You only have one life …

… and it might be shorter than you think.

When arriving two weeks ago in Santiago my friends told me ‘… and next Sunday you will come with us to lunch, the Irish are coming!’ And so I went and so I met them. Today I received the message that one of them has died on the next leg of their epic journey.

I had heard of them several times over the years. They had built a traditional boat, a naomhóg (currach) and rowed from Ireland to the Galician coast in several stages. Last year, after arriving in Santiago, they left the boat with a friend here and now they would be back to pick up the boat, transport it to A Coruña and continue their voyage along the Spanish-Portuguese coastline towards Gibraltar.

That magical Sunday lunch was filled with good food & wine, laughter, stories, poetry and songs – a real ceilidh. We even would have danced if there would have been enough space. You can read a bit more about it here:

They all were so full of life, kindness and joy. They lived their dream and they enjoyed it, but even more importantly perhaps, they infected others with their love:

… for music

… for poetry

… for the Gaelic language

… for building your own boat

… for taking the route less traveled

… for rediscovering old pilgrimage routes

… for following your dream

Just under two weeks later they reached the river Minho that marks the border between Portugal and Spain. Their boat capsized. All four made it to the shore. But one of them, Danny Sheehy, also known as Danny an tSíthigh or Domhnall Mac Síthigh, died shortly after, despite the efforts of the emergency services. (Source: He died doing what he loved and now he has started his final pilgrimage. And even if I knew him only a very short while, I am sure that he preferred dying this way than dying with the regret never to have followed his dreams.

And there is a lesson in this sad event for all of us. We have only one life and it might be shorter than we think it would be. Let’s follow our dreams, let’s make the most out of the life we have, no matter if it is rowing a boat from Ireland to Spain or taking up painting. And let’s share our love of life and the things we do with others, like this pilgrim and his friends did with all that met them:

Travel and first week

Today one week ago, I arrived in Santiago – to stay. Time for a little update I think.

I boarded my plane the evening of the 24th May in Prague and got off a plane the morning of the 25th May in Santiago de Compostela. No, the flight didn’t take that long, I had to spend the night at the airport in Barcelona. If there is no other way, direct flights were too expensive, El Prat isn’t the worst airport in the world to spend a night, actually it is quite nice. A few cafés are open all night, there are two courtyards to take in the fresh air (and smoke a cigarette) and, who wants, can even find an (un)comfortable place to sleep.

I was far too nervous to sleep, or better said to miss my connection flight by not waking up in time, but other travelers didn’t have my problem. One woman made herself comfortable in the playhouse of the Kids Corner, others stretched out on the upholstered benches of the, now closed, restaurants, and others again tried to sleep on the hard benches before the windows. I drank copious amounts of coffee to keep me awake and spend the waiting hours with reading and writing. The night nearly flew by …

The last leg to Santiago then went super-fast, Vueling even arrived 20 minutes before their announced arrival time. And, joy over joy, all my three backpacks also. BTW I stayed well below my luggage allowance of 69kg (>>>see this blog post<<<) 😉 But nonetheless, I didn’t fancy dragging my three large and one small backpack from the bus stop to the house, so I treated myself to a taxi.

Practical Information 2017: Taxis from the airport to Santiago de Compostela itself charge a fixed price of 21 Euro and the journey takes around 20 minutes.

As I arrived before the house, which I only knew from photos and a video, my two friends were already waiting for me. Hugs and ‘welcome to Santiago’ abundant. Now would be a good moment to introduce my mysterious friends, but alas, they asked me to stay anonymous ;–( They truly believe that the help they give (not only to me!) carries its own reward and doesn’t need any ‘public’ recognition. But that doesn’t hinder me to, at least, praise them here anonymously and give them another heartfelt Thank You! for all they have done …

Not only did they help me to find a furnished house and negotiated on my behalf with the landlord, they also cleaned the place, put sheets on the beds and filled the fridge and kitchen cupboard with a ‘starter supply’ of food and drink. But why they also put 4 bottles of wine in the kitchen, I can’t imagine …

After showing me around and explaining the little things (how the heating works, where the hot water boiler is hidden and the like) we went to the bar-café A Caamaño around the corner to have a much-needed Café con Leche, tostadas and to meet some of the neighbours. Also needless to say that I was grinning like hardly ever before, the house and location, all was perfect and I had barely anything to do to make it welcoming for passing pilgrims. Guys – you know who you are – Again:

Muchas Gracias – Thank You – Dankeschön!!!

