Soto de Luina to Cadavedo – July 23

Today had some learning. It was also experiential. Most days provide some learning but there are those days when we realise what we've learned.

The Camino del Norte is different to the Camino Frances in a significant way: the coastal way is not as well signposted as the Camino Frances. On the French Way you are spoon fed. It leaves you in no doubt as to what direction you should take. The markers are bountiful. Not so up north where there are nowhere near as many signposts. For me, the absence of signs has constantly caused self-doubt. That is, until I began to really take notice of what the signs were telling me. A sign at a corner pointing down a road that turnout to be an extraordinarily long one does not
need another sign unles you are required to change direction. If there are
'reassuring' signs along the way, well and good, but they a not necessary.

I've found myself repeatedly doubting if I'm on the correct path, when, if I briefly considered where a sign was placed and where it was telling me to go, I expect a lot of my self-doubt would be eliminated. I should point out that this has only been the case since I've been in Spain for it is only when I arrived here that I felt I was on my Camino. Like most things that happen to me on the Camino's I've walked previously, and this one, I look for meaning. It's not simply a case of John thinking he may be lost. It's obviously a metaphor, but how I go about applying it to my life might be
the tricky bit. There is one issue coming up to which I'll have to give a lot more thought and that is a treatment associated with the hyperthermia for my prostate cancer I plan to have in Germany in October. Low grade chemotherapy is commonly used in conjunction with hyperthermia. My choice will be to either have the chemotherapy or not have it. So today's thinking about considering the path I need to take has been most pertinent.

The other significant topic of thought today was about my death. It wasn't like I said to myself, “Let's think about death”. I'd had difficult morning climbing and
descending some high and rugged hills and finally made the town of Balotta, some
8km from tonight's stop. I was a couple of kilometres out of Balotta when a scene came to mind without any advance notice. I was lying in bed, near death, feeling very peaceful. I had my three children by my side. My eyes were closed. I heard one of my children say, “Dad”. I opened my eyes and said, “You thought I was gone, but it won't be long. I was just seeing some beautiful things.”. My daughter Marlena said, “We don't want you to go.”. I pulled her close to me and said, “Marls, life's impermanent”. When I said these words I began to cry uncontrollably as I walked along. I continued to walk and the crying settled but as I replayed in my mind what I have just described when I got to the part about life being impermanent the crying began again.

The Camino gets us to think about things we might not ordinarily desire to think about. The Camino is like that. It's been easy for me to record this part in my notes but I grappled for a short time with whether I should share it with the readers of this blog. The decision I made is obvious. Maybe we could all give some thought to the impermanence of life and the impact it might have on how we conduct our lives.

I'm in Cadavedo tonight in an albergue with just 10 beds, but it has room for three mattresses on the floor. It's a full house of 13. Around 3.00pm I had a massive lunch for just a��10. As of 9.00pm I still wasn't hungry. I was toying with the idea of doing a 30km walk tomorrow or split it into two and still stay in an albergue at the 15km mark. I think the 15km walk will win out because of the state of my leg. With any walk, for me it is important to start out knowing the distance I will cover. The mindset is crucial.

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Muros de Nalon to Soto de Luina – July 22

I had a very leisurely start to the day. After feasting on a hotel breakfast for over an hour I started the day's walk close to 11.30am. You have to have days like this. They help to keep things in balance.

The first part of today's walk was incredibly peaceful as i found my way through another eucalypt forest on a single file path not much more than half a metre wide in places with vegetation over head high. There was just the occasional bird call to punctuate the silence. After the forest came views of the ocean. These coastal areas are nothing like I've seen in Australia: here farmland can reach to near the sea.

About 5km from where I am tonight the Camino wound its way through a tiny village down a slope to near a beach. While at a high point I photographed the beach with its headland background. On the wall of the albergue is an almost identical photograph that is captioned, 'View from the Camino'. Life's like that.

Today I was thinking about the food I've eaten these past few months. Tonight's meal was typical of those I eat when at albergues where cooking facilities on this coastal route are almost non-existent: salad (lettuce, cucumber and tomato) and
tinned tuna. Tonight I added asparagus and anchovies for a little variation. I've been carrying balsamic vinegar since early days in Italy and don't eat a salad without it. Of the three cuisines the Italians get my vote. They do a simple salad, and pasta incredibly well. My Camino favorite is spaghetti vongole. The Italian cuisine can easily accommodate a vegetarian. French cuisine would frighten any vegan with their sauces and cheese, and it's a toss-up between the Spanish and Brasilians as to who eats the most meat.

It was a short walk today, but an enjoyable one. The albergue is part of an old
school. It has only 22 beds, not all of which have been taken. I had to register at the local bar where my credential was stamped. Late this afternoon I returned to the bar and watched the last 45 minutes the Tour de France. It's been a while since I've had time to do something relaxing like this after a day's walk. I'm planning more of them.

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Aviles to Muros de Nalon – July 21

Can you believe it? Today is the end of my 16th week on the road. As I reflected today upon my walk I felt a sense of incomprehension at what I've achieved. I know what I've done but I find it difficult to believe that it has actually happened. The part that is most difficult to comprehend is the walk across France. I think of where I entered the country at the east in the Alpes and arriving on the western side at the Bay of Biscay, and the length of the path in between. I suppose the magnitude of the journey is just beginning to enter into my consciousness, whereas before now I was just walking it day after day.

It rained during the night and into the morning. I didn't wake until after 7.00am by
which time half the pilgrims had either left or were getting ready to leave. I like to take my time in the mornings. I won't be rushed. In eat and pack at a leisurely pace.

The albergues provide a moving picture of familiar and new faces. I enjoy this aspect of them, as well as what I did last night which was to sit around the dinner table chatting. We had pilgrims from France, Austria, Poland and Hungary in our group. Spaniards do eat late. A group of about six returned to the albergue with their food about 10.45pm and then commenced to eat dinner. They were still engaged in
animated conversation when I went to bed shortly after midnight.

It was a dismal day for walking. The rain came and went along with my wet weather gear. If it's not raining or very cold I don't like to wear it because although it's super waterproof, it's like walking in a sauna. The walk thus far in Spain hasn't been a sunny one, unlike the beautiful five weeks I spent in Italy, or some of those hot days walking in France. Whatever happened to the 40 degree plus days we were threatened with?

Today's walk took us through a number of urban developments. It doesn't make for particularly interesting walking but it gives an opportunity to observe how Spain handles urban expansion. Early in the morning we passed by a particularly ugly 'Gold Coast' style beach scene where from the hilltop five highrise towers on the beach stood out like concrete pillars of a long ago demolished building.

We did about 10km's before reaching a forested area. There truly is a huge amount of land in the parts of Spain through which I've walked these past three weeks that is
covered with eucalyptus trees. Today's path took us along some very muddy logging tracks through eucalypt plantations.

I think I can now empathise with those people who are constantly in pain. I've learned how to deal with it on a daily basis. Yes, it's that troublesome right leg which has caused me most grief, but not only it. The leg plays up every day from the moment I start to walk and can continue until I take off my backpack for the final time in the day. One of the issues is osteoarthritis in the right knee and the other a problem with the muscle that runs alongside the right tibia. When they misbehave behave I visualise pain relief, sometimes for hours on end. There comes a point of acceptance. I reached that point some time ago because these issues become noticeable very shortly after I entered France and that's now eleven weeks ago. I accept it as part of my journey but I get great comfort by offering my sufering as an act of compassion towards others who are suffering. It's like I'm being rewarded for my suffering. I feel a sense of gratitude at being able to help someone else.

It's not a reward for sixteen weeks on the road, but I'm in a hotel tonight. Some time ago I plotted my stop locations for the last three weeks into Santiago. Muros de
Nalon does not have an albergue. I had another of those long, hot, soaking baths which are not only good for the body but the mind as well. I have a view from my room over green pastures, the hotel being about a kilometre out of town. Breakfast does not start until 9.00am and I plan on taking my time at that. It'll be a late start. Tomorrow's stop is just 12km away and it's albergues all the way from there to Santiago. I've planned an easy run home.

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Gijon to Aviles – July 20

I walked out of the hotel into a beautiful sunny morning. There were a few clouds but they soon cleared. I felt in great spirits despite yesterday's effort and having only five hours sleep. I headed to the waterfront to try to pick up the yellow arrowed path out of the city. The beach was full of walkers and the surfers were trying their luck on very modest waves. I had the trail for a little while but lost it. I then headed for the first village on my list that the way was to pass thirough. No luck there do I got out my iPad and plotted my own course.

On the main road to Aviles I saw a way marked for those doing the Camino on pushbikes. I decided to follow it. But something to eat first. With all my efforts to
try to pick up the trail it took me 2 hours to cover just 4km. While I was eating I
checked the road that the bike riders would take and saw the name of a village that was on the walkers' path that day. I felt that the two paths would either cross or meet. They met. It was a very joyful feeling I felt to get back onto the path and see other pilgrims.

Some roads we walk are quite ugly. When I got to about 10km from Aviles there were potentially two ways to take into that city: one was via a bitumen road and the other a dirt path. I chose the latter after checking out the road and not liking what I
saw. After a short time on the dirt path I took a side track thinking it may provide a quicker way. I was about 15 minutes along the side path when it became no track at all. After 25 minutes in total I decided to go back to the bitumen road and start again. I didn't want a repeat of yesterday. The last 10km was through industrial zones before reaching the outskirts of Aviles. That's why it was an ugly walk.

Of course, the good weather didn't last: the sun disappeared, the clouds came out and it rained for a lot of the balance of the day. Because I hadn't left the hotel, until 11.00am, it was 8.00pm before I arrived at the albergue in Aviles. After showering and shopping it was nearly 10.00pm before I sat down to eat and just after midnight before I got to bed.

It was a forgettable day but suppose we have to have them to keep this journey in perspective.

It captures the bittersweet exhaustion of a night drawing down, a night that you’ve looked further info forward to for so long that its nearing conclusion can’t help but feel like a letdown

Sebrayo to Gijon – July 19

Sometimes things aren't what they seem at the time. I began shortly after 8.00am to start what I thought would be a 28km walk to Gijon where I expected to arrive some time between 4pm and 5pm, however, I did not walk into my hotel in Gijon (there being no albergue in this quite large city) until 10.15pm, having covered about 45km in the day. It was a day of mistaken directions.

