Our Fantastic Camino Experience

It was with some trepidation that we accepted the kind offer of a lift to Sarria from our friends Danny and Carol. Not because the last time we’d been in Danny’s Transit we came within inches of a head on collision with a Council truck, but because we’d got a mammoth 115km walk ahead of us.

Backpacks had been packed, weighed, thinned, weighed, thinned again and finally zipped up. Boots had been ‘worn in’, likely blister spots covered in tape, and special socks purchased.

E5ECC820-745A-4957-9441-ADC7AA3A82CEThere was no turning back, a quick coffee with our kind chauffeurs, and we hit the road to the first of our nights pre-booked accommodation in Portomarín. The first day was 22.2km on a mixture of forest paths, country roads and for the final kilometre pavement. We had a ten minute spell of light drizzle but after a couple of beers and a nice pizza we thanked our lucky stars that the promised blisters hadn’t made an appearance and we retired to an early bed.

Body clocks ‘all to pot’ we were awake and on the Camino just before dawn on day two for the 23.5 km jaunt to Palas de Rey. Fog followed darkness which then turned into sunshine as we reached our goal. Amanda had developed an ankle problem, and the blisters which we’d avoided on day one had made an unwelcome appearance. We found a ‘Menu del Dia’, drank beer and slept, knowing that tomorrow’s stage, the feared ‘legbreaker’, would make or break us.

B4CACF01-9144-4FE7-AD8F-4280412360D8Another pre-dawn start saw us literally bump into an American couple with whom we shared torches for a few kilometres. It turned out that they too would celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary on the 3rd October, the same as Amanda and myself, a Camino coincidence. We passed through Melide, which at sixteen kilometres would have been a sensible place to spend the night, but we pushed on to Arzua where the beer tasted sweeter and the food finer after 28.4km of walking.

We were now just forty kilometres from Santiago, two days walking.

The fourth day saw us reach O Pedrouzo after 19.3km, and after several routes had joined together, the way was becoming increasingly crowded. We called at the chemist for something to help with a shooting pain down my right shin, and hit the bars for some alcoholic anaesthetic. Our goal now seemed to be within touching distance.

0A629DA8-C982-4687-A73E-E8E0DB79D410The push into Santiago de Compostela was the hardest of the five days. The majority of the 20.8km route was on pavement or rough stony tracks which took a toll on our blistered feet and painful knees and a two kilometres diversion on the edge of the city lowered spirits even further. The Cathedral was a sight for sore eyes and at just after one thirty we arrived in the square with all of the other pilgrims who had made the journey from a myriad of routes, from a range of distances, and with very different hopes and expectations.

The day we arrived we joined over a thousand other pilgrims in the queue for our Compostela (certificate), before we met with friends Jim and Madelaine for a great night out on the town and retiring to our luxury room in the Parador for a good nights sleep.

We met and chatted with people from; Spain, Italy, USA, Canada, England, Ireland, Holland, Germany, and Brazil. They were all ages and all had their own stories and reasons for walking the Camino.

We made it, and while we felt a a great sense of achievement, we also had a massive admiration for those who had completed the full Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port in France. We also both felt a little deflated that our Camino was over and we were returning back to our normal life. Despite suffering some pain and discomfort, neither of us suggested taking a bus or a taxi, and looking back we both thought that it was a fantastic experience, and one which we are willing to repeat.

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Bluff Called

Winter is coming and it's time for a general update after a mostly uneventful summer.

We've entered the season of cooler mornings and evenings rather than the wall to wall heat that we've experienced over the last four months. The allotment is looking fairly empty as we've just tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and parsnips on the go. With a potato ban in the A Marina area, under pain of a €4,000 fine, we planted produce in a smaller area than last year but we've still managed to harvest 200 decent sized onions, 5kg of peas and 1 kg of sweet corn as well as plenty of lettuce and carrots.

The best crop of the year was courgettes/marrows which went wild early in the growing season and saw us eating; ratatouille, stuffed courgettes, courgetti, courgette cake, courgette stir fry, courgette curry and courgette salad. We gave loads away and now ten or more large marrows are rotting away in the vegetable patch as we just can't bring ourselves to harvest and eat any more.

