For Auld Lang Syne

The weather forecast was for humid rain.

 Interesting. 

It basically means, once you are wet, you stay soaked and sodden as the humidity doesn’t allow for anything to dry. 

Great.

We have just completed the Three Capes Track in Tasmania and thought I would share my experience with you. Even though I have mostly written about my walking adventures on various Caminos across  Spain,  I do actually walk in other places. So for old times sake, here is another travelling story.

The Three Capes Track is a much lauded, multimillion dollar project of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service which only opened on the 21st December, 2015. The money crunchers only predicted that 3000 people would walk the four day/three night trek in the first year, but my ticket says that I am number 10,085. Apparently the 10,000th person walked two days before us. At $500 a person, they are well and truly on their way to the cost redemption. 

The brochure touts “carefully conceived, lovingly crafted”, the 46km track is a mix of boardwalks, gravel pathways and many thousands of stone steps. Noone should get lost if they just stay on the path. With only 48 beds per cabin, there is only ever a maximum of 48 on each leg at one time. Lucky us, we have our full quota.

We began on the 28th December in drizzling rain catching our Grayline Coach out of Hobart to Port Arthur, ninty minutes down the road. Michael and I had woken early to watch the Sydney to Hobart yachts entering Constitution Dock. It was amazing standing next to the race record holder Perpetual Loyal as she sat motionless with bottles of Bolinger on deck. 

The drive down to Port Arthur  was filled with gruesome stories of the regions convict days by Nigel, the unflappable and highly entertaining coach driver. By the time we exited the vehicle, all I wanted to do was beeline for the booking desk and leave. Having been to Port Arthur before and experienced the heeby-jeebies of this haunted town where two hundred years earlier, only the worst of the worst convicts were interned, the vibe is less than friendly. After booking in and receiving our parks ticket and guidebook, we bought our last meal from the cafe before walking down to the boat that would ferry us over to the start of the walk. 

Alas all is not as it seems, for although the walk started just across the Bay at Denmans Cove, for the next hour we were “treated” to an exhilarating ride in wet and windy weather on a jetboat. Even though we were all prepared for rain in our wet weather gear, we were handed bright orange, floor length plastic jackets that tasted of salt. In between viewing only the inside visor of my raincoat, we would stop long enough to emerge like a turtle and watch the bird life and seacliffs before again retreating under the coat for protection. It was with great relief when we landed on the beach and exited the boat like soldiers going to battle. As it was still drizzling, the rain washed away the salt in no time as we started our ascent to the first cabin at Surveyors, 4km up the track. 

Arriving wet and bedraggled, that is when I acknowledged the day’s forecast. Absolutely nothing dried until the sun came out on day 3. Even though we hung things up over the fire or over every dry surface, the dampness evaded every fibre of our belongings.

The cabins are award winning designer glamping. The bunk beds were clean and comfortable with memory foam mattresses to rest those weary bones after a days walking. The communal kitchen and dining room were equipped with gas stove tops and kettles a plenty, with a scattering of pots and pans to rehydrate all those dehydrated packets of food that most of us carried. There were enough seating for all of us and a small selection of games to entertain and amuse the bored. The drop toilets are set well away from the cabins- good for the olfactory senses but a tad too far when the weather turns foul. There were a few grumbles and suggestions were offered from most of our group. A light in the cabins would have been useful being the main grievance. 

So Day 1 ended with a glimpse in between bouts of rain and hovering mist, towards Cape Raoul- actually not on the track but included as one of the three capes. We were told that our room selection would be the same for the next two nights. We lucked out and were paired with a fantastic couple from Melbourne – Trevor and Jenny.  Same demographic and years of travel experience.  They were the perfect cabin buddies. 

