How Do Some People Do This in Two Hours?

Day Twenty-seven: Arzua to Santiago — At dinner last night in Arzua we calculated that today’s walk of 40.5 kilometers (26 miles) would be almost precisely the distance of a marathon. Sometime during our long hours of walking today Martin asked, “how long does it take to run a marathon?” I remembered an approximate record time almost exactly, since it was nearly 1/3 the time it took me to run my own marathon in 2011.

“Two hours, three minutes was the winning time of the Boston Marathon in 2011.”

“How is it humanly possible that anyone could cover this distance in that time?” Martin said.

We shared only the distance in common with a true marathon, since our “marathon” took eleven hours and thirty minutes. The temperature reached 82F degrees (25C) so as well as the distance, the sun was a challenge during a very long and tiring day.

But we are here. In Santiago! After 700 kilometers (437 miles) walking from Bilbao to Santiago on the Camino del Norte over 27 days, this pilgrimage is complete.

Tomorrow I will write a full wrap up, but already we have seen John of Calgary, Florian of Amsterdam, and heard from Julian of Honolulu. There is sharing and storytelling and eating to do with these pilgrim friends. The night is young, but short. Let the celebrations begin!

20120625-201643.jpgMartin, Sandy, Jacqueline in front of Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, June 25, 2012.

First Breakfast, Second Breakfast, First Dessert ….

Day Twenty-six: Sobrado to Arzua — As Jacqueline and I waited for Martin to get ready this morning I mentioned to Jacqueline how much I’d like to have seen the old church of the monastery. The building, given its size and decrepitude, is unsuitable for the monks’ use, but I was intrigued by its exterior and when Jacqueline told me she knew how to get in, I jumped at the chance. We left Martin to his steady work of arranging his things and cleaning up, and Jacqueline took me through the cloisters to the church’s side entrance.

As we walked into the vast building I was immediately enthralled. Yes, plants were pushing their way between stones into the church interior, and yes, sparrows flew from perch to nest inside the empty place. But the church retained the majesty of its original design, and its mouldering condition had a tragic grandeur that pushed me into a momentary fantasy: I could offer the monks my skills at church building maintenance! I could conquer my acrophobia and pull weeds from the towers. I could offer my painting skills to bring the wooden windows of the cloister back to like-new condition. I could even offer my organ tuning skills to fix the sour notes of the monks’ pipe organ to better support their singing.

This vacation thing must be getting carried away if now I have energy enough to imagine fixing other people’s churches when I have a church of my own back home that needs my care.

Jacqueline and I returned to the albergue portion of the monastery to see if Martin was now ready to go. After learning the answer we two headed to a cafe across the square to have first breakfast while Martin completed his preparations.

First breakfast on this camino has meant the early morning caffeine and calorie injection that helps propel us onto the camino. First breakfast is a little iffy sometimes because you can never be sure if a town will have a cafe that opens before 8:00. Second breakfast takes place mid morning at the closest cafe at the stroke of 10:00. It’s another coffee/calorie break designed to propel a pilgrim ahead for the next few hours. By noon, one is ready for first lunch which may involve trying to convince a Spanish barkeeper that non-Spaniards get hungry at noon and that a sandwich is needed to help us march onward. Second lunch unfortunately coincides with Spanish siesta, so any hope of real food in mid afternoon requires extra kindness from a Spanish chef who otherwise would be resting. First dinner happens at early evening when most of the civilized world eats dinner but when Spanish restaurants are closed, while second dinner coincides with Spanish dinner, which happens at the pilgrim bedtime of 9:00 pm. At any time during the day a pilgrim may enjoy first, second or third dessert which occurs whenever one is near a cafe or shop that sells ice cream bars.

Finally, Martin joined us for a first-breakfast-in-progress of coffee and croissants, and given the day’s short distance goal of 22.5 km (14 miles), we made it a relaxed meal. Detlef of Germany and his wife, Diana of Mexico joined us, and before long Karina of Austria was also part of our group. After some time we headed out, the six of us, for the next-to-last day of walking in this year’s camino.

Detlef and Diana set a slower pace from the start, so Karina, Jacqueline, Martin and I stayed together for an easy day on quiet, asphalt roads under sunny skies on undulating terrain.

Second breakfast was taken 9 km later at Carredoiras, and we lingered over a first lunch of empanadas at the town of Boimorto, a scant 2.5 km later.

When we came to the town of Sendelle we noticed a makeshift pilgrim aid stand at the roadside. Martin took the opportunity to enjoy an ice cream bar as first dessert. As we talked with our hostess we learned that just across the road is a 12th century chapel with recently discovered paintings from the sixteenth century. She offered to unlock the door and allow us inside for photos of the simple, but eloquent art.

We continued on from Sendelle, sensing that Arzua was always just around the next corner. Anxious for a cool spot in the shade we were delighted suddenly to find ourselves in the outskirts of the town. Martin, Jacqueline and I dropped off Karina at a bar while we searched for lodging, then we returned for a second lunch of bocadillos. Karina is heading on to Salceda in an attempt to break up tomorrow’s 40 km into a longer walk today and a shorter walk tomorrow.

Our hostal includes a washer/dryer, so we were thrilled to have the possibility of clean clothes for tomorrow’s last, long walk of 40 km into Santiago. After laundry and 8:00 pm Mass at the local Catholic church we will head to second dinner (oops, we missed the first one), while enjoying the English vs. Italian “Europe Cup” match on Spanish TV at Martin’s request.