A couple of kilometres from Villaviciosa, a town about 6km from where I commenced the day's walk, I missed a turn when I got distracted by a man chainsawing wood. This didn't cost me too much except I had to do these kilometres along a bitumen road.

I was feeling terrific all morning. I walked the first three and a half hours without a break. I was very energised by the support of my cancer support group who were meditating between 10.30am and 11.00am (my tme). Thanks to you all. After walking the three and a half hours I stopped for food. At this point there two ways to go, but it was only later that I realised this. One way was heavily arrowed and the other not at all except there was a usual pedestal with a ceramic plate of a scallop shell fixed to it. Things went awry from here. The way I took was the path to Oviedo where you commence the Camino Primitivo, a different route to the Camino del Norte. I ended up in Valdedios at the Monasterio Santa Maria de Valdedios,
established in 1200. Valdedios means 'God's valley'.

I went into the church to light a candle and say some prayers for my friend Naomi who is doing it tough after a second cancer operation. I did this during a chanting session by three monks. I also lit candles for my cancer support group and for people I know who are suffering. It wasn't until I came out of the church and spoke
to a pilgrim at the monastery's albergue that I became aware of my mistake. Some mistake. I'd gone about 9km out of my way. The pilgrim had made a similar mistake but had decided to stay at the albergue, having slept in open the night
before. I was told that Gijon was another 30km away.

What was personally fascinating was my attitude in getting this news. There was no question of me staying at the albergue. I decided immediately I would walk to Gijon. After some time walking I picked up the yellow arrows near Nievares. But that was not the end of it. Sometimes it seems that staying on the bitumen road would have been a better option. When I turned onto the path outside Nievares the road sign said 2km, which meant I had another 7km to get to Peon, the next town on my list. Not far from the 2km sign a yellow arrow directed the path up the side of a mountain. It was a tough climb for about an hour. When I got back onto the bitumen road it was near the 3km sign. So I'd covered about one kilometre in that hour.

Between the 4km and 5km signs there was an arrow directing the path down the mountain instead of following the bitumen road. At the bottom of he mountain I saw no arrow pionting in the direction I thought I should be headed, instead they pointed the opposit way. What I should have done was to stop and contemplate this situation for a short time, but I immediately chose to slavishly follow the arrows which took me on another difficult mountain climb. This climb led me back onto the same bitumen road near the 3km mark. All this meant that I'd spent about two and a half hours descending the side of one mountain, doubling around and climbing another
maintain which took me back to a point a couple of kilometres before the point at which I'd left the road to do the descent. When I realised what I'd done I laughed out loud and said, “Good one John”.

I checked at Peon to see if the was any accommodation, but there was none so I pressed on to Gijon. On the way into town I stopped at a supermarket and got enough food for dinner, breakfast and some left over for less than a��10. I walked into my hotel feeling physically exhausted but in great mental shape. I didn't need any particular mental resolve to make it to Gijon. I just did it without any any doubt I
could. All I had to do was put in the time and I'd arrive at Gijon. I feel like there has been some type of breakthrough: a toughening of my mental strength.

On arrival at the hotel my feet were none too happy. It took three hours for them to settle down after being bathed twice in hot water and constantly massaged. I should add that it rained on and off from the time I left the albergue until about 3.00pm.

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La Isla to Sebrayo – July 18

The highlight of today's walk was a visit to the small church of San Salvador de Priesca located in the village of Prescia about 3km from where I'm staying tonight. It was first consecrated as church in 921. Some of the original church remains as part of today's building which was rebuilt after being severely damaged during the period of the Spanish Civil War. Original wall and ceiling paintings remain. This Pre-Romanesque building is very ordinary looking from the outside.

On each side of the main altar there are small canyon shaped areas contining the best examples of the paintings. These areas also contain statues of the saints Anthony to the left hand side and Lucia (or Lucy) on the right hand side. The one
that caught my attention was St. Lucy who is represented holding a dish on which
there are two eyes, which is how she has been represented in art. Lucy lived from 283 to 304. As a 21 year old she knew what she wanted. Apparently her mother arranged her marriage to a Pagan husband whom she rejected because she wanted to offer her virginity to God. The husband-to-be was none too happy about this rejection and denounced her to a magistrate who ordered her to burn a sacrifice in the emperor's image as punishment. She rejected this sentence and instead offered herself. Needless to say her offer was taken up and she died a martyr. She has become known as the parton saint of the blind after accounts of her eyes being
gouged out before being put to death began to appear in the 15th century. More likely is the derivation of her name from the Latin “lux” meaning light. Not only is she the patron saint of the blind, but if you are a salesman, a writer or affected by a throat infection, St. Lucy is the one for you. I have no idea why she appears in statue form in a small church in the rural north of Spain.

It was a very peaceful and short walk today, just 16km. Sebrayo is a village consisting of just a collection of houses. There is no shop. Instead, a woman in a small van pulled up outside the albergue around 3.00pm. The back of the van was filled with groceries. I managed to spend nearly a��20 which did not represent an excessive amount of food, but a premium for this type of roadside service.

The albergue has just 14 beds and a well equipped kitchen. Tonight's meal was a cheese and tomato omelette with a salad. It will be the first hot meal I've made on this entire journey. Walking becomes synonymous with cold food.

Looking out from the open patio area to one side of the kitchen I can see some open paddocks, a small collection of old houses and a forest in the background. On the opposite side are green fields. The quietness of this rural setting is disturbed by the sound of cars moving along a nearby major road.

Over last couple of days I've begun to see a quite different style of granary to those that appear along the Camino Frances where they are of a rectangular shape and constructed of stone. Here, they are wooden, square, cottage-like structures with a
surrounding narrow railed walkway mounted upon huge beams. Like the ones to the south the structure sits on mushroom shaped pedestals which I understand was a design feature to try to keep out vermin like rats and mice. They aren't used as granaries any longer, but often as storage areas.

Tomorrow I head to Gijon, a distance of 28km. I'm kind of looking forward to the longer walk after a couple of short days.

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Ribadesella to La Isla – July 17

Ribadesella at 8.30am had all the hallmarks of a cemetery: deathly quiet with no one moving. I shouldn't be so critical of somethng as deeply embedded in Spanish culture as the hours they keep. What amazes me is that they have been able to hold onto the hours in which they conduct their lives despite being a part of the European Community which doesn't keep the same times.

I've now met a number of people from the Czech Republic, something that hadn't occurred on previous Camino's. While writing up my notes a man from there came into the albergue and we chatted for about an hour. On the way out of Ribadesella this morning a woman joined the path from a side street. Aniska, also from the
Czech Republic, had slept under the awning of someone's house the previous night. We walked together for about a half hour. She turned up at the albergue later this afternoon. All those I've met speak English. A lot of peregrinos are on limited budgets.

Today's walk was easy and very enjoyable. I regularly had a view of the coastline. Occasionally the ocean went out of view as I made my way along narrow paths head high with lantana, briar bushes and ferns. Many of the beaches were deserted. It's quite an unspoiled area.

I stopped myself today from being competitive for an albergue bed. Along the way I came upon a group of about eight Spanish women walking together. I stopped for a few minutes and talked to one of them. I walked on ahead but started thinking that if I kept ahead of them I would be assured of a bed. I'd been walking for about three hours by this time. Normally I would have taken a break to rest and eat some food
after walking for two to three hours. After fully realizing that doing what I was doing was compromising a principle I had established for myself I stopped at a picnic table overlooking a beach and remained there fir about an hour.

While I was at the table eating, Phillip, a young German man came up and we chatted for half an hour. I shared some of my food with him. While I was at the table the group of women went by. I now felt true to myself. In the end everyone got a bed and there were some to spare.

Today's walk was just 18km. I'm treating it as a rest day. I arrived at the albergue around 1.00pm. I had so much time to myself I hardly knew what to do with it, but I managed to fit in the a��8.50 pilgrim meal about 3.00pm. La Isla is a small village with a cafe/restaurant, a small kiosk/shop and houses. It's hard to know what sustains it. Tomorrow will be another short walk, but it all fits in with my intention to arrive in Santiago on August 5.

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Llanes to Ribadesella- July 16

Most pilgrims who were at last night’s stop must have walked the extra 4km to the albergue at San Esteban, but I stopped at Ribadesella: 28km was enough for me. It’s interesting what happens psychologically when you set out to walk a particular distance at the end of which you are faced with the prospect of walking further because of some unforeseen event. If I am going to walk a particular distance my mind is set for that distance and I’ll walk it comfortably because from the outset that’s the distance I know I have to walk. But try to add on some kilometers at the end, and my mind will ferociously restist. Often my body is giving me the same message.

I felt quite disappointed when I found no albergue at tonight’s stop. I was looking forward to interacting with other pilgrims. I think I’ve had enough of solo hotel rooms, although I still love walking by myself. It was good last night to catch up with some familiar faces. That albergue is unusual in that it provides a set of clean sheets and pillowcase to each pilgrim. This was the first time such a thing has happened on any Camino I have walked. Also, the hospitalier dried my clothes after I’d washed them. It’s these things that sweeten a stay.

After clearing the town of Poo which is 2.5km from last night’s stop, the path wove it’s way into and out of sight and earshot of the ocean. You can tell it’s holiday season in Spain because the caravan parks, and I passed three today, are doing a good trade. The next village was Celorio and from a distance it looked a little like the houses in the Cinque Terra in Italy because the bright colours they are painted.

One thing I’m glad about is that I’m not back at the Cinque Terra. I often think about a place I’ve passed through and when I do I say to myself, “I’m glad I’m not back there”. I think this walk is a ‘one off’. I can’t see myself backing up for one
this long any time soon, largely because I now know what to expect.

Another town I walked through today was Nueva where they were packing up the Saturday morning street stalls around 2.30pm. But I was in time to buy myself a couple of golden coloured peaches which I took to a nearby bench seat and ate. It’s a wonderful time to be in Spain. The stone fruit is magnificent.

Today was my 32nd day of walking since Toulouse where I had my last rest day before starting to walk with Vincent. I intend to continue to Santiago without a
break. My present estimate is that I will arrive there in 20 days time, on the 5
August. My first Camino in 2007 took 32 days without a break. This time I will have walked over 1,100km during the 52 days between Toulouse and Santiago.

