Monday 24 October 2016

Couch to Camino: 'The weather is like Doomsday... and the temptation of a taxi is strong' - Andrea Smith

After weeks of writing about it, Andrea Smith is two days down on her 115km Camino trek

Published 07/10/2015 | 07:44

Pauline, Mary and Liz walk the Camino in the rain
Pauline, Mary and Liz walk the Camino in the rain
Day Two: Glam Brenda, Andrea, Cathy and Frances
'If I’m learning one thing about myself on this trip, it’s that I am more stoic than I thought' - Andrea Smith
Mary and Andrea at a well-earned dinner
A tip? Spend money on good socks, they'll be worth it, says Andrea
The crew cooked up some Witches Brew, hoping for good weather tomorrow
Double, double toil and trouble - will the Witches Brew bring good weather for tomorrow?

The temptation of a taxi, the beauty of a Kinder Bueno and some good solid advice on anti-blister socks, Andrea Smith has completed the second day of her 115km Camino trek.

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Monday October 5

After a much-needed sleep at Casa Rosalia, we’re picked up by car and dropped to the starting point for today’s walk. I like to embellish things, but trust me when I say that the weather today is like Doomsday. Remember the day that it rained so hard that Dundrum Town Centre flooded? Well it’s like that at various points and I’m not exaggerating.

Things start off badly for me when I realise I’ve left my walking sticks behind with my luggage, but luckily some of the guys are still there and I phone them to bring them along. Aileen, John, Mags and I are in the car together and we have a bit of banter en route, but I let them go ahead when we arrive at the starting point as I want to wait for the sticks - they have become my best friends.

And oh my God, as we step out of the car, the wind is howling and the rain is pelting down and I just want to run away.

I hear there is a delay with the others so decide to amble along as it’s too cold to stand still and am soaked to the skin within about two minutes. It’s much harder without the sticks although thankfully the terrain is pretty good, but it so wet and miserable and the wind is howling, so I think I’ll have to abandon the walk after a few km and get a taxi.

We have a free day on the last day, so I decide that I’ll make up what I didn’t do today then.

I actually bought a lovely waterproof jacket online before I came, but when it arrived it was padded and took up half the case. So I dumped it out to make room for all my summer gear - straw hat and all to protect my head from the sun I was sure was going to beat down.

As I walk along like a drowned rat with my soggy little bag on my back, I curse my eternal idiocy, and when people overtake me with their stupid rain ponchos and stupid waterproof gear that actually cover their haversacks as well, I tried not to curse them.

Most people do this thing the hard way, the true pilgrim way, carrying everything on their backs and walking every inch of the way. Not this namby-pamby way we’re doing of being dropped off or collected at starting and finishing points and having our luggage transferred ahead of us!

'If I’m learning one thing about myself on this trip, it’s that I am more stoic than I thought' - Andrea Smith
'If I’m learning one thing about myself on this trip, it’s that I am more stoic than I thought' - Andrea Smith

After about 5km, poor Alberto catches up with me having run all the way to bring my sticks.

Umberto from Follow the Camino has told us that there is a cafe after 5km and then not another one for15km, but when we spot a sign for a cafe 1km off the track, we both decide that this is not the one.

Day Two: Glam Brenda, Andrea, Cathy and Frances
Day Two: Glam Brenda, Andrea, Cathy and Frances

We walk through some farmland and then out onto a main road, where oh my God, the rain starts to bucket down. And then the hailstones start and it is so bad, we have to walk backwards as the hailstones are lashing our faces.

Umberto said that yesterday was the worst day he has ever seen on the Camino - after today, yesterday is now the second worst! Check out his GoPro video in this piece and you’ll see what I mean. 

Everyone we meet tells us that this is just freakish, and that normally the weather is mainly lovely so we’ve just been unlucky.

Alberto and I plough ahead and see a cafe ahead, but when we get there, it’s locked up. While some of the more popular routes have plenty of cafes dotted along the way, one of the things about the Finesterre route is that it’s quieter and more rural.

Mary and Andrea at a well-earned dinner
Mary and Andrea at a well-earned dinner

You have to make the most of places for breaks when you find them, and keep a few snacks in your bag as there can be huge gaps between stops on this route.

Pauline, Mary and Liz catch up with us, then so I send Alberto off with them as I am still walking at my snail’s pace.