And at 11:00 my new landlord came by, looking relieved as he realized that I do speak decent Spanish, to collect the deposit and meet me. Just as the three of us where standing around making small talk, a friend from the >English language Camino forum<, who just had finished the Camino Primitivo, came by. She previously had offered her help to ‘set-up the house’, but there wasn’t much to do. The men said good bye and I could proudly show off my new home for the first time. The only thing that we did was to hide the ironing board and irons in my room, creating so much more space in the staircase and believe me – ironing is not my favourite household task anyway and I am seriously doubting that many pilgrims miss ironing on the Camino! As she left, I realized for the first time how exhausted I was, being awake now for more than 24 hours …

Siesta wasn’t an option, I planned to sleep that night, and so I went for a stroll through the city. First and most importantly, for me, I went to visit Santiago in his cathedral, to tell him that I am back to stay. Then I walked leisurely through both old and new town, trying to look at it from the perspective of one now ‘living here’ rather than from the perspective of a pilgrim/visitor. I don’t want to bore you to death with my itinerary, let’s just say that in the evening my FitBit showed that I had walked 14 kilometres that day, nearly as much as I walk on the Camino …

As I don’t have internet at home, for the moment, I dropped into >Pilgrim House< at the end of my walk, and after a fortifying menu at Casa Manolo, to download my emails and to say hello. Just as I was about to leave, two French pilgrims arrived, a couple from Bordeaux. They were drenched by the downpour we had earlier (welcome to Galicia, one moment blazing hot and sunshine, the next moment a deluge), tired and in desperate search for a bed. So I kidnapped them and took them home and gave them a bed 😉 They stayed for two nights and surprised me with the gift of a beautiful umbrella/pilgrim staff stand – something very useful in rainy Galicia.

Ok, before this blog post gets too long, here the summary of the next days:

Friday another friend from the English pilgrim forum knocked at the door, looking urgently for a bed. She had booked three nights in a hotel beforehand, but was told on arrival that she had only one night booked and that there were no free rooms left. So she stayed two nights at my place before starting her time as a volunteer in an albergue on the Camino Portuguese. And to try out ‘hospitalera life’ she helped me the next morning to clean the house …

Saturday, the French pilgrims had left with many ‘mercies’ on both sides, I didn’t do much other than cleaning a bit, getting the room ready for the next ’emergency pilgrims’ (so far none have come) and reading and writing.

Sunday was fiesta day. First mass at the Jesuit church of Saint Augustin (yes, that is correct!) then Spanish lunch at Restaurante San Clemente. If you have ever been to a French Sunday Lunch, you might have an inkling what a Spanish one is like. Let’s just say we started at 14:30 and finished at 18:15 😉 Our group was a wild mix, lets see if I can remember everybody (there was plenty of wine and Orujo on offer …):

3 Irish pilgrims that had finished their pilgrimage, with a self-built rowing boat from Ireland, and that came now to pick it up, bring it to A Coruña and row from their to Morocco.. They converted the lunch quickly into a ceilidh with their Gaelic songs and music.

An Irish sister from the Camino Companions who offer a listening ear and a cup of tea/coffee to pilgrims as well as hosting pilgrims prayer/meditation in the chapel of the pilgrims office.

Two pilgrims from Alaska that just had finished the Camino Primitivo and found it far too hot 😉

Two Spanish hospitaleros on the way to their albergue.

A pilgrim-priest who just had concelebrated at the cathedral.

Four Scots that lost last year a friend on the camino and came this year to Santiago to honour his memory.

Another hospitalero here from Santiago and three others, 17 in total.

As you can imagine, I didn’t do much else than digesting the rest of the day …

Monday: Let the paperwork fun begin! First thing in the morning I trotted to the Foreign Police to apply for the almighty NIE without you can’t do anything when you live here. I came back with a pile of papers to fill out and a list of more papers to bring. Next to the town hall (picking up more papers to fill out) and to the internet shop (getting a confirmation letter to show that I need a NIE to get internet into the house).
Once I have finished the whole process, I will write a blog post about it, in case somebody wants to follow my foot steps.

