La Via Tolosana (France) & Camino Aragones (Spain): "The Arles Route" GR653

La Via Tolosana (France) & Camino Aragones (Spain): "The Arles Route" GR653
La Via Tolosana (France) & Camino Aragones (Spain): "The Arles Route" GR653


PLEASE READ: Our Camino For Alzheimer's Awareness will begin on World Azheimer's Day, September 21, 2018 in Lodève, France about 130 kms west of Arles (underlined on the map above and circled on the route profile at the bottom of the page). We plan to walk together just over 800 kms to Puente la Reina, Spain where Annemarie will determine her next steps. It is, however, Geoff's intention to continue onwards a further 700 kms towards Santiago de Compostela. To put this into perspective, the total distance is about the same as from Victoria to Santa Barbara, California. As usual, we will accept the journey as it unfolds and we are appreciative of any and all support. If you feel moved to contribute to the Alzheimer Society please click on either of the really obvious RED BUTTONS to the right or at the bottom of this page and you will be transferred to the Society's fund raising site. We are paying our own expenses and all money raised will go directly to the Alzheimer Society.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Santiago: Sunny, 13

Favourite Haunts and Traditions

There are certainly things that I’ve come to enjoy after walking into Santiago. Of course there is the initial entrance onto the plaza in front of the Cathedral, but after that, when all the excitement of arrival has passed somewhat and I’ve found my way to a hotel there are some favourite places I like to visit. Usually in the evening at some point I find my way back to the plaza where there are often musicians playing and people wandering around taking in the special atmosphere. Last night before I ate I did just that, though late in the season it wasn’t very busy. The cathedral’s exterior has been cleaned and I just wanted to see it under the lights.

After this it was time to go find some food and begin the traditional celebrations. So I headed back to...

The only thing was I hadn’t walked into Santiago with anyone so I went on my own comfortable that other pilgrims would show up. As I was ordering I heard a discussion about the Arles route and a question from a French woman concerning why no one walks the Chemin where she lives. I entered the conversation and suggested that I’d just walked it and she immediately invited me to join their table, which I happily did. It was really nice to sit with 5 other peregrinos and do what peregrinos Camino! They had all just walked in on the Via de la Plata, so I had questions about changes since 2014. Women from France, Canada and Finland (who gave me a lovely hug at the end of the evening) a fellow from Holland and another from Spain. There was interest about our Camino For Alzheimer’s as the disease had unfortunately touched the lives of several at the table. We managed to consume many tapas and somehow even more wine! I also met three American ladies from the Frances who wanted to know more about our walk, so it turned out to be a very social evening. We later said good night and found our ways home.

Last night was just another bed, about the 55th different bed, and as such I didn’t sleep as well as I thought I would, but I compensated by staying in bed until after 9. I felt a bit heavy and clumsy when I got up and realized it was just my body and mind relaxing after pushing itself for weeks. It felt like it was supposed to be doing something else. Walking maybe? They serve a great breakfast where I’m staying and after a second cup of tea, that was amazing, I headed outside for a look around and to get some chores done. Most of those completed it was time to wander the unique old town and I bumped into my old friend Shinji who it turns out also walked in yesterday, as did David who was the fast walker I shared much of a day with last week. He saw me arrive in the plaza yesterday and took the photos of me that I posted.

He was still carrying his pack because he stayed in an albergue last night and thought he had to take it with him. So I assume he lugged it around all day, poor guy. We parted ways at the Cathedral where you are not allowed to enter with a pack any longer. I assume he found somewhere to spend the rest of the day. He’s chosen a 7 am train to Madrid tomorrow and I’ll be on one at the more civilized time of 9:50 am.

In the cathedral I met a few of the folks from last night and then wandered for a few minutes, but not being catholic and having sat through mass twice before, said in Spanish, I left. But not before taking a few photos. 

With the outside clean, the inside is now being restored. I guess it provides me with another reason to return here in a few years:)

The apparent final resting place of St. James who is specially celebrated each July 25th on my birthday.  Clearly I was destined to walk to Santiago:)

Apparently my body was still craving food after having had breakfast just 3 hours earlier so I visited my next favourite place to munch. 

The key to getting a seat is to arrive just before mass at the cathedral ends at 13:00 so that you have a chance of getting a table. I need not have hurried.

Of course it’s off season with very few walkers coming in each day compared to the height of the season when thousands arrive daily. The menu is still brilliant with huge portions and a great selection all for a minimal €10 including water, bread, dessert and wine! 

Just after I ordered the soup and cod, my friends from the previous evening walked in and I was invited to again join their table. A very Camino thing to do, and appreciated. I was going to write this post over lunch, but the opportunity to sit with others was much more enjoyable. 