This afternoonon I lost sight of the arrows. I got out my iPad and plotted my own Camino only to find that after a couple of kilometres of walking I picked them up again in the most unlikely of locations.

Ribadesella is a small seaside town with wall to wall tourists/holiday makers. Like all holiday destinations there’s no shortage of restaurants. I had salad and pizza tonight and when I emerged from the restaurant it was raining. The rain has continued. Let’s hope it’s all done by morning.

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Unquera to Llanes – July 15

The Camino has the ability to bring people together when they need to be brought together. Sometimes this may be for just a few minutes or it could be for days like in 2008 when I walked with Denis and Anette for 11 days. Often we don’t realise at the time why we’ve had contact with a particuar person and it’s not until much later that the reason becomes apparent. Sometimes the coming together is only for one person to learn from the contact, sometimes it’s for both.

Today as I was walking just below a ridge line with the most panoramic view of the greenest valley below me, and the city of Llanes and the ocean beyond, I heard someone walking up behind me. I recognised him as a pilgrim from the breakfast
table at the albergue in Guemes on July 11. I had not seen him since then. After
we greeted each other the first thing he said was that not five minutes before he had been thinking of me and what I had achieved in walking from Rome and that it was the frst time he had thought about me since Guemes. And there I was on the road
in front of him. The Camino is like this.

We chatted on the road into the city and later after dinner. There is an Australian connection here: he lived in Haberfield in Sydney in 1983 when his father was being supervised at a Sydney hospital by the late Sydney brain surgeon Dr Christopher
O’Brien. Small world, or is it?

Christopher, the Austrian pilgrim who is studying anthropology and law in Vienna, was very complimentary about my achievement. Which brings me to this topic of
how to deal with the comments made by pilgrims. This has only become an issue since I have been in Spain. When it became aparent to me that people’s responses were extremely complimentary I decided that I would not volunteer that I had walked from Rome, nor would I ask a pilgrim where they started their walk in the expectation that they would direct a similar question to me. I thought there was too much ego involved either way. But I do get asked and I do say from Rome. The responses
have been quite amazing for me. Some look at me open mouthed. Some say, “From Rome?” as if to say, “Did I hear you correctly?” Invariably the responses have been
very complimentary. The most common comment is, “That’s amazing!”. Yet I don’t think of it that way. In saying this I’m not wanting to sound ovely self-deprecating. I think Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest in 1953 with the limited equipment and support he had, as amazing. What I’ve done has been done by thousands upon thousands of pilgrims over the centuries, and I’m happy to be included in their number.

What I hope to achieve by what I’ve done (or should say, what I’m doing because my walk is not yet complete) is to inspire people to follow their heart and do something for themselves that maybe once they thought they were incapable of doing. I particularly would like to inspire those who have a cancer diagnosis, but not limited to that group, to overcome their fears of taking responsibility for their healing. I believe that walking the Camino is a part of the responsibility I have acepted for my own healing.

Meeting Christopher today has provided me with the opportunity to say something about pilgrims’ responses which has been on my mind for a few days.

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Comillas to Unquera – July 14

Spanish time takes some getting used to. Breakfast at the hotel didnott start until 9.00am but I was away twenty minutes later. By 10.30am I’d walked through three villages, all of which were still asleep. Spain must be the only European country where the clocks don’t start ticking until late morning.

We moved inland a little today, however, on occasions the ocean could still be seen from the track. I passed San Vincente de la Barquera by. It was low tide. You could see the huge tract of land that is covered by sea water when the tide is in. To the west of San Vincente is a valley that floods with sea water on high tide. I’ve never before seen so much tidal land affected this way.

There’s a sweet smell in the air in rural Spain. It’s likely from the mixture of animals and crops. It’s a very recognisable smell. It’s not unpleasantly sweet, but you know you are in the country when you can smell it.

Eary this afternoon I passed by a 12 century building which was undergoing restoration. It had a tower. It could have been some type of fort. It’s called ‘La Torre Estrada’ and not surprisingly nearby is the village of Estrada.

Further on at Serdio I called into a bar for a cup of tea. They had no food, but I was directed just up the street to a restaurant. I sat down for lunch at 3.00pm. (An example of Spanish time.). I watched the Tour de France on TV while I ate. This was the best value meal I’ve had while on this journey. The ensalada mixta (I try to eat a fresh vegetable salad every day) was exceptional, and the second course of grilled whole fish with heaps of garlic was so tasty. Add to this the freshest, crustiest bread and you will get an idea why I spent over an hour having lunch. At a price of a��8.50 for three courses, bread and water, it was exceptional value. I walked out
onto the arrow guided path feeling so good about myself, life, the Camino – everything. It’s the freedom I have to do these things in my own time which is important.

The competition for beds in the albergues I’ll leave to others. I refuse to engage in that race. Being able to sit very relaxed in a restaurant for over an hour in the mid afternoon is an extraordinarily valuable gift to receive. I romped through the afternoon. Not once today did I have to ask for directions, except when I wanted the location of a hotel after I arrived at Unquera.

It was a day abundant with gifts. There is no albergue in Unquera. My hotel room cost just a��16. Prices don’t get anynbetter than that. I look like being in hotels for the best part of the rest of this journey. On the road today I spoke with two pilgrims who had already made enquiries of an albergue a kilometre along the road from Unquera. They were told that all 140 beds were already taken.

Unquera sits on the eastern side of a river about two kilometres from the Bay of Biscay. This is the western edge of Cantabria. The border between it and the next province of Asturias runs alongside the hotel where I am tonight. I wonder if the
yellow way markers will be as well and frequently placed in the next province as they have been in Cantabria. Putting them where they are is quite an involved job. Back near the beginning of the walk in Spain I decided to say thanks each time I saw a marker in recognition of the efforts of those who had done this task.

It’s amazing how dependent I have become on the yellow arrow and how reassured I feel when I see one. On those occasions when a doubt creeps into my mind as to whether I am still on the correct path I say to myself, “Show me a sign.”. I estimate
that about 98% of times a yellow arrow will appear with 30 seconds of me saying it. Although I say it to myself it is really directed to my guide.

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Santillana del Mar to Comillas – July 13

I was in no hurry to move out into the rain this morning. Whoever wrote that the rain in Spain lay mainly on the plane should have checked their weather maps beforehand.

The hotel had a magnificent breakfast so I took full advantage spending over an hour at my task. I thought it was time well spent when the rain began to ease, but as I stepped out of the hotel it was as soaking as yesterday. To compound matters there was a fierce westerly wind pushing the rain at me as I made my way. It kept up for an hour then stopped. The wind dried my clothes. The sun came out. The wind stopped blowing. The sky turned blue. What contrasts we live with.

I really am in good hands: my guide is looking after me. I’d been walking for about half an hour. I had my head down. The wind was forcing the brim of my hat over my eyes. I was looking no more than two metres in front of me. I should have turned left. I kept going straight ahead. I’d gone about fifty metres when I heard a car horn behind me. I looked around. I saw two women in a car. One of them asked me if I was going to Santiago. When I said yes she pointed towards where I should have turned and gave me some brief directions. I walked off and took the correct turn. As I was doing so the car drove by in the opposite direction to what it
had been going when it stopped me. I gave a wave of thanks. It was as though they had driven up to me solely to put me back onto the path.

My Akubra has developed some character with its dips and bends. (For those who may not live in Australia, Akubra is the name given in 1912 to a broad brimmed hat which has been made in Australia from rabbit skins since the 1870′s.). As of today it’s been my everyday companion for the past 2,000km. I’ve noticed that most pilgrims don’t wear hats, and certainly not anything in the style of an Akubra.

I’m in Comillas tonight. It ‘s a seaside town. There is a real carnival atmosphere in the old part of town centered near the church. Around 8.00pm the cafes were full, the restaurants were filling, children were going wild on their bikes and scooters, people sat around eating ice creams, and there was a DJ playing music in competition with the church bells which tolled continuously for about five minutes. The town attracts a lot of tourists. The many restaurants compete for trade with their ‘Menu del Dia’ with prices ranging from a��9 – a��15 for which you get three courses, bread, wine and water.

Again, there was no room at the inn. Because I didn’t leave the hotel until after nine thirty this morning I didn’t expect to get a bed at the albergue which only has 20 places. When I arrived at 3.30pm a note in the door said it was ‘Complete’. So I’m in a hotel about 100 metres from the heart of the old town. It’s an older style hotel but what you commonly get in these older hotels is a bathtub. I was not disappointed. It’s one of those joyous experiences to lie back in a tub full of hot water after a day’s walk. I say out loud, “You don’t get this at an albergue.”.

I enjoyed a lot of today’s walk. With the weather like it was I toyed with the idea of taking the road which would have been 4km shorter than the pilgrim’s track. But what you miss is the village life: seeing the people going about their lives; seeing their houses; and winding your way through their narrow village streets. All this adds to the richness of the journey.

From today’s path I remember the bridge over the flooded creek. I remember the church where I stopped and said some prayers for people I know who are suffering.
(Churches are exceptional places to simply sit in quietness.). I remember sitting high up on a hill in the town of Cobreces to take a ten minute rest. I remember the villagers who wished me a “Buen Camino”. There is so much to be grateful for. My life continues to be enriched by this experience. Somehow, usher’s smooth as silk leads and lil jon’s gravel-throated fills paired like tanqueray and tonic

Boo de Pielagos to Santillana del Mar – July 12

It wasn’t such a good night’s sleep. Two mosquitoes were tag-teaming me around 5.00am. I got one but the other made repeated raids until I was forced to get up. Breakfast of cake and a cup of tea isn’t really my ‘go’ but it was all the hotel bar had to offer.

What a miserable day for walking. I was getting ready to leave the hotel when the lightning started flashing and the thunder boomed. It was time to wait and see. Then the skies opened up for about fifteen minutes. I got in about an hour of rain-free walking before it started. It didn’t stop before I got off the streets eight hours later. By the early afternoon my boots had taken in so much water it felt like I had
puddles strapped to my feet. A strong wind came up and blew the rain sideways. I should be grateful that this is the first day of steady rain. On my 2008 Camino it rained for the first thirteen days, however, I don’t recall it being as persistent as today. I checked the skies around 8.30pm and there were a few breaks in the clouds, but when I went out again at 10.30pm light rain began to fall. Here’s hoping for a better day tomorrow.

