Friday, 25 May 2012

This Year´s Camino

Filipe and Kathy, on the beach of Esposende, Portugal

Yes, I am very far behind. Or ahead, depending on how you look at things.

Since I last wrote, work began on a major overhaul at The Peaceable. Our patio, the heart of the house, is being rebuilt, with tons of concrete, tiles, dust and racket happening almost every day. The filthy big spruce tree and the grubby, leaky, mossy sheep trough are gone. And my beloved ivy arch, (alas!) will likely not be seen again. Work continues. I am not sure about all this now, but it is too late for regrets. (I will post Before/During/After pictures, soon as there is an After.)

In Sahagun we were given a tiny, three-week-old kitten a friend had fished out of the River Cea. We called him Moses, or Mo for short. He crawled up onto Paddy´s shoulder and has stayed there since, like a pirate´s parrot. 
Moses "Momo" O´Gara

"The Moorish Whore," my novel of Zaida, was finished and edited and sent off to the formatters. It is a matter of moments before it appears on Kindle, then on  I will be sure to let you know when it´s available, so you can tell all your friends, too. 

Kathy, my good friend, arrived on the ninth, and we took off for Portugal soon after, to meet up with Filipe, my other good friend. We started walking from Vila do Conde, on the Portuguese coast, about two weeks ago. It feels like forever ago.

That path up the beach is supposed to be a camino to Santiago.  Following a coast might seem like a no-brainer, but it proved a lot harder than it first appeared. There are sea-walls on coasts, and long spits of land sticking out into the water that needlessly increase your mileage. There are sewage treatment plants, and private golf courses, campgrounds, rivers, and impassible mountains of rocks. You cannot follow the beach. You have to cut inland now and then. And once you leave the beach, it is often devilishly difficult to find your way back there. There are directional arrows, way too many of them, in several colors -- all of them pointing some version of north.
a ria (a wide river-mouth)

Good thing there are lots of wonderful fish restaurants, and shellfish fisheries, and fishermen and fishwives and regular people all along the way. And places to stay -- resort hotels that must´ve been all the rage in about 1962, with mattresses of the same vintage. Between thefields of potatoes and spinach were a couple of good-size towns full of dignified  old buildings, lace-makers, contemporary sculptors, filmmakers´ studios, even... and tatty old hostels. One, in Viana do Castelo, was downright comical, with a picture of a sassy girl in folklore costume hung strategically to cover a gaping hole in the wall. We were too tired to care. We slept anyway, with doves cooing outside the window, and motos roaring in the street below, and the ships down in the ria and trains at the station up above hooting horns at one another at 5 a.m.

Alongside the Ria do Miño, outside Camiña, Kathy fell down hard. I rolled her over on the ground, and saw her right hand twisted horribly to one side, two or three fingers pointing together at a very wrong angle. After a very long time an ambulance came and took her and Filipe to a hospital, yet another place that peaked about 1962. (Filipe is Portuguese.) After 140 Euros, X-rays and a sudden grab and snap of bones, her fingers were reset in their proper places, splinted, wrapped, and taped. A simple dislocation. No big deal. The two of them took the train back to Camiña and sat along the water and sipped medicinal champagne.
roadside shrine, in someone´s yard

By then, though, I was way up the river, on the way to Valenca and the Spanish border -- I had remembered the advice I always give to pilgrims who do not know what to do with themselves: "Pilgrims walk." It was a good 25 km. in the hot sun, up and down steep, cruel hills. I saw some splendid ducal estates, some incredible views, some fabulous displays of wildflowers. But like Paddy says, "it was worth seeing, but not worth going to see."

By the time I hit Vila Nova de Cerveira I was fried. I sat in their bus station and chatted with Joan, a young Portuguese who wants to be a Hollywood star, but is currently unemployed. He speaks no English or Spanish, but we understood one another somehow. He has a pierced nose, and a tattoo on his bicep that declares him "Prood to be Different."  He made sure I got onto the right bus. I confess: I skipped forward 14 kilometers. I don´t regret it. 