The cod was amazing! 

And I had the moistest Santiago cake I’ve ever enjoyed. I know all my Camino friends would want to be here to enjoy this feast...and probably a few others too!

After lunch we went to the Pilgrim’s museum which is quite good and wandered reading and viewing all the historical stuff. This is a china drinking flask shaped as a scallop shell. I’d like one of these.

Now I’m back in my room where there is great wifi and it’s now 17:30. Shortly I’ll repack my gear, this time for travel and then head back to the tapas bar to hopefully meet my friends or find others and hear about their experiences.

Annemarie and I would both like to thank those family members and friends who supported us on our journey, particularly my parents Ken & Glenn who have been on side from the start. Right from the beginning we said that this project was very much about trying to raise Alzheimer’s awareness within our sphere of influence. It would seem that we’ve gone well beyond our preliminary intentions having also touched others online who we’ve never met, and likely never will. We have also met so many people on our journey this past year both at home and while on Camino who have unreservedly shared their own painful experiences with this disease. Early on at home these painful stories helped confirm that we were on the right track, and later while on Camino these stories and the stories we heard here also deeply touched us and helped encourage us to continue onwards. Their personal sharing often provided us with the catalyst needed when trying to identify the parallels we found during the walking portion of our awareness journey. I think Annemarie did a wonderful job of capturing those parallels, even when I was alone and shared with her what I was experiencing as I physically and emotionally pushed my own limits. 

I’m very sorry that many had trouble posting on the blog as I thought I’d worked out all the bugs before we left. We felt that it would be a useful method for people to share their related experiences anonymously if required. Ah the plans on the drawing board sometimes don’t work out in reality! That said, many people (and you know you you are) found ways to communicate with us, from very personal emails and texts to comments and simple likes on our regular Facebook pages and Instagram posts. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. There were days when your notes encouraged me to keep going when the weather was at it’s worst and I was in need of a boost. Thank you for those. 

We’d also like to acknowledge the support from the BC Alzheimer Society, particularly Gabi, Meriel, Staci, Caroline and Emily of the Victoria office and Teresa and Dalia of the Vancouver office who answered our many questions and provided encouragement. Also many thanks to Susan who is Kathy’s person at the Society. Also many thanks to Mary, Wendy and Neville from the Canadian Company of Pilgrims who helped to promote our project nationally on their website and at the March symposium in Victoria. We also appreciate the support of John, Ariel and Paul whose companies provided financial donations to the Alzheimer Society, and their logos with links to their websites are on this blog page. Special thanks to Ariel and Stressmarq who continually promoted our project on their social media pages. I hope I haven’t missed anyone!?

As they say, last but not least, our thanks to our three children Erin, Caitlin and Bryan who probably hear more than is fair to hear about everything Camino, and particularly this most recent project. That said, they each stepped up when it came to Alzheimer’s Awareness, offering ideas and social media training to their parental units as the project developed and gained momentum. You see, they have a particularly special bond with their Auntie Kathy. 

On a personal note, Annemarie and I have also been on a special journey together this past year and it’s just been getting better and better. I should explain that the longer you walk, the more open you become:) 

Oh, and before I forget. Thanks to the generosity of many, some we will likely never meet, or perhaps even see again. Your support and wallets have helped raise well over $11,000 for the Alzheimer Society. Thank you!!! We will leave the link to the webpage open on our blog and on their website for a time in the event others still wish to contribute. 

Ok, time to pack my gear for the trip home then it will be time for one last evening of taps and wine. I’ll be tucked into my own bed on Thursday night! Looking forward to reconnecting with everyone! 

Buen Camino!!



Monday, November 12, 2018

Étape 51: Arzúa - Santiago, 40 kms, Fog and Sun, 12

Santiago, Simply A Way Point

Knowing there was a good day of walking ahead I took my host’s suggestion to eat at a place that specializes in Galician cuisine. It was excellent and I ate everything put in front of me. Enough to comfortably feed two people.

It was an amazing meal complete with a bottle of Albariño made with grapes from the family’s vineyards which are sent to the core Albariño area just north of the Portuguese border where we walked in 2016. 

 After a fitful much wine no doubt, I was up and away early this morning. It was dark with heavy fog, but once I had climbed above it it was a pretty nice start to the day.

I saw only one other peregrino today and he turned off to find breakfast just as I caught up to him.

It was really wonderful to see the sunrise this morning. I miss it when the weather gets in the way.

A magical start to a special day!

Then for a time it was the usual Galecian trail scenery.

