Friday, 19 June 2015

In the beginning....as always !


This is the story of a journey. A journey that involves many people over time but in this time, it is the story of a 200K walk along the Camino in Northern Spain that will be undertaken on June 3rd 2015 by myself and my youngest  daughter Nysha. 
It is undertaken in memory of a daughter and a sister, Aife, who died in June 2014 from a brain tumour. It is her story as it is ours. We invite you to share it.

Aife’s Gift: A charitable walk in the Camino
Life is a journey of many paths. 
For my daughter Aife, in her short time with us it was mainly a journey of giving; the giving of understanding and compassion, the giving of care and thoughtfulness and the overriding giving of warmth and laughter.

Along the way she was many things to many people, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a bright student, a teacher, a community worker, a healing presence, a dancer, an avid gardener, a determined advocate, a lover of joy and delight.   
Her many ways of being was underpinned with a selfless heart and kindness that inspired and enlivened those who knew her.                                                                   
To know her was to love her. She lived Life fully and with a gentle outspoken determination that got things done – community buses, community gardens, after school services for children were all a part of her legacy. 
But mostly what are left are happy memories.

When in 2007, the headaches that we thought were part of her lively social activities was diagnosed as a brain tumour, she approached her condition and situation with the same determination, courage and resolve that marked her character. 
And she never lost or forgot her sometimes wicked, sense of humour. She challenged the odds, defying timescales, taking the pills, the conventional and complementary treatments, the remedies, the two major operations and still found strength to always think of others.                          
This included among many things the organising of a birthday party, shortly after her second major brain surgery and insisting everyone do their party piece, herself included.
    
In time, when she came to Our Lady's Hospice in August 2013, she brought not illness, with her but her love of Life and that same spirit of giving that had always marked her steps. 
Her compassion and consideration not only extended to staff, but she could often be found at the bedside of another resident offering comfort and advice. 
She touched the hearts of many and the hospice provided a perfect place for Aife to see out her remaining days with absolute care,compassion and respect.                           

In many ways Aife embodied the generosity of spirit that is found in the hospice today. That exceptional provision that is expressed in its services and in its staff, who give unconditional daily care, physical, mental and emotional care with sensitivity,integrity and unswerving tender compassion.
That Spirit of Giving, that was so much a part of Aife, never gave up and that spirit lives on with us in our memory,in our hearts and the Way before us.

I sometimes ask “what would Aife say or do?” Often it is a cheeky answer, but undoubtedly she would be the first to acknowledge and appreciate the work of the Hospice and look to see what practical contribution she could make to such a valuable institution and groups of people.

Aife was a great walker, a rambler, who fortunately for us and unfortunately for those less inclined to exercise, inherited the Concannon “ what’s around the next corner? ” syndrome, that could lead on for miles and miles, with a phrase from Aife “ Ah, sure the longer the road, the shorter the way back”.


I first came across the Camino, The Way or the Way of St James in a magazine of Aife’s and it has presented itself to me in many ways since.
As a journey and an acknowledgement of Aife and her Life, walking this part of the Camino seems more than relevant and appropriate an undertaking to honour her Life and to raise funds for the Hospice, that I know she valued and appreciated greatly.

Aife would support that journey and with that bright sharp twinkle in her Irish eyes I can hear her say “  A 200K walk in Spain, sure that’s a grand idea –it’s only round the block ! And with Nysha! Well, now is she going to be wearing her high heels? ”.


I think she would also say “  If you can afford it, please make a donation to this wonderful place that does such valuable work, and sure if you can’t afford it, smile with someone today, be kind to yourself and don’t forget to laugh ”.

We will complete this journey on the Camino on the eve of Aife’s death on 13th June.  
                           

Please contribute to this charity if you can or pass it on those who may be able to contribute.               

Many thanks.



Donations can be made via 



  http://www.mycharity.ie/event/nysha_concannons_event

Donations by cheque can be made payable to Creative Health Solutions Ltd and sent to 63 High Street, Brierley Hill, West Midlands, DY5 3AB, UK



Now, lets see what happened next........... there will be stories of a feat or two or perhaps... just feet !

