Backpacking Teacher

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Day 24: Santiso to Santiago. 300km and a long walk finished.

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Today’s walk took us through Australia. The towering Eucalyptus forest was like a small slice of Oz. Thin trees, shedding bark coming off in pieces like shaved Parmesan, curling towards the ground, the floor covered in a carpet of spear shaped leaves, some dead, some dying, the air filled with the light scent, sweet sharpness of eucalyptus oil. We slept in a little the plan for the day to walk until we rejoined the Camino then walk onto Monte de Gozo.

The day’s walk was beautifully reflective. The sun shone and we both walked well. Cheeky’s knees still ached but she put that aside as she enjoyed the walk. The walk gave me time to reflect and it surprised me how different the Camino was for me compared to last time. For one I walked 800km compared to 300km this time. Last time I was physically challenged as i walked hard each day this time I didn’t find it anywhere near as physically challenging. This time my body held up well, only a few aches and no blisters. Last time I had massive blisters and many aches & pains. This time I shared the Camino with Cheeky and that added a sweetness lacking in my last walk. It’s true then the saying that each Camino is unique. I wished we could have walked more but, saying that, we would have missed out on staying longer in key towns and experiencing them in a way I failed to last time. This time the Camino felt more like a holiday (albeit with 300km’s of walking shoehorned in) compared to the last walk which felt far more challenging. This Camino was in some ways harder though as I saw Cheeky struggle through her pain. I felt both sorry for her and, somewhat strangely, guilty. Guilty that I was not feeling any real pain and even jealous, jealous of the pain because a Camino without pain seems a Camino only half deserved.

These and many other thoughts ran through my mind as we walked. It is truly one of the joys of the walking is that you have time to think and let your thoughts run in whichever direction they will for hours on end as your body just walks on and on. It’s a unique experience and mentally it’s fantastically refreshing.

A few hours of walking later and we found ourselves at Lavacolla where i quickly washed my hands in a ritual going back a thousand years and then, before we knew it we were on Monte de Gozo. The hill that overlooks Santiago de Compostela.it was here that we decided just to push onto Santiago a mere 4km away. And so we strode off into our very last section of the walk.

As we arrived near the Cathedral, where the Camino ends, we took a few minutes to sit around the corner, a mirror of my last Camino, and enjoy a laugh in the sun and think about our long walk. Then we hobbled, appropriately enough, to the plaza in front of the Cathedral and, with many other peregrinos just sat. It was a satisfying moment and I took pleasure in sharing Cheeky’s achievement. This had been a hard journey for her and yet she had pushed through and completed it. I revelled in her achievements as we sat in awe in the sun at the front of the Cathedral.

Then we walked on. Got our compostela from the peregrino’s office and then went to find the nice hotel we had booked for the next few nights. The next part of the holiday will be in France. Only half planned but part of it will be in Paris the rest in the South of France. Only this time we’ll be going by car – it’s time to rest Cheeky’s knees.


— Posted from my phone

Location:Rúa das Fontes do Sar,Santiago de Compostela,Spain

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Written by backpackingteacher

July 26, 2011 at 12:11 am

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Day 23: Arzua to Santiso. A day of rain and a detour from the Camino

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The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain is the ages old English elocution lesson. The rain in Spain stays mainly in Galicia (pronounced with a lisp, as in GaliTHia) doesn’t quiet have the same eloquence but it does adequately describe the day we had today.

We had a miserable night’s sleep due to some particularly inconsiderate members of a group of 12 twenty somethings who kept everyone awake with their late night whispers and then woke the whole dorm at 4:30am as they noisily left the Albergue. This section of the Camino is beautiful from a nature perspective and ugly from a respect your fellow peregrino experience. Oh well. At least it forced Cheeky and I to get out early. By 6am we were breakfasting and before 7am on the road. The initial plan a walk of about 16km.

We walked out ok even if the sky was dark and the rain set in. I rarely had rain last time I walked so it’s seems we’re getting more than our share this time. The rain didn’t dampen our spirits too much in any case. We walked well and started to plan a slightly longer day ending in Arca a 20km walk.

We wandered through the farms, admired more of the fruit and fantastically coloured flowers and generally had a good day’s walking over the gentle, green, undulating hills of Galica.

The we arrived in Arca. The place was crowded with walk in peregrino’s, bussed in peregrino’s, taxi takers and caragrino’s. The massive queue outside the one Albergue and the completo sign on the other should have been our clue. The town was full. We tried place after place to be told the same thing. Full, full, full. Finally one kindly soul rang around for us. Good news, there is a room, in a hotel so it’s more expensive. The bad news you ask? It was 4km further down the road 😛

So we walked and walked. We sped up, which hurt Cheeky’s knees, because Arca was full by 1.30pm and every spare room cliseby was rapidly being snapped up. 4km later we arrived. Only to be told – completo. Ouch! Luckily though a hotel a few km’s away but off the Camino had rooms and they drove us there. So here we are in a little town that has nothing but a hotel, a pension and 3 restaurants chilling out after a longer day than planned. Tomorrow we’ll walk out of this town and make our way back to the Camino and make our way to the horror that is the 500 bed Albergue at Monte de Gozo, the hill overlooking Santiago. One and a bit day’s left on the Camino 😦


– Posted from my phone

Location:Carretera de Curtis,O Pino,Spain

Written by backpackingteacher

July 22, 2011 at 1:49 am

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Day 22: Melide to Arzua. Raspberry picking and the village of flowers.