Me and Filipe and Kathy reconvened at the border, where our coastal camino joined up with the main Portugese path to Santiago. Suddenly there were more of us backpackers -- four hefty Estonians we dubbed "the wood-choppers," a couple of little Japanese ladies, a Canadian girl with a huge, heavy backpack and vari-colored stockings.   

The path itself was, for the most part, ugly and paved. My toes blistered. Kathy soldiered on. Filipe, being young and fit, ate and drank and slept deeply, and suffered no ill effects aside from occasional fits of laughter and song.
Filipe at San Telmo´s bridge, near Tui

We enjoyed each other, and did not hesitate to enjoy the delicacies the region offered up: oysters, Albariño and Ribeiro and Valdeorras wines, razor clams, sea bass, spinach and new potatoes from the fields around us, where the harvest was in full swing. In Pontevedra we met up with two Aussies who opened their borrowed house to us, a place with a five-star view and a private room for each of us -- and a washing machine! True deluxe!

In Caldas de Reis we stayed at a Victorian spa hotel, "took the waters" in a mosaic calderium, and wandered in our white robes through the little bamboo forest out back. It did us a world of good. (Outside our window a bearded old drunk in the brown robe of a professional pilgrim shouted at us, accused us of driving a car up the camino, of being false pilgrims. I asked him how far he had walked that day, that I hadn´t seen him anywhere on the trail. He told me he did not understand German. Then he passed out on a  bench. And so Filipe got to see his first Dark Pilgrim...) 

The next night we stayed at a ratbag with an overpriced, deceptive dinner menu. We dubbed it "Alfonso´s Shakedown Shack," and shook the dirt from our shoes as we departed. We were in Santiago within a couple of hours, hugging the apostle, meeting up with old friends from Scotland and America and Norway and Spain. Filipe and Kathy repented at length for the dodgy pork chops they´d eaten the day before (I had the fish), but the swinging huge botafumeiro incense-burner at the cathedral, and afterward the mystical flaming quemada, an after-dinner firewater ritual, made everything alright.
Three amigos

Yesterday morning our threesome broke apart at the Santiago railway station. I returned home to a transformed patio (still full of bashing, grinding, shouting workers), overjoyed dogs, an overgrown back garden, and an Irish pilgrim keen to dissect the mysteries of the Templar Knights, and a husband with a little marmalade kitten on his head.

I took a nap. In clean sheets. In my very own bed.
Santiago notwithstanding, my camino-walking days always bring me here here. This is better than anything else in the whole world.

Except maybe writing. And a fresh oyster.

There are lots more (and probably better) photos of this trip, taken by Filipe and posted on Facebook:


Tracy Saunders. said...

What a surprise to see the three of you in Santiago plus Johnnie Walker! NOT one of my graddaughter´s better days though she was an angel in the Cathedral. I am sad to hear your disappointments with the CP though as I really enjoyed it. Perhaps the beach walks and the crappy accommo influenced your overall experience. Next time go inland from Porto and meet up with Fernanda - She will Restoreth your Soul for sure.
Moses and Paddy made me smile. I once has a tabby who never left my ex´s shoulders. Seiji (supposedly "my" cat) just draped himself around Paul´s neck like a snake or a well worn scarf.
Hope Zaida reaches lots of people. It´s a super story which kept me reading all night. St James´Rooster is days from publishing on Amazon. Also The Indalo Quest - an early book with a photo insert - covered in mothballs which leaves me a bit embarrased, less for my behaviour and more for my writing naivete! X to all. Tracy

strangerthanfiction said...

Ah, Rebekah,

You are making me "homesick" for Iberia. I loved your post, and thank you for that bit of lost pilgrim advice. I'll remember it next time I am faint of heart or feel tempted to become a "bus-agrina".

Congratulations on your book!


Anonymous said...

I'd no ot all over again....when's the next one? love, k

Anonymous said...

sorry, hand's still weak...I'd do it all again, for sure, love k

Lisa said...

I'm fascinated by your tales of the routes pilgrims took to get to Santiago de Compostello. Did any come by sea? All other points of the compass seem to be in play.