Que es Camino ? Por qué Camino ? Page 1/16

Que es Camino ? Por qué Camino ?

Que es Camino ? : What is Camino ?
Please excuse the lapses into languages that are perhaps unfamiliar. As part of this journey, I am trying to learn Spanish or as it is correct to say,I am learning Spanish and it is sometimes very trying. "Vamos a llegar" or "we will get there" , which may well become the theme or the battle-cry for the whole trip.

The Camino is a long, long, long, long, long walk across the North of Spain. It is a pilgrimage route, well traversed over the centuries, to Santiago de Compostela. It is also known as The Way of Saint James,as the remains of the saint are believed to be interred in the cathedral in Santiago,the final destination for the many pilgrims who travel this path each year.   
As with roads well traveled there are many routes to this end destination and there are a number of different ways to reach Santiago along the Camino. There is the Camino Inglés, a stroll at 110km in length ,the Portugese Camino from Lisbon is 620km from Lisbon, the popular French Camino from Saint Jean Pied de Port at 769km and the Northern Camino,at 817km. There are more. Did I mention that it was long ?

In the real world, covering distance by foot requires consideration of time so we have decided whether by accident,design, divine intervention or late night conversations with Malbec, or was it Rioja, to walk 200km over the 10 days at our disposal along the Northern Camino.
There is more information to be had on the Camino from those Wise Wiki Wizards on
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago
The word Camino itself translates as path, road, track, lane. bypath, journey or course or just the way. 
The Camino is often referred to perhaps, in a more secular non religious manner, as The Way.
I like the analogy of a path or a way. It is something that stretches in front of you, stretches behind you and is always where you are. 
Symbolically the Camino is a journey of being with oneself,  a conscious exploration of self reflection and the possibility of creating significant Life changes. 
In a sense, it is a meditation on Life and its purpose, by travelling a sometimes arduous path towards personal understanding. 
Ideally,as one walks,there is the creation of a state of being still, in motion. 
In our busy lives we are often coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else, always moving, never still. 
To be still in motion, now there is a meditation and.... a challenge.


The routes are marked by scallop shells. A symbol of the Camino and the tide of Life itself.
There is an excellent movie about the Camino called The Way staring Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Esteves, who also directed it. By coincidence as I write it is being shown on BBC2 this coming Saturday 9th May at 11.40pm . It is worth seeing or recording.
There are also a number of books on the Camino by notable travelers on the path, Shirley MacClaine's The Camino :A pilgrimage of Courage , Walking Home by Sonia Chouquette and The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, the author of the best selling The Alchemist. 
I haven't decided yet whether I will add to the collection - if only I could type while I walk.
Long walks require long hours of training and as with Life...who knows where the time goes.



PLEASE NOTE THE PAGES FOLLOW SEQUENTIALLY FROM BEGINNING TO END, FROM PAGE 1 TO PAGE 16. THEREFORE THE "OLDER" POSTS ARE THE NEWEST ONES IN THIS BLOG OR THE ONES AT THE END OF THIS JOURNEY   -                            A VERY NICE IRISH TOUCH IF EVER THERE WAS ONE!





Thursday, 18 June 2015

Por qué Camino ? Why the Camino? Page 2/16

Por qué Camino ? Why the Camino?

In truth,I have no idea but if at any stage, you have any insight please let me know. 


If you were to ask me 5 years ago had I heard of the Camino in Spain. I would, like many of the people I mention it to these days, probably have looked blank and perhaps replied to the statement "I'm going do the Camino" with " is that like something off Strictly Come Dancing?". 


When I look back, I remember sitting with Aife one day, while she was in hospital and reading to her from some of the lesser loved but highly entertaining periodicals of the type,I am sure you are familiar. You know the  "Grandmother abducted by aliens returns as Abba impersonator and invents oblong Rubic cube" type of thing. 

