Backpacking Teacher

Travel, teaching and things in between. Saigon is the focus for now.

Archive for July 2009

Day 30: Arzua to Arca do Pino

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Today was a day of sadness and of beauty and richness. I started out the morning by strapping and padding my feet until they looked all lumpy and disjointed. I walked put of town with a slight rolling motion as the padding settled into place. The pain was bearable, I could do 20km on these feet today.


I walked out into the dark and through the forests. When I emerged from the forests I was surprised to see it light already. I walked through farm lands and down beautiful country lanes and then noticed the familiar. The trees were those of back home, I was walking through a forest of eucalyptus trees. Another Camino surprise. I stopped for breakfast (cafe con leche and tarte de Santiago) only to find friends having breakfast. I joined up with them and spent most of the rest of the morning walking and talking with one of them, a history teacher in Barcelona. Our conversation spanned everything from women to school to Spanish culture and food to reminiscing about the early days of the Camino. The waymarkers around us showed 20+ km to go to Santiago, we both remember the days when it was 600km to go and we thought we had achieved a lot.


I parted from my friends who I will catch up with again in Santiago to walk by myself. While I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of the Camino I also enjoy the time when I walk by myself. The 20km to go waymarker pounded into my thoughts as I passed it. “780 km these feet have walked”. “My Camino is almost over”. A deep wash of sadness coursed through my body. I could feel my whole body fall into sadness as I spent the last few kilometres thinking about my experiences. This amazing experience will end soon, in just a few hours of walking tomorrow I will be done. I feel like I’m going to say goodbye to a loved one and the sadness is palpable. Nonetheless I look forward to tomorrow’s walk. My mind is enjoying the walk and I look forward to seeing many friends at the end. I may be feeling a bit sad but tomorrow feels like the right day to stop walking. I am ready.


— Posted from my phone.

Written by backpackingteacher

July 30, 2009 at 11:51 pm

Day 29: Palas del Rei to Arzua

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The day started with zipping noises, crumpling of bags and talking in loud voices. Much like the day ended yesterday. My dorm room was filled with a Spanish group who were clearly only walking for a couple of days and were more involved in their own enjoyment than concerning themselves with others. I miss the pre-Sarria Camino where the sense of camraderie and looking out for others is a big feature. I remember being surprised in the early weeks that there was rarely litter on the Camino, you could walk for hours before seeing any rubbish. Now I can barely walk a 500 metres without seeing a plastic bag or bottle left on the route.


Nonetheless this doesn’t detract too much from the beauty of the post Sarria Camino. Today I walked with friends for awhile before going off at my own pace. I enjoy walking by myself for long stretches, it gives me time to take in the scenery and to let my thoughts float around like a leaf fluttering in the wind never staying still but sometimes returning to it’s starting point.


I walked through some beautiful forests today and then through more of the same type of countryside from yesterday. The landscape reminds me of England with it’s rolling green hills. This area of Galicia looks a bit wealthier than that of the last few days with slightly bigger villages and more modern buildings.


What you do see a lot of are Orio’s which, according to my Barcelonan friend with the Galician father, are used for grain storage. The Orio’s look like small, raised, wooden shelters that remind me of children’s playhouses. In some cases the Orio’s are no longer used for grain storage but as a form of decoration. It was interesting to look at the stylistically similar Orio’s made out of different materials.


The morning also saw me go through the town of Melide. This region of Galicia is famous for empanada (a pie’ish type dish) and pulpo (octopus). Melide is particularly well known for it’s octopus. I stopped briefly to eat, drink and chat.


From there the day got hard. Wearing sandals because of my heel blister has caused blisters to open up on the soles of both my feet. The burning sensation, especially after stopping, takes an effort to put aside. About half an hour from my destination, Arzua, I had to stop. Fortuitously as it turned out as I ran into an Italian guy I’d had dinner with a few times but hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. He also gave me some information about an Italian girl I had been travelling with and some other updates. This is the Camino newspaper and is how information is passed on. If people mention me it’s as the Aussie teacher who works in Vietnam and I often travel with people who have travelled with other people I have travelled with. It’s a small world that has a great community feel to it.