I experienced a lot of generosity today. As I was walking through the village of Mogro I was ready to eat. I’d been walking for two hours when I saw a dry strip of concrete under a verandah on the side of a house. It was accessible from the street. As I moved onto it an elderly woman opened a window. I asked her if I could eat there, pointing to the dry area. She unhesitatingly agreed. Further on I came to a fork in two streets. I took the right side. I only went about 20 metres and stopped, looking for a yellow arrow. I heard someone yell out. When I looked around about 40 metres away a woman was leaning out of her window waving an arm in the direction I should have taken. About the same time a man came out of a bar and did the same thing. Such goodwill towards pilgrims.

I didn’t realise when I stopped to eat a third time that I was just 500 metres from my
destination which was on the other side of a rise. When I got to Santillana del Mar I had to check with a shop keeper to make sure I was actually in that village. When you see pilgrims leaving an albergue late in the afternoon it’s a sure sign that it is full. That was the case with the one in this village which has just 16 beds. I went with the two other pilgrims to two pensions, the first was full and the second had rooms, but upon hearing the price I chose to move on to the next town about 11km down the road and try my luck there. I didn’t really want to go anywhe but to a warm room and take off my wet clothes and boots. On my way through the village I saw a hotel and decided it was for me. It ended up being a��20 cheaper than the
pension, and the price includes breakfast. My room is small and now looks like a laundry. I’ve been giving the hair dryer a workout.

Santillana del Mar is a medieval town of stone paved streets. It’s a designated heritage site and has been one of Cantabria’s best known cultural and tourist centres for decades. It was once the capital of a medieval jurisdiction which comprised the present day province of Cantabria. The world famous Altamira caves which were occupied thousand of years ago are just two kilometres from the village centre. The first monastery was founded here between the eighth and ninth centuries and housed
the remains of St Juliana, the saint from whom the town’s name is derived. This is one of those places that needs a few days to have avoid look around. Can’t do this time. I’ll be on the road again tomorrow.

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Guemes to Boo de Pielagos – July 11

I found this morning's walk to Somo quite energising, with the exception of the first 4km to Galizano which was by bitumen road. At Galizano I turned towards the ocean where the sealed road became a dirt road, which became a single file track around the headlands. I was never too far from the ocean or that relentless sound of waves washing onto the rocks.

A large group of pilgrims headed out from the albergue just ahead of me. As is often the case it didn't take long before they'd strung out along the road. I made my way past some of them. This is the first time on this whole journey that I've had the sounds of other pilgrims voices in the background. Because I've walked by myself for
so long and because this is my preference, I find the talk of others distracting. However, before long I was by myself in silence with just my thoughts, and nature's sounds which are a gift to be enjoyed on this journey by those who care to listen.

One of the women asked me this morning whether she could walk with me for a while. Before I could answer she reminded herself of a conversation we had last night where I told her I prefer to walk alone. We didn't walk together.

Part of the morning's walk was along the beach between Loredo and Somo. In parts
the beautiful golden sand was up to 300 metres wide. I made good time to Somo where after a 20 minute wait I caught a boat to Santander with two young Frenchmen who've been walking, I think, since Irun. I only chatted with them for the first time yesterday at breakfast, but had seen them once before about a week ago. The Camino is like that. I got to like these young fellas but probably saw them for the last time today after walking with them to the albergue at Santander where we said goodbye.

I had already made up my mind to not stop at Santander for the night but to move
on another 13km to Boo de Pielagos where a chart I'm carrying said there is an albergue. I lunched in a park a little way out from the centre of Santander while watching a very old and stooped lady and her carer do the circuit of the square in front of me over and over again. Today's path, which took me through industrial, urban and rural areas, was extraordinarily well marked with the ubiquitous yellow arrow. I found it particularly uninteresting. What I've found is that I'm much more at peace with my journey when I'm traveling through rural areas that have a quality that endears them to me unlike cities and large towns which disturb me energetically.

Arriving in Boo de Pielagos I found no albergue. If there is one it wasn't pointed to by any arrow I saw. I asked a couple of people and they'd not heard of it so I got directions to an hotel about a kilometre out of town. At a��30, it's the cheapest, but by far not any where near the worst hotel I've stayed at since Rome.

On the way into Boo de Pielagos I saw two unoccupied urban developments, one a mid-rise block of apartments and the other a small village of about 50-60 houses. These are probably a comment on the state of the Spansh economy. Ireland is the
same according to another pilgrim I spoke with recently.

I had a butterfly guide today as I walked the path around the headland. It landed on the track a metre or so in front of me. As I got close to it it flew off landing again a few metres further along. It kept this up for 30-40 meters during which time I photographed it. After the photograph it seemed satisfied and flew off. It was like it wanted me to notice it and take the photo. It had mostly orange wings with four circular spots on the corners of it's upper and lower wings which were magenta centres outlined in white. Quite beautiful. It's occurrences like this that I would miss
if I was walking with someone else.

I was ready to eat at 7.30pm but dinner at the hotel did not start until nine. How Sanish.
I think people are unnecessarily jumping to conclusions

Santona to Guemes – July 10

The rain during the night and it continuing to fall during the morning as I made my way from the albergue, was to provide a quite dangerous morning walk. After just 45 minutes on the road I reached the beach which ran up to a mountain with steep slopes that dropped into the ocean. There was only one way to get to the beach on the other side of the mountain and that was over it.

The next hour proved to be the most treacherous I’ve undertaken on any Camino. The path over the mountain was narrow and began with an easy to climb sandy section. The way then became compacted clay which was wet and slippery from the rain and the footsteps of pilgrims who had earlier passed by. At times the grade would have been sixty to seventy degrees. On occasions I resorted to holding onto clumps of grass to help haul myself up. Each step I took was deliberately chosen. When I looked to my right and saw the steep descent over low, scrubby bush vegetation to the ocean below it made me even more deliberate with each footstep. A fall would have meant a quick meeting with the sea. Going down the other side did not have the same imminent danger in the event of a fall but descending over slippery rocks can be very tricky. The clmb as well as the descent was an exercise in mindfulness.

Today’s walk was an odd one in many ways. After negotiating the mountain it was onto the beach which was the path for the next kilometre or so. I anticipated a sealed road I could see to my left would bring me into contact with the marked path so I cut through the yard of a closed cafe to get to the road. I anticipated correctly and met up again with the yellow arrows. But it was not to last. Soon after I lost them so I got out my Google map and plotted my own way to Guemes only to find that after about a half hour of walking I met up with the arrows again. I then seemed to be the only pilgrim on the path I took in the early afternoon after I
stopped for a food break. I noticed that I got to the albergue from a different direction than all who arrived after me.

I again experienced the Spanish generosity of spirit in giving pilgrims directions. I was heading towards Guemes when a man stopped me and asked if I was on my way to the albergue. When I said I was he told me how to get there by a way which was much quicker than the route I already had in mind. His suggestion did not involve going through Guemes. I think it a wonderful thing that pilgrims are thought of this way so that their difficulties are not compounded by taking a wrong direction. After all, many pilgrims walk these same paths every day. You’d think the locals would tire of giving help, but they appear not to.

The albergue I’m at is something special. I walked in around 3.30pm when those pilgrims who’d arrived before me were seated at two communal tables eating a lunch of soup, a rice dish, bread, water, wine and fruit. I was immediately invited to
take a seat and eat, which I did. After showering and doing my washing I wrote up a large part of my notes sitting by a giant fireplace in which a log fire was burning. I added to my late afternoon joy by having a couple of mugs of green tea, and
biscuits. The noise in the nearby kitchen started to pick up around 5.30pm when the staff began preparing dinner. This is an albergue that provides all the meals, and a lot more.

Some places you go to you know immediately they are special. This is one of them. I experienced one on the Camino Frances, but it was presenting a Christian message. This one is quite non-denominational, although I heard Ernesto referred to as a priest. Here there is that sense of community. There were just 200 pilgrims stay here when it first opened 12 years ago. Last year the were 4,500. I had not heard
of it. I arrived thinking it was just another albergue.

It takes fifty volunteers to run it. I sat at dinner with one of them, a German woman who is here for the summer translating the comments made by pilgrims in the testimonial book, from English, German, French, and a couple of other languages I can’t now recall, into Spanish. It will then be published along with photographs as a type of pilgrim yearbook. Ernesto has a huge library of slides taken all around the world which he allows to be used for research. His love of the Camino del Norte was apparent from the talk he gave this evening. He sees it as a supreme teacher,
something I came to know after I walked it the first time.
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Liendo to Santona – July 9

I was feeling tired today. Last night after we got back from the restaurant I wrote up my notes and typed the blog and so it was after midnight before I got to bed. At breakfast one of the pilgrims told me about a ferry I could catch from Laredo to Santona. Because I don’t carry a guidebook, and never have on any of my Camino’s, it’s information like this I miss out on.

It rained overnight and a little this morning during my walk. It was quite humid, but an easy 11km stroll to Laredo. The hillside I came in from provided a spectacular view of Laredo and it’s beach which stretched for many kilometres. After descending onto the valley floor, the last part of which was a stairway of about 150 steps, I stopped on the street and chatted to a Danish pilgrim for about 15 minutes. Nearly
everyone likes to have a chat. I then made my way onto the promenade which runs alongside the beach for what must be at least three kilometres. Many people were out walking, and riding their bicycles along a dedicated bike path.

Laredo is a city that comprises a small fishing fleet, a number of marinas with pleasure craft, and tourists. The promenade leads to where you catch the ferry, not at a wharfe, but from the beach where you line up on the sand. You can see the remains of what must have been a substantial colony of sand dunes which probably stretched from the foot of the hills to the ocean. It was just a five minute ride across the mouth of Ria de Santona (a ‘ria’ being a narrow sea inlet) to the wharfe at Santona where the ferry momentarily stopped before heading back to Laredo with another load of passengers.

If you look at my Google map it has my location in the water. The albergue is obviously built on reclaimed land. Reclamation appears to have gone on to a substantial extent in the immediate area. The reason for the tent accommodation is
that a large group of children on a educational/leisure holiday have occupied the dormitories. I’m pleased I’m not in a room with 20-30 boys jabbering all night. The
one thing a pilgrim wants at the end of a day’s walk is to sleep soundly.

