Tag Archives: Pilgrims’ Mass


Santiago de Compostela
Thursday 4 December

A nice sleep in. A leisurely breakfast. Then I had to check out of my luxury palace. Thanks again to my Brother, great birthday present. I didn’t have far to carry my backpack today, as recommended by my older American friend, I checked into the San Martin Pinaro Monastery, next door. Equally as historic as my five star hotel, first built in the ninth century, however my monks cell was a little more austere. I did have my own very modern bathroom, and a comfortable bed. Several other pilgrims I had met were also staying there, including my Dutch friend. He was leaving for Finisterre today, so we had a final coffee before he left.

I then rushed off to the Pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral where they announce all the pilgrims who have arrived in the last twenty four hours, well your country anyway. I believe they also say where you start and by what method (walking, cycling, horse, other.) but it was all in Spanish, so I don’t know. I did hear ‘Australia’. A lot of the mass was sung and it was lovely.

Santiago de Compostella Cathedral is famous for the Botafumerio, a huge incense burner that is swung high across the cathedral on Fridays (I had also heard the day was Sunday) and special occasions. It was neither Friday, nor Sunday, nor as I was aware a special occasion. As the mass was finishing there was a kerfuffle in the aisles down the front, and I realised the famous ‘fumigation of the pilgrims’ had begun. The weighty
Botafumerio swung high and low, driven by a series of wheels and pulleys propelled by a large group of men in crimson robes. The smokey incense filled the air. It was quite a spectacle as it swung higher and higher, the crowds gathering around to try and capture the moment on film. I felt very privileged to have witnessed it, as I really wasn’t expecting to see it. Apparently you can pay a large sum of Euros to have it swung on non allotted days. Perhaps my brother added an extra birthday present? Yet another wonderful Camino moment.

I had planned to have a wander around the city, and visit some museums, but first I had to book a flight back to Paris. I visited the contemporary art museum, and a museum next door to that that had an amazing Escher like staircase. Three intertwining spiral staircases that you could step from one to another between floors. The museum had exhibitions of early Spanish technology and a platform that lead into an ancient church that was being renovated where you could view the process from high. It was interesting, if not a rather eclectic museum. I then visited the cathedral museum that housed many treasures, but soon tired. I’d had enough for the day.

I had arranged to meet my Camino angel for dinner, and we ran into German friend of hers on the way who joined us. Her friend had a resturant in mind, that when we arrived seemed more like a wine bar. There was no ‘menu’ with ‘free wine’, so we ordered a bottle. I order the pulpo (octopus), the ubiquitous dish in this region. This was a rather upmarket version, with prices to match. Instead of the usual boiled octopus with chunks of boiled potatoes, oil, salt and smoked paprika, this had a potato purée to which the spices and oil had been added. It was nice, but I think I prefer the more rustic version. The German woman had arranged to meet her French friends, so said goodbye. We had arranged to meet the other group at nine thirty, so also departed, however, when we arrived a little late they were not there. We thought they may have gone to another bar, so decide to wander the town to find them. We passed a bar with the German woman, and her French friends were also people we had met, and hadn’t seen since Pamplona! We joined them for more wine, and another lovely long night with new friends.



Lavacolla to Santiago de Compostela
Wednesday 3 December

I didn’t start as early as planned. I was beginning to get tired. I only had twelve kilometers to walk, and was hoping to make the twelve o’clock pilgrim’s mass at the cathedral. I climbed Monte de Gozo and was able to view the sprawling suburbs of Santiago. I soon joined the city traffic. On the outskirts was a large sign announcing my arrival in Santiago de Compostela. I started to tear up. I was surprised at my reaction, I still had several kilometers to go, so pulled myself together.

I was walking in a daze, almost hesitating at arriving at the cathedral. The city became busier with people going about their daily business. I couldn’t see any pilgrims, but continued along the yellow arrows, getting harder to find in the city. I felt I was walking in slow motion. Slow emotion. The weight of history, of my own Camino. I couldn’t tell if the people around me were frozen in time or speeding past me, it was a very filmic experience. I could see the angels from ‘Wings of Desire’ atop the surrounding buildings. Their whispering and flaps of their wings drowned out any other noise. My steps were heavy. Getting closer, I slowed. An old man stopped and pointed my way. Again. I felt tears steaming down my face.