The last half hour into Arzua was painful. Each step burned. The first two Albergues were full so I eventually just took a room in a Pension. My feet appreciated the bath and must now be getting used to being doused in betadine every evening. This evening I fashioned some padding in my socks (looks downright weird) to try to relieve the pain but I’m not looking forward to the start tomorrow. Luckily it’s only 20km tomorrow. I should be able to handle that. I look forward to the walk as I’m finding these last few days to be the time of reflection. I spent much of today thinking about my Camino and what it means for me. I expect tomorrow I will be doing more of this. It’s quite a beautiful mental winding down.

Ps. All along the trail I keep seeing posters for Camino Brazil 🙂 only 500km.

— Posted from my phone

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July 30, 2009 at 4:45 am

Day 28: Ferreiro to Palas del Rei

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Last night was tough going. While I was happy to have a roof over my head and a mattress, no matter how grubby, it did not mean a good night’s sleep was assured. You would think after 40km I’d sleep like a log but the midnight showering woman, the snoring choir and the frightening sight of another male face inches away from mine when I rolled over did, somehow, not induce sleep. This combined with a very cold night meant I slept very little.


I woke up, not grumpy, but not exactly overjoyed at having to walk over 30km today. After having spent nine hours walking yesterday I did not relish another eight today. Nonetheless I got on with it, shouldered my pack, ignored my newly created blisters, thanks to having to wear sandals and just got on with walking. It was eerily dark with shadows cast in all directions by my torchlight searching for yellow arrows. When light eventually arrived it remained filtered through a fog and mist that remained hanging in the air until well after 11am. I trudged on and after awhile my body took over and just began to walk while my mind wandered. I still wasn’t quite into the walk but I was ok.


After a few hours of mist walking and mind wandering I arrived at my breakfast destination of Portomarin. A beautiful river port city graced by a sleek bridge and nice old town it was a perfect breakfast destination. I was happily surprised to see my two Portuguese foot heeling friends there. I joined them for breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed their lively company. This despite the fact that their Camino was over, one of the girls’ bodies had given out and so they were returning to Lisbon tonight. Despite this they remained upbeat. When I left one of them described to me the wealth of emotions she had felt when reaching Santiago in a previous Camino. This, along with their interesting company, left me feeling reinvigorated and looking forward to the rest of the day’s walk. Once again the old saying about the Camino came true – when you need something the Camino delivers. I needed to be sparked back into life and so it was.


I climbed from Portomarin into the hills beyond. I walked through a beautiful forest of slender trees and forest ferns. From there the day slowly wandered beside a main road before crossing through country areas and up, down and around little farms and hamlets. In one such place I ran into some friends and walked with them awhile. Eventually it was just me and the Italian doctor walking together and we spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering into town discussing everything from the Camino, to Australia, to Rome to Silvio Berlusconi.


Eventually arriving in Palas del Rei at about 2:30pm I went to the first of two Albergues in town only to be told it was completo (full) an almost unheard of thing to occur so early in the day. I walked up the street to the other Albergue where I met a friend I hadn’t seen in over a week, we chatted and then I asked for a bed to be told by the hospitalera that I had just been given the very last bed. Whew, two nights in a row I’ve been lucky.


That evening I dined with Korean friends I hadn’t seen in ages. It was nice to see old faces in the sea of new ones. The Camino since Sarria is a far less pleasant experience. Large groups of Spanish people who walk small sections with little day packs and interact very seldomly with other peregrinos makes for a very different experience to the rest of the Camino where people took an active interest in each other. Even my Spanish friends commented on this saying they didn’t like the feel of the Camino since Sarria. It’s a pity but it is still part of the whole experience I guess

Tomorrow another longer day of just over 30km. After that it’ll just be two short days and I’ll be in Santiago de Compostela.

— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

July 29, 2009 at 7:32 am

Day 27: Triacastela to Ferreiros via Samos

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I arrived exhausted. It’s been many weeks since I’ve been so tired I just have to sit on my bed for fifteen minutes or so before I even take off my shoes. Today I just ended a 40km walk. I hadn’t intended for it to he quite so long but such are the vagaries of life. By the end of the day the dirty mattress in a room full of matresses lying on the floor like some kindergarten sleeping room became an absolutely welcome sight.


The day started off with a plan to head to the town of Sarria taking the shorter route. However I unintentionally took the longer route via the monastery at Samos. I was not unhappy about this as the route took me through the narrow defiles and valleys of the forest covered mountain slopes and within a few hours I was looking down on this magnificent monastery at Samos.


From there the day turned English. A drizzle set in and cloud covered the sky, not an unpleasant way to enjoy a slowly meandering walk down the mountains. I walked through little hamlets, alongside gurgling rivers and along narrow roads covered in sheep and cow dung. The scenery included cornfields squeezed into narrow valleys and cow pastures perched on mountain hillsides. I drank my second morning coffee at a little mountain village as I watched twittering birds take part in mating dances on the village road.


In the town of Sarria I stopped for awhile to take a break and chat to a fellow peregrino. We talked for simetime but with only 26km under my belt my day wasn’t done yet. In Sarria things got busy. This is a common starting spot for the Camino as it is just over 100km from Santiago and the pilgrimage compostela (certificate) is only given to those who have walked at least 100km.


I can see why this part of the walk is popular. It is a gentle undulating walk through small little farmlands. Most of the walk is on country roads or lanes often surrounded by short, moss covered rocky walls. The last section of the road was over stones poured over hot tarmac an unpleasant walking track. In the distance I heard gunshots most probably from the local hunting club who’s trophy shots I saw hanging on a pub wall that night. By this time of day my legs were going fine but another blister was developing and my back was beginning to ache from a back weighed down with my boots. My body was telling me to stop.


I eventually arrived at my destination, the little hamlet of Ferrerios only to find the solitary Albergue full. This is the first time this has occurred to me but is something I’ll have to plan for now since so many peregrinos have joined since Sarria. Luckily a little further on a local restaurant had a sign out the front “dormit gratis” … was I happy. It turned out it was just a dirty stained mattress on a floor in one big room with many others but for me it was fantastic.


The place is full with many others like me who have been surprised by the Sarria joiners ability to fill up Albergues quickly. From now on my plans will ensure that I have nearby backup towns to go to if an Albergue is full or just to go to major towns. The afternoon was spent chatting over beers and the world’s largest bocadillo (baguette sandwich) which was the size of my forearm. Tomorrow my day is either 26km or 33km, depending on accommodation. A good day’s walk, I feel like I earned my stripes today.
— Posted from my phone.

Written by backpackingteacher

July 29, 2009 at 3:04 am

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Day 25: Villafranca del Bierzo to O Cebreiro and into the province of Galicia (the home stretch)

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The day started cold and misty as we slowly made our way through the mountains. Today is the dreaded walk to O Cebreiro the steepest mountain climb since the Pyrenees, the last real physical challenge before the home stretch (150km) to Santiago. It was also my most favourite walk to date.


It was cold and the mist hung off the mountain sides. Peregrinos thrust hands into flimsy fleece jackets and walked steadily upward. Every hour or so a mountain town, made of rocky stone houses clinging to mountain sides, would appear and we would inevitably stop for a warming cup of cafe con leche or morning croissant. The little towns reminded me a lot of Darjeeling, all mountain towns seem to have a similar character.


On the walk we were joined by many new walkers and the path, in parts, looked almost crowded. Passing cars, of which there were many, would often toot horns and I wondered why so many people were around. It took a look at my watch to tell me it was a Saturday and the reason for all the busyness. I wouldn’t have had a clue what the day of the week was otherwise. I know dates because I started July 1st and each day of July corresponds to the equivalent number of days I have travelled for. I don’t know days. It’s a great feeling of freedom not to know or care what day it is.


