Archive for May, 2010

Sunday 9 May, home: catching up

May 9, 2010

I did write a final post on my phone on the ferry on Monday evening, but somehow managed to lose that. So here is a resume of our last couple of days in Spain and arrival home!

We really rested on Saturday, hardly stirring from the albergue except to go to the evening mass at the church at the top of the road. Partly for piety, and partly in order to actually see inside the church. Like other Spanish churches it wears it’s age and bones with pride – chunky massive stonework between the vaulting, which is pleasingly out of true in some places, hardly surprising for somewhere so old it is almost growing out of the rocky outcrop it sits upon.

The service itself was interesting for us English Anglicans. Before the service began a small group of women were saying the rosary very fast and completely without expression or apparently taking breath. The priest arrived about one minute before the mass began, which we have seen before in catholic churches. There were no service books, again I know this is not unusual but it would have helped us! The sung responses were sung lustily by the congregation, with a couple of men with strong voices singing harmony. There were two different opinions as to the pitch of these (unaccompanied) responses a couple of times. Usually when this happens in a church, as it is wont to, after a few bars a compromise will be reached, and all continues in harmony, as it were. Not here. Whether this was because the loud gentlemen prevented those near them from hearing the problem, or whether there was a deliberate power struggle, we could not tell.

The elderly priest who visits the albergue at meal times to say grace and hand out plastic rosary beads joined the younger priest for administering communion, and then, suddenly the mass was over and everybody dispersed speedily.

We forgot to go and look at the tomb of an inquisitor mentioned in the leaflet we read, but I enjoyed the centre (of three) retables, which was the earliest, with a dear Virgin de la Leche from the 15 century I think (I’ll look the dates up later and edit this!). She has a rather serious doll like face, and her neat round left breast is exposed. Jesus looks about 12 months old. He is sitting upright on her knee looking down on us with that intent interested look a one-year-old has, surveying the world from the safety of a parent’s lap. His right hand is casually resting on the top of her breast, in case anyone else should think he does not want it, and you just know that any minute he will grin at you and turn back to it for a suck.

There were plenty of pilgrims staying that night;

Sofia at her 'reception desk'.


four Spanish women, two French men who had both left from Normandy several months ago but only met up recently, and our first ever English pilgrim met on the Camino! He had previously walked Vezelay to St Jean PDP so we should have had a lot in common. But he didn’t seem to have seen and enjoyed the same things we did! He was struggling with the more ‘hands on’ Spanish was of dealing with peregrinos, compared with the French attitude, where a pelerin picks up the key to the the albergue from the mairie, or the tourist office, and looks after himself.

As, by this time, we had grown rather fond of Sophie and Luis his irritation with them grated rather, as did the fact that in spite of having been told very clearly that breakfast would be at 7.30, (and having a not very long day’s journey planned) he and the two Frenchmen were up well before 7. Our hosts, having had to get up quick to put the coffee on and get the bread toasting, were understandably peeved and Luis was not showing himself in the best light. So I minded that their thoughtlessness had made Luis behave (a little) badly and was glad to see them go!!

The Spanish ladies were much more thoughtful and did a far more efficient table clearing operation than I can! (Isn’t it funny how different nationalities have different methods for washing up etc? All of a sudden I doubted the efficacy of my methods which after all have kept my large family healthy for that last thirty-plus years!) Sophie tended gently and skillfully to some blisters, and saw them off on their way.

Peter and I did a bit of sweeping and tidying while Sophie did her weekly fumigation of the dormitory, and Luis did some ironing!

Then we left Sophie and Luis to a quiet Sunday, and went off to make a circular exploratory trek around San Vicente.

Down the hill from the church and alberque. In the very distance is the headland we walked over on Friday.



This view of the church also shows the albergue. It is in the building with a roughly hexagonal dark shape on the end. If you click for a close up you will see the shape is a Galleon, after which the refugio is named. The garage shaped door beneath is the entrance to the basement albergue.

