Tag Archives: The Way of St James

Week 5 – Santiago to Finisterra to Santiago

‘It is an act of courage to walk a camino. And I mean camino in the broad sense – a camino is any long walk you take, any path towards change.’ ~ Camino Reflections.

There is a post missing! The last week in Santiago. To those of you who followed along while I was on the camino and many of you did. Can you believe that in April there were over 2K views on my blog. Now I have no idea what that means in blog numbers, I’m sure it’s mini and I don’t care to look it up but to me it was huge to see a K there. People were reading my story and coming back. Maybe they went for a walk or even thought about going for a hike, perhaps they donated to One Girl or looked up their work – that’s awesome right there! And please don’t worry I am not trying to replicate those numbers my goal here is not that, it’s simply to share in a quiet space. Maybe a bit like an old school ‘community centre’ – a warm, calm place to be, to dream, hopefully with some interesting corners (hmm blog goals). The words of one of my kind reader’s Karen (of @coffeeteabooks) seem fitting with how I am feeling ‘a little stirring and a jiggle to start things up again’. I have more in me, in this One Girl story and it seems my contribution does impact others not just me, there is so much more to write about. There is room in the blogosphere for stories to be shared, they are what inspire me. In fact my calls to action often come from reading the words of others. So without further a-do let’s pick up where we left off in Santiago …. the last week.

Where was I? Oh yes! I was on a bus to Finisterre after a few days rest in Santiago. My emotions were mixed, perhaps raw is a better word. I knew I needed to move, to get out of Santiago for a bit but still I felt cheated. I had walked the first 710kms and 27 days with fire in my belly and spark in my legs – in a state of joyful euphoria. Then one night I began to feel tired, feverish and one of my shins had a dull ache towards the end of the day. And so close we were, just a mere 90kms out of Santiago and now I was injured? As you know I made it into Santiago, the end point of the Camino Frances Pilgrimage … just. It is fair to say that those last 90kms (three days) were torturous. It was pure grit and determination alone that took me into Santiago. And maybe my sister feeding me chocolate and doing her darnedest to distract me ‘Fran if you could live anywhere in the world …’? ‘Everywhere’ of course!

When I arrived in Santiago I couldn’t make it to the Cathedral that first day, there was nothing left. Physically or mentally. I had to get off my legs (remember by this time both shins were raging furnaces of pain). I needed to stop. STAT. That first evening I cried. When I woke the next morning I kept crying. I couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop. It was the great tidal release of the pain of the past few days.

Supportive, holding the fort at home for five weeks husband said, ‘enjoy what you’ve achieved, you finished, write a last blog post and go celebrate and eat nice food with your sister’. He is pretty amazing (must not take him for granted). It hadn’t hit me that I had achieved something momentous, it couldn’t. The past days had given me no time for reflection or comprehension, just an incomprehensible feeling of loss. A loss of myself. Of my strong body. Even now I look at photos of wonder and joy on the faces of people who arrive at the cathedral – I never had that. Perhaps if it was my intended end point I would have had those feelings but as you know it wasn’t. I wanted to hike on the Finisterre. To the end of the earth. And I couldn’t. Thankfully, the camino is not the finish … it’s the days along the way.

Frank and Alan, the Texan brothers, Mark and Lucas our German friends were all still a few days behind. We had met up and said our goodbye’s to the wise Fin’s who were now on their way home. We had also met up with sassy Laura from America and quiet and deeply aware Jess from Canada they had continued on their walk.  The German and UK Andy’s as well as Martha the fiercely strong, super sweet Dane were also on their way to Finisterre by foot. Relationships are strong on the camino. I wonder if I would have met these people in any other settings would we have become friends? I’m not sure we would have we are all of different ages, some with different politics and we all have very different lives. I am sure our paths would never have crossed.

But coincidence, timing and connection resulted in these pilgrims becoming my camino family. That is the absolute beauty of the camino you find who you’re meant to find. Like the big world we don’t get along with everyone just those who for what ever reason we gel with. They were #caminodeep and yes I fought the idea of a camino family because I still believed I wasn’t like everyone else but it turns out I am. This motley crew of kind, gutsy, funny, wise, fierce, tough, gentle, caring, intelligent hikey people will forever be my camino family.

