People of the Camino

At a small Fiesta in Puenta de Orbigo on the Camino de Santiago, we saw this young woman playing the bagpipes. Her face was a study in concentration as her fingers moved skillfully over the chanter. Life did not appear to be easy in these towns.

Hospital de Orbigo

It is said that the weight of your pack is the sum of your fears. Sometimes the way people carry their pack expresses much about the kind of life they’ve had – and the inventive ways to deal with carrying a pack if your back is no longer as strong as it once was. I wondered how the trolley handled some of the rockier or muddier paths. But, by suspending it from his waist, this walker is able to keep his hands free to assist with the effort of walking itself.

pack on trolley

Beside the road the chestnut gatherers laboured to reap the harvest while dodging the falling chestnuts, ignoring the steady stream of pilgrims passing through.

Chestnut gatherer

Marcelino the hermit and self-styled ‘trainee pilgrim’ (peregrino pasante) ran a donativo stall. He was dressed in traditional medieval pilgrim robes and shared his wisdom and provisions with any pilgrims who stopped to chat.


Ermita del peregrino pasante

In Burgos, we encountered these hard-working cafe staff setting out tables and chairs ready for the evening trade. The cafes are an essential supply line for the pilgrims and for the locals who exchange stories and observations on the passing parade of tourists and peregrinos.

Cafe workers

We were serenaded by this accordion player in Logroño, who moved from table to table sharing his cheer and Spanish ballads. He was a delight and reminded me of my early faltering start on my road to being a professional musician. I began by busking – and in the process learned a lot about the art of entertaining, irrespective of any skills on the instrument itself. I have seen many performers play skilful music, but in such a deadpan way that they fail to engage the audience. This guy lit up the square with his joyful music and singing.

street performer, Logroño


In Madrid there was a festival of Santa Maria, patron saint of Madrid. The statue of the Virgin was paraded around the town accompanied by a huge procession of people from various community and local groups. I was captivated by the characterful faces in the procession.


This woman was carrying her young son, and she gave me a huge smile as she saw me lift the camera towards her.

Smiling Woman with child

Some took their Dowager role very seriously


While others perhaps mourned for loved ones lost


A father’s love

Man and child

For some, there is always a better way


Or contained their thoughts

containing her thoughts

There is a real strength in these people – and a sense of community – of people bound together despite day-to-day trials. And a genuine warmth, yet a distance from strangers. It was a privilege to walk among them.

Holy procession

Camino de Santiago (French route) – The complete index

Camino de Santiago
Our journey from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela
20 Sept – 1 Nov 2016

The Complete Index

There is something undeniably special about walking the Camino de Santiago. As one of the great medieval pilgrimage routes it draws people from all over the world – irrespective of religious belief or lack thereof – to do something extraordinary. To walk in the footsteps of a thousand years of pilgrims is a way to touch a deep cultural history – something we rarely get to do in a busy life. Scroll down to find links to all the posts about our 2016 Camino.


Camino - Don't stop walking

The Camino, like most travel, is at least three journeys in one. It is a physical journey, in which you discover what distance can be covered in a day’s walk, and the strange feeling of walking across an entire country. It is also an inner journey of the mind, as your perspective changes, your assumptions are challenged, and you have an opportunity to spend time out from a busy schedule to gain a new perspective on life. Thirdly, it is a cultural journey spanning a thousand years of history. As UNESCO has stated: “Europe was built on the pilgrim road to Santiago.” Buen Camino!

Compostelas with shells


INDEX to the Camino posts

I have collected here links to the story of our journey to Santiago de Compostela in 2016 – feel free to dive in at any point, or to follow the story sequentially.

Camino training

Trekking pole tripod – camera mount

Camino training – a lighthearted look

Packing for the Camino de Santiago

Camino Credential from Notre Dame Paris

Paris – the final pack for the Camino

Paris to St Jean Pied de Port

Camino Frances: St Jean-Orisson

Roncesvalles and the Witches Wood

Espinal to Zubiri: A sketch and a close call

Abbey of Eskirotz and Ilarratz – a hidden gem

A Bell before Pamplona

Pamplona rest day and a moment with Heidegger

Zariquiegui and on to the Mount of Forgiveness

On to Puenta la Reina

Magic House at Villatuerte

The Wine Fountain then on to Villamayor de Montjardin

Villamayor de Jardin to Los Arcos – and a special sunrise

Viana and a micro-fiesta

Logroño – city of farewells

Logroño to Ventosa

Ventosa to Azofra via Nàjera

Azofra to Santo de Domingo de la Calzada

On to Villamayor del Rio – and some thoughts on the Camino

On to Villafranca Montes de Oca

Camino Frances: Haven’t seen you in Agés…

Atapuerca and on to Burgos

Burgos – And a Museum of Human Evolution

Burgos – A Cathedral, a Prince and a Toy Train

Leon – Stained glass to rival Chartres

Leon – Hogworts, a museum, and the weight of history

Hobbit houses, then on to Villar de Mazariffe

A long bridge and a fiesta – Puente de Orbigo

Passing Astorga

Tex Mex on the Camino

Cruz de Ferro – a poignant moment

The descent, then on to Ponferrada

Villafranca del Bierzo – and a Camino angel

To O Cebreiro – Gateway to Galicia!