It was somewhat difficult to figure out where I was distance wise from Santiago. At first I wouldn’t look at the mileage on the route markers because they are situated every half kilometre so I figured it would make the day longer than needbe if I watched the distance slowly tick off. At a certain point some really clear thinkers have stolen the distance labels off all the way markers. So you have to become a bit aware to catch the clues.

The meal last night had the desired result as I was full of energy and didn’t feel tired like I had the day before.

I climbed Monte do Gordon and I knew I was close. 

Last time Annemarie and I passed here it was pouring with lots of wind. We did stop to see the Pope’s acknowledgment, but we were unable to to find the place where the two famous peregrinos looking towards the Santiago cathedral in wonder were located. I was determined to find it this year and I was successful!

I was all alone today and also here. So I took a half hour to quietly reflect on all that has passed these past weeks. I think this was the place that suited my purpose. The plaza in front of the cathedral should be a place of celebration...and believe me, it was!

And about 5 kms later, I was in.

My friend Dennis suggested to me today that this is the time to remind folks reading the blog and our other social media that we would welcome further donations from those who haven’t yet made a donation. I know the Alzheimer Society would appreciate your support as would Annemarie and I. So there you go Dennis, I asked! 

All the scaffolding that has been on the church these past 5 years has finally been removed and the outcome is excellent!

Today I refer to Santiago as a way point. Yes the walking portion of our Camino For Alzheimer’s Awareness has completed, but we must move onwards from here to next things related to Alzheimer’s, just as those with the disease and their supporters will continue on their own difficult journey until it ends in the only way that it can.  Earlier in our walk I encouraged Annemarie several times to write something about this ending and she was reluctant to go there. However after meeting with her group this past Friday she sent me this piece to add. 

I’m not sure if you’ll want to use this one, and if so when you would include it. The discussion with my support group today was very powerful, emotional and deep. These people (caregivers) have a lot of very tough stuff to deal with, and their strongest need is to be able to talk about it with others who understand. After every meeting there’s a lot for me to process, but today was by far the most powerful discussion we’ve had to date. 

Approaching the End: I have had a raging debate in my head about writing about the end of the journey. The obvious parallel for people with Alzheimer’s is end of life, and that’s never a comfortable topic. Based on the discussion that took place in my support group today, however, I now feel the courage to raise this difficult topic. The discussion was along the lines that reaching the end is, in fact, better than an endless holding pattern, and that this is not something people feel comfortable talking about. The end stage of Alzheimer’s is very difficult. The person with Alzheimer’s no longer has capacity to recognize their loved ones, and caregivers experience incredibly loneliness. They remain dedicated to their loved one, receiving nothing in return. They anticipate the freedom that the end will bring, and while there will be grief, there will also be relief. This is a very bleak, but real picture. Avoiding this reality, and not discussing it, makes life even more difficult for those who provide loving care to the end. 

Now I will go out tonight and celebrate a little at my favourite tapas bar. I already stopped in briefly on my way to my hotel. I couldn’t just walk past:)

It’s been an emotional day and an emotional journey. No doubt I’ll write more tomorrow after I’ve processed for a time. I leave you today with my signature photo which I’ve taken at the end of each of my walks. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Étape 50: Palas - Arzúa, 30 kms, Cloud, 7


Last night I stayed in back of a bar where there were two rooms. As I wrote yesterday, to keep out of the room I spent the afternoon in a pulpo bar eating, writing this blog and searching for a way home. After all those thing were done I was invited to sit up at the bar with the Spanish fellow, Lou from Valencia who I’d taken a photo of with the rainbow above him a few days ago. He was so pleased when I sent him the photo that he invited me to share a plate of pulpo and a couple of beers as well. While we were sitting there trying to talk in two different languages about the various walks we’d both enjoyed he also helped me to book a train ticket for Madrid online as they are cheaper than at the station. Now I’m guaranteed to have a place on the train this Wednesday morning which means one less thing to think about. Having walked to Finisterre twice I have no interest in walking out there again and in any event I have to depart the Schengen Zone basically by this Friday. So I also managed to book a good string of flights home on Thursday. Travel sure is easier with the internet!

Up until Sarria a couple of days ago I haven’t seen very many peregrinos as ancient as I am. Usually I see folks 50 and under and most often in the 20 - 40 range. Most of the grey haired crowd go out in early September and are usually finished well before the end of October. So this has been a different Camino in more than one way.

This morning I was awakened by the returning Spaniards in the other room at 3:13 this morning. I’m sure of the time because I looked at my watch. This isn’t too unusual on a Saturday night in Spain and they weren’t walking the Camino. They were noisy for quite a while, so I don’t think I ever really got back to sleeep. What I could hear was the wind and heavy rain pounding the roof! To be completely honest, I wasn’t very interested in getting out of bed this morning, but after holding out until 7:20 I gave in and reluctantly got up. It was still pouring outside. However, by the time I dressed and found my way to the bar it had sropped raining and it stayed that way all day. After a good breakfast I headed out to see what the trail looked like. It wasn’t in great shape with lots of mud and puddles.