Day 2 arrived in a drizzle. Donning our still wet clothes we ventured out for the 11km trek to the next hut, Munro. On a clear day, the views are said to be spectacular. Reminiscent of my first day on the Camino, we trudged through the rain and fog stopping only twice to take photos of architectural benches too soaked to sit on and a view we later learnt was Arthur’s Peak. As part of this experience, the Tassie Parks people have included various encounters to enjoy along the way.  Matching up with the guidebook, you can interact with the environment or learn more of the local history, flora and fauna, as you walk the track. Unfortunately it is ill advised to get the book out when it is raining cats and dogs, so we read up about each before leaving for the day. Great concept in better weather.

As we had reached Munro by 10.30am and with nothing else to do (with a forecast of more rain to come), Michael and I left in the heavy mist to walk the 14km return trip out to Cape Pillar but this time without a laden backpack. Our thinking was that at least it wasn’t raining now,  just heavy mist that might lift as we approached the Cape. Not our day. Heavy mist shroaded everything including the spectacular Blade that we had no hope of seeing. I was able to see one wall of dolerite cliff but I’m not sure what it was as we had left the guidebook behind. It was wonderful walking without a pack. We had covered 25km on Day 2 and our legs were well and truly feeling the assault.

Day 3 arrived with a clap of thunder followed by a torrential downpour. As we were watching the misery from the communal kitchen, the rain lessened, the mist lifted and we spied something that sent us all in a frenzy. We saw the sea below us as the view slowly cleared revealing a rugged coastline.  Everyone packed their bags quickly to take advantage of the sunshine. As we had already covered the first 14km of todays scheduled walk yesterday (making yesterdays trek a massive 25km in miserable conditions), we left Munro and headed for Retakunna just a short 3km away. With our friends thinking the same thought, we used every bit of available rail space that was basking in sunshine at our new hut to finally dry our gear. Still wanting to walk a little more,  I asked if anyone else was up for adventure and wanted to climb up to the top of Mt Fortescue for a short hike. This was to be the first stage of day 4’s walk. I left alone. The view out to Cape Pillar was spectacular but the climb up the 783 stairs was excruciating.  And to think I get to do it all over again on Day 4.

Last day turned out to be the best in weather and terrain. In 14km we passed through a variety of woodland and forests as again I summited Mt Fortescue and walked beside the edges of the dolerite cliffs. The views that we had been missing from the start of our journey were breathtakingly  stunning.  Michael’s fear of heights well and truly kicked on as I straddled cliff edges to get a better look (and photo).

  We were to be picked up by the 2pm shuttle at Fortescue Bay so we left early enough to allow for time to walk to the end of Cape Hauy. This was a two hour detour off the path that was mainly steps up climbing. Amazing to view from a far but torturous on weary legs. It was well worth the pain.


So the journey ended with a 30min drive back to Port Arthur where we were met but the lovely Tania who drove us back to Hobart. We wined and dined last night on more food than we had eaten in 4 days. As we stood and watched the fireworks we said goodbye to the past year and welcomed in 2017 with a bang.

Happy New Year folks. 

Hey now, Hey now, Don’t dream it’s over…Crowded House.

Day 17- Olveiroa to Finisterre –  34.5km

Well we made it.

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After a mammoth day, we walked from the mountains to the sea, then to the end of the world. Now we are celebrating with a seafood feast beside fishing boats that probably brought this catch in today.

Going back thirty odd kilometres ago, we left the Casa Loncho this morning with a threatening sky. Knowing that we only had a few “ups” to go before descending to sea level, we put on the raingear for our last day and set out with bravado. By the time we reached the Great Divide, the decision point to go north to Muxia or west to Finisterre, the sky was more blue than black and the sun was beginning to cast our shadows. It was going to be another glorious finale to a Camino.

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Ominously leaving Olveiroa this morning.

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The Great Divide. The left to Finisterre; the right to Muxia.

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Last shadow shot.

The walk down to Cee was steep but stunning. Michael met a fellow pilgrim with a similar pace, and poor Felix from Germany spent the next few hours enjoying the conversations of a madman. Chloe and I walked behind them continuing the conversation from yesterday and occasionally breaking for selfies.