I didn’t need to ask for directions today, but have done so many times since arriving in Spain. I’m impressed by the attitude of locals in giving help. Typical was yesterday as I approached a corner which gave me a choice of one of three roads to take. I had only just noticed a child playing under a tree in the yard of a home when, without saying anything, she waved an arm in the direction of the road I should take. I showed my apreciation with a friendly wave of a waking pole.

I was in the city at 7.30pm but none of the restaurants were doing business at that
time. I had to settle for a less than appealing eatery where only pilgrims desperate to eat early would go. However, in it’s favour it had a view from the outside seating area down the main walking thoroughfare where I kept myself occupied by watching the comings and goings. By 8.30pm the crowds had thickened along with the noise. To my ears, and those of other pilgrims I’ve spoken with about it, Spaniards in group conversations, especially around table when eating, speak continuously and very loudly.

One of the great joys of the Camino are its differences from day to day: the countryside, the people on the streets, the building, the pilgrims, and the albergues.
The contrast between yesterday’s albergue and today’s is typical, going from a modern, well equipped building with less than ten pilgrims to a tent city with scores of school children continuously on the move. Such is the Camino.
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Castro Urdiales to Liendo – July 8

We almost had a drama on our hands tonight after getting back to the albergue from a restaurant at 10.30pm only to find the front door locked. It only took a few minutes to rouse one of the pilgrims who came down stairs and let us in. I had been to dinner with three other pilgrims, all women, one from Switzerland, one from Belgium and the third from the Chech Republic. There is only one restaurant in the village which didn’t start serving food until 9.00pm, the time when Spanish people are just coming out to eat. It’s a matter of getting used to an aspect of Spanish culture. However, in a lot of places there are restaurants which cater for pilgrims by serving food much earlier.

If you walked the road today, and some pilgrims did, it was just 13km from Castro Urdiales to Liendo, but if you took the pilgrim’s path it was 25km. I took the pilgrim’s path. I didn’t consider the alternative because I’ve done so much road walking in Italy and France and wanted to keep away from it as much as possible. This morning’s walk took us close to the sea. It was quite pleasant with a cooling breeze coming off the ocean. After Islares, about 6km from the start, the path headed inland where we did some road walking.

I had an exceptionally long break, nearly two hours, in a tiny park where I sat on the grass and ate a meal. I love the idea of not being constrained by time to be at the next albergue at a particular time. I prefer to spend these hours by the side of the road in a pleasant location rather than sitting at an an albeergue table, although I did both today. Today’s walk eventually took me into the hills along a 4WD track through eucalypt forests. I saw at least three varieties of eucalyptus trees. All looked young and spindly. As always, the smell remind me of the Australian bush. At the edge of the forest the land opened up into a deep valley with a gorge-like face to one of it’s
sides. It then seemed to take forever for me to reach Liendo.

I actually walked past the Liendobalbergue and was on the road to Laredo when I thought I’d ask for some directions from a group of people by the side of the road. One of the women, Kimberley, was from California. She and her husband have a house in Liendo where they spend the Spanish summer. I told the group about my
journey from Rome and handed them a flyer. I made my way back to find the albergue door open. One of the pilgrims who’d arrived much earlier than me had gone to the municipal building to get the key. There was no hospitalero at this albergue. Kimberley, thinking the albergue didn’t open until 5.00pm, and thinking I’d be waiting in the sun, came over to invite me to her home to shower and rest. Of course this was unnecessary, but this type of kindness is what happens on the Camino.

I found this afternoon’s walk tough going. It’s unusual for me to walk more than three hours without a break, but I did. It was a little hotter than usual which added
to the difficulty. This albergue was like finding an oasis. It’s just 12 months old with very good facilities but just 10 beds, not all of which are occupied tonight. I’m told that there are more and more of these facilities being made avaiable to those who walk the northern route. A lot of people are being put off walking the Camino Frances because of the overcrowding. The secret is to do that walk in Spring or Autumn when the numbers are down.

Tomorrow I’m off to Santona, a 21km walk, and another early finish.

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Muskiz to Castro Urdiales – July 7

What a difference a day makes. I arrived in Castro Urdiales at 1.00pm to find the albergue did not open until 3.30pm. This gave me plenty of time to eat, get on the internet and write up my notes. When I arrived there was just one pilgrim and his dog ahead of me and only another three had arrived by 3.00pm. The albergue only has 16 beds. It makes me wonder what happens to all the other pilgrims who are walking the same path.

Last night’s accommodation was very quiet. I never saw the woman who owned the house from the time she gave me the key around 6.00pm until I left this morning. She never left her section of the house which is separated from the guests rooms and
common area.

It was an easy walk today, just 15km of steady climbs and descents. Because it was sealed roads it’s very easy to make a steady pace. After an hour I was back in contact with the sea and had walked into a different province, Cantabria. All the way from Muskiz to Onton I was surprised to see yellow arrow markers. But at Onton they took a different way to where I was headed. I wasn’t in the slightest tempted to follow this alternative path after yesterday’s experience.

I had a wonderful sleep last night- 7 hours without hearing a single snore, unlike the albergue in Bilbao where a man trumpeted all night long. Another thing that has to be contended with in albergues are the sprinters. Generally they have their backpacks packed the night before and have their mobile phone alarms set for 5.30am. Everyone uses plastic bags for storage. Soon after the alarms go off the sprinters are rustling their plastic bags and are gone by 6.00am.

I went for a walk into town this afternoon. Churches are places normally low on
natural light. Not the one in the heart of the old district. Behind the altar is a mural – not your usual church mural. This one had nine people. The one in the centre was a Christ-like person dressed in a white robe. Of the other eight, six were men dressed like seamen and miners, a woman who appears to be a fishmonger, and a child holding a small lamb. The two ocupations represented by the adults are a relection of the city’s connection with the sea and mining. This church is full of natural light. I was able to make some notes as I sat and pondered the mural. Then, resting my head on my forearms I slept for half an hour.

This town did not feel like it had a heart. There was not one area where people gathered and you could say of it, this is the heart of the city. It was all spread out. When I get not a town early I feel at a bit of a loose end. What to do? Here the beach did not offer any attraction, but I walked into the city with a woman from the Chech Republic who was heading for a swim because it’s something she could not do at home where there are no beaches. I invariably go for a walk irrespective of how far I’ve traveled that day.

Next door to the albergue is a bull fighting ring built in the early 1900′s. This is still an activity that is still popular in Spain. There will be bull fighting in this arena at the end of this month. The ring was much smaller than I thought it would be. Yesterday when I looked in I saw women practising a dance routine on a makeshift stage. A far cry from what will happen there in a couple of week’s time.

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Bilbao to Muskiz – July 6

Why am I in Muskiz when I should be in Portugalete tonight? I took a wrong turn. But I was warned. As I was walking towards an intersection where two different paths were marked with yellow arrows, giving me a choice of taking one way or the other, a woman stopped me and asked me if I was doing the coastal route. When I said yes she waved an arm in the direction of one of the marked routes. Of course, I couldn’t see the intersection when this happened.

At the time I thought she was suggesting I take the easier of two routes that led to the same destination, and in my mind I was dismissive of what she had told me. I chose what I thought would be the harder route. It wasn’t until much later that I realised the woman was doing me a huge favour. I guess other pilgrims have come unstuck at the same intersection. The simple solution would be to mark the route at this point with more information. I walked 16km before I became aware of my mistake.

The 26km mark was when I stopped for a rest thinking I had about 4km to go. I checked my iPad maps and couldn’t see my destination any where near where I was. I walked on a couple of hundred metres and asked a man the name of the village ahead of me and the direction of Portugalete. It was very disheartening when he pointed in a completely opposite direction to what I had thought to be it’s location. The man got a book of maps from his car and we looked at them. He gave me directions from Guenes to where I am tonight. Had I kept going on the route I was on I would have ended up in Burgos, a city on the Camino Frances about 110km to the south-west. So I started walking, and walking and waking my recovery walk.

By the time I got to Muskiz I had recovered my position somewhat. It’s on about the same latitude as Portugalete but further to the west. Tomorrow I have the choice of walking the 4.4km to Pobena, where I intended to be on Thursday night, or take a 16km road walk to Castro Urdiales where I intended to be on Friday night. From either town I can pick up the northern Camino again.

What have I learned from this mistake? I think I was too quick to judge the woman who was only trying to help me. I’ve had a tendency to rush into things without too much forethought. I’ll definitely be paying attention to this shortcoming in the future.
The thing I was pleased about was my mental toughness. The man who helped me with the maps also offered me a lift. I declined. I could have stayed in an hotel at Guenes and done this afternoon’s walk tomorrow. I dismissed this idea. At Guenes I could have caught a bus to Portugalete. I chose not to. Along the way my feet began to ache badly. I kept going. I wanted to stop. I didn’t. I’m glad I wasn’t carrying yesterday’s pre-post office backpack.

Now for the good bit of news. Coming into Muskiz there is a low road that leads to the church and the old part of town and a high road which I thought would offer the best opportunity for an hotel. I chose the high road. I asked a man if there was a pension in town. He pointed it out. Underneath the pension is a bar. Seated in the bar at a table were two elderly women. When I enquired of the bar attendant about a room she immediately spoke with one of the women at the table. The upshot was that this woman had a house up on the hill about 10 minutes walk away. She would
rent me a room. I walked up the hill with her. Going was slow. Part way up she asked me to wait at the park. About ten minutes later she appeared up the street and waved me towards her. We got to her house and she showed me three bedrooms. I had yet another choice to make. I selected a room and paid the a��18 fee. The room I selected is far better than a lot of the hotels I’ve stayed in these past three months. I am the only one in residence and I have the run of the kitchen and sitting room.

I went into town for dinner which was a very tasty vegetarian pizza. I did some supermarket shopping for breakfast and for on the road tomorrow. I should be in bed by ten thirty.

Out of my mistake I’m just 16km short of Friday’s destination; I learned a little more about myself; and I’m in very comfortable accommodation for the night even though what should have been a 20km walk turned into a 35km walk. Today was one of
challenge followed by reward.

