Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Camino – a life affirming experience

Johnnie Walker hard at work

I’m very lucky. I love working with pilgrims here in Santiago, hearing their stories and seeing their joy on arrival. I also like writing guides to some of the shorter routes such as the Camino Inglés. Many pilgrims send me information for the guides which helps keep them up to date for other pilgrims. They also write about the things which happen to them along the way. Here is a small selection. I’ve edited some bits and removed the names. I find them inspiring. I hope you do too:

Dear John,

A few weeks ago already since I finished the Ingles -- I'm trying to keep it all fresh!
I'm glad I got to meet you and talk briefly when I got my Compostela.  The group at the office, by the way, seemed particularly warm and friendly.  I didn't realize at the time that I must have hit the first group of Amigos, but it was lovely to be greeted in such a nice way.  Please pass along my thanks.
Before I forget, I have a few little notes on the route that may be useful.
The promenade leading to the albergue at Neda
I stayed in Ferrol at El Cairo.  The owners were quiet but friendly.  Eating out alone in Spain can be uncomfortable sometimes, but I had a good supper at the pizzaria next door and felt quite comfortable.

The promenade route into Neda seems to split into several paths, and somehow I missed the waymarks leading to the pedestrian bridge.  

The hospitaleiro at Pontedeume albergue was a friendly and helpful fellow, and wouldn't even let me make a donation.  He says he's there at 7:30 til 9:30 to let people in.  

The next day was a hungry one (actually it was cold, wet, hungry, and exhausting, but thanks to the beautiful camino and some lovely and incredibly fun fellow peregrinos, it was a fabulous day overall).  Bar Julia was open for coffee but didn't have any food.

Carmen and Benino (hospitaleros in Hospital de Bruma) were terrific, and made sure I got fed. 
Speaking of food, Bar Cruzeiro was closed the next day.  I got coffee at Bar Novo, and should have had the foresight to ask if they could make me a bocadillo.  But what a treat at Hostal Miraz!  I want to eat there everyday. The mass times in Sigueiro have changed from what is in the guide.  I arrived when Mass was almost over, and thus was a little sheepish asking for a sello, but they could not have been more welcoming.

I got a little confused getting into Santiago.  I couldn't find the waymark across from the Bar Garcia Lorca, and turned to the left instead of crossing into the park with the arches.  I was rescued by a woman in a highrise shouting at me from her window and waving her hands in the opposite direction.  

This was just one of so many times on this little camino that kind strangers went out of their way to help me out.  I have rarely in my life felt so blessed as I did in those five days.  Thanks again for all of your help with the guide and your encouragement.  
Buen camino, with best wishes,
A pilgrim

View from the Camino outside of Ferrol 
Dear John
Here are some notes from our recent Camino...
...When we reached this point we were absolutely drenched and dripping having walked for a couple of hours in persistent rain and hail. As we really only wanted some respite from the rain and a coffee we decided to try the Café Vilar a few doors up as it did look a bit more inviting and does have a pilgrim sign outside. I ordered and paid for our coffees and took the opportunity to get our passports stamped before taking our coffees to a table out of the way. I know I felt thoroughly wet and miserable and so did my friend as we hunched over our drinks. After a few minutes we heard a voice behind us in broken English saying “you like” we turned round and the lady behind the bar had brought each of a plate of bacon and egg on toast. It was such a kind gesture and never has bacon and egg tasted so good. It really lifted our spirits and amazingly once we’d left the bar, the weather improved for a couple of hours and we were able to press on. Earlier in the week we had been told that originally pilgrims had the right to ask the locals for food and drink and they had to supply it. I had not expected that in the 21st century we would still be on the receiving end of such kindness, especially unasked for. I know we were probably out of season, and it wouldn’t happen as a matter of course, I also suspect that as we are two ladies of a certain age (I’m 54 and my friend is 67) we probably elicit a different response than others might but I will always remember that gesture.
Walking the Camino was an experience I know we’ll talk about for many years. It is definitely an achievement that we’re proud of, it was certainly a hard earned Compostella for us. However, more than that it was also a reminder of the general goodness of people. We met so many friendly people along our way, they filled us up with water; showed us the way when we looked lost (even physically walking with us to show us on two occasions); took care of the dog that followed us for 2kms; fed us when we looked in need; chatted to us because they wanted to practice their English (even if we were sitting at the side of road replacing plasters and changing socks) offered translations when our Spanish fell as short as the waiters English; and generally wished us a buen viaje. 