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Michael and Felix in deep conversation.

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That's where we are going, to the end.

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Chloe can carry me on her head from now on.

We caught up to Michael in Cee (Felix had managed to flee), and we all had an energy packed lunch for the final assault, the last twelve kilometres to our accommodation in Fisterra. We are staying in the only blue building with fish on the walls- Hotel Langosteira (that’s how we described it to the faster paced Michael ). I thought we would never make it. The arrows led us down to the slate pathway beside the final beach, then when we returned to the road,  there was our Hotel.

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The long walk to Cee.

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Church in Corcubion.

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We quickly booked in, dropped off the bags, then returned to the arrows to finish the last few kilometres.  One hundred metres later we were collecting our Fisterra Certificates at the Xunta Albergue then on our way down the winding 3.5km road to the lighthouse and marker zero.  Hallelujah.

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The faro of Finisterre.

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Starting way back in the Bay of Biscay last September when we hiked our first day out of Irun; to resuming the walk in beautiful Llanes on the Asturian coast seventeen days ago; finishing the Camino del Norte in Santiago then continuing these last three days to the Atlantic Ocean and Finisterre; it has certainly been a journey of resilience.  The weather has either tortured us or stunned us with its brilliance.  The people have all been polite and very tolerant of our language barriers. It has again been a challenging but rewarding Camino journey.  Do I have another one in me???

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Sunshine on a rainy day…Christine Anu.

Day 16- Negreira to Olveiroa- 32.5km

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Leaving Negreira.

By 10am I was really doubting my parenting skills. Walking in front of me,  I watched the sodden shoulders of my first born slumped forward as the rain fell heavily, soaking and freezing her to the core. “You know I’m only here because you are here. This is not my idea of a holiday”, she said. She was miserable.  I was unhappy for her. Michael was hating the mud (as usual). Then at 1pm, we found the sun. Thankyou St James.

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Look Chloe, the rain has stopped.

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We left last nights Albergue El Carmen at 8.30am after a night of many noises. The beds creaked on any movement and there were twelve smelly bodies rolling around trying to get comfortable. It wasn’t until well up onto the first hill out of town that we realized that Michael hadn’t paid for his breakfast. So now we’re fugitives.

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The four hours of driving rain was interspersed with two cafe breaks at the 8km and 12km marks. Each time we found the cafe crowded with equally drenched pilgrims trying to warm up by the heaters as they peeled layers of wet clothing off. We reluctantly continued on. By 1pm the rain stopped with glimpses of blue sky up ahead. By 2pm we stopped for our bocadillos at Santa Mariña in full sunshine. What a joy to start drying all our wet layers.

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Very hard to take a photo in the rain.

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Let the dry out begin.

The last 12.5km was glorious as Chloe and I talked our way through a variety of topics as the Spanish countryside passed slowly by.  We stayed mainly on minor roads, so by the time we arrived in the very small town of Olveiroa, our shoes and clothes were nearly dry. We have opted to stay in the Casa Loncho which is just above the private Albergue. Nearly all the other pilgrims are around the corner in the Albergue de Perigrinos. We’ll meet up with them again tomorrow on the last day to the end of the world,  Finisterre. 

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Hanging out with the locals.

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A lake in the distance. Chloe trying different ways to carry her backpack.

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Church of San Cristovo de Corzoń.

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Arriving in Olveiroa.

Baby it’s cold outside…Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé.

Day 15- Santiago de Compostella to Negreira- 20.5km.

There’s no stopping us now. We are on our way to Finisterre. Once believed to be the end of the world, it is now an added extra to a long walk across Spain to the Atlantic Ocean.  It is an 88km walk from Santiago that can be done in three days. We just happen to think it would be nice to drag our daughter along as well.

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Take the photo before my eyeballs freeze open.