Getting on the bus was the right move. A change of scenery and some motion to help shift my perspective. The kind hearted messages and comments that you lot delivered from home (or while on your travels) to my blog, IG account, to my what’s ap etc were beautifully and gladly received. It was like the old days of receiving post from the postman. I honestly have a moment with all of you that I can recall. I will be forever grateful that I walked the camino with each of you – my extended camino family.

Of course as soon we arrived into Finisterre we ran into some old favourites! The fluro gear wearing Italian friends. We never had long conversations with those guys but they were always just around a corner or at a table having their long two hour lunches with wine. We did learn that they were Alpine Mountain Rescuers. I am hoping my husband doesn’t have to meet them next week as he sets of on his Tour du Mont Blanc. He is taking a tent with him, there is no way he could do the night’s filled with snoring in the huts ;). I am not sure which of us is the more hardcore.

The first evening we hiked up to the lighthouse at Finisterre. It is one of the most powerful working lighthouses in Europe and as the night would unfold a spiritual place. As I have written previously Finisterre takes its name from the latin finis terrae, meaning “end of the earth”. At the end of this Roman road is where the Romans thought the earth ended and also where the ancient celts worshiped the sun. I can absolutely understand why. The sun, as it sets over the Atlantic to the east of the continent literally and spectacularly drops from the sky into the ocean. It is without question the MOST moving sunset I have ever witnessed and also without doubt it won’t be the last time I do. I am a creature of habit like that. Like Rome and the pantheon … each visit never feels like the the last.

There is a small cafe and hotel on Cape Finisterre. Small enough to exist yet taking nothing from the spectacular horizon and 360 degree beauty of the cape. It was the perfect place to sit with my sister enjoying a beer and a tapa as we awaited the sunset. Many people were scattered around the rocks with a bottle of wine and cheese. It was a bit windy for us. Something powerful happened that night as the mountain goats appeared on the cliffs just as the sun was beginning to set and drop away into the ocean.

I consider mountain goats to be one of my way markers in life. They are what I see when I dream of the Pyrenees and the Alps. Thinking of mountain goats can take me back to the wonder and freedom of our time spent in the campervan last year as a family. If I imagine the sounds of the bells I am instantly taken to spring, to flowers and snow tops, to adventurous kids playing in mountain springs, to deep smiles and feelings of awe and contented bliss. I can smell the fresh air. It’s important to have lived moments you can escape into don’t you think? I know, I digress, again. It’s a long story this one. The arrival of the goats reminded me I was home for the moment, right where I needed to be. They gave me a sense of peace and the permission I needed to let go of the disappointment of not walking there.

The camino is full of coincidences. Here is another one for you. That morning I had said to the Texan brothers ‘if you see German Lucas say hi’. I knew they must be at similar points on the trail and honestly you never know who you will see around the next corner or who will arrive at the Albergue that night. Wouldn’t you know it … a what’s ap photo and a message arrived. They had found Lucas sitting on a park bench! Here’s another. That night as we were having a beer and watching the sunset over the Atlantic a divine Sth African hiker who I had met at that ‘chicks who rock’ dinner with the Danes back on day 11, in Cardeñuela Ríopico walked into the cafe (there were 6 people in total in this cafe!). She was super interesting and I was so excited to be able finish the conversations we had started at that dinner three weeks before about the master’s degree she was about to start and about her mum’s camino blog. She was following in her mum’s footsteps and walking the camino, that’s an unreal story in itself. We also heard from Martha out of the blue … she was on the way in and hoped to meet up with us!

