Wednesday, August 10, 2011


It's sort of bizarre, just hanging out, isn't it? I mean, inevitably I feel guilty for not doing anything in particular.. Why is that? I've just walked 890kms, travelled through Spain and France, helped a friend prepare his holiday house for rental and helped my brother move house. It's not like my travels have been from beach to beach, doing nothing (not that that would be in any way scandalous). And I've booked the next leg of my journey which I anticipate will include some pretty challenging adventures and hopefully some volunteer work. So I'm not entirely sure why I have spent all day feeling a bit guilty and frustrated about not doing 'something'. And may I add that this inactivity has included what turned out to be a mammoth task of washing my sleeping bag, packaging stuff up to post to friends and doing a little bit of shopping for my mum... Ridiculous!

It is thus clear that the one thing I didn't get from the Camino is a zen-like calm or stillness.

So, guilt-days aside, what have I been up to and where am I off to next... Let me tell some stories...

For visuals to accompany the stories, please check out:
Camino de Santiago

Santiago to Fisterra with Mum

So mum joined me to walk the 90kms from Santiago to Finisterre, because she too wanted to know what it felt like to experience debilitating pain in her feet by evening and awake refreshed and ready to go again, by some sleep-induced miracle each day. And experience it she did!

We made it across the truly stunning stretch in 4 days and for the final two days we could see the sea and our final destination on the horizon. I confess to another bout of weeping when we reached the final drop down to the ocean and I am unashamed of fulfilling my promise to jump fully clothed into the sea as soon as we reached it. It was worth the wait!

After a couple of days relaxing in Finisterre we returned to Santiago. Mum flew home and I loitered for another two days. That was a mistake. Hanging around in Santiago after you've finished your Camino is a little like that awkward point at the end of a date where it is clear to you both that the date has run its course, but neither of you knows how to actually end it and walk away. For my part I had bought my ticket out, but it wasn't until a couple of days later so I was essentially loitering to pass time. I didn't want to walk away from the 'date' only for it to spot me hanging out just round the corner waiting for my bus that was still a fair way off... so I just kept on keeping on. Santiago is a pilgrim's town... I was no longer a pilgrim.

So with great relief I boarded my cramped and airless sleeper cabin on the overnight train to Madrid with three already-sleeping strangers (it was midnight when I got on board) and had a fitful and thoroughly unsatisfactory night's sleep before arriving in Madrid at 8am the next day... sick. Not in the cool youth sense of the word... I mean I was sick. I then spent 24hrs on shut down in my hotel room in response to a dodgy meat pie from Santiago... Awesome.

To make up for it, post pie-collapse, I hit the town with a freebie-finding vengeance. I picked up all the info about free activities from the tourist office and then went to seven photography exhibitions (utterly brilliant!), a truly awesome street dance show and a walk in the city gardens. I used the metro system with the kind of passion only a public transport nerd with a particular love for underground networks can. I walked until my feet reminded me we'd walked plenty already and I hung out trying to look cool and totally local in street cafes and funky suburbs. I also watched the staff of a restaurant chase a rat out of their establishment with a broom... and then ate my dinner there. Perhaps the pie-sickness was pre-emptive karma for stupid decisions like that one.

I left Madrid on a flight to Bordeaux (France) to stay with my half brother who lives about an hour and a half from there. My stay coincided brilliantly with that of his 6yr old twins, so I got to spend a full day with them concocting a plethora of terrifying sweet goodies (gingerbread men, a chocolate cake and a slightly scary 'cake' made of the leftover gingerbread dough stuffed with sugar and iced with melted chocolate) in aid of a suprise early birthday party for Philip (my half-bro). I was also treated to swims in lakes, a gathering with friends around a fire, a family dinner with his grown-up kids (minus two - Be and Ruby, you were missed!) and the twins, a pink picnic (all food and drink must be pink), some live and local music, a visit to a monolithic church (amazing) and a late night panic clean up of a friend's holiday rental when she realised, at 3am, that her next guests would arrive at 10am. Philip and I (and my brother Mark) have only met once before this trip, but it was a really warm, welcoming and lovely time... Thank you!

From the South to the North of France and Cherbourg where I stayed for a week with Tim, a family friend of old who has bought a group of old french farm buildings that he is gradually converting into the most beautiful set of holiday lets. So this was a combination of relaxing in a hammock, cycling around the local villages and down to the sea and helping out with some of the work on the buildings. The highlight being using the ride-on-mower. Excuse me if that's not the coolest item! It has the power to make one feel immediately capable of driving a tractor, should the need ever arise and it's hugely therapeutic, watching the result of your careful driving spewing out the side in a green cascade... Except if your me and you fail to consider what your actually doing there is the slight bitter-sweet tinge that comes with realising you're going the wrong way around the courtyard, thus shooting fresh grass clippings out the side of the mower and directly through the doors of all the buildings, including the nice one you're staying in. Sweeping is also satisfying.

Much to my joy and convenience at the end of the week Tim was driving his van over to my mum's place (via the ferry, obviously, although and amphibious van would have been brilliant) so I was able to catch a lift. I spent a glorious hour and a half at mum's in a rapturous reunion with the comparatively vast array of clothing I had left in the drawers in my room here. Given I had been travelling with 3 pairs of underwear and two outfits for the past two and a half months the ten pairs of knickers were enough to make me cry alone!

Wardrobe replenished, I drove straight up to my brother's place in Oxford to help him move house... and apparently to spend any money I had previously saved during the Spain trip on anything and everything I could get my hands on in Oxford... I don't think I've shopped that hard for some time!

It rocked to hang out with my brother for a few days, though. His old place was a feral cave of six men in their late twenties/early thirties. It was bad enough in some areas for my brother to ban me from cleaning certain bits (the downstairs bathroom would have excited a scientist). But between three of us we got most of it sorted and by the Sunday evening Mark and his mate Matt (and Matt's slightly scary python Spook) had settled themselves into their new place. They were understandably quite excited to find that they have moved smack bang into nurse territory (just behind a local hospital), but somewhat disappointed to realise that the modern nurses uniform is somewhat different to the Carry On-style of years gone by...

Mark and I took a trip down memory lane on one of his days off and hired a punt on the Cherwell river. For the uninitiated this is a very english version of an Italian gondola... It's sort of a flat raft-like boat that you put cushions into to sit on and then one of you stands at one end with a long metal pole using it to push the boat along and hoping to god it doesn't get stuck in the mud. Both of us are scarred by an image from a childhood punting trip where we saw a punter left clinging to their pole as their boat floated off down the river... Every now and then the suction in the mud lets you know it could happen at any time! We punted up to the Victoria Arms where, in a big group of families, our parents all used to stop for a few drinks and a picnic while the kids ran riot on the banks and played games that were all about coming as close to falling in the river without actually doing it as we possibly could. Mark and I were a touch more sedate about it this time - we had a bloody lovely lunch and giggled at the very posh old people who were there with their dogs and loud voices, before floating back down the river and walking back to his place.

And so now I'm back at mum's... And after waiting for some sort of 'message' from I-don't-know-who to tell me where I should travel next I finally kicked my own arse and remembered that there is one country I have always wanted to go to... Brazil. So I booked it. And I leave on September 1st... Watch this space lovely people - the Brazil Adventures, coming soon!!!!

'Til then...

Hope you're all well!
Loads of love


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