After dodging puddles for about an hour and a half I met a very young Aron from New Mexico coming down the highway. He’d taken the short cut and missed all the trails, and the mud. We walked on together for a while until Melida where we shared a plate of pulpo at a well known shop. Talk about fresh cooked! The octopus is chopped up, put on a wooden plate and paprika and salt are sprinkled on top. Best eaten hot.

We went our separate ways and I looked around the Sunday morning market on my way through town.

As I walked along I was thinking about several things, particularly the beauty of the Galician pathes. This is the sixth time I’ve walked in Galicia in the past five years and rain or sun, the pathways are always beautiful. 

As I continued to climb up and down hills today I began to think about the parallels between a trip of this length and the Alzheimer’s journey. Part of my reasoning for walking so far on this walk was to look for parallels as the walk progressed. Annemarie has done a beautiful job of presenting many of these, but she’s now home and recovering while I have continued to push on for another 18 days. There have for sure been challenges and I’ve tried to write about these from time to time. I’m leaner than I was just 19 days ago and I’m becoming a little more drained with each passing stage. Today after just a few hours sleep I was feeling like I was having to push through the day and that I was hitting a wall. By this time with over 7 weeks walking a route with lots of climbing and adverse weather conditions, it begins to feel like really all that’s left of me are a couple of spindly legs, two expanded lungs and I hope a big heart. Really. It becomes that simple. I began to again think about what it must be like for the people who support someone with Alzheimer’s. Day in and day out. The interrupted sleep, the difficulty getting adequate exercise and good meals as they reach that point of exhaustion. For me it’s comparatively easy, I just have to walk and no one really depends on me. For the support person there is someone depending on them every day. So respite and recovery is very important for caregivers, and as Annemarie has said repeatedly, it’s super important for caregivers to have a good connection with the Alzheimer Society so that they can assist with finding the available supports. I believe I learned in the course I took with the Society that 35% of caregivers don’t survive the person they are caring for because of the stress they are under. Subsequent illness takes its toll and it’s well documented that caregivers of the same age as non-caregivers do not live nearly as long. Something to think about. It was on my mind today as I pushed myself up another hill, and then another, and yet another. While I haven’t said anything here, and intended not to, I guess to help make today’s point it’s now ok to reveal that I’ve been sick for the past 23 days, first with a nasty cold and then with sinusitis. Only a few people have been aware of this, but like most care givers I felt I had to push through each day. I could have taken the easy way out and quit walking. During a very low point I almost did, but care givers don’t have this option and this, with some support from my family motivated me to push on. Oh, and I’m just about recovered now...thanks for asking:) Also this is the reason I’ve generally stayed out of the albergues as I’d have passed this cold on to many undeserving peregrinos and no doubt all stuffed up I’d have been snoring too! Also Annemarie told me to!!

Ok, enough drama...I have more photos to share! 

Ha! I just looked and Annemarie did remember to write a piece for today.

Bet you thought I forgot! Here you go...

SA Greater Purpose: Poor weather for walking has been Geoff’s experience more often than not lately. This morning Geoff looked out the window and saw yet another downpour. He wrote me a message saying “I’m staying in bed”. Of course he didn’t. Whether or not Kathy’s words, “get up, get out and just do it” are playing in his head, it is the greater purpose of this walk - his commitment and sense of responsibility - that gets him out. Sometimes the day will bring surprising joys; a picturesque view, an interesting encounter, or a good story. Caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s face a similar challenge; days they know will be tough, but that they need to get through due to their commitment and responsibility for someone they love. For them too, there may be bright spots in the day, or there may not be. For Geoff as he gets closer to Santiago there is some comfort in knowing each step is bringing him to his final destination and the comfort of home. Caregivers face these tough days without knowing how long their journey is. 

Tomorrow I hope to complete this portion of our “purposeful” walk. It’s unlike any walk I’ve ever before undertaken because I’ve come to really understand that while this walk has helped me to sort of deal with my own grief for Kathy’s situation (at least I hope it has) it’s also been a walk committed to something other than myself. I know Annemarie feels the same way. So I think I have enough left in my spindly legs, two expanded lungs and a big heart to complete something that has been a labour of love for both Annemarie and myself this past year. Of course on this journey Santiago was only ever a way point on our long road, and I’ll travel home shortly afterwards to continue our project. It’s become very personal.

Buen Camino!