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Last time I walked 800km I didn’t once stop to pick fruit by the roadside. You’d think that in 31 days of walking I’d have at least picked fruit once. I didn’t even notice half the fruit and plants I now see around me. It’s as if my fruit sense has been switched on. The truth is, of course, that Cheeky has an amazing nose for fruit and an interest in all things horticultural. If she slows down I know there must be fruit in our vicinity. On this trip we have picked and eaten everything from apples to pears to a myriad assortment of plums to juicy cherries and, today’s delight, raspberries. There’s something sweeter about eating the fruit you’ve just plucked from bushes and trees around you. Without Cheeky I would have just bustled on by, vaguely aware, but mostly oblivious to, the fruit salad around me on the Camino.

Today we left the town of the Octopi heading for Arzua. Last time round I’d walked into Arzua in absolute agony as blisters on the soles of my feet and heel of my foot constantly tore open on the walk. I remember staggering into the town each step a point of agony. Today I felt fine, it’d been a shortish trip of 14 or 15 km’s and even Cheeky who grimaced on some stages walked into town with energy to spare. Nothing like the poor guy who walked ahead of us and winced with each step, clearly in pain but still moving ahead. Funny how the Camino works, it’s as if I was seeing myself two years ago.

Cheeky and I have been mixing our accommodation up. Last night in Melide it was a hotel today it’s an Albergue again. It’s nice to be amongst fellow peregrinos in an Albergue but, as always on the last stages from Sarria, it’s filled with overly large, overly loud Spanish groups walking for a few days. I’m sure it’ll be a noisy night but the upside if that is we’ll be awake early. That’s good because we have a longer walk tomorrow. Something Cheeky’s not really looking forward to but c’est la camino. In fact we now only have about 39km to go so we only have, after today, about two more nights on the Camino. We should reach Santiago by Saturday 🙂 that’ll give us a couple of days to enjoy the town and be there for the party ad the town gies all out to Celebrate Santiago’s Day on the 25th.


— Posted from my phone

Location:Carretera de Santiago a Guntín,Arzúa,Spain

Written by backpackingteacher

July 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm

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Day 21: Palas de Rei to Melide. Home of the killer Octopus

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A remember seeing a shlock movie recently called DinoShark vs KillerOctopus, or something equally as silly. I don’t recall much of the movie but I do recall this huge, super sized Octopus that I felt sure was CGI creation until of course that until Melide. The Octopus or, as they more melodiously call it here, Pulpo is freakin’ huge. So, of course we had to stop to eat some. And of course along with Killer Octopus tentacles we had to have bowls of red wine – why, you ask, well, i’m not sure but that’s just the way they serve it here.

It was a fitting meal after a shortish 14km’s or so. The day whizzed by reasonably fast but the few ups and downs made some sections more difficult for Cheeky and so it was hard for us to get into a walking rhythym. Having to walk 8km before breakfast is also not much fun however these minor things aside it was a good days walk through some more of the spectacular, if somewhat graffiti riddled, countryside that is Galicia. We tried to ignore the very large Spanish groups we dominate the Camino in terms of sound and rubbish and just focussed on the delightful little villages. What this blog can never quite convey is the smells of the Camino. The last few days it has been a myriad of smells including sheep shit, fresh tree sap, sweet fermenting wine, crushed berries and fresh coffee. A cornucopia of smells make the walking all that more delightful.


– Posted from my phone

Location:Melide, Spain

Written by backpackingteacher

July 20, 2011 at 2:37 am

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Day 20: Ventas de Naron to Palas de Rei. Grafitti and Mary stickers

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A good day’s walking. We found ourselves hopping in between a few groups, the first the tourigrinos and the other a large family with a few down syndrome kids. As you do on the Camino we leap frogged these groups a few times.

The day was drizzling lightly but pleasant enough. A shortish days walk along country paths, alongside moss covered walls forever following the yellow arrows and yellow scallop shells. The walk from Sarria is also noticeable for the preponderance of grafitti. It’s everywhere, on signs, rocks and walls and it runs the gamut from silly tags to outpourings of love to the inane ‘____ was here’. Today the graffiti was joined by stickers of Mary as some young lad ahead of us with an absolutely huge roll of stickers stickered everything in sight with these stickers. At least his need to place a mark on everything was less driven by personal ego, like all the graffiti before him, and more, perhaps driven by a need to explain his reason for walking.

Cheeky walked well for most of the day but found the last section a bit of a grind on her knees. She’s getting quite sick of taking ibuprofen and looking forward to having to stop take it.