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Lezama to Bilbao – July 5

It was a great feeling to swing the pack onto my back after being at the post office. It felt remarkably light after sending off about 13kg to Santiago. I've listened to debate over the past five days amongst other pilgrims about the ideal weight to carry. The general consensus is no more than 10kg, and to think I've been carrying two and a half times that since Rome. I should now be down to around 12kg, about the same I've carried on my last three Caminos. As I walked out of the post office I had this feeling of elation like a great burden, both literal and metaphorical, had been lifted from my shoulders. I wanted to celebrate. I expressed my elation by going to the supermarket, buying some fresh food and finding a seat to sit and to eat it. (At the end of my walk I will say something about the meaning I've ascribed to the weight I've been carrying.)

It's been a short walk today, just 10km. As was the case today, on no day can you escape a steep climb or descent. Bilbao is located in a deep valley. Coming into this city, with a population of around 350,000, from so high up affords panoramic views from north to south. After enter from the east I stopped at one of the churches, which I think has cathedral status, to find a service going on. I didn't stay long but long enough to marvel at the giant sandstone columns and the amount of gold adorning the altar area. Spanish churches often reflect the past wealth of the district in which they are located by the adornments within the churches. The use of gold
has been the most favoured way to express that wealth.

After the church it was a descent of about 200 steps to get to the floor of the valley and reach the old section of the city. My first intention was to find the albergue and then a post office, but along the way to the albergue I enquired of a postman and he gave me excellent directions to the post office. Excellent directions means I had no trouble finding it, which isn't always the case when I'm looking for something. Post offices are usually in out of the way locations. It transpired that the albergue is on the outskirts of the city, but on the path I have to take tomorrow.

All albergues have lights out, be silent, and lock the doors rules. Ten pm is usual. If you're not back inside by the nominated time you get locked out. I haven't heard of anyone being locked out. Everyone is too tired to be out late. They just want to shower, eat and get to sleep.

I've worked out a schedule for the balance of my walk. I should be in Santiago on the 7 August. On some days between now and then I don't walk far but I've taken into account the type of country I have to cross, the fact that my body is getting tired after three months on the road, and that I've walked in excess of 1,800km. It's important to me that I acknowledge and accept my limitations on this journey. The ego must always take a back seat, or not get a seat at all.
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Gernika-Lumo to Lezama – July 4

I’m still a beast of burden. I was at the post office at 8.30am, its nominated opening time only to find it still not open by 9.00am. I returned to my pension, got ready to leave and called back at the post office where I waited until 10.00am. I then asked a local who told me it was closed for the day. I have since found out that yesterday was a feast day for some Basque saint and today was the holiday in lieu because the feast day fell on a Sunday. I see these events as creating the circumstances for me to have been on the road when and where I was so that I could experience the things I have today.

Because I was late leaving Gernika I decided to stop at Lezama, the 20km mark.
What I discovered here was a brand new albergue built by the local council. It has just 18 beds and the hospitalero does your washing for you. It doesn’t get any better than that. There are only seven pilgrims here tonight.

Today’s walk consisted of a couple of climbs and descents through forested areas. In fact, we have been walking through similar countryside since leaving Irun. As I walked up the first mountain it occurred to me that of the hundreds of thousands of people who have walked the Camino’s I have walked none of them would have trod in the exactnsame footsteps as me. The point is simple: while we are all on a life path
it is a different path for everyone. This makes each of us unique.

I had lunch by the Hermitage San Esteban of Gerekiz. It was a small stone building. Locked. Only the exterior was to be enjoyed by pilgrims. It wasn’t a hard walk today, but I was glad to reach the albergue. I’m now expecting to be able to post my excess gear from Bilbao tomorrow, a distance of about 10km. Then I’ll be a beast of burden no more. I may even stay in Bilbao tomorrow night. I have to make a decision about new boots. Do I take the chance and have my current pair give up on me when I’m not in a position to replace them, or do I get new ones now. Bilbao
might be the place to do the changeover.

One of the pilgrims was offering Reiki with foot massage. I did not need any encouragement to take up the offer. Even though payment was discretionary my view is that there needs to be an exchange. It keeps things in balance.

For those of you who know my son Vincent, he’s off to Brussels in a day or so after five weeks in Paris. He doesn’t want to leave that great city, but needs to explore other places. Why Brussels? He didn’t say, but he will be with his American friend
Jack whom he met in Paris.

It’s ten pm and the light outside is just beginning to fade. I’m off to bed.

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Markina-Xemein to Gernika-Lumo – July 3

If only we knew at the start of the day how things would finish up at the end of it. I got away to a 7.40am start: nothing unusual about that. I decided to take things easily after yesterday's efforts. Taking things easily often means a long day on the road. It was, but not only for that reason. You'd have thought I'd grown a different right leg overnight: I had no problems at all with it today. I'm really puzzled how it misbehaves one day but not the next.

I had the boots off after just an hour and a half of walking. A light rain had started to fall. It was a cool morning and 20 degrees. I took refuge from the rain under an awning of a church, ate, and looked a the giant paving stones and wondered what
stories they could tell.

A little time after resuming walking I came upon a section of the track whkch led down to a creek. The natural light was dimmed by the tree cover, the vegetation was quite thick up to the edge of the track, and he air was quiet. Instantly I was taken back to the Jungle Training Camp which the Australian Army ran at Canungra in Queensland where I did a three week course before being sent to Vietnam. There have been so many occasions on this journey where places, events or objects have triggered past memories, but I guess life's like that wherever you are.

Later on in the morning I walked beside a creek. It was a beautiful section of the path. Probably the best so far is Spain. Sometimes it was so quiet you could not hear the water running then it would announce itself as it tumbled over a small, rocky outcrop of stones. It was quiet today, even for a Sunday. I went by quite a number of villages and saw very few people. Where do they go and what do they do on Sundays?

Everything was going well. I'd had a second break. I don't know where it occurred but I lost my way at the top of the mountain before the descent. I descended in the opposite direction than I should have putting me about 4km south of Gernka. I had to hoof it back into town via the road. I only knew I was off track when a man told me I was going the wrong way to get to Gernika. By the time I got to the albergue all 40 beds we taken. My initial feeling was one of loss at the prospect not being in the company of other pilgrims for the night but I thought about the scores of nights I've spent alone on this journey and the feeling soon passed. I was told about a
pension in Gernicka where I am now at a��20 a night.

Nothing is ever as bad as it first seems. During the day I'd thought it did not make sense to carry to Bilbao all the gear I intended to post to Santiago de Compostela. I could post it in Gernika. What do you know the post office is just 50 metres down the street from the pension, much, much closer than the albergue. I've been dosn to have a look and found it opens at 8.30am: early by Spanish standards. Now I have the opportunity of holding onto my room while I sort out the postal issue, something i would not be permitted to do at the albergue. And the pension is much closer to the
route I have to take out of the town to Bilbao. The owners of the pension have a bar/restaurant a little way up the street. I had a delicious pilgrim meal there tonight. Mistakes can turn ino good fortune. I feel blessed.
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Deba to Markina-Xemein – July 2

Today has been the hardest day I've done on any Camino. It was climbing and descending, but mostly climbing all day. The descent into Markina on a narrow, rocky, steep, uneven path was murderous on my knees which were feeling a little sensitive this afternoon but had settled down by this evening. It wasn't a hot day, but I did notice that the temperature was still 27 degrees at 5 o'clock. Things were made worse because my right leg was giving me heaps. I've learned techniques, like having 30 second rests, which is enough time to relax the sensitive spot. I've been having these micro-stops since I was in France. Initially they were a challenge to my ego where I wanted to walk through the pain or simply reach a spot on the road before I took a break, but this is no longer an issue.

What also has been of tremendous assistance is the fact that each day I dedicate all my suffering on this journey to the alleviation of suffering of all the people in the world. I mentioned some time ago in a post about practicing compassion this way. So I might be suffering but the suffering is not wasted. This is such a comfrorting thought.

Walking these difficult paths constantly involves subtle changes of direction from left to right or right to left to make sure I avoid obstacles and so that my feet land on
the most even surface ahead of me. Shortening or lengthening my step for the same reasons is also part of what I do. It's constant vigilance lest I lose my footing. The two walking poles have been a godsend. I'm sure I would have come to grief many times had I not had them.

Today wasn't one where I did a lot of looking around to gather in the views, but when I did some of the panoramas were to behold. A lot of the path took us through wooded or forested areas, and on two occasions through stands of eucalypt trees
which provided a familiar smell to accompany me for a little while.

Now I'm looking forward to getting to Bilbao in two days time where I'm going to
unload my camping and other gear. I'm expecting to get rid of about 7kg. By getting rid of I mean sending it to the post office at Santiago where they will keep pilgrim packages for up to one month. I should make it by a month after July 4. What a blessing it will be to have my pack that much lighter. I look at the packs of
other pilgrims with a little envy. 10kg seems to be the limit for most of them.

This afternoon I couldn't wait for dinner so I went to the supermarket and bought myself some king prawns and a multigrain bread roll which I ate in the park opposite the albergue. Camino's are not all about suffering. Earlier I had a wander around town. Some pilgrims head for their beds to rest. I tried this for about five minutes but had to get up and move around. I did have the pilgrim's meal tonight at a local restaurant. Again they were generous servings. The creamed rice for sweets reminded me of a dish my late mother made on Sunday's. Sweet memories.

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Zarautz to Deba – July 1

It's hard to believe I've been on the road now for three months. It certainly doesn't feel like it's been that long. I'll wait until I reach Santiago before posting some reflections about the journey.

The paths I've traveled over the past three days have been slower to walk than what I'm used to because of the nature of the terrain: lots of climbing and descending. Today provided some spectacular views looking from high points across valleys to the mountains in the distance. Compared with the Camino Frances there are very few pilgrims walking this northern way. I've not seen any more than about forty different pigrims. I'm just getting to know a few of them. I think it's difficult to find a 'bad' person walking these paths. Maybe it's not for them.

On the outskirts of Zarautz this morning I was faced with a choice of two ways to go. I chose to go around the base of the mountain instead of over the top. It was a very pleasant walk to Getaria along a pathway dedicated to walkers, with an onshore breeze providing a little cooling air as the sun began to take it's place in the sky. A lot of work has gone into this walkway with it's paving and stainless steel rails all the way between then two villages, a distance of a little more than six kilometres. There were a good number of joggers and walkers out today.