So we relaxed. Ate more food. Probably the best food we had eaten along the camino. We walked with our feet in the sand and started to wonder what would come next. That first meal in the photos by the way was served at 11.30 pm the night before. Honestly we were finally hitting our ‘Spanish time’ stride. As we were wandering along the beach guess who arrived by foot – Laura and Jess (writer of The Things She Carried – her camino story).These two will light up any room, both with their own stories and reasons for taking a long walk. It was an honour to have met these two. Along the camino I took many photos of pilgrims as they walked. I would then catch them or bump into them along the way and ask for their emails to forward the photos on to them. I was so happy to finally be able to take a photo for these two.

As I pondered my way though the days at Finisterre I did feel antsy and without purpose. After so many days of moving, of putting my backpack on, of sharing the evolving hike for One Girl story and of walking I was struggling with stopping. I enjoyed the moving. I had felt a bit stagnate before I left for the camino (there is an expat warning story there I am nearly ready to share). Now I felt I had found something and everything, anything seemed possible. I needed to keep the momentum alive. But what was everything?

In the quiet of one afternoon I submitted an application to a course I had thought about enrolling in for a long time. I knew I wanted to build on my One Girl contribution, to find a way to possibly contribute professionally. Maybe, just maybe after walking 800kms I could also take the same approach towards studying. I’d started believing I could do it. And by starting at the beginning and walking each day I could get through the research and stats required to produce something that would contribute to the greater good.  Just as the camino had ended so would the two years the course would take me and so I applied to a Masters in Public Health.

My application is still in process and I haven’t made the commitment to study yet. I am thoroughly enjoying studying for my Spanish class and I know I am better at doing things when I am accountable to someone else! Gosh I am lucky to be born Australian where we can apply online and if needed defer our university fees with government assistance. Will I do it? Scary? Yes. But with work and dedication I can do it. I know I can. I am however doing something I don’t always do and that is considering before leaping. I’ll probably leap, of course I will (that’s how I roll) but I want to play a bit with this motion thing I learnt on the camino first. I want to not be looking for something but simply walking forward. I want to walk into the next leap.

Martha and German Andy joined us on the second night for another sunset experience. See I told you last night wouldn’t be the last. Of course this wasn’t the last either because in that cafe the night before I made plans with Frank (older Texan brother) to come back in September to hike Santiago to Finisterre. We are going to make it a round trip and hike back to Santiago you can read why here.  I currently reside in Europe so it is an easy plan for me to make right now – no regrets.

Have you heard of the swinging Botafumerio? It swings in the cathedral in Santiago. It swings to greatlofty heights and fills the room with the sweet smell of the frankincense that burns within the huge incense burner. The burner weights 80kgs and measures up at 1.6 meters, it is rather awe inspiring. We arrived back in Santiago from Finisterre for a holy Sunday so were fortunate enough to witness this incredible tradition. In days past it was to hide the smell of the unwashed pilgrims and as a prophylactic to diseases the pilgrims were thought to carry.

We also were able to catch up with the yin and yang. German Mark and German Lucas. They had arrived in Santiago and if you rememeber Lucas was planning to walk the last 100kms with his mum. An awesome experience to share between a mother and son. We had breakfast and met his mum and those two went on to walk to Finisterre and Muchia. A whopping 950kms for Lucas, a 23yo type one diabetic who had the heaviest pack going around because he carried his medications. People on the camino are inspiring and everyone has their challenges.

We shared a meal and said good bye to our mates Frank and Alan. In the end what started with an unanticipated arrival finished with a perfect ending. We managed over that week to see most of the people we had met along the way. Our camino family. My sister wondered who I was – I was entirely a social beast and if you know me I am far removed from that IRL. (I am also playing with that little nugget I learnt about myself.) Maybe I should be a full time hiker, is that a thing?  ;)

There were two people we didn’t see and we don’t have their details so if anyone reading this knows Mike (newly retired like the Tuesday before he started the camino from St Jean, witty, funny, fast walking pace, washes his ibuprofen down with coke) from the Sth of England. Or Hong (mother of 2, American, married to a German, sometimes drives to Amsterdam for yum cha and Paris for lunch because she feels free on the road, who told her husband she needed to go for a long walk). Please do ask them to get in touch! You never know right? The camino showed me just how small the world can be. Especially when you’re open to coincidences and chance. Putting it out there friends. And sure I know we all have to make things happen, do the work not just put it out there. For me making it happen was saying ‘yes’ to the adventure, the work came from there and the coincidences continue to flow. What an incredible adventure my camino was and still continues to be.

