Home in Melbourne 5 th June

I am back in wintry Melbourne adjusting to dark cold mornings and early nights. It is a bit of a shock from 40 degree temperatures at the Dead Sea. It is good to be home nevertheless and I am now trying to update my blog to make it easier to navigate and so I can continue to add to it with my next adventure.

I was to be having a 4WD trek through Central Australia but it has been put on hold due to uncertainty about roads. The outback has been subject to inundation and roads are blocked. It could make for a later date to explore and that won’t suit as I am off to South America shortly after. I couldn’t afford to get bogged and stuck out there and not be able to get back in time for the South American departure.

Also my friend’s Mum is not in good health and she doesn’t want to be too far away in case she is needed. We are all at that time of our lives when if it isn’t grandchildren needing care it is our parents. The cycle of life makes all the trips more important.

I believe in doing them while I am able and relatively free. Time will come soon enough when such adventures will be curtailed.

This last holiday or more accurately group of holidays where so different from my usual freewheeling travels. They were wonderful and it gave me a current benchmark to measure against. I loved them and enjoyed the companionship, the organisation and the ease of travel. I missed the independence and free time of my own travels. I feel so empowered if I have to negotiate travel independently. It is not as efficient sometimes and has more stress probably, but I do feel energised by the challenge.

Staying in hotels had great advantages, not the least a private bath in the private bathrooms, room to spread out, towels and toiletries, and power points! What I missed was that many were not right in the heart of things, or there was little communication with other travellers. I find people interesting and love to hear their stories so I enjoy meeting new people and that is certainly made easier when you are in close quarters or sharing the same route so that you bump into the same people more often.

Of course I did meet new people who were part of my group and that was a delight and special in a different way. I mean meeting people outside my usual circles such as locals or other international travellers.

So I have enjoyed and gained so much from this holiday and will look forward to adding this style of travel to my repertoire depending on the destination in the future.

Dead Sea 25 th & 26 th May

It seemed strange not to have a timetable after weeks of being on the go. We didn’t even have to sit together to eat which left us feeling a little forlorn. We had become a family of sorts and it was a strange feeling to be loose!

Anne and I had made appointments for massages and were then at a loose end. I was trying to finish the blog after several days of bad internet. Time went quickly and we were back at the Beach for a swim or more accurately, a float. This day the water was mill pond calm which really added to the dreamy feeling. We were on our way back to the room when Julie called us. She and Jan and the other Kathy were at the poolside bar so we joined them. Our skin was smooth from the salt but our pockets were skinned by the prices at the poolside bar! Still it was delightful to sit around in the water talking.

Dinner was a varied and delicious buffet. We had got a bit sick of the buffet meals but here there were more choices. I was amused to see beef bacon at breakfast! Alcohol has been expensive ( though beer was not) and hard to get because it was Ramadan. Here we were not restricted to after 8.00 pm. And they had a great deal of $24 a glass of wine but refilled as much as you like! Mind you we hadn’t been drinking much so we didn’t want to over do it.

In such a large hotel we barely bumped in to each other so there was a sense of the group dismantling with everyone going their own ways. Some of the group are continuing on to Egypt and Sth. Africa, while the rest will split up in Dubai when Mary and Bill take their plane to Perth and the remaining group go on to Melbourne. We have been a very cohesive group so we are hoping to keep in touch.

Several of the group wanted Father Dean to bless their presents, something Anya did quite frequently whenever there was a priest and we were visiting a church! We had our last mass and he blessed all the gifts.

Everyone is glad of the rest after our constant early starts and packed days. Just mooching around had been reviving. People look so strange when covered in mud. There were all ethnicities on the beach when the mud was washed off and I had to laugh at a young guy who was covered in mud all over, except for his pink ears! I covered my ears and it took two days to get the mud out!

Our minds had turned for home and we were packing and printing tickets for the plane. I get a bit like the riding school horse ho when turned for home just wants to get there.

On our last morning our bags had to be out by 12 and we were on the bus by 2.30 heading for Amman airport. It was a fairly quick trip and uneventful through check in, and immigration. The men in immigration seemed bored witless and were not going to smile.

Our flight to Dubai was pleasant and then we had nearly 4 hours to kill. A group of us women were duty free shopping and all got our eyebrows done and a trial of a primer. We all looked pretty glamorous and of course we bought the deal and divided it!

When we boarded our flight Julie and Anne were keen to sit where there were more spaces, so they grabbed some unoccupied seats hoping to bag the four across. Unfortunately neither succeeded but did get extra spaces on one side. It was an easy, long flight back.