First we walked to the end of the harbour wall and looked out over the see to where we walked on Friday. Then we climbed to the lighthouse and on westwards over the top

with the sea to our right, eating a meagre picnic lunch of fresh bread, chocolate and water! Then we turned inland and crossing the main road west we descended to the head of the estuary behind the hill with the church on it,

crossed the river, and set about finding our way up the other side. As the tide was in we came unstuck when our path went into the sea, but Peter found a (sort-of) track up the hill and we clambered and scrambled up, through overhanging trailing roses stems and brambles.
We could have done with a machete! Eventually we emerged on to a dirt track at the top of the hill and completed the circle back into San Vicente, arriving ‘home’ about about 5, the time we had said we’d be back, having seen the church from every angle,

fields full of ragged robin,

some little pompom yellow flowers I couldn’t identify

and a pair of large birds of prey (buzzards?) wheeling magnificently in the sky above the estuary.

No other pilgrims turned up at all on Sunday night. Hearing how little we’d had for lunch Luis and Sophie rustled up a dinner of sardines, merluza (meaty white fish) and salad for us, and we all had an early night.

I worked on a piece of artwork to express our gratitude for the kindness shown to us, which was received with appreciation in the morning, when Sophie and Luis nearly had a falling out over the time of our bus to Santander. (Technically, Sophie was right to check the time, but it had only changed by ten minutes!!)
Sophie took us to the bus station and made sure we go the right tickets and were on the right bus so we felt mothered right to the end!

On the coach our journey was accompanied by a long and tearful half of a mobile phone conversation from the girl behind us. Although our Spanish isn’t up to a lot, we gathered that the other end of the conversation had been ‘playing away from home’ and also that ‘su madre’ was not a help! Peter heard the end where she finally (and wisely) dumped him, and shook out her newspaper noisily. I had dropped off, or stopped listening.

In Santander we checked the ferry times – the woman at the desk told us she had never in twenty years seen anything like the past ten days with the ash cloud crisis passengers trying to get home. She reassured us that the ferry was not too crowded, because people who had booked but later got flights home were canceling – Brittany ferries were re-reimbursing them, she told us.

Then we collected our bag from the hotel, and had a last lovely lunch, in the restaurant beside the statue of a Cardinal with big hands and what looks like a blanket over his knees.

Back at the ferry port there was another relationship under strain via a mobile conversation! This time a middle aged English man was very cross (in that patronising excessively calm and cutting way) with ?his wife? for locking the shutters and thus preventing him egress. Whether deliberately or just accidentally we didn’t gather, but he was not happy.

Apart from that we also overheard and were told lots of stories about people’s struggles since being stranded in far quarters of the world by the volcaninc ash which brought European airways to a halt. Some people seemed to have risen to the challenge, had an adventure and were recounting it all with relish. Others were still clearly stressed and even complaining about the cost of laundry in their hotel – socks were charged at 3 euros, we were told. Did they not have hot water and shampoo? we thought, from our perspective of backpacks and basic pilgrim accommodation!

There was a jolly crowd of scousers (folks from Liverpool) in the reclining seats lounge, who were friendly but very merry and loud after midnight. Still, when I raised a bleary head from the floor and asked Peter if he was all right, the took the hint and moved further away. Peter moved to the floor from the reclining seat later in the night and was surprised to find how much better he slept that way!

We woke early and enjoyed the sunrise from seats in the self-service cafeteria to the accompaniment of the last of the overnight cleaning. They actually wash the carpets overnight! I find the organisation of this huge ship and crew mind-blowing and very impressive. And it seems that Brittany Ferries behaved well in the travel crisis, charging someone we asked the same as we had paid well in advance.

It was a long day in the cafe, reading, drawing, talking and generally killing time and gradually getting more comfortable with the constant distracting English voices after three weeks of being outdoors. We managed to survive on a bagful of picnic food garnered at the last minute in Santander, including a tortilla which we heated up in a handy micro-wave which Peter found on the way out, and even making our own drinks. We did buy two cups of tea, but that was so that we could hold on to the ceramic mugs, as Peter did not want to risk our melamine camping mugs, (circa 1960) in the microwave! Not that we are mean, or anything!!

Finally we arrived at Portsmouth, and thence by taxi, train and son’s car to the bosom of the family for a lovely meal of sausages and roast veg!!

Home the next day to a pile of post including the news that …..

but that will have to be the subject of a whole new blog!