Sunday 4 June 2023

mr mike on pilgrimage


Postcard 3 From The Camino
by mr mike, June 2023
 Note:  this third postcard has been written on my return to Sydney.  It was proving impossible to write anything of length on a phone with an un-educated thumb. That, plus problems sending for unknown reasons.

After about 15 days, the Camino del Norte divided.  

One spur continues along the coast as the Camino del Norte; the other spur turned inland and became the Camino Primitivo.  “Primitivo” in this context means “the first” as it was the first recognised Camino to Santiago centuries ago. Relatively few pilgrims walk the Primitivo.
 The Primitivo has a reputation for being the most difficult of all Caminoes because of the continuous big hills and mountains, a reputation it lived up to:

 Out of 31 days total walking it was not until about day 26 that a relatively flat stage arrived. As a measure of the difficulty, on a flattish stage I average 5kms/hour whereas on the Primitivo I was averaging 3.5-4 kms/hour – which led to some long (8 hour plus) days.
But one advantage of moving inland was that the effect of the Atlantic on the weather diminished.  It was a little warmer and drier (although I was lucky to have only 3 days of rain in the first two weeks).
 Half way through the Primitivo I was having a quiet cerveza one evening in a bar and a Canadian bloke asked me (thinking I was English) if I had heard of the old Aussie attempting the Primitivo.  I explained I was an Aussie and told him my age.  He was a little embarrassed. I think this started earlier on when a young German told me I was crazy to attempt the Primitivo at my age. “No worries, mate”, as we Aussies say. The cheeky bastard.  No wonder the Germans lost the war.  It seems I had acquired my own little fan club.
 The high point (literally) of the Primitivo is crossing a series of mountain peaks.  The Pilgrim has two options:  option one is a shorter route that takes one day;  there is a longer two-day route. Both routes involve climbing the highest peak at the end. I was trying to make my mind up having dinner at the albergue in Campiello which way to go next day.  It was Saturday evening. Luckily a Spanish woman told me that one of the albergues at the conclusion of this stage was closed on Sunday (closures on “domingo” are common for shops/bars etc in rural Spain). So, I decided on the two-day route meaning I would reach the destination on Monday. Fortunately, earlier on after Bilbao I had gained a day in hand doing two stages in one day (just over 40kms).
So, on Sunday I walked to Pola de Allande. I learned there that the peaks had been blanketed in heavy mist and it had rained that day. (Pilgrims are warned that the short route is too dangerous in bad weather).
On Monday morning I set off to climb the Alto de Palo.  The weather had cleared and it was blue sky and sunny in the foothills

 The climb to the top took about 2.5 hours. The climb became progressively steeper, approaching 45 degrees near the top.  But it was worth it; the views were magnificent – like being on top of the world 

at the peak with yours truly in shadow; incidentally, the yellow cockleshell motif is the symbol of the Camino.  

The other side.

After sweating profusely on the way up, there was an icy wind at the top, so time only to let the view sink in and take a few pictures before descending.
 That evening, enjoying dinner and a few glasses of medicinal red, I felt content having crossed the highest point and therefore the hardest stage.  Big mistake.  The next two days were the hardest of the whole trip.  Some serious climbs, but it was the descents which were particularly difficult

 Not only is the descent steep, but the paths are quite rugged with loose rock and stone making walking difficult.  It would be quite easy to slip (and carrying a backpack can easily put you off balance) and a fall, or twisted ankle or worse would have caused a world of trouble.
One particularly long descent (approx 5kms) down to a long reservoir 

 was generally agreed to be the most difficult.  The way over the reservoir was across a rather dramatic dam 

 with the inevitable climb up on the other side.

 By that point I had a few aches and pains (in my back mostly from carrying the backpack) but some Pilgrims were in a worse state with knee and foot problems after those stages.
Gradually, the hills became a little smaller

and after a pleasant night in the old city of Lugo, the terrain began to flatten out 

 Eventually, a signpost showing less than 50kms to Santiago.

After arriving in Santiago, and collecting my Compostella I had a wander around the cathedral and the old part of the town. I happened upon a few familiar faces I had seen from time to time during the journey and we bid a rather emotional farewell.
 Then a short flight to Madrid and next morning an interminably long flight to Sydney.
 All up it was just shy of 900kms and according to my phone, 999,254 steps.



inmate said...

Very well done, Mr Mike. It’s not the kind of challenge I’m capable of anymore so good on ya.

Anonymous said...

Second that. Nicely done. Sydney to Melbourne next up?



mrs ishmael said...

Thank you, mr mike, for providing your postcards and photos - truly impressive. Did you get to the Pilgrim's Service in the Cathedral?

Mike said...

Thank you gents.

No Mrs I, sadly I didn't go to the Pilgrim Service. I left for Madrid late afternoon the day I arrived Santiago, and departed from Madrid early the following morning. This was because flight options to Sydney (even booking 5 months prior) were looking limited. In hindsight, it is something I do regret.

Just a few days back, and I'm feeling very low. Its a mixture of jet lag, physical tiredness, and a strange feeling of grieving or regret that a chapter of my life has closed.

mrs ishmael said...

Sorry to hear it, mr mike - and you've flown back to winter, which won't help, although it can't be anywhere near as dreadful as an Orkney winter. The Camino chapter has closed - but the next chapter could include the Orkney St Magnus Pilgrim Way, although it is only 58 miles, unlike the 200 miles you've just walked, or the 63 mile St Cuthbert's Pilgrim Way in Northumberland. Both routes follow the path that the saints' bodies were carried en route to their final resting place. In St Magnus' case, that is his Cathedral, where his bones are walled up in a pillar.

mrs ishmael said...

Sorry, mr mike, I've totally short-changed you - I'm just useless at these Napoleonic measurements, still in Imperial, me. Not 200 miles at all - 559 miles, if the Google-machine is correct. That is some achievement, just on a physical level. I'd love to read your thoughts about the spiritual impact that such a journey had on you.

mongoose said...

Well done, mr mike. The down will soon turn itself into an of a reflection upon a trial endured and overcome.