We arrived on time and were met with very cold temperatures. BRR. We were home!

We said our final farewells and disappeared into the night.

Pontevedra 1st May

It was Anne’s birthday yesterday so she got to lead the pace as we departed Redondela. We took it easy and met up with a father and son who were walking together. The father has walked several Caminos since he retired and feels healthy and fit and at peace. His son said he would like to do one with him because he had a stressful job. The son has been amazed how unstressed he was now. He could barely think of work at all. The walking had also brought him closer to his father. He and Bill had a long chat about languages and other things. Irene commented on how life had become simple while doing the Camino. She felt that she was able to let thoughts go more easily and was more relaxed now too. She had started to feel sorry about finishing soon. We all said our feet and bodies get tired but we still feel better overall.

It was a beautiful walk with a few tough hills to keep us interested and give us good views but mostly we walked through forest and on dirt paths and at last alongside a stream. It was very pleasant and so much softer underfoot.plus the birds are so pretty to hear.

We are starting to see many pilgrims now that the path has merged with the Portuguese Central Way. There are many young people, some in groups, some alone. Many of the girls are travelling solo. There are couples, some oldies and some young, some who walk hand in hand which is beautiful to see. We have met many different nationalities too. I started chatting to a young guy who was with a group of young men carrying a cross. He said he was Italian and he was finding it a bit of a challenge up the hills. They were taking turns at carrying the cross. I tried my basic Italian out and he corrected me politely and we laughed and then it was Arriverderci and Buen Camino and he ran to catch his mates. One young Polish couple we spoke with tried to teach us how to say Mount Kosciuszko with the correct pronunciation. We were not great students but we had a few laughs at our attempts.

As we walked up a hill I started talking with a couple we have passed a few times this day. They were Henry and Lou from Dallas, Texas. He had just retired from running his Chinese restaurant. He was from Hong Kong and was a little surprised when I told him my husband had been from Hong Kong too. It turned out it was his birthday so he and Anne had a photo together to celebrate that coincidence. What would be the odds that you meet someone on the same Camino with the same birth date?

We crossed this old Roman bridge, the Ponte Sampaio, where there had been a major battle in the Peninsula war between Napoleon and Spain and the French were routed and ousted From Galicia. While we were taking photographs a group of Spaniards asked us to take a photo of them at the bridge. They also asked why my husband was riding a bike. I promptly pointed to Irene and told them Bill was her husband. We explained that he had broken his foot and that this was the only way he could join us. We told them we often suggested he scout ahead to save us making the wrong turns! They laughed. The trouble is sometimes when Bill does scout ahead he is watching the road or going up a hill and can’t always see the arrows. He had that mishap yesterday and had climbed a steep hill only to find he had missed the turn off. The good side was the quick downhill to the correct turn off!

We lunched by a fountain. It never fails to amaze me the number of ancient water courses or springs that supply these fountains and still do after hundreds of years. From a country like Australia which always has issues with drought it is a miracle.

We arrived in Pontevedra and settled into our hotel. Another birthday present for Anne was a bath! She had been fantasising about a soak. Fully refreshed we were faced with the dilemma of dinner again. Because it was Anne’s birthday we wanted to go somewhere good and as it was a public holiday (May day) we were unwilling to walk to the old part of town if places were not open. What were we thinking, it’s Europe and Spain and lots of bars were open. Once we found the old town it was abuzz. Pontevedra was one of the first cities to fully pedestrianise its old city centre and has become a showcase for the world winning many awards. It has meant a preserved city but also a flourishing city centre. It has a myriad of charming plazas. This sculpture of famous Gallicians and Anne was at the first square we came across.

This is the famous Chapel of the Virgin Pilgrim which is shaped like a shell.

We had a recommendation for a restaurant from the guy on reception and we were searching for it when we happened on this great Tapas place with a witch on a broomstick as it’s motif. It was modern and the food was fantastic and they served Ruby Port! Another birthday treat for Anne.

Time was moving along so we figured we could fit in another bar before the restaurant but with great delight the bar we selected was the restaurant. The sign said they feed athletes! We thought we were the correct customers then. The maître de spoke with us but said the restaurant was full. We could sit downstairs though on the high stools and we had the best shared plates. This place had a Michelin recommendation so we were thinking the credit cards might be required! While we ate their were queue out the door.

Those were the best pork ribs I have had in years and everything was gorgeous. Best of all it only cost €75 including the wine! Brilliant value, brilliant quality and a great example of modern International cooking. We were very happy pilgrims.

