Camino Celta II – Day 6

Russians to the rescue. – Funny thing to say for a native German, but today it really was the Russians who saved the day.

I suppose it had to happen. So just when we were going to leave our accommodation today to walk down to the bus stop to get the bus to the airport, with not that much time to spare, Pádraig’s super chair got a flat.

In no time two mountain bikers from all the way to Russia fixed the problem.Otherwise, we’d have missed the plane.

 

Camino Celta II – Day 5

Thinking of all the people we met along the way. The people who help us to make this happen with their incredible and spontaneous generosity. There are trizillions of things that could have gone wrong. Like, Pádraig’s new MountainTrike getting ready just two days before we were going to leave, collecting it, accompanied by a good friend who took a day off work, from England on the ferry, when it suddenly dawned on me that we would have to return with two chairs in the one car – never having even thought of measuring the dimensions, of the car, the chairs, and Pádraig sitting in one of them. All that before the journey had even started.

Pretty mad and disorganised (I hear what you’re thinking – borrowing a phrase from one of Pádraig’s consultants:), but even now that we are coming to the end of the Camino and went through all the challenges on the way, I cannot remember the number and kind of occasions when I thought (deep down, very deep down) ‘this might not work out’. So, at least in my mind, even with all the time in the world, not having the busy days we have anyways, we could not have planned for each and every eventuality. There were just too many to consider.

For a German mind, this is a considerable challenge, I can tell you.

And this is one of the important lessons I’ve learned on this journey: a Camino, especially the kind we went on, cannot be planned. In fact, neither can life. Thinking “what if” followed by a long, long list of all the things that could go wrong doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, that kind of thinking paralyses. You become one of those civil servants who discovered that nobody will ever be able to blame them for having done anything wrong if they never take a decision on anything. If you have to think “what if”, think: what if “I took a risk here”, would if “I helped”, what if “I tried out something new, even if it feels a little uncomfortable at first”, what if “I pushed the boundaries, rather than staying with established routines”, what if “I listened, really listened, tried to understand, feel what the other is about, rather than pushing my ‘knowledge and experience’ down their throat”? Too many people think ‘horse’ when they hear ‘gallop’ (borrowing yet another phrase from one of Pádraig’s doctors I had a long conversation with).

Living life, being able to manage it and being able to enjoy (!) it is all about the unexpected twists and turns. Not about the every-day routine we never think about twice. Life’s surprises are often not easy, in fact, they can be extremely difficult, sometimes unbearable, and very hard on the body and the mind (especially if that mind is still a little bit German, even after so many years in Ireland).

Walking the Camino with Pádraig was a brilliant experience. It taught me that worrying, panicking, at times being close to packing it in, thinking that this was just about a too big a slice to swallow, is very normal – but something you can get through. There is so much help along the way and there are so many kind people always lending a hand just when you need it.

Above all and anything else, being together so closely on this Camino, sharing the experience of doing the impossible, seeing the smiles on our faces when we shared a funny moment, having our meals together, enjoying the wonderful fresh air, the smells from the eucalyptus and the grasses, feeling the cold wind, the warm sun and the refreshing rain on our skin, breathing a sigh of relief when we were able to lie down in the evenings – that experience of just a short week will not just stay with me for the rest of my life, it has changed it.

For Pádraig, who so immensely enjoyed being the Camino Celta, and told us so several times every day, it was a huge step forward on his camino to recovery and healing. This was one of his most outstanding Personal Bests (PBs) as an athlete, a stepping stone towards life being fun, challenging, and exciting again.

Camino Celta II – Day 5

A cold, windy, beautiful sunny day with clear skies, a mix of paved roads and gravel paths through open fields and woodland. Sounds familiar? And looking at the photos: I mean, how many pictures of ‘scenery’ and people walking through it can you look at before you wonder whether you’ve seen it all before?

But there are some pictures that are different. The ones with our taxi driver, Ramón, from Ordenes, for example. Ramón brought us to our starting point in the morning (where we had finished the previous afternoon) and collected us from our finishing point later in the afternoon. Without him and his wheelchair taxi, the only one in Órdenes, none of what we did would have worked out. We also said ‘good-bye’ to some really kind people in the place we’d staid for the past few days, who got their granny’s wheelchair so we could get Pádraig up the stairs and into his room (the building we stayed in was built in pre-MountainTrike time).