I arrived at the arch at the entrance to the plaza. A man in traditional Galician costume was playing the bagpipes. Haunting. Overcome. I slowly stepped down through the archway, entering the plaza below. The main face of the cathedral was in front of me, unfortunately covered in scaffolding for renovations, but that didn’t hide the overwhelming experience for me. There were no other pilgrims, in fact there was hardly anyone in the plaza. I needed to sit down and cry. Although long, the Camino wasn’t a difficult walk, but I guess my emotional response was more due to the whole experience of the Camino, not just the physical. It surprised me, but I couldn’t stop sobbing.

I looked up and saw another pilgrim approaching. I raised my hand in greeting. I didn’t know her, but she came over and threw her arms around me. She was on her way to Finesterra and had been in Santiago for a few days. She had met my Irish and Italian friends, and pulled out a T-shirt for me to sign that already had their messages. She said it was her dream to travel to Indonesia, so asked for my contact. That’s the Camino, she said. She took my photo in front of the cathedral. We hugged again, and she was off to the end of the world.

Even though I had arrived in time, I was now too late for the pilgrims mass. The magnificent and historic Parador Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos was behind me, at the side of the plaza. Built in the fifteenth century, and said to be the oldest continuously operating hotel in the world. My brother had given me a birthday gift of a night in its five star luxury, so I went to check in. Apparently in the past pilgrims could stay here for five nights in winter with medical and priest services on call for free. Five nights would be nice.

I then went to collect my Compostela, the traditional ‘certificate’ of completion of the Camino de Santiago. I don’t really need proof, as my Camino will hopefully remain with me, but it’s a nice piece of paper with a Latin inscription stating that I have arrived to honor Saint James.

Mass had finished, so I thought I would go into the Cathedral. The main entrance was blocked because of the renovations, and unfortunately the famous carved stone front door, the Portico de Gloria, was covered. I climbed back up the stairs through the arch, to the pilgrim’s entrance. Coming out of the cathedral was the group from the other evening, they had risen very early to make it for the mass. Inside, the cathedral smelt like I had imagined churches in Spain to smell. This was the first one that matched my imaginings. Centuries of incense. I again was overcome with emotion, and fell to my knees, not something I do often in a church.

After leaving the Cathedral, more earthy things were on my mind, lunch. I had arranged to meet my Dutch friend in a cafe. Miss Venezuela and My Camino angel had gone to Finesterra by bus for the day. It was nice to see him and hear his Camino stories. After lunch we went to my hotel for a tour, as I was a guest I had free roam. Four large cloisters, of which my room overlooked one, endless corridors with sitting rooms filled with art and antiques, exquisite details and luxury. When I am a rich old lady who lives out her days in a hotel, this is the hotel I want to do it in.

My Dutch friend left, and I went to enquire about a tour of the cathedral roof that he had told me about. They said it would only be in Spanish, and would start in half an hour. I said I would come later, as I wanted to go to the nearby Franciscan church as I was told they were issuing special compostelas to pilgrims as it was a six hundred year anniversary. I returned to the cathedral for the tour, and the only other people were a French couple who also had no Spanish. The guide said she would do the tour in English and French. We climbed the stairs high up to the roof. The light was fading, and colours filled the sky. The roof was stepped granite, and easy to walk across. The views were stunning, an angel’s eye view. The architectural and historic explanations were fascinating. A wonderful experience.

I wandered around the city some more, still feeing dazed and overwhelmed. I had made a half hearted arrangement to meet my Dutch friend and Miss Venezuela for dinner, but I hadn’t heard from them, so decide to return to the hotel to perhaps eat in one of the restaurants. As I walked through the arch to descend the staircase into the plaza, a new busker had replaced the bagpiper, and on a melodica was playing Hallelujah by Leonard Coen, a song I love. Again, haunting.

Returning to my room, I received a message from my Dutch friend, the three of us met, and went in search of food. Later, when we were returning, we again ran into the other group of pilgrims, so joined them for a drink. I was not in the mood for crowds, and wanted to make the most of my five star experience so soon returned to my room for a bath.