Vigo to Redondela 30 th April

We hit under 90 kms today! The walk out of Vigo was uphill as most pilgrimages are and we soon found ourselves in a road above Vigo, able to see down into the river most of the way. I keep thinking it is a harbour but it is actually the Rio Vigo estuary and it is very wide ( 7 km at its widest) and extends 35 kms north east. It is famous for boating, fishing and shell fishing. We saw lots of oyster farms or mussel farms all around the estuary. It had the most mesmerising blue, especially today because we had a perfect walking day. Blue skies and sunshine, but not more than low 20s in temperature and as well, quite a bit of forest shade too.

Once we left Vigo we had no coffee shops till almost the end of the walk. I saw the sign for a bar and even though it was a stiff 15 metre climb up to it, we decided to have a break. We had completely forgotten the left over tortilla from last night that I was carrying!

The temptation of a chai tea and dark beer chocolate cake was too much for us! It was so nice to get something different to drink (though alcohol is always nice)! Irene even had something lactos free. The young couple were very friendly and used to pilgrims and I imagine pilgrims are their main source of income. Their menu was certainly more trendy with chai and lactos and gluten free options. One pilgrim had left his water bottle on the table and the young man took after him on foot but couldn’t catch him. He said he would go later to town and try a few Albergues. He told us he had cousins in Sydney and was hoping to go in September sometime for about 6 weeks. This place had a magic view too.

We saw this very attractive bridge crossing the estuary.

The descent into Redondela was fairly brutal. Tarmac and steep the whole way. Anne was feeling her feet and hips suffering. Irene was walking strongly but seemed exhausted when we finally arrived. Going down hills is always more difficult on your knees, hips and ankles. I felt my feet getting tender and the knee I had trouble with was a bit tender too. Once on the flat all was okay. Bill had a great day with hardly any traffic and a flat ride till the end.

For the first time when we reached a town we saw lots of pilgrims and there must be at least ten or more Albergues here. We stayed in two apartments that were side by side. On arrival there was one moment of missed heartbeat when we couldn’t find 3 of the bags. They had come early and been put into a cupboard which was then overcrowded with other bags outside. Green walks had not failed us. Our apartment had a washing machine so we promptly washed and spun dry a few garments. I had to scrape a few bits of sard soap into the soap part and then we rubbed sard onto the clothes. They took a while but eventually were washed. It is always a challenge to work the washing machines. Bill has used some laundromats and the water and soap are all pre-mixed! Now that is convenient. We had a clothes horse and heater so we expected the clothes to dry fairly quickly. That is a luxury. In Albergues there is always a clothes line but apartments and hotels just don’t have those facilities so we drape in the bathroom or hang in the cupboards.

We took a wander around town and found an ice cream parlour. With ice-creams in hand we adjourned to a nearby park to relax and enjoy not walking! We were quite fascinated by a steel railway bridge that actually crosses the town in two diagonal lines at above roof height. It is quite attractive actually. I thought about the sky train at home and all the hullabaloo. We also noticed lots of plastic bottles recycled as decorative flowers in the lanes and on the buildings. Apparently there had been a recycling festival in the town for a week. They looked remarkably attractive.

The town has a small old part with winding streets and the shopping always seems to be discreet. Not many have large windows or streets of shop after shop with big plate glass windows. They are even set back from the footpath sometimes.

We had the usual problem of finding a place to eat early enough. Most of the bars open at 5 and restaurants about 7.30 pm if you are lucky. We stopped at a bar for a drink and were given a small plate of cheese and bread with a drizzle of olive oil as well as a bowl of sunflower seeds and a bowl of jubes. This is the custom here and it is usually complimentary. Sometimes you could eat that and have a salad and go to bed!

Everyone was quite tired and we flirted with the idea of buying food from the supermarket but the choices were not as good as we had had in Porto so we ditched that and found a cafe that was offering a €10 meal of 2 dishes, cake, drink and coffee for pilgrims. We all opted for Gazpacho which was fabulous. The peppers filled with seafood had only a mere whiff of seafood but were okay, and the cake was very nice. We had a passable glass of red and a good coffee. Not a bad meal for the price. There was certainly sufficient to satisfy us. By now we were all desperate to get back to the apartment but the town was just starting to buzz. A pilgrims lot is to eat early and sleep well, to rise early and start afresh the next day.