Tomorrow morning, we’ll walk the last remaining 17km to Santiago and, if all goes well, celebrate arriving in the city of St. James’s!

Camino Celta II – Day 4

A cold, sunny day on a really beautiful stretch of the Camino. Long roads leading straight into the horizon, dark haunted woods with no way out, abandoned century-old houses and dinosaurs grazing on the side of the road. Life is exciting and there are adventures at each turn of the road.

You don’t believe any of this?

It’s all a matter of perspective. Remember the Dreamboat?: Will it sink or will it float down the stream?

In my simple German mind, impossible things are just that: impossible. Mainly because I wouldn’t even try them. Roads just do not lead into the horizon, there is always a way out of even the darkest wood, and dinosaurs are dead. End of story.

It’s when I do the really scary stuff, it’s when I don’t even bother my (German) mind because it couldn’t process what I’m doing anyhow, it’s when I just know that what I’m doing is the right thing to do, it’s then that I feel I’ve joined Pádraig on his journey.

I don’t like to be proven wrong. I want to be right. But at least this time, Pádraig has been right all along. Especially in relation to the really scary stuff. Especially in relation to the stuff that no-one “in their right mind” would even have considered to be doable.

We’ve just two days to go. Our arrival in Santiago on Friday will be mega. Because the impossible journey will no longer have just happened in a dream. But in reality.

Camino Celta II – Day 3

The temperature today had dropped about 20 degrees. At least that’s what it felt like. We were lucky, because we’d never have managed today’s mountain tracks in yesterday’s heat.

Our camino is definitely not about speed or about getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’. It is all about the journey itself. About us, together, being able to do this. Up vertical tracks, across rocks as big as the Rockies themselves, through grass as high as our hips. When it eventually started to rain we had reached a paved section of the Camino and smoothly rolled down to where today’s journey ended and tomorrow’s will begin.

For the past couple of days, we’ve had a very late ‘lunch’ (in Ireland we’d call it dinner:) in a restaurant across the street. As we always arrive around the same time, the same stuff is on the telly. A twenty minute weather forecast that leaves everyone completely confused, and the Spanish soap ‘Servir y Proteger’, serve and protect, described by the Spanish public broadcaster RTVE as “Un melodrama policiaco con gran peso femenino y un reparto de auténtico lujo” – you don’t need much Spanish to understand that:) What really surprised me was the ‘peso feminino’ in the series and the dialogue, for example today when one of the female police officers referred to one of her male colleagues as un ‘verdadero machista retrogrado’. On public and publicly funded state TV! How times have changed in Spain!

An old friend of Pádraig’s (she calls him ‘Paddy’, so she must be a swimmer:) sent him an email wishing him all the best and recommending to him (and us) to listen to a piece of music she performed with a group of musicians in different parts of Ireland. It’s called Path of Miracles by Joby Talbot and comes in four movements (one for each of the four cathedrals on the Camino Francés) – with ‘Santiago’ being her favourite one. We were listening to it this afternoon after our walk and it truly evokes the spiritual and meditative side of walking the Camino. She says, one day she’ll be walking the Camino. I know she will!

Camino Celta II – Day 2

Which word would describe today on the Camino Celta, the Celtic Camino for Pádraig and the rest of us? I’ll remember it as an uphill battle, literally. Forget the hills of Dingle. What we went up today was the equivalent to rock climbing with a wheelchair.

It was getting close to 30 degrees celsius today and it felt like 40. You know one of those days when you’re sweating so much that you can drink sheer endless amounts of water and never have to go to the toilet? Today was one of these days.

But it was magic. There were no nerve-racking incidents today. It almost felt as if we were getting into a routine. Getting Pádraig ready in the morning, down to the hotel lobby in granny’s wheelchair, transfer into his 4-wheel-drive equivalent and off we went. It definitely was a good idea to have a base for a few days here in Órdenes and to get to the day’s starting and back from the day’s finishing points in a taxi. Note: Órdenes has one (!) wheelchair taxi who’s driver, Ramón, is a great man and very helpful when we try to push the MoutainTrike into that gap in his car that is just about wide enough to accommodate it.