Tomorrow we will rise early and walk long, arriving in the very late afternoon at the end of our pilgrim road. We expect reunions with many pilgrims from the past weeks, and have already heard from Michael, Stefan, Amelia, Lauren and others that our arrivals will converge. In the coming days we will request our completion certificates from the cathedral office, share in a pilgrim mass and then hug the apostle in joyful gratitude for a beautiful and safe walk over many miles in the company of beloved new and old friends.

20120624-172549.jpgVerdant monastery towers at Sobrado.

20120624-172651.jpgCeiling of the main, though empty, monastery church.

20120624-172747.jpgNave of the monastery church.

20120624-172829.jpgPilgrim Jacqueline silhouetted under cloister arches.

20120624-172928.jpgFirst sign of Santiago. From left: Martin, Karina and Jacqueline.

20120624-173010.jpgSixteenth century paintings in twelfth century apse of church at Sendelle.

20120624-173214.jpgGreen countryside before Arzua.

June 15, 2011 Arzua to Santiago de Compostela

Awoke at 06:30 and began to pack at 07:00. Andreas insisted on cooking eggs for us — what a sweetie. Done with eggs and conversation at 07:30. Got mini pack from Annina. Hannes of Germany asked “What do you carry in that, your cosmetics?” Big laughs. Left my pack at the albergue door for the pack service and left with jacqueline for long walk (40+ km) to Santiago at 07:45.

Leapfrogged most of day with Addison and Alexa, and also with Pieter of Austria, whom I found to be pleasant and humble. Saw Roberto of Mexico! Could not believe my eyes. He had sent his cousin home as she could not handle the exertion. Lunch at O Pedrouzo, then long slog through farms and the endless Santiago airport until finally reached Monte de Gozo. Had heard from Stefan of South Africa that he was leaving at 18:30 so rushed to get to Santiago by 18:00. Had also heard from Luke that her was ill with sinus infection and diarrhea, so advised him to go to Farmacia/clinic on arrival by bus in Santiago.

Arrived at 18:00 in Santiago and talked and walked with Stefan. Heard Stefan’s good and important ideas about religious faith and encourage him to write his book. Realized that Stefan thinks I am a conservative Christian — I should send him a book by Marcus Borg about new views of Christianity and I think he will be surprised and interested in a different perspective on Christian faith.

As dropped off backpack with Stefan at my hotel saw Christina and Meg (Meg Rayne). They were happy and playful and I would have loved to visit more with them. Truly two very beautiful people. Also saw Jacqueline who was behind by only 20 minutes or so. Said a very sad “good bye” to Stefan, my dear pilgrim friend from 2008 as he got in his taxi to the airport. He is a dear person and much fun and inspiration to be with. Arranged dinner with Luke and Gal.

At dinner heard Luke’s many stories and really enjoyed together time with the two of them. Off to Hotel Altair for quiet night’s rest.

Arrival in Santiago.

June 14, 2011 Melide to Arzua

Alexa and Addison of Seattle, surprise Americans discovered in Arzua.

Agreed last night with pilgrim family to meet them at 11:00 in Melide. Relaxed at hotel, recharged phone with money, went to cash machine. Arrived at restaurant and waited only 10-15 minutes. Group arrived, many pictures, much conversation. Catia only one to order pulpo.

Left restaurant and began short walk to Arzua. Long talks with Catia and Sebastian. Said goodbye to Catia at Ribadiso. She will wait there for Bea and they will walk together into Santiago. Sad to say goodbye as may not see her again.

Walked into Arzua and found albergue after albergue “completo.” Finally found “Albergue Via Lactea” with room for all of us and kitchen. There met Addison and Alexa of Seattle — a very big surprise to find Seattleites here on the camino. They work at Nilson’s Bakery on Lower Queen Anne Hill, perhaps 1/4 mile from my office.

Andreas and Annina cooked rice/veg dinner and we ate together in front room of albergue with wine, laughter and storytelling. Jacqueline and I both decided to walk full distance to Santiago next day and I arranged to have my pack sent ahead. This will allow us a rest day in Santiago and I can stay in my favorite hotel an extra night.

August 24, 2008 Melide to Arzua

Today’s walk would take us only 14 km to the town of Arzua, which would give plenty of time to relax and rest. Our guidebook mentioned an ancient church at Donas de Vilar and a medieval castle at Pambre that was off the camino near Palas de Rei, so we decided for reward ourselves with a taxi ride and church/castle tour if we could get to Arzua at a decent hour.

The thought of only a 3 hour walk gave Gail great hope, so we made it to Arzua by lunchtime and found a room at a hotel right on the camino in the heart of town. We left our things, found a taxi, and enjoyed a long ride to Castillo Pambre, a very scenic and deserted castle between woods and farms off the camino. Unfortunately there was no way to go inside the castle, so we walked down into a horse pasture to get the full effect of the building’s architecture and shared the space with a huge white stallion. We then headed to Vilar de Donas, and after finding the keeper of the key, studied every aspect of this nearly 1000 year old church.

Today was a nice day of gentle walking and car touring. This quiet and interesting day gave us both the sense that we were now starting to have fun, even as the end of our walk drew near.