Corujo to Vigo 29 th April

After a three night respite from packing suitcases we hit the road again. Bill had to leave early because he had to ride back to our finishing point yesterday while we ladies were able to catch a taxi. We did take his backpack for him. It was quite busy but he made good time and we were only waiting about 10 minutes before he arrived. It was so misty this morning yet not cold. Bill had a great photo of the harbour as still as a mill pond.it felt a little odd to take off from the middle of our day’s distance but this has been the nature of this trip. The distances have been customised so the walking day is not too long, especially for Bill who has a damaged foot. It is a more relaxing walk and there is plenty of time to see the countryside and the towns.

We had all read our notes and wanted no repeat of yesterday’s confusion. We were determined to be vigilante about yellow arrows. We had a few discussions over interpreting the notes and Bill engaged the GPS app that is part of the kit, but which we have found very hard to use. Eventually we arrived in Vigo after a delightful walk. The sun was out and although cool initially it warmed up towards the afternoon.

This church of San Pedro de Matamá had unusual roof decorations. It was a Romanesque style inside.

At lunch time as we entered Vigo and came across the Parque de Castrelos. Here the notes were so ambiguous we all had different views. In the end after eating lunch and resuming the walk we determined that we had entered a main gate rather than the subsidiary gate and we were actually on track. A woman suggested we visit the castle that was at the top of the hill and as it was on the way we did. The castle Quinones de Leon itself was not open( it is Monday!) but the gardens were and they were beautiful. There were magnolia trees that had trunks like old gum trees! There were camélias that were equally as old and the size of trees. It was such a lovely uplifting garden. They are restoring its maze too. Apparently Marie Antoinette used to visit. This is a magnolia tree!

It even had exposed roots like Moreton bay fig trees. They are hard to see in the shadows.

As we left the castle we saw the yellow arrows again! We followed them for a long time along a little stream not unlike the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto. Once again we started to climb and we then had a decision. Follow the arrows or the GPS to the hotel. We opted for the GPS as it was closer by that route and it was warmer now.

When we arrived at our hotel after a bit of Discussion about the best way to cross the four lane road, the manager at reception kept putting the incorrect passports with Bill ‘s! Irene had to say eventually she and Bill had the matrimonial and Anne and I had the share. He just couldn’t get the passports sorted. Not very inspiring and an uninspiring Camino stamp too! When we collected our luggage Anne’s Green walks tag had fallen off and I thought she had lost it so I asked for a photocopy of mine to attach to her bag. He was very quick to do that so that was reassuring. Then when we moved Anne’s bag it had fallen on the floor underneath so we were relieved. The luggage shifting has been excellent. Always there on our arrival.

Bill has walked a lot today and scouted ahead. He has earned his big beer again.

Anne had good news from Sophie this morning. She didn’t need to have the operation to drain the cysts that have contributed to her serious illness. They seem to be draining of their own accord. It seems that very very gradually she is getting better. It is such a relief. We continue to light candles for her wherever we can.

One of the creatures I have met along the way was a very friendly donkey. He just loved having his ears scratched..

We had a budget meal tonight in a cafe because no other places were open. It was a very generous amount of tapas and not great wine. We have tasted better but the willingness of the waitress and the cheap cost compensated. Today we only spent €15 per person.

We are not in the old part of town here in Vigo so it is hard to see its charm. It seems more like a working city. It is one of the largest provincial towns in Spain that is not a Capital of a region. There was this quite arresting statue in the centre of a roundabout as we walked out for dinner. The sculpture is of five horses ascending on a waterfall driven by an intrinsic energy. The sculptor Juan Oliviera is renowned for his horse sculptures and is known as “The Lord of the horses”.

For the first time we had internet and energy to play the Age weekend quizzes after dinner. Now that is an improvement in stamina.

Baiona to Corujo 28 th April

We were expecting a fairly cushy walk today of only 15kms but we were so wrong. The trail was well marked nearly all the way till we got to an overpass. On the way I was interested to see a few fountains that people still take water from. This one not far out of town was restored in 1593-1734 and 1993 and was still being used.We crossed a mid 13th C bridge which had a very amusing folk tale attached to it. The bridge was built with arches for pedestrians to get out of the way of carts. In the middle was a cross with the image of Saint Telmo the patron saint of sailors. On a stone table, the altar piece had three souls. Fertility rites were celebrated upon this bridge. After midnight, women who couldn’t get pregnant had to persuade the first man crossing the bridge to pour water onto their wombs and be godfather to their babies. We think they white washed that tale!