Best wishes
Two peregrinas
My favourite spot for lunch on the Camino Ingles
Hola John
Just wanted to say thanks so much for the guide - completely invaluable on my recent walk (I don't know how people manage it using the waymarks alone!). In fact my guide came in very handy for several other guideless pilgrims when the waymarks seemed to peter out as the route enters the outskirts of Santiago by the café bar Poligono!  There was only one bit where I managed to get lost through the first forested path between Poulo and Segueiro where I must have missed the waymark after the kerb of granite blocks - I kept going in what I hoped was vaguely the right direction and ended up in an unmarked (and apparently uninhabited!) hamlet where a kindly farmer on a tractor got me back on the right path through a series of hand signals (my phrasebook Spanish improved infinitely over the week!). Maybe it was the scorching sun, or maybe it was having already walked several km out of my way that day, but I have to say, that long straight forested section that follows shortly after feels a lot longer than 4 km!
I also met some wonderful people along the way, which helped alleviate my aching feet and back. At the end of the first day, feeling a bit bedraggled and despondent having realised that I had packed way too much stuff and my feet were already hurting(!), I asked some people outside the cafe bar by the O Burro Bridge for directions to the hotel (didn't see the big sign behind me!) and they took me in, bought me a beer, ran me a bath and cooked me tea! They also pointed out a shortcut avoiding Cambre taking the river path opposite the hotel and turning right till you reach the waymarked path shortly after the cafe bar Meson Vasco. I must have still been looking a bit lost and forlorn the next day though as a friendly cyclist on his way back to Carral walked me the whole of the second leg of my journey and also insisted on cooking me lunch at the end! And that was apart from the other pilgrims (Spanish and English) whom I had the pleasure of encountering along the way.
All in all a wonderfully life-affirming experience!
Many thanks again!
A pilgrim

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Just what the doctor ordered

