Pilgrimage is about your body. Forget your soul. No, don’t – but you probably will. All those prayers and devotions that you thought you would be religiously observing? They go out the window when the feet begin to ache, and the shoulders bend, and the muscles seize up and the groin chafes…
We have arrived in Nowa Nowa, well over the half way mark on this, the first part of the second leg of our pilgrimage in honour of the twin founders of the Order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, St Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods. According to my Gaia app, we have walked about 64kms over the last two days. There is a bit over 40kms to go to Orbost, but we are breaking this up with a short day tomorrow. Aware that there will be increasing chance of rain during the day we intend to leave as early as we can to arrive at the Tostaree Cottages about noon.
Sean and I ate breakfast at the Bruthen Inn Hotel. They provide cereal and fruit and toast as part of the $40 per person tariff. Josh waited until we had all gathered down at the Blue Bee Cafe to order a full English Breakfast. His philosophy is that, when on pilgrimage, one should “breakfast like a king, lunch like a knave, dine like a pauper”. It probably makes good sense, but doesn’t quite work for me. For that matter, Josh seems to eat like a king whatever time of day it is… Sean, on the other hand, is happy with his bowl of muesli as long as he can still find a cafe in which to have “the best coffee in town”. I grabbed a couple of apples from the fruit bowl at the hotel and stuffed them in my pocketses for hobbit-second-breakfast on the trail. At the Blue Bee, Sean decided to get some of their homemade Spanokopita for lunch. We thought that was a good idea, but convinced him to save it for dinner tonight, and bought some for ourselves as well. For lunch then, we all bought sandwich rolls. I can highly recommend the Blue Bee to all who pass through Bruthen. Great service and very friendly and helpful. While we were drinking our coffees, one of the GECO crowd from Goongerah came into the cafe and, seeing us, said hullo. We feel like we are getting to know the locals. That is a great thing about this pilgrimage – we are not just passing through like tourists, but actually connecting with people along the way.
We popped into the General Store next door to the Cafe. Once again, a very well stocked establishment. I bought some mushrooms to go with the Spanikopita tonight – and a bottle of Wolf Blass Shiraz to wash it down. Yes, it added about a kilogram to the weight of my backpack, but I was certain that at the end of the day I would be thankful for the extra effort. This inspired a little poem from my companions on the way:
The Wine Bottle
Just look what David Schütz has done,
Penance, indulgence, all in one;
“In vino veritas,” they say:
And David proves it, every day.
Guilty as charged, your honour.
Next stop: Ye Olde Opp Shoppe, where I traded in my Salvos/Rivers runners (which really were not up to the job) for a “new” pair of runners for $2. I left the old shoes with the shop, and walked out happily in my new pilgrim footwear. Not quite the same thing as throwing your shoes into the ocean at Finisterre, but close.
We popped across to the local post office, where we had our pilgrim passes stamped. This is always a great opportunity to tell people what we are doing. The postmistress understood the Spanish Camino and so was very happy to oblige with a stamp. Bruthen PO has a wonderful stamp that is very characteristic of the town – much like the one we received at the Gembrook PO. It would be nice if more towns in Australia had generic stamps rather than the stock standard round one. We were also fascinated by the Post Office clock to which the postmistress’ husband had added a computer chip and some lights to make a very interesting effect counting the seconds…
Back on the East Gippsland Rail Trail at just after 10am, we passed through some amazingly green and lush farmland: all rolling hills and streams and valleys. Glorious. However, it was not long before we entered thick forest. The forest on the right hand side (the South) was the Colquhoun Regional Park, and the forest on the left hand side (the North) was State Forest, but both looked much the same except that occasionally there were signs of past logging in the State Forest. Josh was a bit spooked by the remoteness of it all. To me, it was heaven, as I had grown up with this kind of remoteness in the South Australian Mallee. The only difference is that the trees were a big bigger. At one point he and Sean wondered if we were in the right place. Let’s see, I said… forest on the north for miles, forest on the south for miles. Yes, that sounds right.