In those times when she was well we would take flights of surreal fantasy to imagine what the aforementioned Granny might do next...Intergalactic Granny Abba impersonators Conventions, Dancing Queens on Planet Granny and the like. There was often hysterics of laughter as our imaginings moved from one absurd, surreal scenario to another.

It was in a hiatus of such hilarity one day that I came across an article on the Camino and one woman's journey towards personal resolution after tragic circumstances.I was taken by the commitment to rebuild and regenerate a Life, that had been in that instance,devastated by loss. The aspiration to develop strength in adversity and move forward with insight was moving. 

Aife was touched by it too, in that way of hers, that often acknowledged the plight of others in spite of her own. 
A seed was perhaps planted but in the scheme of things I thought no more about it. 

There were many changes in Aife over the course of her 8 year illness but one of a small number of things remained unchanged and consistent - her love of walking , forever pursuing what was around the next corner, fearless and tenacious.

These are some of those walks we traveled  
This is the area An Leaca,Collin, Carna,Connemara, above where Aife's aunt Triona rents a beautiful cottage.If you like walking and remote, this is it. 

The strand at Salthill Galway

This is near Barna beach Galway

It was probably two years ago, while sitting quietly with Aife in the hospice, having walked around the beautiful rose garden as we often did, that it occurred to me that combining walking the Camino with raising funds for the hospice, that was so ably and compassionately caring for her, was a fitting acknowledgement of Aife, her love of waking and the hospice itself. 
I had been thinking what would Aife do if our roles were reversed and it seemed to me very likely she would be looking at ways to create a meaningful contribution out of the circumstance we were in. 
Although Aife was very academic,she was equally very community involved and committed, practically as well as theoretically. She helped facilitate various community projects in Galway, where she lived, community buses, gardens and after school services for children. Health and women's rights were also on her agenda and she would often walk on demonstrations in support of civil rights. 

This is an Irish Times article written about Aife by Lorna Siggins in October 2014

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/aife-mcoscair-a-much-loved-and-fearless-woman-1.1978486

A walk of commemoration and contribution seemed appropriate. 

I suggested it to Nysha, my youngest daughter with an older head, who loved the idea , in spite of it being not exactly her thing, and so here we are, on the threshold of the Camino.



PART TWO : SEGUNDA PARTE

Serendipity : Synchronicity: Coincidence:

Once the idea of the Camino came up, it seemed as if someone , somewhere, up there , down there, couldn't put it down and references to it kept "popping up" on a very frequent basis. It was, as if, never having noticed the colour green, there suddenly happened to be fields of green everywhere. 
There were the articles, the odd, unsolicited references to this Camino thing, there was the movie, The Way and there was also the article randomly picked up about Martin Sheen talking about how meaningful the experience of making this movie was to him and his family. Then there were the patients,some who without personal reference, talked about this meaningful walk, they heard about and then there were the two patients who had walked it and had injuries. The mind can be a delirious facility at times - on the one hand , offering encouragement in one direction and on the other producing tales of woe... as in " Hey Human, this is a Way to go" and then " But you better be careful !! " .

A defining moment was when in August 2012, I went to visit Nysha where she was living at that time , in Camberley in Surrey, for the weekend. On the Monday morning of my departure, we talked, quite spontaneously about the idea of doing that Camino thing at some point and the consensus was that it would be an appropriate even a fun thing ( blessed are the naive) to do" at some stage". I thought no more about it and left to mend my way to London, in the distracting sunshine. 

My train that evening at 6.40 or so, was one I had traveled previously on many occasions on my visits to the capital. I enjoy travelling and train journeys particularly ( when they are on time ) so was looking forward to sitting and travelling upwards towards Birmingham and inwards on my ipad. as I had done many times before.....except....
London in the August 2012 was the London in the August of the Olympics and when I arrived, casually and nonchalant at Marlebone station, I did not expect to encounter the crowds of Olympian proportion, steadily streaming onto MY train. 