O Cebreiro to Fonfria

Sarria – Beginning of the final leg

Sarria to Morgade

Portomarin – and a moving church

Off to Hospital – and an encounter with Spanish plumbing

Palas de Rei

Camino – Casanova scammers and on to Melide

Melide to Arzua and an encounter with raspberries

Arzua to Pedrouza

Pedrouzo to Santiago – Arrival at last!

Santiago moments, and an encounter with the Botafumeiro

Camino Kilometre Zero at Finisterre and on to Muxia

Encounter with the Secret Pilgrim

Lessons learned on the Camino

Santiago cathedral

bronze Camino shell

Santiago moments, and an encounter with the Botafumeiro

We were looking forward to seeing the famous Botafumeiro, but we wanted to make sure we had our Compostelas, or certificates of completion. So first thing, we headed down to the Pilgrim Office to receive our Compostela – the certificate we receive to mark the conclusion of our pilgrimage. There are three categories of pilgrim: those who walk for religious reasons; those who walk for less specific spiritual reasons; and those who walk for sport, health or just to see the sights. For us, it was, I suppose, a spiritual reason, though we are not religious by inclination.

Compostelas with shells

The hospitalero carefully examined the rows of stamps on our credential, to verify we had walked at least the minimum 100kms. She asked where we had started, and we told her that we had started at St Jean Pied de Port, though we didn’t walk the Meseta, but walked the rest. She nodded, and carefully inscribed my name in latin – Hieronymus – like the painter. As she handed us our Compostelas, she smiled and said “congratulations, well done!” And the tears welled up as the scale of our achievement became real.

We took some time out to compose ourselves in the adjacent Pilgrims chapel, before heading out to meet with fellow Australian pilgrim Alan, one of our Camino friends. We shared a breakfast and coffee. Soon, he departed for the airport to begin his journey home.

Alan Garside

Then it was time for us to head off to find the Correos (Post Office) to retrieve the parcel we had sent from Pamplona, and then on to retrieve the bag we had sent from St Jean seemingly an age ago. They have a great service – you can send a suitcase or bag from St Jean Pied de Port and they will hold it in Santiago for up to 2 months without extra charge. We were directed to an Albergue a few streets away to collect it. And within a few minutes, we had our bag.


We got it back to the hotel and opened it up. What’s with all this stuff?? Did we really think THAT was an essential item? Why did we pack this?? And so it went. Then it dawned on us. We had changed. The Camino had changed us. And we realised that in our busy lifestyle, we accumulate so much stuff that is simply unnecessary. Having lived out of a backpack for six weeks, we realised just how little we actually needed on a day-to-day basis. I also noted that my boots were worn down, and Sharon’s walking shoes had worn right through the sole. And then I thought about how the journey had shaped us as we had shaped our shoes.

And I was reminded of a story I once wrote – one of my Stranger Tales – about the three kinds of wear:

                                   Three Ways of Wearing

The stranger went down into the village for he was unsure about the direction of his destination. In the main square there were few people, but they were intent on their business and paid no heed to him.

All, save one, a woman who was sewing a quilt at a small table. She had glanced at him once or twice when it seemed as though his gaze would not be caught. At length the Stranger set out across the square, as though looking for something. A sign, perhaps.

She beckoned him over, held captive by the mound of fabrics around her. “I can tell you where you want to go” said the woman. Startled, the Stranger turned to her, quizzically, for how could she know where he wanted to go before he’d had the chance to tell of his journey.

“Oh I can tell you where you want to go, but it will cost you.” She said. He reached for the purse that hung by his side “Not that stuff – I have no use for money.” “Then what use is it talking to you?” asked the Stranger. “I want something closer to you,” she said. “But I have nothing of value,” said the Stranger. “That depends…” said the woman. “What I want,” she continued ” is something you have worn.” “Ah,” said the Stranger “that depends on what you mean by ‘worn’. For there are three ways of wearing.”

The Stranger reached into his bag and removed a sock which showed daylight where once there had been a heel. “First, an item can be worn out, like this sock – it has been abraded by the world with which it has made contact until it becomes weak and no longer provides protection.” He made as though to put it on. “Then the item itself can be worn, meaning I can wear it, in the sense that I can fit it to my foot.”

“And what of the third?” Asked the woman. “Ah that is the greatest loss,” said the stranger “For in wearing the sock, the sock wears me – I bear the marks of the creases in the sock, and the sock has abraded my skin until it is quite shiny and raw – indeed I have left much of myself in this sock.” “Then give me the sock, for you have no further use of it,” said the woman. The Stranger shook his head sadly and said: ” That I can never do, for this sock bears witness to my journey. It is the only reminder I have of all the miles I have walked in search of my destination.