It has been a busy time in Santiago. The Amigos project is well under way and tonight Mildred and Elizabeth, or “Amigos 7 and 8” arrive. They take over from William and Mario, who themselves took over from Patro and Laraine two weeks ago.  The number of pilgrims arriving is increasing daily and regularly now we receive around 1000 pilgrims in the day. Many have questions or simply want to talk about their Camino. The Amigos provide a ready listening ear.  The Amigos are recognised easily by their distinctive blue Tshirts. This is having the added and welcome consequence that they are easily recognised in the streets on their way home when pilgrims who have been welcomed by them return the compliment with waves, greetings and even more questions.
Amigos Patro and Laraine meeting Eduardo and D. Jenaro from the Pilgrims' Office
As well as Amigos arriving so too did a group of 15 members and associates of one of the City of London Livery Companies, the Tylers and Bricklayers. They elect a “Master” each year who can mount a special project to mark their term of office. This year’s Master is Piers Nicholson, Camino addict and owner of the popular website http://www.santiago-compostela.net/   So it was no surprise that his project was leading a group walking the Camino Inglés from Ferrol. I helped them organise things on the ground including identifying “pick up points” where they could be assisted by car if it all became too much! However they didn’t need this safety net very much and they duly made a triumphant entry into the city. They were very pleased with themselves.
They were quickly followed by old friend Rebekah who had walked the Camino Portugese with Kathy Gower of the American Pilgrims and friend Phillip from Belgium. It was great seeing them and meeting Kathy at long last. They arrived at the same time as George Greenia and Kay Jenkins both professors from the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg University. There they have an Institute of Pilgrimage Studies and they were in Santiago with a group of students before starting to walk the Camino Francés with them. All these folk in one place was a good excuse for a party and we had a wonderful dinner together.
Then I had a visit from old friends Jenny and Graham from Edinburgh who were the very first people to introduce me to the Camino. I explained this to friends in the Pilgrims’ Office who immediately retorted “you have created a monster!”
Vila do Conde
After the first groups of Amigos arriving and all of carousing with visiting friends I was feeling the pressure and looming large is the 9 Day Novena held annually in the church in A Coruña where I am playing. There are 2 services a day for the 9 days starting from Tuesday...more of that later. Yes, overwork and stress can happen even here in Santiago. Fortunately a cure is at hand and with the Big Man who will sing during the 9 Day Novena I set off on the Camino Portugese.  There are a number of routes through Portugal and I have walked the “interior route” from Oporto to Tui to Santiago before. This time I wanted something completely different and so we decided to explore the route along the coast from Oporto.
Karla making sardines
It seems there are two costal routes in Portugal we decided to try and find our way along the very coast of Portugal and Spain until we joined with the interior route at Redondela. Time constraints meant we started in Vila do Conde which can be reached either by walking along the coast from Oporto or by Metro. I’ve stayed in Vila do Conde before and I think it is beautiful town. With rooms in a harbour side hostal we were perfectly located to see the locals buying fish straight from the arriving fishermen.  When Karla who runs the hostal presented me with a chilled glass of white wine and grilled sardines which had come out of the sea only hours earlier I was in heaven. 
Next day we set out with only a map of the coast of Portugal. We had been told that there was some waymarking but that the arrows might be yellow, green or red.  No matter. We were determined to see if we could walk as close to the sea as possible and in doing so end up in Vigo or Redondela. Shortly after setting off we discovered some yellow arrows which we followed. These took us along beach side promenades, boardwalks and paths always within sight of the sea. Had we tried to walk on the sand it would not only have made walking difficult but we would have missed the arrows which as it turned out were plentiful and very helpful. Some 24 kms of good walking later despite some rain we arrived in Esposende. As we entered the town the rain got heavier and we were glad when we got to the hotel which had been recommended. Only it was full. There was a huge wedding in progress. The receptionist took pity on the hungry and very wet pilgrims and telephoned the three other hotels in town. All full. Undeterred she phoned more until she found us rooms at almost half the price 10 kms out of town. The “taxi for Walker” was duly organised. Next day we set out early from Viana do Costela to walk the 27 kms to Caminha. Although the weather was mixed this was stage where this route really revealed itself. 
Following clear waymarks we made our way mile after mile along paths just by the side of the ocean. We passed people collecting shellfish from the rocks and fishermen with long rods impossibly perched on the rocks as the waves crashed around them. With the smell of the sea in my nostrils and occasionally the spray from the waves dotting my spectacles I fell in love with this route. I love the sea and in this stage of the route there was plenty of it. Once or twice we had to work out where the arrows were going. But we found the way forward without much difficulty and we arrived in Caminha tired but full of anticipation for the ferry journey the next day which would take us to A Guarda across the river to continue on to Baiona 36 kms to the north.  Down where the ferry leaves there is a very good rooftop restaurant looking out over the water. The dinner was excellent. Not so was the news from the waiter that the ferry had broken down and might not be replaced for some days. “Taxi for Walker” was the only answer if we wanted to continue on the route along the coast without a 22 kms detour walking on the road. Soon we were in A Guarda and we set off following the arrows along seaside paths with magnificent views of the ocean. Sail boats sailed passed way out at sea. The breeze carried the sea spray and the only sound was from the huge waves crashing on the rocks. I found the beauty of all of this almost overwhelming and I resolved that day to produce a guide to this particular route. It has so much to offer.
We decided to split the stage in two and walk 19 kms to Oia then move on next day to Baiona. This was a wise decision because we were so enjoying walking close to the sea we missed the waymark which takes the route up onto a path then road looking down on the rocks. As we found ourselves scrambling over rocks thinking “this can’t be right” a man appeared pulling on his clothes from bathing in a sea pool and he happily gave us directions and all was well.  
Arriving in Oia was for me once of those magical Camino moments. We passed a small chapel at the entrance to the village which sits on a beautiful bay. Soon we passed the mighty 12 century church and monastery which dominates the seafront. We booked rooms in the local hotel which cost 35€ for lunch, dinner, bed and breakfast. Moncho the son of the family is profoundly deaf but we all found a way of communicating. He showed us our rooms and also a terrace where he asked us to wait. As we looked out over the bay Moncho arrived with a huge jug of beer, a plate piled high with steaming hot roast beef and a fresh loaf. The walking, the beer, the beef, the scenery.Wonderful.
Next day as we continued the rest of the stage to Baiona the sun came out and temperatures soared. The route remained at the water’s edge for many kilometres taking us all the way into the seaside resort. Baiona is very picturesque but  because of the proximity of Vigo airport with flights to the UK it has also become a popular holiday destination and for the first time I heard English voices and saw pubs advertising English beer. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were boards next morning advertising “Full English Breakfasts”. But it was a useful stopping point and early next day we were off to Vigo where this few days break would soon end.
The route from Baiona to Vigo basically follows a number of beaches before heading inland on a peaceful and long forest path.  The longest beach before reaching the path for Vigo is the Playa  América which stretched for miles before us. Totally relaxed and recovered by this point I made two decisions. The first is to return and produce a guide from Oporto all the way up the edge of the sea to Redondela. The second was to take off my boots and socks and walk as far as I could in the water. Just what the doctor ordered.


