adventure is over for me and I must return to Scotland. Pauline continues on to new adventures and we will meet again in some far off country at some future time.

We have experienced dusty, flat, searing hot and barren dustbowls, through abandoned villages and vibrant cosmopolitan cities with their colurful markets and cobbled narrow streets, to high mountain passes and lush forested valleys. We have cruised easily along flat landscapes on roads that are perfectly straight for 5km, or climbed steep ascents for a relentless 35km and down fast descents of 12km or more. I have thoroughly enjoyed every inch of the way, or should I say, Camino.

But what of Spain I hear you ask? When will I return? Well, for the foreseeable furture I prefer to keep that appointment for my eye with a sharp stick!

Want to see the pics? Here´s the link:
You can follow Pauline on her continuing adventure on:


Sil said...

I'm going to miss your peregrino rants! But, you'll be back. el camino has that affect on people. Its a bit like childbirth - a painful journey where one says "Never again!" and then willingly plans the next one!
Buen camino.

Graham Kitchener said...

I had that very thought this morning, and I haven´t even left yet. For one thing the guide we used was 5 years out of date and perhaps need more research and a rewrite!!! Thank you for reading my blog. It made me smile that you enjoyed the rants :-)