Last, but by no means least of course I must mention that gutsy hiking animal up there to my right. My sister – she made my camino. I will forever treasure the experiences and time we shared walking across Spain together. I can’t wait to see her next month to relive the funnies!

Walk your life, treat it as a camino. Each step, each day all leads somewhere and are part of one great big adventure. ~ Camino reflections.

Ha ha and maybe don’t think this is the last you’ll hear a camino yarn, I have many more to share.

Buen Camino,

Fran xx

A few days of rest and the first post camino test.

“It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” ~ Rumi.

I haven’t read back through my camino posts but I imagine there’s a thread of the camino imitating life. In the simplicity of the routine, moving, way markers, eating, space, outdoors and community there is a guide, a way to live with ease.

My initial arrival into Santiago was an emotional one. Aside from the phenomenal outcome of educating 25 (nearly 26 girls) for One Girl I was unsure how my legs would be. Could I continue on to Fisterre, to the end of the world? This was always my intended end point. After receiving my compostella for walking the 799km pilgrimage along The Camino Frances I still feel the pull to walk on.

One Girl update!

Total funds raised so far – $7,790.00. Goal achieved, and then some! Thank you.

If you’d like to contribute it’s not to late you can do so here.

Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

There are many reasons I want to continue on. Mainly because I want to walk across the entire country! Also the history of the the walk towards Fisterre appeals to me on a personal level. And lastly because after such a brilliant first 26 days of walking like a mountain goat I wanted to finish like that and to finish with my sister walking strong (my damn ego).

A few days rest and a check with the local Dr and tendonitis has been confirmed. The treatment – rest, ibuprofen gel and tablets.

So we’ve eaten out way around the tapas bars, drunk a few beers and Rioja reds. My favourite tapas bar if you’re in Santiago is A Taberndo Bispo. Friendly service, tasty tapas, local seafood, smooth house wine and locals galore!

On this third day of rest the pain has disappeared and I think I could walk tomorrow. Except I’m not going to, I’m on the bus. I decided not to let my ego win! I think most of us battle with our ego along the camino as it teases and tests our purpose as we walk. I chose another camino lesson and that was to simply move.

What I needed most today was to move. It doesn’t matter how I move just that I do! Arriving in Santiago was a place to land, to rest, to await a few of the friends we met along the way. But it wasn’t where I was going. Sitting idle, dwelling never is … it’s one my biggest camino lessons and the challenge I’m taking home with me. Dreams and living them takes work and challenge (and the ability to adjust).

I’ll finish my walk across this country! It may be one I’ll do with my family later this year or maybe just one of my older two. Maybe with a friend. It’ll be slower, less busy and more historically relevant than the last 100kms of the camino (Sarria to Santiago – the busiest section). Perhaps I’ll leave walking the camino to my kids, they can choose if they want to walk their own camino. Find their own way along this spectacular path.

But today we’ll make our way by bus and to spend some days on the coast. Returning home well and ready next week and able to move with vigour is more important than stepping into an ego driven walk tomorrow. As hard as that is!!!!

So we move … to the beach, the end of the world and towards a gentle 6km hike to enjoy tonight’s sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

Writing from Salcedo – Day 27

My post is a day later because I was utterly drained last night, both physically and mentally. It was the hardest day of my camino and one where my coping skills were tested like never before. It would also bring delicious homemade treats, another girl educated in Africa, kindness, spectacular countryside and a lesson in perspective.

Days on the Camino – 27

Kms – Today 33 kms.

Starting point today – O Cota, Spain.

End of the day – Salcedo, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 24

Total funds raised so far – $7225.00. Goal is $10 per km so $7,690.00 just $465 to go!

If you’d like to contribute you can do so here.

Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Accommodation – The most delightful Albergue. Albergue Turístico Salceda. This is a family run Albergue and they are the best cooks, hosts, publicans … you name it! I had the BEST pilgrim meal here. The rooms are clean, modern and spacious. You’ll probably need to book this one. They have private rooms and dorms. We took a twin room (€23.50 each).

Food highlight – Finding a German bakery on the camino! I’ve never called myself a sweets person but on this camino I’m becoming one.

And then there was that dessert that was part of the three course pilgrim meal … lemon mouse with quince.

Word/s of the day – Exhaustingly challenging.

Last night I went to bed early feeling tired and a little fevery. I’m starting to feel a bit washed out and perhaps I had a little heat stroke from the day before.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to sleep well in our O Coto accommodation on account of another attack of bed bugs! Lucky this time we were in hotel sheets and our packs were far from the beds so no chance of taking them with us. That saved us hours of drying sleeping bags and washing everything in heat like last time. I explained to the owner via google translate in the morning but I’m not sure she took it seriously. I might have to leave a google review, it’s not fair to fellows hikers/pilgrims and hotels need to have responsible practices. So for now I’m back on the anti histamines.

That was the least of my worries though because before we’d even walked a few kms a niggle from the day before in my right shin was starting to annoy me. Within a few hours the left shin started too and quickly became worse than the right! Every step was like stepping into daggers. It was excruciating.

A walking day of 30kms that normally takes us 6-7 hours took us nearly 11. It was slow going, we were forced to take many breaks. I was close to tears a few times – sheer frustration (and pain). The panadol and ibuprofen wasn’t holding it. I didn’t feel like myself and I didn’t know this body I was walking in. I’d been walking so strongly and now all of a sudden my capacity was completely restricted.

At about 5pm I checked my inbox and look what I found from my dear friend Liz!

Today was dedicated to Fran.

An adventurer.

A free spirit with nomadic tendancies.

A great advocate for social justice.

A mother of four fabulous kids.

A fabulous mum (happy mother’s day).

Lover of great food.

A pretty damn good hiker with great legs.

A wondrous spirit.

Great blog writer.

A Camino walker … smashed it

I can’t tell you how beautiful it was to read Liz! It’s hard to remember how far you’ve come in the days past when you’re in the thick of pain or discomfort. You reminded me that this was just one day! I need this sometimes in normal life too.

My sister was ever so supportive. Kind soul that she is. Trying to distract me with million dollar questions and hand feeding me chocolate. White choc. of course!

As we were getting close to our Albergue me at a snail’s pace, wincing with each step (I’d even pulled the sticks out to try) a couple of young Spanish guys passed us. I thought oh gosh I hope they don’t give our room away to these guys, it’s getting late!!

As we neared the street where our Albergue was I said to Kris to go ahead and check in. When I saw her coming back out towards me from the Albergue gates I thought oh shit they’ve given our room away. My plan was to cry and ask them to take me somewhere with a bed. I wouldn’t have been turning it on either. Those tears were at the ready … I was spent!

As it happened those Spanish guys had just arrived and had been given our room … but not in time to unpack so the owner told them they couldn’t have the room. Don’t worry they were fit and moving fast they would have found a new room no problem. Never before have I been so grateful for my sister and her pre-booking of our accommodation!!

I don’t write this for you to feel worried or pity me – I’m fine. Truly. I have walked over 600 kms without a break. Something gave. Many hikers have walked through pain much earlier than me. It was my turn. We all get a turn at pain on the camino and in life. Physical and/or emotional.

That doesn’t mean it was easy, today was hard, bloody hard and that feeling of being in a different body on the trail is weird. I was so frustrated and at times disappointed with myself. But that’s pride right? And now I realise I was looking at it the wrong way. I shouldn’t let my pride make me feel less … but I should let it feel like more. I should feel proud about how far I’ve come not let my pride allow me feel disappointed in myself because I couldn’t walk at full capacity today .

Tomorrow is a new day and the one where we will walk towards Santiago. Towards a break!