Next year I'll plant less courgettes... many less.

Chestnut for retrieval

Chestnut for retrieval

Little has happened with the big house as we wait for licenses and permissions from the local council and the Xunta de Galicia. We've built a few steps, put a slate floor in the bread oven, constructed some planters, excavated one of the rooms in the big house of waist deep detritus (which included taking six cubic metres of household waste to the local dump), and tidied up 300 m2 of ancient chestnut beams, planks and roof panels from where they were dumped in front of the big house by the builders last summer. They are now neatly stacked by the barn either for re-use or cutting down into burnable chunks.

Kit the Cat guarding retrieved chestnut

Kit the Cat guarding retrieved chestnut

So amongst all this mundanity I did something very stupid.

On the coming 3rd October Amanda and I will have been married for twenty-five years, which is a bit of a miracle as I was certain twenty-four years ago that she'd have killed me by now. For the last few months she's been talking about a couple of nights away in a nice hotel to celebrate, but some of the hotels mentioned had alarming price tags associated with them. One mentioned was the Parador in the main square in Santiago de Compostela, reputedly the oldest hotel in the world which has played host to royalty, dignitaries, politicians, sportsmen and pop stars. On checking the internet it was quoted well in excess of €200 a night!

Now for €200 I could buy a decent lithium batteried cordless drill, or a circular saw with a couple of blade options and a laser sight, or a nice wood router and loads of bits, or even pay a speeding fine (yes I've had another of those over the summer).

So I hatched a plan which I thought was foolproof. I suggested that we walked the Camino De Santiago for our anniversary, or at least the last 115km from Sarria to Santiago. I did some basic calculations that we'd need five days of walking, that we could stop in cheap hotels and that arriving on the 3rd of October Amanda could have her one night in the five star Parador before we came home.

My theory was that a five day endurance hike, even with the promise of a night in the Parador, would be enough for her to shelve her romantic plans and I could use the money on necessary power tools.

But she called my bluff. ‘What a great idea’ she said. ‘I'd love to do that’.

So now we've spent a small fortune on; rucksacks, walking poles, walking boots, trousers, solar phone battery charger, non-blister socks, blister plasters for when the non-blister socks let me down. Not only that but we’ve had to go into training and regularly walk a eight kilometre circular route from the barn up into the mountains and back again.

The lodgings, including the Parador, are all booked and arrangements have been made for cat-sitting and lifts. It would have been much less hassle, and probably cheaper, to have just booked two nights in the Parador in the first place!

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Amanda Saves The Day

I've always had terrible phobia of wasps and as with my only other weakness, ice cream, it is all the fault of my Mother.

Some of my earliest memories are of my Mum shrieking and flapping her arms about like a crazy woman because she'd spotted a wasp within a hundred yards of us. On one occasion she abandoned me in my perambulator in the middle of a dual carriageway to escape a solitary wasp and save her own skin. And I remember being severely reprimanded, it might well have involved smacked legs, for poking at a wasp with a stick on our driveway at home.

As a kid, whenever the word 'wasp' was uttered in our house I followed Mum out of the door flapping a squealing like a girl until Dad killed it, and declared that our home had once again returned to being a wasp free safe haven.

At school I told everyone that I got a severe allergic reaction to wasp stings to explain my hysteria, and on one occasion as a young teenager I jumped out of a moving car because one had entered through an open window.

I think that it is safe to say that I really don't like wasps.

It was therefore with great distress to myself, that Amanda disturbed a wasps nest while we were clearing ivy and brambles from a slope next to the newly renovated bread oven house.

I retreated a good distance towards the safety of the barn and yelled questions.

'How big is it? What do the wasps look like? How many are there? How do I get my blood pressure down?'