Tuesday was mainly dedicated to writing (including this blog post). So, now I am off to the café around the corner to use their internet to post it.

See you soon in Santiago, Buen Camino de la Vida and feel free to leave a comment with any question/remark you might have …

69 kg for a new life

I am sitting in a little house in the Czech countryside and in a corner of said house are sitting three very full backpacks trying to make the most of my maximum luggage allowance of 69kg. The rest of my belongings, mainly books, will stay here in the tender-loving care of Rick – until we find a way to get them to me in Santiago de Compostela where I will have my new home. As a pilgrim I am used to live with very little out of a much lighter backpack for weeks, or even months, so I hope I will manage to do the same as a ‘stationary pilgrim’.

Note the foot prints!

Rick retired on the 30th April 2017 and we decided to keep our different plans for our futures to ourselves. In the end it is our life and we decide what we do with it. But there where some curious coincidences about our two houses and when/how we found them:

  • The same day friends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, found a house (for rent) for me, he found a house (to buy) for himself in Stará Oleška, Czech Republic.
  • The same day as I confirmed that I want to rent ‘my’ house, his offer to buy his was accepted.
  • His house number is 44, mine will be 4.

On the 15th May 2017 we three, Rick, Šárek the cat and I, moved together to his new house in Stará Oleška, near Děčín, in the Czech countryside. The next 8 days we will work together in unpacking boxes, putting the house together, getting the cat used to his new surroundings and so on. If you want to follow his adventures in the Czech countryside, you can read his blog >here<.

On the 24th May 2017 Rick will drive me back to Prague where, in the evening, I will take the plane first to Barcelona (Happy Night at the airport to me!) and on the morning of 25th May 2017 I will board a second plane that will bring me (and hopefully all my luggage!) to Santiago. Landing time is 08:20. What comes after that is still pretty much a project in the planning state or, as I prefer to describe it, ‘fluid’.

There will be a lot of administrative stuff to sort out during my first few weeks, such as registering with the foreign police, switching my health and social security insurances to Spain, opening a bank account, register with the Spanish tax authority Hacienda etc.

I will also need to give my contact details to a variety of people in Santiago like the Pilgrims Office, Pilgrims House, the Franciscans who run a small donativo albergue during the summer time – in short to everybody that could come across a pilgrim in need of help.

As for the house itself, yes, it has two guest bedrooms, no, it is NOT an albergue. These guest bedrooms are predominately for (pilgrim) friends and family that come to visit BUT if I have a free bed and find a pilgrim in the street that needs one, I will certainly take him/her home!

Other plans for the house are even more fluid and will evolve over time and depend on having first spoken with those friends that are already living in Santiago. Here a few ideas I have had so far:

  • Providing ‘skeleton services’ on those days >Pilgrim House< is closed.
  • Getting involved with the Forum Meet-Up of the >English speaking Camino Forum<.
  • Hosting the occasional bring and share pilgrims breakfast.
  • Having the door open for a few hours (nearly) each day to provide ‘pilgrims day care’ with coffee/tea/cookies/biscuits and a listening ear.
  • Hopefully finding pilgrim-priests that are willing to celebrate the Eucharist ‘around the dinner table’.
  • Organising/hosting/helping with a Camino-Clean-Up/Ditch Pig Event later this year.
  • And generally running around Santiago like a headless mother hen, helping to sort pilgrim problems out. You know, the small stuff like the toddler of the pilgrims family that has lost his favourite teddy and the parents don’t speak Spanish and can’t find the ‘lost & found office’ 😉

If you have any other ideas what I could do, please leave them in a comment!

I am renting the house in Santiago for a year with the aim of living there AND providing a helping hand to those pilgrims that need it. The four languages I speak, plus bits and pieces of life/pilgrim/hospitalera experience must be good for something! In a year’s time or so I will evaluate if I stay in the same house continuing what I was doing or find another place either in Santiago or elsewhere on the Camino(s). Oh, and if my luggage really weighs exactly 69kg, I will know at the airport – my guess it is a wee bit less.

Last, but not least, a quick note regarding the photo that accompanies this blog post. I took it Spring 2016, after I had walked the Via de la Plata, in the Museum of Pilgrimages in Santiago. It shows the moment of Jesus ascending into heaven – as I will arrive Ascension Day in Santiago, I felt it was the perfect picture for this blog post…