Buen Camino,

Fran xx

Writing from O Coto – Day 26


It was a tough day today, I’m tired after yesterday’s big one. With just 60kms to go I’m having an early night with croquettes in bed. Tucked in since 5.30pm so yes I’m dedicating today and tonight to me! Why not, we have to know when to give to ourselves also don’t we. Wow I’ve already walked over 700kms over the past 4 weeks, raised enough to educate 24 girls and created something with my sister that’s priceless. That’s a great BIG awesome month.

As you can see it was a beautiful day for the senses. These past few day have been extraordinary in every way. Today the words are few, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

One quick food highlight … when your sister brings you custard with a Maria biscuit in bed!

More words tomorrow!

Buen Camino,

Fran xx

Writing from Portmarino – Day 25

A day to test our capabilities! Every now and then it’s good to push a little harder. Extend a little more. Today was one of those days. While decided we’d walk a marathon after 24 days of practice and we’d do it with vigour as we cracked the 100kms to Santiago mark. Along the way I was quite privileged to meet Al. Al with his kind smile and lovely words ‘everyone feels connected on the camino’.

Days on the Camino – 24

Kms – Today 44 kms.

Starting point today – Trìacastela, Spain.

End of the day – Portomarín, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 23

Total funds raised so far – $7140.00. Goal is $10 per km so $7,690.00 just $550 to go!

If you’d like to contribute you can do so here.

Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – My friend Kir from Travel with Meraki. For all your support, belief and encouragement right from the beginning. Possibly dreamer even grander dreams than me! You’re a beautiful community builder Kirsty and always so gracious and kind. So lucky to call you a friend.

Accommodation – Pensión Mar a pre booked twin room (€20 each). Beautiful host, gorgeous homey feel i.e. pegs on a washing line! Such a difference. An honesty fridge, snacks and free fruit and cakes.

Food highlight – Sometimes I forget how much I eat until I start posting here.

Today was a day of big kms and frequent feeding! I love, love eggs. They weren’t on the menu but our delightful breaky cafe owner was happy to cook them for us. Protein!

On the way to lunch we found a lovely local gent selling homemade treats! Of course we sampled them as well as the cheese and we bought an orange. ‘Donativo’ as is often the case with these driveway stalls.

Another highlight was a cream of broccoli soup. The first course on the pilgrim menu. So good to taste veggies.

Word/s of the day – Vigour.

Meet Al! He’s Canadian via Irish descent. His accent is still of the Emerald Isle and his kind character also. We walked together a while and talked of the joy of the camino, the mountains we’d recently climbed and of our shared interest in social justice. We talked of the Church I spoke of yesterday at O Cebreiro. He had attended mass there and had been asked to give the priest’s homily in English. An experience he was glowing from and would treasure.

Al’s camino started in Azorga, home of a Gaudi Church and well over 200 kms from Santiago. He walks with vigour this gentleman with grandchildren aged from 4 to 18. Honestly if there’s one thing that makes my heart sing it’s meeting busy people like Al! Busy giving life a good crack. I hope to see Al in Santiago and in the meantime I’ll send him his photos … like me he has some people at home who love living his adventure with him. He can add the photos to his facebook for them.

Remember the super hikers? The Germans? I was at a crossroad today and thankfully there was a German couple! Of course their guidebook was up to date, accessible and they knew the crossroad was coming. We took the shortcut … we always choose the least kms! We’re doing enough. We had one scary incident with some unchained dogs with a ferocious bark. It seemed their bark was worse than their bite. So glad, was scared for a few moments.

I’m pleased with how well we walked today. We are finishing stronger and feeling like we could hike further. Of course not today, no further than 44kms! I popped my feet in this bliss we found at our accommodation. First one I’ve seen. So good.

Another day of walking … now I know we say waking but don’t let that make it sound easy, it’s a very physical undertaking but oh so worth it.

It was a beautiful trail to hike a long day. We spend the day on country lanes. Again walking through working farms with spectacular views and beautiful skies. The birds were particularly on song today. And Al’s right we are all connected, to each other and the environment we live in. The people we smile at, the chats we fall into, the birds and the trees they remind us of that every day.

Buen Camino,

Fran xx