As I squeezed on board , slightly distracted by the satisfying thought that at least I had just about made it on time, ( have I mentioned that there is not a transport vehicle, I have not been late and missed the departure for in my travels - planes and boats and, of course numerous trains), I mused that ,given the level of sardine like compression, the train might just about ground to a halt from its plethora of passengers. Defined, not least, of course, by the nature of that twin headed European beast, of Health and Safety. However, with a shrug and shudder and a tremble of a judder, move it train did, as if. in defiance and disdain of any convention and with an air of confidence in Imperial engineering.
I cannot and will not. for fear of nausea, describe the scene as I moved through the throng along carriages . The heat , the perspiration ( that's a kindly description), the food smells, stains and residues, the air of fulfilled exasperation... and the multitude of the immovable and many squashed together. 

Never one to accept the status quo, without due diligence and ever being the optimist , I wound my way through carriages in search of breathing space. About 4 or 5 carriages in, I came cross a man, a proper city gent in pinstripe suit,  busily engaged in paper work but with a briefcase placed on the inside seat beside him. Never being one to deny bringing the obvious to the conscious, I pointed, loudly and said " Is that seat taken?". To be fair ,and apparently mindful of his oblivion, the gentleman smiled, apologetically and hastily moved his briefcase, to allow me to sit down and returned to his paperwork.
Seated,and satisfied at my achievement in the face of adversity, I I did what I often presume, but everyone does in these circumstance s and that is to see what everyone else is doing or at least make up a story on their behalf, The couple opposite were attuned by the nature of their iTunes or at least their connection to what ever was on their phones. 
So I turned my attention to the man beside me. He seemed awfully busy, Usually itis a presumption that it is concerning facts and figures and such like. so with the subtle dexterity of James Bond , I turned my attention to what he was doing with these books and charts and notes.
Well, does serendipity, synchronicity and coincidence coincide ?  The books were maps and guides to the Camino from which he was busily taking extracts and making notes

So ever the shrinking violet, I asked him if I could take a photograph of the books as my daughter and I were just talking about doing the Camino that very morning.I remember his enthusiasm as he agreed and told me how he had been planning the journey for a year and how he was taking time out to complete the whole journey, with the support of his wife and family. I already knew that this involved at least 6 weeks commitment and was warmed and touched by his excitement. He talked about his training schedule and how he reorganized  everything so he could take that time out to walk the full Camino. 
Unfortunately we only had two stops before he had to leave the train but he left an impression behind and I was infused with a greater resolve to know more about this Camino thing and a greater connection to undertaking it myself.
I have wondered since what his experience might have been and whether it fulfilled his expectant enthusiasm. I hope he had a Buen Camino and that we do too.    

Serendipity means a "fortunate happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 

Synchronicity is a concept created by psychiatrist Carl Jung, which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" 

Coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances which have no apparent causal connection with each other.








Prep and Step Page 3/16


In my preparations for the Camino I have discovered two things. They exist at the ends of my legs and are called feet. There is one on the left and one on the right. They have it appears, existed there for many years without my being particularly aware of them. They have always done what they did and like some many things in our body, I took them completely for granted - they're down there somewhere doing what they do, why would I think about them? Except when you start doing long walks in training for the Camino, suddenly, they become very relevant. 
Very useful for balance, support, stability, navigation,putting the correct foot forward ( yes I know the expression is best foot forward but I don't want them to start being competitive. I'm not exactly sure how they do what they do but I don't want them thinking too much about it because so far they have been doing very well).
The initial training walk started with "let's go for a walk then" and off I set up to Sheep Walks - as the name implies it has sheep and walks and no I'm not going to tell you where it is as it's bad enough wading through sheep at times without failing over curious hikers. Did I mention it was steep in places ? Well, it's not exactly Kilimanjaro or even Snowdon but its very uphill in parts.