2017-04-29-PHOTO-00008212Amanda shouted back that it was about the size of a tennis ball (see the picture), quite small in the whole hierarchies of wasps nests. The 'wasps', it turns out through consultation with my 'Insects of the British Isles and Western Europe', were actually Asian Hornets, a particularly unpleasant multiple-stinging' one inch long, armour plated 'pain machine'. There were less than a dozen, but more than half a dozen. My blood pressure, it seemed, would remain high for the foreseeable future.

I phoned Neil, our oracle on almost everything.

'Kill them with fire!', he said, one of his stock answers to any question about problems with natures fauna. 'Alternatively, wait until late evening or a cold morning, pick the nest up with a plastic bag, and then smash the hell out of it with a big rock, perhaps then burning it for good measure'.

I had visions of us setting Galicia alight and the last thing I really wanted to do was let pyromaniac Amanda loose with a pint of unleaded and a box of matches.

We looked for a local Rentokil operative but the nearest office was three hours away in Vigo. As it was Friday afternoon the local council was now deserted for the weekend so we had no option other than to take matters into our own hands, or in reality, for Amanda to 'man-up' and deal with the problem.

So this morning, after I'd suffered a sleepless, worry and wasp filled night, and while I cowered in the house on the verge of tears, Amanda tucked her trousers in her socks, pulled on a hat and thick gloves, put a scarf around her mouth and nose, and did the deed.

I almost applauded from the other side of the window as she battered a double-carrier-bagged Asian Hornets nest with the back of a shovel until there was no more movement, and their superbly engineered nest was as flat as a wasp filled pancake.

Since 'the exterminator' did her stuff we've had a couple of them come by to visit the site of their old nest but we suspect that the size of it meant that they'd just started building, and that Amanda's swift actions will force them to find a new home, hopefully not on our finca.

Now, hopefully my blood pressure is now returning to normal.

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A License to Park Wherever You Like

Galicia, we've had this little chat before and I'm sure that we'll have to have it again in the future.

Your parking is atrocious, dangerous, illegal, inconsiderate and sometimes plain daft. I suspect that the Spanish get their driving licences out of Christmas crackers, for the majority of them certainly have no idea how to conduct themselves on the nations by-ways or how to terminate their journey in a safe and satisfactory manner.

I'm particularly vexed on this subject for two reasons.

The first is that Amanda and I are now the proud holders of Spanish driving licenses which rather than falling from a festive celebratory explosive device, put us through the mill of bureaucracy and spat us out as two finely ground down individuals.

Amanda suggested that it would be a good idea to trade in our UK licences for their Spanish counterparts for a couple of reasons. The first is that it makes renting a car when we return to UK a far simpler exercise as we wouldn't have to print out one of the DVLA forms to show our points status, and we don't have to maintain a credit card to a UK address for the rental company to use as collateral. Secondly, and more importantly, anyone moving to Spain should theoretically change to a Spanish license within six months of making it their place of permanent residence, and we've been here for almost two and a half years.

What ensued was a military style operation to assemble all of the relevant documents, get our photos taken, undergo a medical, download and complete the correct form, pay online in advance of attending the police station in Lugo, and then make two 100km return journeys and spend hours waiting in lines.

We needed; our residence card, a colour copy of our passports, a colour copy of our UK license (both sides), our National Identity Number, our certificate of registration with the local council (issued within the last 90 days), a proof of payment for around €30 each, two special driving license photographs, and our medical certificate (including a coordination test which resembled playing 1980's computer tennis) which cost us another €40 each.

Mercifully there was no need for a driving test but the morning of our medical appointment (with the coordination test) followed a very heavy and late night of drinking which had seen a friend and myself demolish a bottle and a half of single malt. I'd asked Amanda to drive to Ribadeo for the test as I was convinced that I was over the limit, and as I sat in the chair to take the test I was more that a little concerned at my mental capacity to control both hands simultaneously. I was sufficiently uncoordinated for it to have been a challenge to tie my own shoelaces but after trying to control two dots travelling up a curved line and setting off the 'out of lane' buzzer with alarming regularity the doctor/tester told me I'd passed. This despite me already consoling myself to the fact that I'd have to come back when sober and sit the test again. I dread to think how badly someone must have to perform to fail.