Dire Warnings

Caldadilla de la Cueza to Sahagun
Monday 17 November

I didn’t sleep well, my feet hurt, but my heart hurt more, I couldn’t stop thinking about my Camino Angel’s pain. I wished I could take it away.

Today the weather was better, and the three of us were in a chatty mood. We breakfasted in the same bar we had had dinner. As we were leaving, the barmaid, who seemed overly paranoid, gave us all sorts of warnings – that gangs of thieves pretending to be pilgrims roam the Camino, that woman shouldn’t walk alone, and that we will be photographed doing a bush wee. We thought the warnings were unlikely in winter… and what would be done with the photos? I suggested there may be a website ‘pissing on the Camino dot com’. We would have to look that up later.

We were all in a good mood, and had planned a shorter walk today. We were hoping to catch up with the rest of our friends in a day or two. Around lunch time we stopped in Moratinos at the first bar we encountered. It was like walking into an Ikea showroom. Clean smart and new, out of place in this crumbling old little town, where many of the houses were underground with chimneys and antennas poking out of the ground. We ate a delicious lunch which included a Santiago cake, a traditional almond dessert.

We continued on, chatting together. The day passed quickly, and we soon arrived in Sahagun. We were all sore and tired, and wanted to find an Alburgue. The lovely looking old municipal Alburgue had moved to it’s winter home, a boring looking suburban house, by my Camino Angel wanted to stay with the nuns in the convent, but it was also closed for the winter. Our only option was the municipal. When we entered, it was actually very nice, five rooms with three beds in each. We left our bags, and decided to find a bar. Miss Venezuela started to put on makeup, we berated her, saying we wanted to go and there would only be old men to impress. How right we were. The Alburgue was near an old peoples home and the closest bar was full of its inmates. The pensioners were surprised to see us, but after the initial excitement, went back to their poker game.

We had read that there was a pilgrims blessing in the town at seven. We were hungry, but decide to feed our souls before we fed our stomachs, so left to find it. The church bells were ringing, but the only church we could find was a ruin. Our Spanish speaking friend asked around, and there was a service in the chapel at the old peoples home. We went, but it was only a regular mass, not a pilgrims blessing. Not blessed again.

We dined, then returned for a good sleep.

Human Evolution and Owls

Castanares to Burgos
Wednesday 12 November

Today, as planned we only had a short walk into Burgos. Instead of following the tradition pilgrim path, that went though what was now an industrial area, we followed the river into Burgos. The tree lined path was busy with groups of locals out for a morning stroll.

Arriving in Burgos, we crossed the river and entered the city gate, in front of the rather imposing cathedral. My Dutch friend headed towards a small cafe, and as has become the magic of the Camino, we were happily reunited with our other Camino friends, the young Irish lad, the Italian, and my Camino Angel. I was delighted to see them all again, and to have caught up. Our other Italian friend was in the Cathedral, so we would see her soon too.

I was looking forward to an easy day exploring the city. While enjoying a coffee with my friends, my brother went off in search of a hotel for us. My Dutch friend and my Camino angel decided to continue on to the next town, so we said goodby and I hoped we would and all be together for my Birthday on Friday.

My brother found a lovely place overlooking the Cathedral, so we stored our bags, and went into the rather ostentatious Cathedral. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and filled to saturation point with Renaissance and Baroque details. We spent several hours there, as there was so much to look at, and they provided an interesting audio tour. We were hungry, so we went in search of a cafe.

After lunch we went to the Museum of Human Evolution, which contains some of the most important human fossil finds in the world. A really interesting exhibition for a bunch of old bones. I learnt there that owls don’t poo, but regurgitate pellets. This it seems is common knowledge, but new information to me. They do however have bums, but hardly use them.

It was getting late, and we got a little disorientated getting back to the hotel. We had arranged to go to a pilgrims mass with our Irish and Italian friends, but were too late by the time we returned to the hotel. I sent them a message, but they appologised, and said they had left Burgos, continuing on with the others. Again I hoped we would meet on Friday. My brother and I decide to have a rest, then go out later, Spanish time, for some tapas and a vino tinto.