In  fact last week as I approached the base of it I came across a couple of Sunday hikers perusing a map and being eager to seem like the experienced hiker I'm not suggested they step over the style, walk through the field of horses, pass round by the lake and then carry on up and up. When I was just halfway up the first ascent I looked round to see them standing by the lake looking at the map again and then turning round to go back. While I was thinking about whether it was something I said my feet were pressing on.
I have grow to greatly appreciate my tarsals,metatarsals and phalanges - that's basically, feet, I mean why spend years studying anatomy and not mention something that sounds vaguely exotic.As I initially scrambled around trying to work out what I was supposed to be doing on this walking thing, I have grown in admiration for the unselfish thankless role our feet play in our lives. Like so many things and body parts particularly, we don't acknowledge what they do until something goes wrong with them. It amazes me we don't for the most part ever think feet.                                                                                                                   
Last year, I watched my grandson Seb take his first steps .crawl crawl crawl sit, scramble to knees, hold onto something /someone, one step two step, wobble, plop onto bottom , then crawl crawl, sit scramble, one step two step, head for something that's breakable etc you get the picture. 
But at no stage did he consider his feet.  As in  "what are these floppy things for mum  - can't eat them, can't poke anyone in the face with then ? What them for ? No it was straight up ,stand,fast forward and no looking down and not a thought about feet.

Left foot , right foot, Chlé, Dheas, Chlé, Dheas ( that's Gaelic, Chlé for left and pronounced clay and Dheas for right and pronounced as in de ass but quickly.)  

I'm reminded of school PE when I was about 6 or 7 , a cold frosty yard early in the am and an ex army sergeant, shouting chlé, dheas chlé, dheas as we marched around the yard in our vests. No time to think about feet, the consequences of not keeping up or failing out of step was a voracious earful and press ups on the concrete. I'm reminded of this as I walk but the chlé, dheas chlé, dheas, has a familiarity or a comfort and becomes like a mantra at times, particularly in the ascent as the feet press on.

I may start a feet appreciation society after this. As I scramble over hard mud furrows thick mud pools, rocky escarpments,sneaky concealed tree roots or just plain potholes, my feet are always there finding a balanced footing as best they can. They just do it . 

And there's a theme and  something I think about on the start of this Camino, which by the way looks like it has already started before I even arrive in Spain. 
There are times in Life when it is just about doing it and finding that balance. So when I'm walking and I'm tired or wet or hot or cold or just a wee bit lost, it becomes about just doing it,in the best possible way with as much balance as I can. Just like my feet keep doing it. 
It's all about keeping up with my feet .... if you ask me    
And float like a butterfly ...

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Prep Steps Progress Page 4/16

Deciding that this Camino thing probably wasn't going to be a walk in the Park. I did actually go for a few walks.
This is on the Brecon Beacons with a full pack.



Some days I even turned up for work thinking about walking !!

and would the Way be like this ?
Nysha's training ground in Fountainbleau Forest. From an early age she always liked to be on the edge of a precipice!

Someone suggested more hill walking !! 

And then some more !


                                                         
And I'm going to be carrying this !! 11K with 2x 6K dumbbells... I wonder will my backside look big in this ?


Over this ...

And through this ... er! is this SAS training by any chance ??



There was a view from the top.....


Might as well shoot for the stars or...... just head for the bar


Though I was hoping I wasn't heading for a disaster.

However my Positively Pilgrim Persona and Perspective was progressing Perfectly .


I knew the pheasant look was going to all the fashion on the Camino this year.


















Monday, 15 June 2015

On the Way May 31st 2015 Page 5/16

It's a lovely day for packing. Though lovely days are very distracting and with the packing I'm slacking. Eventually I get there... with lots of good wishes and good will.



Consequently however, its a late departure. On the way down to stay overnight at Stansted, there is an almost full moon , luminous in a clear blue sky. Clear moon glowing on a river of Sky.
I am reminded of Moon River, a favourite song of Aife's and one she and Nysha and I would sing ( or attempt to sing ) on occasions. The song is from Breakfast at Tiffanys also a favourite of Aife's , and there in the hotel when I arrive is a picture of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.
Hmm, where ever I'm going I'm going your way.