The walk wound up, like a corkscrew, into the mountains steadily getting higher but not proving too onerous. The sun began to break through the mist and soon enough a clear blue sky and warm sun took over the day.


I walked past flowing rivers, listening to cowbells ring and watching butterflies grace the air before me. One town, La Faba, proved a hard slog to get to as the path suddenly turned steep and rocky. An hour of this saw me gulp down my Aquarius when I arrived at La Faba whilst enjoying the goings on of the hippy commune opposite. From La Faba it was more of the steep rocky ground and I stopped for another drink at the little pub playing Celtic music. A short, sharp walk later and we were standing before the outstanding views of O Cebreiro. Stupendous, magnificent, looking into the valleys below with winding pathways, little villages and farmland being worked on. The town itself is a delightful little touristy mountain village with a mixture of weekenders, cyclists, a wedding party in all their finery and peregrinos in their grubby overwork, underwashed walking gear.


Today’s walk was picturesque, varied and, at times, challenging and overall one of the finest walks of the Camino. I’m glad I didn’t miss it and my blistered foot still let me make the walk.


The Albergue, though big, is clean and efficient and has the best view in town. I sat down outside worried that my heel that was beginning to look quite bad and it was beginning to concern me when two Portuguese girls came to my rescue. Psychologists working in an intensive care unit of a hospital they took one look at my heel and declared a course of action. Dousing my foot in some red solution purloined from a hospital they had soon set my mind at rest as infection, not pain, was my biggest cause of concern with my heel. They also give me some anti inflammatories and we exchanged peregrino chit chat as these two confident, friendly and efficient women fixed my foot. I was grateful for their concern, help and confidence. I’m not sure what I’ll do tomorrow in terms of covering the wound but for now I’m much more relaxed about the problem.



— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

July 29, 2009 at 2:14 am

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Day 26: O Cebreiro to Triacastela

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I walked today, at different times, with a French priest and a Dutch rugby player. It is one of the priceless joys of the Camino, the camaraderie that walking the same walk inspires in such disparate groups of people. The French priest and I can barely find a language in common but we travel roughly the same etapas (stages) and so have found ways to communicate. The Dutch guy I have spoken to on a few occasions and today we had an enjoyable discussion about rugby as we walked the last 8km or so of the day.


At 23km today’s walk was almost effortless. I know it was 23km because, here in Galicia (pronounce that Ga-ly-thee-ah) they have big stone way markers every 500 metres that count us down to Santiago. I hate them. I don’t want a countdown, every kilometer closer is my Camino coming closer to an end. Who would have thought that after over 650km I would still be enjoying the walking so much?


Today had a couple of short, sharp hikes but mostly just undulating hills through spectacular mountain scenery. Just a beautiful day’s walk. It started with a spectacular sunrise with the sky glowing orange behind pitch black mountains slowly bringing to light mountain tops that poked through shrouds of mist making them look like islands in the sea. From there the day meandered alongside fields of heather, paths made of shale and quartz and views spectacular enough to entertain anyone. We stopped several times for coffee and to enjoy the spectacularly beautiful walk. It was the last day my Lithuanian friend and I will walk together as she slows down to meet a friend and I speed up a little to get to Santiago by the 31st. I’ll miss her company as her intelligence and good nature made for a great walking companion.


When we arrived at our destination, the small, but longish, town of Triacastela, we were directed to a great Albergue by the French priest (spotless, spacious – at the end of town) which made for a nice end to the walking day. After obligatory washing duties we went out for a lunch to a cafe at the start of the town to see if we could see people we knew coming in. We were missing familiar faces with all the newcomers on the trail 😦


Within half an hour we’d greeted a friend from Barcelona that we’d travelled with for awhile, my two Portuguese foot heeling friends from yesterday, an Italian friend, another friend from Valencia and ended up making a new friend in an Italian doctor. Camino friendships are easily made and are one of the many reasons it is a special type of holiday.