Blisters and Mierda

Pamplona to Puente La Reina
Monday 3 November

I didn’t feel well when I woke. Not at all. We had to be out of the hostel by eight. My clothes had not dried overnight, and were dripping wet, that would add at least an extra kilogram to my bag. I miserably dragged myself to the cafe across the road, for coffee and breakfast. I couldn’t get moving. Our Dutch friend had left earlier, and our Irish farmer friend was going to the bus stop to take him for a flight to return to his sheep. He will be back to continue his Camino next spring. Our Canadian friend wanted to get on the road and start walking, and the other guys were going to hang around Pamplona for the day. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was sad that my Camino family was disbanding. I wanted to throw up.

My Braziilan friend and the Irish lad were going to go the the Cathedral for Mass. I decided to join them. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a Catholic Mass. I am not Catholic, but was raised High Anglican, and the service is almost the same (Catholics will argue that the meaning of the sacrament is very different, but I digress). The liturgy was sung, and it was a comforting and familiar ritual, even if the language was one I didn’t understand. We pilgrims were noticed, and mentioned, and blessed by the priest and small congregation of about half a dozen old ladies. I always love the bit in church when you get to shake hands and wish peace upon the fellow parishioners. Peace, perhaps something I’m search for on my Camino.

After mass the guys were going to the post office to offload some unnecessary things. They tried to convince me to do the same. Unnecessary things. The coffee is better in Spain than in France, perhaps I don’t need my coffee maker anymore. Perhaps there are a few more unnecessary things in my overweight bag. I pulled out some bits and bobs and soon filled a box with two and a half kilos to send to the post restante in Santiago de Compostela.

We walked around town a bit more, taking in the sights, then decided to be on the way, rather late today as it was almost 2pm. We weren’t quite sure of the direction, so our Spanish speaking Brazilian friend asked a couple of old men, who ended up having a heated argument yelling and gesticulating in the street over which way we should go. It almost led to blows. It was funny, and very Spanish.

On the way out of town, we met a Spanish man, just beginning his Camino. He had very little English, and with my non existent Spanish we didn’t chat much. As we were leaving Pamplona, a van slowed down, and beeped. I thought it was just someone wishing the pilgrims well on their way, but the driver wound down the window, waving – it was our friend with the wine from the previous day. Apparently the Camino is know for this kind of magic and synchronicity. The Irish lad sped ahead, and our Brazilian friend was considering staying in Pamplona longer. He said he was tired of having to be in and out of hotels at given times. He said that that was not his idea of the road to freedom. The road to freedom. He stopped for a drink and said for us to continue, he may catch up. So it was just the Spanish man and I. I said I normally talk a lot, but as was feeling rather under the wether, was happy to be walking in silence, but with company.

I thought I had something in my shoe, as after a while it was feeling like sandpaper was rubbing the soles of my feet. Be kind. Listen. So I listened to my feet, and decided to be kind to them, and sit down and see what the problem was. Blisters! Blisters on the soles of my feet. I don’t get blisters. I then realised that I’d sat in what I later learnt the Spanish call Mierda. Mierda! Bugger! Bloody Heck! It was all over my pack, and all over my boots. Mierda! The Spanish man helped me clean it up, and told me that in Spain it’s considered good luck. Probably considered good luck as nothing worse could happen to you that day! We laughed, and continued.

I was feeing sad and contemplative, the result partly of been hungover, and loss of my chatty companions. It was overcast and very windy, but the scenery was magnificent as we claimed a long hill dotted with windmills. The howling wind soon turned to rain, and we zipped up our jackets and marched towards Puente La Reina.

It was dark and still raining heavily by the time we arrived, and we continued on through the town, looking for a hostel. We reached the other end of town, then asked directions – we had passed several, so returned to find a very nice one at the beginning of town. We were given to key to our room, to find that the only other guest was our young Irish friend. It was a lovely room with three bunks, our own private attached bathroom, and a TV – the boys could watch football, and I could have a peaceful nights sleep!