At the highway there were conflicting arrows. One path went beside a little creek and the other went over the road via a blue overpass. Anne and I took the overpass because there were more arrows pointing that way. Bill and Irene who were a bit behind us took the stream. Anne and I waited about 20 mins then rang Bill to find out where they were. Once we had made contact Anne and I decided to continue and Bill and Irene eventually caught us up. We stopped at a grassy spot for lunch and for Irene and Bill to catch their breath.

There was a beautiful brown horse in the yard opposite. Irene had left her sticks against the fence and he started to nibble them. I was chatting to him and decided to give him half my apple. He seemed to be rather excited by that. He was quite friendly and let me pat him and took the apple gently. He must stand there pretty frequently to get the attention and snacks from pilgrims.

Some signs we saw along the way on a wall.

We resumed our path and crested the hill where we found a few bars which our notes suggested would be a good place for lunch as there was nothing till the end from now on. We had no need for more sustenance so we continued up into the forest. There had been many steep inclines through semi rural areas and we all stripped off our outer layers. We made quite brisk time till the hill top forest, then it all went pear shaped. No arrows to be seen to guide us. There were three roads and the notes seemed ambiguous. Bill gallantly rode down a steep incline to see if that had arrows but he didn’t see any and returned UP again, so we took the path straight ahead that a woman had assured us was the way.

Unfortunately it wasn’t. We walked along a dirt road for what seemed like ages. We could see the town below us but no path appeared to take us down. I was tracking our distance and we were almost at our 15 km goal but not the end of the walk. Eventually we resorted to google maps and took a logging track down the hill. It was amidst a blue gum forest and the path was rough and ungraded with loose stones. Anne was anxious about her knee. Bill had to manage the bike and his sore foot and Irene was feeling really tired. As we got further down the hill my spirits lifted because the houses were getting closer and eventually we emerged onto a street at the very edge of the town. We went straight down to find our destination, the 12 th Century Church of St Salvador de Coruxo. And it wasn’t even open. Here we saw a few pilgrims again and yellow arrows.

Others had had difficulty with this stage too so we didn’t feel too bad but we had walked a couple of extra kilometres over really rough terrain. We felt very pilgrim like!

We then found a cafe where we got our well earned stamp and had drinks while we waited for the taxi to come and return us to Baiona. It will bring us back tomorrow to start the next leg from here. Poor Bill had to ride back to Baiona and will have to ride out again tomorrow because there are no vans available to transport his bike. He will have earned his Cerveca Grande( large beer). The next leg will take us on to Viga and we won’t be so blasé!

Baiona 27 th April

We had scheduled a rest day in this town and so after breakfast we explored the Monterreal Fort which is at the Monte Bois peninsula. It has been inhabited as a walled precinct for over 2000 years with the Celts, Phoenecians and Romans befor Christian settlement. The town was developed by royal decree from King Alfonso lX and was subject to many attacks from corsairs (pirates). There are really only the walls left of the fort but it is impressive from the land and harbour..

The tourist office had a good booklet of a few historical walks we could do in town or rather use to identify the objects we had seen already! There is a replica caravel ( ship) of the Pinta on which Pinzon and Columbus sailed to the new world and on which they returned to Spain and visited Baiona.

This event was also commemorated in a sculpture portraying the meeting of the old world and the new world and was placed on the area where an American Indian, who had returned with the explorers was buried.

Irene and Bill went off for a rest and Anne and I decided to go and put our feet in the ocean. We walked the length of the promenade to a beach where we found some unique shells and waded in the very cold water. It was lovely to wander on the sand and then over to another sculpture and little chapel.

The chapel of St. Marta had been sacked by Sir Francis Drake, described here as a pirate supported by the Queen of England, Elizabeth 1. He sailed into Baiona to capture Spanish gold and found the town unprotected, but a Spanish army was galvanised and fought back to recapture the town. In the fighting Drake burnt the church which was later rebuilt.

We met Bill and Irene in the bar and headed of for a drink and dinner. After last night’s blow out we were looking for something simpler but after strolling around we saw this gourmet gin bar that served Tapas. It was very trendy and we succumbed to the quirkiness. Anne was feeling all puffy from her cold still and didn’t want any photos so we chose to sit in what had been the fire place. She and I were somewhat concealed by the overhang of the mantle. We ordered fancy cocktails and mocktails which were quite delicious and a few tapas which were all so tasty. We ended up over budget again. Just as well we are getting our lunches free at this hotel!

That night we slept well in our new room insulated from the street and overlooking a skywell-no view. Irene said she had heard us laughing because they are above us and face towards the sea but overlook the lightwell too.