I’m enjoying the walking and have no significant aches or pains. At times I find it hard to walk at the slow pace Cheeky’s knees force us to walk at. On my last Camino I thoroughly enjoyed the walking and would easily get my body into a rhythym whereby my feet and legs would just power away and allow my mind to soar and daydream. My body last time (except for feet that looked like mincemeat from over active blisters) just cruised and I usually walked much faster than everyone else. Like a car in fifth gear. This time round I feel like I rarely get into fourth gear and never get into fifth gear. We walk about half the speed I walked last time and i’m personally finding this a bit hard to come to terms with. My body cries out for a solid bit of walking but I have no intention of walking without Cheeky. I’d rather walk with Cheeky who hobbles along so bravely rather than speed ahead by myself. My camino this time is forcing me to slow down and by doing so i’m taking so much more in. We spend much longer in towns than I ever did before and so I have a much better understanding of the places we travel through. My body may be aching to travel in fifth gear but by travelling in third i’m getting to experience much more of the world around me.


— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

July 19, 2011 at 8:02 pm

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I love these unexpected evenings in Saigon

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You gotta love this town. On the way home this evening I stopped off at a local haunt when I saw a good friend having a quiet beer there. We chatted for awhile then ordered some of the great food this very local place serves.  We’re there for awhile when a guy next too us strikes up a conversation. Now this is not the first time this has happened and, on previous occasions we have found ourselves drinking dubious alcohol or engaged in simplistic conversation and mime but, on this occasion our conversationalist proved to be from the United States.

He introduces himself as being from San Francisco but, for all intents and purposes, appears to be Vietnamese. Both my friend and I are well travelled and neither of us are particularly insensitive so it takes us awhile to ascertain that he is indeed American (which neither of us doubted) but was born in Saigon and is one of those people who escaped from the south in 1975. I say escaped because those are his words and because for him it was, no doubt, an escape. Now this is what I love about this town. I was planning on a quiet night but instead I end up having an experience. Our friend turns out to have been an air traffic controller (hence the photo above) who left the country in 1975 just as South Vietnam was about to fall.  He tells us about making a new life in San Francisco, the pre-1975 days and how English and French were widely spoken in the streets of Saigon and how he made it out. We learn about his restaurant business, how he didn’t return to Vietnam until 2005, after Clinton had normalised US/Vietnam relations and how the city had changed so much since he left. We don’t talk politics because that is still a no-no in Vietnam but we do skirt around the edges. We’re fascinated by our newly found friend because he connects us to a Vietnam that we only know of through documentaries. We buy each other drinks, although I think he buys us more drinks than we buy him, share phone numbers and agree to meet up one night in Cholon, the Chinese district which he knows well, at some stage in the future. I love this town. I was just driving home and going to have a quiet night. Instead I lived a little history, not for the first time and, no doubt, not for the last.

Written by backpackingteacher

August 27, 2009 at 12:22 am

Down and out in Paris (with apologies to George Orwell)

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Camino de Santiago July 2009 780

A very promising and thoughtful ex-student of mind once gave me a book by George Orwell about his early impoverished days in Paris and London called, appropriately, “Down and Out in Paris and London”. The book was an enjoyable read and quite an insight into the depths of poverty that existed in Europe in the early half of the 20th century.

Camino de Santiago July 2009 765
The title and story came to mind as I walked the tourist embraced streets of Paris. This city of lights has little obvious signs of poverty today. This is not my first time to Paris but here again I found myself wandering the familiar tourist route of the Seine, Notre Dame, Champs Elysee etc. Sights I’ve seen before but I was just enjoying the early morning walk.


Then I arrived somewhat accidentally at the Louvre. I have never been inside and had not had any intention to do so today. Not because I don’t like art but because it seemed so de rigeur to do so in Paris that I rebelled against the idea that this could be Paris. I had promised myself that Paris was a coffee in a cafe with a newspaper watching the world go around me. I did not need to say I’d been to the Louvre as if somehow that gave me some cachet of art credibility. But then I dissapointed myself. I saw the queue was short and, on a whim, entered. What a mistake. I found myself in a bedlam of cameras, strollers, t-shirts and bumbags.


Jostling and barely having time to view some of the stupendous works around we eventually found ourselves before a glass enclosed, little picture of the woman with the enigmatic smile. The jostling, the cameras, the security, it could almost have been the papparazzi at work with Madonna to the fore.. Quick we must get a photo, stop, study the painting, you, yes you, put your head to the side, ok now you, finger to the chin. Ok done, I think we still have time for the eiffel tower. I wandered around the Louvre for awhile trying to take in the amazing pieces of art that fill it’s every nook and cranny but I left feeling sullied. Like I’d done something just to say I’d done it. It afforded me little pleasure. I felt down and out in this world famous museum.

So I went to a cafe and read my newspaper and watched the colourful world of Paris pass me by. What a delightful, colourful, character filled city. I forgot how much I enjoy the vibrancy of multicultural cities. Saigon is very monocultural and much of the Spain I’d seen (as fantastic as it was) was similarly monocultural. Paris reminded me of Sydney with it’s people of different hues, it’s colour, it’s vibrancy. Now I know why people like Paris.

— Posted from my phone

Written by backpackingteacher

August 7, 2009 at 1:52 am

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