Dinner was served in half an hour, and I ordered salad, duck and creme caramel, as usual wine, bread and water were included. Great value for 13€. Our Spanish friend left for bed, and the young Irish lad and I continued our conversation. He told me a very sad story of a friend who had recently committed suicide, and that he was going to stay with her parents in New York after his Camino. He is a lovely gentle and considerate soul, I am very much enjoying his company as we walk, as I am with everyone I meet here. There is something about the Camino, I see why it has repeat customers.

The Walking Witch

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncesvalles
Friday 31 October

Snoring. That’s the problem with hostels… Perhaps I’ll get a better sleep tonight. Perhaps.

I was up early, as we had to be out of the hostel by 8am. It was going to be a long day. Eight hours walking, I was told and mostly uphill. 27.4km. I had met a charming Dutch man the previous evening when I returned to the hotel, and we had had a very interesting conversation – he was waiting for me to finish packing, to walk together, but I was too long trying to stuff my too many things into my pack, so he said he would see me on the road. There were only two of us left in the hostel, a young Brazilian guy, who was in a similar situation to me, he too tying to stuff too many things into his pack. I asked if he minded if we walked together.

We soon set off along the cobbled streets of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, I was a little sad to leave, as it was such a delightful town, but excited to be starting the walking part of my Camino… even if my bag was way too heavy. We weren’t on the road long when we met a group of three Irishmen and an 83 year old Canadian who was beginning his tenth Camino. He could have passed for a man in his sixties. We soon joined up, and along the way met a few others. Soon our walking speeds spread us out a little, and the youngest Irish guy was far in front, while one lagged behind, so there were four of us walking together. An Irish farmer in his 50’s, the 83 year old retired school inspector from Canada, the 34 year old Brazilian graphic designer, and me. We talked, and walked, and talked some more. The landscape was beautiful, the morning was crisp – green pastures, cows, sheep, mountains. The company was interesting and the conversation was stimulating as we moved from subject to subject. We were all happily taking it rather slowly, as the path was a little steep, and the incline was constant, and we were enjoying both the walk and the company. Eventually we caught up with the younger Irish guy who had met an Italian and another man whom we all refereed to as ‘Jesus’, as he had a strange mystical arura about him. He had walked from Lourdes, and slept in churches – he handed a postcard of the Virgin to the Brazilian, and then they all sped on ahead.

As it was quite season and I had been told there was nothing open along the way, I had bought supplies for lunch, but the others hadn’t been informed, but not to worry, I had plenty for all. Our map indicated a Virgin Mary statue on the side of the hill – she had a magnificent view, a perfect place for a picnic. I had bread and three cheeses, a bottle of red which I had decanted into a plastic container, and a bunch of radishes. We enjoyed our leisurely lunch, then began walking again. We were a little concerned that the slower Irish man hadn’t passed us.

It took us several hours to reach the summit before we started descending, and was getting rather late, but we were not concerned, as we were all enjoying ourselves. We met a Swedish couple who passed us, and who had news of the slower Irish man. He had found the walk too difficult, and was having trouble breathing, and had asked them for help. They had called someone in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and arranged for him to return. If he was feeling better he said he may get a bus to Pamplona, and try again from there.

By this time we were all feeling very tired, we still hadn’t crossed the border into Spain. The light was turning to twilight. We trudged on, and eventually we saw the border… A strange wooden framed doorway, with ropes hanging down, not unlike the streamer fly protector in old fashioned fish and chip shops in Australia… all connected to an electric fence. Odd and not that impressive, as my idea of a border should be. There was no changing of the guards, no pomp and ceremony, no stamps in my passport. I did however take the obligatory photo of one foot in each country. We continued downhill, as the light descended into darkness and the path became steeper and steeper. I sped ahead, as I like to walk downhill fast, but soon felt my toes becoming hotter and hotter. Time to stop for some preventative blister measurements. I got out my moleskin, and my new friends soon joined me, and we all descended on Roncesvalles together. I was dressed in my all black merino ninja outfit, and had added a black brimmed hat for my walk. I commented that it was 31 October…. all hallowed’s eve. Our Canadian friend commented that I was dressed quite appropriately, and looked like a witch… So I entered the villages yelling “‘trick or treat?’. It was rather late… 7pm, but we had had an enjoyable day and walk. We went to the local restaurant with a pilgrims menu and asked what time it was served. 7pm was the reply… But we all needed a shower and to put our packs down, and decided to return at 8.30 for the slightly more expensive, regular menu.

