Author: Lisa C.
Date of Trip: September 2011
Part TWO ~ LMC Along The Camino Frances, September, 2011
Booking our Camino Tour and Beginning a Spiritual Journey…
I really needed someone willing to go along with my random idea of seeking spirituality while hiking on this Pilgrimage through Galicia, and it was through my hiking group that I first met a perfect candidate, Maureen. Maureen is 10 years my senior, but had the ability to out-walk a 48-year old self-proclaimed “slow-strider” quite easily. Securing airfare was the initial step, as I find that when one is willing to book air travel well in advance, savings are great and intention is then two-fold, using a well-priced ticket to provide an impetus to finalize further details rounding out our travel itinerary for both enjoyment and good timing. Airfare round-trip on Iberia priced at $670.00, taking us on a 2-part air route from New York’s JFK, stopping in Madrid and then onward to SCQ, or Santiago de Compostela. Timing is everything they say and we could not have selected a better time, the weather being somewhat iffy in this region (and, as the saying goes… the rain in Spain falls mainly in the plains…of Galicia it turns out!) The early September weather turned out to be all sunshine and breezy 65-75 degree temps. Good timing is both a blessing and an art!
So, by mid-January, once our tour itinerary costs had been determined and we submitted bi-monthly payments to our Galician tour provider online; these were carefully timed to be made during the lowest currency exchange rates, of course, so that even though the dollar was short, we took advantage of lower exchange rates wherever possible. At the time of booking, w/euro exchange rates approximately .44 cents on the dollar factored into the cost, an original tour price of 1,495 Euro, became a much more sizeable amount in US monies – $2,100.00. This amount covered our 5 nights accommodations, airport transfers and chauffeur, breakfast and dinner daily and the ultimate ‘priceless’ advantage of an ‘on call’ chauffeur should our feet’s fail us along our journeys… One of our favorite go-to replies when addled by high travel costs became “It is what it is.”, and as we were still excited at our low-priced round-trip airfare, we went ahead with the higher tour price tag, especially since it was a fully independent journey and figuring we’d become penny-pinchers once we ‘hit the trail’…and we did eat canned tuna for lunch most days!
To accquaint ourselves w/high milage hiking, we spent the months of July and August training together completing up to 15 miles each meet along the sandy shores of Virginia’s beaches. One needs to be capable of walking with a full backpack and without struggle for up to 20km, which equates to 15-18 miles per day. Meanwhile, I perused various tour providers throughout Spain and Galicia-wide for pricing and details of various assisted and non-assisted Camino tour packages, finally settling on a Galician tour provider who provided quick replies to my myriad questions and who put together a completely ‘fully independent’ tour for us, with a chauffeur, luggage transfers, privately owned rural pensions and manor homes providing accommodations along the Camino, as well as daily trailside assistance only a phone call away along our journey. Typically, July and August are the most heavily visited times for the Camino; many 100’s of pilgrims are actually students from throughout Europe hiking any one of hundreds of other Camino trails winding throughout Europe, all which lead to the Cathedral in Santiago De Compostela. The entire Camino Frances is over 700km in actual length and begins at the border of France, yet only a portion thereof would comprise our sacred journey, five days worth of hiking up to 20km per day and beginning in Sarria, completing the required 100km as ‘the goal’ of course!
There is no way we could have imagined the splendid accommodations, the professionalism of our gracious host/chauffeur, Victor, and his ever so-stately black Audi touring car in which we were whisked from the airport within minutes of our decent; no way that we could even have dreamt of the spectacular meals provided at each accommodation with both dinner and the next morning’s breakfast always waiting for us, prepared quite evidently with love from their kitchens especially for us; most paradors, or manor homes, had ‘pilgrims choice’ menus, which were left bedside for our approval. At others, the meals were prepared to our specific order, such as at the most luxurious of the manor homes, The Pazo De Sedor, which was a fabulously restored 17th century mansion where we rested our heads upon the most lovely batten lace pillowcases after our long day’s hiking along dirty and dusty trails, taken hip to hip! At The Pazo, I was served a perfect plate of al dente spaghetti with fresh shrimp, which had been tossed in virgin olive oil and parmesan cheeses. I must have needed the carbohydrate infusion desperately, as I almost cried while eating it as it was so delicious, and plain pasta never seemed so wonderful at home.
Home…our homes seemed so very far, far away, along with our normal day-to-day existence. Yes, there is absolutely no way we could have imagined how happy every host at each night’s accommodations was to provide for our every wish and to make us feel at home. Our hard days journeys were well forgotten after each night’s blissful sleep and we barely spoke of ‘home’ or of our daily ho-hum lives left behind. Sometimes we would sing aloud during our walking, songs from “The Sound of Music” of course, as well as a few Jamaican tunes I’d memorized for the occasion such as “Cloud 9”, or “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, both by Bob Marley. You couldn’t help but be happy walking briskly along such beautiful nature-infused paths, way-marked with years-old concrete kilometer markers as well as bright yellow spray-painted arrows, provided to keep pilgrims on the right path by centuries of prior pilgrims, and the trail always appeared to be curving ahead so as to keep you wondering what could be next….maybe meandering (slogging actually…) over hills, traipsing across valleys, forging through streams and dry creek beds; quite a bit of the way was exhaustingly uphill and, as our training was on flat beaches of the eastern US variety, our uphill slogs will be long-remembered.
One spectacularly uphill slog stands out for me, as it was the end of our 3rd and longest day, 18km of sweat and slogs, a particularly strenuous day that ended with two directly uphill portions leading to a hair-pin curve of a paved road….Maureen as always outpaced me on the first uptick, and again on the second upward stint she kept ahead of me by at least 10 paces. I urged her to go onwards, that I would rest my lungs only for ‘a moment’ as I leaned precariously next to a slim sapling holding my head between my knees, and when, upon lifting my head to keep from passing out, I saw her eyes goggle big and she began waving her arms to indicate….it was Victor, in his lovely black Audi, and he was waiting for us at the hilltop, since we had not made the meeting point and were almost 1 hour behind in our travels. His face was that of God, I am sure, as I found myself suddenly able to sprint to the hilltop! Once there, I literally collapsed into his car, fervently hoping that I would not pass out from sheer exhaustion or elation, I’m not sure which! We were, at that moment, truly blessed!
Our 4th day began with a long view through an early morning mist of a lovely, winding lane, along which hundreds of ripe apples had fallen; we skipped alongside a pasture of cows spotted in the palest brown, with the softest-looking long-haired ears, and they happily munched those apples which fell into their keeps. Another song-filled 15km journey put us in O’Pino, where we arrived at a former stone mill refurbed into a splendid manor house and our hosts served us Estrella Galicia, the absolute best beer in Galicia, esp. after one has hiked over 15km! Our dinner was sublime braised beef tips served with Martin Codex Albinero wine that will long be remembered as well! Our Camino Journey will be finalized in Part Three…