Friday, 1 June 2012

Pilgrim numbers doubling?

As you know I’m tracking the increase in the number of pilgrims arriving in Santiago from English speaking countries. See below for the comparative figure for the last four years. The growth is significant. In fact nearly double for some countries compared to the same period 12 months ago. “The Way” effect? A consequence of the global economic crisis when people look for new ways?  A sign, in countries like Ireland which heads the list, of people seeking ways other than the traditional church of exploring faith and spirituality? Perhaps all of the above.
I have now updated the statistics for the period 1 January 2012 – 31 May 2012. The full analysis of the numbers for the year to date follows:

Pilgrims arriving from English speaking countries in the first 5 months of 2012

South Africa
United Kingdom
United States
New Zealand

 Total number of pilgrims who arrived in the period
 1 January – 31 May 2012

Total – 41,935

Countries                            Number of pilgrims 

Spain                                    17309 (41,28%)
Germany                               4640 (11,06%)
Portugal                                3259 (7,77%)
France                                  2094 (4,99%)
Italy                                      1944 (4,64%)
United Stated                        1489 (3,55%)
Ireland                                 1220 (2,91%)
United Kingdom                    907 (2,16%)
Holand                                  854 (2,04%)
Canada                                  685 (1,63%)
Korea                                    642 (1,53%)
Brasil                                     624 (1,49%)
Austria                                   567 (1,35%)
Belgium                                 465 (1,11%)
Australia                                462 (1,10%)
Switzerland                            417 (0,99%)
Denmark                                409 (0,98%)
Sweden                                  402 (0,96%)
Poland                                   358 (0,85%)
Norway                                  292 (0,70%)
Finland                                   287 (0,68%)
México                                   262 (0,62%)
Japan                                      248 (0,59%)
Argentina                                207 (0,49%)
South Africa                           178 (0,42%)
Czek Repúblic                        157 (0,37%)
Russia                                    149 (0,36%)
Hungry                                   140 (0,33%)
Venezuela                                121 (0,29%)
Colombia                                106 (0,25%)
Slovenia                                    99 (0,24%)
Slovaquia                                  93 (0,22%)
New Zealand                             72 (0,17%)
Chile                                         68 (0,16%)
China                                        50 (0,12%)
Romania                                   47 (0,11%)
Uruguay                                    40 (0,10%)
Ecuador                                    39 (0,09%)
Perú                                          37 (0,09%)
Bulgaria                                     29 (0,07%)
Puerto Rico                               28 (0,07%)
Malta                                         27 (0,06%)
Estonia                                      27 (0,06%)
Lituania                                     26 (0,06%)
Israel                                         24 (0,06%)
Andorra                                     24 (0,06%)
Filipinas                                     22 (0,05%)
Grecia                                        20 (0,05%)
Ucrania                                      20 (0,05%)
Luxemburgo                              19 (0,05%)