We found our way to the municipal hostel in Roncesvalles, a beautiful old stone building. On the way I met the Dutch man, who said he had been worried about us, but I said we were fine and had an enjoyable day. Inside the old stone hostel had been renovated into a modern hostel with sleeping pods divided into four, two up, two down bunk beds. We were all allocated one pod, and I was given a top bunk. I returned to the check in counter and asked for a bottom bunk in the next pod… They begrudgingly complied, and I was sharing with three Spanish women, and hopefully I had a better chance of a snore free night.

We unpacked, showered, and myself and two others went to the laundry to do some washing. I had wanted to go to the Pilgrims mass at 8pm, but by the time we got there, they had already closed the doors… I was not going to be blessed yet again (although I knew I already was). We headed back to the Resturant, and they offered us the pilgrims menu, even though it was officially finished. I chose a salad, and trout. Both were excellent, accompanied by Spanish wine and bread. We were then given fruit salad for dessert. All for 9€. Excellent value. I like Spain. The hostel closed it’s doors at 10 pm, and the Resturant staff asked us were we staying there, as it was now ten minutes to… Two of us rushed back, and they were just closing the doors… We said to please keep them open, as our friends were following…and we had an old man with us! They obliged, but reluctantly. We then wished each other goodnight and retired to our bunks.

Gap Day

Thursday 30 October

The rustling of early pilgrims woke me at 5.30, but I managed to pull back the covers until the ‘official’ wake up time of 6.30. We were supposed to be out the door at 8am, but the hostlier said I could stay until the cleaners arrived.

I began my day wandering the near empty streets, photographing some of the wonderful typography carved into the lintels above every doorway. Basque names and dates, some as early as the 17th Century. A type nerd’s idea of heaven. Most of the shops were still closed, but it was nice to window shop and see the Basque linens, and artisan delicatessens and produce stores. I then walked up to the top of the Citadel for sweeping views of the surrounding countryside.

However, I did have chores to do. I took my washing to the pilgrims office where they had a washing machine, bought some supplies for tomorrow’s walk, as apparently there are no shops on the way, and stored my bike until I can find another solution. Then I went for lunch. There were plenty of options, and as it’s school holidays in France, everywhere was busy. I choose a lovely little place overlooking the river, and opted for the menu, as they are such good value. Tomatoes stuffed with Tuna, followed by Guinea Fowl with vichyssoise, and a pastry thing for dessert. It was ok, not bad, but not spectacular but the surroundings were pleasant.

I then went through the exercise of trying to sort out what to pack and send away, or what to take walking with me, a little stressful, and I’m sure I’ll have regrets, wanting what I have sent away, and wishing I’d sent some of the things I’m carrying. I decided to ditch the tent… hopefully that isn’t a decision I’ll regret. The post office staff were wonderfully helpful, even to the point of sitting on the floor with me trying to stuff things into the standard size boxes. I returned feeling more relaxed, knowing I had less to carry and that I had more time to consider the fate of my bicycle.

I had confirmed earlier that the Pilgrims’ mass was at 7pm tonight, so went to the church at a quarter to, to find it all but empty. I knew it was the quiet season, but only three others, I wondered if it would still go ahead… I was also feeling a little conspicuous, as I don’t know the service in French, and it’s been some time since I’ve been to a Catholic mass… Would I stand or kneel at the appropriate times? Then they started to switch the lights off… So, it wasn’t on. One of the other pilgrims was the person in the bunk close to mine – he spoke English, and said that the mass had been at 6pm this evening and we had been given the incorrect time, again. So I was not to have a Pilgrims blessing. We decided to go and eat, and he said he had eaten at a very nice place for lunch, so we went there. It was excellent. We shared an octopus salad for an entree, and I had sole with mushrooms. He had some kind of game bird which he gave me a taste of, which was very good. So my last meal in France for this part of my trip was not disappointing. I was blessed after all.

We returned to the hostel, and I cracked open the (sadly only) half bottle of Champagne to share with my dinner partner. I, again was the last to go to bed. Hopefully the rustling won’t start too early tomorrow.