Chloe arrived in Santiago last night after her long haul flight from Zanzibar. She had been on a 35 day tour of southern Africa starting from Capetown and finishing on the beaches of Zanzibar where the temperature was a sultry thirty-four degrees. Today as we left the warmth of our cosy hotel room, it was a rather crisp two degrees celsius with a forecast of rain to snow. Strap on your shoes as we walk to the sea.

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Walking through the streets of Santiago on this cold Sunday morning.

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Only 88km to go!

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Look Chloe there's the sun!

The way out was marked again with shells and arrows, however CF was now for Camino Finisterre and not Frances. It wasn’t long before we were in the country negotiating the puddles again. There is one rather long hill climb to transverse before descending into Ponte Maciera which the guidebook raved about as being the prettiest place on any Camino. Well maybe not when it is raining and the water is pouring over in rapids. By the banks of this Rio Tambra is a well positioned restaurant which was our port in yet another rain storm that continually soaked and froze us throughout the day.

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The medieval bridge at Ponte Maciera.

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Just to the left is the restaurant that warmed us.

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Straight after this photo it rained for the next hour.

The last four kilometres into Negreira was pushing through freezing rain so by the time we arrived, we were resembling drowned rats. Each time it rained Chloe would say, ” And you call this a holiday!”.

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Chloe warning St James of another shower to come.

Knockin’ on Heavens door. ..Bob Dylan.

Day 14- Rest Day in Santiago de Compostella

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Just a couple of vagrants on a park bench.

Waking up at 8am to a bleak and wintery Saturday, it was unusual to lie in and know that there was no where to go today. The backpacks remain slumped and deflated in the corner of the very small hotel room. The smell of coffee wafting up from the café, two flights below us, as the sound of clinking cutlery is heard indicates that breakfast has begun. It is another hour before we encourage our weary bodies out of bed and down the narrow steps for a cafe con leche and rustic toast.

We find a laundromat about ten minutes away and will now enjoy the sweet smell of clean clothes for another couple of days. (Small things I know). I am walking through a Santiago I missed last time as we stroll through the commercial side of the city. The shops around the Cathedral are geared up for tourists with loads of souvenirs and a smorgasbord of restaurants. This is where you meet up with your Camino family for long lunches and dawdles through the trinkets. The outer city is full of locals getting on with life.

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Looking outside our bedroom window.

We attended the packed midday pilgrims mass in the Cathedral de Santiago. Arriving twenty-five minutes early, it was still hard to find an empty pew. The service was in Spanish with a smattering of English, mainly to inform us about turning off mobile phones and not to use cameras during the service. The mass becomes more animated towards the end, when all the Cathedral is abuzz waiting for the botafumeiro to swing. All cautions are unheeded as mobile phones and cameras follow the pendulous smoke across the church. Initially and historically started to fumigate the smelly pilgrims, this large silver incense burner, the size of a small child, requires six red-robed monks to heave on a spider web of rope to start the pendulum rocking. It is a marvelous spectacle to end a pius performance.

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The door to the Cathedral via the Praza das Praterìas.

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Let the swinging begin.

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After lunch we strolled around the beautiful Alameda Park which is just outside the old town. Another place that I wish I came to last time I was here when the trees would have been covered in leaves and the flowers in full bloom. We wandered around the park waiting for a “When Harry met Sally” moment before the rain came and drove us back to the warmth of “our” café. 

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Following the blue footsteps through the Alameda Park.

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A bit of street art.

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Now we have just over an hour before we see Chloe. She is flying in from her holiday in Africa to spend the next week with us. Time for a hot chocolate and piece of cake before the hugging begins.

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Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. ..Fleetwood Mac.

Day 13- Arzúa to Santiago de Compostella – 39km

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Unbelievably, we have arrived in Santiago.  When we set out this morning, we didn’t have a destination in mind. We just thought we’d see how far we got down the path, then start out in the morning with just a gentle walk into the city. However, the day was the best weather we had had since starting the Norte. So we kept going.