“Well, that is all the more reason why I must have the sock,” she said, and with that, the woman snatched the sock from the Stranger’s hand and stashed it quickly beneath her pile of fabric. “Now tell me of your journey, so that your sock may continue to bear witness for generations to come. The Stranger sighed deeply, for he knew there would be no arguing with her.

And he sat down on his heels and began to tell her of his travels. At length, the woman nodded, satisfied, and said “We have made a bargain, and now it is my turn. You should seek lodgings nearby and return in three days and I shall tell you how to complete the next stage of your journey”.

The Stranger found lodgings on the outskirts of the village, for now, he was bound to await the return of the quilter. On the third day, he went out to the Square – by now it was crowded and the quilter was nowhere in sight, for it was market day and before long dust filled his eyes and nose, and the sounds of spruikers, dogs and exotic birds filled the air.

At length he stopped at a tea tent for refreshment, searching the crowd and swallowing his growing disappointment with each mouthful of tea. As he rose to leave he felt a tug at his sleeve. A small boy beckoned and led the Stranger away through the crowd between the cacophony of tents and stalls, people and animals. Then abruptly, through a break in the crowd, he saw a pile of fabric around the knees of the quilter. The woman finished her thread before looking up at him – directly into his eyes.

“You have given freely of your memories, and now it is my turn,” she said. The woman gave him a square of fabric that at first glance resembled a geometric blackwork pattern. “This is where you have been – your sock will lead you home as surely as Ariadne’s thread”. And as he examined the pattern he saw that it was a beautifully embroidered map. He thanked her and turned to leave, but she held up her hand: “Wait,” she said, “This will take you home and it will help you recall your journey, but your path lies elsewhere…” and reaching down she handed him a second square – a blank piece of fabric. “This will take you where you need to go.” she said.

“But I don’t understand – you have taken something from me and given me something in return, but how will a blank piece of fabric lead me to my destination?” asked the Stranger. She smiled then, and said “I have taken both something and nothing – you still have your sock, I merely gave it a new context and a new shape. The map you carry is made from the thread comprising the sock but now the thread marks your memories inscribed in fabric. The ‘wear’ has become ‘where’.”

“And what of the second piece?” asked the Stranger “It is for you to give it a new context – already it carries the image of a quilter – the rest is up to you.” And she smiled, and it was a beautiful smile.

I now had my photos and notebooks, and a few days in which to prepare for the next part of our journey. But first, there was something important to do.


Our Camino friend Kathy would be arriving, and we exchanged texts to find out when she would be arriving in the Square. And at the appointed time we went up to the square. It was late afternoon, and clouds hung low overhead. There were a few people milling around as pilgrims do in order to take in the scale of their achievement, and as a way to keep moving when they have reached their destination, in much the way that after a long drive you stop the car, yet the road seems still to be in motion. It is like waiting for the soul to catch up when you have arrived.

Santiago cathedral

There was one lone figure standing still with her backpack, and slowly looking around. Sharon saw her first, and with a shout we ran to her and hugged a deep embrace. We talked a while, then she went to find her apartment, and we arranged to meet for the pilgrim mass at the Cathedral.

Kathy Kolobong

Kathy arrived early, and we were not far behind. She managed to save us a space in the front pew. And the Cathedral filled quickly to capacity. There was singing, and a welcome to pilgrims from many countries – we heard Australia mentioned – and from many starting points, including from St Jean Pied de Port. This was our welcome. The mass was solemn and beautiful. There was a nun leading the singing, and she had a magnificent voice that inspired you to join in with her. The liturgy was in Spanish and mostly unintelligible but the spectacle was moving nonetheless. No filming was allowed during the Mass itself.


As the mass ended, the famed Botafumeiro – the giant thurible (incense burner) – was unfurled, opened and lit with a sense of ceremony. Then eight strong men hoisted it on ropes and swung it almost to the roof. It weighed nearly 100kgs fully fuelled so the swing was spectacular and skillful. It filled the air with incense as the choir filled the air with music. Camera flashes went off and as the Botafumeiro swept past the pews along the aisle across the Nave, a small child crawled out into the aisle fascinated by the swinging object passing a few feet above. We held our breath that rope holding the fiery brazier would hold, until at length the swing was slowed, one monk detached from the group and waited for the thurible to slow, then in one last sweeping motion he grabbed the side and swung the Botafumeiro to a standstill. And the congregation erupted into spontaneous applause. It was breathtaking!

We headed out for dinner together. It was wonderful to have someone to share our experience with, and to hear her stories. It is a special experience on the Camino that few would comprehend who have not done it. We walk our own Camino, but there is also the common experience of those who have dared to push themselves into a new space, and arrived successfully at the other end.

Tomorrow we will tour the Cathedral, and museum, and then perhaps take a bus to Finisterre and Muxia.


INDEX – If you wish to follow our journey from the start, or jump in to any of the Camino posts,
here is a link to the index page – also found in the navigation bar at the top of this blog