I had a food break at Zamaia at a park table near where a lot of Pervians had set up stalls selling the usual array of clothes and children's toys. Business was slow. In the hour I spent eating the stall in front of me did not make a single sale. Despite then difficulties of this type of commerce, some people just have to be traders and not employed by someone else.

Further along an enterprising farmer had left bottles of his home made cider in a tub of water with a sign stating the price per bottle. When I got to the cider a couple of pilgrims, Danny from Ireland and Oliver from Norway, were there enjoying the view and some cider. Oliver offered me some of his. I smelt the alcohol in it and

I hear some fascinating stories. In Irun I saw a man and a woman on the street as I was looking for the albergue. They looked like pilgrims so I asked for directions and was told the way. I saw them tonight for the first time since Irun having the pilgrim's dinner at the same restaurant I was intending to eat at. They're a French couple who have been walking for about a month before getting to Irun. They told me of their experience last year while on a part of this same walk when a dog followed them for two days. Their response was to stop their walk, go home, get
their car, come back to Spain, collect the dog and take it home. They still have it. It's name is 'Camino'.

I'm finding that on this northern Camino that there are more who have walked other Caminos. The tendency is to do one of the other walks first and then do the northern way. Also, I've seen more men than women on the northern way which is in contrast with my experience on the Czmino Frances where the numbers favour the women.

I've had a very relaxing afternoon in Deba walking the streets while eating stone fruit
which is in season. The peaches are a delight. I've also had some chat time with other pilgrims at one of the outside cafe/bars. I spent tonight writing up my notes while eating dinner. It's a quieter time and ideal for that task.

Deba is a seaside town with very steep streets leading down to the commercial/retail area, which is its heart. The public have been helped with the installation of escalators and lifts to take them to upper street levels. The two lifts elevate you about the same height as a twelve story building.

Tomorrow we have a 500 metre hill to climb. The day is expected to be a hot one. Here's hoping.

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Pasai Donibane to Zarautz – June 30

There was some novelty about leaving Pasai Donibane this morning. I had to be ferried across the hdistance distance of about 150 metres. The boat i traveled in could carry about a dozen passengers. I was the only fare on my crossing. It was very reasonable at a��0.65. When I got to the other side I could see Xatur, the albergue hospitalero, standing outside the albergue. I gave him the walking pole wave which involves holding them above my head and waving them from side to side. He waved back. I was the last to leave albergue. I suspect this will happen again, and again.

The harbour entry into Pasai Donibane is quite interesting. It has a small opening,
about 60 metres wide, and then opens up, but not more than 200 metres in width. The entry must be quite deep because there was quite a big ship entering as I was leaving.

The boat was the last of the novelties for the day. After that it was mostly climbing until I got to my destination. After walking around the harbour's edge at Pasai Donibane I then had to climb about 200 steps to get me up the steepest part of the
mountain. I then followed a mountain path which cauesd me to muse, like I often do, about how things came into being. This time it was about the path I was walking. I thought it originally could have been one made by animals and improved
over a couple of hundred years after people moved into the area. Although in the period before the close of the first millenium when Muslims controlled that part of Spain where the Camino Frances is located, pilgrims moved onto the northern coastal route, so the path I was on today could be much older than I mused.

Donostia, my first stop for the day, has a huge white sandy beach. Surfing looks popular, as well as skate boarding on the very wide promenade. I sat by the beach and had one of my salads that I've made dozens and dozen of while on the road. Between Donostia and Orio is about 16km. I thought I'd do it wlthout a break and
stop in Orio for the night. Between these towns there are small farms which are only about a couple of hundred metres from the road to the ocean. Some run a few cows and others have in crops. I did see one inventive use of corn. The farmer had grown his corn and when established, planted cimbing beans around each stem. As the corn got taller the beans clung on.

About 6km from Orio I could see ahead of me a number of cars parked by the side of the road. This always excites some interest as to what might be going on. It turned out to be a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere. I stopped in front of a parked van and thought about whether I would have a meal at the restaurant. I heard a man's voice say, “You should have a meal here”. I then got into a conversation with the man for about five minutes during which I responded to a question by saying I had walked from Rome. The man and the passenger, who was having the conversation translated to him, wanted to shake my hand. Each was very
complimentary with their words and gestures. We then introduced ourselves. The men pointed out that their names we Basque. They were obviously proud of them.

The admiration expressed by these men was similarly expressed at the albergues in Irun and Pasai Donibane. In fact, in Pasai Donibane Xatur wrote on the back of a flyer I had given him a note saying that I had slept there on the 29 June 2011. He asked me to sign it , which I did. It's all becoming a bit embarrassing.

I took the man's advice and had a meal at the restaurant, and what a delicious meal
it was for just a��9.00. For that price I got a mixed salad entree, whole fish for my main, sweets, bread, and a bottle of sparkling mineral water. I love the way the Spanish do their salads, and the servings are always so generous. After stopping for over an hour I decided I should walk the extra 7km from Orio to Zarautz, but not before stopping in Orio for half an hour to snack and listen to a talent quest that was being held under a giant tent beside the harbour.

3km out of Orio there is a sign that reads Santiago 787km'. It won't be long before I'm there.
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Irun to Pasai Donibane – June 29

Pasai Dinibane is the Basque name for what in Spanish is San Juan Bautista, or St. John the Baptist. Tonight I'm at the Santa Ana albergue which is located in the Hermitage of Santa Ana built between 1758 and 1760. This albergue, like many, are unfunded and rely upon donations for their survival. Of course they would not survive if it wasn't for the voluntary work by members of the Association of Friends of the Camino de Santiago of Gipuzoka. There are many of these associations that help to make walking the Camino the experience it is. The Hospitalero (the volanteer who runs the place) at this albergue is Xatur, a lovely man, very welcoming, and who has been most helpful in providing me with a map and a booklet of albergues on the path ahead.

I was relaxed about getting out of Irun this morning after shopping and putting enough credit on my internet provider account to last me until I've finished the walk. But I started later than 11.30am, today's start time, when in France. I didn't expect to make San Sebastian tonight.

On the way out of Irun I met up with Young Ok, a Korean woman I'd seen at the Irun albergue yesterday when we were both getting our credentials. (The credential is a document on which is recorded personal details, the date you start the walk,
from where you start, and has provision for each albergue to stamp it when you stay overnight.). Young Ok and I walked together to Guadalupe where we ate. It was very different for me to walk with someone after nearly three months of just my own company. I stayed on longer in Guadalupe to finish eating and to visit the Sanctuary (church). Young Ok walked on but we're both at the same albergue tonight. It's small. Just 12 beds and only six of them ocupied.

I'd forgotten how ornate Spanish churches can be. They use a lot of gold around the
altars. Interestingly, the one in Guadalupe had a black Madonna with child as a
centerpiece behind the altar.

Pasai Donibane is described as one of the most authentic and best preserved sea towns in Gipuzoka. The historic quarter is organised around one street, parallel to the port shore. The village has the Basilica of El Santo Cristo de Bonanza which can be clearly seen from the albergue windows. It also has a 16th century palace, the Renaissance Villaviciosa Palace. The writer Victor Hugo lived here for a few days but that proved enough to warrant the Victor Hugo House.

I'm really pleased I did some walking today. With the paths I walked, the people I've met, and the albergue I'm staying, I now feel like I'm really on the Camino.

The sky's cleared this evening. We could be in for a good day tomorrow.
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Bidart to Irun – June 28

I wrote up my notes for this post at 10.30pm in what must have been the noisiest eatery in Irun. Spaniards don’t go out to eat until at least 9.00pm. I don’t know how the children keep their eyes open. They all look as bright a buttons with the thought of bed not having entered their minds.

It was a great feeling crossing the border between France and Spain this afternoon. (3.05pm). I had to imagine the border because it’s an imaginary line drawn along the centre of a river dividing what appears to be the one town which is called Behobie by the French and Benobia by the Spanish. Nonetheless I stood in the rain for a short time to savour the moment. I still vividly recall crossing from Italy into France. I
feel so comfortable here in Spain. It’s like being home again.

The weather today has been such a contrast with yesterday. It was 20 degrees, raining on and off, with a dull, forlorn sky overhead. However, it was terrific for walking.

Part of today’s route took me past my last look and French farming countryside with its cows and corn, sandwiched as it was between a motorway and another main road. I got off the track a little ending up at a stone crushing plant and quarry where one of
the workers stopped me going any further. Had I taken his advice about what direction I should take I would still be out there. Instead, I took to a scarcely trod path and ended up back on the main road soon enough surprised at how close I was to Irun which I could see in the distance from the top of a hill.

My current estimate is that I’ve now covered around 1,700 kilometres. The completed journey won’t end up being 3,000 kilometres, but it will still be a decent

I managed this afternoon to get a new mobile telephone number and new service provider for my internet at a location not far from my hotel. I thought this might not get done until tomorrow so instead of having two night’s here I’ll now be able to start my walk tomorrow.

All the way down the coast from Bidart there are constant references to the Basqueness of this part of the world. As I sat in the cafe finishing off my meal around 11.00pm a parade with several bands all wearing red berets went down the
street. I think the red beret is a Basque signature. I recall them being sold in a shop
in St. Jean Pied de Port before I started my first Camino in 2007.

It’s now time for my French Quiz.

Q. What type of rubbish is most prolific alongside French roads?
A. Cigarette butts and their packaging.
Q. What will make me happy not to see for another 10 years?
A. A crop of corn.
Q. What animal can I now barely tolerate?
A. A yapping French dog.
Q. What’s my favourite French food?
A. A freshly baked baguette with thick, brown crust.
Q. What food can’t the French make?
A. A simple salad.

Where to from here? Santigo de Compostela, of course.
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Urt to Bidart – June 27

Today I got away to my earliest start yet -7.30am. The first hour and a half were a treat to walk. After leaving the camping ground I was soon into a wooded area that led to a walking path by a river which a few locals were using. But after that all the way into Bayonne it was a test of perseverance along a road that was tedius to walk and spectacularly without interest. At least one local knew it. She pulled up in a van and offered me a lift into the city commenting that it was a particularly boring stretch of road.

In between these two sections I pulled up alongside the river at table and bench seats made from split logs. After eating I got out my Spanish notes and read until I
realised I'd been off the road for nearly two hours. Far too long, even by my standards.