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Leaving Arzúa pre-dawn, it was a delight to walk with a few pilgrims leading the way.  We passed a few and a few passed us, and each time a greeting was exchanged. There was a buzz in the air. Everyone commented on the blue sky and absolutely no rain on the horizon. There was certainly some muddy paths to negotiate and even flooded gutters to jump across but overall it was a joy to stroll through the Galician countryside.

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There was frost on the ground for the first few hours.

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The half moon above the mist.

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Here comes the sun.

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The water running beside the path.

We stopped for lunch at the cafe in Amenal (at the 22km mark)- Tania, Elizabeth and I stayed in the Hotel here two years ago. Michael and I had a great conversation with a few Americans and Germans who had walked together for the last few weeks.  They had decided to stop in each bar they came to and celebrate the ending of their Camino. They were hoping to get to Monte de Gozo (which is just 4.5km from Santiago) but I’m dubious if they made it that far as they were already more than a little tipsy when we saw them. We did stop into this last Albergue before Santiago, but as it is described as “an unfortunate cross between an army barracks and a summer camp”, the pull of the downhill run into Santiago was far too great a calling for us. We had just enough energy in our legs to get ourselves “across the line” at the Praza do Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral.

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After a quick photo, we made our way around to the Official Camino Office to collect our well deserved Compostella. Well the place it use to be is now closed up and a sign indicated that it had moved. Excellent. After finding our accommodation, showering and changing into people who just walk funny, we stumbled over to the new Office and received our Compostella.

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Our home for the next two nights above a cafe. Yummm.

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They are still cleaning the facade!

We both feel so lucky to have done this spectacular, sometimes hard, and truly amazing walk together. It is an achievement beyond parenthood or the stability of marriage that is quantifiably ours. We did it together.  And we have a certificate to prove it.

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“Come here”, she said, “I’ll give you, Shelter from the Storm”…Bob Dylan.

Day 12- Sobrado to Arzua- 22km

Arriving in Arzúa, we have joined the Camino Frances for the last two days into Santiago. I was here with my “Frances family” in 2014 staying in the Albergue Don Quixote at the start of town. I remember it being such a hot day and we settled on one of the first Albergues on the way in to town. Today the approach was from the North, landing us half way along the very long main road in town. So I missed passing The Don and instead Michael and I opted for the two star luxury of the Pensión Begoña near the main Plaza.

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The weather in the past twenty-four hours would put Melbourne’s reputation to shame. As we were packing last night, we looked out the window to witness thick snowflakes falling onto the road. The temperature plumetted from eight degrees to freezing in a matter of hours. Overnight the snow turned into drizzling rain. By dawn it was a patchy blue sky that greeted us on our walk to the cafe for breakfast.

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Hard to see the fluffy white stuff.

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The sun just coming up behind the Sobrado Monasterio.

Today we walked through so many rain showers followed by brilliant sunshine, that I lost count of the amount of times Michael changed in and out of his wet weather gear. Easily six or seven times I would walk past him in a state of undress. We saw glimpses of snow patches on fields not too far from us. Otherwise the wet road  kept our feet in a permanent state of cold dampness through to sloggy slushiness but still we soldiered on.

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Passing snow on our way out of Sobrado.

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A shower to come.

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Just keep walking.

We knew we were at the back of the pack when leaving Sobrado, having guessed that there were around twenty- five pilgrims in the vicinity. However I think they all must have walked along the more direct main road to expedite as little time as possible in the annoying conditions. We faithfully stuck by the Camino shells and saw no one until the last hill into Arzúa. Three Spanish boys, one with a pronounced limp, were staggering (and singing) their way up the road. They said that they had walked one hundred kilometres in the last four days and were planning to push on for another fifteen kilometres.  We later saw them hooking up with a couple of the Catholic college girls presumably being directed down to their Albergue. Fun times ahead for them.

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Tiring times for the oldies.