Upon hearing that we’ve missed the cafe, Mary kindly gives me a bar of chocolate before she departs that completely cheers me up.

The crew cooked up some Witches Brew, hoping for good weather tomorrow
The crew cooked up some Witches Brew, hoping for good weather tomorrow

One reason that I want to get rid of them is that I need a pee break, and there is going to be nothing ahead now for 15km. So I do something I haven’t done since I was five years old and on a day trip to the beach, and go behind a tree. The spot I choose is sheltered, but as I’m mid-business I realise that it’s closer than I thought to the the edge of the main road, so if any Spanish motorist was traumatised by a flash of my big, white arse, I can only apologise.

Up into the hills I go listening to my music, and passing farmhouses and cows and pigs en route.

I’m all about the animals so I like looking at them, although most are in barns because of the weather. After a couple of hours, Umberto finds me and he brings me to a farm where there’s a bench and an outdoor tap that the owner has given him permission for us to use.

I fill up my water bottle and Umberto gives me a muffin and a Kinder Bueno that he has in his bag, as of course Useless Annie here didn’t think to bring snacks.

Once he’s sure I’m okay, Umberto flies off to check on some other members of the group, and I have to say, you couldn’t fault the fabulous guys in Follow The Camino for their care and planning and general organisation.

They make it so easy - just a pity they can’t control the weather.

This 15km trek is pretty long, but the weather eases up and it's far more pleasant. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and even though Umberto has texted us taxi numbers in case we need them, and there are taxi signs on lamp-posts all along the route, I try to bribe myself to keep going just a little further. As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through Hell, keep going!”

I walk for hours and find the actual walking much more do-able than yesterday, with it’s big, horrid hill.

Then Frances Black and her husband Brian catch up with me and we walk together for the final few km. It’s not that I have gone fast, but they started an hour after me and also stopped at the cafe for an early lunch. It is now several hours later so when we finally reach the town of Oliveira, we stop for food at a cafe, and I, for one, am thrilled with my tea and toasted ham and cheese baguette and chips.

Have to say the prices here are so cheap -  I think that cost about €3.60.

I also discover here in the bathroom that the inside leg seams at the top of my leggings have split, and my inner thighs have chafed. No idea why because they are loose leggings but they are still wet from the earlier drowning. The chafing is painful - for the first time in my life I envy those young ones with the thigh gaps!

We walk a further 2km to arrive at our lodgings for the night, As Pias, and Brenda and Cathy run out to greet us. They’re all showered and dressed and glam, and I look like the Wreck of the Hesperus, but c’est la vie.

I have lost all sense of vanity here, and walk around with no make up and wild hair all day.

I have walked 22km and for someone who was planning to get a taxi from the moment the day began, I’m delighted with myself that I didn’t give in. If I’m learning one thing about myself on this trip, it’s that I am more stoic than I thought.

Well, apart from whingeing to you lot, obviously.

Up in my bedroom I peel off my damp clothes and have a shower, and discover that I have four blisters. I wasn’t wearing my €14 socks as they were still wet, and I guess the cheaper discount supermarket versions were not as effective, despite their claims.

If you’re doing the Camino, my advice is not to skimp on the anti-blister socks, as they are worth every cent.

After a little rest, it’s time for dinner and my inside thighs are so sore, I walk to dinner like John Wayne.

The people who run As Pias are gorgeous and very welcoming, and we have a gorgeous nosh up of starter, main course and dessert with wine.

After dinner, they bring out a few ingredients and start concocting a ‘witch’s brew’ to conjure up some fine weather. It is great fun, as it’s set alight and people take turns stirring it. Then we all have a glass and it tastes like poitin, not that I’d know, of course.

After dinner, most of the girls settle by the fire for a drink and a chat, but I take my battered body off to bed to write this blog and apply a few lotions and potions to my ailments.

Will the witch’s brew work and will the sun finally come out tomorrow?

You can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be a good tale to tell anyway, no matter what way it goes.

If anyone would like to sponsor me for Frances Black’s charity, The Rise Foundation, which helps families who have loved ones in addiction, my link is 

Read Day One of Andrea's Couch to Camino: Couch to Camino: Andrea Smith is 25km down... but it's not the 'gorgeous walk in lovely weather' she was sold

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