Some people are owls and stay up late others are larks and get up at the crack of dawn. I have in recent years become an owlark ( JK Rowling is not the only one who can make up funny words) - meaning I stay up late and get up early. This is useful if you have to be at the airport for 4.30 am.
I love Airports and as my brother Aer Lingus William reminds me its often the busiest time in an airport in the early hours. People and stories in motion, a different kind of Camino perhaps.
However I would lime to know the story behind the guy dressed in a Pink Panther top and bright green ladybird print pajama bottoms.Perhaps he was an owlark too and had just met himself coming in as he was getting up for the day.

I fly into Asurias. It is raining. My rucksack already feels heavy enough without getting wet. It's supposed to be Summer and this is Spain.
On the way in to catch the bus, we come to a t junction, with a perpendicular hill rising steeply to the right. It is here,I see my first Pellegrino,the Camino pilgrim, enshrouded in poncho, staff in hand walking slowly upward, rain swept and rain lashed. rivulets of water cascade around his feet and possibly through them. He appears to be sinking into the road.
I have a sinking feeling. Can I come back in the summer ? Please?

After a 2 hour journey, I arrive in Ribadeo, our starting point.
The sun sneaks through and there is a freshness in the air. I breathe a sign of relief.
Ribadeo is a delightful coastal town and the long hours of daylight allow me to explore the town and area. Most importantly it allows me time to find the albergue or traditional hostal where Nysha and I will be staying tomorrow evening so that we can officially start out Camino the following day,on the 3rd June.

The Albergue at Ribadeo. The albergue is the traditional resting place for the Peregrinos or pilgrims on the Camino. They are dormitory style mixed accommodation with bunk beds and shared showers and kitchen.This one has 12 beds and I was surprised by how modern it was and how cheap, at 6 euros a night. There are other types of hostels and more expensive accommodation but we have chosen these because of their traditional connotation and because we want to raise as much money as possible for the hospice and could not justify the more costly options.
The downside is that they function on a first come first accommodated basis.  

As I have read it is not that well indicated, I walk and trace our route out of town onto the Camino itself. I breathe more relief.
I stay in the hotel Eo, where the owners are lovely and very helpful in spite of my lack of Spanish. They proudly tell me of a natural rock formation further up the coast called As Catedrais ( the Beach of the Cathedrals) .
A local tradition is to travel from this natural Cathedral to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostella along the Camino Del Norte.
I visit the next morning, as Nysha is arriving in the evening. It is a stunning series of overhanging rock formations that stretch out into the sea. They can only be perceived clearly when the tide is out, so arrival timing is important.



I walk through these natural archways and think of the hundreds if not thousands of years they have been in development. As the tides ebb and flow, so too do they change and renew each day. Sometimes this change is imperceptible, sometimes it is significant but there is always change. Just like Life itself., if you ask me.


As I wander around these natural archways and squeeze through crevices in the rock, which at times seems like it too breathes a sigh of relief to be release from the onslaught of the impending sea, I hear the sound of a wailing bagpipes.
I begin to think I have some air compression disorder, until I come across a piper standing still in a cave by the shore. The cave forms a natural auditorium and the acoustics are superbly clear.
I wonder if I am being piped onto my Camino.










Focus and Intention

As Nysha is not arriving till the evening, I walk a 10K warm up for our start tomorrow. The area around the albergue has a coastal path and access to various beaches. It is very picturesque in the afternoon sun. At the end of the headland there is a lighthouse and a grass area to sit and contemplate on the journey ahead.
Breathing in the warm sea air I am mindful of maintaining a focus on our intention and honouring the Life force that was Aife. We have already raised the target fund for the hospice. It is 3000 euros and rising and it is relief not to have to think about it.

I look back on the initiation of this journey,the conversations with Aife about traveling, her wish to travel to New Zealand, and her indefatigable love of Life. I think on the decision to do this walk with Nysha as a commemoration of our time with Aife and our respect for the contribution she made to our lives.

That time was a harsh and a sad time but also a special time of much laughter, exuberance and jubilation at each additional day she spent with us over those 8 years. I look back on that time and remember the humour, the lightness of being in physical adversity, the songs and the dancing and also those quiet times of  reflection and the peaceful stillness that is invoked at the end of ones time.