When we decided last year that we were going to finish the pilgrimage to Santiago that we had started years ago, walking every year for a few days during Easter week towards Santiago, we didn’t have a clue what we were getting ourselves into. Even now, I’m not sure whether we fully understand what we are doing.

But that is not important. – What is important is that we are doing it.

To me, and I think for Pádraig too, this is a life-changing journey. I’ve heard of people making this journey is a wheelchair. But I’ve never heard of anyone with an acquired brain injury as severe as Pádraig’s walking to Santiago.

Are we mad doing this? – Of course we are. And I’m sure that Pádraig feels that too. And I’m extra double sure that this is the reason, the overriding, principal reason why he is enjoying this trip so immensely.

Buen camino.

PS: You might want to check out my first (!) article in TheJournal.ie

Camino Celta II – Day 1

Most important thing first: Pádraig and the rest of us successfully finished our first day on the Camino Celta, the Spanish leg. Now, how we did this is a slightly different story.

Having been at the Church of St James in the morning, we set off in the morning passing by the beautiful cruise chip that had docked overnight, making our way down the Camino.

Yesterday, we found out that the MountainTrike fits into a Caddy (but not into a standard RENFE train). Today, we found out that it does neither fit into lift nor through the room doors in the hotel we’d booked in Órdenes. Following (long) moments of panic and wrecking our heads to find a solution, one of the employees of the hotel got Pádraig here grandma’s bog standard wheelchair which he will be able to use to get into the lift and his room. There are really caring people around!

I’ve been thinking over the past few day that we re really pushing the boat out. This truly ain’t no ordinary journey. Never mind the walking. That’s the easy bit of what Pádraig and us are doing.

We’ll sleep really well tonight  – although a group of tourists moved into the place earlier who seem to have a problem with sleep, telling their life story to one another. On the corridor:)

Camino Celta 2nd leg

What a journey. We made it. Tonight we are all about to go to sleep in A Coruña. From Dublin to Santiago and on to this beautiful city beside the sea with gorgeous bars and narrow roads where we pushed Pádraig’s MountainTripe and everybody else pushed each other. It was beautiful mayhem.

Tomorrow we’ll walk and will stay overnight in Órdenes which will become our base for the next 4 days or so.

But for now – good night and ¡buen camino!

TheBarberOfSeville

Actually, it won’t be Seville but A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela and the barber up the end of our road that we went to today is not from Spain at all but from Central Europe. But it sounds like a nice connection anyways, doesn’t it:)

Tomorrow morning, Smart will be heading up to the airport with that super-cooper MountainTirke to catch an early afternoon flight with Air Lingus to the land of our celtic brothers and sisters to walk in the footsteps of the Wild Geese.

Are we prepared? You bet we aren’t. Life is too short for that, right? Whatever is going to happen will happen, and we’ll have no other choice but to let it happen. We’ll take it easy and enjoy every moment of it. Because that’s what life is for.

It really is. That simple.

MountainTrike

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, two hours drive east of Holyhead, a smart guy set up this business in an unmarked “industrial unit”, manufacturing the equivalent of a four-wheel drive wheelchair.

When everyone in Ireland told me Pádraig’s existing wheelchair could not be ‘pimped’ converting it into a track ‘n field wheelchair because it was built for long, even corridors of ‘institutions’ and that whoever was sitting in such a chair was also not meant to travel the great outdoors, I asked Dr Google if he had a solution. He pointed me to three or four companies. The one in the middle of nowhere in Brexit England managed to manufacture one especially to fit Pádraig’s height, just in time. It has mountain bike wheels and air suspension with a wide wheel base for extra stability and comfort. They had never done such a huge customised chair. In beautiful green, sparkling colour! Ready for the Camino Celta!

This morning, Pádraig, a good friend and myself set sail on the Irish Sea’s fastest ferry to Holyhead, drove to the middle of nowhere, collected the chair, got some final adjustments done, drove back to Holyhead, and return on the flying catamaran to Dublin. After a long day with tons of excitement we’re exhausted and tired, but really happy and grateful that all worked out  – I couldn’t say ‘as planned’ because today was too complex to plan. Little details we had never thought about enough, like: how would the two chairs fit into the car on the return trip? It came all together. Like magic.