The scenery was, as a result, somewhat monotonous. However, I found that if I ignored the macro and paid attention to the micro, I could see a great variety. This was my opportunity to photograph the various wildflowers. I counted at least fourteen different varieties. Not all of them were common, and often they only appeared in one particular area, but the variety was quite stunning.
After stopping at one point to rest, Josh commented that we had spent enough time “meditating upon our latter end”. This inspired me to compose another little poem:
Amen, amen. We meditated on our latter end.
But should we not, to seek to please,
Have meditated upon our knees?
We more or less stuck together on today’s walk. Sean was feeling the strain a bit (he hasn’t been %100 for the last week or two). Josh was charging along like a well season pilgrim, which in fact he is. I wish that he could find some confidence in the strength of commitment he has shown thus far, because he is feeling a little daunted by our plans to go over the mountain through even more remote and hilly territory next easter.
The day was supposed to be about 27km, but both my navigation apps suggested that it was over 30km. We encountered just one other person on the trail all day A bit over 5kms from our destination we came to the most spectacular sight so far on our journey, an old railway trestle bridge built in 1916 for the logging industry – exactly 100 years ago. It was clearly in no condition to be crossed and I had no argument with the barriers at either end proclaiming any attempt to do so to be highly dangerous. But it was a wonder to behold. The highest struts on the bridge were pylons mates from single trees sourced from the area. According to the information signs, the dimensions are 247m long and 20m high, making it the largest standing bridge of its kind in the state. How it has survived for 100 years, I have no idea, given the bushfires that have routinely passed through the area in that time. But it is deteriorating. So if you want to see it before it collapses completely, make haste to East Gippsland now (there is road access, as well as picnic tables and toilets).
We finally made it into Nowa Nowa at about 5:45pm. By this stage the Mingling Waters Cafe was well and truly shut, but the General Store, run by Greg and Sandra, was still open. This is a very well stocked store, and you can buy almost anything you might need here. It is also the local Post Office, so Greg obliged by stamping out pilgrim passports (nothing fancy, just the standard round stamp). We also purchased supplies to add to dinner. Not cheap, but better than carrying them from Bruthen.
We then went around to the Nowa Nowa Caravan Park, where Neil and Helen had reserved for us “The Cabin”, wonderful modern accomodation with quaint additions such as an Edwardian couch and many tasteful art works. Outside, running past the front of the cabin, is a small trestle bridge. Josh has the Queen bedroom on his own (the benefits of the snorer), and Sean has a double bed in the same room as the bunk to which I have been relegated, as he is in a rather poorly condition.
Josh and I went around to the local hotel motel, where we were originally booked in to stay tonight. However, we had received a phone call about three months ago from the people who were running the hotel to say they were closing up and cancelling all future bookings – of which we were the only ones. Providentially, the Nowa Nowa Inn was reopened by the actual owners of the building on Saturday. They are seeking to get it back to a going concern again, but the publican, Steve, emphasised repeatedly to us the great amount of work that needs to be done. They are offering accomodation again, and have 10 motel style rooms out the back of the pub. Currently the pub doesn’t have much on tap (the cooler needs fixing), but we had a nice bottle of James Squire each as we talked to Steve and met his greyhound Charlie. Outside I also met Steve’s wife Caroline, who told me that one of their offspring was currently walking the Camino in Spain. That was a great opportunity – once again – to explain what we were up to, walking from St Mary’s birthplace to her shrine in Sydney.
Back at The Cabin, Josh and I chopped up the veggies – mushrooms, leek, tomato, capsicum and garlic – and cooked them all up together with a dash of virgin olive oil from the supplies in the cupboard and a pinch or two of paella seasoning a dash of Wolf Blass shiraz. We had cream of chicken cup-o-soup and then heated up the Spanikopita, and ate our ratatouille stew with it on the side. More Wolf Blass washed it all down. The whole meal was completed with an ice cream each.
Because of the rain predicted for the morning, we headed to bed as soon as we could. I have found a hot water bottle and think that I might use this as a heat pack on my sore muscles…