I spent the afternoon chatting over wine and beer with friends. The Italian doctor noticed my foot and kindly examined it, after a bit of poking, peering and prodding at it he assured me it was not infected or likely to become infected so that’s taken away my main concern with the foot. Walking on sandals has proven reasonably comfortable and the blister doesn’t impinge on my day’s enjoyment. Tonight I’ll meet with my friends again and we’ll have a few vino tintos or cañas. As I see the end of the Camino draw nearer I am trying to ensure I appreciate these last few days as much as I can.



This afternoon the French priest gave me an English copy of a speech the local parish priest had put together about the Camino. I think the French priest is well aware I’m not religious but felt I would enjoy some aspects of the local parish priest’s take on the Camino. He was right, I did. I was particularly taken with the following which encapsulates a core part of the Camino;
“The Pilgrimage to Santiago is a journey Universality [sic], in which we all feel as one and each feels a part of a small travelling universe, beyond the confines of nationalism.”

— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

July 28, 2009 at 5:53 am

Day 26: O Cebreiro to Triacastela

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I walked today, at different times, with a French priest and a Dutch rugby player. It is one of the priceless joys of the Camino, the camaraderie that walking the same walk inspires in such disparate groups of people. The French priest and I can barely find a language in common but we travel roughly the same etapas (stages) and so have found ways to communicate. The Dutch guy I have spoken to on a few occasions and today we had an enjoyable discussion about rugby as we walked the last 8km or so of the day.


At 23km today’s walk was almost effortless. I know it was 23km because, here in Galicia (pronounce that Ga-ly-thee-ah) they have big stone way markers every 500 metres that count us down to Santiago. I hate them. I don’t want a countdown, every kilometer closer is my Camino coming closer to an end. Who would have thought that after over 650km I would still be enjoying the walking so much?


Today had a couple of short, sharp hikes but mostly just undulating hills through spectacular mountain scenery. Just a beautiful day’s walk. It started with a spectacular sunrise with the sky glowing orange behind pitch black mountains slowly bringing to light mountain tops that poked through shrouds of mist making them look like islands in the sea. From there the day meandered alongside fields of heather, paths made of shale and quartz and views spectacular enough to entertain anyone. We stopped several times for coffee and to enjoy the spectacularly beautiful walk. It was the last day my Lithuanian friend and I will walk together as she slows down to meet a friend and I speed up a little to get to Santiago by the 31st. I’ll miss her company as her intelligence and good nature made for a great walking companion.


When we arrived at our destination, the small, but longish, town of Triacastela, we were directed to a great Albergue by the French priest (spotless, spacious – at the end of town) which made for a nice end to the walking day. After obligatory washing duties we went out for a lunch to a cafe at the start of the town to see if we could see people we knew coming in. We were missing familiar faces with all the newcomers on the trail 😦


Within half an hour we’d greeted a friend from Barcelona that we’d travelled with for awhile, my two Portuguese foot heeling friends from yesterday, an Italian friend, another friend from Valencia and ended up making a new friend in an Italian doctor. Camino friendships are easily made and are one of the many reasons it is a special type of holiday.


I spent the afternoon chatting over wine and beer with friends. The Italian doctor noticed my foot and kindly examined it, after a bit of poking, peering and prodding at it he assured me it was not infected or likely to become infected so that’s taken away my main concern with the foot. Walking on sandals has proven reasonably comfortable and the blister doesn’t impinge on my day’s enjoyment. Tonight I’ll meet with my friends again and we’ll have a few vino tintos or cañas. As I see the end of the Camino draw nearer I am trying to ensure I appreciate these last few days as much as I can.



This afternoon the French priest gave me an English copy of a speech the local parish priest had put together about the Camino. I think the French priest is well aware I’m not religious but felt I would enjoy some aspects of the local parish priest’s take on the Camino. He was right, I did. I was particularly taken with the following which encapsulates a core part of the Camino;
“The Pilgrimage to Santiago is a journey Universality [sic], in which we all feel as one and each feels a part of a small travelling universe, beyond the confines of nationalism.”

— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

July 28, 2009 at 5:53 am