In all it took six weeks from deciding to change our licenses to actually getting our new ones in hand but you factor in fuel and parking and photos and ink for the printer, there probably wasn't much change from €100 each.

Which brings me to the second reason for my annoyance.

IMG_1422I went to the fruit market in nearby Meira on Sunday morning and while looking for a parking space I witnessed the outrageous attempt at parking in the adjacent photograph. This comes out of the Galicians determination to park as close to where they want to go as is mechanically possible.

There were plenty of legal on-street, free parking spaces within fifty metres of where this numpty abandoned his battered old Volvo but where he chose to leave it blocked a pedestrian crossing AND a path around the edge of the local park.

Now we are used to vehicles being parked on verges, waste ground and double parked with their hazards on while someone goes for a coffee. We've even seen cars parked on central reservations and traffic roundabouts and been in a parked car when someone tried to park behind us but decided to use 'touch' as their guide rather than their eyes.

But this took the biscuit.

I was at the market for a good half hour and expected to return to find the car towed or at least ticketed but there was nothing.

But now I'm a Spanish licence holder I've decided that if it's good enough for the Spanish, that was the last time that I park considerately, especially if I am in the Santana.

Unless, of course, Amanda is with me...then I'll park legally! Not to do so would lead to too much earache.

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An Inconvenient Phone Call

Amanda and I returned to Spain on Sunday afternoon after a first joint trip to England in over two years. We'd been for a special meal, dinner suit and posh frock, held in honour of one of my old mates who had the privilege of captaining my old golf club this past season.

It was a fleeting visit, flying in on Friday morning and back on Sunday afternoon with just enough time to; do a bit of shopping for essentials (such as Paxo stuffing, PG Tips tea bags, and Bisto gravy granules), have a fleeting visit with family, and stuff our faces with a fried breakfast and marvellous fish and chips (not at the same sitting).

I'd developed the snuffles and a dry throat as we drove down to Stansted Airport, and by Tuesday morning it had developed into full 'Man Flu'. I know that many women believe that this chronic disease is a myth but I am reliably informed by a good friend (male) that the only female equivalent to this heinous illness is the pain and discomfort of childbirth.

So, by eleven o'clock on Tuesday morning I was wrapped up in a blanket, dosed up to the eyeballs with Ibuprofen, clutching a big cup of Max Strength Lemsip, and settled down for a day of TV, perhaps a feel good film or two and an early night. And then the phone rang.

It was Facundo our builder who explained that his team had the rest of the week free and that it would be the perfect time to undertake the works on our bread oven (Horno) which comprised; levelling the floor, pouring a concrete plinth, and re-lining the bread oven to allow us to start using it for its intended purpose. He'd quoted us months ago, and we'd accepted his price, but he chose this, of all days, to arrange to start the works.

My heart sank. The bread oven was full of machinery and materials amassed over the last two and a half years which needed to be moved to my new workshop, which was currently doorless and very insecure. Facundo explained that it was 'either tomorrow, or it could be a couple of months'.

I arose, like Lazarus, from my death bed, changed into my work clothes and went to fit the door and lock.

Five hours later, and with only half of the contents of the bread oven moved into my new workshop, I collapsed into bed, exhausted.

Facundo's boys arrived at 7:30am the following morning, helped me clear the rest of the horno, and set about their work. Four tonnes (60cm at its deepest) of rock were removed with a heavy duty jack hammer, drainage channels were dug into the floor to drain the four natural springs which emerge when the water table rises, gravel and membrane were laid down before a couple of cubic metres of concrete were poured. In the meantime the old floor from inside the bread oven itself was removed and a new set of earthstone tiles fitted by Facundo, who spend a couple of hours physically inside the oven, swearing under his breath as his head regularly came into contact with the low ceiling.

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There is still plenty of work to do with a stone floor to lay, electrics to install, a steel oven door to have fabricated, and a sink and running water to connect. But at least we now have a level floor and a functioning bread oven.

Time to get some lessons in making the local 'pan Gallego'.

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