I am clear that this is not a journey about grieving but an opportunity to focus on the celebration of Life in a way Aife would appreciate in that inimitable way of hers -"sure, could you not run it while you're at it ! And who's going to be  the first one to the bar then ? ".
I have brought 9 shells from Connemara, where aife spent much of her time. We will lay them at various stages or places that remind us of Aife, her Life and of the passage of Time.
I have picked a small triangular stone from the beach at As Catedrais to carry and lay at the end of the journey. Later, I pick a larger stone from the beach at Ribadeo. I'm not sure why. 

As I sit and meditate, I am not sure how that is going to manifest over 200K of mountain and hill terrain. There is an expectant apprehension. I breathe deeply and the apprehension becomes anticipated excitement. A butterfly appears and dances around the flowers.  




 


 

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Day 1. Ribadeo to Lourenza Page 6/16

I move into the albergue and lay claim to 2 of the last of 4 beds, both upper bunks.  Nysha is not arriving till late from Asurias and I "reserve" her bunk bed with an observance to the rule "first come first served and no reservation". Aife also had a healthy disregard for rules and that, often benefited not only her, but others as well ( see Irish Times article).
The residents, the peregrinos, are an international group. English, German Dutch, Spanish, Canadian and one from the US. It is an easy community in the sunshine with everyone having traveled from other stages along the Camino. Most have walked on the Camino or one of its branches previously,
I feel like a Camino virgin.
It is a community of stories. One man has walked from Bonn in Germany over a 10 year period - don't ask me how far that is but its a very very long way! Another is here to link up with a fellow pellegrino in Ferrol , further down the coast and walk the Camino Anglaise into Santiago. This woman , he tells me had been bed ridden with a serious condition for a number of years and had prayed that if she got better she would walk the Camino. Last year, she managed to get back on her feet and true to her promise, walked the Camino Francaise and was returning to do another this year. Everyone is encouraging.
The albergue is small with shared kitchen and showers and it is unavoidable not to get into conversations with people, except the Spanish who have no English and I soon realise my Spanish is insufficient for this. One of them Alfredo, is in the bunk beneath mine. I have never seen such a collect of plastic bags in one place. Can he not afford a rucksack ? I ask him badly in Spanish, why the plastic bags. He looks at me incomprehensibly as if it is such a stupid question. I later realise that of course it is, and that if it rains along the Camino, as it had been on previous days, the best and cheapest way to ensure your things stay dry is to wrap them in plastic bags .Lesson 1.
However, plastic bags rustle a lot and he is a restless sleeper, resulting in a sensation, similar to travelling on the Titanic in a gale and a  reduced nights sleep.
Always go for the lower bunk. Lesson 2.

Nysha arrives safely and relieved after her long journey down from Paris via Barcelona. We stop off at the bar for some food and catch up time. I have to remind myself that the albergues tend to close down at 10pm so we make a hasty return to our temporary abode. However, as the warden caretaker hasn't turned up, we not only get a free nights accommodation but late night conversations as well.
Alfredo is not amused and makes concerted efforts to check doors, arrange furniture and talk to himself . I notice he does this, when he is not talking non stop to anyone within earshot. We walk with him the next day and he spends at least 30 minutes talking Spanish to us in spite of saying we don't understand. We both come away with different interpretations as to what he was saying.
I think he might have a new condition called Alberguers Syndrome. He means well.

We start early in the new morning. It is not raining and we find our way to the road easily. The journey to Santiago starts here....






