Gender                Number of pilgrims
Men                      23996 (57,22%)
Womer                 17939 (42,78%)

Method of transport
Method                               Number of pilgrims
On foot                36208 (86,34%)
Bicycle                 5571 (13,28%)
Horse                   150 (0,36%)
Wheelchair               6 (0,01%)

Motives for making the pilgrimage
Motive                                 Number of pilgrims
Religious and other               22326 (53,24%)
Religious                              17296 (41,24%)
Not religious                         2313 (5,52%)

Starting point
Starting point     Number of pilgrims
Sarria                      9491 (22,63%)
S. Jean P. Port        4389 (10,47%)
Oporto                   2480 (5,91%)
León                      2234 (5,33%)
Cebreiro                 2101 (5,01%)
Roncesvalles          1834 (4,37%)
Tui                         1580 (3,77%)
Ponferrada              1476 (3,52%)
Astorga                   1015 (2,42%)
Pamplona                1007 (2,40%)
Valença                     996 (2,38%)
Sevilla                       899 (2,14%)
Burgos                      881 (2,10%)
Le Puy                      844 (2,01%)
Rest Portugal            788 (1,88%)
Ferrol                        759 (1,81%)
Oviedo - C.P.            755 (1,80%)
Ourense                     600 (1,43%)
Vilafranca                  496 (1,18%)
Francia                      435 (1,04%)
Irún                           421 (1,00%)
Triacastela                 406 (0,97%)
Samos                       373 (0,89%)
Lugo - C.P.               311 (0,74%)
Lisboa                       282 (0,67%)
Ponte de Lima            258 (0,62%)
Resto C. León            207 (0,49%)
Logroño                     204 (0,49%)
Holanda                     157 (0,37%)
Santander                   150 (0,36%)
Alemania                    147 (0,35%)
Resto Asturias            139 (0,33%)
Somport                     138 (0,33%)
Bilbao                         136 (0,32%)
Baamonde                   135 (0,32%)
Salamanca                   129 (0,31%)
Madrid - C.F.              124 (0,30%)
Zamora                       122 (0,29%)
Ribadeo                      109 (0,26%)
Oviedo                        104 (0,25%)
Sahagún                      101 (0,24%)
Gijón                            90 (0,21%)
Avilés                           85 (0,20%)
Jaca                              71 (0,17%)
Braga                            69 (0,16%)
Suiza                            56 (0,13%)
Muxia                           54 (0,13%)
Bélgica                         52 (0,12%)
Vezelay                        45 (0,11%)
Montserrat                   44 (0,10%)
Lourdes                       43 (0,10%)
Arles                            41 (0,10%)

Employment status
Status          Number of pilgirms
Employed            9894 (23,59%)
Retired                6334 (15,10%)
Students              5933 (14,15%)
Technicians         5900 (14,07%)
Self employed     4514 (10,76%)
Teachers             2421 (5,77%)
Civil servants      1914 (4,56%)
Labourer             1492 (3,56%)
Unemployed        1255 (2,99%)
Housewife           1077 (2,57%)
Directors              417 (0,99%)
Artists                  306 (0,73%)
Priests                 164 (0,39%)
Farm Workers     147 (0,35%)
Religious              82 (0,20%)
Sailors                  44 (0,10%)
Sports                  39 (0,09%)
Oikoten                2 (0,00%)

Age        Number of pilgrims
30 - 60   23985 (57,20%)
< 30        9895 (23,60%)
> 60        8055 (19,21%)

Routes followed
Route                                Number of pilgrims
Camino Frances                28973 (69,09%)
Camino Portugues              6648 (15,85%)
Via de la Plata                    2374 (5,66%)
Camino del Norte               1763 (4,20%)
Camino Primitivo               1226 (2,92%)
Camino Ingles                     775 (1,85%)
Other routes                         97 (0,23%)
Muxia-Finisterre                   79 (0,19%)