Coming into Bayonne, and when leaving, I saw the remains of what looked like old city walls and fortifications, the most interesting part of which was a moat and drawbridge. When I got to the cathedral I found the doors locked so I sat on the steps, made lunch, and watched the patrons at a restaurant opposite eat their way through their Euros. There were countless people who came to the cathedral expecting it to be open. I sat on the steps for over an hour and got into a
conversation with Rheinhold, a German man who had bicycled from Portugal to Bayonne, via Santiago de Compostela. On the way out of the city I met two pilgrims who had just got off the plane and were walking to Biarritz railway station to get a train to St. Jean Pied de Port to start the Camino Frances. It was the third time for one and the first for the other. I did offer some advice to the young man and that was to walk his own Camino, and not someone else's. If anyone asks me what would be the prime piece of advice to help them with their journey that would be it.

Tonight I'm in a camping ground and feeling rather proud of myself at having spent
only a��38.50 on accommodation since Vincent and I parted at Auch on the 19th June. That's about half the cost of a hotel room for one night. It hasn't been a case of self-denial. There have been opportunities, but importantly there has been an interesting shift in attitude that's resulted in me losing interest in them. I had my first restaurant meal tonight for over a week. It cost me as much as it would for food all day for three days. Such are the economies of camping. I should add that when I get to Irun I do intend to stay in a hotel. My thought is to have two nights there, one in a hotel and the other at the municipal albergue. I need time in town to organise a Spanish internet provider and a new mobile telephone number.

These past three months I've missed the camaraderie that other pilgrims offer. Everyone has a different story to tell. That's part of what makes these walks more interesting. So I'm very much looking forward to getting to Spain and linking up with other pilgrims.

Finally, it was at least 40 degrees today. I just melted along the 27km walk.

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2km East of Hastingues to Urt – June 26

If I thought yesterday was hot it had nothing on today. It felt like a 35 degree day and my fluid loss and continuously wet shirt suggested it. I cut short my walk at Urt having completed just 17 km. I’m at the Etche-Zahar camping ground located wthin Urt, which is unusual because these places are normally on the outskirts or well out of town. A husband and wife run the ground which has cabins and cabin-sized permanent tents. I was met by the wife with a cold bottle of water and some friendly and informative chat. I’m camped next to some woods and have been told about the deer that come into the ground to feed during the night. Since leaving Rome I’ve seen dozens and dozens of signs warning that deer could cross the road. I’ve seen just one deer along the whole of the way. Maybe number two will appear tonight.

I called into Hastingues to buy some food. When I made enquiries about the location of a shop I was told it may be shut because the whole village had a get together last night and the proprietor may not have opened. It was open and I was told that the reason for the get together was to raise money for the village children to go on a seaside holiday. I saw a photo of them. They numbered about twenty. Isn’t it wonderful how a whole village of people can come together to do something altruistic like they did.

The River L’Adour was on my right for the whole of my walk today. From where I stayed last night it arcs to the south-west for about 16km. It’s fed from the east by three other rivers which get their water from the Pyrenees. In some sections it would be 200 metres wide. I saw a lot of points where farmers were pumping water from it to use on their crops. It eventually flows into the Atlantic north of Bayonne. It has all the usual activities like fishing, boating and houses on its banks, although development along the part I saw today lessened the further I moved west. The division between Landes, the province to the north, and the province of Pyrenees Atlantique to the south is an imaginary line down the centre of the river. The line stops before reaching Bayonne. Where I am tonight is on the eastern edge of French Basque country.

I stopped to eat quite early on at a picnic table by the water’s edge. A man and his wife were nearby with four rods in the river trying to catch dinner. After eating I rested my head on the table and didn’t wake for 40 minutes.

Since entering the camping ground I would have drunk at least 4lt of fluids. It’s been one of those days. I’m told there are plenty of camping grounds on the Atlantic coast south of Bayonne. I should be in one tomorrow night. I do intend to call into the
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4km West of Tilh to 2km East of Hastingues – June 25

This afternoon I hit Kiwifruit territory. I grew up calling this fruit the Chinese Gooseberry. It had been cultivated in Southern China for centuries before the New Zealanders renamed it Melonette for marketing reasons in the 1950′s and then the Kiwifruit in 1962, but they didn’t have the wit to register it as an international trademark.

Tonight I’m in a very small camping ground which is actually the lawns of a Chinese Gooseberry farm with plenty of trees for shade. There’s just four caravans and me. How good was it to shower, shave and change my clothes after a week. Indescribable. Unlike a lot of other camping grounds I didn’t have to keep pressing a
button to make the hot water work. I shouldn’t complain, out by the side of the road there aren’t any butttons to press. Opposite the camping ground is your genuine Aussie river, green and wide, with grass to the water’s edge and muddy banks. I saw people fishing it this afternoon. Another activity that will have to wait.

I bought myself a jar of Chinese Gooseberry jam and had it on bread, along with a cup of green tea with dinner. It’s local. Made at Sorde l’Abbaye, the name of a village a few kilometres away from here. If you’re eating this type of jam there’s a good chance it could come from Italy, the largest producer of Chinese Gooseberries in the world.

I carried another back breaking pack today. I stocked up at my first stop, Habas (5km point) for fear that shops further along might not be open when I arrived
because it’s Saturday. When I arrived at Labatut (11km point), after a visit to the patisserie, I made my way to a park in the grounds of the local council where a caretaker showed me the location of a power point I could access to recharge my iPad. I moved my gear from the park to the rugby oval where I found an even better location at an open canteen which gave me shelter from the sun and very
comfortable seating.

It was a hot walk this afternoon. When I arrived at Peyrehorde (20km point) it was 30 degrees. I found a bar and had a beautifully refreshing pot of mint tea. Where I am tonight is about 2km further along from there. I am looking forward to arriving in Spain next Tuesday.

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Momuy to 4km West of Tilh – June 24

The building next to where I camped last night was the clubhouse of the Association Chalossaise des Biberons Landais – the Biberons Social Club. By the look of the club mascot represented by a painting outside the building, the place is just an excuse to get on the grog.

The sky cleared today to a light blue, more pleasant than the grey ceiling under which I’ve been walking these past couple of days.

I made good time to Amou, about 11km from last night’s stop. The first bar I came to I got more iPad charging done while having a hot chocolate and drying out my tent
on a nearby hedge. I then moved onto the next bar about 200 metres up the street, via the patisserie where I had mint tea and got the iPad charged some more.

I love the relaxed lifestyle to be found in a lot of places, Amou being one of them. People just stroll into a bar or cafe, have drink while chatting, reading the paper, or glancing at the TV, and then leave. It’s a part of everyday life, it’s just what is done. I find this aspect of French life very attractive. I see so much merit in their attitude towards alcohol. It seems that no big deal is made of it. Alcohol is readily available in supermarkets or the local store. I have not yet seen a drunk person in either Italy or France. Alcohol seems to be so well integrated into life here it’s no more of an event than eating a croissant or having a coffee.

If you were traveling through this part of France you might put a meal at the Hotel du Commercial on your list of things to do. It’s built on a bend of the road that leads into the village. So often I’ve seen a road bend occupied by a bar or restaurant which makes it a very attractive location. I don’t know why, but that’s how it appears. Driving into Manou from then south you would pass under a short avenue of very old Plane trees, the oldest I’ve seen so far by the girth of their trunks. This
leads you to a bridge over a river that passes alongside the village. Beyond the bridge on both sides of the road are wooded areas with bench seats and places to walk and park, and then you come to a small open area on one side of which is the Commercial Hotel. It’s such a pretty couple of hundred metres. You couldn’t help but like it. However, you have to keep in mind that I’m seeing this as a walker from where you get a much more intimate view of the world than you would in a motor car.

Before leaving Manou I visited the church and lit a long candle for my friend Naomi.
The length of the candle represented my intention that she have a long life free of the threat of cancer.

From Manou I moved onto Tilh, another 8km down the road. It was 3.00pm and the only shop in the village was closed until four. I decided that the front of the church in the shade under its portico was the place for me to eat and wait for the shop to open. Before unpacking my backpack I went into the church for a little quiet time, although quiet time could have been had outside on the streets of Tilh which were deathly still. In the church I sat and closed my eyes and experienced one of those
beautiful light shows. I thought that it happened because I had gone from a very bright day into a darkened building, but later on after being in the bright light for over an hour I re-entered the church but it did not happen again. I saw sparkling, bright mauves and whites in random, ever-changing shapes, something like looking at live blood under a microscope. It lasted about a minute and then faded until it disappeared. It was one of those experiences that I wanted to go on and on. There was such beauty in what I was seeing.

After eating on the church steps I returned to the church, lay my forearms on the
pew in front of me, lay my forehead on my forearms and went to sleep for half an hour. I then did my shopping, wrote up some blog notes by which time it was 5.30 pm. It was such an enjoyable few hours in Tilh.

On the front of the church at Tilh was a reference to the year 1600 and St Vincent de Paul. 1600 was the year he was ordained a priest. Apparently he was appointed parish priest of Tilh but, it seems, never took up the appointment. While on the internet I saw one of those quirky bits of history that tickle my fancy. This one was
about St. Vincent de Paul, who, on his way back from Marseille in 1605 was kidnaped by Turkish pirates, taken to Tunis, and sold into slavery. After converting his owner to Christianity he escaped in 1607. Now if this is true (I did read it on Wukpedia) it must be one of the earliest recorded accounts of the Stockholm Syndrome in reverse.

The other thing that caught my eye today was at an intersection a kilometre or so out of Tilh where a crucifix had been erected. Now I’ve seen a lot of roadside crucifixes these past few days with almost life sized Christs nailed to them. The eyecatcher about this one was an advertisement at its foot for the local Tilh pizza
business. This particular operator will need all the help he can get because as of 2007 the population of Tilh was just 817, hardly enough to sustain a pizza parlour.

After Tilh I only had another 4km to walk and as I was reaching that point an absolute ripper of a campsite came into view. I’m in a mowed, grassed area about 50m x 40m with a woodland behind me, a corn crop to my front, and a creek to one side. You know what they say in real estate: it’s all about location.

And all of this would be completely meaningless were it why do my parents not let me play videogames on weekdays even if i finish homework not for the fact that this one still kills at a party