Mooney reporter Katriona McFadden is walking the Camino De Santiago in Spain this week and is sending us back ‘Audio Diary’ reports. She is walking it with her fiancé, JP. One of JP’s jobs is to give Katriona a boiled sweet before she has to walk up a hill. Otherwise she gets cranky apparently!
Katriona is travelling courtesy of caminoways.com, an Irish company specialising in accommodation, transport & luggage transfer along the Camino.
DAY MINUS ONE
We received our Pilgrims Passports in the holiday pack supplied by caminoways.com and brought them to the Guinness Storehouse and St James Church in Dublin to have them stamped. This is totally optional but many Irish pilgrims like to get their first stamp in Ireland.
The Pilgrims Passport is essential if you want to receive a ‘Compostela’ (certificate) at the end of your Camino. You must prove to the Pilgrims Office in Santiago that you have walked at least 100km. You do this by getting your passport stamped in hotels, shops and restaurants along the Camino. You can buy a pilgrims passport from The Irish Society of the Friends of St James, St James Church in Dublin or in certain places along the Camino.
The Scallop Shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. There are many theories why. My favourite is that the lines on the shell symbolise all the "Ways" there are to reach Santiago (The French Way, the Portuguese Way etc). All the lines meet at one point. Wherever you see a scallop shell you know you are on the right path. This scallop shell was one of a series on the footpath leading out of Sarria.
We flew to Santiago via Madrid as the direct Aer Lingus flights don’t start until April 1st. The lovely Cruz was waiting for us in Arrivals to transport us to our starting point, Sarria. There is also a direct bus that you can take from the airport to Sarria.
Sarria is a very popular starting point for ‘Pellegrinos’ (pilgrims) because it is 110km from Santiago – just a little over what is needed to get your certificate!
Only 110 km to Santiago!!
The journey from Santiago to Sarria was 90 minutes by car and very depressing. Lots of rain. Cruz pulled the car over several times to gape at flooded fields and rivers which had burst their banks. She said it had been raining for many days and the forecast was bad. However, the countryside was beautiful, very green, and reminded me a lot of Ireland.
We checked in at the Alfonso IX Hotel in the heart of Sarria, beside the river, and enjoyed their ‘Pilgrims Menu’ – 3 courses for €8.50! Many restaurants along the Camino offer a similarly-priced set menu aimed at walkers.
DAY ONE – SARRIA TO PORTOMARIN (23KM)
Curtains open. Phew! No rain! The receptionist smiled as we checked out at 8.30am to start the Camino. Most people had checked out by 7.30, he said, and we were the last to leave. We left our suitcases at reception to be transferred to the next hotel and carried a daypack with waterproofs, water and snacks. Starting the Camino slightly later than most meant the Way was relatively quiet and we often had it to ourselves for stretches. The terrain was wet and muddy from the previous day’s rain and walkers struggled to find dry spots to tread on. It is traditional to wish the person you are overtaking a “Buen Camino!” (“good walk”) and for them to say it back to you. It makes for quite a jovial walk as you must speak to everyone you meet. This was how we met farmer John Martin and his solicitor niece Aoife Martin from Roscommon (below).
Uncle & niece John & Aoife Martin from Roscommon. John wore corduroy trousers and Aoife wore pink runners. I'm not sure how they fared when the rain started on Day Two!
We chastised John for his choice of corduroy walking trousers and Aoife for her pink runners but they didn’t mind a jot! John says the small fields and the stone walls remind him a lot of home. They are also walking from Sarria to Santiago so no doubt our paths will cross again.
The countryside is beautiful. Walking the Camino gives you a real insight into rural life in Spain. Wearing shoulder bags is frowned upon among walkers, weight should be balanced in a backpack. Oops!
Today was a mixture of dirt tracks, small streams and paved and tarred roads. We passed through many farms - often smelling them before we saw them - and we saw the farmers at work. Many will wish you a Buen Camino but others seem a bit fed up with all these chirpy pilgrims and keep their heads down! There are lots of basic little cafés along the Way. Lentil soup was our choice of lunch. There is nothing like it for powering the legs. We walked for 23 kilometres today and thankfully the rain held off.
Bootloose and fancyfree!!
The road is long with many a winding turn...
Spotting Portomarin in the distance was a great feeling and we practically skipped towards it. We are now in the Hotel Pousada de Portomarin and a rooster is cock-a-doodle-dooing below the window. Our room overlooks the River Minho. Dinner starts at 8 (Spaniards love to eat late) so I am nibbling on crisps to stave off the hunger until then. Day One was a big success. Let’s see if I am still ‘skipping’ tomorrow!
When in doubt, follow the yellow arrow!
I hope Laura eventually met up with the message writer in Portomarin!
Two farm dogs who walked alongside each pilgrim for a while then turned, went to the top of the hill and posed for a picture. Very cute!
JP thought it was important to let Irish pilgrims know that they weren't far from home!
Arrived in Portomarin!!
DAY TWO – PORTOMARIN TO PALAS DE REI (23 KM)
Rain fell heavily last night but the skies are clear this morning as we set out. The roads aren’t as pretty today as we are walking alongside roads a lot. They’re also quite muddy.
Today we were walking along several busy roads...
...which eventually turned into forest roads
About an hour into our journey we meet Bill and Sharon Mayhall from Tucson, Arizona (pictured below). They’re a retired couple and agree to walk with us a while. They’ve walked all over the world they tell us and booked to do the Camino de Santiago a year ago.
The heavens had opened by the time we met Bill & Sharon Mayhall from Tucson, Arizona. They are 70 years old, walking on four knee replacements and Sharon is currently receiving treatment for cancer. They were a total inspiration!
They say they can’t get used to the late dinners either. Bill tells us that they both have had knee replacement surgery – that’s four new knees between them! And Sharon confides that she is currently receiving treatment for cancer. If you’ve ever been thinking about doing the Camino but lack the motivation, well they are it! Bill and Sharon were a joy to meet but we overtake them eventually, promising to try to meet up tonight in Palas de Rei for a drink. They have seen horses along the Camino but we haven’t yet, although the evidence of them is everywhere! You must be on the constant lookout for horse poo on the paths! Horseriders and cyclists must complete 200km in order to receive a certificate in Santiago. Some pilgrims have brought their dogs along. The dogs seem to love the Camino. Soon after meeting Bill and Sharon the heavens opened. And my raincoat really let me down. Mental note: spend money on a good quality raincoat next time! I wavered back in Dublin between buying a top brand raincoat for €70 or a cheaper version in a well-known chain store for €20. I chose the cheaper coat (it did say “waterproof” on the label) but today I got soaked through to my skin while JP sauntered along dry as a bone in his North Face jacket!
Taking shelter from the rain!
There were people much worse than me, however. One Spanish family decked out in shorts and runners were absolutely saturated! I wonder how John has fared in his corduroy trousers and Aoife in her pink runners. We are staying tonight in the Complejo de Cabana just before the town of Palas de Rei. I hope to throw out my cheap rainjacket in the morning and buy a new one (hopefully Palas de Rei has an outdoor shop). My legs started to feel the burn today but no blisters yet. Tomorrow is an easier day, just 15 km.