We follow the shell and yellow arrow signs that show the Way. The road soon starts to rise and rise again, which will be the pattern of our journey for the next few days After a few kilometers of tarmac, we soon enter a large eucalyptus forest with tall trees extending on both sides of the trial. The air is filled with the soft scent of warm eucalyptus.
Nysha has the determined stride of someone whose place at the bar is getting cold. In truth I think we are both apprehensive about reaching our first destination and finding a place at the albergue. It quickens our step.
As we I think about lightening the process - difficult with a rucksack that already feels overweight ,
The Teddy Bears Picnic song springs to mind. "If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise". The eucalyptus don't seem to mind. Nysha on the other hand it must be said, is not a morning person, at the best of times. There are scowls and grunts. I try whistling instead. "That awful noise should be banned" as she quickens her step. My inner bear feels deflated so I sing to myself.
I discover that the Teddy Bears Picnic makes for a very good marching tune, worthy of  Sousa.
I imagine a line of teddy bears behind me in marching attire, trumpets, trombones, marching drums. My walking sticks form a perfect baton and away we go ..bear right and then bears left ! Quick march..
It's not exactly the pilgrimage image I had in mind but it works


A little later in the morning the grey clears and the sun sneaks through in stages. It is warm but not hot and the trees provide an upward guard of honour,lining our path as they have done for hundreds of years. The day brightens and as we reach the first ascent, our mood brightens too.
We come to a clearing on one side ,where the trees part, revealing a sloping expanse of wood and fields, with mountain ridges beyond. Nysha says its like Switzerl and and it is.
Unfortunately this also reminds her of the Lonely Goatherd song from the Sound of Music.

"High on a hill was a lonely goatherd, Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo.. O ho lay dee odl lee o, o ho lay dee odl ay O ho lay ho dee odl lee o lay dee odl lee o lay."  

The hills become alive with the sound of yodel. The birds almost stop singing,the bears go completely out of step and I can't get that yodeling song out of my head ! 
I wonder if it is the altitude or if a forest of eucalyptus does that to you in the early morning.


At a turn in the forest path, we come to a fork in the road and there in the ferns is the Way shell, indicating our direction. It is a welcome sign and we agree to place our first shell here as we have attained our first peak and are clearly and distinctly on our way, It is an Aife place, with rich foliage, a mixture of trees and paths leading into the woods in different directions, with many corners, around which she would have loved to explore.

This is one of the few signboards we came across. Completely random and highlighting various areas of interest in the vicinity, the main one to us, being that we were heading in the right direction to Lourenza.


Does my pack look big in this ?


The first stage of the journey to Lourenza was 30 kilometers, mainly uphill to a peak of 325m. We estimated that we would walk that distance in 6 to 7 hours and it had been suggested because of the gradient, that it might take 8 to 10 hours of walking. We arrived at the albergue after 5 and a half hours and are among the first to arrive. In retrospect we have been walking too fast, not having enough breaks and with the apprehension that there may be no beds left at the albergue.
The albergue in Lourenza has 20 beds , though it seems like more and there is more than enough room. It is a bigger version of the one in Ribadeo, modern, clean with a large kitchen and dining area. We choose our beds, bottom bunks, obviously and meet up with the other peregrinos, some of whom we have passed and traveled with along the route. 
Everyone is friendly, conversational and sharing of themselves and of what they have with them. Tomas, who has been mistaken for being Swedish but is Swiss, has bars of Toblerone to share,  Nama, who is Israeli brings pistachio nuts and Lars who is actually Swedish has cold meat.  I am thankful and amused and wonder if I should have brought some Guinness as part of my national contribution. We are joined by Jofy, a global traveler and a walking gazelle, who I met on my arrival in Ribadeo and by Dave, who as I passed regularly ( changing his socks as it happens) on the way down, presumed was German or Spanish but turned out to be from Southampton and an informed authority on the Camino, having completed 11 of them. 
Never presume you know anything about anyone on the Camino or anywhere else, until you know them.... if you ask me.. Lesson 3.
Everyone speaks English, with two fluent Spanish speakers and this is to form our core group for the rest of the journey. After settling in we head for the bar across the road... as you do.
In the evening, Nysha cooks Spaghetti Bolognese for everyone and anyone and given the amount of leftovers for the other 10 people who didn't turn up. It is delicious, nutritious and in conjunction with the long walk highly conducive to a good nights sleep.